4 Changes I’d Like to See to Chocolate Marketing, One Year Later

In June of last year, the Fine Chocolate Industry Association released the results of a fascinating survey on consumer perception of fine chocolate. Turns out, “pleasure” is the number one driver of fine chocolate purchases (for more on what defines “pleasure,”, check out the survey’s summary here.) Interestingly, direct or fair trade labels don’t influence purchases that much.

There are so many ways you can convey pleasure through chocolate. Taste is obviously one way, but the overall purchase experience matters too. As such, packaging plays a big role in enticing chocolate-lovers. After all, a wrapper acts as the storefront to a chocolate product, be it in a bar or bonbon.

When I find new bars at a coffee shop, I often have less than a minute to make a purchase decision. Unless I’m familiar with a particular maker and origin, I’ll likely pick a bar based on packaging and I know I’m not alone.

I wish every chocolate-maker and chocolatier would take a hard look at how their packaging conveys pleasure. Unless you’re marketing to chocolate fanatics like me, Costas Esmeraldas or Ucayali doesn’t mean much to most consumers, and neither does a term like “conching.” Conveying pleasure through other ways is key to grow the fine chocolate market and that’s why I shared 4 changes I’d like to see in chocolate marketing last year.

The article struck a chord with many readers and it became the most read and commented post of 2018. Even better, several chocolate industry professionals took action based on my suggestions. As a follow-up to that piece, and with the Fine Chocolate Industry Association’s survey results out, I figured it would be helpful to hear from chocolatiers and makers who changed their packaging. 

If you’re a chocolate eater, I’d love to know what you think of these “before” and “after” photos and testimonials. Please also leave a comment with what matters to YOU when you purchase chocolate. And if you’re a member of the chocolate industry, I hope the case studies below will help you make the right decisions for YOUR brand.

Testimonial #1: Paul-John Kearins, Chocolatier, Chocolatasm

Paul-John Kearins is the founder of Chocolatasm in Provincetown, Massachusetts. His flavor combinations are so off-the-beaten path (rhubarb sage bonbon, anyone?), I interviewed him on his creative process on the blog last year. Paul-John also molds bars with intriguing flavor combinations. He recently changed his wrappers from the colorful ones on the left to the more simple one on the right. Here’s what motivated the change.

 

 

 

Why did you change your packaging?

I changed my packaging because of your blog and the discussion on Well Tempered (a Facebook group for fine chocolate industry professionals.) I decided NOT to bombard people with tasting notes and elaborate descriptions and opted for visuals. It’s too much to cram onto a bar …. so I cut it down. I Marie Kondo’d my wrappers.

How do customers react?

They are extremely wowed. In [social media] posts where my bar is shown amongst other makers people are commenting “ohh, I want the octopus one!”

In stores, it jumps out at you. With a simple label in the corner with a catchy name and minimal description it doesn’t matter whether there are notes of plum or salmon or whatever… people want it because it’s pretty.

Testimonial #2: Will Marx, founder, Wm. Chocolate

Wm. Chocolate is a young bean-to-bar company based in Madison, Wisconsin. Its founder, Will Marx, is one of the kindest and most articulate people I know (read his interview on the Bar & Cocoa’s blog) and his Belize bar my biggest chocolate crush of 2017.

Wm. Chocolate was one of the first company who tweaked their packaging based on my expressed views. Before (left photo below,) the front of the package was packed with information on sourcing and you had to flip the package to read detailed tasting notes. After the changes (photo on the right,) the flavor profile migrated to the front. Here’s what Will has to say on the new wrapper.

 

 

 

What changes did you make to the packaging?

I started putting a more generic two-word “flavor summary” in bold on the front of my bars. I’ve noticed that often customers will go down the bar lineup reading these, and then ask to try one by naming its flavor summary rather than its actual title (origin, %). For example, they say “I want to try ‘sweet & fruity.'” This is not always the case, but it happens often enough to confirm the value in using these simplified descriptors.

Second, I am noticing a general increase in sales of smaller/”mini” bars. In stores that carry both sizes, the mini bars tend to sell much more quickly, even though the larger ones are a better value and the buyers are repeat customers who have tried them before. Hence, there seems to be an element of favoring the smaller purchase regardless of value.

That said, large bars sell better when I’m sampling at point of purchase. It seems that a taste validates preferences powerfully enough to drive the larger purchase.

In any case, for these reasons and more, I am all but decided on making mini bars the new default size, such that all products will be offered as minis, with only the “classics” (demonstrated sales success, reliable cacao supply) in large too.

