The United Kingdom has played an important role in the modern history of chocolate, with traditional 19th century companies with a religious background, the Quakers, being among the first to develop industrial processing techniques that have made the modern world of refined chocolate possible. These companies began as apothecaries and confectioners who moved into drinking chocolate, helping these drinks to become available to ordinary consumers. Companies that are now famous multinational confectionery brand such as Cadburys, Fry’s, Terrys and others began their commercial success as family artisanal businesses in the streets of British towns, including York, known as the UKs ‘chocolate city’.
The Bristol based company, Fry’s, is credited with creating the first commercial solid chocolate bar for eating, rather than for drinking chocolate.
Other famous European companies soon followed this idea and chocolate bars and confections made with solid chocolate have now become the most popular form of consuming chocolate in Europe, a recent development as for most of its history as a human food, cacao and chocolate have been consumed as drinks.
Although these early companies later became industrialised, artisanal tradition continued in the UK, which has now been revived in recent years. Fine artisanal chocolatiers using high quality origin chocolate and fresh flavouring ingredients started to appear in London since the early 2000s, making London a leading world centre for fine chocolatiers. This movement has now spread to all parts of the country, including Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Recent years have also seen a return to artisanal chocolate making, with the UK one of the first regions in Europe to follow the USA initiative of ‘micro-batch’ chocolate making – the transformation of small batches of origin cacao into craft chocolate bars.
The UK is one of the largest consumers of chocolate in Europe, per capita. While this consumption is mostly in the form of industrial confections and candy, there is a growing interest in craft chocolate made from cacao directly sourced from cacao farmers. To achieve craft fine quality, small chocolate work directly with farmers and pay a price above the trading price of commodity cacao and significantly above the price paid for cacao certified under ethical certification schemes such as Fair Trade.
Fine craft chocolate is available from speciality fine chocolatiers, delicatessens, health food chains and other fine food and department stores. Many small craft bean-to-bar chocolate makers are now selling directly to consumers at farmers’ markets and local shows. The UK has several online websites selling fine chocolate directly to consumers.
Fine craft chocolate in the UK is a small-scale artisanal industry and does not support extensive media advertising. Sales are achieved more through press and media coverage and direct contact with customers.