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INSIDE TRACK: Chocolate at £2.50 a bar is making sporting inroads

Some people persist in associating Scotland with deep-fried chocolate confectionery, whereas research indicates consumption of Mars bars equates to every person living in the UK devouring 266 of them last year.

Our collective consumption is just about the highest in the world, exceeded only by Ireland and Denmark, with chocolate accounting for 70% of sales (sweeties hover around 30%). The UK market grew by 4% last year and it's predicted to grow by another 2% each year over the next five years - helped along, no doubt, by our main television network continuing to commission primetime baking and sweetie-making programmes.

Industry insiders say we'll each be chomping over 9.4kg of commercial chocolate brands by 2017. So much for the sugar-is-bad-for-you warnings.

Even the recent price surge of cocoa, caused by increased demand from India and China, is unlikely to put up the price of a commercial bar by much; instead, we're more likely to see smaller bars and an increase in other ingredients - such as fat and sugar.

But it should not be forgotten modern Scotland has a thriving industry producing high-end artisan chocolates that contain very little, if any, artificial sugar.

Among these are Iain Burnett of Grandtully, whose truffles and pralines of rare Sao Tome cocoa sourced from a tiny island in the South Atlantic ocean are served to BA's first-class worldwide passengers and diners at Gordon Ramsay's three-Michelin starred London restaurant; and Sebastian Kobelt, formerly with Tom Kitchin and soon to open his own shop in Linlithgow, selling chocolates, patisserie and desserts using rare "bean to bar" chocolate from Madagascar, Ecuador and Peru supplied by the pioneering Chocolate Tree in Edinburgh.

But the biggest challenge to the commercial big boys could yet be iQ, the Scottish wildcrafted "superfood" raw chocolate bar sweetened only with coconut blossom nectar. Even at around £2.50 a bar, it's making waves in the lucrative health and sport markets. Launched last year by two former home economics teachers in Stirling, iQ is the first in Scotland to make chocolate from raw single-origin beans from Rio Negro Valley in Peru. A new Scottish seabuckthorn bar, and a ginger and ginseng bar, have just been launched to expand the range.

The pair have been working with Robert Gordon University and the Rowett Institute of Nutrition and Health at Aberdeen University, who reckon it is of "superior nutritional value compared to other high cocoa content chocolate bars". They partnered with Queen Margaret University and Scottish Rugby to look into the impact on players - and results showed eating the chocolate actually increased their reaction times.

Business has already tripled; they expect to grow tenfold next year. Planet Organic, Earthy, Selfridges, Real Foods, WholeFoods Market and Stobo Castle are among top-end stockists and talks are ongoing with major US and Middle East distributors and retail chains, with the aim to be in stores in these regions by Christmas.

So take heart. The fightback to melt stubborn old myths has begun.

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Food and drink

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