Tag Archives: Craft chocolate

Destined for Contention: Chocolate’s Place in a “Healthy” World

Chocolate, and what it means to people, differs across time and space. From its inception as the seeds of a fruit tree to the myriad ways in which it is transformed and eventually consumed by humans, chocolate’s potential variety seems limitless. The history of chocolate merits this variety; it is a fascinating story across multiple continents and cultures. What becomes ever more apparent when studying chocolate’s history as a food, and potentially as a healthy food, is that human obsession with food – in general, but more pertinent to this paper as a source of health – is no new phenomenon. The Western diet has undergone huge transformation since the industrial revolution, chocolate was transformed along with it, and both have not slowed in their development. When chocolate was first encountered by Europeans, the scientific reasoning behind food knowledge was based on a 1500-year-old system developed in Ancient Greece and Rome. Today, modern science allows us to measure the nutritional content of anything and everything we can think of ingesting. But, alas, this technological exactitude has not led to uniform consensus when it comes to which foods are healthy and which are not. Diversity, in both our options of foods and the opinions on which of them we should choose to consume, still reigns supreme. This paper will track chocolate, from its birth place to the continents where it is now most widely and voluminously consumed, and attempt to appraise its value as a beneficial dietary supplement. It will also discuss what effect the perception of chocolate as a health food might have on the industry today. What becomes apparent is that, while Galen’s humours may no longer hold sway in the scientific realm, the Hellenic wisdom from Apollo’s temple that prescribes, “Everything in Moderation,” is as true today as it was two thousand years ago.

According to Michael and Sophie Coe, in their exhaustively well-researched book, The True History of Chocolate, feelings have been mixed about the legitimacy of chocolate as a health food for a long time. The Aztecs, who did not discover or invent the cacao seed and its most valued product, but were controlling the product across its empire with an iron fist, did not view chocolate as a panacea like some Europeans came to do. For the Aztecs, the chocolate drink, as it was consumed then, was taken chiefly as a preferable option to wine – drunkenness being hugely frowned upon (Coe: 75). There were some supposed benefits, that were reported by the Spanish mendicant friars, including increased “success with women” (Coe: 96), and as a cooling drink that could be taken before hard labour to avoid overheating (Coe: 123). But there were also warnings against chocolate, with a myth purporting that chocolate had made Aztecs fat and weak, distancing them from their superior forebears (Coe: 77). In Europe, chocolate arrived as a medicine (but Coe notes, “it soon became a medicine that was appreciated for its taste, its filling nature, and its stimulation, 126). However, the guise under which it came, the now utterly refuted Galenic humoral system, makes its supposed benefits interesting but not pertinent to this discussion. To sum up briefly, chocolate was claimed to benefit a host of ailments including: angina, constipation, dysentery, dyspepsia, kidney disease, liver disease, breast and stomach illness, asthenia, indigestion, fatigue, gout, haemorrhoids, erectile dysfunction, and the list goes on.1 It was not until modern medical research took root in the 19th century that false claims started to become harder to make (though they have never been completely extinguished).

So what claims can be made about chocolate? Unfortunately, because chocolate in the United States only has to be 10% or more made from cacao, very little can be said uniformly about chocolate.2 So it is important to clarify that the only chocolates that can be said to have possible health benefits (at least benefits that derive from the cacao) must be those produced with a significant cacao content. Much has been said recently about the health benefits of dark chocolate, some of it true, some of it exaggerated, and some of it quite misleading. If one googles, “dark chocolate health,” the vast majority of articles one will find will boast of the “superfood” qualities of high cacao content chocolate or of the benefits of adding raw powdered cacao as a supplement to one’s diet.3 The nutritional properties of cacao most touted are its antioxidants – polyphenols and flavonoids – with claims that they are good for cardiovascular health, protection from disease, anticancer properties, lower cholesterol, cognitive health, and lower blood pressure.4 Antioxidants has become a “buzzword” in the health community, especially the health selling community, and so anything that can be provably claimed to contain antioxidants and can also be produced and sold will appear in advertising before long. However, scientific research results have not proved as exciting as the claims of fitness and holistic-living “experts.” The antioxidant immunity boost from chocolate has showed to be extremely short-lived in humans5 and studies have revealed, like that of red wine’s supposed health benefits, that the amount of chocolate (or wine) that would need to be consumed to enjoy the rewards from the antioxidants contained would be such an enormous amount that the damage caused by the fat and sugar (or alcohol) would far outweigh the goodness done.6 Thus, the health benefits of chocolate, if any, must be attainable from a small amount, as its fat content is so high.

So if the antioxidants in chocolate are too small in number, are there any other benefits to eating dark chocolate? In short, yes. Small amounts of very dark chocolate, approximately 85% cocoa content, do boast three important nutrients that, while less glamorous than immortality-inducing antioxidants, are incredibly important to human health. High cacao content chocolate boasts impressive amounts of fibre, iron, and magnesium. While the numbers are not uniform brand to brand, a comparison of eight brands at a Somerville, Massachusetts convenience store (Perugina, Green and Blacks, Jelina, Scharffen Berger, Newman’s Own, Lindt, Chocolove, and Divine) showed enough correlation to warrant discussion. The average fibre content from the eight brands darkest products (ranging from 72%-85%) was 19% of a person’s recommended daily amount; for iron it was 27.5%. Magnesium is generally not listed on FDA required packaging and so product to product this number is hard to acquire. However, Humana Press’s comprehensive compendium, Chocolate in Health and Nutrition, is not vague when it comes to chocolates magnesium content claiming, “Chocolate has one of the highest magnesium levels reported of all foods.” (Watson 430) Are these facts about chocolate’s nutritional profile important? Possibly. The United States Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service claims that 57% of Americans do not have enough magnesium in their diet; it also claims, more dramatically, that 92% of Americans do not get sufficient fibre in their diet.7 Magnesium deficiency is not trivial. The American National Institutes of Health claims:

“Magnesium is the fourth most abundant mineral in the body. It has been recognised as a cofactor for more than 300 enzymatic reactions, where it is crucial for adenosine triphosphate (ATP) metabolism. Magnesium is required for DNA and RNA synthesis, reproduction, and protein synthesis. Moreover, magnesium is essential for the regulation of muscular contraction, blood pressure, insulin metabolism, cardiac excitability, vasomotor tone, nerve transmission and neuromuscular conduction. Imbalances in magnesium status—primarily hypomagnesemia as it is seen more common than hypermagnesemia—might result in unwanted neuromuscular, cardiac or nervous disorders. Based on magnesium’s many functions within the human body, it plays an important role in prevention and treatment of many diseases. Low levels of magnesium have been associated with a number of chronic diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease, insulin resistance and type-2 diabetes mellitus, hypertension, cardiovascular disease (e.g., stroke), migraine headaches, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).”8

 

For anyone living in America, sadly, these diseases and afflictions are not unfamiliar. Fiber deficiency too poses health risk with the Harvard School of Public Health claiming, “Fiber appears to reduce the risk of developing various conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, diverticular disease, and constipation.”9 Iron deficiency is not, according to the United States Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service, a seriously prevalent issue among Americans with 89.5% getting enough in their diet. Although the risks associated with iron deficiency, for one in ten Americans,

“can delay normal infant motor function (normal activity and movement) or mental function (normal thinking and processing skills… can increase risk for small or early (preterm) babies. Small or early babies are more likely to have health problems or die in the first year of life than infants who are born full term and are not small, … cause fatigue that impairs the ability to do physical work in adults. Iron deficiency may also affect memory or other mental function in teens.”10

Iron deficiency is not a huge issue at the moment, but with the amount of meat being consumed in the American diet coming under attack, alternative sources of iron might be important to a new generation of health and environmentally conscious consumers looking to eat considerably less meat, and with it the iron it provides.

The number not yet mentioned, but most important when discussing the possible benefits or dangers of high cacao content chocolate is that of the fat, and especially saturated fat, content. The average saturated fat content from a single serving of one the eight brands mentioned previously is 58% of the recommended daily amount, according to the FDA packaging. This number is astronomically high. The dangers of saturated have been widely reported for many decades10 but recently there has been contention within the medical community. The British Medical Journal posted a controversial article in 2017 claiming “Saturated fat does not clog the arteries… Despite popular belief among doctors and the public, the conceptual model of dietary saturated fat clogging a pipe is just plain wrong.”13 The article came under fire, not for necessarily being outright wrong, but for being misleading.14 Fat is still something that should be monitored, whatever the type is being consumed. So, unlike a food source like a kiwi, which boasts enormous health benefits and can be added to any diet with no known drawbacks (unless one is allergic), chocolate can only be effectively employed as a source of nutrients to a diet low in fat. For many this is bad news. The United States Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service reports that only 40% of Americans are staying within the guidelines of consuming 10% or less of their calories from saturated fat.15 Ultimately, this means for a large section of society the only way to employ dark chocolate as a health food is if they restructure their diet to include significantly less saturated fats.

So, if it can be argued that a small amount of high quality dark chocolate can be employed as a nutritious source of food to an already health conscious individual, what could this man for the industry today? One positive effect that has started to occur is that people’s dissatisfaction with the amount of sugar in their diet has caused producers to start making chocolate with much higher cacao content. With cacao content coming under focus, the origin, quality, and ethical standards in production of the cacao have come out of the shadows for mainstream consumers to take a better appreciation of the politics behind what they put in their bodies. Chocolate has a dark past that unfortunately it has not completely shed. But with cacao becoming the star of the show for many selective buyers, attention is increasing, albeit too slowly, to cacaos often third-world origins and the ethics of production in countries like Ghana and The Ivory Coast. Unfortunately, healthy (or at least healthier) chocolate does not mean ethical chocolate. Lindt is a brand that has not exonerated itself with total transparency after accusations of turning a blind eye to the unethical means of production of its chocolate. Yet its 85% bar is a favourite among fitness enthusiasts for its nutritional content and great flavour.16

What is exciting is the recent explosion of craft chocolate in the United States and beyond. Craft chocolatiers are typically willing to pay more for their beans, and as Dr Martin of Harvard University has written, “buyers must pay more for cacao, uncertified and certified. Both practically and morally, consistent cacao farmer poverty in an industry replete with wealth is unacceptable.”17 Craft chocolate is also inherently made from higher quality ingredients, and with an emphasis on a robust amount of cacao per bar. An often reliably healthier option than mass-produced chocolate. The craft chocolate market is still small and producers have for the most part stayed clear of buying beans from West Africa, where the bulk of ethical concerns lie. However, increase in chocolate consumption is rising rapidly according to an article publish recently in Vox, “Chocolate retail sales in the US have risen from $14.2 billion in 2007 to $18.9 billion in 2017, the market research group Euromonitor International found, at a time when candy sales overall have been waning.”18 If demand for craft chocolate increases, perhaps a future where farmers are able to choose to sell their beans to craft chocolatiers over mass-producing corporations is possible.

 

 

Works Cited

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. 1996. The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson.

Watson, RR, Preedy, VR & Zibadi, S 2013, Chocolate in health and nutrition. Humana Press Inc. DOI: 10.1007/978-1-61779-803-0

A Crafty Future

There is a revolution going on in America.  It exists as almost a counter to the industrial revolution that drove this country forward a hundred years before it.  Craft artisans are taking over in the wake of a society that has been built by mass production.  As this revolution moves across foodstuffs, it is of no surprise that craft chocolate is currently on the rise.  However, it is important to understand why this revolution is taking place now, and some of the hurdles it must overcome to continue its success.

The Lay of the Land

Currently two chocolate companies, Hershey’s and Mars, account for over 50% of chocolate sales in the U.S. (Euromonitor, 2017). It should be of no surprise that these two particular companies own so much of the market share. They were both founded on the idea of bringing chocolate, which was previously a luxury treat, to the masses.  Milton Hershey was a pioneer in mass production, revolutionizing and streamlining much of the industrial process.  Hershey’s team discovered that by using condensed sweetened skim milk they could create a product with longer shelf life and that blended easily with cocoa powder.  This meant that not only could he ship his chocolate bars further, but lasting longer on the shelf meant less profit losses due to spoilage.  Hershey also looked at supply chain optimizations, investing in his own dairy farms and even building a sugar mill operation in Cuba, complete with its own railroad.  This allowed Hershey to control both the costs of commodities for his chocolate bar and the quality.  Mars, on the other hand, was more successful due to marketing than anything else.  His Milky Way bar (which originally sourced chocolate from Hershey) was more nougat than chocolate, making it larger on shelf and seem a comparatively good value to the Hershey bar. That said, both had the same result, taking an indulgence that was once almost exclusive to the wealthy and middle classes and democratizing it for every day enjoyment.

chocolate sizingMass production allowed for chocolate to be produced cheaper, allowing those savings to be passed on to the consumer – or more importantly, from a marketing sense, for them to outprice their competitors.  But while price is important, so are the products themselves.  While it may have taken a while for consumers to acclimate to the flavor of Hershey’s and Mars bars when they first came on the market, the particular blend of milk, sugar and other ingredients insured that they were universally palatable and they now exist as the template for what we expect chocolate to taste like.  Similarly, both companies have hero products that are specifically designed for easy consumption.  Both Hershey’s Kisses and M&Ms were made for portability (individually wrapped/ melts in your mouth, not in your hand) and their small, poppable size makes it easy for consumers to lose track of mindfulness and eat large quantities in one sitting. These products have other advantages, as they are easily adaptable to innovation.  As consumers are desiring more variety and novelty across the board, these products have proven to be the most flexible in introducing new flavors – and easily acceptable to consumers who are familiar with their form and have built brand trust.  These companies have leveraged seasonality, larger cultural trends, and limited time offers to drive new product news and sales.

pumpkin(wait.  Is she wearing an infinity scarf and hipster glasses?)

So, if big chocolate is designed for palatability and companies are responding to consumers desires for more interesting, topical flavors, why are we seeing a proliferation of craft chocolate providers? When we look at the numbers, the story becomes more telling.   When looking at sales growth, mass chocolate has remained flat year over year (CSP daily news, 2016).  This despite their innovation and the fact that chocolate consumption overall is growing.  Instead, the growth seems to be predominantly driven by premium and craft chocolates, suggesting not just changing tastes, but a changing attitude about where our food is actually coming from.

Big Food Backlash

There is growing negativity towards giant corporations and conglomerates, particularly when it comes to food. From an economic standpoint, consumers have watched as these corporations get massive tax breaks which have translated into bonuses for the executive suite, while the working class continues to struggle.  While this issue impacts most major corporations, it is of particular concern when it comes to the chocolate industry and growing awareness around fair labor practices, forced labor, child labor and the ethical price people pay for their chocolate.  There is a lot of skepticism that these companies will make ethical choices when given the opportunity, particularly when people see so many examples in the news of them pursuing profits over people, such as Nestle bottling drinkable water in the middle of the Flint, Michigan water crisis (the guardian, 2017).  More and more often, buying in to big brands feels like an investment against your own interests.

The Big Middle creates more space for differentiation

The sheer nature of big brands as they fold in to one another may be working against them. “When you have increasing concentration of producers in the center, you leave room on the periphery for specialization,” says Elizabeth G. Pontikes, associate professor at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business. (Shanker, 2017) In other words, these multinational conglomerates are creating their own sea of sameness.  In a society that is increasingly valuing individuality, particularly when it comes to the millennial and younger generations, brands and products that lack differentiation also lack appeal.  We can see this even in the most famous of branding cases, Coke vs. Pepsi with beverage drinkers now migrating to new choices like LaCroix and energy drinks.

The obvious choice might be for these mass chocolate brands to create verticals that touch these periphery spaces, but they have struggled breaking in.  Hershey’s introduced their Cacao Reserve premium line in 2006.  The brand lasted three years, suffered several price drops and the need for mass market advertising support, before they dropped it from store shelves. (Thompson, 2007) Their next move was to build their premium line using borrowed equity.  At the same time they launched Cacao Reserve, they purchased Scharfeen Berger, a premium line of chocolates out of California. As they pushed to mass market the brand, they switched suppliers, using cheaper beans from West Africa.  The result was severed relationships with brands like Whole Foods, who were concerned that Hershey’s could not guarantee that the beans weren’t sourced through child labor (Bloomberg, 2017).  The brand has somewhat rebounded, but the initial loss is still being recovered, and leaves the question as to whether or not big brands can ever play credibly in the premium/ craft space.

A wake up call for food

The obesity crisis in America was a wake up call about the food we consume and how it is being produced.  A series of films, articles and exposes, while at times misleading and ignores the true labor of food, caused people to rethink what they are getting out of processed food.  The consumer take-away was that mass produced food lacks quality and nutritional value, is predominantly artificial fillers, and is potentially detrimental to your overall health. Quality, whole ingredients, and care has become increasingly synonymous with healthfulness, regardless of traditional markers like fat and calories.

While all of these things make craft chocolate more appealing, it still has hurdles to overcome to convince people to pay the enormous price tag that comes along with it.

As noted, industrial chocolate is the baseline for people’s orientation to what chocolate should look and taste like, as well as what it should cost.  For Craft chocolate to succeed, they don’t just need to overcome the shift to premium pricing, they need to overcome expectations set by mass market chocolate.  There is a need to educate people on to the true value of the chocolate they are consuming and the difference that craft chocolate provides. There are four key ways in which craft offers a point of difference that both provides a difference that supports craft’s value proposition and requires consumer education: process, taste, ingredients and sourcing and ethics.

Understanding the process

Over time, manufactures have swapped out real ingredients for cheaper artificial substitutes such as vanillin instead of vanilla.  (Martin-Sampeck, 2016). This has impact on the flavor, consistency and mouthfeel of the chocolate itself. Craft chocolate’s smaller production model in of itself creates a different end product, but some companies have gone further, focusing on minimizing the process.

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Taza chocolate, a bean to bar company located in Somerville, MA, takes great pains to educate consumers as to their process.  They describe their bars as “chocolate with true grit.” Their mission is to return chocolate to its pre-industrial roots.  They believe that less processing allows for more complexity in flavors. Their chocolate is stone ground on hand carved molinos (mill stones) with little refinement between that and the end product.  The result is, to their description, a chocolate bar that lacks the smoothness that consumers have come to expect, but with a stronger chocolate flavor and more complexity in experience overall.

