To Mike Callihan, chocolate is one of those funny flavors that is different for every person.
“Some folks love a deep, dark chocolate, while others prefer a silky milk chocolate,” said Mr. Callihan, general manager, Humboldt Creamery, Fortuna, Calif.
When it comes to yogurt, many prefer chocolate in small doses, like chocolate curls and chopped nuts in a mix-in format. With ice cream, some consumers don’t think a dark chocolate base with chocolate chunks and chocolate variegate is enough. They have to pour on the hot fudge. Even flavored milk preferences vary, with adults tending to skew bold and less sweet, while children prefer the candy bar taste.
In the United States, chocolate milk sales have grown the past few years despite declining consumption of total fluid milk. One contributor driving this category is the demand for chocolate milk from athletes, said Julio Boza, vice-president of research and development, Borden Dairy Co., Dallas.
“Studies in recent years at various universities have shown that chocolate milk is a very effective post-exercise recovery drink,” Mr. Boza said. “Milk is naturally high in protein, and this combined with the carbohydrates — mostly lactose and sugar — provides the ideal carbohydrate-to-protein ratio for post workout recovery. Milk is also high in minerals and, along with the added sodium chloride often found in chocolate milk, this helps replace electrolytes that are lost through perspiration during exercise.”
Another driver of chocolate milk is premium products targeted to adult palates. For example, Sunshine Dairy Foods and Moonstruck Chocolate confectionary, both in Portland, Ore., recently collaborated on an indulgent flavored milk described as rich, creamy drinking chocolate. New Moonstruck Drinking Chocolate differs from traditional chocolate milk, which is cocoa powder stirred into milk, as drinking chocolate is made by mixing chocolate ganache (smooth melted chocolate and heavy cream) with whole milk.
Mr. Callihan agreed that when whole milk is the base for chocolate milk, the product tastes so much more delicious.
“We are very excited about the emerging consumer shift back to full-fat dairy products,” he said. “We also believe the younger shopper is looking for products that are as simple as possible.
“Our new Organic Humboldt Whole Chocolate Milk is in line with this outlook. We chose a darker and richer chocolate profile and removed carrageenan from the formulation.”
Borden Dairy’s Promised Land brand also offers a premium product called Midnight Chocolate Milk, which is formulated exclusively with Jersey cow milk.
“Jersey cow milk contains higher protein, butterfat and milk solids content, providing a richer taste and mouthfeel,” Mr. Boza said. “This product is also higher in cocoa content than most chocolate milk products in the market, making it noticeably richer in chocolate flavor.”
He explained that there are many different techniques to achieve varying flavor profiles in premium chocolate milk.
“One way is to use alkalized cocoa powders, also known as Dutch processed,” Mr. Boza said. “These powders are treated with heat and various salts to increase the pH of the cocoa. Other techniques include adding flavors or salt to enhance the overall flavor profile. Most chocolate milk products on the market include salt and some form of vanilla flavor, which all meld together to form a very nice, well-rounded milk chocolate profile.”
One drawback to Dutch cocoa is that the alkalizing process is often shunned by the natural products community. Advanced technology recently has allowed for the introduction of non-alkalized cocoa with organoleptic properties that resemble its alkalized counterpart.
Processing of the actual milk also affects flavor. For example, ultra-high temperature (U.H.T.) pasteurization produces a cooked flavor in the milk. Some chocolate flavor also may get lost when product goes through a vacuum chamber.
“Vacuum extracts moisture and volatile flavor compounds,” Mr. Boza said. “We have found through various tests that slightly more cocoa is needed for formulas that are U.H.T. processed.”
Such aseptically packaged chocolate milk is booming in the single-serve children’s sector. And with children, chocolate milk is an entirely different game, as there is an industry-wide effort to offer children better-for-you options. These chocolate milks tend to be low in fat or even fat free, as well as lower in sugar content. They also tend to prefer milder, milk chocolate-type flavors.