The Bean-to-Bar Boom
Videri Chocolate Factory, based in Raleigh, NC, is a very important gift to a very specific group of people: parents of 8-year-old kids.
The scene, at this point in the company's five-year history, is quite common. A mom or dad opens the factory door and quicker than the street breeze can blow in, a kid bursts through. To the right is a counter of free chocolate samples, to the left is a coffee counter serving fresh steamed hot chocolate and to the back is a viewing area of the chocolate production process. The kid, and the parents for that matter, can barely keep it together.
“It’s a magical place,” says Sam Ratto, the co-founder and head chocolate maker of Videri. “We have the opportunity to introduce the full circle of chocolate. From bean-to-bar is attractive to me and our customers because quality is visible at each stage. And it tastes delicious, too.”
Bean-to-bar refers to a small piece of the greater 99 billion-dollar chocolate industry. Instead of using mass produced chocolate like the confections found on the shelf of an average supermarket checkout line, a bean-to-bar maker sources cacao beans directly from a farm in a producing country. They then process (roast, winnow, grind, temper) that batch of beans all the way through to the chocolate stage inside of one facility.
“You can trust the process because you can see it,” Sam says. “It’s about transparency.”
The direct trade model for sourcing material has been pioneered by the specialty coffee industry and the baton is now being passed to the chocolate industry. In the last 10 years there has been a 400% increase in companies applying the bean-to-bar method in the U.S. That increase demonstrates very wide industry growth in responsible production methods. The jump is widely credited to the combination of people wanting to develop businesses focused on humane practices, hands-on production, and the opportunity to eat chocolate everyday.
The bottom line is, more and more people want to make delicious chocolate the right way. An industry that trends in the direction of being more transparent is something to be celebrated. And so far, consumers are continually getting on board. Many chocolate makers have expanded their production space as the demand grows for their chocolate. That equates to more jobs at the facility and more bean purchases directly from farms in source countries. The bean-to-bar model is a prime example of people purchasing high quality products from a responsibly-operated company, and everyone involved benefits. And compared to many other treats deemed as “addictive” snacks, the bean-to-bar industry definitely helps everyone involved. Including the most important person… the person actually eating the chocolate. Just ask the kids that cruise through Videri Chocolate Factory. Their chocolate smeared smiles would certainly agree.
Written by Mark Ratto