Tag Archives: Patric Chocolate

The Best Little Chocolate Bar You’ve Never Heard of: Why the American Craft Chocolate Industry May Not be Sustainable

There’s a certain kind of charm in “craft foods”. Not “Kraft” with a K, big industrial foods, but products created by small businesses in basements, backyards, and family kitchens by people that are so passionate about their craft that they make small batches, perfecting each one before selling them at extraordinary prices. There’s a very healthy craft beer industry in the US, craft cheese as well, but in the last few decades, the American-made craft chocolate bar has appeared. With the American history of chocolate being a cheap indulgence sold at check-out counters across the country, it’s hard to imagine the place that an $8 “craft” chocolate bar with 76% Malagasy cacao beans has in the American consumer’s lexicon. That very high price point, as well as the increased scrutiny customers willing to hit that price level give to their products, may mean that the American craft chocolate industry isn’t wholly sustainable. Looking at the trajectories of three different craft chocolate makers, Patric, Potomac, and Mast Brothers, serve as examples of the fine line that craft chocolate makers must walk to maintain their already precarious position in the American food economy.

Before discussing the specifics of these brands, it is important to lay out first why exactly these bars are so expensive. There are two prongs of this problem that need to be addressed: the cost of production and the inevitable mark-up by retailers that will carry craft chocolate bars. The cost of production for small batch chocolate bars is fundamentally different from “Big Chocolate” in the very first step of chocolate making: sourcing the cacao. These 3 chocolate makers, like many in the craft chocolate realm, are “bean-to-bar” chocolate makers, simply meaning that the chocolate makers themselves do all of the processing of the cacao in-house. These makers pride themselves on this fact in addition to using often only ethically sourced, fair-trade cacao beans. The cost to do this is significant, as fair-trade products carry with them a hefty price, and the price of buying fair trade certified bean added on to the cost of processing those beans in the same facility must be passed on to consumers. The second prong of the craft chocolate price tag being so high is that the stores that would carry said chocolate bars, the Whole Foods and luxury wine and cheese shops of metropolitan areas, know that they can make their profit with a large markup on items that they may buy for $2-3 wholesale and, as such, the price jumps from $3 to $8 (Martin “Haute Patisserie, Artisan Chocolate, and Food Justice”) . The combination of these two factors leads to the average American consumer getting sticker shock when picking up a fine bar of Potomac chocolate — the average consumer will only spend up to $3.99 on a chocolate bar (Martin “Haute Patisserie, Artisan Chocolate, and Food Justice”). So why then, have the following brands been able to become successful? Let’s investigate.

The first of these brands is arguably one of the most successful, having won national acclaim every year since 2011 (http://patric-chocolate.com/about/). Patric Chocolate is a bean-to-bar chocolate making outfit out of Columbia, Missouri run by a man named Alan McClure. McClure spent years tasting European chocolate in his 20s only to return to the US determined to make a better American chocolate bar in the style of the gourmet chocolate industry in France. The American chocolate industry really gained steam about 20 years after the revolutionization of the French haute chocolate industry (Terrio 14), and McClure began investigating chocolate just as the US was in the process of gaining the industrial and culinary knowledge necessary start a craft chocolate making industry in the style of Valhrona and Bernachon. The beginning of every Patric chocolate bar is the beans; Patric first sourced all of their cacao beans from Madagascar, launching the high percentage Malagasy cacao chocolate bars in 2007, and later moved on to blended bars with beans from the Caribbean and Central America. Patric chocolate boasts Fair Trade (or higher) prices paid for cacao in addition to all organic and non-GMO certified ingredients to flavor their unique bars like “PBJ OMG” and “MINT Crunch” with the very best fruit, nuts and peppermint essential oil. The fantastic ingredients of Patric chocolate bars shine through in the rich and creative tastes that melt perfectly on the tongue. Those ingredients shine through in the price tag as well: one 2.3 ounce bar of the 75% Madagascar chocolate is $14.00. 

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One single Patric bar is 7x more expensive than a Hershey’s XL bar from Walmart. And on top of that, customers that purchase online have to hit a 5 bar minimum for shipping. That’s a minimum of $70 to get your chocolate if you don’t live near a retailer. 

 

Where Patric succeeds more than many craft chocolate brands is its exclusivity. Patric only makes it to a few very pricey specialty stores and is sold online in monthly “batches” of creative flavors on the Patric website. This helps to maintain Patric’s profit margins without compromising their ingredients or hands on production process. This is key to sustaining its business and continuing to bolster both cacao and organic farmers by paying above market prices for what they deem the very best.

