4 Changes I’d Like to See in Chocolate Marketing

De Laurenti
Beautiful craft chocolate display at DeLaurenti Food & Wine in Seattle

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.

Marou Small Bars
See that lovely, upside down stash of small bars? Brilliant.

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.

Woodblock Chocolate does a beautiful job describing chocolate online, I wish they brought that information on the wrappers, too.

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.

Wm Chocolate
It takes exactly one second to find out the flavor profile of this bar. Thank you, Will, for making our decision-process easier.

Now, tell me, what are some changes you’d like to see in the way fine chocolate is described and marketed in your country?

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21 thoughts on “4 Changes I’d Like to See in Chocolate Marketing

  1. nicely done Estelle! And thanks for the mention — now to update my photos and find a way on future packaging to instill that “mood”.

    We’ll see if I get around to it, but Luke’s post and Sophia’s comments had me thinking about “storytelling”. So many gals on the podcast are like ‘stories, stories, tell the story of it’! But that’s not often done well either. Your story is not that you went to Costa Rica to learn how to make chocolate and then came back to Seattle to open a business. Your story is that you were miserable at a desk job, your kids didn’t know what the jungle looked or sounded like, and you knew chocolate you were buying at the super market could taste better….well that’s where I am now, have to think how to frame this as a blog.

    On Thu, Feb 22, 2018 at 10:16 AM, 37 Chocolates wrote:

    > Estelle Tracy posted: ” 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” >

    1. Thanks so much for your thoughtful feedback, Lauren! It’s so important to tell the right story to your customer and it all starts with having compassion and, I’ll say it, loving your customer. If you come from that place, you’ll find a way to connect with that person. I can’t wait to see your new photos!

      Oh and on that topic, there is great advice in “The Company of Women” by Grace Bonney: one artist said she learned from someone at Neiman Marcus
      (?) to “not photograph the product, but photograph the lifestyle.” I think that’s fabulous advice.

  2. Thank you, so very much for posting this article!! I agree completely, I hope that the Chocolate Maker’s listen to your thoughts. I have worked in speciality/ gourmet food stores for many years. Our biggest challenge was selling the Chocolate Bars! The high price point was a always a draw back. I understand why they are priced that way, but the average shopper does not. They are not going to spend the money on a bar of Chocolate that they are unsure, how it will taste or if they will like it. The only time we saw movement was when a representative of the company/vendor would send out someone to do a demonstration/ tasting. Most of the time the Chocolate bars would sit sadly on the shelf, until they were out if code. I hope that this article inspires smaller bars, and simpler descriptions. As well as more marketing for them!

    1. Thanks so much for your feedback, Kelli, and I’m glad you’re validating my subjective findings! It’s something I feel very strongly about, thus this article.

  3. Such a great article Estelle, I agree 100% ! Thanks to your pearls of wisdom I drastically changed the content on my packaging and I have no regrets, you are absolutely correct about customers buying a feeling, I’ve experienced this first hand at markets when I share my story of how I got into this or who inspired me to make a particular flavour they are very touched and inspired and this equates to sales, also when I was still designing my packaging and custom molds I was contemplating making a smaller sized bar and I’m glad I did because as you said it’s a smaller investment for new customers and they tend to buy more than 1 bar

    Thanks again!

    1. Thanks so much, Elsie, for your kind words and feedback! I’m glad the article resonated with you and that you’ve experienced what I’ve described with your customers. I can’t wait to hold your beautiful wrappings and taste your chocolate!

    1. Thanks so much for taking the time to comment. The technical information is impressive for sure but it isn’t an indication of quality of taste, unfortunately!

  4. As a retailer, I am on board with all 4 of those suggestions! Texture has certainly brought people back to me with or surprise or occasionally disappointment. I recently brought in several mini bars and they are a hit with customers for the very reasons you describe. On tasting notes…I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been checking someone out and they comment on the notes listed on the pkg in a way that leads me to understand they think those notes (graham cracker, cashew, raspberry, etc) are actually inclusions. When I enlighten them they inevitably look disappointed bc likely they were interested in an inclusion bar. A more general description of broader taste categories would be more helpful for those looking to enjoy a variety of flavors from single origin bars…nutty, earthy, floral, spicy, fruity, etc. Of course, I enjoy talking to my customers about the packaging and what’s on it as well. In fact, educating them about how to decipher all of it is a big part of what I consider my job…and I enjoy it! People typically walk away feeling like they’ve learned something and it’s a great way to engage my customers. But I recognize that in a larger retail setting when there’s no guide, it can be so confusing!

