The definition of healthy food has changed. In the 1980s it was low-fat at any cost—high sugar and chemical content was entirely permissible if it created a tasty, fatless version of our favorite foods. Today there’s an increasing emphasis on reading labels and selecting products based on the purity of their ingredients. Diets like Paleo or Whole30 are becoming lifestyles instead of temporary approaches for losing weight, and focus on the importance of simple, high-quality ingredients. Can’t pronounce it? Back on the shelf. Don’t recognize it? Back on the shelf. Too many ingredients? Back on the shelf.
This means many formerly off-limits foods are enjoying a renaissance as retailers extol the newfound virtue of premium ingredients. Chocolate is a prime example of this shift. According to the Wall Street Journal article, “When Is It OK to Eat Chocolate?” sales of what was once a guilty pleasure have increased 18 percent since 2011. The article contends that high cocoa content, premium ingredients and elegant designs that encourage small portions are attracting shoppers looking for a treat that won’t derail their health and nutritional goals.
The chocolate world is responding. Smaller companies are giving the Big Four brands a run for their money, dominating the premium market with the simple, organic and all-natural ingredients that resonate with consumers. According to Confectionary News, Mars is the only Big Four brand in the top tier of premium chocolates, sharing the highest spots with Ghirardelli (owned by Lindt), Lindt Chocolates and Godiva (owned by Yildiz Holding). Lindt’s 90 percent cocoa bars are one of their fastest-selling products while 7-Eleven is producing its own high-end chocolates to stock the shelves and Godiva has introduced G by Godiva, a bar made with cocoa beans from Mexico featuring thumb-sized indentations.
Young moms and millennials are driving this change by favoring products that are natural, non-GMO, organic and gluten free. These young consumers are not brand loyal, so switching from what Mom used isn’t a big deal as they wander the grocery store or check out online. They are more likely to buy based on word of mouth recommendations or online reviews and have the ability to learn about products and ingredients on the fly while they shop. With a quick search on their smartphone they can read up on the difference between whole grain and whole wheat, what guar gum is and what research says about xylitol. And umbrella ingredients like “natural flavors” can send them running when they see what their trusted bloggers and researchers have to say about such terms.
Companies in the food and beverage industry can increase their marketing effectiveness by speaking directly to the concerns of these demographics in the places where they look. Social and mobile technology is an ever-increasing priority. This demands a strong presence on social platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Yelp that emphasizes reviews, endorsements, testimonials and education around the ingredients of a product. Websites must be mobile friendly. There’s also an opportunity here to emphasize the quality of ingredients when consumers are searching for your product online.
In the store, presentation and packaging reflect the quality of what’s inside. Consumers are paying attention to how your food is packaged as well as how it’s made. This means quantity is not as important as quality. A king-sized chocolate bar that will tempt your buyer to overeat questionable ingredients is becoming less attractive than the smaller, finely-wrapped chocolate indulgences touting carefully selected cocoa beans and premium, natural ingredients.
Responding to the demands of this market can spell long-term success for a business in the industry. As we’ve seen with chocolate, this may be the moment for smaller companies to make a dent in big-brand territory. As Hormel Food’s Vice President Jim Splinter pointed out to the Journal, when a brand meets the demand of the discerning indulger, it opens the door to a loyal and frequent buyer.