Sales of "upscale" chocolate in the US are expected to grow five times faster than the country's wider chocolate market between now and 2012, a study has claimed.

A report from market researchers Packaged Facts said that, despite the economic downturn, US consumers still crave premium chocolate.

The report said sales of gourmet chocolate in the US are expected to be up 9% on 2007, despite sales growth falling by 50%.

"It seems that Americans, while scaling down consumerism generally, are permitting themselves indulgence in life's 'little' pleasures," Packaged Facts said. "Sales of upscale chocolates are expected to advance at a rate more than fives times that for chocolate overall by 2012. The market figures suggest that chocolate makers will be wise to go gourmet and to go green."

US chocolate makers have responded to consumer demand by making promoting their wares as premium, the report said. Claims including "upscale", "gourmet", "natural" and "organic" now account for 60% of all claims made in chocolate packaging and promotion, the researchers claimed.

Wellness and health claims alone account for 11% of claims, the authors added in the report Premium Chocolate in the US: Mass, Gourmet, Prestige and Super Premium, 4th Edition.