Experiencing the wonders of artisan chocolate is easy thanks to social connectivity and growing diversity across the globe.

In the hands of an artisan, the humble Theoborma cacao bean has the potential to become a thing of beauty. Once largely regionalized, cacao with its additions of cane sugar, cocoa butter and vanilla beans continues to attract attention and provide bakers and chocolatiers access to a world of deliciousness.

“If the bakery doesn't advertise the premium chocolate, the consumer won't know until they taste it,” says Lawren Askinosie, chief marketing officer, Askinosie Chocolate. “But most are keen to advertise the use of a fine, socially conscious chocolate, which many consumers appreciate. In our case, consumers can not only taste the difference, but they feel good knowing the chocolate in their treat was produced ethically, sustainably and with transparency.”

Askinosie Chocolate, Springfield, Missouri, is known as a pioneer of Direct Trade in the craft chocolate industry. The company partners with smallholder cocoa farmers to share profits and to get involved in their communities. Its bean-to-bar chocolate, cocoa powder and nibs, beverages and baking ingredients are made by hand using a 70-step process.

The single-origin bars use premium direct trade cocoa beans, a small amount of organic cane sugar and house-pressed cocoa butter made with cocoa beans from the same origin. The company’s best-sellers include 62% Dark Milk Chocolate Bar + Fleur de Sel, Vegan + Dairy-Free Coconut Milk Chocolate Bar and the 72% Zamora, Amazonia Dark Chocolate Bar. 

“There’s a big demand for ethically produced, great-tasting chocolate made with clean ingredients,” Askinosie says. “Almost everyone we talk to understands the higher price, and for us, part of that is because some of it is going back to our farmer partners by way of our profit sharing.”


Educating Consumers

Communicating with today’s artisan chocolate consumer means providing more than visually pleasing products with a flavorful texture. Consumers are also interested in a product’s authenticity, freshness and the origin of the ingredients it contains.

“Not all chocolate is created equal. Each has varying levels of cocoa percentages and sugar, not to mention quality and cost,” says Rebecca Johnson, key account manager for Pennsauken Township, New Jersey-based Puratos US. “Many times, bakers will choose the same chocolate for every instance where chocolate is needed.”

Zurich-based Barry Callebaut’s Mona Lisa brand offers multi-textured inclusions for cookies and cakes in indulgent to traditional applications. The company’s artisan chocolates include specialty decorations, filling, chocolates from unique origins, specialty chocolates with benefits for the chef and indulgent chocolates with a health benefit.

“It’s all about the application and the experience you’re trying to create,” says TJ Mulvihill, vice president of marketing, Americas, Barry Callebaut. “For example, a very indulgent cookie may not require a special origin chocolate, but it could be appreciated for the richness, craftsmanship and skill of the baker making it.”

With a consumer reach of 1 out of every 4 chocolate experiences, Barry Callebaut’s in-house research continues to see the importance of cacao percentage among consumers even if technical understanding around the subject is lacking, he continues. Not all artisan chocolate possesses a high cocoa content and "high" is a relative term, Askinosie notes. High cocoa content in a mass-marketed product is different than a craft chocolate where many makers produce 100% bars.

Higher cocoa content offers a well-known boost of antioxidants creating a healthful, and delicious, offering. Chocolates containing at least 60% cocoa possess benefits of natural fiber, theobromine, an alkaloid of the cacao plant, and phenylethylamine, a beneficial organic compound, natural substances that create endorphins, according to Shelly Kremi, director of marketing for Gurnee, Illinois-based ifiGOURMET.

One example being Luker Chocolate’s 100% Fino de Aroma Cacao. The Colombian chocolate possesses fruity, floral, nut and malt flavors. Imported and distributed by ifiGOURMET, the Luker Chocolate blends Claro de Luna 37%, Misterio 58%, Macondo 60%, Sombra 54%, Palenque 70% and Luker Single Origin Chocolate Tumaco 65% are some of ifiGOURMET’s top-selling artisan chocolate.

“More than an ‘Instagram-worthy’ dessert, people are looking for an elevation of flavor and something that will wow them,” Kremi says.


