- Chocolate manufacturer Barry Callebaut is petitioning the Food and Drug Administration for a qualified health claim for the heart benefits of chocolate. The petition is undergoing FDA review. It was posted to the regulations website for public comment last week, where members of the public can add their views for 60 days.
- In the petition, Barry Callebaut says it found supportive but inconclusive scientific evidence suggesting that consuming at least 200 milligrams of cocoa flavanols daily may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. The claims are applicable to cocoa powder, semi-sweet and dark chocolate products.
- The petition was originally submitted in December 2017, but the FDA required additional information in order to acknowledge it. The FDA acknowledged the petition on Nov. 21, 2018 and sent a letter on December 6, 2018 notifying the company that they would decide whether to file the petition by January 4. The government shutdown delayed the petition filing date.
Although the petition is still in the early stages, a heart-healthy claim could give chocolate makers an edge in the growing better-for-you market.
This isn't Barry Callebaut's first time proposing this health claim. In 2013, the company provided evidence of the same claim to the European Commission. The claim was approved to appear on product labels across Europe, which could give the FDA reason to apply the same standard here.
"Cocoa flavanols help maintain the elasticity of blood vessels, which contributes to normal blood flow," the European Commission said in its commission regulation in 2013. The commission even extended the claim to cocoa extracts in 2015.
But Barry Callebaut has unsuccessfully petitioned the FDA before. Last year, the agency ruled the company could not market its new ruby confectionery product as chocolate in the U.S. Although this issue is completely different than a petition for a health claim, it shows that FDA does not always agree with the same standards that a product may have in other countries.
However, this health claim could have better luck. In the 200-page petition, Barry Callebaut acknowledges that the scientific evidence isn't fully conclusive. But the company lays out a review of the scientific research, including controlled intervention studies that looked at daily consumption of cocoa flavanols. These found the flavanols can lower the risk of cardiovascular disease among healthy individuals.
This isn't the first study to claim health benefits from chocolate. Last year, a study found that dark chocolate could boost creativity and cognitive function. Additionally, a 2016 study looked at dark chocolate's links to heart health and found that healthcare professionals could consider recommending a daily dose of dark chocolate because of its high levels of flavonoids, which are known for antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects.
This could be the optimal time for this kind of claim, since health halos have helped drive chocolate sales. Organic chocolate has already carved a space for itself in the industry while demand continues to grow for healthier foods. A recent report from Research and Markets predicted that the market for international chocolate would increase annually by 2.4% through 2021, and healthier versions of chocolate in particular would see a jump.
As Barry Callebaut has expanded its footprint in the U.S. in recent years, the chocolate maker has already attempted to stay at the forefront of trends in the industry. The company launched a line of low-sugar chocolate in 2017 to bolster a better nutritional profile for the treat while still prioritizing taste, according to Food Navigator. And the chocolate maker has launched ambitious sustainability goals as climate change threatens future cocoa supply.
As the demand for chocolate has increased, more companies in general are launching products to meet the growing desire so the competition is big. With the market for healthier chocolate already expecting growth, a health claim could help substantiate the confection's nutritional profile in the face of skeptical consumers who still see it as an indulgent treat.