Use Flavor to Replace Cocoa as Prices Rise

Cocoa is at historically high prices, soaring to more than $12,200 per ton in April 2024 from $3,900 per ton at the start of the year, according to Trading Economics.

Bean costs began to rise in summer 2023 because of heavy rainfall and devastating flooding in key growing regions in West Africa, followed by the swollen shoot virus disease transmitted by mealybugs that feed on cocoa plants, according to World Wide Chocolate.

Inflation and chocolate being a non-essential item means price hikes will likely not be well received by consumers and chocolate sales could take a larger hit.

“In the US, snacks in general have been slumping a little bit over the past two months, likely because they are discretionary in nature,” said Ken Goldman, Lead Equity Research Analyst for U.S. Food Producers and Food Retailers at J.P. Morgan. “Within the category itself, we have seen some shifting away from chocolate to other products, whether that’s cookies or salty snacks. We think chocolate’s losing a bit of share, so consumers are certainly reacting to higher prices.”

As a result, brands are considering alternative options to offset some of the rising costs while still meeting consumers’ expectations for high-quality taste and indulgence. These include compound chocolate and coatings or using flavor to extend or replace cocoa.

J.P. Morgan Research projects cocoa prices to remain elevated and to track around $6,000 per ton.

How Can a Flavor Supplier Help?

Manufacturers are partnering with flavor suppliers to develop taste solutions that will help reduce the amount of cocoa derivatives needed in their formulations. There is not a one-size-fits-all solution because of the many different types of cocoa powders, for example, and the percentage used in each base provides different flavor characteristics.

Flavor is not a one-to-one swap for cocoa products because it impacts more than just the flavor of a product. Texture, mouthfeel, fat, bulk and color changes should also be considered as the percentage of cocoa is reduced.

Working with an experienced flavor company like Synergy’s R&D team, we can help identify which notes are lost and build back with flavor, extracts or modulators. Synergy is currently working on taste solutions for projects to reduce cocoa powder up to 30% using our cocoa extenders.

How to Get Started

Contact Synergy to speak with our cocoa replacement experts in sweet goods, confection, dairy and nutritional products.  Our team will request a sample of your base to learn the flavor profile, consult with your team on the percentage of cocoa you would like replaced and collaborate on the finished product.