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V(egan) Wars: Vegan Chocolate Trends
One of my favorite bits of trivia about Kit Kat is that Japan loves them so much that they have nearly 400 variants of the chocolate bar! Well, add one more to that kitty – a vegan version.
Nestlé has just announced that it will be launching Kit Kat V, initially in the UK and later in other countries where the company owns the brand. KitKat V is certified vegan and made from 100% sustainable cocoa, with a rice base instead of milk.
Not to be outdone, Hershey’s announced, within days of Nestlé, that it too is planning to launch vegan chocolate as part of its better-for-you category. This will be a first for Hershey’s, but the company hasn’t said which brand would get this coveted honor. I wouldn’t presume to make a guess, but Kit Kat is made and licensed by Hershey’s in the US – just saying, is all…
These two chocolate giants are not the only ones expanding their portfolios into the vegan chocolate world. Mondelēz has been working on a vegan version of Dairy Milk since 2018, though it hasn’t been launched yet. Perhaps as an alternative route into the vegan space, Mondelēz is also acquiring Hu Master Holdings, which among other things, makes vegan and paleo-friendly chocolate bars.
Mars was perhaps one of the first among the confectionery majors to launch vegan options a couple of years ago, with an entire range of vegan Galaxy bars.
It’s not that vegan chocolate is particularly new. It’s just that it’s a very small share of the overall chocolate market. Spoonshot’s data shows that only 5.6% of chocolate and fudge products carry a vegan claim across the US, UK, and Australian markets.
The vegan chocolate trends have mostly been dominated by startup brands rather than mainstream brands, though there has been some consolidation happening giving established players a foot in the door. Startups in the vegan chocolate space account for about 40% of companies, but less than 20% of the overall chocolate market.
Overall chocolate and fudge market, company breakdown
Vegan chocolate and fudge market, company breakdown
One of the main reasons for this lower presence of mainstream brands in the vegan chocolate space is that vegan chocolate is a lot more difficult to formulate compared to regular chocolate. Dairy has traditionally been an important ingredient for chocolate as it helps give the product its creamy texture. When milk is taken out of the equation, suitable alternatives need to be incorporated that offer a similar mouthfeel and taste.
Very often, these alternatives are a lot more expensive and can make manufacturing at scale a challenge. Mainstream chocolate brands are unlikely to want to make their everyday brands out of reach for the vast majority of consumers. And that’s why companies like Mondelez have been working on this issue for more than two years.
The dairy-free cash cow
Global chocolate behemoths can no longer ignore how popular the vegan claim has become and its importance to their own brand offerings. It’s pretty much a cliché now to say that vegan food has gone from being a fringe fad to one of the fastest-growing trends.
Our data shows that “plant-based” is the second most talked about diet among candy and chocolate consumers, with 36.4% of diet-based conversations related to this topic. Log in to the Spoonshot platform to see what other diets chocolate consumers talk about.
There is a growing demand for vegan products across food and drink as consumers increasingly want ethical and sustainable products. Not surprisingly, companies have been responding. Business interest in vegan food and drink has grown by 521.5% since 2016 and is projected to grow by 5% in the coming six months. Products that include a wider base of consumers is just good business strategy.
Business interest in vegan food and drink has increased by over 500% since 2016
Consumer interest in vegan or plant-based foods was driven initially by concerns over animal welfare, then by environmental sustainability, and now is starting to expand into the comfort food arena.
Trendologist Liz Moskow notes that with interest rising in the vegan category, more products, establishments, and brands have emerged. With variety comes competition, elimination of mediocrity, and the emergence of true product and restaurant excellence.
Today, you can get vegan meal kits, vegan fast food, vegan ghost brands, and great tasting mock meat and dairy vegan proteins that taste great and perform well.
Ghost brands like WTF burger in the UK from Lean Kitchen Network goes above and beyond with their vegan burger builds, ribs, and nuggets, delivered on demand.
Vegan comfort food has arrived – and nothing is more comforting for most people than chocolate. Vegan chocolate is still pretty niche even within the vegan food space. For example, across all vegan launches, chocolate accounted for just over 3% of products compared to over 18% of vegan snack foods (graph below). But with the launch of vegan chocolate products from major companies, we can expect this to change.
% product launches with a vegan claim, by category
The opportunity for vegan chocolate – as well as vegan comfort food as a whole – is immense, and inclusion is good for society and the bottom line.
Ranjana works as the Lead Research Analyst for Spoonshot. Her past experience includes working with a major global market research company, specializing in food and drink trends. She has also worked with major publications as a writer and editor.