Sweet dreams – the hopes of cocoa fruit snack companies

Cocoa fruit is emerging as a newcomer, with some major players in the confectionery industry believing in its potential as an ingredient beyond being the global source of cocoa. Products are slowly appearing on the market, and research suggests there is more to come.

The cocoa fruit has been used to produce cocoa from its beans for chocolate and baking applications. But its other potential attributes have long been ignored in the Western world until very recently.

The hard-shelled fruit comes from the Theobroma cocoa tree which is said to have its origins in Brazil, Colombia and Peru, but is now widely cultivated in other countries of South America, as well as in Africa and Asia, where it is also known for its sweet and tangy taste. juice.

Its beans or seeds have traditionally been extracted, fermented, and ground into cocoa, while the outer shell, or skin, and the white, fleshy nutritional pulp surrounding the beans, has been discarded. However, over the past two years, product developers have discovered that these other components of the cocoa fruit, including juice, can be used in confectionery and snacks. And with potential applications in ice cream, beverages and dairy products as well.

The first products to hit the market

Proponents say that the juice and pulp can replace sugar in foods and drinks, while the cocoa fruit also contains antioxidants, thiamine, vitamin B6, and magnesium. It is a source of theobromine, an alkaloid believed to lower blood pressure and reduce inflammation and bad cholesterol. And the husk can be ground into flour as an alternative ingredient to other fillers.

The fruit could call for increased interest in recycling and reducing food waste, while cocoa fruit farmers could reap a better living wage by earning more from the crop they produce.

Nestlé, Mondelez International and Barry Callebaut, alongside its subsidiary Cabosse Naturals, have been working for the past two years on products – mostly chocolate – using various parts of the fruit, either for a unique fruity citrus flavor, or for natural softness.

Nestlé first tried it with a KitKat in Japan in 2019 – KitKat Cacao Fruit Chocolate, a 70% dark chocolate produced from the beans and sweetened with the pulp. The world’s largest agri-food company then followed it up this year with Incoa, a 70% dark chocolate bar under the Les Recettes de L’Atelier brand. The product was initially launched in the Netherlands and France, and again used the pulp with no refined sugar added.

Louise Barrett, director of Nestlé’s Technology Center in York, UK, which handles global confectionery R&D, said the thought process began two years before the launch of KitKat, while Nestlé was examining whether the other parts of the cocoa fruit could be used in chocolate. “Now it’s gaining momentum because it’s a great product in its own right,” she says.

“Likewise, I think it contains some great elements of sustainability if you think about how material is wasted today. I think that’s where it gained interest and traction as well, but above all it’s a really interesting and delicious ingredient.

“We took out all the sucrose we typically used in dark chocolate and replaced it with this cocoa pulp to naturally soften it. We still want to explore how we use it, but we have been working on developing a process for marketing. The supply chain for these kinds of ingredients didn’t exist at all two and a half years ago, so it’s been quite a technical development to get us to this point.

Multiple factors at play

Mondelez, in partnership with Barry Callebaut, was also present in 2019 with CaPao Cacaofruit Bites, snacks incorporating beans, skin, pulp and juice, with the addition of nuts, seeds, spices and ‘herbs.

Shannon Neumann, Director of Innovation at SnackFutures, Mondelez’s innovation and venture capital hub behind the CaPao brand, explains the company’s interest: as well as societal.

“Our supply chain contains this fantastic fruit that we have used for centuries to make chocolate, but it only represents 30% of the whole fruit; 70% of these fruits are wasted. The idea becomes: how can we better use these resources both to help prevent food waste and to provide farmers with more income for their crops? ”

Neumann says the pulp has a tangy and tangy flavor, much like a combination of exotic lychee and mango fruit and honey. It has a “mild tropical taste” while the husk is “relatively neutral but with an earthy and nutty taste”, which makes it ideal when ground as a flour substitute.

Barry Callebaut, the world’s largest supplier of cocoa and chocolate products, launched last June with its WholeFruit Chocolate bar under the Cacao Barry brand. Launched in collaboration with Cabosse, WholeFruit is a 100% “pure cocoa” dark chocolate serving chefs and artisans, initially in the United Kingdom, France, Italy, the United States, Canada, Japan and Brazil.

