As someone that that has been in marketing for approaching twenty years (I hope I don't look that old) and then subsequently 'gone into' fine chocolate this image couldn't be more accurate. In fact, it is exactly how I see far too much of the wider chocolate industry.
Selling chocolate in this country is worth several billions of Pounds every year so the potential financial reward for companies that can 'shift product' is undoubtedly huge and just like any large industry, such as banking, booze, and betting the marketing budgets are similarly eye-watering. But even at the relatively wholesome end of the chocolate market, perhaps as we move towards the finer end of bean-to-bar we're also seeing serious money pushing chocolate.
The problem is that it seems that the better chocolate it is, the less paid marketing you will encounter. You won't see the likes of Domori, Amedei, Michel Cluizel, Pralus, Bonnat or Zotter doing any serious form of marketing - even though they are relatively big businesses. You especially won't see the likes of Askinosie, Idilio, Duffy's or Amano spending any 'big bucks' even if they have been pretty established in the minds of many fine chocolate lovers. And you certainly won't see the likes of the new British chocolate makers in the guise of Forever Cacao, Salts, Chocolarder, Pump Street Bakery etc. doing anything other than a bit of PR and being jolly nice people - I doubt their budgets could even stretch to getting a stall at one of the country's leading, London-based chocolate events.
All these bean-to-bar chocolate makers do produce wonderful chocolate. However, the quality, style and approach are far from uniform. The problem is that marketing obfuscates the nature of a product. Bean to bar is the latest craze, you've already got big, slick chocolate companies moving directly into bean-to-bar and I can see the largest organisations creating brands and professing to be ethical producers of chocolate using Fair Trade or more than Fair Trade. We had it with a number of chocolate products being selectively Fair Trade labelled. Large companies the world over are trying to appear ethical and unfortunately millions of consumers are falling for it - whilst the minute chocolate makers who either find the costs of Fair Trade labelling being prohibitive or ethically unsound loose 'share of voice' and are less able to communicate their true ethical credentials.
The problem is, however, that we often have to take a chocolate maker's word for their ethical stance and origin of cacao. But you do have a solution. Paying a visit to events such as The Chocolate Show (previewed here) allow you to ask chocolate makers to their face about how they source their cocoa beans; what sort of ethical schemes they're part of; whether they directly trade their beans; what levels of involvement they have in tracing the provenance of their beans; what sort of equipment they use; how long and at what temperature they roast the beans for different chocolates; and how do they come to choose the Best Before date they do. You are completely able to get, at least part way, into the mindset of the maker.
But don't just think you can only ask these questions at events and festivals. Make direct contact with a maker if you're interested in their chocolate and ask the same questions. Make sure what you believe to be true about a maker actually is.
The point is that there is just so much great chocolate out there and we shouldn't just reward those that can shout the loudest with our money, we should be rewarding those that make the best chocolate and allows for more of the price you pay to be passed on to those that actually grow the cacao to be rewarded with your continued custom.
For me at least, knowing that a great chocolate truly is ethically produced tastes so much better than one that would prefer me not to ask difficult questions.
You can start by emailing me any question you like about chocolate.