The producer is introducing Biskelia, with 34% cocoa, and Azelia, with 35% cocoa, to the region, having debuted the flavours at an event alongside Gulfood last month. Biskelia was launched elsewhere in the world in 2014, while Azelia is a new product for this year.
“Biskelia is biscuity, with notes of caramel, while Azelia has lots of hazelnut. The reason why we did this, the market is asking for milk chocolates. Valrhona is very well known for its dark chocolate, but we still have lots of milk chocolate – so we want to showcase what we can do,” said Alioune Diop, business developer for the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Oman at Valrhona.
He said the launches came on the back of Valrhona’s last innovation, Dulcey “blond” chocolate: “We used to have dark, milk, white chocolate, everybody knows it. We created blond chocolate, with a unique colour – technically it’s white chocolate. It’s very interesting for pastry chefs, first for the colour, but also for the taste – it’s very unique, with biscuit, toffee notes, even a bit of salt.”
Keeping it exclusive
Within the Middle East Valrhona is expanding its presence, and recently marked one full year of selling into Saudi Arabia. But the firm is determined to maintain its exclusive edge, and aims to be extremely selective about its retail partners, according to Diop.
“We don’t want to sell everywhere. You’ll never find Valrhona in a supermarket. This is another difference from our competitors. We’re trying to master our distribution, to have a selective distribution network in premium stores such as Jones The Grocer, in JW Marriott Marquis in the retail section of La Farine,” he said.
While its European business is mostly focused on artisans and chocolatiers, the Middle East is more focused on restaurants and hotels – although Diop notes one of Valrhona’s largest customers in Saudi Arabia is a chocolatier. While part of its trade with hotels ties into their hospitality operations, many hotels in the region also make up a significant part of its retail channel.
Developing regional tastes
According to Diop, Valrhona has adapted its offerings for Middle Eastern tastes: “People ask for specific tastes: in Europe they like dark chocolate, so we’re selling some very strong, high-percentage chocolate. Here, we are still selling dark chocolate, but the milk chocolate is more famous – they like sweets. If you go to Saudi Arabia and give them an 85% dark chocolate, they won’t like it.”
While milk chocolate may be the start, Valrhona also has a mission to educate and support its customers on the complex nature of chocolate, including the distinct flavours resulting from different origins and terroirs. Diop is very clear that the firm is not simply there for a transactional relationship.
He explained: “When we sell chocolate, for as long as the customer is a customer, they benefit from lots of services – training, technical assistance with creating new recipes. If a customer is having problems creating something, he can call me and I help – or I will connect him with our school in France.
“For the training, we have classes, courses, and every time we try to have a new theme – ice cream, cake, bonbons. Depending on the needs of the customer, we will adapt the training to help them get new techniques. We’re here to follow customers, be close to them, and not just sell them chocolate,” he added.