Last Friday, I was lucky enough to be invited to the Academy of Chocolate conference at the Royal Automobile Club in Pall Mall.
The event was a gathering of the great and good from throughout the chocolate industry, with representatives from the largest chocolate companies, right down to the smallest chocolate shops, all keen to find out what’s new in the industry.
The day started with a talk from Craig Sams, co-founder of Green & Black’s. Craig talked about his background in macrobiotics, and the journey that eventually led him to produce the product in the world to carry the Fairtrade mark, Maya Gold. His presentation was fascinating, and covered many of the ethical and scientific issues that went into building Green & Black’s.
After Craig’s presentation, Tony Lass gave an interesting insight into commodities markets, how they work and why they’re necessary. I wasn’t entirely convinced by this, but it was interesting to hear how the cocoa supply chain is organised, and why traceability is so complicated.
This was followed by a presentation from Richard Perks of Mintel was gave some rather gloomy predictions about the state of the economy, interspersed with many interesting facts about the chocolate industry. Did you know, for instance, that when given the statement “I prefere milk chocolate (to dark chocolate)”, only 35% of people surveyed said yes, as opposed to 51% two years ago.
More people liking dark chocolate can only be good news!
The final presentations of the morning were about sustainability, including a very interesting history of Divine Chocolate from their MD Sophi Tranchell MBE. I found the story of Divine, and how the farmers own 45% of the company exciting, and a little at odds with what was said about commodities markets being “necessary” earlier in the day.
After lunch, there was a great demonstration from William Curley, talks from William, Paul A. Young, and Hotel Chocolat’s co-founder Angus Thirlwell amongst others. All in all, it was a great event, and something that I felt privileged to have been allowed to attend.
I left feeling excited at the state of the UK chocolate industry, but also a little concerned by the plight of the farmers around the world who are absolutely essential to producing chocolate we all love.
There’s one fact from Sophi’s presentation that stayed with me after the event: In Ghana, the average age of the cocoa farmer is over 60. Life expectancy is 56.