If you are a normal person and not a chocolate fanatic, you might be surprised to know that something like “chocolate awards” even exist. But they do, and they are becoming more popular than ever.
The concept is basic: experts and professionals in the chocolate industry gather a few times a year to taste and judge chocolate from around the world. Gold, Silver and Bronze awards are assigned for a wide range of categories, from “Plain Dark Chocolate Bars” to “Nut Based Pralines With Milk Chocolate”. Entries are not for free, but companies pay a fee to have their products enter the competitions. If they win, they can proudly show off their award stickers on the packaging of their chocolate, or share the great news online.
On the surface, chocolate awards seem like a win-win situation for everybody: professionals get their award stickers; the award organization earns money by contributing to the success of fine chocolate; consumers can rely on the awards as a reference for quality.
However, not everybody supports the award system, and some award organizations are often the object of sour criticism. Sometimes they are even looked down on or boycotted by professionals in the industry.
The truth is that there are as much reasons to love the chocolate awards as there are to hate them. Let’s discuss them all.
WHY TO LOVE THE CHOCOLATE AWARDS
1. Awards are signs of quality for consumers.
When it comes to chocolate, misleading marketing is always around the corner. From pretty designs to appealing storytelling, companies use many strategies to get noticed. In most cases, consumers are forced to believe the words from the company, as they don’t have many tools at their disposal to recognize a quality product. This is why they often mistake things like certifications or cacao percentages as signs of quality.
Thanks to an award sticker on a chocolate bar, consumers are reassured that the experts in the industry approve of that bar. The award certifies that the chocolate has been tasted, judged and appreciated for its quality (aroma, flavor and texture) by many professionals.
2. Awards increase chocolate makers’ sales.
Distributors and retailers confirm that chocolate products that carry award stickers sell really well. With a stamp of approval already on their packaging, middlemen don’t have to put in too much effort and explaining. Those bars fly off the shelves almost by default, because consumers trust the sticker. It means a lot for distributors and retailers not having to waste time and effort in trying to sell a chocolate product. If a brand is an award-winner, consumers are already half convinced.
3. Awards bring good press to fine chocolate.
Whenever the winners of some chocolate awards are announced, online and offline magazines never miss to publish dedicated articles. Local publishers will celebrate their local chocolate winners. Food magazines will have something exciting to talk about. Big media will have a delicious topic to share. Even the winners themselves will spread the news on all their Social Media accounts.
All this new content contributes to portray chocolate as fine food. Consumers realize that, just like other food categories, chocolate is to be considered a food that can be so high quality to have its own award competitions.
4. Awards give new chocolate brands the chance to get noticed.
In a crowded place like fine chocolate is becoming, it might take a long time for a brand to reach fame and fortune. By winning a chocolate award, a new company can jump-start its career in the industry. Its name will be on the list of winners that is read by thousands of eager chocolate consumers and professionals. Moreover, its products will get noticed on the shelves of retailers thanks to the award stickers. Many potential customers will be made aware of its existence in a matter of days. Definitely a great way to get ahead of the fierce competition!
WHY TO HATE THE CHOCOLATE AWARDS
1. Hundreds of awards are won every year.
Once the winners of a specific competition are announced and published online, the list is truly never ending. Not only there are many categories for bars, bonbons and inclusions of all types, but there are also several gold, silver and bronze awards under each of these categories. For example, under the “Plain Dark Chocolate Bars” category, there can be up to 13 Silver winners and 17 Bronze winners. Multiplied for 20+ categories, those are a lot of winners! Moreover, the number of categories and assigned awards seem to increase every year.
The result is tons of chocolate bars and products on the market that hold an award sticker of some sort. The problem is clear: the higher the number of winners, the less the value of these awards. In the long run, chocolate consumers will stop valuing award stickers, while award-winning chocolate makers and chocolatiers will probably pass unnoticed.
2. There are no specific requirements to become a judge.
There are no official requirements to become a judge at chocolate award competitions. No titles, achievements, or specific set of skills seem to be requested. Professionals are often chosen or invited based on different criteria. There are chocolate makers, chocolatiers, pastry chefs, professional tasters, but also bloggers, amateurs and sometimes even simple chocolate lovers.
This is actually not a bad scenario, as the mix of different perspectives and job titles makes it for a variegated and balanced judgement. However, the risk is to involve inexperienced or unprepared judges in a competition where chocolate companies pay high fees for a chance to win.
3. Many samples are tasted in a short amount of time.
The palates of the judges are often put under a lot of stress in a short amount of time. Instructions may vary depending on the competition, but the complaint is always the same: how can judges be fair when they have to taste so many samples of chocolate in one or two days? In some competitions, judges are requested to taste up to 30 samples in one single day.
It’s well known that the palate gets “tired” after 5/7 bites of chocolate. Tasting notes get flattened, off-flavors are smoothed, and the taste buds are less responsive. No matter the amount of water, crackers or polenta eaten in between, there is no doubt that the first samples will be judged under different conditions than the last ones.
4. Products may change after the awards are won.
It’s not unheard of: companies might use high-end ingredients only for competitions, and then go back to lower quality materials once they have brought home an award. The country of origin might stay the same, but a different supplier might be used. The chocolatier might include IGP Piedmont Hazelnuts for a competition, only to keep using anonymous hazelnuts right after.
This is not the award organization’s fault, as dishonest behaviors are unpredictable. But the truth is that products, even without bad intentions, naturally develop and change over time. A chocolate bar that won a Gold award in March 2018 might not be the same in November 2018. Unfortunately, the award sticker will remain on the same packaging regardless of internal changes.
It’s undeniable that the chocolate awards contribute to the success and publicity of fine chocolate, and help chocolate professionals sell their products. At the same time, the way they are conducted can always be improved to strive for better judgement and more organization. In the end, is award-winning chocolate worth the hype? Let your own taste buds be the judge.
What’s your opinion on the chocolate awards?
I did NOT get paid and did NOT receive any kind of favor for writing this article. These are my honest opinions at your service.