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Expanding your palate

“When most people eat a piece of chocolate we want that pleasure immediately: boom!  That’s the music of mass-market chocolate.” (Williams, 2012)

Historians have theorized (incorrectly) that when chocolate came to the old world, that it was appropriated to suit Europeans’ tastes (Norton, 2016).  In fact, chocolate’s evolution from its new world form to the substance we know today was a process that took over a century of innovation.  The chocolate that Europeans first enjoyed was a fairly close recreation of how it was consumed in Mesoamerica.  The Europeans had just acquired a taste for it.  That said, they had a lot of motivation to do so – chocolate was seen as exotic, a luxury (due to both its scarcity and use as currency), and had potential new health benefits.  Additionally, unlike today, there was no basis for comparison.  For today’s consumers, their palates have been educated in the world of mass produced chocolate – and what they have come to expect is a very sweet, creamy, almost single note experience.  Craft chocolate, on the other hand, leans in to chocolate’s bitter notes, and offers way more complexity.  Not only do consumers need to adjust to the new flavor profile, but they need help recognizing the flavor notes to truly appreciate the difference they are getting from craft.

Dick Taylor chocolates started in a small factory in Eureka, California by Adam Dick and Dustin Taylor.  They started their factory out of a love of craftsmanship and making things with their hands (both worked in woodworking and boat building).  In addition to educating consumers on the sourcing of their beans, they seek to educate consumers on how craft processing changes the flavor and experience of their chocolate.  From their website “by not cutting corners or taking shortcuts in our process we are able to leave out vanilla, additional cocoa butter or other emulsifiers, in hopes of capturing and highlighting the subtle flavor nuances in the cacao we source from around the world.”

In this they set expectations that their chocolate will be less sweet and have more complexity of flavors.  To further support that, their packaging calls out the specific flavor notes that the chocolate bar offers, much in the way that wine and craft beers call out tasting notes.

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XOCOLATL, a “micro-factory” chocolatier out of Atlanta similarly looks to highlight chocolate’s natural flavors.  Their bars are blended with spices and other elements that call out chocolate’s flavor components.  For example, their Americana bar contains no apples, but uses familiar pie spices to highlight that quality within the chocolate.

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Origin/ localization

While mass chocolate uses the blending of not only several different types of beans, but beans from multiple locations, there is a rising trend in single origin chocolate.  This has arisen both out of an increased interest in food provenance and small chocolate purveyors interest in highlighting the different unique flavor profiles of the beans.  (Norton, 2013) By doing so, they are able to not only show off the different flavor varietals, but capitalize on the exotic locales to add a sense of rarity and uniqueness to their product lines.

Amedei Chocolates, a craft company out of Tuscany, Italy, builds their sourcing education in to their product offerings.  Each of their bar product lines serves as an exploration in the difference that cacao content, origin and the beans themselves can make.  Their Toscano Black line offers three different (though relatively close) percentages of dark chocolate – 63%, 66%, and 70%.  Their cru product line is all single origin dark chocolate – allowing consumers to taste the subtle differences between each region.  But where they go one step further than many bars is to focus and educate consumers on the strains of cacao available.  They offer both a Blanco de Criollo and a Porcelana bar.  The external packaging on each features a botanical drawing of the bean.  The inside explains the history, origin and flavor notes.  For the Porcelana bar, it notes the Venuzuela plantation, it’s small production of only 3,000 kilos of beans, and the rarity of this particular strain. Tasting notes are described as “toasted almonds that alternates with pressed olives.” This reinforces the specialness of the bar and the unique experience that it offers, while simultaneously pushing the consumer’s palate to recognize more subtleties in flavor.

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Ethical Sourcing

One of the major challenges in the chocolate industry overall is the issue of labor practices and sourcing.  Even setting aside the more dire problems of forced and child labor, very little of the profits made from chocolate sales actually makes its way back to the farmers that grow it.  While there are a variety of certification schemes (i.e. Fair Trade, UTZ Certified, IMO Fair for Life), the cost of participating is high, and consumer demand has yet to drive a higher price in goods that can be translated back to the farmer. (Martin-Sampeck, 2016)  Additionally, there are those who don’t think that programs like Fair Trade go far enough, and result in a minimal profit increase for the farmer.

Companies like Taza and Askinosie chocolates instead have focused on direct trade, which cuts out middlemen and insures that more profits go back to the hands of the farmers.  Askinosie notes on their website “we hold the craft and quality of our chocolate in almost equal balance with doing as much good as we can in the world.”  As part of educating consumers at to the importance of direct trade, their bars feature the actual farmers that they work with on the front.  The back label tells that person’s story, how they became acquainted with Askinosie chocolate, and how their contribution insured the quality of the product you are holding.  It also features the following guarantee:  A stake in the Outcome. We guarantee to our farmers more than fair prices, open books and a share in our success.   In the way that they tell the story of their trade relationships, Askinosie doesn’t just insure the consumer of the ethics of their bar, they humanize it and translate that in to a real value to the consumer in the quality and craft of the final product itself.

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The future of craft

Craft still has some educational and orientation challenges to overcome, but as more and more people migrate away from big food and big chocolate, the opportunity to create a wider variety of chocolates leveraging ethical sourcing and quality ingredients remains as promising and sweet as the product itself.

Sources used:

Brenner, Joel. 2000. The Emperors of Chocolate: Inside the Secret World of Hershey and Mars.

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. 2007 (1996) The True History of Chocolate.

CPS News (September 15, 2016) Premium Chocolate Driving US Sales Growth.  CPS Daily News. Retrieved from:http://www.cspdailynews.com/category-news/snacks-candy/articles/premium-chocolate-driving-us-sales-growth

D’Antonio, Michael D. 2006. Milton S. Hershey’s Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams.

Glenza, Jessica. (September 29, 2017) Nestle Pays $200 a Year to Bottle Water Near Flint Michigan.  The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/sep/29/nestle-pays-200-a-year-to-bottle-water-near-flint-where-water-is-undrinkable

Laudan, Rachel (May 5, 2015) A Plea for Culinary Modernism. Jacobin Magazine Retrieved from https://www.jacobinmag.com/2015/05/slow-food-artisanal-natural-preservatives/

Leissle, Kristy. (2013) Invisible West Africa: the Politics of Single Origin Chocolate. Gastronmics: The Journal of Food and Culture, Vol. 13. No. 3 (Fall 2013)pp.22-31

Martin, Carla and Sampeck, Kathryn. 2016. “The Bitter and Sweet of Chocolate in Europe.” pp. 37-60.

Norton, Marcy. 2006. “Tasting Empire: Chocolate and the European Internalization of Mesoamerican Aesthetics.”The American Historical Review 111 (3): 660-691

Shanker, Deena (February 7, 2017) The Rise of Craft Chocolate. Bloomberg News. Retrieved from https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2017-02-07/the-rise-of-craft-chocolate

Terrio, Susan J. 2000. Crafting the Culture and History of French Chocolate. pp. 1-65

Thompson, Stephanie. (March 6, 2007) Reservations about Reserve Haunt Hershey. Adage Magazine. Retrieved from: http://adage.com/article/news/reservations-reserve-haunt-hershey/115326/

Trout, Jack. Differientate or Die: Survival in our Era of Killer Competition. New York. Wiley, Second Edition 2008

Williams, Pam and Jim Beer. 2012. Raising the Bar: The Future of Fine Chocolate. pp.141-209

Yu, Douglas. (March 29, 2018) Lindt Will Most Certainly Come Back to Growth in US. Confectionary News. Retrieved from https://www.confectionerynews.com/Article/2018/03/29/Lindt-will-most-certainly-come-back-to-growth-in-US-says-Vontobel

 

HEXX Chocolate – A Super. Natural. Story on the Las Vegas Strip

Situated in the shadow of a half-sized replica of the Eiffel Tower, amidst the glitz and glamour of the Las Vegas Strip, we find the unlikely presence of Nevada’s sole bean-to-bar chocolate concept called HEXX Chocolate (Feldberg). In a city where audacious and artificial are the norm – HEXX’s authentic approach to chocolate they call “Super. Natural.” is breaking the mold of industry paradigms and bridging the huge chasm between chocolate’s primary consumers in the global north and cacao producers in the global south (“Authentic”). In HEXX’s unique approach, they are taking on one of the most pressing social and ethical challenges facing the chocolate industry today – the plight of farmers in cacao producing nations and the general lack of awareness amongst consumers. By examining four key aspects of HEXX: The unique DNA of its leadership; the original way it is presenting its chocolate story to customers; its intentional cultivation of long-term, ethical relationship with its farmers; and its unique challenges, we will see HEXX molding chocolate’s present and future for the better.

HEXX’s Founders and Chocolate Makers – As Unique as Its Brand

As unique as HEXX’s presence is on the Las Vegas Strip, equally as original are its founders and chocolate makers. In the emerging craft chocolate space that has grown from a single company to 200 in the past two decades (Leissle 3; Giller), one might imagine a chocolate maker as a geeky chocolate scientist perfecting chocolate for other geeks (Giller) or perhaps a hipster with a cause (“MAST”). However, at HEXX, we find something quite different. The brain-trust and chocolate makers at HEXX are Matthew Silverman and Matthew Piekarski – established, culinary heavyweights in the Las Vegas dining scene who also lead HEXX’s 24×7 restaurant operation, which shares the same space and name (“Meet Our Chefs”).

Silverman and Piekarski
Chefs Matthew Silverman and Matthew Piekarski head up HEXX’s Restaurant and Chocolate Operations in the heart of the Las Vegas Strip (Morris).

In a town chock-full of celebrities, one could argue Silverman and Piekarski are celebrities in their own right. Silverman traces his culinary roots to the acclaimed Wolfgang Puck (Leach). Piekarski’s resume not only includes an Executive Chef stint working with Eva Longoria Parker but he has the distinction of being named “Las Vegas’ Hottest Chef” (“Chef Matt Piekarski”; Stapleton). Silverman and Piekarski’s culinary chops and earned reputations provide them a perfect platform to share HEXX’s chocolate story from their headquarters on the Las Vegas Strip, which they have been doing since 2015. In doing so, they are not only sharing the story of HEXX, but also the unique locales where its chocolate originates from and the oft-untold stories of farmers who cultivate and harvest cacao – the raw materials from which chocolate is made.

Engaging, Educating, and Expanding Chocolate’s Consumer Base

It is impossible to step-off of Las Vegas Boulevard, into HEXX’s 30,000 square foot restaurant and chocolate factory and not leave with a better appreciation for its chocolate and its origin stories (Womack).

HEXX's Logo
HEXX’s logo highlights the story of cacao farmers 20 degrees north and south of the equator (“HEXX Logo”).

That is exactly Silverman and Piekarski’s intent. From HEXX’s name and chocolate packaging to how it creatively engages customers throughout their restaurant dining experience, HEXX is educating its customers and changing their perceptions about chocolate (Piekarski). Says Silverman about the name HEXX, “The XX represents Roman numerals and speaks to the farms we source our cacao beans from, all of which are located 20 degrees above or below the equator” (Vintage View). Before unwrapping any of HEXX’s 2-oz, single-origin chocolate bars, one learns about the country and farm its cacao is sourced from and the unique flavors and terroir of the region (“Product”).

HEXX Chocoate Bars
HEXX’s single-orgin bars from different regions around the world (from left to right): Venezuela, Tanzania, Peru, Ecuador, and Madagascar (not pictured: Dominican Republic) (“About Our Chocolate”).
HEXX Dark Chocolate - Ecuador, Camino Verde Farm
HEXX’s most popular bar from the Camino Verde Farm in Ecuador (Vintage View). Its flavorings are “well-rounded with sweet marzipan and floral notes” (“Product Catalog”. It contains 73% cacao content (“HEXX Chocolate – Camino Verde Bar”).
Venezuelan Milk Chocolate Cheesecake
Venezuelan Milk Chocolate Cheesecake – one of the ways HEXX highlights chocolate throughout its menu (“Venezuelan Cheesecake”).

HEXX also sprinkles in subtle chocolate highlights throughout its restaurant dining experience – from its use of cocoa nibs as a nut replacement in muffins and salads to its use of Venezuelan Milk Chocolate in a luxurious cheesecake (Piekarski; That’s So Vegas). At the end of each meal, diners are given a petit four, which offers a taste of one of HEXX’s six single-origin chocolates. This end-of-meal ceremony not only serves as a decadent way to culminate one’s gastronomic experience but is an invitation to its patrons to learn more about HEXX’s chocolate story and more importantly connect with its cacao farmers – 20 degrees above and below the equator. 

Petit Four
A petit four, emblazoned with HEXX’s signature XX, and accompanied by a “spell-binding” message similar to those inscribed on the back of HEXX’s chocolate bars (HEXX Chocolate).

While HEXX’s chocolate message to its customers is subtle and sophisticated, its commitment to its farmers is clear and direct and can be traced to Silverman and Piekarski’s own personal culinary backgrounds: “Coming from our roots as chefs we have an appreciation for the farmers and purveyors who grow and raise our food. Developing relationships with the people who grow and import our ingredients is the most important thing that we do. Knowing who grows the ingredients, how they are grown and ensuring that the people growing them are paid a fair price is at the core of our beliefs as chefs and chocolate makers” (“Direct Trade”). It is HEXX’s relationship with its cacao farmers and how it is addressing current labor issues in the chocolate industry that we will explore next.

Cultivating Long-Term, Ethical Trade Relationships

One of the most pressing issues facing the chocolate industry today is the dichotomy between the wealth generated by big chocolate companies in the global north and the extremely low and inconsistent wages of cacao farmers in the global south (Martin “Introduction”). In 2014, the chocolate industry registered over $100 billion dollars in worldwide sales (“Cocoa Prices”). At the same time, in the two highest producing cacao nations of Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana – responsible for 60 percent of world cacao production – farmers are paid on average $.50 and $.84 a day, respectively (Martin “Introduction”). This is far below the World Bank’s poverty line of $1.90 per day and well below other global minimum wage standards (“FAQs: Global Poverty”; Martin “Introduction”).

Cocoa Barometer
Cacao farmers in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana make $0.50 and $0.84 a day on average. Additionally wages are often irregular, creating other challenges for farmers (“Cocoa Barometer”; Martin “Introduction”).
Cocoa Barometer
While chocolate is a $100 billion dollar industry, just a small percentage of it makes its way back to farmers in cacao producing nations (“Real Cost”).

In response to this disparity, over the years a number of solutions have been developed including coalitions, government initiatives, civil society organizations and ethical trade models (Martin “Introduction”). The most recognizable of these today are the certifications emblazoned on the front of chocolate bars and other food products like Fair-Trade, UTZ, USDA Organic, and Rainforest Alliance (Martin and Sampeck 51; Martin “Alternative Trade”). While HEXX does purchase certified beans from at least two of its six cacao suppliers, in its choice not to exclusively source certified beans, HEXX is highlighting the limitations and critiques leveled against the certification model itself – that it is not always most beneficial to farmers (“About Our Chocolate”; Martin and Sampeck 52). While certifications generate big dollars – over $3 billion in revenue worldwide – very little of it makes its way back to producers (Martin “Alternative Trade”). By some estimations, for every dollar an American consumer pays for a Fair Trade product, a meager $.03 makes its way back to farmers (Sylla 125). Of its decision not to solely purchase certified organic beans in particular, HEXX states, “Not all of our cacao beans are certified organic, because certifications can be a costly expense for our farmers, but all are produced to the same standards that organic certifiers adhere to” (“Direct Trade”). Thus, while quality is of great importance to HEXX, consideration for its farmers is paramount.

Certifications
Certifications generate big dollars but by some estimations, for every dollar an American consumer pays for a Fair Trade product, just $.03 trickles down to farmers (Sylla 125; Martin “Alternative Trade”).

HEXX’s answer to the social and economic conditions of its farmers and the less-than-effective certification model is clear: the cultivation of long-term, direct trade relationships (“Direct Trade”). Advocates of direct trade, including HEXX, argue three primary benefits: first, it enables farmers to negotiate price, resulting in generally higher premiums. Second, it incentivizes farmers to produce higher-quality beans. Lastly and most importantly, it eliminates the layers of middlemen that have historically been a part of the chocolate trade. This fosters learning and mutually beneficial relationships between farmers and chocolate makers (“Direct Trade”; Martin “Alternative Trade”).

Conventional Cocoa Value Chain
Direct trade eliminates the layers of middlemen historically a part of the chocolate supply chain (Phillips).

Their relationships with cacao farmers is something Piekarski and Silverman take very personally. While potential partners are first identified by friend and “Chocolate Sourcerer,” Greg D’Alesandre of Dandelion Chocolate, Piekarski and Silverman take it from there (Piekarski). They travel to each country to meet and establish relationships with potential partners, and see the conditions farmers work under. Piekarski describes these trips as “life changing experiences” that have altered both his business and personal perspectives. Silverman adds, “When we form a partnership with a cacao farm, we are looking to build a long-term relationship with them. There’s no way to do that without going to the farm, trying and testing their cacao beans, and getting to know the owners and operators. Plus, we need to feel good about the culture of the cacao farm. Establishing a business relationship . . . is like getting to know extended family” (“Behind the Scenes”). HEXX’s verbal commitment translates into action. While the global commodity price for cacao has hovered around $1 a pound in recent years, HEXX pays its farmers between $5 and $10 a pound, according to Piekarski.

Silverman and Piekarski - Camino Verde
Piekarski (second from right) and Silverman (far right) visiting Camino Verde in Ecuador – one of the farms HEXX sources its cacao from (“Camino Verde”).

Direct trade is not without its limitations and critiques as well. Critics, particularly as it relates to craft chocolate, point to at least three limitations: first, its reach is very limited. For instance, of the 4.8 million metric tons of cacao purchased each year, HEXX purchases just 30 tons of it (Martin “Alternative Trade”; Martin and Sampeck 55; Piekarski). Second, direct trade partnerships tend to be devoid of farms in West African countries which account for 70 percent of the world’s cacao production (Martin and Sampeck 55; Wessel and Quist-Wessel). This is true of HEXX’s partnerships as well, which are in Madagascar, Peru, Ecuador, Venezuela, Tanzania, and the Dominican Republic (“Product”). Lastly, direct trade relationships can be fragile, in part, because craft chocolate companies that favor these relationships may lack industry experience, financial stability, and face steep learning-curves (Martin and Sampeck 55). To this final critique, HEXX’s response is strong. Silverman and Piekarski’s culinary pedigree and HEXX’s business model set them apart from other craft chocolate companies. While chocolate will always be the foundation and cornerstone on which HEXX is built, its sales account for just $1 million of HEXX’s $30 million in annual combined revenue (Piekarski). This fact puts HEXX in an extremely strong position and affords them creative liberties to take risks with its chocolate brand – a luxury most craft chocolate companies do not have.

