Last week, I conducted a little experiment. I spent some time on the websites of the 32 active bean to bar chocolate makers in Australia (as per the list on bean bar you). Apart from going on a chocolate shopping spree, I was interested in two things. First, I wanted to see if the different makers offered a drinking chocolate (including ingredients, sourcing details etc.). For a full, regularly updated list, click here. Second, I wanted to see how makers are promoting their products and, more specifically, what sustainability claims they are making and how they are backing these up. I wanted to see how chocolate makers are educating their customers about the challenges in the cocoa industry, and why what bean to bar makers do is so important.  

To gather this information, I looked at the home page, the “About” page or any other page dedicated to sourcing and finally the page for their dark 70% drinking chocolate (if offered).  

WHAT I FOUND

On the home pages of the bean to bar makers I found that:

  • 50% share no information about their cacao
  • 28% mention the source of their cacao 
  • 25% mention the cacao is either fair trade or direct trade
  • 41% of sites include at least one sustainability term. In almost all cases only the word is included with no additional explanation. This includes the words ethical – 19%, sustainable – 16%, organic – 16%, natural – 9%, and traceable – 6%.

On the “About” page or other pages dedicated to sourcing or sustainability I found that: 

  • 34% clearly provide information on the source of their cacao (including estates and/or how they sourced it)
  • 56% of the sites had no information about the source of their cacao at all
  • 34% mention the term fair trade and 9% clearly explain how their cacao is directly traded. 
  • 34% include the term ethical, 38% sustainable and 19% organic but no evidence or additional information is provided as to what is meant.
  • 13% make some mention of the sustainability challenges faced by the cocoa industry. 

Seventy percent of makers provide at least one drinking chocolate option for sale on their website. Of these:

  • 43% provide no ingredient list on their website and 9% didn’t include the percentage of cacao
  • 48% included the source of the cacao clearly (most often Australia, Papua New Guina, Solomon Islands or Samoa), 22% did not include the source at all, 13% mention single origin but don’t say the origin and 17% don’t say the origin but further research reveals the origin (for example, the image of the packaging). 
  • 26% of sites include terms such as sustainable, real, organic, ethical but provide no additional information.
  • 30% of the drinking chocolates include additional ingredients such as cacao powder or cacao butter (sometimes organic) but the source isn’t provided. 
  • 1 site included the harvest date of the cacao used in the drinking chocolate. I ordered it right away. 

A final observation was that makers in New South Wales generally provided less information about their drinking chocolates than other states.  

WHAT CAN WE DO?

If you are going to put a sustainability related term on your site, make sure you back it up.  Words such as ethical, natural, sustainable, and fair-trade are often used on the websites but no additional explanation is provided. Terms such as ethical and natural don’t mean anything unless evidence is provided to support these. If not, this is greenwashing. While you don’t have to tell us how much you paid farmers, refrain from saying you were “generous” (as one site did).

Share your source.  Too many of the websites visited didn’t make it clear whether their hot chocolate was made using their chocolate, bought couverture chocolate or cocoa powder. They didn’t provide the source of the chocolate, or said it was “South American” or simply “high quality”. There is no need to hide the source of your cacao. You should be proud and if you aren’t, then you should change your sourcing so that you can be proud.  

Be clear in terms of your ingredients too. Several sites didn’t mention what ingredients were in the hot chocolate and a few didn’t include the percentage of cacao content. A few mentioned added cocoa. If inclusions are organic that doesn’t mean the whole drinking chocolate mix is organic. Be careful on how you frame your story.

Share information about cacao and the challenges the industry faces.  Most makers don’t. This includes the challenges that farmers face and how bean to bar chocolate is a way for consumers to play a part in moving towards a more sustainable future for chocolate.  This is a missed opportunity.

Give your drinking chocolates a bit of love. While several sites did a fantastic job selling their bars, their drinking chocolate sites were void of details. If we want to elevate drinking chocolate back to its rightful place (away from its current reputation as a mysterious sweet powder), show off your drinking chocolates and why they are special (and it isn’t just because they are ‘natural’; they also taste better!). 

WHAT’S NEXT?

I’m sharing this not because I want to turn consumers away from bean to bar. On the contrary. As a consumer, I want more people to support Australian bean to bar and all that that represents. For that to happen, however, we need to do better at engaging that audience in our stories and products. If you are a maker, you have the opportunity and responsibility not just to make beautiful chocolate (and there is a lot of that here!) but to educate your customers. Don’t be afraid to share more about your story and the story of your chocolate. If you are a consumer reading this, ask these questions. Your favourite chocolate maker will/should know the answers.

While doing this research, I ended up buying drinking chocolates from all the makers that offered them. Over the next 10 days I will be taste testing these and will report back here at www.ultimatehotchocolate.com and on Instagram @ultimatehotchoc. Stay tuned!