Select Committee on European Communities Nineteenth Report




Why use non-cocoa-butter vegetable fats

  12.  Non-cocoa fats have been used in chocolate making in the United Kingdom and elsewhere since the 1950s. The industry was at that time not regulated, but five per cent was the commonly agreed maximum (Q 11). The main non-cocoa fats used are shea nut butter, illipe butter and palm oil. Chocolate makers sought to develop their products by exploiting new technical opportunities made possible through the use of these non-cocoa fats.

  13.  The non-cocoa fats change the physical properties of the chocolate. The melting point is raised: this allows for room-temperature storage and the opening of markets in the southern Member States. Shelf life is extended as fats reduce "bloom": the harmless but unattractive white discoloration of chocolate which occurs after a period in storage. The chocolate gains increased hardness, particularly useful for milk chocolate with a high milk content where the milk makes the chocolate soft; and some manufacturers perceive consumer preference for harder chocolate. It is also suggested that there is consumer preference for the increased snap gained by adding non-cocoa fats, and for the different "mouth-feel" (pp 1, 14, 18, 19-20).

  14.  The use of non-cocoa fats can reduce the cost of production (p 1), and so bring chocolate to a market wider than that for luxury goods. Thorntons, a representative of the luxury market in the United Kingdom, use no non-cocoa fats and perceive this to be a strength of their brand. This is also so that their products can be sold world-wide with no adaptations (the United States does not permit the use of non-cocoa fats) (p 23). This was also George Payne & Co.'s reason for not using non-cocoa fats (p 20). Test Achats (the Belgian consumers' association) considered that non-cocoa fats detrimentally affected the taste of chocolate (p 22), but the effect of their presence on taste (as opposed to mouth-feel) was not noted by any other witness.

Community circulation

  15.  Of our witnesses, the industry representatives unanimously advocated the free circulation of chocolate containing non-cocoa fats (pp 13, 14, 18). The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF) considered the proposal to be a "long overdue" single market measure (p 19). The manufacturers in the United Kingdom who do not use non-cocoa fats considered that their consumers were aware of the quality of their product and so were not opposed to the permission to use non-cocoa fats (Thorntons, p 23). Of the consumers' evidence which we received, the Consumers' Association was of the opinion that "one recipe is not inferior to the other, they are just different" (p 17). Test Achats, in contrast to the Belgian chocolate industry, was thoroughly opposed to the proposal. They considered it the thin end of the wedge which would lead manufacturers to cut quality, and, that in comparison, the luxury product with which Belgians are familiar would become more expensive (p 22).

  16.  The Seed Crushers' and Oil Processors' Association (SCOPA) noted that the Directive did not provide for full freedom of manufacture, as Member States could still restrict their domestic industry by banning the manufacture of chocolate products containing non-cocoa fats, even though the Directive would permit the import and sale of products made in other Member States (p 21).


  17.  The Italian industry argued that as the provision would be a sensitive novelty for several states an additional labelling statement was in this instance appropriate (p 13). The Consumers' Association also considered that the presence of non-cocoa fats should be clearly stated on the packet (p 17). Test Achats argued that the statement should not only be separate, but in large characters (p 22). The Cocoa Campaign, representing European cocoa pressers and pressers in cocoa producing countries, argued that the statement must be on the front of the packet: they advocated adding to the sales name "contains vegetable fats". They noted that, as the majority of products are sold under brand names, it was not the term "chocolate" that mattered (p 16). The Biscuit, Cake, Chocolate and Confectionery Alliance (BCCCA) in part acknowledged this (QQ 3-4). Double labelling (the printing of a separate statement that a product contains non-cocoa fats in addition to this being recorded in the list of ingredients) would probably not affect the market security of existing brands, but could very well hinder new products from gaining consumer acceptance (Dairy Industry Federation, p 18). MAFF considered that the consumer needed to be informed, but that double labelling was objectionable (p 20).

  18.  The BCCCA and the European Association of the Chocolate, Biscuit and Confectionery Industries (CAOBISCO) argued that the Directive's requirement for a "clear, neutral and objective statement" of the presence of non-cocoa fats was the appropriate way to resolve the issue (pp 1, 14). A statement on the front of the packet, however, would make the product appear inferior and so did not meet the Directive's intention (p 1). This was reinforced by the Dairy Industry Federation (p 18). A statement next to the ingredients list was acceptable but unnecessary (QQ 20-1). Under the forthcoming QUID[3] rules, all chocolate products will have to have an ingredients list with stated quantities for the main ingredients. The Food and Drink Federation (FDF) considered that double labelling undermined the ingredients list (p 18). SCOPA considered a separate statement to be quite exceptional as the non-cocoa fats used in chocolate manufacture are also used in thousands of other food products with no such labelling requirement (p 22). The BCCCA noted that front-of-face labels are currently used only for health warnings, for example with some sugar substitutes which the body does not easily absorb (Q 24).

Consumer choice

  19.  Test Achats objected to the permission to use non-cocoa fats on the grounds that Belgian consumers did not want any change to the composition of their chocolate (p 22). SCOPA, amongst others, dismissed this concern, saying that the permission was only a permission, it was not an order to use non-cocoa fats (p 21). The FDF noted that far from all manufacturers would use the permission, as their markets were secure. Manufacturers would make their choices based on consumer demand (p 19). This was reinforced by MAFF, who were firmly in favour of all products being able to compete fairly and that the industry should respond to shifts in consumer demand (pp 19-20).

