How do we know when something is in vogue, and conversely, when it has fallen out of fashion? Who decides? We might dictate within our own wardrobe when to wear bellbottoms (again), or in our culinary professions to leave a swathe of colorful sauce on outgoing dessert plates, but for society on a whole, more commonly an “entity”—a wave of trendsetters and the media following their lead—will suggest to us it’s time to do these things. Do we follow? Do we rebel? How much of those messages are internalized anyways? And while ‘trend’ is a word we've thrown around a lot in the food and beverage industries to signal the approaching wave of consumer behavior, and thus for CPG brands and the hospitality sector, suggested product development and potential sales forecasting data, what good does following a trend do if the subfloor beneath the idea is rotting, or the patented seeds of change require connivance?
Don’t look up, but do really—to this current emergency that we all find ourselves in: the hanging future and balance of the warming planet, the incessant fires, floods, and fissures in our collective actions and (dis)agreements. If we continue to follow trends, we’ll not be on the up and up, rather the general direction that all trends eventually go—down. Trends don't “work”—they aren’t sustainable—because they aren't meant to last. They are not solution based, they are market based, manufactured desire (and consent—a really interesting book and theory outlined by Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman); make things that appeal to the lemmings as they tip over the cliff.
I published a “New Year’s” piece two years ago: Seeing 2020, where I named trends and wishes for our industry. I see the difference now between trends and longevity, what’s hot and what’s making the world hotter. I’d like to take a deeper, more reflective look moving forward, not at what is trending, but what longterm ideas and shifts might (better) serve industry, stakeholders and the most vulnerable.
Collectives. Joint ventures. Machine sharing and renting.
The Cross Atlantic Chocolate Collective is the most impressive example I’ve seen to date in craft chocolate. Empowering cocoa growers, business owners, and their extended farming communities with an innovative community-based skills-transfer approach, from the varied yet connected verticals of farming techniques, marketing and chocolate making, they ensure more power, control, value-add, and say in what final product is created—their first jointly-led product launch translated into a multi-country collaboratively-produced tasting collector’s box for consumers, as well as a force for good and equity, and a model for others how futile competition is when banning together.
While craft chocolate might feel close with neighborly vibes at festivals and the never-ending social media feeds from peers of similarly plump (perfect) pods and colorful jungle photos, and melty, gooey, cross-section and overlay shots of bars, beverages, brownies, bonbons and syrups, we’re still hard-pressed to agree on doing things very collectively. There are solid pockets of change on the way, and I believe we’re capable of doing really big things, but I still feel on a whole, it is much disjointed. Everyone wants their own soil-to-factory-to-final product process story to tell. Storytelling is important, what’s unique about you no one can take away…we hear that at every conference—yet 2022 and beyond needs to be about moving mountains together, collecting the rainwater and divvying up for all. The individuality of bean-to-bar—and the main reason I think the term needs revamping, is the standard it evokes of having to control a process alone as an entity or brand and the erasure or limitation of others’ inputs. The “I’ll mow my own grass with my lawn mower” mentality in many boutique industries—ironically meant to battle monopolistic corporations to showcase care and control of craft—is something I’d love retired. As more and more people open their doors, could sharing a central winnower be a thing? Can we purchase equipment (and train if needed) master roasters at the co-op level in order to receive tailor-made paste for grinding? Would we co-brand? What does radical knowledge sharing look like? Collaboration could be king, holding the keys to meaningful centralized, standardized consumer education…and kinder on the 5Ps.
Purity doesn’t exist—purity has gotten us bleached white sugar and sticklers for uniformity that will only buy from one brand, one country, at one percentage, at a certain phase of the moon. We have to see—and teach—that chocolate is muddy, messy, and imperfect, however worth the effort to work with and for, and capable of even further world shifting in the contemporary setting than as a leading protagonist of the past. That’s a gosh-darn heck of an opportunity if you ask me.
Education. More public access.
As I wrote this, United By Chocolate, a non-profit led by Esther Bobbin, jumped onto the scene with a one-day conference (January 12, 2022) that incorporated realtime concurrent interpretation in French, Spanish, and English. What does our industry’s future of inclusivity look like? Beyond translation and the obvious diversity of conference panelists (of which UBC did a fine job by the way), what steps might be put in place to offer reliable connectivity, digital tools, and more widely shared contemporary research—not all of these will be industry developed, nor will suit all regions and scenarios, but we can certainly keep them as touch-points for jumping off places.
I have the pleasure of knowing many colleagues dedicating themselves to changing the paradigm—they use their resources, time, and money to bring free, public-access content to audiences. Education can and should, in my opinion, come from many people, in many forms. If you are bookish or skilled in a field, a bona fide academic or field expert, have practical experience, feel confident about a subject, use clay to tell complex science, or perhaps you work at a tropical research center or have witnessed the last two decades of the global trade…can you share what you know? Are you waiting (patiently or ambivalently) for a media person to interview you? Maybe you believe the newbies entering the industry are getting it all wrong? My response: broadcast yourself. Allow us the opportunity to learn about your work, extinguish myths with a broad stroke rather than individual comments left on haphazard blog posts, or worse, remain in your lab, orchard, kitchen, study, reading room, without letting others know about your findings, thoughts and gathered investigation. I understand the hesitation, but while we have these “free” data collecting and open platforms and your mind/experiences, please feel moved to share outside of white papers or yearly :paywalled: gatherings. Industry members and researchers—alive and deceased, dear and knowledgeable colleagues in chocolate (and beyond) such as Sophie D. Coe and Dr. Michael D. Coe, Dr. W Jeffrey Hurst, and Dr. Juan Carlos Motamayor, etc. are barely represented on a behemoth site like YouTube—yes, there is a generational gap, technology hurdles of the era, but those voices would do many of us well to hear, to revisit worlds and ideas, and make informed decisions for the present.
