From bean to bar - the production process
A Nestlé case study

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Page 5: Production

Chocolate production consists of many stages. Farmers are at the start of the production chain.

  • Cocoa plants are generally grown in low lying areas and planted in the shade of other trees such as banana or coconut. It takes up to five years for a new plant to fruit, after which it may have a life span of 30 years, unless severe weather or disease destroys it.
  • Ripe pods are cut from the tree, broken open and the beans removed.
  • The beans are then allowed to ferment, often in baskets, perforated vats, holes in the ground, or in piles covered by banana leaves. This process takes about six days.
  • The beans will by now have turned brown. They will then be spread out to dry in the sun. Sometimes they are dried artificially. This process reduces the moisture content from 60 to 13
  • The beans are then sold. Manufacturers and processors are the major buyers.

The manufacturer then takes over the production process. This involves:

  • cleaning: ensuring materials such as sticks and stones are removed
  • winnowing: the shells are cracked open, the beans isolated, collected and heated
  • roasting: the beans are roasted in furnaces at temperatures between 100ºc 150ºc for 20 to 50 minutes. This releases the cocoa's full flavour and aroma
  • grinding: this process breaks down the cocoa butter on the beans and produces a smooth liquid (cocoa paste)
  • blending: different varieties of cocoa paste are combined to ensure a consistent final product and to determine the flavour, quality and hardness of the chocolate.

Thereafter, manufacture follows two different paths to produce either cocoa powder (used in chocolate drinks, pastries, ice creams and desserts) or solid chocolate. Because cocoa powder requires a low fat content, the paste is pressed to remove most of the cocoa butter. It is then crushed, pulverised and finely sieved. Making solid chocolate requires combinations of four basic ingredients: cocoa paste, cocoa butter, sugar and milk. The mixture depends on the type of chocolate being produced. Other processes involved in providing high quality chocolate include:

  • refining to reduce the size of the particles
  • conching (stirring) to produce a smooth and glossy chocolate
  • tempering (heating at 45ºc to produce an even smoother end product
  • moulding the chocolate into shape, before it is finally packaged.

Typically, chocolates are produced using a continuous flow method along a production line dedicated to producing large quantities of a single product. To make soft-centre items such as Rolo, liquid chocolate is poured into deep moulds. These are inverted very quickly, leaving a coating of chocolate on the inside. Once this hardens, the mould is again turned over. The filling is then poured inside and covered with another layer of chocolate to form the base. A continuous flow method is far more economical than producing in batches, for example, because once the equipment settings have been established the line can run cost efficiently. This production advantage is known as a technical economy of scale. By producing very large quantities at very low costs per unit, a company like Nestlé is able to offer consumers good value for money and so remain competitive.

Nestlé | From bean to bar - the production process