- Hershey is seeking a patent on a method of using roasted grain flour — made from rice, wheat, oats, corn, sorghum or millet — as a substitute for milk protein in a dairy-free alternative to milk chocolate. The Pennsylvania chocolate company filed its application on May 1. It was first reported by Food Navigator.
- In the patent application, the company states most existing dairy-free chocolates use solids derived from nuts and oil seeds. While these have been able to make confections, they tend to be more waxy and chewy with higher melting points, the application says. Other methods of using grains to replace dairy in chocolates, the patent application says, also negatively impact the chocolate.
- Many chocolate makers — but Hershey in particular — are doubling down on finding ways to make the confection so that it’s allergen-free and has fewer ingredients that negatively impact health. Hershey has already tested a dairy-free chocolate bar with its Oat Made, available at some U.S. retailers through this month.
Creating a more accessible and less unhealthy chocolate has been a huge challenge that most confectioners are tackling. It’s been difficult to find the right ingredients and processes to make a candy that adequately mimics milk chocolate in taste, texture and mouthfeel.
This new method from Hershey is another potential solution to the issue. Instead of taking extracts and oils from nuts or other plants or making ingredient swaps of grain powders for milk powder, Hershey is planning to take specially milled flour and roast it before incorporating it into the candy. Roasting the grain flour, the patent application states, can produce a texture, mouthfeel and taste more similar to typical milk chocolate. The chocolate that comes from this mix can also readily be processed for a variety of uses.
The patent states that the roasting process is a dry heat treatment that could cause a measurable change to the grain flour’s color, flavor and moisture content. And once the grains are roasted, they can be combined with other common ingredients to make chocolate through common processes.
Plant-based chocolate is a huge emerging area, and there’s a lot of room for improvement. While six in 10 consumers ages 18 to 44 expect each food brand to have plant-based options, only 45% of them are satisfied with current plant-based chocolate offerings, according to a November 2021 survey done by chocolate ingredients giant Barry Callebaut.
According to Abillion, a plant-based online community, plant-based chocolate represents 40% of the world’s vegan confectionery market and is currently worth $1 billion. There’s also a lot of room to grow. Food AI company Spoonshot said only 5.6% of all chocolate and fudge products in the U.S., U.K. and Australia carry vegan label claims.
Hershey, which released its first plant-based chocolate bar last year with the test of Oat Made, received generally high marks in consumer reviews. It’s unclear at this point if Oat Made is going to become a permanent addition to Hershey’s portfolio. Through a spokesperson, Hershey declined to say whether Oat Made uses the process the company is now trying to patent.
Regardless, given the decidedly mixed reviews for dairy-free chocolates made by Mars and Nestlé, it’s apparent more innovation is needed to create a confection that consumers will choose just as readily as milk chocolate. High-end chocolate maker Lindt also just got into the dairy-free space with oat milk chocolates that won the Innovative New Product Award at the 2022 Sweets & Snacks Expo. Other successful and well-regarded premium dairy-free chocolates are on the market from manufacturers including Mondelēz’s Hu and craft chocolatier Tcho.
Unlike more premium confections currently available, any successful dairy-free Hershey chocolate will have the advantage of being considered an everyday treat. It makes sense for the company to devote significant R&D toward finding the best way to make it, then make sure its intellectual property is protected.