Chocolate & Food Pairings: the Perfect Merchandising Match

By Heather Mayer

Styling and Photography by Laurie Mosco

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2020 was the year of chocolate, with sales reaching record highs. Up there with chocolate, was wine, both making national supermarket chain Kroger’s list of top purchased items for 2020. For 2021, expect to see these trends continue. Also sticking around for 2021 according to PopSugar, is the at-home foodie, with home cooking and tasting kits providing culinary entertainment in a box. Good things come in pairs. Now’s the time to pair customers’ love of chocolate and their zeal for wine with their inner foodie. Introduce them to chocolate pairings. 

Chocolate and food pairings elevate chocolate from everyday snacking to a gourmet experience. Perfect for customers looking for a new way to entertain at home.  Great for you as it creates the perfect upsell opportunity.

When it comes to pairs go beyond the typical peanuts and caramel. We asked our chocolate experts to help guide us to view chocolate and food pairings with a fresh pair of eyes. Here are some of the exotic flavor combinations that raise the chocolate bar.

Dark Chocolate

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Smooth and a little tart, dark chocolate’s bitter notes are begging for something sweet. Dark chocolate calls out for the exotic. Help answer the call with Turkish dried apricots or tropical dried mango slices.  For a pairing with extra drama, think Turkish pulled figs full of golden color and opulent texture, or the deep color of Kitchen & Love Fig Preserves.  Another sweet pairing they’ll go bananas for — crisp banana chips. The slightly sweet taste and crisp texture is the perfect counterpoint to the smooth, velvety feel and sharp tartness of dark chocolate.

Since dark chocolate is not a particularly sweet chocolate, it pairs well with savory flavors. A pairing that’s red hot — crystallized ginger slices, bringing the heat of fresh ginger with a sweet, sugary bite. For the truly adventurous, briny Divina Castelvetrano Olives offset the delicate sweetness of dark chocolate. An elevated sweet and salty combination.

When it comes to playing chocolate matchmaker, think beyond food. Besides wine, all sorts of beverages pair well with chocolate. Consider some of the food pairs we’ve mentioned, but in beverage form like the sweet apricot flavors in Tazo Apricot Vanilla Crème White Tea, the bold, spicy ginger of Fentimans Ginger Beer.  Or for the more spirited customers (and business where alcohol is sold), pair dark chocolate with an acidic and bold zinfandel wine, the light bright caramel notes of pilsner beers, and smooth, woodsy whiskey.  

Milk Chocolate

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Sweeter than dark chocolate and with the extra creaminess from the addition of milk, milk chocolate is sort of a blank canvas when it comes to food and beverage pairings.  Since it is on the sweet side though, full-bodied black teas like Choice Organics Oolong Tea or musky, sweet Darjeeling Black Tea make a beau-TEA-ful match. Honey pairs well with milk chocolate, offering a sweet and buttery flavor combination reminiscent of caramel.  Amp up the wow factor with Melville Candy Company Clover Honey Spoons — spoons crafted of honey that can be added to that aforementioned tea, or other hot beverages.  If they’re feeling extra adventurous offer something out of the ordinary and elegant like Melville Candy Company Lavender Honey Spoon. The light calming floral notes are a wonderful accompaniment to the smooth, sweet milk chocolate.

The tangy, bright flavor of orange and other citrus fruits is a fabulous counterpart to creamy milk chocolate. Make it an extra special flavor occasion with notes of orange blossom found in Rulison Orange Blossom Honey. Adding a little spice helps temper the sweetness of milk chocolate, which is why black pepper really works. Grinding a peppermill over chocolate isn’t a great idea, so a tried-and-true chocolate partner like potato chips is the ideal vehicle for this spice. We recommend Deep River Salt & Cracked Black Pepper Krinkle Cut Kettle Chips.

Merlot wine has deep, fruity, clove notes that bring out the sweetness of the milk chocolate.  If it’s beer that raises their spirits, recommend an oatmeal stout full of malty, coffee notes. Stouts pair well with rich foods, so the creaminess of milk chocolate makes this a dynamic duo.

White Chocolate

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Made with rich cocoa butter, sugar, and at times, vanilla, white chocolate is the most delicate of the chocolate flavors and sweetest of the chocolate types. For a truly bold pairing, nothing beats the sweet heat of white chocolate and wasabi.  We love the crunch and spice of dried wasabi peas.  Bold and bitter matcha green tea is another possibili-tea for fun a white chocolate pairing. A cool, refreshing match — Elmhurst Matcha Oat Latte.  Extra plus – it’s made with oat milk so it’s shelf stable (great for kits or baskets) and ties into the plant-based craze that’s trending. For a hot version full of presentation pizzaz there’s  Heath & Heather Organic Imperial Matcha or Pukka Clean Matcha. The packaging is visually rich, adding to the experience and really stands out when part of a kit or basket.

Those with a sweet tooth, will enjoy nutty, earthy Hidden Springs Organic Maple Syrup paired with the creamy sweet goodness of white chocolate. Another berry nice pairing is the sweet, slightly tart and always juicy blackberry. Bonne Maman Blackberry Preserves with its rich texture and deep blackberry flavor is a fantastic match for the melty, buttery vanilla notes of white chocolate. The classically styled glass jar with a homespun feel brings elegance to the tasting platter.

For a refreshing change, we are recommending white on white. We’re not talking about fashion (though this is a smart look). White chocolate and white wine are very chic.  The sweet bite of Riesling brings out the buttery notes of the white chocolate. Though there might be ice in the name, there’s nothing but warm feelings when the sweet fruity flavors of ice wines are paired with white chocolate.

Whether you are hosting a wine pairing event in your shop, building take-home kits, organizing a virtual tasting by zoom, or simply creating a display to promote the idea, just a few simple items is all that is needed to encourage sales. Not up for creating a kit or a display?  No problem – group these products near your chocolate selection with a few optimally placed signs for inspiration.

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