Focus: Raising the bar for chocolate production
The global chocolate market is continuing to be driven by processing and product development innovations despite pandemic challenges, as Neill Barston finds speaking to major corporations and smaller businesses influencing the sector, including Cargill.
With the global chocolate market prompted a reaction from manufacturers now valued at over $130 billion and processors in terms of their approach and rising notably according to analysis by ResearchandMarkets.com, it’s clear the pandemic has proved a decisive driving force.
One of the biggest areas of growth has been within online retailing, which Euromonitor recently revealed at our World Confectionery Conference, had increased 53.4 per cent during the covid crisis, against modest retail gains of 4.5 per cent, as many stores struggled to open amid successive lockdown measures.
This pattern, coupled with findings from Innova Market Research’s core trends throughout 2021, revealed that while there has been a marked increase in demand within indulgent premium product series, this was in parallel to a growth spike in health and wellbeing ranges, which has
Among those making major moves over the past year to enhance their offerings is Cargill, which has made significant investment into capabilities for producing sugar-reduced chocolate.
Consequently, as Confectionery Production reported last year, its facilities in Mouscron, Belgium, are being continually enhanced to meet consumer demand and en- able key manufacturers to deliver on pledges of extending their confectionery offerings that respond to market desires for ranges perceived as offering a healthier choice.
As Inge Demeyere, managing director, Cargill Chocolate Europe, explains, there is a noticeable shift in consumer buying behaviour across segments, channels and regions.
“Fortunately, throughout the pandemic, our production has been unaffected. All our plants remained operational, even as we prioritised employee safety,” she explains of how the company has navigated rapidly altering conditions.
While there have clearly been tests for the business – including fluctuating prices in raw ingredients, as well as logistics issues that have affected the wider food and drinks industry around the world, the company’s access to a global support network has clearly worked in its favour.
”Most recently, we’ve seen unprecedented demand for our chocolate products as mar- kets have opened up again – something that is true across the entire cocoa and chocolate industry. This demand, in combination with severe challenges in the transport sector, have led to tight supplies.
“Consumer demand for healthier options led us to innovate within the sugar reduction field. In 2019, we significantly invested in our Mouscron (Belgium) site to enhance our capabilities for producing chocolate with lower sugar levels,” explains the managing director.
As she reveals, this included creating a unique sugar-reduced chocolate recipe capability using an optimised blend of sugar replacers, balanced against other key elements such as taste and texture.
She concludes: “Now fully online, our new, bespoke sugar-reduced chocolate capabilities can produce a creamy, rich, indulgent chocolate taste with just the right level of sweetness.
“The investment includes the option to use a wide range of sugar replacers and the necessary dosing systems to allow Cargill to reduce sugar levels gradually, or up to 30 per cent or higher.”
House of Chocolate development
While there has been key investment in the company’s existing facilities on site, one of its core projects amid the pandemic is the delivery of its soon to be completed House of Chocolate innovation facility.
The new €21 million, 700 square metre complex is being built alongside the present plant, which the business believes will provide a strong focus for delivering new products for the confectionery sector, in response to consumer demand for ever-more variety, including healthier options within global sweets and snacks segments.
Speaking exclusively to Confectionery Production, Anne-Cecile Duhem believes it is set to make a significant contribution to its overall activities on site (see our special video feature with the key project’s manager here).
Having started initial work on the scheme early last year, the project manager admits it was something of a challenge to co-ordinate construction and engineering remotely under covid restrictions, but she says it has remained firmly on track, as the facility nears its final completion phase.
She says: “We started work on it right at the start of the pandemic and it it’s now no longer just an image, we now have a really fine building. It’s an integrated, end-to-end concept to offer our customers chance to visit us to see all the capabilities and skills we have at Cargill. We will offer three functions divided between levels.
“The top floor of the facility will have a customer solutions centre, a space for gourmet and industrial customers to co create and train, and discuss with our experts.
“The middle section will have our central R&D teams, grouped together with experts in production and innovation, so customers will have direct access to this team, and enable them to bring products to market faster.”
Notably, as she adds, the ground floor will consist of a dedicated pilot centre, grouping together its production capabilities.
This will consist of five production lines that will replicate the industrial processes within its main facilities.
“Having the pilot centre will give customers the rheology and tastes that are close to that which is possible in industrial production, and help improve overall efficiency in developing products. The centre’s objective is to be closer to our customers and become their most trusted solution provider,” adds the project manager, who explains its latest venture has been designed in keeping with the company’s commitment to sustainability.
This includes the use of solar panels and geothermal energy to significantly reduce energy consumption, with the business set to engage with a wide range of confectionery manufacturers.
