Tag Archives: Formaggio Kitchen

Formaggio Kitchen and the Bean-to-Bar Movement

Formaggio Kitchen in Cambridge, MA

Throughout the semester we learned about how chocolate is more than just a delicious dessert. Chocolate, or cacao, has a rich history that includes a number of political, social, cultural, and economic factors. People today consume Snickers bars and Reese’s peanut butter cups unconsciously without considering the greater societal implications of their food choices. Many of the large chocolate corporations such as Hershey’s, Mars, and Cadbury produce chocolate as another commodity and typically only focus on profits. However, the cacao they use typically comes from slave labor on the coast of Africa. These companies are more concerned with how to market their product than they are with how their farmers are treated. However, there is a new movement in the chocolate industry known as the craft chocolate revolution. In this effort, local chocolate makers are making a concerted pledge to pursue a “bean-to-bar” philosophy. According to Eric Parkes, a local chocolatier from Somerville, the bean-to-bar movement means that producers are “starting off with the bean” or “making the chocolate from scratch” (WCVB Channel 5 Boston). Instead of mass-producing chocolate in factories, bean-to-bar producers are typically more localized businesses that focus on developing authentic chocolate. In these cases, they take cacao beans from a single origin country. Bean-to-bar manufacturing is labor intensive; however, the producers have control over what ingredients they use (predominantly cocoa and sugar) as well as where they source their beans. The companies are revolutionizing the big chocolate companies that have been a staple in the industry for years now. While companies like CVS typically carry predominantly name brand chocolate, there are some local stores that only sell organic, bean to bar chocolate. Formaggio Kitchen in Cambridge is an example of a local food supplier that specializes in the bean-to-bar movement. Their website is very transparent about the chocolate’s country of origin, producer, and taste. They primarily sell bean-to-bar chocolate and have a direct relationship with the local chocolate producers. They refuse to sell any of the big chocolate brands due to the ambiguity regarding their chocolate sourcing. production processes, and ingredients.

https://www.wcvb.com/article/chocolate-the-bean-to-bar-movement/9128519 B

Bean-to-Bar Segment on WCVB Channel 5 Boston (Featuring Professor Martin)

Formaggio Kitchen is a European style market that provides specialty foods from around the world to their customers. They specialize in artisan cheese but also have a wide selection of bean-to-bar chocolates (Our Cambridge Store). Formaggio Kitchen was featured in a segment on the local Channel 5 News show called Chronicle. They were featured in a segment regarding artisan chocolate and a new bean-to-bar movement. One of Formaggio’s general managers is also the head buyer for all chocolate products. She buys a lot of local chocolate from producers in areas like Cambridge and Somerville. Before accepting any chocolate products into her store, she first goes through extensive taste and smell tests (similar to tastings in lecture throughout the semester). The general manager places a high level of importance on origin because “there is so much diversity in flavor profiling” (WCVB Channel 5 Boston). Formaggio specifically sells single origin chocolate. Rogue Chocolate is their most popular brand of single origin chocolate. Some of the biggest similarities between bean-to-bar chocolate companies are their size. Most of these operations include a small handful of people. Often times, artisanal chocolate companies only include one to two employees. The process of bean-to-bar chocolate making takes a significant amount of time and numerous hours of manual labor. However, instead of outsourcing chocolate production to slave laborers, these chocolate companies take on the responsibility themselves in order to produce better-tasting, more ethical chocolate. The founder of Rogue Chocolate, Colin Gasko, works directly with cacao farmers in order to source the best beans from a single origin point. Slave labor has been a persistent issue throughout the history of chocolate making and still occurs today. After the Cadbury investigation into slave labor on the island of Sao Tome and Principe, many of the cocoa farms moved to the Gold Coast or what today is known as Ghana. Child slave labor is one of the biggest issues today facing the chocolate industry. Many of the West African Coast cacao farms where the big chocolate companies source their chocolate exploit this corrupt labor system. In 2000-2001, news coverage from UK journalists uncovered the use of “enslaved young men on a cocoa farm in the Cote d’Ivoire (Berlan, 1089). Bean-to-bar chocolate companies such as Rogue Chocolate are able to combat these unjust labor practices by selectively choosing where they source their cocoa and ensure that the farming practices are ethical. This occurs through direct communication between the bean-to-bar companies and the farmers. Formaggio Kitchen focuses on selling fine chocolate but also ensures that the cocoa farming practices are ethical. They do this by analyzing both the origin country of their chocolate and the chocolate producers themselves. 

