The health benefits of antioxidant-rich chocolate have received much recognition in recent years. Positive findings from a number of studies appear to be making an impact on consumers, as is suggested by increased sales of chocolate-containing dairy foods. 

“I see customers checking labels for content all of the time. Not only are calories and fat content important, but today’s shopper is very health conscience,” says Ed Southern, store manager, Kroger-Ivymont Square, Midlothian, Va. “Any benefit from choosing foods that contain antioxidants, coupled with the incentive of eating something that tastes good, is an easy consumer choice to make. Foods containing chocolate, particularly dark chocolate, have not only health benefits, but also attract those who are looking for gifting reasons, such as holidays and special occasions.”

Penny Baker, director of marketing, Smith Dairy Products Co., Orrville, Ohio, says: “Our chocolate milk has an excellent reputation, so we worked very hard to reduce the calories and sugar without compromising flavor and texture. The reformulation resulted in 150 calories and 22 grams of sugar per serving. That change took place in late 2007.  Since then volume has remained steady, with no down turn or negative consumer feedback immediately following the change.”

Southern says he sells a huge amount of chocolate milk and chocolate ice cream from a dairy located in the Roanoke Valley of Virginia. “It is Homestead Creamery, and they are a dairy that has embraced the health benefit trend, and offers products that are not only organic, but are geared toward the health-conscience consumer,” he says.

Deborah Holt, vice president of marketing, Ciao Bella Gelato Company, Irvington, N.J., adds: “Consumers are looking to reap the health benefits of cocoa and chocolate by turning to products they already enjoy, like ice cream. Some of our most popular flavors in the past year have been Chocolate Hazelnut Gelato and Valhrona Chocolate Gelato, which both contain medium to high cocoa concentrations. Ciao Bella’s line is known for being all natural and ultra-premium, which consumers already associate with being better for you, but the cocoa component offers an added health boost.”

That additional boost of healthfulness is what gives many products an edge over others. “Coffee beverages that contain dark chocolate, such as the Pom label, are posting sales gains over the non-chocolate latte variety,” adds Southern. “Consumers are engaging products that not only have an appealing taste, but also offer health benefits. Today’s consumer is very educated and they see through shallow marketing techniques and make their decisions based on the package contents.”

These views are supported by the 2009 Functional Foods/Foods for Health Consumer Trending Survey from the International Food Information Council (IFIC), Washington, D.C. Earlier this year, consumers were asked, on an aided basis, whether they are aware of certain food components, their corresponding food sources and their associated health benefits. Of the 81% of consumers aware of the relationship of “antioxidants, found for example in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, dark chocolate, coffee and certain teas, for protection against free-radical damage implicated in aging and various chronic diseases,” 54% said they are already consuming antioxidant-rich foods for this reason, while 38% are likely or somewhat likely to consume.

Chocolate appears to be what many are turning to for their daily dose of antioxidants. “We have seen an increase in our chocolate ice cream sales, both with increased distribution and higher same-store sales, and this exceeds increases in our other flavors,” says Rich Martin, vice president, sales and marketing, Strauss Family Creamery, Marshall, Calif. “It’s difficult to say what is driving the increase, but we do use a very high-quality Dutch-processed cocoa.” 

Kim Peter, director of marketing, Anderson Erickson Dairy, Des Moines, Iowa, says: “We’ve seen a growth in chocolate milk consumption across the board at AE Dairy. The rich chocolate flavor transforms the way we categorize milk moving it from the ‘need-to-drink’ column to the ‘want-to-drink’ column. At AE we promote our chocolate milks as a healthy indulgence because they are made with a blend of three European cocoas and less sugar. From health fairs to high school athletic programs, we’re chocolate milk ambassadors in the community sharing the good news about the powerful package of nine essential nutrients including hunger-satisfying protein, bone-building calcium and sports recovery.”

In order to market chocolate dairy products as being high in flavanols, many dairy foods contain high-cocoa contents, origin-specific cocoas and high-flavanol cocoa ingredients.  A number of cocoa suppliers are investing in technologies to preserve the cocoa bean’s flavanols, which are readily destroyed during normal chocolate processing. Such technologies include processes that reduce the cocoa bean’s exposure to high temperatures, helping protect the flavanols inside.

There’s also a new chocolate ingredient made through a proprietary process that comes enhanced with probiotic cultures. Available in dark and milk chocolate, the ingredient resembles the sensory profile of non-probiotic chocolate and has a long shelf life with no refrigeration required. The special production system ensures a homogenous blend of probiotics in chocolate within a restricted temperature range.

The results are in

Seldom a week goes by that chocolate does not make headlines. Here are some recent discoveries.

Researchers in Sweden have found evidence that people who eat chocolate have increased survival rates after a heart attack. Even better, the study’s results, which were published in The Journal of Internal Medicine (266: 248-257) suggest that the more chocolate consumed, the better the outcome.

