Ritter Sport and a German consumer group will go head-to-head in a court battle over the naturalness of vanilla flavoring piperonal.
Consumer group Stiftung Warentest conducted tests on Ritter Sport’s Whole Hazelnut as part of a report on chocolates containing nuts. It concluded that Ritter’s product contained vanilla flavoring piperonal, which was allegedly falsely labeled as “natural flavor”- a claim Ritter disputes.
Can piperonal be extracted naturally?
Ritter Sport has been granted an interim injunction by the German courts preventing Stiftung Warentest from selling its 10-page report on potential risks from chocolates-containing nuts ahead of a court hearing set for 20 December 2013.
Ritter Sport’s supplier Symrise has provided Ritter Sport with a “Guarantee Statement” that says its piperonal is a natural flavor extracted from plants, but it will not divulge details of the extraction process as it fears losing a competitive advantage to other flavor manufacturers.
Symrise said in a statement: “The piperonal contained in this flavor is not ‘chemically’ manufactured, contrary to the statements made by Stiftung Warentest.”
It said the piperonal Ritter uses for its Whole Hazelnut product came from botanical sources that were manufactured according to the European flavor regulation on the manufacture of natural flavors.
It can’t be natural, claims Stiftung Warentest
Heike Van Laak, press officer for Stiftung Warentest, told ConfectioneryNews: “We say that it can’t be a natural flavor because it can’t be gained in a natural way.”
“We talked to experts and they say that a natural way of extracting the flavor doesn't exist and if it does it would be so expensive that it would not make sense financially.”
Claims are ‘baseless’, says Ritter
Ritter Sport, which pledged to switch all its artificial flavors to natural varieties in 2008 called the allegations “baseless”.
“Ritter Sport is not misleading its consumers and relies exclusively on natural raw ingredients,” it said in a statement.
“We have a current guarantee bond from the company Symrise AG in our possession, which confirms that the flavoring delivered to us and which is used in Ritter Sport Whole Hazelnuts, is of exclusively natural origin and is attained in an exclusively natural manner.”
Nut chocolate trials from Stiftung Warentest
Stiftung Warentest tested 26 nut-containing chocolates to see they lived up to labeling claims including private label products from the likes of Aldi and Lidl as well as brands such as Mondelez International’s Milka Alpine Milk Chocolate Whole Hazelnut.
As well as Ritter’s Whole Hazelnut, it took issue with the brand Rapunzel because it allegedly contained one third less nuts in the chocolate than declared on the wrapping. It also was concerned that Kaufland’s K-Classic contained synthetic vanillin when it claimed only to use vanilla extract.
Unlike Ritter, both producers accepted Stiftung Warentest’s findings, Van Laak told this site.
See here for EU regulations on natural flavors.