Last year we decided to stick our neck out and make a few predictions on what might happen in the world of Craft Chocolate, you can view the original post here. So now it’s the end of January 2019, we’ve decided to review the accuracy of our 2018 predictions – and make some new ones for 2019.
For 2018 we did OK to middling. Maybe a B+? In terms of accuracy we had 2 “sort ofs”, 3 “not really”, and 6 “definitely happening”. But most of the “definitely happenings” were safe no brainers … so this year we are going to be a bit bolder and avoid the “safe” (ie obvious) predictions.
(Note: We defined Craft Chocolate as “the pursuit of the unique tastes conjured from small batches of the best beans”)
Verdict: Sort of. Thank you Prufrock, Curators, Colonna and Smalls, Out of Office and ~50 more speciality coffee stores for your support. But given there are thousands and thousands of speciality coffee shops in the UK and proper drinking chocolate is in less than a few hundred, we’ve a long, long way to go
2. Chocolate boards will become a mainstream rival to cheese boards.
Verdict: Not really. We sold out of our boards. And thank you Andrew Edmunds, 67 Pall Mall and a host of other stores for making “chocolate boards” a reality on your menus. But still lots of opportunity
3. Bloggers and journalists start to do more debunking of crazy chocolate myths and raise awareness of some of chocolate’s “darker” sides.
Verdict: Not really. Some great stuff on deforestation in 2017 … but why, oh why, has nobody debunked the likes of “RAW”, “Ruby Chocolate” and so much else?
4. Speciality beans become even more “special” as farmers and makers experiment with fermentation, drying and bean genetics
Verdict: Definitely happening. Hat Tip to Mikkel Friis Holm, Arnauld Stengel (Erithaj), Chris Brennan (Pump Street Chocolate), Mark Schimmel (Krak) and Nate Hodge (Raaka) for their pioneering work on different fermentations.
5. New bean origins emerge to delight and enthuse.
Verdict: Definitely happening. We’ve been delighted by new beans and bars from Mexico, Costa Rica, Uganda, etc. But this is all somewhat dampened by the relatively low penetration of speciality beans; speciality beans remain a fraction of overall cocoa production – we don’t really have the speciality coffee equivalent of “geisha” and cocoa remains predominantly a commodity crop.
6. New maker regions continue to emerge.
Verdict: Definitely happening. Thailand, Korea, Norway, Estonia and Uzbekistan are a few of the new countries where we met with new makers for the first time in 2018. But as above, craft chocolate remains a tiny fraction of world chocolate – far smaller as a percentage of overall sales and consumption than e.g., coffee, beer or spirits.
All too often the consumer still buys on price – and whereas they’ll pay a premium for speciality coffee, their craft beer or artisanal gin, they don’t realise that spending just one or two pounds, euros or dollars more will lead to a quantum difference in chocolate quality and the lives of the cocoa farmer.
7. Dark Milks become more and more popular
Verdict: Definitely happening. But can someone please tell Cadbury’s that 40% is (or should be) the “norm” or “standard” for a milk chocolate and that Dark Milks need to have over 50% cocoa solids? (Dairy Milk contains less than 20% cocoa and Cadbury’s Dark Milk contains 40%; ICA competitions for Dark Milk specify a minimum of 50% cocoa)
8. Craft White Chocolate also becomes far more accepted
Verdict: Definitely happening. Thank you Olly Murs for your support on Sunday Brunch, and hat tip again to Pump Street, Chocolarder, Akesson, Chocolat Madagascar, Dormouse and many more for craft such great white, craft chocolate bars
9. Sugar continues to be a confusing topic
Verdict: This was an (obvious) cheat — definitely happening. It’s still hard for consumers to make sense of all the “guff” surrounding sugar. Too many consumers still believe that e.g., coconut sugar or lucuma is “better” for them (hint: there is no science to back up these claims). Stevia is still being added to chocolate and ruining what might be great beans and bars. Too many consumers still lump all chocolate into “if it has sugar it must be bad” without realising that most breakfast cereals and many low fat yogurts have way more sugar than most craft chocolate bars gram per gram. Part of the problem is being able to work out how much sugar you are consuming (hint – a 375ml can of coco cola has 12 teaspoons of sugar, a single portion low fat vanilla yogurt has over 5 teaspoons of sugar whilst an average dark chocolate bar (65g at 70%) has less than 4 teaspoons of sugar; and most consumers won’t eat a full bar of dark chocolate at one sitting). So maybe take the initiative and say “x teaspoons of sugar per serving”?
10. Customers start to read the label.
Verdict: Not really. It’s not always obvious — see above for sugar. We’re hoping that some of this will change – for example the average consumer doesn’t understand the difference between “use by” and “best before”. But we also need to make this easier for consumers — we’ve not yet agreed common “best practise” for labelling inside the craft market (e.g., specify not just the country of origin but also the co-operative and/or single estate, etc.)