Ancienne Chocolat en Poudre

Formaggio’s website is very transparent with the information on the background of the chocolate they sell. They have a separate chocolate section with a headline that describes their mission with their chocolate selection. They emphasize how their chocolate provides “health benefits”, comes from “bean-to-bar producers”, and only contains “cacao and sugar” (Chocolate). The health benefits of chocolate are a highly disputed topic. However, there is evidence to support the health benefits of chocolate. Through laboratory and field research, scientists concluded that chocolate “reduces hypertension, minimizes cardiovascular disease, and even fight diabetes and cancer” (Howe, 43). Formaggio Kitchen not only promotes the health benefits of chocolate, they also provide instructions on how to optimize their chocolate for superior taste. For instance, one of the products that Formaggio sells is a 1kg of roasted cocoa beans called Ancienne Chocolat en Pudre. The website instructs individuals to mix the cocoa, vanilla, and cane sugar with hot milk in order to make “traditional French hot chocolate” (Chocolate). Most big corporations simply list their chocolate items. However, Formaggio provides background information on each item they have in stock including their country of origin, producer, nutritional information, as well as recipes. Formaggio only has a limited supply of French chocolate products. This ties into the Terrio reading on French Chocolatiers. France, as a nation has international recognition as one of the leaders in culinary arts (Terrio, 9). Few people, including French citizens, acknowledged chocolate making as an important part of French history like other foods such as wine and cheese. Most associate French Chocolate with other forms of desserts or pastries. Consumers even struggled differentiating artisanal French chocolate from its mass-produced counterpart (Terrio, 9). I would have expected Formaggio to carry a wide selection of French chocolates. However, with the knowledge of French Chocolate History, it is understandable that there is a limited amount of the French dessert in Formaggio’s inventory. 

Formaggio has a wide array of chocolate from a number of different countries: Belgium (3), Canada (4), France (2), Italy (7), Spain (7), The Netherlands (1), United States (15), and Vietnam (4) (Chocolate). Formaggio is very transparent with the notion that they source chocolate from a single origin country with cacao farms. It is interesting to point out that while Formaggio advertises that they collect chocolate from producers around the world, the majority of their inventory comes from the United States. However, they still maintain a high level of chocolate diversity. While the majority of the companies that Formaggio imports from are based in the United States, these companies still adhere to the bean-to-bar practices. While the country of origin provides important information, Formaggio goes one step further and includes the producers of these chocolates: Confitures a l’Ancienne (1), EH Chocolatier (2), Maglio (4), Pasticcerie Sinatti (1), Poco Dolce (2), Potomac Chocolate (2), Ritual Chocolate (2), Valrhona (1), and Xocolates Aynouse (4) (Chocolate). The general manager in charge of buying the bean-to-bar chocolate only chooses from reputable produces that have ethical labor practices and sustainable farming techniques. For each chocolate item, Formaggio provides an individual description page that includes price, quantity, and information about the chocolate itself. For instance, the Callebaut Chocolate Block – Bittersweet is 60% cacao and $10.95 per pound (Chocolate). This is slightly below the median price range for chocolate at Formaggio. The media price is approximately $15. The least expensive chocolate (Marou Chocolate Ba Ria) is from Vietnam and costs $3.95. The most expensive chocolate (Les Chocolats de Chloe Box of 12 Chocolates) is from Montreal, Canada and costs $36.95. The one downside to bean-to-bar chocolate is that it is more expensive than name brand chocolate. However, these chocolates are more organic and ethical. The bean-to-bar movement follows in line with recent trends towards the surge in organic food popularity. Today, organic food is typically more expensive than unhealthy or non-organic foods. Thus, organic food is predominantly only accessible to the middle and upper class while creating a barrier of entry for the lower class. Organic food or “yuppie chow” is also linked with gentrification in cities throughout America (Guthman, 497). Formaggio Kitchen is located in one of the wealthiest cities in the country: Cambridge, MA. Boston suffers from significant gentrification issues. Organic food markets, like Formaggio, tend to only be accessible within a upper class community and prevent lower class citizens from purchasing their chocolate due to their high prices.

