Like many other companies, the Swiss chocolatier has spent millions on formulating and marketing what it deems to be healthier chocolate products, as consumers are slowly turning away from perceived fatty or sugary treats. According to Hans Vriens, chief innovation officer at Barry Callebaut, the new Acticoa product contains about 80 per cent of the flavanols found in raw cocoa, meaning that only two grams will have an anti-oxidant affect on human health. "Acticoa is the result of years of research into developing innovative products that combine the good taste of high-quality chocolate with the many health benefits of the cocoa bean," he said. The flavanol-rich cocoa can be used not only in chocolate drinks but also desserts, functional biscuits, confectionery fillings and snacks, and Barry Callebaut is looking to help manufacturers outside the US find a range of uses for the product, the company said. "This cocoa powder is a potentially rich source for manufacturers looking to lend real added value to their products and thus find new ways to differentiate them from the competition," Vriens claimed. Flavanols are thought to have a positive effect on human health because they help neutralise free radicals that could damage the body's cells, and cause oxidative stress. Prolonged exposure to oxidative stress has been linked to the development of wide range of chronic disease, including cancer, cardiovascular disease, arthritis, diabetes, and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's. Barry Callebaut's claims are backed up by recent research from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), which stated that flavanol-rich chocolate may boost blood flow in the brain and improve cardiovascular health. The AAAS linked cocoa flavanols to the improving blood flow via increased production of nitric oxide, a molecule used by the endothelium to signal surrounding muscle to relax, which also has implications for cognitive function, especially learning and memory. The results are particularly encouraging for the baby boomer generation, born between 1946 and 1964, researchers said. This age-group forms the biggest age-bracket of the population in both the US and Europe, they explained, and they are increasingly aware of potential heart disease and cognitive decline, including Alzheimer's, a disease that is expected to quadruple in prevalence by 2047. The cocoa product will be officially launched at the FIE show in London later this month. According to market analysts Frost and Sullivan, revenues from antioxidant enhanced food products are predicted to grow from 46m ($55m) in 2004 to 58m ($70m) in 2008, as the trend shows so signs of abating. Other companies promoting the antioxidant affects of cocoa include Mars, which has helped carry out research into the Kuna Indians of Panama, a population who consume large amounts of cocoa and who have unusually low rates of hypertension and cardiovascular disease.
Hershey is another company jumping on the bandwagon, and has this year released antioxidant Milk Chocolate and Whole Bean Chocolate items onto the market.