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Tasty opportunities for SMEs - 22nd Feb 2016

Changing flavours of classic products offer the chance for budding entrepreneurs to recreate their old favourites

Changing tastes: today's hot chocolates may contain less cocoa than in the past
Changing tastes: today's hot chocolates may contain less cocoa than in the past Photo: © Getty

Have you ever tried a product that you used to enjoy as a child and thought: “This doesn’t taste the same?”

Don’t get mad, get even: this could be an opportunity for budding entrepreneurs to create a product that tastes like their old favourites used to.

This is what inspired Brian Watt to launch drinking chocolate company Hans Sloane. He says that a number of producers “have been steadily removing the cocoa content from hot chocolate, because it’s the most expensive ingredient”.

Mr Watt reckons that “hot chocolate should have five ingredients at most, but when you read the back of the drinking chocolate brands on sale now, some have more than 15”.

Some brands can have 25 ingredients, including palm oil, soya lecithin and several “emulsifiers” and “stabilisers”. Legally, a product can be called drinking chocolate if it contains a minimum of 25 per cent cocoa.

Mr Watt's range of drinking chocolates, which are currently stocked in Waitrose, contain between 33 per cent and 70 per cent cocoa. By including more cocoa, the product is more expensive to manufacture, but “if your product tastes better then you can command a premium price”, he says.

“Big companies compete with each other in the same way, by stripping out expensive ingredients,” he adds. “Every time there’s a spike in commodity prices, they will reformulate.

“It may only be 5 per cent each time, but over five years that will completely change the taste of the product.”

This is not always because the manufacturer is keen to boost margins. There is often pressure from retailers to bring down the price of products.

The current spate of supermarket price wars, which have been driving down prices over the past couple of years, has increased the likelihood of reformulations taking place.

If the product is “non-core” – not essential to the brand’s survival – there is an opportunity for smaller, innovative start-ups to pounce on those opportunities.

But it is important to work out why something tastes different. If a lot of the fat or sugar has been stripped out, this may be in response to new EU regulations. Legislation on health and nutrition claims on food labels and in advertisements have been radically overhauled in recent years.

“With chocolate, it’s simple: cocoa is the most expensive part of the recipe,” Mr Watt says. “Chocolate is such an emotional category; when it doesn’t have the taste it used to have, it’s upsetting.

“When I notice that a chocolate bar I used to love tastes different, I look for old packs online to try and check where the formulations have changed, but it’s very difficult to track down that information.”

Weirdly, brands are not obliged to tell customers if they have reformatted products. The only way to know is to trust your taste buds, Mr Watt says: “The first question to ask when you eat anything is: does it taste like it’s supposed to taste?”

Sir Hans Sloane Chocolates

Proving there is innovation in the drinking chocolate sector is Hans Sloane, whose owner is Brian Watt

Drinking chocolate is a growing sector, says Brian Watt, owner and managing director of Hans Sloane Chocolates Ltd. His young and energetic company produces an innovative range of drinking chocolates whose product range includes high cocoa content and natural honey drinking chocolates and another Hans Sloane innovation, the Drinking Chocolate Cocoa Pod. The drinking chocolate market, Brian says, “is worth around £156m and is increasing at about 7% year on year.” This increase is driven by the premiumisation of the product by brands such as Hans Sloane, he says, and by “the knock-on effect of people drinking better tea and coffee. They don’t want the usual run-of-the-mill drinking chocolates; they are looking for a premium product.”

This is what Hans Sloane provides exclusively for delis and farm shops and also for Waitrose, which spotted the company soon after its launch in February 2014. Hans Sloane’s is a premium drinking chocolate made with shiny beads of chocolate rather than the usual powder or shavings,which actually tastes of chocolate, Brian says. “When we created Hans Sloane drinking chocolate, our focus was on taste. A lot of the big confectionery companies make drinking chocolate as an afterthought and over the years they have reduced the cocoa content, as part of reducing costs. But that changes the taste of the product, so when we developed ours it was all about getting the right taste. Ours has a rich, chocolate taste. The most common comment we get from people we sample with is that it actually tastes of chocolate. It’s almost as if they have forgotten what drinking chocolate should taste like. Our mission has been to put the chocolate back into drinking chocolate. Along with our Smooth Milk Drinking Chocolate and our best-selling Rich Dark Drinking Chocolate, we do a Madagascan with 67% cocoa and an Ecuador with 70% cocoa. They both have a high cocoa content, but each has a very different taste; one is fruity and the other is bitter. We also make a natural honey flavour. One of our chocolatiers is also a bee-keeper and we asked, why have people never put honey and chocolate together? It’s been well received at consumer shows and really sells well. People are surprised when they try it.”

