Dec Meet the Maker: Ritual Chocolate
My guilt-free chocolate is now bars from Ritual Chocolate. I brought my Ritual Chocolate on my holiday road trip, and even though Christmas was over, I felt like I was opening a gift. The package was beautiful and I was impressed by the design and information from the inner packaging. If you're like me, you like not just the flavor of chocolate but you take pleasure in the texture. I was glad that this treat was included in the Craftly December 2016 box. The overall box is such an ideal holiday gift!
When I got back from my road trip, I was able to interview Robbie Stout, Co-Owner of this award-winning chocolate company with a conscious philosophy. Not only were we excited to feature this product in December's box, we were fond of discovering that he and his partner Anna are quite involved in the outdoors. They live with intention, and you can tell through their chocolate and how the package was designed.
Tell us about the people behind Ritual Chocolate.
Ritual Chocolate was founded by a couple, Anna Davies and Robbie Stout. Robbie and Anna met each other in 2008, fell in love, and then in early 2009 decided to start a chocolate company together. For the first 4 years of the business Robbie and Anna were responsible for all of the making, molding, wrapping, shipping, marketing etc.
Today, they are still highly involved but now have help with many aspects of the business. Most of the employees at Ritual Chocolate are very “outdoorsy”. Most of us mountain bike, alpine ski, nordic ski, snowboard, hike and other things very regularly. This is all part of living in Park City. To go along with our outdoorsy tendencies, we’re all also highly interested in fine foods. Some of us are homebrewers, some of us are bakers—but as a whole we’re all foodies.
What influenced you to start the company?
Back in 2009, we discovered the concept of “fine chocolate” but it wasn’t really available yet in Colorado. We love wine, cheese, coffee and all of the foods influenced by terroir and we realized that chocolate also shared the potential to be extra fine and influenced by terroir, but we couldn’t find any where we lived. So decided to start studying, experimenting and we even travelled to Costa Rica and Panama to visit some cacao farms.
We officially started the company in 2010 (selling bars at small markets and to friends), but we began researching in 2009 and we launched our first bars for wholesale in the Fall of 2011. So now we’re successfully making a terroir influenced, fine chocolate at a level of quality that we believe didn’t exist (or wasn’t readily available) back when we first thought about it.
Tell us about the the Fleur de Sel Dark Chocolate we featured in our December box.
We always say that salt is the antidote to sweets and bittersweets. And we also believe that chocolate is the antidote to a salty meal. So in a way, the Fleur de Sel is really an extension of what we offer rather than just a stand alone product.
We always recommend trying the Fleur de Sel bar at the end of tasting several other chocolates. When we created it, I think we got to the point where everything we made was bittersweet, so we wanted to add a flavor that could help bring balance to our palates.
We chose to use Fleur de Sel because the salt particle are just the right size for melting in our mouth without adding too much texture. There are other really nice salts that we wanted to use but we felt they were either too large or too small—fleur de sel was just right.
Congratulations on being a sofi finalist this year! What was that experience like for you when you found out?
The Sofi award has been really good to us. However, it’s hard to say how many new sales it has generated for us. The award helped to legitimize our new packaging, our chocolate making process, and specifically the Belize origin. Creating the new packaging was a risk, the Sofi award helped prove it.
Our chocolate making process is extremely unique and fairly untested by modern chocolate makers, so the award helped solidify that. And Belize is a relatively new origin in the world of chocolate (6 or 7 years), and most of the coveted origins are fairly old—so the award helped put Belize on the map as a true fine chocolate origin. And maybe the byproduct of all of this is that sales have improved a bit.
What is your brand philosophy?
One of our mottos is “Improving the quality of life through chocolate.” Here’s another quote that we’ve written in the past:
"Our vision at Ritual Chocolate is about achieving excellence. We endeavor to craft chocolate that is the ultimate expression of the exceptional terroir of our single origin cacao beans. Using vintage chocolate equipment we blend traditional European methods with a modern American style. Our passion is to revive chocolate as a luxury item that can be appreciated for its enjoyable, complex flavor—like that of a fine wine."
What is your ethical philosophy in sourcing cacao and other ingredients that you use for the chocolate?
We like to make sure that our grower are receiving compensation for their cacao that is far above the world price. We also believe in rewarding quality. Cacao has traditionally been traded as a commodity, where weight is the only factor and quality is not taken into consideration. The only way to improve quality is to reward between quality by paying more. We also try to only source from farms that practice organic methods or whom are certified organic.
What is the story behind your package design?
When we re-designed our packaging last year, we were looking for a design that was representative of our brand. Our old packaging was very nice, but it didn’t communicate all of the details of our brand. We spent two years trying to communicate what our brand is all about and we were finally able to find a design company that could help us show that. All the colors are Utah colors (sandstone, sagebrush, blue skies). The silver foil is representative of Park City’s history as a silver mining town.
The modern design reflects our modern approach to fine chocolate. The line design is inspired by both Art Deco (the time period in which some of our equipment was built) and Navajo (one of the primary Native American tribes in Utah). We call it “Navajo Deco”. Inside the packaging there are three flaps: 1. “Farm Flap”: about the origin and flavor; 2. “Lifestyle Flap”: Our location in the mountains of Utah; 3. “Factory Flap”: This one is just a quick shout out to our old equipment and unique process.
What has been the biggest challenge in running Ritual Chocolate?
We’d have to say that finances have been the biggest challenge of running the business. We often run out of particular cocoa beans because we can’t afford to buy enough in advance. We don’t spend enough time marketing, visiting the farms, working on new products, improving the workflow of the factory, etc etc because we don’t have time because we can’t afford to hire enough people to help us with production, shipping, wrapping, etc. So yeah, more money could probably fix all of our problems :) (said everyone ever). (But mo money mo problems right? Loan repayments hurt cashflow and investment also isn’t always the best option.)
What’s something you’d like to share to those who’d like to learn more about chocolatiers or the overall process of making chocolate?
Anyone who wants to learn needs to do it intentionally. Just eating fine chocolate isn’t enough. So I always recommend eating with intention.
For example, if you wanted to find out how process influences the quality of a chocolate, taste 5-10 different chocolates made from the same origin, and before tasting try to write down the specific machines used to make each one. Or if you want to see how roast affects flavor, buy chocolate of the same origin, same percentage, and same conche/refining process and then see how different the flavor of each chocolate are.
I’d also recommend reading books about chocolate. There are a lot of chocolate myths floating around in the world, so be careful about where you get your information. The self proclaimed chocolate expert telling you about Madagascar chocolate most likely isn’t an expert.
Some images c/o Ritual Chocolate.
What did you think of your ritual chocolate?
About the Author
Stepfanie is fond of inspirational stories from ordinary yet intriguing humans. She's curious about the people around her. You can find her retreating in the quiet outdoors or experimenting with DIY crafts or trying not to make a fool out of herself on insta stories. She is the Content & Community Manager at Craftly.