The British are the biggest consumers of chocolate in Europe, eating over 10kg of chocolate a year, according to a new report.

This compares to only 1.7kg in Spain, where consumption of chocolate per head is the lowest in Europe, the report from independent market analyst Datamonitor said.

In terms of expenditure, however, the Irish take the lead, spending a yearly average of £107 (US$186.9m) per person, £13 more than the British. Countline chocolate products (such as Mars bars and Kit-Kats) are the most popular in the UK and account for 45% of total volume sales, followed by moulded bars, which are solid chocolate bars, blocks or tablets shaped by pouring melted chocolate into moulds, (22%) and boxed chocolate (13%).

"We eat a lot of chocolate in Britain and Ireland," said Datamonitor analyst and author of the report, John Band. "Not only are we keener than people in much of the rest of Europe on snacking between meals; we're also less willing to switch to healthier alternatives".

A £4bn market

By far the largest country in the region in terms of chocolate consumption is the UK, which consumed 32% of the total market value in 2003 (£3.7bn). Volume sales correspond with value sales in Europe confectionery, with the UK leading the market with 616m kg in 2003. 

Despite a Europe-wide love of chocolate, tastes vary massively across the region. The most popular type of chocolate confectionery in the UK is countline chocolate, while German consumers prefer moulded bars. The French prefer the simplicity and purity of a taste, without additional flavours and with little sugar, while Italian tastes are geared towards the more indulgent and sophisticated end of the market. In Spain chocolate manufacturers are trying to follow the rest of the confectionery market and increase their market share by introducing low-fat products. This strategy has not been particularly successful and instead some companies are focusing on the high quality, premium price boxed chocolate sector of the market.

Chocolate heads East

In forecast terms, the UK will still lead the market by 2007, but sales growth is getting increasingly sluggish, and sales are expected to increase by only 4%, to £3.9bn.

"This is very much a consequence of the maturity of the Western markets. Major manufacturers have experienced declining value sales. Indeed, falling European sales in 2003 drove Cadbury Schweppes to start a cost-cutting program that could lead up to 5,500 jobs being lost to help shore up profits. Western European sales have also been affected by a rising sense of health consciousness, having a particular impact on the chocolate segment" said Band.

The focus for growth is consequently shifting towards Eastern and Central Europe, a trend most apparent when looking at volume sales.  Russia is the largest in volume terms - it's a big market with very low prices. Low prices in Russia and across the East are serving to boost volume sales rates, especially as average incomes are rising, although there are still questions over the solidity of economic growth and reconstruction in some countries, including Russia.