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Cocoa has been associated with health benefits since the Mayans and Aztecs discovered the value of the commodity hundreds of years ago. More recently, and somewhat more officially, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) approved an Article 13(5) health claim for Barry Callebaut’s ACTICOA cocoa flavanols in July 2012, the first such claim in the EU. It reads, “cocoa flavanols help maintain endothelium-dependent vasodilation, which contributes to normal blood flow”, although a draft reword reads “maintenance of the elasticity of blood vessels”. This amount of cocoa flavanols can be provided by 2.5g of high-flavanol cocoa powder or 10g of high-flavanol dark chocolate in the context of a balanced diet. However, despite gaining approval, it seems unlikely that this health claim is set to revolutionise the European chocolate industry where country of origin and sustainable sourcing are much more significant trends for cocoa
The EU claim in part relates to the consumption of dark chocolate, the penetration of which is highest in countries such as Switzerland and Italy. In the region’s largest chocolate market, the UK, only 10% of chocolate tablets consumed are plain dark. Milk chocolate, with its higher sugar and fat content, remains the most popular chocolate type in the region as a whole. It seems unlikely this will change dramatically with the launch of this claim, although it can only help boost sales of dark chocolate, particularly in countries where it is already more popular.
Source: Euromonitor International
Fortified/functional products (among which dark chocolate would be included, based on the new claim) represent a key trend in the snacking category, and in Western Europe fortified/functional chocolate confectionery is forecast to grow by 2.5% annually over 2012-2017 to reach US$90.5 million by 2017. However, fortified/functional products account for just 0.2% of total chocolate confectionery sales in the region, so it seems likely that the cocoa flavanol health claim will be ‘novel’ rather than ‘revolutionary’ in terms of sales, especially as the wording of the claim is still very technical.
The claim also relates to the consumption of flavanol-rich cocoa powder. In Western Europe, 27.5% of cocoa powder is consumed in bakery products and 22% in hot drinks, with other
significant categories including ice cream and dairy. How inconceivable is it that we will soon see a cake, for example, marketed as ‘flavanol-rich’ or ‘good or your heart’ because it contains flavanol-rich cocoa powder? The danger of using cocoa flavanol health claims for these products is that it risks promoting the consumption of sugar, fat and salt, which goes against dietary
advice and health policies in many Member States.
The primary reason that consumers buy chocolate is because it is an indulgent and affordable luxury. While some consumers are already aware of dark chocolate’s potential health benefits, chocolate always has, and probably always will, be consumed as a treat. A high cocoa content in chocolate is already seen as a marker of quality of the ingredients and the product, and associated ingredient trends such as country of origin and sustainable sourcing are likely to remain the dominant trends in the chocolate category.