Chocolate with a conscience: what’s powering the craze for cacao?

Chocolate with a conscience: what’s powering the craze for cacao?

By
Louise Burfitt
September 29, 2020

“Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get.” So, famously, said Forrest Gump. And the very same could be said of the cacao products industry in 2020, as a band of innovative start-ups shake up the market as we know it.

Europe is the world’s largest chocolate and cocoa market with a global market share of 49% and a value estimated to reach $33.31 billion by 2023. The global market was estimated to be worth $44.35 billion in 2019 with growth projected to pass $61.34 billion by 2027.

Cacao products in particular don’t just play into consumers’ love of anything plant-based, low in sugar and antioxidant-packed. New product applications, using leftover waste generated in chocolate making, are also a key part of what’s powering this growth.

This week, we get to know our cocoa from our cacao and meet the forward-thinking entrepreneurs finding new ways to give back to producers and create healthier and more sustainable products.

Cocoa and cacao: what’s the difference?

Money might not grow on trees, but chocolate certainly does. The cacao (or chocolate) tree produces hard-shelled fruit known as cacao pods, each containing between 40 to 50 cacao beans. The beans are fermented, dried and roasted as part of the chocolate making process.

Cocoa and cacao both come from the cacao bean that grows on the chocolate tree, but they are manufactured quite differently and have separate uses. Cocoa is processed at a higher temperature and is usually mixed with sugar or dairy to reduce bitterness, creating cocoa powder that is used in baking or to make hot cocoa. Cacao, on the other hand, undergoes minimal processing and therefore retains the nutrients and minerals that have seen it hailed as a superfood. Often packaged as ‘raw cacao’ and suitable for vegans, it is widely available as nibs or powder, but now a broader variety of products including drinks and chocolate substitutes are also making it to market.

Trend drivers: waste reduction, health benefits and giving farmers a better deal

Sustainability is one of the major factors driving change in the cacao sector. Traditional chocolate making is not a particularly environmentally friendly process: the beans used in chocolate constitute only 30% of the cacao fruit. The remaining 70% – including pulp and pod – has previously been thrown away, but this is increasingly seen as wasteful. By making use of the byproducts of chocolate manufacturing, brands can save money, create new opportunities and boost their environmental credentials simultaneously.

Consumers are also more aware than ever of the challenges facing cocoa farmers. Some 90% of the world’s cocoa is produced by smallholder farms and at least two-thirds of these farmers live below the poverty line. 70% of cocoa grown for chocolate is cultivated in West Africa, where outdated farming practices and a changing climate are worsening the already rough deal afforded to farmers. As demand grows, producers are also struggling to keep up: WWF estimates that it can take a year for a cacao tree to produce enough cacao beans to make just 225 grams of chocolate. So by making better use of cacao byproducts, farmers are able to increase their yield and profits.

Cacao’s new sustainability credentials are also making it a hit with health and sustainability-oriented millennials. As a reported source of antioxidants and minerals, cacao offers a fantastic substitute to sugar-laden chocolate as well as for plant-based customers reluctant to give up their chocolatey hit. This makes it a go-to ingredient for companies seeking to attract consumers through vegan products that still feel rich and indulgent.

Riding the trend: cacao juice and cacao fruit chocolate

Say ‘cacao’ and you might think of cacao powder or nibs, which rose to prominence in the 2010s, propelled by clean eating stars like Deliciously Ella. Cacao powder can be used in drinks in place of drinking cocoa, or to add an antioxidant punch to existing baked goods or dessert products. Now, companies are going even further to innovate with other parts of the cacao fruit in their products, like the seeds, pulp and pods.

Cacao fruit pulp is edible and tastes like a cross between citrus and mango. Dutch company Moving Cocoa is currently developing an innovative health drink made from the pulp, which it plans to launch as Freebird cacao juice. The fresh juice is pressed from the pulp that surrounds the beans used to make chocolate and aids farmers by providing new sources of revenue. And it’s good news for consumers, too: Moving Cocoa reports the refreshing beverage is packed with vitamins. Meanwhile, Swiss company Koa is using discarded cocoa pulp in its cacao fruit juice to boost farmer income by 30%.