Another innovation from Hans Sloane is the Cocoa Pod. “When we looked at single-serve drinking chocolate,” Brian says, “we found it tended to be a block of chocolate with a spoon stuck in it, so we gave the chocolatiers the day off and asked them to come up with a different idea for single serve drinking chocolate. They came up with the idea of a cocoa pod mould. When we showed it to the team, someone suggested that we put the chocolate beads inside the mould so when the packet is shaken, you can hear the chocolate beads inside. To make the drink, you simply pop it in the cup, pour in the hot milk or the hot water, and it all implodes right in front of your eyes. It’s a bit of theatre in drinking chocolate.”

Brian and his head of marketing, Jamie Ewan, both had strong experience in the chocolate world before embarking on this project. “After all my years of working on big products,” Brian says, “I wanted to see if I could develop a chocolate brand from scratch. When it came to branding, the name of Hans Sloane seemed a natural choice and one which would bring the company both story and heritage.“Hans Sloane inspires the company,” Brian says. “He too was a real innovator. Sir Hans Sloane was a physician to King George I. At the same time as he was treating the king, he was holding free clinics for the poor at his house in Bloomsbury. He was a massive collector, too. It was his donated collections that laid the foundations for the British Museum and the British Library. His connection with chocolate was that he travelled to Jamaica in 1687, where he saw the locals drinking cocoa and water. He tasted it but found it nauseating and created his own drinking chocolate recipe by adding milk to the cocoa. Hans Sloane brought the first theobroma cocoa sample back from Jamaica and launched a milk chocolate drinking chocolate into London in 1687.”

With an innovative bead format, high cocoa content, a natural honey variety and the groundbreaking Cocoa Pod, the high quality, yet affordable, Hans Sloane range seems designed for sale in delis and farm shops – which indeed it was, of course. With its smart packaging the product has strong shelf presence and gifting isn’t restricted to the
Christmas bauble which Hans Sloane produces for Christmas. The Cocoa Pod makes a great ‘thank you’ token gift, Brian says.


Our Madagascar 67% won 1 star and our Ecuador 70% won 2 stars in the 2015 Great Taste Awards! Our Rich Dark and Smooth Milk both won a Great Taste Award in 2011 and our Deluxe Praline Celection won one in 2009’s hot chocolate taste test

May 14 2012 - Jenny Linford

For much of its history, chocolate has been consumed in liquid form as a drink, rather than eaten as a solid. Ground cocoa, sweetened with sugar and flavoured with aromatic spices, was mixed with water or milk to make drinking chocolate. During the 17th century in Europe chocolate houses, like coffee houses, became popular places in which to meet and talk and sample this exotic new drink, hot chocolate.

Not so long ago, drinking chocolate in Britain was a relatively simple thing – dominated by Cadbury’s, the sweet milky chocolate drink of childhood, signifying a simple comfort. Nowadays, drinking chocolate has become considerably more sophisticated, with high end chocolatiers competing with chocolate manufacturers to create hot chocolate drinks.

The most striking development is that hot chocolate no longer comes simply in chocolate flavour. Nowadays, instead, there are a whole range of flavoured hot chocolates on offer. Some flavours are traditional – long associated with chocolate – while others are wildly novel. Chilli chocolate, enjoying its association with the Aztecs, is particularly in vogue. set out to investigate what was available to people looking to make hot chocolate at home. What were the panel of hot chocolate tasters looking for in their uber-hot chocolate? We wanted a distinct chocolate flavour, which was satisfying without being over-rich, a touch of sweetness, but not a drink that was overly sweet, and – simply – the enjoyability and sheer drinkability, which would make you happily drink your cup of hot chocolate down to the last dregs.

To make up the hot chocolate, in each case we used semi-skimmed milk and followed the maker’s recommended quantities of drinking chocolate to milk and the suggested method of making it. The one case where we departed from the recommended method was in Paul A Young’s hot chocolate where he suggests adding hot water and we instead added semi-skimmed milk, as with all the other hot chocolates we sampled, to make it an even playing field.