Potomac Chocolate Upala 85%

In addition to price and quantity, the website also provides brief descriptions on the origin country of the chocolate, the producers, and characteristics of the chocolate. For instance, the description page underneath the Potomac Chocolate Upala 85% chocolate bar describes how the cacao is sourced from the Upala district of Costa Rica. It provides information on the producer, Ben Rasmussen, and his small workshop in the Washington DC area. He adheres strictly to bean-to-bar practices and follows all the traditional chocolate making methods. Like other bean-to-bar companies, he uses a minimum amount of ingredients: cacao beans and sugar. This particular chocolate bar is “rich and earthy dark chocolate with notes of raspberry and caramel” (Potomac Chocolate Upala 85%). It is very rare to find such a descriptive flavor description, country of origin identification, and producer information on name brand chocolate bars. Formaggio provides these descriptions under each and every chocolate bar in their inventory. Unlike many big chocolate companies, they do not provide false advertisements on their farming practices and organic quality of their chocolate. Formaggio provides honest information regarding their chocolate and gives their consumers all the tools necessary to make the right purchasing decisions. 

Formaggio’s high level of transparency regarding all facets of their sourced cacao and finished chocolate bars reveals how important ethics are to their overall success. Formaggio’s is a successful local market not only because they embrace cultural diversity and source cacao from trustworthy producers all over the world. They are successful because they do not lie to their customers. All the information one needs to make a smart, well thought-out decision regarding their purchases is at the tip of their fingers. Big chocolate companies, as we learned throughout the semester, are more focused on overall profit than they are about other greater social issues. However, small markets, like Formaggio Kitchen, are more focused on working with responsible producers and providing customers with the highest quality of chocolate possible. The bean-to-bar movement in the chocolate industry is revolutionizing how individuals farm, produce, and sell chocolate. Now, it is up to the consumer to make the smart ethical decision when it comes to their chocolate purchases. While it may be easier to walk into a CVS and purchase a Hershey’s bar for a small price, there are underlying social, political, and economic consequences that affect people throughout the chocolate industry. People rarely consider any other factor besides taste in their food purchases. When it comes to chocolate, the suppliers certainly have a large amount of responsibility when it comes to providing ethically sourced and organic chocolate. However, the consumers are responsible for choosing chocolate from local bean-to-bar producers over big chocolate companies. While it is important to acknowledge that prices are higher for bean-to-bar chocolate, it is even more important to be a conscientious consumer that strongly considers where the greater societal impact of their chocolate selection. 

Works Cited

Berlan, Amanda. “Social Sustainability in Agriculture: An Anthropological Perspective on                       Cocoa Production in Ghana”. The Journal of Development Studies. Vol. 49, No. 8, 1088-          1100. 2013

“Chocolate”.Formaggio Kitchenhttps://www.formaggiokitchen.com/cambridge. 2019

Guthman, Julie. “Fast Food/Organic Food: Reflexive Tastes and the Making of ‘Yuppie Chow’”.Food and Culture. Routledge. New York, NY. 2013.

Howe, James. “Chocolate and Cardiovascular Health: The Kuna Case Reconsidered”. University of California Press. Vol. 12, No. 1. (Spring 2012). pp. 43-52. 

Terrio, Susan J. “Crafting the Culture and History of French Chocolate”. University of California Press.Berkley and Los Angeles, California. 2000. 

“Our Cambridge Store”.Formaggio Kitchen. 2019.                                                                                     https://www.formaggiokitchen.com/sweets/chocolate.

“Potomac Chocolate Upala 85%”. Formaggio Kitchen.       https://www.formaggiokitchen.com/potomac-chocolate-upala-85-50g. 2019

WCVB Channel 5 Boston. Chocolate: The Bean to Bar Movement.March 13, 2017. Retrieved                 from https://www.wcvb.com/article/chocolate-the-bean-to-bar-movement/9128519

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.