When one looks at the entirety of HEXX: The culinary and celebrity gravitas of its two chocolate makers, a $30 million restaurant behind it, and its prime location on the Las Vegas Strip, it is easy to assume HEXX holds the perfect hand in the burgeoning craft chocolate market. However, HEXX is not without its challenges. The very things that make HEXX distinct, also contribute to its biggest challenges. We will close by exploring these challenges and the opportunities that lie ahead for HEXX.

HEXX’s Challenges and Its Future

With its prime location and Silverman and Piekarski at the helm, HEXX has unrivaled access to two atypical markets for a craft chocolate company: the casual consumer dining at its restaurant and the vast number of restaurateurs in Las Vegas, whom HEXX could source its chocolate to. However, in its outreach to both groups, HEXX has faced some resistance. While chocolate is featured throughout HEXX’s menu, Piekarski said they have scaled back use particularly in some of its main dishes. While chocolate connoisseurs might swoon over a chicken mole or steak finished-off with condensed cocoa butter, not all of HEXX’s customers have taken to these flavors. Further, Piekarski said they have reached out to “every casino in town” to offer their chocolate as a source ingredient that could potentially be incorporated into other restaurants’ dishes. This has also been met with resistance. Piekarski states, “We want people to incorporate our chocolate in everything they do not necessarily because we want our brand out there but we want to supply people with a superior quality product at a cheaper price. We understand, as chefs, restaurants operate on very thin margins and this is as important for [other restaurants] as it is for us.”

Alexxa
HEXX’s Book of Chocolate Stories features Alexxa, HEXX’s “mystical muse” who is featured prominently throughout its brand. While appealing to mainstream customers, Alexxa’s presence as well as the absence of certification labels on HEXX’s products may be a hurdle for gourmet grocery stores (“Alexxa”).

HEXX’s location and popular appeal has also proved perplexingly problematic to a typical craft chocolate ally: gourmet grocery stores like Whole Foods. While HEXX has been well-received at events like the Fancy Food Show – the largest food show on the West Coast – it has faced a vexing, uphill battle with gourmet grocery stores precisely because of its mainstream appeal and Las Vegas Strip location (That’s So Vegas; Piekarski). Piekarski explains, “It took us a year and a half to get into Whole Foods in Las Vegas. And we only got there because we are [local].” He continues, “Everything about what we do is not what they look for in terms of craft chocolate. People ask, ‘Where do you produce? On the Las Vegas Strip?’ And that can be the end of the conversation 7 times out of 10.” In just its third year of operations, as the only craft chocolate producer in Nevada, challenges such as these should not come as a total surprise.  And as HEXX steps out further to explore new territory, its opportunities for growth are abundant.

HEXX’s future plans include developing its restaurant presence locally, growing retail sales nationally, and forming new cacao partnerships internationally. After recent renovations to its dining facilities, HEXX is purposefully reintegrating chocolate into its food program in a distinct way, says Piekarski. Weekend diners will now find a cart-wheeling Chocolate Sommelier offering up chocolate for guests to sample, adding another chocolate connection point for its customers. HEXX also recently hired a former Mars and Hershey employee tasked with expanding its retail presence in the Northwest and Midwest, in addition to Central Markets in Texas and Carr Valley Cheese Stores in Wisconsin where HEXX is currently sold (Piekarski; “Where to Find”). Finally, HEXX is looking to extend its international reach to cacao farmers in two additional countries – Trinidad and Granada (Piekarski).

HEXX - James Beard Foundation
Piekarski (third from left) and Silverman (far right) with fellow chefs and friends presenting a 6-course Chocolate Themed Valentine’s Eve Dinner at the historic James Beard Foundation House in New York City (“James Beard”).

Conclusion

In HEXX, we see an immensely compelling craft chocolate concept, connecting multitudes of atypical consumers to the story of its cacao farmers – 20 degrees above and below the equator. Through its authentic message to its customers and ethical relationships with farmers, HEXX is artfully bringing two worlds together that could not be further apart. While HEXX has faced challenges on multiple fronts during its first years, it is impossible not to be incredibly optimistic about HEXX’s industry-altering potential. With two talented and resolute chefs at the helm of its $30 million restaurant and chocolate operations, HEXX has both the gastronomic and financial chops to challenge the chocolate industry’s status-quo, transforming the way consumers see chocolate, and elevating the plight of cacao farmers in the process. In a city built on big wagers, perhaps there is none bigger and more important to chocolate’s sustainable future than HEXX.

Works Cited

“About Our Chocolate” HEXX Chocolate, 13 Jan. 2017, www.hexxchocolate.com/our-chocolate/#prettyPhoto/31/.

“Alexxa.” HEXX Chocolate, shop.hexxchocolate.com/products/alexxa-book-sample-pack-4-2-12-oz-milk-bars.

“Authentic. Handcrafted. Bean-to-Bar.” HEXX Chocolate, 27 Nov. 2017, www.hexxchocolate.com/.

“Behind the Scenes of Hexx’s Beans.” Vegas Seven, Dec. 2016, vegasseven.com/2016/12/06/behind-beans-hexx-chocolate-confexxions/.

“Camino Verde.” HEXX Chocolate, www.hexxchocolate.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/Hexx-Chefs-in-Ecuador-with-Keith-from-High-Road-Ice-Cream.jpg.

“Chef Matt Piekarski – A Celebrity Chef among Celebrities.” Haute Living, 16 Aug. 2010, hauteliving.com/2010/08/chef-matt-piekarski-%E2%80%94-a-celebrity-chef-among-celebrities/76371/.

“Cocoa Barometer.” Green America, https://www.greenamerica.org/sites/default/files/styles/frontpageslideshow1382/public/2017-04/cocobarom.png?itok=mzOq8F1y.

“Cocoa Prices and Income of Farmers.” Make Chocolate Fair!, 16 Aug. 2017, makechocolatefair.org/issues/cocoa-prices-and-income-farmers-0.

“Direct Trade.” HEXX Chocolate, 9 July 2016, www.hexxchocolate.com/direct-trade/.

“FAQs: Global Poverty Line Update.” World Bank, www.worldbank.org/en/topic/poverty/brief/global-poverty-line-faq.

Feldberg, Sarah. “Hexx Debuts New Chocolate Tour and Tasting: Travel Weekly.” Travel Weekly- The Travel Industry’s Trusted Voice, 12 Dec. 2016, www.travelweekly.com/North-America-Travel/Hexx-debuts-new-chocolate-tour-and-tasting.

Giller, Megan. “Geeks Are Using Science to Make the Best Chocolate Ever.” Engadget, 17 Jan. 2018, www.engadget.com/2017/12/19/bean-to-bar-chocolate-tech/.

HEXX. “Venezuelan Cheesecake.” Yelp, 8 Sept. 2016, www.yelp.com/biz_photos/hexx-kitchen-bar-las-vegas-2?select=XwvqAqiHkq5E9kth5ewVGg.

HEXX Chocolate. “Petit Four.” Facebook, facebook.com/hexxchocolate/.

“HEXX Chocolate – Camino Verde Bar.” HEXX Chocolate, HEXX Chocolate, www.hexxchocolate.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/product_20.jpg.

“HEXX Chocolates.” HEXX Chocolate, www.hexxchocolate.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/chocolate_2.jpg.

“HEXX Exterior.” Splash Magazines | Los Angeles, www.lasplash.com/uploads//4be6/598cc629ae581-hexx-kitchen-bar-review-2.jpg.

“HEXX Logo.” HEXX Chocolate, https://www.hexxchocolate.com.

“HEXX Restaurant Eiffel Tower.” TripAdvisor, www.tripadvisor.ca/LocationPhotoDirectLink-g45963-d7892832-i152216425-Hexx_kitchen_bar-Las_Vegas_Nevada.html.

“James Beard.” HEXX Chocolate, http://www.hexxlasvegas.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/JBF-2-13-2016-All-the-Chefs-in-the-Kitchen-01.png.

“Kitchen.” HEXX Chocolate, www.hexxchocolate.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/DSC_2749-e1429702796581.jpg.

Leach, Robin. “Mark Andelbradt Is New Chef at Spago; Chef-Chocolatier Matthew Silverman Sweetens Hexx at Paris Las Vegas.” Las Vegas Review-Journal, 19 Feb. 2017, www.reviewjournal.com/entertainment/entertainment-columns/robin-leach/mark-andelbradt-is-new-chef-at-spago-chef-chocolatier-matthew-silverman-sweetens-hexx-at-paris-las-vegas/.

Leissle, Kristy. “Invisible West Africa.” Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture, vol. 13, no. 3, 2013, pp. 22–31., doi:10.1525/gfc.2013.13.3.22.

Mair, Anthony. “HEXX Restaurant Interior.” Las Vegas Review Journal, 18 July 2017, www.reviewjournal.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/8914853_web1_4-credit-anthony-mair-hexx_dining-room.jpg.

Martin, Carla D. “Alternative Trade and Virtuous Localization.’” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard Extension School: Cambridge, MA. 04 Apr. 2018. Class Lecture.

Martin, Carla D. “Introduction.’” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard Extension School: Cambridge, MA. 24 Jan. 2018. Class Lecture.

Martin, Carla D. and Sampek, Kathryn E., The Bitter and Sweet of Chocolate in Europe. 2016 Jan., DoI: 10.18030/socio.hu.2015en.37.

“MAST Brothers, the Most Hipster Chocolate Company Ever, Is Coming to LA next Month.” Time Out Chicago, 23 Mar. 2016, www.timeout.com/los-angeles/blog/mast-brothers-the-most-hipster-chocolate-company-ever-is-coming-to-la-next-month-032316.

“Meet Our Chefs.” HEXX Chocolate, 18 Oct. 2017, www.hexxchocolate.com/chefs/.

Morris, Sam. “Silverman and Piekarski”. Las Vegas Review-Journal, 3 Apr. 2014, www.reviewjournal.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/9851452_web1_newfoods_040315sm_014.jpg.

Phillips, D.; Tallontire, A. Drivers and Barriers to Sustainable Purchasing in the Cocoa Sector; NRET Working Paper; Department of Geography, University of Newcastle: Tyne and Wear, UK, 2007; pp. 1–8.

Piekarski, Matthew. Phone Interview. 30 Apr.2018

“Product Catalog.” HEXX Chocolate, Jan. 2017, https://www.hexxchocolate.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/HEXX_00037_ProductCatalog_BR_LoRes.pdf.

“Real Cost” Raisetrade, www.raisetrade.com/real-cost-of-a-chocolate-bar.html.

“Sorting Beans.” HEXX Chocolate, www.hexxchocolate.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/DSC_2761.jpg.

Stapleton, Susan. “Matt Piekarski Is Las Vegas’ Hottest Chef.” Eater Vegas, Eater Vegas, 14 Feb. 2013, vegas.eater.com/2013/2/14/6479591/matt-piekarski-is-las-vegas-hottest-chef.

Sylla, Ndongo Samba. The Fair Trade Scandal Marketing Poverty to Benefit the Rich. Ohio University Press, 2014.

That’s So Vegas. HEXXY Valentine’s Day. YouTube, YouTube, 9 Feb. 2017, www.youtube.com/watch?v=gS36E7ttE4Y.

Vintage View. “HEXX Chocolate & Confexxions and HEXX Kitchen + Bar.” VintageView, 24 July 2015, vintageview.com/blog/hexx-chocolate-confexxions-and-hexx-kitchen-bar/.

Wessel, Marius, and Quist-Wessel, P.M. Foluke. “Cocoa Production in West Africa, a Review and Analysis of Recent Developments.” NJAS – Wageningen Journal of Life Sciences, vol. 74-75, 2015, pp. 1–7., doi:10.1016/j.njas.2015.09.001.

An In-depth Look Into Dandelion Chocolate: How a Unique Bean-to-Bar Craft Chocolate Company Positively Transforms the Way to Supply, Manufacture, and Retail Chocolate

Dandelion Chocolate, a small-batch chocolatier cafe, sits in San Francisco’s oldest neighborhood, The Mission. Founded in 2010 by Todd Masonis as a cafe, Dandelion Chocolate has expanded to retailers across U.S and Japan, designed tours and classes, and diversified its menu offerings with several new recipes in addition to the company’s handmade candy bars (2). Masonis, CEO of Dandelion Chocolate and previously a software developer, started the company with a vision to scale, to transform the chocolate industry, and to challenge people’s customary view of chocolate. This paper will conduct an in-depth analysis of the company’s supply chain, chocolate manufacturing process, and retail strategy. Throughout I will highlight how Dandelion’s innovative techniques are challenging the Big Five chocolate makers and redefining how chocolate is produced and sold. By the end, it will be clear how Dandelion continues to be a part of the solution to the problems in the cacao-chocolate market.

BeanTo-Bar: The Supply Chain from Cacao Trees to the Dandelion Factory

Three words sum up Dandelion’s supply chain — precise, sustainable, and global. As a bean-to-bar chocolatier, Dandelion emphasizes the quality of the beans it uses in its chocolate bars and menu recipes. The company focuses on simplicity. Since Dandelion “uses only two ingredients to make [their] chocolate — cocoa beans and organic cane sugar”, the company has to be particular of the sourced beans’ flavor profiles (2). This directly contrasts the origin, sourcing, and flavor profile of the Big Five chocolate makers. Early in Hershey’s development, Milton S. Hershey hired a chemist before firing him and hiring John Schmalbach who helped create Hershey’s taste profile that we still see today (4). When Schmalbach was done experimenting, he arrived at “a mild-tasting milk chocolate that had the perfect bite — like al dente pasta — that melted smoothly in the mouth” (4). This product utilized swiss condensed milk which helped Hershey easily pump, channel, and pour the chocolate through mass production. Unlike Dandelion’s simple single ingredient taste profile, Hershey confuses consumers with its chocolate nutritional profile. On Hershey’s site, the company states their chocolate bars are made with “simple ingredients — and never any artificial flavors, preservatives or sweeteners” (5). These ingredients include “farm fresh whole milk, cocoa 100% certified, almonds, sugar from the finest sugar plantations, and vanilla” (14). How can we believe Hershey’s promises? To begin to answer this question, consumers can look at the back of Hershey’s chocolate bar.

The iconic Hershey’s Milk Chocolate bar wrapper from 1973-1976. Clearly, consumers can see contradictions from the website today in the ingredients section. Artifical flavoring is added (6).

The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act require food companies to show nutrition labeling (1). Fortunately, this gives consumers the honest answer to the question stated above. Under the ingredients tab, Hershey lists that an artificial flavoring is added in addition to other ingredients that are not common to the average consumer (5). This is the first evidence of how Dandelion is redefining the chocolate market and supply chain process for the better. Dandelion is so precise with its sourcing and ingredients that it can give consumers the transparency and trust they desire. On their site, Dandelion gives a distinct background of the supply chain process, the origin of each of the beans, and the Chef’s preparation technique for each of the products that it retails. These details get as precise as the cacao percentage, the single origin location, ingredients, and when the cacao beans were harvested.

This is the MAYA MOUNTAIN, BELIZE 70% chocolate bar. It is one of the many single origin chocolate bars sold on Dandelions retail site and in stores. The bar’s flavor profile and the cocoa beans terror serve up beautiful “hints of honey and caramel with notes of strawberries and cream.” Finally, the bars are made with just cocoa beans and sugar, no added cocoa butter, lecithin or vanilla (10). 

 

 

 

Consumers can be confident they are getting fine cacao and that the ingredients in their chocolate are not unhealthy with too much sugar or saturated fats. This last point is critical as chocolate makers such as Ferrara, Lindt, and Nestle are making real commitment to increase health awareness surrounding chocolate products, provide better labeling and packaging, and partner with Healthier America.

Each year Dandelion publishes a sourcing report that is easily accessible on their site. The 2016 sourcing report, 48 pages long, provides consumers with information on the executives core philosophy, the geographic location where beans sourced, the fermentation and drying style, cultivation notes, farmer’s certifications, cacao beans’ exporter, tasting notes, company’s relationship/history with each farmer, price they paid per tonne in each region, and date of the company’s last visit to the farm to do a checkup (3).

Screen Shot 2018-05-05 at 3.04.18 AM.png

An example of all the information from the sourcing report for Bertil Akesson’s organic estate in Ambanja, Madagascar, the place Dandelion purchased their first full bag of beans, is shown above (3).

Dandelion’s control of the entire supply chain as a bean-to-bar chocolatier gives them the flexibility to synthesize and present all this information. 

In addition to providing precise transparency to consumers of every detail in the supply chain process, the Dandelion executives discuss the importance of sustainability in their core philosophy. Dandelion “pays a premium price for their cacao far above the world market price (that is fixed rather than dependent on an arbitrary market)” (3). This information is presented in the sourcing report. The average market price for cacao in 2016 was $2,892.16 per tonne. The least Dandelion paid for cacao $5,100.00 per tonne, the most $7,500.00 per tonne, and $6,599.00 per tonne on average.  This increase in income solves many of the cacao industry’s problems. With prices at the average market price or less than half Dandelion’s price, cacao farmers earn less than $2 per day in Western Africa (9).

In the two pictures, we see the ethical problem in the chocolate industry. In the picture on the left, a young boy is performing hard labor with a machete to chop cacao pods from high up in a cacao tree (16). The child faces physical and developmental risks from this kind of labor. Further, the highlight the systematic effects of child labor, the lack of education, the lack of enforcement of child labor laws, and the effects of you consuming chocolate from companies who exploit these problems (17). 

The problem is most prevalent in Western Africa where stories like of 16-year-old Alhassan Ali, who took the opportunity to work on a cocoa farm in western Ghana and left his home. Quickly, Alhassan felt “cheated as life was hard” and the conditions unbearable for a teenager who had no choice after his father died.

