Boutique chocolate is clearly becoming all the rage, with beautifully packaged brands rapidly migrating from posh delis and health food shops on to our supermarket shelves.

The three key brands currently disrupting the UK market are Pana Chocolate, Raw Halo and Conscious Chocolate  – and they all have a lot in common. They are all  vegan, free from dairy, soya, refined sugars, raw (produced using minimal heat), artisanal, organic and boast unique flavours. There’s also a distinct freshness about these chocolates compared to the mass produced bars. They are nutritionally dense, to be enjoyed in small quantities, and created with technical expertise and skill.

Essentially boutique chocoalte is sexy and sophisticated chocolate that has been hand crafted and thoughtfully designed to make a statement and a lasting impression.

Affordable luxury

Boutique chocolate is a food encounter, an experience that offers rewards, on emotional, social and physiological levels. It is not just a means to a chocolate fix end. The brands enable the consumer the satisfaction and enjoyment of trying, sharing or giving something meaningful. This is sentimental chocolate, with enough flavour combinations to find one that fits your personality or mood.

These chocolate brands are the epitome of affordable luxury – people can indulge themselves or a loved one without breaking the bank. These companies have deliberately invested heavily in high quality packaging and beautiful designs, to heighten the perception of luxury and qualify these brands for the gifting channel. The chocolates are a feast for all the senses, and look, feel and taste like a treat.

A new eating occasion

Another trend that this category taps into is the enjoyment of functional foods in the evenings – this is a new time of day for functional health, which resonates with today’s busy consumer. Raw chocolate’s natural health-giving properties are perceived to be playing a similar role to that glass of red wine that takes the edge off the day – a natural pick-me-up or stress reliever, something tasty and indulgent that will help wind you down but not leave you with a hangover or guilty conscience.

The health claims, reduced sugar status, vegan friendly credentials and other rational values are being relegated to back-of-pack and the real driver is emotional. People are making heart-led choices, and looking for products that offer rewards, on emotional, social and physiological levels. It is the food of love in its truest form, “buy this chocolate as a sign of love to yourself”.

Emotional wellbeing

Consumers want environmentally friendly, sustainable, ethically sourced chocolate but they aren’t willing to stomach the price tag for that alone. The real drivers behind the purchase are selfish indulgence and emotional wellbeing, which is why these products have been principally designed to appeal to people’s personal needs, over their altruistic aspirations.

Artisanal food is definitely having a moment in the UK and worldwide – locally produced charcuterie, cider, craft beer and coffee are all benefiting from this trend but now its chocolate’s turn to take the limelight.

We see this trend going in the direction of increasing transparency of the production methods to educate and reassure the consumer, unravelling the alchemy of the chocolate sourcing and production process and enabling the consumer’s personal approval, which ultimately justifies the high price tag.

Where next?

Get ready for the rise of the chocolate connoisseur, who knows his Theobroma from his Criollo beans and holidays in Peruvian Cacao plantations. On this note, flavours are likely to become more daring, and provenance of ingredients will become more front of pack, to help the discerning consumer to differentiate the chocolate de table from the DOC and take boutique chocolate to the next level.