Fine & Raw founder on the “explosive” growth of raw chocolate and cross-boundary appeal

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11 Jul 2018 --- New York-based raw chocolate company Fine & Raw has been riding the high that has come with the surge of consumer interest in raw cocoa and healthy indulgence. Speaking to its founder Daniel Sklaar, NutritionInsight gets a peek inside the antioxidant-packed world of raw chocolate that has the cross-boundary appeal of a healthy, yet indulgent, product. Also striking is how the brand chose to differentiate itself from “restrictive” health foods through its packaging and branding.

Following years spent working in a raw food kitchen, in 2006 Sklaar began experimenting with raw cocoa, an ingredient that had no weight in the mainstream at the time. However, recent years have seen a huge increase in demand, with Innova Market Insights data noting a +42.7 percent compound average annual growth in the number of new raw chocolate product launches tracked between 2012 and 2017.

“The market has exploded. There is so much interest and more people making raw cocoa. It’s a powerful spirit of start-ups and good amounts of movement too. The market is growing rapidly,” says Click to EnlargeSklaar.

Crucial to this market “explosion,” Sklaar explains, is the quality of ingredients used in the bars, and that consumers can check the lists and recognize what they see: clean label. One example is the absence of refined sugar. Instead, the company uses coconut sugar, “A lot of people prefer coconut sugar over cane sugar. In the US, it's growing very quickly and there is a strong nutritional aspect to it.”

Furthermore, “Previously, chocolate in the states was candy. Now, it’s a chocolate bar but its also cocoa and there's a perceived difference, it is seen as the superfood cocoa with forty times more antioxidants than blueberries. It is also one of the highest magnesium foods and it helps create serotonin in the body. Everyone knows that it [cocoa] lifts your mood and now we have all the scientific language to back it up. Also, the idea of making it clean and good quality means you can incorporate it into your life on a daily basis.”

In this way, Fine & Raw bars tap into the intersection between health and indulgence. As NutritionInsight has previously reported, consumers have moved from guilty pleasures to permissive indulgence to healthy indulgence: they want a treat with a health halo.

Click to Enlarge
The past five years show a +42.7 percent average
annual growth in number of new raw
chocolate product launches tracked: Innova Market

The touted health benefits of raw cocoa largely come from the fact that it has not been heated. “In general when you roast or heat food, it can lose some of its nutritional content, particularly because enzymes are temperature sensitive and are the first things to break down that you may lose.”

“You also have a lot of other delicate compounds – 700 compounds and the complex antioxidants are known as polyphenols, – phenethylamine (pea), anandamide –  which is the bliss molecule, it gets your endorphins going. Serotonin and all these antioxidants also play a part in this. The idea with raw cocoa is that all of these chemicals are on steroids because it’s raw.”

Alongside the known health benefits, the company has made an effort to capitalize on the indulgent aspect of the ingredient by incorporating different flavors – cashew, almond, salt – and adjusting the texture and shape of the bar in line with scientific findings that link the explosion of flavor with bar thickness. 

“Chocolate melts below body temperature and this melt effect has a big impact on flavor and experience. The quicker it melts, the faster the flavor imparts on your tongue and palate. So, the quicker you can get it to melt the more flavorful and indulgent it is. It becomes a question of physics – thinner chocolate melts quicker. So, we made it thinner and longer and wider.”

Click to Enlarge
Daniel Sklaar, Founder of Fine & Raw.

Standing out on the shelf
Fine & Raw received the interest of two distinct retail divisions: specialized, niche raw food stores and artisanal, fine food stores. Therefore, Fine & Raw addressed the design and branding of their bars with the knowledge that their product was a boundary crossing innovation; raw, healthy, indulgent and premium yet also likely to be featured in the “hippiest” health food shops.

According to Sklaar, the brand does not want to join an array of health products that come across as “restrictive.” In fact, the artistry and satisfaction that come from chocolate needed to be present in the packaging. In this way, letting the health benefits that come from the raw cocoa can speak for themselves.

Click to EnlargeWhen I look at products in the marketplace now many products are very ‘in your face’: no sugar, no dairy, no nothing. It’s restrictive. It’s a harsh reality and maybe somewhat aggressive.”

“The idea that we try to portray in our philosophy is to enjoy life. Inherent in the spirit of chocolate is a fun-ness and there is no fun in slapping labels with big crosses and free from.”

Furthermore, the packaging of the bar mirrors its content, which is created from cocoa beans from farms in Ecuador and Ghana, which engage in sustainable agricultural practices. Therefore, the packaging is made from 30 percent recycled material and all the wrappings are recyclable themselves. Will the material be made from 100 percent recycled material one day? “There is an idealistic version of what we would like and then there is the reality. We try to avoid things that cannot be recycled and we would like to increase the amount of recycled material that we use, but it is challenging. It's constant work.”

“We make food as food and if this was 100 years ago there would be no decorations on the packaging or any packaging at all. Often, if you create packaging, a lot of the health food products give an impression that there are many food enemies out there. We are not about that; we are more about enjoying life and being balanced and celebrating art and creativity.”

By Laxmi Haigh

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