Marketers and packaging designers at the ready! If you’re currently making anything resembling a "luxury Belgian chocolate cake", then be prepared for the latest European labelling edict, which could give birth to a whole new cake category: the "luxury Belgian-chocolate-cake-manufactured-using-cacao-blended-from-multiple-origins-including-Ghana-Indonsesia-Togo-basically-wherever-we-can-get" it.
The wheels were set in motion to change the way country origins are labelled following a European Parliament (EP) Environment Committee vote on 19 April, which would make life hellish for cake manufacturers specifying Swiss or Belgian chocolate on labels.
The impact of the vote in favour of applying Country of Origin Labelling (COOL) to the ingredients of specified origin chocolate such as Swiss and Belgian means they would also have to declare the source of the cacao bean. The issue’s slow transit through European bureaucracy means we will have to wait until a final decision is made by the European Council in the autumn.
If it goes ahead, the Food & Drink Federation (FDF) says the proposal is unworkable and admits that, while lobbying continues in the hope of urging the European Council to consider labelling of products on a case-by-case basis, the signs are "ominous".
"All chocolate products, including coatings for biscuits and chocolate chips in biscuits, if labelled as being of specific origin, will need to comply with the COOL provisions," says Martin Turton, manager of the Biscuit, Cake, Chocolate & Confectionery sector group at the FDF. "This proposal breaks customary practice of many years whereby the term Belgian or Swiss as applied to chocolate is understood to refer to the place of production. Applying COOL to ingredients of chocolate is unworkable as they are sourced globally."
Simon Harris, of Belgian chocolate supplier Barry Callebaut, says the proposals would be a "nightmare" because its main brands use a blend of beans from more than one country of origin. "That will make a very interesting problem because most [of the chocolate used in bakery products] is blended. Just about every other chocolate manufacturer blends as well, otherwise it would be called a ’pure origin’ chocolate and labelled as such."
So could this signal a move away from denoting ’Belgian’ towards the bean’s country of origins? "’Belgian chocolate’ has an affirmation of quality that rightly or wrongly exists," he explains. "Pure origins are a selling point because you are experiencing a flavour that is typical of the country. On the other hand, there is a very good argument for blends on the basis that you are refining the taste to a preferred flavour as opposed to taking what you can get."
A more immediate problem is the price of cacao, which rose from $2,874.93 per tonne in September 2010 to $3,134.37 last month although this is down from a high of $3,472.27 in February.
Bakers are increasingly looking for efficient cost-in-use of ingredients. "For example, our range of deZaan brand cocoa powders have rich cocoa flavours and deep colours so that customers can obtain an optimal taste and colour profile for their products while using less powder," says Simon Godden of ADM. "Another way we can help customers save money is with Cocoa Butter Equivalents (CBEs), which are used to reduce the ingredient costs of chocolate formulations."
Cost-cutting solutions have come from some unlikely sources. Malt supplier Muntons recently developed a malt-based product that can be used as a partial substitute for cocoa in cakes, muffins and brownies. "There is a train of thought that suggests that these recipe changes may well be adopted for the foreseeable future," says the firm’s Andy Janes. "The incorporation of Maltichoc, for example in brownies, has been found to have unexpected benefits such as improvements in mouth-feel and increased humectancy that is believed to be helping shelf life."
Meanwhile, hard-pressed consumers are looking for small, inexpensive, indulgent treats, says Harris: "As such, the world of chocolate decorations has exploded, probably driven by things like cupcakes." Graham Dunton, of Unifine, which distributes Dobla chocolate decorations, concurs that the quality and range of decorations those with a handmade look has improved dramatically.