Potomac Chocolate, like Patric, is a small bean-to-bar chocolate maker in Woodbridge, Virginia. Founded after Patric, in 2010, Potomac has a very similar business model as that of Patric but where Potomac really excels is their single origin bars. These bars are high-percentage cacao dark chocolate bars where all of the beans are sourced from one location, estate, country. This gives each of these bars a beautiful and distinctive flavor based on the terroir of the region; for example, the Duarte Bar, with beans sourced from an estate in the Dominican Republic, has hints of tropical and citrus fruit reflecting the tropical location the beans were grown in. These nuances, however, are really something only a consumer with a deep interest in chocolate or a very refined palate would notice. With that in mind, it make sense that these bars are sold in expensive groceries like Whole Foods and specialty shops.

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The Potomac packaging doesn’t boast all the labels some craft foods do (Fair Trade, Organic etc.) but has instead built a reputation for ethically sourced ingredients that encourages it purchase among the “Whole Foods Shopper” demographic 

Potomac sells their bars to these retailers at a price of only $2-3, leaving the additional $6 markup to the seller themselves. This obviously proves a challenge to Ben Rasmussen, proprietor of Potomac, to source good beans and make so little profit. Without the exclusivity and “limited edition” specialty releases of Patric, Potomac relies on these sellers to market their products to demographics that are interested or might be; where I can find Potomac at Whole Foods and a handful of other specialty shops in the Boston area, I have never seen a Patric bar for sale next to it. The cost of selling at these stores, however, means that Rasmussen must keep a day job and craft his chocolate at night. Even though Rasmussen and the company are young, it seems clear that the market for Potomac won’t sustain a chocolate maker like Potomac indefinitely. And that’s assuming that they can keep their already small consumer base intact!

Our final case study in the American craft chocolate industry is Mast Brothers. Founded in 2006 and incorporated in 2007, Mast Brothers was a rising star in the craft chocolate making industry. In one weekend in 2008, their brick and mortar store in Brooklyn made $28,000 (Person). Instead of taking a look at their business principles and sustainability, Mast Brothers is presented here as an example of what a misstep can mean for a company that works in a realm of consumers with discriminating tastes and standards. In December 2015, a food blog called Dallas Food published a 4 part expose, with it’s final piece effectively accusing the Mast Brothers of defrauding consumers since their inception by buying chocolate, not cacao, to make their chocolate bars. The distinction here is, unlike our previous two chocolate makers, the Mast Brothers were not in fact bean-to bar makers. The aftermath of the fiasco is still playing out but it’s undeniable that this, coupled with the fact that even early in 2015 the chocolate community at large was skeptical of quality and taste of Mast Brothers (Giller), has hurt the company’s credibility and limited their reach — being unable to sell in the specialty shops that cater to the finest chocolate consumers means that the average customer seeing their $10 bar is certainly less inclined to pull the trigger and purchase. Their evasiveness in answering questions on top of their fundamental lack of creativity sets the Mast Brothers apart from chocolate makers like Patric and Potomac, whose creative flavors and dedication to sourcing the best beans and ingredients make their small consumer base very loyal. The Mast Brothers should serve as a cautionary tale and poignant anecdote representing the fragility and importance of brand in an industry as small as American craft chocolate making.

As these three case studies show, the American luxury chocolate industry is unsustainable from a pure market point of view. While there will likely always be a small sector of the population, the true chocolate connoisseurs, that’s willing to pay up for their bean-to-bar indulgence, the growth outlook for a company that boasts the finest and most expensive chocolate ingredients is not very positive. Considering that the industry hinges on these very expensive ingredients and the assurance the a consumer is getting all the chocolate for their dollar, there is also not a great way to pivot to market to a broader US audience without losing their loyal customer base. Ben Rasmussen, of Potomac chocolate, is doing what he loves at night, but it seems unlikely that he’ll be able to quit his day job any time soon; the craft chocolate industry is simply not sustainable for Rasmussen and many makers like him.

Works Cited

Giller, Megan. “The High-End Chocolate World Hates Mast Brothers .” Slate Magazine. 2015. Web. 04 May 2016.

Martin, Carla. “Haute Patisserie, Artisan Chocolate, and Food Justice”” Harvard University. 27 Apr. 2016.