Sylvie Woltering-Valat, Marketing Manager at Cabosse, declares: “Millennials and centennials have turned to products that are not only tasty but also nutritious, and which leave a positive impact on the planet.

“It can be used as a replacement for refined sugars, but – where we think there is much more exciting news – we are bringing real new flavor to the market. It lends itself very well to applications like ice cream, drinks and snacks.

“With WholeFruit, we made chocolate from 100% pure cocoa fruit and sweetened the chocolate with the pulp. The approach was not to replace the sugar, but to really magnify the taste of the fruit in the chocolate.

Woltering-Valat explains the potential. “We are building a new category of chocolate that meets the health and wellness needs of consumers, because it is unique in terms of taste, nutritious and good for the planet, as we now recycle the pulp and the outer layer. of the fruit.

“As with every new breakthrough, it takes time to establish. Certainly, you have to build awareness, you have to familiarize people with it, experience it and then convert it to the next level.

Convince consumers

Ultimately, however, it’s all about taste and built-in preferences. Publicizing a product like cocoa fruit, with its unique flavors and environmental qualities, is one thing, but it’s another game to convince consumers accustomed to their favorite chocolate, for example.

“The only challenge we are going to have in the commoditization of these products is to know [the cacao fruit] is replacing. Sugar is super abundant and super cheap, ”Steve Osborn, director of Aurora Ceres Partnership, a UK-based food and drink consultancy, told Just Food.

“We can sit here and say idealistically ‘this is great, we get the sweetness of the natural pulp of the cocoa fruit, we use all the waste.’ This is very good and we should welcome this kind of philosophical change. The other part, of course, is that we are very attentive to our taste profiles.

Mondelez, Barry Callebaut and Cabosse recognize that their new products are at premium prices.

Woltering-Valat de Cabosse says: “Our ability to crack this fruit is really our ability to produce large quantities with very high quality products that preserve nutrition and delicious flavors. This obviously comes at a cost, and we are indeed looking for more premium types of pricing. ”

Price is an issue to be overcome if chocolate confectionery, snacks and other emerging products made from the cocoa fruit are to appeal to the mass market.

“You have to enter this core market,” says Osborn. “Otherwise, it ends up being a premium niche. And although a premium niche has its place, there is always a ripple effect [needed]; how to get consumers to change their taste profile.

“I am always fascinated to hear about these products. I think that’s the right direction and it’s the right philosophy, but it’s about how we go against this huge trading machine. And that is not easy.

The need for scale

Nestlé’s Barrett says greater scale is needed to reduce costs, especially when taking a fresh raw material that is 80% water and then drying it and converting it into a variety of different products. “It’s about understanding how we can make it a more commercial supply chain and ingredient,” she says.

However, while Neumann admits that Mondelez’s CaPao Cacaofruit Bites belong to the high-end segment, she says that “in the confectionery world, it depends on how you optimize your formula; you might add that ingredient, but there might be another area where you might be able to take some costs out to keep it neutral for the consumer ”.

Nonetheless, from a farmers’ point of view, the developments could make a difference. They could potentially earn more with the same number of trees, which previously only generated income from beans used to produce cocoa, with, coming back to Neumann’s point, 70% of the fruit being wasted.

Woltering-Valat develops the theme. “We make better use of these resources, but also better use all the efforts they have made to grow the fruits, in energy, in water, in the time they have invested.”

Neumann says the potential for using previously discarded fruit parts matches the growing awareness of recycling and food waste on the part of manufacturers and consumers alike.

In the United States, for example, the nonprofit Upcycled Food Association was founded in 2019, formed in its own words by “the recycled food companies themselves, who have recognized the power of collaboration to develop a successful food category and environmental movement ”.

Mondelez’s SnackFutures is part of this association which, in April, launched a product label that would be the world’s first certification mark for recycled food.

At Nestlé, Barrett says an 80% dark chocolate Incoa variety is on the way, declining to provide further details, while Neumann says CaPao Cacaofruit Bites will be joined in October. by a “new format that we” are pretty much ready to talk about, but not quite yet “.

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