Olam Cocoa marked the opening of its latest Cocoa Innovation Centre in Willowbrook, Ill. on April 27. The new facility — located just outside of Chicago and 15 miles from Chicago’s Midway International Airport — will provide innovation capabilities to support Olam Cocoa’s North American customers.
The Cocoa Innovation Centre is one of six such Olam Cocoa facilities globally, with others located in Brazil, the Netherlands, Spain, Singapore and England. It will serve as a destination to assist customers in the refinement and reformulation of existing recipes, provide proof of concept opportunities and aid in the development of new products across application categories like beverage, cereals, snacks, chocolate, confectionery, dairy and bakery.
“The facility will also host regular educational and application-specific seminars as part of a range of services designed to greatly reduce product development cycle timelines and help customers keep pace with changing consumer tastes and market trends,” says Rinus Heemskerk, global head of product development & innovation, Olam Cocoa.
“The Cocoa Innovation Centre will help our customers extract the value out of cocoa,” Heemskerk added. The interactive environment of the facility will foster opportunities for cost reduction, formula optimization and new concept development. “This will result in a tremendous gain in time during research and development,” he noted.
The Cocoa Innovation Centre has multiple pilot plant capabilities, with multiple R&D capabilities suited to snack, bakery, candy and confectionery, including an incubator for carrying out shelf-life studies, a spectrometer for color analysis and chocolate refiner conche technology.
During the opening, Olam Cocoa Innovation Centre staff offered multiple tastings to demonstrate the sensory differences between various types of cocoa, including TrueDark, a natural, dark, nonalkalized cocoa powder. It can be labeled simply as “cocoa,” and is suited to clean-label product development. Samples included:
  • Reduced-sugar chocolate, compound coating and cocoa-coated cereal pieces
  • Baked goods, including muffins and cookies
  • Dairy products, including chocolate milk and ice cream
The sampling and demonstrations highlighted cocoa powder’s ability to help reduce added sugar levels when included in the formula at higher-than-usual use levels. When used at higher levels, cocoa also provides an auxiliary benefit of increased fiber levels. The samples also showcased the different color flavor possibilities related to cocoa powder selection.
Olam Cocoa also unveiled new branding for its portfolio of cocoa product brands, deZaan, Unicao, Macao, and Joanes, as well as announcing the launch of a completely new cocoa product brand for the North American and Asia Pacific markets, Huysman, offering a focused selection of value-driven, best-in-class cocoa powders.
“The North American market continues to see growing demand for products containing cocoa as exemplified by the recent projection that the U.S. chocolate market’s retail value sales will grow by 9.9 percent from 2016 to 2021,” says Matthias Richter, v.p. of cocoa for North America, citing Euromonitor research. “As experienced by our customers at today’s opening, this Cocoa Innovation Centre is a valuable resource that will help them to maximize opportunities related to these demand increases.”
Olam Cocoa CEO Gerard A. Manley added: “By investing in facilities like Willowbrook, we support our customers to satisfy consumer needs, and by being transparent on issues such as sustainability and product provenance, we are also ensuring that the future of our cocoa growers is protected, and that we are working to provide a continued, healthy market for their cocoa.”