Vegan Reese’s are happening.
Hershey, which makes Reese’s along with Hershey bars, Kisses and other chocolates and candies, announced two new dairy-free products on Tuesday: Reese’s plant-based peanut butter cups, and a vegan chocolate Hershey bar with almonds and sea salt, each made with oats instead of dairy and designed to taste like milk chocolate. The new Reese’s variety will be available nationally this month, and the new Hershey bar is arriving in April.
The company is the latest to introduce a vegan chocolate in hopes that it will attract more customers. But Hershey is a little late to the game.
Nestlé (NSRGY) introduced KitKat V, a vegan version of the chocolate bar, in 2021. Mondelez (MDLZ) acquired Hu, a company which makes vegan chocolate, that year, as well. Hershey also initiated a test of a version of its product in 2021.
In prepared remarks discussing the company’s fourth-quarter results, CEO Michele Buck said that “better for you,” which includes plant-based items, presented an opportunity for the company and will “receive greater levels of support this year.”
“We are excited to introduce these delicious, plant-based options,” Teal Liu, brand manager of Better For You at Hershey (HSY), said in a statement announcing the launch Tuesday, adding that the new products offer more options for “chocolate lovers looking for plant-based alternatives.”
By focusing on vegan alternatives to milk chocolate, specifically, Hershey may have a better chance of setting its products apart from others in the market.
“As the vegan chocolate space gets more crowded, claims beyond plant-based may be necessary,” Kelsey Olsen, consumer insights analyst for food & drink at market research firm MIntel, told CNN in an email. “While many plant-based items previously launched have been dark chocolate varieties, brands should explore the areas of plant-based milk chocolate and white chocolate.”
Touting oat as an ingredient could also help.
Confectioners “can take advantage of oat milk’s unique properties to appeal to a larger consumer base, whether vegan or not,” Olsen said.
Chocolate as a category has been resilient in the past few years, with people reaching for treats during the stress of the early pandemic and seeing it as a relatively affordable splurge even as prices rise.
But it’s not clear that an oat-based chocolate will do the trick. “The majority of consumers are not focused on added [better for you] components to chocolate,” Olsen noted in a Mintel report last year.