Healthier chocolate – a dream or reality?

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For many of us, indulgent food and drink becomes a staple during the holiday season, as we turn to our favourite products for moments of pleasure and celebration in the lead up to the New Year. Chocolate is an indulgent product, loved by consumers world-wide. But, with health and wellness galloping ahead as the mega-trend driving consumer purchasing choices and food industry innovation, is there a place for health in the chocolate category?

Chocolate trends

With the recent publication of Public Health England’s report on sugar reduction highlighting the challenges of lowering sugar in chocolate, we asked Olivier Kutz, Tate & Lyle Category Development Manager for Europe, and Frank Sarracino, Technical Services Manager, for their take on health-related innovation and consumer demand in the UK market.

“Chocolate is a firm favourite in most households, particularly in the UK, which is a mature market in chocolate terms, alongside countries including Germany and Russia,” Olivier began. “Leading brands have a loyal customer-base of consumers who love their products and aren’t necessarily looking for their childhood favourites to change.

“Still, our own research shows a majority of UK consumers are planning to cut sugar and calories in their diet, while looking to boost much-needed nutrients such as fibre.1 This focus on health has accelerated during the pandemic, meaning that great tasting, healthier options are in demand in all categories, even chocolate,” he added.

Challenges of changing chocolate

Chocolate is a challenging category to innovate in, where taste, texture and indulgence are essential, and sugar and fat each play a very critical role in achieving the end products’ desired consistency and mouthfeel. Confectioners need a range of ingredients to draw from so they can create the right solution depending on their particular recipe, target audience, and rules – like labelling - in the market they’re selling into.

“Companies are trialing new formulations, which provide incremental sugar reductions as that’s the best way to bring consumers, who say they value taste above all else, along in the reformulation journey,” Frank explained. “We know from our development work and customer projects that soluble corn fibre makes high quality, delicious chocolate, with less sugar and up to 30% fewer calories than full sugar originals. In some cases, it’s providing bulk to replace sugar in an overall less sweet product, or where possible used in tandem with a sweetener such as stevia to match the original sweetness level.”

Oliver added: “Our research shows UK consumers are open to the idea of a chocolate with added fibre, which companies are increasingly using to replace sugar’s bulk.2 The challenge is in getting consumers to consider a switch to a healthier chocolate product as there is a perception that less sugar means less taste.”

What’s in a label?

Chocolate 2

Tate & Lyle research shows the majority of UK consumers read nutrition and ingredient labels, so this is a key consideration for chocolate producers.3

“Sugar-free chocolate has been around for a long time and offers a popular option for people with diabetes. Sector efforts to establish a mid-range category in chocolate with broader appeal are ongoing and some of it is around building consumer understanding through storytelling,” explained Olivier. “For some brands, it’s about adding more of the ingredient consumers expect to see, cocoa and milk, and promoting this on-pack.3 "

He continued: “Where producers are using stevia, a plant-based low calorie sweetener, to replace sugar’s sweetness, they may include the more consumer-friendly ‘stevia leaf extract’ description on pack as well as the required name ‘steviol glycoside’.4 This reference to the plant-based origin of steviol glycosides, plus other claims such as ‘no-artificial sweetener’, are ways to tap into the ‘naturality’ trend, which is a significant segment of the UK chocolate market after ethical and environmental claims and seasonal ‘positioning’ such as Easter and Christmas.”

Can we expect more launches in the future?

“Confectioners world-wide are looking seriously at how they can lower sugar, calories and fat in their products, and the ingredient toolkit and our application know-how continues to evolve,” Frank concluded. “With large, established brands, the new product development cycle typically takes two or three years, so we can expect to see more sugar-reduced launches in the future.”


Sources:

  1. 57% of respondents plan to consume ‘much less’ or ‘somewhat less’ sugar over the next 12 months. 34% plan to consume ‘much more’ or ‘somewhat more’ fibre.
  2. 31% of respondents said they would be likely or very likely to buy a chocolate product with fibre. 60% said this would have no impact on their purchasing decision.
  3. 74% of UK consumers polled always or sometimes read ingredient and nutrition labels when shopping for grocery products.
  4. Regulation 1333/2008 sets the conditions of use for steviol glycosides as a sweetener. In cocoa and chocolate products steviol glycosides may only be used in products which are energy-reduced or with no added sugar.

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