  5. Love this topic and your perspective, Estelle!

    I definitely agree that the technical descriptions can be misleading, although I have also found them impressive from certain makers. As a maker, I have found it challenging to create technical descriptions, while at the same time having to purchase large amounts of packaging. As a maker, when harvests change, taste profiles can change somewhat, and often our packaging should outlast harvests for cost efficiency.

    With our company’s recent rebrand, I wanted to make tasting descriptions a feeling / story, rather than direct tasting notes. Chocolate makes me feel something, and I wanted to communicate that feeling on the back of the bar.
    I agree with you that customers buy chocolate out of emotion. It’s not a logical purchase, it’s an impulse one and we have to appeal to our ideal customers’ impulses and the desires that drive them. (I also took B-School a few years ago :))

    In regards to the small or mini bar approach, we actually did that with our former brand, and they did not sell well for one reason or another. They were also a lower margin product for us simply because packaging often costs a lot – and you get less chocolate for what you pay for with a small bar.

    Anyway – as a shopper I totally agree with you, small bars are nice to get a sampling of a new brand before going all in. For us as small makers/distributors, it was more of a challenge.

    I am, however, looking for an alternative/creative way to sell smaller bites of chocolate in the future. 🙂

  6. This was great, Estelle–thanks! I had similar notions when I designed our wrappers, and think (*think*) I covered them all in our design. I may relocate the flavors notes, though, perhaps to the front. As for smaller bars, I’m eager to read what others say. I’ve investigated the costs for such molds, wrappers, etc., and found them to be so similar to larger bars that the price would hardly change from our 60g bars :/ Working on it though! Thanks again!

  7. Thank you for sharing your wisdom, I liked this article a lot. Specially the Texture part, we have a bar that has traditional course texture and I wish we would had added that into the packaging because some people think is a mistake or that there is something wrong with it. In the other hand I have noticed that a lot of people like the texture also and I see an opportunity in that.
    I would also like to see Texture becoming part of the standard descriptions to manage expectations.
    With small bars it is hard because it is the same work to do small than big and the packaging cost about the same, we did small bars because I do not appreciate all that extra paper for empty space plus I feel cheated when I see a big box with a regular size bar inside. We are actually thinking adding a bigger size version since once the chocolate is sitting next to a “big” bar the consumer tends to buy by size, but that being said the small bar has help us reach coffee shops

    1. Hi Karla and thanks so much for the kind words! I am so glad the post resonated with you. It’s interesting to read everyone’s opinions on small bars here, it sounds like it makes sense financially for those who have the process automated. They are a great fit for coffee shops for sure, a small .75 oz bar is what got me started on my own chocolate journey!

  8. AMAZING ARTICLE! As a marketing student this is something I completely agree with. I believe that in the industry there is not a lot of people that take the time to map their target audience or even create their own customer persona (I dont know if it is because they dont have the resources, or because they dont have the time, or becausr they dont knoe) But of course what you say has complete sense if the chocolate maker wants to focus in the bigger market, where people are not necessarily knowledgeable about craft chocolate and the concept of bean/tree to bar. But in the other hand I do believe that there might be chocolates or even you could have a chocolate line targeted at connoisseurs or other types of people, because it is not only appealing to a large audience is also diversifying and understanding your customer segments. Amazing article again, I will share it with the entire Hult Chocolate Society

  9. Really agree with these ideas – especially the need to describe texture! And, re: “Don’t get Technical” – – when I read something that goes into the level of detail your example provided, I not only feel potentially stupid, I mentally check out. I just don’t want to put that kind of thought into a product – the vendor/producer is supposed to serve ME by clearly offering up the reasons I want to buy their product(s). Like everyone, my attention span is short so, help me understand and buy your product (if you want to sell more).

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