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Using plant-based fermentation to recreate the flavour of chocolate

Article-Using plant-based fermentation to recreate the flavour of chocolate

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Through proprietary technology that naturally ferments oats and sunflower seeds, Planet A Foods is able to recreate the flavours and fats in chocolate – a milestone in the development of sustainable, cocoa-free alternatives, it says.

The company’s product, ChoViva, is produced using an innovative and patented manufacturing process. As Antonia Schreiber, head of business development and partnerships at Planet A Foods, explains, the methods used are close to traditional chocolate making.

Oats and sunflower seeds undergo a similar treatment to cocoa beans, from the proprietary fermentation-like method we use to gentle roasting,” she says.  We then ground the seeds in several steps, to get a highly aromatic concentrate. After that, we mix the concentrate with other ingredients and conche everything.

The end result, says Schreiber, is a creamy, tender, and velvety mass that looks and tastes like chocolate, and has the same manufacturing properties. This is achieved while using local crops that are harvested in a more sustainable and people-friendly way than crops such as cocoa.

For this breakthrough, Planet A Foods was one of two winners of the Most Innovative Sustainable Solution award at the recent Fi Europe Startup Innovation Challenge.

We were very honoured to be nominated, and to win the award this year,” says Schreiber. “This has given us a lot of recognition and we are proud seeing that we can actually contribute to a current challenge that the industry is facing. We are hoping that we can help the industry to move forward in a more sustainable way.

A love of chocolate – and a desire to make a difference

Planet A Foods was founded in 2021 by siblings Sara and Max Marquart. Through combining Sara’s experience in biotech and knowledge of flavours with Max’s work as a material scientist and entrepreneur, the pair saw an opportunity to combine their expertise and love of chocolate with a desire to make a positive difference.

Planet A Foods saw the production of cocoa as highly problematic. Forests are often cleared to make way for cocoa, and such monoculture farming can kill biodiversity and degenerate the soil. Massive amounts of water are needed to produce cocoa, and farmers - with no choice but to grow cocoa – are often kept in grinding poverty.

This is what drove us to develop our ChoViva innovation,” says Schrieber. We wanted to offer ChoViva as an alternative to chocolate - with the same taste but more ethical and with much less CO2 emissions.

Protecting both the planet and people

The business faced a number of challenges in turning this aspiration into a reality. Major issues included building up a production facility from scratch, finding people with the necessary skills, establishing the process and delivering ChoViva at a commercially viable scale.

“Our partners supported us along the way,” says Schrieber. “However, some people didn’t take us very seriously. Right now though, with rising cocoa prices, industry is definitely taking us more seriously. It is increasingly clear that an alternative to cocoa is needed.” 

The company currently consists of food technologists, marketers, and supply chain experts. “We all want to reduce our carbon footprint, while still consuming the delicious things in life,” says Schrieber. We all believe in protecting our planet, and the people that create the foods we love.”

New ideas in sustainable production and consumption

Planet A Foods is currently helping well-known brands and partners to replace cocoa and chocolate with ChoViva in their products. New private label as well as branded products will be launched in Germany, Austrian and Switzerland in 2024, and we are talking to partners about expanding to more countries,” says Schrieber.

FI Europe was an amazing event for us, as it enabled us to get feedback on our product, learn about the industry, and understand current challenges and trends. Additionally, it was great talking to so many people. The event enabled us to establish a network, and to raise awareness of our ingredient brand ChoViva.

This commitment to protecting the planet through cutting CO2 emissions, sustainability utilising local ingredients and treating farmers with dignity remains the central mission of the business.

“The world needs new ideas in how we sustainably deal with food, whether it’s about production or consumption,” says Schreiber. The idea behind ChoViva is to motivate people with joy, and to help us make a difference. On our shared journey, even the tiniest step counts.

Main image: © iStock/Say-Cheese