Cocoa Flavours, Premium Chocolate Brands and The Academy of Chocolate
On Thursday 16th July, Hardman Agribusiness attended an evening discussion at the famous Soho restaurant, L’Escargot, about chocolate produced from single variety ‘flavour’ cocoa trees. There is compelling empirical evidence of strong demand growth for fine flavour cocoa inspired products. Hosted by The Academy of Chocolate, the discussion was led by Angus Thirlwell Co-founder and CEO of Hotel Chocolat, and Frank Homann Founder & CEO of Xoco. The central theme of the discussion was that cocoa production is still evolving and that compared to the production of many other fruit crops, it is relatively under-developed. Consumers will all have a favourite variety of apple, distinguishable by flavour, texture and juiciness, dates admit of a number of distinct varieties as do plums, tomatoes and avocados. Cocoa varieties also have unique and complex flavours, especially the ancient Criollo varieties which are the focus of Xoco’s production programme. The Academy of Chocolate and its members share with Xoco a determination to recognise and encourage the use of these fine flavour beans for the production of superior and distinct tasting chocolate.
Hotel Chocolat is a British chocolatier and cocoa grower, with over seventy shops in the UK and a growing presence in Europe. The founding team of Angus Thirlwell and Peter Harris began designing and selling chocolates in 1988 and the rebranded all activities as Hotel Chocolat in 2003 when the first retail store was opened in Watford. In 2006, the company acquired the Rabot Estate in Saint Lucia, West Indies, and is, to date, the only company in the UK (known to Hardman Agribusiness) to own its own cocoa plantation. Hotel Chocolat has been awarded Emerging Retailer of the Year by Retail Week and has been nominated as one of the UK’s CoolBrands. In November 2013, Hotel Chocolat opened two UK restaurants, Rabot 1745 in London’s Borough Market, and Roast + Conch in Leeds.
Xoco, founded in 2007, is a privately held company focused on supplying single variety flavour cocoa beans to chocolatiers around the world. The company operates in Honduras, Guatemala and Nicaragua and is currently looking at more projects in Central America. Having identified rare fine flavour Criollo variety trees in various countries across the Central American region the company established nurseries for their propagation to support what it describes as perhaps “the largest cocoa grafting operation in history”. Xoco is seeking to revolutionise the cocoa production industry with the use of material for grafting to achieve the best flavours available within the known pools of cocoa DNA.
Xoco claims to be the first producer to offer single variety, single origin, fine flavour cocoa in volume. Over time, several hundred farmers – or “out growers” – have made exclusive partnership contracts with Xoco, and have planted their fields with fine cocoa tree varieties produced in the company’s nurseries. Typically, the farmers commit 20%-30% of their land in planting Xoco cocoa lines. The company has undertaken to provide technical assistance for the productive lifetime of the trees, it guarantees the growers a superior price, typically at or above the international price of the commodity, and it collects the wet beans at the farm gate for fermentation, drying and bagging to the highest standards, at its own facilities within each country in which it operates.
Attendees at the discussion were treated to tastings of chocolate made with Mayan Red, one of Xoco’s supplied varieties. According to Xoco, the Mayan Red cultivar dates back to the original Mayan trees, genetically unique to Honduras. The original “mother trees” were found on remote farms in the northern coastal jungle. Its tasting notes are described as ‘complex’ and a ‘distinct blend of dark raisins, fruit and honey’. Hardman Agribusiness and other tasters noted a definite rich smoky after flavour.
Source: Xoco website – Mayan Red
Fine flavour beans are thought to represent not much more than 5% of the global crop, but the proliferation of premium brands like Hotel Chocolat and many of the other members of Academy of Chocolate, suggests that demand for high quality flavour beans is on the increase and it is this demand that Xoco is seeking to meet.
The Academy of Chocolate was founded in 2005 by five of Britain’s leading chocolate professionals, united in the belief that eating fine chocolate is one of life’s great pleasures. Today the membership reads like a roll call of the quality end of the chocolate confectionery and retail sectors in the UK. The Academy argues that demand for fine chocolate will act as an incentive to select better quality cocoa beans and therefore have a beneficial social and environmental impact on the cocoa growing countries. With better pricing for their production and an emphasis on quality The Academy believes that producers will be incentivized to remain in cocoa production and will farm more responsibly.