Chris Esterly, Mid-Atlantic/ Northeastern regional manager at Netzsch, said he saw a rise smaller chocolate companies moving away from third-party sourced chocolate to either bean-to-bar processing or moving only slightly further back to mill cocoa nibs to cocoa liquor. But why is it happening?
Developing your own flavour
“You’ve got the freedom that you don’t have to follow what the manufacturers are supplying on the wholesale market. You can make your own blend to make your own chocolate,” said the Netzsch manager.
He said that manufacturers could select different origin beans and blend them to create a signature flavor. Companies can also play with different temperatures and conch times for further flavor development and mouthfeel.
He added that brands could move away from the pricing variations of chocolate suppliers, which tend to pass on rising cocoa costs to customers. Esterly said that brands dealing in small volumes could find it more cost effective to process from cocoa nibs themselves as these price fluctuations could really harm them.
“There’s a section of the industry that’s going more artisan, so they want to go bean-to-bar and mess around with their own roasting techniques for flavour development. Those people are still in the minority, but it’s growing.”
Savings over bean-to-bar
But he warned that going bean-to-bar meant a big investment as manufacturers needed roasting and winnowing equipment Smaller scale bean-to-bar manufacturers can expect to pay between $300,000-$700,000, and more, to have roasting, refining, conching and tempering equipment, he said.
“It also takes skilled operators to manufacture it and a lot of operators – it’s not just one guy making it.”
“If you’re not going as far as roasting there are big savings. We can produce finished chocolate from liquor or the nibs for just $150,000. You need the tempering equipment, but maybe that’s only $20,000 for a reasonably sized temperer,” said Esterly
Netzsch has developed a machine called ChocoEasy that combines mixing, conching and a Bead Mill Refiner. Under the process, a certain amount of cocoa nibs are added to the machine along with cocoa butter or liquor and other ingredients, like sugar and milk powder. The conching takes place before refining and is supported by dry and hot air injection, directly into the chocolate mass.
“The biggest thing I see for a small company is ease of use. You don’t need any skilled operators to use this thing. It’s a very small footprint, you only need one person to use it and the maintenance is extremely low.”