11. More and more customers will enjoy more and more craft chocolate “experiences”.
Verdict: Sort of – depends on region. A few examples in the US, great stuff by Dandelion in Japan, Fu Wan in Taiwan, Mirzam in Dubai, etc. But e.g., no one in Europe is doing anything like Napa Wineries YET (hint: we are hugely excited by Mike Longman’s plans for Chocolarder in Cornwall .. but still daunted by the many hours by train it will take for us to get there when his new operation opens)
2. The craft chocolate industry starts to develop some co-operative and standard definitions and best practises on labels. This should be a no brainer – but all too often, craft chocolate makes itself hard to identify and distinguish. Let’s at least start by being proud of the farm, estate or co-operative where the beans are grown and put this on the FRONT of the bar. And on the back label let’s say where the bars are crafted. Check out this blog post for more suggestions (and do have fun trying to work out where big chocolate mass produce and make their bars … hint, not all Belgian and Swiss chocolate is actually made there …)
3. Customers start to understand the difference between “use by” and “best before”. Sadly it may well be that we in the UK will take the lead here when the looming disaster of Brexit makes Brits really grateful for craft chocolate that is beyond its “best before” as it may well be the only stuff we can buy. More seriously, this is an extension of helping customers understand labels. For more on “best before” versus “use by” please see our blog from last year. Basically, “use by” means there is an ingredient (e.g., milk, a preservative or stabilisers) which goes off; “best before” means there is nothing that “goes off” but that the quality may (and I stress may) decline after that date (some dark chocolate bars, provided they stay in “temper” age like great red wines).
4. We become more geeky about flavour, mouthfeel and texture. Consumers are invariably blown away by the flavours in craft chocolate – and more often than not, amazed by the role of smell here (both retronasal and orthonasal). Texture is another dimension that intrigues customers, comparing stoneground to different grinds and conches. Next up will be more studies on bitterness and astringency (no they aren’t the same … see an upcoming post for more details), and on the role of “mouthfeel”
5. 100% craft chocolate bars continue to fly off the shelf. We’ve always known that 100% bars are great sellers online (it’s relatively easy to search for them). But we are also increasingly encouraged by customers reaction in store and at shows to tasting 100% bars. To quote from Harmony, who has done dozens of samplings in various stores, “when sampling in stores and events, most people who are interested in 100% have only dealt with mass brands and they are quite blown away when trying small batch 100%s. These people are pretty dedicated chocolate consumers and they are amazed that 100% bars don’t need to be bitter etc., it needn’t just taste like ‘cocoa powder’ or be dry and astringent. People will eat this because they genuinely enjoy it rather than for purely ‘health’ reasons”.
6. Craft Chocolate continues to get better at pairings with other craft / speciality foods and drinks. Again, this as a forecast is patently obvious and self serving – but we really believe that these pairings and tastings deserve more exposure and is really ready to be pushed out more and more. At Canopy Market last year we were fortunate to have experts from beer (Steve Taylor), wine (Charles Metcalfe), Sake (Peter McCombie) and Cheese (Karen Gaudin) to help us match craft chocolate to their speciality wares – and the customer reactions were FANTASTIC (thanks again to all our experts). And thanks to the likes of the SCA (speciality coffee association), Square Mile and Colonna we’ve learnt more and more about the similarities and complementarities between speciality coffee and craft chocolate. And we really hope that these pairings can be pushed further, more often and into new areas (we’re already planning rum and whisky pairings – and more suggestions welcome)
7. Craft Chocolate Tastings become even more popular. So this is a bit of a plug too. Nearly years ago, Lizzie and I started to do monthly Craft Chocolate Tastings at Prufrock Coffee (thank you again Prufrock). We’ve now done these all over the world – inside start ups in Silicon Valley, in Dubai, with wine clubs and speciality stores, with university departments (Oxford, UCL, etc), for corporates (they make great team building opportunities), etc. We’ve fine tuned the format, content and bars so that we are now really proud of our tastings. And we are now expanding them (e.g., see the website for ones we are doing Wholefoods for Valentines, our planned ones with Out of Office in Milton Keynes), etc. Many other people also do Craft Chocolate tastings – Duffy, Kathryn Laverack, Tristram etc. – and we are honoured to be able to support them with bars, content, etc. And we’d more than happy to share the tools and help more people set up their own tastings – or to come to you if you are a corporate, would like some special family do, etc. Or just check out upcoming events here.
8. Asia becomes more and more important. We’ve already seen India emerge as a great source of beans – and craft chocolate aficionado’s are emerging here. Japan now has twice the number of craft chocolate makers than the UK, France and Germany combined. How long before China wakes?
9. We move “beyond the bar” and see new formats of craft chocolate emerge. One of the questions we ask all our makers is why do they (just) make bars – and most are intrigued (or stumped) by this. Bars are an amazing format. Easy to put on a shelf. Easy to transport. And bars have been made and sold for over a 150 years (Fry’s made the first one back in the 1840s). But they aren’t always the easiest format for consumers. Cinemas some time ago worked out that bags of chocolate buttons were easier to share in the dark. For cooking couverture lots of new formats have emerged. And there surely is some room for craft makers to think of different formats for different occasions beyond mini-bars and squares
10. Debunking of myths. So if nobody else is going to cry “BS” at the likes of raw chocolate, we’ll write a blog on this. In the meantime, continued praise to the likes of Andrew Baker, Sharon Terenzi, Hazel Lee, Judith Lewis, Estelle Tracey, Clay Gordon, Dom Ramsey and Simran Sethi for their great pieces..
To paraphrase Original Beans, we wish you a year full of (speciality) beans
Spencer, Simon, Lizzie, Harmony @cocoarunners.com