What are Your Chocolate Preferences?

Early Results of the Chocolate Preferences Survey

Updated May 9, 2010. Click here to read an explanation of the source of new responses.  The updated results with new commentary are shown below.

Due to well-publicized health benefits, dark chocolate has enjoyed rising demand starting in the late 90’s.  But have people really turned away from milk chocolate altogether?  How dark is dark enough?  What do people care about when choosing chocolate?

My chocolate survey has been running since late last year.  Even though we may not yet have enough data to claim the results are meaningful, I think it’s time to look at the responses so far and see if there are any trends.   The survey was taken by visitors to Kokobuzz.com as well as NewLeafChocolates.com.  After compiling all the responses, this is what I’ve found.

Chocolate Survey Question 1: What is your favorite type of chocolate?

This question focused on the percent cocoa (% cacao) in chocolate.  Do you like it mild and milky or more intense?  Not surprisingly, the majority of people prefered a cocoa content between 70 to 80%.  Perhaps it’s all the studies showing that chocolate with 70% or greater cocoa content provides positive health benefits or perhaps this is the best balance of sweetness and cocoa intensity.

Keep in mind that the health benefits of chocolate don’t magically kick in at 70% where a 69.5% bar would be completely ineffective.  It’s more about the extra sugar diluting the beneficial compounds in the chocolate.  Besides, sugar isn’t the best thing for you.  Less cocoa, more sugar.  More sugar, less cocoa.  Other ingredients can be used to dilute the cocoa content such as milk solids in the case of milk chocolate, but for dark chocolate, we’re mostly talking about sugar.

Update May 2010:  The new data don’t change the landscape much.  It’s clear that people prefer dark chocolate since it came away 75% of responses.  However, we did see more milk chocolate lovers come out of the woodwork.

What is your favorite type of chocolate?

Chocolate Survey Question 2: Which of these factors are important to you when you choose chocolate?

When people are selecting chocolate, they have many things to consider, but it’s not as complicated as buying some other gourmet foods such as wine.  There’s cocoa origin.  Where the cocoa was grown can impart a certain flavor profile into the bean just like the specific location of a vineyard determines the terrior of the wine.  Also, certain growing regions tend to use certain types of cacao – for instance Ecuador is almost all Nacional while Trinidad has, you guessed it, a lot of trinitario trees.

Percent cocoa has an obvious impact on flavor.  I’ve tasted some 80% bars that were surprisingly and pleasantly sweet such as Taza’s Organic Stone Ground Chocolate 80% bar.  I’ve also gone all the way to 99% – something I recommend that everyone does at least once.

The number of options for organic chocolate are expanding daily, or so it seems.  Organic chocolate is not akin to the anemic, mottled fruit that we used to see in the grocery store ten years ago.  Most chocolate plantations started out as naturally organic since most cacao is cultivated in poor countries where farmers can’t afford chemicals anyway.  Sure, there are large some growing operations controlled by corporations, but most of the chocolates reviewed on this blog are from small, fair-trade farms that are often family run.  The point is that it’s a natural transition for many farms to go organic and if they can afford the fees, get certified.  The benefits are many.  Among the most important benefits is protection of the local eco-systems where cacao is grown and farmed.  This is a lengthy topic that we can go more deeply into some day.

Fair trade chocolate has become more readily available too.  Although it might not appear so on the surface, this is another complex issue.  Let’s just say that if farmers are paid fairly for their cacao, this tends to benefit farm workers and the communities where they live.

In the chocolate world, brand is more than an empty set of impressions about a company’s image.  Rather, brands can encompass all of the above factors and more.  For instance, Pacari Chocolate is a single-origin Chocolate from Ecuador that is also certified organic and fair trade.  If you recognize this brand, then you know immediately what to expect from their products.

Finally, chocolate fans are becoming increasingly aware of not only which chocolate they buy, but where they buy it.  Does the shop, be it online or bricks and mortar, simply dispense bars at the lowest possible price like a commodity or do they provide other advice, product innovations or operate in a sustainable way?  Since chocolate is usually cultivated and at least partly processed poor nations that are also home to some of the richest ecosystems in the world, many people feel compelled to pay more attention to sustainability when selecting chocolate.

For this question, people were allowed to choose as many factors as they wished to deem important.  Pretty much the whole range was covered without too much distinction.  I wouldn’t say the differences are statistically significant yet, but there were more people who choose organic chocolate and based on percent cacao.    Almost as many people thing about the sustainable practices of the store and fair trade.  To really get a feel for what’s most important, let’s  go to the next question.

Which factors are important in choosing chocolate?

Chocolate Survey Question 3: Which ONE of these factors is MOST important when you choose chocolate?

When people were asked to single out the most important factor, it still turned out to be a three-way tie between organic, percent cocoa and brand.   We need to break up this tie, so please take the survey (see the end of this post).

Update, May 2010: with the new responses, things have become much more clear – brand is king!  After that, people want to chose chocolate by percent cocoa, which makes sense since it’s a big factor in determining the intensity of flavor and the overall chocolate experience.  Finally, I’m heartened to see that organic chocolate is on the radar screen in consumers’ minds.

What is the ONE most important factor when choosing chocolate?

Chocolate Survey Question 4: What is your favorite form of chocolate?

Ah, what a tough choice.  Only one favorite?  For me, I bounce between bars and truffles, but on a sheer weight basis, I’m with everyone else – bars are the way to go.  I’m told this obsession with bars is an American thing, but I’m not sure that Europeans don’t get most of their chocolate in bar form too (keeping in mind that I’m excluded baked goods and pastries).  For what it’s worth, all of the respondents were American from states across the country and as far away as Hawaii.  About 80% were women.   The other below was “bars with stuff in them.”  Technically, these are inclusions – nuts, berries, ginger, etc.

Update May 2010:  Now we start to see more balance emerge.  We’re crazy about bars, but not that crazy.  Drinking chocolate (hot chocolate, etc.) has shown up for the first time now, but still has low share of preference.  For us in the northeast, there’s a few more cold months per year than we’d like, so hot chocolate helps get us through, but for the rest of the country, I can see how it’s less of a priority.

What is your favorite form of chocolate?

Now it’s your turn. I’d love to have more data to see if we can break some of the ties.  The updated survey has been set up and is fast to take with only ten questions.   Click the link at the top right of this page to take the survey.

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