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Chocolate in good condition

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From bars to tablets, through confectionery and pastry coatings, chocolate has become a true consumption reflex among the French.

French chocolate consumption has never been so regular. In 2019, over 320,000 tonnes of chocolate were sold in the country, generating a turnover of over 3 billion euros. Each French household consumed an average of nearly 13 kg of chocolate products in 2021. That same year, the market supported 115 companies, 90% of which were small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), providing 30,000 jobs, with over 15,000 dedicated to production.
These figures reflect varied consumption habits, demonstrating an interest in the product and a need to know it more closely. This need for variety also extends to chocolate specialists, driven by a certain affection for the product and a demand for its quality.

Chocolate is now a year-round affair
Sébastien Bouillet welcomes us into his laboratory in Miribel, his flagship in the suburbs of Lyon, inaugurated in November 2022. Nearly 70 employees work here on 800 square meters. It's a significant investment that centralizes all the desires of the pastry-chocolatier. "The laboratory allows us to go much further in research and development because chocolate is very technical. We cannot progress without the right tools," says Sébastien Bouillet. He also notes an increase in efficiency with his new laboratory: "We have gained a lot in productivity. We are at 50% of what we can do, with ten positions in chocolate making." The idea is to sell more but better: "Chocolate used to be limited to Christmas and Easter, but we have moved away from that now. Chocolate is now a year-round thing," he adds.

Nicolas Rozier-Chabert differentiates himself from confectionery chocolatiers, but his investment stakes are equally significant. Inspired by the American craft of bean to bar, he, along with his partner and co-creator of Plaq, Sandra Mielenhausen, aims to sell a pure, "naked" product that allows consumers to discover chocolate without any additives. "We are in direct contact with our producers, working with very high-quality beans that are 4, 5, 6 times more expensive than the world cocoa market price, as it is listed on the stock exchange," he explains. According to the Spherical Insights consultancy, the global cocoa and chocolate market is expected to grow at an average annual rate of 4.37% between 2023 and 2030, despite the inevitable rise in prices, with an increase of 61% between 2021 and 2022 reaching a historic peak last October at $3786 per ton. The impact on prices is real: up 13% for Europeans and 20% for Americans. However, the French continue to invest in quality, flavorful, ethically sourced chocolate.

Dark, intense
A choice confirmed by Sébastien Bouillet: "People are opting for easier chocolate purchases." Several explanations account for this: strong demand, chocolate no longer being limited to specific holidays or traditions, increased curiosity about the product, and the diversity offered by manufacturers. The chocolatier-pâtissier analyzes: "The industry is also a barometer and a source of ideas for creating quality chocolate." The trend towards nostalgia inspires confectioners, pastry chefs, and even bakers, fostering chocolate creativity. "Nostalgia reminds us of childhood, it's reassuring, it's about bold flavors," he explains. But it's not just that; chocolatiers also note consumer demands. Nicolas Rozier-Chabert, co-founder of Plaq, says: "Our French clientele prefers dark, intense chocolate. We started with an 84% dark chocolate bar. Today, we produce three or four varieties, and they sell just as well as the 75%, and even at 75%, it's already a strong choice, as the market tends to be around 70%."

While demand remains strong, the future may present challenges for chocolatiers. Sébastien Bouillet notes: "Chocolate shops are becoming rare, but the best ones endure." Chocolate remains a seasonal product, and pure chocolatiers are hard to come by: "The chocolatier profession is disappearing. Not everyone has a pure chocolate training. We have a full-time chocolatier position thanks to the laboratory." Climate change, with its prolonged heatwaves, also affects chocolate consumption, potentially dampening the desire for it. Additionally, major cocoa-producing regions like Brazil have experienced extreme climate events, raising concerns about the future of cocoa production. These warnings worry Sébastien Bouillet: "I fear that chocolate will become a luxury product targeting only a select clientele. I want to offer a complete range accessible to everyone." So much effort for comfort.


Entretien croisé

We must craft beautiful creative stories that are also useful to artisans in their professional endeavors


Philippe Bertrand, a 56-year-old MOF chocolatier-confectioner, with 34 years of experience as a pastry chef and then technical director of the Chocolate Academy at Cacao Barry, and Nicolas Rozier-Chabert, who transitioned to bean-to-bar chocolate making in his forties by co-founding Plaq in the late 2010s, offer two distinct paths and perspectives in the world of chocolate that reflect the evolution and vitality of this sector. Let's hear from both of them.

How did you get into chocolate ?

