Frequently Asked Questions
Here are a few answers to common questions about how the International Chocolate Awards are run and how they are structured. More answers coming soon!
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It’s our policy to hold more national and regional competitions for chocolatier products – flavoured bars, bonbons/pralines/ganaches and spreads. We believe this helps to recognise existing local chocolate cultures and helps to develop the fine chocolate market in regions without a strong chocolate tradition. Centralised competitions only attract a limited number of entrants and won’t be fully representative of each local chocolate scene. Entries in central competitions will tend to come from larger companies with an international outlook and who are able to understand the rules and enter the competition in the language or the organisers – in our case, English. Another important issue is freshness and shipping. Many of the best chocolatiers are producing short-shelf life products such as fresh ganaches and pieces that may be delicate to ship. Local competitions create a much fairer playing field, where local entrants are likely to be more comfortable entering the competition, especially if the Awards has just been introduced in their region.
Local competitions also means working with local partners, who understand the local chocolate culture and what works best for their entrants. This can be about how the entrants are approached, how the competition is advertised, the format of the ceremony, timing of the competition and other aspects relevant to the local culture. Local also means local press and promotion for the competition, which for smaller companies is often where they most want recognition – many chocolatiers and companies don’t export their products around the world or even to neighbouring countries.
The International Chocolate Awards aims to recognise the best in fine chocolate wherever it is. Our aim is to hold National or Regional competitions wherever there is a thriving chocolate scene and where the Awards will help to promote fine chocolate to consumers. To help this, we are now presenting our entry registration, forms and rules in local languages where possible and appropriate.
We won’t have fully local competitions in all regions overnight, as each competition takes time to develop, including finding suitable local partners and support.
All our National and Regional winners our entitled to enter our end of year World Final, which brings together the best entries from around the world. This does mean shipping entries to a single location, this has not proved an issue though for most companies, who have already won a prize in the year’s competitions. World Final entrants may still use the language of their choice. In time, the location of the World Final will rotate around different world venues to help promote the Awards and remove any local advantage.
Plain/origin bar Semi-finals
In the case of plain/origin bars, we will stick to two or three world regional Semi-finals. This is because no single country has enough bean to bar chocolate makers to hold a competition with enough entries to allow fair, comparative judging, though this may change in the future. The exception is the USA, with its flourishing craft, micro-batch chocolate making scene. In this special case, we will continue to hold our Americas bean to bar round in the USA and give additional country prizes for US chocolate makers, to recognise the depth and quality of entries there.
Our initial category list has evolved and grown since the International Chocolate Awards started. This has followed feedback and requests from entrants and the results of our online surveys of entrants and the wider industry. This is mostly because entrants want the special craft and techniques that have gone into a particular style of piece to be recognised and for us not to judge quite different pieces against each other. For example, a chocolate enrobed marzipan requires quite different skills to a caramel in a moulded shell. Judging these in the same category would not be comparing like-for-like and could mean a master marzipan or master caramel maker goes unrecognised. If you’re a consumer who only likes marzipan or only likes caramels, that’s not very useful.
Examples of categories we’ve introduced after consulting our entrants, or at their suggestion, include:
Mixed dark/milk/white chocolate ganaches – in the first year of the Awards, we had simple categories for dark, milk and white chocolate ganaches. It soon became apparent though that this division was not going to work for all products. Many of the entries coming in had, for example, a dark ganache filling and a white chocolate coating. It didn’t make sense to judge these against, say, a high percentage origin flavoured all dark ganache. Our entrants agreed, and the ‘Mixed’ category has now become one of our most popular and creative.
White chocolate – we started out dismissing white chocolate, considering it too sweet and not really serious, but the entries came anyway and after consultation with our entrants, white chocolate flavoured bars and ganache categories have now been added and have seen some fantastic, creative, balanced winners since they were introduced.
High percentage bars – in our first few years, high percentage plain/origin bars were judged alongside all other plain/origin bars. It was clear though that they always tended to score lower than ‘normal’ bars and had little chance of a prize. Again, this is not much use to consumers, of which there are many fans of high or 100% bars. We were the first competition to recognise this and introduce this now popular category, which has seen some excellent winners.
