Willy Wonka goes to Davos: secretive world chocolate summit to decide snack's future

 

Bob Geldof is on the guest list. Muhammad Yunus, the Nobel prize-winning economist, is making an appearance.

But the big-name delegates flying in to the exclusive Swiss Alpine town of Davos aren't trying to solve world poverty, or even save the eurozone. They have much more serious matters on their mind: chocolate.

This week the first ever "Chocovision" conference is being held in the mountain resort best known for providing a scenic backdrop to the annual get-together of presidents, chief executives and billionaires that is the World Economic Forum. And while security might not be as tight as during the WEF, Chocovision 2012's agenda is arguably more enticing.

Barry Callebaut, the Zurich-based chocolate manufacturing giant behind the conference, is reluctant to provide details about the issues up for discussion, and most of the prominent delegates contacted by The Independent last week declined to talk.

But invitations sent out to confectionery insiders give strong hints about the schedule – and the industry's plans to reinvent chocolate to appeal to increasingly novelty-hungry and health-conscious consumers.

Chocolate is big business, with the global market worth an estimated $83bn. It is also a crucial cash crop for many developing African nations, with the continent producing 80 per cent of the world's cocoa beans. According to figures from the World Cocoa Foundation, 50 million people depend on cocoa to make a living.

Amid sessions on sustainability, supply chains and "bean-to-bar value", the delegates from Kraft, Hershey and Mars will take part in seminars exploring how "flavour innovation" can influence the "emotions of consumers triggered by chocolate".

One scheduled lecture from an Italian medical professor will explore chocolate as a health food. In 2003 a study at the University of Cologne, Germany, showed that eating a small amount of dark chocolate every day could reduce high blood pressure.

Another study, completed the same year in Rome, demonstrated that dark chocolate contains high levels of natural antioxidants (called flavanols), which can help maintain a healthy body and mind.

Subsequent studies of cocoa flavanols suggested that they could have a positive effect on heart function, skin health and even libido. Then, earlier this year, scientists in Melbourne proved a link between eating dark chocolate and increased brain function.

Sustainable chocolate is on the rise too – hence Bob Geldof's involvement. Sales figures from the Fairtrade Foundation show that between 2009 and 2011 sales of Fairtrade Chocolate in the UK has increased nearly five times.

Calorie-cutting: Mars to slash size of its bars

Mars is to reduce the size of its chocolate bars to slash the number of calories contained in its sweet snacks. Mars, Snickers and Milky Way could see up to 10 per cent taken off. The move forms part of Mars' commitment to limit the number of calories to 250 per bar by the end of 2013. A 58g Mars bars currently has 260 calories, Snickers has 280 and Milky Way 270.

But despite having already reduced the saturated fat content of the bars by 15 per cent, the company admits that tinkering with recipes may not be enough to meet its target. Fiona Dawson, the company's managing director, told The Grocer magazine: "[There is] only so much reformulation you can do".

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