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New pod-to-pallet chocolate maker takes flavour focus

By Lindsey Partos , 01-Sep-2008

While bean-to-bar chocolate firms spear consumer demand for 'percentage cocoa content', a new chocolate maker eschews focusing on this trend, instead opting to push the 'Flavour Wheel'.

US start-up TCHO, co-founded by a former NASA scientist, aims to improve chocolate quality through scientific experimentation with flavours.

 

"At TCHO, we prefer to differentiate our bars by flavour rather than percentage (70 per cent, if you were wondering) and origin. The reason for this is simple: it’s common sense," says the firm on its website.

 

On the products' packaging, instead of the industry standard cocoa percentage mark that seeks to appeal to the ever more attentive consumer looking for high cocoa percentages, a flavour term defines the chocolate contained inside. So while 70 per cent may be the typical industry definition, TCHO opts for 'nutty', 'chocolatey' or 'fruity'.

 

And the thrust of the firm’s choice finds its tangible form in the firm's 'Flavor Wheel'.

 

"The point of flavour-driven chocolate is to intelligently experiment with flavors that we have coaxed out of the chocolate, and to make it easier to discover chocolate you love," the firm asserts.

 

The wheel, the company's 'roadmap' as its scours the world for the right cocoa beans, divides chocolate flavours into six categories: chocolatey, fruity, nutty, citrus, floral and earthy.

 

Descriptions of the flavours span from 'fudgy caramel notes dancing with malty, roasty and earthy undertones' for 'chocolatey' to 'roasted nuts accented with hints of dark roasted coffee and toasted biscuit' for the 'nutty' term. 'Citrus', 'floral' and 'earthy' are in the pipeline but “coming soon”, says the firm.

 

And in a novel move, the company has borrowed from processes in digital development, launching 'beta' versions of its product, called the TCHO Beta Testing programme. Consumers of TCHO chocolate are encouraged to provide feedback on the product, posted on the firm's website, to help the company design the perfect product.

 

According to the San Francisco firm, which linked up a “space shuttle technologist” with a “grizzled industry veteran who set up chocolate factories for 40 years”, the company's factory, perched on San Francisco's dock, is capable of producing 4000 metric tons per year.

 

Chocolate attracts kilometres of cyberspace as devoted chocoholics use the ease of online blogospheres to discuss the merits of different brands and new arrivals.

 

Maximising on this blossoming online chocolate community TCHO makes much more than a passing nod to the digital age.

 

Its promotional videos, for example, are placed on video-sharing site You Tube, and on the company website's blog you can witness whiteboards with a post-modern appeal that explain the work-in-progress for the firm's 'factory buildout', or read raptures by the company's co-founder, Timothy Childs, on the arrival of sparkling new chocolate moulds.

 

Market

 

Dark chocolate, is one of the fastest, if not the fastest, growing segment in the chocolate market. The healthier image attributed to dark chocolate has brought a much-need, and strident, upward shift in sales in the UK alone for 2007.

 

According to recent research from analysts Mintel, sales for dark choclate hit £85m (€106m) last year, almost doubling - by 96 per cent - between 2005 and 2007.

 

"Even though people are still cutting back on the amount of chocolate they eat, sales in the two years to 2007 saw no less than a 10 per cent increase in value," states a recent report on the confectionery market from analysts Mintel.

 

And while consumers face up to challenging economic times, notably food inflation in Europe and North America, premium chocolate - 'a little taste of luxury' - appears to be a preferred purchase.

 

An assertion backed by Todd Stitzer, chief executive of UK confectionery firm Cadbury. Reporting last month on the firm's half year results that showed a 7.3 per cent rise in first half sales and profits of £223m during the first half of the year, Stitzer said: "No matter how bleak economies look, people always go for treats and that's why we have seen no real slowdown".

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