When it comes to chocolate, consumers want it all
Sustainable sourcing, functional benefits don't preclude need for "permissable indulgence."
Few would argue with Karl’s commentary on chocolate. After all, the James Beard award-winning photographer captured all those attributes through his lens in the book, “Chocolate: A sweet indulgence.”
Nonetheless, today, one could certainly add some other adjectives to the list, such as good-for-you, labor-intensive, fragile, polarizing, and complex.
Should we also add paradoxical? Despite the almost universal love humanity has for chocolate, that popularity is nearly matched with an ignorance of where it comes from, how it’s cultivated and harvested, and how it’s processed.
Thankfully, cocoa and chocolate suppliers and processors are beginning to see not only a greater interest by consumers about chocolate’s makeup, but where and how it’s sourced. It’s as Innova Market Insights proclaims, a move toward “mindful choices, which the market research company says will be the No. 1 confectionery trend for 2018.
“The entrance of ‘mindful choices’ as a key trend within confectionery actually presents enormous opportunity for companies like Barry Callebaut to innovate and inspire,” says Seema Kedia, senior manager, marketing & sustainability, Barry Callebaut.
“Confectionery brands have long delivered on indulgent taste experiences for consumers. However, capitalizing on the ‘mindful choice’ trend within confectionery means that the chocolate and cocoa ingredients should speak directly to what consumers are looking for today – clean labels and sustainable ingredients,” she adds.
Ricarda Enke, product development and innovation manager, Olam Cocoa, points out that mindful choices enable companies to bore deeper into consumer wants and needs.
“Increasingly customers are inquiring about healthier options and these often fall into two broad categories, what we call ‘chocolate plus,’ enriching products with additions like inclusions or supplements, and ‘chocolate minus,’ which is reducing ingredients such as sugar,” she says.
“This is largely driven by consumer demand for products that are viewed as delicious while also providing some sort of health benefit,” Enke explains. “As the demand for healthier options increases, so does the need to clearly communicate how exactly products meet these trends. Finally, there are trends related to the commitments made by many leading companies and industry players to address caloric content per serving, in line with global health recommendations and initiatives, which is further influencing product size, shape, composition and packaging.”
And what about that buzz word “sustainability?” Do consumers recognize what that means for those cultivating, harvesting and processing cocoa?
“Yes, absolutely,” Kedia says. “As many now know, Barry Callebaut launched Forever Chocolate in November 2016. We saw the need for step change in the industry in commitment to sustainability and progress towards making sustainable chocolate the norm. We see this need also reflected in the increasing demand for sustainable food products from consumers and therefore increased interest in sustainable chocolate and cocoa from our customers as well.”
Cargill Cocoa & Chocolate’s Ilse Tarantino, North American sustainability lead, nods in agreement (figuratively, of course); it’s clear that both customers and consumers are more interested in sourcing.
“Demand for sustainable cocoa and chocolate is certainly growing, as is understanding of the many complex topics that fall under the umbrella of sustainability,” she says. “Transparency within the cocoa supply chain is a topic of increasing focus for consumers; they expect companies to provide them with complete and accurate information on their products and the ingredients they contain. This is particularly true of crops such as cocoa, which is largely grown by smallholder farmers in developing countries, such as Ivory Coast and Ghana.
“As customer and consumer understanding of sustainability issues evolve, we are actively working with our customers to deliver on their requests for increased supply chain visibility and transparency,” Tarantino adds. “We believe this collaborative effort will only serve to strengthen sustainability efforts at origin.”
Olam takes a similar view, although the focus must always begin with the cocoa farmer, Enke points out.
“As one of the world’s leading suppliers of sustainable cocoa, our responsibility is foremost to the smallholder farmers and cocoa-growing communities from whom we source,” she says. “And our responsibility is also to our customers, helping them to communicate traceability and sustainability to end consumers through responsibly sourced cocoa.
“The demand from stakeholders is there, and it is certainly increasing as operating sustainably is good for people, for the environment and for business,” Enke adds. “To that end, it is encouraging to see the increased attention that both customers and end consumers are giving to sustainability.”
Take that one step further, and one can’t help but notice varying chocolates bearing certification claims, everything from organic to child-labor free claims.
“In managing one of the world’s largest cocoa sustainability footprints, we continually engage with a diverse set of certification schemes, all with varying requirements, commitments and stakeholders. This can be a complex endeavour,” Enke explains. “We offer a wide range of certified cocoa under Fairtrade, Rainforest Alliance/UTZ and organic, as well as verification through our own Olam Livelihood Charter programs, all of which support sustainable sourcing practices.”
Unfortunately, a completely universal program for cocoa certification does not yet exist, she stresses.
“However, alignment on the communication of traceability, transparency and quality through a unified platform that provides a more consistent approach is something we are striving to achieve,” Enke says. “Technology is aiding this process immensely and it is where we are intensely focusing our efforts. Through AtSource and our Olam Farmer Information System (OFIS) we are re-imagining global agriculture and connecting customers to transformative supply chains.”
