Barry Callebaut talks at the Academy of Chocolate

Earlier this week the Academy of Chocolate hosted an event for Barry Callebaut to talk about their view of the chocolate world and their CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) policies. I admit I was not hugely keen on hearing a talk about the CSR policies. I absolutely care what they are but, in my experience, company talks on this topic are a little longwinded. People who work in CSR are incredibly passionate (as you would hope!) about their work and tend to impart more detail than their audience can really connect with. For me, the same was somewhat true again on this occasion. I am certainly glad I went as the evening caused me to rethink a few of my pre-conceptions, as well as being a great opportunity to hear directly from its employees, what the largest chocolate company in the world actually does. When you live somewhere with some of the best chocolatiers in the world it’s easy to get caught in the bubble of amazing quality chocolate. It is great to see the Academy acknowledging the importance of the big chocolate players and choosing to host events for them as well.

Barry Callebaut is the largest chocolate company in the world. They make 1.3 million tonnes of chocolate each year. You don’t get to that size without producing something that appeals to and is affordable by the mass market. This kind of chocolate is inevitably not the type that anyone in the Academy chooses to eat first. I love introducing people to “fine” chocolate on my chocolate tours and get particularly excited when the milk lovers realise they do like dark chocolate. But I don’t convert everyone and some people will always prefer Galaxy or Dairy Milk to Valrhona or Amedei. And that’s ok. What I am comforted by is that, for the most part (to the best of my knowledge), Callebaut uses real vanilla and no vegetable fats in their chocolate and that they are taking action with regards to looking after the cocoa farmers. 

The economic reality is that if Callebaut and the other big players in the chocolate world don’t take action there won’t be enough cocoa to supply our increasing demand for it. It’s almost always the little guys that start the action, that lead the way, but real seismic change happens when companies like Callebaut start to swing their weight. Wednesday evening was a little bit slick pitch and we felt they struggled to answer some of the more direct questions, but it is great to see more engagement between larger chocolate makers in the world and people so passionate about the fine chocolate world. Hopefully this has caused Callebaut to think some more, so next time they are invited to an Academy of Chocolate event they can shout out about all the new things they’ve been doing to help improve and ensure supply in the world of chocolate for all of us.

I have been known to be quite dismissive of Callebaut chocolate in the past for much other than baking, and I am still of the opinion that the bulk of what they make is not to my taste, but drawing on the analogy given by Simon Harris, Barry Callebaut’s UK Gourmet Business Manager, comparing the range of car brands all owned by the Volkswagen Group to Callebaut’s range of products, it was nice to taste for myself and discover that I enjoyed eating some of their chocolate, in particular the 65% dark from Peru. I found this chocolate better than some of the bars from so-deemed fine producers who don’t always produce amazing tasting bars, though are admirably pushing the boundaries in their experimentation. Whatever size you are, if you are not failing sometimes then you aren’t trying hard enough. For large companies it is much more difficult to push those boundaries. The price of failing is much higher, and particularly when there are shareholders to appease it becomes more and more important to do the due diligence in analysing risk and benefits of any major change. This can be slow and therefore frustrating at times when you work in a large organisation (which I do, during the week), but the reason I am choosing right now to work in a large organisation is the easy access to resources that I feel have major benefits, including cash, research facilities, bright minds and experience.

There is room for all sizes and types in the chocolate world and much benefit from having the variety.  I think that the more open and friendly the communication between everyone, the better it will be for the farmers who grow the beans and the consumers who eat the end product.  I’m hoping that I might be able to convince Simon and his colleagues to let us visit the Callebaut headquarters sometime soon and see just how they create their unique blends. Then we can come back and tell you all about it!

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