As start-up food business Sweet Virtues claims to be launching the UK’s first hand-made ‘superfood’ truffles, one industry pundit questions whether confectionery with a health dimension will ever move beyond a bite-sized niche.
Sweet Virtues’ ‘super food’ truffles will be available to UK consumers via Ocado from September, priced at £13.95 (€17.50) for a 115g box containing ten truffles. For this lofty price tag purchasers can bask in the knowledge that each truffle is handmade by chocolatier Paul Wayne Gregory, and is guaranteed to contain more than five so called ‘superfood’ ingredients.
The truffles come in three varieties: Maqui, Chia Seeds & Lime and Baobab & Vanilla, and the raw centre of each truffle is made up of a blend of maca, lacuma, carob, ginseng, agave, sunflower seeds and ground almonds, mixed with 64% and 70% dark chocolate solids.
The truffles are suitable for those on vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free and dairy-free diets.
Sweet Virtues said that its philosophy was based on the ‘triangle of health’, “a balance of mind and relaxation, food and nutrition and exercise and fitness”, claiming, “one without the other two will never achieve optimum health”. It said this ethos was reflected in each flavour and the ingredients used: Maqui to ‘detox’, chia seeds and lime to ‘energise’ and baobab and vanilla to promote ‘balance’.
No concrete evidence
However, when asked what evidence there is that maqui 'detoxes', chia seeds and lime 'energise' and baobab & vanilla 'promote balance', Sweet Virtues was unable to comment.
Julian Mellentin, author and director of food and health market insights firm New Nutrition Business, was not surprised by this, saying: “The health halo around chia is good, but the same can’t be said of baobab, which doesn’t have any proven health benefits.”
The target market for the truffles is health conscious consumers looking for a guilt-free treat, those on specialist diets and the luxury gifting market.
Whilst the free-from market is undoubtedly a growing area of the market, Mellentin questions the wisdom of attempting to combine health credentials with a confectionery concept.
Health and chocolate: a confused proposition?
“If you look at the last 10 years, no attempt to bring a health benefit to confectionery has been successful. The reason for this is that people eat confectionery to indulge, not to be healthy. Where it goes wrong is when companies try to create a specific benefit.”
Mellentin continued: “It is great that companies are trying to do something innovative but if it was my money I’d be developing a concept with dark chocolate but without any health proposition.”
That’s not to say that he believes the ‘super food’ truffles are doomed to failure. “This product will probably do well through the health food channel, but the volumes it will sell will be small."
Despite such views big chocolate players have placed large bets in functional confectionery. Barry Callebaut invested to win an EU health claim for cocoa flavanols ; Mars is conducting large-scale research on cocoa flavanols (albeit for nutritional supplements), while smaller companies such as Sulá and Cavalier have created indulgent confections with sugar alternatives. Others such as US firm Good Cacoa are pairing chocolate with functional ingredients.
Functional chocolate confectionery sales in Western Europe reached $78m in 2013, representing around 0.2% of total chocolate sales, according to Euromonitor International.