Exclusive: Choco Tec event delivers key confectionery sector insights

After a four year wait to return in its traditional live format, Choco Tec proceeded in Cologne with a strong and dynamic assessment of chocolate and wider global sweets and snacks markets, reports Neill Barston.

Organised by ZDS, the Central College of the German Confectionery Industry, the three-day event took in key presentations from across the sector, including placing a core spotlight on overarching plant-based trends with the global sector. (see our exclusive video review here).

The sector showcase, staged between 13-15 December, also examined the impact of the upcoming German supply chain act upon the local market for confectionery manufacturers in terms of new requirements for due diligences within value chains for the sector that are due to come into effect next month.

They are in parallel with EU-wide legislation that has gained initial approval within the European parliament relating to industry’s responsibilities for tackling deforestation, which also came under the microscope during the conference.

As managing director of ZDS Andreas Bertram (below) explained in his opening remarks, there was a genuine sense of relief and anticipation that the event was in fact possible in its physical form, which he believed made a major difference.

“It’s been four years since we have held our event in person, and we’re very happy and grateful to be doing so again, and it feels good to be back once more.

“The past couple of years during the pandemic have been challenging for us as an organisation, and it has shown us how rooted we are within the industry. The pandemic has had an impact on businesses, so we are grateful that you have come here to our event,” he added, noting that there were nearly 400 senior industry representatives attended the event from across the global sector.

The conference programme kicked-off with a presentation from Euromonitor, with analyst Tristan Hover examining snack trends in Western Europe.

Reflecting on the cost of living crisis which has caused major inflation of goods across the region, and particularly impacting on the UK, which has seen 40-year highs in terms of grocery prices, he noted that shoppers habits had changed.

“In comparison to last year, consumers have tended to increase their visits to discount stores, as well as increased purchasing of private label brands,” noting that the need to save money amid challenging times was particularly prominent, as well as the fact that in testing circumstances,  loyalty towards particular brands was less obvious, as they sought out the best deals possible, ‘trading down’ to more budget ‘own brands’ being delivered by many supermarkets.

However, he noted that analysis had illustrated that at least some consumers did in fact maintain some level of loyalty to their particular favourite brands as an exceptional luxury purchase, for which they may cut back in other areas to justify buying.


In terms of statistics, one of the most significant take-aways from the session was the fact that Euromonitor research had revealed there has been an 84% increase in e-commerce shopping over the past three years, with the Covid-19 pandemic having been a driver of that major growth pattern.

Also, in analysing one of the most significant trends of the past few years, that of the boom in plant-based product ranges, he revealed that a total of 15% of 15-29 year-olds identified as ‘flexitarians’ eating a mixed diet including at least some plant-based options in their diet, including snacks – which had maintained this key trend.

From there, Dr Torben Erbrath, of Germany’s BDSI confectionery trade association spoke on the need for greater combined focus on delivering sustainable cocoa supply chains.

In particular, he highlighted the soon-to-be introduced German Supply Chain act, which comes into force next month, compelling larger companies within the nation to ensure the traceability of their direct supply lines.

“In Ivory Coast, there are around one million farmers, with around 33 co-ops that are involved with exporting cocoa, and these work with traceability programmes including Cocoa Life and Cocoa Horizons, which demonstrate that the industry has shown commitment to creating standards within the sector,” he added, noting that he had seen significant changes in more than 20 years in the sector. For instance, he noted that at the cocoa processing stage in Germany, the creation of certification standards such as those devised by Fairtrade and Rainforest Alliance were also making a difference.

Tackling child labour
“Twenty years ago, it was a case of us talking about child slaves, now there are 1.5 million children working in cocoa cultivation who are doing jobs they should not be doing, such as carrying heavy bags or other physical labour, so this is another concerning factor,” he adds, noting that protecting forests from unsustainable losses through industrial and wider population activity is something that needed to be strongly acted upon for the future viability of the industry.

Following his appearance, John Newell, of Nestle in York, UK, offered a presentation on how the company is exploring enhanced flavour pairing options.

This includes recent prominent case studies of the company pairing chocolate with whisky (for its chocolatory series through placing roasted cocoa nibs in spirit barrels), as well as its successful development of the Ruby chocolate KitKat.

As Newell explained, such examples of more exotic uses of flavours have been largely confined to the premium end of the market, though the business is continually looking to refine its offerings.

‘Fermentation is arguably one of the most important processing steps to delivering cocoa and chocolate flavour. In its unfermented state it is does not taste good. Drying can also have an impact, along with roasting, as well as conching for chocolate in creating flavour as well, and each of these steps can deliver a wide range of sensory profiles,” he noted in reviewing how the company, and industry at large seeks to devise ever more inventive varieties and confectionery to satisfy consumer demand.

