December 9, 2023

You might remember that we published a blog about how fine chocolate is NOT like wine, specialty coffee, or craft beer. You can read the blog post here if you haven’t already. If you’re looking for a summary, fine chocolate can be compared with these industries because they all produce luxury/specialty goods that are in high demand and have seen an increase in consumers willing to pay more. The fine chocolate industry has many things in common with these other industries, and can learn a lot from them. There is one major difference: most people in North America, Europe, and Australia eat chocolate as children. However, coffee, wine, and beer are not consumed by most adults until later. In the fine chocolate business, our goal is to help consumers rethink what chocolate means. You can also find some marketing advice in the article – you can read it right here.

We believe that as our industry grows and we strive to educate consumers on why they should choose fine chocolate over mass-market chocolate, this difference can be a great asset in our marketing and educational efforts.

We meet chocolate consumers where they are and bring them with us

A recent FCIA conference featured a panel discussion on consumer education. Theo Chocolate Etienne Patout, CEO of Etienne Patout, cited the example of Starbucks. Starbucks did not start with lattes and frappuccinos (r) but met customers where they were: drip coffee. After winning over consumers’ hearts and wallets, Starbucks gradually introduced them to espresso-based drinks. People were happy to pay $5 or more a day for something that cost $2 or less. Brad Kintzer, TCHO chocolate, said that the best-selling dark chocolate bar is one with sea salt and almonds. The bar is not their most expensive, nor does it have the most distinctive flavor, but it’s a big seller. It tastes like the chocolate bark they used to eat as children, but it’s better! It is an “entry-level” chocolate. It’s accessible and helps them appreciate high-quality ingredients in a familiar setting.

Another recent comment from an industry colleague at the Northwest Chocolate Festival was, “Chocolate makers make chocolate to impress other chocolate makers.”Unfortunately, I can’t recall who said it, but it struck me as such an interesting point. Do we make products that customers want? Do we focus on the details they care about? This is the perfect time to take stock and pause.

Please do not misunderstand – We love a 70% chocolate bar with a single origin that has gotten the perfect delicate balance of flavor from the beans. Comparing chocolate bars with similar percentages and roots can be a good way to show the variety of flavors that a bar may have. We don’t denigrate the chocolate makers who create beautiful chocolates. It is a great achievement to transform a product that has so many positive childhood associations into something adults can enjoy.

If the average American thinks that a mass-market chocolate bar is the best, maybe a 70% bar of single origin isn’t the place to start if we want them to appreciate fine chocolate. Let’s go back to our Starbucks example. Are we pushing lattes and frappuccinos (r) down the throats of people when we could be offering them drip coffee instead? Even when they have been eating mass-market chocolate bars made of milk chocolate (i.e., Since they were children, have you been drinking drip coffee?

As an industry, we still have to educate consumers about the benefits of farmers and the difference in flavor. Maybe changing people’s perceptions of chocolate by making it so serious and making them feel they need a college degree to enjoy the product is not as effective as making it seem like a childhood treat. Maybe they don’t really care about the flavor notes. They want to enjoy chocolate without thinking too hard about it. In our efforts to educate consumers about the differences between mass-market chocolate and ours, perhaps we have unintentionally alienated certain customers in an effort to reach out.

Some might say, “Then they aren’t customers”. That’s a valid way of looking at the situation. What if YOU could make them your customers? It’s simple: If they want to survive, craft chocolate makers need to sell their products.

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