Confectionery remains one of the most fiercely competitive of fast-moving consumer goods sectors with multinational-owned brands fighting tooth and nail to gain shelf stand out.
But consumers have changed and the foodie movement is now obsessed with origins.
There was a time when legendary Belgian and Swiss chocolate brands such as Godiva and Lindt were the very last words in luxury confectionery.
Nowadays, however, these famous brands have almost become mainstream as the growth in the luxury confectionery sector has ushered in a wave of higher-priced premium, gourmet chocolate brands such as Duffy’s, Amelia Rope, Seed & Bean, Hotel Chocolat, The Grown Up Chocolate Company and Montezuma’s, that differentiate and distinguish themselves with their high-percentage cocoa content, Fairtrade status, ethical sourcing, distinct provenances, exotic flavours and organic ingredients.
Look closer and you’ll soon notice that one thing all these bean-to-bar chocolate brands have in common (apart from their love for ethically sourced chocolate) is their strategic use of highly distinctive and visually striking packaging to carve out a small, but growing niche of this enormous business.
Another small-batch chocolate brand making waves in the US is Xocolatl(named after the bitter cacao bean-based drink once consumed by the Aztecs). Based in Atlanta, Georgia, Xocolatl (abbreviated as XOATL) is made from just two ingredients: single-origin Peruvian cacao and organic cane sugar.
Local agency Juku Design has created colourful packaging for the start-up brand, which cleverly weaves in Aztec-inspired patterns with playful, child-like drawings of Atlanta where the chocolate is made.
Other Juku designs for the Xocolatl range feature stylised depictions of the cocoa tree which is so important for the brand’s owners, while another clever touch sees the last three letters of the abbreviated name XOATL highlighted as ‘ATL’ is the well-known airport code for Atlanta.
At Hunter we understand the changing nature of the confectionery market in mature markets. At a time when products containing a high percentage of sugar are increasingly demonised, the highest rates of growth for the industry are likely to come at the premium and the luxury end of the market where hand-crafted credentials, ethical standards, high-quality ingredients and on-trend packaging designs are all essential attributes.
Paul Hamilton is a director at Hunter Sourcing
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This week we’re thinking about fuel for your walks in these beautiful spring days, snacks for the kids as they go from school to practice to home and something to munch on as you sit at your desk.
Nuts, Chocolate and Fruit
Atlanta-based small batch chocolate maker Xocolatl produces lovely single-origin chocolate bars with beans sourced from around the world. But they also make trail mix in two flavors: “Smile with the Rising Sun” that has almonds, cashews, dark chocolate, pumpkin seeds, dried papaya and coconut and “Moonlight Through the Pines” with its combination of Georgia flavors including pecans, peanuts, dark chocolate, pumpkin seeds and dried peaches and cranberries. The folks at Xocolatl have been making these mixes since they opened in order to meet their own need for a quality trail mix that was more than just peanuts and pretzels. Our favorite? We couldn’t choose. They’re both delicious. What comes through with every bite is the high quality of the nuts and fruit. And those little squares of dark chocolate? Each one is a tiny treat. $10 per 7-ounce package. Xocolatl, Krog Street Market, 99 Krog Street, Atlanta. 404-604-9642. xocolatlchocolate.com
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Chocolate is so many of our guilty pleasures, but when mixed in cocktails, it can fall prey to artificial flavoring, cloying sweetness and a lack of sophistication that make the result nearly undrinkable.
While the phrase “chocolate cocktail” invokes memories of bad martinis best left in the 90s, these tips, tricks and recipes from industry professionals give chocolate the sophisticated, modern treatment it deserves. “The first question people ask me when they see drinks with chocolate on our menu is ‘is it sweet?’” says Ben Yabrow, bartender at Atlanta’s Himitsu. He advises against using white or milk chocolate and instead favors cacao nibs and bitter chocolate. “With the right dark chocolate, whether from your local farmers market or small batch provider, can get you that sweet flavor without the added sugar. Piggyback off the sugar in other ingredients, and you’ll create a drink that’s balanced and not cloying.”
Avery Glasser, founder of Bittermens, which makes handcrafted cocktail bitters and culinary extracts, including the popular Xocolatl Mole Bitters, agrees. “Cacao, by its nature, is actually not sweet. Pure chocolate is aromatic, earthy and slightly bitter, and can add an extreme amount of depth and complexity to a cocktail.”
Nick Farrell, spirits manager of Washington, D.C.’s Iron Gate, recommends experimenting with cacao shells or cacao nibs instead in addition to pure chocolate. “Cacao shells give off an incredible cocoa nose when infused in spirits. Steeping for 4-12 hours can add great complimentary flavors to most barrel-aged base spirits. Incorporating salt can add balance, while amari can add depth and counteract the sweetness of some of the sweeter cacao-based classic cocktails.”
Estanislado Orona, bar manager of Portland’s Raven & Rose, agrees that sourcing is crucial to toning down the sweetness in chocolate cocktails. “Like many cocktails that came out of the 90s, the chocolate martini concept was good, but the execution is typically horrible and overly sweet, which boils down to the quality of ingredients being used,” he explains.
“When you source quality cacao and don’t use a lot of added cover flavors like vanilla or sugar, it really brings out qualities and notes beyond just the chocolate,” says Abby Bryant of Atlanta’s Xocolatl Small Batch Chocolate. The company recently worked with a local distributor, Old Fourth Distillery, on a chocolate-infused vodka, and many bars across the country are doing similar infusions in-house.
