Cocoa is an important ingredient for the confectionery arm of Finnish food maker Fazer. The business produces more than 13m tablets of its flagship Karl Fazer Milk Chocolate or “Fazer Blue” alone each year.
The bakery-to-snacks group recognises that cocoa production faces some significant challenges as climate change threatens the traditional cocoa growing areas. The company’s ‘foremost priority’ is ensuring the sustainable management of cocoa sourcing through ‘profitable farming’ and ‘improving cocoa community wellbeing’.
Currently, all of Fazer’s cocoa comes from ‘sustainably managed sources’ in Ecuador and West Africa. “For Fazer, sustainable cocoa means securing profitable farming, improving cocoa community well-being, and respecting the planet and natural resources,” the company states
However, looking to the future, Fazer recognises that there is also a need to explore alternative sources for cocoa. For this reason, the company has partnered with researchers at VTT to investigate the use of cellular agriculture techniques to produce the ingredient here in Europe.
Biotech offers alternate road to sustainable cocoa supply
According to VTT Research Team Leader, Dr Heiko Rischer, this approach can increase resource efficiency and cut land use requirements. “Cellular agriculture means biotechnological production instead of farming, with minimal land and other natural resources required for the production,” Dr Heiko explained.
Today, cocoa tends to be grown in forest areas and its production is often associated with deforestation and forest degradation. Global forest loss linked to cocoa production has been estimated at between two to three million hectares for the period 1988-2008, equivalent to about 1% of total forest loss. While this figure is relatively small compared to some other crops, in the main producer countries, cocoa has been a significant driver of forest loss.
Cellular agriculture has the potential to uncouple cocoa production from the use of land. “The production takes place instead in bioreactors under controlled conditions,” Dr Heiko noted.
The first cocoa ingredients have successfully been produced using this method and Heli Anttila, VP of New Product Development at Fazer Confectionery, said the research is now being expanded. “Fazer has already, in partnership with VTT, received the first successful results of cell-cultured cocoa. Now we are continuing the research as part of the larger CERAFIM-consortium, which joins several Finnish companies and research institutions around the theme of cellular agriculture to fearlessly explore future solutions,” she detailed.
The innovation expert was quick to stress that the focus remains on developing new ways of producing cocoa that have no impact on taste and quality. “We are inspired to innovate new means for continuing to fulfil consumers’ expectations and wishes. Although we are exploring new means for raw material production, the taste experience of chocolate will remain unchanged,” Anttila noted.
A long road to market: 'This is a long-term project'
While Fazer might already be experimenting with the first cocoa ingredients produced using cellular agriculture, there is a long way to go before it becomes available to European consumers.
For one, regulatory approvals remain a barrier. “Cell-cultured cocoa is a novel food in EU, and it needs to be approved according to the EFSA process,” noted VTT’s Dr Heiko.
Annika Porr, Senior Manager at Fazer Confectionery’s Forward Lab, agrees that this innovative approach isn’t going to re-shape the confectionery market in the near-term. “It will take years before cell-cultured cocoa is launched on the market,” she suggested.
“This is a long-term project, aiming at the future. Managing traditional cocoa sustainably is Fazer’s first and foremost priority, but we want to explore and innovate for the future too. Cell-cultured cocoa is still far from our plates, but it offers us a novel approach to managing the challenges of sustainable cocoa sourcing in a fair and transparent value chain.”