Some companies are experimenting with using all of the edible elements of the cacao fruit: last year Nestlé Japan launched a new KitKat bar - Chocolatory Cacao Fruit Chocolate - sweetened with cacao fruit instead of sugar. This first-of-its-kind invention combines 70% dark chocolate with cacao seeds and pulp as natural sweeteners, reportedly without compromising on taste, texture or quality. Chocolate companies already processing cacao beans are well-placed to dream up new cacao-based creations, bringing new products to market, reducing waste and attracting ethically minded consumers in the process.

Case studies: Blue Stripes & Barry Callebaut

Blue Stripes is making use of the extraordinary natural powers found in the whole cacao plant – the shell, fruit & beans – to create a range of products that maximize its antioxidant benefits and promote holistic wellness. Its range includes cacao water and cacao fruit sugar. The start-up also runs a brick and mortar café in New York with a menu featuring all sorts of cacao-based dishes that utilise cacao pulp, including sundaes, energy drinks and cacao lattes. The company has recently attracted investment from confectionery giant Hershey’s.

In Switzerland, meanwhile, heritage chocolate company Barry Callebaut is building on 175 years of innovation with its WholeFruit chocolate made from 100% pure cacao fruit. In 2019 the chocolate maker launched the Cacaofruit Experience product range, including cacao juices and smoothies, aimed at millennials seeking healthier and more sustainable alternatives to traditional chocolate. The company is also tackling cocoa farmer hardship with ambitious plans to lift more than 500,000 cocoa farmers out of poverty by 2025.

Added value: explaining the ethics

Consumers increasingly care about ethical, sustainable food – and the people that produce it. 73% of millennials are willing to pay more for food in line with their morals. Even though cacao products generally cost more than your run-of-the-mill chocolate bar, the fact they’re produced more sustainably and help to lift farmers out of poverty should be sufficient to win over consumers – particularly younger ones.

Recognising how important firm principles are to consumers, several brands are making a concerted effort to communicate their corporate conscience. For Koa, the company mission (cocoa fruit juice for responsible value creation) is the heart of its business model and it takes care to communicate its social values in clear, concrete terms. Pacha de Cacao, based in the Netherlands, has also made its commitment to cocoa farmers a key part of its brand identity. These clear missions are helping brands stand out in a growing market, though great flavour and trailblazing products surely don’t hurt either.

The 30-second pitch: cacao

🔍 What

  • Companies are developing new cacao-based products that make use of previously under-utilised byproducts of the chocolate-making process to reduce waste and improve the lives of farmers.


🤷‍♂️ Why

  • Manufacturing chocolate produces a lot of waste, as only 30% of the cacao fruit goes into the bar. The other 70% has traditionally been discarded but is now being made into new products.
  • Many cacao bean farmers live in poverty due to old-fashioned agricultural practices and unsustainable cropping models. Cacao products offer them new revenue streams.
  • A growing number of consumers are looking for healthier or vegan alternatives to chocolate. Cacao products are a more nutritious indulgence with eco credentials.


🍫 How

  • Utilising the underused byproducts of chocolate making
  • Cacao pulp
  • Cacao juice
  • Whole cacao fruit chocolate


👀 Who


👍 The good

  • Farmers can increase their revenue streams with new cacao products, while the companies involved can demonstrate their commitment to improving the livelihoods of those who produce their products.
  • Cacao is thought to be a fantastic source of antioxidants and minerals and provides a vegan alternative to chocolate or cocoa powder, making it a reliable winner with plant-based customers and healthy eating fans.
  • Cacao fruit chocolate replaces sugar with cacao pulp, resulting in ‘chocolate’ that’s sweetened naturally and likely to be a hit with health-conscious buyers.


👎 The bad

  • Cacao products are more expensive which may put off those used to paying bargain prices for chocolate.
  • Cacao, with its fruity flavour notes, is not a true substitute for chocolate so it may be a harder sell with consumers less aware of its health and sustainability advantages.


💡 The bottom line

  • Cacao is a versatile ingredient that can be incorporated into existing business models and is a win-win for all involved: cocoa farmers get a better deal, companies can ride the trend, and consumers are offered new, healthier avenues to enjoy their chocolatey hit.


