The idea of chocolate being a health food has really taken root in people’s imaginations. It isn’t terribly surprising that the concept of a decadent treat being good for you has people excited and in the modern world of consumerism that means It will be in your face, every day, as more studies are completed and new products are announced. I thought I’d share a few thoughts on the topic.
As you can imagine, I’m watching it all with both great interest and great amusement. As a chocolate lover I would be overjoyed to find that my daily dose is, in fact, good for me. As an experienced consumer, however, I can’t help but be wary. I think that a lot of companies will want a piece of the chocolate pie and this will result in a glut of chocolate products, each with it’s own claimed benefits, and a massive amount of confusion for the consumer in general.
Of immediate worry is the always truthful but rarely honest packaging. Flavanol will be finding it’s way onto packages no matter how little the product actually contains simply because it is a word that will be in the consumer mind. Many won’t even bother with flavanol but simply try and sell based on a healthy image and the presence of chocolate. And I guarantee that products will be released that have many implied benefits but will also have the major drawback of being very high in fat and sugar.
That brings me to one of the bigger issues I have with selling chocolate as a health food: It’s chocolate. It’s high in fat. It’s usually coupled with sugar or, even worse, corn syrup. All the fat and processed sugar can’t be ignored. The problem is that when you are selling chocolate as a health food you are forced to either ignore them or remove them and I take issue with both approaches. One tries to sell a product loaded with fat and sugar as healthy and the other requires you to make major changes to the product.
And here is where my biggest issue with the marketing of chocolate as healthy arises. There will be a great deal of competition between companies trying to sell the ‘healthiest’ chocolate product. When it comes right down to it flavanol and polyphenols aren’t a lot to sell a product on, even with chocolate. Companies will need to differentiate their product from the others in the pack and, as chocolate is now perceived as a health food, they will naturally want to add more health benefits to do so. They will try and strip out the fat and sugar and add in vitamins and minerals until their product’s nutritional information reads like a box of breakfast cereal.
Fortifying a cereal isn’t a big deal. I can’t imagine there is a lot of art to puffed wheat or crispy rice and the addition of a multi-vitamin and some preservatives to the mix isn’t going to have that big an effect on the end product. Chocolate, and I can’t stress this enough, is not cereal. You can’t just hammer things into it and expect it to be good. There is an art to working with chocolate, which is why artisan chocolatiers exist. In the process of changing it they will produce a product that is far from fine chocolate. It will be the Wonder Bread of chocolate. It will have more vitamins than you knew existed and every mineral under the sun but just won’t be the same as the real thing.
In the end it doesn’t mean a lot for the true chocolate lover. They will continue to eat quality chocolate from quality companies instead of the mass-marketed pseudo-chocolate that is in our future. And I’m sure that there will be some companies that achieve a balance between quality and healthiness. I’m quite curious to see what some of the better chocolate producers around the world will create. They may manage to produce an excellent product with a myriad of health benefits without sacrificing everything that makes chocolate wonderful. Until then, I will maintain my skepticism and continue to watch.