We write this post with heavy hearts. Sitting here in Washington, DC, as with many other international capitals, we are witnessing history. Every day, masses of people flood the streets of DC to protest, marching to the White House and elsewhere. Helicopters fly, extremely close to the ground, every night before curfew starts. The sounds and sights are intense. We are in pain and we are here to listen and to learn. If you are in DC right now, there are numerous ways to support the black community. One thing you might consider is purchasing goods from local black-owned businesses, such as a dessert from delicious The Sweet Lobby, or check out one of the many online lists of businesses. Order online. And stay safe.
Yesterday, we had the fortune to attend the Chocolate Business Webinar: The State of the Industry and Next Steps, held by the Chocolate Alliance, and we want to share some key takeaways with you about how to navigate as a chocolate shop or brand during COVID-19. Held on #BlackoutTuesday, much of the discussion was focused on the United States and the unrest felt here. In many ways, the panel felt not like a lecture to the consumer, but a letter to the industry itself. The key takeaways include: focus first and foremost on human health (at office, factory and at origin), embed transparency into your business model and innovate your offerings and how you share your stories.
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Chocolate Marketing Strategy #1: Focus on Human Health
First and foremost, however, even before investments and sales, the goal of your chocolate business should be to protect human beings. Be transparent. Panelists agreed that one way to protect ourselves and others is through education… Sharing knowledge, sharing resources, and sharing your strategy, internally and externally. A brand is nothing without its healthy people. The health of the people in your supply chain: e.g. your employees in the factories, and globally, your cocoa farmers/suppliers. FCCI discussed that downstream cocoa production and trade has been disproporiately affected by COVID-19, with reports of decreasing cocoa bean sales and overall cost increases. Furthermore, health issues at the cocoa farm level are compounded; cocoa farmers are (generally) of older age, lack access to medical care, and are exposed to vectors of disease in cocoa origin countries. FCCI stated that this health phenomenon is also something that we’ve seen with agricultural workers in the USA.
Panelists questioned: How can the sector and your singular brand reach these vulnerable people? How about those in your supply chain that don’t have access to the internet? Or who don’t speak English? And what does support look like that’s in addition to knowledge? Does it look like access to loans?
Chocolate Marketing Strategy #2: Be Transparent
It goes without saying that small businesses face full collapse due to COVID-19, perhaps partially due to the lack of focus on e-commerce prior to the pandemic. Panelists including Theo Chocolate, Uncommon Cacao, Seattle Chocolate, Mission Chocolate, Valrhona and others, discussed that, at the onset of COVID, suddenly, e-commerce and brand websites took center stage. Seattle Chocolate shared that since COVID, most of their boutiques shut down, and their airport store closed, slowing sales down to a crawl, if not to a screeching halt. For chocolate brands “open” during this pandemic, social media, especially Instagram, and websites, are vital; it’s dire to keep in touch with your employees and with your consumers. For sales and otherwise. Let people know how you’re company is doing. Be transparent if things are rough.
Most importantly, be transparent about where and how consumers can purchase your product. Make the information simple and easily accessible. The link to order should be on your website’s homepage and also in your Instagram bio link section. The less clicks the better, or you will lose a sale.
Chocolate Marketing Strategy #3: Innovate in Products and How You Share on Social Media
How about action at chocolate sector level? The industry came together in the 1900s, FCCI explained, and created the demand for chocolate at Christmas, Halloween, Easter… how can the industry band together now, but also with banks and governments and solve this crisis?
And what about the craft chocolate consumer? What can be done in the meantime and alongside supporting at origin? How can you engage your office employees more? How can you hone your company values and promote creativity?; innovation is the future of the craft chocolate sector.
Now is the time to develop and dream up new product lines, but not to "dump product" into the market; craft chocolate is exactly that, a craft, that is slow, luxurious and to be perfected. The sector should protect itself and not be desperate, the panelists said. The true consumers are still willing to purchase that craft, the art. (We agree!)
What story can you tell? There seems to be space to educate consumers via new methods, and on various topics. During the panel, Valrhona discussed that craft chocolate is naturally more sustainable than conventional cocoa, and there is always an avenue to show consumers your brand’s sustainability story. As the crisis is starting to ebb around the world, the panel discussed that people will come out of this “voting more with their wallets.” What do your consumers know about your sustainability journey? How can you share it with them in an educational and also entertaining way? E.g. is your brand on TikTok? Mission Chocolate mentioned that no craft chocolate brands are on the platform yet. Will you be the first? What will that mean for your business?
“What else will the future hold?,” panelists were asked. This pandemic is a great opportunity for change. As people are working and consuming differently, how is your brand responding? How are you educating and entertaining your consumers? How are you thinking outside of the box? How will you respond to the demand for home and baking chocolate, to responsible sourcing and sustainability? How will you develop more diverse teams and design for less packaging waste? None of these arenas/catch phrases/foci are new, but they are proving more and more important as the months pass by and as we journey through COVID, a new era of responsibility and… of consequence.