Sweets & Snacks

The Rise of Plant-Based Chocolate – A European Retail and Consumer Analysis

In recent years, the shift towards plant-based alternatives for animal products has gained momentum, driven by concerns about health, animal welfare, and environmental sustainability. While research has delved into plant-based alternatives for meat, cheese, and milk, less attention has been given to luxury items.

A notable example of an increasingly popular indulgence is plant-based chocolate. We therefore launched a market study earlier this year in which we research the plant-based chocolate market, retail brands and consumers in Europe. In this article, we present our first findings. We will continue to further investigate the topic by adding more countries and in-depth insights to the research in the following months.

A Diverse Retail Landscape

Our study identified approximately 100 brands offering plant-based alternatives to milk chocolate* across Europe, revealing a diverse and evolving landscape.

Plant Based Milk Chocolate Alternatives 2023
© Future Grocery Shopping

Plant-based chocolate suppliers can be categorized into specialized vegan brands, artisanal chocolate makers, global chocolate brands expanding their product lines, and supermarket own brands.

Specialized vegan chocolate brands (e.g. Booja Booja, Ombar, Vego)
Next to using vegan ingredients only, they focus on ethical and environmentally friendly products, using organic, fair-trade, and sustainably sourced ingredients. These brands are primarily found in specialty stores, health food shops, and online marketplaces.

Artisanal chocolate makers (e.g. Venchi in Italy and Hotel Chocolat in the UK)
These are specialized in traditional chocolate making and have either added a few plant-based products or complete plant-based product lines to their product range. Their products are typically available at their own boutique chocolate shops, gourmet stores, and online specialty stores. 

vegan-kitkat
©Nestlé

Well-established global chocolate brands (e.g., Lindt, Kit Kat, Milky Way, Kexchoclad, Cadbury)
Have recently introduced plant-based options for their chocolate (candy) bars to capture market share and maintain relevance among health-conscious and environmentally aware consumers. Their products are spread through traditional supermarkets, convenience stores, and online retailers.

Leading supermarkets with own-brands (e.g., Sainsbury’s Free From, ASDA Free From, Jumbo, REWE)
Have entered the plant-based chocolate market. Their private label offerings are generally found exclusively at their respective supermarkets, providing customers with an accessible and affordable option for plant-based chocolate products. So far only a few supermarkets have done so, but as the category grows, other supermarkets are expected to follow.

Regional differences

The European market for plant-based chocolate displays notable disparities in growth and development among various countries. The United Kingdom and Germany take the lead, hosting numerous brands and providing consumers with an extensive selection of plant-based chocolate choices from a wide array of suppliers. In contrast, Spain and Italy trail behind, with only a limited number of plant-based chocolate brands available (Venchi and Il Modicano being notable exceptions).

Poland contributes to the diverse landscape with brands such as Super Fudgio, Octo Chocolate, and Wegańskie Serce. Serbian brand Benjamissimo can be found in stores throughout Europe.

Ritter Sport
© Ritter Sport

The art of replacing milk in chocolate

The plant-based chocolate market is filled with creative and innovative brands that utilize an array of dairy-free ingredients to replace milk in their products. Many brands, such as Maitre Mathis, Hands Off My Chocolate, Jumbo and Lindt, use plant-based milk alternatives like almond, coconut, oat, rice, or soy milk to mimic the creaminess of traditional milk chocolate.

Brands like Lovechock, iChoc, Rhythm 108, Vego, Chocolate Makers, and Vivani use natural sweeteners such as coconut blossom sugar, agave syrup, or maple syrup to complement the dairy-free milks and add a touch of sweetness.

Certain brands, like Ikalia, Loulou’s Chocolate, Vantastic Foods, and Vehappy, incorporate ingredients such as cashew cream, hazelnut paste, or sunflower lecithin to enhance the richness and creaminess of their chocolate offerings. Meanwhile, Lindt Hello, Ritter Sport, Lycka Bio, Jokolade, REWE, KoRo, and DM BIO focus on using organic and sustainably sourced ingredients, highlighting their commitment to the environment and ethical production practices. 

Awareness Experience, PB chocolate
© Future Grocery Shopping

A consumer survey in the Netherlands provided insights into both traditional chocolate consumption habits and perceptions of plant-based chocolate.

In the Netherlands, chocolate is a widely consumed item. Its population eats as much as 5.1 kilos of chocolate per person per year and a staggering 63.4% of the population indulges in chocolate products on a weekly basis. This percentage rises significantly amongst females, young adults, and households with children aged between 13 and 17. Among the most popular chocolate brands in the country are Milka, Mars, KitKat, Verkade, and Tony’s Chocolonely, whereas Ritter Sport and Lindt have a lower market share.

While 60% of consumers are aware of plant-based chocolate, only one in four has tried it. Most consumers do not plan to buy more plant-based chocolate products in the upcoming year and do not feel the need to see more of them in stores.

Top of mind awareness, plant based chocolate
© Future Grocery Shopping

One possible explanation for the slow uptake is the lack of consumer knowledge about the benefits of plant-based chocolate. Only 28% of consumers believe plant-based chocolate is better for the environment or their health, while 55% are unsure.

Interestingly, consumers struggle to name plant-based chocolate brands spontaneously but expect popular brands like Tony’s Chocolonely and Verkade to offer plant-based milk chocolate options. This suggests that established brands could easily gain market share by introducing plant-based chocolate products, catering to the 25% of consumers who consistently display interest, purchase intent, and a need for more products in our survey.

Gen Z

Young consumers aged 16-29 primarily drive the interest in plant-based chocolate, showing greater awareness of brands offering plant-based options and potential benefits. With the right marketing and product development, chocolate manufacturers and retailers can capitalize on this trend, position themselves, and expand their market share.

ichoc lifestyle
© Ecofinia GmbH

Industry Advice

Based on our findings, we offer the following advice to chocolate brands and supermarkets:

For plant-based chocolate brands:

  • Educate consumers on the benefits of plant-based chocolate to raise awareness and increase purchase intent.
  • Develop innovative and appealing products to cater to the growing market of young, environmentally-conscious consumers.
  • Collaborate with established brands to leverage their brand recognition and distribution networks.

For supermarkets:

  • Expand the range of plant-based chocolate products available, focusing on the needs and preferences of young consumers.
  • Partner with popular brands to create exclusive plant-based options and tap into their existing customer base.
  • Promote plant-based chocolate through in-store marketing and special promotions to increase consumer awareness and trial.

As the plant-based movement continues to gain momentum, the chocolate market presents a significant opportunity for manufacturers and retailers alike. By understanding the current landscape and responding to consumer preferences, the plant-based chocolate sector can grow and flourish in Europe.

This is a guest post from Future Grocery Shopping, an Amsterdam-based research start-up that develops insights into upcoming alternative food solutions, such as plant-based food. For more information visit www.futuregroceryshopping.com


*Please note that although the words vegan and plant-based are often used interchangeably, in our research we use the term ‘plant-based’ chocolate to refer to products that are meant to replace animal ingredients (i.e. dairy) with those made of plants. We therefore leave dark chocolate products out of the research. 

Sources Used

Future Grocery Shopping. (2023). Plant-based chocolate consumer survey. In Futuregroceryshopping.com. Retrieved March 23, 2023, from

Future Grocery Shopping. (unpublished). Plant-based Chocolate Brands in Europe [Dataset]. In Brand and Company overview (March 2023).

  1. (n.d.). Per capita chocolate consumption worldwide by country. https://statinvestor.com/data/28384/leading-chocolate-consuming-countries-worldwide/
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