An army of scientists, food manufacturers, confectionery companies, investors, NGOs, and governments are looking at various solutions to make what we put in our mouths better for us, for the planet, and for animal welfare.
The plant-based food market is projected to reach $74.2 billion in the coming years, growing at a compound annual growth rate of 11.9% from 2020 and across all categories, two specific trends are emerging:
- Better-for-you products, focusing on the goodness of plants
- Indulgent products, that happen to be plant-based
According to Barry Callebaut, traditionally driven by indulgence, the chocolate confectionery category has experienced a surge in better-for-you options for the past few years: less sugar, free-from... and predicts that with the rise of flexitarian consumers, it was only a matter of time before plant-based chocolate became more than a niche.
Its research shows that consumers’ expectations have changed: beyond dairy allergy or lactose intolerance, younger consumers look for plant-based chocolates that are tasty, yet “ethical” i.e. do not harm the planet nor the animals.
Daniela Quintero, Head of Product Development at Luker Chocolate, said: "We’re seeing various subcategories within the plant-based sector emerge as consumers seek out more options to suit different diets and health requirements.
"Last year, our product development research led to the development of 70% Dark and 40% milk no-added sugar couvertures using Erythritol and Stevia, incorporating Luker’s Cacao Fino de Aroma signature flavour. We were keen to combine this with our best-selling Oat M!lk 43% couverture to develop a perfect product for brands looking to appeal to a wider audience.”
According to research by Innova (2019) launches of vegan chocolate confectionery products in Europe grew by 83% between 2017 and 2022, reaching 743 in 2022. The UK and Germany produced the most NPD plant-based launches in the past year, 218 and 127 respectively.
Notable launches include Nestle’s plant-based KitKat V, Mars’s plant-based Galaxy bars, Cadbury’s vegan chocolate bar, and Rowntree’s vegan range, including heritage Fruit Pastilles and Fruit Gums.
Mars (UK) recently launched a vegan range of its popular Galaxy chocolate, staying true to the brand promise “smooth & creamy” thanks to the addition of hazelnut paste. At £3 for a 100g bar, it was double the price of the regular Galaxy.
Ritter (Germany) relaunched their 2-strong vegan range with a new, tastier packaging and added an almond-based vegan milk chocolate alternative made with sesame seeds.
And Marks & Spencer (UK) has introduced vegan salted caramel truffles, made with soy-based caramel, pink Himalayan salt.
In Germany, Katjes (Germany) released Chocjes, a range a vegan choc made with oat drink, positioned as an indulgent treat, yet more ‘ethical’ choice.
(Source: Barry Callebaut)
But creating a tasty sugar confectionery that provides a familiar mouthfeel without compromising the production process can be tricky. The challenge rests on gelatin, a substance that offers essential gelling, aeration, foaming, and texturizing.
Plant-based ingredient producers such as Advanced Biotech have developed processes that add delicious fruitiness, chocolaty creaminess, complementary caramel, coffee, vanilla, or other delectable flavour profiles, to chocolate, candy and confectionery.
A 2021 pan-European survey by campaign group ProVeg International found that 46% of respondents have cut their meat consumption compared to a year ago. Just under 40% said they plan on doing so in the future and around a third said they plan to cut their intake of dairy products in the poll.
But in the world of ‘clean eating’, some consumers are not ready to give up on their good habits or feel guilty for chocolate, according to Barry Callebaut Plant Craft. Whether vegan or flexitarian, consumers eat chocolate as a treat, and taste is the key purchase driver. As they are looking to increasingly replace animal products in their diets, consumers are not ready to compromise on taste, especially not with chocolate.