June 12 2019
Having just returned from IFT19 New Orleans, I am full of fresh ideas. Unfortunately, none of them relate to chocolate. I was amazed at the lack of presence demonstrated by chocolate (specifically) and (more broadly) fermented foods/beverages of all kinds at the conference.
Chocolate was present at IFT in a few mostly indirect forms. First, chocolate flavor and flavor blends were well-represented at all the flavor houses. Apparently it's popularity as a flavor is in no doubt. Second, a number of ingredient suppliers deal in a variety of cocoa powders in a range of colors, pH levels, and fat contents suitable for any food application. Upon asking, though, I found that none of these suppliers knew much more about their cocoa powder other than the aforementioned properties. Certainly, they were unaware of its provenance (one supplier was able to tell me the country where the beans were sourced, but none if they were from a single farm, a co-op, or a national collective). All except one of these (Natura) did not deal with chocolate exclusively; rather, chocolate and cocoa powder was one of many products in their lineup, and they did not show themselves to be especially well-informed about it. Third, there were several (exactly three, that I found) booths representing organizations claiming to actually make (from the bean) and sell chocolate. In all cases, the focus was on private labels, and again in all cases, the companies seemed preoccupied with specialty formulations (low-sugar, protein-added, etc.).
This strikes me as poorly depictive of my experience in the chocolate industry, which raises the question: is my experience unusual, or is chocolate underrepresented at IFT? In any case, IFT is clearly not the place to look for information about the chocolate industry. However, I had the pleasure of making contact with two other chocolate researchers and with a fellow member of the Biotech division who has recruited me to help advocate for a Fermented Foods and Beverages subsection. Maybe this sub-section an give chocolate more of a presence at IFT.