Help Customers Select the Right Chocolate
Though chocolate is an anytime indulgence, it just so happens that chocolate is one of the biggest holiday gift purchases, no matter which holiday we’re celebrating. Chocolate is a major portion of the 120 million pounds of candy purchased for the Easter season each year, and it accounts for 75% of the total US Valentine’s day sales1. According to FoodDive.com 39% of US adults reported purchasing chocolate as a seasonal gift in 2016 – up from 27% in 2015.2
With opportunity, comes a lot of competition. Premium chocolate is making a mark on these sales, as shoppers consider gourmet chocolate to be a wonderful gift that is appreciated by any recipient. Stand out during the “candy” holidays, and the rest of the year, by turning your staff into chocolate connoisseurs.
Educate your employees about chocolate and they can help guide customers to the right purchase – much the same way the staff at a wine shop will help customers select a wine. Understanding the differences between the various types of chocolate, and how they’re made, gives your employees an edge over the competition. Customers appreciate the insight and feel good about a purchase when the staff is friendly and knowledgeable. This adds perceived value and trust, and helps build a loyal customer base. Loyal customers become brand ambassadors, telling their family and friends about the service at your shop.
For those customers that would appreciate your knowledge but want a more independent shopping experience, consider creating a menu of your chocolate offerings. List some of your more popular chocolates, their characteristics, taste, and food (or wine) pairings for customers to examine when perusing your store.
To understand the different chocolate types, let’s start from the beginning.
Origins and Fermenting
Chocolate’s flavor story begins with cacao beans from cacao trees that grow in tropical regions of South America and Africa. Interesting to note that cacao beans taste nothing like chocolate.
Like wine making, the first step of chocolate making is fermentation which converts sugars from the beans into the elements that give chocolate its flavor. Next, roasting destroys harsh acids and creates nutty, brown chocolate notes. Finally conching – evenly distributing the cocoa butter, which rounds out the flavor profile and creates the final chocolate ready to be molded, or incorporated with other ingredients to create the different chocolate types. This is what gives each type of chocolate its distinct flavor and character. Many chocolate manufacturers keep their conching process a deeply guarded secret.
Dark Chocolate – Keeping It Raw
Dark chocolate consists of the two end products of the processed cocoa bean — cocoa solids and cocoa butter. Depending on the chocolate maker, certain amounts of sugar are also added. It has a deep, tart, sometimes bitter flavor and contains the most characteristics of the original cacao bean. This makes it pair well with exotic or fruity coffee, red wine, and stout beer.
Milk Chocolate – Cream of the Crop
Milk chocolate, the favorite of America and most European countries, is made up of the processed cacao beans, sugar, and milk. Milk is the major reason for the change in flavor and texture of the chocolate. It creates caramel dairy notes from further browning reactions in final chocolate processing. Each chocolate producer generally has a different process for milk chocolate, which creates totally different flavor profiles. Have your staff sample the different milk chocolates you offer so they can communicate the differences.
Along with a change in taste, the milk fat creates a creamier, softer chocolate with a sweeter finish. As a result, it pairs well with all fruits, creamy and nutty cheeses like Gruyere, black teas, Pinot noir, or port wine.
White Chocolate – Like Butter
Until 2002, white chocolate was not considered chocolate by US law. It was a sugary cousin of chocolate called a “confectionery.” White chocolate contains no cocoa solids, but it does contain cocoa butter. Cocoa butter is the fat naturally present in the cacao beans that can be pressed out and separated from the solids during processing. Cocoa butter is a highly prized material, so high quality white chocolate contains more cocoa butter. The other primary ingredients are milk and sugar.
The milky, caramel notes from the dairy and sugar created during the browning reaction are heightened in white chocolate and become the main flavor profile accompanied by vanilla to round out the dessert-like product.
Since it has a lighter, creamier flavor, it pairs well with tangy fruit, spicy items like wasabi and white or sparkling wines.
Still doubtful that white chocolate is “gourmet?” Click here to see if we can change your mind.
Give It a Good Home
The flavor journey of chocolate doesn’t end when your customers take it home. Like a fine wine, how chocolate is stored can impact its appearance and taste. Chocolate should be kept in low light, in temperatures below 70° F and humidity less than 55%. Customers should avoid refrigerating as it can cause “sugar bloom,” where the sugar comes to the surface causing discoloration. If you’re in a climate where chocolate must be refrigerated or frozen to prevent melting, it should be wrapped tightly and stored in an airtight container. If in the fridge, let the chocolate get to room temperature before eating. If in the freezer, customers should let it defrost in the fridge for 24 hours then let the chocolate come to room temperature before enjoying.
Each chocolate confection provides a unique flavor experience. That’s why chocolate samplers are among the more popular chocolate gifts – allowing recipients to experience a multitude of chocolate types, textures, flavors, and even fillings. Whatever chocolate your customer chooses, one thing is certain – their loved ones will appreciate the sentiment and look forward to savoring their chocolate treat.