Hershey's expansion of its health and nutrition initiative underlines the extent to which chocolate makers are keen to tap into consumer health concerns.
The Hershey Centre for Health and Nutrition will help develop products and technologies that provide consumers with health benefits in the areas of heart health, weight management, and mental and physical energy.
Hershey says that the centre will build upon the science, clinical studies and research work already underway at the company.
Recent data from scientists at Hershey as well as the United States Department of Agriculture indicate that cocoa powder and dark chocolate are highly concentrated sources of natural flavanols. In general, the higher the cocoa content of a chocolate product, the more flavanols and the greater the antioxidant potential.
The establishment of the Hershey Centre for Health and Nutrition was a recommendation of Hershey's Health & Wellness Advisory Board, a panel of scientists and analysts established in 2005. The Advisory Board is comprised of experts who provide Hershey with key insights in the areas of weight management, cognitive and brain function, nutrigenomics, plant nutrients and metabolism, children's nutrition and eating behaviour, personal wellness, government food regulations, and consumer health and wellness behaviours and attitudes.
"Our goal is to redefine the future of snacking by offering consumers products that provide proven health benefits and the superior taste they expect from Hershey," said Tom Hernquist, senior vice president, chief global growth officer.
"Our research is validating the significant health benefits of cocoa and snack nuts and, combined with our proven ability to develop and commercialise innovative new products, provides an immense capability to meet the growing consumer demand for healthier products."
The Hershey Centre for Health and Nutrition is designed to be a significant source of new-product innovation as it draws upon clinical studies and scientific analysis of the health benefits of cocoa, nuts and other natural ingredients. The centre will utilise the company's internal scientific capabilities as well as partnerships formed with internationally known researchers and institutions.
"The centre is a major step forward in the evolution of Hershey's work in the areas of healthier snacking," said Dr Steven Zeisel, associate dean and professor of nutrition at the school of public health, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, a member of Hershey's Health & Wellness Advisory Board.
"The centre will establish Hershey as a leader in drawing upon scientific research to deliver products consumers can enjoy as truly healthier snack choices."
Indeed, the announcement coincides with the firm's recent publication of results from ongoing studies at Yale University, linking the consumption of hot cocoa to improved cardiovascular function. The company is currently researching the effects of dark chocolate and cocoa on arterial function and blood pressure and is also is evaluating formulas and technologies that deliver higher levels of antioxidants while reducing fats and sugars.
"This study provides one more reason to enjoy hot cocoa," said David Katz, MD, associate professor of public health at Yale, and director of the prevention research centre that conducted the study.
"The natural cocoa used in this study produced remarkable improvements in arterial function in the people tested. This study adds more evidence regarding the health benefits of natural flavanol antioxidants found both in natural cocoa power and in chocolate."
As far as heart health is concerned, Hershey says that it will continue to conduct research into links between flavanols in cocoa and chocolate and improvements in arterial function, as well as into the potential health benefits of nuts.
"We've already made great strides in a number of health benefit areas through research studies, partnerships and new product development," said Dan Azzara, vice president, global innovation and quality.
"Now, thanks to the establishment of the Hershey Centre for Health and Nutrition, we'll be able to rapidly expand our work, quickly translating the latest scientific research into great-tasting snack offerings."