Written by
Louise Burfitt

Louise is an editor and writer based in Oxfordshire. When her nose isn’t buried in a dictionary, you’re most likely to find her taking long weekend walks or nurturing herbs and vegetables in her container garden.

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  • Read Unlimited Articles
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“Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get.” So, famously, said Forrest Gump. And the very same could be said of the cacao products industry in 2020, as a band of innovative start-ups shake up the market as we know it.

Europe is the world’s largest chocolate and cocoa market with a global market share of 49% and a value estimated to reach $33.31 billion by 2023. The global market was estimated to be worth $44.35 billion in 2019 with growth projected to pass $61.34 billion by 2027.

Cacao products in particular don’t just play into consumers’ love of anything plant-based, low in sugar and antioxidant-packed. New product applications, using leftover waste generated in chocolate making, are also a key part of what’s powering this growth.

This week, we get to know our cocoa from our cacao and meet the forward-thinking entrepreneurs finding new ways to give back to producers and create healthier and more sustainable products.

Cocoa and cacao: what’s the difference?

Money might not grow on trees, but chocolate certainly does. The cacao (or chocolate) tree produces hard-shelled fruit known as cacao pods, each containing between 40 to 50 cacao beans. The beans are fermented, dried and roasted as part of the chocolate making process.

Cocoa and cacao both come from the cacao bean that grows on the chocolate tree, but they are manufactured quite differently and have separate uses. Cocoa is processed at a higher temperature and is usually mixed with sugar or dairy to reduce bitterness, creating cocoa powder that is used in baking or to make hot cocoa. Cacao, on the other hand, undergoes minimal processing and therefore retains the nutrients and minerals that have seen it hailed as a superfood. Often packaged as ‘raw cacao’ and suitable for vegans, it is widely available as nibs or powder, but now a broader variety of products including drinks and chocolate substitutes are also making it to market.

Trend drivers: waste reduction, health benefits and giving farmers a better deal

Sustainability is one of the major factors driving change in the cacao sector. Traditional chocolate making is not a particularly environmentally friendly process: the beans used in chocolate constitute only 30% of the cacao fruit. The remaining 70% – including pulp and pod – has previously been thrown away, but this is increasingly seen as wasteful. By making use of the byproducts of chocolate manufacturing, brands can save money, create new opportunities and boost their environmental credentials simultaneously.

Consumers are also more aware than ever of the challenges facing cocoa farmers. Some 90% of the world’s cocoa is produced by smallholder farms and at least two-thirds of these farmers live below the poverty line. 70% of cocoa grown for chocolate is cultivated in West Africa, where outdated farming practices and a changing climate are worsening the already rough deal afforded to farmers. As demand grows, producers are also struggling to keep up: WWF estimates that it can take a year for a cacao tree to produce enough cacao beans to make just 225 grams of chocolate. So by making better use of cacao byproducts, farmers are able to increase their yield and profits.

Cacao’s new sustainability credentials are also making it a hit with health and sustainability-oriented millennials. As a reported source of antioxidants and minerals, cacao offers a fantastic substitute to sugar-laden chocolate as well as for plant-based customers reluctant to give up their chocolatey hit. This makes it a go-to ingredient for companies seeking to attract consumers through vegan products that still feel rich and indulgent.

Riding the trend: cacao juice and cacao fruit chocolate

Say ‘cacao’ and you might think of cacao powder or nibs, which rose to prominence in the 2010s, propelled by clean eating stars like Deliciously Ella. Cacao powder can be used in drinks in place of drinking cocoa, or to add an antioxidant punch to existing baked goods or dessert products. Now, companies are going even further to innovate with other parts of the cacao fruit in their products, like the seeds, pulp and pods.

Cacao fruit pulp is edible and tastes like a cross between citrus and mango. Dutch company Moving Cocoa is currently developing an innovative health drink made from the pulp, which it plans to launch as Freebird cacao juice. The fresh juice is pressed from the pulp that surrounds the beans used to make chocolate and aids farmers by providing new sources of revenue. And it’s good news for consumers, too: Moving Cocoa reports the refreshing beverage is packed with vitamins. Meanwhile, Swiss company Koa is using discarded cocoa pulp in its cacao fruit juice to boost farmer income by 30%.

