Theo Chocolate hasn’t rested on its five-time SOFI (Specialty Outstanding Food Innovation awards presented by the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade) winner status. The chocolate maker has been involved with two very tasty creative collaborative initiatives that showcase singe-origin ingredients and cause branding.
First, Seattle-based Theo has been working with the Eastern Congo Initiative, a grant making and advocacy group founded by actor Ben Affleck, and Greenhouse, a local grantee, to improve cocoa plantations in war-torn eastern Congo. After two years of crop improvements, the company received this April its first shipment of East Congolese beans. Theo developed two 65% bars flavored with other Congolese ingredients, such as Eastern Congo Initiative Vanilla Nib and Eastern Congo Initiative Pili Pili (a local chile pepper). The 84-g/3 oz .bars have a $5.00 S.R.P.
The second collaboration involves FareStart, a non-profit culinary vocational training program based in Seattle that recently won a James Beard Award for teaching homeless and disadvantaged people basic cooking skills as a means of introducing them to a culinary career.
Theo chocolatiers developed the Theo + FareStart Mirepoix Caramel Collection, a savory caramel collection, in collaboration with FareStart chefs and students at the company’s test kitchen. The collection includes four flavors: Carrot Coriander, Caramelized Onion, Celery Herb and Bay Fennel and has a $12.00 S.R.P.
Founded in 2008 by two Peace Corps volunteers stationed in Madagascar, Madécasse is a bean-to-bar chocolate maker. Its name is derived from the 18th century French name for the island and its inhabitants. Malagasy cacao, being of Criollo and Trinitario parentage, is known to have red fruit-like flavors.
Co-founder Tim McCollum attributes his young company’s success to finding unique Malagasy ingredients to flavor and/or add inclusions to its bars. Examples among products released this year are the Pink Pepper & Citrus bar with 63% cacao, mild pink peppercorn, combava (a lime-like fruit) and vanilla; Arabica bar a 44% bar with Arabica coffee nibs and vanilla; and Cinnamon & Sakay bar with 63% cacao, Ceylon cinnamon, sakay (a traditional blend of hot chile pepper) and vanilla. These 75-g/2.64 oz. bars sell for $5.99.
Established in 2008, the New York City-based company counts itself as the country’s second raw chocolate maker, after Sacred Chocolate. Now, there are a dozen companies, such as Pacari (featured in Candy Industry’s coverage of the Winter Fancy Fancy Show in the March 2012 issue). And the market has matured. While consumers were initially drawn to raw cacao primarily as a superfood, the flavor of the products has improved as raw chocolate makers have gained experience with post-harvest practices. “You are not missing a step by not roasting. We have developed techniques during dehydration that bring out flavor profiles,” explains Gnosis founder Vanessa Barg.
Her interest in nutrition - as a Holistic Health Counselor - combined with a culinary arts education has enabled Ms. Barg to create chocolate recipes using superfoods and medicinal herbs. Gnosis – Greek for knowledge - has developed a total of 24 bars, plus bon bons, drinking chocolates, trail mixes, spreads and truffles. All the products are certified organic, raw, vegan, kosher and free of gluten, soy, cholesterol and refined sugars.
The changes to Gnosis bars this year: new packaging that house slimmer bars, which enhance the mouth-feel of chocolate; lower price points; and a sweetener switch to coconut palm sugar from agave nectar. The company added the Zero G bar, a sugar-free (G standing for glycemic) 95% dark bar sweetened with stevia (no erythritol) and herbs (cinnamon, fenugreek, gymnema sylvestre and bilberry leaf). The 50-g/1.8-oz. bars retail for $6.99.