This was noticeably fiddly to make as one has to gradually add in the mixture to hot milk, do a lot of stirring to melt the chocolate into the milk, bring to the boil, then simmer. Having brought the milk to the boil in this way, the result is an extremely hot cup of drinking chocolate. A lovely chocolate aroma, but, however, a thin texture to the hot chocolate and a curiously muted chocolate flavour when drunk. Not sweet and with a ‘slightly bitter finish’. 6/10


As above, it’s the same gradual adding of the mixture which is slightly fiddly but does result in a very hot cup of hot chocolate. When it came to flavour, the verdict was ‘Too much burn, not enough chocolate’. The chilli dominates here, giving a long after-burn, but the chocolate flavour was very subdued indeed. 6/10


A lot of vigorous stirring needed in order to mix the chocolate mixture and the hot milk together well. In terms of flavour, this got marks for not being over- sweet and had a noticeable chilli burn but the question was ‘where is the chocolate flavour?’ Our verdict: chilli dominated to the detriment of chocolate. 6/10


Very thorough mixing needed to blend the chocolate mixture into the milk. This had a pronounced coffee scent. In terms of taste, from start to finish, coffee is the dominant flavour with a slight sweetness from the chocolate, but a definite coffee aftertaste lingering on in the mouth. The overall effect was of drinking sweetened coffee rather than a hot chocolate-based drink. 6/10


Using milk rather than Paul A Young’s suggested hot water, this was very quick and easy to mix together. The resulting hot chocolate has a definite, almost savoury aroma, with a slight powderiness to the texture. The flavour was good – characterfully chocolately, not too sweet and ‘well-balanced’. 8/10


Very quick and easy to blend together, this made a pleasantly smooth-textured hot chocolate. The aroma was inviting with a vanilla fragrance to it. The flavour of very appealing indeed – chocolate with sweet but not cloying caramel notes. ‘Pleasant aftertaste’. ‘Very drinkable’. 9/10


Very easy to make, with the beads dissolving quickly into the hot milk and resulting in a smooth-textured drink. There was a noticeable chocolate aroma. On tasting, here was a hot chocolate that really delivered on its chocolate flavour. The taste was nicely rich without being either too sweet or too bitter. A ‘long dark chocolate finish lingers on in the mouth’. ‘Very easy to drink’. 9/10


Taking a lot of stirring to melt the chocolate pieces into the hot milk, this had a appealing chocolate scent. The flavour was noticeably sweet followed, however, by the buzz of a pronounced chilli burn. ‘Good on a cold day’. 7/10


Needed a lot of stirring to mix thoroughly and allow the chocolate to melt. Sniffing the cup one notices a pronounced, rather unappealing scent of powdered ginger. On tasting, the flavour is sweet and with a very dominant powdered ginger taste and very little chocolate flavour. ‘Odd’. 5/10


In order to mix the chocolate and milk together thoroughly and get the chocolate to melt in, this needed a lot of stirring. There is a pronounced mint scent. On tasting, a sweet chocolate flavour comes through first, finishing with a clean, fresh minty aftertaste. ‘Easy to drink’. ‘This works as a flavour combination’. 7/10


Needed a lot of stirring to mix together properly and get the chocolate to melt into the hot milk. There is a cloying caramel scent; “smells very synthetic”. The taste was very sweet indeed, lacking in any toffee or caramel flavour or chocolate flavour. “It smells of toffee but doesn’t taste of it.” 4/10

Did we miss your favourite hot chocolate? Let us know what you think of the drinking chocolates above or any we haven’t featured this time in the comment section below…

Dark Drinking Chocolate

Very easy to make, with the beads dissolving quickly into the hot milk and resulting in a smooth-textured drink. There was a noticeable chocolate aroma. On tasting, here was a hot chocolate that really delivered on its chocolate flavour. The taste was nicely rich without being either too sweet or too bitter. A ‘long dark chocolate finish lingers on in the mouth’. ‘Very easy to drink’. 9/10

Milk Drinking Chocolate

Very quick and easy to blend together, this made a pleasantly smooth-textured hot chocolate. The aroma was inviting with a vanilla fragrance to it. The flavour of very appealing indeed – chocolate with sweet but not cloying caramel notes. ‘Pleasant aftertaste’. ‘Very drinkable’. 9/10

Copyright ©  Sir Hans Sloane. All Rights Reserved.VAT. Number 989636539 | Company Registration No. 7191065 | Photography by Rebecca Ferguson
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