Ingredient Focus: Chocolate
The regional chocolate industry's challenges and changing demands from consumers
Belgian chocolate brand Belvas has announced the expansion of itsoffering in the UAE, with the launch of Belvas Belgian Thins, available in three flavour combinations. The premium chocolate brand offers a completely handmade, organic, Fairtrade, gluten-free and vegan product range, and its signature Belgian Thins consist of ‘broken pieces’ of chocolate, made using healthy and raw ingredients. Belvas Belgian Chocolates is expecting to expand its range of Belgian Thins in coming months, creating diverse flavours with 100% sugar free dark chocolate as well as combinations using candy and biscuit.
The newly launched product from Veliche gourmet Belgian chocolate. Veliche Gourmet has a long established heritage in producing fine quality chocolate. Rich in character and complex in flavour, yet remarkably workable, Veliche Gourmet delivers quality to artisans and chefs. The process begins with an extensive presence in origin countries. Every step of the journey, from sourcing the best beans to producing Belgian chocolate, is overseen by a team of experts.
Boutique Le Chocolat’s spring collection
Boutique Le Chocolat has launched its spring collection of chocolates, including a white chocolate petal dress that has been created using Cacao Barry Zephyr chocolate. The dress, which was produced in-store, took about 10 days to complete and visitors to the store at City Walk will be able to pick up a Limited Edition box of nine chocolate petals. The spring collection also includes a selection of seasonal hampers — white and milk chocolate eggs that can be custom-made to order.
Cacao Barry’s creation with 35% minimum cocoa is a white chocolate with milky caramel notes and with a slightly sweet taste. Salty notes are reminiscent of Brittany’s “caramel au beurre sale”. It is a popular choice for ganache filling and moulding.
In 1999 Galler was one of the first European brands to incorporate Matcha tea in its chocolate. The brand has just introduced a new tablet — crispy white chocolate with Matcha tea.
Consumers are becoming increasingly interested in ingredients. This is no different when it comes to confectionery. Lifestyle changes and increased awareness of health and environmentalism have led to a rise in demand for premium chocolate, made with healthy and exotic ingredients. Belvas Belgian Chocolates head of business development Sarah Benkhelifaa elaborates: “The chocolate confectionery market has been moving towards healthier production methods using ‘clean’, organic, gluten free, and vegan ingredients.”
One step further from wanting to know what’s in their food, consumers also want to be able to trace where it comes from. According to Barry Callebaut trade marketing manager Middle East, Marjorie Bourdon: “Single origin chocolates are very much in vogue. These chocolates are prepared from cocoa mass with cocoa beans from a single geographical area, country or even plantation, while all traditional chocolates are blends. These products are unique because they owe their quality to their noble breeding or genetic inheritance, and frequently also to the particular conditions in the region where they are cultivated or produced.” As well as being traceable, single origin products are also distinguishable in terms of flavour.
Craft chocolate is on the rise in the region. UAE-based artisanal chocolate producer Mirzam has recently started supplying in bulk for use by some of Dubai’s most high profile pastry chefs. The company’s chief chocolate officer Kathy Johnston says: “One of the strongest trends I see is a focus on developing the deeper cocoa content chocolate bars (80% and upwards), using traditional methods to create more flavour. As our customers generally enjoy dark chocolate — exploring the production process to give delicious flavours a chance to headline (as opposed to just bitter) is really interesting. So rather than adding more flavouring as commercial chocolate production tends to — we use the roasting process, carefully sort out the best cocoa beans, and use different aeration processes to really improve the flavour profiles.”
EMF Emirates LLC general manager Pierre Feghali adds: “Chefs are tending to differentiate their products and personalise their recipes through the use of unconventional exotic and local flavours in their chocolates such as passion fruit, raspberries, cream cheese, tiramisu, pepper, chili, karawiya and ousmalliya.”
The main challenge facing the industry is that the demand for cocoa is rising steadily, at a rate between 2 and 3% per year, with emerging markets helping to drive growth. Aramtec sales and marketing manager — pastry division Riyadh Hassan says: “Understanding how to manage the volatile cocoa market is key. Our expertise in effectively managing purchasing decisions and risk can help to give us peace of mind.”
Having cornered the regional chocolate gifting market, Patchi continues to face multiple challenges, explains the brand’s factory general manager Aline Ashkarian: “Those challenges varies from the increase in the price of raw materials like the cocoa beans, cocoa butter, sugar and cocoa mass due to factors such as climate change which affect the production of the cocoa. Patchi has absorbed the increased cost of materials for the past few years.”
Climate also has an effect on the price of raw materials. “Cocoa prices are largely dependent on growing conditions and can differ greatly from month to month,” says Feghali. “Aging crops, disease, and political unrest are all factors in the unpredictable cocoa market. These fluctuations can influence every other areas of the supply chain.”
Patchi has also been challenged by the scarcity of raw materials. “While competitors use low quality materials including vegetable oils to reduce their prices, Patchi offers chocolates that have zero preservatives or additives, no artificial flavours, and no vegetable oil,” elaborates Ashkarian.
Creating chocolate is a long, intricate process. With so several steps to get from growers to consumers, supply chain management becomes a challenge. Streamlined processes and innovative distribution tactics are key. Organisations, such as the World Cocoa Foundation, have partenered with Barry Callebaut to promote sustainable cocoa economies through education, field programmes and scientific research.
Johnston echoes this sentiment adding: “For the chocolate makers crafting from the bean, our main challenge is going to continue to be how we can support the cacao farmers to use better farming techniques to grow and ultimately sell high-quality cocoa beans, without ending up as many do, with unethical practices such as child labour or growing high-production cacao tree varieties, that yield low-taste beans.” She continues, “It’s ultimately also a learning curve for consumers — that much like other industries — if you are paying cheap prices for chocolate, it’s likely made a number of people pretty unhappy along the way.”
Conditions are improving, according to Galler business development manager Ghada Naim: “The industry is moving in a good direction thanks to different sustainability programmes. Galler is supporting The Cocoa Horizon programme whose mission is to improve the livelihoods of cocoa farmers through sustainable entrepreneurial farming and community development.”