Miracle Chocolate from Swiss Maker?

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Switzerland's Barry Callebaut, the world's largest chocolate producer, has devised a new product that doesn't melt and has 90% fewer calories

Serious mountain climbers know the problem all too well: Packing chocolate in your rucksack only ends in frustration when you reach the summit. If you're walking in freezing cold temperatures, the chocolate bar becomes a rock-hard block that's impossible to bite into without breaking your teeth. But, then again, if the sun is beating down, it won't take long before the chocolate melts into a gooey mess. In the worst-case scenario, you reach the mountain top, finally at your destination, and it's completely liquified.

And even if the temperature is just right, there's still the problem of weight gain. As most of us have finally realized, chocolate is not one of the staple foods of the skinny minnie.

But one Zurich-based chocolate manufacturer thinks it has a solution that could make these problems a thing of the past. Barry Callebaut (BARN.MU), whose annual output of over 1.1 million tons of cocoa and chocolate products makes it the world's largest producer of chocolate, has developed a type of chocolate with completely new properties. According to the company's head developer, Hans Vriens, the chocolate has up to 90 percent fewer calories than regular chocolate.

What's more, high temperatures can't touch it—unless, by chance, they soar higher than 55 degrees Celsius (131 degrees Fahrenheit). Depending on its composition, traditional chocolate starts to melt at around 30 degrees Celsius. And that's the inspiration behind the tentative name its developers have given the new product: "Vulcano."

The bar's creators want to use it to tackle a growing problem: In Western Europe and North America, chocolate consumption has leveled off and, in some cases, begun to decline. In the past year, consumers in the eight largest western European countries consumed 2 percent less chocolate. In the US, consumption decreased by 8 percent. Under these circumstances, manufacturers are forced to rely on emerging markets for future profits.

The calorie-reduced "Vulcano" will be made available in both bar and cookie form. In this stagnant market, Callebaut hopes that it will raise widespread interest, especially in diet-obsessed America. Thanks to its ability to withstand high temperatures, "Vulcano" has a realistic chance of making a dent in the market in warmer parts of the world, as well. As things currently stand, marketing a heat-sensitive product in such regions without setting up expensive "cold chains," as temperature-controlled supply chains are known, is almost impossible. A chocolate product that could withstand high temperatures would solve this problem. According to Vriens, the company wants to start by targeting India, China and southern Europe.

"The idea sounds intriguing" says Daniel Bürki, a financial analyst at the Zurich Cantonal Bank. But he's still not fully convinced about the chocolate's chances of success. "Past experience has shown that melt-proof chocolate cannot compete with traditional products when it comes to taste," he adds. In his opinion, the special product is more important for the draw it has on investors. "They love these kinds of stories," Bürki says.

But if Barry Callebaut really has solved the problem of flavor, he adds, "Vulcano" could become a huge success. "In the warm emerging markets, particularly China, there is a growing middle class, which can afford to buy chocolate—and wants to," Bürki says.


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