That is the stance of Charlene Zhu, Olam Cocoa’s head of ingredient development and innovation for Asia.
Traditionally, global cocoa consumption was driven by Europe and North America.
However, according to Innova Market Insights, Asia (19%) beat North America (12%) for chocolate confectionery launches in 2019. Europe was still top at 51%.
Zhu told FoodNavigator-Asia: “We expect to see Asia continue to grow as a driver of global demand in the coming years.”
According to Zhu, Asian consumers are increasingly looking for value added benefits in their confectionery and chocolate, such as mood or energy boosting snacks.
It is also seeing an uptick in demand for free-from and less sugar and fat options, but manufacturers must ensure taste is upkept.
“This is one area where cocoa ingredients can really help by adding flavour and masking some of the off notes of artificial sweeteners,” she said.
Another trend in Asia’s cocoa market is the strong demand for single origin cocoa ingredients including cocoa powder, especially in Japan.
Zhu explained: “Consumers view single origin as higher quality and are prepared to pay more for it. As a result, we are seeing manufacturers looking to use single origin powders in their products.”
As in many other categories, demand for vegan and plant-based products is also growing, although Zhu noted growth in Asia was growing slower than in the US and Europe.
“The trend is driven by more metropolitan cities or countries like Singapore, Japan, Shanghai and Jakarta, with a higher proportion of expats.”
One area where Asia is leading the way, however, is with consumer acceptance of adventurous new flavours.
She observed that sweet combined with savoury was becoming a mainstream trend across the region. Citing some examples: “We have seen with the rise of wasabi-based based deserts in Japan and even more unusual flavours, such as chilli crab, on offer in Singapore’s ice cream shops.”
In South Korea and Japan, Olam Cocoa is experimenting with the application of cocoa powder or cocoa liquor, into local curry powders.
According to Zhu, its cocoa powders are alkalised which help create and enhance intense flavours.
“We also expect to see continued growth of local taste combinations like matcha, miso, yuzu, and lychee to give Asian consumers the sweet but intense flavours they are looking for.”
In Asia, established markets like Japan lead the way in chocolate confectionery sales followed by China.
Other major consumer markets include India, and the Philippines.
While the COVID-19 outbreak has disrupted supply chains worldwide, Zhu said Asia’s chocolate market was holding stable.
In fact, Olam Cocoa reported an increase in demand from consumers looking for small comforts using cocoa ingredients, like confectionery and baked goods.
“We are working closely with our customers to help maintain supplies of those products and proposing alternative solutions where required, while following the World Health Organisation guidance to ensure the safety of our employees, customers and suppliers,” Zhu stated.