Ever since the world’s first chocolate bar hit shelves in 1847, it’s been a challenge for designers to give brands a fresh look. Competition is stiff—the National Confectioners Association estimates that chocolate is 60% of all candy sold in the USA. That’s a $21.1 billion dollar business full of iconic wrappers, shapes and sizes.
Unlike other products, chocolate’s popularity makes its branding astonishingly diverse. There isn’t necessarily one prevailing aesthetic. On one end of the spectrum, there’s the traditional smash-bang, shiny, attention-grabbing wrappers of massive corporations like Cadbury or Nestlé. Those iconic candy bars become major hurdles for designers. How do you stop people from reaching for those old faithfuls they’ve loved since childhood?
Chocolate designers have fought back by swinging in the other direction. It’s less flashy and more rustic. Companies like Dandelion and Askinosie use thick paper stock, stickers, stamps and vintage-inspired fonts to highlight the artisanal purity of their product. As we learned by the scandal surrounding Mast Brothers Chocolate, artisanal branding doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s actually homemade. The Williamsburg-based bearded brothers went through the ringer for duping people into thinking they were old school bean-to-bar makers, but their story also highlights the power of good branding and design. By emphasizing labour-intensive craft and product quality with their branding, they charged $10 for what was essentially a $2 Hersey bar.
In between these two extremes, it’s a wild west where anything goes. There’s the gorgeous font-based design of Typographic Chocolate, the vivid and splashy Comparté psychedelic style and Choco’s bright and bold spins. Unelefante is another brand pushing chocolate into quirky territories. Their hand painted “Chocolate Pollack” chocolate was inspired by famous painter Jackson Pollock and almost looks too good to eat—almost.
Some of the most interesting designers out there are taking things one step further. They’re going beyond packaging and working on ways to innovate the chocolate itself. For example, Toronto-born designer Oki Sato’s chocolate set of paints are stunning in their simplicity and look as delicious as they do beautiful. Gearharts peanut butter pups combine the adorable with the tasty. La Naya‘s mountainous, geometric chocolate designs are just as gorgeous as their simple, sketched packaging.
Chocolate’s major malleability factor makes it possible to bring design into every step of the process. Some brands create packaging that does more than one job, like 100%ChocolateCafe’s colourful squares or Co Couture’s swanky boxes. Dude, Sweet’s simplistic designs put their product, like Irish car bomb truffles (!), front and center.
Top to bottom: Oki Sato, 100%ChocolateCafe via
In recent years, the trend that keeps popping up everywhere in the chocolate world is 3D printing. With new technology, it’s possible to turn chocolate into pretty much anything. Choc Edge is a company in the UK that helps businesses with chocolate printing and sells a machine named the Choc Creator. Hershey’s got its own Cocojet 3D printer that works on open-source patterns. FabCafe in Japan allows you to create 3D printed chocolate versions of your own face, in case you were looking for an especially satisfying gift to give your sweetheart on Valentine’s Day. There’s even a YouTube video that teaches you how to make a self-built 3D printer—all you need is the printer, a “syringe, a bicycle pump, and an empty fizzy drinks bottle.”
It might seem like there are no new frontiers of chocolate design to explore, and yet brand after brand puts forth something to catch your eye. There are chocolate pie charts, nutty chocolate skulls, and even runway dresses made with chocolate. While that last one might be a little too ambitious, incorporating design into the actual product as well as its branding is one of the easiest ways to make chocolate stand out against a sea of rectangle candy bars in shiny red wrappers.
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