Shares in chocolate companies fell in Japan this year and domestic chocolate manufacturers have responded with a new marketing campaign to win round the particular Japanese palate: the message that chocolate is good for you.

Sales of the western sweet have risen steadily, and even during last year's recession the industry clocked up sales worth US$3.84bn. Output rose by 5.3%, and those in the industry expect further growth, but there remains a huge chasm between the chocolate consuming habits of Europe and the US, which the industry is anxious to bridge. The All Nippon Kashi Association released figures that showed that the Japanese consumed on average 1.7kg of chocolate in 1999, but compared to the Swiss, who consume an average of 9.7kg each year, Japanese producers still have a lot of convincing to do.

It seems that the Japanese are not really won over by chocolate. Mr Fumio Sukegawa, Director of the Chocolate and Cocoa Association of Japan, explained: "Japanese are rice-eating people and prefer light tasting sweets." The traditional wagashi, a sugary sweet created from boiled rice and red beans, still commands 18% of the Japanese confectionary market, with chocolate producers struggling to maintain 10%.

Desperate to keep the Japanese consumer interested, the top chocolate producers; Meiji Seika Kaisha Ltd, Lotte Co, Morinaga & Co, Ezaki Glico Co Ltd and Fujiya, are anxious to develop new ideas, especially in the summer months. The more palate pleasing whipped chocolate mousse on a stick, Mousse Pocky, found much success on the Japanese market, but health concerns still abound since nutritionists last year reported that the abandonment of a traditional Japanese diet has caused a decline in dietary standards.

The latest marketing campaign focuses on the "Benefits of Cocoa," and consumers are pelted with scientific evidence from the mid-1990s, which shows that polyphenol, a natural antioxidant found in cocoa beans, can help reduce cholesterol and fat levels. Packaging proudly proclaims the sweet's high polyphenol content and Sukegawa is confident that the strategy is working: "Consumption rose as the industry's campaign stressing the health benefits of chocolate finally had the (desired) effect."

Intensive campaigns to encourage chocolate eaters in Japan are not new. Meiji Seika introduced the country's first mechanised production of chocolate in 1920, but when manufacturers entered the already crowded market during the 60s, extensive marketing in mass media was essential for survival. This latest attempt to widen the chocolate market by convincing the Japanese consumer that they should eat it "because it is good for you" seems a little desperate in its tactics however, and doctors and dentists are unlikely to agree.