We use this blog not only to explore chocolate with a view of finding out if it’s something we should be stocking - so you can see what process we go through, but also to look at other companies doing something we're considering. As we go into 2014 we have the opportunity to use fine chocolate couverture as a base to explore flavour combinations. We believe that the Chocolate Trading Co. aren't chocolate makers themselves and actually use a couverture and brand it as their own. There's nothing wrong with this, virtually all chocolatiers will use a couverture, temper it and mould it. Some will inclusions for a variety. Both Paul A. Young and Demarquette do this.
So the question is: if we were to use couverture, what can we learn from them?
I could be wrong but I believe this 64% single origin bar is actually a Valrhona Manjari (I welcome public and private correction). The reason being as you can readily get (and Chocolate Trading Co. actually sell) a 64% Madagascan couverture with the same ingredients. What's more, the packaging also states that this bar is 'made in France'. Now we don't know if it was remade and packaged in the UK, but that's a moot point. Now we shouldn't criticise anyone from using Valrhona, it is a wonderful chocolate making company. My contention is that a great deal of chocolatiers already use it and (if I am right) they already sell the same bar with the Valrhona packaging - here for £3.75 for 70g, or you can buy their own brand for £4.25 for 100g which works out at about 20% cheaper per gram. Should a chocolate shop sell both bars? No-one can say they're wrong doing that, but if we did we wouldn't want to (knowing) sell the same chocolate under a different guise.
I do have a great deal of respect for Valhrona, they do make wonderful chocolate. But can we expect another company to do as good a job as the French masters? Well I was disappointed with the lack of shine of the chocolate and the holes present on the surface which shows the final stages of the remoulding weren't perfect (who is?). There were also quite a few scuff marks on the bar. Now I know they pack their chocolate exceedingly well when they deliver, so I don't know where that happened.
Paul and Gareth are masters at marketing and this packaging was just as crammed and verbose as their website - seemingly every available space was used to upsell. Personally I found this messaging 'over the top'. Now it may appeal greatly to those people that aren't an International Chocolate Awards judge, but I found the last sentence a bit disingenuous: 'this is real chocolate in its purest form ...', it is my opinion that it is not - purely because it does contain natural vanilla and soya lecithin. Chocolate in its 'purest form' to me is 100% chocolate that only contains cocoa solids and cocoa butter - nothing else. To me vanilla is used to 'round' the flavour of chocolate - to get rid of any sharp edges and 'soya lecithin' to aid the chocolate making process and make it easier to get the silky-smooth texture. Real chocolate, to me at least, is something like Bonajuto or Marou who don't use any flavouring other than cocoa products and sugar.
I have a distinct dislike of hyperbole and to say 'be the first to experience the latest as soon as they are available' is also disingenuous. I believe we weren't the first to sell Marou in this country, but I'm sure we were the first to sell Menakao, Antidote, Daintree, Dick Taylor, Fruition, Rózsavölgyi Csokoládé and some others.
To me the lesson is that if we start to produce our own range of chocolate to look for something unique - something the maker doesn't produce a version of and sell to consumers and to make sure that packaging is more about the chocolate and less about our company and how you can buy more – and make sure any claims we make kept up-to-date.
Obviously Chocolate Trading Co. are a massive success, they sell funny, interesting and imaginative chocolate novelties. They do have a good selection of single origin chocolate bars. There is undoubtedly something we can learn from them. Their own brand chocolate bars are good quality; I just think we'd do it a fair bit different.
If there's anything you like, or don't like, about their range of own-brand chocolates, we'd love to know.