There is progress being made, however, on universal certification. Kedia points out that the global CEN/ISO standard is in final stages of development and will be voted on later this year for approval.
“The cocoa industry has moved already towards standardization in sustainability program implementation via initiatives like CocoaAction, however a universal certification standard could further aid in this,” she adds.
And as with sustainability, there’s a similar interest in chocolate’s inherent health benefits, which has spurred ongoing research to quantify them scientifically.
“Cocoa is an exceptional product that comes with intrinsically positive health properties such as polyphenols, fiber, magnesium and potassium,” Enke emphasizes. “A multitude of studies show that the consumption of cocoa and chocolate products has positive health effects for humans, with a large prevalence of the data identifying beneficial impacts on blood pressure, cholesterol and inflammation.”
She cites the company’s latest (2017) edition of the deZaan Cocoa Manual, which has an entire chapter dedicated to the health aspects of cocoa, supported by a significant number of research outcomes from double-blind clinical trials.
“The positive health implications of cocoa on its own should, of course, be viewed somewhat uniquely versus how these implications may vary as cocoa is processed and additional ingredients are added during the final production of consumer products,” she stresses.
“So, while public interest in chocolate as part of a healthy diet may ebb and flow, the health benefits of moderately consumed cocoa itself will always remain,” Enke says. “New results of studies on the health benefits of cocoa come out every month, and it is exciting to see where future research will lead. For the time being we should all continue to enjoy reasonable amounts of dark chocolate and cocoa as part of a healthy, balanced diet.”
That diet, however, seems to be trending toward less sugar, an area that’s seeing more and more activity from cocoa suppliers and processors.
“Sugar reduction is an important issue and something we take seriously,” says Wyatt Elder, Cargill Cocoa & Chocolate, R&D Leader, technical. “Our current portfolio includes both reduced-sugar chocolate as well as a range of sugar-reduced or no-sugar-added compound coatings and fillings. There is a great opportunity for our customers to leverage Cargill’s Truvia (naturally sourced from the stevia leaf) and other high-intensity sweetener knowledge to deliver unique products with an improved sensory profile.”
Barry Callebaut’s product portfolio also includes sugar-free chocolates, no sugar added chocolates, reduced sugar chocolates and alternative sugar chocolates – such as coconut sugar or maple sugar, Kedia says.
“We can also create customized solutions in these areas adapted to specific application needs. This allows consumers to enjoy chocolate even if sugar reduction or sugar replacement is a need, creating a permissible indulgence experience,” she says.
It’s important to keep in mind that reducing sugar in chocolate isn’t so straightforward, Enke points out.
“One of the key factors to understand when talking about sugar reduction in cocoa-containing products is the balance between bitter and sweet,” she says. “The cocoa bitterness and sweetness levels of a product need to be in harmony in order to find a way to successfully reduce sugar levels. So, not only does the type and amount of sweetener used have an impact, the choice of cocoa ingredients in the recipe also plays a major role.”
Lest one forget, chocolate can also play a key functional role.
Although chocolate is traditionally viewed as an indulgence, it has a place in functional confections,” emphasizes Katy Cole, Cargill Cocoa & Chocolate, technical service manager. “It has the ability to mask the less-desired flavors of some healthy ingredients such as proteins fibers, vitamins and minerals, and brings a touch of indulgence. It can also offer a healthy halo when using high cocoa solids chocolate, particularly 72 percent and higher.
It’s clear for Enke that customers are increasingly inquiring about healthier options. To that end, Olam also has developed a range of customer solutions for chocolate confectionery, particularly with cocoa powders, that have improved nutritional profiles as well as meet consumer demand for reduced allergens and better nutritional composition.
“As the demand for healthier options increases, so does the need to clearly communicate how exactly products meet these trends,” she says. “For us, this means supporting customers by making our own products as cleanly labelled as possible. For example, our natural cocoa powders are not alkalized, yet may provide the same color and flavor impact, as well as functionality in application. In some cases this can also be achieved at lower dose rates which means customer cost savings implications — so it creates a win-win for both end consumers looking for these ‘mindful choices’ products and for customers looking for added value opportunities.”
Nevertheless, as Petzke reminds us, one can’t ignore chocolate’s seductive powers.
“While consumers are increasingly making snacking choices with a focus on health, clean label and sustainability, they are simultaneously looking for indulgences, experiences and the occasional guilty pleasure treat,” Enke says. “In that context, the push towards premiumization is something that will most likely continue to grow, as these products can often combine both trends and thus make ‘mindful choices’ easier.
Kedia echoes those sentiments.
“With ‘mindful choices’ being a top trend in confectionery, we will see which expressions of this speak most strongly to consumers,” she says. “Shoppers today already want more information about who is growing the ingredients for their foods, and we may see this carry over into confectionery in a bigger way going forward. It could become increasingly important for chocolate brands to help consumers feel connected to growers in the supply chain, so that those brands’ products can be in line with consumers making ‘mindful choices.’”