10 Hot Chocolate Trends

In the 100 Trends for the Coffee & Food Industry 2020 Report, Hot Chocolate has to be included. Why? Mainly because it is an enduring trend that fulfils several roles in any operator’s beverage menu. It meets the needs of younger consumers who have yet to develop a palate for coffee or indeed tea or consumers who simply do not like coffee or tea but want to enjoy time in a coffee shop with friends who do; it is one of the established indulgent treats, particularly in colder months, in fact of all the beverages, the need states for hot chocolate are the most emotionally driven.

So what are the trends for Hot Chocolate? Now that Christmas is over is it still a relevant beverage on the menu? (The answer is obviously yes!). I spoke to Paul Eagles, Founder of Kokoa Collection, and we discussed a few trends together.

1. High Quality Cocoa

The one key area where the hot chocolate category has been changing over the last few years and is continuing to grow is the quality of hot chocolate products available on the market. Gone are the days when the only hot chocolate available was a fine cocoa powder that bared little resemblance to real chocolate. Strongly influenced by quality suppliers such as Kokoa Collection, Willie’s Cacao and Mörk Chocolate, the world of Hot Chocolate is changing and strong operators are responding by devoting the same passion they have for their coffee to other beverages on their menu.

2. Single origin – Flavour Profiles

Like coffee, cacao and its by-products, cocoa and chocolate, have a wide range of flavour notes and textures (or mouthfeel) which are affected by where it is grown and how it is processed and roasted. Less of a consumer trend in hot chocolate, independent coffee shops are keen to display their quality credentials across their entire beverage range. Focus on the flavour profiles of single origin hot chocolates is an effective way to indicate a point of difference from High Street chains, as well as reinforce those premium credentials. It won’t be long before a high street chain realises the connection and promotes hot chocolate in a similar fashion (when they source high quality hot chocolate of course!)

3. Single origin - Sourcing stories

For Kokoa Collection there has been a strong performance in terms of being single origin during 2019 and this is expected into 2020. Stories from where the cacao comes from that reinforce the quality of the cocoa are important, especially to independent coffee shops. People’s innate curiosity and influence from the coffee world where consumers are more used to seeing where coffee comes from which leads them to want to know where chocolate comes from. Retail shops and supermarkets also have more suppliers that have origin information on chocolate bars.

4. No Sugar Debate

Due to the level of sugar in retail chocolate bars, consumers are concerned about the sugar content in hot chocolate, especially with the media hot on the heels of indulgent beverages over the Christmas period. For good quality hot chocolate, no-sugar is a not trend in chocolate, its more about high cocoa content, according to Paul. However, consumers are increasingly concerned about sugar levels and chocolate companies like Hotel Chocolat are using this trend to highlight the lower sugar levels of high-quality eating chocolate, which then translates into the demand for promoting the same in high quality hot chocolate. Consumers are still learning that high cocoa content means lower sugar levels, so this message remains an important trend.

5. High Cocoa Content

This trend goes hand in hand with the no-sugar debate. Within the industry, the stronger operators are more interested in high cocoa content in order to assure high quality hot chocolate. There is also a trend for higher cocoa content in eating chocolate, and the general movement towards more cocoa, less sugar with the launch of Cadbury’s Dark Milk etc will translate to consumer interest in higher cocoa content and what this means for health, wellness and reduced sugar levels in diets.

6. Flavour Growth/Seasonal Beverages

Flavours and seasonal drinks continue to flourish as a trend though rarely change in line with the actual flavour trends of the year, this year, for example, salted caramel and black forest continue to be popular. For the high-quality cocoa suppliers though, flavouring is less important as the idea of adding syrup or other flavouring to a single origin cacao is contradictory (just like with specialty coffee adding a syrup feels like heresy). As Paul says, every cacao has a nuanced flavour of its own, so to add a flavour would ruin the nuances.

What is important is to provide choice and having a combination of single origin hot chocolates as well as a flavoured one means a coffee shop can provide a customer with three or four choices on a menu rather than just one seasonal flavoured hot chocolate.

Hot Chocolate
Photo by WINGs on Unsplash

7. Allergens

Another big trend coming out of 2019 and into 2020 and beyond is the concern around allergens and how to message around these when it comes to hot chocolates. The main allergen is soy as most chocolate contains a soya emulsifier. Depending on who supplies your hot chocolate it is highly likely that the soy used is from a different part of the plant that is the allergen but double check!

8. Vegan

Of course, we all know plant-based is a massive trend. This means that consumers ask all the time about whether chocolate is vegan, mainly due to the milk content of retail bars of chocolate so there is concern among plant-based consumers that their hot chocolate is also vegan. Many suppliers ensure their hot chocolate is vegan, but it is always worth checking.

9. Plant-Based Dairy Alternatives

Obviously, the vegan trend has been mentioned, but plant-based dairy alternatives are not just for vegans. As a trend on its own, dairy alternatives are one of the biggest and I’ll be talking more about why in future blog posts. Plant based ‘mylks’* are the perfect way to grow the Hot Chocolate category from an indulgent-only beverage into the health & wellness arena. Rich in vitamins and minerals, often low fat (not all of them!) and perfect for slow digestive systems, beverages such as soy, almond and coconut hot chocolates are a great way of promoting a healthier indulgent treat and meeting the needs of a growing number of consumers looking to exclude dairy, but still enjoy their favourite beverage. Obviously Oat 'mylk' is a massive trend, and should be considered as part of the hot chocolate beverage range, but due to its high carbohydrate and therefore sugar content can't really be used as a healthier indulgence!

*The term mylk is the accepted description for plant based dairy alternatives, since the word milk is not allowed.

10. At-Home on the Rise

It seems that consumers are not satisfied with drinking gorgeous hot chocolate beverages in coffee shops, they want the same quality and indulgence at home too. And not from instant hot chocolate either! Following the trend for wanting espresso-based coffees at home that are similar to the beverages they can get in coffee shops and the resultant decline in instant coffee, consumers now want hot chocolates similar to the ones they get in coffee shops. This means less Cadbury’s and more high-quality cocoa that is easy to melt and turn into hot chocolate drinks. Hotel Chocolat’s launch of their Velvetizer in 2018 along with a dearth of other at home hot chocolate making machines means that consumers are looking for the best hot chocolate to use. According to Paul, more retail customers are interested in stocking high quality hot chocolate than ever before!

So, there you have it, 10 key trends in the Hot Chocolate category!

Remember my 100 Trends for the Coffee & Food Industry 2020 Report is available to purchase here, Hot Chocolate is just 1 of those trends, so there is plenty to get your teeth into as you plan your year ahead. If you simply want to keep up to date with this blog and any other activity, then feel free to subscribe to the newsletter. I won’t be sending emails every day, or every week or even every month, but when I have something to update you with, I’ll stick it in a newsletter so you are the first to hear!

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