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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.

Craft, Commerce, and Conflict: Analyzing Formaggio Kitchen’s Chocolate Aisle

America has long been ridiculed by chocolate connoisseurs as the home of “sour-milk” flavored Hershey’s Bars (Brenner, 2000). Today, however, the United States is rapidly gaining the opposite reputation: thanks to the “explosion” of craft chocolatiers, many now believe that the nation produces the finest chocolate in the world (Williams & Eber, 2012). As its name suggests, craft chocolate is defined by its belief that artisanal production – small, independent companies, traditional chocolate-making methods, and involvement at every stage, from “bean to bar” – are key to creating “excellent” chocolate that reflects the “true flavors of the cocoa bean” (Craft Chocolate Makers of America, 2008; Vreeland & Pacyniak, 2010; Williams & Eber, 2012). But how conducive are these values to establishing a permanent place in the global confectionary market? To investigate this question, I analyze the chocolate selection at Formaggio Kitchen, a specialty foods store that is the major distributor of craft chocolate in Massachusetts. In order to gain further understanding of the store’s display, I also interviewed its creator, head chocolate buyer Julia Hallman. Examining Formaggio Kitchen’s chocolate aisle reveals the fundamental conflict faced by the contemporary American craft chocolate industry: how to balance their eponymous values with the realities of commercial retail.

Where items are placed are placed in a store strongly shapes who will find – and therefore buy – them (Ng, 2003). The location of craft chocolates in Formaggio Kitchen sets them literally apart, reflecting and reinforcing their identity as niche items. In the shop, confections are placed in the center of the store, between the cheese counter and fresh produce display. The store’s “sweets section” forms five “panels” (Fig. 1), consisting of: (1) cookies and European chocolate bars, (2) caramels and other candies, (3) dessert toppings (e.g., fudge sauce), (4) craft chocolate bars, and (5) candy bars and bonbons.

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Fig. 1. Diagram of Formaggio Kitchen’s “sweets section.” The display consists of five panels: (1) cookies and European chocolate bars, (2) caramels and other candies, (3) dessert toppings (e.g., fudge sauce), (4) craft chocolate bars (outlined in red), and (5) candy bars and bonbons.

Placed in the right corner, craft chocolates first appear only in the corner of a customer’s eye, making them noticeably less visible than other items. This relative inaccessibility thus favors the considered, deliberate consumption promoted by the craft chocolate movement: their bars are intended to be sought out specifically and savored slowly for their “unique” flavors, rather than being instantaneously gobbled “impulse buys” (Vreeland & Pacyniak, 2010). Yet, while ideologically consistent, craft chocolates’ cached location arguably limits their commercial success. Casual or novice cacao consumers cruising the store’s “sweets section” can easily pass these bars by, instead grabbing the more visible European bars or ornately boxed bonbons.

The density of Formaggio Kitchen’s craft chocolate selection reflects another challenge faced by contemporary American chocolatiers: an increasingly “flooded” market. While neatly organized, bars are tightly spaced (Fig. 2), with less than one-half of an inch between each.

Slide2Fig. 2. The craft chocolate selection in Formaggio Kitchen. Note that the section is placed off to the side, outside of consumers’ direct line of vision, and has relatively limited space.

Given both their labor-intensive production and expensive price, craft products understandably account for at most 14% of total chocolate sales in the United States (Williams & Eber, 2012). Further, the recent “explosion” of small manufacturers has made this already small market dangerously cramped, with more than 30 American craft chocolate companies founded since 2005 alone (Williams & Eber, 2012). Ironically, this rise in craft chocolate production hinders retail and purchase, threatening makers’ goal of making their products available to “every American” (PRWeb, 2008). As bars are largely sold at small, specialty stores, where shelf space is already limited, buyers are increasingly faced with difficult decisions. Stating that she is “not at a position to bring it all in,” Hallman notes that introducing a new producer invariably requires removing an existing one. “Fine flavor” alone is thus insufficient; to be “brought in,” a bar must surpass those which are currently stocked. The result is a slim 10% acceptance rate for fledgling chocolatiers. In addition to constraining buyers, this “flooded” market can discourage consumers. Individuals may find the “dizzying array of fine flavor options from around the world, each with its own taste and story,” to be “madness” – and, given the bars’ high cost, decide that trying a new brand is not worth the risk (Williams & Eber, 2012). Though Hallman’s choosiness minimizes customer confusion at Formaggio Kitchen, it nevertheless remains a risk. As the closely packed bars attest, preventing overflow demands continual and increasingly stringent curation.

