With the significant growth in the demand for chocolate, some leading public organizations and consulting firms are predicting a global cocoa shortage. Some sources have predicted a shortfall within two years (FoodBev.com) while others not until 2020 (Foodmanufacture.co.uk).
Where chocolate was only used in food as a confection, it is now being utilized in cosmetics and dietary supplements for its potential health benefits. A number of recent scientific studies have demonstrated that dark chocolate contains potent antioxidants called polyphenols that may be beneficial for heart health, cognitive function and skin health. Although a number of companies and organizations are working to meet the cocoa shortfall, such limiting factors such as available land, labor and limited yields pose real issues.
There is also the sustainability aspect ensuring that production growth happens responsibly. "We're witnessing a global phenomena where demand is increasing across the board. North America and Europe are consuming more chocolate as well as developing countries. Plus the number of applications is increasing, too," said Marc Philouze, President of DianaPlantSciences. "Manufacturers need to evaluate new technologies, particularly those focused on high-value output and not affecting the food chocolate supply."
One technology focused on producing high-value polyphenol content from cocoa is plant cell culture technology. Plant cell culture technology is the growth and reproduction of plants or plant cells in a controlled environment. Starting with one plant or a group of plant cells, the process utilizes non-GMO methods where the whole plant cell remains intact throughout the entire process and cells are carefully selected to exhibit the desired concentration and distribution of targeted actives naturally inherent to the plant. For cocoa this means producing cocoa cells featuring a high level of polyphenols.
DianaPlantSciences is now commercializing its first ingredient – Cocovanol Cocoa Actives – based on plant cell culture technology. "Cocovanol can meet the high-value niche for manufacturers looking for a high concentration of polyphenols. Because it's produced through plant cell culture technology, Cocovanol doesn't impact the existing supply of cocoa for traditional food use," said Philouze. "The process is just like growing individual plants in a greenhouse or field only we're growing individual cells in bioreactors. It just takes less space and fewer resources."
When an ingredient such as Cocovanol is realized through plant cell culture technology, the targeted plant cells are cultivated in a bioreactor. Unlike traditional agriculture, the technology utilizes a minimal footprint and is not dependent on land availability or environmental variability. It also conserves resources such as water. DianaPlantSciences estimates that it takes 50 to 100 times less water to produce 1 kg of cocoa when compared to traditional agricultural methods. Cocovanol Cocoa Actives feature a high polyphenol and flavanol content while being substantially free of caffeine and theobromine.