Children are thrown into these jobs to help their families, although less than one-quarter of cacao farmers would recommend that their children go into farming and the fact that this violates international labor laws (12, 18, 8 ). The work is dangerous and the risks include fatigue, mosquito-borne diseases, and agrochemical poisoning.

Since cacao is a commodity and harvested seasonally, cacao farmers struggle with volatile income. Dandelion executives recognized this problem as they “used to buy beans as needed but sometimes that led to chaos and stress both on the part of their team as well as on the part of our suppliers” (3). In 2016, the company constructed a 5-year plan in which they would buy beans one year in advance in order to help alleviate the stress on their producers. Employees from Dandelion visit their producers each year to ensure the quality of the cacao, environmentally friendly farming practices, and sustainable conditions for the workers. If you don’t believe their mission and core philosophy, then you can ask their producers themselves, since the company provides names, locations, and pictures to earn consumers’ trust.

Screen Shot 2018-05-05 at 3.11.22 AM.png

Vincente Norero, the manager of Camino Verde Cacao farm in Ecuador, sits on top of one of his machines as he explains the genetics of cacao in his region to visiting employees from Dandelion (3).  

Additionally, a major component of Dandelion’s long-term planning strategy is a rigorous quality assessment beyond fine cacao or bulk cacao, which the Big Five use. This evaluation starts out “breaking down cacao producers based on physical quality, sensory evaluation, and hedonic preference” (3). Dandelion gives the producers enough feedback so that the farmers know what is the flavor profile and the terroir that the company wants.

Finally, Dandelion has created a global network of producers that provide the company with a diverse set of high-quality cacao. Dandelion strengthens relationships between the community of producers by emphasizing information sharing. Producers in different regions visit each other and share their techniques and experiences. For instance, the heads of the farm estate “Brian and Sim from Kokoa Kimili visited Zorzal in the Dominican Republic” (3). This is unlike any craft chocolate or large chocolate make and this may be the CEO Todd Masonis’ secret weapon to scale the craft chocolatier business. The company has two factories across the globe in San Francisco and Japan. They both support the company’s global sourcing of cacao in 7 different regions: Madagascar, Ecuador, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Tanzania, Venezuela, and Belize. This degree of diversity is uncommon for one company. In fact, “70% of the world’s cocoa is grown in the region and the vast majority of that supply comes from two countries: Ivory Coast and Ghana” (7). Dandelion not only ensures to source diverse cacao but also does not mix cacao from different regions or farms. This is powerful in the cacao in the cacao industry. Not even regulation or certifications can effectively track that companies keep to this promise like Dandelion does. 

Bean-ToBar: The Exquisite Manufacturing and Chocolate Production Process and Ingenious Retail Strategy

Once the factory receives the diverse, high-quality cocoa beans which have been fermented and dried in their regions, the company undergoes another precise taste tests on each batch. Surprisingly, each testing of a batch may take “as many as eight to sixteen tastings before they are happy with the taste profile” (2). Next, the batch is sorted and dirt, rocks, and defected beans are removed.

3 winnower
Here, the chocolatiers use a machine they built in-house to winnow and remove the shells. However, the company says that your household hair dryer would work the same (15).

about13

A melanger is used to stir and crush beans creating small particles and more fluid chocolate state (11).

After these steps, the chocolate is packaged until it is ready to be tempered and transformed into chocolate bars.

This highly technical process ensures that each chocolate bar holds up to the company standard that no added ingredients or artificial flavoring are included in the end products. The company even offers tours and classes to teach chocolatiers their craft chocolate secrets. The whole production process is transparent. This eliminates any need for certification from organizations like Fair Trade, USDA Organic, or Rainforest Alliance. Instead, consumers are educated on the labor conditions, ingredients, quality, and health information from researching online on Dandelion’s site. Dandelion utilizes this transparency and network of information to scale their consumer base and challenge the chocolate industry to have the same care for all parts of the process.

Finally, Dandelion is redefining the retail strategy for chocolate. Most people are accustomed to purchasing chocolate bars from large retail and convenience stores like CVS, Walmart, and Target. The large chocolate manufacturers spend millions on advertisements in commercials, billboards, and magazines. However, Dandelion’s executives have taken a different approach. The company’s first establishment, the Dandelion Chocolate Cafe, is the model for how Dandelion will transform the chocolate industry and how consumers expect to consume chocolate. Music blasts from the speakers playing a hip playlist that caters to the diverse crowd in the cafe. Children, young teens, and chocolate connoisseurs from Mission District crowd the shop on Valencia street for the chocolate wrapped in gold foil and custom wrappers, the blowtorched s’mores, or for a bag of locally roasted, single origin cocoa beans.  Adopting the executives’ Silicon Valley marketing and trendy style, Dandelion Cafe consumer and sales skyrockets in its first years. The company reached “$1 million in early 2013 after opening its factory/cafe in the Mission” (19). Shortly after a year, more outposts were built in Tokoya and across California. All the while, the company has elevated its online presence with a vibrant website which hosts a blog, instructional videos, and information about each of their products and locations. What was once an antiquated industry ruled by roughly 5 chocolate manufactures is being transformed by two software engineering executives and their ambitious company to scale handmade, craft chocolate globally. No longer can the chocolate industry exploit poor working conditions in their supply chain, obscure nutritional information, or produce low quality chocolate because Dandelion Chocolate and many other craft chocolate companies businesses are transforming the industry and the consumers are recognizing this transformation.


Works cited

  1. Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. “Labeling & Nutrition – Small Business Nutrition Labeling Exemption.” U S Food and Drug Administration Home Page, Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/GuidanceDocumentsRegulatoryInformation/LabelingNutrition/ucm2006867.htm.
  2. “Dandelion Chocolate.” Dandelion Chocolate, http://www.dandelionchocolate.com/.
  3. “Dandelion Chocolate.” Dandelion Chocolate, http://dande.li/2016SourcingReport
  4. D’Antonio, Michael D. 2006. Hershey: Milton S. Hershey’s Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams. pp. 106-126
  5. “Fooducate.” Lose Weight & Improve Your Health with a Real Food Diet, www.fooducate.com/app#!page=product&id=530B67CE-E108-11DF-A102-FEFD45A4D471.
  6. Hershey Community Archives | Hershey’s Milk Chocolate: Bar Wrappers over the Years, www.hersheyarchives.org/exhibits/default.aspx?ExhibitId=20&ExhibitSectionId=44.
  7. “Inside Big Chocolate’s Child Labor Problem.” Fortune, fortune.com/big chocolate child-labor. O’Keefe, Brian. “Inside Big Chocolate’s Child Labor Problem.” Fortune, @2018 Time Inc., fortune.com/big-chocolate-child-labor.
  8. International Labour Organization. January 26, 2000. “Convention 182.” http://www.ilo.org/public/english/standards/relm/ilc/ilc87/com-chic.htm. (3/01/14)
  9. Kramer, Anna. March 6, 2013. “Women and the big business of chocolate.” Oxfam America. https://www.oxfamamerica.org/static/media/files/oxfam-fact-sheet-women-and-cocoa-screen.pdf (9/4/17)
  10. “MAYA MOUNTAIN, BELIZE 70%.” Products, http://www.dandelionchocolate.com/store/products/maya-mountain-belize-70/#anchor.
  11. “Melanger.” Process, http://www.dandelionchocolate.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/about13.png.
  12. Price, Larry C. July 10, 2013. “One Million Children Labor in Africa’s Goldmines.” PBS. http://www.pbs.org/newshour/updates/world-july-dec13-burkinafaso_07-10/. (3/03/14)
  13. Ryan Órla. Chocolate Nations Living and Dying for Cocoa in West Africa. Zed Books, 2012.
  14. “Take a Look inside Our Factory.” Our Brands, http://www.hersheys.com/en_us/our-story/our-ingredients.html.
  15. “Winnow Machine.” LE GRANDE EXPERIMENT, http://www.dandelionchocolate.com/2015/05/12/le-grande-experiment-part-2-making-chocolate-steve-devries-style-in-denver/.
  16. “Child Labor: The Dark Side of Chocolate.” WilderUtopia.com, 3 Mar. 2018, http://www.wilderutopia.com/international/earth/child-labor-the-dark-side-of-chocolate/.
  17. USA, Fair Trade. “Is There Child Labor In Your Chocolate?” The Huffington Post, TheHuffingtonPost.com, 7 Dec. 2017, www.huffingtonpost.com/fair-trade-usa/is-there-child-labor-in-y_b_9169898.html.
  18. Martin, Carla D. “Lecture: Modern Slavery”
  19. Shanker, Deena. “The Rise of Craft Chocolate.” Bloomberg.com, Bloomberg, 7 Feb. 2017, http://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2017-02-07/the-rise-of-craft-chocolate.

 

The Rise of Craft Chocolate Makers and the Consequences of a Saturated Chocolate Bar Market

Whether it’s a CVS, Walgreens, Walmart, or nearby vending machine, consumers can always expect to find a Reese’s, bag of M&Ms, or Snickers. The tastes, packaging, and experience from these common chocolate bars have been ingrained in our minds since we were little.

A lighthearted commercial Kit Kat Large uses of “Dancing Babies” so people will remember the happy memories of them eating Kit Kats and to increase brand loyalty, the driving factor for the success of the Big Five companies (7). 

Up until the 1970s, the Big Five companies: Cadbury, Ferrero, Nestle, Hershey’s, and Mars faced little competition from smaller chocolate makers and if they did their strategy was to acquire them or bully them out of the market. The companies leveraged being first to enter the chocolate market when the “industrialization of the manufacturing process, retail, and transportation” of chocolate started (8). It is no surprise, these companies split over 70% the U.S. confectionery market share (5). However, after the 1970s and 1980s, the competition increased in the chocolate confectionery market due to the rise of craft chocolate makers who “returned to small-scale manufacturing and single origin fine cacao” (8) This paper will discuss why the craft chocolate makers were able to break through despite the firm grasp the Big Five has held on the chocolate market including reasons such as increasing the transparency of the manufacturing process and ingredients, embracing variations (new and old) in recipes, flavors, and richness, and because of a shift in the typical consumer’s attention to the ethics of the companies they are purchasing from.

Craft chocolate, not Kraft chocolate

There have been warning signs that hint the pendulum swing occurring in the chocolate bar market since the 1970s. By pendulum swing, I am referring to the transition from the pre-industrial chocolate which was rich, handmade with fine cacao in Mayan and Aztech households to the dip in quality and diversity that occurred after the invention of the cocoa press and dutch process chocolate and with the rise of industrial chocolate (2, 11). The year 2017 was a “positive year for many confectionery players outside of the Big Five” (14). Companies like Hershey with +1.25% and Mondelez with +2.3% net sales growth were outpaced by rest of chocolate industry growth of +3.3% (14). Furthermore, net profit took a large spike for companies in the Big Five (10).  These companies’ savvy advertising techniques, meticulous taste testing of flavor profiles, and their economy of scale are not as scary to new chocolate makers or enticing to consumers.

Pop up, craft chocolate makers have “exponentially risen over the past few decades to approximately 200 today” in North America (10). These include Scharffen Berger Chocolate Maker, Soma chocolate, and Rogue Chocolatier (1). What uniquely separates these companies are their attention to the combination of flavors, origins of cacao beans, initiatives the companies support, and experiences they create for the consumer.

Scharffen Berger Chocolate Maker - Ferry Building, San Francisco

Founded in 1996, Scharffen Berger was the first Modern bean-to-bar chocolate company in North America. One of its slogans Romancing the Bean highlights the companies finest chocolate bars paired with luxurious wine. This company was one of the first to start selling bars made with cocoa from Madagascar. (12) Note Scharffen Berger was acquired by Hershey in 2005 after its success as craft chocolate maker. 

This stainless steel instrument is a grindometer. A worker at the Dandelion Cafe is using it to measure particle size in suspensions in order to arrive at the smooth sweet chocolate texture the chef desires. This is a prime example of DIY small machines that allow for craft chocolate makers to produce high-quality products by controlling the whole chocolate making process. 

Just like the culture change beer and coffee are experiencing with new small breweries and niche coffee shops, the chocolate market is growing with new ideas and diverse flavors (13).

A great example of this change in culture around chocolate is Dandelion Chocolate. The cafe sits in the hip Mission District of San Francisco. Here is a sign showing the advertising the company is using to draw consumers in and convince them of their unique chocolate bar’s taste (3). 

These craft chocolate companies describe their process as “Bean-To-Bar Chocolate”, meaning all produced in-house. Cases like these are reshaping the chocolate retail market slowly as the market shifts back to pre-industrial chocolate making and the frequent use of vintage machines to produce Mayan and Aztec inspired tastes and chocolate forms as opposed to “industrial chocolate: low cost and taste consistency” (4).

The dynamics of the selling point for chocolate companies have changed and the new millennials and advancements in communication with social media are at the core pushing this transformation. Over the past two decades, the Big Five chocolate companies have been facing large scrutiny for their negligence or responsibility for some of the worst forms of child labor and forced labor in its supply chain and industry. “On average, cacao farmers earn less than $2 per day” in Western Africa (1). While these large companies profits reach the billions, these countries fall into a trap of poverty and dependence on the commodity. To combat this scrutiny in the eyes of the public, these companies set up plans to address these issues. Mars, Hershey, and Ferrero promised that by 2020 they would purchase 100% of their cacao from “certified producers (6). While the other large companies aimed to invest in cacao non-profits to train and assist farmers in these regions such as Western Africa.

From these companies’ ambitious responses and promises, it is clear that they are worried about the perception of the manufacturing processes they use. However, we have yet to see how the chocolate market will respond or if they will reach these goals. The advantage heavily favors craft chocolate makers who produce the chocolate from scratch. The maker “roasts, grinds, and smoothens them into chocolate in a single facility” (6). The success of these small companies are driven by consumers who can trust the chocolate is made carefully and without ethical concerns.

This brings me to my last topic, the implications of the saturation of the chocolate market with more craft chocolate makers. As the pendulum swings to more traditional small chocolate chains, I suspect more pressure on the large-scale companies that depend on in-store purchases to change their marketing model and increase transparency of their manufacturing processes beyond ensuring their cacao comes from certified cacao farms. E-commerce will be the biggest cause of this transformation. The Big Five market share for in-store purchases will shrink, they will be forced to consolidate their large product/brand offerings into one brand, and companies will explore different recipes to pair with chocolate. Additionally, with the increase in the number of companies, I believe there will be a stronger necessity for a standardized, international regulation of cacao quality and a metric to quantify rich, milk,  or real chocolate. All in all, the rise in craft chocolate makers will lead the charge for more ethical cacao farming and increased standard of living in regions that grow cacao.


Works cited

  1. “Child Labor and Slavery in the Chocolate Industry.” Child Labor and Slavery in the Chocolate Industry | Food Empowerment Project, http://www.foodispower.org/ slavery-chocolate.
  2. Coe, Sophie D. and Coe, Michael D. The True History of Chocolate.  Thames & Hudson Ltd: London (1996) Print 
  3. “Dandelion Chocolate.” Dandelion Chocolate, http://www.dandelionchocolate.com/.
  4. Giller, Megan. Bean-to-Bar Chocolate: Americas Craft Chocolate Revolution: the Origins, the Makers, and the Mind-Blowing Flavors. Storey Publishing, 2017.
  5. Hershey. “ The Hershey Company Fact Book.” Thehersheycompany, Oct. 2017, https://http://www.thehersheycompany.com/content/dam/corporate-us/documents/investors/2017-fact-book.pdf.
  6. “Inside Big Chocolate’s Child Labor Problem.” Fortune, fortune.com/big chocolate child-labor. O’Keefe, Brian. “Inside Big Chocolate’s Child Labor Problem.” Fortune, @2018 Time Inc., fortune.com/big-chocolate-child-labor.
  7. Kit Kat Dancing Babies Commercial, YouTube, 18 Jan. 2013, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0o2qeU4RSuA.
  8. Martin, Carla D. “Lecture 1: Introduction” and “Lecture 3: Chocolate Expansion”
  9. Martin, Carla, D. “Sizing the craft chocolate market,” Fine Cacao and Chocolate Institute (blog), August 31, 2017, https://chocolateinstitute.org/blog/sizing-the-craft-chocolate-market/.
  10. “Mondelēz Revenues Slide 13% in 2016 as Analysts Casts Doubt on Kraft-Heinz Merger.” Confectionerynews.com, 7 Feb. 2017,  http://www.confectionerynews.com/Article/2017/02/07/Mondelez-2016-results-Sales-sliDe-13-organic-growth-target-missed.
  11. Presilla, Maricel E. The new taste of chocolate: a cultural and natural history of cacao with recipes. Random House Digital, Inc., 2009
  12. SCHARFFEN BERGER|Artisan Chocolatehttp://www.scharffenberger.com/ en_us/home.html.
  13. Shanker, Deena. “The Rise of Craft Chocolate.” Bloomberg.com, Bloomberg, 7 Feb. 2017, http://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2017-02-07/the-rise-of-craft-chocolate.
  14. “The Candy Papers: Confectionery Industry Year in Review 2017.” Confectionerynews.com, William Reed Business Media Ltd 2018., 12 Dec. 2017, http://www.confectionerynews.com/Article/2017/12/12/The-Candy-Papers-Confectionery-industry-year-in-review-2017.

Parliament Chocolate: Bean-to-Bar and the Future of Craft Chocolate

Parliament Chocolate is a small Southern California chocolate company that epitomizes the bean-to-bar craft chocolate movement. With a focus on artisanship and direct trade single origin beans, Parliament makes it known that their goal is to produce great quality, ethical chocolate. Although not a perfect solution to all the problems of inequality in the cacao supply chain, bean-to-bar companies such as Parliament are making a positive impact through educating consumers and providing an alternative to big chocolate.

The Parliament Chocolate shop is nestled in the charming historic district of the small city of Redlands, California. Set amid a background of mountains and palm trees, Redlands is known by area residents for its bustling farmers market and trendy downtown businesses. Parliament can be found a block from the center of downtown, in an understated white washed one story building. Once the location of the White Owl Café, now the tiny space has been re-appropriated as Parliament’s kitchen and retail shop.

