You'll spend £10 on an average bottle of wine but not on great chocolate?
Why can The Independent rave about a bottle £9.59 Ursa Major Rioja Reserva 2005 red wine from Spar, but they've never recommended the £9.85 Friis Holm Nicaliso 70%? In general why are newspapers featuring 'the best wine' in Sunday supplements every week but you'll never see them regularly feature the wonderful world of bean-to-bar chocolate?
Despite our best efforts the media is stuck in the 1980's view of chocolate - a view that does nothing to promote the amazing flavours and experiences that fine chocolate can offer. The truth is, there are many reasons why hand-crafted chocolate will never sell as much as wine:
Chocolate is just seen as novelty product - something to give for Christmas, Easter, Valentine's Day or Mother's Day, but not as an experience in itself
When I've been featured in the Independent
and even as Geek of the Week
on Steve Wright's Radio 2 Show, it’s always been about seasonal chocolate. Doing a search on the Telegraph website for "chocolate" you will actually realise that newspapers are obsessed with wine. When a chocolate-themed article is returned, it'll be about gimmick chocolate
or incredibly surprising and PR-focused claims
. Other articles will be focused on travel. But rarely anything focused on great chocolate to be enjoyed outside of any special gifting season.
At Easter you'll get recommendations of which are the best Easter eggs that year, in truth it'll be the same list as the previous year. At no time do I see any serious discussion about truly artisan bean-to-bar chocolate. This discussion has been hijacked by Fair-trade, health issues, or freak show chocolate. Unfortunately this is how the media works. They're typically not interested in in-depth analysis or covering the major issues, certainly where food is concerned at least. This is just how features planning works. Journalists and PRs have pigeon-holed chocolate as a seasonal treat. Only a couple of PRs, including Nudge, try to bring great chocolate into the minds of consumers every day of the year.
This has to change. Especially when you consider that only 13% of chocolate sales are seasonally related (Mintel 2012) which is actually less than the 20% spent on 'tablets & blocks'. There is a huge disjoint between what people consume and what the media write about. People want to learn more about great chocolate, it’s about time journalists played their part.
Very good wine can be found anywhere; great chocolate is much harder to find
Wine can be bought anywhere. In London you can pick up a bottle as you walk to the Tube Station. In the shires you can select from hundreds of bottles from any number of stores on your way home. Those less able to shop in person can join the Sunday Times Wine Club
or various other alternatives. Unless you have access to central London you're often left to consume the crap that supermarkets offer.
When you look at chocolate of the month clubs none of them collate, distribute and inspire people to try unique, obscure or expertly made chocolate from around the world. Perhaps I'm wrong, perhaps there just isn't a market for this type of market and people just want shit couverture chocolate made into stilettos or handbags?
The reason I started this shop was because I just couldn't find sufficient variety of great chocolate. I was regularly sent samples from around the world, but where could ordinary people realistically buy them? Some great chocolate makers were subjected to incessant nagging until they did ship their chocolate to me. Most other chocolate-lovers would have given up.
Truly special chocolate can be found in this country, but we deserve more choice. We deserve to have great chocolate readily available. Unfortunately no-one is willing to take the risk and import it for you (other than us and a couple of others with a small selection).
There's just so much rubbish spoken about chocolate that people don't know what to trust
I watch people in supermarkets. People stand there. They turn over the bottles of wines and read the classifications of sweetness and alcohol content - because makers are forced to reveal a great deal due to EU law
. There's very little in the way of accurate labelling laws for chocolate. Makers can get away with saying all sorts of crap
. This leads consumers to buy rubbish chocolate and believe all chocolate is that poor quality.
Wine works well on TV
People know they don't like Pinot Grigio, unless it’s a German one because Saturday Kitchen
mentioned it that morning, or because a newspaper columnist that was the truth. Other wine enthusiasts would have learned why Australia makes produces great wine from Gary Vaynerchuk's
videos. Having a wall of supermarket wine looks great on TV and having a sommelier pictured raving about wine in front of the huge selection of wines and then pouring it into a glass just makes perfect TV.
When I had chocolate featured on This Morning it was so small that they were hardly recognisable and certainly didn't have the aesthetics of glistening wine. Programme makers never feature chocolate-enthusiasts or give them the opportunity to wax-lyrical about origins or beans.
Chocolate certainly is TVs poor relative when it comes to food and drink.
Vineyards are sexy and on our doorstep, cacao farms aren't
Journalists will happily trot off to a French, German, Italian vineyard. They'll even jump at the chance to report on grape growing in California or Australia. Ask them to trek through deepest, darkest Bolivia, Brazil, Columbia, Indonesia or Haiti and I doubt you'll find them packing their bags any time soon. They'll be asking "isn't it dangerous there", or "what vaccinations do I need?"
You'll have more luck with places like St. Lucia and even Trinidad, but that's about it. To most journalists cacao trees just aren't sexy enough. It’s just too much hard work.
