Can you think of an advert for any supermarket that doesn’t end by focusing on price? Or one for insurance or energy services that doesn’t offer you the best deal?
Can you now try to think of an advert for a ‘switch’ that could save most households over 20% of their weekly expenditure on a raft of products? And as an added bonus, this action or ‘switch’ also helps save the planet.
The switch here isn’t a new product or service. It’s more fundamental. It’s a change of approach. It’s about throwing away less drinks and foods (including chocolate).
And it’s not just consumers who can make this change. Retailers like us can also do our part to reduce waste (and, spoiler alert, see below for more of our ‘lucky dip’ boxes which were launched 18 months ago to this end).
This week’s blog entry is an invitation to grab some great craft chocolate bargains from some supply chain challenges we had last year. And it’s also a recap on how to read the label to help you, as a consumer, to waste less by understanding labels and thinking a little more laterally.
So the next time you see an advertisement saying how much you can save by switching supermarket, energy supplier, insurance company, etc. remember that there are some even bigger savings to be had.
According to Friends of the Earth:
- The average UK family spends £470 per annum on food they bin.
- One third of all food produced across the globe is lost or wasted.
- 50 million chickens are wasted in the UK each year.
- 100 million pints of milk are tipped down the drain each year in the UK.
We can’t directly help with the 50 million chickens or 100 million pints of milk. But we can help you, and us, reduce chocolate waste. And grab a bargain along the way.
1 – Learn to read the label: The difference between “best before” and “use by”
One of the biggest factors leading to consumers wasting food, and drinks, is the result of misunderstood labels. In the UK (and the EU and US) almost all foods have to indicate a product’s “best before” or “use by” date.
These two labels were designed to help consumers avoid waste and eat safely. However, most consumers are unaware of the difference. And this leads to considerable food wastage, with lots of perfectly safe food being chucked because of a simple misunderstanding.
So here is an attempt to reduce this misunderstanding by clarifying these terms, and then applying them craft (and mass produced) chocolate.
- Use by dates: This means that the product contains an ingredient or additive that ‘goes off’. So it’s generally a really bad idea to eat after the use by date. But this is complicated by the cautiousness of many makers, and it’s often OK to eat some products (e.g. a yoghurt, or milk chocolate) some time after their use by date. Just take a sniff, and a small bite, before you really dig in. (And also please note that the way you store products with a use by date can also bring forward the use by date if the product requires special conditions for storage (e.g. refrigeration, not opening, etc.).
- Best Before dates: These are arbitrary dates applied by the producer. Food and drink can be safely eaten after the date, but the flavour and/or texture may be impaired. And it’s up to the manufacturer to determine the best before dates. And again, storage conditions play a part here.
What does this mean for chocolate?
- Milk and white chocolate of all varieties clearly need to have use by dates (yes, this includes alternative m!lks like oats etc. too). And, see above, most makers err on being overcautious here for fear of the way retailers, and consumers, store their bars. Again, follow the sniff test.
- Mass produced dark chocolate also often has use by dates as they contain various additives and preservatives (e.g. butterfat, whey powder, palm oils, etc.) that go off.
- Dark craft chocolate should not have a use by date; but by law it does need to have a best before date. There is no consensus around what this date should be; most makers will suggest a year from the date of production, but others argue for 18 or 24 months. And I’m quite happy to try dark bars that are three to five years old (we’ve been storing some). However these dark bars may go a little ‘out of temper’; i.e. they won’t melt in the mouth as easily and their mouthfeel is slightly different.
And for when bars, especially dark ones, go out of temper, this is an opportunity to be a bit more inventive and creative, and reduce food waste by thinking a little more laterally.
2 – Think laterally, and be a bit more creative
A bunch of entrepreneurs over the past few years have done a sterling job in promoting ‘odd’ or ‘ugly’ fruit and vegetables. Similarly a bunch of chefs have come up with recipes, videos and programmes galore on how to use leftovers, etc.
