Mmm, chocolate. It’s creamy. It’s delicious. And it’s the fastest-growing grocery category of 2019, according to our annual Top Products Survey. Yes, chocolate gained an extra £183.5m this year, according to our exclusive Nielsen data, which sent its total value soaring past the £4bn mark.

That’s not just because it’s downright tasty. The rise of chocolate also aptly sums up what’s going on in UK grocery right now.

Firstly, it’s testament to the power of NPD. Growth has stalled in our Top Products Survey this year – over half the categories we measure are down in value – but truly innovative fare has managed to make gains. Chocolate is a prime example.

While chocolate is never going to be a healthy treat, the big names have been busy making it more permissible. The past year has seen the rise of darker variants – see Cadbury Darkmilk, Galaxy Darker Milk and Ritter Sport Cocoa Selection – alongside reduced sugar formulas such as Cadbury Dairy Milk 30% Lower Sugar. Tapping both of these trends has helped Cadbury Dairy Milk deliver a £46.4m gain.

Secondly, chocolate sales are a sign of recessionary behaviour. “Indulgent categories always tend to do well when consumer confidence dips – the worse we feel as a nation, the more chocolate we eat,” says Ben Morrison, head of commercial in Nielsen’s grocery division.

As belts tighten, the big night out is giving way to the big night in. So consumers are opting for large sharing bags to enjoy with friends and family on the sofa. And, as Morrison points out, chocolate brands have been more than happy to meet that need with a plethora of sharing formats.

All of this has helped chocolate emerge as a winner, despite growing concerns over sugar and calorie consumption.

Of course, the healthy stuff is still gaining ground. Meat-free was the fastest-growing category in percentage terms, up 18% in value, while free-from sales increased 9%. But the performance of chocolate shows just how powerful innovation can be (especially if it’s delicious).