Exclusive: World Confectionery Conference 2023 review

This year’s World Confectionery Conference took up the mantle putting a spotlight on major issues facing the sector, from supply chains, through to shared environmental and social corporate responsibilities. Editor Neill Barston reports (pics by Philip Taylor).

A dynamic range of key topics came under the microscope for our third edition of the World Confectionery Conference, as delegates explored shared solutions to the sector’s most pressing issues.

Among core areas of focus was exploring sustainability within cocoa supply chains, including how the industry is preparing for new legislation within the EU aimed at tackling deforestation and due diligence addressing child labour and sourcing policies, through to innovation in finished products and machinery. (For additional coverage, see our exclusive video review of our 2023 event here).

For this year’s event, delegates hailed from across the UK, Europe and further afield, to participate in the event held at Harrogate, Yorkshire on 5 October. It was followed by a visit to neighbouring York, the UK’s ‘capital of chocolate’ for a special confectionery masterclass courtesy of ethically-focused independent manufacturer, York Cocoa House.

The 2023 show was provided with a thought-provoking presentation to kickstart proceedings, courtesy of Barbara Blohberger, vice president of Caobisco, the The conference’s key Q&A session covered major topics of sustainability chocolate, biscuit and confectionery trade association for Europe. Notably, she delved into several core issues, acknowledging the tests that the industry faces from supply chain shortages, product reformulation trends to deliver healthier options, and environmental and human rights frameworks relating to the sector’s sourcing policies.

Addressing the event, the vice president, pictured below, said: “Our industry has had its share of challenges, but what we are doing now to ensure our business activities are sustainable, that our consumers are informed, and our food is safe is the footprint that we should be leaving. “We want informed consumers, and we want regulations that allow us to produce products our consumers love in a supportive environment. But in order to do that the right conversations need to take place, conversation where our industry is not automatically put in the “bad” category and conversations not based on emotions but on facts and science,” explained the vice president. In addition, she noted that Caobisco has sought to encourage people to enjoy confectionery and snacks mindfully, which it has achieved through its Treatwell education campaign. This has promoted
a core message of responsible enjoyment, and championed manufacturers’ efforts to explore options such as greater portion control.

Cocoa sustainability
Next on the agenda came Waleed Nasir, a business sustainability lead for Cargill, offered an assessment of how the company approached supporting its core cocoa supply chain communities. These regions, including West Africa, face significant issues of farmer pay, ongoing child labour concerns, and the environmental impact from farming operations contributing towards deforestation. As the expert noted, while the business remains ‘very proud’ of its decade-long Cocoa Promise scheme enhancing farmer training for crop diversification, and supporting children with enhancing access to educational opportunities, the company acknowledged that collectively, greater action is required.

“We have been working with our teams at origin to help improve the lives of farmers who we procure our cocoa from. What I’ve also seen that sustainability is becoming a key ingredient in the cocoa space, which I think is good news for everyone. “Because if we do not work in harmony and in-synch with these farmers, at the end of the day, we don’t have any business to run. So, the essential point in this is ‘do well, by doing good,” and that’s what the story of the Cargill Cocoa Promise is,” explained the specialist.

During the past decade, the company has extended its initiatives with the CARE humanitarian organisation to enhance support for producing communities around the world. Within West Africa, studies have shown that 1.5 million young people remain at risk from hazardous child labour within the sector amid a backdrop of ongoing poverty. However, Cargill believed its operations, including working with the UTZ (now Rainforest Alliance) standards on promoting improved agricultural and social practices would make a positive impact

Cocoa flavours
Another keynote presentation followed in the form of Nestle’s John Newell, a cocoa ingredient advisor, who explored the topic of flavour development. Significantly, he explained some of the processes behind evaluating bean properties, and evaluating the process of delivering products that offered innovative tastes across its confectionery ranges. As he revealed, varying types of cocoa are capable of having significantly differing impact on flavours, with three core types, Forastero, Criollo and Trinitario that are produced around the world.

“There are a lot of differences between these three cocoa types, and this is how a lot of premium companies go about marketing their products,” he stated, discussing the processing steps for cocoa, including its core roasting and fermenting stages that help further influence the final properties of finished product ranges.

From there, he discussed some of his company’s most intriguing recent development, including a move to pair chocolate with whisky (gaining a release in Japan and Brazil), as well as crafting artisan-influenced bar styles such as its L’atelier series that sought to further expand its chocolate portfolio. The morning session continued with Barbara Blohberger, vice president of Caobisco, assesses challenges opportunities for the industry Mike Hughes, head of research and insights for UK-based FMCG Gurus group, who offered a reflection on latest snacking trends for 2023.

