Reflections on innovation and sugar reduction in chocolate

19 October, 2017

We were delighted to present at the recent London Chocolate Forum, where the main topic of conversation was sugar reduction. This annual event is organised by the publishers and editors of Kennedy’s Confection magazine and brings together the international chocolate trade and manufacturing industry to look at trends, challenges and new technologies facing the industry. Leatherhead Food Research’s VP Commercial, Mark Butcher, shares his reflections on the event.

The day started with Kate Halliwell, Nutrition & Health Manager at the Food & Drink Federation discussing how the chocolate industry faces one of the biggest challenges in its history with Public Health England’s (PHE) new sugar reduction programme. As many of you will be acutely aware, PHE is striving to reduce the amount of sugar consumed by 5% within a year, and across the nine categories identified by 20% by 2020, measured as a sales weighted average across a company’s product portfolio. In March this year, PHE published technical guidelines setting out the approaches that the food industry can take to reduce the amount of sugar children consume, setting recommended sugar limits for nine food groups that contribute the most to sugar intakes, including breakfast cereals, yoghurts, biscuits, cakes and confectionery. Whilst the results of the first year of the programme (up to August 2017) won’t be published until March 2018, the FDF feels that the 5% target is unlikely to be met, despite their being potential to name and shame companies that don’t meet the target.

Driving healthier products

A similar approach for reducing saturated fat in food is likely to follow. There are suggestions that the sugar tax is already perceived as effective by the government and similar legislative measures for other ingredients would not be surprising. The government recognises that the food industry is not solely to blame for the obesity/health issues facing the country, but nonetheless expectations placed on the sector are that it will drive through healthier products to the market irrespective of consumer demand. Of course these actions come in parallel with other measures including education programmes and potential restrictions on promotional activity – watch closely the progress in Scotland on its national obesity strategy where restrictions on promotional offers on confectionery/nutrient profile model are being considered.

Blueprinting for sugar reduction

Leatherhead’s own Kathy Groves, Head of Microscopy, went on to discuss the approaches available to reduce sugar in foods, as well as explaining how using the scientific approach Leatherhead calls Blueprinting can help in reformulating chocolate. Using some fascinating microscopy images of full and reduced sugar chocolate, Kathy demonstrated the complexities of sugar replacement and explained how Blueprinting can help the industry achieve PHE’s targets, whilst producing a product that consumers love.


An arrangement of broken milk chocolate blocks, shot overhead on a rustic worn wooden background, using natural daylight.


Innovating for millennials

Probably the biggest news in chocolate this year, perhaps with the exclusion of Nestlé’s sugar reduction measures on its power brands Kit Kat and Milkybar (and its yet-to-be-announced enabling technology), was Barry Callebaut’s Ruby chocolate: a pink (ruby) variant created through specific processing of the Ruby cocoa bean, which is targeted at the millennials market. Described as being ‘a sensual tango of berry fruitiness and luscious smoothness’, Barry Callebaut is presenting Ruby as the fourth type of chocolate next to dark, milk and white chocolate.

For me, one of the most interesting aspects of Barry Callebaut’s talk was the manner in which the company has defined millennials, something that many of our members have been dealing with. Bas Smit, Head of Global Marketing, described millennials as creatures of the extreme – “They don’t want a smoothie drink, they want a bowl of smoothie”, seeking intense and diverse pleasures, leading a ‘nomadic lifestyle’ free from the 9 to 5 routine. They hold shared beliefs and, above all, value authenticity.

I found this this was interesting for two reasons. Firstly, the description seems to be completely opposed to PHE’s concept of sugar reduction across a portfolio (because millennial consumers would seek an intense and authentic chocolate (high sugar, ultimate indulgence) when wanting the chocolate experience, and conversely something from an entirely different category when looking for healthy options. This of course will not help companies seeking to demonstrate sugar reduction through a sales-weighted average.

Secondly, it emphasises that the usual NPD churn that makes up so much of product ‘innovation’ across all categories won’t satisfy the millennial consumer. And perhaps the evidence of this can be (partly) seen in the rise of smaller businesses and start-up success stories – new ideas disrupting the old guard.

Time will tell whether Ruby chocolate will stand the test of time, but if Barry Callebaut’s definition of millennials is right, the need for genuine and disruptive product innovation is key to satisfy the millennial market. And given millennials’ rapidly changing preferences, it will need to be delivered quickly and repeatedly if you want to see this translate into sales growth.


Haven't found what you were looking for?


Keep apprised of the latest developments and news in the food and beverage industry.

View the full news listing here.

Industry events

Leatherhead will be attending various Industry events throughout the year.

View the full range here.