Front of Parliament Chocolate Shop
Figure 1. Parliament Chocolate Building

Ryan Berk established Parliament chocolate four years ago with his wife, Cassi. According to Berk in a Life and Thyme Magazine’s Letter to the editor (2015) “Our main principle behind the company is to have a relationship with the farmers and vendors behind the products we present to you.” He continues on in his story to discuss going to remote locations in Belize and Guatemala to visit the farmers he is sourcing his cacao beans from, and to express his appreciation for the hard work required to make good quality chocolate. His letter is filled with his personal photos of lush tropical landscapes and indigenous people. The photos depict an idealized notion of going back to chocolate’s origins. In an L.A. Times article Bark’s direct sourcing has been further romanticized. “Ryan Berk makes his chocolate from scratch. That means flying to Central America four times a year, hiking over Maya ruins to remote jungle villages and meeting face-to-face with the farmers who supply his cocoa beans” (Pierson, 2015).

Although lacking some of the passion and colorful imagery found in Berk’s writing, the Parliament Chocolate website explains direct trade, the bean-to-bar concept and their pride in making craft chocolate. On the About Us page, in three short paragraphs, Parliament conveys their mission in a simple, straightforward manner. Their website, store and product packaging all are representative of this simple, open and sincere brand. The grand opening video below also shows their commitment to being ethical and creating a unique product.

Large chocolate companies are not known for revealing detailed information about their processes or supply chain. In direct opposition to this, transparency is clearly important to Parliament Chocolate. Not only in the origin of their beans, but also in their daily operations. Large street facing windows provide views of the retail space and the kitchen. From inside the tiny retail area another window offers a full view of the equipment, ingredients and workers.  The photo below shows the kitchen space as seen from the retail space.

View of Chocolate Kitchen
Figure 2. View of Parliament Chocolate Kitchen

 

For those interested in seeing the areas not clearly visible from the window, Parliament also provides twice weekly tours of the facility. Factory tours are common for small craft chocolate companies. “Whether it is Theo Chocolate in Seattle or TCHO in San Francisco, small manufacturers are opening their doors to packed tours of people eager to learn about flavor, how chocolate is made, and where it comes from” (Williams & Eber, 2012, p. 157).

Parliament produces just four types of chocolate bars, each of which is made with only two ingredients; seventy percent cacao and thirty percent cane sugar. Each bar is made with single origin beans. This year they have Bolivia, Dominican Republic, Guatemala and Tanzania bars. All the bars are packaged in white textured craft paper and adorned with a drawing of an owl. The owl drawings are made by a local artist, four different owls representing the four different countries. The name of the company, Parliament, came from this parliament of owls.

Additionally, they also make chocolate syrup and an array of freshly prepared confections. On the day I visited their caramel and toffee truffles were the most popular treats. Samples of the chocolate bars are displayed for every guest to try, and they are happy to discuss the qualities and tasting notes of each with customers.

Parliament Samples
Figure 3. Parliament Samples

 

Pictured above are the Parliament Chocolate bars, each cut into sample cubes. The bars are 1.7 ounces, and thicker than most bars on the market. One might think that thinner, wider bars with larger packaging would give consumers the impression that they were getting more value for their money. Parliament does not seem to be worried about standing out against other craft bars. Currently, not being supplied in any

ParliamentChocolate-Bar Size
Figure 4. Parliament Bar Size

large markets, there would be little concern to be noticed and chosen among the masses. Pictured on the right is a Parliament Chocolate bar next to a Dick Taylor Craft Chocolate bar. A 1.7 ounce bar versus a 2.0 ounce bar.

 

Parliament’s bars sell for six dollars a bar, or twenty dollars for the pack of all four varieties. This price does not seem particularly outlandish, considering the price of most craft chocolate bars. The question becomes, with this type of product being still relatively new, is the average consumer willing to pay a premium price for a single origin dark chocolate bar?

We know that there is a market for ethically conscious consumers that enjoy fine dark chocolate. We have yet to see how quickly that market could potentially grow. It seems likely to consider that the explosion of craft chocolatiers into this arena is happening faster than the growth of consumers. Research by Torres-Moreno, Tarrega, Torrescasana, and Blanch (2011) indicates that consumers prefer a familiar brand with a known quality, and that consumers of dark chocolate like products based on taste with little importance given to information on packaging.  Labeling information claiming single origin beans did not cause consumers to presume it would be better quality nor did they find it to be a feature that improved the product (p. 670).

Claims on product labels about the geographical origin of chocolates have been shown to be a distinctive characteristic of high quality products. However, the results presented here indicate that consumers in this study did not perceive the claim about geographical origins as a positive feature for dark chocolate (Torres-Moreno et al., 2011, p. 670).

Although the data from their research seems to hint at a barrier for craft chocolate expansion, in time the results could change. Currently, in the Unites States, many people still associate the excessively sweet, almost sour, quality of a Hershey’s bar with the taste of chocolate. Learning to appreciate dark chocolate, and the nuanced flavors of beans, takes exposure and education. “The spectacular growth of quality chocolate during recent decades has led to a vocabulary of connoisseurship previously seen only in the wine industry. (Coe & Coe, 2013, p. 260) Chocolate connoisseurs will grow in numbers with increased experience. It will be up to the craft chocolate maker to provide excellent tasting products. Single origin still might not be a driving factor behind consumer purchases, but a great tasting product will be.

With a market already saturated with cheap, well known chocolate brands, craft companies have a difficult road ahead.  Community engagement could help keep many of these craft companies in business. Parliament Chocolate sells their chocolate syrup to a local Redlands coffee company for their mocha lattes. This has caught on, and now Parliament sells to multiple coffee shops in several cities.  A day spa in the downtown area even offers a chocolate body scrub treatment using Parliament Chocolate.

This type of local exposure helps make the company, and their mission, more widely known. Not only is there a market for ethical food, there is also one for locally produced goods. Being well known in a small community drives business because many people feel a strong desire to help their neighbor, the little guy, succeed. Consumers wish to feel good about their purchases. Yes, thinking that they have paid a higher price to help a poor farmer is incentive for many, but so is seeing a small local community store flourish. Having set up shop in Redlands, a community that prides entrepreneurship and local artisanship, Parliament chocolate is a good place to continue doing well.

Regardless of whether or not some of these types of small companies thrive, the more craft chocolatiers entering the market, the more people will see this type of chocolate and become aware of its existence. Even by perhaps failing as a business, craft companies can succeed at making positive change by educating people and increasing appreciation for artisanal chocolate.

As much as bean-to-bar companies tout about being ethical and fair to their famers, paying higher prices for presumably better beans, artisanal chocolate is not fully explained without a discussion of West African cacao. The Ivory Coast and Ghana produce most of the world’s cacao supply, and yet these two countries are nearly nonexistent in the fine cacao market. There are many reasons for this. In the industry, the quality of the beans from West Africa are seen as subpar. Bean flavors from Central America, most notably the criollo variety, are seen as more desirable and sought after. There is also a nostalgia for cacao from its original source. To make matters worse, Africa is globally stigmatized for child labor abuses.

Coe and Coe (2013) express the concern that “The gravest and most troubling issue confronting practically all of the major players in the chocolate business concerns child labor-usually unpaid-on the great West African cacao plantations.” (p. 264) Of course we need to acknowledge the truth of the situation, but we also need to look at these societies without the lens of western cultural thinking. West African cacao farmers are trying to survive on meager incomes. Villainizing the farmers does not solve the problem, nor does thinking of them as a charity case. If farmers in this area were making a livable wage, if adults in a family were better able to provide for their dependents, then children would not need to work so much. Incidences of child slavery and abuse would diminish greatly.

Could direct trade be the answer to help this area? It might take a long time to find out. “U.S. artisans are, on the whole, stout in their commitment to both ethics and quality. While they purchase costly flavor beans and can thus improve the livelihoods of poor farmers, they are also unlikely to buy from a place with a negative image – such as West Africa” (Leissle, 2013, p.29). West Africa’s global image is not likely to change soon.

To be fair to U.S. craft chocolate companies, it would be a much bigger expense and logistics project to source their beans from West Africa, especially the Ivory Coast, than someplace closer to the U.S. such as the Dominican Republic. Many small craft chocolate makers are doing so as a side hobby. Berk owns three popular ice cream shops in addition to Parliament Chocolate. Working with such small profit margins does not allow a large amount of capital for such an endeavor. If a company was capable of doing so, I think they would see that the West African stigma is not as big of an issue as it might seem. As we have learned, consumers care more about taste than origin.

Craft chocolate companies promoting a bean-to-bar artisanal chocolate product, such as Parliament Chocolate, will not make much of a dent in the overall volume of chocolate produced. Realistically, not every chocolate bar produced could come from a single, direct traded source. This is not to discredit these types of newly emerging companies. They are having a positive impact. “Many of these US manufacturers may be small, but they have been driving recent changes for the better in the industry; change the world-make better chocolate” (Williams & Eber, 2012, p. 156). Even with narrow profit margins and the likelihood of many startups to fail, these companies are providing public awareness. Through enthusiastically engaging those in their communities, overtime a shift in thinking and taste preferences will occur.

 

References

Berk, R. (2015). Cacao Sourcing: A First Hand Account. Life & Thyme: Reflections. Retrieved from https://lifeandthyme.com/reflections/cacao-sourcing-first-hand-account/

Coe, S. D., & Coe, M. D. (2013). The true history of chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson.

Leissle, K. (2013). Invisible West Africa: The Politics of Single Origin Chocolate. Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture. 13(3), 22-31

Pierson, D. (2015) Artisanal, hand-crafted chocolate is a growing niche. L.A. Times. Retrieved from http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-artisan-chocolate-20150228-story.html

Parliament Chocolate website, http://www.parliamentchocolate.com/

Torres-Moreno, M. , Tarrega, A. , Torrescasana, E. , & Blanch, C. (2012). Influence of label information on dark chocolate acceptability. Appetite, 58(2), 665-771

Williams, P. & Eber, J. (2012). Raising the Bar: The Future of Fine Chocolate. Vancouver: Wilmor Publishing.

Figures 1-4. Personal Photos taken at Parliament Chocolate, Redlands, CA. March 7, 2017.

Parliament Chocolate Grand Opening Video, retrieved from https://vimeo.com/user23796783

72% Packaging: Package Design and Perception in Craft Chocolate

Any lover of fine chocolate is familiar with the dilemma of standing in front of a craft chocolate display, especially those who are inclined to try new things and consider more than flavor in making a choice. “The choices in fine chocolate are almost as overwhelming as the possibilities” (Williams and Eber 2012, 145). So how do you decide? Will you grab the bar that appears to be making a social impact on the production end? Or the bar that promotes the conservation of wildlife? How about that new lemongrass and coconut bar, though? And then there’s the masterful, graphic, nuanced package design that is incredible and beautiful for reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with chocolate. The wallpaper. The problem that I want to unpack here, if you will, is how consumer decisions are affected and obscured by package design and why it’s important in the world of craft chocolate. (In my references to consumers and the craft chocolate market, I am speaking specifically about that of North America and Europe.)

chocolate display
Image: Maja | For Emma, Forever Ago

There’s no universal rule about what the consumer is looking for, so chocolate packaging is all over the board. The primary goal is, or at least should be, according to fine flavor chocolate manufacturers and chocolatiers, buying chocolate that tastes exceptionally good. But flavor is a perception, and an individual’s perception of flavor is affected by all of the senses, not just taste, as well as complex cognitive function (Shepherd 2012). For most consumers, this perception begins with sight and, thus, packaging. Visual cues have a profound effect on our perceived acceptability and expectation of a food, as well as the associations we have from learned and past experience (Delwiche 2012). The packaging is our first visual cue, in fact our first sensory cue in most cases, in making a decision on a bar of chocolate.

rainbow_chocolate
Image: the Dieline

“If we turn back to the phenomena [of perception], they show us that the apprehension of a quality, just as that of size, is bound up with a whole perceptual context, and that the stimuli no longer furnish us with the indirect means we were seeking of isolating a layer of immediate impressions” (1962, 8). When we choose a chocolate bar based on our perception of the package, we’re not always able to isolate that ‘immediate impression’ from the ‘whole perceptual context’ of how good the bar will taste, what it represents, and how it actually impacts people and environment. So purveyors can leverage the power of that immediate impression of the package design to sell the idea and the anticipated gestalt of what lies within that layer.

This is not a new concept. Merleu-Ponty wrote that in 1962 and advertisers have long been aware of this reality, appealing to specific consumer bases in whatever way is most effective to them at that point in time. The success of the industrial and processed food market is a glaring example of this. In terms of the craft market, of which fine (or craft) chocolate is a part, it must be done for a slightly more discerning audience. It can be argued that designing for consumer appeal and marketability enhances the viability of a craft chocolate industry that can afford to purchase high-quality beans and support socially conscious business practices, but it also greatly increases the fetishism of chocolate and reinforces the “positive fantasy of the commodity” (Duncombe 2012, 360). Furthermore, the methods, circumstances, and governing bodies discerning what constitutes fine cacao are wrapped up in representational politics, historical narratives, market interests, and social tensions (Leissle 2013). The package design of fine and craft chocolate seems to exist on a spectrum of exoticism to localization, with a confounding dose of social justice and a decent measure of health claims in between.

Whole Foods Market came onto the grocery scene in the early 2000s with a remarkable new approach to retail food marketing – taking into account the burgeoning food movement that promoted local, sustainable, and socially conscious products in an increasingly mysterious food industry, they designed their stores to appeal not just to the gustatory pleasures of their consumers but also their liberal politics and, arguably, upscale aesthetics (Mack 2012). This new sensory design approach in grocery retail brought the firm great success – Whole Foods now has 456 stores in the United States, Canada, and the UK (Statista 2017). Chocolate packaging has undergone a similar re-design in the sense that the way in which it appeals to the gustatory, ethical, and aesthetic inclinations of the consumer. But ther is a distinct difference between chocolate and, say, the grains and dairy products sold at Whole Foods (though their sensory design approach has been criticized by Michael Pollan, who claims that the size and scale of the firm has pushed the small-scale, sustainable farmers they appear to support out of their the supply chain, Mack 2012).

Though local markets for craft and fine chocolate are growing, the great majority of craft and fine chocolate is consumed far from the places where it is produced and that production has a controversial history, which obscures consumer understanding of the impact of their choices on the production end of the value chain. But just like organic and non-GMO labels affect consumer perception of truly local products, there is a vast crop of certifications and labels (including organic and non-GMO) in chocolate that draw on consumer notions of ethics, morality, and socially conscious buying practices. These certifications are pervaded by international politics, financial inaccessibility, and general misunderstanding, and often do not have the transformative effect on producers or environment that they claim. Nonetheless, the average consumer lacks the information or experience to understand the labels and, thus, they are perceived as valuable. The obscurity of certifications has motivated producers like Taza chocolate, a chocolatier based in Somerville, MA, to create their own direct trade label and the company also publishes an annual transparency report that includes purchase prices and information about producers. The readership of that report is very low as it relates to the consumption of their product, which suggests consumers don’t seek out that information beyond the package and its labels even when it is available.

20170405 Alternative trade and virtuous localizationglobalization
Image: Dr. Carla Martin, Harvard Extension School Course

The “mythology of chocolate” has been pervasive since the early days of its popularization in Europe and is evident throughout the chocolate industry, especially as it pertains to femininity and romanticism in marketing (Robertson 2009). That mythology has extended to a whole new exoticism of the industry, using imagery, language, and semiotics to market the allure of the exotic and build that “positive fantasy of the commodity” (Duncombe 2012, 360). That fantasy includes not just the romanticized provenance and culture of cacao but also an ever-growing array of flavors, many of which are far removed from the geographic and cultural origins of cacao, all of which brings up deeply embedded issues of class, race, and otherness (Martin and Sampeck 2015).

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Images: (L-R) the Dieline, bpando.org

On the other hand, there is the ‘localization’ of chocolate – a response to the food movement of recent years and the subsequent, ever-growing appeal of local foods. The know-your-farmer consumer approach doesn’t hold in the chocolate market of North American and Europe because cacao is not, in fact, a local product. Instead, the ‘localization’ of chocolate, at its core a foreign product, has been achieved through packaged farmer narratives, in the growth of single origin chocolates, an emphasis on local manufacture and craftsmanship, and the notion of terroir (Leissle 2013, 23, e.g. Williams & Eber 2012, 148, Presilla 2009). All three of those abstractions of chocolate as a ‘local’ product rely on consumer perception and the successful communication of the concept by manufacturers and chocolatiers by way of package design.

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Image: (L-R) The Chocolate Path, Notey, Mast Brothers

Cacao’s early association with wealth – the Mesoamericans used the beans as currency and the Spanish eagerly adopted the practice by acquiring great amounts of the valuable cacao beans, most often by unjust means – carried right over to early European consumption of chocolate. Chocolate started as a luxury commodity only accessible to the rich but, despite eventually becoming available and widely consumed by the masses, the notion of ‘richness’ in chocolate persists today (Coe and Coe 2013). Whether it’s the gold foil, the font, or a box or package that is decorative in and of itself, the package design of many a fine chocolate draws consumers in with its aesthetic representations of luxury, class, and richness.

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Image: La Muse Bluse

Chocolate also has been connected to notions of health since the first Mesoamerican imbibers of chocolate celebrated the its medicinal properties in treating illness and myriad ailments. The association fit nicely into the Spanish obsession with health and they eagerly adapted cacao into their own medicinal frameworks (Coe & Coe 2013). The benefits now touted by ‘functional chocolate’ advocates are different than past iterations of ‘chocolate as medicine,’ but the notion persists in the perception of chocolate’s antioxidant properties, the benefits of flavonoids for cardiac health, the positive effects on mental and emotional health, as well as the nutritional value of raw chocolate and its adherence to increasingly common dietary restrictions (Castell, Pérez-Cano, and Bisson 2013).

