CN: What are the repercussions from the COVID19 pandemic and how is the chocolate industry reacting?
WS: The emergence of COVID-19 meant 2020 was a year of nostalgia, as the pandemic saw anxious consumers opting for comforting and familiar favourites rather than trying out adventurous, new flavour combinations. This had an impact on NPD and we’ve seen many of our customers choosing to expand their successful product lines and flavours into more formats, rather than taking risks on new or more adventurous product lines.
Whilst uncertainty around the pandemic continues, we expect nostalgia will remain a focus for both consumers and confectionery manufacturers. Already, we are seeing some customers are trialling new hybrid products made with nostalgic and comfort-food flavours, like cereal and pastry flavoured chocolate bars, and ice cream flavoured candy. For now, powders like Olam’s deZaan D11S, which adds intense flavour and rich colour to a broad range of applications, are perfect for creating the classic chocolate flavours consumers are looking for.
Whereas cocoa was once seen as a way to add flavour or colour, going forward, more manufacturers will focus on celebrating cocoa as an ingredient in its own right
As Covid vaccines are rolled out and consumer confidence builds, we expect to see more adventurous and experimental flavours, especially with health-boosting benefits, move back into the mainstream. We suspect spices and botanicals such as turmeric, ginger, angelica root and even garlic will come into play. This trend is already apparent in Asia, where we are seeing consumers opting for chocolate bars made with matcha and miso, due to their mood or energy-boosting benefits, or wasabi-based desserts.
CN: Is healthy confectionery well placed with less sugar, less calories, smaller size packs?
WS: Today’s health-conscious consumers really want to understand what is in the foods they consume, so developing products with shortened ingredients lists without artificial flavours or colourings is key for success in 2021. A big focus for Olam has been developing cocoa powders that allow our customers to respond to this challenge, which led to the creation of deZaan TrueDark, the first ever natural, non-alkalised dark cocoa powder. Its key benefit is that it can be listed simply as ‘cocoa’ on product labels, rather than ‘cocoa powder processed with alkali’. It also adds a rich flavour and a sense of indulgence to products, without the need for excess sugar and additives.
The notion of ‘clean-label’ is also expanding from a simple, recognisable ingredients list to encompass the product as a whole. Consumers are being more selective, and scrutinising each individual ingredient for health benefits, quality, sustainability and the story it has to tell. This puts greater focus on the origin of a product, its sourcing and its environmental and social credentials, which is why we developed our deZaan D11MG single origin cocoa powder, created purely from Ghanaian cocoa beans.
We’re also already seeing increased interest from customers in the health benefits of cocoa, which is packed with fibre, minerals and antioxidants. Whereas cocoa was once seen as a way to add flavour or colour, going forward more manufacturers will focus on celebrating cocoa as an ingredient in its own right.
CN: What food trends in general are you seeing?
WS: Far from putting the brakes on the shift to plant-based, Covid-19 has accelerated the trend. Our research in the UK found an increase in consumers seeking out plant-based food during lockdown as they became more health-conscious. We expect this growth to continue in 2021 – particularly in Asia, where we’ve seen an explosion in plant-based snacks this year. We’ve been working on solutions for our customers to help meet this growing trend, including a tool that helps categorise alternative milks by their flavour attributes in order to find the perfect cocoa powder to match them. Plant-based desserts is also an area of growth we are exploring.
The challenge with creating dairy-free ice cream is ensuring that consumers are not missing out on the creamy indulgent texture of an ice cream made with dairy. Cocoa ingredients can play a vital role here. Olam’s innovation team have been working closely with certain customers to replicate some of the taste and texture consumers enjoy, using cocoa powders to add flavour and cocoa butters to add creaminess to plant-based ice creams.
CN: Finally, any projections for 2021?
WS: Authenticity and transparency are set to continue to be a big theme this year. Consumers no longer just care about which ingredients are on the label, they also want to understand the provenance and impact of those that have made the list. The consumers of 2021 will demand even greater transparency and be drawn to those ingredients with strong origin stories and sustainability credentials. That means an even greater emphasis on single origin ingredients, as well as cocoa ingredients with strong traceability credentials.
Olam recently achieved 100% traceability in our directly sourced cocoa supply chain, giving customers unprecedented transparency in where their cocoa ingredients come from through traceability right back to the farm or community. On our AtSource platform, they can view data on everything from the sustainability programmes implemented in that community, to the water and carbon footprint of the crop.