A quarter of Western consumers are interested in chocolate with physical or emotional health benefits, according to Barry Callebaut, indicating that there is a strong market for functional products.
According to data gathered on behalf of the chocolate firm in Belgium, Switzerland, France, Germany, the UK and the US, 27 per cent of consumers in these countries buy chocolate to promote a feeling of well-being and boost their mood.
While it has for a long time been known that ordinary chocolate boosts serotonin levels in the brain, which produces feelings of elation, Barry Callebaut claims that almost the same number of consumers are increasingly interested in functional products that claim to have added benefits.
According to the survey, about 21 per cent of consumers across the six countries are now interested in chocolate that has added functional ingredients.
"The data shows that functional chocolate is quickly gaining in popularity," said Barry Callebaut's chief innovation officer Hans Vriens. "Consumers are increasingly seeking chocolate that offers them clinically proven physical or emotional health benefits."
According to the survey, functional chocolate is most popular in the US, where 14 per cent of consumers say they eat it at least once a month. The Americans are closely followed by the Swiss, 12 per cent of whom say they eat functional chocolate once a month.
In terms of the desired effect of eating chocolate, the claims "is beneficial to the heart", "enhances your memory", and "is tooth-friendly", were all flagged up by the consumers questioned.
Barry Callebaut has been looking to profit from this trend for several months now, and has produced a range of functional products for the confectionery market.
These include Acticoa, a cocoa powder that contains a high level of the antioxidant polyphenols, pro-biotic chocolate for gut health, and a tooth-friendly chocolate made with isomaltulose, a natural constituent of honey and sugar cane.
The company's claims over the popularity of such products appear to be backed up by market research, as Euromonitor reports that the functional market has grown by 15 per cent on average per year over the last four years, however there has recently been some backlash from regulators and health advisors.
However there has recently been some backlash over functional chocolate from regulators and health advisors.
In 2006, Mars came under fire from regulators in the US after making claims on its CocaVia range such as: "Promotes a healthy heart", and "Now you can have real chocolate pleasure with real heart health benefits".
The Food and Drug Administration consequently sent a letter to the company threatening to take legal action if Mars did not remove the claims, warning that the chocolate products could not be viewed as health foods due to the high level of fat.
In the EU, the commission is currently compiling a list of approved health claims, but medical journal the Lancet warned last December that chocolate manufacturers are currently under no obligation to state the exact content of functional ingredients.
For example, manufacturers rarely label their products with the exact flavanol content, keeping consumers in the dark over how many antioxidants there are in a chocolate product at any one time.
The journal also said that many manufacturers often keep the flavanol content of a chocolate bar relatively low because of the naturally bitter taste, only to then darken the cocoa solids with coloring at a later date for aesthetic purposes.
Analysts at Frost and Sullivan also warned earlier this month that confectioners risk losing market share if they fail to win health claims for their products.