Journalists just don't understand chocolate
Wine is simple. Journalists know about grapes, terroir, vintages. Ironically they don't see the similarity with chocolate. They're obviously handicapped by the smoke and mirrors many people in the chocolate industry are themselves responsible for. Some chocolate companies with the ears of the media do nothing to help journalists understand chocolate.
Furthermore, how many journalists are there which solely write about wine compared to how many which just write about chocolate? You see the UK wine market is worth about £11.9bn a year and the UK chocolate market about £4bn. Are you seriously telling me that the level of attention wine and chocolate get in the media is commensurate with where consumers actually spend their money?
Journalists are caught up in the fact that 44% of chocolate sold in the UK are low quality "countlines" such as Snickers and Twirls. I'm sure they feel that the chocolate world starts and ends with confectionery.
Journalists are lazy when it comes to the health effects of good quality chocolate
As Lyss rightly points out, the world is obsessed with chocolate and poor health. Be it spots, obesity or diabetes. Only true health-focused websites look at the benefits of top quality chocolate on the heart and the antioxidants good quality chocolate contains. There's just no understanding of the difference between cheap rubbish you'll find in the supermarkets or the great chocolate you'll find here or in a few boutiques in the UK's major cities. Simply put, if the mass-media stopped sensationalising the health-impacts of poor-quality chocolate, people won't be put of exploring great quality chocolate. Your Mars is not the same as a Mast.
Opinion formers mostly have never actually tried great origin chocolate - we are to blame though
Rightly or wrongly journalists are focused on filled chocolate. Don't get me wrong, I'm completely addicted to the fine stuff that Paul A. Young or Marc Demarquette and a couple of others make. But I've rarely seen any journalist ask about the great origin chocolate Paul brings into the country or how much work Marc has put into finding unusual origin stuff. Journalists' focus on ganaches, caramels and the like obscures the great chocolate that is available here.
Great chocolate is a fragmented market
How many chocolate makers are there now? There are actually hundreds. More are popping up all the time in the USA and even, now, in the UK. But how many are able to capture the attention of the press in the UK? How many chocolate makers actually push for publicity? How many expect their product to do the talking or rely on bloggers? Origin chocolate sells well when they're lucky enough to get the odd spot in a national newspaper. Without press attention great chocolate makers have no chance in a sea of mediocrity.
Without the Observer Food Monthly mentioning Marou, would many people here actually know they existed? This makes me sad, and annoyed.
People just don't think it’s worth it
If people spend on average £7 for a bottle of wine, people seemingly think that if its rubbish, it'll still get them drunk. If you buy a £7 bar of chocolate and don't like it then you can't realistically give it away - can you? Of course you can. The problem comes in people that do know about chocolate not educating people that want to know. The level of information offered by retailers is typically very poor. We tend to rehash the tasting notes of the makers - if they exist. And makers often either offer no information to consumers so they have to take a chance or just use such obscure terms that people feel that belittled. I also contend that most retailers don't actually consume the chocolate they sell. Why should people spend £7 on a chocolate that just don't know they'll enjoy. Boutiques and chocolate makers with their own stores can educate customers and answer questions. We try and do that. A supermarket worker won't know what Criollo is, we or a boutique can help people find the chocolate they like - just like the multitude of quality off licenses do.
Journalists and consumers see drinking wine as a social activity, but chocolate less so.
As people are entertaining at home more due to the economic climate people are more than happy to buy a few bottles of wine. The lazy thinking goes that the only chocolate which is shared socially are Thorntons Continentals, After Eights or Ferrero Rocher. People just don't buy a few bars of great chocolate and pass it around and talk about the flavours they find. This only happens at great events run by companies such as Rococo Chocolates
, Paul A. Young
. That's just wrong. There are great chocolatiers in the UK, some chocolate makers too. Spend £10 or £20 on some chocolate and see what you and your friends think. Discuss the chocolate, enjoy it, and use it to understand your friends and family more. Turn off the TV and discuss something.
Fine chocolate can act as a medium to bring people together. We can talk about what we like a particular maker, origin, bean. We can appreciate the hard work makers put in. We understand the role chocolate plays in growers' lives. We can converse about what ingredients or flavours we like with it. We talk about bacon chocolate, Marmite chocolate or chocolate with red onion. We can relay how we felt when we went into a chocolate boutique or first tried something unusual. Chocolate is a great way to explore and understand the world. So why are the British press so unwilling to introduce great chocolate to the public?
We talk so often about how our children know nothing about the origins of food. We say that they've never been to a farm to see how cows are reared or take them to the countryside to see pigs, mushrooms, orchards or to a river and watch the fish. So why don't we teach them about the food they similarly desire the most?
This desire to learn and explore chocolate requires the media to ignite a spark in people. At the moment journalists just don't care.
Image © I am Fry
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