Wider Impact

But it’s not just about the sensory benefits. Consumers are hungry to know more about a chocolate’s origin, who is generating the product and how production fits into a global economy scale. Through the promotion of core values, fair trade and sustainability, consumers learn to distinguish the taste and flavor of a region while learning about the people and lands where the chocolate is cultivated. 

“Consumers seem hungry for socially conscious chocolate they can feel good about enjoying, i.e. knowing where it came from,” Askinosie says. “We take great care to not only showcase our farmer partners and tell their story on our packaging but to educate our consumers about our sourcing and supply chain transparency.”

For many companies this includes working directly with growers to build sustainable practices and improve conditions for workers. CasaLuker’s The Chocolate Dream welcomes the dreams and initiatives of innovators, companies, NGOs, entrepreneurs and academia to drive long-term positive change in the cocoa-producing areas of Columbia.

Puratos, known for its Belgium chocolate, runs a sustainability program offering a dual benefit of improving the impact on a farmer’s life while offering consumers superior-tasting chocolate. Sharing such stories educates the consumer while helping secure the chocolate supply chain, a win-win, according to the company.

By 2025, Barry Callebaut is looking to make sustainable chocolate the norm. Its Forever Chocolate initiative includes four targets. 1) lift 500,000+ cocoa farmers out of poverty, 2) eradicate child labor from its supply chain, 3) become carbon and forest positive and 4) have sustainable ingredients in all its products.


Generational Focus

As chocolate companies embark on bold initiatives, they are simultaneously juggling consumer expectations that can differ from generation to generation.

Millennials are seeking out exciting flavor profiles such as spicy and tangy and textures that indicate the handmade and visually appealing qualities of artisan. The demographic looks for products that are delicious, indulgent and good for them, an element of health that contributes to a healthy lifestyle while also being good for the planet. These high standards also rate a product’s less tangible Instagrammability, adventure and excitement, according to Mulvihill. In contrast, Barry Callebaut’s Healthy Agers demographic looks for artisan chocolate offering a specific health benefit or ambition, such as allergy-free options and chocolates that bring about or address a certain mood.

“It’s quite a journey to solve all these things for the consumer with a chocolate treat, but it’s also a lot of opportunity, excitement and innovation to bring this together in an indulgent thing to present to consumers to take home or consume on impulse,” Mulvihill says.


Making Predictions

Higher-quality, better-tasting, cleaner ingredients continue to win consumer favor while 24/7 connectivity emphasizes a growing collective awareness around the possible ramifications of a purchase. Bakery artisans looking to leverage the ecommerce space will need to find ways to engage with and sell to consumers using the same media that allows for social sharing.

“You can’t envision the category without looking at where younger generations are going and how to address their needs for authentic, good for me and good for the planet,” Mulvihill says. “This is evolving, and younger consumers are making choices because they see it as better for the world. This dynamic for the consumer is causing brands to react quickly, but it’s important to not lose sight of why consumers love chocolate. Chocolate is an indulgence, it’s something that makes you smile. You can’t always solve for other challenges, but you don’t want to lose the feeling that chocolate brings or lose focus on why consumers love this category.”


Dark, White, Milk and now Ruby Chocolate

Ruby offers a new chocolate experience from Zurich-based Barry Callebaut. Considered the fourth type of chocolate after milk, white and dark chocolate, ruby offers a sour and fruity taste experience. Free from artificial flavors or colors, ruby chocolate possesses properties naturally found in the ruby cocoa bean, unlocked by Barry Callebaut in a special process.

Ruby’s unique flavor and pinkish tone is naturally present in select cocoa beans. Described by the company as a “tension between fresh berry-fruitiness and luscious smoothness,” the pure cocoa beans are selected for their ruby properties. Barry Callebaut introduced ruby chocolate in May in North America after successfully rollouts in Asia, Europe and Australia/New Zealand. The launch has been the called the biggest innovation in chocolate in 80 years. While not bake stable, ruby is recommended for a drizzle and enrobing.