The same sort of lateral thinking can be used for chocolate that is out of perfect temper, etc. Here are some personal examples; starting with some pretty obvious ones:
- If a bar seems ‘out of temper’ (i.e. a bit brittle, doesn’t melt easily, etc.) try gently warming it up by, for example, placing it on warm radiator, in your back pocket, between your legs (this suggestion is from a friend in the wine industry who swears by this to warm overly chilled wine) or anywhere that is relatively warm. A couple of other suggestions:
- Do remember not to leave the chocolate there for too long.
- Do use the wrapper to stop any inconvenient melting if you overheat the bar.
(NOTE: this trick works for bars that have been badly stored as well as past their best before or use by dates).
- Treat yourself to some hot chocolate (either with water, milk, etc.).
- Bake or cook with craft chocolate (e.g. try a mole, add dark chocolate to a stew or mole, etc.).
- If that’s too much ‘faff’ just heat up the chocolate either in a basin suspended in boiling water or, even easier, in a microwave. And then you can, for example:
- Dip in, or pour over, some fruit (strawberries, grapes, figs, apricots, oranges), or even try vegetables (trust me, it does work!).
- Drizzle on top of digestives (this is my personal favourite; you’ll get chocolate digestives that are SO MUCH better than anything you can buy in any supermarket or delicatessen); if you really want to push the boat out, add some marshmallows to make ‘smores’.
We’d also love to get your suggestions here too; please fill in THIS FORM (or click the link here: https://forms.gle/CoCb5Pkx7V2wpkWRA) and for the three best suggestions, we’ll send you one of our lucky dip taster boxes to thank you.
3 – Take advantage of suppliers’ ‘unforced errors’
Another major reason driving food waste is consumers purchasing more than they need as a result of; irresistible offers, panic buying, having sudden changes of plan, etc.
All too often the same happens with retailers and distributors. We overestimate demand. We overcompensate for supply chain issues.
Mea Culpa; this happens at Cocoa Runners. Last year, during some of the sudden lockdowns, we were scrambling to keep up with demand, in particular for virtual tasting kits for couples and individuals where we needed LOTS of small taster bars. And Brexit messed up our supply chain and logistics, so in a bunch of cases we had to re-purchase stock that was stuck in warehouses all around the world.
The upshot is that we’ve some excess inventory of a few taster bars. So we’ve created some lucky dip boxes for these taster bars (see HERE). We’d love your help in not wasting these (some of the bars do have milk, but all are well before their ‘use by’ date).
And we’ve also a few ‘standard’ taster boxes of full size bars where again either because of supply chain issues (and yes, this is STILL happening because of Brexit) or because our forecasting was off, we’ve some stock of dark chocolate bars that are either just past, or close to, their ‘best before’ dates.
A quick note on pricing
As a general rule, at Cocoa Runners we never discount our bars as we think that this encourages ‘commoditisation’ and runs against the ethos of valuing the craft, and efforts, of our makers, farmers and cooperatives (note: an exception here is that subscribers to our monthly boxes, as a membership perk, get 10% off all purchases of bars and gifts).
And this is why in our ‘standard’ lucky dip boxes we don’t specify which bars and makers are included. But we do guarantee that the price you pay for a lucky dip box will be at least 40%, and sometimes 60-70%, less than the standard retail. And we’ve both 100% boxes (great for thinking laterally in the kitchen with) and dark bars (great for snacking and savouring) HERE and below.
For the taster bars we’ve made an exception and are letting people know what’s in the boxes, so if you’ve ever wanted to try Zotter’s award winning butter caramel bar, Jordi’s HIT with nibs, Chocolate Makers’ Tres Hombre’s milk bar etc. grab this opportunity. See HERE.
As ever, thanks for your support.
P.S. You aren’t too late to join our wine tasting with Corney & Barrow on the 20th, and a Craft Chocolate in Conversation session with Kristy Leissle on the 25th.
P.P.P.S. Delighted to see that Morrison’s is no longer printing ‘use by’ dates on milk it sells; instead it recommends a “sniff test” to help customers avoid wasting perfectly fine milk. Way to go!