A number of consumer trends have taken place over the last number of years that have forced the confectionery industry to think outside the box – in particular, the raw food movement, writes Aoife Boothroyd.
The ever-increasing popularity of healthy ‘superfoods’ such as goji berries, chia seeds and coconut water has seen mainstream food processors experiment with new flavours and products in order to capture a piece of the superfood pie.
Together with the seemingly unstoppable rise of the superfood category, comes the move away from ingredients such as refined sugar, salt and saturated fat – the traditional cornerstones of the confectionery industry.
A recent report from IBISWorld furthered this sentiment, stating that changing consumer tastes and lifestyles have led to an increase in health awareness, making it "one of the most important factors driving consumption choices."
The shunning of ‘unhealthy’ ingredients has been the catalyst for an increased interest in healthier alternatives across the entire processed food spectrum, but how does one achieve greater nutritional credentials in a product category such as confectionery? The answer may land in a movement that is steadily gaining traction across the nation as it slowly taps into the mainstream market: raw confectionery.
Food magazine recently spoke with two Australian raw confectionery manufacturers; Pana Chocolate and Rawsome to see what all the hype is about.
Pana Barbounis, founder and director of Melbourne’s Pana Chocolate said that the past twelve months has seen the company grow exponentially both locally and overseas.
“At the moment we are experiencing huge growth. We have found ourselves in around 13 countries and have been able to manage the demand ourselves as best we can…” says Barbounis. “In February alone we are up as a company 367% on last year. We are at about 40 staff now too, going back a year ago, we had about 10 people.”
Barbounis says that the popularity of his raw chocolate is due to a number of reasons ranging from an increased interest in raw foods, to the company’s organic certification and allergen free credentials. He does admit however, that many consumers are not really quite sure what raw chocolate actually is.
“We exhibited the product in Dubai for example, and they didn’t really know what raw meant… they were more interested in the organic certification and the fact that it was gluten free. In Germany however – where there is a very high population of vegans and a huge raw food movement – the product was embraced immediately,” he says.
“…We are moving into an era where people are concerned about what they ingest. They are making sure they ingest the right foods, and demanding foods without a lot of numbers on them.”
Quality ingredients translate to quality products
In terms of making raw chocolate, Barbounis says that quality, unadulterated ingredients are key to his success.
“We use all raw organic ingredients, and when I talk about raw, we are talking about ingredients that have never been processed above 45 degrees so they retain all the antioxidants and so forth. We only use cold pressed oils, and do not roast the cacao beans, which means that the antioxidants and magnesium are retained in the cacao.
“Throughout our chocolate making process, we use thermometers to ensure that we work on a 42 degree basis to allow a few extra degrees if it goes higher – we always ensure that it never goes above that.”
No matter which sector of the food manufacturing space you choose to operate in, the potential for food safety issues are ever present. Barbounis sources many of his ingredients from their original source, (including the cacao which is sourced from developing regions in South America) but says that raw suppliers in general, have very high food safety standards.
“The cacao is picked and sundried, and can sometimes be allowed out on open floors, but when you are dealing with raw manufacturers, they know the standard that we expect. They have clean and sanitised processes…
“We have never found any issues in all of our tests… We don’t have HACCP but we send away for microbiological testing… We also have a number of certifications. We are organic, we are halal, we are kosher, fair trade… we have a lot of certifications that ensure best practice.”
A movement to take note of
Laila Gampfer, director of Perth based raw food manufacturer, Rawsome says that her company prides itself on using the finest ingredients available, including nuts, seeds, fruit, cacao, coconut oil, maca and mesquite, many of which are also organic and fair trade.
Rawsome uses these ingredients to create a wide variety of raw confectionery products including slices, brownies and bars. As well as being raw, Rawsome’s products are free of many allergens including gluten, grains, dairy, soy, refined sugar and eggs.
Gampfer is of a similar opinion to Barbounis, stating that the increased interest in raw food in Australia has been borne out of the public’s desire to eat more healthfully.
“The raw food culture in Australia is growing at a rapid pace. With medical professionals and nutritionists agreeing raw foods are good for us…it is no surprise people are being attracted to raw food in record numbers. Australia, along with a handful of other countries is setting a trend and the world is sitting up and taking notice.”
Gampfer who has been diagnosed with Coeliac’s Disease, said that she felt ‘disillusioned’ with the confectionery market’s gluten free offering, and decided to create the business to offer a tastier alternative to the norm.
“… I was driven to create my own treats using raw ingredients to maximise nutritional content. My focus was to create raw versions of conventional treats that were as decadent and impressive both visually and in taste, and suitable for those like me with food intolerances who would otherwise not be able to consume them,” she says.
As far as production is concerned, Gampfer says that basic raw confectionery can be made with common kitchen equipment, however more complicated recipes require more intensive processes including dehydration.
“More advanced [products] require specialist processing equipment. [We] prefer to use Thermomixes and Excalibur dehydrators to achieve the highest quality end product. Temperature and other conditions are controlled using specialised equipment to ensure the ingredients are maintained in their raw form.”
Gampfer says that the nature of vegan raw food production means that highly perishable animal-sourced ingredients are omitted from the recipes, lowering the overall risk of any food safety issues.
“Our treats are especially stable as they do not contain perishables such as egg and dairy, making the raw food production low risk. Also, using top quality ingredients that are sourced from reputable suppliers minimises risk. As with all food production, extreme care is taken in keeping with healthy food standards,” she says.
Whether the raw food movement is something that may or may not align with your brand, it is certainly a product category that is demanding attention. Gampfer says that as present, the raw chocolate category is currently being adequately catered to by smaller manufactures, however she wouldn’t be surprised is some of the bigger players jumped on board in the future.
“Despite the increase in consumer demand for products that address food intolerances and healthier living, raw chocolate is a niche market that is being satisfied by smaller manufacturers. [However] as the raw food culture grows, I wouldn’t be surprised if bigger food manufacturers such as Cadbury started experimenting with raw chocolate. The market will drive the direction of our raw food culture and bigger manufacturers will be taking notice.”