Person, Deena Shanker, and Http://qz.com/author/dshankerqz. “How the Mast Brothers Fooled the World into Paying $10 a Bar for Crappy Hipster Chocolate.” Quartz. 2015. Web. 04 May 2016.

Terrio, Susan J. Crafting the Culture and History of French Chocolate. Berkeley: U of California, 2000. Print.

Williams, Pam, and Jim Eber. Raising the Bar: The Future of Fine Chocolate. Vancouver: Wilmor Pub., 2012. Print.

“Mast Brothers: What Lies Behind the Beards (Part 4, Confessions).” DallasFood. Web. 04 May 2016.

“Patric Chocolate Handcrafted American Chocolate Online Store.” Patric Chocolate RSS2. Web. 04 May 2016.

“Welcome to Potomac Chocolate.” Potomac Chocolate. Web. 04 May 2016.

Images

http://www.potomacchocolate.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/upala_70_sq1-300×300.jpg

https://cdn.shopify.com/s/files/1/0972/7116/products/hershey_s-special-dark-xl-chocolate-bar-12ct-case8.png?v=1459344563

https://chocolateclass.files.wordpress.com/2016/05/9bf1c-patric-piuradrkmilkbarpkg-5-16-15-600.jpg

Chocolate as a Luxury throughout the Ages

Today’s modern chocolate consumer revels in the extravagance of a society determined to have more than it can ever need, buy more than it can ever afford, and eat more than it can ever want, especially when it comes to chocolate. This newfound availability of a good once regarded as luxury, has now transformed chocolate to what many now consider mere candy. Gone are the nutrition, originality, and reverence once associated with the “food of the gods,” and what is left is nothing more than a sweet treat tainted with excessive amounts fat and cheap additives (Parkin, “What Are You Eating: Snickers”). And although many celebrate the “revolutionary” progression of chocolate from a food of the elite to one now accessible by all, the idea that chocolate is ubiquitous cannot be further from the truth. In fact, chocolate is still exclusive to the highest social classes, a luxury good through and through, and even with the worldwide rise in chocolate production, pure, high quality chocolate – that of which is now labeled as “artisan” or “craft” – is almost solely intended for elite consumption.

While the well-to-do savor their “bean-to-bars,” the general population must settle with the everyday “Hershey’s kisses” or “Milky ways,” poor substitutes that were created to satisfy the masses (Parkin, “What Are You Eating: Snickers”). Nevertheless, the degree to which this dichotomy extends is but a reflection of the past. The social arrangements observed today parallel that of previous societies throughout history, from the Aztec’s strict confinement of chocolate consumption within their social elite to the European’s emphasis on reserving the food for the upper class; the continuation of these previously observed patterns, as embodied by the range of products offered by vendors on either end of the social spectrum, indicates that chocolate still remains the luxury food it has always been, a source of indulgence for the rich and a commodity to strive towards for the poor (Coe, Coe 86-87, 159-160).

One does not need to venture very far into the chocolate industry to experience the glaring disparity between the quality of chocolate offered in the everyday convenience store and that of a gourmet, specialty shop. Here in Boston, the two are represented by the local CVS and South End’s very own Formaggio’s Kitchen, the first of which is a popular retailer across the US whereas the latter exists only in one other location – the elite community of New York City’s urban sprawl. Thus, before the chocolate itself is even considered, the sheer accessibility of these respective markets indicates the type of merchandise sold at each. It is no surprise then that the chocolate products offered at CVS differs not only in composition, but also in price and packaging from the luxury bars organized in neat rows at Formaggio’s.

