The pandemic has taken its toll on just about every aspect of life, and the chocolate industry is not exempt. However, the impacts on the chocolate industry might surprise you. The large companies that might seem pandemic proof are hurting, and many smaller, artisan chocolate businesses are flourishing. The differences largely boil down to where certain types of chocolate are typically bought, and if those venues are still patronized during a pandemic.
Godiva Chocolate announced last month that it is closing or selling all of its brick and mortar storefronts in the United States. Most of Godiva’s sales are from their storefronts in malls, which the pandemic has hit especially hard. Godiva had been struggling to keep up a steady pace of in-person sales, and all U.S. sales will now be made online.
Online grocery shopping has become the new normal in the past year, which of course has had an impact on chocolate sales. However, with the exception of the previous story about Hershey bars, this doesn’t necessarily mean that people are buying more chocolate than they normally would. Imagine yourself filling your cart in a grocery store versus yourself picking items from a grocery store’s website for delivery––when you shop online, you lose the chance to stumble across items and impulsively throw them into your cart. Research proves this––forty-six percent of consumers said that they are more likely to buy chocolate while they are shopping in person. Sixty-one percent of consumers have grocery shopped online during the pandemic, so this inclination to skip the chocolate while shopping online definitely has an impact on overall chocolate sales.
However, the Hershey Company, which sells its bars largely in the kind of stores experiencing a decline in chocolate sales, reported growth several months ago. They noticed a spike in sales of their six-pack bars, the kind people buy when they’re planning to make s’mores, in areas of high counts of COVID cases. On investigation, they found that in these areas, people were looking for safe, at-home entertainment such as making s’mores around a fire in the backyard. Consequently, Hershey began tracking by zip code where COVID cases were high and where they were predicted to become high next, and they adjusted those area stores’ inventory and their marketing accordingly.
While many consumers are reluctant to enter a large grocery store during the pandemic, they may feel more comfortable shopping at smaller places. Enter the small neighborhood store and specialty food market. These shops have done exceptionally well during the past year for a number of reasons: people can pick up a few items quickly and not spend much time indoors around other shoppers, they likely have a more personal relationship with the workers and store owners and want to support a business they care about, they may trust the products sold more because of their relationship with the workers and owners, and they may be drawn to foods that fall into the specialty category as a way to treat themselves. It is also easy to justify a splurge on gourmet items if we aren’t spending money in many of our usual places because those places are closed. These types of stores have been great outlets for the sale of craft chocolate.
Online sales of craft chocolate have also been strong for a number of chocolate makers. Companies that offer online sales and also curbside pickup make it easy—and safe—for consumers to purchase from them. It will be interesting to see how the craft chocolate market changes as we begin slowly to come out the other side of this pandemic over the next year.