Dark chocolate improves mood, and its sales keep climbing

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 11th June 2013

Researchers at an Australian university, Swinburne University of Technology, have found that the polyphenols in dark chocolate increase calmness and contentedness. At the same time, global market research of chocolate consumption shows some very interesting trends.

Mood link trial

The research, which was published in the May 2013 issue of the Journal of Psychopharmacology, found that participants who drank a high dose concentration of cocoa polyphenols reported greater calmness and contentedness than other participants.

Polyphenols are found naturally in plants and are a basic component of the human diet. These compounds have been shown to reduce oxidative stress, which is associated with many diseases. They may also have psychological benefits.

“Anecdotally, chocolate is often linked to mood enhancement,” said Matthew Pase, Swinburne PhD candidate and lead author of the study. “This clinical trial is perhaps the first to scientifically demonstrate the positive effects of cocoa polyphenols on mood,” he said.

Seventy-two healthy men and women aged 40-65 years took part in the randomised study. Participants received a dark chocolate drink mix standardised to contain either 500 mg of cocoa polyphenols, 250 mg of cocoa polyphenols, or no cocoa polyphenols. The drinks mixes were given to participants in identical packaging so that both the investigators and participants were unaware of which mix they were drinking. Participants drank their assigned drink once a day for 30 days.

After 30 days, those who drank the high dose concentration reported greater calmness and contentedness than those who drank either of the other mixes.

The researchers did not find any evidence that cocoa polyphenols significantly improved cognitive performance. Additionally, only those who consumed the highest amount of polyphenols (500 mg per day) reported any significant positive effects.

The Swinburne University study was funded by global cocoa and chocolate products manufacturer Barry Callebaut.

Dark chocolate catching up on milk chocolate popularity

Meanwhile, dark chocolate appears to be slowly edging towards milk chocolate’s popularity levels, according to new findings from global research organisation Mintel.

The latest research from Mintel showed that while milk chocolate is still the most popular choice for just more than half (51 per cent) of all adult consumers, dark chocolate’s popularity is growing. In 2012, 35 per cent of all adult consumers favoured dark chocolate, up from 33 per cent in 2011. Just 8 per cent of consumers preferred white chocolate in 2012.

“The progressively better understood health benefits of dark chocolate may be increasing its popularity as more consumers are looking for indulgent foods that can serve multiple functions such as nutrition or convenience,” said Sarah Day Levesque, Food Analyst at Mintel.

“An exception to the pattern of milk chocolate being the consumer favourite is among consumers aged 55 and over, who are more likely to favour dark chocolate, most likely because they are seeking added nutritional benefits,” Ms Day Levesque said.

According to Mintel’s research, 46 per cent of men aged 55 and over, and 48 per cent of women aged 55 and over, prefer dark chocolate, followed by 38 per cent of men who favour milk chocolate, and 40 per cent of women who prefer milk chocolate.

Mintel said the numbers in the 55 plus age category are indicative of the trend toward the increasing preference for dark chocolate. The findings showed that 73 per cent of all chocolate consumers consider dark chocolate to be healthier.

Chocolate weathers the economic storm

According to Mintel, the chocolate confectionary market seems to have fared well in a lagging global economy, growing 19 per cent from 2007 to 2012.

Mintel said the growth can be attributed to “consumers’ demand for affordable luxuries or indulgence, as well as the foodie culture that has increased interest in premium, high-quality and artisanal varieties of chocolate”. However, Mintel said it expects growth for the chocolate confectionary category to slow in the next five years, with sales growth of 15 per cent expected between 2012 and 2017, because of countering trends.

“As the economy recovers ever-so-slowly, consumer demand for the affordable indulgence that chocolate provides is expected to remain and interest in chocolate as part of the larger food culture will continue,” Ms Levesque said. “However, obesity, the dark cloud that looms over this category and many other indulgent categories, and related health risks will remain a concern for many consumers and present challenges to increasing category sales,” she said.

The latest research showed that 89 per cent of consumers buy chocolate as a treat or reward, and 87 per cent buy it as a snack option. Meanwhile, 83 per cent of consumers reported looking carefully at the size of chocolate packages to determine the best value for money, and 72 per cent said they bought chocolate as a way to improve their mood or provide an energy boost.

Dark chocolate enhances mood