Savouring the gift of chocolate

Dina Ezzat , Tuesday 29 Aug 2023

The growing trend for healthy eating in Egypt has led to a new brand of 100 per cent vegan dark chocolate.

Natural ingredients chocolate
Natural ingredients chocolate


Haidy Samuel, founder and manager of Grazel Chocolate, launched a range of chocolate bars that are totally sugar and milk-free and use 100 per cent all-natural ingredients this month, all co-manufactured with various international and national food manufacturers. 

The completely vegan bars of dark chocolate are the culmination of close to ten years of hard work.

It was during an extra-curricular course on nutrition while she was taking her degree at the Faculty of Pharmacology in Cairo in 2011 that Samuel really got interested in healthy food. Healthy eating was starting to find its way in certain quarters in Egypt at the time, but it was not as fashionable as it was to become just a few years down the road.

“I started by making my own sugar-free energy and protein bars that I would consume when I went to the gym,” Samuel said. “I could not find anything that was really 100 per cent naturally sweetened at the time, whether imported or locally produced,” she added.

Having made a good start with her own kitchen-manufactured items, Samuel decided to try her hand at more recipes, including one with chocolate ingredients. “Those were particularly successful. Every time I shared a bar with someone, they really liked it,” she said.

For Samuel, it was the beginning of two things. The first was that while market surveys have shown that the majority of Egyptians favour sweet chocolate, including in the shape of chocolate bars, there was still room for those who would appreciate 100 per cent sugar-free and milk-free chocolate. The second was that this segment, relatively small though it might be, did not have the products to satisfy it.

“It was late in 2018 or early in 2019, and at that time more and more people were becoming health conscious and starting to favour food that is sugar-free or is suitable for vegans,” Samuel said.

Launching her products commercially was tempting, but it was also not easy. “Unlike the small bars that I was making, producing bars to sell on the market required more equipment and space,” she said. 

Unlike the energy and protein bars that she had already been producing for sale at the food counters of some high-end gyms, her chocolate bars had to be free of all soft ingredients.

Dry ingredients had to be used because soft ingredients, like date syrup or other fruit syrups that she had used for her protein and energy bars, would not work as they would reduce the shelf-life of the products to just three months. 

But all-hard and all-natural ingredients would mean that the finished products would be more expensive as these ingredients are mostly imported, especially the two essentials of cocoa powder and cocoa butter.

“I was planning a healthy product, and this meant that there was no room for anything that was not 100 per cent natural,” she said. “My target audience was not just those who want healthy or vegan chocolate bars, but also those who are diabetic or suffer from lactose intolerance and want to savour a good piece of chocolate,” she added.

“Natural Bites” was the name she gave to her first products. However, to meet the registration requirements of her business, she needed to opt for another. “I loved the word ‘grazel,’ which means the gifts of God. I thought it meant that God has endowed us with so much in nature that we can enjoy,” she said. 

After all, owing to her degree in Pharmacology, Samuel knew that edible items that are not thoroughly natural can come with health issues, whether big or small.

The first launch of the Grazel chocolate bars took place in 2020 during the Covid-19 pandemic, though this did not affect sales of the new products. “In fact, the opposite happened,” Samuel said, adding that owing to the pandemic people became more health conscious and more aware of the negative impacts of sugar consumption on the immune system. 

Owing to the restrictions on going out, they also needed products that could increase their happiness hormones.

The success of the new products did not decline with the pandemic, something that Samuel attributes to people becoming committed to the healthy eating they had opted for at its start. Another factor was the growing health awareness in the country, especially, but not only, among the economically privileged.

Her continued success encouraged her to expand her list of products to include chocolate bars with nuts, chocolate spreads, and holiday chocolates with dates “for the month of Ramadan.” Her products also became available online and not just in gyms before moving to the big supermarkets. They should soon be available at some healthy eating chains in Cairo.

In addition to her new co-manufacturing agreements, Samuel is now planning to take her Grazel brand beyond the limits of the Egyptian market. “Healthy eating is in fashion in many parts of the Arab world, and market analysis shows there is room for exports,” she said. “We are doing the necessary paperwork to start exporting and are hopeful that our products will be well received abroad.”

While Egypt is a net importer of cocoa, it has established itself as a source of chocolate exports. Earlier this year, the Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics (CAPMAS) announced that between February 2022 and February 2023, the country’s chocolate exports had jumped by close to 200 per cent, producing revenues of around $15 million.

Many of these exports are inexpensive chocolate bars. However, the expansion of fine chocolate production like Grazel promises to give a big boost to exports.

Egypt was one of the first Arab countries to make its own chocolate. Along with Syria and Lebanon, Egypt established its first chocolate factory in the early 1920s. The flagship brand Corona was launched in 1919. 

Over the past century, several factories making chocolate have been established in Egypt, both as local brands and as franchises for international ones. However, it has only been during the last decade that fine chocolate production has started to get established and to make its mark on the market.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 31 August, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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