Delayed implementation

-  Testing

  20.  Test Achats were opposed to the implementation of the Directive until a test was available for the presence of non-cocoa fats in the finished product (p 22). This case was also put by the Cocoa Campaign (pp 15-16). The BCCCA argued that one of the attractions of non-cocoa fats was their chemical similarity to cocoa butter. A test made on the finished product would be difficult, but the regulation could be enforced through existing factory inspections and their verification of recipes (Q 63).

-  Minimising costs

  21.  George Payne noted that the cost to their business of any change in labelling requirements would be in excess of £100,000 and this could be increased if existing packaging had to be written off (p 20). The BCCCA could not estimate the scale of costs for the industry as a whole, but noted that a single print roller costs several hundred pounds (Q 33). They pleaded that any new requirement be announced in good time so that the industry could prepare itself and minimise the cost of change (Q 28). Additional costs could then largely be lost in the continual process of packaging change and development.

Effect on developing countries

  22.  The Cocoa Campaign argued that the general use of non-cocoa fats would lead to a fall in demand for cocoa beans of between 130,000 and 200,000 tons in the Community market, and a drop in prices of up to 20 per cent, which would severely affect the economies of the developing countries which supply cocoa beans (p 16). The BCCCA, however, put the worst case figure as a reduction of 60,000 tonnes within the total consumption of 2 million (three per cent of the current annual tonnage) (Q 52), and CAOBISCO argued that, even with such a scenario, the producers' revenues would rise by 15 per cent owing to the continual annual growth in demand for cocoa (p 15). The BCCCA noted that a more relevant effect on the cocoa market was that the world's largest supplier, Brazil, had been badly affected by Witches' Broom disease and that other suppliers, predominantly African, were as a consequence receiving much higher prices for their products (Q 50). SCOPA claimed that, generally, the lower the cocoa content, the higher the demand for the product. The permission to use non-cocoa fats would also encourage new product development and as a consequence demand for cocoa (p 21). The BCCCA also argued that permission did not necessarily imply change (Q 50). Many producers would ask themselves "why change a winning formula?" and continue without using non-cocoa fats (p 2). This case was also put by Thorntons, who are in such a position themselves (p 23). In any event, SCOPA noted that the raw materials for the non-cocoa fats also came from developing countries, including Burkina Faso and Mali (p 21).

  23.  MAFF did not believe that the cocoa producers would be severely affected and nor, they argued, did the Commission take this view. Non-cocoa fat content was in addition to the minimum cocoa content and was not a substitute for any part of it. Several developing countries would benefit from any increase in non-cocoa fat sales. In any event, it was consumer demand which should determine the market composition (p 20).


Single market

  24.  We consider that the Directive, insofar as it is designed to secure the free circulation of chocolate containing non-cocoa fats, is a welcome, if belated, measure to implement the single market. Non-cocoa fats used in the manufacture of chocolate are also used in the manufacture of many other products, and there is no reason why they should not be present in chocolate. They provide many technical advantages (see paragraphs 12-14 above), and many consumers prefer chocolate in which they are an ingredient. Chocolate with up to 5 per cent non-cocoa fat content is not in our opinion an inferior product, and there are no good grounds for excluding it from any market within the Community.


  25.  In our opinion, there should be no double-labelling requirement for chocolate containing up to 5 per cent non-cocoa fats. By February 2000, when the QUID rules come into effect, the ingredient list will specify the quantities of principal ingredients. The imposition of additional labelling requirements for no good reason is an unnecessary burden on the industry.

  26.  For the sake of securing an agreement in Council, however, and out of sympathy for the argument that for several Member States, chocolate containing non-cocoa fats will be a new and unfamiliar product, we would acknowledge that some form of additional labelling, apart from the ingredients list, may be required. Such a requirement should have a strict end date. Any additional label should not be on the front of the package, as would be required by the European Parliament's amendment. Front-of-package labelling should be avoided for all but health warnings-and health warnings will be more effective if front-of-package labels are not made commonplace.

  27.  Moreover we strongly consider that any new labelling requirements should only come into force after the industry has received adequate notice. The industry will then be able to lose most of the costs involved through the normal process of the change and development of packaging.

Effect on developing countries

  28.  We consider ill-founded the argument that freedom to use non-cocoa fats in the manufacture of chocolate throughout the Community will necessarily be to the detriment of those developing countries which produce cocoa beans. World demand for cocoa has been outstripping supply and the price for cocoa beans has been rising. The European demand for cocoa has increased by 50 per cent in the last ten years and the industry has predicted that growth will continue. The degree to which as a result of this directive the use of cocoa diminishes is likely in our view to be more than offset by overall continued rise in demand. As far as those developing countries who produce non-cocoa fats are concerned, they will benefit from the Directive. In general we believe, however, that the use of commodities should not, if possible, be viewed as an aspect of aid policy. Product-tied aid is notorious for the seemingly almost insurmountable rigidities and states of dependency it creates.


  29.  The availability of a chemical test for the presence of non-cocoa fats in the finished product, as proposed by the Cocoa Campaign and taken up by the European Parliament, is, in our opinion, an irrelevant issue. There is no need to delay the implementation of the proposed Directive until such a test becomes available. Testing can be carried out quite simply through existing powers for factory inspection and recipe verification.

3   Quantitative Ingredient Declaration (QUID), Directive 97/4/EC, OJ L43 (14 February 1997) p 21. The Directive states that the quantity of the main ingredients will have to be included as part of the ingredients list. Back

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