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Chocolate set to conquer the health-food market
Chocolate set to conquer the health-food market

Mon Jun 19, 2006 2:59pm ET 164
By Josiane Kremer and Isabel Strassheim

ZURICH (Reuters) - The ancient Mayan and Aztec people believed that chocolate increased wisdom, energy, vitality, and sexual power, but in the intervening centuries it has been recategorized as an unhealthy indulgence.

Now the world's biggest industrial chocolate maker, Barry Callebaut, is rediscovering the medicinal properties of the cocoa bean and using them to produce "healthy chocolate".

For those who think the only health benefit of chocolate comes from remembering Valentine's Day, Hans Vriens, Barry Callebaut's chief innovation officer, has a few welcome surprises up his sleeve.

"The cocoa bean has more than 600 components; 230 of those have potential health benefits," he said in an interview with Reuters.

These health benefits stem from polyphenols, which are naturally found at a higher level in the cocoa bean than in broccoli or even green tea. These chemical compounds act as antioxidants, which protect cells from damage.

The snag is that traditional chocolate production has usually destroyed most of those compounds.

"If we can preserve some of those components, we actually have functional chocolate, and people can feel a lot less guilty about eating it. They are actually doing something good," Vriens said.

The group's new production process, known as "Acticoa", ensures that a high level of polyphenols are maintained during manufacturing, allowing the Swiss chocolate maker to produce "healthy chocolate" without altering the taste.

Clinical tests by several research institutes have shown that polyphenols improve cardio-vascular health and mental function. They also help prevent cancer and counteract the effects of aging.

Nine grams of Acticoa chocolate -- or one big bite -- covers the recommended daily intake of polyphenols, Vriens said.

The value is based on findings of the Tuffs University in the United States.

The company's challenge is to shift perceptions of chocolate away from an indulgence food and toward a nutritional food, thereby tapping the fast-growing health and wellness market.

"Given its image as an indulgence, chocolate has never been able to build a wellness segment, the fastest-growing part of the food market... (but) the mold has been broken by research linking health with cocoa polyphenols," said Kepler Equities analyst Jon Cox.


In an increasingly health-conscious society, the revenue potential for functional chocolate is "quite amazing", said Vriens, but he declined to give exact sales forecasts.

"Functional food takes up 2 percent of shelf space these days. In 10-20 years it will be 20 percent," he said.

Barry Callebaut used its German consumer brand Sarotti to test its "Acticoa" chocolate and was pleased with the results. It hopes to launch the product with industrial customers this year or next.

"There is an enormous space for functional chocolate, and there is no one out there (to fill it)," Vriens said.

Kepler analyst Cox said the revenue benefits were already within reach.

"Chocolate branded to highlight high levels of polyphenols or health benefits can capture 1 percent of the overall chocolate market, or reach almost 1 billion Swiss francs, in the next 24 months," he said.

Barry Callebaut, which is believed to supply brands like Danone and Kraft, is in talks with clients on how best to sell its new chocolate.

It wants to use its "Acticoa" trademark as a label on the packaging of chocolate in the same way that microprocessor maker Intel uses its "Intel-inside" label on computers. The label would guarantee a minimum level of antioxidants.

Other industry players have also recognized the potential of health and wellness foods, launching their own efforts to enter the lucrative health-food market.

Nestle has recently launched a major drive to focus on nutritional foods such as health-enhancing yoghurts and drinks and is expected to move into "healthy chocolates" soon, while Mars -- maker of Mars bars and M&Ms -- has launched a heart-healthy chocolate called "CocoaVia".

Barry Callebaut's Acticoa process can be used in a variety of foods, including chocolate drinks and yoghurts.

Cocoa polyphenols can even be used as a processing agent in beer, Vriens said. The process called "ActiBREW" was presented at a major European beer brewers' convention.


Last Updated ( Jun 20, 2006 at 12:17 PM )