In the indie chocolate space, a split is happening.
On one side, you have a handful of brands upping the hipster value of their chocolate bars to a degree that Mast Brother could only have dreamed of, stuffing their bars with on-trend adaptogens, a la Non Verbal, and leaning into the millennial burnout narrative, as Mello does.
Then you have a crop of companies that want to remind us — hey, eating chocolate is fun. Here you have Gigantic tempting us with Snickers-esque, caramel-stuffed bars, and Happi adorning its oat milk chocolate bars with adorkable cartoon characters.
Chocolate, without the guilt
While these two sets of brands speak to their customers in dramatically different ways, their aims are not so different. In the world of modern snack brands, chocolate no longer needs to be avoided on health or ethical grounds.
Tony’s Chocolonely, which is now the best-selling brand in its home country Holland, has built a name for itself campaigning against slavery and child labor in the chocolate supply chain. Voyage Foods, meanwhile, has figured out a way to reverse-engineer cacao and create what it calls “truly fair trade” products. In February, it raised $5.7 million in funding to bring its first products to market, due next month. Kyoot, based in the U.K., focuses on making chocolate bars with minimal, familiar ingredients — its vanilla quinoa pops bar, for example, contains just six ingredients.
“People are much more aware of what goes into their system, and that’s why they’re shifting towards [these] products,” says Noor Freiha, Kyoot’s founder. “You can have these products with better ingredients in them. They taste just as good — if you really work on it.”
Freiha says her idea to launch the brand came from her own struggles finding chocolate that was both tasty but not packed with the sorts of unnatural ingredients that mass market chocolate brands tend to use.
“I’m that weird person who brings a chocolate bar to dinner and while everyone’s having dessert I pull out my dark chocolate,” she says. “[But] I had to either compromise on taste or on clean ingredients.”
Not easy being clean
It is not easy to create a product that satisfies the needs of today’s young snackers, though. According to one study by Segmanta, Gen Zers are currently walking an emotional tightrope — unhappy with their eating habits, but also looking for convenient products that can provide comfort.
Bars from Kyoot, Happi and others are just the tonic, but they are not easy to scale up or make cost competitive.
Tony’s Chocolonely was recently dropped from ethical lists because of the manufacturer it uses to process its cocoa beans, which has admitted its own supply chain is not child-labor free. The manufacturer does not supply ingredients for Tony’s Chocolonely — it only processes them — and the international indie chocolate brand has argued that it would have been impossible to achieve the scale it has so far without working with third parties.
Freiha says she spent the best part of two years developing her own chocolate recipe at home — one that used as few processed ingredients such as E numbers and stabilizers like soy lecithin as possible — and finding a manufacturer who could make it for her at a commercial scale. In May 2021, she launched three chocolate bars under the Kyoot brand.
“My product is at a higher price point than mainstream chocolate,” Freiha says. “[People are paying] for higher quality, better ingredients and sustainable packaging. That’s why big food companies don’t do this — they need to sell the bar below a pound.”