ZURICH • A breakthrough by a Swiss chocolate maker has expanded the industry's hues beyond just dark, milk and white.
Barry Callebaut, the world's largest cocoa processor, has come up with the first new colour for chocolate since Nestle started making bars of white chocolate more than 80 years ago.
While it has a pinkish hue and a fruity flavour, the Zurich-based company prefers to refer to it as "ruby chocolate".
The new product may help boost sales in a struggling global chocolate market that producers hope has touched bottom.
As Hershey's cuts 15 per cent of its staff and Nestle tries to sell its United States chocolate business, ruby chocolate raises the possibility that next Valentine's Day may arrive with store shelves full of natural pink chocolate hearts.
The innovation, based on a special type of cocoa bean, comes after about a decade of development, according to chief executive officer Antoine de Saint-Affrique.
The chocolate, unveiled in Shanghai on Tuesday, has a natural berry flavour that is sour yet sweet, according to the Zurich-based company, which works behind the scenes to produce chocolate sold by all the major producers, including Hershey's and Cadbury.
"It's natural, it's colourful, it's hedonistic, there's an indulgence aspect to it, but it keeps the authenticity of chocolate," Mr de Saint-Affrique said in a telephone interview. "It has a nice balance that speaks a lot to millennials."
The new product may also appeal to Chinese consumers, a nascent market for chocolate, he said. The company has tested the product in Britain, the US, China and Japan through independent consumer research carried out by Haystack and Ipsos.
"We had very good response in the key countries where we tested, but we've also had very good response in China, which for chocolate is quite unusual," he said, adding that the colour is attractive in that market.
Innovations in chocolate often take years because of the complex structures and the challenge of maintaining texture and taste.
Nestle scientists have found a way to reduce the amount of sugar in chocolate by as much as 40 per cent, though it will not be available in confectionery products until next year. Barry Callebaut also sells chocolate that withstands higher temperatures, a goal chocolate companies had sought to achieve for decades.
The company's research department came across the possibility of ruby chocolate by chance about 13 years ago as it studied cocoa beans. Germany's Jacobs University in Bremen cooperated in the development.
The beans used to make ruby chocolate come from Ivory Coast, Ecuador and Brazil and the unusual colour comes from the powder extracted during processing, Mr de Saint-Affrique said.
No berries or colours are added.
While other companies including Cargill already produce red cocoa powder, this is the first time natural reddish chocolate is produced.
"You could try and copy the colour and try to copy the flavour, but making a real chocolate, which is just made out of your normal chocolate ingredients, with that taste and with that colour would be extraordinarily difficult," Mr de Saint-Affrique said.