“It’s been a wild ride,” said Alastair Gower, Director of The Chocolate Tree Limited, a Scottish craft chocolate company with sustainability at its core that purchases its organic agro-forestry cacao from farms in South and Central America.
The Chocolate Tree Limited is also a member of the 1 Percent for the Planet, with the percentage of its profits going to environmental non-profits and is approved by the Slave Free Chocolate organisation.
Gower was talking as part of the panel on the second day of the Chocoa21 Conference in Amsterdam, held online this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Discussions ranged from topics such as cocoa whole fruit, cadmium, Brexit and COVID-19.
Gower said that online sales for his fine flavour chocolate was up 7,000 % for a period, which is consistent with other craft chocolate makers during the initial lockdowns, selling online and from wholesale.
“People have been given more time to consider their choices and Chocolate Tree is a very environmentally focussed company, so when people are looking for levelling up the quality of what they buy, with better provenance, people are shifting that way, we need to change consumers’ perceptions and habits,” he said.
One of the impacts of the pandemic has been the loss of business from the hospitality sector, “we’ve lost all our restaurants and Michelin-starred chefs,” he said.
“With a premium product like ours, innovations keep the craft end of the market inspired and moving along. Cocoa is a versatile ingredient, and we have a passion for what we do as a small business - and it’s what will see us through these challenges,” he said.
Regarding Brexit, Gower said making chocolate in the UK has become more difficult because all the ingredients come from over seas and are a lot more expensive than they were before January.
Before heading to Amsterdam, Gower told the Edinburgh Evening News that the company has had to put shipments to the European Union (EU) on hold for its website orders and is finding it near-impossible to meet its customers’ needs.
“ It’s a difficult to maintain relationship with our produces, because of distance, and lack of opportunity to communicate, recently we have not been able to buy cacao from Mexico, Belize, Venezuela for different reasons, whether that is tax registrations, failed organic certification, or high fuel prices, in the case of Venezula,” he told the panel.
Gower said he welcomed recent innovations in wholefruit from bigger companies as it helps change and open consumers’ perceptions of the potential of a chocolate bar. “Usually those guys steal ideas from us, but in this case we’ll be stealing from them – it’s a fantastic idea,” he said.