Some companies are experimenting with using all of the edible elements of the cacao fruit: last year Nestlé Japan launched a new KitKat bar - Chocolatory Cacao Fruit Chocolate - sweetened with cacao fruit instead of sugar. This first-of-its-kind invention combines 70% dark chocolate with cacao seeds and pulp as natural sweeteners, reportedly without compromising on taste, texture or quality. Chocolate companies already processing cacao beans are well-placed to dream up new cacao-based creations, bringing new products to market, reducing waste and attracting ethically minded consumers in the process.

Case studies: Blue Stripes & Barry Callebaut

Blue Stripes is making use of the extraordinary natural powers found in the whole cacao plant – the shell, fruit & beans – to create a range of products that maximize its antioxidant benefits and promote holistic wellness. Its range includes cacao water and cacao fruit sugar. The start-up also runs a brick and mortar café in New York with a menu featuring all sorts of cacao-based dishes that utilise cacao pulp, including sundaes, energy drinks and cacao lattes. The company has recently attracted investment from confectionery giant Hershey’s.

In Switzerland, meanwhile, heritage chocolate company Barry Callebaut is building on 175 years of innovation with its WholeFruit chocolate made from 100% pure cacao fruit. In 2019 the chocolate maker launched the Cacaofruit Experience product range, including cacao juices and smoothies, aimed at millennials seeking healthier and more sustainable alternatives to traditional chocolate. The company is also tackling cocoa farmer hardship with ambitious plans to lift more than 500,000 cocoa farmers out of poverty by 2025.

Added value: explaining the ethics

Consumers increasingly care about ethical, sustainable food – and the people that produce it. 73% of millennials are willing to pay more for food in line with their morals. Even though cacao products generally cost more than your run-of-the-mill chocolate bar, the fact they’re produced more sustainably and help to lift farmers out of poverty should be sufficient to win over consumers – particularly younger ones.

Recognising how important firm principles are to consumers, several brands are making a concerted effort to communicate their corporate conscience. For Koa, the company mission (cocoa fruit juice for responsible value creation) is the heart of its business model and it takes care to communicate its social values in clear, concrete terms. Pacha de Cacao, based in the Netherlands, has also made its commitment to cocoa farmers a key part of its brand identity. These clear missions are helping brands stand out in a growing market, though great flavour and trailblazing products surely don’t hurt either.

The 30-second pitch: cacao

🔍 What

  • Companies are developing new cacao-based products that make use of previously under-utilised byproducts of the chocolate-making process to reduce waste and improve the lives of farmers.


🤷‍♂️ Why

  • Manufacturing chocolate produces a lot of waste, as only 30% of the cacao fruit goes into the bar. The other 70% has traditionally been discarded but is now being made into new products.
  • Many cacao bean farmers live in poverty due to old-fashioned agricultural practices and unsustainable cropping models. Cacao products offer them new revenue streams.
  • A growing number of consumers are looking for healthier or vegan alternatives to chocolate. Cacao products are a more nutritious indulgence with eco credentials.


🍫 How

  • Utilising the underused byproducts of chocolate making
  • Cacao pulp
  • Cacao juice
  • Whole cacao fruit chocolate


👀 Who


👍 The good

  • Farmers can increase their revenue streams with new cacao products, while the companies involved can demonstrate their commitment to improving the livelihoods of those who produce their products.
  • Cacao is thought to be a fantastic source of antioxidants and minerals and provides a vegan alternative to chocolate or cocoa powder, making it a reliable winner with plant-based customers and healthy eating fans.
  • Cacao fruit chocolate replaces sugar with cacao pulp, resulting in ‘chocolate’ that’s sweetened naturally and likely to be a hit with health-conscious buyers.


👎 The bad

  • Cacao products are more expensive which may put off those used to paying bargain prices for chocolate.
  • Cacao, with its fruity flavour notes, is not a true substitute for chocolate so it may be a harder sell with consumers less aware of its health and sustainability advantages.


