Mars seeks to protect cocoa extract from Spanish competition

By Jess Halliday

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Cocoa Antioxidant Chocolate

Chocolate giant Mars has filed a lawsuit against Natraceutical,
alleging that the Spanish company is infringing its patents on
polyphenol-rich cocoa extracts by selling CocoanOX extracts in the
United States.

The health benefits of antioxidant-rich chocolate have received much recognition in recent years, with positive findings from a number of studies impacting on consumer awareness.

Chocolate manufacturers are using high cocoa content (over 70 per cent) as a means of differentiation, and cocoa has also received attention for its potential in functional food applications.

But Mars claims: "Most of the excitement and energy in this field today stems from the findings of Mars' scientists and their university partners that certain cocoa polyphenol-rich preparations have the potential to prevent and/or treat health conditions that are leading causes of death and disability around much of the world".

It developed ways to measure and characterise polyphenol content in foods and post-harvesting and processing procedures and technologies to help maximise polyphenols available in a variety of formats.

Its patented processes and products for food ingredients are commercialised under the Cocoapro trademark.

Likewise Natraceutical, which shifted its attention to cocoa from caffeine in 2003, has developed a range of ingredients with different concentrations of the natural antioxidants found in cocoa for food makers looking to enhance the health properties of their products.

These are available to the market under the CocoanOX brand.

Natraceutical has itself solicited a patents in some markets based on its processes and ingredients - such as cocoa-derived CCX-70 ingredient which was introduced to the industry in November 2005 and is said to have a total antioxidant content of 70 percent with as much as 50 per cent of its procyanidins (a kind of flavonoid) being epicatchins. Marketing manager Pedro Arenas told last year that Natraceutical has partnerships in place that give it access to cocoa beans with the highest polyphenol compound.

Through its extraction method, it aims to "preserve the natural content of polyphenols in the raw material" , said Arenas - an undertaking that can otherwise prove difficult since polyphenols are notoriously sensitive to heat and other factors.

However Mars says that "upon information and belief " Natraceutical is selling cocoa powder and extracts under its CocoanOX brand in the US through its subsidiary Natra US - and it alleges these products infringe two of its patents.

Mars alleges that this represents "wilful infringement of the Mars patents and the undermining of Mars' plans and efforts to benefit from the fruits of its labour though its vast research investment".

The patents in question are US patent 996 entitled "Cocoa extracts containing solvent derived cocoa polyphenols from defatted cocoa beans" and US patent 753

"Cocoa components, edible products having enriched polyphenol content, methods of making the same and medical uses".

Mars is also objecting to Natraceutical's claimed intention to participate in the IFT trade show in Chicago at the end of July, claiming that the "exhibition and sale of CocoanOX at the IFT Trade Show exacerbates the imminent irreparable harm that threatens Mars".

A spokesperson for Natraceutical was not available to comment on the filing of the lawsuit prior to publication deadline.

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