Grape expectations: Cémoi brings wine science to cocoa in $2.3m research project

By Oliver Nieburg

- Last updated on GMT

Cémoi eyes premium chocolate lift by exploring wine industry fermentation techniques. Photo: iStock /patronestaff
Cémoi eyes premium chocolate lift by exploring wine industry fermentation techniques. Photo: iStock /patronestaff

Related tags Scientific method Chocolate Cémoi

Cémoi has begun a five-year, €2m ($2.3m) research program called Frenchoc Premium to obtain consistent chocolate quality via cocoa fermentation, using science applied in the wine industry.

The Perpignan-based firm has partnered with fellow Southern France companies CIRAD, an agricultural research firm, and yeast and bacteria producer Lallemand under the project.

Financial backing comes from European funds granted by the Languedoc-Roussillon Midi-Pyrénées Region and national funds through the Fonds Unique Interministériel (FUI).

Cémoi hopes the project will help its own premium brands cater to tastes in China and the US, while upping the quality of its offerings to customers in private label and cocoa ingredients.

Aromatic molecules in cocoa

The chocolate firm has been working with CIRAD for some time, but this will be its first collaboration with Lallemand.

“They do something that is very interesting in the wine industry and there are parallels in cocoa where we could need that expertise,”​ Maud Clarissou, Cémoi communications manager for cocoa and chocolate, told ConfectioneryNews.

“In cocoa there are things that have not been done yet to identify all the aromatic molecules [from different cocoa varieties]. This has been done in wine, but not in cocoa,” ​she said.

Cémoi in numbers

  • Tab Extra Dark Chocolate
    10​ of 14​ factories based in France
  • €800m​ ($910m) revenues in 2015
  • 46%​ of 2015 revenues in export markets
  • 260,000​ metric tons of chocolate produced in 2015
  • 3,2000​ employees
  • Key brands: Cémoi, Jacquot, Frankonia

How will the money be spent?

The Frenchoc Premium project will conduct scientific studies to explore the interactions of molecules in different cocoa varieties.

The parties will build a fermentation machine – the first of its kind – to conduct the research.

“It will be a machine – not box fermentation – that will produce in an industrial way,”​ said Clarissou.

The machine will be based at Cémoi’s Perpignan site and will be used primarily for scientific research. “For the moment, it’s not planned to try that tool in producing countries,” ​said Cémoi’s communications manager.

Cémoi has cocoa drying and fermentation centers in Côte D’Ivoire, Ecuador and Sao Tome, but has yet to take a scientific approach to its box fermentation technique.

cemoi center
Frenchoc Premium project could benefit Cémoi's cocoa drying and fermentation centers in Côte D'Ivoire, São Tome and Ecuador. Photo: Cémoi.

Cémoi hopes the research program will benefit its activities in Côte D’Ivoire, where it sources 80% of its cocoa.

Part of the project funds will also help create 12 new jobs across the three participating companies.

Target markets

Cémoi hopes consistent chocolate quality will help it grow in international markets.

“We mainly focus on North America and Asian markets,”​ said Clarissou, highlighting the US, Canada, China and Singapore.

“It’s the more mature markets who appreciate dark chocolate. The objective is to enter these markets through dark chocolate.”

Cémoi already has some distribution in these markets but hope to increase its volumes of premium chocolate sold for export between 2018 and 2023.

Clarissou added that scope exists to grow dark chocolate sales within Europe. In France, dark chocolate accounts for 30% of chocolate consumption, while it is closer to 5% in the EU, she said, leaving room for growth.

Côte D’Ivoire and fine flavor

Cocoa pod - beans wet - ValentynVolkov
Photo: iStock/ValentynVolkov

Cémoi says it is working with French trade body Le Syndicat du Chocolat to help the top cocoa-producing nation Côte D’Ivoire win fine flavor status for part of its exports. “It’s not recognized yet as fine quality but we think it should be,”​ says Cémoi’s Maud Clarissou. There are 17 countries​ that have fine flavor designation under Annex C of the International Cocoa Agreement 2010​ , including Ecuador, Madagascar and Indonesia. Other countries such as Vietnam, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama and Nicaragua are set to be added soon. Côte D’Ivoire will not be among the latest entrants, but Cémoi expects the country will submit an application to the International Cocoa organization within two years.

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