Despite the growing body of research extolling the health benefits of flavanols found in cocoa, chocolate product manufacturers have yet to fully embrace front-of-pack claims calling out these compounds—with many still opting for more general “antioxidant” claims. But global cocoa giant Barry Callebaut expects the industry to transition to more specific claims as more gain approval.
“You can find cocoa flavanol content claims on a few brands, but these remain quite limited in the industry,” R&D group manager US Alan Slesinksi told NutraIngredients-USA . “We predict that the industry will see a shift away from general ‘antioxidant’ claims towards more specific benefits.”
Slesinksi noted that mass advertising and communication in recent years has increased overall consumer awareness of the healthy benefits of chocolate, though consumer understanding is still somewhat incomplete—hence the tendency to call out antioxidants, which are a more established concept in the consumer lexicon. “Consumers understand that chocolate can be good for them, but they may not understand the full mechanisms or research behind these benefits,” he said.
Cocoa contains especially high levels of flavanols, which have been associated with a series of health benefits, including improved cardiovascular and skin health, cognitive function and blood flow.
Acticoa-containing products will still take time to reach the market
Barry Callebaut received a health claim approval from the European Union in September 2013 for its Acticoa chocolate, which the firm says supports healthy blood circulation by helping maintain the elasticity of blood vessels. Since 2005, the firm has completed more than 20 clinical studies examining the impact of cocoa flavanols on people using products made through its Acticoa process, which maintains up to 80% of the cocoa flavanols that would otherwise be mostly destroyed during the conventional chocolate-making process.
Slesinksi called the EU approval Barry Callebaut’s “biggest achievement in the area” of demonstrating the health effects of polyphenols and flavanols from cocoa, which he says will support related health claims that can be made in easy-to-understand marketing terms.
“The daily intake of 200mg of cocoa flavanols, present in 10 grams of Acticoa dark chocolate, has been proven to support healthy blood circulation. For the US, the same research can be used to support a structure function claim such as ‘Acticoa can help maintain healthy blood circulation,’” he said. And yet, it will take some time for products bearing such claims to reach the market, he added.
Despite that the firm is actively engaged in a range of research on the health benefits of chocolate and cocoa, Barry Callebaut’s direct interaction with consumers is "somewhat limited"—so the firm’s primary role is in facilitating clear, accurate marketing for its manufacturing customers, Slesinksi noted.
“We aim to support our product with positive nutritional claims, helping our customers differentiate their products from those of their competitors. We will continue to work with our customers to ensure our products are marketed correctly, in order to make cocoa flavanols an established health ingredient for years to come," he said.
R&D remains a significant investment area for Barry Callebaut, though Slesinksi declined to elaborate on specific research. “One of Barry Callebaut's strategic pillars is innovation so we are constantly working on innovative new products within the chocolate category,” he said.