In addition to embodying the increasingly fierce competition for market space, Formaggio Kitchen’s selection reflects perhaps the greatest challenge craft chocolate faces: satisfying its consumers. Chocolate, even if hand-crafted, remains a commodity, meaning that both producers and distributors must remember that, as Hallman states, “it’s a business…[and] you need to respect customers’ tastes.” Yet, doing so may require sacrificing individual preferences to appeal to a wider audience – behavior fundamentally odds with the ideals of independent production and unique tastes. As Formaggio Kitchen’s customers favor an “Old World, European” aesthetic and seek “distinctive flavor profiles,” the store’s array balances visual cohesion with gustatory diversity, with the “distinctively” flavored bars united by subtly seductive packaging. The bars themselves thus represent a variety of regions, origins, and production techniques, ranging from Massachusetts-based Rogue Chocolatier’s Porcelana, containing only cane sugar and a rare strain of Venezuelan criollo cacao, to Missourian Patric Chocolate’s Dark Milk, made from a “signature blend” of beans “softened” with “fresh, creamy, sweet milk.” Their wrappers (Fig. 3), however, tell a common story.

Slide3Fig. 3. Examples of contemporary American craft chocolate packaging. Intended to appeal to “Old World, European” tastes, wrappers are neutrally colored and include “exotic” elements, such as names of cacao bean origins and/or images of (presumably) indigenous flora and fauna.

Packaged to suit “Old World, European” tastes, the bars, as Hallman acknowledges, come mainly in neutral shades. Designs – featuring origin name and/or images of (presumably) indigenous flora and fauna– create a “safely exotic” aesthetic, attracting customers by offering them the adventures they believe exist in Latin America or Africa, without having to “risk” an actual visit. Moreover, while citing cacao varietals and production details, wrappers largely omit the names of cocoa farmers or the labor involved in harvesting the beans themselves, reinforcing the traditional disconnect between chocolate’s most primary producers and its consumers (Leissle, 2013; Off, 2006). The result, as cultural scholar and political economist Kristy Leissle notes, frequently veers into “escapist” and even fantasy,” with customers invited to “gaze at cocoa farmers and partake of the enticing sensuality of their surroundings” (Leissle, 2013). Importantly, this “vaguely imperialist” message not only perpetuates colonialist stereotypes, but also fails to capture American craft chocolatiers’ ideals. Unlike “big chocolate” corporations like Mars and Hershey, craft chocolate makers consider fairly compensating and “forging relationships” with cacao farmers essential to creating “quality” chocolate (PRWeb, 2008): Rogue Chocolatier, for instance, pays farmers 2-4 times the Fair Trade standard (Rogue Chocolatier, 2014). Hallman shares this philosophy, emphasizing that producers must practice such personal and ethical bean sourcing to be included in the store’s aisle. Yet, the struggle to succeed in a “flooded” market may force producers and distributors to deliberately omit such details to avoid alienating consumers’ “Old World” tastes. As the wrappers show, while consumers relish craft chocolate, many continue to spurn knowing the full story of the beans behind its bars.

With bars packaged to fit a single sociocultural mold, craft chocolatiers and retailers instead rely on the Slow Food strategy of “taste education” to differentiate their products. Believing that individuals can “craft” their “tastes preferences away from the habitual,” makers and buyers, like other Slow Food proponents, seek to “educate” people’s palates by exposing them to “local and regional foodstuffs,” and thereby convince consumers of both their culinary and cultural value (Pietrykowski, 2004). Such gustatory tutelage characterizes the Formaggio Kitchen chocolate aisle. Hallman pairs each brand – and often even individual bars – with a handwritten card emphasizing its distinct production methods and/or flavor profile (Fig. 3; Fig. 4). The sign for Woodblock Chocolate (Fig. 4) provides an illustrative example.

