US – Sweets and snacking giant Hershey has debuted two plant-based chocolate bars to the market, marking a permanent entry into the ever-growing global vegan chocolate market projected to have a reach of US$ 4 billion by 2032, growing at a CAGR of 15.5%.

The Pennsylvania-based company has introduced an oat-milk version of its popular Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and a new oat-milk chocolate bar with sea salt and almonds.

The launch follows the company’s application for a patent for using roasted grains including corn, oats, millet, rice, sorghum, or wheat, in its vegan chocolate products as a replacement for dairy.

Hershey said that nut and seed oils, commonly used in dairy-free chocolate, produce an inferior end product and that it is engaged in R&D to make allergen-free recipes that are healthier than conventional chocolate.

It has been a challenge for businesses venturing into producing vegan formats of popular candies to find the right ingredients and processes to make a candy that adequately mimics milk chocolate in taste, texture, and mouthfeel.

However, according to the chocolate manufacturer, its specially milled and roasted flours can replicate the authentic mouthfeel and texture of conventional chocolate.

The company debuted Oat Made — chocolate bars made with oat milk — in 2021, which also garnered positive consumer reviews. It was available through June 2022. Hershey did not say if or how the new bar and the earlier test version are different.

During the first launch of the vegan brands, the company announced it had long-term plans to make plant-based and healthier chocolate, as part of the ‘Better for you’ category. It followed a co-investment into Bonumose, a startup that develops plant-based food ingredients, including natural sugars.

Other confectionery giants, including Mars, Lindt, and Cadbury’s, have all launched vegan chocolate. Mars was the first large mainstream confectionery brand in the space with a vegan version of its Galaxy bar that launched in the UK in late 2019.

Last summer, it debuted a milk chocolate bar called CO2Coa featuring animal-free dairy proteins developed in collaboration with Perfect Day.

Nestlé, which makes KitKat in most countries except the US, launched the plant-based KitKat V in 2021. Following a test launch in the United Kingdom and some other countries, the world’s largest food maker said last year it would expand the vegan KitKat’s sales footprint to other countries across Europe.

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