What is ruby chocolate?
It can be defined by its origins.
It can be defined by the way it looks, feels, smells and tastes.
It can be defined in the way Bas Smit, Barry Callebaut’s global vice president of marketing, explained to Food Dive: the only chocolate that fills the human need for hedonistic indulgence.
But left out of these definitions is the official one from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. While federal regulations have an entire section on cacao products, describing what kind of product from the beans is used, how much of it must be present and what it may be mixed with for flavoring and emulsification, there is nothing about ruby chocolate. The only types of chocolate listed are sweet chocolate — which includes dark chocolate, milk chocolate and white chocolate — as well as allowances to mix products from the cacao bean with different dairy products.
Regardless of the lack of concrete definition, Barry Callebaut announced Tuesday it is making ruby chocolate widely available to confectioners in the United States and Canada, markets where the chocolate supplier has been monitoring growing demand.
"Ruby's now in more than 40 countries in the world," Smit said in April from the company's Americas' headquarters in Chicago. "If you go to Google, there are more than the 120 million hits. It was on 'Saturday Night Live' here in the States. ... It was at the Oscars."
Laura Bergan, Barry Callebaut’s director of innovation for specialties marketing, told Food Dive there should be some ruby items on shelves across North America as soon as next month, with many more coming throughout this year. She also said the ingredients company is hoping to be able to call ruby “chocolate” on a food label soon. She told Food Dive this week that discussions with the FDA so far have been positive.
Ruby chocolate comes from special cacao beans that were discovered more than a generation ago by scientists working for Barry Callebaut, Smit said. These beans grow in Brazil, Ecuador and the Ivory Coast, and scientists processing the chocolate took many years to master the secret of producing the pink chocolate.
When what's now known as ruby was first produced by Barry Callebaut, the company was doing consumer research in China, the U.S. and the U.K., Smit said. The research was targeted to find out why people in the different countries consume chocolate. Smit said they discovered that chocolate can meet six human needs. In a taste test with different kinds of chocolate, the dark pink confection created by the company’s research and development team as an experiment, had a distinct characteristic.
“It turned out to ... satisfy unique needs, and it's called hedonistic indulgence,” Smit said. “And it was the only chocolate doing this. And when we saw this out of the 200-plus pages in the research, we thought, ‘We have the fourth type of chocolate.’ ”
As a term, hedonistic indulgence sounds like a decadent, carefree and gleefully selfish choice — a perfect description for fine chocolate enjoyed by an individual.
Ruby chocolate is a confection with a sensuous dusty rosebud hue and an eggshell shimmer. It smells like milk chocolate might, with a hint of intoxicating sweetness hitting the nose. In the mouth, it melts a bit quicker than most chocolates, with a cascade of flavor like a mix between a berry candy and fine milk chocolate. While dark chocolate is more bitter, Smit said ruby puts on full display the tension between that jolt and the fruitiness, freshness, acidity and deliciousness that creates a unique sensory experience.
“It turned out to ... satisfy unique needs, and it's called hedonistic indulgence. And it was the only chocolate doing this. And when we saw this, ... we thought, ‘We have the fourth type of chocolate.’ ”
Global vice president of marketing, Barry Callebaut
As part of the launch, Smit went to 11 millennial designers and asked them to express hedonistic indulgence for their generation. Millennials, he said, are “hungry for intense sensorial delights” — and often have more spending money because they tend not to own big things, opting for sharing services like Uber and Airbnb instead. So it is no surprise that millennials in Asia, where ruby chocolate launched in 2017, readily paid the equivalent of $3 to buy a piece of the rose-colored chocolate.
Ruby chocolate was first unveiled in Shanghai in September 2017. Smit said the launch location was chosen because China is a place where the world’s trends are now born — and where luxury brands launch.
The first place consumers en masse were able to buy ruby chocolate was Japan.
“Japan is the gateway to the rest of the world, if you think of the approval of next generation of flavors and textures,” Smit said. “And then it travels to the states, and then it travels to Europe. And normally there’s a lapse of one-and-a half years to get to the states, and one-and-a half years more to Europe. It was very important to unlock it in Japan, because if the Japanese consumer would prove it, then we can expect it will travel the world.”
And ruby has traveled the world successfully. Nearly 30 brands are using Barry Callebaut’s chocolate to make the pink confection — and more are on the way.
Coming to America
While ruby chocolate has been popular globally, it’s been a subject of heady anticipation in the United States.
