The device was named Darko Chocolate after one of the company's engineers. Demonstrating the handheld device at the PACE Americas packaging and supply chain event in Chicago this month, Exothermix said the packs could open up usage occasions for chocolate such as a topping for ice cream or fruit.
To activate the device, users pull the front tab, wait the specified amount of time and then squeeze out the melted chocolate.
While the self-heated chocolate product is in prototype phase, two other large volume non-food consumer goods applications are contracted for production this year. Exothermix Labs hopes the handheld heating technology will quickly catch on in the confectionery industry.
'Everybody loves melted chocolate on stuff'
"Everybody loves to have melted chocolate on stuff,” CEO Adam Laubach told ConfectioneryNews.
Formerly known as RBC (Rechargeable Battery Corporation) Technologies, the company has its roots in battery technology dating back to the early ‘90s. Working with technology licensed from The Ford Motor Company, RBC made rechargeable alkaline batteries for electric vehicles.
“We all know the end to that story, most of the technology went over to China,” said Laubach.
The company entered the food technology space in 2006 by answering a request for proposals from the US military for a safer way to heat food for troops. At the time, the potentially volatile chemical makeup of its self-heating rations could not be used safely in contained areas such as a tank or plane.
Air-activated ration heater
“The military uses 40 million of these per year, so were highly incentivized to try to figure out a better way to do it. So we developed something called the air-activated ration heater, which was much safer,” Laubach said.
Laubach joined the company in 2010 and brought with him experience of working and developing zinc air batteries, where the battery uses oxygen from the air to serve as the cathode, or positive electrode that accepts energy to generate a charge.
“We found that when you discharge a zinc air cell, it generates a whole lot of heat in battery applications,” Laubach said.
“The thought was, what if we design a battery to give off heat instead of electricity? If you can do a direct a chemical reaction to generate the heat, then you’re talking about direct energy conversion to heat and it’s very efficient.”
Focus on packaged goods
Exothermix was able to harness that technology for use in orthopaedic and sports armor applications and, following the development of insole and splint products, started to focus attention on packaged goods.
“When you’re looking at start-ups, they usually one starts with something that is small and doable, and that is a little bit more specialty (with higher margins) and then you go into larger markets,” Laubach said. “And we did that.”
The company is producing the self-heating packs at its headquarters in College Station, Texas, on a custom packaging machine that can produce up to 50 million units a year.
Worked with a local chocolatier
Self-heating chocolate gives consumers a fast and convenient way to melt chocolate, said Laubach, adding that the company had worked with a local chocolatier to develop a formula specifically for using on top of fruit.
“I could easily see this technology enabling a company to get into the fresh produce aisle, when they’re normally in the candy section,” Laubach said. “It’s a natural product to go along with, enhance and even improve different foods.”