Extending the shelf life of “filled” chocolate & hybrid confections amidst the affordable luxury and e-commerce trend

Since the outbreak of COVID-19, consumers are increasingly optioning for affordable indulgences to satisfy cravings and relieve stress. Premium chocolate and hybrid confections are considered affordable indulgences. As lockdowns became the new normal, many consumers shifted toward online shopping, leading to a surge in e-commerce. Digital transformation has also been accelerated, which included buying premium chocolate online, posing new challenges for manufacturers.

By Nikesh Hindocha, regional director of SEA & Chocolate & Confectionery Lead for Asia, AAK  

Many premium indulgences like pralines, truffles and hybrid confections contain fillings. According to an AAK consumer survey in 2018, three out of four consumers chose a type of filling for their “perfect chocolate”. Therefore, the filling fats must deliver not only a delicious taste but also an appealing texture with a steep meltdown that is traditionally obtained by tempering.

More life in filled chocolate

When producing pralines and other filled confectionery products, one of the ingredients that need special at­tention is the filling fat solution as it comprises around 30% of the filling. The fat chosen has a far-reaching impact on the processing and sensory quality of the pralines, not to mention storage and shelf life. The appeal of the final product depends upon it.

Fat bloom is often the main shelf-life limitation concerning filled products, which can be caused by fat migration from the filling to the surrounding chocolate layer. The migration process is challenging to avoid because the filling often contains more liquid fat than the coating.

In addition, fluctuating temperatures accelerate chocolate bloom issues. Particularly in warm climates, manufactur­ers struggle with heat-induced fat crystal trans­formation as the fat separates and rises to the surface, negatively affecting appearance and texture.

A good sensory experience is not good enough, appearance matters too

During hard times, consumers may consider buying less chocolate. But when it comes to indulging themselves, they want to have a quality sweet treat where each bite is worth every cent. Consumers seek exciting, new experiences and have a strong desire for high-quality products. Thus, sweet treats must deliver not only a unique sensory experience but also visual appeal, with a perfect gloss in beautiful packaging.

Did you know?

Fat bloom on chocolate is a major problem for the confectionery industry since the unappealing appearance and negative sensory effects lead to rejection by customers. The presence of fat bloom on chocolate confectionery is usually connected to the migration of liquid fat due to the difference in composition between fillings, cocoa butter and ingredient such as nuts.

Bloom formation in chocolate confectionery is also influenced by several other factors such as processing, delivery process, storage and recipe, including the fat percentage in the cocoa powder in chocolate compounds.

Plant-based oils and fats can, amongst others, be used to modify the chocolate’s sensory properties and/or extend the shelf life. It is also used to offer important raw material costs savings for the chocolate manufacturer without affecting the properties of the end product.

The need for bloom control

These considerations have created a growing role for the bloom-retarding filling fat in a wide range of soft chocolate fillings, such as nuts, and also included more daring innovations containing crunch, fruit chunks and liqueurs. Other application areas include bar and biscuit fillings.

According to AAK Consumer Survey, nuts is by far the most popular filling, with more than half of all consumers preferring various types of nuts in their chocolate. This is also backed up by data from Mintel GNPD that nut is a popular subgroup ingredient used in confectionery products (2016-2020).

Nonetheless, where nuts are involved, rapid bloom formation on the chocolate coating is inevitable, compromising praline shelf life as a result. Although the pralines are still safe to eat, nut oil migration into the coating causes a loss of visual appeal, which most consumers find unaccepta­ble. For the manufacturer, that brings a high level of returns and creates a negative impact on con­sumer loyalty to the brand.

Instead of trying to hinder migration, the most recent filling fat product development has focused on gaining control over migration effects.

Confectionery fillings need to have the right hardness, consistency, meltdown properties and flavour release. AAK has spent years work­ing with such properties in chocolate labs, build­ing up an extensive knowledge of how different fats work in combination and presence of other ingredients. Nuts and nut oils, in particular, require special attention.

It is also important to consider the confec­tionery processing equipment that confection­ers use and address the questions like “Which filling fats provide optimum processing efficiency?” or “How do fats react under varying storage conditions?”

However, high and fluc­tuating temperatures are still among the biggest hurdles to overcome when maintaining the qual­ity of chocolate confectionery over time.

No sensory change after 12 months

In the chocolate labs at AAK, CHOCOFILL™ BR has been tested in pralines with nut fillings. The re­sults showed that, even after 12 months’ storage at 18°C, the pralines were just as fresh and ap­pealing as on the day they were made – proof of a high nut tolerance. A similar praline made with a standard hydrogenated filling fat, however, was covered with an unsightly layer of white surface bloom.

While it can be expected that bloom will develop faster at a higher storage temperature, CHOCOFILL™ BR can be relied upon to deliver the best shelf-life performance compared with standard alternatives. In many cases, pralines gain a shelf life twice as long as before. Extended praline shelf life is not only about good looks, this means chocolate coatings also keep their smoothness and snap, while fillings maintain their indulgent texture and flavour release.

A matter of nutrition

Increasingly health-conscious consumers want food that makes them feel good, have fewer additives and are made with quality ingredients.

Rising consumer demand for confectionery with an improved nutritional profile and more premium quality presents a whole new set of formulation chal­lenges. Here, again, the choice of filling fat de­fines the sensory and functional success of the final product.

The nutritional aspect of confectionery has led manufacturers to search for additional functional plant-based oils and fats that are not only free from trans-fatty acids, but also contains additional health claims like being sources of Omega 3 and DHA. Since the outbreak of COVID-19, consumers are increasingly aware of the nutritional needs from their daily food intake, bringing significant market growth and new opportunities for innovative, functional and nutritional sweet treats.

This article was published in Food & Beverage Asia’s August/September 2021 issue.