Choco­late mak­ers in the pink at new treat

Saturday Star - - NEWS - BLOOMBERG

A BREAK­THROUGH by a Swiss choco­late maker ex­pands the in­dus­try’s hues beyond just dark, milk and white.

Barry Calle­baut AG, the world’s largest co­coa pro­ces­sor, has come up with the first new nat­u­ral colour for choco­late since Nes­tle started mak­ing bars of white choco­late more than 80 years ago.

The Zurich-based com­pany refers to the prod­uct with a pink­ish hue and a fruity flavour as “ruby choco­late”.

The new prod­uct may help boost sales in a strug­gling global choco­late mar­ket. As Her­shey cuts staff and Nes­tle tries to sell its US busi­ness, ruby choco­late raises the pos­si­bil­ity that next Valen­tine’s Day may see store shelves full of nat­u­rally pink choco­late hearts.

The in­no­va­tion, based on a spe­cial type of co­coa bean, comes af­ter about a decade of de­vel­op­ment, chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer An­toine de Saint-Af­frique said.

Un­veiled in Shang­hai this week, the choco­late has a nat­u­ral berry flavour that’s sour yet sweet, ac­cord­ing to the com­pany, which works be­hind the scenes to pro­duce choco­late sold by all the ma­jor pro­duc­ers.

“It’s nat­u­ral, it’s colour­ful, it’s he­do­nis­tic. There’s an in­dul­gence as­pect to it, but it keeps the au­then­tic­ity of choco­late,” De Saint-Af­frique said. “It has a nice bal­ance that speaks a lot to mil­len­ni­als.”

The new prod­uct may also ap­peal to Chi­nese con­sumers, a nascent mar­ket for choco­late, De Saint-Af­frique said. The com­pany has tested the prod­uct in Bri­tain, the US, China and Ja­pan through in­de­pen­dent con­sumer re­search.

“We had very good re­sponse in the key coun­tries where we tested, but we’ve also had very good re­sponse in China, which for choco­late is quite un­usual,” he said, not­ing the colour is at­trac­tive in that mar­ket.

In­no­va­tions in choco­late of­ten take years be­cause of the com­plex struc­tures and the chal­lenge of main­tain­ing tex­ture and taste. Nes­tle sci­en­tists have found a way to re­duce the amount of sugar in choco­late by as much as 40%, though it won’t be avail­able in con­fec­tionery prod­ucts un­til next year. Barry Calle­baut also sells choco­late that with­stands higher tem­per­a­tures, a goal choco­late com­pa­nies had sought to achieve for decades.

Barry Calle­baut’s re­search depart­ment came across the pos­si­bil­ity of ruby choco­late by chance about 13 years ago as it stud­ied co­coa beans.

“It could be ex­cel­lent news if the taste works for con­sumers, as it of­fers a new branch of man­u­fac­tur­ers to ex­plore,” Bloomberg In­tel­li­gence an­a­lyst Duncan Fox said. “If they can use less sugar to make a nice bar, then it will an ad­di­tion to the cur­rent mar­ket.”

The beans used to make ruby choco­late come from Ivory Coast, Ecuador and Brazil and the un­usual colour comes from the pow­der ex­tracted dur­ing pro­cess­ing, De Saint-Af­frique said. No berries or colours are added. While other com­pa­nies al­ready pro­duce red co­coa pow­der, this is the first time nat­u­ral red­dish choco­late is pro­duced.

“You could try to copy the colour and the flavour, but mak­ing a real choco­late, which is just made out of your nor­mal choco­late in­gre­di­ents, with that taste and with that colour would be ex­traor­di­nar­ily dif­fi­cult,” De Saint-Af­frique said.

The de­vel­op­ment comes at time when a global sur­plus has sent co­coa fu­tures traded in Lon­don more than 30% in the past year, re­sult­ing in a cri­sis in Ivory Coast. The top grower ear­lier this year cut the price paid to farm­ers by 36% for the smaller of two an­nual crops that started in April.

“If Africa is go­ing to ex­tract more value from co­coa, it has to move away from be­ing a bulk sup­plier of generic beans and in­stead fo­cus on en­hanc­ing its spe­cial­ity pro­duc­tion,” said Ed­ward George, head of soft com­modi­ties re­search at Lome, Togo-based lender Ecobank Transna­tional Inc. “This has much higher mar­gins.”

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