Why is everyone so obsessed with chocolate orange in 2020?

2020 is sure to be remembered for many things – coronavirus and Joe Biden winning the presidential election to name just a few.

But for chocolate orange fans, this is the year the flavour took over.

The combination of rich, smooth chocolate, with the sweet, citrusy orange isn’t new – in 1927, McVities produced its first-ever Jaffa Cakes – a treat made up of sponge, orange jelly and dark chocolate.

And perhaps the UK’s most famous chocolate orange product, produced by Terry’s, was created in 1932 and it’s been a favourite stocking filler for decades. 

With Terry’s pushing advertising around the festive season, including its famous ‘It’s not Terry’s, it’s mine’ with Dawn French, the flavour has become more and more associated with Christmas time.

Carambar, the company that makes Terry’s, says it sells 44 million of the oranges every year, with nine million UK households buying at least one. 

Despite the dominance of Terry’s in the chocolate orange scene for almost 90 years, it seems 2020 is when everyone else finally caught up.

This year, brands (often those who already deal with chocolate) have added orange to everything from ice cream, to gin, to cookies, biscuits and more.

Toblerone has added an orange flavour to tie in with its four other products, Cadbury has created chocolate orange buttons, fingers and Bournville, Tesco has created chocolate orange Bourbons, Magnum and Cornetto have released chocolate orange ice creams, Lidl is making a gin – the list is endless.

Despite brands being in competition with each other for Christmas sales, and most planning their releases months in advance, the market has been flooded with an influx of chocolate orange items all at once.

The first signs of the popularity of the flavour came in the summer when Cadbury re-released an orange version of its Twirl bar.

The bar was originally launched back in 2019 but shops were quickly sold out and fans struggled to get hold of one to try the new flavour.

This time round, the brand held a pre-sale with 5,000 people joining the queue and the bars selling out in one hour.

Cadbury got another clue about the appetite for chocolate orange with the second year of its  Cadbury Inventor competition, allowing the public to come up with a new edition of Dairy Milk.

Cadbury told Metro.co.uk : ‘We know that Orange is one of the most popular fruit flavours in the UK and Ireland, and that preference has only grown year on year. Our Cadbury Inventor campaign, where the nation has the opportunity to design their own Cadbury Dairy Milk bar, builds on our insights as to which flavour combinations people across the UK and Ireland want to experience in their favourite chocolate bar. 

‘One of the winners in our 2019 campaign, which received 300,000 entries and 221,500 votes, was Simply The Zest featuring Orange flavoured Cadbury Dairy Milk chocolate blended with caramel and biscuit. This year we have already received over 12,000 entries that include Orange as an ingredient.

‘We ensure we learn from every product launch of a Cadbury product as it is a truly global favourite, all our insights and pride have helped make Cadbury Dairy Milk Orange Fingers and Cadbury Dairy Milk Orange Giant Buttons and our limited Edition Cadbury Twirl Orange extremely popular in 2020.’

Jumping on the trend, Cadbury has released a whole range of products with a citrus twist in the last few months.

And it’s not surprising that some of the other big launches have come from brands owned by Modelez (formerly Kraft foods), the umbrella company for Cadbury, after seeing the success of the products.

Toblerone has previously stuck to some traditional flavours – milk, white, dark and a fruit and nut version are all permanent editions and its last limited edition bar was coconut back in 2016.

A spokesperson said: ‘With our last flavour innovation taking place back in 2016, Toblerone Coconut, it was time to extend our range of delicious flavours and include Toblerone Orange Twist.’

But what is more surprising is how the idea has saturated the market elsewhere.

The team at Burton’s Biscuits created Maryland Jaffinator cookies as well as replacing the classic jam in Wagon Wheels with an orange flavour this year.

Kate Needham, marketing director explained how they were influenced by seeing some of the previous demand: ‘The chocolate orange flavour is well-loved in Britain and pairs brilliantly with a variety of sweet foods. 

‘The nation has been extremely receptive to numerous orange launches, so many more manufacturers developed an orange offering this year to make sure they were meeting evolving customer needs.’

After a difficult year, consumers have turned to comforting nostalgic tastes so the chocolate orange trend gives them something that has been part of Christmas for decades in a new form.

Research by food insights experts Innova last month said ‘modern nostalgia’ is one of the top 10 trends going into 2021.

Barry Glazier, director of chocolate science at Mars Wrigley said this impacted their thinking: ‘Orange and chocolate is one of those winning combinations that never gets old. 

‘It is often linked to nostalgia in many countries and has been in desserts and chocolate treats for generations, with the popular flavour combination dating back to the 1930’s. 

‘The flavour has gained a cult following, which we’ve seen with the plethora of launches over recent years, particularly around the holiday season. 

‘From ice cream, to liqueurs and even dedicant chocolate orange creations, found only in specialty shops, it’s clear that this flavour combination has been around for a long time and isn’t going anywhere, anytime soon.’

At Domino’s, one of their biggest non-pizza launches this year was the chocolate orange cookie, and although they’ve been working on it for two years, the nostalgic element was always a big focus.

Amy Dowd, director of desserts at Domino’s commented: ‘These choc orange cookies have been over two years in the making to get them just right. We’ve been guided by reems of research and as a team we must have tried hundreds if not thousands of cookies, I’ve developed quite the palate. 

‘We know that when it comes to winter warmers, people crave delicious and comforting food and there’s something wonderfully familiar about chocolate orange which means it’s been a firm favourite since launch.’

Once they identified the desire for a chocolate orange product, they spent months testing it, as one of the most important things with the flavour is getting the balance right. 

Amy added: ‘We’ve carried out multiple rounds of blind consumer testing and of course we asked our loyal legion of Domino’s fans to try them before we rolled them out to stores. 

‘Each round of testing meant we could tweak the recipe to make it the perfect balance of sweet chocolate and crisp citrus notes, combined with freshly baked dough.’

Cornetto has also been keeping an eye on trends, and saw the appeal of a nostalgic treat this, particularly in 2020.

Polly Rattue, brand manager for Cornetto, said: ‘Chocolate & Orange is certainly the flavour of the moment in 2020 – it has a huge, rich history in the UK as a British winter classic. The contrasting experience of intense chocolate and zesty fruit tones is nostalgic, and, has seen a real revival in recent years with an influx on Chocolate & Orange themed NPDs coming through.’

Similarly, Magnum launched packs of chocolate orange minis because we’re staying in more, and enjoying more treats at home.

Wanting to embrace that, the team looked at flavour trends and saw a huge increase in search around chocolate orange.

‘As people are going out less during the colder winter period and instead staying in, they are looking to re-create some of their favourite winter experiences at home,’ Magnum said.

‘Due to this shift in behaviour, we have also seen an increase in the number of treats enjoyed in the home and so we imagine that there will also be an increase in demand for treats that hero much-loved seasonal flavours. 

‘In addition, over the last five years, annual searches for chocolate orange ice cream has increased by +43%, and so it was clear the trend was leading in this direction.’

The good news for those who like the taste, (and bad news for those who don’t) is that it looks likely to reach beyond Christmas time.

Mars has recently launched an orange version of its Galaxy Truffles and announced that there will be a new flavour for Malteaser Bunnies, meaning that after the festive hype dies down, the trend will stick around.

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