As the cocoa and chocolate expert touched upon, there have been particular markets, notably in Japan, that have been receptive to experimenting with a wide array of flavours for its product ranges, with other regions of the world often following in its footsteps.

The conference also heard from Silke Elwers, a quality assurance specialist at Lubeca marzipan, who placed a spotlight on the issue of cadmium heavy metal being a source of concern within dark chocolate ranges around the world.

As she revealed, there are varying standards around the globe for tolerance levels for cadmium, which she noted remains a problem for the sector, as it is an element that cannot be naturally excreted by the body, so it has a cumulative effect.

However, she believed that legislation covering this within the EU in particular, had taken account of the potential health implications surrounding the presence of cadmium in ranges, and had devised appropriate levels for industry.

Another highlight of the event came in the form of its social focal point, a gala dinner held at Cologne’s chocolate museum, that offered additional key networking opportunities.

Tackling deforestation
Among the highlights of the afternoon session was a presentation from Tilmann Silber of Barry Callebaut, who offered an examination of the company’s ‘Forest Positive’ drive, in seeking to combat the significant ongoing issues of industry-linked deforestation, of which the cocoa sector plays a notable part in key markets of Ghana and Ivory Coast.

As he explained, the company’s Forever Chocolate programme’s core pillars of supporting farmer livelihoods, advocating a zero-tolerance approach on child labour, and a goal of delivering sustainable chocolate that all tap into its core mission statement to reduce its overall environmental impact.

According to Silber, the company had made strong progress towards is Forever Chocolate goals, which have a target date of delivering key results by 2025.

He noted with some concern that according to UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, deforestation globally has seen an area the size of the entire EU lost during the past 30 years (amounting to 420 million hectares), with agriculture, including cocoa being part of the key reason for those losses.

“Deforestation is a global topic and it’s an important one for cocoa, with a study looking at a national level over 30 years, and the one country that showed as having the highest rates was Ivory Coast, which is the most important origin for cocoa over the past three decades,” he explained of the situation, noting that Barry Callebaut has this month been recognised by non-profit organisation CDP as an ‘a rated’ business for its forest management policies.


Sustainable cacao
Furthermore, the afternoon session also included a presentation from Hauke Will, of Ritter Sport, who told the conference about the company’s journey to delivering the most potential ‘upcyling’ for its cacaofruit supplying its chocolate processing operations.

He explained that the sector had made progress in recycling through creating cocoa juices in recent years, but he believed passionately that there were far greater possibilities. As he explained, the company discovered potential for ‘Secco’ sparkling drink from cacao-fruit, adding that other drinks such as cider could potentially be produced to diversify the uses of cacao.

“Nobody realises that cacao is a fruit – consumers don’t think that is the case, and most have never seen a pod or tasted what it’s like. So we need producers to come up with new product ideas,” said Will, whose work has included establishing the company’s own cocoa plantation that has proved a pivotal element of its business.

The conference also heard of parallel work being done with cacaofruit by Barry Callebaut-linked company, Cabosse Naturals, revealing its work with cacao juice.

As Confectionery Production has previously reported, the brand was created in response to the fact that prior to developing its range of products, 70% of each individual cacaofruit had been thrown away. With its range of ingredients, the business is able to use the entire fruit, including its peel and pulp. Among the company’s product series is a concentrate that can be used as a signature flavour for confectionery, drinks, sorbets and ice creams.


Technical discussions
For the second day of the event, an array of technical presentations spanning the wider sector took centre stage. These spanned subjects as broad as an exploration of developments within supply chain mapping using satellites, through to working with hazelnuts in the confectionery sector, as well as discussing off-flavours within cocoa production.

The morning sessions were also devoted to other ingredients topics including sustainable energy use within cocoa roasting, as well as discussing the matter of sustainability developments within edible oils and fats, which was put forward as a presentation by Cargill.

In addition, there was a further presentation from Ilaria Chiala, of Barry Callebaut, who spoke on the subject of ‘how to satisfy flexitarians’ with product development. As she explored, its own studies had found that there has been a widespread upward growth trend for plant-based ranges, both in the local German market, as well as across Western Europe.

“From our research, we found that six out of seven millennials expected every major food brand to have a plant-based option, from meat and milk, through to chocolate,” noted Chiala of consumers expectations of what manufacturers should be capable of delivering. Furthermore, she highlighted case studies included vegan versions of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream as a particular success, along with Lindt’s ‘Hello’ chocolate series as being big sellers within the segment.


Environmentally aware packaging
Another notable presentation came from Kiril Dimitrov, of Nestle in York, who spoke via livestream about the company’s key challenges for the race to become the first major brand to deliver paper-based packaging for one of its iconic confectionery series – Smarties.