Testimonial #3: Wednes Yuda, Cokelat nDalem

To say this testimonial blew my mind is an understatement. You see, Wednes Yuda, founder of Cokelat nDalem, is based in Indonesia. Indonesia! It never would have occurred to me someone from such a distant place would have found value in this blog. The internet is amazing. This testimonial is lengthier than the previous two, but I think you’ll appreciate the thought process behind all the changes.

Wednes, can you tell us about your company and the changes you made on your packaging?

We started our business in 2013 from our home with a brand called Cokelat nDalem. nDalem means “home” and “Cokelat” is chocolate in Indonesian. We didn’t start as a bean-to-bar chocolate maker to adapt to the Indonesian market. Instead, we used what you call “compound chocolate,” which is made from cocoa powder and a substitute for cocoa butter, mostly coming from palm oil fraction.

We do this because real chocolate made with cocoa butter is quite expensive for Indonesian people. In addition, handling real chocolate and distributing it is challenging in a tropical climate in Indonesia. Basically, it’s not economically sound to start a small business making real chocolate. Although “it just”compound chocolate, we try to make it as good as possible by choosing a good manufacturer who provides us with compound chocolate blocks. The concept of our chocolate is combining Indonesian inclusion to produce Indonesian chocolate flavor with Indonesian culture history in the packaging. I put our packaging below.

 

 

 

The concept to combine Indonesian flavor with Indonesian culture as packaging become a good concept for a souvenir. It’s indeed customary for Indonesians to bring something back from our travels to share with our relatives. Chocolate meets that need nicely.

In 2014, as our business grew, our local government invited us to a group discussion with small business owners and local cocoa farmers. We had no idea these farmers lived so close! They asked us: “Since you’re making chocolate, why don’t you make chocolate from our beans then ?” We explained that making chocolate would involve big machines and a lot of capital and, at the time, we weren’t there yet.

It took us about one year to research bean-to-bar chocolate and that’s when we found Chocolate Alchemy’s website. In 2015, we decided to have two different product for two different markets. Again, most of Indonesian aren’t familiar with higher quality chocolate. Our bean-to-bar chocolate is for people who’ve tasted real chocolate before or have been abroad where they tried chocolate. This market is growing but our sales are modest relatively to the Indonesian population. Since our goal is to help the farmer get the most benefit from their beans, we tend to sell the bars directly to the customer so we can get more margin that than we can split with our farmer. We currently pay the beans three times the cost that what local middle men offer.

Our early packaging for the bean-to-bar range tells the customer about the farmer and how proud we are to produce from a local source. We made this choice because trace-ability is getting more popular in Indonesia. Eating responsibly is getting increasingly important. With this kind of packaging, we can ensure that the customer gets the idea of what we’re trying to do. Here’s our first version of the packaging.

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With time, we realized our market preferred a classier packaging, something less crowded, without too much information to distract them when picking chocolate.

In 2018, we got a designer help to re-design our bean to bar packaging. The idea is remained the same, as we want to tell the customer what we do, who’s our farmer (traceability), and what’s the benefit of eating our chocolate. We added a piece of small information on how to make chocolate in our small company.

 

 

 

We haven’t put any information regarding texture yet because our market is not on that level yet. But hopefully, we can adjust that on later packaging. And we do not put notes in the front panel because we want to make the information is as easy as possible for our current customer. We do put information regarding notes in the back of our packaging (our packaging are printed on both sides.)

With this current packaging, our market for the bean-to-bar chocolate is growing nicely. We actually need to find new farmers because our farmer’s production is no longer adequate to follow our need.

I hope you found these testimonials helpful. If you or your company are looking for a creative, out-of-the box take on chocolate naming and descriptions, email me at estelle(at)37chocolates.com. I’ve already worked with Kosak and I’d love to collaborate with you! If you liked this article, sign up to my newsletter to be notified of future blog updates.

Interview with Tamara LaValla, Chocolate-Maker and Co-founder, Batch (Rock Hill, South Carolina)

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Tamara LaValla. Photo credit: Batch

A few months ago, I became obsessed with this song by Maggie Rogers. Its unlikely combination of folk and dance music is so hypnotic, I played it on repeat for weeks — even my kids started begging for it. The young singer-songwriter wrote this song while attending New York University, two weeks before a serendipitous masterclass with Pharell Williams launched her career. I found the recording of the session after falling into a YouTube rabbit hole one night and I’ve watched it a dozen times since. I think you should, too.