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Images: (L-R) the Dieline, Nohmod, the Designers Dose

 

Makers of craft chocolate source high-quality beans with ‘fine flavor.’ They use small-scale, traditional tools and finish the bars largely by hand. So craft chocolate is expensive. “Manufacturers and chocolatiers will tell you they follow their hearts in creating their chocolate and bonbons but too many consumers follow the herd and buy into marketing and the power of packaging” (Williams and Eber 2012, 146). Those manufacturers and chocolatiers emphasize that their primary, driving goal is great flavor and they are enthusiastic about educating the consuming public about their craft and what constitutes great flavor. Makers like the Mast brothers in Brooklyn, NY, and TCHO in Berkeley, CA, have opened their doors to chocolate lovers for tours, tastings, and flavor education. While this access does help a small batch of consumers better understand the price tag on their favorite bar of craft chocolate and identify the flavor profiles they love, the focus on flavor and craft largely dismisses the socio-political implications of chocolate. And for the makers who do incorporate that narrative into their educational endeavors, what of the consumers who don’t have access to this first-hand experience and education? It’s left to the packaging. Thus, this type of education misses a great deal of the consumer market and ‘knowing’ your chocolate becomes more a matter of cultural capital than a keen understanding of the product in all its complexity.

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Image: Mast Brothers shop in Brooklyn by Eunice Choi

Williams and Eber write about the wealth of information available to consumers and claim that “consumers are becoming more educated about the origins of cacao and chocolate worldwide [as they learn] how flavor varies depending on terroir, postharvest processing, and chocolate making” but this focus on flavor and ‘craft’ obscures the crucial social and local-global implications of chocolate and the effectiveness of all that information places arguably too much responsibility on the consumer for interpreting and comprehending the market to drive their choices (2012, 161). Moreover, the consumption and enjoyment of chocolate, a ‘nonessential’ product, is hedonistic. Consumers of fine chocolate are attempting to make good choices in the midst of looking for gustatory pleasure and an intoxicating flavor experience, and the perception of the package is crucial in that moment of choice.

The demand for chocolate in general isn’t likely to subside – people report craving chocolate more than any other food item and studies have found a well of explanations and dimensions for the near-universal chocolate habit (Benton 2014). Package design in chocolate is not only confounding in the obscurity of information about chocolate, but it exploits that habit. In appealing to the socially constructed aesthetic tastes of consumers, package design further obscures the reality of cacao production, deepens the gap between producer and consumer, and perpetuates a disconnect between chocolate consumerism in capitalist societies and ongoing poverty in production areas.

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GIF: Emily Henderson

All too often, “’premium chocolate’ may not be any more “fine” than the paper it’s packaged in” and the controversy and confusion around certifications, origins, cacao content, and production practices has even motivated some manufacturers and chocolatiers to leave that information off the package altogether (Williams and Eber 2012, 168). Some of those packages look more like a skilled graphic designer’s canvas than the wrapper of an actual food product. Chocolate packaging has taken on a life all its own, fully crossed over into the lifestyle and design world, and the aesthetic pursuits even carry over to the chocolate itself, with highly refined molds, coloring, and décor.

ELEFANTE
Image: knstrct

All of this is not to say that there is anything inherently wrong with designing a beautiful, unique package or that the fault of the craft chocolate industry is in the design. Many, if not most, of these companies have good intentions and admirable business practices. And marketing is marketing. In their article “The Bitter and Sweet of Chocolate in Europe,” Martin and Sampeck (2015) write that “while there is much to recommend fine and craft, there is also much left to be done. In other words, the problems of the local-global divide and socially unequal state of cacao-chocolate production and consumption described throughout this essay persist in the present day, despite many of our perceived solutions” (2015, 56). In light of all this, what is the right and just way to market fine and craft chocolate that will be viable but also judiciously attend to those problems and observe the craftsmanship of fine chocolate? Can there be congruence in branding and design, good business practices, and telling genuine, impactful narratives about chocolate?

Ethical and effective package design must “avoid the pitfalls of rhetoric obscuring reality,” to borrow a phrase from Martin and Sampeck (2015). “Products have to be three-dimensional in terms of the product quality, its price, and value proposition, and the impact that it is having on the community and the rest of the world. That’s where the future is” (Christian Aschwanden as cited in Williams and Eber 2012, 171). The packaging needs to convey those dimensions of the product, and that is no easy feat when it comes to package design.

In the complexities and obscurity of the industry itself, there isn’t a simple, catch-all solution to ethical and effective package design, but purveyors who keep it simple, present understandable and supportable information, and use non-essentialized representations of plant and people seem to be on the right track, for now. But perhaps the future of chocolate packaging is a way to use today’s technology and the highly skilled designers already being employed by the chocolate industry to fill in the gaps between bean and bar – a way to communicate important information and non-binary narratives to consumers, specifically from sources without commercial investment in those narratives like Yellow Seed. But the fine chocolate industry itself may have a long way to go before that information is designable and fully digestible to chocolate lovers.

END
Images: Taza Chocolate, bpando.org, Giselle Kennedy Lord

Works Cited –

Adam Mack. 2012. The Politics of Good Taste. The Senses and Society, 7(1): 87-94, DOI: 10.2752/174589312X13173255802166

Benton, David. 2014. The Biology and Psychology of Chocolate Craving. In Coffee, Tea, Chocolate, and the Brain. ed. Astrid Nehlig, 205-218. Boca Raton: CRC Press.

Castell, Margarida, Francisco Jose Pérez-Cano , and Jean-François Bisson. 2013. Chapter 19: Clinical Benefits of Cocoa: An Overview. In Chocolate in Health and Nutrition, Nutrition and Health 7DOI 10.1007/978-1-61779-803-0_19

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. 2013, The True History of Chocolate: Third Edition. London: Thames & Hudson.

Delwiche, Jeannine F. 2012. You Eat with Your Eyes First. Physiology & Behavior 107: 502-504.

Duncombe, Stephen. 2012. It Stand On its Head: Commodity Fetishism, Consumer Activism, and the Strategic Use of Fantasy. In Culture and Organization 18(5): 359-375. DOI: 10.1080/14759551.2012.733856

Leissle, Kristy. 2013. West Africa: The Politics of Single Origin Chocolate. Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture, 13(3): 22-31. http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/gfc.2013.13.3.22. Date of access, May 1, 2017.

Martin, Carla D. and Kathryn E. Sampeck. 2015. The Bitter and Sweet of Chocolate in Europe. doi: 10.18030/SOCIO.HU.2015EN.37

Merleau-Ponty, M. 1962. Phenomenology of Perception. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Presilla, Maricel E. 2009. The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural and Natural History of Cacao. New York: Ten Speed Press.

Robertson, Emma. 2009. Chocolate, Women, and Empire: A Social and Cultural History. Manchester; New York: Machester Universoty of Press.

Shepherd, Gordon. 2012. How the Brain Creates Flavor and Why It Matters. New York; Chichester: Columbia University Press.

Statista. 2016. Number of Stores of Whole Foods Market Worldwide from 200 to 2016. Date of Access, May 5, 2017. https://www.statista.com/statistics/258682/whole-foods-markets-number-of-stores-worldwide/

Williams, Pam, and Jim Eber. 2012. Raising the Bar: the Future of Fine Chocolate. Vancouver: Wilmor Publishing Corporation.

 

Down to the Details: Dissecting the Intended Audience of Two NYC Chocolate Shops

New York City is constantly brimming with new additions to the food scene, and when it comes to chocolate, The Meadow and Chelsea Market Baskets are two specialty shops that aim to enhance one’s sensory and social experience. Closer comparison between these stores also yields distinct differences in their intended audience and marketing incentive. Whereas Chelsea Market Baskets has a more pronounced focus on gift purchasing and impulse buying, The Meadow offers a more well-rounded selection of origins and varieties, establishing itself as a solid destination for connoisseurs and consumers who place a greater priority on food product transparency.

Chelsea Market Baskets 

Chelsea Market Baskets (CMB) is located inside Chelsea Market, which boasts about 6 million visitors annually (Chelsea Market). The chocolate selection here is divided into three sections: Popular Chocolates, Specialty Chocolates (a sign reads “Chocolates that are not found in many places and we think are worth a bit of effort to find”), and Connoisseurs Chocolates (“Top quality chocolates that we are especially proud of and have sought out from smaller manufacturers”). The prices vary from around $3 to $11 per product.

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CMB’s three sections of chocolate (shot with iPhone)

Selection

Whereas mass manufacturers rely on wholesale companies to ensure lower costs, bean-to-bar makers take pride in carefully sourcing higher quality beans through a more collaborative environment with farmers and aim to increase product transparency (Dandelion Chocolate). Many bean-to-bar goods are offered here, and while most of the single origin bars only designate the country of origin, Dandelion Chocolate and Sol Cacao specify the estate where their beans come from: Akesson’s Farm in Madagascar.

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Bean-to-bar makers Sol Cacao and Dandelion specify the estate from which their beans are sourced (shot with iPhone). 

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On the other hand, CMB also offers an equal amount of mass-produced chocolate by major European manufacturers (e.g. Cote d’Or). At least five brands represented at CMB incorporate more typical “Big Chocolate” ingredients: more refined sugar and emulsifiers (e.g. soy lecithin) to substitute for more expensive cocoa butter (Albader 55). This not only reduces production costs but also reduces the number of polyphenols (which can help reduce LDL cholesterol and raise HDL concentrations) naturally found in cocoa butter (Watson et al. 267). The homogenization of these sweeter, more artificially flavored products with the all-natural and single origin bars implies that the larger focus of CMB may be on the overall appeal of the product, rather than the nutritional value or manner of production.

Examination of packaging and flavor selection also furthers my impression that CMB greatest motive is to attract the gift-giving or impulse buyer. Several eye-catching packaging labels showcase cartooned creatures, which have been shown to specifically attract children (Shekhar and Raveendran 57). Makers such as Vintage Plantations showcase vibrant colors or paintings of exotic habitats; the dimension of packaging design that most significantly predicts impulsive buying is visual design (Cahyorini and Rusfian 17). Selling more visually attractive products is a particularly beneficial marketing strategy, because the more exposure to visual cues in packaging, the higher the probability of buying chocolates (Shekhar and Raveendran 60). Certainly, customers may come with a particular product in mind, but for those more impulse-driven visitors, CMB offers several choices that facilitate purchasing through graphic appeal. Another effective marketing strategy here is catering to the traditional “American” appetite. Many flavored chocolates are fused with bacon, caramel, cookies, or other familiar flavors; culturally, we are psychologically attracted to foods that are both sweet and high in fat (Benton 214). By offering a mixture of single-origin and mass-manufactured chocolate, visually attractive products, and both familiar and novel flavors, CMB accommodates all ages and flavor preferences.The primary goal is to retail “premium chocolates,” value-added products not just in terms of quality but also “taste and texture, packaging, image and perception, and communication” (Linemayr 13).

Visually appealing products (shot with iPhone)

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Fusing bacon with chocolate

Ethical Concerns

CMB offers a number of Fair Trade products, which are based on a collective effort to justly compensate farmers. However, many of the label’s claims are not accomplished, and a very small proportion of money reaches the poverty-stricken farmers at the base of the production chain (Martin). The growing ubiquitousness of Fair Trade has led to a dilution of its label, with some companies merely using it to enhance their public image (Sylla 133). For more knowledgable consumers, CMB offers several Direct Trade goods by makers who offer more substantial premiums to farmers. Taza, which created the “chocolate industry’s first third-party certified Direct Trade cacao sourcing program,” publishes an annual cacao sourcing transparency report, listing in detail the premiums paid to their farmers (Taza Chocolate). Over fifteen of Taza’s products are sold at CMB, all of them in the “Popular Chocolates” selection, thereby facilitating an outlet by which visitors can enjoy the unique taste of their stone-ground chocolate but also learn about their socially responsible practices. By representing several companies that work beyond simply paying Fair Trade premiums, CMB offers potential for spreading more awareness about the more grassroots approach to relieving ethical issues in chocolate production.

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A shot from Taza’s annual sourcing transparency report (Taza Chocolate)

 

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Taza selection at CMB (shot with iPhone)

Taste

I purchased a few bars from each store to share some interesting flavors and textures unique to each location. From CMB, I purchased Taza’s Cinnamon Stone Ground Chocolate Mexicano Discs. Taza is known for their unique processing technique where traditional Mexican style stone mills, or molinos, are used to grind the beans. This accentuates the bold flavors of the unconched chocolate, producing a rustic, gritty texture that lingers on the tongue. Taza allows the consumer to harken back to historical Mesoamerican chocolate traditions through the similar process of grinding cacao on a stone, or metate (Presilla 26). I loved the biscuit-like texture because it allowed me to taste the bold cacao, sugar, and warm cinnamon individually.

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I was first drawn to the artwork on Amano’s package and after turning it over, I found that Amano is the most highly awarded chocolate maker in America, which piqued my interest in its taste. Madagascar cacao is known for being fruity, and this tastes very smooth with clean raspberry, black currant, and cherry notes (Presilla 139).

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The Meadow

The Meadow is located in the West Village, and pricing is significantly on the higher end, ranging from around $6 to $22 per bar. Like CMB, the chocolate selection is divided into three sections, albeit for different categories: the first section comprises flavored chocolates, the second comprising single-origin bars and bean-to-bar makers, and the third for dark chocolate (85% cacao content or higher).

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The Meadow’s three sections of chocolate (shot with iPhone)

Selection

Unlike CMB, the vast majority of products here are by small batch craft makers, and one instantly notices the emphasis on minimal and natural ingredients. The flavored chocolates here rarely consist of emulsifiers or artificial sweeteners, and the associate can name several products with higher amounts of non-deodorized cocoa butter. The samples offered were only from 100% cacao bars, which may be a more unconventional choice for tasting. Some individuals may not be familiar with such astringent, potent flavors, but The Meadow urges one to stay true to the the pure experience of cacao. These factors all lead to marketing more health-conscious products; 100% cacao bars contain no sugar, and dark chocolate contains the most significant levels of antioxidant polyphenols and flavonoids, which have beneficial effects on hypertension and vascular disorders (Haber and Gallus 1287).

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Tasting samples (shot with iPhone)

A thorough understanding of the selection is largely dependent on the visitor’s level of understanding of origin and terroir. There are significantly more single origin countries presented here; the Francois Pralus single origin bars span eight countries. Whereas CMB retails Madagascar chocolate bars which source beans from a single farm (Akesson’s), actual chocolate bars made by Akesson’s are sold here. Akesson’s is a family-owned heritage plantation, which provides beans for many U.S. based chocolate companies, such as Dick Taylor, Patric, and Woodblock, all of which can be found at The Meadow (Carla Martin, personal communication, May 2 2017). This selection offers a dynamic medium for tasting and comparing flavors made from varying partners within the supply chain.

Francois Pralus
Francois Pralus selection (shot with iPhone)
Akesson's
Akesson’s single plantation chocolate

The Francois Pralus bars list not only the country of origin but also the cacao variety used. Other bars state “Porcelana” on the front, a criollo variety that is prized for its nuttiness and low astringency (Presilla 67). Those who are familiar with or are in favor of a specific cacao variety will find the detail-oriented selection at The Meadow particularly accommodating.

Several bars are labeled “Chuao,” one of the most coveted type of criollo beans. Today, the Chuao plantation in Chuao, Venezuela is run by a small community that adheres to a centuries-long tradition of processing and operations (Presilla 77). The narrow valley yields a very limited space for cultivating cacao, producing only about 16 to 17 metric tons annually, but the beans are highly coveted for their taste and quality (White). The reputation of Chuao has led some makers to misappropriate its name and branding significance to mimic the terroir effect of the Chuao geographical region (Giovannucci et al. xv). This controversy itself is implicated at The Meadow, where I found two “Chuao” bars: one from Francois Pralus and the other by Domori. Although the Francois Pralus bar sources specifically from the Chuao village, the Domori bar is made from beans in a different region of Venezuela where the genetics of the Chuao strain have been implanted (The Meadow). This “Chuao” labeling despite it being produced outside of the valued village raises questions of legitimacy and violations of terroir, which places a strong emphasis on geographical origin, specifically, the “link between the product and the production area, depending on natural and climate conditions in the region” (Aurier et al.). The Domori bar also distances itself from the cultural and historical prestige associated with terroir. The Francois Pralus Chuao bar ($14) is more popular than the Domori Chuao bar ($8), perhaps due to an understanding of the terroir complications at hand, again likening consumer knowledge as an important factor for visitors.

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This is a cacao pod in the Chuao region, lauded for its terroir and superior criollo beans (Wikimedia Commons). 

 

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The Francois Pralus and Domori “Chuao” bars (shot with iPhone)

Domori

Ethical Concerns

The Meadow represents a nice selection of Fair Trade and Direct Trade goods, and the sales associate is also fairly knowledgable about the downsides of the Fair Trade label. He pinpointed a few companies working more directly with their farmers, such as Madécasse. Madécasse, which makes their chocolate directly in Madagascar, pays farmers 10% higher than the maximum price for dry superior cacao and 55% higher than the median price for all cacao (Madécasse Social Impact Report).

He also told me about Askinosie, one of The Meadow’s top-selling companies, which places photos of their farmers, a map of their estate, and twine from their cacao bags on their packaging, attempting to secure a bridge of transparency with the consumer. Askinosie also pays a significantly higher premium than the Fair Trade market price, supports nutritional programs for children in underdeveloped countries, and shares a percentage of its profits through their “A Stake in the Outcome” program, incentivizing farmers to constantly improve methods to ensure better quality (Askinosie Chocolate). The selection at The Meadow, in addition to the knowledge of its sales associates, is better marketed towards spreading awareness of ethical issues and their relation to small batch makers.

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Askinosie shares and explains financial statements with their farmers (Askinosie).
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Askinosie goods at The Meadow (shot with iPhone)

Taste

Bertil Akesson’s plantation in the Sambirano Valley of Madagascar is divided into four smaller estates: Madirofolo, Menavava, Bejofo, and Ambolikapiky, but only the latter two provide the beans for Akesson’s own chocolate bars (Cocoa Runners). I wanted to compare an Akesson’s Chocolate with another maker who sources from Akesson’s Farm (e.g. Dick Taylor).

The Dick Taylor chocolate was very tart with cranberry and orange notes. The potent astringency significantly differed from the more sweet, berry-flavored Amano Madagascar bar. It finished off with a slightly overroasted taste, which made me experience firsthand how different bars sourcing from the same geographical region can yield differing flavors based on each company’s processing methods.

