In the last decade, we’ve seen an explosion of alt everything (protein, fat, coffee, colouring and others), so it comes to no surprise that chocolate would eventually follow suit. After all, the chocolate industry is one of the most intense when it comes to human and environmental impacts. The trees are subject to crippling diseases, climate change and need extensive amount of water. Plus, cacao beans’ prices are highly volatile. But, it’s kind of “worked” so far and you might think: just because we have the technology for it, does it mean we should be making another alternative? Can it ever be as cheap as or even cheaper than normal chocolate? What’s in there? Also, is the technology at the stage where we, consumers, can see it being used in chocolate bars any time soon? And perhaps most importantly, does it taste any good?
First things first: WNWN’s alt choc is simply delicious and believe us, we’ve been tasting a lot of chocolate as part of our ‘’market research’’. Everything for the job, right? More seriously though, when it comes to chocolate, no one wants to sacrifice taste. Good news is you don’t have to. Having thoroughly tasted their ganache, as a chocolate coating on almonds and in its liquid form, the flavour profile is equivalent to that of a chocolate with55-65% cocoa content. In fact, it’s so close to the real thing that it managed to confuse amateurs and pro chocolatiers in trials.
To achieve this tour de force, the WNWN team has developed a process using readily available base products such as barley and carob, which are cleverly fermented to create an alternative cocoa powder and paste. We’re not talking about fiddly precision fermentation here; the process uses existing chocolate manufacturing equipment. This was key for us. It means production costs are low and can be scaled quickly. Speaking of costs, the end product is (for now) the same price as branded chocolate bars, at around $7/kg. And crucially, the roadmap to price parity with cheaper quality chocolate (the one used in coatings for example), around the $5/kg, is clearly defined.
Function wise, it is malleable into different shapes, products and form (both paste and powder), meaning confectioners can use WNWN’s alt choc without altering dramatically their processes and recipes. This makes Snickers, Mars and Daim’s all ‘’WNWN-able’’. It’s no surprise that the largest chocolate manufacturers are already looking at how to use it in new declinations of their own chocolate bars.
Will it sell though? Obviously, we’re biased on the question but a couple of key objective datapoints tell us that the stars are just starting to align. In the last few years, we’ve seen a marked increase of consciousness – both health and climate-related – in consumer choices, which in turn pushed the industry to launch new product lines, veganising popular products (Cadbury’s Plant bar, the Vegan Kitkat and Lindt’s full line of oat milk bars) or making them healthier by offering a dark chocolate version (the dark Dove, dark KitKat or even dark Maltesers). Customers are also willing topay more for single-origin, tastier and more expensive chocolates. This is evident from the plethora of high-end bars flooding the European market: Montezuma, Friis Holm, Chocolate&Love, Amelia Rope and even Alain Ducasse with his beautiful creations.
So far, the industry’s efforts to make their chocolate less carbon, water and labour intensive have not succeeded to say the least. It is notably still plagued by horrendous child slavery scandals. In Ivory Coast and Ghana alone, it’s estimated that more than 1.5m children work in cacao plantations. Added to this, the increase in demand coupled with the effects of climate change, soil erosion and diseases on yields push farmers to further deforest prime rainforest to plant more of the precious crop.
Regulations on this front are a welcome sight for us all and for WNWN as well. From 2024, the EU will indeed ban imports and exports of six main commodities (including cacao) originating from countries linked with deforestation unless their origin can be traced and proven to be deforestation-free. While questions still remain on how these measures will be policed, it reinforces the emphasis the EU places on sustainable food production and the momentum behind it. Another piece of regulation acting as tailwind for WNWN is the UK law starting January 2024, banning multi-offers deals and advertising High in Fat, Salt and Sugar (HFFS) products before 9pm, which includes chocolate. WNWN’s alt choc doesn’t fall under this ban, making it even more attractive for large confectionary groups to use it in their own treats.
Does this all mean that WNWN will one day replace all cacao-based chocolate in the world? No. But Ahrum, Johnny and the team want to offer you a delicious alternative, replacing unsustainable and unethical chocolate, which is still too often used in your favourite bars, without undermining the work and quality of responsible cacao producers around the world.
If you’ve ever met Ahrum and Johnny, you’d know exactly why there isn’t a better duo to execute on this vision. Their complementary skills combining expertise in fermentation, food production and industry knowledge make them so perfectly suited to ‘’win-win’’ the hearts and tummies of chocolate lovers around the world.
We cannot wait to see a fairer and tastier future where we will be able to eat a chocolate bar without feeling guilty for our health, environment and people behind the production. At least, this is the vision we share with the WNWN team and fellow co-investors Peakbridge, Geschwister Oetker, Mustard Seed Maze, PINC, and HackCapital.
Welcome to the Investbridge AgriTech portfolio, WNWN team!