💡 The bottom line

  • Cacao is a versatile ingredient that can be incorporated into existing business models and is a win-win for all involved: cocoa farmers get a better deal, companies can ride the trend, and consumers are offered new, healthier avenues to enjoy their chocolatey hit.


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  • Access Member Directory
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“Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get.” So, famously, said Forrest Gump. And the very same could be said of the cacao products industry in 2020, as a band of innovative start-ups shake up the market as we know it.

Europe is the world’s largest chocolate and cocoa market with a global market share of 49% and a value estimated to reach $33.31 billion by 2023. The global market was estimated to be worth $44.35 billion in 2019 with growth projected to pass $61.34 billion by 2027.

Cacao products in particular don’t just play into consumers’ love of anything plant-based, low in sugar and antioxidant-packed. New product applications, using leftover waste generated in chocolate making, are also a key part of what’s powering this growth.

This week, we get to know our cocoa from our cacao and meet the forward-thinking entrepreneurs finding new ways to give back to producers and create healthier and more sustainable products.

Cocoa and cacao: what’s the difference?

Money might not grow on trees, but chocolate certainly does. The cacao (or chocolate) tree produces hard-shelled fruit known as cacao pods, each containing between 40 to 50 cacao beans. The beans are fermented, dried and roasted as part of the chocolate making process.

Cocoa and cacao both come from the cacao bean that grows on the chocolate tree, but they are manufactured quite differently and have separate uses. Cocoa is processed at a higher temperature and is usually mixed with sugar or dairy to reduce bitterness, creating cocoa powder that is used in baking or to make hot cocoa. Cacao, on the other hand, undergoes minimal processing and therefore retains the nutrients and minerals that have seen it hailed as a superfood. Often packaged as ‘raw cacao’ and suitable for vegans, it is widely available as nibs or powder, but now a broader variety of products including drinks and chocolate substitutes are also making it to market.

Trend drivers: waste reduction, health benefits and giving farmers a better deal

Sustainability is one of the major factors driving change in the cacao sector. Traditional chocolate making is not a particularly environmentally friendly process: the beans used in chocolate constitute only 30% of the cacao fruit. The remaining 70% – including pulp and pod – has previously been thrown away, but this is increasingly seen as wasteful. By making use of the byproducts of chocolate manufacturing, brands can save money, create new opportunities and boost their environmental credentials simultaneously.

Consumers are also more aware than ever of the challenges facing cocoa farmers. Some 90% of the world’s cocoa is produced by smallholder farms and at least two-thirds of these farmers live below the poverty line. 70% of cocoa grown for chocolate is cultivated in West Africa, where outdated farming practices and a changing climate are worsening the already rough deal afforded to farmers. As demand grows, producers are also struggling to keep up: WWF estimates that it can take a year for a cacao tree to produce enough cacao beans to make just 225 grams of chocolate. So by making better use of cacao byproducts, farmers are able to increase their yield and profits.

Cacao’s new sustainability credentials are also making it a hit with health and sustainability-oriented millennials. As a reported source of antioxidants and minerals, cacao offers a fantastic substitute to sugar-laden chocolate as well as for plant-based customers reluctant to give up their chocolatey hit. This makes it a go-to ingredient for companies seeking to attract consumers through vegan products that still feel rich and indulgent.

Riding the trend: cacao juice and cacao fruit chocolate

Say ‘cacao’ and you might think of cacao powder or nibs, which rose to prominence in the 2010s, propelled by clean eating stars like Deliciously Ella. Cacao powder can be used in drinks in place of drinking cocoa, or to add an antioxidant punch to existing baked goods or dessert products. Now, companies are going even further to innovate with other parts of the cacao fruit in their products, like the seeds, pulp and pods.

Cacao fruit pulp is edible and tastes like a cross between citrus and mango. Dutch company Moving Cocoa is currently developing an innovative health drink made from the pulp, which it plans to launch as Freebird cacao juice. The fresh juice is pressed from the pulp that surrounds the beans used to make chocolate and aids farmers by providing new sources of revenue. And it’s good news for consumers, too: Moving Cocoa reports the refreshing beverage is packed with vitamins. Meanwhile, Swiss company Koa is using discarded cocoa pulp in its cacao fruit juice to boost farmer income by 30%.