Dick Taylor

My second purchase was an Akesson’s 75% Criollo Bejofo Estate bar. Every Akesson’s bar shows not only which of the 4 smaller estates the cacao comes from but also the variety of beans used. According to the package, 300 tons of trinitario cacao are produced on Akesson’s Farm, but a limited 2 tons of criollo cacao are harvested separately to make this specific chocolate. As criollo varieties are generally perceived as the most mellow and refined in flavor, I compared the taste of this bar with the more trinitario-based Dick Taylor bar (Presilla 36). The Akesson’s bar has a familiar chocolatey aroma and significantly more refined taste with soft, tropical notes (papaya or peach) that balanced well with a very mild tartness. It has a much longer mouthfeel with a velvety texture. Of all the three Madagascar bars I purchased, this had the most delicate nuttiness and creaminess. Originally, I had thought the Amano, Dick Taylor, and Akesson’s bars would be difficult to differentiate in flavor as they all originate in Madagascar, but I was able to experience the complexities of terroir and processing techniques.

Akesson's criollo chocolate

 

Conclusion

Both CMB and The Meadow are valuable to the NYC food scene and heighten one’s experience with chocolate. Housed inside a bustling tourist attraction, CMB appeals to a wider audience, making it highly adapted to the marketplace. One can find goods that are suitable for the entire family, which relates to the store’s motto of gift-giving to share both popular and novel tastes. The Meadow caters to a smaller niche, one that requires a greater deal of knowledge. The high prices here can pose as a drawback, and had I visited The Meadow prior to taking Dr. Martin’s course, I would have had great trouble understanding the significance of “porcelana” or “single estate.” The Meadow’s selection is meticulously curated, just like the companies it represents direct great attention to their chocolate sourcing and production. The Meadow’s focus on minimal ingredients and terroir enhanced my affinity for chocolate, because I was able to apply my knowledge to various social, cultural, and ethical factors implicated by the selection. The Meadow’s greatest asset may be that it challenges traditional notions of what chocolate is and hones in on the complexities of food product transparency. By offering a more detailed rundown of production, sourcing, and cacao varieties, The Meadow works towards developing a more intimate connection of trust, reliability, and transparency between brand and consumer.

Works Cited

“About Chelsea Market.” Chelsea Market, http://www.chelseamarket.com/index.php/About/contact/about-chelsea-market. Accessed 29 April 2017.

“Akesson’s.” Cocoa Runners, https://cocoarunners.com/maker/akessons/. Accessed 3 May 2017.

Albader, Kawther. “Can you believe it’s not (cocoa) butter?”. Candy Industry, July 2012, 54-55.

Askinosie, Shawn. Direct Trade. Photograph. Askinosie Chocolate. https://www.askinosie.com/learn/direct-trade.html. Accessed 3 May 2017.

Aurier, Philippe et al. “Exploring Terroir Product Meanings For the Consumer.” Anthropology of Food, 1 May 2005.

Benton, David. “The Biology and Psychology of Chocolate Craving.” Coffee, Tea, Chocolate, and the Brain, edited by Astrid Nehlig, CRC Press, 2004, 205-218.

Cacao en Chuao. Reg2bug. Wikimedia Commons. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cacao_en_Chuao.jpg. Accessed 2 May 2017.

Cahyorini, Astri, and Effy Zalfiana Rusfian. “The Effect of Packaging Design on Impulsive Buying.” Journal of Administrative Science & Organization, Jan. 2011, 11-21.

“Domori Chuao 70% Dark Chocolate.” The Meadow, https://themeadow.com/products/domori-chuao-70-dark-chocolate. Accessed 2 May 2017.

Giovannucci, Daniele, et al. Guide to Geographical Indications: Linking Products and Their Origins. International Trade Center, 2009.

Haber, Stacy, and Karen Gallus. “Effects of Dark Chocolate on Blood Pressure in Patients With Hypertension.” American Journal of Health-System Pharmacy, 1 Aug. 2012, 1287-1293.

“How We Make Chocolate.” Dandelion Chocolate, https://www.dandelionchocolate.com/process/#anchor. Accessed 29 April 2017.

Linemayr, Thomas. “Establishing Premium Chocolate in the U.S. Mass Market.” The Manufacturing Confectioner, June 2011, 13-16.

“Madécasse Social Impact Report.” Madécasse LLC and Wildlife Returns, April 2017, 1-9.

Martin, Carla. “Lecture 10: Alternative Trade and Virtuous Localization/Globalization.” Chocolate, Culture and the Politics of Food. Harvard University: Cambridge, MA. 5 April 2017. Lecture.

Presilla, Maricel. The New Taste of Chocolate, Revised. Ten Speed Press, 2009.

Shekhar, Suraj Kushe, and P.T Raveendran. “The Power of Sensation Transference: Chocolate Packages & Impulse Purchases.” Indian Institute of management Indore, April 2013, 55-64.

Sylla, Ndongo. The Fair Trade Scandal. Ohio University Press, 2014.

“Taza Direct Trade.” Taza Chocolate. https://www.tazachocolate.com/pages/taza-direct-trade. Accessed 29 April 2017.

White, April. “The Potential and Pitfalls of Geographical Indications for Cacao.” Chocolate Class, 11 May 2016, https://chocolateclass.wordpress.com/2016/05/11/the-potential-and-pitfalls-of-geographical-indications-for-cacao/. Accessed 2 May 2017.

 

 

Potomac Chocolate: a Closer Look at the Ethics, Marketing, and Intentions of Craft Chocolate Makers

Potomac Chocolate is a craft chocolate maker based in Woodbridge, Virginia. Ben Rasmussen is an award-winning chocolate maker who founded Potomac in 2010 and now has chocolate bars for sale across the country.  Potomac is often described as an “absurdly small” chocolate company, as it is truly a one-man show.  As I read more articles and blog posts from Ben Rasmussen, I quickly learned the truth behind that statement.  One blog post from June of 2013 simply said “Just a quick note that I’ll be traveling with my family from today until July 21st. Any orders placed will go out when I return” (Rasmussen, 2013).  Moreover, Rasmussen also wrote that he probably spends over half of the time that he is making chocolate on matters that have nothing to do with chocolate; he is everything from a “designer, custodian, accountant, salesman…and on and on.”  While he doesn’t love all of the these roles, they enable him to do what he loves, which is making great chocolate.  However, Rasmussen should be praised for far more than the taste of his chocolate. I have found that Potomac Chocolate is ethically sourced, modestly marketed, intended for all to enjoy, and made with a passion for great chocolate.

Sources of Cacao

The first thing I noticed when I looked at the catalog of Potomac bars was the variety of cacao sources.  Each Potomac bar is a single-origin bar, meaning the cacao beans used for each bar are from one particular region of a country.  Origin is particularly significant for chocolate production, as there is a long history of unethical cacao farming: some of which continues to this day.  In The True History of Chocolate, Sophie Coe writes:

“The gravest and most troubling issue confronting practically all of the major players in the chocolate business concerns child labor—usually unpaid—on the great West African cacao plantations. The countries most involved in this shameful practice are the Ivory Coast (Côte d’Ivoire) and Ghana. The former alone produces nearly 40 percent of the world’s supply of forastero cacao, the mainstay of the chocolate giants. Several million African children, many of them trafficked from neighboring countries such as Mali, work under terrible conditions throughout the year…” (Coe, 2013).

Moreover, Carla Martin, a leading expert on chocolate, explains that even in the 21st century there is still prominent evidence of the worst forms of child labor on various cocoa farms in West Africa (Martin, 2017).  As a result of this troubling issue, I wanted to take a closer look at Potomac’s cacao sources.  According to Potomac’s website, Ben is currently sourcing cacao from four locations.  However, at various times in Potomac’s short history, Ben has tested cacao beans from a wider variety of sources— he said no to some of these sources altogether, while others he adopted for a short while before moving on to sources he liked better.  Here are the current cacao sources used by Potomac:

Upala, Costa Rica (3 bars): Potomac offers three different bars using cacao from Upala, Costa Rica.  This is also the first source of cacao that Ben Rasmussen ever used in his marketed chocolate bars.  The 70% dark and 85% dark bars are both comprised of simply organic Costa Rican cacao and organic sugar.  The description found on the packaging for both of these bars says: “Pure dark chocolate made from cacao grown by Finca La Amistad, a small farm in northern Costa Rica. Rich and earthy with notes of caramel, cream, nut, and red fruit.”  Potomac also offers a 70% dark bar using the same cacao beans but with the addition of cacao nibs (nibs are the most raw, pure form of chocolate).  I took a closer look at Finca La Amistad to find that the farm prides itself on having “Best quality, fair working conditions, responsible management of natural resources and long-term partnerships based on mutual trust” (Amistad, 2017).

San Martin, Peru (3 bars): Next, Potomac offers three different bars sourced from San Martin, Peru.  However, there is a discrepancy between the bars in terms of the farms within San Martin providing the cacao.  The 70% dark bar as well as the same bar with the addition of salt are grown by the same farmers.  The description on the packaging for both of these bars says: ”Pure dark chocolate made from cacao grown by the Acopagro Cacao Cooperative in the Amazonian highlands of Peru. Bright and fruity with notes of banana, raisin and apricot.”  The Acopagro Cacao Cooperative sought Fair Trade Certification in order to meet important needs like raising income levels, educational opportunities for children, and adequate healthcare for employees (Acopagro, 2017).  The third bar from this source, the 65% dark milk bar, sources cacao from a different farm.  The description on the packaging for this bar says: ”Pure dark milk chocolate made from cacao grown by the Oro Verde Cooperative in the Amazonian highlands of Peru. Rich and creamy with notes of berries and caramel.”  I found that the Oro Verde Cooperative is so small that they explicitly mention each team member’s name and credentials on their website. Moreover, they pride themselves on healthy living conditions, quality, and transparency (Oro, 2017)

Duarte, Dominican Republic (2 bars): Rasmussen also offers two bars sourced from Duarte, Dominican Republic.  The 70% dark bar was my first encounter with Potomac Chocolate.  I said something to myself like, “that’s the best chocolate I have ever had,” and quickly became interested in learning more.  The packaging description for this bar says: ”Pure dark chocolate made from cacao grown in the Duarte province of the Dominican Republic by a collection of small producers and then carefully fermented and dried by ÖKO-Caribe. Rich cocoa with notes of red fruit.”  Potomac also offers a bar from Duarte with the addition of coconut.  This description presented the biggest challenge in determining ethical sourcing, but after more research, it seems that the ÖKO-Caribe provide transparent trade and high quality (Oko, 2017).

Cuyagua, Venezuela (1 bar): Lastly, Rassmussen’s most recent addition to his list of sourced cacao is his single bar from Cuyagua, Venezuela.  The packaging description for this bar says: ”Pure dark chocolate made from cacao grown by a small cooperative in Cuyagua, located on the northern coast of Venezuela. Deep cocoa notes with subtle citrus and spice.”  In The New Taste of Chocolate by Maricel Presilla, there is an entire page about Cuyagua.  Presilla writes:

“As on other cacao plantations, black ex-slaves eventually acquired the rights to the land. Today tourism is the main industry of Cuyagua, and it is hard to get people to work the farm. But a small cooperative still works a remnant of the old farm, carrying out fermentation and drying next to an old colonial house. The day-to-day work falls on only six men and eight women” (Presilla, 2000).

What I’ve gathered from taking a closer look at these sources is that while Rasmussen does not go into too much detail on his website about the cooperatives and farms he works with, he nonetheless explicitly mentions the farming sources for his cacao.  In general, there is a clear emphasis on cacao origin for Potomac bars, which seems to suggest that Rasmussen has given the topic fair thought.  Unfortunately, this can’t be said for the chocolate world at large.  Lastly, when asked about Fair Trade Certification on Potomac’s Kickstarter page, Rasmussen responded:

“All of my cacao is currently fair trade certified, although I pay a good deal more than the fair trade price…I am also working towards doing more direct trade with the farmers who grow the cacao I use, which results in the farmers making a lot more for their cacao than they would with only fair trade” (Kickstarter, 2017).

 

Marketing

Next, I have found that Potomac chocolate is modestly marketed.  To understand the marketing behind Potomac Chocolate better, I took a trip to three different retailers in the Boston area to see Potomac on the shelves.  My first stop was Formaggio Kitchen in West Cambridge, MA.

Formaggio Kitchen in West Cambridge, MA
IMG_2432Storefront of Formaggio Kitchen in West Cambridge, MA. Personal photo.

While Potomac Chocolate was first on the shelves at Formaggio Kitchen in Cambridge as early as June, 2011, Dan Rasmussen was finally able to visit the shop in March, 2017.  He wrote on an Instagram post:

“I finally got to visit Formaggio Kitchen in Cambridge MA and see my bars on their shelf! Best of all, I got to meet and chat with Julia Hallman who curates their chocolate selection. Julia and Formaggio have been great supporters of Potomac for a long time. They were one of the earliest shops to carry my bars” (Instagram, 2017).

Formaggio Kitchen responded to the post and said: “It was so great to finally meet you in person after all of these years! We love your chocolates and can’t wait to see what comes next!”

IMG_2439A section of the chocolate selection you can find at Formaggio Kitchen.  Personal photo. 

I was able to take a look at this chocolate curation for myself, and I then understood why there was a need for a “chocolate curator” in the first place.  Formaggio Kitchen had the largest chocolate selection of any of the specialty shops I visited.

IMG_2436Potomac Chocolate on the shelves at Formaggio Kitchen. Personal photo.

A closer look at Potomac’s packaging shows the simplicity in its marketing strategy.  Ben Rasmussen has always stood by the statement, “it’s all about the chocolate,” and this is evermore clear in his packaging.  Potomac Chocolate’s packaging is actually in fairly stark contrast to the packaging of other chocolates that you will find on the same shelves. Dick Taylor Craft Chocolate, for example, has a flashier marketing strategy on multiple levels.

IMG_2438A Potomac Chocolate bar next to a Dick Taylor bar in Formaggio Kitchen. Personal photo.

One of the most obvious differences between these two bars is the size.  After taking a measurement of the surface area of covers of each of these bars, I found that the Dick Taylor bar is approximately 47% bigger than the Potomac bar.  However, in terms of actual chocolate content, these bars are much closer to the same size than they appear. The Dick Taylor bar is 57 grams while Potomac bars are just 50 grams, a twelve percent difference.  The Dick Taylor bar obviously must compensate by being thinner than Potomac bars, which gives it the larger appearance.  This is not to say that Dick Taylor is attempting to falsely advertise to their advantage, but it shows that Ben Rasmussen is not concerned with the flashiness of his chocolate.  His initial goal is always to make chocolate that tastes the best, not make the chocolate that sells the best.  Furthermore, Potomac’s design is much simpler than Dick Taylor’s as well as many of the other chocolates found at Formaggio.  Rasmussen has changed his design over time, but it has always been minimal and clean, enough to represent the brand and the origin of the cacao.

potomacpackagingThe five-year evolution of packaging of Potomac’s 70% dark Upala bar. From http://www.potomacchocolate.com

Intended Audience

Dave’s Fresh Pasta in Somerville, MA

IMG_2516Storefront of Dave’s Fresh Pasta in Somerville, MA. Personal photo.

Dave’s Fresh Pasta in Somerville, MA is a specialty food, wine, and cheese shop that primarily specializes in their homemade pasta.  While not quite as glamorous as Formaggio Kitchen’s chocolate section, Dave’s chocolate selection is one of the first things you notice upon entering the shop.  I found many of the same chocolates at Dave’s that I did at Formaggio like Taza and Dick Taylor Chocolate.  However, Dave’s Fresh Pasta also included a wide variety of candy chocolates that I did not find at Formaggio.  As I looked more into Potomac’s marketing, this observation got me thinking about the intended audience for Potomac Chocolate.

IMG_2512The chocolate selection at Dave’s Fresh Pasta, where Potomac can be found in the upper right. Personal photo.

IMG_2546More chocolate found at Dave’s Fresh Pasta. Personal photo.

Potomac Chocolate is a craft chocolate.  This means that it is made on a smaller scale and is handmade from the bean to the bar.  Therefore, Potomac is automatically placed into a different category than the candy chocolates we are all familiar with like Snickers and Milky Way.  Who is Potomac for then?  I answer this question by taking a deeper look at Ben Rasmussen’s own story.  In a blog post from 2010, Rasmussen describes how he once ate almost exclusively Mars’ 3-Musketeers bar (Rasmussen, 2010).  He speculates that he has enjoyed hundreds, maybe even thousands of these bars, and he even remembers strongly disliking dark chocolate. One day, his family decided to have a fine chocolate tasting. Rasmussen realized that his preconception of dark chocolate was quite wrong.  After tasting a variety of dark chocolates, he tried a Hershey bar only to find that it “bore almost no resemblance to chocolate and tasted mostly like a chemical marshmallow.” Rasmussen was, as he put it, “converted to the dark side” from that point on.

Through this juxtaposition, Potomac’s presence in Dave’s Fresh Pasta feels just right. Potomac does not exist in spaces exclusive to craft chocolates, rather it can be found within a few feet of chocolates like the 3-Musketeers at shops like Dave’s.  This observation has salient implications for Potomac Chocolate’s target audience.  Perhaps someone will go to Dave’s Fresh Pasta with the intention of buying a box of Pocky and instead walk out with a Potomac bar, inspired and changed like Ben Rasmussen.  As Potomac was just getting off the ground in 2010, Rasmussen invites anyone to enjoy Potomac chocolate— he wrote:

“We’re really trying to build up a community around Potomac Chocolate Co. of friends and fellow chocolate lovers. We really want you to be a part of this crazy thing.”

Price

Wine Gallery in Brookline, MA

IMG_2535Storefront of Wine Gallery in Brookline, MA. Personal photo.

Wine Gallery in Brookline, MA is a shop for wine, beer, and spirits that strives to have something for everyone.  While 99% of the store is comprised of alcohol, it is hard to miss their Bean-to-Bar section at the checkout counter.

IMG_2532Checkout counter at Wine Gallery in Brookline, MA where Potomac Chocolate can be found in the upper right shelf. Personal photo.

IMG_2534Potomac Chocolate on the shelf at Wine Gallery in Brookline, MA. Personal photo.

