I always knew Hotel Chocolat was a great place to get vegan chocolate, but it wasn’t until I interviewed Harrogate store manager, Hannah Cosgriff, who just happens to be a transitioning vegan (this came up in conversation over a purchase of a box of vegan chocolate reindeer, which resulted in me conducting this interview!) that I discovered the other ethical values they adhere to.
“You know when someone’s a vegan when they come to the cash desk and they’ve got three boxes of Gianduja Bombes!” says Hannah.
Hotel Chocolat has a strong focus on humanitarian ethics, more precisely with the cocoa growers themselves. Although they are not Fair Trade certified, they do deal directly with the cocoa growers. Hannah explains that through Fair Trade, businesses do not deal directly with the grower but instead are obliged to go via a corporation. She states that although Fair Trade values are amazing and great to uphold, as growers receive the same price per weight for their product this can compromise the quality of the cocoa bean, meaning there is no incentive for growers to improve their products because they will always get the same price for whatever they offer. Hotel Chocolat promises to pay farmers above the market value and within a week, which is often not the case with Fair Trade as it has to go through the corporation first. Check out this link for more information on their ethics policy: https://www.hotelchocolat.com/uk/about/engaged-ethics.html
Talking about the Fair Trade labels leads us onto a chat about how deceptive labelling can often be, for example when a product is labelled vegan it can still contain palm oil, which as people should already know, is responsible for the death and destruction of countless animals and their habitat in countries like Indonesia, Peru and Madagascar. Hannah tells me that no Hotel Chocolat vegan products contain palm oil. The company’s official statement on palm oil in their items is ‘We do not use palm oil in our factory however it is present in some ingredients that we buy in from a third party. We can confirm that all palm oil used is RSPO certified and is therefore sustainably sourced.’
Hotel Chocolat also has a strict recycling policy and a strong commitment to environmental protection, for example with no pesticides being used in the cocoa bean growing process. Natural farming methods are also encouraged. These values are what attracted Hannah to work for the company in the first place, she says. Studying philosophy at university meant that she was constantly questioning the world and its inequalities, and when she started investigating animal welfare issues she literally turned vegetarian overnight and is now almost totally vegan. “You can’t escape the main principles of veganism. If you are going to use animals, there is always going to be some sort of abuse there, whether it’s male chicks in the egg industry or male calves for dairy”.
She tells me Hotel Chocolat didn’t necessarily go out to create a vegan range, but by default, the quality of chocolate is actually higher the simpler it is, which basically means their dark chocolate is made out of nothing but high quality cocoa and sugar. Many companies add milk powder as a filler as it is cheaper, explains Hannah, but totally unnecessary and indeed spoils the quality of the chocolate. The company has become more and more aware of the market for vegan chocolate and any assistant at any store can now direct you to the vegan range, or equally you can conduct a search on the website to list only vegan products.
There are literally dozens of vegan chocolates permanently in store and with every new range that comes out – such as the Valentine’s range that is now available – there are several vegan options. As a general rule all solid dark chocolate options are vegan (although it will state on the back that they have been made in a factory where milk is used). Examples of non-solid vegan chocs are the in-high-demand Gianduja bombes (buy three and save 70p!), which contain sumptuous hazelnut praline, Violet Crèmes, hazelnut and chocolate spread, Orange Tangs, mango pieces in liqueur and covered in dark chocolate and Enrobed Ginger. These are not your standard ‘craving satisfying, fill-the-gap vegan chocolates’, says Hannah, these are true luxury! Although the Harrogate store is on the smaller side, all the products mentioned here are available there.
I did a bit of a taster session with Hannah to sample the different chocolate origins and varying percentages, including the 100% which is super-rich (great for baking vegan brownies for example!). All had very subtle flavour differences, a bit like a fine wine! So now you know, check out Hotel Chocolat for your regular luxury chocolate fix and try out their Valentine’s range for vegans and non-vegans alike (because we all know dark chocolate is the best anyway!). Try the Precious Heart at £7.50, the All Dark Collection at £25, Tall Dark and Handsome (valentine’s version of the Gianduja Bombes) at £8.50 and mini-hearts at £5.50 each or £5 for two or more (all show in pictures above).