Chocolate has often been described as one of life's greatest indulgences, and now lovers of the popular food group are set to be the driving force behind the global $196 billion confectionery market in the next five years, according to Euromonitor.
Growth of chocolate sales is on track to outperform all other confectionery products globally by 2018, the market research firm said in a report this week.
Chocolate is also forecast to record the strongest volume and sales growth this year compared to sugar and gum, in nearly half of the 80 countries surveyed.
Francisco Redruello, senior food analyst at Euromonitor International, said the results show consumers are increasingly willing to pay more for indulging in chocolate.
"[Chocolate's] value growth is being driven by a number of factors, for example health innovation, more visible branding strategies, certification, sophisticated packaging or simply a taste for indulgence,' Redruello said.
The use of "certification," where producers attest to using 100 percent cocoa and disclose the origin of the beans, has been particularly successful in drawing consumers, Redruello noted, as "certified chocolate is typically regarded as premium and fetches a higher price than standard chocolate."
The health benefits of cocoa are also driving demand, especially in countries with severe obesity and diabetes issues.
According to Euromonitor, chocolate sales growth is predicted to rise by 8 percent in North America in the next five years, with an increasingly diet-conscious U.S. market set to remain the food group's biggest market, accounting for 15 percent of sales in 2018.
Chocolate currently dominates almost 55 percent of the total confectionery market, compared to 31 percent for sugar products and 13 percent for gum, the data showed. Chocolates sales are expected to grow over 12 percent in the next five years, while the sugar and gum sales are forecast to grow 8.5 percent and 10 percent, respectively, Euromonitor said.
Emerging markets' sweet tooth
Euromonitor sees emerging countries accounting for seven of the top 10 growth markets for chocolate sales in the next five years, with Brazil, India and China all placing within the top five.
(Read more: Hershey's Bites Into China, Without Chocolate)
The rise of the middle class in China means a more well-off and discerning group of consumers searching for better value in their food choices.
"Ferrero China, for instance, increased its retail value share by one percentage point in 2012. Ferrero's products have a premium image, using gold colored packaging and advertising to convey a high-end lifestyle to consumers," Redruello said.
In India, plain chocolate is losing market share to filled chocolate like those with nuts, which jumped 45 percent in sales in 2012. "The rapid growth in filled chocolate tablets is in line with a growing preference for premium chocolate, which is usually filled with nuts," Redruello said.
—By CNBC.com's Rajeshni Naidu-Ghelani; Follow her on Twitter @RajeshniNaidu