Chocolate Makers Are Having a Hard Time Cutting Down on Sugar

LONDON—A longstanding push to slash sugar in chocolate has stalled, leaving confectionery makers in a sticky situation amid the threat of regulation that could hit sales.

In the U.K.—where people eat more chocolate per head than anywhere but Russia—a government report shows the industry has made little progress toward a 2020 deadline to cut sugar. That has prompted health campaigners to call for a tax on chocolate similar to a levy on sugary soft drinks, which in several countries has reduced consumption or propelled reformulation.

“The success of the soft-drinks industry levy has shown that a levy-based, mandatory system works,” said Holly Gabriel, a nutritionist at London-based nonprofit Action on Sugar. “Chocolate confectionery would be an ideal category to introduce a similar levy.”

The burgeoning scrutiny presents new risks and challenges for global chocolate companies such as KitKat maker Nestlé SA and Toblerone-owner Mondelez International Inc., with the U.K.’s regulation on alcohol, smoking and plastic waste historically influencing policy elsewhere.

Years of attempts to develop chocolate with less sugar but the same taste have failed to impress consumers.

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