What’s old is new again

Technical Editor Clay Gordon tackles the topic of alternative chocolates, looking more specifically at formulating with alternative milks 

Consumer interest in, and demand for, “plant-based” alt.meat/dairy/confectionery products is steadily growing. Much of this demand stems from shifts in dietary habits. But when it comes to innovation in confectionery products, the vogue seems to be to lean into new technologies. Terms like precision fermentation and cell culturing are common, and pursuit of new tech often seems to be driven by investors looking for unicorn returns. Old tech is old and the intellectual property (IP) associated with it is likely to be in the public domain and so may be difficult to leverage into a protectable competitive advantage. 

Press releases from companies showcasing new products in confectionery will gush about how some new (either patented or patent-pending) tech is the key to the benefits their products deliver to the consumer. These releases also often highlight topics like ‘life-cycle assessment of total greenhouse gas emissions’ and other environmental, sustainability, illegal labour, and other ‘free-from’ issues.  

Many new alt.chocolate products also proudly proclaim their products to be 100% cocoa-free and therefore free from all of the negatives that burden farmed cacao. Such are the claims of companies that have been covered by me before – including WNWN (UK) and Planet A (Germany), which I have tasted, and new entries from Voyage Foods in the US, which are not available for retail sale and I have not tasted. Voyage Foods’ cocoa-free “chocolate” [air quotes not in the original] are advertised as, “A new kind of sweet treat. Free from cocoa, dairy, and the troubles of the traditional chocolate industry …” Voyage Foods’ cocoa-free recipe consists of: Vegetable oil blend (RSPO-certified palm oil, shea kernel oil), cane sugar, grape seeds, sunflower protein flour, natural flavours, sunflower lecithin, and salt. 

In other words, not chocolate.  

What do alt.chocolates taste like? The ones I have tasted have all been a bland imitation of real dairy milk chocolates, often with distinctive non-chocolate notes. But how these products actually taste rarely leads the conversation to the press and consumers.  

In the end, any alt.confectionery product has to taste acceptable to a large number of consumers in order to gain sustained acceptance in the market and be worthy of continued production. It’s relatively easy to get someone to purchase a product once. However, if a second purchase does not live up to expectations there will be no third purchase. While many consumers will purchase products that they perceive as “healthier” for them and will settle for products that are not as tasty as the original products they are replacing, relying on this is, most often, a losing strategy for manufacturers unless there are very specific medical reasons for the switch. 

I’ve covered alternative sweeteners, fats, and milks in prior columns and as a part of my work and research have tasted many dozens of alt.chocolate products. I have also been a member of teams developing recipes for low glycaemic index/load chocolates…

Read the full feature in our magazine.

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Media contact

Caitlin Gittins
Editor, International Confectionery
Tel: +44 (0) 1622 823 920
Email: editor@in-confectionery.com

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