Will manlier chocolates sweeten category?

January 11, 2012

Chocolate sells well, but if new products with beer go mainstream they might pull in more men.

Expect to see stores and brand marketers begin to “man shape” category assortments across the selling floor in 2012, since men are assuming bigger roles in the kitchen. Retailers and CPG will go beyond six-foot party heroes, chips and steaks (as good as they are!) to bring in new flavor combinations and packages that attract the gender that currently accounts for 41% of home-food preparation, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

This means men shop not only for a few select favorite items, but scour aisles more intently as they shape, flavor, prepare and serve the home meal. As long as guys influence more of the total household food consumption, stores and brands should snap to attention.

Chocolates could be among the first categories to “man shape.” Specialty chocolate makers have already mixed savory with sweet (think bacon chocolate) and spicy with sweet (pepper chocolates) for several years. Lately, high-end proprietors have begun to include beer in their confections – and F3 expects mainstream supermarket brands to follow suit if sales take hold.

Mintel Group data show that 90% of U.S. women buy chocolates versus 82% of men, and Mintel analyst Marcia Mogelonsky told The Wall Street Journal that beer candy is an attempt to close the gender gap in specialty chocolates, which comprise about 10% of industry sales.

If beer candy does become part of the mainstream supermarket mix, will it attract men? And will it help drive a rise in the average purchase price? Of nearly 18 million U.S. buyers of boxed chocolates in a year, nearly two-thirds are women (65%), and 60% of the buyers purchase them on sale or with a coupon, according to data from the Roy Morgan research firm. If household budget concerns currently outweigh America’s sweet tooth, manufacturers may time the introduction of this new segment to a period where consumer embrace and willingness to spend appears likelier.

F3 believes the health angle has become an increasingly important growth engine for the chocolate category. The antioxidants in dark chocolates are well known. Now a Swiss study reported in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology connects the flavonoids in chocolate to lower blood pressure and therefore less risk of strokes among women.

In the 52 weeks ended Nov. 27, 2011, total chocolate candy dollar sales rose 6.72% to $8.00 billion in U.S. supermarkets, drug stores, gasoline-convenience stores and mass-market retailers (excluding Walmart), according to Infoscan Reviews of the SymphonyIRI Group, a Chicago-based market research firm. Unit sales rose 2.14% to 5.07 billion units, leading to an average price per unit of $1.58, up 7 cents from the year-earlier period.

The six segments turned in varied performances, said SymphonyIRI Group:

•    Box/bag/bar less than 3.5 ounces – Dollar sales jumped 8.61% to $3.12 billion.

•    Box/bag/bar more than 3.5 ounces – Dollar sales rose 5.05% to $2.51 billion.

•    Snack size – Dollar sales were up 4.28% to $672.6 million.

•    Gift box chocolates – Dollar sales gained 3.10% to $229.7 million.

•    Novelty – Dollar sales grew 34.99% to $6.1 million.

•    Sugar-free – Dollar sales slid 2.07% to $78.9 million.