Tales From the Dark Side

By Kathie Canning

The ancient Mayans had good reason to call chocolate “food of the gods.” The melt-in-your mouth confection delivers a feel-good, palate-pleasing experience that’s unrivaled by other ingredients. But chocoholics across the nation now have another excuse to indulge. Scientific studies have linked chocolate — particularly dark chocolate — to specific health benefits.
What’s more, dark chocolate and decadence seem to go hand-in-hand. Why settle for a plain old chocolate chip cookie when you can indulge in a double dark Brazilian chocolate chunk cookie, complete with heart-healthy flavanoids?
“The U.S. market is moving very rapidly toward a preference for premium chocolate and dark chocolate,” says Sarah O’Neil, director of marketing–food manufacturers for Chicago-based Barry Callebaut North America. “Dark chocolate sales have risen 42% in the last five years, due in part to the recent attention related to the health benefits of dark chocolate.”
Scientists contend that the flavanoids in chocolate might fight heart disease by thinning the blood and helping to prevent clotting, notes Matt Crumpton, marketing manager for Belcolade NV/SA, Puratos’ Belgium-based chocolate arm.
“Other studies by various universities have also suggested that if you eat chocolate three times a month, you could live almost a year longer than those who abstain,” Crumpton says. “The fats in cocoa butter can be good for you, too. They contain antioxidants that protect against disease, which is why at Belcolade we use 100% cocoa butter in our chocolate, rather than the 5% vegetable fat that EU legislation now permits.”
Chocolate has a host of feel-good ingredients as well, Crumpton adds. Magnesium, for example, has a calming effect, while sugar and fat increase serotonin levels and reduce stress. Chocolate also triggers the release of mood-enhancing endorphins.
With all it has going for it, chocolate continues to be a natural fit for today’s baked goods and snack foods.
“Chocolate occupies the perfect ‘sweet spot’ in today’s market,” notes Kristen Helmert, director of marketing for Switzerland-based Givaudan. “It’s tied to two monumental global consumer megatrends — indulgence, and health and wellness.”
Bakers also are tweaking formulas of products make with dark chocolate to add additional health benefits, says Courtney LeDrew, marketing specialist for the Cargill Cocoa & Chocolate arm of Minneapolis-based Cargill, Inc.
“We’ve seen an increase in requests for high cocoa solids drops and wafers for a variety of bakery applications,” she says. “Health and wellness continues to be at the forefront, and manufacturers are improving the nutrition of their offerings. We’ve seen a move toward zero trans [fat] and non-hydro[genated] compound coatings, drops and inclusions.”
In part, the move to the dark side is based on shifting consumer demographics, says Rose Potts, sensory programs manager/technical service for Blommer Chocolate, Chicago.
“Our demographics in the United States are trending to the more mature side, and that’s going to continue,” she says. “If you’re trying to target the baby boomer market, they’re going to want the more intense flavors, which points to things like intense dark chocolate.”
Manufacturers of snack foods and bakery items also might want to look for ways to incorporate cocoa powder to take advantage of cocoa’s current “healthy halo,” Potts adds. They then could play up its inclusion on front labels. It’s important to note, however, that bakery products tend to serve up a lesser dose of health benefits, as chocolate’s antioxidants are heat-sensitive.
Other consumer attention-grabbers right now are the green movement and multisensory appeal, Helmert says. The green movement takes into consideration our responsibility to the planet, incorporating such components as fair trade, organic ingredients and ethical marketing that supports green farming and more. Multisensory appeal, meanwhile — what Givaudan calls Wonderlands — speaks to consumers’ exploration of “360-degree” sensory experiences.
“We’re seeing all sorts of new chocolate products manifest in the marketplace, from bubble-infused/aerated chocolate to chocolates that impart various delectable aromas to products with distinct chocolate textures and flavor profiles that enable consumers to mix and match to their customized liking,” Helmert says. “It’s all about a riot of flavor and texture and color and aroma, driven by our desire for greater intensity, greater novelty and greater variety.”
