The Purchase Intention of Chocolate Amateurs for Bean-to-Bar Chocolate

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The chocolate market, like all food markets, is influenced by the accelerating dynamics of the external environment and changes in consumer patterns. There is a high degree of competition between manufacturers that produce a wide range of chocolate bars. The business needs to accept that it requires a revision of the approaches to work along the entire chain, from the purchase of raw materials to the promotion of chocolate products in retail outlets (Gallo et al., 2018). Only by understanding what consumers want and what trends will determine the further development of the confectionery market, enterprises will be able to ensure their sustainability in the long term and bypass less flexible competitors.

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The summary of the academic sources which focus on the study of chocolate consumer behavior has identified different aspects that influence buyer’s choice, such as taste, packaging, and others. However, the main gap in the current literature is related to the lack of prioritization of these aspects and bias of the social desirability, and the absence of connection between customers’ attitudes and behavior. Therefore, the purpose of this research paper is to measure the purchase intention of chocolate amateurs for Belgian bean-to-bar chocolate with the help of focus groups and a projective mapping method.

Literature Review

Most chocolate consumer behavior studies have been carried out in Europe to identify consumer perception and willingness to pay for sustainability labels. Del Prete and Samoggia (2020) find that the willingness to pay a premium price for fair trade chocolate is linked to consumer self-image and ethical considerations. On the contrary, according to Poelmans and Rousseau (2016), taste dominates ethical considerations. At the same time, Allison et al. (2020) state that product preference is influenced by packaging expectations. Consumers often experience a stronger emotional attachment to the packaging than to the taste of the product.

As the majority of studies have shown, the taste of chocolate is the main incentive that makes customers purchase premium chocolate. Actual tasting leads to greater consistency in respondents’ answers in many cases (De Pelsmaeker et al., 2017). This factor is the key driver of consumer preference. Other academics have found that the main trends driving the growth of bean-to-bar chocolate consumption are ethical and transparent production chains (Rueda et al., 2018). In addition, some researchers state that people consider Belgian chocolate to be of a higher quality than others (Kim & Jeon, 2020). Moreover, most often, consumers recognize differences between products that appear to be handcrafted and commercial chocolates, based on the packaging, type of chocolate, and taste.

Consequently, a literature review has shown that consumers segment based on demographics or psychographics in terms of their interest in purchasing sustainably-labeled chocolate. The main limitations of the reviewed studies are social desirability bias and the attitude-behavior gap. However, the current research will minimize social desirability bias by applying the method of projective mapping in advance.

Theoretical Framework

Bean-to-bar is a chocolate production process, where the manufacturer controls every step from the variety and quality of cocoa beans to the finished chocolate bar. The bean-to-bar movement began in the late 1990s to counterbalance the so-called industrial chocolate both in terms of benefits and taste (Engeseth & Pangan, 2018). In the industrial production of chocolate, the main criteria are mass and a single standard of taste, and diversity is achieved through a variety of flavors and aromas. In this case, it is possible to save on the raw material itself, and cocoa beans are purchased for production without bright taste characteristics, but with a high yield.

Belgian bean-to-bar chocolate relies on European quality and regional culture to create global niche organic brands. From the first years of work, brands refrained from using preservatives, artificial flavors, and similar shiny products from the chemical industry. It is a matter of consistently promoting organic philosophy. Most Belgian chocolate brands purchase basic raw materials such as cocoa and cane sugar from the fair trade channels in organic quality.

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Bean-to-bar brands are responsible for the living and working conditions of cocoa farmers in third-world countries. Fairtrade creates opportunities for smallholders and plantation workers in producing countries. They can free themselves from fluctuations in world prices and ensure their development. Such famous Belgian brands as Barry Callebaut, Belcolade, and Benoit Nihant cooperate with such sustainable companies that produce cocoa beans as Cocoa Runners (Colombia), Cafiesa (Ecuador), Montecristi Chocolate (Ecuador), Ingemann (Nicaragua), and Xoco Gourmet (Honduras).