The wonkiness has to go.
It’s beyond time to rethink Willy Wonka. It’s not a compliment to your personhood or chocolate brand to be associated with this legacy. I’ve seen this reference umpteen times in media articles and videos in many languages and countries, and countless towns along the way—”Local Man is the Willy Wonka of Small City in Larger Province.” Do you see the embedded racism in the original Roald Dahl text? Have you gone back to see the movie lately? You probably don’t even have to rewatch it, as the boat scene is a thing of nightmares. The song he sings in the tunnel has been labeled as a “shamanic chant,” furthering the insistence of the Western gaze to “other” the uncomfortable with terms outside of our general understanding and culture, while disrespecting semantics of another. You could get out ahead of this by letting media individuals know you’d like them to avoid making the connection in their headlines and why. As well as thinking of the consequences that accompany replicating a golden ticket contest. Some nostalgia is not worth holding onto as heirloom pieces. Here are two scholarly articles on the subject that will quell any doubts to the book’s nefarious, disturbing qualities. Deconstructing Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory: Race, Labor, and the Changing Depictions of the Oompa-Loompas and Candy Boys and Chocolate Factories: Roald Dahl, Racialization, and Global Industry (thanks to Dr. Romi Burks for this second recommendation).
I’ll add in here that you are neither “the Indiana Jones of cacao sourcing”—nor would I recommend you aspire to be so. Looting temples, kitchens and ancestral lands centuries ago or presently—literally (which is evil) and figuratively—for your benefit, recipe development, or brand story, will only continue to marginalize communities, evade equitable impact and withhold rightful possession. What ways can you incorporate legitimate storytelling and sourcing, with approval of the actors, ingredients and products involved, that do not fetishize, misrepresent, or make such peoples and establishments further vulnerable to unethical parties or harmful tropes?
Earth as owner.
I’ve done this myself, and am making a conscious effort to consider the semantics of “what’s mine.” We are stewards of this rotating spaceship, guests and (supposed) guardians. Can we drop the “ownership”—but not the onus—and find language, mission statements, and actions that remove hierarchies of authority and prove the adage of “we’re all in this together”?
Packaging and packaged-goods innovations.
This includes even more alternative uses to compostable and biodegradable wrappers/packaging and shipping products. But I’m thinking more along the lines of circular supply chains and economies. What does it look like to welcome customers to bring reusable containers to your shop, ask intermediaries how you can cut back on waste? What local delivery/pick-up options harking back to the days of reusable milk bottles exist for chocolate and cacao products? Can you make a point—set a standard—to refuse long distance and warm-weather shipping, and to work with certain plastics or suppliers?
Conferences and community preservation.
I’ll call them “3D experiences.” How do you replicate water cooler chats and random yet personal moments within a mostly 2D (pandemic and beyond) world? What ways can we explore each-others’ worlds, passions and intellect—going beyond classroom lecture styles and Zoom links that seem code for desk-bound and mute buttons?
I was part of the Mormon Church growing up, and I found the ‘General Conference’ events (held biannually) extremely interesting as a proxy for local congregations to connect to the larger community. These tele-broadcasts (in the 90s, and now via the internet and elsewhere) are screened in branches around the world in over 90 languages. Limited seating is provided for the conference center location where broadcasting took place from in Utah. Wouldn't it be very cool, if say we could have an ‘International Chocolate (conference) Day’ where micro-gatherings were taking place in various parts of the world, certain talks were broadcast to each other according to time zones and interpretation needs? Local communities could use public transportation to join together, accessing the networking and solidarity that many of us really love and crave, yet still holding true to the idea of our global interconnectedness? And ultimately still lowering the carbon footprint of the overall event and burden that many international festivals hold? Include local cacao and chocolate sales too. One can dream.
Chocolate, but not chocolate. Savory applications, cacao as food, etc.
More of them! One of my favorite posts last year in the community group Well Tempered, was from someone requesting help for a “ruined batch.” As a prank, someone had replaced the mise en place sugar with a bowl of salt. Rather than a 70% cacao/cocoa solids 30% sugar attempt—the maker was left with a few pounds of as-is inedible “chocolate-flavored” product (technically not chocolate). But with failures come innovations, right? The community rallied incredible suggestions of ways to turn this disaster into something different: grating over pasta, making compound butters, sauces, and so on. Chocolate after all, is as fluid, flexible and resilient, as its own inherent rheology. Turn it into liquids or retrieve its natural juice, emulsions, creams, puddings, fluffs, powders. Make it sweet, salty, sour, bitter, umami, hot, temperate, cool, or frozen. This also means we can intentionally do things differently than before—than we’ve been told is the “only way” to make a proper palet d'or for instance. I hope to explore more about vegan chocolate making and confectionery recipe development this year, because I’m confident chocolate can stand up to this challenge and transmute itself again.
This is a good place to stop and reflect, because every time I tune in and listen to all of the ways cacao and chocolate bewilders and charms me, I am humbled to its sublime existence—through the centuries and in my daily thoughts and menus. If we can adapt ourselves to even a few of the staggering configurations that cacao holds and offers to us, we’ll be on our way to a more significant, flexible, spellbinding road to prosperity. Wishing you all, cherished readers and colleagues, a healthy and abundant 2022!