When it comes to chocolate, the future is functional says Daisy Phillipson
Confectionery might not be the first thing you would think of when looking for functionality. After all, isn’t chocolate meant for a bit of naughty indulgence? The sugar, the cocoa, the milk; they all add up to make a mischievous yet incredibly enjoyable treat.
Yet now it seems, as the health market continues to mature, that consumers are demanding even for their sweet treats to offer some sort of nutritional benefit.
Functional confectionery tends to include some sort of ingredient that provides the item with a genuine health attribute. This can be through organic claims, added protein or antioxidants.
Due to the nature of confectionery and its taste benefits, the sky really is the limit. Chocolate is a great vehicle for ingredients, as the powerful cocoa flavour can mask the foul tastes of some superfoods. And with changing consumption habits resulting from health-attentive consumers, the increase in these sorts of ingredients are likely to assist with functional confectionery sales.
One area that Douglas Faughnan, senior food and drink analyst at Mintel, says has definite growth potential in the UK is chocolate with high-protein claims.
In 2013, 1% of new launches carried a high-protein claim on pack, and this figure has risen to 1.5% in 2014 and 2.4% in 2015. That’s quite a jump.
Douglas explains that categories with foods that naturally contain high levels of protein, such as dairy and meat, account for a high proportion of high-protein launches, “however, more than half (56%) of British chocolate eaters are interested in high-protein snack bars in the style of their favourite chocolate.” This shows the significant potential for niche chocolate producers to provide consumers with protein-filled post-gym bars.
The reason for the low level of launches in this sector, says Douglas, is the regulations on high-protein claims in the EU. “Products that claim to be a source of protein (or similar) must derive at least 12% of their energy value from protein, while for a high-protein (or similar) claim, that rises to 20%. High-calorie products thus typically struggle to make such claims.”
While similar requirements are in the place in the US, some chocolate brands have approached protein claims in a less direct way by incorporating ingredients with high protein content such as almonds or goji berries. These provide examples of how UK manufacturers could tap into this popular market segment. “Chocolate brands in the UK could adopt a similar approach, incorporating ingredients that are widely associated with being high in protein and referencing these,” says Douglas.
An example of these products is Wild Ophelia All Natural Salted Almond chocolate bars, which contain nutrient, protein-enriched nuts. Alternatively, brands could follow the lead of Icelandic confectionery manufacturer Nói Síríus, which launched its Aktiv Proteinbitar bite-sized pieces in 2014. The bites comprise 56% dark chocolate and 20% isolated whey protein to allow for a protein content of 20g per 100g. Douglas states that the company claims this addresses the inferior taste, which is a common problem of high-protein products.
What about confectionery with claims not related to protein? Another healthy inclusion is ingredients with antioxidants.
According to Euromonitor, as average capita incomes improve, greater lifestyle consciousness and the luxury of spending money on image and health-enhancing products is booming. Natural and rich cocoa and cacao powder is becoming increasingly recognised for its nutritional benefits. Flavanoids are a naturally occurring chemical compound found in plants and they help with disease prevention, including heart problems, cancer and stroke. They have also been found to assist with memory retention.
Chocolate producer Q-91 Functional Chocolate has utilised this knowledge by producing super-dark, bittersweet premium chocolate that is high in cocoa mass. Combining low sugar content and high flavanols, the product promotes the added benefits that can be derived from its consumption. According to Nicole Heremans, PR coordinator for Barry Callebaut, “cocoa flavanols help to rejuvenate the cardiovascular system by maintaining blood vessel elasticity. Combined with a balanced diet and healthy lifestyle, this is very important in maintaining a healthy quality of life. The health effect of cocoa flavanols has been proven according to the European Food Safety Authority, and is only the 4th health claim in Europe assigned to a food company.”
In light of this, Barry Callebaut developed its Acticoa cocoa powder. The process of this retains as many flavanols as possible, so chocolate producers can use this as a functional claim on packaging.
With the rise in consumer knowledge surrounding flavanols, it is likely that more and more products released onto the market that carry the labelling that outlines the use of specially developed cocoa powder.
With huge cocoa producers such as Barry Callebaut and Cémoi now developing these specialised cocoa powders, this clearly outlines that there is space in the market for functional chocolate.
Douglas from Mintel expresses similar views as he discusses the potential for cobranding. He says, “another route for operators to reach the 56% of British chocolate eaters interested in high-protein bars in the style of their favourite chocolate could be cobranding.
“A tie-up with a chocolate brand could help these operators to reach a wider audience and boost their credentials on taste.”
And with government set to increase regulation on unhealthy ingredients due to the costs on public health, functionality could be the answer to this – to provide a nutritionally beneficial snack that doubles up as a sweet treat.