CHICAGO Organic chocolate sales are booming as
more U.S. consumers seeking untreated natural ingredients are
choosing the sweet treat to satisfy their cravings, and
mainstream companies are entering what was once considered a
Chocolate is the largest growing snack segment in the U.S.
organic market, according to an industry study, with organic
sales tallying a 49 percent increase in sales in 2006.
Organic chocolate sales totaled a still small $70.8 million
fraction of the market in the year, according to a Euromonitor
report cited by the Dagoba Organic Chocolate company, compared
with total U.S. chocolate sales in 2006 of about $6 billion.
The average American consumes about 12 pounds of chocolate
per year, said Cathy Strange, global chocolate buyer for Whole
Foods Market Inc. WFMI.O, which sells organic brands like
Dagoba, Green & Black's, Lake Champlain, Chocolove and Newman's
Jay Jacobowitz, president of Retail Insights, a consulting
service for natural products retailers, said the trajectory for
organic chocolate will likely track that of the organic food
market, which is on a double-digit growth spurt.
Organic chocolate is made from cocoa grown without
pesticides and herbicides. Producers use certified organic
sugar, essential oils, fruits, and nuts in accordance with USDA
In the chocolate market, as in other food areas, education
about issues like sustainability and fair trade, as well as
product quality, has evolved.
"We have a growing interest in where our food comes from,
its pedigree," Jacobowitz said.
Big-name companies are responding to the trend. In May
2005, Cadbury Schweppes Plc CBRY.L acquired the Green &
Black's brand, and Hershey Co. (HSY.N) bought Dagoba in October
2006, both for undisclosed amounts.
Russell Stover, known for selling boxes of chocolate in
drugstores, has even entered the game, with its new organic
Belgian milk and 60 percent solid dark organic chocolate going
on sale at Target Corp. (TGT.N) stores in June.
But while organics are often associated with health,
chocolate is seen as an indulgence. Organic chocolate, like
most other organic foods, generally costs at least $1 more per
1.75-ounce bar (49.6 grams) than its nonorganic counterparts. A
nonorganic bar that size can cost less than $1.
Jacobowitz, however, believes chocolate is a product people
are willing to pay more for because they perceive it as "a
treat, an affordable luxury."
Elaine Lipson, organic program director at New Hope Natural
Media and author of "The Organic Foods Sourcebook," agrees that
price differential is not always a barrier.
"You're already treating yourself, so you might as well
treat yourself even more," Lipson said.
According to Jacobowitz, baby boomers, now mostly in their
40s and 50s, comprise the core group of organic chocolate
consumers, followed by 25-to-34-year-olds.
"Natural food consumers are demanding it," said Katrina
Markoff, founder of Vosges Haut Chocolat, a Chicago-based
boutique chocolatier. "Amongst certain groups, this is a
Markoff's Chicago production facility was recently
certified as organic. She hopes for 80 percent of her product
line to be organic by the end of 2008.
"Most people forget that chocolate comes from an
agricultural product," said Melissa Schweisguth, spokeswoman
Lipson believes organic chocolate has become viable not
only for small, artisanal producers but for mass marketers as
With its new organic line, Russell Stover is moving into a
higher-end market. Its organic line costs about 30 percent more
than its traditional offerings.
"We're seeing that the consumers most passionate about
organic indulgence are also those who are most interested in a
premium product," said Mark Sesler, a Russell Stover spokesman.
How's Russell Stover's organic line selling?
"It's meeting its need. It's not our best-selling product,
but it's certainly holding its own, justifying its position on
the shelves," Sesler said.
Russell Stover hopes to show that organic choices can be
found in places besides Whole Foods.
"It's not just the natural stores that can sell a good
amount of organic chocolate," Sesler said.