Amid the challenges of the COVID-19 outbreak and the pressure on suppliers and retailers to keep supermarket shelves stocked, it’s essential we continue to celebrate the bright spots. One was the recent announcement of the Supreme Winner at the New Zealand Chocolate Awards.

As a result of the sensible trend to social distancing, instead of the announcements being spread out over several weeks and cumulating with the Supreme Winner at the Champions Party on April 21, all medal and category winners were announced on March 30 on the awards website (nzchocolateawards.co.nz).

Like most Kiwis, I admit to a soft spot for chocolate, being our family’s treat in the evening with Milo, so I always look forward to the awards as an opportunity to see what new ideas are out there, as well as being a celebration of New Zealand’s chocolate makers.

This year, the Supreme Winner was achieved after the judges smelt, tasted, and assessed an amazing array of our best chocolate. Organisers Kathie Bartley and Nicola McConnell put together five categories: Bean-to-Bar, Flavoured Chocolate Bar, Filled Chocolate – truffles and bonbons, Bark or Brittle/Dipped Fruit and Nuts, and an Open Class. The gold medal winners from each category were re-tasted, with the one scoring the highest winning the title.

These are valuable awards because chocolate occupies an important place on retailers’ shelves, with 37 local brands, at latest count, to choose from. They range from those made by FGC members and chocolate giants Whittaker’s, Nestle, Mars, Donovans, Ferrero, Lindt and Mondelez, to artisan chocolates crafted by two-person operations.

For chocolate-lovers, that means a feast of options, including concoctions like Mangawhai Sea Salt, Cayenne & Cinnamon, Manuka Honeycomb, and Beekeeper, Horopito & Kawakawa, Nelson Pear & Manuka Honey, Hibiscus Flower & Macadamia Nut, and Sheep Droppings (popular with tourists).

Our chocolate is a perfect example of entrepreneurs taking an imported ingredient (cocoa) and combining it with the best milk in the world to produce fantastic products.

A report on the industry in 2018 by FGC member Coriolis Research talked about the potential for chocolate companies of all sizes to export. It showed consumer-ready chocolate exports were worth $81 million in 2016 (undoubtedly worth a lot more now).

Chocolate makers are an important part of our industry and community. As well as exports, they take their community responsibilities seriously, with Whittaker’s and Mondelez, as examples, involved in sustainability, community and packaging initiatives.

Late last year, Mondelez launched a trial of its Cadbury Energy Bar in packaging made from 100% recyclable and sustainably resourced paper. The trial was to test the durability and effectiveness of the packaging in transport and gather consumer feedback.

It was the first time they had used a paper material that didn’t include laminates, foils or plastics for full-sealed flow-wrap packaging. It followed a breakthrough by Nestle, who introduced recyclable paper packaging to its “Yes!” snack bar range.
At Whittaker’s, 77% of packaging is now recyclable and they’re currently testing ideas to take them closer to 100%.

If you follow me on LinkedIn you’ll have seen many other worthy activities undertaken by our other chocolate members.
Our members also support of the Be Treatwise scheme, an industry initiative designed to explain to consumers, via the logo and accompanying information, that confectionery is a treat to be enjoyed as part of a balanced diet and active lifestyle.

It’s great being able to enjoy chocolate knowing that behind it is an innovative industry that’s bringing joy to many as well as contributing to our economy and community.

It was a pity the awards night had to be cancelled, but at least those of us who may be forced into self-isolation know they have some great new flavours to take with them – as long as we remember the moderation message!

(Originally published in FMCG Business magazine)

See the list of winners on the NZ Chocolate Awards website

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