They call it the future of chocolate.
It’s edible, melts, crumbles, and even tastes like chocolate except it’s grown in a food lab without using a single cacao bean.
Although the production of non-cocoa chocolate is still in its early days with only a handful of companies producing it, claims to be more sustainable and ethical could one day shake up the chocolate industry. Given that 70% of the world’s cocoa comes from millions of smallholder farmers in Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire, what would mass production of non-cocoa chocolate mean for their livelihoods?
Non-cocoa chocolate startups and their ambitions
“We’re going to have an impact,” says Johnny Drain, co-founder of WNWN Food Labs, one of three recent startups actively producing and marketing non-cocoa chocolate.
Dren, who holds a PhD from Oxford University, sees the need to address the ‘vast inequality’ in the bitter world of chocolate as part of his marketing plan. The cocoa industry has been notorious for decades for its unsustainable practices, use of child labor and deforestation.
California Cultured, a startup company that uses cell culturing to make non-cocoa chocolate, is ready to “welcome a new era of sustainable and ethical chocolate.” and “You deserve a delicious chocolate bar without the guilt.”
Planet A Food, a new food science startup based in Germany, says on its website, “We dreamed of a chocolate that didn’t have to cut down any trees, waste any precious water. , no fragile ecosystems were damaged, and no children. Working.”
Groove Describes himself as ‘the Walter White of flavour, yeast and food design’, and sees himself as a trailblazer in the chocolate industry. Breaking Bad.
But if he and other startups manage to mass-produce cocoa-free chocolate in their labs, they might want to change their moniker to Willy Wonka.
“We’re already talking to consumers about what’s wrong with most of the world’s chocolate,” he says. Groove. “The more consumers know how products are made, the more they will vote with their wallets.”
Dren has already sold out of his company’s first batch of non-cocoa chocolate produced in May. They say another batch will be available in September.
Cocoa production in West Africa
The main reason for the agricultural expansion of cocoa in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire is that both countries are losing their rainforests faster than any other country in the world. A recent study By Rainforest Alliance. Côte d’Ivoire’s annual average loss is over 200,000 hectares. This is despite the fact that supply chain disruptions have hit the industry and global cocoa exports are down 4.2%. Over the next four years, according to a Recent market studies.
These young companies of entrepreneurial food scientists are appealing to a consumer base that is socially conscious and expanding into the younger generation. But not all chocolate industry gurus agree with his approach.
“People have such an emotional connection to chocolate that they don’t need cornflakes,” says Clay Gordon, author of Discover Chocolate: The Ultimate Guide to Buying, Tasting and Enjoying Fine Chocolate, and a noted observer and consultant to the cocoa industry.
Yes, cocoa is responsible for deforestation, but Gordon says that “demonizing” cocoa production is not a reason to use modern food science and technology to make non-cocoa chocolate.
“Dangerous language doesn’t help anyone,” says Gordon. “Cocoa farmers are barely making a living.”
Cocoa is particularly vulnerable because it is mainly grown by small farmers. They say these farmers have no collective bargaining and fair trade is not working to force the big global companies to pay a fair price.
Gordon sees the market for lab-grown chocolate as similar to the growing market for alternative plant-based meat products. It is not competitive in the short term and therefore will not have an immediate impact on the cocoa industry on which many people in West Africa depend. However, in the event of an unprecedented global climate event or “potential disruptor,” the increased consumption of lab-grown chocolate and other food products could be impressive.
“Climate change is a reality,” says Gordon. “The economics of doing this only make sense if there is a shortage of conventionally grown cocoa.”
What does cocoa-free chocolate taste like?
Gordon has actually tried cocoa-free Bonbon chocolate. Germany-based startup Planet A Food And admits that if he didn’t know it was grown in a lab, he’d think it was real chocolate.
Maximilian Marquardt founded Planet A Food earlier this year with his sister Sarah, a food scientist. Max, who holds a doctorate in materials sciences, quickly grew the company beyond the research and development phase and is now scaling to production and partnering with foodservice organizations and restaurants to provide their own products. Providing the brand’s non-cocoa chocolate, NOCOA.
“We can produce between 15 and 20 kilos a day at this point,” says Marquardt. But they are soon increasing their capacity to 400 kg per hour, he says. Marquardt says private investors, not directly linked to the cocoa industry, are already there.
“What we want to do is create a second pillar with cocoa for different applications,” says Marquardt. “Why can’t they use lab-grown chocolate?” he says, citing M&Ms as an example. Cocoa-based products should be reserved for high-value applications.”
“Cacao plants are a very special thing,” says Marquardt. “I don’t think the demand for cocoa will ever affect us.”
Marquardt is considering building a laboratory in Accra, Ghana to use the bulk waste from cassava plants to provide feedstock for NOCOA’s fermentation process.
“The risks of climate change are enormous,” says Marquardt. “This is something we all need to address together.”
Christian says the cocoa industry is worth about $125 to $135 billion a year. Investing millions to process non-cocoa chocolate may become a necessity in the future in which the two markets may be able to coexist, but there will be a setback.
“It’s going to take some time for the chocolate industry to die out, but they’re certainly going to continue and many in the industry will encourage them,” says Christian.