I've been thinking about industry trends a lot recently. The secret to a successful business is about either getting into fads early enough and leaving at the peak or just ignoring them altogether and concentrating on non-glamours products that everybody needs. I've been chatting with others about fads in chocolate. Are chocolate pizzas a fad? Is bean to bar a fad? Will single origin chocolate still be in as much demand in the years to come as it is now? How much money can you even make and sell compared mass-market chocolate?
Currently 'artisan chocolate' - which we all know mostly isn't, is demanded at least four times as much by consumers than bean-to-bar - if Google's trends data is to be trusted:
It appears that hardly anybody searches for 'single origin chocolate', while relatively few search for 'bean to bar chocolate'. However, there is a striking similarity between the volumes of people searching for 'artisan chocolate' and 'handmade chocolate'. It would seem, that despite our best efforts to promote the making of chocolate from the bean by skilled craftspeople, the general public is hardly more aware of this type of chocolate than they were in 2012.
I hear of chocolatiers, with little overt branding, ordering tonnes of couverture from suppliers every few weeks. I know of chocolate makers trying the industry out and giving up after a few months. I know of established, award-winning chocolate makers struggling. Of course, there are many chocolatiers finding things hard too.
The point is straightforward. It's not a case of chocolate maker > chocolatier, or the other way around. Being one or the other isn't a determinant of success. To be honest, currently it's not even a case of talent or graft. It simply is a case of creating what enough people want and ensuring they know you have it. Whether that be chocolate pizzas, couverture chocolate with interesting ingredients, or whatever. It is then the wider industry's responsibility to create demand for the products we know are ethically sound, ecologically sustainable and gastronomically exciting.
I've seen very average chocolate makers become overnight success stories because of great marketing. Past success has been a case of latching onto a trend and target audience and milk them. A softer way of looking at this is to 'build a loyal customer base'.
People, still, today lump all 'melters' (people who turn ready-made couveture into chocolate bars) into one category. Some take great care with the couverture they use, add fine ingredients and communicate about origins effectively. But there are still many that make a good living churning out chocolate with little regard for ethics or sustainability. The problem is, it still pays to do that.
So if you're determined to be a bean to bar chocolate maker with a lot of cash to burn then jump straight into making chocolate from the bean. But I would suggest that you try product couverture chocolate too, just tell people you do. Spend some time working out what people actually want and use the profits from couverture chocolate to reinvest in machinery and training to grow your bean to bar business.
Our goal is a sustainable bean to bar industry. With current demand relatively small compared to couverture chocolate, it makes sense that we try and grow the supply at a reasonable rate so that demand will eventually catch up. What we don't need is everybody to 'put all their eggs' into bean to bar, simultaneously fail and then we're left with a handful of makers. Others will always enter the market, but everyone in the industry needs to make sure that ethically made, small scale, unique chocolate continues to be made by as wide a number of people as possible.
Consumers deserve choice, growers need a wide pool of buyers and we absolutely make sure bean to bar doesn't become just another fad.