Quest for purity brought allergen-free positioning as a side benefit, chocolate maker says

By Hank Schultz

- Last updated on GMT

Pascha Chocolate sources its raw material in Peru.
Pascha Chocolate sources its raw material in Peru.

Related tags Allergy

The rising tide of food intolerances and allergic reactions bodes well for Pascha Chocolate, a brand that is founded on an allergen-free positioning. But co-founder Courtenay Vuchnich said the real message is purity, with allergen-free coming along for the ride.

“The real idea is purity, which drives us to be allergen-free,”​ Vuchnich, who serves as marketing chief for the company she founded in 2013 with her husband Simon Lester, told FoodNavigator-USA. 

Growth of food allergies

Nevertheless, she said the allergen-free positioning will become important over time. Vuchnich has experience in analyzing trends in the marketplace having spent a number of years with the Cott Corporation, mostly recently as vice president/Europe. She also founded her own marketing consultancy in Toronto.  What she sees in the marketplace is good for companies like hers an ominous for the population as a whole.

“If you look at what’s happening in the population, about 15 million Americans have food allergies, acording to CDC. One in 13 children under the age of 18 has an allergy, and that would be boosted higher if you included food intolerances.  It feels like two or three children per classroom to me,” she said.

“And I think that growth in the prevelance of food allergies hasn’t been as linear as one might have expected.  It started slow and has really taken off in the past two years,” ​Vuchnich said.

Personal experience

Like many food companies, Pascha Chocolate has a personal story.  The couple, who live in Toronto, have a daughter who suffered a severe allergic reaction several years ago and another daughter with food intolerances, and Lester said he has tested positive for an allergic response to milk and some nuts.  So the company started on the path toward a milk-free, nut-free, gluten-free product line.  But Vuchnich said they weren’t just trying to subtract things; they wanted to build  a pure product from the ground up.

“People want an ultrapure, ultranatural product. We wanted to create a product that is the essence of chocolate rather than just trying to take things out,”​ she said.

Vuchnich said the couple searched high and low for a manufacturing facility that could achieve what they were looking for.  The search was surprisingly difficult, and the founders ended up close to where they started near where their chocolate beans are grown in Peru.

“We looked everywhere for a place to make this. We looked in the US, the UK and Europe and we ended up in Latin America. The manufacturing facility is like an operating theater in terms of purity and cleanliness. We didn’t want to transport the beans a long distance because we wanted to protect against cross contamination,”​ Vuchnich said.

Feedback from allergy community

The company offers a line of chocolate bars in varying cocoa concentrations: 55% to 85% cacao and in eight different flavors including such additions as goldenberries, cocoa nibs or Arabica coffee.  While the company is focused on bars at the moment, the company has launched a line of chocolate chips based on feedback it has received from the close-knit food allergy community, Vuchnich said.

“We are very excited about the category. The word of mouth support of allegy families has been fantastic,” ​she said.

“We are focused on chocolate; we are not expanding into crackers or cookies.  But we have launched chocolate chips because so many families were e-mailing us to say they were smashing up our bars to make chocolate chip cookies.  When you have a food allergy in the house it is very much a home cooking situation. You have to control the eating environment so they end up being great bakers,”​ Vuchnich said.

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