Variety of chocolate candies
Chocolate candy sales in the U.S. are expected to exceed $26 billion for the first time by 2018.

ROCKVILLE, MD. — Sweet news for the confectionery industry. Chocolate candy sales in the United States are expected to exceed $26 billion for the first time by 2018, up from an estimated $22 billion in sales by the end of 2015, according to new research from Packaged Facts. Steady innovation and the emergence of creative startup brands are driving growth and excitement in the category.

With 81% of Americans consuming chocolate, sales have continued to rise in spite of economic volatility. Supporting the market’s momentum is a growing body of research positioning cocoa as a nutritious superfood. Additionally, many consumers perceive chocolate candy as an “accessible luxury,” encouraging a trade-up to premium products, Packaged Facts said.

Another factor boosting category growth is the ability for big and small players to compete.

“While the market is dominated by a handful of companies — think Hershey and Mars — there’s still opportunity for innovative chocolate makers to make their marks and find an audience,” Packaged Facts said.

Chocolate Bars with interesting inclusions, Vosgas Super Dark pomegranate & goji, Chuao Chocolatiers cinnamon cereal smooch, Hammond's pb&j sandwich chocolate bar
Recent product launches feature a range of diverse flavors and ingredients.

Recent product launches feature a range of diverse flavors and ingredients. Chicago-based Vosges offers a line of dark chocolate bars in such varieties as pomegranate and goji, guajillo and chipotle chili, matcha green tea and spirulina, and reishi mushroom and walnut. Chuao Chocolatier, Carlsbad, Calif., manufactures chocolate bars with unexpected inclusions, including cinnamon cereal, popcorn, potato chips and bacon. Nostalgic chocolate bar varieties from Hammond’s Candies, Denver, include peanut butter and jelly sandwich, grasshopper pie and malted milkshake.

In response to an influx of gourmet innovation in the category, large companies are marketing more premium products. Nestle S.A., Vevey, Switzerland, recently announced plans to introduce its Swiss super-premium chocolate brand Cailler globally. The Hershey Co., Hershey, Pa., is set to debut a new twist on the Hershey’s Kiss. Twice the size of the original candy, Hershey’s Kisses Deluxe contains rice crisps and a hazelnut center.

The industry is not without challenges, however, including concern about the cocoa farming process and the supply of cocoa.

“Overall, however, the industry is poised for continued growth based on the many positive trends now unfolding in the market,” Packaged Facts said.