The most notable innovation in chocolate may have been a step into darkness?, but manufacturers are all too aware that they need to continue to make waves in milk chocolate - which is still far and away the biggest chocolate sector - if they are to keep the majority of their customers happy.

Indulgence remains a key driver for chocolate and manufacturers have also been working hard during the past year to bridge the gap between everyday and luxury products. One such product is the Galaxy Promises 100g bar range, which was launched in August 2005 and was closely followed by a 40g bar range, which is ideal for capitalising on the trend for indulgence within the home, according to Masterfoods.

The addition of a 40g bar has fuelled speculation about the future of the entire Promises range which, according to some retail buyers, has not performed as well as they had hoped. While the future of all four variants in the block range is unclear, Masterfoods insists ?sales have been in line with its expectations and, according to figures from ACNielsen, the brand has clocked up sales of £10.6m since launch.

Richard Brittle, purchasing director at Hancocks, is supportive of the range. "Promises has done well," he says. "Not the whole range, but from our point of view it has performed well."

He adds that some of the retailers'

scepticism about the brand could be down to unrealistic sales forecasts and the fact that Masterfoods launched too many flavours in one hit.

"People are over-optimistic about a new product and try to push too many single products at the same time. If sales of all of them aren't doing well people start to ask why," Brittle suggests.

Guylian, meanwhile, has introduced a new truffle variant to its Seashell bar range to build on the brand's positioning as an everyday but luxurious treat, while Nestlé says ?its new Aero Chocolate Truffle bar, launched to take share away from Masterfoods' Galaxy bar, has ?been very successful.

Graham Walker, sales communications manager at Nestlé Rowntree, believes ?the current consumer trend of credit and debit eating is helping to boost the popularity of these types of everyday indulgent chocolate products. "It's all about having a balanced lifestyle," he says. "People take care to watch what they eat all day and so feel that, in the evenings, they are able to have a little treat."

Sarah Petts, channel and communications manager at Kraft Foods, says: "Research shows that an increasing ?number of consumers are trading up from mainstream confectionery products to those that offer a premium treat, a fact which has moved the premium market into massive growth."

Petts estimates that this pattern will continue during the next five years, driven by the three main consumer trends of "increasingly busy lifestyles, more sophisticated taste preferences, and the search for a better quality of life".

News that countlines are showing a decline of 8.6% [TNS Worldpanel 52 w/e 18 June 2006] has done little to dampen the major manufacturers' innovative spirits.

The past year has seen a number of new products hit the shelves. Nestlé Rowntree successfully ?launched Kit Kat Chunky Peanut, while Cadbury has produced a number of extensions under its Dairy Milk umbrella, including its quirky Creme

Egg Bar.

The past year has also played host to a raft of heavyweight marketing and PR campaigns from the UK's top manufacturers.

Masterfoods has supported its brands with £99m worth of marketing support in 2006 - an increase of 25% on last year. Its Mars, Snickers and Twix brands were supported by a total of £27m, which included changing the name of its Mars bars to Believe during the World Cup.

Nestlé Rowntree stumped up its biggest prize fund yet for an on-pack competition to create a MillionAero, while sales of standard and Kit Kat Chunky almost doubled during this summer's Big Brother Golden Ticket promotion, leaving the company struggling to keep up with demand.

The promotion gave a vital boost to the Kit Kat brand, which last year suffered from a 24% drop in sales. Nestlé says that this type of prodigious marketing activity is the approach the company intends to follow in the future.

Says Walker: "During the next few years we will be doing fewer promotions but much bigger and better ones. If you are going to sponsor an event, make

it a big one that people

will remember."

With a value of £850m, the total chocolate sharing market is performing admirably and, according to Mike Tipping, head of customer relations at Cadbury Trebor Bassett, it will continue

to become increasingly

important in the confectionery market.

Within this market, everyday share is worth more than £155m and is growing strongly at 12% year-on-year [ACNielsen MAT].

Cadbury Snaps, which was launched in 2004, has played a pivotal role in growing the sharing sector.

The brand has had a quiet year but Tipping promises that in 2007 it will be involved in a number of activities to grow its existing £13m share of the market.

This will start next month with a packaging overhaul that identifies the different flavours of each product more clearly.

Kraft Foods' Petts says ?the onset of winter and the dark, cold evenings will fuel growth of the everyday sharing sector.

"Consumers are opting to have cosy nights in, buying big bagged snacks and

chocolate to share with friends," she says, adding that Kraft Foods' ­Toblerone One By One five varieties brand, which caters for different taste preferences, has achieved sales of £7.2m and is growing at 38.3% year-on-year.

As with the countlines, Tipping says that the key to driving growth within the sharing market is to target everyday use, "but with something a little more special". Cadbury hopes that its latest product offering, Dairy Milk Melts, which was launched at the end of last month, will do just that.

Meanwhile, Masterfoods' investment in innovative pouch packaging has been backed by a £4.2m marketing spend and £830,000 TV campaign emphasising the pouch format as perfect for sharing at the cinema.

The activity supports a 16-week promotion of two cinema tickets in exchange for the tops of eight special pouches.n