Chocolate lovers are restless. Many much-loved chocolate bars are changing shape, getting smaller, or contain a lower cocoa content, so they just don’t taste as good. When it comes to choosing a sweet treat, there seems to be a greater range than ever – but, for many people, the bar they’ve enjoyed all their lives just doesn’t seem the same.
And the truth is, in a lot of cases, it isn’t.
There’s a lot happening in the world of confectionery. The industry manufactures an abundance of products, from the familiar to the novel, but generating growth through new product development is difficult because consumers can be reluctant to try something new. So the acquisition of rival businesses may be a preferred route to achieving sales growth.
This challenge may explain why Mondelez International apparently is seeking to acquire The Hershey Company, bringing together the Cadbury’s, Tobler and Terry’s brands with Hershey and Reece’s.
The chocolate industry is segregated into global mass producers such as Mondelez, Mars and Nestle, proliferating bars, blocks and bags of familiar brands, and the premium producers, typically smaller organisations such as Hotel Chocolat, emphasising cocoa content – and its origin – in eating and drinking forms.
Mass-produced chocolate is undergoing rapid change. Dairy Milk Marvellous Creations Mix Ups, for example, combines wine gums, chocolates and biscuits, outputs from different Mondelez businesses in a single bag. And Mondelez doesn’t stop there: Dairy Milk Ritz embeds salty crackers in sweet chocolate. These products demonstrate the dual importance of cost reduction and innovation. Costs are reduced by combining operations between previously independent business units, an important post-acquisition agenda.
In terms of innovation, novelty is achieved by stretching familiar brands over to unfamiliar supermarket shelving – from biscuits to chocolate or vice versa – thereby boosting visibility. Additionally, the innovation of substituting chocolate with biscuits and sweets lowers the cost of raw materials.
Innovation or rip-off?
Adapting products is tricky. According to the concept of “value engineering” new product development must balance the quest for cost reduction with the functions of taste, form and packaging. They all affect product preference. The challenge is to ensure that cost reduction does not result in loss of function or customer dissatisfaction. So, if a bar loses its straight edges in favour of curves – as happened with Cadbury Dairy Milk in 2012 – any loss of substance (the bar shrunk from 54g to 34g) should be compensated for by improved mouth feel or taste experience.
But a balance between cost and function is not always achieved. A recent Which? survey revealed the widespread shrinking of grocery products with no corresponding reduction in price. As well as the shrinking Dairy Milk bar, Creme Eggs have gone from being sold in packs of six to five, Yorkie has been reduced to five chunks. Mars and Snickers are smaller, although they are less calorific.
Why is chocolate subject to this shrinkflation – and how much of a gamble is it for the manufacturers?