One of the biggest mistakes that novice chocolatiers often make in their chocolate business plan is to try and sell chocolate. Sounds funny? It’s true.
The advertisement opens with Freida Pinto biting into a bar of chocolate. Then comes the full-screen visual of a melting chocolate swirl. The voice in the background sensuously prompts, “My first time I tried chocolate, it made me melt.” To the uninitiated, this might seem like the commercial for a chocolate business. But, in fact, this is not a commercial for chocolate at all, not even anything close. This is the TV advertisement for a hair colour: L’Oréal Casting Creme Gloss Chocolate Factory Collection.
In another, rather infamous, commercial for Axe Dark Temptation deodorant, an irresistible chocolate man is gnawed on by eager women. Even the censored version that aired in India was considered so sexy and outrageous that it had to be ultimately withdrawn. Next, let’s talk about Choco Lure, Sinful Bliss, Chocolate Fondue, Passion Soufflé, Wicked Brownie, Choco-Whirls, and Choco-Block. If you think they are types of chocolate confections, think again. They’re the names of watches from the Titan Raga Chocolat collection.
So what do greying hair, malodorous armpits, and timekeeping have to do with chocolate? It seems that savvy marketers looking for the next big hype are using the allure of chocolate and the traits we associate with it – richness, sophistication, romance – to sell a variety of goods to us that often have really nothing to do with chocolate. This mass appeal that exists beyond the product itself – its Midas touch to glorify anything and everything that it comes in contact with – is, at least in the food world, quite unique to chocolate. This free unmitigated chocolate propaganda should be a boon to those in the chocolate business. But, is it?
Market studies across the board have shown time and again that consumers become numb to ideas when they are repeatedly bombarded with them. They subconsciously tune out of the redundant messages, treating them as nothing more than background noise, rendering them ineffective. So what does this excessive chocolate marketing mean for those in the chocolate business: those who’re selling the real deal, not just toying with the idea to market other products? If you’re a chocolatier, it means you’re going to have to shout louder, play out your melody, maybe even sing a song – anything to be heard above that background noise and be noticed. Metaphorically speaking, of course. We don’t want complaints from your neighbours!
We were recently approached by a local confectioner to revamp their chocolate portfolio. They are a reputed name in the traditional Indian sweets segment and are doing exceedingly well on that front. However, their chocolate sales left much to be desired. So we began an ambitious overhaul of the collection. The first step was to try and figure out why things were the way they were. They had good footfalls, and the people coming in were obviously interested in buying sweets. So what was it that was keeping them away from the chocolate counter?
One of the problems is that, for the most part in India, we treat chocolate with a complete lack of innovation. Chocolate is just chocolate: an end product rather than a powerful ingredient. The most common chocolate available in the market is plain milk. This is closely followed by the very familiar fruit and nut. Then there’s the dark for the more open-minded. Some “brazen” gourmet stores even stock a few fruity flavours. But that’s about it. In contrast, Indian sweets come in a variety of colours, textures and shapes, with each mithai having its own individual identity. Think about gulab jamun, barfi, or gujia – and three very distinct possibilities come to mind. We don’t simply equate them as being different forms of mawa or khoya, the base ingredient, even though that’s what they are. That is the level of culinary sophistication in Indian sweets, something that is totally lacking in our sensibilities with chocolate.
Now imagine walking into that mithai shop with rows and rows of fresh, fragrant, enticing Indian sweets only to land up near the chocolate counter with dull foil wrapped chocolates in flavours that you could probably also get in mass-produced bars available at the grocery store. What would you do? Even as a complete chocoholic, I would turn around and try that ras malai instead.
Sure, we all adore chocolate. And, as we have seen in examples earlier, even its name association is enough to drive the sales of other products. But think about it – if a watch company is working hard to entice you with all those new, exotic kinds of chocolaty creations – as a chocolatier, how can you possibly get by with just plain, old, boring chocolate?
It’s time to step up the marketing strategy for your chocolate business. Explore, experiment, improvise, innovate – new chocolates, new flavours, new packagings. You could start by answering some of these questions:
- What do you stand for as a chocolatier?
- How does your taste and personality reflect in your creations?
- Is your chocolate different from the average Joe's (or Jane's, if you prefer)?
- If you have a brand or boutique, how does your brand philosophy tie into your recipes?
- Does your chocolate presentation enhance the experience of the consumer?
For the Indian sweets brand, we’re developing an exclusive range of “India” inspired chocolates that will bring together the gastronomic principles of our own traditional sweet delicacies – their ingredients, flavour nuances, ad cooking processes – with the best in international chocolatiering. The unique collection will add to the brand’s value, appeal to their target demographics, and offer a new taste experience to their customers – all this while still preserving their more than a century old legacy in mouth-watering, ghee-dripping mithais!
The big corporations have done the artisan chocolatier a favour. They have created a market too big for themselves, one with plenty of room for the small fish: enterprising chocolate businesses that know how to ride the tide by positioning themselves clearly with products for impulse, sharing, and gifting, while hitting the right price points.
People know all about chocolate and they already love everything about it. What they don’t know is how extraordinarily luscious and sensational your creations are. So indulge them – use the opportunity to tell them how you bring your chocolates to life.
Don’t sell chocolate. Sell your chocolate.