The vegan and plant-based food and beverage industry within the APAC region is growing at a rapid rate, especially sectors such as plant-based dairy and plant-based meats - but the plant-based chocolates sector in particular has yet to take off in as big a way as these.
In this edition of our FNA InnovATE series, experts from within the industry share their exclusive insights on the key requirements for the sector to achieve its own boom in the region, as well as potential challenges that still need to be overcome.
According to Indian vegan chocolates firm CARRA’s CEO Komal Khosla, it is imperative for vegan chocolate firms to get their taste, texture, flavours and resulting chocolate-eating experience for consumers all correct, in order to gain widespread consumer acceptance.
“Especially in a country like India where milk chocolate has been something of a staple item for us since birth, [consumers are] very, very habitualised to products that are very milky and very sweet – so if the taste and texture and overall experience is not as good as or better than that of dairy chocolate, it will be hard to convert them,” she told FoodNavigator-Asia.
“We know from experience that Indian consumers are most comfortable with 55% chocolate – we’ve tried to increase this to 60% and even 70%, but 55% has remained the most popular – and also have infused more localised Indian flavours into our products to increase acceptance for our vegan chocolates.
“This includes things like the betel leaf, cardamom, lychee and so on – especially Indian spices which not only add heightened nutritional qualities to the chocolates, but also blend in very well with chocolate [and] can give consumers that sense of familiarity.”
Over in Australia, vegan chocolate specialist firm Treat Dreams also believes that great taste is essential, especially in a category catering to indulgence and decadence like chocolate.
“We believe in decadent chocolates made using real couverture chocolate (meaning extra cocoa butter and no vegetable oil) for shine, snap and the silky smooth melt in the mouth sensational taste,” the firm's website states.
“Couverture chocolate is very high-quality chocolate with a high percentage of cocoa butter [as opposed to] compound chocolate which replaces some, if not all, of the cocoa butter with vegetable oils, tending to leave an oily slick in the mouth.”
Both Carra and Treat Dreams use only couverture chocolate to ensure high quality.
Watch the video above to find out more.
Potential labelling woes
Although miles apart, the vegan chocolate sectors in both countries face a similar looming obstacle – that of local regulators pushing for plant-based labelling regulations to be put into place.
Although this issue would have a larger impact on sectors using ‘traditional’ meat and dairy terms such as ‘sausage’ or ‘milk’, the fear is real that any regulations that are implemented could extend to the whole plant-based vegan products industry – including chocolates.
“Because plant-based and vegan chocolates are as yet a very small category in India at the moment, it has not gotten as much of limelight [in the labelling issue] by the food regulator Food Safety and Standards Authority India (FSSAI) yet,” said Khosla.
“Like for milk of course there has already been a lot of fanfare here, but chocolate has not been mentioned in relation with any of these issues – but we do know that as the sector grows bigger, even a little big bigger, we do foresee that there will be upcoming issues that will crop up in relation to this.”