Chocolate alternatives are emerging as a disruptive force due to increasing ethical and environmental concerns. The conventional chocolate industry, known for labor issues and deforestation, sees 1.56 million children engaged in cocoa farming, often under exploitative conditions in the countries that produce nearly 60% of the world’s cocoa each year: Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. The environmental toll is equally alarming, with cocoa production contributing to vast deforestation, threatening biodiversity, and exacerbating climate change. The chocolate industry’s carbon footprint urges a reevaluation of people’s chocolate-eating habits.
In response, consumers are embracing chocolate alternatives that sidestep these ethical and environmental pitfalls. As the global demand for dairy-free and plant-based options surges, the market for chocolate alternatives is projected to hit $2 billion by 2032, growing at a CAGR of 13.1% from 2023 to 2032, according to Allied Market Research. This shift signifies a growing awareness among consumers, spurring the industry to prioritize sustainable practices and redefine the sweet success of chocolate. Here, we present five startups taking strides in sustainability, ethical practices, and authenticity by creating a unique product: chocolate-free chocolate.
Foreverland 🇮🇹, based in Southern Italy, is disrupting the chocolate industry with its innovative cocoa-free alternative called Freecao. Developed by a team with experience in multinational corporations and the food industry, Foreverland aims to address the environmental and ethical challenges associated with cocoa production. Freecao is made from a base of carob, a native Mediterranean legume known for its nutritional benefits. The chocolate is free from the nine major allergens, contains 25-50% less sugar than traditional milk chocolate, and focuses on sustainability and the well-being of people. Foreverland plans to scale its production, emphasizing local sourcing and a horizontal product portfolio that extends beyond chocolate, working on a Freecao Spread. The startup has already tested its chocolate with industry players in Italy and it envisions becoming a strategic supplier of cocoa-free chocolate for major confectionery companies globally, emphasizing its commitment to a better-for-the-planet and better-for-people chocolate revolution.
WNWN Food Labs 🇬🇧, a London-based food tech company, has introduced vegan and cocoa-free chocolate bars that replicate popular brands such as Cadbury, Tony’s Chocolonely, and Terry’s. The Win-Win bars, are now available for shipping in the UK, and come in three variants—Choc Nut, Choc Orange, and Vegan M*lk Choc. WNWN claims to have used “cutting-edge science” to convert vegetable fat, carob, oats, and barley into its cocoa-free chocolate alternative. The bars are palm oil-free, packaged in compostable wrappers and cardboard sleeves, and aim to offer an ethical, sustainable, and cocoa-free twist to classic chocolate bars.
Planet A Foods 🇩🇪 is a German startup revolutionizing the future of food through its proprietary technology that involves fermenting plant-based ingredients. Their chocolate is 10x more sustainable and 20% cheaper than conventional chocolate. In order to mimic the organoleptic properties of chocolate, tender, and smooth, they are working on the flavor itself but also on replacing the cocoa butter. By utilizing precision fermentation, roasting, and local processing, the company transforms natural ingredients and by-products like oats into the base for various flavors, including their flagship product, ChoViva—a 100% cocoa-free chocolate. This innovative process reduces carbon emissions by 90% and offers a delicious aroma, luxurious snap, and a smooth texture. Planet A Foods aims to create food ingredients decoupled from unsustainable land and labor practices, building a platform for the future of sustainable and ethical food production. Founded in 2021 by Sara and Max, Planet A Foods is on a mission to reduce the carbon footprint while delivering delightful and sustainable culinary experiences.
California Cultured 🇺🇸is a Californian Startup based in Davis with a team of chocolate and coffee enthusiasts committed to transforming the industry for the better. Recognizing the environmental and ethical issues in traditional chocolate production, they are using plant cell culture technology in cellular agriculture to create cocoa and coffee with identical qualities to conventional products. By selecting optimal cacao and coffee varieties, nurturing cells, and mimicking rainforest conditions, they produce sustainable alternatives free from deforestation and child labor. California Cultured invites people to join them in embracing a new era of environmentally friendly and delicious chocolate and coffee.
Trusty 🇮🇹, an innovative Italian startup founded in 2022, specializes in blockchain-based end-to-end traceability solutions tailored for the agri-food sector. This platform, in development since 2020, currently benefits over 70 Italian companies. Trusty has acquired extensive expertise in the chocolate industry, having implemented their platform in three major industries. This implementation facilitates the tracking of over one hundred cooperatives and more than fifteen thousand farmers across seven countries.
Leveraging this experience, Trusty is now revolutionizing the cocoa industry. They’ve launched a blockchain-enabled marketplace, which adheres to both the European Union Data Regulation (EUDR) and the Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence (CSDD). This marketplace is designed to promote ethical sourcing of high-quality cocoa by fostering direct connections between responsible producers and the industry. Trusty’s platform not only enables transparent trade but also provides micro-financing opportunities. This initiative is pivotal in creating a more sustainable and equitable cocoa supply chain, ultimately benefiting cocoa farmers and the industry alike.
To sum up, in response to increasing ethical and environmental concerns in the conventional chocolate industry, a new era of chocolate alternatives is emerging. The traditional chocolate industry is under scrutiny for labor issues and deforestation, prompting a shift towards sustainable practices. Consumers are actively seeking dairy-free and plant-based options, driving the chocolate alternatives market to a projected $2 billion by 2032. This shift reflects a growing awareness among consumers, urging the industry to prioritize sustainability and redefine the concept of chocolate success. Five startups are leading this transformation, each contributing unique solutions to the ethical and environmental challenges associated with cocoa production. Foreverland, WNWN, Planet A Foods, California Cultured, and Trusty are at the forefront of this movement, introducing innovative cocoa-free alternatives, leveraging plant cell culture technology, and implementing blockchain for transparent supply chains. These startups collectively represent a significant step towards a more sustainable, ethical, and authentic chocolate industry.