For many years, supermarket chocolate brands conveyed anonymity and disconnection with the origin of chocolate to consumers. The origin of cacao was not even remotely mentioned, and the history of the chocolate product was never tied to how it could benefit the cocoa producer but barely to acknowledge the company’s founder.
Fast forward through 2020 and label tags such as “Bean-To-Bar”, “Single-Origin”, “Certified Organic”, “Sustainably Sourced”, “Only Three Ingredients” are shamelessly coopted from higher-end fine chocolate, capitalizing on its positive consumer’s reception over the latest years.
The increased consumer demand for sustainable and ethical trade in the food supply chain makes the premium chocolate market the fastest-growing segment of the confectionery industry. The global premium chocolate market is forecast to reach USD 33.15 billion, growing at a CAGR of 9.93% by 2024.
As if that were not enough, a specific graphic element is increasingly popping up on the premium chocolate packaging available at large retailers: She, Her Royal Highness The Cocoa Pod. Suspended in the air, embossed in gold, or glimpsed in dim light, the cocoa pod marker is so center stage on the premium chocolate shelf of large retailers that even the Mona Lisa hanging solo on the Salle des États’ large wall would feel her fivecentennial idolization threatened. The mass-market chocolate brands are now presenting the cocoa pod as a pounding graphic element on the packaging of their products, as to nearly fetishize the arcane origin of chocolate.
On the one hand, the obsessive representation of cocoa pods in the branding of premium lines of big chocolate manufacturers is positive to create awareness about the origin of chocolate. If we juxtaposed an example with a product close to chocolate, how many supermarket coffee brands can we see offering an integral vision of the coffee cherry rather than its bean?
On the other hand, the exaltation of the cocoa pod on the packaging may seemingly be seen less favorably by the real fine chocolate makers, due to the confusion generated by the quality of the more prominent market-sharing chocolate. Until a few years ago, the cocoa pod could exclusively be admired on the packaging of the most renowned chocolate producers. These artisans now try to diversify in a more creative and sophisticated way their branding against an increasingly aggressive premium market having the resources to penetrate the media and generate the buzz overnight. As a retaliatory effect, adding only specific but stylized parts of the cacao plant or fruit has pretty become the norm among fine and craft chocolate makers in 2020.
Although premium chocolate is being more and more produced in mass and taking the supermarket aisle by storm, how does it perform against the quality level of the finest and most gourmet thing?
Responses come mixed—and not always as disappointing as one would expect.
Last week I selected two tablets for an honest test after visiting a local large retailer:
My tasting took place in the following sequence, turning out the related considerations:
Perugina® Nero® Raw Taste 70%
Not clear what the Italian brand intends to come across with the “Raw Taste” wording, but it appears dull superfluous—cheesy, to say the least—for being so evidenced on the packaging. The chocolate is made with “Only Three Ingredients” (cocoa mass, sugar, cocoa butter), and the origin of cacao disclosed is Ecuador. The connection between the visual elements of the packaging and that of the mold is even more mysterious. Although sought-after in its draped effect, the mold design doesn’t match the overall look of the product.
For the tasting part, both the smell and flavor fell flat, being a weird leather-like aftertaste its main persisting dissonance. Needless to say, no satisfaction sensed in tasting this chocolate, flunked with no second chance.
Côte d’Or Bio Noir Peru & Dominican Republic 85%
The visual aspect of both the packaging and the mold not only are well connected to each other but also sort out a pleasant effect to the eye. A gold-embossed cocoa pod appears on the packaging, in harmony with a stylized series both on the mold and the golden aluminum foil—this latter being more resistant and comfortable to reuse than that of the first chocolate tested.
The reason that brought me to try this bar was the curiosity to test its dual blend of cacao origins (Peru + Dominican Republic).
Slightly darker in color than the Perugina® Nero® bar, the Côte d’Or Bio Noir tablet immediately opened up quite pleasant and bright on the palate, revealing notes of dried cherries and roasted coffee—tempting and almost surprising compared to what I expected. The finish of the final mouthfeel, however, is not precisely to be commended, as one can detect the astringency and dustiness provided by the likely-alkalized cocoa powder added to the product to bulk up its high cocoa percentage.
In conclusion, as I do not feel neither of the tested premium chocolates can be compared with well-made fine chocolate, at least one of the two can yet play as a perfect “gateway product” to a deeper appreciation for better-for-us chocolate.
Another lesson to remember for 2020 is that the market of chocolate has evolved in just the matter of a decennial. Single-origin doesn’t necessarily rhyme with better flavor for all kinds of chocolate, as well as not even the shortest ingredient list achievable is always synonymous with higher-quality chocolate. Furthermore, organic or sustainability stamps may not validate not only the quality, but even the transparency behind a product.
We as advocates, sellers, or makers all are in charge to wholly observe the context and correctly storytell the complexities of the current chocolate market for 2020 and beyond if we want to keep savoring great-tasting and ethical chocolate products—independently from an appealing cocoa pod printed on a packaging.