No meltdown in Swiss chocolate making

Purists oppose the EU's relaxing of rules governing the content of chocolate.

European Union chocolate makers will soon be allowed to use vegetable fats instead of cocoa butter in chocolate, thanks to new rules from Brussels.

This content was published on July 30, 2003 - 19:57

But most Swiss chocolate makers are resisting change to their time-honoured recipes, saying their reputation is at stake.

Purists – including Swiss producers – use cocoa mass, cocoa butter, sugar, as well as milk in the case of milk chocolate, to make the sweet stuff.

But from August 3, EU norm 2000/36/EG will allow up to five per cent of vegetable fats to be used in chocolate. A similar regulation has been in force in Switzerland since 1995.

The new regulation will hit cocoa-exporting countries hardest, with the price of cocoa beans likely to drop considerably.

But it is unlikely to have an impact in Switzerland.

“Our products contain only cocoa butter and no vegetable fats. We won’t change that,” says Ulrich Schoch of Lindt & Sprüngli’s development department.

“Vegetable fats are out of the question,” says Harry Rentsch, spokesman for Chocolat Frey, a unit of the Swiss supermarket chain, Migros, which has a 37 per cent market share in chocolate.

Customer tastes

No company with a reputation to protect easily changes its recipe, says Franz Schmid, director of Chocosuisse, the association of Swiss chocolate producers.

Barry Callebaut, one of the world’s largest chocolate producers, only uses vegetable fats in industrial production, or at the request of its customers.

The world’s largest food producer, Nestlé, has welcomed the new EU regulation. But the Vevey-based giant says it sees no need to change its recipes “as long as the tastes of the customers are met”.

However, spokesman Marcel Rubin says there might be some changes made to chocolate bars sold in Britain, Ireland and Denmark, where vegetable fats have been allowed for some time.

Chocolate war

Negotiations for EU-wide chocolate regulations began in 1996.

Lengthy discussions and disputes between member states, dubbed the “chocolate war”, even made the headlines in France and Belgium, traditionally the only two countries to make chocolate using only cocoa-derivatives.

But many countries have welcomed the new regulations which could bring down the cost of making chocolate dramatically.

The EU-approved replacement fats, such as palm oil, shea, mango kernels and coconut oil, cost only around a tenth of the price of cocoa.

Volatile prices

But in Switzerland, the cost issue is not a viable argument.

Barry Callebaut says cocoa only amounts to around ten to fifteen per cent of the total production costs.

Meanwhile, Lindt & Sprüngli says the costs of replacement fats are likely to fluctuate.

“Their prices are subject to market variations and they are likely to be more volatile compared to those of cocoa butter,” says Schoch.

swissinfo, Philippe Kropf (translation: Daniela Silberstein)

In brief

The new EU rule allows chocolate makers to use up to 5% vegetable fats instead of cocoa butter in chocolate.

Most Swiss producers say they will not change their way of making chocolate, even for exports to the EU.

The EU regulation will lead to a 20% drop in revenue for cocoa-exporting nations such as Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria and Cameron, says the International Cocoa Organisation.

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