Meaningful innovation for cocoa

Technical Editor Clay Gordon challenges what innovation means for cocoa, chocolate and confectionery as he shares innovations he thinks have shaped the industry.

Innovative and innovation are words I come across a lot in my reviews of the latest news and literature in cocoa, chocolate, and confectionery. After more than two decades, I have come to a different understanding of what qualifies for being innovative.  

Answer, if you will, the following two questions: 1) “In your mind, does a line extension, say formulating a mint-flavoured version of an existing product, qualify as being innovative?” 2) “In your mind, does taking an existing product and making one tweak – making a gluten-free version, for example – while doing nothing about it containing greater than 25% of the RDV for sugars in a single serving qualify as an innovation?” 

If your answer to either of those (admittedly loaded) questions is, “Yes,” I am of the opinion you’ve set the bar for what qualifies as innovation very low, indeed.  

The challenge for our industry as a whole, in my opinion, is that setting the innovation bar that low is ultimately bad for business. Like Chicken Little proclaiming the sky is falling or Peter crying wolf, if every improvement, no matter how incremental, is proclaimed to be innovative, ground-breaking, and/or earth-shattering, then nothing is innovative. 

It’s now incumbent upon me to let you know what I think does qualify.  

The key, for me, is to preface the word innovation or innovative in a press release or article with the word “meaningful.” It is this juxtaposition that causes me to slow down and examine the broader context – upstream and downstream – of what is being claimed. 

For example, formulating a recipe for a gummy with a new ingredient, perhaps developed using a new precision fermentation technique, may be innovative when viewed from some perspectives. But is it in a gummy, truly meaningful? The new ingredient may solve process problems, it may provide new texture possibilities, and it may provide other benefits to the ingredient maker and the gummy manufacturer. It might even provide a truly differentiated gustatory experience for the customer.  

But, in the end, it’s still a gummy. 

The problem I see over and over again is industry’s tendency to focus on the application, or market research that supports the reasons for developing a new process: they don’t reflect on whether or not the challenge they are addressing is meaningful, or if it’s just a gummy. 

In the end, the most interesting questions – the ones that end up resulting in the most meaningful innovations – are often deceptively simple on their face. 

For example, one such interesting question, in my mind, is, “Why has the modern chocolate industry focused most of its attention over the past 100 years almost exclusively on the seeds within the cocoa pod?”…

Read the full feature in our magazine.

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Media contact

Caitlin Gittins
Editor, International Confectionery
Tel: +44 (0) 1622 823 920

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