Chocolate: A Collectors' Item
by Rachel Walker
"By 2025, a 5g bar of chocolate will cost the equivalent to £10," predicts chocolatier Paul A Young, holding aloft a tiny bar to demonstrate, which is half the size of a credit card, and much wider.
Current cacao prices are at a 40-year high, and will only keep on climbing as demand outstrips supply of the slow-growing plant. Markets in China and India continue to expand, due to a growing middle class, but the small-scale farmers who are responsible for 90% of the world's cocoa production simply can't keep up.
The chocolate crisis will transform the industry in years to come. One likely conclusion is that chocolate will be propelled from a luxury good to a seriously luxury good. Already, the British chocolate market is borrowing words from the world of coffee and wine connoisseurship: Hotel Chocolat talks of 'single origin estates,' Green & Black's refer to 'organic' in their strapline, Valrhona talks of its 'Grand Cru' chocolates and all high-end brands describe bars in terms of percentage cocoa.
The evolution of chocolate packaging has also grown increasingly sophisticated, evoking a collectability or even aspirational aspect to the humble chocolate bar. Rococo has labelled a range of chocolate boxes 'Fresh Couture,' and other brands like Seaforth, Q(Aqium) and Marou are styling their packaging almost as mini clutch bag, hand-held accessories. The message is loud and clear. Less chocolate, but better chocolate, more refined, more elegant chocolate. Collector's chocolate.
The gradual change in the British market is most visible at the chocolate stands in high-end supermarkets: Whole Food Market, Waitrose, As Nature Intended. There's almost a complete absence of Cadbury or Nestlé products which rely on emulsifiers and pad-out low-percentage with wafers or biscuits. Instead, there's a selection of smaller, concentrated, more intense chocolate bars. In the UK, sales of bite-size confectionery grew 40% between 2009 and 2013.
Pana Chocolat's range of chocolate sum-up the mood through their claims: 'raw, organic, handmade, low GI, no dairy, no soy.' The days of people not minding what goes in a chocolate bar – as long as it tastes 'sweet' and 'chocolatey' – are numbered. Already, the priority has shifted toward percentages, authenticity and artistry as chocolate joins the ranks or coffee and wine as a luxurious, connoisseur's food.
Photo credits: Rachel Walker