What the Chocolate Industry Needs is A $100 Bar of Chocolate
Posted in: Opinion
If we look at this from the demand side, let's think about who is going to pay for a $100 bar and why? Although people for whom the difference between $10 and $100 doesn't matter may be a major part of this market and enough to sustain smaller makers, let's think about how to create that value for people for whom it represents a real buying decision (perhaps defined as needing to work more than 2 hours to afford this $100/100gram pinnacle of chocolate).
Starting with some differences between wine and chocolate. Wine has vintages which are influenced by weather and which receive ratings and reviews. I don't think many people really appreciate the difference, but they are told to by the experts so they do. Is cacao as sensitive to yearly weather variations (I don't know)?.
Wine is a social experience. While it's fun to have a chocolate tasting, I've never heard of a group of people ordering a chocolate bar at a restaurant or a bar; a chocolate menu would be cool! Wine is defined by the appellation, vineyard, and winemaker. I'm a chocolate nut and couldn't tell you the name of a single farmer, although I've seen blogs about lots of them. In wine, people pay for cachet, that's hard to do without extremely fine segmentation (think about number of wines vs. number of chocolates). I collect boxes so I could say with some confidence that I've tried about 300 different bars. I suspect there are another 300 out there if we really got into each bean for the top 20 producers. I suspect that number is at least 5000 for wines.A bottle of wine also provides a good serving for 6 people. I'm not sure 1/6 of a chocolate bar is going to cut it, although the 40g packaging might help here. I think the biggest thing is that people drink wine because it's an expected part of the dinner ritual. There's no social event that calls for chocolate (except perhaps coming over to my house)
I think you'd obviously need to expand the number of people who appreciate fine chocolate. If you don't appreciate the difference among Amano/Mast/Amedei/Cluizel/Valrhona/Pralus and the variations within their offerings then you aren't going to chase something "special". Developing a memory of what Chuao tastes like, describing that in words, and then talking about the difference between what Cecilia, Art, Pierre, and Francois do with it takes a lot of experience. Oh, we need to invent chocolate name dropping too! I recently tried the Marcolini and Amedei bars back to back and Chuao "clicked" for me. I always enjoyed it but now I can recognize it. I now have amassed 6 different Chuaos for an upcoming chocolate making party. Perhaps we should encourage that sort of tasting to enhance the focus on the origins, which can drive preferences, which can drive demand.
Another challenge is the taste bud issue. As the world converges towards an American diet, we're losing the ability to distinguish anything other than salt, sugar, fat, texture, and temperature. This may be less among the upper class we're aiming for, but it's still a problem.
Unlike wine and Scotch and caviar, chocolate is something you can make by yourself with pretty good results. I think having a friend who makes chocolate is a great way to get people into the game. I just started and for a $1000 investment and a bit of web surfing (thx Alchemy John) in equipment you can get some good results very quickly. Now if I could just find out how to get my hands on 20lb of Porcelana...