The Belgian chocolate industry is “profiting from a consumer trend for authentic and traceable products”, according to a report from the industrial chocolate producer Puratos. As a result, companies like Puratos are making further investments in highlighting the “origins and the health properties of cocoa”. The director of real chocolate at Puratos, Caroline Ouwerx, commented that “people are interested in the stories around the product.”
Demand for Belgian chocolate, which is produced according to strict criteria laid down in the “Belgian Chocolate Code”, is growing across the globe, particularly in China.
As part of the emphasis on the origin of the cocoa used, Ms Ouwerx observed that “more and more cocoa is coming from the Asian continent”, and countries such as Vietnam are increasingly investing in bean processing.
Health concerns related to the sugar and fat content of food products are also having a knock-on effect in the chocolate sector. While some manufacturers are reducing the size of their products, many consider that the major technical challenge is to address these health concerns while also meeting the “consumers’ principal taste concerns”. As well as technical reformulation, Puratos is seeking to highlight the “positive impact of antioxidants on health and mood”, with new techniques for some products boosting “the presence of natural antioxidants in cocoa by 40–50%”.
Other technical advances in the chocolate industry include reports that scientists have developed a new technique of DNA marking of cocoa beans, which could reduce the practice of adulterating fine cocoa beans with inferior quality beans. Confectionery News notes that “adulteration is common and can happen at different steps of the cocoa chain, from farm to port”. While DNA fingerprinting of cocoa beans is still at the “proof of concept” stage, and is thus expensive, the scope for automating the process means that unit costs of testing could be significantly reduced if adopted industry-wide. This could serve to boost the use of fine or flavoured single-origin cocoa by premium chocolatiers, thereby supporting prices for fine cocoa.
Confectionery News notes also that there are signs of strong growth in global cocoa consumption, led by Asia. According to Cocoa Association of Asia figures, the volume of cocoa processed in Asia increased by 10% in the final quarter of 2013, compared to the corresponding period in 2012. The comparable growth rates in North America and Europe were 4% and 6% respectively.
The cocoa grind in Asia reached 639,505 tonnes in 2013, despite an initial economic slowdown in China in 2013. By comparison, the total cocoa grind in North America in 2013 was 509,237 tonnes, while that in Europe was 1,329,485 tonnes.
The growing role of Asia in total global cocoa consumption is likely to continue. In Europe, the chocolate confectionery market is projected to grow by 16% in the next 5 years, while the global rate of growth is projected at 37% over the same period. This relative slowing of growth prospects in Europe is in part related to health concerns. According to a study released by the US Department of Agriculture in January, in North America, 21% of the consumers questioned claimed that they ate less chocolate in 2013 than in 2012, and, of these, more than half said that this was on health grounds.
New marketing strategies for premium chocolate are increasingly placing emphasis on the quality of the cocoa beans used and the use of single-origin beans. The development of DNA marking of cocoa beans could therefore open up increased opportunities for branding and marketing of single-origin, fine cocoa beans.
However, the trend towards finding new, non-traditional sources of speciality and fine cocoa – for example, in Asia and Brazil – could work against the interests of traditional cocoa producers, such as those in Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana and other African countries.
The search for new sources of fine cocoa could, however, open up increased commercial opportunities for small-scale suppliers of fine cocoa in the Caribbean and Pacific regions. This would require support programmes to help organise producers of fine cocoa and strengthen the commercial negotiating capacities of producer organisations.
Given the differences in consumption patterns – and indeed in quality and type of ingredients – for premium quality chocolate and mainstream chocolate, the former is likely to be less vulnerable to health-related concerns.