My visit to the Cadbury chocolate factory

A prototype of the Cadbury Easter bunny produced by a 3D printer. -- ST PHOTO: CASSANDRA CHEW
A prototype of the Cadbury Easter bunny produced by a 3D printer. -- ST PHOTO: CASSANDRA CHEW
Minature chocolate bars are being produced at the Mondelez International chocolate factory. -- PHOTO: MONDELEZ INTERNATIONAL
A staff at Mondelez International chocolate factory is in the process of tempering chocolate. -- PHOTO: Mondelez International

I HAD expected the usual dress requirements that go along with factory visits: hair net, goggles, ear plugs, lab coat and even safety boots.

It did not seem unusual when our hosts asked us to remove all jewellery, including watches, because "small metal parts can be a safety hazard".

But when I was told I could not bring in my own pen for the same reason, and had to use a factory-issued all-plastic ballpoint pen instead, I realised I was not visiting an ordinary factory.

It was, after all, the Cadbury chocolate factory. ("We obviously take the quality of our products very seriously!" a spokesman chimed.)

What wonder awaited us beyond the factory doors could be discovered only after we scrubbed our hands clean with soap and water.

The manufacturing plant, located in Ringwood, Victoria, was whirring with activity as I was shepherded around in a group of about 20 journalists and food traders by four staff members. The tour on March 5 was organised as part of the International Food and Beverage Trade Week in Melbourne, a 30-minute drive away.

The fragrant aroma of cocoa filled our nostrils as we entered the chocolate room, where milk, dark and white chocolate were being prepared.

In the next room, familiar favourites such as Cherry Ripe, Picnic and Time Out bars were being churned out at a rhythmic pace that was almost hypnotic.

Alas, these were not chocolates that would reach the shores of Singapore, because they were being produced only for Australia and New Zealand.

"These chocolates are made with cocoa butter, which cannot withstand the heat in places like Singapore and Malaysia," explained an employee named Peter.

Confectionery manufactured for tropical climates use a different type of fat - palm oil - so that the chocolate will not melt as easily in the perennial summer.

On the far right of the factory floor, large egg-shaped delights were rolling onto a conveyor belt to be foil wrapped in time for Easter on April 20.

They were one of Cadbury's latest products: Marvellous Creations Easter Eggs - marvellous because it has jelly beans, popping candy and raspberry chips mixed into the chocolate.

But equally marvellous is the research & development (R&D) journey that food conglomerate Mondelez International, which owns the Cadbury brand, undertook to take these Easter eggs from conception to reality.

It began at the design lab, where industrial designers created prototypes and moulds of the eggs to test if it was practical and possible to produce the eggs on the existing production line.

Marvellous Creations eggs differ in size and weight from regular Cadbury Easter eggs, and producing them "could be a challenge", a Mondelez spokesman told me.

Only after the eggs were tested on the production line did the R&D team move on to developing recipes for the eggs.

The in-house prototyping helped the team save three months of development time, allowing Mondelez to launch the new confection in time for Easter.

Another product of the design lab is the re-design of Cadbury's much-loved chocolate frog, Freddo, which I ate too many of as a child.

Created in 1930, 84-year-old Freddo underwent a makeover last year. He now appears more fun and energetic, and is illustrated in 3D - giving him a more "modern" look.

Freddo's new look was also created by using prototypes and moulds that the factory could test in-house, helping them to shave eight weeks' worth of design and testing time.

But design is just one part of the R&D process.

Beside the design lab is the Virtual Store, so named because it can simulate environments on a projector screen such as the layout of a generic supermarket, complete with stocked shelves, displays and check-out counters.

The Virtual Store allows the R&D team to find out how people respond to different combinations of product packaging, product placement and promotional displays.

This way, the company can understand shopper behaviour without going through the trouble of setting things up in a physical store.

The design lab and Virtual Store are part of Mondelez's Ringwood Food Innovation Centre, which opened its doors in February last year. It is the largest facility of its kind in Australia and one of the largest in the Asia Pacific region.

Their mission at Mondelez, which also produces Oreo cookies, Ritz crackers and Halls candy, is to create "delicious moments of joy in everything we do".

The truth is, millions of dollars have gone into the high-tech engineering of each moment.

Executives at Mondelez might be pleased to know that I have since enjoyed many delicious moments indulging in my stash of Cadbury chocolates bought at the factory store that day.

But their efforts has paid dividends in one other way: whenever I pick up my all-plastic pen, I will always remember the people at Cadbury and their obsession with quality.

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