Pharrell ended up loving the song. He explains why on the video.

“Wow. Wow. I have zero, zero, zero notes for that. And I’ll tell you why. It’s because you’re doing your own thing….And I felt like your whole story I can hear it in the music. I can hear your journey.”

He illustrates his point by talking about Reese’s cups. Yes, I am serious.

“Chocolate on its own is amazing!… But so is peanut butter!… But somehow someone said (claps hands) and one of the most amazing things happened. Two things made a third. And that’s what happens when you allow two beautiful worlds to collide….”

What Pharrel seeks in music, I seek in chocolate. Bold makers doing their own thing, exploring unchartered, sometimes unpopular territories. Confident artists colliding two worlds to make a delicious third. These are the people you read about here. Remember Mackenzie Rivers of Map Chocolate? She combines poetry with chocolate and makes grown-ups weep. Paul John Kearins of Chocolatasm is another one. He brings his deep olfactory memory to his chocolates and boom! Rhubarb and sage bonbons. Today’s interviewee, Tamara LaValla, is another, brilliant maker doing her own, beautiful thing. Let me introduce her.

Tamara LaValla’s a visual artist and half of the husband-and-wife duo behind Batch, a bean-to-bar company based in South Carolina. The couple makes chocolate bars in teeny little batches (as in 160 bars per batch), released as ephemeral collections. After gushing at their Instagram for two years, talking to Tamara on Skype (she has the most beautiful voice), and trying a few bars myself, I’ve been intrigued by their recent release, Batch 12. One of the bars especially caught my eye.

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This is a 40% white + chocolate charcoal bar. For real. Photo credit: Batch.

I ordered three and inhaled one (yes, I know, slow down and whatnot but what can I say, Batch 12 got the best of me.) This bar is a pure illustration of bringing two things together to make a beautiful and delicious third that’s creamy and tastes like coconut. Good thing I have two more left.

It’s hard to categorize Tamara’s work. When she’s not making gorgeous, tasty chocolate, she creates art in her studio and co-hosts a retreat for women of the chocolate industry. Tamara’s doing her own thing, which makes her cool, unique, intriguing and thus, the perfect guest for an interview. I think Pharrell would approve.

Judging from your Instagram and blog, it’s obvious you live a very creative life; what place does chocolate currently occupy in your life?

That’s a fantastic question, something I try to get better at figuring out on an almost daily basis. I currently describe myself as an artist and OCD chocolate maker. In fact, it was my foray into chocolate that finally gave me the push to get back into my art studio full time.

I’ve been making art my whole life, have had the great fortune of being able to make a living as a creative and so certainly defined myself as an artist. But, it wasn’t until I started showing up to places and people would say, “Oh, you’re Tamara from Batch, the chocolate lady!” that I realized it was time to get serious about figuring out the roles that both art and chocolate had in my life.

As for the OCD…

I’m learning to embrace my natural tendencies which means I’ve had to say no to many opportunities (retail, subscription boxes, partnerships) in order to leave enough time to really care and obsess over each Batch as a true work of art.

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Photo credit: Batch

You see chocolate as art which, just like a painting, is rooted in a time and place. Your batches are often inspired by your travels (I still remember the trip to Portugal… and the batch inspired by it… my fave!). Can you walk us through the creative process behind each batch?

In the beginning (4 years ago) each batch was an experiment with different origins to get a better understanding of different flavor and texture profiles and to help us develop a palate for what was, and still can be, some very unusual flavors.

As we traveled more often, and for longer periods of time, we were inevitably inspired to integrate the foods, experiences and interactions we had along the way in our chocolate — and art — making.

Today, a new Batch is very much a reflection of where we are physically and creatively in the world. Often a direct response to a recent travel adventure but always influenced by a connection to people, places and experiences that move us.

These batches have become a record of our travel, sketchbooks for our work as artists and, I really believe, love letters to one another.

Tamara Zan
Photo credit: Batch

This is from the site: “Batch 12 is inspired by a recent winter retreat to the high desert of New Mexico. Experimenting with new paintings by day and curled up by a raging fire at night, this artful release is a reflection of that sweet sojourn.”

Can you talk about the smoked nibs bar? What was the inspiration behind it?

Zan is an avid outdoorsman and I’ve always enjoyed his love for making and stoking a raging fire. This winter, in New Mexico, he was so excited to rise each morning and build a fire. He kept it steady all day long until we relaxed by it, together, each night, after a long day of painting and drawing for me. When we talked about what memory we wanted to recreate from the trip, the idea of the sweet smokey smell from the fires was at the top of the list which gave us the idea for smoking the nibs.

