Indulging in sweets is part of the job for Darrell Lea Group Technical Manager Dai Tran.
“Is there such a thing as self-control when it comes to confectionery?” she laughs.
“We have to do it. Every day, we are required to evaluate all the products made in the past 24 hours so that’s my excuse to indulge.”
Ms Tran’s taste-testing skills were crucial when the iconic Australian confectionery brand made the bold move to banish palm oil from all its products, in response to the environmental concerns demand for the ingredient has on rainforests in South East Asia and the endangered animals who live in them.
Making a complete switch to sunflower oil was a challenging 18-month journey, and the group is not stopping there in its bid to live up to its mission of “making it better” for the environment and consumers.
Recyclable packaging is next on the agenda.
“When you’re eating products, you want to be thinking not only ‘what am I putting in my body’ but ‘how am I impacting on the environment’,” Ms Tran said.
Palm oil-free was the logical next step in a green journey that started with Darrell Lea embracing 100% sustainable cocoa, she said.
Ms Tran recalls her disbelief in being told of the plan to go palm oil-free.
“When I was briefed, I was like ‘oh my goodness, do you know how difficult this is?’” she said.
“People often just look at the ingredients and think ‘oh well, there’s no palm oil here so what’s the big deal?’ Like you can just switch it if you want to do a palm oil-free product.
“But the thing is, over 200 ingredients could be derived from palm oil but are not always clearly stated on a packet. It’s often hidden so the average consumer doesn’t know the source of the ingredients.
“So, we set out to do a massive review of all our ingredients derived from palm. The whole technical team went out and talked to suppliers searching for alternatives.
“We went into the factory and did a bunch of trials to see how the new ingredients performed in our products. At the end of the day, that’s the real test. What is it going to do to the texture of the product? The flavour?
“We would’ve done hundreds of trials, one after the after. The biggest challenge was that suppliers didn’t have the ingredients we were after. What we were asking for was really niche.”
During trials, not every product was able to pass the taste and texture test.
“We had to delete some choc-filled liquorice Stix because we just could not find a suitable chocolate to go inside that would deliver the same texture and flavour,” Ms Tran said.
“It was a hard decision. It was one of my favourite products, to be honest. We’re waiting for the technology and for the suppliers to catch up, and I’m sure we’ll be able to reproduce that in the near future, fingers crossed.”
Darrell Lea’s efforts have been applauded – and replicated in New Zealand.
“Consumers are absolutely ecstatic,” Ms Tran said.
“We got massive positive feedback from the public acknowledging that we were brave enough to take on the challenge. They’re very appreciative of what we have done.
“We’re now rolling out the same success in New Zealand, where we have a manufacturing site. They’ve literally just gone palm oil-free over there, in July.
“We’ve been able to transfer the knowledge we’ve captured here to our sister company in New Zealand.”
Thrilled with Darrell Lea’s success, Ms Tran said she encouraged other manufacturers to do the same.
“Go for it,” she said.
“It’s not an easy journey but I would recommend you commit yourself to the cause. You will be so proud of what you can achieve. It was a really good challenge for us.
“When I look back, I think ‘what a huge achievement for the business’ and personally, I’m so proud of my team.
“It’s a massive achievement.”
Darrell Lea has been a member of Ai Group for two-and-half years.
“Our membership with Ai Group provides broad benefit across our business in varying functions, and the support provided is both easily accessible and highly relevant. To be able to access advice and training as needed as well as be kept abreast of emerging trends is highly valuable.”
Wendy Larter is the Senior Content Writer at Ai Group. She is a journalist with more than 20 years’ experience as a reporter, features writer, contributor and sub-editor for newspapers and magazines including The Courier-Mail in Brisbane and Metro, News of the World, The Times and Elle in the UK.