There is no doubt that people love chocolate. Chocolate is an $83 billion per year business, according to research from MarketsandMarkets. That makes the industry's value larger than the Gross Domestic Product of more than 130 countries, World Bank figures show. In the United States, chocolate sales total some $20 billion annually, and by 2017, Statista estimates that chocolate sales in the United States will reach $22.4 billion.

The average American consumes chocolate two times per week, according to the NPD Group. With such impressive market statistics, it is time to make your bakery the go-to destination for shoppers when their weekly cravings strike.

Market Trends

According to an IBIS World July 2015 U.S. Market Research Report, the chocolate production industry has benefited over the past five years from the following trends:

  • Improving disposable incomes
  • Greater demand for premium, dark, and organic chocolates
  • Vibrant export markets

Shelly Kreml, Director of Marketing for ifiGOURMET, added to the trend list:

  • Focus on high-percentage and single-origin couvertures (high quality chocolate made with extra cocoa butter)
  • Desire for sustainable agriculture, including cocoa and chocolate
  • Growth in the “bean to bar” trend (pastry chefs and bakers making their own chocolate)

On the flip side, rising health consciousness and volatile cocoa prices have limited industry growth. But even with these barriers, the industry is booming.

Overview: Types of Chocolate

The three main types of chocolate are as follows:

  1. Dark Chocolate (semi-sweet): Dark chocolate combines chocolate liquor (cocoa bean centers ground to a liquid), cocoa butter, sugar, an emulsifier, and vanilla or other flavorings. Dark chocolates may contain milk fat to soften the texture, but they generally do not have a milky flavor. The United States cacao standards require dark chocolate to have at least 35 percent chocolate liquor. Unsweetened chocolate (baking chocolate) is 100 percent chocolate liquor and is typically very bitter.
  2. Milk Chocolate: Milk chocolate is usually made with dry milk solids, which look like powdered milk. Milk chocolate must have at least 10 percent chocolate liquor by weight and at least 12 percent milk solids.
  3. White Chocolate: White chocolate features cocoa butter, sugar, milk solids, an emulsifier, and vanilla or other flavorings. It has at least 20 percent cocoa butter, 14 percent milk solids, and no more than 55 percent sugar.

Innovative Flavor Combinations

While chocolate is excellent on its own, it can be taken to another whole level when combined with other flavors.

Shelly Kreml of ifiGourmet pointed to darker milk chocolates, roasted white chocolates, and coconut chocolates as all being on trend. She also said candied fruit and chocolate combinations and the pairing of chocolate with other artisan ingredients, such as honey, are popular as well.

Additionally, “Chocolate mixed with savory is still very trendy,” Kreml said. “The flavors may not be as drastic as before, but adding a hint of exotic finishing salt is a great way to accentuate the flavor of the chocolate. Another flavor combination that is interesting is smoking the ingredients first, before incorporating them into dish.”

At Cocoa Dolce in Wichita, Kansas, chocolates in flavors such as the Mayan (chocolate with ancho chili pepper and spices), Bailey’s Irish Cream, Vermont maple syrup, Guinness Stout, and coconut with Tahitian vanilla and curry are featured on the menu.

New York’s Kee’s Chocolates offers balsamic vinegar and pecans with dark chocolate; dark chocolate truffles with black tea and rose petals; dark chocolate truffles coated with toasted sesame seeds; peppercorns blended with chocolate ganache; and dark chocolate with blood oranges and Grand Marnier.

And at Compartes in Los Angeles, shoppers can choose among several interesting flavor combinations, including donuts and coffee milk chocolates; salted pretzel chocolates; birthday cake white chocolates with sprinkles; chocolate-covered watermelon truffles; and green tea chocolates.

Stylish Designs

According to Kreml, “Decorating techniques have essentially remained consistent over the last few years. The use of acetate plastics, texture sheets, cocoa butter spray, and transfers is still prevalent. The advent of readily available technologies like liquid nitrogen, hydrocolloids, or CO2 charged siphons have also presented some interesting textural garnish options for plated desserts and entremets.”

Kreml also recommends incorporating locally sourced foods into chocolate desserts and adding “micro greens, shoots, and edible flowers as garnishes.”

At Bennison’s Cakes in Evanston, Illinois, specialty tortes are decorated with chocolate pieces, chocolate stringwork, chocolate-covered coffee beans, chocolate lattice, and chocolate diamonds. They also top cakes with chocolate truffles and dust tiramisu tortes with powdered cocoa.

Los Angeles’s Compartes customizes chocolates with customers’ logos or designs, and they hand paint other chocolates in an array of beautiful colors.

Product Ideas

Consumers love traditional chocolates and chocolate desserts, such as brownies and cookies, but they are really intrigued by dessert options they haven’t seen before. Consider adding to your display case a few desserts from this list (inspired by bakeries around the country), and watch your shoppers’ eyes light up when they first catch a glimpse of your new offerings:

  • Trail mix chocolate bars
  • Chocolate cereal bars
  • Chocolate oatmeal
  • Peach and raspberry white chocolates
  • Strawberry and coconut dark chocolates
  • Cherry chocolate frozen cocktails
  • Chocolate lollipops
  • Chocolate ganache ice cream
  • Frozen chocolate peppermint patties

Event Ideas

Your bakery’s chocolate involvement does not need to be limited to simple sales. At 2 Chicks with Chocolate in New Jersey, chocolate fountains are featured and chocolate, wine, and cheese pairing classes are offered. And at Theo in Seattle, children can attend a s’mores day, and people of all ages can tour the factory, tasting the product from start to finish.

Bottom Line

In short, chocolate is a booming industry with a seemingly endless array of flavor, design, and product options. Consumers are looking to indulge in chocolate an average of two times per week, so it’s important to fill your bakery case with tempting options that will keep them coming back for more.