The Academy of Chocolate has just announced its winners for 2011. The categories have intriguing descriptions such as “bean to bar best dark bar” and “best filled chocolate – spice and herb”. My mouth is positively watering. This finer side of chocolate is a million miles away from the likes of Cadbury, Mars and Nestle, yet right in the face of the tough economy sales are buoyant for artisan chocolatiers.
Chantal Coady, founder and creative director at Rococo Chocolates, established 28 years ago, is an old timer in the fine chocolate market. Claiming to have founded the New British School of Chocolate, Chantal explains that the top end of the market had previously been left to the likes of Bendicks, Charbonnel and Prestat, specialising in fondant creams and mass market industrial chocolate. Chantal says that this relatively new level of British chocolate is all about “fine chocolate, creativity and innovation on an artisan scale”.
This all sounds really rather delicious but who exactly buys chocolates at this level and for what purpose?
“There are so many different consumers, we have three shops and in each one we have a different “typical” customer” says Rococo’s Chantal. “Women definitely are the decision makers in most households about most shopping. They also love chocolate so it’s clear that they make up the biggest group of our consumers. They buy for gifts and for treats for themselves and their families. Men also buy – much more as gifts though we know that they like to eat dark chocolate too” she says.
Trends and best sellers
Both Rococo Chocolates and Artisan du Chocolat flag the sea salt trend as one that continues. “Even the mainstream big boys like Lindt have made one! Our organic milk chocolate with Haelon Mon Angelsey sea salt is one of our all time best sellers,” says Rococo’s Chantal. Chantal agrees that consumer education is essential. “Sadly, some people still think that 70% is everything, and maybe need to think more along the lines of fine wines. It’s about the cocoa beans, where they come from, which variety and how carefully they have been handled at each stage of harvest, fermentation, drying, grinding, refining and tempering. It’s a complicated business and we all need to accept that you need to pay a decent price to get good chocolate or the cocoa farmers will just have no motivation to grow and harvest it”.
So in a nutshell (or a cocoa bean) the fine and artisan end of the chocolate market is continuing to hold its own, driving forward with innovation and education. Maybe such delicacies are too “high brow” for your store or maybe it is just the point of difference you have been looking for. Either way I think that every retailer could benefit from taking the blinkers off for a moment and considering whether their range of chocolate truly satisfies all of the levels that their local shoppers could be seeking.