“They’ve not only created a fantastic tasting high-quality organic allergen free chocolate; they’ve added a fun educational toy box that is also sustainable and fully recyclable,” said Greg Beardwell, who spent nearly two decades with Mondelēz, in part as a global innovation manager. PLAYin Choc’s packaging immediately caught his eye, as did the brand’s ability to check nearly every box demanded by today’s thoughtful consumers.
“Having launched chocolate products for over 17 years I know how difficult it is to just get one part of these things right. The way they have managed to bring it all together into a product that people want to buy and at a price that they want to buy it is impressive.”
Maya Simler, along with her husband Dominic, developed the brand less than two years ago after scouring YouTube videos to learn how to make chocolate in her UK home kitchen. She wanted the cocoa to be sourced sustainably, the chocolate to be allergen-free, and the packaging to be ‘design-led.’
The brand’s flagship product, called ToyChoc Box, features two chocolate pieces made from organic Peruvian cacao, coconut sugar and creamed coconut, plus a hint of ground vanilla beans. Each box contains three little cardboard pieces that form a petite animal figurine – such as a giraffe (part of the endangered animals collection) or a squirrel in the ‘woodland’ series – and a few facts about the creature.
Design forward, ethically sound
In addition to being made from recycled cardboard, the boxes show off a whimsical, earth-toned design of stripes and checkerboards.
Its price point (£2.95 / $3.64 per unit) is also spot-on, according to Beardwell, especially for a sustainably sourced, small business product.
His former colleague agrees. Cesar Melo has also joined the brand as a consultant, having worked at Mondelēz as the president of global chocolate before moving to PepsiCo's categories and franchise division for Europe and Sub-Saharan Africa. Consumers are increasingly “gravitating towards smaller, very authentic brands which they can connect with at a more personal level,” he told ConfectioneryNews. Technology – especially ecommerce and social media – has simultaneously “eroded the scale advantages of large brands and barriers of entry for newcomers.”
The challenge, he noted, is ensuring that such an authentic brand can achieve financial and commercial sustainability far into the future. He believes PlayIN Choc can do just that.
He told us that his involvement with PLAYin Choc affirms that “there is room in this wonderful world of chocolate for both large, iconic, delicious brands which have been delighting people for many years – like some of the ones I had the luxury to manage – as well as for smaller, more tailored, targeted, purpose-driven brands.”
That purpose will only become more important, agreed Beardwell, particularly as trends and consumers speed into a sustainable future for both ingredients and packaging. Millennials and Gen Z are “moving much faster…than the major confectionary companies are willing or able to react,” he said, and thus they are ‘actively seeking’ new products that meet those needs. “It is now easier than ever to find out about new products and get those products delivered to your home – no matter the size of the company.”
An ethical chocolate future
PLAYin Choc plans to raise an additional £2m ($2.4m) later this year, following its £250k round this year on the crowdsourced funding site CrowdCube. The team will continue to focus on growth, said Beardwell, after ‘refreshing and improving’ the brand’s design and the company’s website.
Production also moved to a fully integrated, modern factory “to ensure we produce high quality organic chocolate and carton board toys” and eventually “other pure chocolate product.”
“There is no reason it can’t be in all the major chocolate markets around the world,” added Beardwell.
For him, PLAYin Choc represents the quintessential product of a future rooted in sustainability – from a corporate governance side and from consumer expectation.
Established global brands must “find ways to react or…risk missing out to more nimble, innovative, smaller companies that have been founded on these trends from the beginning.”
The industry as a whole benefits from ‘bright’ prospects, added Melo. “The demographics are in its favor, products are getting better, and industry players are trying to do the right thing in terms of sustainability and health.”