While the Salon welcomed back a strong Japanese delegation after a two-year absence because of the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the highlights for ConfectioneryNews was the discovery of Ao Cacao – from New Zealand.
Māori pâtissier Thomas Netana Wright (Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Whātua, Whakatōhea) is the brand’s owner, and not only does he create hand-made premium chocolate, but he also does so with Māori values at its heart. It is not only the first time an indigenous chocolate maker has attended Salon du Chocolat, but it's also the first time any chocolatier from New Zealand has been invited to the trade show.
Launched in 2021, Ao Cocoa has made considerable inroads in artisanal chocolate, working with indigenous people and tapping into the nation’s rich creativity and unique story to create sustainable bean-to-bar chocolate.
Wright told ConfectioneryNews that New Zealand has a growing craft chocolate industry, especially in Auckland. Ao Cocoa is unique because the chocolate bars are hand-made by Wright, whose father is Māori, and he sources from indigenous suppliers and producers he knows personally.
"Ninety-nine percent of our ingredients are made in the Pacific or as local as possible. Our vanilla is from Tahiti, cacao is from Samoa, cocoa butter is from Papua New Guinea, sugar is from Fiji and all the other ingredients tend to come from Aotearoa,” he says.
Wright said chocolate making is in his blood. His father is a baker and a descendant of Wright's dairy, founded in Chelsea, London, in 1796.
Along with Ao Cocoa, there were rare finds from other far-flung regions, including batch cocoa from Costa Rica, exclusive bean-to-bars from the Dominican Republic and Venezuela, and exciting flavours from Japan. There was also a stand from Taiwan to add to the mix, along with French and European chocolatiers.
The Salon du Chocolat does not attract the big multi-nationals but instead gives space to the small, independent chocolate makers who are passionate about their craft – and respond to a highly engaged general public, happy to buy something unique from the exhibitors that you wouldn’t perhaps find on the supermarket shelves.
Like Japan, other countries see the value of a presence in Paris, and there was a sizeable delegation from Brazil, Switzerland, and West Africa to complete the truly international flavour at one of the world’s premier chocolate events.