Sometimes we go into a trip with the intention of searching out an inclusion — for example, we knew we would drive around Mt. Etna in Sicily to see pistachios at their source — and sometimes we don’t know until after we’re home and have had a chance to look back at the trip and talk about what we want to highlight and share.

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Photo credit: Batch

Camino Verde is an origin you seem particularly fond of. What drew you especially to those beans?

After trying more than a dozen origins, Camino always rose to the top for me. I think partly because I wasn’t already into super dark chocolate and the flavors were really accessible — how I would’ve described chocolate (or, at least, the chocolate I preferred) before I even had the vocabulary to do so: a little nutty, a little fudgey, not sharp or tannic or overly fruity. It also worked really well with a lot of different types of inclusions we were using — coffee, salt, etc — and allowed us to improve our craft as we slowly explored other favorite cacao origins.

I was able to meet Vicente (Norero) during a trip to Ecuador last year and almost passed out when he tried one of our Camino bars and gave it high praise!

Batch Wrapper Close-Ups
Photo credit: Batch

Your batches are ephemeral, which makes me wonder: have you ever considered making a specific bar or batch part of a permanent collection?

I have thought about it, briefly, from time to time. It would certainly make more sense from a business perspective but…

If I’m being honest with myself, it’s the ephemeral nature of each release that makes it so exhilarating and precious for me. I hope that it might be the same for some of our fans too. There is something really interesting about using my skills as an artist — where I am generally concerned with creating something archival that will long outlast my own life — with making something artful that encapsulates a fleeting experience and will be consumed then gone forever.

I love the idea of crafting a chocolate bar that first celebrates, then becomes, a memory.

Also, ephemeral is one of my favorite words and I have this weird thing for when certain words are used at certain times in my life…

I was so excited to see a white chocolate as part of Batch 12. What prompted you to create it? Will there be more white chocolate in the future?

Believe it or not, the white chocolate bar was the first time I ever wanted to make something (food) because I had a vision of how I wanted it to look before having a “reason” to make it. Because I am an artist and “make things look good” for a living, I was reluctant to place an emphasis on what our molds or packaging or brand “looked” like from the start. I didn’t want to seduce people with an impressive design then disappoint them with a mediocre-tasting product. I think I was also trying to avoid people saying, “oh, another small batch craft chocolate maker with no food experience who’s going to rely on a fancy wrapper and photography to go where she doesn’t belong…”

What finally allowed me to make this bar was feeling that, after 4 years of making chocolate, we’d figured out how to deliver on quality and taste and that it was okay to make a gorgeous bar. So, Batch 12 is a reflection of our New Mexico trip and I was making these black and white paintings during the trip that inspired the design of the bar. It was really satisfying to finally unite my chocolate making and my art making. I didn’t need to abandon one for the other but, instead, could fully embrace Art is Food is Art.

Side note: I also thought we’d have snow in the high desert — which would’ve been represented by the white chocolate — plus the burnt coals from the fire, represented by the charcoal.

Spoiler alert: it never snowed.

I’m going to do a pistachio white chocolate next and see how that goes.

I didn’t get the paste from Italy this time but found a place in California and we are about to fly to California for a three-week drive up and down the coast from San Francisco to Seattle and back.

Women in Chocolate retreat
Photo credit: Batch

You’re currently organizing the second Mujeres Milagros retreat for the women of the chocolate industry. What’s your vision behind it? What were some of the high points of the first edition?

I’m at a place in my life where I’ve learned the importance of slowing down, looking up from my work, recharging. The idea of conferences and networking events and pop-ups seemed counter to that but when the idea of creating a “retreat” in the desert with Lauren [Heineck of WKND Chocolate and the Well Tempered podcast] and Sophia [Contreras Rea of Projet Chocolat] arose, I knew immediately it was right.

The high points from last year were, in no particular order: the women, the women, the women.

I have always avoided anything geared toward “women only” so, initially I was nervous as hell but it has, without a doubt, changed my perspective on that forever.

So of course you’re back for another!

With bells on!

Why were you avoiding women only stuff?

Ha, so many reasons. I grew up around soooo many women. I’m one of 4 girls and all my cousins were female so I loved women but felt that society taught us to be fiercely competitive with each other in less than healthy ways. Also, I felt like women were seen as “less than” and wanted desperately to prove that I could do anything a man could do and that I didn’t need a safe, man-free space to thrive.

