Bill Guyton knows a thing or two about cocoa.
After founding and leading the World Cocoa Foundation (WCF) for 15 years, he retired last year. However, Guyton has been named president of the Fine Chocolate Industry Association (FCIA), effective July 1. The role allows him to once more work with cocoa producers and chocolate companies.
Guyton shares his interest in the role and his vision for FCIA, as well as discusses the association’s Elevate Chocolate event in New York City, set for June 30, the day before the start of the Summer Fancy Food Show.
CV: Many of our readers know you from the WCF, an organization you founded and then guided as president for 15 years. Upon retiring last year, you were offered the position of executive director of the FCIA. Essentially, you traded your role collaborating with the world’s mega cocoa producers and chocolate manufacturers to one of interacting with our small, independent craft producers. What attracted you to this position? 
BG: I am proud of the 15 years I served as president of the World Cocoa Foundation (WCF). During that time, many partnerships were formed and companies began making significant investments to improve farmer livelihoods in West Africa. The foundation continues to thrive today with important new initiatives geared toward reducing deforestation and strengthening child labor prevention on cocoa farms.
When FCIA approached me earlier this year about the executive director position, I was interested for several reasons. First of all, FCIA represents over 350 members specifically focused on promoting quality, innovations, ethical sources and best practices in the fine chocolate industry. Secondly, the majority of members source cocoa from Latin America where I see great opportunities for new supply chain partnerships. Thirdly, many FCIA companies are young and innovative. They are committed to helping each other as they grow their businesses and expand the fine chocolate market. 
CV: Our industry already supports several, much older associations: PMCA, Retail Confectioners International and the National Confectioners Association. What market need does FCIA — at 11 years old, a relatively new association – fill?
BG: FCIA’s market niche is very clear. It is the only trade association that is 100 percent dedicated to the promotion and expansion of the fine chocolate industry. FCIA can learn from the important work of other, more established confectionery trade associations that have broader mandates.
CV: How does the association define “fine chocolate”?
BG: By fine chocolate, we are referring to the premium market focused on excellence in quality ingredients and tastes. Members include craft chocolate makers, chocolatiers, pastry chefs, trader and related industries and individuals with a passion for fine chocolates.
CV: FCIA is hosting its summer conference on Saturday, June 30 in New York City, the day before the start of the Fancy Food Show. The event’s theme is “Fine Chocolate Comes into its Own: Innovation, Profitability & Scalability.” Tell me about this theme and why was it selected?
BG: The FCIA board selected this theme since it demonstrates the growth and maturity of the fine chocolate market over the past few years and the exciting new opportunities ahead for expansion. 
CV: The keynote address is “Learning from other industries,” and the speakers represent the specialty coffee and food segments. Perhaps it’s an option available to a young industry that has the flexibility to learn from larger, more established industries. So why were these industry segments selected as possible role models?
BG: Craft beer and specialty coffee have been particularly successful in growing their segments of the market. In most metropolitan areas today, consumers can now find locally brewed beers or enjoy single-origin coffee from a variety of producing countries. That is a major change from 10 or 15 years ago! The keynote panel discussion will explore how these specialty markets developed and the lessons that can be learned or adopted for fine chocolate.
CV: Additionally, there will be a mid-day discussion panel on “What pastry chefs and chocolatiers want?” Tell me about this topic and the panelists. 
BG: Those attending the Elevate Chocolate event on June 30 will not want to miss this panel discussion to hear from Fifth Dimension Chocolate’s Albert Chau; Institute of Culinary Education’s Creative Director Michael Laiskonis; and Venezuelan cocoa processor and chocolate maker Jorge Redmond. These three speakers are well known in the fine chocolate industry and will give their views on quality, pricing and integrity. Maricel Presilla, FCIA board member, author and president of Gran Cacao, will moderate the session. 
CV: The morning agenda is filled with workshops, each targeting different audiences: chocolate makers, chocolatiers, growers, educators and media. Briefly describe these workshops.
BG: We have programmed nine separate workshops during the morning session around the themes of consumers and markets; quality standards and tastes; and supply chain and cocoa sourcing. Several of these workshops are concurrent, so meeting participants can select which topics and speakers interests them most. Expert speakers from FCIA’s membership, universities, research institutions and development organizations will lead these workshops. The workshops are designed to be participative, so please join and contribute to the discussions.   
CV: FCIA hosts two special initiatives, and the conference will feature updates on each by Biodiversity International’s Brigitte Laliberté and Seguine Cacao Cocoa & Chocolate Advisors’ Ed Seguine. The first initiative is the Heirloom Cacao Preservation Program. What is this initiative and how is it different from the Cacao of Excellence Programme? 
BG: The Heirloom Cacao Preservation Fund (HCP) is a non-profit organization committed to improving the lives of farmers and helping to preserve cocoa diversity. HCP was launched in 2012 by FCIA and leading researchers at USDA in response to global pressures of environmental change, deforestation and economic influences threatening the world’s supply of high quality, flavorful cacao. HCP is the first initiative to identify and map the world of high quality, flavor cacao and certify growers of these endangered trees. In addition to designating sites, HCP provides technical support to farmer groups to undertake field trials and scale their efforts in cocoa producing countries.
Cacao of Excellence Program is an entry point for cocoa-producers to participate in the International Cocoa Awards (ICA), a global completion recognizing the work of cocoa farmers and celebrating the diversity of cocoa flavors. The awards are given every two years and provide an incentive and recognition to farmers who produce quality cocoa beans.
CV: The second initiative is the Fine Chocolate Consumer Research Project, with updates provided by former FCIA Executive Director Karen Bryant. She presented some of this initiative’s initial findings at this past year’s PMCA conference. Please describe this initiative and why it’s important to our readers.
BG: FCIA embarked on a first-ever research effort to better understand customers already committed to fine chocolate. Over 1,000 individuals were surveyed at chocolate festivals around the country in 2017.  The results from the market research gave insights into consumers’ perceptions on fine chocolate, their willingness to pay for different attributes, their general understanding of cocoa sourcing and certification, as well as purchasing habits. Join FCIA’s Karen Bryant and her panelists during her workshop on the morning of June 30 to hear more about the key findings, as well as the follow on work being planned for 2018-2019.
CV: What’s your vision for FCIA? What will this organization look like in five years? 
BG: I see great potential for the fine chocolate industry to grow this important segment of the chocolate market. There are also exciting opportunities to build partnership programs that link FCIA members closer to cocoa-growing communities. As the fine chocolate industry matures over the next five years, quality and flavor standards will also be formalized to better segment the market. 
CV: How does one become a member of FCIA?
BG: FCIA welcomes companies or individuals to join our association. Details can be found at the following here.
CV: How can you register for FCIA’s Elevate Chocolate conference?
BG: You don’t need to be a member to attend. People are welcome to register for our event here. We hope to see you in New York on June 30. 
Curtis Vreeland, president of Vreeland & Associates, specializes in confectionery market research. He has been spotting trends in the premium confectionery sector for Candy Industry Magazine for years.