At this point, I had seen Potomac Chocolate in three different shops and began to think more about the pricing at these different retail shops.  While there were discrepancies in the prices, Potomac Chocolate was always $8-$9 per bar:

Online price: $9.00 per bar, though there are savings if bought in bulk

Formaggio Kitchen: $8.95 per bar

Dave’s Fresh Pasta: $7.99 per bar

Wine Gallery: $8.50 – $9.00 per bar (as seen above)

Suppose we use the online price of nine dollars, for example.  At 1.76 ounces per bar, buying a bar of Potomac Chocolate costs over five dollars per ounce.  That’s some pretty expensive chocolate— is Ben Rasmussen just trying to make money?  Jennifer Rader with Prince William Living Magazine conducted an interview with Rasmussen, which cleared this question right up (Rader, 2013).  Not only is Potomac Chocolate Rasmussen’s second job, but he explains that finances, time, and production space have all presented challenges for the company.  The company originally got started using Kickstarter, a creative project funding mechanism that allowed supporters to help Rasmussen acquire the necessary equipment to make great chocolate.  Ben Rasmussen does want the company to grow, but he stated in the interview: “I will never allow it to grow too big that I am not involved in at least the flavor development steps…I don’t foresee a time that I’m not doing the roasting.”

In conclusion, I have found that Potomac Chocolate is a great example of a chocolate maker with ethical sourcing, modest marketing, and good intentions. It is my hope that Potomac can be a model for existing and future craft chocolate makers, as this can contribute to a bigger focus on the chocolate itself and a more ethical world.

Works Cited

Acopagro Cooperative. “ACOPAGRO – COOPERATIVA AGRARIA CACAOTERA ACOPAGRO LTDA.” Fair Trade USA. Web. 02 May 2017.

Amistad, Finca La. “Finca La Amistad.” 2017. Web. 02 May 2017.

Coe, Sophie. Micheal D. Coe. “The True History of Chocolate 3rd edition.” 2013. iBooks. 02 May 2017.

Instagram. “Potomac Chocolate.” 2017. Web. 02 May 2017.

Kickstarter. “Potomac Chocolate — Handcrafted bean-to-bar chocolate!” Kickstarter. 2017. Web. 02 May 2017.

Martin, Carla. “Modern Day Slavery.” Lecture. 2017. 02 May 2017.

Oko Caribe. “OKO Caribe, DR – 2016 Harvest.” Uncommon Cacao. 2017. Web. 02 May 2017.

Oro Verde Cooperative. “Mission and vision.” Oro Verde Cooperative. Web. 2017. 02 May 2017.

Presilla, Maricell. “The New Taste of Chocolate.” Hardcover. 2000. Revised Edition. 02 May. 2017.

Rasmussen, Ben. “Potomac Chocolate.” Potomac Chocolate. 2010-2017. Web. 02 May 2017.

Rader, Jennifer. “BEN RASMUSSEN: POTOMAC CHOCOLATE.” Prince William Living Magazine. 2013. Web. 02 May 2017.

 

 

 

 

Formaggio Kitchen Cambridge: With Quality Chocolate, Price Is Not Important

The modern chocolate industry has been changed by the rise of artisanal chocolate makers, historically popular in Europe and newly popular in the United States. Small-scale chocolate manufacturing was seen as a response “to the perceived loss of flavor and quality in industrially manufactured chocolate,” (Martin & Sampeck 2016: 53). In contrast to the “Big Five” industrial chocolate companies—Nestle, Mars, Cadbury, Hershey’s, and Ferrero, (Martin & Sampeck 2016:50), artisanal chocolate makers are “unconcerned with producing identical bars with every batch” and “seek instead to draw out the unique flavors of the beans,” (Leissle 2013: 23). Because chocolate artisans are small-scale manufacturers, their products are primarily available at specialty stores.

On Tuesday, May 2, 2017, I visited a gourmet grocer, Formaggio Kitchen in Cambridge—the original of the Formaggio Kitchen family of stores, to examine their chocolate selection. Since it opened in 1978, Formaggio Kitchen has expanded to Boston and New York. From the chocolates of artisans to bean-to-bar chocolate makers (1970s -1980s) to craft chocolate makers (since the mid-2000s) (Martin & Sampeck 2016: 54), all chocolates at Formaggio Kitchen are categorized as small batch. In the chocolate industry, small batch chocolate making has highlighted chocolate and cacao’s “country of origin—the conditions of production” and “local […] tastes—the conditions of consumption” (Martin & Sampack 2016: 37). Through the curation of the chocolate section at Formaggio Kitchen and the packaging of the individual chocolate bars, the importance of the conditions of production and consumption in small-batch chocolate making is echoed. The presentation at Formaggio Kitchen further suggests that the cost of these exceptional chocolate bars is secondary to their high-quality taste.

Initial Observations of the Chocolate Section

Upon finding the chocolate section at Formaggio Kitchen, my attention was initially captivated by the store’s personalized notes in front of or near the numerous chocolate brands available. These notes described how the chocolate bars taste by highlighting any combination of notable ingredients, cocoa content, origin of the cacao beans, place of manufacture, or distinct production technique.

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Overview of chocolate section at Formaggio Kitchen on 5/2/2017. No information about the price of each bar is visible.

As a consumer accustomed to knowing the price of a product almost immediately after I see it on a store shelf, I was surprised find the absence of visible price tags. To know the price of the chocolate bars I examined at Formaggio Kitchen, I had to grab the desired bar off the shelf and turn it around. Of all that was emphasized about each chocolate bar, how much it cost was not. Based on the store’s choice to present their chocolate bars in this fashion, I concluded as a potential customer that price came secondary to taste, brand, cultural origin, and so forth.

IMG_1198
Overview of chocolate selection at Whole Foods on 5/2/2017. Represents the typical presentation of chocolate with a visible price tag at supermarkets in the U.S.
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Whole Foods presentation of chocolate contrasts that at Formaggio Kitchen where price tags are small stickers behind the chocolate bars and not as easily visible to the consumer.

Overall, I also noted the absence of familiar chocolates, including those from any of the Big 5 companies. In fact, I did not recognize the majority of the chocolate brands available at Formaggio Kitchen prior to my visit. The only brands I recognized were those Dr. Martin introduced during lecture (e.g., Dick Taylor, Potomac). Thus, my quest for knowledge about the chocolate selection at Formaggio Kitchen continued with my individual inspection of each chocolate bar and the content on its packaging.

Available chocolate brands (and flavors) at Formaggio Kitchen:

  1. Amedei (white chocolate with pistachios, milk chocolate with hazelnuts, Chuao)–$7.95 – $17.95
  2. Aynouse L’artesa (pure cacao, olive oil, fondant 65%, bitter orange, bitter 85%)–$7.95
  3. Chocolat Moderne —$8.95
  4. EHChocolatier (coconutty bar, peanut butter crunch bar) —$10.95
  5. Dick Taylor (brown butter with nibs and sea salt, black fig, fleur de sel, northerner blend) —$7.95 – $8.95
  6. Donna Elvira (pistachio, Modicana style, Pepperoncino, Mascobado, Cobaita) —$5.95 – $8.95
  7. Madre chocolate (coconut milk and caramelized ginger) —$11.95
  8. Marou (72, 74, 76, 78 single origin dark chocolate) —$2.95, 0.8 oz
  9. Mayana (kitchen sink bar, fix bar, space bar, haute and spicy–made specially for FK) —$8.95
  10. Poco Dolce (Assorted tiles, Aztec Chili tiles, Burnt Caramel tiles) —$23.95
  11. Potomac (San Martin 65 Milk, San Martin 70 dark + salt, 70 dark) —$8.95
  12. Pump Street Bakery (Rye Crumb milk & sea salt, Honduras bread and butter, sourdough and sea salt 66%) —$9.25
  13. Ritual (Belize, Fleur de Sel, Madagascar, Ecuador, Midmountain) —$7.95 – $11.95
  14. Romanengo Amaro (62% and milk) —$16.95
  15. Rózsavölgyi Csokoládé (green spices & matcha tea in white chocolate with lemon oil, caramelized lavender flowers in milk chocolate with star anise, cardamom dark chocolate) —$10.95
  16. Somerville chocolate (lapsang souchocolate, hops infused dark milk, Nicaraguan 70%) —$9.95 – $11.95
  17. Taza (chocolate disks: vanilla, chipotle chili, guajillo chili, coffee, super dark, caca puro, cinnamon, salted almond) –$5.50
  18. Venchi (cremino fondente, chocolate cigars-orange and chocolate, aromatic cocoa, nougatine) —$10.95

In-Depth Analysis of the Chocolate Bars:

Colors and Images:

The majority of the chocolate bars at Formaggio Kitchen had higher quality, and often more elaborate, packaging than industrially produced chocolate. For some bars, the color of the packaging, black in the case of the Amedei Chuao bar, or the lettering, metallic in the case of the Maraou and Ritual bars, conveyed its premium status.

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In the case of Chocolat Moderne’s chocolate bars, the clear packaging made visible the vibrant colors infused in the chocolate bar. The intention behind the clear packaging is illuminated by Chocolat Moderne’s mission “to create visually stunning, hand-crafted confections […]” on the Meet the Chocolatier note featured at Formaggio Kitchen.
Supporting Chocolat Moderne’s aforementioned notion of chocolate as a medium of art, a Rózsavölgyi Csokoládé bar declared: “We don’t consider ourselves to be only bean-to-bar chocolate makers, but artists as well. We look at chocolate as an art material, and attempt to surprise and entertain out customers through our chocolates.”

Taza’s stone-grounding and use of chilis in their chocolate most explicitly identifies with the Mesoamerican cultural origin of chocolate and cacao (Norton 2006:684). As indigenous societies did, some of the chocolate bars, including EHChocolatier and Marou, glorified chocolate’s primary ingredient, through their inclusion of on the cacao pod on the package. Some bars, such as Madre, highlighted additional ingredients in their bars, such as coconut and ginger.

Place of cacao’s origin versus place of chocolate manufacture:

The place of manufacture of chocolate and the origin of its primary ingredient, cacao, are not always the same. While cacao can only grow near the equator, the manufacture of chocolate is not bound to any region.

Prior to the rise of industrial chocolate makers, such as Hershey or Mars, the practice of advertising the place of origin of the cacao beans used to make chocolate was common among European artisanal chocolate makers (Leissle 2013: 22). Over time, however, the place of manufacture overshadowed the place of the cacao’s origin as taste was linked to European national palettes (Leissle 2013: 23). Considering Europeans are the largest importers and processors of cacao and consume the most chocolate per capita in the world (Martin & Sampeck 2016:37), I was not surprised to find that chocolates manufactured in Europe were well represented at Formaggio Kitchen: Hungary (Rózsavölgyi Csokoládé); Italy (Amedei; Donna Elvira; P. Romanengo Amaro; Venchi); Spain (Aynouse L’artesa); United Kingdom (Pump Street Bakery).

For some European brands, the culture of the European place of manufacture was reinforced through the use of the corresponding language on the packaging (e.g., Amedei—Italian, Aynouse L’artesa—Catalan, Rózsavölgyi Csokoládé-—Hungarian). The bars that included multiple language translations, such as English, on the package reflect how globalized the chocolate industry is.

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Although crafted in Saigon, Vietnam, the use of French (“Faiseurs de chocolat”) on the Marou chocolate bar doubly alludes to the bar’s French manufacturers as well as the history of cacao in Vietnam. France was the one to introduce cacao to Vietnam—the only Asian country represented in the Formaggio Kitchen chocolate section, in the 19th century (Marou Chocolate 2013).

Meanwhile, it was not until the turn of the 21st century that a significant number of small batch chocolate makers began to appear in the United States. Since 2005, “more than thirty fine flavor chocolate brands have been founded in the United States,” (Williams & Eber 2012:155-156). The chocolate bars crafted in the United States, grouped by their specific state of origin, included:

  • California: Dick Taylor, Poco Dolce
  • Hawaii: Madre Chocolate
  • Massachusetts: EHChocolatier, Somerville Chocolate, Taza
  • New York: Chocolat Moderne
  • Virginia: Potomac
  • Wisconsin: Mayana

Of the American craft chocolates, Madre chocolate highlighted its Hawaiian culture by featuring the Hawaiian word chocolate, or kokoleka, on the bar.

At Formaggio Kitchen, Donna Elvira, Madre chocolate, and Pump Street Bakery identified themselves as being bean-to-bar on their chocolate bars.

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For bean-to-bar chocolates, the flavor and quality of the chocolate bar is tied to their batch number, listed on the package. Although not pictured, Donna Elvira, Madre, Potomac, and P. Romanengo Amaro chocolate bars also listed their batch numbers. 

Ultimately, the place where the chocolate was manufactured was more heavily advertised than the place of origin of the cacao beans used. Among the chocolate bars that included the place of origin of the cacao beans, an underrepresentation of West African cacao was evident. In general, fine chocolate makers favor Criollo and Trinitario varieties, primarily found in the Central America and the Caribbean, over Forastero breeds, the majority of which are in West Africa (Leissle 2013:23). The gap is significant because 70% of cacao exports are West African, but only 4% of artisan chocolates use West African cacao.

Ingredients, Health Labels, and Social Awareness:

“Many of these US manufacturers may be small, but they have been driving recent changes for the better in the industry: Change the world—make better chocolate. They pride themselves on direct and transparent trade, paying top dollar for the best beans, speaking out against forced labor, investing in education, and making chocolate that tastes nothing like the multinational mass-market brands,” (Williams & Eber 2012: 156).

In response to growing consumer consciousness, many chocolate bars advertised the certified quality of their ingredients, health information, environmental concern, and social consciousness. Research by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations shows that demand for organic cocoa and chocolate has risen (Williams & Eber 2012: 197-198). In addition, fine chocolate makers have adjusted their products to meet the rising demand for lactose-free, sugar-free, and high-cocoa-content chocolate options from consumers (Williams & Eber 2012:185). Notably, some chocolate brands choose to explicitly label their dark chocolate as vegan and gluten-free even though dark chocolate, in general, is inherently vegan and gluten-free (Williams & Eber 2012:185). The following certifications and health-related labels were featured on some of the chocolate bars at Formaggio Kitchen:

  • Dairy-Free: Amedei, Marou
  • Gluten-Free: Amedei, Aynouse L’artesa, Marou, Potomac
  • GMO-Free: Poco Dolce
  • Kosher: Amedei
  • No soy lecithin added: Romanengo Amaro
  • Nut-free: Potomac
  • Soy-free: Marou, Potomac
  • Organic ingredients: Potomac (cacao); Ritual (organic cacao, organic cane sugar, cocoa butter), Rózsavölgyi Csokoládé (cocoa beans, organic cane sugar, organic cocoa butter, cardamom)
  • Organic chocolate: Taza
  • Vegan: Ritual

As evidenced above, demands from consumers extend to the specific ingredients used in the making of chocolate. In contrast to an industrially produced chocolate bar, such as a Hershey’s bar, most craft chocolate bars have higher cocoa content and lower sugar content. I found that the purity of the chocolate bars is conveyed through the simplicity of their ingredients—no artificial sweeteners, emulsifiers, or unrecognizable ingredients were listed on the small batch bars. Ritual and Rózsavölgyi Csokoládé also expressed environmental awareness through a “Please recycle” request and a “We support the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International” sticker, respectively. Similarly, Taza advertises its participation in Direct Trade.

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Chocolate brands may choose to advertise multiple certifications to catch the range of concerns of consumers may have.

Lastly, a few of the chocolate bars asserted their quality taste through the inclusion of national and international awards: Chocolat Moderne’s (sofi Gold Award 2012, 2013); Pump Street BakeryInternational Chocolate Awards; Madre (Northwest Chocolate Festival 2014 Gold); and Mayana (Food and Wine Editors Top 10).

Concluding Thoughts:

In a study comparing taste preferences for different combinations of fat and sugar, 7.6% sugar with cream containing 24.7% fat was deemed to be the most desired (Benton 2004: 214). Although the sugar content of chocolate tends to be higher than the ideal figure, the widespread attraction of chocolate can be attributed to how closely it resembles the fat-to-sugar content of foods perceived to be the best tasting (Benton 2004:214).

When it comes to optimal palatability, chocolate is nearly perfect. Because most chocolate tastes good by virtue of their composition, I asked one of the employees at Formaggio Kitchen about how their chocolate buyers choose the chocolates in their inventory. She shared, ” Our manager and chocolate buyer do a lot of tastings and attend the sofi awards. Often, when they travel, they’ll find something they like and we end up getting it. They are always looking for something unique and different.” Formaggio Kitchen’s personalized notes asserted the unique tastes of their selection of chocolate bars without attention drawn to the final price of the bar. Concurrently, the chocolate makers represented at Formaggio Kitchen presented the quality of their chocolate through ornate packaging, place of manufacture, origin of cacao beans, certified quality of their ingredients, health information, environmental concern, and social consciousness, and awards.

Still, one must be aware that the chocolate found at Formaggio Kitchen may be financially unsustainable or even inaccessible to average consumers. Most chocolates at Formaggio Kitchen cost anywhere from just under $8 to over $20. This price range is may be at least 8x the cost of $0.99 chocolate bars at convenience stores. Furthermore, because the selection of chocolates available at Formaggio Kitchen is not available at convenience stores or most supermarkets, the intended customer is one that is educated about the source of their food, willing and able to pay a higher price for their food, and interested in discovering unfamiliar food products. Therefore, while price may not be important when it comes to proclaiming the quality of chocolates at Formaggio Kitchen, it does matter when it comes to the accessibility of these small batch chocolates.

Works Cited

Benton, David. 2004. “The Biology and Psychology of Chocolate Craving.” pp. 205-218.

Leissle, Kristy. 2013. “Invisible West Africa: The Politics of Single Origin Chocolate.” Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture. 13 (3): 22-31.

Marou Chocolate. 2013. Published on Jul 20, 2013. http://marouchocolate.com/post/55951688118/history

Martin, Carla and Sampeck, Kathryn. 2016. “The Bitter and Sweet of Chocolate in Europe.” pp. 37-60.

Norton, Marcy. 2006. “Tasting Empire: Chocolate and the European Internalization of Mesoamerican Aesthetics.” The American Historical Review 111 (3): 660-691.

Williams, Pam and Jim Eber. 2012. Raising the Bar: The Future of Fine Chocolate. pp. 141-209.