Chocolate companies are set for a "white-knuckle ride" as Easter egg sales are counted after the hunt for consumers during the biggest weekend of the year.

Major market players Cadbury, which is owned by Mondelez International, and New Zealand-owned Whittaker's say Easter is the biggest sales period.

It accounts for about a fifth of Cadbury's yearly sales, and is one of the biggest periods for Whittaker's, which has about 41 per cent of NZ's $139 million annual block market.

Globally the chocolate market is expected to reach US$98.3 billion ($146.99 billion) this year, up from US$83.2 billion in 2010, according to sales data firm markets&markets.


For the market leader in Easter sales, Cadbury, preparation for the period takes almost a year.

"We've produced around 40 million individual eggs and bunnies for New Zealand [this Easter]," said Mondelez NZ country head James Kane. "Because it's such a big event, it's all planned and effectively pre-ordered a long way in advance," he said.

"We have to manufacture such a lot of volume for a short period of time so it's manufactured over an almost 12-month period and it's a bit of a white-knuckle ride because it's only at the end of Easter that you can assess how much was sold and if it was a success or not."

Kane said it was a balancing act between producing enough chocolate so individual items didn't sell out and customers weren't disappointed, but not so much that there was an oversupply left after Easter.

New Zealand's chocolate market, worth $431.7 million last year, has been growing steadily over the years, with Easter eggs alone worth $31.4 million last year, according to Nielsen.

Mondelez's Kane said the season regularly brought in more than $35 million to supermarkets and was up 5 per cent on average each year.

Cadbury's annual Easter events, including its Eggstravaganza, raised nearly $30,000 this year for charity Make-a-Wish, up from $13,000 last year.

Whittaker's head of marketing Philip Poole said the company has grown significantly, particularly in the past 10 years or so.

"The first quarter of the year tends to be our quietest in terms of sales because it's the summer months and then it builds up through from Easter to around Christmas," Poole said.

"The peak months would be probably August/September in the winter months but our sales have been increasing all the time and so that seasonality becomes less and less important.

"The company is growing and we've grown our market share significantly, but the chocolate market has been growing as well," Poole said.

Kane said Cadbury had for many years been a market leader at Easter, with a roughly 65 per cent market share for the "flagship event".

Other big players include premium-focused chocolatiers such as Lindt and artisan businesses.

Chocolate companies are set for a
Chocolate companies are set for a "white-knuckle ride" as Easter egg sales are counted after the hunt for consumers during the biggest weekend of the year. Photo / Getty Images

"It's the biggest time of the year for us and is about 20 per cent of the overall turnover generally speaking, and that's increasing," Kane said.

"So far this year we're seeing that it's growing about 20 per cent within the season itself."

This year, Whittaker's has launched its first Easter-specific product, a chocolate kiwi and its egg, with 20c from every sale going to the Kiwis for Kiwi charity.

Although it was too early to report on exact figures, Whittaker's said sales of the product had already far exceeded expectations.

Kane said that one of the major trends in chocolate had been a shift towards emphasising top quality.

"We're finding in chocolate generally there's a lot of competition around premium chocolate and so premiumisation of what has largely been more of a commodity product has been fascinating," he said.

Poole said this was also a major factor for Whittaker's.

"New Zealand consumers are certainly becoming more discerning and more demanding in terms of premium quality products", he said, adding consumers could tell if companies changed a formulation or recipe. "Quality is absolutely key."