Swedish scientists followed 1,169 non-diabetic men and women who had been hospitalized for a first heart attack. Each filled out a standardized health questionnaire, which included questions about chocolate consumption during the past year. The subjects were examined three months after their hospital discharge and were tracked during the subsequent eight years using Swedish national registries of hospitalizations and deaths. After controlling for age, sex, obesity, physical inactivity, smoking, education and other variables, the scientists found that the more chocolate people consumed, the more likely they survived after their heart attack.

Compared with subjects who consumed no chocolate, results showed that those who ate chocolate less than once a month had a 27% reduction in their risk for cardiac death. Subjects who ate chocolate up to once a week had a 44% reduction while those who indulged twice or more a week had a 66% reduced risk of dying from a subsequent heart event.

Like most studies, this one had some shortcomings, including that the scientists did not identify the type of chocolate consumed (i.e., milk, dark, white, etc.). Further, the study was observational; still, the results do support the belief that the flavonoid antioxidants in cocoa have beneficial cardiovascular effects.

Here’s a rather new chocolate benefit under investigation: providing skin protection from damaging sun light. The study was recently published in the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, (8: 169-173).

Thirty subjects were given either a high-flavanol chocolate manufactured using a patented technology that preserves an extremely high amount of flavanols or a low-flavanol chocolate manufactured using an identical recipe yet a standard process. The subjects were given a 20-gram portion of their allotted chocolate daily and after 12 weeks the minimal erythema dose (MED), which is the dose of ultraviolet light needed to make the skin go red, of those in the high-flavanol group was more than double that of the low-flavanol group. The results suggest that the increased MED is a result of the antioxidative properties of the flavanols.

A different study suggests that cocoa polyphenols possess a mood-elevating effect. Recently published in Nutritional Neuroscience (11: 269-276), the research results suggest that cocoa polyphenols help reduce the symptoms of depression.

The antidepressant-like effect of cocoa extract was tested at two doses in an internationally recognized, validated ethical and ethological behavioral animal test, which mirrors depressive feelings in humans. Already with the lowest dose of cocoa extract given during two weeks, a clear and significant antidepressant-like effect was seen regarding the specific activity during this behavioral test, which was comparable with the effect obtained with a standard reference antidepressant product included in this test, and without any side effects.

Cocoa extract, as a natural source of several possible mood-lifting components, seems to be a promising alternative for existing antidepressant agents. This positive behavior seems to be mediated by the reversal of brain oxidative damage, which is often associated with depression in human.

Finally, last year, a study from the Faculty of Life Sciences  at the University of Copenhagen suggests that dark chocolate is more filling than milk chocolate.

To compare the effects of dark and milk chocolate on both appetite and subsequent calorie intake, 16 young and healthy men of normal weight who all liked both dark and milk chocolate took part in a so-called crossover experiment. This meant that they reported for two separate sessions, the first time testing the dark chocolate, and the second time the milk chocolate, both of which had similar caloric content. They had all fasted for 12 hours beforehand and were offered 100 grams of chocolate, which they consumed during a 15-minute period. During the following five hours, subjects were asked to register their appetite every half hour, craving for special foods and how they liked the chocolate.

At 2½ hours after eating the chocolate, subjects were offered pizza and were instructed to eat until they felt comfortably satiated. After the meal, the individuals’ calorie intake was registered. The results were significant. The calorie intake at the subsequent meal where they could eat as much pizza as they liked was 15% lower when they had eaten dark chocolate beforehand. The subjects also reported that the dark chocolate made them feel less like eating sweet, salty or fatty foods.

Innovations continue

Consumer devotion to chocolate dairy foods is well known, and with all these recent scientific findings, it’s no wonder why dairies across the world continue to innovate with cocoa.

“Almost half of the pudding flavors in the marketplace are chocolate, but savvy consumers want more than empty calories when choosing foods and we saw this as an opportunity,” says Bob Striano, president and chief executive officer, Kozy Shack Enterprises, Hicksville, N.J. “Kozy Shack brand products have a clean label - no preservatives, artificial flavors, artificial colors - so it was a natural fit for us to introduce additional chocolate offerings (Chocolate Hazelnut and No Sugar Added Chocolate Mint) to our delicious line of puddings, as well as debut Kozy Shack SimplyWell pudding with increased health benefits that includes a dark chocolate flavor.” 

Luconda Dager, president of Velvet Ice Cream, Utica, Ohio, says her company has seen a 12% increase in the sale of chocolate ice cream in the past year. In fact, the increased sales and the customer interest in the antioxidant qualities of chocolate led to the company rolling out a new ultra-chocolate product - Chocolate Lovers Trio, a combination of dark Belgian, rich Dutch and indulgent Swiss chocolates packaged in the container in Neapolitan style.

