NEW DELHI: Chocolate consumption is rising dramatically in India, a shift benefiting brand owners like Mars and retailers such as Food Bazaar and Spencer's Retail.

Figures from Mars International India show 29% of people eating chocolate in the country are 13-19 year olds, while 23% were 20-25 years old, a total hitting 19% for 26-30 year olds and 30% for 30-40 year olds.

The company's research also found that 24% ate a bar of chocolate for relaxation. Hunger posted 23% on this measure, the same score as sharing, and ahead of rejuvenation on 14% and indulgence on 11%.

"Over the years, change in consumers' preferences, eating habits and their global exposure has given a boost to the chocolate industry," MV Natarajan, managing director, chocolate, Mars International India, told the Economic Times.

"Chocolates are now considered a fun-to-eat snack rather than occasional luxuries and an important item in consumers' grocery baskets."

Wider developments in the market are also making an impact. Spencer's Retail, the general merchandise chain, derives almost 20% of chocolate sales from adults, and believes this trend should gain further ground in future.

More broadly, Mohit Kampani, the firm's president and chief executive, expects per capita consumption could rise from 40g per person in 2005 to 120g in 2013.

TechSci Research, the insights provider, has predicted that India's chocolate category will record a compound annual growth rate of 21% from 2013 to 2018, when its value is pegged to surpass $3.2bn.

Devendra Chawla, president of Food Bazaar, a unit of Future Group, reported that dark chocolate is the market segment enjoying the strongest uptick in demand, doubling the overall growth rate in the last six months.

"Actually, a reverse category creation is happening with more Indians eating out where they complete their meal with a dessert," he added. "Several Indian homes now have chocolates as dessert which increases the frequency of consumption."

Parle recently relaunched its Kismi toffee line based around the theme of romance, and Nestle introduced a dark chocolate offering designed for India.

Mondelez International also rolled out Toblerone and Lindt in India in 2012. Ferrero Rocher is the market leader, and is - like most major players - seeking to expand its reach into kiranas, or neighbourhood retail store.

ITC's Minto Ultramintz shows the broader snack sector is seeing a similar transition, as this brand is primarily aimed at older buyers.

"While we try to deliver a universal taste for the candies, the success of our Mint-o range has made us focus more on adult-specific products," Chitranjan Dar, ITC's divisional chief executive for foods, said.

Data sourced from Economic Times; additional content by Warc staff