By Doug Liberman, president of NCA member company Splendid Chocolates Ltd.
Montreal, Quebec — The last week hasn’t gotten any easier and it looks like the worst is yet to come. At least the new rhythm and pace have started to set in and rules aren’t changing every day as much anymore. Confectioners are part of the food supply chain. We are considered an essential service and allowed to stay open
even in regions where everything must close. Our factory is still running for now. Orders are getting filled, but not many new ones are coming in right now. While we are taking every possible precaution to protect our staff, they are getting concerned about being out and not staying with their families. In order to keep everyone safe and comfortable, we will close for a few weeks. I know that we will come back healthy and strong and start to fill our orders for April and May. More orders will come.
I have been thinking a lot (lots of time to think these days!) that just because we are part of the food supply chain, are confectioners really an essential service? After going back and forth, I strongly believe that it is absolutely essential. Hopefully, it can offer some comfort and pride in what you do and why our industry is more important now than ever.
Shouldn’t essential foods just be bread, milk, eggs, fruit and things like that? The real things that people need to feed their families. Confectioners make products that are mostly made out of sugar. Our bodies do not need chocolate and candy to survive. All of that is true…if we were just trying to save bodies. This crisis is not only about bare minimum survival needs, although we MUST ensure that everyone has those needs met. It is about hitting pause, getting over the pandemic and coming back stronger than ever. Preserving families, traditions, jobs, schools, the health care system, all of it. We want it all back when this is done. That will require more than just sustained bodies, it will require healthy minds as well. This is a global event and stress is high. Staying at home, working on the front lines in medical centers, trying to work or keep your company going. It is a massive challenge. Confections may be able to offer some relief (I’m talking about responsible snacking, not over-indulgence).
Our ingredients are carefully selected and crafted by our teams to make something special. We aren’t really selling sugar, we are offering experiences. Each bite can offer an escape, however brief, from the moment, from the loneliness of being isolated alone; from needing to entertain your children all day, every day; from the stress of not knowing how you are going to make ends meet or keep your business going; from the loss that many are feeling. How does this happen? To really understand it, we need to start at the beginning, from childhood.
I remember the first time each of my girls tried our chocolate when they were very small. They pretty much had the same experience. We gave her a chocolate pop. She thought it was fun to hold the stick and look at the chocolate. She touched it, banged it on the table, she didn’t know what to do with it. Was it a toy? Then we told her to eat it. Hesitantly, she took a small bite. They had the same reaction. They were confused at first, and then their eyes lit up. It was the first time they had such a big taste of something so sweet. It is physiological. The rush of dopamine caused by the sugar sets off fireworks in their brain. Magic! It happens to all kids in one way or another. From that moment on, kids want candy, but the experience changes. It becomes more than a physiological reaction. Confections can offer different experiences to kids at different times. Sour candy offers the unknown, a wake up from the mundane, excitement. A chocolate bar can be a reward for an accomplishment, pride. A lollipop can be something to focus on while scared visiting a doctor, comfort. A big Christmas or Easter chocolate from a parent looks impossibly big to a child. A special treat, all that just for them, love.
As we grow older, we remember those childhood experiences. They sit in our subconscious whether we think about them or not. Chocolate and candy can transport adults to the past. Taste and smell evoke memories AND emotions. When you take a bite of delicious chocolate and savour that moment, you go somewhere else. The world stops. Everything disappears, if only for a millisecond. It is not just a treat, not just something to fill your stomach. It is an authentic experience. It could be the same chocolate bar your grandfather always bought you when he took you out for lunch, the box of chocolates you were given for your first Valentine’s Day with your spouse, the candy you bought when you took your bike out with your friends for the day. That confection not only brings you right back to that moment but also to the emotion that you were feeling. You feel it again. That is what creates such a strong emotional connection to our products.
Different regions and countries have different preferred taste profiles for chocolate and different favorite candies. Some people would argue that some regional preferences are objectively better or worse than others. They would miss the point. It is a completely subjective preference. Those regions are emotionally connecting to what they grew up on, their memories and feelings. They aren’t looking for the best combination of ingredients, they are looking for an escape to another time and place.
When someone finds out you are in the candy industry, they get excited. It doesn’t matter if they are 9 or 90 years old. They want to tell you their favorite treat. They aren’t just remembering how it tastes. They are remembering how it makes them feel. The smile and twinkle in their eye give it away. It has happened to you more times than you can count.
We don’t need to joke or be embarrassed on social media posts where people post that chocolate is essential. It is. Confectioners make magic and package it up into delicious, accessible products. That is what is keeping me going.
A few housekeeping items, if you’ll indulge me.
Retailers, independent confectioners need your support now more than ever. Consider a dedicated space to feature independent confectioners in your Christmas planograms or just give them a few POs. A PO for Christmas 2020 with a few skus will make a massive impact on these businesses and ensure that they are around for years to come. Many are generational businesses that have staff who have been working there for decades. Help us ensure that those people can rest assured that their jobs are secure. Many of your consumers work for small and medium businesses and will admire the support and leadership in your selection. If you are unsure about the upcoming holidays, I think it could be great! I wrote an article about it. You can find it here.
Confectioners, Easter is coming up and if you are like me, you probably have some leftover product. I don’t know what the future will hold, but I know that inventory isn’t going to do any good sitting in my warehouse or factory store. We decided to pack it all up and give it away. This week, we will deliver it to a local hospital and food bank. If it is safe to do in your area and you are financially able to do it, I would encourage you to look at your inventory and consider giving some Easter products away. It will bring joy to someone who desperately needs it right now.
If you keep reading these articles, I will continue to write them. If there is something you’d like me to write about in the future, please reach out and let me know or comment below. I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences in the confectionery industry. If you are an independent confectioner, I’d love to hear what you are going through right now.