Look at Life: Luxury Chocolate

5th April 2019

The sweet treat synonymous with easter is turning to the dark side…

By Heather Harris

Did caramel become salted the same time as pork became pulled?

In my youth, salt was on chips and caramel was just the posh name for toffees – but now this flavour, invented by the Parisian pastry chef Pierre Hermé, is fast becoming the height of good taste.

Especially for chocolate.

Being a Curly-Wurly sort of girl, the latest craze for ‘premier confectionery’ frankly leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

We all knew where we were with a Freddo, a KitKat or a Creme Egg. The positive hormones released from these traditional sweet snacks were the same as a trip to the gym, but twice as satisfying and much less sweaty.

However, things are changing. Now that sugar – quite rightly – is going the way of nicotine when it comes to public image, society is turning to the dark side.
According to Helen Pattinson, co-founder of chocolatiers Montezuma’s, ‘A couple of squares of quality chocolate is often sufficient to hit the spot, but it has to be rich in cocoa, not in sugar.’

That fact is backed up by data from analysts IRI which showed that brand leader Cadbury Dairy Milk suffered a 4.2 per cent slump in value last year. Meanwhile, Lindt Excellence has set the bar high with a growth of 14.1 per cent – worth £5 million – because ‘it has benefited from growing demand for premium dark chocolate’.

There’s also a new product determined not to be left on the shelf: ‘ruby chocolate’. Launched in 2017 by Barry Callebaut, a Belgian-Swiss cocoa company, and made from the ruby cocoa bean, it is naturally pink without any additives or artificial flavouring.

The taste is described as ‘sweet yet sour’, with ‘little to none’ of the cocoa flavour traditionally associated with milk, dark or even white varieties.

So basically it doesn’t taste of chocolate… which KitKat found out to their cost when consumers put two fingers up to their new pink ruby offering last year. As the Guardian food critic commented, ‘the poor, innocent biscuit inside doesn’t stand a chance against the teeth-achingly sweet coating, which sticks the boot in further with a cloyingly waxy mouthfeel’.

The unpalatable truth for the manufacturers is that when it comes to chocolate we don’t really like change.

We may be buying less of our sugary favourites but that’s even more reason to give us what we love. When the distinctive Toblerone design was changed to cut costs, social media reflected the public’s distaste: ‘Wrong on so many levels. It now looks like a bicycle stand,’ was just one comment on the ‘We Want Our Toblerone Back’ Twitter campaign.

Unsurprisingly, the EU were blamed for this change and Toblerone’s manufacturers, Mondalez International, were forced to issue a statement: ‘The foreign exchange rate is not favourable, but the change to Toblerone wasn’t done as a result of Brexit.’

And who can forget the 2015 scandal when the manufacturer of Creme Eggs finally cracked and admitted it had replaced Cadbury’s Dairy Milk with ‘standard cocoa mix chocolate’?

Cadbury’s are not blameless either, as they changed the recipe for their Fruit & Nut bar after 90 years to add sultanas to the traditional almond and raisin mix. And after 100 years of consistency, they also rounded the ends of the Diary Milk bar. This prompted a change.org petition where the bar was called ‘a British cultural icon’. Any changes to the basic shape and taste apparently amounted to ‘cultural vandalism’.

Nestlé, meanwhile, went a whole layer further in their deception, removing the Toffee Deluxe altogether from a tin of Quality Street and replacing it with the ‘healthier’ Honeycomb Crunch.

What these confectionery giants fail to realise is that even if we are becoming more health conscious, we still hanker for our favourite instant high – and not just in frothy form.

Who wants to spend a fiver on a crushed pistachio organic dark chocolate bar when a Mars a day really still does let you ‘work, rest and play’ for less than half the cost? A finger of fudge is still ‘just enough’ – and we don’t want the Black Magic man to shimmy up the drainpipe with anything less than our favourite selection box.

Morgan Stanley analyst Eileen Khoo recently confirmed that the rise in premier brands is also driven by ‘the gifting element’, as chocolate is given as a present ‘more than any other food, particularly in the Asian emerging markets where packaging is often more important than the taste of the chocolate’…

This explains why posh boxes of salted caramels are proving so popular. No one actually likes the taste, but taken to a dinner party they look so much more impressive than a bunch of tulips.

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