Some companies are experimenting with using all of the edible elements of the cacao fruit: last year Nestlé Japan launched a new KitKat bar - Chocolatory Cacao Fruit Chocolate - sweetened with cacao fruit instead of sugar. This first-of-its-kind invention combines 70% dark chocolate with cacao seeds and pulp as natural sweeteners, reportedly without compromising on taste, texture or quality. Chocolate companies already processing cacao beans are well-placed to dream up new cacao-based creations, bringing new products to market, reducing waste and attracting ethically minded consumers in the process.

Case studies: Blue Stripes & Barry Callebaut

Blue Stripes is making use of the extraordinary natural powers found in the whole cacao plant – the shell, fruit & beans – to create a range of products that maximize its antioxidant benefits and promote holistic wellness. Its range includes cacao water and cacao fruit sugar. The start-up also runs a brick and mortar café in New York with a menu featuring all sorts of cacao-based dishes that utilise cacao pulp, including sundaes, energy drinks and cacao lattes. The company has recently attracted investment from confectionery giant Hershey’s.

In Switzerland, meanwhile, heritage chocolate company Barry Callebaut is building on 175 years of innovation with its WholeFruit chocolate made from 100% pure cacao fruit. In 2019 the chocolate maker launched the Cacaofruit Experience product range, including cacao juices and smoothies, aimed at millennials seeking healthier and more sustainable alternatives to traditional chocolate. The company is also tackling cocoa farmer hardship with ambitious plans to lift more than 500,000 cocoa farmers out of poverty by 2025.

Added value: explaining the ethics

Consumers increasingly care about ethical, sustainable food – and the people that produce it. 73% of millennials are willing to pay more for food in line with their morals. Even though cacao products generally cost more than your run-of-the-mill chocolate bar, the fact they’re produced more sustainably and help to lift farmers out of poverty should be sufficient to win over consumers – particularly younger ones.

Recognising how important firm principles are to consumers, several brands are making a concerted effort to communicate their corporate conscience. For Koa, the company mission (cocoa fruit juice for responsible value creation) is the heart of its business model and it takes care to communicate its social values in clear, concrete terms. Pacha de Cacao, based in the Netherlands, has also made its commitment to cocoa farmers a key part of its brand identity. These clear missions are helping brands stand out in a growing market, though great flavour and trailblazing products surely don’t hurt either.

The 30-second pitch: cacao

🔍 What

  • Companies are developing new cacao-based products that make use of previously under-utilised byproducts of the chocolate-making process to reduce waste and improve the lives of farmers.


🤷‍♂️ Why

  • Manufacturing chocolate produces a lot of waste, as only 30% of the cacao fruit goes into the bar. The other 70% has traditionally been discarded but is now being made into new products.
  • Many cacao bean farmers live in poverty due to old-fashioned agricultural practices and unsustainable cropping models. Cacao products offer them new revenue streams.
  • A growing number of consumers are looking for healthier or vegan alternatives to chocolate. Cacao products are a more nutritious indulgence with eco credentials.


🍫 How

  • Utilising the underused byproducts of chocolate making
  • Cacao pulp
  • Cacao juice
  • Whole cacao fruit chocolate


👀 Who


👍 The good

  • Farmers can increase their revenue streams with new cacao products, while the companies involved can demonstrate their commitment to improving the livelihoods of those who produce their products.
  • Cacao is thought to be a fantastic source of antioxidants and minerals and provides a vegan alternative to chocolate or cocoa powder, making it a reliable winner with plant-based customers and healthy eating fans.
  • Cacao fruit chocolate replaces sugar with cacao pulp, resulting in ‘chocolate’ that’s sweetened naturally and likely to be a hit with health-conscious buyers.


👎 The bad

  • Cacao products are more expensive which may put off those used to paying bargain prices for chocolate.
  • Cacao, with its fruity flavour notes, is not a true substitute for chocolate so it may be a harder sell with consumers less aware of its health and sustainability advantages.


💡 The bottom line

  • Cacao is a versatile ingredient that can be incorporated into existing business models and is a win-win for all involved: cocoa farmers get a better deal, companies can ride the trend, and consumers are offered new, healthier avenues to enjoy their chocolatey hit.


“Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get.” So, famously, said Forrest Gump. And the very same could be said of the cacao products industry in 2020, as a band of innovative start-ups shake up the market as we know it.

Europe is the world’s largest chocolate and cocoa market with a global market share of 49% and a value estimated to reach $33.31 billion by 2023. The global market was estimated to be worth $44.35 billion in 2019 with growth projected to pass $61.34 billion by 2027.

Cacao products in particular don’t just play into consumers’ love of anything plant-based, low in sugar and antioxidant-packed. New product applications, using leftover waste generated in chocolate making, are also a key part of what’s powering this growth.

This week, we get to know our cocoa from our cacao and meet the forward-thinking entrepreneurs finding new ways to give back to producers and create healthier and more sustainable products.

Cocoa and cacao: what’s the difference?

Money might not grow on trees, but chocolate certainly does. The cacao (or chocolate) tree produces hard-shelled fruit known as cacao pods, each containing between 40 to 50 cacao beans. The beans are fermented, dried and roasted as part of the chocolate making process.

Cocoa and cacao both come from the cacao bean that grows on the chocolate tree, but they are manufactured quite differently and have separate uses. Cocoa is processed at a higher temperature and is usually mixed with sugar or dairy to reduce bitterness, creating cocoa powder that is used in baking or to make hot cocoa. Cacao, on the other hand, undergoes minimal processing and therefore retains the nutrients and minerals that have seen it hailed as a superfood. Often packaged as ‘raw cacao’ and suitable for vegans, it is widely available as nibs or powder, but now a broader variety of products including drinks and chocolate substitutes are also making it to market.

Trend drivers: waste reduction, health benefits and giving farmers a better deal

Sustainability is one of the major factors driving change in the cacao sector. Traditional chocolate making is not a particularly environmentally friendly process: the beans used in chocolate constitute only 30% of the cacao fruit. The remaining 70% – including pulp and pod – has previously been thrown away, but this is increasingly seen as wasteful. By making use of the byproducts of chocolate manufacturing, brands can save money, create new opportunities and boost their environmental credentials simultaneously.

Consumers are also more aware than ever of the challenges facing cocoa farmers. Some 90% of the world’s cocoa is produced by smallholder farms and at least two-thirds of these farmers live below the poverty line. 70% of cocoa grown for chocolate is cultivated in West Africa, where outdated farming practices and a changing climate are worsening the already rough deal afforded to farmers. As demand grows, producers are also struggling to keep up: WWF estimates that it can take a year for a cacao tree to produce enough cacao beans to make just 225 grams of chocolate. So by making better use of cacao byproducts, farmers are able to increase their yield and profits.

Cacao’s new sustainability credentials are also making it a hit with health and sustainability-oriented millennials. As a reported source of antioxidants and minerals, cacao offers a fantastic substitute to sugar-laden chocolate as well as for plant-based customers reluctant to give up their chocolatey hit. This makes it a go-to ingredient for companies seeking to attract consumers through vegan products that still feel rich and indulgent.

Riding the trend: cacao juice and cacao fruit chocolate

Say ‘cacao’ and you might think of cacao powder or nibs, which rose to prominence in the 2010s, propelled by clean eating stars like Deliciously Ella. Cacao powder can be used in drinks in place of drinking cocoa, or to add an antioxidant punch to existing baked goods or dessert products. Now, companies are going even further to innovate with other parts of the cacao fruit in their products, like the seeds, pulp and pods.

Cacao fruit pulp is edible and tastes like a cross between citrus and mango. Dutch company Moving Cocoa is currently developing an innovative health drink made from the pulp, which it plans to launch as Freebird cacao juice. The fresh juice is pressed from the pulp that surrounds the beans used to make chocolate and aids farmers by providing new sources of revenue. And it’s good news for consumers, too: Moving Cocoa reports the refreshing beverage is packed with vitamins. Meanwhile, Swiss company Koa is using discarded cocoa pulp in its cacao fruit juice to boost farmer income by 30%.