“In the last few years, consumers have re-evaluated their health in a way that previous generations didn’t. Initially, people were concerned by Covid-19. One of the reasons they had been so concerned, was that their diet and lifestyles were not as healthy as they should be,” he asserted, noting many people now took a more pro-active approach in evaluating their health, which extended into the products they selected. “However, there has been an attitude behaviour gap, in that research has shown that 36% of consumers said they had gained weight over the last twelve months, with one of the reasons for this is that they have turned to snacks as a means of escapism.”

A taste of luxury
Returning to this year’s event, Francesco Tramontin, vice president of policy and EU institutional relations for Ferrero, explored the heritage of his company, and its commitment to ensuring its confectionery is as sustainably sourced as possible. Reflecting on the roots of the business in the 1940s, he explained that taking an approach of respect for the environment and communities throughout its value chain had been especially important to the company since its foundation. “Like other confectionery companies, one of the things that Ferrero is very proud, is uniqueness of its products. From chocolate through to its candies, the company has prided itself on helping create new categories,” he revealed, discussing its growth, that has seen it gradually expand into an even larger range of products.

While he noted that the firm’s significant heritage had placed it in a solid position in terms of providing a platform to thrive into the future, the industry’s shared challenges were of concern. He added: “We are in a very tense period from an economic and geopolitical point of view, which translates into a lot of business tension in our market, we also have data around health and nutrition, issues of sustainability, and a world that is becoming more digital. All these things are translating into things that are really material, creating regulatory pressure on how we market our product ranges,” added Tramontin, who asserted that topics of sustainability were considered ‘non-negotiable’, and an essential part of its identity in how it conducts business – which he felt should apply to the entire sector.

He concluded that with the sector operating in an increasingly regulated environment – including in terms of traceability coming forward with due diligence legislation, this was a policy area companies had to be fully prepared to embrace.

Diverse presentations

The morning session was rounded off with a trio of presentations – firstly on the equipment front, from MacIntyre Chocolate Systems. This saw Linda Mather and Jeremy Scott of the Scottish-based firm offer an overview of the company’s development, which has seen it expand to its present global position as part of the Probat group during the past decade.

“We’ve been around for quite a few years now as MacIntyre, and our refiner conche was originally used to prepare pigments for paints and inks, but someone came up with the idea that it could be used for making chocolate, which is a heck of a lot tastier!,” enthused Scott of its flagship processing system. As Confectionery Production recently noted from a site visit to the company’s Arbroath headquarters, its latest New Generation refiner conches are now being exported to a total of more than 100 countries around the world. Moreover, as Linda Mather revealed in her element of the presentation, her business colleagues are hard at work trialling potential new alternative processing uses for this versatile machinery range.

Brand recognition

From there, the event heard from Jamie Lowe, head of sales, from Ritter Sport’s UK division, who enthused about the ethically-focused company’s development within the sector.  As he noted, while the renowned square shaped premium chocolate has enjoyed a century’s worth of recognition in its native Germany, it remains a work in progress to gain brand recognition in the UK.

However, there’s been significant progress made on that front in recent years, particularly within travel retail. “Like many businesses, we are on path of doing the right thing by the planet through sustainability, and ethical ways of doing things to create really good chocolate,” he explained of its operations, which include policies of being 100 per cent certified sustainable sourcing, and moves towards environmentally-friendly paper packaging. As he added, the firm’s ethical sourcing from its flagship El Cacao plantation in Nicaragua has set a high bar for genuine attainment of environmentally and socially responsible sourcing.

For the final presentation of the morning, Fuad Mohammed, of the Ghana Cocoa Marketing Company, explored how the country is evolving its approach to support farmers in the sector. “We’re here today to tell a story, and that story is that sustainability is no longer a side event,” observed the industry specialist, who serves as a representative of the Ghana Cocoa Board. As he examined, planned EU regulations on deforestation and due diligence in supply chains governing a drive for greater levels of traceability and protection for farmers within cocoa market is something that he believed would create ‘more opportunities for collaboration’ in delivering overall sustainability goals.

Significantly, he discussed the country’s existing cocoa management system, designed to provide support to the industry, which has faced considerable challenges, including elevated costs of fertilisers and other agricultural inputs. Other factors, such as swollen shoot disease has also had a negative impact, along with adverse weather conditions, upon production yields within West Africa.