Mujeres Milagros really showed me that things are changing. We don’t “need” to have a woman-only space to thrive, we “get” to create that space if we so desire. The space is not better than a co-ed space but it is most certainly different and it is those differences that support the heart of what Mujeres Milagros is about.

Tamara, it’s been real. Thank you for your time. I wish all of your endeavors a lot of success.

Find Batch chocolate online at batchcraft.com. For more on Tamara’s background and find out how she and her husband launched Batch, listen to the first episode of the Well Tempered podcast.

The 2018 Mujeres Milagros retreat will take place June 10-14, 2018 in Sante Fe, New Mexico. For more information and register, check out the Hacienda Doña Andrea website.

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Eat, Listen, and Read: My Winter in Chocolate

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A snapshot of my previous chocolate tasting workshop at the Kennett Library last November

Last fall, I was training Philter Coffee’s staff on the shop’s chocolate bar selection when it suddenly hit me: this is my role in the world of chocolate. Sharing my knowledge, telling stories, and encourage others to trust themselves – and their palate – this is what I am meant to do. The realization did not come overnight, but through a long series of trial (OK, tastings) and error.

Whether you have found your true calling or are still looking for that spark, I urge you to gather the courage to sign up for that journey. And if you don’t know where to start, here are some words of encouragement by Elizabeth Gilbert:

Follow your curiosity (…) It might lead you to your passion or it might not. You might get nothing out of it at all except a beautiful, long life where all you did was follow your gorgeous curiosity. And that should be enough too.

Because a piece of chocolate will make the journey that much sweeter, here is some chocolate inspiration to help you along the way.

EAT

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Do you live in the Philadelphia and Chester County area? If so, I’d love to see you at one of my upcoming tasting events in Kennett Square next week:

  • Join me at the Kennett Library on Saturday, February 11 for a FREE chocolate tasting workshop. Space is limited so make sure to register here. The event was completely booked last time so don’t wait to save your spot!
  • This year again, I will be a judge at the Kennett Chocolate Lovers Festival on Sunday, February 12. Note to self: do NOT finish that slice of cake.
  • Looking for the perfect Valentine’s Day gift? Head out to Galer Estate Winery on Sunday, February 12 for the winery’s annual Valentine’s Sip & Shop. I’ll be there from 2-7 with several chocolate bars for sampling and purchase.

Don’t miss my next chocolate tasting, sign up for my newsletter!

Looking to add some spice to your chocolate life this winter? Look no further than Turmeric of a Goat Thing.

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Photo credit: WKND Chocolate

I live for chocolate crushes and this golden milk-flavored goat milk white chocolate by WKND Chocolate is my latest one. It has the perfect balance of sweet/spicy and you can barely detect the goat milk.To order, send an email to Lauren, founder of the company, at: lauren@wkndchocolate.com.

LISTEN

The Slow Melt is a brand new chocolate podcast devoted to – you guessed it – chocolate. The first episode is a lively introduction to the multiple facets of chocolate, I think you’ll like it.

READ (AND EAT)

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It’s no secret Choco Rush is my favorite chocolate subscription box so imagine my excitement at the opportunity to start blogging on their site! My very first post features a Valentine’s Day craft chocolate selection inspired by Paris, caramel truffles, and milk chocolate. Discover it here and let me know in the comments what you think.

Now, tell me, what chocolate is helping you go through this winter?

The Doing

“To gain your own voice, you have to forget about having it heard.”

– Allen Ginsberg

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I have blogged, mostly in French, for most of my adult life. Work during the day, blog on the evenings, this had long been the way. The practice taught me some of my most important lessons about the creative process, lessons that I am glad I learned early on.

When I create, I do it for myself first. My job as creator is to get a piece out to the world and move on to the next one. Sure, accolades are great but, be warned, they won’t feed your soul. Do it for the doing, do it because you can no longer hold it in. Your job is to pour your soul into the world. It’ll feel so good when you do.

From the moment I committed to my 37chocolates challenge, I knew that my videos would not reach a large audience. I was OK with that. My job was to review those 37 chocolates by Halloween 2015. Now, I won’t lie, there were times last summer I wondered why I was bothering about those reviews when nobody seemed to care. Right then, an anonymous commenter would share kind words on my YouTube channel or someone shared one my videos. Of course, this made me happy. But, ultimately, the motivation to go to 37 could only have come from within. So, remember, do it for the doing, and do it for yourself.