But it hasn’t just been a favorite souvenir from travel abroad. In 2019, Barry Callebaut worked carefully with a few of its vendors to produce the pink chocolate. In a limited fashion, consumers have been able to buy small ruby chocolate wafers at some Trader Joe’s stores, online food boutique Harry & David, from top-shelf chocolate manufacturer Chocolove and at a few high-end chocolate shops in Chicago. Bergan told Food Dive the companies that have been selling ruby are firmly anchored in the premium chocolate market.
“It was very tightly controlled, and still is, really just to try to start to get some consumer ... interest here in the United States, ... as well as proof points for our conversations that we're having with the FDA,” Bergan told Food Dive.
However, the regulating agency still hasn’t updated its definition of “chocolate,” which stands in the way of any products being labeled that way. So far, all of the products are labeled as “ruby cacao.” The word “chocolate” appears nowhere on the package.
“It was very tightly controlled, and still is, really just to try to start to get some consumer ... interest here in the United States, ... as well as proof points for our conversations that we're having with the FDA.”
Director of innovation for specialties marketing, Barry Callebaut
Bergan said Barry Callebaut is working with the FDA to try to change the standards of identity for chocolate, which is a long process. The enthusiastic response to the pilot offerings of the ruby candies will help its cause, she said. The company has applied for a temporary marketing permit, which would allow the confection to be labeled as “chocolate” for 18 months while the regulators evaluate the petition. Bergan told Food Dive this week she is hopeful that discussions to allow the permit are getting near the end.
In response to questions from Food Dive, FDA spokesman Nathan Arnold said in an email that standards of identity are not often changed. The last update to chocolate's standard was in 2002, when white chocolate was defined.
"We require food labeling to be truthful and not misleading and consider product labeling on a case-by-case basis," Arnold wrote. "Among other things, we consider the terms used within the context of the entire label when determining compliance with our requirements."
Since the FDA has not issue any permits or changed the standards of identity for chocolate, Bergan said the company will continue to advise its manufacturer partners to label the products “ruby cacao” as an adjective.
Pretty in pink
As a chocolate ingredients company, Barry Callebaut is not a confectioner. It works with chocolate manufacturers, bakeries and anyone else who works with chocolate. And ruby will be available to all of them.
“We said the consumer should decide what (the) ruby chocolate experience is about, but, as well, tell us as a maker of ruby chocolates,” Smit said. “If they want to have more intense berry ones, if they want to have more intense ruby-colored ones. There are a thousand different milk and dark chocolates. There will be in the future a thousand different ruby chocolates.”
The field is wide open to innovation. While ruby chocolate has been successful in Europe as a Kit Kat bar, it could also take on more diverse forms, such as ice cream, truffles and cakes. Smit noted ruby chocolate pairs well with champagne, opening up an area where chocolate generally has not gone. Bergan said ruby chocolate will be seen as a more premium item, but it may also make an appearance in mass-produced chocolate confections.
“The reason why consumers like ruby is because of its unique taste. .. And therefore it's not called pink chocolate or rose chocolate. … Ruby is like a gemstone. It is a premium stone. It is precious."
Global vice president of marketing, Barry Callebaut
There haven’t been many consumer studies done on ruby yet outside of Barry Callebaut, but indications point to extreme popularity in the United States. Chocolate is big business. According to Zion Market Research, the global chocolate market was worth $103.3 billion in 2017. It is forecast to be worth about $161.6 billion in 2024, expanding at a compound annual growth rate of 7%.
According to Mintel research provided by Barry Callebaut, ruby chocolate has the potential to become more popular than white chocolate, commanding about 10% of the global market.
Christopher Gindlesperger, senior vice president of public affairs and communications at the National Confectioners Association, told Food Dive in an email that chocolate makes up about 60% of the total candy market. Chocolate sales grew 1% last year.
“Premium chocolate continues to rise in popularity — in fact, growth in this segment has been a driver of overall chocolate category growth, with more than 19% growth in the premium chocolate segment in 2018,” he wrote.
While there is excitement building around the seemingly made-for-Instagram confection in millennial pink, Smit said there is much more to ruby chocolate than a vibrant color.
“It's all about the taste,” Smit said. “Color is not relevant. The reason why consumers like ruby is because of its unique taste. .. And therefore it's not called pink chocolate or rose chocolate. … Ruby is like a gemstone. It is a premium stone. It is precious. And that's where, in the end, that's has been a source of inspiration for the name ruby.”