Consumer tastes may differ, but indulgence and excitement are always at the heart of confectionery favorites – preferably with a healthier, more natural profile.
Although chocolate means different things to different people there are, according to recent surveys*, some points that chocolate lovers tend to agree on. Three of them stand out. First of all, chocolate is moving out of the snack category and becoming more of a premium luxury. Secondly, exciting creative tastes and texture are a must – perhaps with the addition of a few nuts and a healthier, more natural profile. And finally, trans fats are a no-go – with almost a third of consumers checking the ingredient labels before they buy.
Another indication is that consumers have moved beyond the solid chocolate bar that was popular a decade or two ago. Today, filled chocolate and confectionery products are preferred. While this gives manufacturers a fantastic playground for developing new sensory experiences, it also raises a set of technical challenges that must be solved before a new product can become a true consumer favorite.
Very often, the solution to such challenges lies in the filling fats.
An everyday affordable luxury
In an AAK survey of European and US consumers conducted earlier this year, more than 65% of the respondents described chocolate as a permissible indulgence. Some see it as their daily affordable luxury. In other words, they have high expectations of the chocolate they buy – and their expectations must be met each time.
So, when manufacturers produce chocolate and confectionery with fillings, they aim to excite consumers with soft, hard or aerated textures; flavors with controlled release; and a creamy or cooling sensation in the mouth. All of these characteristics depend on the choice of filling fats, their interaction with the other ingredients in the recipes and the processes used.
In other words, production of a perfect filling requires a thorough understanding of all the parameters that influence the taste and quality of the final filled chocolate. This is the key to a world of opportunities – where fat plays an essential role along with the other ingredients used.
Overcoming the technical challenges
When nuts are added to the recipe, for example, it can be a real challenge to maintain quality throughout the product’s shelf life. Consumers love nuts for their premium, healthy image, delicious taste and crunchy texture. But nut oil is well-known for its tendency to migrate from the filling and into the chocolate coating. Unless a special bloom-retarding fat is used in nutty fillings, bloom will often appear in no time.
Another parameter to consider is texture. Should it be hard, soft or aerated and should crunch be added? The filling fat is the key to create the perfect texture. With softer fillings, the challenge is to maintain quality throughout the product’s shelf life. This is simply due to the faster migration of the filling’s oil content to the surface of the chocolate shell. When that happens, the filling becomes dry and the chocolate surface will turn grey, dull and less appealing – a phenomenon known as bloom.
Co-development of indulgence and health
AAK supports chocolate and confectionery manufacturers with all these considerations and technical challenges through the co-development of exciting new fillings.
Using AAK filling fats based on non-hydrogenated, non-trans fats, manufacturers gain a clear advantage that is visible on the ingredient label. That’s important – and not just to the 30% of consumers who often check ingredient labels before they buy. Numerous studies have shown that trans fats are a potential health risk that may contribute to elevated cholesterol levels and heart diseases.
The right AAK filling fat can also solve the challenges of using nuts, ensuring the perfect indulgent combination of taste, texture and appearance along with the healthier profile that consumers enjoy.
Several parameters need to be considered when producing fillings for the special chocolate moments that consumers seek (figure 1). Filled chocolates are not just chocolate anymore. To consumers, they are about enjoying life, special moments and indulgence.
Figure 1: Sensory and appearance of filled chocolate
AAK filling fats match the demand for fats with a healthier and indulgent profile and facilitate the inclusion of naturally nutritious nuts – among other ingredients. As such, they solve a number of the challenges that chocolate and confectionery manufacturers face. But not all. Because one person’s affordable luxury is different from the next, there will always be a need for tailored solutions. For a speciality fats partner like AAK, it’s all about working with manufacturers to co-develop those special chocolate moments.
By Marco Oomen, AAK’s Global Business Director for Chocolate & Confectionery Fats
*Euromonitor 2017, AAK consumer survey 2018