aerated choc

Breathing more profit into chocolate bars

The recipe for chocolate bars is fairly standard: cocoa, cocoa butter or other oils, sweeteners, and perhaps some nuts or a fruity filling. Now, with prices for cocoa, sugar, and other commodities soaring, candy makers are finding a simple ingredient—air—can help pump up profits.

Nestlé is making a big push for its aerated chocolate brand, Aero, Barry Callebaut is adding more air to fillings, and Cadbury last year launched a new version of its aerated Wispa bars after reintroducing the brand in 2007.

In the past four years, cocoa prices have more than doubled amid poor harvests and growing demand. On Feb 22, cocoa hit $3,608 a metric ton, a level it hadn’t reached in three decades. The price of sugar, the additive candy makers have often looked to when cocoa prices soar, is also on the rise as bad weather has damaged crops in Brazil. Refined-sugar futures reached $857 a metric ton on Feb. 2, the highest level since at least 1989.

That makes air a natural progression. Chocolate density can be cut by as much as half by using carbon dioxide or nitrous oxide to make bubbles, says Stephen Beckett, the author of The Science of Chocolate and a former researcher for Nestlé. “If you aerate [chocolate], it tends to be creamier,” Beckett says. “Its density is so low it melts very easily, and gives you a different taste.”

Chocolate makers say air bubbles make the sweets creamier and easier on the waistline. An added benefit is that air bulks up the candy while adding little cost, though there are limits to the strategy since most bars are priced by weight. “Air equals less calories, and you can actually sell that,” says James Amoroso, a food industry consultant in Walchwil, Switzerland. “If you’ve got something light … you can make money.” Nestlé Chief Executive Paul Bulcke says there’s a lot of “efficiency potential” in confections. But, he adds, “I would not play around too much replacing cocoa. … We don’t have these products just to say, ‘How can we take chocolate out?'”

Nestlé will spend £15 million ($24 million) to market Aero in the UK and Ireland this year, the company’s biggest promotional budget ever for the bubbly chocolate brand. Callebaut, which makes bulk chocolate for Nestlé, Hershey, Kraft Foods, and others, is introducing “textured” aerated fillings such as caramel and hazelnut in some of its bars. Adding air pockets offers a better “mouth experience,” says Paul Pruett, chief executive officer of Bubble Chocolate, a Salem (Mass) company that began selling aerated chocolate in the US in 2009……

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