Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Bean to Bar Chocolate....at Costco? ChocXO Almond Butter Cups now on the shelves of Costco stores

I was spending a little time "off island" the other day, and made my way to Sudbury, Ontario, the nearest city to Manitoulin Island. I made my way into Costco for a few business supplies. As soon as I passed the snack aisle, I was surprised to see - not only a new product on the shelves, but a ChocXO product. ChocXO has been actively promoting themselves as a bean-to-bar chocolatier (they write 'chocolatier' rather than 'maker' I guess because they focus more on the treat market rather than just single origin bars like many other bean to bar chocolate makers).

I have always found ChocXO to be a bit confusing. I heard and read that they were a bean to bar maker, but in Canada or the US I could not figure out. They have a Delta, BC (Canada) address on their website, but I thought they started in California, or have a production facility there and one in Canada? Plus, the website uses the words 'color' and 'flavor' without the 'u', leaving me to believe it is American-based. The website no longer gives any indication verbally of the origin of the company, likely to let people believe it can be made in their local country no matter which side of the border they may be on.

What worries me for the craft, bean-to-bar chocolate community, is that clearly to achieve a price of $12.49 at Costco, there must be some large equipment and mass-production capabilities in place. This low price makes it hard for the average small bean-to-bar chocolate maker to explain why their price is six times the amount of ChocXO's. I calculated what my bean-to-confection price would be (based on weight) and this bag would retail at $60 for a small maker like me. Below that and I could not cover labour cost or overhead; I would lose money.

The growing group of craft, bean to bar chocolate makers take at least a week to produce a bar of chocolate from start to finish (that's if they don't age your chocolate before moulding it, which adds weeks to thee process). And with small equipment, and carefully sorting and roasting beans by hand, plus ensuring beans are fine-flavour, chosen from farms and farm co-ops applying sustainable methods and prices high enough for the farmers to earn a living, the whole process on a small scale is very expensive. But what the customer gets for that higher price is: knowing where the beans come from, being able to taste flavours of specific 'terrior' depending on where the beans grow, and knowing that a chocolate maker has put all of his or her passion into bringing out the most interesting flavours of the beans in the way that they have personally interpreted them. All this makes the experience for the taster unique for each brand, each year and each harvest time for the beans.

So all that said, I am happy for ChocXO for making it into Costco. This is a great leap for them as a business. I am just concerned that by promoting the 'bean to bar' message on their packaging, it makes it harder for the small makers to educate their customers on why ChocXO's Costco price is so different from their own.

As for ChocXO's product itself, I like the main principles of what they stand for: 100% organic and no artificial sweeteners, colours or flavours, and non-GMO and sustainable sourcing. These have always been my principles in my chocolate business and in my eating habits. I would gladly feed their products to my children as an alternative to a standard commercial chocolate candy bar, like Mars or Reese Peanut Butter Cups. And for those who cannot have wheat, they are also gluten free.

The Almond Butter Cups are tasty, and leave you wanting more. They are a bit on the sweet side being made with a 56% 'dark' chocolate (which means that chocolate around the almond centre contains 44% sugar). The centre doe not taste quite so sweet yet balances the chocolate very well. There is a good amount of chocolate also on these cups, which certainly satisfies a chocolate craving, but yet provides a filling snack when one is a bit hungry.

ChocXO talks about offering "responsible portion sizes" on their website, and I agree that the individually wrapped packs are nice and a way to control portions, however several cups come in a large bag, and so it is easy to just keep opening the individually wrapped packets and eating more than intended. For people with high self control who can just pop one or two into their purse or lunch bag for a work-day snack, that is great. But when you are shopping at Costco just before lunch and are getting hungry, it is too easy to frantically open the bag in the car and eat five in a row, leaving a trail of messy wrappers across the front passenger seat of the car (really, would I do this? Not me. Nope. No way. Sigh, I still have to go clean out my car.)

So check these out at Costco if you are into Almond Butter Cups, or looking to kick your commercial-Reese-Peanut-Butter-Cups-hydrogenated-oil-and-artificial-flavour habits and want something a little 'healthier'. Just be sure to hit up Costco on a full stomach first!