In the bakery and snack arena, Helmert points to several product launches that exhibit the on-trend use of chocolate. Pepperidge Farm Double Dark Chocolate Milano Cookies fit in well with dark chocolate cravings, for example, while the Braham and Murray Good Bar (marrying chocolate with hemp seeds, nuts and fruit, and containing Omega-3, 6 and 9) ties in with both multisensory and health and wellness trends.
More Than Inclusions
Today, many great-tasting products incorporate chocolate inclusions, notes LeDrew, pointing to such items as large cookies using wafers as chips.
But producers also can — and should — look outside the inclusions arena to infuse great chocolate flavor into their products, says Paul Horkey, a spokesperson for Cargill Cocoa & Chocolate.
“Bakers and manufacturers can add cocoa powder, chocolate liquor or chocolate flavor extracts to achieve the desired chocolate flavor effect,” he says.
But outside the chip or chunk inclusion arena, a higher-quality chocolate often is needed.
“You cannot take one chocolate and use that same chocolate across the board,” stresses Bill Dyer, vice president of technical sales and service for Blommer Chocolate. “Chocolate is defined not only in terms of flavor, but the quality is defined in terms of texture, smoothness and mouthfeel. If you’re putting chocolate completely over the top of a cookie and you want the chocolate to be smoother, you should use a chocolate with a really fine texture.”
Snack food manufacturers and wholesale bakers might want to look at how the confectionary industry has elevated the product experience with the inclusion of unique chocolate and cocoa products, O’Neil suggests. Confectioners have done a good job of promoting the types of chocolate in their products, she adds, pointing out features such as high cacao content, single-origin chocolate or organic chocolate.
“In general, chocolate should not be thought of as a commodity, but as a way to add value to a product,” O’Neil stresses. “For example, adding Belgian-made chocolate chips to a cookie can help differentiate the cookie and increase the value of the product in the consumer’s mind.”
She also recommends that processors work closely with their chocolate suppliers on research and development initiatives, as well as marketing.
“At Barry Callebaut, we help our customers identify consumer needs and develop innovative solutions to meet those needs.” O’Neil says. “We also can help them understand how best to communicate the unique product attributes to their customers.”
Innovation Focus
No matter what the application or ultimate goal, today’s food manufacturers will find no shortage of innovation when sourcing chocolate ingredients.
As a fully integrated global chocolate company, Barry Callebaut can provide snack food manufacturers and bakers with a wide variety of premium chocolates that offer “unique” taste experiences, O’Neil notes. For example, the company now offers certified products that comply with kosher, organic, fair trade and other standards. Also new is an aerated chocolate product with a light, fluffy texture that melts quickly in the mouth.
“The aerated chocolate, which is loaded with tiny, visible air bubbles and is one-third the weight of standard chocolate, can float in liquid and is ideal for cereals, as well as baking and dairy applications in which standard chocolate is typically used,” O’Neil says. “Manufacturers can use the aerated chocolate chunks to increase the total number of chocolate pieces in a product while maintaining the total chocolate mass, providing added value and cost efficiencies.”
On the dark side, Barry Callebaut introduced a line of high-cacao chocolates and chocolate chunks with 85% cocoa solids, O’Neil adds. These are six “rare and exclusive” single-origin dark chocolates — from Ghana, Tanzania, Mexico, Santo Domingo, Venezuela and Arriba — for industrial food manufacturers.
From Givaudan comes a new suite of single-origin chocolate flavors, “world-class” dark and milk chocolate flavors, and a host of consumer-tested chocolate flavor duos to keep customers ahead of consumer demand for intensity, novelty and variety, Helmert says.
“But we won’t stop there,” she adds. “We’re in it for the long haul, and you can expect to see more exciting developments in chocolate from Givaudan in the weeks, months and years ahead.”
