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Would chocolate containing trans fats and sugar substitutes taste as sweet as the real thing? Hershey Co. and other candy makers say yes.
The Chocolate Manufacturers Association, whose members include Hershey, Nestle SA and Archer Daniels Midland Co., has a petition before the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to redefine what constitutes chocolate. They want to make it without the required ingredients of cocoa butter and cocoa solids, using instead artificial sweeteners, milk substitutes and vegetable fats such as hydrogenated and trans fats.
''They are trying to pull one over on us,'' said Cybele May, 40, publisher of CandyBlog, on which she has encouraged more than 200 people to write the FDA to protest what she calls ''mockolate.'' ''What they are asking for is permission to confuse the consumer for what we readily accept as chocolate.''
Gary Guittard, fourth-generation owner of Guittard Chocolate Co., wants to keep chocolate from the dark side, too. He has enlisted the support of high-end companies such as billionaire Warren Buffett's See's Candies to fight the big chocolate makers.
''The process of this thing going through, it wasn't transparent, and it needs to be brought out into the light,'' said Guittard.
Brad Kinstler, chief executive officer of Carson, California-based See's, is siding with Guittard in the confections controversy.
''If the margarine manufacturers could call their product butter instead of being required to call it margarine, wouldn't it strike the consumer as being odd?'' said Kinstler, whose company sold 30 million pounds of sweets last year.
Hershey, the largest U.S. candy maker, says that broader labeling is needed to keep up with changing consumer tastes.
''The petition would modernize all food standards, increasing flexibility to accommodate changes in technology'' Kirk Saville, spokesman for the Hershey, Penn.-based company, said in an interview. ''Changes, if adopted, would provide the flexibility to make changes based on consumer taste preference, ingredient costs and availability, and shelf life.''
Cocoa prices in New York have surged about 28 percent in the past six months on speculation that dry weather may impair cocoa production in the Ivory Coast and Ghana, the world's largest suppliers of beans to make chocolate.
''Cocoa butter is the most expensive ingredient there is, and so it adds up to a substantial amount of money,'' said Guittard, whose 139-year-old company in Burlingame, Calif., is a member of the chocolate manufacturers association.
A pound of chocolate contains roughly 25 percent cocoa butter at a cost of $2.30, while vegetable oils are as little as 70 cents a pound, Guittard said. U.S. chocolate manufacturers used $1.4 billion of cocoa and cocoa products in 2005, according to the latest data from the Chocolate Manufacturers Association.
The chocolate association signed the petition submitted to FDA last October to change the candy. Members believe ''now is an appropriate time for FDA to update the standards of identity for all foods,'' group President Lynn Bragg said.
The proposal was drafted by the Grocery Manu- facturers/Food Products Association urging the FDA to ''modernize food standards.''