Understanding how we’re a wee slab short in all matters cocoa
The word ‘chocolate’ comes from the Aztec word xocolatl. And sweet-toothed chocolate lovers may be surprised to learn that xocolatl means ‘bitter water’. Yet, the dark chocolate we regularly consume retains this bitterness. Not so the chocolate made by Chocolate and Love. Scottish entrepreneur Richard O’Connor and his Danish wife Birgitte Hovmand only started their company back in 2010, but already supply to 21 countries. They make chocolate bars, mainly dark, in beautiful, tropical packaging that stands out from the generic, luxury-look of most other chocolate companies.
O’Connor is not the first in his family to fall for a Dane. In fact, he is a third generation Scottish-Dane, although speaking to him you’d be hard pushed to work out where he’s from. After years of entrepreneurship, founding eight businesses and international travel, his accent is almost unnoticeable. But while many Scots would cling defiantly to their heritage, it is his desire for a more international lifestyle that started Chocolate and Love. O’Connor and his wife wanted a business they could conduct from anywhere, giving them the flexibility to raise “the wee-one”, as they call their diminutive chocolate vachum.
Initially, I wasn’t sure there was anything new to say about chocolate. Denmark might not be as cocoa-crazy as some countries – for example, Danes only eat 7.7 kilos annually per capita, compared to the UK’s 10.2 – but it’s still popular. There might possibly be a gap in the market for quality, low-price chocolate bars to replace the unsatisfying offspring of Toms and Kraft, but a high-quality, luxury chocolate product? Denmark just didn’t appear to have a market for it.
Yet, as the incorrigibly enthusiastic O’Connor argues, the chocolate industry has major ethical and financial issues. Growing cocoa is increasingly unprofitable, largely due to the chocolate monopoly. In Denmark alone, 31 percent of the supply is provided by Toms, 15 percent Kraft and 8 percent Mars, leaving only 46 percent of the market for other producers. These large companies frequently wait until the end of the cocoa-selling season to buy the beans, meaning a slashed profit for the producer. For O’Connor, fair trade is a main priority. Their cocoa, sugar and vanilla suppliers are painstakingly tracked down and fairly compensated, and their dedication to reforestation and an organic product is particularly noteworthy.
The industry is also afflicted by issues of taste and quality. Firstly, 80 percent of the world’s cocoa comes from the inferior, but high-yield Forastero bean, rather than the Criollo or Trinitario bean, which is used by Chocolate and Love and has a more complex, less bitter flavour. Certainly, their single origin ‘Panama’ bar is the smoothest 80 percent chocolate I have ever tasted. Secondly, the fermentation and roasting process is important. They showed chart after chart, mapping the cocoa bean’s journey from conception to concoction. It was at this point that I realised that the chocolatiers are not only extremely business-savvy, they are total chocolate nerds. By comparison, the rest of us are chocolate dunces. We define our wines and coffee by their place of origin, the type of bean and the complexity of flavour. So why do we ignore these qualities in our chocolate?
Well not everyone, it would seem. The award-winning products of Chocolate and Love have been snapped up by Harvey Nichols, Wholefoods, Magasin and Irma. And the demand is not quite where you would expect. “Russia’s our biggest market,” says O’Connor. “We are in a hundred shops in Moscow. But in Denmark, people are much more likely to buy organic food. They expect quality in their food.”
While in many other countries, like Britain for example, O’Connor claims customers are a lot less discerning and a lot more likely to choose by price than ethical or ecological consideration.
At just 35 kroner, Chocolate and Love’s bars are some of the best value on the market. Bars like ‘Coffee Affair’, ‘Minted’ and ‘Orange Mantra’ reinvigorate familiar flavors, while ‘Sweet Sea’, a totally moreish mix of sea-salt and caramel, and ‘Crushed Diamonds’, milk chocolate with an unusual texture, offer something new. But it is their ‘Filthy Rich’ and 80 percent ‘Panama’ bars that will surely make the biggest impression. In a nutshell, they show the world how chocolate should really taste.