Barry Callebaut today opened its first innovation center in the US to focus on the development of new chocolate products meeting the preferences of American consumers.
The innovation center is located at Barry Callebaut's manufacturing facility in Pennsauken in New Jersey, chosen for its close proximity to customers on the East Coast.
Adapting flavors and products depending on demographics and taking account of emerging trends is of continuing importance to innovation for global companies.
According to Mintel, popular chocolate launches in the US include peanut butter and raspberry-flavored products.
The health and wellness trend has also given rise to products such as pomegranate dark chocolate and chocolate-covered berries.
"The new Barry Callebaut innovation center… will enable us to offer customized products and services at competitive prices, thereby creating sustained value for our customers," said Rich Benson, director or research and development for Barry Callebaut North America.
"Whether we're working to develop a new innovation inclusion or enhancing the taste and texture of an existing chocolate product, we'll be working closely with out customers in the United States to develop the products and applications that will meet their needs as well as the needs of today's consumers."
Research at the center will also focus on developing new flavor formulations and enhanced nutritional and functional profiles for its chocolate products, and some of the company's research and development initiatives currently being carried out at its European facilities will be moved to the Pennsauken center.
The new center includes a special pilot plant - which is like a scaled-down chocolate factory that imitates the production processes that take place on actual production lines.
Additionally, there is a laboratory for product testing and application work involving depositing, molding, panning and enrobing operations.
Barry Callebaut sales volume in the Americas increased by 4.8 percent in the financial year 2006/7 to reach 242,696 tonnes, while sales revenue went up by 4.2 per cent.
It signed a strategic partnership with the Hershey Company last July, making Barry Callebaut the top industrial chocolate supplier in North America.
The arrangement consisted of a long-term supply agreement and the acquisition of production equipment.
As part of its American expansion, Barry Callebaut is constructing a new factory in Mexico and is planning to buy a cocoa-processing factory near Philadelphia.
Barry Callebaut has one other innovation center in North America, located in St Hyacinthe in Quebec.
According to data gathered by the cocoa company, a quarter of Western consumers are interested in chocolate with physical or emotional benefits.
The survey found that functional chocolate is most popular in the US, where 14 percent of consumers say they eat it at least once a month.
Barry Callebaut has been looking to profit from this trend for some time now, and has produced a range of functional products for the confectionery market.
These include Acticoa, a cocoa powder that contains a high level of the antioxidant polyphenols, pro-biotic chocolate for gut health, and a tooth-friendly chocolate made with isomaltulose, a natural constituent of honey and sugar cane.
The company's claims over the popularity of such products appear to be backed up by market research, as Euromonitor reports that the functional market has grown by 15 percent on average per year over the last four years, however there has recently been some backlash from regulators and health advisors.