Chocolate complements just about any type of product in the baking and snack categories. From salty snack bars to flaky pastries, consumers desire the richness of cocoa formulated with other ingredients to obtain a delectable bite. It all comes down to a sensory experience.

Some desserts such as chocolate cake require cocoa powder to be infused throughout for flavor. Other products have surprise pops of chocolate in various forms like the chips in cookies.

“The inclusion market has been exploding in recent years, and new product launches are keeping up with consumer demands,” said Carly Meck, senior R.&D. scientist, Blommer Chocolate Co. “More bake-stable chocolate and compound chips are entering the market to meet the needs of flavor introduction without the risk of scorching.”

While the popularity of chocolate-flavored products remains steady, consumer preferences are still evolving.

“Today’s consumers are more health- and label-conscious than ever before, and we see this pulling through into their snack food and bakery choices, too,” said Gretchen Hadden, cocoa and chocolate R.&D. leader, marketing communications manager, Cargill.

As chocolate and cocoa suppliers shift their portfolios and product capabilities to follow these health and wellness trends, baking and snack producers must adapt to these new ingredients and formulate accordingly to meet their new goals. Keeping health-focused consumers in mind while still delivering a desirable sensory experience creates the balance that will move cocoa products off the store shelves.

When it comes to cocoa and chocolate, health-conscious consumer choices typically manifest themselves in the elimination of some ingredients and the addition of others.

Sugar reduction is a popular requirement among consumers.

“The growing trend of permissible indulgence puts pressure on bakers to find creative ways to cut down on sugar and salt in baked goods without compromising on taste,” said Wouter Stomph, North American head of cocoa ingredient development and innovation, Olam Cocoa.

A sugar reduction demand means consumers’ inclination toward dark chocolate isn’t slowing down.

“We’re seeing a rise in preference in dark chocolate, likely due to its lower sugar content and perceived health benefits,” Ms. Hadden said. “Dark chocolate has higher cacao percentages and therefore less sugar than milk or white chocolate.”

The Food and Drug Administration’s ruling on added sugars is also creating change. Ms. Meck said a typical chocolate formula is approximately 40% to 50% sugar.

“Having to declare that all on a package can be a little frightening,” she noted. “Many solutions have become available in recent years, be it adding fiber or protein, to help offset some of the sugar usage. In addition, many companies are embracing the healthy halo of high-cocoa mass products, which inherently have less sugar in them.”

Despite the commonality of ingredient removal in consumer preference, some ingredients are an important part of what a consumer wants added to products, and Ms. Hadden said Cargill has seen a growth of nutrients such as protein or fiber specifically in chocolate coatings and inclusions.

“As protein becomes an important part of consumers’ diets, we have done significant research around protein fortification,” she noted. “As a result, we can offer our customers added protein capabilities.”

Consumers also are embracing clean label products. For Cargill, clean label meant going organic. Through data from Simmons Research, a provider of consumer profiling and insight, the ingredient company discovered that more than a quarter of U.S. households purchase organic groceries.

“In response, we’ve expanded our cocoa powder portfolio to offer three organic offerings,” said Jeroen Le Blanc, cocoa and chocolate product line manager for North America, Cargill. “These organic cocoa powders offer a range of color and flavor profiles with a light brown, non-alkalized powder; a brown/medium reddish lightly-alkalized powder; and our new reddish-brown alkalized powder.”

Clean label also means the ability to offer customers choices, Ms. Hadden said. These include options such as removing artificial colors and flavors or the flexibility to switch from soy-based emulsifiers (lecithin) to sunflower-based emulsifiers.

Blommer considers clean label a lifestyle diet, similar to keto, paleo and allergen-free. Naturally dairy-free, cocoa powders can add a strong sensory experience to a formula without risking an allergic reaction, Ms. Meck said.

“While chocolate is inherently a simple food, formula and ingredient modification can help steer this product to fit most lifestyle diets,” she added.

This article is an excerpt from the August 2019 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature on chocolate, click here.