Americans love chocolate, but, then again, who doesn’t? According to the National Confectioners Association, chocolate is the largest chunk of the $34.5 billion US confectionery industry, with sales accounting for $21.1 billion (or more than 60 percent). Furthermore, according to the Chocolate Store’s website, Americans consume 2.8 billion pounds of chocolate each year, or over 11 pounds per person, meaning that people in the U.S. are normally consuming about 115 or so chocolate bars annually. Peak chocolate sales occur around major holidays and with Halloween just around the corner, companies are tasked with answering this question: How do you successfully ship and store chocolate?
Chocolate is a fragile consumer good and it requires particular temperature, humidity and storage climate conditions to maintain its structure and taste. The optimum storage and transport temperature for chocolate is 50-65°F (10-18°C). If consistent with the proper temperatures, a storage humidity of less than 55% allows for the cocoa solids and cocoa butter to stay in a stable condition for months.
It is also important to store chocolate in a cool, dry place. Chocolate is very absorbent so when it is oxidized, it takes on the scent of what is around it, causing less-than-ideal flavors to develop. Finally, chocolate must be kept away from the light. Not just sunlight, but also artificial light. They both can aid the oxidation process in developing a poor taste.
In order to ensure that you have the best quality chocolate, maintaining the proper conditions in a temperature and humidity controlled warehouse is a must. When stored properly, chocolate will last much longer. Solid milk chocolate keeps for over a year; solid dark keeps for nearly two years; and white for four months. Filled chocolates, such as truffles, keep for about three to four months.
But what about shipping chocolate?
We live in a society that is used to having everything cheap and fast. With the delivery giant Amazon setting shipping standards, it is no longer acceptable to wait more than two days for a delivery. We might have $150 worth of items in our cart, but $5.99 shipping makes us question if we really need a pair of Bluetooth headphones or another Nest accessory. So how do chocolate companies face such high expectations while dealing with one of the most delicate items to ship?
As consumers, we are unaware of just how difficult it is to not only ship chocolate, but also make sure it arrives in acceptable conditions. According to the Transportation Information Services website, the melting point of chocolate is 83°F (28°C). When melting occurs, the fat constituents separate then solidify upon re-cooling. This causes a fat bloom to form on the surface of the product, usually appearing as a gray to gray-blue coating. Chocolate is also very susceptible to temperature fluctuations which can cause a sugar bloom to form. When moisture is present, it can dissolve the sugar in the chocolate. Then, when the water evaporates, the sugar remains on the surface in the form of crystals. While neither bloom is dangerous to consume, they can alter the taste and particular appearance of the candy making it less appealing.
Even with such high expectations from consumers, chocolate companies usually decide to prioritize the integrity of the chocolate packages over convenient prices and fast speed. It is more important that the chocolate arrives intact and without flavor alteration rather than on time but bloomed, broken, or melted. The most successful chocolate companies, such as Hershey’s and Nestle, are adopting specific practices and policies, including complete cold chain temperature monitoring, to ensure a smooth shipping process. Many chocolate companies also charge an extra $10.00 in the summer months, or when the package has to reach a particularly warm location. This extra charge covers any gel packs, dry ice, foam sheets, or other insulating material that is used to prevent the heat from reaching the chocolate and creating an unwanted, soupy mess.
This Halloween, as you munch on your favorite chocolate bars, remember all of the time, effort, and care that was put into making sure that your sweet treat arrived in the best possible condition!