Chocolate makers in the pink at new treat
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.”