CVS Display
The wide variety of brand name chocolate offered at a CVS Pharmacy

CVS Caremark is one of the largest pharmacy convenience stores in the country and because it caters to all of society, everywhere, the retailer must offer a wide range of commodities to satisfy their broad clientele. In other words, they must stock their shelves with every type of brand name chocolate produced here in the States; from “Snickers” bars produced by Mars to the iconic “Hershey’s” milk chocolate bar produced by Hershey itself, CVS has it all (Hess, “Most Popular Halloween Candy in the USA”). However, although the diversity offered at any one of these convenience stores is impressive, the majority of their chocolate shares a single commonality: they are all composed entirely of milk chocolate, often supplemented with a large proportion of butter, unwarranted amounts of sugar, extra flavoring like vanilla, and other fillings such as nougat for the popular “Milky Way” (“Candy and Chocolate Bars Compared: Hershey’s, Nestle and Mars Nutrition Facts”; Parkin, “What Are You Eating: Snickers”). Many would argue that the added contents are what make these products as well-known as they have become, and even more claim that they crave this type of chocolate specifically for the peanut-caramel insides. Unfortunately for these misguided individuals, the reality is that these very fillings are exactly what prevents the typical “Reese’s” peanut butter cup from serving as a healthy addition to one’s life, and instead makes them the cheap, fattening candy that the average consumer can afford (“Candy and Chocolate Bars Compared: Hershey’s, Nestle and Mars Nutrition Facts”). This practice of mixing inexpensive ingredients into chocolate to help make it more affordable is analogous to the origins of chocolate consumption in Mesoamerica, setting the precedent that impure chocolate is associated with lower quality food (Coe, Coe 86-87; Presilla 20). In fact, the Aztecs, in preparing cacao, recognized that “the inferior product…was mixed with nixtamalli and water” to form a “chocolate-with-maize gruel,” but if the mixture was “cheapened by too much corn or thinned with too much water,” then all of the “effort would be for naught” (Coe, Coe 86-87; Presilla 20). The same concept has returned in modern form, and even though society has moved past the practice of combining corn and chocolate, the artificial ingredients used now are both worse and in larger quantity. As such, the brand name chocolate that dominates the market today are not what they all claim to be – rather than serving as energy-boosting power bars, these candies are the epitome of second-rate scraps, the culmination of the industry’s sly advertising and deceit (Hess, “Most Popular Halloween Candy in the USA”).

Snickers Chocolate nutrition information includes many artificial ingredients
Snickers nutrition information includes many artificial ingredients

The goods offered at CVS can be identified for their lower quality merely by taking a look down the aisle; all of the chocolate is sold in bulk, the wrappings are colorful and meant to entice children, and the price tags that accompany any purchase fail to draw attention as well (Hess, “Most Popular Halloween Candy in the USA”). Indeed, everything chocolate at the convenience store is affordable and cheap, and it is fitting that the majority of these products are regarded as mere candy. This type of marketing in itself is suggestive of the type of goods advertised to the common shopper. Nowhere in the store will one find pure, gourmet chocolate like that from Formaggio’s Kitchen; instead, Halloween candy, sweets to be given out, and maybe a small treat on the go is all that is offered at CVS (Hess, “Most Popular Halloween Candy in the USA”). While there is nothing wrong with merchandise that serves these purposes, the chocolate here will never compare to the “craft” chocolate that should be enjoyed at leisure in the quiet luxury of one’s home.

"Craft" chocolate displayed on shelves at Formaggio's Kitchen in Boston
“Craft” chocolate displayed on shelves at Formaggio’s Kitchen in Boston

Walking into Formaggio’s Kitchen, one is immediately transported to the most charming little shop in rural France, the quaintest street market in Spain, and the most curious ingredient store in Italy. Everything offered here is exotic, from the slabs of cheese on the wall to the rows of extra virgin olive oil on display. It is every culinary enthusiast’s dream. To top it all off, Formaggio’s Kitchen also boasts an impressive shelf of chocolate, each bar made entirely “bean-to-bar” by some of the most skilled confectioners around. Thus, it goes with saying that these products provide the purest experience of how chocolate should be prepared: made from scratch with the most traditional methods using fresh, unroasted cocoa beans of the highest quality (Williams, Eber 168-170). The finished result consists primarily of cacao and a small amount of cane sugar, and as expected, is simply delicious – anyone missing out is really missing the point of chocolate altogether. By foregoing the daunting list of artificial ingredients that are usually included in commercial products, the “craft” chocolate only offered at Formaggio’s represents the other end of the social spectrum and the true meaning of the saying “less is more,” much like the “unadulterated chocolate fit for lords” in Aztec society (Coe, Coe 86-87; Presilla 20; Williams, Eber 168-170). For these reasons, “chocolate” as a general term applies most suitably to these higher quality foods, and since only the elite are able to enjoy them, chocolate is still very much a sign of wealth and opulence.

