Mast Brothers is an artisanal chocolate company based in Brooklyn, New York, amidst the trendy coffee shops, craft markets, and “foody” joints that populate the neighbourhood. The company was founded in 2007 by Rick and Michael Mast who are, you guessed it, brothers, and who sport magnificent beards. Mast Brothers has been instrumental, many say the leader, in popularising the artisanal “bean-to-bar” chocolate movement in the US, and has had a big influence on the industry the world over.
The chocolate itself favours simple, organic ingredients, sustainable sourcing and traditional processing. It is undoubtedly high quality chocolate, but the real star of the show is not the flavour – but the look. Or should we say the branding.
The design is beautiful. The packaging has an authentic weight and texture reminiscent of parcel paper and art shops, and is patterned with abstract colour fields that could hang between a Matisse and a Rothko. The label – simple, matte, off-white, with minimal text and orgasmic font – makes Patrick Bateman’s business card look negligent. It feels precious in your hand, and opening it is an experience.
The Mast brothers really get the importance of image. From the packaging, to the minimalist-yet-artisanal headquarters, right down to the very deliberate hipster beards. It’s a savvy move that recognises that feeling not only proceeds but is stronger than tasting, and invites customers to invest emotionally in the brand and product before they’ve even tasted it.
Mast Brothers say on their website that “artful consideration of every detail is our way of showing love.” But this “artful consideration” has a more practical and direct purpose too, for the design of their packaging allows them to sell through distribution channels that most wholesale brands can only dream of: lifestyle shops, bookstores, art gallery and museum gift shops, hotels, gift basket companies, etc.
According to Vanity Fair, they are “widely credited for introducing artisanal chocolate to mainstream American culture.” This is not down to their chocolate, which is good but not outstanding. It is a little down to their pushing of craft buzzwords such as “sustainable”, “organic” and “bean-to-bar”, which is popular but a bit old-hat nowadays. Almost entirely it is down to their original, unique brand and product design.
However, design is not just where they have had the most success, but also the most influence. In the last few years a wave of companies have taken influence from, and straight up imitated, Mast’s packaging. Mast have raised the bar and it will be tougher and tougher to stay ahead of the curve. But, then again, feeling one of their chocolate bars in your hand, it’s tough to doubt their ability to do so.
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Picture credit: © Mast Brothers