For its part, Netherlands-based Royal Duyvis Wiener, which has specialised in a range of equipment for confectionery and bakery sectors including chocolate processing, the pandemic has proved a period of readjustment.
As Leah Barsema, marketing manager for the group, notes, there have been some genuinely profound developments.
She explains: “Covid has partially reshaped consumer tastes and demands. Staying at home is the new standard, and while consumers adjusted to the situation quite well, they still have the desire for new experiences – maybe now more than ever before. Today, new experiences, or even the usual experiences, are limited, yet food can still help to create new experiences.
“This has led to a taste rebellion. Never before have we seen so many such development in specialty flavours. Especially in these post-pandemic times, flavours are consistently leading innovation across the food industry.
“Yet what is key to watch with this trend, is that consumers demand to be surprised. For example, a surprise element such as a strange combination of chocolate or a variety of flavours to choose from. Now it’s more difficult to travel in real life, we seek to compensate in flavours. Due to globalisation that is now driven faster by digitalisation, providing us all with a greater accessibility to global cultures, there is in tandem, an increase to easily source and purchase products and flavours from all over the world. Such specialties may include for example Argentinian Dulce de Leche, or the Italian Stracciatella.”
She adds that sustainability has also emerged as another notable trend in the market, with consumers increasingly think- ing about the impact of their choices on the environment.
Her colleague, Roy Smith, technology manager, believes the business as respond- ed well to changing conditions.
He adds: “For Royal Duyvis Wiener, these trends have not influenced the way of working.
“Our machines are equipped to handle a wide variety of recipes, so new flavours and textures are part and parcel of we do on a day-to-day basis. In our Technology Centre we support customers testing new recipes. Sustainability has been top of mind for the
last year, as we strive to deliver on what is important to our customers.”
Meanwhile in the UK, independent chocolate maker York Cocoa House has also been finding its feet amid testing times.
Founder Sophie Jewett (pictured), reflects that 2021 marks the 10th anniversary of the company setting up in the British city famed for its confectionery, which have proved memorable.
As she notes, it’s been just three years since the company started up making chocolate at its present site, and during the pandemic last year, it pursued a strategy of driving footfall for those who were able to visit the city despite covid restrictions. This shifted to moving to support local resident with design- ing gifts for loved ones with whom it may not have been possible to see in recent times.
Sophie explains: “The direct relationships we have with our customers gave us purpose and motivation to keep making chocolate, knowing chocolate gifts were able to go some way to bridge the gap left by the absence of physical contact.
“We’ve been open again since May 2020, and the production has given us a routine while keeping in direct contact with the views and values of visitors and general public.
“With the full re-opening of hospitality the city has been buzzing and brimming with visitors, we’ve spent the summer with sold out tasting tours and workshops – it’s clear that the public are looking for experiences and ways of sharing something special.”
Moreover, she adds that as the pandemic has progressed, a key strategy has been
to continue a focus on gifting, against a backdrop of uncertainty in supply chains and materials, which will remain a priority in the run-up to Christmas, which is anticipated to be particularly busy.
South American flavours
Another confectionery manufacturer that has been making headlines in recent years for its strong core commitments to sustainability and innovation is Luker Chocolate.
As Paul Morris, European sales manager, explains, the past year has offered plenty of processing challenges for the family-owned firm that started way back in 1906 supplying drinking chocolate. But as he notes, the last 15 years have seen the Colombian founded company based in Bogota expand rapidly
Ethical cocoa sourcing from around the world is a key element of York Cocoa House’s work
into chocolate manufacturing, which is blossoming into an international business.
“I have previously spent a lot of time over there at the factory in Colombia, and it always surprises me how it keeps changing, with new machinery, accommodating new technology. It is important to always be looking for the next innovation, and adjust the manufacturing needs of ever-changing customer demands,” enthuses Morris, who notes it has retained its family-owned ethos.
Having gained years of experience with the business, he says that one of the prima- ry challenges for manufacturers is in being fully transparent about both sourcing and processing policies.
“I think manufacturing both in product and packaging has had to innovate very quickly, as we have seen consumer demand
shift dramatically through the pandemic. Trends that were on the horizon are here much quicker than anyone thought.
“If you look at our own position in the UK, we spend a lot of time talking about plant based and oat milk, which is a big part of our portfolio now, as well as start- ing in the US, we’re talking about sugar reduction and replacement, and diets such as paleo and Keto are very important, with confectionery manufacturers beginning to see the opportunities in this space.
“That leads to challenges of how you achieve less sugar, different sugar and how we get the same mouthfeel from products. We know there’s also a big demand for functional products, we are looking at chocolate with added proteins and fibres, that leads to added manufacturing challenges as well.