NEW YORK – Matcha green tea, balsamic vinegar, tree resin, curry powder — chocolatiers more than ever are taking an any-ingredient-approach to their products.
The approach has become a winning strategy that’s helped keep demand at record highs at a time when many consumers are ditching sugary and processed treats. It’s not an entirely new idea, but what’s different is the speed at which innovation is happening and how widespread it’s becoming.
At the Chicago-based Vosges Haut-Chocolat, founder Katrina Markoff is even experimenting with “sound infusion.” As the brand’s “cosmic” truffles cool, they’re treated to piped-in sounds of varying frequencies. Sold in a 21-piece box for $72, they’re made for people who believe in the wellness proprieties of vibrations.
“There are healing frequencies that people listen to with meditation and sound healing and gong baths, so we decided to try that,” she says. “We really focus on creating experience.”
Staying on trend means demand is soaring for chocolate, even as foods like hot dogs and milk are in a bit of consumption crisis. In the six years through 2019, global retail sales of chocolate jumped 19 percent to a record $108 billion, researcher Euromonitor International estimates.
“Innovation in the industry has kept consumers coming back,” says Jared Koerten, head of packaged food at Euromonitor in Chicago. Companies are introducing products “that give consumers reasons to try something new,” and keep them buying chocolate.
In the past, confectioners turned to adding ingredients like nuts and fruits because of high cocoa prices. The commodity has jumped about 16 percent since the end of August, which could bring about such substitution. The latest innovations, however, are more about attracting inquisitive customers than cutting costs.
Barry Callebaut AG, the leading manufacturer of bulk chocolate, introduced what it dubbed ruby chocolate in 2017, which was recently rolled into the U.S. market. The offering, with its pinkish hue, was the first new natural shade to enter the market since Nestle S.A. started making white bars in the 1930s. The innovation, based on a special type of cocoa bean, has a natural berry flavor that’s sour yet sweet.
Ruby is offered by 60 brands in 50 markets in the world and “customers are asking for it,” says Peter Boone, Americas president and chief executive officer for Barry Callebaut.
Simon Li, founder of Flair Chocolatier, launched a collection featuring ruby chocolate at high-end retailer Bergdorf Goodman in New York last year. His products include a box of nine truffles for $148.
“If you are going to spend some calories, this is the place to go,” says Li. “We want to be a global luxury brand, and that’s what we set out to do, in terms of the packaging and the quality of materials — in this case, the ingredients for chocolate.”
Another trend that’s sweeping North America, the legalization of marijuana, could end up being good for chocolate demand, too, and not just because of the munchies.
Binske, a cannabis company in Colorado — an early adopter of recreational marijuana sales — is importing rare cocoa beans from the Amazon jungle to offer chocolate edibles containing weed. The cannabis-edibles category could be worth more than $4.1 billion in Canada and the U.S. by 2022, up from $1 billion in 2017, according to the cannabis investment and market research group Arcview.
“Conservatively, 40 or 50 percent of that is edible chocolates,” says Jake Pasternack, founder and CEO of Binske.
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