That Melting Feeling
It’s what’s inside that matters the most? Nonsense! Chocolate start-up nucao is among the first in the industry to use sustainable, recyclable primary packaging made entirely from paper – by Koehler Paper.
Chocolate – the word alone is enough to make most people feel all warm inside. That’s the case in Germany at least, as barely any other country in the world is home to so many chocoholics: Germans consumed 9.21 kg per capita in 2021 according to data portal Statista.
Mathias Tholey shares this passion, but not just for taste reasons. As much as the industrial engineer and homeopathic practitioner has loved the irresistible melt-in-the-mouth treat since his childhood days, he also clearly sees its huge potential when it comes to sustainability. The co-founder of chocolate start-up nucao wants to develop part of this potential – with the help of Koehler Paper.
Raw Material with a Dark Side
“Cocoa is an amazing plant. However, the conditions in which it is grown can vary enormously,” explains the entrepreneur, referring to the known issues in the industry, such as child labor, pesticide use, and deforestation. If we look at facts and figures, 5.6 million metric tons of cocoa beans were harvested worldwide in 2021, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. Of that amount, 40 percent came from the Ivory Coast alone, where 90 percent of forests have been cleared and replaced by cocoa plantations in some regions according to the WWF.
That’s why nucao donates three percent of its revenue to reforestation projects and uses organic Fair Trade cocoa from Peruvian cooperatives. Through agroforestry – a combination of farming and forestry in the same production area – these organizations promote biodiversity and erosion protection and shun pesticides. That benefits the health of consumers: “We’re not just concerned about the environment and production conditions – we also want to protect health,” explains Tholey. “That’s why all our products are organic and vegan; they contain 30 percent less sugar than standard chocolate and have no added flavorings, as well as using just a few, high-quality ingredients.”
“Can you taste sustainability? No. But it does have an impact on enjoyment, because you can consume the product with a clear conscience. That’s very important to a lot of people who care about climate change and fair trade.”
co-founder and co-managing director of nucao
The products boast another feature: Their packaging is sustainable. And that’s precisely where Koehler Paper comes in. Since the end of 2022, nucao has used 100 percent paper for the primary packaging of its nucao – the company’s umbrella brand – fruit and nut chocolate, making it the first chocolate producer on the market to do so. Primary packaging is the term used for the material that comes into direct contact with the product. In this case, the paper used is Koehler NexPlus® Advanced. It can be recycled as wastepaper after use and the fibers can be reused multiple times, in the spirit of the circular economy. By comparison with standard plastic wrappers, this flexible paper packaging can reduce a company’s carbon footprint significantly*. The environmental service provider Interseroh has awarded the ‘Made for Recycling’ seal to Koehler Paper for this innovation.
“From the very first bar, we had high standards concerning sustainable packaging but found there were yawning gaps in the packaging industry back when we founded the company in 2016,” recalls Tholey. Tholey and co-founders Thomas Stoffels and Christian Fenner then worked with other start-ups, focusing on composite materials that could be composted at home, but these were not recyclable. Ultimately, composting does not produce new raw materials that can be used for manufacturing more goods. nucao was not content with the loss of raw materials. In 2021, the company reached out to Koehler Paper – and one of its competitors. The long-standing experience and high product quality of the Baden-based family company quickly won over the trio from Leipzig, however. Tholey highlights three factors that stood out in particular:
Feel: The material feels very natural and like proper paper.
Compatibility with machinery: A lot of machines are designed for plastics, but the conversion to recyclable paper worked extremely well.
Functionality: The paper has excellent oxygen, mineral oil, and grease barrier properties, which are necessary for contact with chocolate and nuts.