Patric Chocolate's (a brand of "craft" chocolate) short ingredient list
Patric Chocolate’s (a brand of “craft” chocolate) short ingredient list

With a noticeable increase in quality, there comes a noticeable increase in price as well. In order to pay for the more expensive cocoa beans and the longer, more meticulous method of preparing them for making bars, “craft” chocolate can cost from five times to ten times more than the generic products offered at the local CVS (Williams, Eber 168-170). Moreover, if only the wealthy elite are able to afford these chocolate products, then it must have adequate packaging to advertise to that particular social class; thus, the wrapping for these chocolate bars are ornate and artistically designed – not the cheap plastic bags that are used to attract consumers in the convenience store. Without a doubt, the sophistication of the packaging was far from subtle. From the specific fonts used to spell out each chocolate’s name to the thick paper the words were embossed in, the chocolate products have as much going for them inside as well as outside. This emphasis on serving the rich is a direct extension of the social customs in Europe in the 17th century wherein chocolate was reserved particularly for either royalty or the social elite, albeit the class differences were more publicly enforced back then than the more subtle inequalities today (Coe, Coe 159-160). Nevertheless, the disparity still exists and the steep costs, elaborate packaging, and the upscale district Formaggio’s is located all do their part to reinforce the degree to which this type of chocolate has historically and presently been advertised to the upper class, further distancing these products from their lesser, more generic counterparts.

Patric Chocolate's ornate and relatively sophisticated packaging
Patric Chocolate’s ornate and relatively sophisticated packaging

The drastic market differences within the chocolate industry are manifested in the contrasting qualities, prices, and advertisements of the merchandise offered at that these two distinct locales. Whereas CVS’s modern, “buy-in-bulk” approach appeals to the average consumer in the US, Formaggio’s kitchen’s rustic, almost exotic goods exploit the curiosity – and money – of the rich. However, the sad reality that lies beyond the extensive hierarchy separating the two social classes is the fact that only the wealthy who shop at Formaggio’s kitchen truly experiences chocolate for what the food can offer: its unique taste, clean ingredients, and undiminished health benefits. Everyone else forced to settle with brand name chocolate stuffed with nougat and other fillers are merely duped by the industry itself. And although no change will ever come about from this injustice, due to the immense labor costs intrinsic to cocoa production, it is important for the average consumer to at least recognize what he or she actually walks out with after their everyday trip to the local CVS – or rather, what they’re not walking out with.

 

 

 

Works Cited

“Candy & Chocolate Bars Compared: Hershey’s, Nestle and Mars Nutrition Facts.” A Calorie Counter. A Calorie Counter, 20 Oct. 2013. Web. 6 May 2014. <http://www.acaloriecounter.com/candy-chocolate.php&gt;.

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. 3rd ed. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1996. Print.

“Formaggio Kitchen: Cheese 101.” A Little Bit about a Lot of Things. WordPress.com, 24 Dec. 2013. Web. 5 May 2014. <http://dgrubs.com/2013/12/24/formasggio-kitchen-cheese-101/&gt;.

Hess, Alexander E. M. “Most Popular Halloween Candy in the USA.” USA Today 27 Oct. 2013: n. pag. USA Today: A Gannett Company. Web. 7 May 2014. <http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/business/2013/10/27/most-popular-halloween-candy-in-usa/3274967/&gt;.

Parkin, Johanna. “What Are You Eating: Snickers.” Men’s Health 2013: n. pag. Men’s Health. Web. 6 May 2014. <http://www.menshealth.co.uk/food-nutrition/healthy-eating/ what-are-you-eating-snickers-536760>.

Presilla, Maricel E. The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural and Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. 1st, Rev ed. New York: Ten Speed, 2009. Print.

Root, Lucas. “Weekend Food Commentary.” Urban Paleo Chef: Making Everyday Food Enjoyable and Satisfying. Urban Paleo Chef, 28 Jan. 2013. Web. 5 May 2014. <http://urbanpaleochef.com/ 2013/01/28/weekend-food-commentary-2/>.

“The Spin on Carbs: Think You Are Eating Healthy?” Total Performance Sports: Gym and Athletic Training Center. Total Performance Sports, 26 Nov. 2013. Web. 6 May 2014. <http://totalperformancesports.com/nutrition-corner-december-2013-think-you-are-eating-healthy/&gt;.

Williams, Pam, and Jim Eber. Raising the Bar: The Future of Fine Chocolate. Vancouver, BC: Wilmor, 2012. Print.

“YUM! Patric Chocolate.” Joy and Sunshine. Joy and Sunshine, 2 Oct. 2013. Web. 6 May 2014. <http://www.joyandsunshine.com/blog/2013/10/02/yum-patric-chocolate/&gt;.