Expo West

Free-from and alt-sugars rule chocolate offerings at Expo West

By Kristine Sherred contact

- Last updated on GMT

Free2b's sunflower chocolate cups were one of many allergen-friendly chocolates showcased at Expo West in Anaheim, March 6-9, 2019. Pic: K. Sherred
Free2b's sunflower chocolate cups were one of many allergen-friendly chocolates showcased at Expo West in Anaheim, March 6-9, 2019. Pic: K. Sherred

Related tags: free-from, Gluten-free products, allergens, Chocolate, Stevia, Sugar, Expo west, New product

Confectionery and chocolate might not seem an ideal fit for a natural foods show, but longstanding artisan chocolate brands found their place at Expo West alongside new companies looking to make their mark on the industry.

Many of these chocolate makers focused on allergen-free ingredients and alternative sweeteners. Here are a few reaching consumers looking for less sugar, gluten-free or artisan indulgences.

Allergen-safe chocolate

Free2b, a 10-year-old confectionery company based in Boulder, Colorado, highlighted its version of a chocolate candy cup – one filled instead with sunflower butter instead of peanut butter. The company also sampled its new line of chocolate bark called Snack Breaks in three flavors: Chocolate Crunch, Cranberry Pumpkin Seed and Peppermint.

To emulate milk chocolate without dairy, Free2b blends rice syrup powder, sugar and unsweetened chocolate with cocoa butter.

The chocolatier produces all of its candy in a dedicated facility that does not allow any of the ‘top 12’ allergens, including peanuts, tree nuts, sesame, coconut, dairy and soy.

Schär gluten-free Twin Bar / Pic: K. Sherred

Classic candies re-imagined to be gluten-free

Schär, an Italian gluten-free baker and confectioner, highlighted a slew of goodies but were particularly excited about the US launch of two new candies. The Twin Bar chocolate-covered wafers resemble KitKats, while the Chocolate Stix (chocolate-dipped shortbread cookies) taste eerily similar to Twix bars.

The representative at the Schär noted that the company does not use those references.

Both items are produced with potato and tapioca starch, allowing them to be gluten and wheat-free. They are also preservative-free and non-GMO.

Lily's stevia-sweetened chocolate baking chips / Pic: K. Sherred

Less sugar or Stevia instead

In the raucous basement hall of the Anaheim Convention Center, where new brands hang out with more established disruptors who carry on a lively presence, Lily’s Chocolate was one of many brands touting lower sugar.

Lily’s blends unsweetened chocolate and cocoa butter with stevia extract, erythritol, vanilla and organic soy lecithin to produce a variety of milk and dark chocolate bars and baking chips.

The Boulder-based company was showing off new packaging at the show, which features a brighter, cleaner design that allows the ‘no sugar added’ messaging to pop.

More than organic

Another Canadian company, Pascha Chocolate showed off its mostly Peruvian chocolate bars and chips.

The company unveiled a vegan white chocolate bar (previously available only in chips) and a 100% cacao bar at the show.

Pascha makes only organic, vegan, non-GMO and Kosher-certified chocolate that is free from the top eight food allergens, including soy, nuts and dairy. It also omits refined sugar, emulsifiers and artificial sweeteners.

Cocoa Bee three-ingredient honey chocolate / Pic: K. Sherred

Naturally sweetened in Canada

Donini Chocolate started in Italy more than 80 years ago, eventually moving to Ontario, Canada. The family-owned business launched a new line at Expo West called Cocoa Bee – chocolate sweetened only with True Source honey.

Cocoa Bee is another ‘free-from’ brand, calling out its lack of refined white sugar, cane sugar, preservatives, artificial sweeteners, additives, color, trans fats and soy.

A portion of sales of the three-ingredient chocolates supports the Honey Bee Research Centre at the University of Guelph in Ontario.

Chocxo sustainability wheel and new carrot cake chocolates / Pic: K. Sherred

Carrots in chocolate?

Chocxo did not travel far to reach Expo West, as the chocolatier recently moved into a large facility in Irvine, California.

In addition to sampling its crispy chocolates, Chocxo offered up a first taste of a chocolate sprinkled with carrots – yes, carrots!

Using sustainably sourced, organic chocolate from the Dominican Republic and Peru, the company also discusses ‘responsible portions’ as part of its brand.

Related topics: Chocolate, Retail & Shopper Insights

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