One-on-One with Jason Harty, chief marketing officer for Theo Chocolate
Seattle-based company undergoes rebranding to offer simple, authentic chocolate experience.
While delivering delicious chocolate experiences is what Theo Chocolate is known for, the Seattle-based company also focuses on people — cocoa farmers, consumers and, of course, its own employees.
Communicating this message, as well as the joy-inspiring flavors Theo has developed for its chocolate bars, chocolate cups and caramels, is never easy, especially with all the options available in the candy aisle. That’s why the company redesigned its packaging, unveiling a bold yet simple new look last month.
Jason Harty, Theo’s chief marketing officer, recently spoke with Candy Industry about the thought process behind the brand’s latest redesign, as well as the importance of supporting cocoa farmers and the latest additions to the company’s line of chocolate cups.
Candy Industry: How would you describe the Theo Chocolate brand to a consumer who has never experienced it before?
Jason Harty: Theo Chocolate wants to prove that chocolate can be made in a way that allows everyone in the bean-to-bar process to thrive. Making ethical chocolate from scratch isn’t easy. It means getting to know the cocoa farmers at origin. It means having a passionate understanding of quality cocoa. It means sourcing and processing those organic and Fair Trade cocoa beans in our factory right in the heart of Seattle. To put it simply, our purpose is to deliver creative, responsible and delicious chocolate experiences that benefit people and the planet.
CI: Theo Chocolate underwent a change in leadership a year and a half ago. How has CEO Etienne Patout shaped the company's vision since he took the helm?
JH: After Etienne joined Theo Chocolate, he took a deep look at the people that depend on Theo – our farm partners, Theo employees and shareholders. He realized that by focusing on growing sales, Theo could further our mission and make an even bigger impact on farmers and employees, including a new comprehensive employee benefit roadmap.
CI: What is Theo Chocolate's approach to sourcing ingredients?
JH: To create our products, ingredients have to come together from all over the world in just the right way. The direct relationship with each supplier in the bean-to-bar process is vital and we practice ethical stewardship to ensure everyone benefits. All of our ingredients are carefully screened and third-party verified to ensure they meet our standards for social and environmental responsibility.
CI: Why is it important for chocolate companies like Theo to support cocoa farmers?
JH: Theo Chocolate is an example of how businesses can help create economic opportunity for people while still being profitable. The way a company structures their supply chain and the values used to source ingredients can either improve poverty and inequality or it can exacerbate these critical issues. Fairness and well-being should be for all, not only for some.
CI: What is Theo Chocolate's approach to developing flavors?
JH: We are always looking to create bold, yet approachable flavor profiles that incite joy. As a company rooted in cocoa, all the high-quality organic and Fair Trade ingredients that we source must complement our chocolate. We try to maximize flavor while using minimal ingredients.
CI: When did Theo Chocolate begin looking at redesigning its packaging? Why?
JH: We started looking into the initial steps of the rebrand about a year ago. After speaking with consumers, we realized the chocolate aisle can be overwhelming for chocolate lovers when it should be an inspiring and joyful experience. This is why our redesigned packaging uses an off-white background, which builds a strong, cohesive brand block. The design highlights clear and apparent flavor cues, including actual chocolate from the bar. This visual respite on shelf allows shoppers to quickly and easily find the chocolate they are looking for.
CI: How do you hope consumers react to the new packaging?
JH: We hope that the new packaging inspires chocolate lovers to step closer. Consumers are looking for simplicity and authenticity in all areas of their life, including when choosing chocolate. The guiding principles of the redesign were to express Theo Chocolate’s brand clearly and provide an inspiring chocolate shopping experience through delicious ingredient photography on the front of the packaging.
CI: The chocolate bar market has exploded with new players and options. What would you like to see happen in this category over the next few years?
JH: We would love to see more chocolate buyers trade up from conventional chocolate to premium options. This would have a profound and positive impact on the global chocolate industry. By offering more Fair Trade and organic options on-shelf, consumers will start to see the impact that a treat, like chocolate, can have on the world.
CI: Does Theo have any new products coming down the pike? Any other future plans?
JH: Theo is looking into new formats, pack sizes and flavor explorations in future product development plans. For example, we will be launching two new flavors in our candy line in 2020 – Coffee & Cream Cups and Peanut Butter & Jelly Cups.
In September, the Peanut Butter & Jelly Cups were named winner of the 2019 Expo East NEXTY Award ‘Best New Sweet or Dessert’ category. With creamy peanut butter and a thick layer of sweet raspberry jelly in 55% dark chocolate shell, these cups are a delicious twist on a classic duo. Our Coffee & Cream Cups feature a meltaway dark chocolate filling infused with bold coffee notes in a melt chocolate shell.