Loving Earth is one of Australia’s leading organic vegan chocolate companies, building an ethical and sustainable supply chain to produce its premium chocolate range. Kim Berry talks to its chief chocolatier Thibault Fregoni and product development manager Emil Kroll about having one of the best jobs in the world. This article first appeared in the August 2021 issue of Food and Drink Business.
Q How did you both become involved in the world of chocolate?
Emil: I studied a Master’s of Food Innovation & Health at the University of Copenhagen, graduating in 2017. Before that I was a chef for seven years.
During my studies I co-founded a natural cider company, Decideret Cider, in 2015. Then, on the back of my master’s thesis, I co-founded Circular Food Technology, a food tech start-up upcycling brewery by-product into a nutritious, aromatic flour called Agrain.
Food is a very emotional thing, we all know the feeling of panic when we don’t know where to eat; or how the mood sinks through the floor boards if the food is bad; and the ecstasy a great meal can bring. To me, working with chocolate and confectionery is not just about putting something sweet in people’s mouth, but about delivering bite-sized positivity to people.
Thibault: I landed in Sydney in 1999 after extensive travels. As you do when young and free, I fell in love with the country and decided to settle for a while... that was 22 years ago and counting!
I fell into chocolate by chance through a French pastry chef friend in the early 2000s. We set up a small business making handmade chocolates at a time when chocolate offerings were very basic in Australia. I moved to Melbourne and set up Monsieur Truffe. Then I moved into making chocolate directly from cocoa beans rather than using chocolate made by other manufacturers, so I started a brand called Matale, named after a Sri Lankan town I was sourcing cocoa from.
I meet the owner of Daintree Estates Barry Kitchen, which has given me a whole host of new experiences as well. I worked with him in Far North Queensland when he was
lobbying for feasibility studies into growing cocoa in Australia. Cocoa is rarely manufactured where it is grown, so it is an opportunity to link growing cocoa and manufacturing it in one location. My knowledge of chocolate now extends from the plantation to the manufacturing.
Q How is Loving Earth’s organic and vegan chocolate made?
Emil: There are several ways to exchange the milk solids that are so extensively used in conventional chocolate with other ingredients.
Loving Earth has pioneered the use of nuts as a creamy base ingredient to create an animal-free version of milk chocolate.
We have a diverse group of people working at Loving Earth, not just vegans. I am not personally vegan, but I truly believe that our food systems should become less dependent on feeding off animals.
Not using spray-dried milk in our chocolates opened up a new avenue of flavour opportunities, which we have mastered. This is probably the way a lot of great inventions have come about, by having constraints and challenges that needed to be overcome, and then finding new and possibly better ways.
Q What was the inspiration behind the new range?
We both started with Loving Earth over the past year, and to begin with we had to deep dive into the current product portfolio and identify some of the core strengths in the current range. We quickly found four of the base chocolates we could build on top of.
Our take on Turkish Delight – the Dirty Rose, the base chocolate is our Cashew Mylk, and combining this velvety mylk chocolate with the floral rose accentuates the base’s strengths, and the tangy cranberries balances the sweetness out. The hazelnut mylk chocolate is such a strong base on its own, that we only needed to accompany it with some hard roasted hazelnuts to create the ultimate nut choccie hit.
We have given Cream & Cookies a bit more edge by working with lots of textures. There are brittle chocolate biscuits and crunchy nibs all covered in our super smooth white chocolate with world-class vanilla and a hint of salt.
Q What is the NPD process at Loving Earth?
We are constantly working on new chocolate bases, and parings with flavours and textures. That work is continuous and ideas from here will eventually graduate into product launches. In confectionery, seasonal events are important because they create a great place to showcase new developments.
The NPD process varies in length from six to 18 months turnaround and involves transitioning through several stages. In the ideation phase, we let the process be open and divergent. As more fully formed ideas emerge and have commercial merit, we will funnel these ideas into a more streamlined process of lab scale testing, upscaling, and shelf-life testing. We strive for early consumer involvement, but COVID-19 has challenged that. We are definitely keen become more heavily involved in that in the future.
Q What can we expect to see next?
Loving Earth encompasses many qualities few companies have. Residing at the top of that list is our long-lasting relationship with the Peruvian cooperative Kemito Ene from which we purchase our cacao. This relationship is growing and will show in our products, especially in the development of a dark chocolate range.
There is also a gifting offering launching later this year, which is delightful, surprising and indulgent.
Q And finally, what’s your favourite flavour?
Emil: Our take on a double layered chocolate, the Caramel Swayzee has been with us for a while, and in the new version it is still one of my favourites. But the Double Hazey is also hard to keep my hands off.
Thibault: I really enjoy our new White which has a beautiful texture, is not overly sweet and makes for a great flavour carrier. Our dark range is interesting and different from other dark chocolates as we don’t roast or conch our liquor, which is meant to strip the acetic acid off the chocolate.