However, despite such challenges, Mohammed believed there was hope ahead, with Ghana’s ‘farmgate’ prices paid to agricultural workers for the 2023/24 season have just been raised 64% this month, with Ivory Coast prices also rising 11%, which he welcomed as a positive development for the industry in the region.

Yorkshire’s confectionery past and bright future

As the opening presentation for the afternoon, from Sophie Jewett, managing director of independent, ethically focused confectionery business York Cocoa House explored, the local region has had a fascinating journey in confectionery. From the likes of iconic brands including Rowntree’s, which stands as one of Britain’s most famous chocolate exports (which is now continued in York under the banner of Nestle), and other names such as Terry’s, there’s a rich history there to be celebrated.

“There’s been an amazing chocolate and confectionery heritage in York that goes back hundreds of years that inspired me in the industry.“When I first arrived in the city, the whole area smelled of caramel and chocolate, but then those industries were starting to close, and experienced the impact of global supply chains and production processes. “But you couldn’t move in York without there being someone who had a connection with one of those factories,” she reflected on York’s proud history within confectionery. As for her own experiences, she explained that it had been a hugely rewarding, yet challenging period setting up her own business in the city, including developing an educational element for visitors.

Fairtrade focus

For her part, Surmaya Talyarkhan, a senior cocoa supply chain manager at Fairtrade Foundation, offered an analysis of its ongoing mission to help create a better deal for cocoa farmers working within the sector. As she relayed, the industry faces a number of major tests including the industry’s quest to deliver enhanced levels of traceability, as well as overall support for communities that have contended with wages at concerningly low levels. Despite such issues, she remained positive that some valuable progress is being made with its work, and that of other sector bodies, governments and civil society organisations.

“I’ve worked for Fairtrade for more than 15 years, and I think there’s a recognition that auditing alone isn’t going to address the big issues, but the mistake is to think that Fairtrade is about auditing – there’s a lot to what we do, and the role of our standards has a role to play, which I think of as a curriculum that farmer organisations can learn and become a viable business.”

Q&A sustainability

Another significant highlight of the day was provided by its centrepiece Q&A session, focused on sustainability across the value chain. This saw the introduction of several key firms from across the industry, including Adrian Ling, managing director of Plamil Foods, Mark Brooker, UK managing director for Cama Packaging, and Paul Morris, European sales manager for Luker Chocolate.

They were joined by Francesco Tramontin of Ferrero and Waleed Nasir of Cargill. Topics included how the sector could be doing more for farmers in terms of pay, how AI will impact on the industry, and on means of collaborating to deliver sustainability targets.

For his part, Paul Morris noted his South American founded company’s strong emphasis on ethical standards, which has set a high bar for environmental and social standards. He said: “When we talk about sustainability, it’s within a context of our farming being in Colombia, where we are very fortunate that we don’t have child labour or slavery in our supply chains, and farmer income, relatively speaking, is fine. So, it is concerning when we hear figures like targets for 70 per cent of farmers in West Africa reaching a living income by 2030,” noted the confectionery expert. Additionally, Adrian Ling, who recently instituted a World Vegan chocolate day, explained the business, which was co-founded by his father, was created on the basis of ethically sound practices shaping the original vegan movement in the 1950s.

“From where I sit now, we see our role in terms of what we can do practically in terms of how we source our cocoa (which we have been doing for the past couple of decades from certified sources), and also how we can be more efficient in our manufacturing through using less energy,” he noted of its approach, which has included instituting green energy principles for its Kent-based production.Similarly, on a production level, Mark Brooker added that Cama had itself been especially focused on how the business engaged in making its own machinery more energy-efficient, as well as capable of working with more environmentally-friendly forms of packaging.

Equipment developments
Our final three sessions provided a strong finale for the conference, and included a presentation from Richard Hill, a process engineering specialist from Peterborough-based Baker Perkins. The business put forward a joint presentation with industry partner Rousselot, a specialist in collagen solutions, exploring how the companies have worked together to drive efficiencies for starch-free depositing systems.

Last year, the company gained a World Confectionery Award accolade for the development of its key Servoform Flexi line, devised for the functional and medicated gummy and jellies market, which expanded its equipment portfolio even further.

Furthermore, we heard from Sweetdreams Confectionery, which spoke about its classic line of Choc Nibbles, and latest ventu re into forging a new premium sustainably-sourced chocolate series, Gozo, which is fast finding a market. Head of sales, James Jeffery, said: “So, what does sustainability mean to us as a small, growing business?

