Sweet indulgences

by Stephanie Bloyd
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As consumers cut costs in these uncertain economic times there are some small indulgences many aren’t willing to give up. And since consumers are staying closer to home and eating out less, but still crave small indulgences, healthful, homemade baked foods with indulgent add-ons, such as dark chocolate baking products, may be the perfect antidote to modern-day stress.

Recent research from Mintel International, Chicago, showed retail chocolate sales rose 22% to $16.3 billion between 2002 and 2007. With the increasing popularity of dark and premium chocolates, Mintel predicted 4% annual sales increases each year for the industry, over the next six years.

"People might be cutting back or switching to store brands, but they definitely aren’t giving up their small daily indulgences," said Marcia Mogelonsky, senior analyst for Mintel. "Chocolate, cigarettes and alcohol seem relatively recession proof."

The recent releases of high-end baking chocolate from Dagoba Organic Chocolate, Ashland, Ore., and Ghirardelli Chocolate Co., San Leandro, Calif., seem consistent with the research. Ghirardelli debuted its Gourmet Baking products in three cacao percentages: 58% semi-sweet baking chocolate; 72% extra bittersweet baking chocolate; and 100% unsweetened baking chocolate.

Dagoba introduced 59% semi-sweet organic chocolate baking bars, as well as a 100% organic unsweetened baking bar.

"I definitely think our new baking bars are a way for people who use food as entertainment, or who are trading restaurant meals for cooking at home, to get the same quality ingredients they like, in their own homes," said Liz Kaplan, brand ambassador for Dagoba.

Sharon Davis of The Home Baking Association, Topeka, Kas., said she has seen an increased interest in home baking among 20 to 30 year olds.

"Generations X and Y aren’t impressed with some of the lifestyles they got from their parents, and they want to do things at home more," Ms. Davis said. "People want to regroup and enjoy food rather than simply grabbing it on the run."

Ms. Kaplan noted there "are not too many organic options for home bakers," and said the new Dagoba baking chocolates may help conscientious consumers keep their baked foods 100% organic.

Do-it-yourself baking also is more affordable than ready-made baked foods. Ms. Davis found that cookies made from scratch with butter cost about 6c each, compared with ready-to-eat chocolate chip cookies, which cost about 12c each.

"Baking at home, even if it’s already made like a cake mix, will still save you money over buying something ready made," Ms. Davis said. "I do think home baked goods will be perceived as fresher and can let people spend a little more on ingredients. Customers definitely buy ‘add ins’ for boosting quality, such as high-end morsels to stir into mixes."

Ghirardelli found similar results when researching its new baking products.

"More and more consumers are choosing to bake at home to save money, but are still looking for quality ingredients that allow them to indulge and still have the professional-quality and chocolate flavor that they are used to," said Fabrizio Parini, senior vice-president of marketing for Ghirardelli.

Those with health and wellness in mind also may be attracted to the possible health benefits gained from organic foods, and even dark chocolate. Studies show the flavanols found in dark chocolate may decrease inflammation and improve heart function.

"The primary benefit consumers get from premium chocolate is the indulgence; health claims might give permission to a subset of consumers, but definitely serve as a secondary reason for chocolate consumption," Mr. Parini said.

Research on the baking industry by Global Industry Analysis, Inc. found the health and wellness trend is becoming just as important an indulgence factor.

"Consumer preference for health-oriented products and increases in the number of new products backed by health claims represent the two noteworthy trends in the marketplace in recent years," the Global Industry Analysis report said. So as home baking gets back to basics, premium add-ons, especially those with health benefits, may help consumers rediscover the pleasures of do-it-yourself baking.

This article can also be found in the digital edition of Food Business News, September 30, 2008, starting on Page 34. Click here to search that archive.

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