In the US, Mars recently launched Snickers Crisper, a new portion-controlled, low-calorie chocolate bar with innovative twist-close packaging. The product, which is designed as a better-for-you (BFY) snacking option, is sold in a single pack featuring two milk chocolate-coated bars with a rice, caramel, and peanut center. Each bar contains only 100 calories, providing “a snack for now and another for later,” thanks to the development of a new wrapper that can be twisted closed once opened.

The launch is designed to reach the growing number of Americans looking for fewer calories, portion control and on-the-go products in the confectionery aisle, while simultaneously appealing to the desire for indulgence. Mintel research indicates that this is in line with what consumers are asking for: the Chocolate Confectionery US 2015 report found that 72% of US chocolate eaters consume chocolate as a treat, and only 15% have bought less in the past year for health reasons. While many manufacturers will continue to offer BFY options amid an obesity epidemic and rising health consciousness, the pleasure derived from products will ultimately remain the key selling point for consumers.

Packaging formats help consumer exercise control

The development of Snickers Crisper reflects the wider trends of portion control and lower calorie intake. This is an attractive option in the US, where consumers remain largely ambivalent about low calorie/sugar-free chocolate. Focusing on portion control allows manufacturers to adopt a BFY positioning without fundamentally altering products. Mintel research reveals that there is already demand for such options in indulgence-led categories: the Snacking Motivations and Attitude US 2015 report indicates consumers agree there are not enough conveniently packaged snacks, and the Chocolate Confectionery report reveals burgeoning demand for resealable chocolate.

A “convenient packaging” claim appeared on 7% of chocolate product launches 2014-2015

This has led to a recent wave of resealable package innovation in the US chocolate confectionery category. According to Mintel Global New Products Database (GNPD) “convenient packaging” was used as a claim on 7% of chocolate launches 2014-2015, up from just 2% 2010-2011. What’s more, the development of resealable closure methods increased 40% year-over-year in the 12 months ending November 2015. Most resealable innovation has, however, been in flexible stand-up pouches that contain multiple portions of non-individually wrapped chocolate, designed to encourage communal consumption, but not really carrying a BFY claim.

This suggests untapped potential for resealable packaging in both chocolate tablets and countlines. There has been some growth globally in the development of resealable tablets in recent years thanks to Mondelēz’s “peel and reseal” packaging across its Cadbury Dairy Milk and Milka brands. But, again, these formats are designed for sharing and do not have BFY positioning. By bringing resealable packaging into chocolate countlines, Mars is putting portion control front and center, possibly making it the primary reason to purchase. Mars is the first major branded player to do this in the US with Snickers Crisper’s unique “twist and go” closure method. We predict a narrowing of the sales gap between larger and smaller chocolate formats through 2019 as consumers grow more interested in grab-and-go convenience and products that offer reduced calories, sugar and fat.

Managing increased costs for consumers and brands

While Snickers Crisper will allow Mars to reach increasingly health-conscious consumers looking for permissible treats in the chocolate aisle, the product could also help the brand maintain profit margins amid rising raw material prices. The price of cocoa reached a new peak in 2014, forcing Mars to announce its first price increase since 2011, with a 7% rise attributed to the growing cost of cocoa, dairy, and nuts; Hershey, Mondelēz, and Lindt all followed suit. Prices have since dropped, but they remain high due to a combination of adverse weather conditions, cocoa-killing pests and diseases, and political uncertainty in key growing regions.

Chocolate manufacturers should be considering ways to better justify rising prices to prevent flight to cheaper alternatives. Highlighting portion control is a particularly good method as it makes fewer calories (and subsequently less product) an actual selling point. Therefore, developing portion-controlled permissible indulgences will not only benefit the waistlines of US consumers, but also the “bottom lines” of chocolate manufacturers.

Marcia Mogelonsky, Director of Insight, Food and Drink, has been with Mintel since 2000. Her expertise is centered on a number of areas in confectionery and snacks. Before joining Mintel, Marcia headed her own consulting company which focused on consumer behavior and product innovation in a wide range of industries.

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