For chocolate makers wishing to extol the benefits of antioxidant-laden the cocoa polyphenols that are central part of their formulations, or some introduced ingredient such as plant sterols or green tea or omega-3, the rules governing their marketing wishes are obviously key to the product’s success or failure.
Two of the biggest markets – the US and the European Union – have markedly different systems, with one very much stricter than the other about health claim making.
In the US there are a number of Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved antioxidant-related qualified claims that are available to foods that contain sufficient levels of various ingredients – and these have been picked up by healthy chocolate makers.
But there is debate within the chocolate community about the definition of cocoa polyphenols. Mary Wagner, chief technical officer at Mars Botanical in the US said definitions were required so that all cocoa was not ranked the same in terms of its polyphenols content – which it is not.
"Mars developed an analytical process and this has been accepted by the USDA,” she said.
“We are having discussions as of six months ago to make our process the standard for industry. The competition will all have to align how we measure flavonol content."
She said Mars worked with polyphenol chains from monomers to decamers (one unit to ten units), but noted other manufacturers worked with much longer chains.
Hans Vriens, Barry Callebaout’s Belgian-based chief innovation officer, agreed that the longer chain polyphenols had less value as the body found them more difficult to digest.
In Europe, chocolate makers of the healthy variety, along with all food sectors, are being affected by the European Union health claims rules currently being implemented.
With antioxidant claims so far not performing very well out of the few opinions on them, chocolate makers are preparing for the worst in terms of a highly restrictive claims regime.
Vriens sees the result being that a lot of chocolate makers will take their health R&D spends elsewhere.
"We believe the regulation will have little impact on our current, existing business. Only a very small portion of chocolates consumed today carry claims,” he said. “But it would be a pity if we lost the incentive to invest in research to make chocolate healthier and talk about healthier chocolates to Europeans."
He added: “There is still a lot of insecurity about this regulation. We acknowledge that it is a difficult area.”
That said, he also criticised the regulation’s affect on innovation among smaller chocolate manufacturers.
“As with many regulations, also this one limits competition to those that have the financial muscle to go through the system,” he observed.
“The regulation in its final form may dis-incentivise research in some product categories as it may forbid any claims on some product categories. Depending on the outcome of the regulation, we may consider taking our research investment for ‘healthier’ chocolate to other regions in the world. That would be a pity for the European consumer as the cocoa bean contains many components which could be preserved in cocoa products that could contribute to a healthier lifestyle, when consumed as part of a balanced diet.”
But it is not just Europe that is playing the strict card in terms of health claims – Japan, Australia and others can be equally draconian and it will be interesting to see what kind of global impact the EU rules will have once all the claims are process in the next year or two.
What is chocolate?
Moving away from health claims, there are other regulations that relate to all chocolate makers and which effect claim making in terms of which products can be called ‘chocolate’ and which must be termed ‘chocolate compounds’.
It is a highly emotional area among chocolate manufacturers and regulatory approaches vary widely. Basically the debate rages around the idea of vegetable fat versus cocoa content. One jurisdiction may limit vegetable content to five per cent while another may have a limit closer to 20 per cent.
Switzerland comes in at the lower end of the scale, while Japan and Korea are more tolerant of the presence of vegetable oils in products that wish to be marketed as chocolates.
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