Datamonitor's report The European Confectionery Market to 2007 shows that Britain is far ahead of its Continental rivals when it comes to chocolate consumption, accounting for 32 per cent of the total market by value in 2003 - estimated at £3.7 billion.
In volume terms, the UK is also well ahead of its rivals, with total sales of 616 million kg in 2003, the report suggests.
With consumption patterns close to those in the UK, it is no surprise that Ireland is also high up the rankings, despite its relatively small size. In fact, while it is third in the per capita consumption table with 8.2 kg per annum (behind second-placed Germany with 8.7 kg), it holds the number one spot in terms of expenditure per person at £77 - beating the UK into second place with £63 and Germany into third with £42.
The Datamonitor report highlights a clear north/south divide in Europe when it comes to chocolate consumption, reflecting among other things the difference in average temperatures in the two halves of the continent.
The top four countries in the rankings are all in the north (the Netherlands takes fourth sport with per capita consumption of 5 kg) while the main southern European countries covered by the report (Italy and Spain) are well down the list - Italians eat just 2.5 kg of chocolate each year while Spaniards consumer just 1.7 kg.
Perhaps reflecting the fact that it straddles both the north and the south of the continent, France comes between these two groups with consumption of 4.9 kg per person.
The report also shows that while most Europeans eat chocolate on a regular basis, their tastes differ greatly, and not just in terms of the cocoa content.
For example, the most popular type of chocolate confectionery in the UK is countlines such as Kit Kat, Snickers or Crunchie, which account for 45 per cent of total volume sales, followed by moulded bars (solid chocolate bars, blocks or tablets shaped by pouring melted chocolate into moulds, with or without added ingredients such as fruit and/or nuts) at 22 per cent and boxed chocolate (13 per cent).
German consumers prefer moulded bars, while the French prefer chocolate which offers simplicity and purity of taste, without additional flavours and with little sugar. Italian tastes are geared towards the more indulgent and sophisticated end of the market.
In Spain, chocolate manufacturers are trying to follow the rest of the confectionery market and increase their market share by introducing low-fat products, Datamonitor claims. But this strategy has not been particularly successful and some companies are now focusing on the high quality, premium price boxed chocolate sector of the market.
Datamonitor's report suggests that there will be little change in consumption patterns in the west, with the UK likely to still lead the market by 2007 despite concerns about the worsening state of the nation's health.
Nonetheless, sales growth across Europe will slow down, with value sales likely to reach £3.9 billion by 2007, an increase of just 4 per cent, according to John Band, consumer markets analyst at Datamonitor and author of the report.
"This is very much a consequence of the maturity of the western markets. Major manufacturers have experienced declining value sales. Indeed, falling European sales in 2003 drove Cadbury Schweppes to start a cost-cutting programme that could lead up to 5,500 jobs being lost to help shore up profits.
Western European sales have also been affected by a rising sense of health consciousness, having a particular impact on the chocolate segment."
The focus for growth is consequently shifting towards Eastern and Central Europe, according to Band, a trend most apparent when looking at volume sales.
"Russia is the largest in volume terms - it's a big market with very low prices. Low prices in Russia and across the East are serving to boost volume sales rates, especially as average incomes are rising, although there are still questions over the solidity of economic growth and reconstruction in some countries, including Russia."