Bean-to-bar chocolate is rightfully proud of its bright and rich taste not due to artificial additives, but due to selected aromatic cocoa beans and a whole palette of flavors that their various varieties possess. Selection and a large amount of manual labor in the production process make bean-to-bar largely a non-mass story on a global scale (Engeseth & Pangan, 2018). Before the Covid-19 pandemic, the European Center for the Promotion of Imports (CBI) predicted steady growth in the chocolate industry through 2027, and despite the potential for a global economic recession in 2020, demand for chocolate continues.

Belgium produces about 170 thousand tons of chocolate a year. There are more than 20 different chocolate houses in the country (Leissle, 2017). Many chocolatiers still make Belgian pralines by hand, but even if modern technologies are involved in the production, it remains a benchmark in quality. The persistent aroma of cocoa can be felt in Belgian bean-to-bar chocolate because the use of vegetable fat is strictly prohibited in the recipe. It does not contain any artificial flavors; it is based only on cocoa products.

Since one of the main trends driving the growth of specialty chocolate is the ethical and transparent production chain, the hypothesis can be made that a decent number of chocolate amateurs understand the philosophic concept of Belgian bean-to-bar chocolate. As for the bean-to-bar, the forecast is encouraging since the market is expected to grow up to 8.7% per year until 2027 (Leissle, 2017). It may be presumed that consumers highly appreciate this kind of chocolate and understand the difference between the mass-market and organic one in terms of taste, composition, and fair trade.

Research Question

This study aims to research the purchase intention of chocolate amateurs for Belgian bean-to-bar chocolate by investigating consumer behavior and identifying factors that influence Belgian bean-to-bar chocolate purchasing and consumption. Understanding consumers’ preferences and motivations will allow targeting a greater number of bean-to-bar chocolate consumers and thus creating new channels of sales. Although today aromatic cocoa beans account for only 10% of the world’s cocoa production, interest in a new generation of chocolate is steadily growing (Garrone et al., 2015). Therefore, there are opportunities for growth and development even in a small niche.

Research Design/Method

This research will use both focus groups and a projective mapping method to measure the purchase intention of chocolate amateurs for Belgian bean-to-bar chocolate. Five hundred respondents from 18 to 70 years old consumers of chocolate will take part in the poll. The recruitment of participants will be carried out voluntarily among visitors to the Brussels Chocolate Museum, and the questionnaires will be sent by email. Specific selection criteria will be respondents’ age between 18 and 70 years old, no food allergies, frequent consumption of chocolate (daily to several times per month), in particular Belgian bean-to-bar chocolate.

The study will use a qualitative method for collecting and analyzing data. This method helps to determine the most important factors influencing the choice of respondents and their attitudes. The main independent variables are taste, packaging, certification labels or composition, sustainability, fair trade, ethical considerations, and price of the product. The dependent variable is the purchase intention or desire of chocolate amateurs to buy chocolate.

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Initially, the participants will be assigned the task of projective mapping to place products on a blank space in terms of similarities or differences in quality characteristics, that is, flavor, quality, package, etc. Next, they will explain how they interpreted the quality of the chocolate. The participants will then sample five different chocolate bars, including Belgian bean-to-bar chocolate, and put down the notes. In a group discussion, they will describe the product in terms of taste, packaging, certification labels, and other elements and attributes that they will find attractive and unattractive. The participants will discuss what motivates them to buy premium bean-to-bar chocolate and share words they would use to describe the taste of this chocolate.

The research’s internal validity and reliability are ensured by using two collection and analysis methods that measure the same variables. In addition, the focus group will consist of respondents from different demographics who participated in the discussion group and expressed differing opinions. External validity and reliability can be substantiated by the support and similarity with the results of the reviewed studies and theories of consumer behavior. The replicability of the study can be achieved by evaluating the same variables through quantitative data collection. Consequently, the findings can be applied in the development of the niche production of bean-to-bar chocolate.

Pre-Test Results

A pre-test was carried out for 15 respondents recruited at the Brussels Chocolate Museum to validate the study design and pre-test the hypothesis. Participants did not indicate incorrect wording or incomprehensibility of the tasks and answered all the mapping and focus group questions. The pre-test results have shown that the taste of chocolate dominates other factors and is the main factor of purchase intention of chocolate amateurs, as 13 participants indicated it as a priority. Belgian premium chocolate also occupied the first position in mapping by taste, since it provides a variety of flavors such as artisans and chocolatiers.