Infusions/inclusions and filled bar – another challenging area for us was trying to judge and award prizes to flavoured chocolate bars with an infusion or flavouring or with inclusions or pieces, alongside bars that were essentially bar shaped bonbons, with a soft filling and an outer coating. After much debate, and again with consultation with our entrants, we separated these categories and along the way we were the first to bring the term ‘inclusions’ into the chocolate bar world.
It’s true that more categories can mean fewer entries in a given category. Winners though, still need to meet the standards and score required to receive a prize. Just being the highest scorer in a category is not enough.
Not all categories have entries in each country or region, so the number of categories judged in each competition is usually smaller than the full possible range. The exception is the World Final, which brings together all of the year’s winners, which naturally means more categories. Prizes though are only given to products that reach a world standard, regardless of how many entries there are in the category.
Different regions and chocolate cultures specialise in different types of products. This is part of the richness and beauty of the chocolate world and our aim is to celebrate the craft and culture of chocolate in all its different expressions around the world. Chocolatiers are a creative bunch, constantly developing and evolving with new products and interpretations of classics. The International Chocolate Awards aims to reflect changes and trends in the industry, encourage creativity and to celebrate the technical craft of our entrants. Chocolate is a complex, nuanced world, and this means a comprehensive range of categories.
The ideal for all chocolate judging is to make it completely anonymous and ‘blind’. Many producers have identifying marks on their products or distinctive moulds that might mean that their products are recognised during judging.
One approach to this, in the case of plain/origin bars, is to ask entrants to submit specially moulded samples in a mould with no identifying marks. This is interesting and sounds like a great answer to the problem, but there are fundamental problems with this approach.
Firstly, the International Chocolate Awards judges consumers products. We want to help consumers understand excellence in fine chocolate and why they should pay more for great chocolate made with great cacao. For us, this means identifying great products that consumers can buy, through our prizes.
Special moulds though means not judging consumer bars. For larger chocolate makers (those making fine chocolate, but not at micro-batch size), this usually means moulding outside of their normal process or having their chocolate re-tempered by hand. Tempering is a key part of the chocolate production process and re-tempered chocolate can taste quite different from the original. This would be especially true of large machine/tank tempering compared to hand tempering.
Then there’s the issue of identification. Skilled chocolate judges who are likely to know many of the chocolate makers currently in the market will be able to recognise the style and recipe of a chocolate maker, if not the actual origin, which makes the special moulding redundant. Less experienced judges would probably not recognised the chocolate maker from the mould or name anyway.
You could argue that judges with some experience may recognise some brands when they judge in retail moulding. To cope with this, the International Chocolate Awards uses a judging system that helps judges to evaluate entries on a calibrated basis, using our ‘managed subjectivity’ approach. Added to this, we have our three round system in use at all competitions, where a range of more experienced judges evaluate entries in the Selection and Grand Jury rounds using a well defined and controlled process.
While no system can ever be perfect and there are arguments for both approaches, we believe the best approach is to continue to judge retail products, as a consumer product competition.
The International Chocolate Awards is a growing world-wide concern, with the aim of supporting and helping markets to grow and to bring more consumer awareness of fine chocolate products made with fine cacao.
While we receive some sponsorship, usually in the form of sponsored venues and accommodation for the organisers, the Awards are run mostly on the goodwill, dedication and free time of our partners, Grand Jury and judges. The entry fees we receive go towards paying for administration and services, printing, equipment, venue and catering costs and additional travel costs. None of our National or Regional partners or Grand Jury are paid in any way at this time, other than for expenses during the competition.
We hope that we are contributing to the wider fine chocolate industry and consumer awareness and that in time, as we attract larger sponsors, we’ll be able to keep the costs down for entrants while doing more to promote fine chocolate and our winners.
As part of our service, all entrants receive feedback on their entries. In 2015, we are finishing putting our new all-electronic judging system in place, which will give our entrants more flexible and informative and more timely feedback.