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Let's Talk Chocolate

How the Beehive State Became a Hot Spot for Bean-to-Bar Gourmet Chocolate Making

Chocolate being poured

If you were disappointed by the chocolate you got for Valentine’s Day, never fear. You can find many delectable, innovative options in the world of chocolate. And surprisingly, Utah is home to some of the best.

Since the early 2000s, many makers of fine chocolate (also called craft or artisan chocolate) have clustered their shops in Utah so close together that the gourmet-food community has taken notice. In 2018 Forbes highlighted the rise in Utah’s chocolate producers and appreciators,1 and in 2016 a Saveur headline queried, “The Craft Chocolate Capital of America Is . . . Utah?”

Capital or not, Utah has certainly become a chocolate-making hub. Even though cacao trees grow in hot, humid climates, very different conditions are needed to turn cacao beans into high-selling quality chocolate. Utah provides the best of those conditions, in both environment and culture.

A Sweet Industry

Black and white images of the cacao plant and bean

If you’re not sure whether or not you’ve had fine chocolate before, chances are you haven’t. Artisan chocolate is not something you’re likely to consume without noticing a difference. Unlike most of the bars you find at your local grocery store, fine chocolate is made to be unique.

According to the London-based Academy of Chocolate, fine chocolate comprises only about 10 percent of the global cacao-bean market. Most beans are harvested in West African countries and made into well-known brands’ chocolate bars and confections, often flavored with a touch of vanilla. This process helps name brands guarantee a dependable taste that many consumers enjoy.

On the other hand, small-batch chocolate makers source their beans from all over the world—from Vietnam to Venezuela— resulting in a variety of cacao flavor profiles, including fruity, nutty, and floral. The Academy of Chocolate defines “proper” chocolate by the percent of cacao solids, the type of vegetable fat included, the lack of artificial additives, and the processes used. In short, most chocolate doesn’t make the cut.

However, within a twenty-mile radius in the heart of Utah, seven fine-chocolate makers are churning out sweet treats that even the strictest of connoisseurs would approve of. Stretched along the Salt Lake and Utah Valleys and reaching into the Park City area are Amano Artisan Chocolate, the Cacao Bean Project, the Chocolate Conspiracy, Millcreek Cacao Roasters, Ritual Chocolate, Solstice Chocolate, and Taste Artisan Chocolate.

Despite their proximity, none of these makers are of the same mold, according to Brian Ruggles, a 2009 BYU graduate in manufacturing engineering technology and the founder and president of the Utah Chocolate Society, one of the largest gatherings of amateur chocolate lovers in North America. “All the chocolate makers I know of in Utah use different machines and even processes to roast their beans,” Ruggles says in an episode of his podcast, Chocolate Fascination. “In terms of the speed, the temperature, and the time, all of this will affect the way that the chocolate ends up tasting.”

Ground up cacao in a mixer

Unwrapping the Market

As an undergraduate, Art Pollard remembers eating a chocolate bar while he was working in BYU’s Department of Physics and Astronomy and telling his coworkers he wanted to learn to make his own chocolate. “They all told me that I couldn’t do it, that it’s too difficult,” Pollard recalls. “That got my attention.”

Inspired by both the challenge and his own love of fine foods, the 1996 anthropology graduate began a ten-year journey navigating the logistics of chocolate creation. He designed and built his own chocolate-making machines while also building a software company with his business partner.
Eventually, Pollard left software behind and established Amano Artisan Chocolate in 2006, and the company has since garnered more awards than any other chocolate maker in the United States. Despite all of his success, Pollard doesn’t believe in slowing down. He still regularly works fourteen-hour days, doing everything from mixing test batches to driving forklifts. “This career is not what my high school guidance counselor would have urged,” he says. “But I love every minute of what I do.”

He didn’t know it when he started, but as the first fine-chocolate maker in Utah, Pollard helped carve out a niche for others to pursue a then relatively unknown product in America.

In fact, it may have been Pollard’s chocolate that inspired Anna Davies and Robbie Stout to begin renting factory space in Denver for their company, Ritual Chocolate, in 2011. “We got introduced to the concept of fine chocolate—actually we probably had an Amano bar at the time,” Stout remembers. “We became fascinated.” They relocated to Park City, Utah, in 2013.

Despite their enthusiasm for fine chocolate, Davies and Stout found establishing Ritual to be bittersweet work. “Fine chocolate is actually a market that’s not well defined yet,” says Stout. “Most of the distributors and retailers that other food businesses typically go through, well, none of them really understand what fine chocolate is about or why a chocolate bar should cost ten dollars.”

The average consumer often can’t understand that either. Why the heavy price tag? Here’s a hint: it’s about more than just unique, well-made chocolate bars.

A Wild, Wondrous Journey

There are several things that many people don’t understand about making chocolate. “The misconception is that my job is just being Willy Wonka, basically, and flying around like a mad scientist with chocolate,” says Grant Fry, the supply chain and marketing manager at Taste Artisan Chocolate in Provo and a former BYU Marriott business management major. “But I would say that’s only about 1 or 2 percent of my job.”

Another misconception? The idea that cacao can be both easily and honestly obtained. “Mass chocolate has been an industry with big problems regarding slavery and other forms of unethical labor,” Fry explains. “We’ve worked hard to make sure that we’re working with suppliers that we trust to be doing good audits at the farms and to make sure we’re contributing to a sustainable and an ethical supply chain.”

