When Phyllis LeBlanc, CEO and owner of Harbor Sweets in Salem, read about the deaths of honeybees and the incidence of colony collapse that seem to worsen each year, she knew she needed to act. And as someone in the candy business, her action was very sweet indeed.
In September, Harbor Sweets launched Gather, a brand-new line of small-batch chocolates made with honey that will donate 2.5 percent of all of its sales to the Pollinator Partnership, a San Francisco–based nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting pollinators through education and fundraising.
LeBlanc says that adding Gather to Harbor Sweets’ lineup of chocolates—which includes the famous Sweet Sloops and other nautically inspired candies—made a lot of sense.
“We’re known for making chocolates to speak to people’s passions, whether it’s a love of the New England coast or a love of the environment,” she says. In fact, the candies offer multidimensional nods to things like life in Salem and the bond between a horse and its rider. For instance, Harbor Sweets’ Salt & Ayre Chocolates take their inspiration from Salem’s history as an important port in the spice trade by incorporating flavors like Thai ginger and Himalayan sea salt.
The new Gather line is no different, taking its name from both the honeybee’s task of gathering nectar and also the act of gathering together with family and friends. “The idea is to share these chocolates with people that you care about,” LeBlanc says. A lovely double meaning also extends to the chocolates themselves.
“The Gather line is a flight of six dark chocolates, unified by a theme of local wildflower honey,” LeBlanc says, which plays off of the literal flight of the honeybees as well as a flight of different flavors to sample.Each of the six flavors incorporates honey, but in a unique way.
“It varies depending on the piece, but it shows the complexity of flavors you can achieve with honey and chocolate,” LeBlanc says. “It’s really designed to look for the flavor notes of the honey…it was set up to be enjoyed that way, much as you would with a flight of wine.”
One of the people involved in developing and showcasing those flavors was Lora Brody, a cookbook author and longtime friend of Harbor Sweets, who worked along with LeBlanc and local chef Bill Collins on the new line. The team started by making a list of 30 or so filling flavors that might work well with chocolate and honey—coconut, perhaps, or lavender, mint, or pomegranate—before starting to experiment.
Some were wonderful. Others were not. “Pretty quickly it was obvious that lavender wouldn’t work,” laughs Brody. But soon, the team narrowed the flavor field down to the six that the flight contains: caramelized honey, pomegranate molasses, sour cherry, sesame crunch, coconut cluster, and cashew caramel. Each of the chocolates is distinctive, with flavors made from natural ingredients with flavors that pop.
“Chocolate is a pretty strong flavor, so if you’re going to have something else in there that’s also going to announce itself, it has to be something good and real,” Brody says.
Sometimes honey is the thing that announces itself, like with the caramelized honey truffle, the flight’s signature piece. By caramelizing the honey, Brody not only reduced the amount of water in it but also cranked up its flavor, allowing it to stand up against the strong flavor of the chocolate. “It just made this huge impact,” she says. “That was a huge breakthrough.”
Even Gather’s packaging is a nod to honey and honeybees. Harbor Sweets enlisted Jim Hood of Boston-based Hood Design, who dispensed with the typical round or square box of chocolates in favor of a hexagonal box that looks like a honeycomb cell.
“This is more dynamic because of the six sides,” he says. Plus, the muted, honey-hued paper that wraps the box has a matte, rather than shiny, finish, which not only feels earthier and more sophisticated but also contrasts beautifully with the delicate foil honeybee that’s stamped on the box.
In the short time that Gather has been on the market so far, it’s already received a positive reception, both from people who appreciate Harbor Sweets’ wonderful chocolates and those who want to help honeybees, LeBlanc says.
“People are aware and concerned, and they’re excited to find something that is, number one, a really fabulous chocolate, but two, also works at raising funds and awareness about the plight of the honeybee,” she says.
85 Leavitt St., Salem