Americans are buying more chocolate. That’s bad for waistlines

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(CNN) — Americans trying to cope during uncertain times are reaching for that chocolate bar more often.

During the pandemic, consumers have gravitated toward comfort foods and familiar brands. The behavior pattern holds true for their treat consumption: Sales of chocolate have been on the rise since mid-March.

During the 17-week period that ended on June 27, consumers bought $3.7 billion worth of chocolate, a 6.3% increase from the comparable period last year, according to Nielsen.

Privately held Mars Wrigley, which sells brands like M&M’s and Snickers, says online growth has been strong in particular.

“We saw those sales just really skyrocket,” Anton Vincent, president of Mars Wrigley North America, said in an interview with CNN Business.

And when people bought M&M’s, they bought bigger bags of them, Vincent said.

There are signs that people are indulging in more than just chocolate. Snack food consumption grew 8% in April 2020 from the previous year,according to the latest available data from market research firm NPD.

“Consumers today are treating themselves with sweet indulgences more so than last year,” Darren Seifer, NPD’s food and beverage industry analyst, wrote in an email.

They’re keeping more cookies, ice cream and salty treats in their pantry — about 37% of consumers said in April that they were well-stocked with three or more items within those categories — and they’re increasing the frequency of their evening snacks, he said.

“Which is also when they’re most likely to allow a sweet indulgence,” Seifer wrote. “It seems health is pausing as consumers turn to treats to cope with boredom and stress.”

Turning to creature comforts and stress-eating, however, has its downsides: The little treats help pack on big pounds in short order.

“[Candy and chocolate bars] are items that are easy to order, easy to store and, unfortunately, easy to eat,” Dr. John Morton, medical director of bariatric surgery at Yale New Haven Health System, said. “It’s a big deal because it does lead to weight gain. It’s pretty easy to put those calories on; hard to take off.”

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