The UK Chocolate Industry in 2019. By Erik Bruun Bindslev

The chocolate industry in the UK has undertaken a great deal of change in recent years. Not only has this included the rise of ethical chocolate, covering sustainability and honourable farming, but also a mass change in the approach of the industry towards flavour profiles, applications and, most excitingly, greater competition due to an influx of brands new to the UK market.

In an era where our environment and health takes centre stage, I find it somewhat surprising that sustainability remains one of the most commonly misused words and underrated selling points in the chocolate industry. Even in 2019, after decades of ‘ethical consumption, having sustainability credentials is too often considered as ‘box ticking’ or a ‘nice to have’ mention glossed over in the annual report. However, in my dealings with both consumers and with our trade customers, we are finding that sustainability is a real element driving buying decisions with purchasing managers underpinned by consumers asking for brands to deliver transparency.

In 2016, the UK had a £81.3bn market for ethical products and services and according to not-for-profit consultancy Ethical Consumer, the sector has grown by more than £40bn since 2008 with households spending an average of £1,263 on ethical goods in 2016. Chocolate companies can no longer afford not to put sustainability at the heart of their business – they have to look to the bigger picture. I believe it is essential to the survival and long-term relevance in the UK chocolate market place.

Rather than overcomplicating matters, the chocolate industry needs to view sustainability simply as acting responsibly as a business. And it’s time our industry woke up to the fact that although an essential part, creating chocolate sustainably doesn’t just cover environmental factors. We have seen a huge turnaround in the public perception of palm oil, topped off with the awareness campaign from Iceland at Christmas 2018, but we must as an industry, take this further. To truly achieve a sustainable chocolate future, chocolate makers must focus on forging close relationships with farmers and suppliers, working diligently with the communities and families, cultivating relationships and driving fair income generation for cocoa farmers, concentrating on improving yields without compromising flavour. So much about making chocolate is about the people growing your beans, and what they themselves do with the product at source – which is something we should never forget. They have the biggest overall direct impact on quality and flavour, two factors that are incredibly important to the UK consumer. You only have to look at the success of companies like Crosstown Doughnuts, who have experienced considerable growth over the past few years, and who haven’t compromised on their ethics to achieve this accomplishment.

There is also currently a great deal of competition in the UK market for chocolate makers and chocolatiers and as a result, we are experiencing a period where many chocolate companies are expanding their USPs in the hope of differentiating themselves. By allowing companies to explore their differences, many makers are seizing the opportunity to differentiate, so we are seeing companies put technique, or ethics, flavours, ingredients or provenance at the heart of their business. This is why we are seeing companies such as Casa Luker, Cocoa Madagascar, Pump Street Bakery and our own company, Guittard Chocolate, do so well.

In relation to trends, we’ve seen a boom in vegan chocolate, the bean-to-bar trend and the re-education of white chocolate beginning to take place, but in today’s UK market, it is the obsession with single origin chocolate that is really starting to change. Although single origin remains a focus for makers and chocolatiers, we are seeing more and more chocolatiers choose to work with blended origin chocolate, for the primary reasons of experimentation and diversity of flavour that can be achieved when using multiple origins in a single chocolate. Because of this, it’s a very exciting time for makers. To see demand rise in this area allows for greater creativity, as well as being able to produce chocolate specifically to meet flavour profile requirements. As a chocolatier, baker or pastry chef for example, working with a blend not only grants the user a more personalised flavour profile for their recipes, it also affords greater consistency, which is essential for any business. Therefore I believe we will see the wider market open up to blends and that the era of a more personalised chocolate experience is upon us.

However, as with many industries in 2019, we are finding that prices are being increasingly squeezed, as competition in the UK reaches fever pitch. However, this sadly does clash with better quality. In markets like fine dining, baking, restaurants, caterers and businesses can’t be without their quality products and consumers will refuse to compromise on the ethics. As such, we are seeing a real opening here. As I mentioned earlier, we find often that our industry suffers from thinking of ethics as a ‘nice to have’, with margins so tight that ethics are the first thing squeezed out, but morals aren’t for idealistic brands alone. Sustainability can be an operational realness. Although it’s not so clear cut as the work to reach truly sustainable chocolate is currently being done, I like to think that purpose driven and family owned, Guittard Chocolate Company demonstrates what can be achieved with reasonable margins left intact.

We are catering for a generation who lead a value driven life, who will spend their money where they think it matters, so companies should not be afraid to invest in sustainability – it will pay dividends for the future. Sustainability can be part of a profitable business plan, with benefits not just for the company, but also for the industry and the wider community who are a part of it too.

Erik Bruun Bindslev is Managing Director of Guittard Chocolate Company Europe. As the oldest continuously family-owned and operated chocolate company in the United States, Guittard Chocolate Company, now under the fourth and fifth generation of family management, continues to grow with the same innovative spirit and commitment to sustainability that has made it one of the world’s most respected makers of premium chocolate over the past 151 years.

An industry leader in cocoa sustainability and protecting the diverse flavours of cocoa from around the world, Guittard in 2016 introduced Cultivate BetterTM, which defines the company’s longstanding commitment to protecting the flavour of cacao, collaborating with farming communities, and preserving the craft from seed to bar.