Hot chocolate: Monash and Darrell Lea break the mould in block choc market

Monash University has worked alongside Darrell Lea to develop the company's first entry into Australia's block chocolate market.

Have you ever found yourself staring blankly at rows of seemingly endless blocks of chocolate while doing the weekly grocery shop?

Peppermint, fruit and nut, coconut, caramel, strawberry, orange, honeycomb, chilli, white, dark, cocoa-intense, dairy-free, organic ... it’s overwhelming, to say the least.

So what chance does an iconic Australian brand have in making inroads into the $600 million block choc market with its alternative approach to chocolate, without compromising on flavour, texture and quality?

Monash University has worked alongside Darrell Lea to add bite to its product line and satisfy Australians’ love of chocolate.

While eight out of 10 Australians know Darrell Lea, many might not be aware that in 2019, the company produced its first chocolate block, thanks to Monash innovation. As of a few months ago, 80 per cent of its business was in the liquorice market.

“We make liquorice, and we make it world-class. In fact, we make about 40,000km of liquorice a year – enough to be wrapped around the world once. Our aim was to transform this flavour and reputation into a milk chocolate block,” Darrell Lea Marketing Director Tim Stanford said.

“Australians are the biggest meat eaters in the world, behind the USA – we’re chewers and chompers, and have a preference for chunkier versions of products compared to Europeans, for example, who tend to gravitate towards products that require less energy to consume.

“Australians have a rabid hunger for block chocolate, and is part of the reason why 92 per cent of households across the country consume block chocolate in some way, shape or form, and is one of the biggest and fastest-growing retail sectors.”

Monash Food Innovation’s lead industrial designer, Adam Norris, had the somewhat creative – yet challenging – task of exploring the different ways to mould the chocolate block, reflecting Darrell Lea’s core product aims.

After months of drawing and testing, Mr Norris ended up with a structure that has larger pips, contains seven rows of three pips, and weighs 180 grams. The standard chocolate block formation of six rows of four pips was perceived as being “less generous”.

“This makes a big difference in terms of meeting the flavour and texture demands of our audience. We were really surprised at the difference it makes when you’ve got a big piece of chocolate full of inclusions, opposed to a smaller pit of chocolate with less inclusions,” Mr Norris said.

From there, Mr Norris and the Monash Food Innovation team 3D-printed the chocolate blocks to the exact size and specifications (and even painted the mould to look like chocolate) for Darrell Lea’s review.

Once validated, Darrell Lea reached out to both food technologists and other global partners to create the injection-moulded trays that allow the chocolate to mould correctly and have the ingredients spread evenly across the block.

“Monash’s work essentially de-risked the process before Darrell Lea pressed the green light and spent up to $100,000 on production,” Mr Norris said.

“We’ve enabled Darrell Lea to produce a range of chocolate blocks in six to nine months, which is incredibly fast for a mainstream business. Usually, this could take businesses up to two years to produce a chocolate block line at this scale and quality.”

Mr Stanford said Monash’s work allowed Darrell Lea to make product samples, fast-track and refine its thinking to create a winning formula.

“The only way we could have done this without Monash University’s support was through Germany – by either meeting with the mould–makers themselves, or go through their catalogue of moulds and select one off the shelf. But what we would have ended up with is a product like everything else on the market,” Mr Stanford said.

In August 2018, Darrell Lea bought Heritage Fine Chocolates, located in Rowville, about 35km from the Melbourne CBD, which has become the Darrell Lea centre of excellence. The facility has the capacity to produce block chocolate at scale and cater to the growing Australian market. The company will employ another 100 people before the end of 2019.

Read the full story on Monash Lens