By Leo Palmer
The trend for single origin cocoa ingredients is going strong as consumers continue to satisfy their sweet tooth but look more closely at how and where cocoa is sourced. Industry figures suggest there has been a 25% increase in chocolate launches with a single origin claim since 2015, presenting a huge opportunity for cocoa suppliers and chocolate manufacturers.
Single origin cocoa ingredients, derived from cocoa beans from a single source, are not a new concept, but have recently enjoyed a huge boost in popularity. The trend has been strongest in cocoa liquors – no surprise given these are the critical component in the manufacture of chocolate – but it is now expanding to other ingredients too, like cocoa powders as its many varieties and applications become better understood.
There are lots of reasons behind this, from growing consumer demand for premium products and new flavor profiles to the drive for greater traceability in the cocoa supply chain. Certainly, single origin cocoa ingredients can deliver many benefits to chocolate and confectionery manufacturers looking to keep up with these trends. Here we explore some of them.
Distinctive flavor profiles
Just like the grapes used to make wine, cocoa beans from specific regions have their own terroir. The taste of the cocoa beans is affected by the soil and landscape in which they are grown which gives them their own unique flavors. Often cocoa beans from different origins are blended in the manufacturing process to create the perfect color or flavor for a particular customer.
Blends are still very popular and form the majority of the cocoa ingredient market. However, more customers are starting to see single origin ingredients as desirable because they concentrate those flavors and create distinctive new tastes.
When mixing cocoa beans from different origins, the terroir is obviously lost; with a single origin, you reveal the unique character of the cocoa.
We are responding to this demand at our state-of-the-art processing facility in Koog, in the Netherlands, where we create our own distinctive, single origin cocoa liquors. From a beautifully aromatic Ecuadorian single origin cocoa liquor, to a bold, smooth tasting liquor exclusively from Ghana, to a complex and rich whole bean roasted liquor from Côte d’Ivoire. Each is unique in its own way.
The next step in the single origin cocoa ingredients journey is to seek out new cocoa territories and fresh terroirs in established growing regions, all in the pursuit of cocoa beans with flavors customers may not have experienced before. We can expect to see more sourcing from remote areas or regions with smaller-scale production, like Uganda and Madagascar, for their particular taste profiles.
Premium cocoa products
Single origin ingredients play into the desire for more premium products. While single origin cocoa does not automatically equate to better cocoa – quality has as much to do with methods of production and processing as it does with terroir – it often equates to higher quality in the mind of consumers. Many see single origin cocoa ingredients as more luxurious.
They are voting with their wallets. Research suggests nearly one-third of UK confectionery buyers would pay more for chocolate with high quality ingredients like single-origin cocoa, when buying for themselves, and nearly a quarter would do so when buying chocolate as a gift. It explains in part the rise in artisanal single origin products coming onto the market.
In Western Europe and North America, we’ve seen affluent and health conscious consumers consume less cocoa products but buy better quality when they do – but this isn’t only the case in the West. We are also seeing a big spike in demand for higher quality cocoa ingredients across Asian markets. In fact, the primary market for our D11MG Ghana single origin cocoa powder, from our premium cocoa brand, deZaan, is Japan. This is due to the fact that Japanese customers highly value the quality associated with purely Ghanaian cocoa beans and the smooth cocoa flavor it lends to dairy, bakery and dessert applications like chocolate milk and chocolate ice cream.
Fully traceable ingredients
The surge in single-origin products is not simply down to flavor or quality. A key driver is the demand for greater traceability in the supply chain. Consumers are becoming more interested in where their food comes from and how it is sourced. It is why we are seeing such interest in bean-to bar and an uptick in brand storytelling around origin and provenance.
While traceability is possible with blended ingredients, sourcing ingredients from a single origin allows companies like ours to further improve the traceability of our cocoa supply chain, right down to farming cooperative or sometimes even farmer level. This in turn allows manufacturers to reassure end consumers that their products have been produced in the right way.
For example, because our D11MG cocoa powder is crafted from 100% Ghana cocoa beans, it can be offered as a fully traceable ingredient. Shaped by the industry-leading goals in our sustainability ambition, Cocoa Compass, and reported on through our sustainable sourcing platform, At Source, we are able to leverage environmental and social data to create unprecedented levels of transparency for our customers at each stage of the supply chain journey.
The market for single origin cocoa powders is still relatively narrow compared to the market for single origin cocoa liquors, but we see this growing in the future for two reasons. Firstly, the way people think about cocoa powder in general is changing. Its uses are not only numerous and varied but the creative edge it can offer to recipes is limitless. When this is combined with the desire for ever greater levels of traceability beyond chocolate and into products that use cocoa as a core ingredient, we think that single origin cocoa powders will be on the up.
Looking to the future
Blended cocoa ingredients offer high quality and come with many benefits in terms of price, availability, flavor and color. But the growing interest in single origin products in undeniable. It has grown at pace and will continue to do so, spreading across different cocoa categories and ever more exotic production regions.
With the desire for distinctive flavors, premium ingredients and more visibility of the supply chain only set to intensify, single origin cocoa ingredients will, without doubt, have an important role in the future of the cocoa industry.
Leo Palmer is Head of Specialty Cocoa, Olam Cocoa