“For us it’s about culture and this runs through every element of our business, this can be as broad as the way we procure our products or as specific as the way we look to travel to meetings,” adding that the company recently re-secured its BRC AA rating for high standards of operating, which includes having RSPO accreditation. He was joined by his colleague Andy Baxendale, who also serves as an editorial board member of Confectionery Production, who underlined how the company had evolved and its hopes for its latest confectionery line, Gozo, which he held a notable role in developing.

Finally, our concluding presentation came courtesy of Pilar Castillo, of Norway’s Farmforce organisation. She offered some intriguing insights on how the business is working closely with industry to enhance sustainability within its operations.

This rounded-out what proved to be a memorable occasion, highlighting an eclectic mix of regional and international industry successes that have placed higher ethical standards for the planet and sector supply chains environmentally at the heart of their businesses.

Awards success celebrated

Industry excellence across the board was celebrated with this year’s World Confectionery Awards, presented at the third edition of the World Confectionery Conference in Harrogate, Yorkshire, UK. Honours for this year’s show were presented within five key categories, including best sustainability initiative, which went to Cargill, for its targeted cocoa community farming empowerment scheme in West Africa, working with women to help gain access to financial training and enabling access to loans schemes to enable income diversification.

The honours were collected by Waleed Nasir, who stressed that the award was “very for the whole team.” There was also a highly commended award for East Sussex-based Jeavons Toffee (below), regarding its latest vegan lines that have shown continued improvement in flavour and textures. For the machinery sector, the winning business was Syntegon, with judges praising the development of its Nutraflash turnkey solution created for starchless production of gummy and jelly lines, which has particularly targeted the fast-rising nutraceutical market.

There was also a highly commended accolade for Schubert, in devising its latest case packing innovation. The Team of the Year category award was also open to the entire industry, with some especially strong entries, with the winner being named as Italy’s Cama Packaging (UK MD Mark Brooker pictured below), for its project management in providing a bespoke equipment solution for US-based Hawaiian Host, which had specific requirements for the installation of a complete system within a compact manufacturing area.

There was also a highly commended accolade in the category, for Lancashire equipment group, BCH, (collected by its head of operations Stuart Grogan) which recognised the significant progress that has been made in the past few years since the business was saved from a period of financial instability. It has shown considerable resilience under new ownership, with its order book of equipment now being particularly strong around the world.


Delivering a taste of the UK’s capital of chocolate

A colourful and vibrant finale was enjoyed by delegates who participated in a tour and chocolate making masterclass courtesy of York Cocoa House.

Delegates gathered at the independent chocolate firm’s headquarters in Castlegate, which lies opposite the site of the original premises of the Henry Isaac Rowntree’s that was founded some 170 years ago in the county town, and would go on to become the dynasty that was eventually taken over by Nestle. For the added optional day on Friday, attendees were shown around York Cocoa House’s production facilities, gaining chance to examine some of its industrial chocolate processing machinery, being taken through the entire manufacturing cycle for the business.

The company, which has operated for well over a decade, has built up a strong reputation in the region for its sustainable sourcing practices, and central role in supporting the annual York Chocolate Festival as well engaging with visitors from around the world with its ongoing education programmes that have sought to inform consumers about the world of ethical confectionery production. Following the tour of its facilities, the York Cocoa House team then led a fascinating demonstration of small-scale chocolate making, attended by Confectionery Production, which explored the basic steps of manufacturing using pilot equipment. The firm’s extremely enthusiastic team offered a fun and engaging walk through the essential steps of making chocolate.

As the company explained, it has taken significant pride in sourcing cocoa direct from farmers wherever possible in smaller batches, in a bid to gain as much transparency as possible in its purchasing decisions, with the firm importing beans from a number of locations including countries in South America, as well as Papua New Guinea in the Pacific ocean. Its present range of confectionery has been continued at its main base by its small, yet dedicated manufacturing team. Speaking on this year’s event, Sophie Jewett, managing director of the business, explained that it had been a notably enjoyable experience to be a speaker at this year’s World Confectionery Conference on Thursday, as well as overseeing the site visit day on Friday.

She said: “It was a really fantastic experience. I was incredibly nervous, as it’s been one of the first times I’ve been back engaging with public speaking since the pandemic, but I was so grateful and appreciative of such a warm welcome from so many in the industry. “I think being here in York has been so phenomenal meeting people who have such a connection to the city, and to the industry. So it was quite overwhelming at the conference seeing so many people who had stories and heritage of family members that had so many memories of the industry here in York, so the whole story came to life.

“The World Confectionery Conference was a great event, so thanks for bringing such a diverse set of voices and opinions, and for so many of us to recognise that we are experiencing the same challenges and fluctuations in the industry, no matter where we are in supply chain.”

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