Peter Grendel has a tougher time selling a $4 loaf of bread. Grendel
makes artisanal breads and sweets for a community of 4,000 at The Pastry
House in Picton, Ont., where a $4 loaf of bread still requires some
Peter Grendel has a tougher time selling a $4 loaf of bread. Grendel makes artisanal breads and sweets for a community of 4,000 at The Pastry House in Picton, Ont., where a $4 loaf of bread still requires some defending.
“It’s not like Toronto,” says Grendel, “where the market is more likely to accept the cost and value of an all-natural product made by hand.”
Grendel has started looking to add single-source and single-plantation chocolate to his ingredient shelf, but he’ll have to wait until the busy season to do it. Picton is in Prince Edward County, a culinary destination that swells with gastronomic tourists beginning the May long weekend. Grendel uses the high season to introduce new products because the tourists get it, he says.
“What I hope,” he adds, “is that locals will try these new items during the high season, so I can sell them year-round.”
Despite a rural clientele not instantly given to specialties like special-source chocolate, Grendel is operating in the age of provenance. Consumers increasingly want to know where their food is coming from. They’ve been voting with their dollars, and location-specific food businesses are thriving. In fact, the provenance movement is showing that big players are going small, and small players going big.
Giants like Callebaut and Valhrona are cultivating relatively small-scale individual plantations to provide special-source chocolate for an international market. Similarly, individual chocolatiers like Ottawa’s Heinrich Stubbe have plugged into chocolate operations working in the co-op model.
Last month, the Ottawa Citizen’s Ron Eade told the story of how Stubbe and his life partner, Pilar Arjona, formed a partnership with a Columbian plantation that, they hope, will soon be able to fulfill a significant chunk of their chocolate needs. The co-operative is 100 per cent organic and supports 400 families, each working their own plot of land.
Admittedly, the market for single-source and single-plantation chocolate is still relatively small, relegated to the high end of the market. Many bakers are still buying blocks of blended commodity chocolate, which, in fairness, are not inferior in any way, despite what some purists may say. They’re just a completely different product.
The big guns in the field of chocolate are a little sensitive on the subject and not likely to be quick to sing the praises of special-source chocolate. Susan Smith of the National Confectioners Association in the U.S. told the Boston Herald last month that people should not be fooled by chocolate snobs – single-source chocolate isn’t necessarily better. She added: “It’s all about taste. It all depends on what you like and what you don’t like.” True enough.
Can we taste the difference? Aficionados blogging about their taste comparisons use the same language that wine enthusiasts use, calling out taste profiles that highlight the complexities of the chocolate’s flavour. Perhaps not surprisingly, they cite taste notes like “floral” and “fruit.” Cocoa is a fruit, after all (well, technically, the cocoa pod is a fruit). It’s important to the industry that there are communities of people who care that much. This kind of enthusiasm
It’s also worth noting that single-source and single-plantation anything have come about thanks to the fair-trade movement, which has an inherent sustainability bent, lending these products a pride of purchase that we should never discount. It’s a powerful value-added to any product.
And the snobs love it. They may be a bore, but we owe a lot to them, economically. They contribute to a product’s desirability. Happily, further along the line, as word spreads, snobs build the market and more people get to have genuine enjoyment of foods that were previously known only to a select few.
Big changes are in the wind for chocolate. Volume is an aspect of supply that the world of special-source chocolate has begun to command, and with some notable success.
Camino is a Canadian co-operative based in the Ottawa-Gatineau region. They’re dedicated to fair trade food products, namely juice, coffee, sugar and chocolate. Camino sources cocoa from a co-operative in Costa Rica, and sugar from a mill supporting co-operative farmers in Paraguay, turning these two commodities into one of their signature products: a line of hot chocolate.
Camino’s most significant stride is industrial chocolate for the baking sector. While quality giants like Callebaut and Valrhona are responsible for most of the chocolate we consume in baked goods, Camino offers an alternative that provides bakers the opportunity to market their products by identifying single-source chocolate as a desirable, valuable feature. At the moment, their industrial blocks of couverture are single-source Peruvian.
Despite the growing interest in single-source and single-plantation chocolate, what Picton locals will think remains to be seen. It may be a no-brainer that the tourists will bite, but my money’s on the locals buying in, too. After all, this crowd is buying $4 loaves of bread. / BJ
Stephanie Ortenzi (www.pistachiowriting.com ) is a Toronto-based food marketing writer.
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