“Our Alternative Chocolate says this industry can work in a different way – and it doesn’t have to be stuck doing what it’s been doing for 60 years, earning billions of dollars a year from the hard work of West African farmers. — Johnny Drain, co-founder of WNWN
The social and environmental challenges associated with chocolate production are well documented. Most chocolate (about 75 percent) enjoyed around the world comes from cocoa trees grown in Ghana Where Ivory Coast — two countries that have experienced “some of the worst rates of deforestation intensification in the world in decades,” according to
mighty earth. Ivory Coast has lost up to 90% of its forest cover, a third of which is thought to be cocoa as farmers clear rainforests to make way for new cocoa trees.
In addition to rampant deforestation, West African farmers often resort to child labor, with family farms exposing children to working with dangerous tools and harmful pesticides. Earlier this year, a TV documentary
discovered that children as young as 10 were harvesting cocoa in Ghana to be supplied to one of the largest chocolate companies in the world, Mondelez International – who own Cadbury. A recent survey found that among children living in farming households in cocoa-growing areas in both countries, 45% are engaged in child labor.
The problem is that we like it. We’ve been doing it since the first North American settlers began growing the cocoa tree for its bitter beans 2,000 years ago. During Valentine’s Day week in the WE, people eat 58 million pounds of chocolate. As our love for chocolate grows, so does the pressure on the environment and the impact on societies.
What if there was a way to satiate our chocolate appetite without growing a single cocoa tree? What if chocolate could be produced without disrupting increasingly vulnerable supply chains, ecosystems and communities?
Well, it is possible.
Come on, WNWN Food Laboratories (pronounced “win-win”), a new food startup (launched during the pandemic) that makes chocolate without chocolate.
“It tastes like chocolate, it melts, breaks and even cooks like chocolate. But we use absolutely no cocoa”, co-founder Johnny Drain recount Sustainable Brands™ from its kitchen-laboratory to London. “The way cocoa beans have been fermented and roasted has been refined over hundreds and hundreds of years into this delicious stuff we call chocolate. But when I put on my chemist hat, I wondered. asked, “Why can’t you end up with the same flavor profile, but start with something different?”
It’s a question Drain continues to ask himself since earning a doctorate in materials science and a career spent in kitchens “fermenting things for chefs, setting up R&D and developing new products “. As a starting point for WNWN’s first product, he landed on British barley and Italian carob – the latter from a pod of a tree of the same name and rich in antioxidant polyphenols, just like cocoa.
“By taking these two very European ingredients, we came up with this funky, highly scientific way of fermenting them and turning them into flavor compounds that you also have in a chocolate.” The cocoa-free chocolate contains no added sugar (only what is produced naturally during the fermentation process) and no dairy (although Drain says they could make a non-vegan version by adding dairy). WNWN claims its chocolate also emits 85% less carbon than conventional chocolate.
Drain’s company was born after an ex-investment banker Arum Pack slipped into Drain’s DMs after a mutual connection introduced the pair via instagram. Report from its database PortugalPak says she was happy to “escape the evil clutches” of the investment world with ambitions to start a food-related business: “I always wanted to work in a company that could potentially change people’s lives. industries or people’s mindsets.”
That’s exactly what she’s been doing with Drain since the pandemic hit. Drain explains that the couple started thinking about businesses around using food waste and fermentation: “I trusted Ahrum and realized we would make a great team. I had had this idea of developing chocolate without chocolate for a while; so, we both got really excited about it and dropped our other ideas.
So what is WNWN’s ambition? Well, there are a number of other companies doing something similar, but Drain and Pak are the first to market with a cocoa-free chocolate product. It was launched in May and sold out within a day, with customers saying they never would have known they weren’t eating a real chocolate bar.
“Ultimately, we want to produce a whole range of different chocolates – a real milk chocolate, a flavored bar…and we can control the flavor profiles with the fermentation and processing that we do,” says Drains enthusiastically.
He also recognizes the limitations of their business by changing the current growth strategies and buying habits of what he calls the “big chocolate” industry.
“Even if we capture 1% of what is a huge market, we wouldn’t be able to impact the day-to-day running of cocoa farms,” he says. However, WNWN wants to raise awareness and shine a light on what is happening in the sector. “Our Alternative Chocolate says this industry can work in a different way – and it doesn’t have to be stuck doing what it’s been doing for 60 years, earning billions of dollars a year from the hard work of West African farmers.
“We are not anti-Big Chocolate. We really want chocolate to get the respect it deserves,” adds Pak.