If there’s one thing that Utah’s artisan-chocolate manufacturers have in common, it’s a commitment to ethical sourcing.

Chocolate squares

For example, Millcreek Cacao Roasters—headquartered in Salt Lake City—emphasizes its relationship to its growers with its tagline, Farm to Bar Chocolate. And Davies and Stout of Ritual Chocolate consider themselves “partners with our origin farmers, not just customers,” Stout says.

When 2003 MBA grad Char Coleman entered BYU Marriott for her master’s program, she had no idea that she would later use her skills to cofound Taste Artisan Chocolate in Provo. While there was definitely a learning curve to starting a fine-chocolate company, she never doubted that it could be done. “At BYU Marriott, you got your feet wet in everything,” she says. “Therefore I’m able to get my feet wet in everything—all of the accounting, all of the projections, the supply chain, figuring out where our bottlenecks are—all of those things. I would never have known how to do those things without my education.”

DeAnn Wallin, owner of Salt Lake–based Solstice Chocolate, says that many people often mistakenly believe that she earns huge profit margins from her bars. However, when she tells her customers that the cost of the chocolate is actually providing living wages for cacao farmers, “that’s valuable to a lot of people who aren’t willing to spend the money,” she says. “They realize how this is helping others starting at the source.”

On a recent trip to Tanzania, Wallin met the men and women who harvest the cacao that her company purchases. “We were with farmers who had never tasted chocolate, but they harvest cacao. They just know it brings in money for their families,” says Wallin, who shared some Solstice chocolate with them. “Watching them taste chocolate for the first time was fun and fulfilling.”

On a similar trip, Pollard met with cacao farmers in Venezuela and gave them each a bar made with their farms’ cacao. An older man, tasting chocolate for the first time, said it was like a river. Upon Pollard’s asking, the man explained: “It takes you on this wild and wondrous journey to all these magical places. It goes on and on, like a river.”

Home Sweet Home

So if cacao is sourced from all over the world, why the chocolate-making swell in the shadow of the Wasatch Mountains?

Most of the makers say they began production in Utah simply because it was home. “I grew up here,” says the Chocolate Conspiracy’s AJ Wentworth, who works out of Salt Lake. “I wanted to be close to family. Plus Utah is friendly to startup businesses.”

Some speculate that consumers in Utah turn to chocolate in place of other specialty foods. As BYU Marriott associate professor of marketing Glenn Christensen told Bloomberg in 2015, “We [members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints] don’t drink alcohol, we don’t smoke, we avoid coffee—but we certainly do sugar.”5

Broken up chocolate

Stout offers other possible explanations. “The climate is ideal for chocolate,” he says. “Water and chocolate are not friends. Actually, the drier the air, the drier our chocolate, so it’s going to be a better consistency here. The chocolate has a low viscosity, and it will actually have a longer shelf life too.”
But it was the landscape—not the high altitude or low humidity—that was the driving force behind Ritual’s move from Colorado several years ago. “The main motivation for us to come back here was to be closer to the mountains, to be able to change my clothes at work and be on a mountain-bike trail in a quarter mile, because that’s literally how close we are,” Stout says.

Pinpointing only one reason for chocolate’s local popularity may be next to impossible. The reasons become almost cyclical: Stout says fine-food retailer Caputo’s Market and Deli, located in Salt Lake City, likely began the shift, while deli owner Matt Caputo recently attributed the state’s booming craft-chocolate industry to Pollard. Pollard, in turn, cites changing consumer tastes as a significant catalyst.6

Regardless of the reasons, fine chocolate in Utah is part of a national trend, says Wallin. “We’re seeing an American craft-chocolate movement,” she explains. “The industry has so many makers now. It’s exciting to watch this market grow and be a part of it.”

Meanwhile for Pollard, creating excellent chocolate—and helping create a market for the product—has been one of the most fulfilling aspects of his career. “I think the purpose of our lives here on this earth is to search for an ideal, to create something beautiful and share it with others and change their lives for the better,” Pollard says. “That’s what we’re aiming for when people taste our chocolate.”


Article written by Clarissa McIntire
Photography by Bradley Slade

Tasting Notes: The Marriott Alumni Magazine editorial team sampled a bar from each of Utah's fin-chocolate makers and found each to be unique and compelling. Take a look at the flavor profiles the team encountered before going on a chocolate-tasting adventure of your own. 70% Dos Rios, 45% Caranero Milk, 75% Belize, 70% Wasatch Blend, 70% Himalayan Pink Salk, 75% Piura, and 73% Maca.


  1. Michele Herrmann, “Is Some of the Best Artisan Chocolate Found In Utah?” Forbes, 7 November 2018,
  2. Amber Gibson, “The Craft Chocolate Capital of America Is . . . Utah?” Food, Saveur, 23 May 2016,
  3. “Our Mission” and “Chocolate Defined,” About Us, Academy of Chocolate (website), accessed 15 November 2019,
  4. Brian Ruggles, “Intro to Chocolate Fascination,” 22 August 2018, in Chocolate Fascination, produced by Brian Ruggles, podcast, MP3 audio,
  5. Craig Giammona, “This State Eats Candy at Twice the National Average,” Markets, Bloomberg, 12 May 2015,
  6. Robert Schaulis, “Caputo’s Market and Deli CEO Matt Caputo Discusses Company Origins,” Deli Market News, 12 February 2019,

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