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Producing a people- and planet-friendly chocolate alternative

Article-Producing a people- and planet-friendly chocolate alternative

© WNWN Food Labs Pictured: Startup WNWN Food Labs' CTO, Johnny Drain and CEO, Ahrum Pak
Pictured: Startup WNWN Food Labs' CTO, Johnny Drain and CEO, Ahrum Pak
Cocoa-free chocolate could be the solution to minimising ethical and environmental harm in the global chocolate industry, says foodtech startup WNWN, which is replacing cocoa beans with fermented legumes and cereals that can replicate the flavour.

Many consumers view chocolate as an indulgent and satisfying treat. Its production process however, linked to child labour, widespread deforestation, and climate change, is much less sweet.

Seeking to tackle the dark side of the chocolate industry, London-based foodtech startup WNWN Food Labs (pronounced win-win) has developed what it claims is the world’s first cocoa-free chocolate. The product, the company says, “looks, smells, tastes, melts, snaps, and bakes like conventional chocolate,” yet is more ethical and sustainable.

We view ourselves as pioneers of pushing the boundaries of what can be sustainable but also very delicious,” said Ahrum Pak, chief executive officer (CEO) at WNWN.

WNWN and other agri-food industry innovators and startups will be attending the annual F&A Next Summit in May 2023.

A process inspired by history and nature

Inspired by nature, WNWN’s cocoa-free chocolate is produced via a proprietary traditional fermentation process which mimics ancient methods of chocolate production but replaces cocoa beans with sustainably sourced whole food ingredients, such as legumes and cereals. The result is a product which looks, tastes, and acts identically to traditional chocolate, Drain told Fi Global Insights.

Operating in a relatively nascent and niche market, the startup’s competitors include only a handful of companies, including US-based California Cultured and Voyage Foods, and Germany-based Planet A Foods. Between them, a range of methods to produce alternative chocolate are in use, ranging from precision fermentation to plant cell culturing methods.

We’ve developed our own proprietary fermentation process as it allows us to bypass regulatory hurdles, is highly scalable, and is highly affordable. And we believe that the taste is also superior to other methods,” said Pak.

In keeping with the clean label trend, the product features a short ingredient list and is even free from theobromine, a compound contained in cocoa that is toxic to some animals, allowing consumers to safety share it with their dog. Compared to conventional dairy chocolate, WNWN’s alternative product also contains less sugar and saturated fat.

The company are currently partnering with food manufacturers on a custom basis to bring cocoa-free products to market and have plans to launch a consumer brand later this year.

Our main vision is to be a very strong player in the ingredients space, but we also know that consumers are our main champions,” Pak explained.

© WNWN Food LabsWNWN Food Labs' Cacao-Free Dark-Milk Chocolate Bar

Pictured: WNWN Food Labs' Cacao-Free Dark-Milk Chocolate Bar

Confronting the challenges of the chocolate industry

The global chocolate industry is riddled with far reaching ethical and environmental issues. Around 70% of the world’s cocoa beans are grown in just a handful of countries in West Africa in conditions that are harmful to both people and planet, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

Most of the world's mass market chocolate is produced in a way that uses 1.5 million child slaves in West Africa, widespread deforestation, and an outsized carbon footprint. As much as we love chocolate (and we do - we love chocolate and cacao!) we believe that there is another way for people to get that chocolate flavour hit, without damaging those people and the planet,” said Johnny Drain, chief technology officer at WNWN.

Chocolate production is also a major cause of mass deforestation in the region, particularly in the Ivory Coast, where an estimated 70% of illegal deforestation is tied to cocoa farming. WNWN’s solution operates a model of local sourcing and production to produce chocolate which is more sustainable than conventional alternatives.

If you look at dark chocolate pound per pound, it's [carbon footprint is] actually higher than a dairy cow or poultry […] and that's crazy, right? By developing an ingredient that other B2B companies can buy, they can create the equivalent of a Kit Kat or Mars bar, but with80% less carbon emissions and 100% deforestation free,” said Pak.

F&A Next: ‘Catalysing sustainable food and agri innovation’

WNWN will feature at the annual F&A Next Summit, taking place from 24 to 25 May 2023 in the Netherlands.

From forward-thinking tech startups to influential corporates and investors, this year’s edition of F&A Next will bring together key players from across the global food and beverage industry for an exclusive two-day event, in-person at Wageningen Campus and online.

The ‘Next Heroes in Food & Agtech 2023’ session will see startups pitch their innovations live on stage to an audience of investors and attendees.