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Chocolate choice: know what your customers want

13 March 2008 by

Knowing your customers' preferences for a lighter or creamier drink is the key to success in selling hot chocolate - and the beverage manufacturers have got all the angles covered. Ian Boughton surveys the market

As any serious caterer today expects hot chocolate drinks to contribute a significant percentage of revenue, it follows that knowing who drinks them dictates what product to work with, and how to present it.

The giant chocolate brands have watched the growth in the market, and are united in seeing a female target. "In coffee shops, hot chocolate is the fourth most popular hot beverage," says Martin Lines, marketing director for Nestlé Professional. "It's clear that it attracts a predominantly female audience, accounting for 57% of hot chocolate sales in the out-of-home arena. It also attracts a young generation, with 49.3% of purchasers under the age of 25. This demographic was a key consideration when we developed Aero Bubbly hot chocolate.

"What customers want also varies depending on circumstances. A heavy, milk-based intense drink can often be a meal in its own right, so it's important to realise that if the drink is an accompaniment to a muffin or piece of cake, then the consumer may well prefer the lighter option, which is more usually the one made with water."

Aimia Foods has noticed this as well. While the company has devised Amour de Chocolat, which it wants to sit alongside premium coffee products in hotel cafés and coffee shops, it has also worked on its Galaxy brand, which now has an add-water instant product and the add-milk Galaxy Hot Chocolate Bliss.

"We know that consumers are willing to pay a premium price," says brand manager Richard Cooper. "We aim to target women from 18 to 50 years of age, and we know this vast audience drinks chocolate for different reasons. Some drink it as a ‘me time' comfort, but others drink it on the go as their alternative to coffee and tea.

"Bliss is aimed at older, sophisticated and confident women in hotels and restaurants. The drink is formulated with a rich and creamy texture, because our research has told us this is what our target audience is looking for. We are not appealing to the public as a whole, but to this niche group, who may not drink it every day. The instant add-water product is aimed at younger women, who drink chocolate more frequently."

Twinings has taken a popular word in chocolate marketing as a brand name. Chocolate Indulgence was devised as an out-of-home luxury product, says trade marketing manager Andrea Stopher. The product has a particularly high chocolate content, at 61% cocoa solids. Twinings also claims the number-one hot chocolate on the market with Options hot chocolate.

"Options offers a full, chocolatey flavour and only 40 calories per cup," says Stopher. "It was supported by a heavyweight TV campaign at the beginning of 2008, aimed at the female market looking for a chocolate hit without the guilt. It works well on a beverage menu."

"Operators need to know what their customers want from a chocolate drink," agrees Elaine Higginson, managing director of First Choice Coffee. "Whether to go for chocolate made with hot water or milk comes down to knowing your customers. The creamy, more indulgent drink is made with milk, and the lighter version is made with water."

First Choice supplies Zuma hot chocolate, Fairtrade-certified for both sugar and cocoa content.

"The caterer has to decide which chocolate to use," agrees Martyn Herriott, marketing manager for Barry Callebaut. "We believe that if the caterer really wants to drive his chocolate sales up, he is best to consider a ready-to-drink liquid chocolate, which allows creation of hot and cold drinks from one pack.

"In mainland Europe you would not find many café-bars, coffee shops and restaurants serving chocolate with less than 20% cocoa if it was add-water, and 32% cocoa if it was add-milk. You must give chocolate the same love and care in preparation as you do a good espresso."

Monbana, the French maker, has also adopted a ready-to-use liquid chocolate drink. This, says managing director Paul Nolan, gives the option of serving and preparing with an espresso machine, a milk pan or a chocolatière machine, either hot or iced. "We are the only company to offer a range of styles of hot chocolate," says Nolan. "Powder is always the most cost-effective, but liquid gives unbeatable consistency and is the easiest way.

"We have thickened and rich versions, our flavoured range, and 5g chocolate pieces in 10 flavours, chocolate balls, biscuits and even mini-madeleines to accompany them." The latest development here is a new porcelain cup and tray/saucer, designed so that the accompaniment is held well away from the base of the cup, out of danger of melting.

Marco Beverage Systems, the maker of water boilers, believes in the future of Continental-style chocolate. The company's Ciocco machine is a dispenser that can easily sit on a front-of-house counter, and can work with liquid or powdered chocolate, and water or milk.

"The Continental way is drunk rather like an espresso coffee," says sales director Chris York. "The Ciocco is a simple way to heat and serve chocolate, and we feel that this will be the next big beverage trend in this country".

The use of chocolate drops for ready mixing is advocated by the Italian Beverage Company. "Many drinking chocolates are simple cocoa powder and sugar, pale imitations of true chocolate," says national sales manager Tony Godden. "Drops of Belgian chocolate give the aroma and velvet texture of the real thing - ours is made with 52% chocolate content - and can also be used for single shots, or in mochas and milk shakes.

"Our Dropissimo chocolate drops actually have directions just in case you can't work out how to make it - and you can just eat them straight from the bag. A 12oz chocolate drink made in a cup would use two tablespoons of drops. They are stirred into a paste, as with a powder, then latte-style milk is added."

Montezuma, the brand named after the Aztec emperor who popularised drinking chocolate, is another company that advocates "real" chocolate. "Drinking chocolate should be just that - chocolate," says company founder Simon Pattinson. "Our chocolate for drinking is super-rich and made from blocks of our house-blended chocolate that we shave down."

What the company refers to as "Monty's way" of making drinking chocolate uses organic dark chocolate with 54% cocoa "and no added sugar or other rubbish to confuse the taste". There are variations with chilli (the authentic Aztec way) or nutmeg, and one with white chocolate.

Java Republic of Dublin is a vociferous supporter of ethically traded chocolate, although the promotion campaign for what it calls The Other Bean has brought a few complaints. The current slogan of "Too much chocolate gives you a big bum" is a toned-down version of the original.

"Customers enjoy a real chocolate that is 100% ethical," says managing director David McKernan. "The Other Bean only has two ingredients, pure cocoa and cane sugar, both certified by Fairtrade. There are no added cocoa fats or sweeteners, and no synthetic taste."

The Other Bean has 40% cocoa content, which, Java Republic points out, allows caterers to judge their portioning and still retain a true chocolate taste.

Cocodirect, part of Fairtrade brand Cafédirect, says that its chocolate sales rose 367% in the food service sector last year. The Cocodirect drinking chocolate is a 40%-solids product, whereas the Cocodirect instant hot chocolate contains 15% cocoa solids, a figure that some brands reckon to be close to the British taste for hot chocolate. The standard Cadbury product is not much higher than that. The Cocodirect instant product is made with non-hydrogenated vegetable oil, and is one of the first Fairtrade hot chocolate drinks available on the UK market that is free from trans fats.

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