Belgian firm gears-up for first ever UK stevia chocolate launch

By Ben Bouckley

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags High quality chocolate Stevia Sugar substitute Uk

Belgian firm gears-up for first ever UK stevia chocolate launch
Belgian chocolate firm Cavalier has confirmed that it is planning to launch the UK's first chocolate range containing stevia from January next year, while other launches across the EU will also follow initial listings in Belgium from November.

The anticipated launch dates presuppose final regulatory approval for steviol glycosides within the EU Parliament - after European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) returned a positive food additive safety assessment last April.

Sales and marketing director Edward King told that "everyone's best guess is that everything will be on the books, in order and ready to go by the end of October" ​in terms of final approval.

As regards the company's launch programme: "As of November we're planning to launch in Belgium, then basically spreading all over Europe and the world."​ Cavalier will launch a UK range via distributor House of Sarunds.

Asked about reportedly lacklustre sales of stevia-based chocolate in Switzerland, produced by Villars, King predicted that Cavalier's products would be a success, and that Villars had not developed a product of sufficient quality.

First to market

King said: "The company in Switzerland did develop so-called 'stevia chocolate', but really it's not anywhere near the quality and the formulas we have developed. They wanted to be first in the market to claim they had developed stevia chocolate.

"But if you look at the packaging there is still 30% maltitol​ [a sugar alcohol] in there - so there is still a laxative effect. Also, they didn't manage to avoid the aftertaste of stevia. I tasted it several times and tried to appreciate it but I couldn't. It tastes pretty bad.

"But we have over spent two years developing formulas for dark, milk and light chocolate at the same taste and quality level as existing high quality chocolate in Europe."

King said Cavalier had just completed an independent taste test with a professional panel, which benchmarked the company's product against both lower and higher quality chocolates.

"We were found to be equal with Lindt 72%, which is a pretty good standard in the market, that's a very high quality chocolate from Lindt. With a lot of time, effort and money we managed to develop stevia chocolate to be appreciated and savoured by the average consumer," ​he said.

King added: "We've developed a healthy chocolate. In this respect stevia chocolate is really revolutionary. Before 30% of most chocolate was just sugar and in the developed world and Middle East people's sugar intake is far too high. So we can help solve the obesity crisis in the West and Middle East."

Datamonitor published a report in April 2010 entitled, The Future of Sweeteners: Consumer Insight and Product Opportunities​, which identified dairy, bakery, beverages and confectionery as promising sectors within which stevia could be used.

Stevia costs

However, the research firm said that taste and price hurdles needed to be addressed before stevia saw mainstream success. As of last June, prices for steviol glycoside Rebaudioside A were prohibitively high for many food manufacturers, at around $300/kg.

King said he envisaged stevia costs falling "in time" ​as investments were made by stevia producers in extraction, processing and refining.

Challenged as to whether consumers were educated enough about the benefits of stevia - its zero calorie, tooth-friendly status, benefits for diabetics - and whether a cross-section of those who eat standard chocolate cared enough about its high sugar content to pay a premium, he said:

"Most of the consumers who buy stevia are either well-informed and look for stevia or lead a lifestyle conducive to healthy eating. Most of that category is what I would say is 'white collar' people.

King added: "Then there are people just looking for a lot of food at the cheapest price. There we won't be able to do anything, because we'll never be able to compete with Cadbury or the Mars' of the world. That's just impossible.

"In the more informed consumer market we will be most definitely able to not only sell a lot, but also sell at a little bit of a premium price. Not too high, but people are prepared to pay a premium for added value, the healthy aspect of the product. We've seen that already in the Far East and America."

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