Chocolate-Covered Millennials

NAFFS Staff Report

“Millennials are all about collecting memories and experiences,” John Noble Masi, president, Hospitality Performance Partners, told attendees at the 101st Annual NAFFS Convention. “To that end, they take a lot of pictures of what they’re doing, so making your product “Instragrammable” is usually good advice.”

Chocolate is part of the experience, he said. It’s been around for a long time and it’s grown in scope over the years. The FDA, he said, didn’t recognize white chocolate until 2002, since it was 0 percent cacao. Milk chocolate, he said, is roughly 10 percent cacao and darker versions can be 35 percent -70 percent and are dairy free, making them vegan or vegetarian as well.

He noted that many in the audience likely know there are health benefits associated with eating chocolate, which mostly apply to dark chocolates. Chocolate has been associated with good blood flow, heart health, brain health and even linked to cancer prevention. “And we know it can be a comfort food,” Noble Masi said. He said the average American consumes more than 9 pounds of chocolate in a year, more than 50 percent of it being milk chocolate.

Noble Masi said Millennials eat their food out of the house and spend more of their disposable income on travel and dining out than generations before them. The trends in foodservice are reflecting their preferences for healthy, portable food. Millennials, he added, are more likely to eat local and organic food.

Millennials and Gen Z are also more willing to experiment with their food, being more adventurous than their older counterparts, he said. “And they’re keen on portability, being able to grab their healthy food and go to eat it elsewhere, like a banana, berries or even a whole avocado.”

Noble Masi said he relies on many sources for his trend analysis: trade magazines, focus groups, surveys, culinary competitions, associations and conferences such as this one on “Flavors of the Future”, put on by NAFFS.

He said in 2016, he noticed trends such as raspberry, cardamom and macha tea being added to chocolate. In 2018 there are more: “brown butter, hazelnut, lavender or herbs, anything fragrant and fresh, coconut and super foods like pumpkin seeds and chia or macha tea. Today combining flavors and textures is something people expect.”

Other trends Noble Masi cited: food density and functional or even fermented foods.

The retail experience, he said, is featuring more personalization, which is popular with millennials. “Healthier, functional uses are on the rise and the premium items even moreso,” he said. “Millennials will pay more but will demand authenticity, like single origin chocolates. Sustainability is important and indulgence for these desserts is accepted, even if the meal is healthy.”

Chocolate, Noble Masi said, is making an appearance in breakfast foods, as a niblet over yogurt, in hot cereals or quick breads and muffins. “There is always a way to add value to a product by adding chocolate,” Noble Masi said, “by dipping it in chocolate, for example.”

Noble Masi led a tasting of chocolates provided by Felchin Switzerland via Alber Uster Imports. The tasting began with a small plate of chocolates surrounded by four chocolate discs. The first was Bionda, a caramelized white chocolate. The second one was Maracaibo Criolait, which is 38 percent cacao in milk chocolate. He suggested smelling for the aroma of hints of vanilla, creamy milk and then a little raw honey and caramel. He added that the cacao pod in its raw state has no chocolate smell or taste; it must be roasted to bring out the smell and taste.

The third was Maracaibo, which is 65 percent dark chocolate. It carries coffee notes and a hint of orange blossom or cinnamon, Noble Masi said. The fourth was a dark chocolate with 68 percent cacao. He said it’s from Bolivia and it’s known for its more-citrus fruit notes and acidity. Noble Masi said these cacao pods are grown in South America in their natural state; there is no fertilizer, no irrigation and they are gathered by the people who live there.

Noble Masi then moved to two of his own creations that remained on the plates and illustrated some of the trends with Millennials he referenced earlier. The first was a white chocolate with a coconut milk base. “I used raw honey, macha green tea and bionda as a base and popped it with red Hawaiian salt, which was mixed in a coffee grinder with a little lavender and mint,” he said. He added that although the use of salted caramel has become somewhat ubiquitous, salt used here “creatively offers a good contrast.”

The other confection waiting was from a classic truffle recipe he learned in culinary school, to which Noble Masi added chili powder and organic turmeric. He put a bit of smoked black lava salt on the top. “Together, the spicy effect can be felt on the back of the palate or just on the finish,” he said.

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