Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Raising The Bar: The Future of Fine Chocolate Helps Consumers Consider the Origin of Their Cocoa and Reveals Why Chocolate Artisans Won’t Sacrifice Quality for Profit

This month marks the last minute production rush for the fine flavor chocolate industry. Unlike mass producers, top tier chocolatiers cannot make their products six months to a year in advance in order to prepare for the busy holiday season. Fine artisan chocolate products feature fresh ingredients and do not contain preservatives; therefore, their short shelf life often results in grueling hours for chocolatiers and distributors.

“Chocolatiers and chocolate makers in the fine chocolate industry are working overtime to keep up with demand as Christmas approaches,” says Pam Williams, president of Ecole Chocolate Professional School of Chocolate Arts. “Fine flavor manufacturers are selling to a generation that wants pleasure fast.” This is one of the many challenges that the fine chocolate industry is currently facing, which Williams and her co-author Jim Eber are educating consumers about in their new book, Raising The Bar: The Future of Fine Chocolate (Wilmor Publishing Corporation; October 2012), by documenting the global journey from cacao gene and cocoa bean to chocolate bar and bonbon. This book looks at the future of the world's finest chocolate as seen through the eyes of people who live chocolate every day and strive to preserve its richest, most complex and endangered forms for future generations.

In order to convey the reality that the best tasting chocolates in the world are poised for extinction, Williams’s and Eber’s book explains the merits of fine chocolate products and the specific processes necessary to achieve these delicious treats that are in such high demand around the holidays. Raising The Bar serves as the voice of the conscientious chocolate makers around the world and helps readers discern the true chocolate artisans.

“Consumers must understand the amount of work that goes into producing quality cocoa if it is to survive in the future,” says Williams.

According to ABC News, the demand for chocolate increases by about 2.5 to 3 percent annually, which means about four million more tons of cocoa are needed every year. Since the average American eats around 11 pounds of chocolate in a year, and more chocolate is consumed in winter than any other season, the annual gains for Christmas chocolate sales are expected to continue many years to come.

While chocolate flying around the room may seem like a dream to most consumers, the weeks leading up to December are more of a nightmare for chocolatiers who are trying to produce last minute orders and ship the last of their products for the year. Retail clients of these artisans often underestimate holiday sales and end up requesting last minute shipments and overnight deliveries. As difficult as it may be to turn out product under such pressure, fine chocolatiers are hard pressed to say no when a large portion of their yearly sales are made between the months of October and December thanks to gift-giving season.

In Raising The Bar, Parisian chocolate artist Patrick Roger reflects on how process is often not important to his customers during the holiday rush, only the chocolate is: “At my shop in Sceaux, there are 700 customers a day at Christmas who are buying my little chocolates. All the ingredients are listed, but this doesn’t mean anything to them. I have the refined palate that I pass on to them. I am the one who must guarantee the quality of my work.”

A disconnect exists between cocoa bean farmers, chocolate manufacturers and consumers purchasing the finished product: consumers do not see all the work being done from the ground up, and few consider the origin of the bean when eating chocolate.

These are just some of the factors keeping cocoa beans the most highly undervalued fruit crop in the world, but the chocolate experts featured in Raising The Bar are helping consumers understand the importance of demanding more fresh alternatives to shelf-stable supermarket chocolates year-round and not just around the holiday gift-giving season.

About Raising The Bar:
Co-authors Pam Williams and Jim Eber educate and entertain through interviews with the world's top chocolate experts, and scientists from the Cocoa Research Unit and the USDA weigh in with the latest in genetic research. Discussions cover almost every fine flavor growing region including stories and interviews from Ecuador, Bolivia, Columbia, The Dominican Republic, Madagascar, Peru, Southeast Asia, Costa Rica, and more.

Williams has been involved in the industry since 1981 and founded Ecole Chocolat Professional School of Chocolate Arts in 2003. Most recently, she has been instrumental in promoting the Heirloom Cacao Preservation Initiative (HCP), a partnership between the Fine Chocolate Industry Association and the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service to create the first-ever genotype map with a focus on flavor cacao trees. Along with Eber, a veteran writer and collaborator specializing in food and business marketing, Williams has indeed raised the bar, and our awareness, of the promises and pitfalls ahead for fine flavor chocolate, while unwrapping the possibilities for the millions and millions of us who believe that life without the very best chocolate is no life at all.

Raising the Bar: The Future of Fine Chocolate (Wilmor Publishing Corporation; October 2012; Hardcover; $19.95; eBook; $9.95; ISBN: 978-0-9691921-2-1 (Print); 978-0-9691921-3-8 (eBook).

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