As previously reported, the move has been considered a success since its recent completion, with other manufacturers now continuing to follow in its wake during the past year.

“One of the main reasons I moved to Nestle was to help bring paper-based packaging into the Smarties brand. For that, we needed to establish properties were required,” explained Dimitrov, who noted the company’s decision targeted the removal of 250 million plastic packs and reducing overall plastic packaging that the business uses by over 400 metric tonnes.

As part of the sustainability-focused initiative, the company specifically reached out to children in describing its ambitious project and explained to them about its approach to recycling, with the resulting packaging being supported by a strong programme of on screen and online marketing to demonstrate the benefits of its actions.

The final day of the event saw presentations on growth potential within the confectionery sector from the German Sweets organisation, an environmental performance within praline manufacturing topic from Buhler, as well as a further exploration of paper packaging trends within the sector.

Among those presenting at the event was Dr Naveen Pessani (below), product development and innovation specialist with ofi, who spoke on its ongoing product development including chocolate confectionery, and potential nut inclusions that catered for plant-based diets. The business was also part of the accompanying exhibition at the event, which he believed had proved promising.

Speaking about the company’s involvement, he said: “This is my first event here is clearly on chocolate, and we’ve been able to see what is important for the industry, and what the trends and equipment that is being used within the sector.

“I hope that the message comes across with my presentation about what we are doing. When we talk about plant-based chocolate, perceptions are not all that good – but we are here to change that. We know that our ingredients can do a lot better than some of the existing ones out there.”

Equipment focus
This year’s exhibition element of the show included a number of well established equipment companies. Among them was Germany’s Rinsch chocolate machinery.

Carolin Banzer, head of sales for the business, believed it had been worthwhile returning to the show. She said: “It’s been a really good event and nice to see everyone again after not being able to do that for some time, to meet those who we’ve known for years, as well as new people.


“We have been involved with Choco Tec for the past 10 years, and for this year’s event our focus really has been on touching base with everyone again – we’ve been very busy as a company and we’re looking forward to next year with Interpack to see our international customers.”

Moreover, sharing her optimism about the event, Leah Barsema, Royal Duyvis Wiener, felt that this year’s show in Cologne had proved fruitful for the company. As she explained, the firm, which has gained a strong reputation for its cocoa and chocolate processing lines, has endured a resilient period of trading despite wider market challenges.

She said: “First and foremost, it’s great that we can get together again – that’s an added bonus to all the content that we have here. Based on the first day, which was focused on trends and developments, there was a long to bring home, and for the second day, there was some really valuable presentations for food technologists.

It’s really good that ZDS is focus on past, present and future of chocolate, and a very good show,” she added, explaining that one of its core topics of discussion with visitors had been on its technology centre, which she explained continues to prove a significant draw for its customers in terms of being able to assist them in a broad spectrum of product development across the industry.

“The response we have had from everyone here has been really good – speaking to both exhibitors and visitors, our neighbours at the exhibition, as well as researchers who have attended.”

As one of the selected exhibitors, Winkler und Dünnebier Süßwarenmaschinen (WDS) also presented current trends at ChocoTec in Cologne during a lecture on “Versatile moulding lines meet digital support tools”.

The company used the opportunity to present customised production lines for all capacity requirements and demonstrated the trend-setting use of technologies and the advantages of chocolate plants for the production of gum and jelly. The WDS plants ConfecEco, ConfecPro and ConfecVario have been developed to flexibly produce chocolate and jelly items in polycarbonate moulds.

The ConfecECO is the entry-level line, the ConfecPRO is a production line for medium to high capacities, while the innovative machine concept ConfecVario opens up new production possibilities. In addition, the company presented the path to a digitised production environment. For many years, WDS has been working on digital expansion on the basis of a specifically created digital roadmap.

For its part, fast-rising cacao fruit business, Koa, which provided the welcome drinks for the event, educating visitors on the potential for the market, also believed there was plenty of interest. Jacob Hesse, of the business, said: “It was great for us to be out there in the industry, and having some in-depth conversations about our products, and about how we use the pulp, and the concentrates from the cacaofruit, and how it can be used in chocolate, and how the shell and fibres can be used.”


With a substantial pipeline of innovations being placed under the microscope during its three days, Choco Tec portrayed an image of an industry that is weathering present headwinds surrounding inflation, and other market tests in terms of the energy crisis with a sense of genuine determination.

Overall, from speaking to a number of exhibitor businesses and visitors, there appeared plenty of enthusiasm for the range of subjects covered across the event, which set a positive tone for what is set to be an equally eventful 2023.

















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