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Crafting cocoa-free chocolate for a sustainable future: An interview with Planet A Foods

On what it’s like to lead in eco-friendly chocolate innovation
By Neil Hodgson-Coyle
February 22, 2024

In the heart of Germany's thriving foodtech scene, Planet A Foods emerges as a pioneering force, revolutionizing the way we think about sustainable food production. Leveraging precision fermentation techniques, this innovative startup is on a mission to reshape the future of chocolate consumption. With a focus on fermented and plant-based ingredients, Planet A Foods has cracked the code for cocoa-free alternatives that not only mimic the taste and texture of traditional chocolate but also deliver a resounding blow to CO2 emissions.

In an era where environmental sustainability is a pressing concern, Planet A Foods' breakthrough represents a beacon of hope for the food industry. By significantly reducing the carbon footprint typically associated with cocoa production, they are paving the way for a more eco-friendly approach to indulgence.

Join us as we delve into the eco-friendly revolution with the siblings and Co-Founders, Dr. Sara Marquart (CTO) and Dr. Maximilan Marquart (CEO) of Planet A Foods, as they unveil their groundbreaking cocoa-free chocolate innovation, showcasing how precision fermentation techniques are spearheading a sustainable future for the food industry.

Neil Hogdson-Coyle: Precision fermentation techniques are at the heart of Planet A Foods’ innovation. Could you explain how these techniques are utilized to produce sustainable food ingredients, and what advantages they offer over traditional agricultural methods in terms of environmental impact and resource efficiency?

Dr. Maximilan Marquart: We produce ChoViva for our launched products using an innovative patented process reminiscent of traditional chocolate making. Oats and sunflower seeds are treated similarly to cocoa beans, undergoing fermentation and gentle roasting. These kernels are then finely ground to create a highly aromatic concentrate, similar to cocoa mass. We blend this concentrate with ingredients like sugar and dairy or non-dairy powders and conch them together - just like traditional chocolate making. The outcome is a creamy, tender, and velvety mass that mirrors chocolate in both taste and manufacturing properties. Delicious as chocolate - sustainable as never.

Additionally we are developing our ChoViva butter, a cocoa butter replacement. In this development, we rely on precision fermentation, using single-cell oils and fermenting side streams. By using these techniques, we can use local raw materials and thus replace raw materials that cause high CO2 emissions and sometimes take place under inhumane conditions.

Neil Hodgson-Coyle: ChoViva represents a breakthrough in creating cocoa-free chocolate alternatives. How does Planet A Foods ensure that ChoViva maintains the same taste and texture as traditional cocoa- based chocolate, and what consumer feedback or testing processes have informed the development of this product?

Dr. Sara Marquart: The aroma and taste we love from chocolate stems from the processing of the cocoa beans, not as much from the beans itself. By using similar processes like fermentation and roasting, but using oat and sunflower seeds instead of cocoa beans, we achieve a similar sensory profile. Consumers told us in a study that they like products with ChoViva. They evaluated the taste of products with ChoViva over benchmark.

Neil Hodgson-Coyle: Beyond reducing CO2 emissions, what other environmental benefits does ChoViva offer compared to conventional chocolate production, such as water usage reduction, land conservation, or biodiversity preservation?

Dr. Sara Marquart: Other environmental benefits include sustainably cultivation to save resources, thereby using less water. We also avoid deforestation and therefore the devastating loss of biodiversity. Finally, we have short supply chains - we cut emissions by taking the shortest way to our customers. We open a second additional supply chain to the existing one of cocoa.

Neil Hodgson-Coyle: ChocoViva Butter serves as a cocoa butter replacement. Can you discuss the formulation process behind ChocoViva Butter and how it compares in terms of taste, texture, and nutritional profile to traditional cocoa butter products?

Dr. Maximilan Marquart: ChoViva Butter is identical in composition to conventional cocoa butter. It has the same triacylglyceride composition, entailing first and foremost a solid and shiny appearance at room temperature, and a snappy texture. Once eaten, chocolate products with ChoViva butter have the same smooth, cooling, long-lasting melting behaviour that people love from conventional cocoa butter.

Neil Hodgson-Coyle: Innovation often sparks curiosity and interest in the market. How does Planet A Foods plan to educate consumers about the benefits and versatility of ChoViva and ChocoViva Butter, and what strategies are in place to expand market reach and adoption of these sustainable alternatives beyond Germany?

Dr. Maximilan Marquart: As a B2B company, our next focused markets will be the European expansion, and then the US. We are currently establishing powerful partnerships to enter those markets in quick time leveraging existing infrastructure and distribution channels.

At the same time we are growing our ingredient brand ChoViva. We have implemented the brand seal ChoViva, communicating taste and sustainability. It is integrated on every product packaging that contains ChoViva. As ChoViva is also highly relevant among younger target groups, we also built up our own social media communities in order to involve them in the active promotion of ChoViva products and tell our narrative. In the future, we will also communicate jointly with our customers on those social media channels.

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