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Gifu factory devoted to producing allergen-free chocolate bars

Chunichi Shimbun

A former president of a sweets manufacturer in Kakamigahara, Gifu Prefecture, has established a small factory exclusively for producing chocolates that do not contain any of 27 allergens, including dairy products and soybeans.

While major companies are reluctant to produce allergen-free sweets because it involves a lot of time and effort, Koji Kani, 65, now chairman of Nikkoh Co., set up the chocolate factory Allergen-free Foods last August in the hope that all children — even those with food allergies — would be able to enjoy chocolates.

Housed in a one-story building with double doors located in a residential area, the factory is filled with sweet aroma as workers rhythmically eject chocolate bars from plastic molds.

The building, which used to be a packing factory for a Nikkoh client, was turned into a facility that produces 2.1 tons of chocolate bars a month. Six workers, aged between 68 and 75, operate the facility.

Commonly marketed chocolates contain milk and food emulsifiers made from soybeans, and people allergic to such ingredients can’t eat them. Since it is difficult to remove these substances completely from machines by cleaning, the only way to produce allergen-free chocolates is to set up an independent facility.

Kani, who was involved in product planning at Nikkoh, had been hoping to contribute to society after leaving the front lines of business. After he stepped down as president in March last year, he set out to develop allergen-free chocolates. He made trial products for three months after establishing the factory, and began full-scale production in November.

Kani said he focused in particular when developing the product on how to make it taste sweet, because chocolates that don’t contain dairy products taste very bitter. Thinking that it is meaningless to make allergen-free chocolates if children can’t enjoy them, he managed, through trial and error, to reduce the bitterness by extending the aging time for the cacao butter after kneading by 1.5 times.

The allergen-free chocolates are now on sale at a major online shopping site, priced at ¥1,000 per five bars, as well as at supermarkets in metropolitan areas. In the Tokai region, the chocolates will become available at some of Sugi Holdings Co.’s drugstores.

Employees at the factory work from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., three days a week. “I am really grateful that I can work at this age to offer delicious chocolates to people with allergies,” said Akemi Suzuki, 75, the oldest worker at the factory.

The factory’s profits, excluding material and labor costs, are donated to child welfare facilities. “I hope we can increase production to meet the demands of people with allergies,” Kani said.

This section, appearing Tuesdays, features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published May 5.