In 2007 the world's largest chocolate maker, Barry Callebaut, launched Acticoa, a cocoa powder packed with a high concentration of cocoa flavanols that, it claims, can bring a boost to cardiovascular health.
Currently, about 30 chocolate products containing Acticoa cocoa ingredient are dotted on the supermarket shelves, in over ten countries around the world.
"Today, medical experts and nutritionists underline the importance of integrating delicious and fun eating moments in a balanced diet. Chocolate fits the bill perfectly and the rise of functional chocolate has brought the two worlds together," says Hans Vriens, chief innovation officer at Barry Callebaut.
Observers and stakeholders are still unsure how the soaring trend in health and wellness will fare in 2009 as consumers, faced with harder economic times, start to tighten their purse strings.
In recent years, consumers have become passionate about looking and feeling good; food and drink products have neatly slotted into this trend, with new product development from food makers squarely positioned to piggy-back this emerging health and wellness trend.
Functional chocolate - start of the curve
In terms of chocolate, the functional chocolate trend is still at the beginning of the curve and only a handful of makers to date, such as Mars' CocaVia and Barry Callebaut's Acticoa, have rolled out products that directly target this area.
But the double-digit growth seen in the functional category does make for compelling figures and an understandable motivation to drive new product development further down the functional chocolate path. Market analyst Euromonitor reports that in the past four years the functional market has grown by an average of 15 per cent year on year.
One in four Western consumers are interested in chocolate with physical or emotional health benefits, according to data gathered on behalf of Barry Callebaut in Belgium, Switzerland, France, Germany, the UK and the US.
The survey revealed that 27 per cent of consumers in these countries buy chocolate to promote a feeling of well-being and to boost their mood. Further, about 21 per cent of consumers across the six countries are now interested in chocolate that has added functional ingredients.
Unlocking health in cocoa bean
Barry Callebaut's Acticoa dark chocolate, which contains 500mg of cocoa flavanols, was recently the focus of a study conducted by Queen Margaret university in Edinburgh. Findings of the research, reports the Belgian chocolate marker, suggest that the eating 17g portions of the Acticoa chocolate on a daily basis for two weeks helps to maintain healthy blood pressure.
And hooking-up to further potential health benefits of the cocoa bean, Barry Callebaut recently introduced the first industrial-scale probiotic chocolate for gut health, as well as a tooth-friendly chocolate.
On the hunt for health-positioned chocolate products at the recent Salon du Chocolat show in Paris, ConfectioneryNews.com saw Barry Callebaut's Acticoa ingredient in a new line from Belgian chocolatier Guylain. Branded as 'Guylain Extra', the Acticoa label is clearly visible on the front packaging, as is the term 'antioxidants'.
But the Guylain product notwithstanding, health-positioned chocolate products were barely visible at the show, suggesting that functional chocolate is still at a nascent stage.