“Chocolate has always been one of our top sellers and in a difficult economy we often see a spike in chocolate because it is comfort food,” Dager says. “However, I believe the spike we have seen in the past 12 to 18 months can be directly related to research that shows the healthy benefits of chocolate. Can I scientifically correlate the two? No. But I can tell you that the number of phone calls and emails we have had from customers and other customer feedback definitely indicates a renewed interest in chocolate, and a good portion of those customers stated they are excited about the research indicating a healthful benefit to chocolate and the positive antioxidant impact.”

Supermarket giant Supervalu Inc., Minneapolis, now offers an innovative private label collection of Culinary Circle-branded ice cream desserts. Each Culinary Circle ice cream dessert contains four unique layers: a bottom layer of premium ice cream, topped by a layer of rich mousse, topped by a decadent sauce and finished off with a layer of confectionary pieces. Two of the varieties - Cherry Chocolate Amore and Chocolate Truffle Gooey Fudge Brownie - are all about chocolate.

Award-winning specialty food company Stonewall Kitchen, York, Maine, has teamed up with Oakhurst Dairy, Portland, Maine, to introduce Stonewall Kitchen Chocolate Milk. The chocolate component is based on Stonewall Kitchen’s high-quality chocolate syrup, which is then blended with Oakhurst’s milk.

New Taza to Go is the first gourmet, rich and creamy, liquid drinking chocolate made with real cocoa selected from the finest harvests and reconstituted milk. Besides being a delicious drink on its own, it adds an easy gourmet flair to fondues, desserts, baked items and drinks. Made in Spain by Chocolates Valor S.A., this aseptic premium chocolate drink comes in 13.5-ounce and 30.4-ounce pouches with easy-pour spouts.

Germany’s Molkerei Gropper GmbH markets superpremium chocolate milk where the company flags the fact that it is made using high-quality Arriba cocoa. Another German dairy - Die Privatmolkerei Bauer - has a line of ready-to-eat refrigerated puddings that come in varying (62%, 68% and 72%) cocoa contents.

Chocolate innovations are alive in foodservice, too. This past spring, Dairy Queen restaurants debuted Midnight Truffle Blizzard, a flavorful mix of decadent chocolate truffle pieces blended with rich dark cocoa fudge and creamy vanilla soft-serve ice cream. Believed to have originated in France, the truffle is named for its visual similarity to the French mushroom of the same name. Like the original truffle, the chocolate truffle has become synonymous with luxury and a sumptuous taste experience. Truffles are made in a variety of styles and in many chocolate houses the chocolatier’s finest ingredients are reserved for the truffle, which is exactly what Dairy Queen’s customers can expect.

Friendly’s Ice Cream Corp., Wilbraham, Mass., introduced four Sundae Xtremes varieties this summer, all of them loaded with chocolate. Varieties are: Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough, Cookies ’n Cream Ripple, Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup and Chocolate Fudge Brownie.

“We asked our consumers and they answered,” says Tim Hopkins, vice president and general manager. “Their answer was, ‘More. More hunks, more chunks, more fudge.’ The new flavors are filled with what they asked for, gigantic hunks of cookie dough, chunks of peanut butter cups, soft, chewy brownie pieces, rich fudge and much, much more.”

Formulating dairy foods with high-quality chocolate ingredients is a trend that is expected to continue to grow as the economy improves. Kroger’s Southern indicated that today’s consumer is very educated and often makes decisions based on the package contents. “Industry marketing has seen a shift from the taste aspect to the ingredient aspect,” he concludes. “Today’s shopper looks for every edge available when choosing products to feed their families.” High-quality chocolate dairy foods are undeniably a great choice.

Sidebar: Responsible Labor Practices in Cocoa Growing

Working with labor experts, non-governmental organizations and elected officials, in 2001 the chocolate and cocoa industry developed an agreement, known today as the “Protocol,” to ensure that cocoa is grown responsibly. This includes an industry void of the worst forms of child labor or forced adult labor as defined by the International Labor Organization’s Conventions 182 and 29. Further, the Protocol outlines a number of steps to address the issue, including the development of a certification system for cocoa farming. Certification for cocoa farming is an ongoing program that will drive positive change in cocoa communities with a focus on responsible labor practices.

Industry supported programs in the West African cocoa farming sector focus on three key areas: 1) community and family awareness to tackle labor issues from within cocoa communities and help at-risk children through the International Cocoa Initiative founded in 2002 and led by a board of industry and civil society representatives (, 2) working to make life better on cocoa farms by raising farmer incomes and improving education, health and unsafe working conditions through initiatives including Farmer Field schools and other related-programs programs funded by the World Cocoa Foundation ( and 3) development of a certification system for smallholder agricultural production in West Africa. 

Source: National Confectioners Association

Bridge Brands Chocolate, San Francisco, knows that milk and chocolate go together. The company recently added a number of new “got milk?” chocolate products to its confectionary line including chocolate straws and chocolate s’mores. Limited edition chocolate straws are available in Halloween and winter holiday-themed packaging. All of the “got milk?” chocolate products are packaged in bovine-inspired tins and packaging that appeals to kids and adults.