However, the chocolate industry giants were in the middle position, which may indicate the need for a change in the production line as the production of 50 tons of chocolate with acai berries may not pay off (Brown et al. 2020). Besides, chocolate of the highest quality, which has no additives and the simplest possible composition, was also marked as the second priority for 10 participants. Belgium chocolate has no dyes, preservatives, soy lecithin, or various sugar syrups (Kim & Jeon, 2020). Consequently, the participants put this chocolate in the top positions in the mapping.

Another aspect that influences customer behavior is packaging which is a strong driver of consumer expectations. Most participants agreed that packaging design for chocolate is important since the first thing the consumer pays attention to is the design while taste and composition are recognized over time. Sustainability, fair trade, and ethical considerations are other factors that influence the purchase behavior of 10 participants who put these aspects within a top-3 priority. The participant knows that bean-to-bar is always of high quality and produced following the principles of sustainable development; thus, they placed Belgium chocolate in the top position on mapping. The participants assessed the economic and technical aspects as less important, as well as the price of high-quality and tasty chocolate.


The consumer is the final link in the bean-to-bar chain. Many consumers understand the concept of Belgian bean-to-bar chocolate, but the main factor for them is taste. Consequently, this study’s findings will benefit Belgian bean-to-bar chocolate, since they determine the most important aspects influencing the buyer’s choice. Hence, manufacturers can use these findings to drive sales and demand for their products.

In addition, the pre-test results demonstrated that the social dimension of production also plays a role in consumer choice. Therefore, if this finding will be confirmed, this aspect can encourage manufacturers to use a more socially acceptable way of doing business. However, this study’s weakness is the absence of such a variable as brand popularity, which can also influence customer preference. Nevertheless, the use of two methods for research and focus groups helped eliminate bias and increase the results’ accuracy, which is the research’s strength.

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Brown, A. L., Bakke, A. J., & Hopfer, H. (2020). Understanding American premium chocolate consumer perception of craft chocolate and desirable product attributes using focus groups and projective mapping. PloS One, 15(11), 1-15. Web.

De Pelsmaeker, S., Schouteten, J. J., Lagast, S., Dewettinck, K., & Gellynck, X. (2017). Is taste the key driver for consumer preference? A conjoint analysis study. Food Quality and Preference, 62, 323-331.

Del Prete, M., & Samoggia, A. (2020). Chocolate consumption and purchasing behaviour review: Research issues and insights for future research. Sustainability, 12(14), 1-17. Web.

Engeseth, N. J., & Pangan, M. F. A. (2018). Current context on chocolate flavor development—A review. Current Opinion in Food Science, 21, 84-91.

Gallo, P. J., Antolin-Lopez, R., & Montiel, I. (2018). Associative sustainable business models: Cases in the bean-to-bar chocolate industry. Journal of Cleaner Production, 174, 905-916.

Garrone, M., Pieters, H., Swinnen, J. (2015). From pralines to multinationals: The economic history of Belgian chocolate, LICOS Centre for Institutions and Economic Performance, 369, 1-41.

Kim, S. H., & Jeon, H. M. (2020). Chocolate choice motives and attitudes in foodservice market: Fine store product vs. manufactured product consumers. Journal of Foodservice Business Research, 23(2), 149-168.

Leissle, K. (2017). “Artisan” as brand: Adding value in a craft chocolate community. Food, Culture & Society, 20(1), 37-57.

Poelmans, E. & Rousseau, S. (2016). How do chocolate lovers balance taste and ethical considerations? British Food Journal, 118(2), 343-361.

Rueda, X., Paz, A., Gibbs‐Plessl, T., Leon, R., Moyano, B., & Lambin, E. F. (2018). Smallholders at a crossroad: Intensify or fall behind? Exploring alternative livelihood strategies in a globalized world. Business Strategy and the Environment, 27(2), 215-229.

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