A newsletter on children’s food & beverage products, market statistics, and lifestyle trends.

Chocolate is one ofAmerica’s favorite treats, long enjoyed for its wonderful taste. In addition to its savored flavor, researchers are discovering new information about this cherished product.

The once-prevalent belief that something that tastes so good cannot be good for you has given way to a more balanced picture of chocolate and cocoa products and their connection to health and nutrition.

Kids today have more reasons to enjoy chocolate than ever before. It is a rich source of phosphorus and magnesium.

Phosphorus is important for bone and teeth formation in children and works with calcium to keep bones strong and healthy.

Magnesium helps to maintain muscle and nerve function, is good for strong bones, and supports a healthy immune system.

Chocolate also contains flavanol antioxidants, which improve & strengthen the immune system.

Researchers at Pennsylvania State University, in a study of the role of fatty acid saturation on plasma lipids, concluded that stearic acid, the main saturated fatty acid in chocolate, does not raise blood cholesterol levels.

Chocolate provides a number of nutrients the body requires daily.Moreover, children are more likely to drink chocolate milk than plain milk and chocolate milk provides more zinc, potassium, niacin and riboflavin than plain whole milk. These nutrients also have protective effects on the tooth enamel.

Not all chocolate is created equal. Dark chocolate contains a lot more cocoa than other forms of chocolate and as a result is believed to contain the highest amount of health benefits. It has been known to researchers for the past few years that cacao bean, the seed of the fruit of the Theobroma cacao tree, is one of the most concentrated sources of healthy flavanol antioxidants. The higher the concentration of cacao is (i.e., the darker the chocolate), the higher the amount of flavanols.

While chocolates may be healthy to eat, there can be pesticide residue present in the cocoa powder used, which can have ill effects on the body. Organic chocolate is made from organic cocoa which is cultivated in small plots under a shade canopy, therefore minimizing the use of pesticides. Since there is less risk for pesticide residue ingestion, organic chocolate has been proven much more helpful to the body. It can contribute to heart health, suppress chronic cough, add much-needed magnesium to the diet and help control blood sugar.

With 2006 chocolate sales estimated at close to $16 billion through all channels, chocolate is forecast to grow to $18 billion by 2011, according to the U.S.Market for Chocolate, a fully updated Packaged Facts report. Sales of organic chocolate in the United States skyrocketed 70 percent last year to become a $20.5 million market and predictions of future growth are in the two to three percent range. The reason for this growth is the reported health benefits of dark chocolate, as well as a shift in consumer interest towards ‘luxury’ products, including organic and fair trade products.

In addition to the natural health benefits in chocolate, chocolate manufacturers and cocoa ingredient suppliers have been working to further improve chocolate’s nutritional value in an array of new health, nutritional and even low-carb products on the market.

The dark chocolate phenomenon has already been picked up by the food industry, with many manufacturers launching or focusing on developing new lines. Last year,Mars Nutrition for Health & Well-Being, a division ofMars Inc., launched CocoaVia, a line of dark and premium chocolates and chocolate products sold purely on a heart-healthy platform. Lindt and Ghirardelli, perceived as premium brands, have also expanded their distribution in mass channels through products such as Lindt’s 72 percent Cocoa Bar and Ghirardelli’s Intense Dark range. Hershey’s reported that their Extra Dark and Cacao Reserve premium dark chocolate lines drove sales growth in the most recent quarter. Hershey has acquired dark and organic chocolate brands such as Dagoba and is investing in research and marketing to drive category growth.

NewTree Belgian Chocolate Bars have been introduced by NewTree USA, Inc. The new chocolate bars are available in six varieties, including Pleasure, which contains pure dark chocolate and is high in minerals and fiber and Renew, which is rich in antioxidants because it contains dark chocolate.

Some interesting trends that point to the enormous opportunities for marketers of functional chocolates:

  • Health is a top-of-mind parental concern and is even gaining consciousness among kids
  • Consumers of parenting age are trying to eat more healthily and this has a knock-on effect
  • Parents will increasingly opt for natural and fresh food variants for their kids
  • Parents are increasingly scrutinizing product packaging to check for health information
  • Kids’ confectionery, ice cream and savory snacks consumption exceeds the population average
  • U.S. children consumed notably more confectionery per capita than the population average in 2005

What to do with this new found knowledge is the focus of considerable innovation, experimentation and trial in the marketplace.

All the elements of a bona fide trend are in place. It starts with a consuming public already in love with chocolate; some 80 percent of consumers regularly eat chocolate in some form, according to Simmons Research Bureau. Add medical evidence to support the benefits of cocoa the growing advocacy by doctors for therapeutic cocoa consumption, a tailor-made media story, and several years of experimentation among entrepreneurs. It is a recipe for a major trend–as soon as consumers decide just how and where they want their “healthy” chocolate.

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