By Isis Almeida

Bloomberg

Nestle, the world’s largest food company, is expanding its ruby chocolate range a year after the pink Kitkat became a viral sensation in Asia.

As the first new type of chocolate in 80 years celebrates its one-year anniversary, Nestle is launching a new type of ruby Kitkat in Japan that contains dried cranberries and nuts. Consumers can also share ideas for uses of the chocolate with rubychocolate.com, a new website started by ruby’s inventor and top cocoa processor Barry Callebaut.

Ruby chocolate hit the market when Nestle launched its Kitkat version in Japan last year. While distribution was kept limited initially, the buzz created around this naturally pink-hued and fruity-flavored chocolate — the fourth type of chocolate after milk, dark and white — has helped it to reach 26 markets, said Cedric Lacroix, managing director for Nestle’s confectionery business in Japan.

“When it comes to food and chocolate in particular, trends used to be created in Western Europe and North America, but today, trends are made in Asia, Japan among others,” said Lacroix. “Asian consumers are extremely open to new things, and they are extremely astute when it comes to social media.”

It was social media that helped ruby chocolate’s popularity spread across the world so quickly.

Instagram-savvy young Asians, mostly female, shared and reshared their ruby moments, attracting new waves of consumers interested in trying the new confection. Since its launch, the chocolate variety has had more than 120 million search results on Google.

“The value of the buzz we generated right from the launch has been stunning and motivated us to launch and broaden distribution,” Lacroix said in a telephone interview from Tokyo. “The word of mouth that was created was above any type of paid media we could have invested in.”

Still, establishing ruby chocolate may take a little more work than social promotion. Barry Callebaut isn’t marketing the product in the U.S., the world’s largest chocolate market, because it’s in the process of getting approval by the Food and Drug Administration.

Elsewhere, Barry Callebaut is hoping to leverage online buzz with its new consumer populated website. An algorithm will scan social media platforms for references to ruby chocolate and bring them together on the site, said Bas Smit, global vice president of marketing at the Zurich-based company, the world’s largest maker of bulk chocolate.

The platform will also allow an exchange of ideas about what products could be made from ruby next and questions could also be put to consumers such as if they are interested in ruby chocolate Oreos or a Galaxy ruby, he said.

More than 40 percent of the Japanese population is aware of ruby chocolate and 5 percent have tasted it, according to market researcher Macromill. Just over 80 percent of people say they are interested in trying it, according to the research based on 800 respondents in Japan.

By keeping its ears close to the consumer on social media, the chocolatiers can also receive instant feedback on whether their new range is a hit or miss.

“Within two days after our launch, we know if it will be a success or a failure,” Lacroix said. “Within 48 hours, you know whether it will be a global success or an average new product.”

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