Slide4Fig. 4. Handwritten placards accompany each craft chocolate brand sold at Formaggio Kitchen. The card shown, for Woodblock chocolate, states: “The husband & wife team of Jessica & Charley Wheelock are the masterminds behind this AMAZING bean to bar chocolate. By using a unique method of “block aging” they allow the chocolate to set for up to 1 month before tempering it & creating the bars. Each bar is distinct and delicious!”

Noting (top left corner) that the bars come from Portland, Oregon, the card states, “The husband & wife team of Jessica & Charley Wheelock are the masterminds behind this AMAZING bean to bar chocolate. By using a unique method of “block aging” they allow the chocolate to set for up to 1 month before tempering it & creating the bars. Each bar is distinct and delicious!” The explicit citation of places, people, and techniques reinforces that Woodblock Chocolates are indeed “unique” and “AMAZING,” showing shoppers that they are chunks of a greater narrative of painstaking, small-scale craftsmanship. Yet, such “taste education” simultaneously supports the commodification that craft chocolatiers and other Slow Foodists attempt to resist. Rooting products in personal narratives is a potent marketing strategy: by convincing consumers that buying chocolate, as Rick Mast of Mast Brothers’ Chocolate comments, connecting them to “something more interesting and inspiring and fascinating,” producers and retailers increase sales and create brand loyalty (Pietrykowski, 2004; Williams & Eber, 2012). “Taste education” is not wholly unbiased instruction; rather, it reflects the complex and innately contradictory nature of alternative capitalism. As both self-proclaimed “chocolate revolutionaries” and small business owners, makers must tell their stories to sell their products, transforming individual experiences into market-widening strategies (PRWeb, 2008).

Attempting to bring “excellent quality” bars to all Americans, the United States craft chocolate movement embodies the “give and take” between craftsmanship and commerce (PRWeb, 2008). Sourcing beans directly from farmers, batch-roasting, and hand-tempering arguably produce chocolates with the “most unique and interesting flavors”; however, they also mean that bars must be sold at 6 or more times the cost* of mass-produced chocolates. Set apart from their “big chocolate” peers in a small and an increasingly crowded market, craft chocolatiers struggle to promote their products while staying true to the ideals guiding their manufacture. As the Formaggio Kitchen chocolate selection displays, “craft” philosophies thus coexist – and at times conflict – with succeeding in commercial retail. The challenge of combining these seemingly diametric domains is a formidable one. But if craft chocolatiers cannot blend excellence with accessibility, than they risk a future in which America is known only as the home of Hershey’s Kisses.

 

 

References

 Brenner, J. G. (2000). The Emperors of Chocolate: Inside the Secret World of Hershey and Mars. New York, NY: Random House, Inc.

Craft Chocolate Makers of America. (2008). Definitions, from http://craftchocolatemakers.org/definitions/

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

Ng, C. F. (2003). Satisfying shoppers’ psychological needs: From public market to cyber-mall Journal of Experimental Psychology, 23(4), 439–455.

Off, C. (2006). Bitter Chocolate: The Dark Side of the World’s Most Seductive Sweet. New York, NY: The New Press.

Pietrykowski, B. (2004). You Are What You Eat: The Social Economy of the Slow Food Movement. Review of Social Economy, 62(3), 307-321.

PRWeb. (2008). Chocolate Revolutionaries Band Together to Preserve Craft Chocolate, from http://www.prweb.com/releases/2008/12/prweb1709894.htm

Rogue Chocolatier. (2014). Sourcing, from http://roguechocolatier.com/sourcing

Vreeland, C., & Pacyniak, B. (2010). Defining the New American Artisan Chocolate Maker. Candy Industry 175(9), 35.

Williams, P., & Eber, J. (2012). To Market, To Market: Craftsmanship, Customer Education, and Flavor Raising the Bar: The Future of Fine Chocolate. Vancouver, B.C.: Wilmor Publishing Corporation.