Until the beginning of the 20th century, chocolate remained the exclusive privilege of the rich and famous. Chocolate remained extremely expensive due to very high cocoa and sugar prices in the 19th century. For the chocolate manufacturers, growth of the chocolate market could only be achieved by growth of the high-income group.
Around 1900, the prices of the two main ingredients for chocolate – cocoa and sugar – dropped tremendously. In addition, the liberalization of the cocoa trade and the abolition of government taxes on cocoa lead to a growing democratization of cocoa and chocolate. As a consequence, in ten years time, chocolate became affordable for a growing number of mainly middle class consumers in the first half of the 20th century.
In Italy, Francesco Buitoni, a relative of the renowned pasta making family, starts developing his chocolate activities in 1907. In 1922 he invents and markets the famous “baci”, which means kisses in Italian. These are small chocolates, wrapped in silver paper that contain a love message. Chocolate and romance go hand in hand.
Across Europe, the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century saw the establishment of the big names in the chocolate world: such as our own brands like Callebaut®, Cacao Barry® and Carma®, who started producing chocolate for bakers, chocolatiers and pastry chefs.
At the same time, the world’s most renowned chocolatiers started up their businesses: Neuhaus and Godiva in Belgium, La Maison du Chocolat and Fauchon in France, Lindt, Suchard and Sprüngli in Switzerland.
From the early 1820s, the U.K. had developed quite a unique chocolate taste and flavor. Their chocolate was dark and very often combined with strong, pronounced flavors like mint cream, rose & violet cream or ginger. Its history is also closely related to the British royal family: companies like Charbonnel & Walker (1825), Ackermans Chocolates (1919), Bendicks of Mayfair were appointed by her Majesty Queen Victoria. Even today, some of these companies remain connected to the royal family and still produce the same amazing and traditional U.K. chocolates.
Belgium in the year 1912: Jean Neuhaus, founder of the famous Neuhaus brand, invented a chocolate shell that he could fill with cream or nut pastes. He invented the real Belgian chocolate: the praline. “What is a precious but vulnerable praline without an appropriate chic and elegant packaging that protects it from being broken?” Jean Neuhaus must have reflected in 1920. As a solution to his problem, he designed an appropriate packaging for his pralines: the famous rectangular box – also called ballotin – that still today cherishes Belgian chocolates all over the world. Until Neuhaus’ revolutionary packaging, pralines were wrapped in small cone shaped paper bags.
The beginning of the 20th century announced the boom in industrialization of chocolate production all over Europe and the U.S. Countries like Belgium employed 2200 people in 1910, a number which grew to 6180 in 1937. This gives a clear indication of the increase in volumes produced.
Belgium seemed to be at the cutting edge of innovation, fast production technology and new marketing techniques, compared to the rest of Europe. In 1920, for example, the Belgian-Anatolian family Kestekides launched their brand Leonidas: pralines and chocolate confectionery. This was sold at lower prices through window sales in the busiest streets of Belgium, later in Europe and then the rest of the world.
Another Belgian invention in the 1920s was the chocolate bar. Across Europe chocolate tablets of about 150g had become real bestsellers. Belgium was the first country to reduce the size to 30g and 45g and form it into a tablet shape, which was taken over by many foreign producers. The chocolate bar became a popular, affordable snack for an ultimate and individual indulging experience.
A third major (again Belgian) invention was made by Frans Callebaut, one of the owners of the Callebaut® brand. He thought of a way to produce couverture (couverture is chocolate with a high cocoa butter/milk fat content, mainly for professional use) and to stock and transport it in its liquid form. This revolutionary process avoided the need for chocolate to be solidified first in blocks, tablets or bars and allowed it to be delivered directly to the food manufacturers. This also lowered the production cost of chocolate which made it possible to integrate chocolate in a whole new range of foodstuffs, such as breakfast cereals, bread & butter spreads, filled bars, candy bars.
After the World War I, slowly but surely chocolate gained a new status in Mid Europe and the U.S. that changed it from an exclusive treat to a mass consumption foodstuff. Before World War I, the working class in Europe was only able to taste and enjoy chocolate on very special and rare occasions, like at Christmas or on birthdays. Low incomes and high chocolate prices still made it a luxury item. All this changed after World War I, with a new wave of industrialization and automation in chocolate production, with Belgium at the forefront in maximizing cost efficiency.
The development of chocolate products was also boosted to high levels. No longer was it limited to drinks and pralines, but an almost never-ending range of new possibilities in hollow figures, candy bars, filled eggs, truffles, biscuits, ice cream sticks, bread and breakfast buns developed.
From World War II until today, the differences in chocolate consumption volumes between laborers, clerks and the highest income groups have almost disappeared. It seems though that workers tend to prefer chocolate in tablets and (candy) bars, whereas the higher income groups are more seduced by pralines.
The major reasons for the successful introduction of chocolate to lower and moderate income families was not merely the lower price at which chocolate products were sold by the 1930s and 1940s. Historians indicated that in the inter-war period and after, chocolate was the cheapest foodstuff per kilocalorie compared to eggs or meat. Many workers therefore saw a chocolate bar as a delicious and very convenient foodstuff that enabled them to recuperate very rapidly from heavy labor.
But also the common belief that chocolate had strengthening powers, that it could promote your love life and the fact that it enjoyed a luxury product status that became affordable, made it very attractive.
The massive growth in the chocolate market was established between the World War II and the 1980s. Consumption became more and more integrated in daily dietary habits.
Through new product developments, chocolate also became an appreciated tastemaker in a wide variety of new and nutritious foodstuffs.
The 1980s saw a new life style trend towards fitness and health, focusing also on dietary habits: light or diet-versions of all kinds of foodstuffs made their appearance. Nevertheless chocolate remained popular as the perfect, small-size tastemaker in between all sorts of diets and exercise.
Since the 1990s, many consumers have shown a more balanced and sober attitude towards food in general than in the eighties. Health became very closely related to what we eat. Whereas the eighties were based on eliminating and prohibiting all kind of sugars and fats from our diet, the nineties added them back again but in a moderate and often pure and natural form: organic, kosher, or 100% vegetable chocolate was produced
The big difference was that from the nineties on, enjoying food and healthy food were valued as equally important. This explains why chocolate remained popular: for millions of people, chocolate provided the ultimate pleasure and enjoyment and was considered as pure and healthy when moderately consumed.
The end of the nineties and the beginning of the 21st century gave a new impulse to chocolate. More and more consumers worldwide actively search for food that is not only delicious but also carries some functional benefits for their health and body. Scientific studies on cocoa and chocolate have already revealed a lot of potential benefits from moderate consumption of cocoa and chocolate, and there is more expected. Maybe the Spanish doctors and early scientists back in the 17th century got it right after all when it comes to the nutritious and health benefits of the cocoa bean and chocolate.
Today, Barry Callebaut sees various different key trends in the chocolate market. Customers are becoming more cost conscious, and due to high cocoa prices, are asking for compounds, specialty coatings and fillings with less cocoa. At the same time, indulgence remains key for premium products such as pralines, for which customers are willing to pay more. Health-conscious consumers are asking for products which are free from allergens, gluten, lactose, and artificial colors and aromas. Demand for products with fewer calories, with less sugar and fat, is increasing. Consumers are also interested in healthier alternatives to standard chocolate, such as chocolate combinations with fruit, spices, herbs, vegetables or yogurt; or in chocolate with higher levels of antioxidants or other functional ingredients. And finally, customers are increasingly demanding assurances that products have been made in a sustainable manner and are looking for certified products.