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More than chocolate: why healthy options and vegan versions are gaining favour

By nature, chocolate is an indulgence – but these days consumers are looking for something a little more from their treats.


While it once had a reputation as a sugar-filled sweet, today’s new releases are coming in healthier forms. 


Research from Barry Callebaut across multiple markets in the Asia Pacific found that 69 per cent of consumers across the region want their chocolate to have “healthy or good-for-you ingredients”. A similar percentage want brands to be transparent about where the ingredients of the chocolate products they purchase are sourced, to ensure they are sourced ethically and with due consideration of the environment.  


The quest for vegan chocolate


In tandem with growing awareness and adoption of veganism and plant-based foods across the broader food and beverage market, more and more consumers are seeking vegan chocolate. A rising incidence of diabetes is also helping drive demand.  


According to a study promoted by 360 Research Reports, the global vegan chocolate market is predicted to grow at a cumulative annual rate of 17.5 per cent during the next five years – from US$274.9 million last year to $524.2 million in 2026. The same report said the growth would be strongest in the Asia-Pacific region, although the largest single market is North America. 


The largest pureplay vegan chocolate brands include Alter Eco, Chocolove, Eating Evolved, Endangered Species, Equal Exchange, Goodio, Hu Kitchen, Taza Chocolate, and Theo Chocolate. 


Other mainstream brands are getting into the category as well, such as Nestle, which launched a vegan version of its KitKat in the UK and selected European markets along with Australia and Brazil, from June of this year. In place of dairy milk, Vegan KitKat uses rice milk.


"Our challenge when we set out to create a vegan-friendly KitKat was to recreate this iconic product using plant-based alternatives,” explains Louise Barrett, head of the Nestle Confectionery Product Technology Centre in York, UK. “To achieve this, we worked very hard to get the right balance between the milk alternative and the cocoa."


In October, Cadbury followed suit, launching the Plant Bar, made with almond paste and sold in Standard and Salted Caramel flavours. The company took two years to develop the product and launched it in the UK with a marketing campaign apologising to vegans for taking so long. “Sorry it seemed like we weren’t listening to your calls … And sorry for all the other chocolate you’ve had to eat while you waited. We simply wanted it to be perfect.”

In the US, the Hershey Company used oat milk as the basis of its vegan version, sold in Classic Dark and Extra Creamy Almond & Sea Salt flavours. 


A healthier indulgence


The trend towards more healthy chocolates is not restricted to the vegan subcategory – many artisan chocolatiers are adding ingredients to boost gut health, reduce anxiety, or offer an energy boost.


Malaysian chocolate maker Vive Snack uses ingredients such as natural monk fruit sweetener, cacao nibs and cacao husk. All of its products are plant-based, vegan, organic, and free from additives, preservatives, and gluten.


Another brand from the region – Indonesia’s WoKA – produces a chocolate bar made with local Luwak coffee, birds nest and the traditional herb Tongkat Ali.


And in the Philippines, Coscao produces premium chocolate in a variety of unusual, locally influenced flavours, mixing cacao beans with coconut sap sugar and virgin coconut oil. Local pili nuts and coconut milk contribute flavours.

Other, larger chocolate makers around the region are making products fortified with healthy ingredients to enhance inner health. 


For example, Lotte Confectionery – a company founded by a Korean in Japan – is producing   Sweet Days Lactic Acid Bitter Chocolate for the Japanese market. The company says the added live lactic acid bacteria encourages healthy digestion when it reaches the stomach. It is also low in sugar and milk.


Another Japanese company produces Mental Balance Milk Chocolates for Sleep, infused with GABA, a chemical that is said to aid sleep and relieve anxiety. 


And in South Korea, Cacaobaba Booster Chocolate could be described as a confectionery alternative to an energy drink, featuring ingredients providing a ‘natural boost’, such as maca powder, ginger root powder, and lemon peel that “gives people wings to fly”. It is surely no coincidence that the world’s biggest energy drink promotes itself with the slogan ‘Red Bull Gives You Wings’.

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