Major chocolate trends over the last few years include the move to premium and certified organic dark chocolate, products that are single origin and have high cacao content, use of natural sweeteners such as agave, stevia, yacon or coconut sugar and increased sustainable sourcing and origin labeling.

Manufacturers, chocolatiers and chefs are seeking to source more unique flavor beans and rarer cocoa beans from places such as Ecuador, Peru, Venezuela and Ghana that come with higher price premiums.

And the addition of an increased range of ingredients such as nuts, fruits, ’superfoods’ and Ancient grains have boosted the health and high antioxidant profile of dark chocolate.

Innovation in packaging and in flavour profiles are two major trends. Flavours include dried fruits, such as cranberries, blueberries, physalis, goji and acai berries, chilli, but also flower petals, spices and other ingredients known as superfoods.

Peru’s leading chocolate manufacturer Machu Picchu Foods has introduced a portfolio of organic chocolate with Andean grains, such as Quinoa Krunch, an organic wafer stick with quinoa and rice, covered with chocolate and popped amaranth. The company offers tailor made chocolate lines under private label, processed in a facility free of the major eight known allergens. Peruvian chocolates Orquidea has also been successful with the introduction of its 100 percent organic bars Dark 72% and Dark with cacao nibs.

Meanwhile, the world’s multiple Gold and Silver award-winning Pacari Chocolate Ecuadorian maker of single-origin dark organic chocolate produces sustainable bars that go beyond organic certification. It also enjoys the Demeter, (biodynamic) seal of quality. Pacari offers organic chocolate bars from distinct regions of Ecuador and Peru, organic chocolate covered fruits and cacao beans, flavored bars showcasing Andean ingredients, and drinking chocolates. Most of these can also be purchased in gift collections. This year Pacari introduced a new flavored bar called Guayacán that has the subtle scent and taste of this fragrant tree found in Ecuador; this bar took the silver medal at this year’s America’s Round of the International Chocolate Awards. An exciting new development is the line of chocolates Pacari is currently working on for professional chefs.

Now, whether in bar, powder or nib form, chocolate is being used to flavor tea, beer, spice rubs and more. Retailers on the lookout for innovative and indulgent products are increasingly adding such merged items to their inventory, while adding chocolate boosts the taste and marketability of many savory foods and drinks—which is particularly helpful in the health category.

And cocoa prices are soaring this year reaching two-year highs by the end of the Fall on dwindling supply that is driving up retail prices.

Packaged Facts estimated that the U.S. market for chocolate sold at retail at $19.5 billion in 2011, up 6.6% over the previous year, while 9% sales growth has been forecast to 2017 by Euromonitor.

Germany still leads European consumption with 24% of the market and 8kg per capita consumption, while western and northern Europe chocolate sales continue to grow.

Premium chocolate sales are growing in Brazil at 20% a year in a US$9 billion chocolate confectionary market and while Brazil is the third largest chocolate market in the world, it has lower dark chocolate consumption than China.

Dark chocolate is behind most new demand, according to NPD Group, a market-research firm based in Port Washington, N.Y.

Dark chocolate’s share of the U.S. market for chocolate bars will approach 20% this year, from just over 18% in 2008, according to Euromonitor. In Switzerland, where per-capita chocolate consumption is among the world’s highest, the share of dark chocolate jumped to 30% from 22% over the same period.

“There’s a general trend toward the dark chocolate,” said Nicholas Fereday, a food-industry analyst at Rabobank. “The benefit of having the high cocoa content is having a lower sugar content and that’s what would appeal to calorie-counters.”

In September, the European Commission said Swiss chocolate maker Barry Callebaut AG could legally advertise that consumption of one of its chocolate products, Acticoa, could help maintain healthy blood circulation.

There have been at least 10 recent, internationally recognized studies showing the health benefits of dark chocolate, attention that can only aid in the growth in popularity of dark and fine chocolate.