Some companies are experimenting with using all of the edible elements of the cacao fruit: last year Nestlé Japan launched a new KitKat bar - Chocolatory Cacao Fruit Chocolate - sweetened with cacao fruit instead of sugar. This first-of-its-kind invention combines 70% dark chocolate with cacao seeds and pulp as natural sweeteners, reportedly without compromising on taste, texture or quality. Chocolate companies already processing cacao beans are well-placed to dream up new cacao-based creations, bringing new products to market, reducing waste and attracting ethically minded consumers in the process.

Case studies: Blue Stripes & Barry Callebaut

Blue Stripes is making use of the extraordinary natural powers found in the whole cacao plant – the shell, fruit & beans – to create a range of products that maximize its antioxidant benefits and promote holistic wellness. Its range includes cacao water and cacao fruit sugar. The start-up also runs a brick and mortar café in New York with a menu featuring all sorts of cacao-based dishes that utilise cacao pulp, including sundaes, energy drinks and cacao lattes. The company has recently attracted investment from confectionery giant Hershey’s.

In Switzerland, meanwhile, heritage chocolate company Barry Callebaut is building on 175 years of innovation with its WholeFruit chocolate made from 100% pure cacao fruit. In 2019 the chocolate maker launched the Cacaofruit Experience product range, including cacao juices and smoothies, aimed at millennials seeking healthier and more sustainable alternatives to traditional chocolate. The company is also tackling cocoa farmer hardship with ambitious plans to lift more than 500,000 cocoa farmers out of poverty by 2025.

Added value: explaining the ethics

Consumers increasingly care about ethical, sustainable food – and the people that produce it. 73% of millennials are willing to pay more for food in line with their morals. Even though cacao products generally cost more than your run-of-the-mill chocolate bar, the fact they’re produced more sustainably and help to lift farmers out of poverty should be sufficient to win over consumers – particularly younger ones.

Recognising how important firm principles are to consumers, several brands are making a concerted effort to communicate their corporate conscience. For Koa, the company mission (cocoa fruit juice for responsible value creation) is the heart of its business model and it takes care to communicate its social values in clear, concrete terms. Pacha de Cacao, based in the Netherlands, has also made its commitment to cocoa farmers a key part of its brand identity. These clear missions are helping brands stand out in a growing market, though great flavour and trailblazing products surely don’t hurt either.

The 30-second pitch: cacao

🔍 What

  • Companies are developing new cacao-based products that make use of previously under-utilised byproducts of the chocolate-making process to reduce waste and improve the lives of farmers.


🤷‍♂️ Why

  • Manufacturing chocolate produces a lot of waste, as only 30% of the cacao fruit goes into the bar. The other 70% has traditionally been discarded but is now being made into new products.
  • Many cacao bean farmers live in poverty due to old-fashioned agricultural practices and unsustainable cropping models. Cacao products offer them new revenue streams.
  • A growing number of consumers are looking for healthier or vegan alternatives to chocolate. Cacao products are a more nutritious indulgence with eco credentials.


🍫 How

  • Utilising the underused byproducts of chocolate making
  • Cacao pulp
  • Cacao juice
  • Whole cacao fruit chocolate


👀 Who


👍 The good

  • Farmers can increase their revenue streams with new cacao products, while the companies involved can demonstrate their commitment to improving the livelihoods of those who produce their products.
  • Cacao is thought to be a fantastic source of antioxidants and minerals and provides a vegan alternative to chocolate or cocoa powder, making it a reliable winner with plant-based customers and healthy eating fans.
  • Cacao fruit chocolate replaces sugar with cacao pulp, resulting in ‘chocolate’ that’s sweetened naturally and likely to be a hit with health-conscious buyers.


👎 The bad

  • Cacao products are more expensive which may put off those used to paying bargain prices for chocolate.
  • Cacao, with its fruity flavour notes, is not a true substitute for chocolate so it may be a harder sell with consumers less aware of its health and sustainability advantages.


💡 The bottom line

  • Cacao is a versatile ingredient that can be incorporated into existing business models and is a win-win for all involved: cocoa farmers get a better deal, companies can ride the trend, and consumers are offered new, healthier avenues to enjoy their chocolatey hit.


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