The Chocolate Life

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Why does nearly every chocolatier I call get all weird with me when I ask what couverture they use? I often get a "Who are you again?" or "We use a secret blend of *expensive chocolate*, *list of cheap chocolates*" or my personal favorite, "We use the finest."

Hey Clay, what about setting up a page that listed chocolatiers and their couvertures? I'd hate to keep this Guittard client list all to myself. ;)

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I totally agree with you Robert.

You're taking that statement out of context. It was directed at a company that sells a $2 a pound chocolate in truffles for more than Cluizel, Richart, or Amedei truffles. They use connections, threats, and misinformation to do business and that is not respectable and my questions were rhetoric.

Actually I'm about as non-competitive as they come. There are a number of good chocolatiers in N. California, just because they are good doesn't mean I respect them and just because I don't respect them doesn't mean that I am competitive with them or that I disrespect them, just that I don't look to them for really anything. My use of the word "respect" is nonstandard, but I can't think of a better one.

Hell, I hate my own products, they can always be better... but unfortunately I have to ship at somepoint instead of spending an eternity refining. ;)

Also, keep in mind that I am not really in the chocolatiering business... I mostly focus on new technology in the field rather than making products. My partner does most of the product making and she has heaps of respect for many peers in all over everywhere.

That is exactly what we mean. Hell.... Our prices are almost free in comparison to others anyway!

For example: A 100g bar of our Porcelana would sell for about $30 USD from the other companies that promote their porcelana. Ours is only $10 CDN ($8 USD). Why? Because Calgarians aren't for the most part, ready for a thirty dollar bar of chocolate.

By the way, what did you think of the website?


The quote you have pulled from our website refers directly to our Monday evening Seminars, where people in fact DO pay for the samples - $40 per person to be exact.

So, in answer to your question, yes, people pay for samples in our shop.
I've always found that to be the case....a "trade" secret.

On a completely unrelated note I had a great moment with a new friend today who grew up in Marysville and was shocked to know I was hep to The Candy Box. Not sure if it's still there but it's an old skool chocolate shop kind of near you!
Being a trade secret implies that a poor chocolate is selected... as it would be the gap in price between the raw ingredients and the final product that constitutes an economic advantage.

Hence I never buy unknown chocolate. :)

Sadly, I don't even know where Marysville is... I did tour all the chocolate shops I could find in the area not long ago, but unfortunately mostly everything just carried Joeseph Schmidt.
"Our chocolates are priced at what the market can bear, not on a wholesale/retail pricing formula from some antiquated and unrealistic business and marketing text."

I wonder if this was targeted at my previous post where I stated than anything more than 4x materials is unethical? If so, it has nothing to do with being old or unrealistic, it has to do with what you can charge in an environment with perfect consumer knowledge. Sadly, many chocolatiers *cough*noka*cough* thrive on consumer ignorance.

The only reason to be secretive about ingredients is to promote an environment of consumer ignorance, in order to leverage unethical profit margins.

I agree with the idea that everyone needs to be treated like royalty... I am a huge proponent of the democratization of fine chocolate... and history has shown that democracy requires education, whereas tyrants require secrecy and ignorance. Dramatic? Sure, but that doesn't make it any less true.
Simple - and there is no need to be specific.

"We use blends of chocolates from A, B, (and so on) companies to achieve flavor profiles that we like and that are unique to us."
See, I disagree with "caveat emptor," it is a concept that is at best outdated.

Sure let an informed buyer beware, but find me an informed buyer... with the relentless attack on our now terrible public school system over the last 30+ years and a constant, endless, ubiquitous barrage of marketing that we are subjected to, the buyer and their ability to beware has been compromised beyond any reasonable expectations.

I guess I like to know that I am offering the best I can to my customers and not just putting the responsibility onto someone else.

Chocolatiers are artisans, not artists. At the end of the day, it is food, not a unique insight to the human perspective for the ages to benefit. And the master artists did share their techniques. If we wish to look to food artists... Pierre Herme uses Valrhona, I know because I read it in one of his many books detailing his techniques. It is in the sharing of these techniques that is art, a way for people to appreciate, understand, and generally augment humanity through knowledge which the next generation can learn from and improve upon.

Also, good luck to buyers that are sensitive and aware... I can tell the difference a Yugo and a Bentley, doesn't mean I'd consider buying a mystery car hidden under a cover, just because the dealer tells me it is of top quality and mutters something about buyer beware. How is chocolate different other than scale?
One thing I learned a long time ago (1988-89) in a previous marketing job is that pricing is subjective and - in order to be most successful - needs to be viewed from the perspective of value, not cost.

What this nets out to is that there is no business reason to discount prices until there is competition that forces you to. Good business dictates that you should charge as much as you can for as long as you can to maximize returns.

Now, as much as you can is highly variable because value is highly subjective. What works in Manhattan won't play in Peoria. What worked in the first half of 2008 probably doesn't work now.

It's not ethics, it's business, unless the value proposition (cough*noka*cough) is based on deliberate deception. In which case, you can get away with it until you're outed and then your business is hosed.

But, high prices that do not have a basis in unethical business practices (e.g., deliberate deception) are not, in my opinion, ipso facto, unethical. Setting a price cap at 4x materials cost when labor costs are excessive can be a recipe for disaster.

You contradict yourself by saying in the same post that you sell your confections at what the market can bear, yet before that you write that you sell premium product at exceptionally reasonable rates, undercharging what is normally priced......

So, either your selling at what the market can bear for the level of quality you produce, or your undercutting your competition. You can't do both at the same time.

Just from what you've typed above, I would have to say that your customers are getting a hell of a deal. Not only are you treating them exceptionally well, but you are undercharging for a premium product!

Having started, built, and sold many businesses in the past, I can tell you that service is far more important than price. Period. If you treat your customers like they are special, they will HAPPILY pay more money for your product. Why? because they feel important.

If in fact you do undercut your competition, provide an exceptional product, and provide exceptional service, the only person you are hurting is yourself regardless of your noble view of your business model.

As far as secrets go, well.... there are chocolate shops on practically every corner, and every business person needs to find an edge to differentiate their product from the next guy. Maybe some people think (in error) that if they keep the source of their chocolate a "secret" it will create an aire of mystery in the customer's eyes, and lead them to believe that there is something special about their chocolate that nobody else has.

The only time I would "poo poo" a secret, is, as an expert in the field, I identify myself as an expert, qualify that statement, and then ask prior to making a purchase who the source of the chocolate is. If they then refuse, I can only assume it's because they would be embarrassed if they told me. Hence, I wouldn't make a purchase.
There's another way to present this same argument:

I am sad that you are missing out on tasting some very interesting pieces of chocolate, because of your insistence on knowing what brand is being used in the manufacture of chocolate.

And that is the snobbery of 70%. Anyone insisting that they won't eat anything less than 70% would not taste the Felchlin Cru Sauvage at 68%. This chocolate (especially the first harvest) is one of the best chocolates (IMO and many others) produced in the last decade. The thought of someone shunning this chocolate for 2% is a legacy of deplorable marketing practices in the industry that focused on a quantitative measure as an indicator of anything other than ... quantity.

I think it makes the most sense to approach tasting everything with an open mind. You don't need to take a second bite and you don't need to buy anything you don't like. But most things deserve to be tasted before judgment is passed.


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