Blommer offers a full range of cocoa powders, from natural to alkali and everything in between. In addition, it provides a wide range of chocolate chip and chunk sizes in milk chocolate and dark chocolate formats, as well as chocolate coatings for bakery and other applications. The company now has three facilities that are certified organic, Dyer adds.
For Belcolade, Crumpton says the production of authentic Belgian chocolate is an art. In its Brussels plant, the company relies on chocolatiers and couverture craftsmen, using the highest-quality cocoa beans, and 100% cocoa butter and natural vanilla to combine traditional and time-honored techniques with modern-day equipment and practices.
The Belcolade range features chocolate with origins such as Costa Rica, Peru, Papua New Guinea, Ecuador and Venezuela, Crumpton notes. The company produces dark, milk and white Real Belgian Chocolate in liquid form, drops, blocks, chunks and grains for customers in more than 90 countries.
“The Costa Rican origins are now produced using cocoa beans sourced from Rainforest Alliance Certified farms, especially important for those consumers who are searching for authenticity, provenance, and sustainable use of resources, ethical behavior and protection of the environment,” Crumpton adds. “Also in the collection are an organic and an organic fair trade range of products using cocoa from the Dominican Republic.”
Cargill also offers an extensive chocolate range, with its Wilbur chocolate line serving up a variety of high cocoa solids chocolate and drops. The line includes popular zero trans and non-hydrogenated offerings, LeDrew notes.
In addition, Cargill’s Gerkens cocoa products come in a number of Dutched and non-alkalized formats, in medium- and high-fat options, to suit a variety of applications. Cargill recently broke ground for a new Gerkens cocoa facility in Ghana and expects to be operational in 2008, LeDrew adds.
Finally, Peter’s Chocolate, another Cargill company, has introduced a naturally flavored gourmet wafer line. LeDrew says the line includes Cambra bittersweet chocolate with 72% cocoa solids, Galeton bittersweet chocolate with 64% cocoa solids, Adair bittersweet chocolate with 56% cocoa solids, Malan milk chocolate with 40% cocoa solids and Finley white chocolate with 33% cocoa solids.
“It was developed with the help of our certified master pastry chef to ensure proper performance in various applications,” LeDrew says.
Regardless of what country it hails from, dark chocolate appears to have staying power from both a health and flavor angle, as either confection or inclusion. For bakers and snack producers, that means a world of opportunity for creating new products that consumers love. SF&WB
Chocolate Bites
• Nearly 100 million lbs. of chocolate products are used annually by manufacturers of frozen cakes, pies and other pastries, at a value of more than $53 million.
• Cookie and cracker manufacturers use 167 million lbs. of chocolate products annually, valued at $192 million.
Identity Crisis
In October 2006, the Chocolate Manufacturers Association and a number of food industry associations submitted a Citizens Petition to Modernize Food Standards to the Food and Drug Administration. In a nutshell, the petition would apply to all foods covered by a standard of identity, including cocoa and chocolate — potentially giving chocolate manufacturers flexibility to use ingredients such as vegetable fats in place of cocoa butter and milk substitutes.
Some companies such as candy-maker Mars have criticized the petition, saying a relaxation of rules would result in lower-quality chocolate overall.
But CMA member Barry Callebaut signed the petition, believing it would improve the harmonization and enforcement of all food standards in the United States. In fact, vegetable fats other than cocoa butter have been authorized in the European Union since 2003, notes Sarah O’Neil, director of marketing–food manufacturers for Barry Callebaut North America.
“Barry Callebaut abstains from the addition of any other vegetable fats other than cocoa butter for all products for artisan customers that we manufacture under our own brands,” O’Neil says. “Customer-specific recipes, reserved for our industrial customers, are formulated in such a way that the products satisfy the customer’s specific need, as well as the taste of their consumers. Only and specifically upon a customer’s request will we add vegetable fats other than cocoa butter to customer-specific recipes.”