Special focus: Chocolate and cocoa processing markets powered by high-tech solutions

Chocolate and cocoa processing markets remain big business around the world, with the segment set for considerable expansion according to industry studies, as editor Neill Barston evaluates

While we inhabit a world with significant uncertainties in supply chains, price fluctuations and deeply concerning geopolitical conflicts, it seems our collective desire for some escapism through confectionery treats remains universal.

That is especially true of chocolate, that has retained its consistent appeal within many markets around the globe, which has been reflected by continuing demand levels.

According to industry studies from Vantage Market Research, the international market remains on track for sales of more than $190 billion by the end of the decade.

With this in mind, manufacturers from all quarters are eager to capture their slice of the confectionery pie, which is by all accounts proving remarkably resilient.

As we’ve reported recently, major processors have seemingly ramped up their activity within the past couple of years, in response to an apparent post Covid-19 upturn in demand. However, pressures on supply due to a reported deficit of cocoa supplies this year has posed its challenges for manufacturers.

But it remains a notably lucrative sector, which has seen the biggest players, including Barry Callebaut invest in new high-spec specialist manufacturing plans in the US and Canada, as well as Cargill enhancing its advanced facilities, including its recently opened House of Chocolate in Belgium.

Significantly, as we’ve covered this sum- mer, one of the most intriguing develop- ments within processing was seen with the creation of key new processing facilities in West Africa, by Swiss-Ghanaian start-up Koa, which formally opened its latest cocoa processing facility in Ghana, serving the chocolate confectionery market.

As previously reported, many industry observers have noted that such operating models hold the key to a greater portion of cocoa processing revenues being retained by origin countries. This in turn stands to benefit the core agricultural workforce in terms of pay and greater employment opportunities.

Another major processing success story of recent times has been that of Swiss-based Pronatec (pictured main image), which has reported strong progress with processing cocoa beans organically, with analysis of its crops finding no instances of pesticides in its semi-finished products.

As previously reported by Confectionery Production, last summer, the company became what is believed to be the first-of-its kind in the sector within its home nation, gaining widespread media coverage.

The business has reported its apparent success has been down to its plant’s pure organic status, ruling out mixing with conventional products. Another contributing factor has been the strict cocoa bean analysis procedures developed by the firm.

These allow the company to detect even raw materials with minimal traces of res- idues with utmost reliability and exclude them from the production process.

In the cocoa processing industry, organic and conventional products are usually processed on the same production line, which can lead to mixing and induce high follow-up costs.

From procuring the beans from small- scale farmers, through fermentation and export to processing and sale of the finished product, all stages of the process are in Pronatec’s own hands.

From 2024, the company’s cocoa products will also be available with the US Regenerative Organic Certified (ROC) label. ROC uses internationally recognised organic labels as a baseline. From there, it adds impor- tant requirements for soil health, animal welfare and fair terms for farmers.

During its first year of production, its products were subjected to extensive test- ing. An evaluation carried out in September now confirms the advantages of the exclusively organic production plant: There have been no pesticide cases detected in the products the company has processed itself since production started.

This is despite the fact the volume of beans processed has increased by around 80 per cent over the same period.

“The fact that we have not had a single pesticide case validates our decision to go for a purely organic plant,” says CEO and company owner, David Yersin.

“There is no mixing with conventional products here. Now people can see the benefits in black and white.” So far, Pronatec Swiss Cocoa Production has produced approximately 7000 tons of organic semi-finished cocoa products.

Because it has its own subsidiary company in the Dominican Republic, which is the source of most of the cocoa beans it processes, this has enabled optimisation of cocoa quality

Chocolate emulsifier challenges

Another processing area that is well worthy of examination as far as chocolate processing is concerned is the topic of emulsifier industry techniques.

As Denmark’s Palsgaard explains, these solutions can play a vital role in chocolate coatings. Options such as AMP and PGPR can be used to control the flow properties of chocolate mass, achieve uniform and stable products, and simplify production processes.

PGPR is a co-emulsifier that can help solve many challenges in enrobing. When used alongside basic emulsifiers including AMP and lecithin, it can provide better flow in the enrober, better control of the coating layer, and help coat difficult centres. Thinner coating layers are possible and air bubbles can be more easily avoided.

Ice cream coatings can provide especially difficult challenges for manufacturers. In many ways, chocolate is by nature incompatible with ice cream. Chocolate is easiest to work with when it’s warm, while ice cream is best produced when cold. Ice cream also typically holds 65 per cent water while the best chocolate has less than 1% water. The water in ice cream is mainly frozen prior to the coating stage.

The contact between the frozen surface of the ice cream and the warm chocolate coating can thaw some of the water, which can then migrate into the chocolate.

pic: Palsgaard

This causes an increase in viscosity and yield value, resulting in greater layer thickness and crystallisation time. This can lead to ‘pinholes’ forming and even separation of the coating on the ice cream.

Emulsifiers can be used to create ice cream coatings that are stable, uniform and resistant to viscosity changes during a production run. Soya lecithin is the oldest and most well-known emulsifier in the confectionery industry and is traditionally used in ice cream coatings to provide a buffer against water migration.

However, AMP is more effective than lecithin in the battle against water migration and can also be added in higher dosages without negatively affecting yield value – avoiding the dreaded thickening effect. AMP has been shown to be even more effective when used in combination with PGPR.

Palsgaard PGPR products are based on non-palm ingredients and completely free from off-flavour and bad castor oil odour. Its sunflower-based Palsgaard AMP 4455 and rapeseed-based AMP 4458, meanwhile, deliver controlled enrobing, improved and consistent quality, and no off-taste or odour in the chocolate.

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