Mars sees a promising future in cocoa flavanols

Hot on the heels of establishing a new Health & Well-Being business unit to capitalize on its ongoing research into the health benefits of cocoa, Mars has gone public with findings that could result in its chocolate extracts being used in a variety of functional foods and pharmaceuticals.

At a meeting in Switzerland in July, the Virginia-based company announced its success in synthesizing flavanols found in cocoa, dark chocolate, green tea and red wine.

?Every month we are making new and different compounds,? said Mars chief science officer Dr Harold Schmitz. ?In order for these to be developed, we need a big partner as it takes not tens of millions but hundreds of millions of dollars to bring a product to market.? Negotiations with pharmaceuticals firms were ongoing.

Flavanol-imbued food applications are likely to hit the market first. Mars has launched an 80-calorie chocolate cereal bar, CocoaVia, fortified with 100mg of flavanols and plant sterols. They are available in the US via its website, which recommends consumption of two bars per day. A CocoaVia beverage is available in the UK and Mars was keen to emphasize that the flavanol extracts it was developing could be employed beyond the chocolate sector.

Evidence suggests flavanols can boost brain and heart health, reduce the risk of stroke and diabetes, and combat vascular disease.

Bonnie Liebman, director of nutrition for the US-based Center for Science in the Public Interest, was unsure of Mars? findings. ?The evidence is not very consistent and still skimpy that flavanols can reduce the risk of heart disease,? she said. ?The chocolate industry wants to turn it into a health food, but it?s still candy,? she told The Washington Post.

Mars has spent 15 years researching the health benefits of cocoa.

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