Two winters ago, I signed up for a business training called B-School. Run by Marie Forleo, the program is designed to help you figure out what (online) business to start and, once you figure it out, how to market it. Of all the concepts I was exposed to, one really stood out to me: the ideal customer avatar. The idea is that when people buy something, they don’t buy a product but a feeling and, in order to trigger the right feeling, you need to know exactly who you ideal customer is. How old is (s)he? Where does (s)he live? What are their fears? How does your product fit in their life? When you know that, you can create a product and market it in a way that will get that person feel all the right feelings.
Some brands understand that very well. When you walk into some shops, you can’t help but feel welcome. From the lighting to the design of a bag, every detail has been thought out with their ideal customer in mind. Cared and understood is how I want to feel when I shop, especially when it comes to specialty food. But as of 2017, the marketing of fine chocolate mostly leaves me puzzled.
When I shop for a chocolate bar at a coffee shop, I’m not always clear who the information on a wrapper is written for. When a maker puts the name of a country along with a cocoa percentage on the front wrapper (say, 70% and Guatemala), the assumption is that the ideal customer is a chocolate connoisseur who can make sense of the origin of a country. If you check the back of the wrapper, you’ll likely read the steps of the chocolate-making process, information seemed geared toward a neophyte, since a connoisseur would already be familiar with those steps. So the first time I spent $8 bar at a gourmet shop, I felt totally confused. Why should I care that the cacao comes from a given country? Why should I know about the steps to make chocolate? I couldn’t find any answer on the wrapper, which left me frustrated — not good for sales.
After eating my way through well over 300 bars in the past 2+ years, I can now make sense of the information on a bar. However, I wish that more chocolate-makers made our lives as consumers a bit easier while buying chocolate and deciphering wrappers. Here are four suggestions to makers so they can leave us chocolate eaters with all the right feelings.
1 – Offer Small Bars
An average 2.5-3 oz-bar of craft chocolate costs $8 to $10. As a chocolate lover, it’s hard for me to resist the appeal of a new bar. But just like I dated my husband before marrying him, I like being able to buy a small, 1-oz bar, before committing into a larger size bar. After all, it’s easier to walk away from a date than a marriage, am I right? Thankfully, a few makers are already doing that: at the Northwest Chocolate Festival, I picked all of Marou six single origin bar for $18, a much more reasonable investment than the $60 I would have had to dish to try the varieties in their 3-oz format. And in case you wonder, I loved their Dak Lak the best.
2 – Don’t Get Technical
To differentiate themselves from confectioners, who use pre-made chocolate known as couverture into their creations, many chocolate-makers list the steps to make chocolate either on the front or the back of a wrapper. So the first words a new customer see when picking a bar are: “sort-roast-crack-winnow-grind-temper-conch-mold.” In 2015, I had no idea what the words “winnow” and “conch” meant and I know I’m not alone. Now, let me ask you, how do you think that made me feel? I’ll tell you: stupid. I know those words are part of a maker’s daily life, but not everyone lives and breathes chocolate or cares about how chocolate is made. Makers, please keep it simple and say your chocolate is “made from the bean” or use the term “bean-to-bar.” Even better, tell me what makes your chocolate stand out, because, ultimately, I want to eat chocolate so good it’ll make me swear. That’s what fills me with joy.
3 – Describe Texture
When you eat a dish, many things impact your perception of its deliciousness: presentation, smell, taste (of course), texture, and even sound all play in your appreciation of the food. The same goes for chocolate: as important as its taste is, the thickness of each square, the speed at which it melts in the mouth, and texture all contribute to your enjoyment of the bar. Texture can make or break the perception of the bar. For instance, my friend Stephanie is still traumatized (no, I don’t exaggerate) by the grittiness of a bar I introduced her to (she grew up on super smooth chocolate like me) and, while some tasters favor a most rustic texture, few makers give us an indication on texture.
4 – More Generic Tasting Notes
Maker notes on a packaging are like a storefront, they need to give you just enough information to want to go inside. And when you go in, you want the store to measure up. As such, tasting notes that are too specific – think “lime zest” or “graham crackers” – can be deceiving. After all, the flavor we detect is a personal matter and, when we don’t taste what’s listed on a wrapper, we can be left with a feeling of inadequacy (“I am not good enough for this chocolate”.) So unless those notes are predominant (like the saffron notes of this Peru by Svenska Kakaobolaget), they actually contribute to creating a negative tasting experience for me. I’d like to see makers own their chocolate and describe the chocolate attributes that make it enjoyable: whether it’s a pleasant acidity, a nutty body, a creamy texture, or a slow melt, tell us what makes your chocolate special! Tell us about his most engaging trait! Help me buy your chocolate! What I personally look for when picking a bar is a general idea of the bar’s personality. “Fruity” or “nutty” suffice to give me an idea of the taste.
Ultimately, I’d like to see makers re-imagining how chocolate is packaged and marketed. I love reading the poems that Mackenzie Rivers of Map Chocolate hides in her bars, the way Lauren Heineck of WKND Chocolate creates a setting for hers, or how Will Marx of Wm. Chocolate redesigned his packaging (after hearing me share my views on Instagram, no less!) so the flavor profile stands out on the front packaging.
Now, tell me, what are some changes you’d like to see in the way fine chocolate is described and marketed in your country?