US consumers are still spending on some small indulgences despite the tougher economic conditions, according to new research from Mintel.

The group said its research showed that sales of chocolate, cigarettes and alcohol had remained strong and steady. The market research company added that historically, these "sin stocks" perform well during times of economic recession.

"Chocolate, cigarettes and alcohol again seem relatively recession-proof," said Marcia Mogelonsky, senior analyst at Mintel. "People might be cutting back or switching to store-brands, but they definitely aren't giving up their small daily indulgences."

Mogelonsky pointed out that most consumers can still afford these items no matter how much their finances have been cut. "Because people are being so cautious with their spending, they feel they are entitled to small rewards and they won't give them up easily," Mogelonsky said.

Mintel reported that retail sales of chocolate had risen by 22% between 2002 and 2007 to US$16.3bn. Innovative, dark and premium chocolates had been extremely popular, the company said, adding that it expects the upward trend in chocolate to continue.

Mintel is forecasting a 4% annual sales increase for the chocolate sector each year for the next six years.