Nicolas Rozier-Chabert: After a career in the communication sector, which left me feeling somewhat disappointed towards the end, I wanted to start fresh. I had always explored shops, consumed, tasted everything in Paris, but it was more of a consumer expertise. Then I stumbled upon a chocolate bar from across the Atlantic, more aromatic, which tipped the scales, and Sandra Mielenhausen, my partner, who had also worked in the luxury and spirits industry, and I decided to dive into chocolate making. It was a very structuring experience. At Plaq, we have a complex economic model. We have a real ambition: the naked product, beans hand-sorted, gentle roasting, no cocoa butter, no lecithin, no vanilla, just the bean, with sugar.
Philippe Bertrand: After completing a pastry CAP, I worked in various establishments in the Paris region - I copied the model of the Compagnons du Devoir to gain experience and master the diversity around pastry, hotels, artisans, etc. So, I worked at the Crillon in Paris, thanks to the support of Pierre Hermé, but also in catering, at Flo Prestige (transformed into Fauchon boutiques in the early 2000s). These experiences were a revelation and an opening for me in pastry, a passionate profession. To perfect my journey, I needed experience abroad, so I went to Cambridge for 6 months in a luxury hotel. Upon my return to France in 1990, I joined Cacao Barry as a pastry chef, and over the last 34 years, I have evolved to my current position as technical director of the Chocolate Academy™️ Paris. In 1996, while already working for Cacao Barry, I entered the MOF chocolatier-confectioner competition and became the youngest Meilleur Ouvrier de France in this category. It was the highlight of my career. My position as pastry chef allowed me to travel all over the world to showcase the techniques of the trade to all pastry chefs and chocolatiers.


PB: Yes, undoubtedly. The behavioral change we witness in Europe is also present in all other countries. The relationship with work is changing, and the profession of a cocoa farmer, although it has evolved towards better conditions in recent years, remains very physical. The uncertain and capricious climate makes crop yield forecasts very unstable, despite the efforts made by our group Barry Callebaut and the CIRAD in terms of fertilization, sustainable development, and agroforestry.
N.R-C.: The cocoa traded on the stock market comes from Ghana, Côte d'Ivoire, it's about bulk cocoa and it concerns the major chocolate manufacturers, 85% of the global market. At Plaq, we focus on the percentage of beans that are 4, 5, 6 times more expensive than the global market price, but virtuous, coming from agroforestry... Of course, I feel an inflation, a 10% real increase, but the most complex part remains the transformation of this raw material. We are like winemakers, our beans depend on the seasons, on the harvests. We think we know a bean by heart and one day, the harvest changes and the bean changes in taste. We adjust, we experience variations. In Paris, everything is done on-site at Rue du Nil, and our chocolate is processed nearby, at Rue du Faubourg Poissonnière, and this requires a lot of energy consumption. We deliver via e-commerce and by bike, and on this aspect, we make real savings, this proximity is in service of taste and a from A to Z approach. All we do is to pursue a virtuous direction. Yes, it has a cost, but the whole bet is to have a clientele that follows us and can see a difference: consuming less, but better.


N.R-C.: Today, our forte lies in vigilance, research, and development; we're fortunate to have a cocoa or chocolate manager who can build on our ideas, which truly adds magic to working in chocolate. The choice of Rue du Nil was also crucial; all the products found in this street stem from precise sourcing. Presently, we reap the benefits of this microcosm: the most esteemed chefs come here for their supplies.
PB: The crux isn't just about creating a unique blend but knowing whom, how, and where to sell it. The product must meet demand. In our sector, approaches vary depending on the market. For the gourmet market, the crucial aspect is the product's ease and versatility in use. We can rely on artisans to showcase the origin, the blend of a chocolate, as artisans are experts. Customers are highly interested in novelty, so artisans need blends with character, like Tanzania 75% cocoa with acidic, fruity notes, which truly shine in a bar but can also be elevated in a luxury pastry. Barry Callebaut has introduced a tailored chocolate concept, Or Noir®, where customers can blend cocoa beans from around the world to create a unique chocolate that reflects their taste. Creativity must serve the artisan. We must craft beautiful creative stories that are also useful to artisans in their professional endeavors. Creativity and innovation aren't just about the products; it's also about how we utilize them (for example, creations on social media, etc.).


PB: No doubt! We're fortunate in France to have a strong gastronomic culture. The pain au chocolat is a great example: it's a purely cultural and popular product, but the chocolate it contains is good, even if it's of simple composition. It tastes good, and it's labeled as chocolate, meaning it contains only cocoa, cocoa butter, and sugar (unlike products that contain oils partially replacing cocoa butter). Despite the European reform in 2000 that allowed European markets to label products containing no more than 5% vegetable fats as chocolate coating, resulting in a qualitatively degraded product, the industrial market didn't adhere to it.
N.R-C. I'm not in the best position to speak for all French people, as Plaq operates in a micro-market. However, the American craft pioneers we initially engaged with told us that we would have fun at the beginning with pure chocolate: 70%, 75%. But they also assured us that we would also sell more flavored chocolates (caramel, praline, etc.). Well, that's not the case; our French clientele demands dark, intense chocolate. We can see there's a real demand, it's slowly moving, but it's moving well.

By Hannah Benayoun

Photos  Claire gaby

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