Orona and his team at Raven and Rose recently developed a house-made Cacao Liqueur using single origin Ecuadorian beans, Hi-Test vodka, El Dorado 8-year Demerara Rum, and a touch of orange oil.
Farrell steeps his cacao shells in a bottle of bourbon for 12-24 hours at room temperature, and bar manager Greg Stone makes a similar bourbon, cacao-nib infusion at San Francisco’s Jardinière.
For those wanting to try their hand at home infusion, Old Fourth Distillery’s Jessica Lee Luna recommends seeking out your local chocolate maker, procuring some high quality bean-to-bar nibs, and soaking them with vodka or your spirit of choice. “My background is as a pastry chef, and I love to be in the kitchen and come up with cool, delicious things. But it’s a quite simple process for the home bartender as well.”
For those who prefer to leave the tinctures to the pros, there are a wealth of high quality cacao infused bitters, extracts, and spirits on the market, including the aforementioned Bittermens Xocolatl Mole Bitters as well as salted cacao bitters and barrel-aged flowers & cacao bitters from Workhorse Rye.
Beverage consultant Lara Creasy also recommends Tempus Fugut Spirits’s cordial line, Merlet Spirits, and Marie Brizard et Roger International for pure cacao infusions. Creasy says “it makes a huge difference to find a creme de cacao or spirit of a high caliber” when experimenting with drinks, whether at home or behind the professional bar.
High quality cacao mixes well with most spirits, though Farrell enjoys “using cacao to complement malty, toasty, and smoky-based spirits. This obviously means whisky, but genever works surprisingly well, as do dark rums with their caramel notes, and tequilas and mezcals, with their smoke and spicy notes. In terms of what spirits to avoid, though some might work, I would generally avoid using gin with chocolate in cocktails. Cacao is a strong flavor that can overwhelm the delicate notes of many gins.”
Bottom line? It’s all about personal taste, quality ingredients and in all things, balance.
Find out for yourself by making Himitsu's Banana and Kakao, Nexto's Kyushiki, Saltyard's Pale Mare, The Commissary's Smoke and Mirrors and Iron Gate's A Black Manhattan Where My Heart Once Was.
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A new documentary aims to tell the story of chocolate, bean to bar.
Filmmaker Tim Shephard followed a group of craft-chocolate makers into the jungles of Peru as they sought to strengthen relationships with farmers and identify new varieties of cacao to introduce into the U.S. market.
Two chocolate makers featured in “Setting the Bar: A Craft Chocolate Origin Story” are Atlanta’s own Elaine Read and Matt Weyandt, the husband and wife team behind Xocolatl at Krog Street Market.
Shephard, Read and Weyandt joined Lois Reitzes on “City Lights” to discuss the process of making both craft chocolate and independent films, as well as the considerations behind a fair price for real chocolate bars.
"Many people have gotten used to paying five dollars for a cup of coffee, but they still expect their chocolate bar to cost a dollar," Weyandt said. "And the reality is there’s actually far more labor that goes into a chocolate bar than goes into a cup of coffee.”
Read thinks that Atlanta is the right market for their craft chocolate at artisan prices. “Atlantans are so well-educated and so well-informed about food and so interested in where their food comes from," she said. "It’s a great population for us to be doing this work in.”
“Setting the Bar” will be released in its entirety this summer. On Tuesday, the Atlanta Botanical Gardens hosts Shephard, Read and Weyandt in a lecture and special preview of the documentary. The event begins at 7 p.m. and is free with admission to the Gardens.
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SETTING THE BAR: A CRAFT CHOCOLATE ORIGIN STORYTuesday, March 7 | 7:00pm | Atlanta Botanical Garden
Enjoy a special preview of director Tim Shepard’s documentary Setting the Bar: A Craft Chocolate Origin Story, hosted by the film’s stars and co-owners of the Xocolatl Small Batch Chocolate, Elaine Read and Matt Weyandt. Read and Weyandt will speak about creating sustainable, artisanal chocolate in a gorgeous setting at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens. Tickets are FREE and no reservations are required.
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All this year, in our series Georgia Eats, we explore the South’s relationship with food. We’ve talked about the state’s craft beer industry. Turns out there’s also a craft chocolate movement, and it’s taken some Georgia chocolatiers far beyond the state’s borders. Elaine Read and Matt Weyandt are the creative force behind Atlanta-based Xocolatl. We spoke to them about their quest to learn about chocolate in its purest forms.
Matt and Elaine's journey abroad to learn about the origins of chocolate is highlighted in an upcoming documentary called “Setting the Bar: A Craft Chocolate Origin Story.” They will join a panel discussion with the filmmaker on Tuesday night at the Atlanta Botanical Garden at 7 p.m.
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Find out how chocolate gets made
Ever wonder how your favorite sweet treat is created? Find out in March at the Atlanta Botanical Garden during a lecture and preview of “Setting the Bar: A Craft Chocolate Origin Story.” The documentary features Atlanta bean-to-bar chocolatiers, Xocolatl Small Batch Chocolate, as well as other craft-chocolate makers as they venture into the Peruvian jungle to strengthen relationships with farmer communities and identify new types of cacao to bring to market.
Stick around for a conversation on craft chocolate with the film’s director, Tim Shephard, and Xocolatl owners Elaine Read and Matt Weyandt.
7 p.m. March 7. Free. Atlanta Botanical Garden, 1345 Piedmont Ave. N.E., Atlanta. http://bit.ly/2mpDBMh.
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