Chocolate lovers could indulge today at the chocolate fair in Brussels. Several chocolate and cocoa shows inside the Expo made it worth waiting in the queue for half an hour to get tickets. For those who know what to expect of such an exhibition, the line at the entrance was a hint of the amount of visitors inside. The stands were invaded by curious, craving eyes, looking at the sweet delights. As I walked passed the counters, I could not help stare at the huge chocolate sculptures decorated with colorful fruits and nuts, wondering how much time the one designing them spent in making each relief.
The chocolate fair is held in Paris, New York, Tokyo and other big capitals each year. But chocolate in Brussels is special. Godiva, Leonidas and Neuhaus are just a few of the biggest chocolatiers whose presence is a must at these fairs. They have been around since the beginnings of the 20th century, when Belgium started importing cocoa from its African colony, Congo. Today 2,000 of them produce 172,000 tons of chocolate every year.
The impressive stands of the big chocolatiers had their chefs design pointy candies with different concentrations of cocoa. New recipes with fruity or flowery flavors had nametags that resembled a sophisticated cocktail drink. To my disappointment none gave free samples.
I passed by a small library with books about chocolate on sale, but I couldn’t stop for long because the crowd took me to the real attraction. The fashion show. Long legged models wore their tight, symmetric and perfect-to-the-smallest-detail dresses of chocolate as they strolled down the catwalk to the rhythm of popular songs. The show caught all the visitors’ attention, leaving without an audience a chubby chef giving a lesson on how to make pastry.
On my way out, smaller stands of fair trade chocolate were trying to get visitors make a last stop, with little success. Fair Trade International labels
their products making sure that the farmers growing the cocoa are paid fairly. It seems that many of them give up their life long job of picking up cocoa because they find other products that pay better. The staff at fair trade chocolate stands assured me that, if I bought their chocolate, the Ecuador farmers would get a fair share of the price paid. But the disempowered in developing countries were not the focus of the event.
The bigger brands were obviously the ones who ran the show. The event was impressive in every way. Lots of people, lots of chocolate, lots of shows making it hard to decide on where to look next.
After I left the fair, the silence of my thoughts helped me make more sense of it. The image of the perfect chocolate dresses was slowly replaced by the question: with demand currently outstripping supply worldwide and more farmers needed to grow cocoa and export it to our fairs, why aren’t the big chocolatiers using fair trade chocolate? Maybe it is a matter of time, or just a marketing calculation.