While browsing the middle aisle of Lidl I spotted a new range of chocolate bars by a familiar brand. Guylian, of Belgian praline seahorse and sea shell fame, has now branched out into chocolate bars.
It's an interesting product, mainly as Guylian has built up a cult following of Belgian chocolate seahorse and sea shell lovers, so much so the product has inspired many supermarket copycat labels. However, a move from a pretty unique product into the saturated chocolate bar market seems a curious step. Personally, I expected the company to tap into the snack world by releasing bags of mini chocolate seahorses, or by releasing limited-edition flavoured seahorses (white chocolate, salted caramel and orange are all top trends right now). Chocolate bars didn't even register on my radar.
I was curious to find out what type of customer would purchase this bar, and how it compares to its aquatic counterpart. With a few varieties of flavour on offer, I plumped for the hazelnut version to best compare against its hazelnut praline seahorses and sea shells.
The outer packaging looks sleek, as you'd expect from a gift-giving brand like Guylian. The hazelnut milk chocolate bar wrapper benefits from a red and white colour scheme, with the Guylian logo printed in gold-foiled text. I like the addition of the red seahorse too, in a nod to the brand's flagship product.
The key selling point of this bar, besides the fact it is Belgian milk chocolate with pieces of hazelnut, is that it is in fact four 25g bars packaged into one 100g outer box.
A glance at the rear of the packaging and you'll understand that this product is marketed to an awful lot of countries. Small red text on the rear is printed in English, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Danish, Swedish, and Finnish.
Guylian Hazelnut Milk Chocolate Bars ingredients:
Sugar, whole milk powder, cocoa butter, cocoa mass, hazelnuts (9%), skimmed milk powder, emulsifier (sunflower lecithin). Cocoa solids: 30% minimum. Milk solids: 26% minimum.
Refreshingly, the ingredients list is short and sweet, although it's disappointing to see sugar as the primary ingredient. The bar contains around 45% sugars. The chocolate may contain other tree nuts, wheat, and soya.
The recipe is alcohol-free, and the packaging carries the kosher dairy product symbol. The chocolate is made in Sint-Niklaas in Belgium in a factory that can produce up to a mammoth 75 tonnes of finished chocolates a day!
Guylian Hazelnut Milk Chocolate Bars Review
I'll be honest, I expected squashed seahorses here, as in the same flavours you'd expect in Guylian's Belgian chocolate seahorses, but in bar form. And that got me thinking. Who is this product aimed at? Who would choose a flat bar over fun seahorse shapes? Is it simply an admission that the seahorses have become so aligned with seasonal gift giving that Guylian has had to create a bar-equivalent to make it more of an everyday product? If so, it's a move that broadly resembles that of Terry's Chocolate Orange which is also now available in bar form.
Inside the box, that are four individually-wrapped bars. This makes me think that Guylian's audience is those that enjoy a cheeky snack now and again but perhaps don't trust themselves with a 100g bar, or those who seek the convenience of pre-portioned chocolate bars.
There's also a brief mention of Project Seahorse and Project Cocoa on the outside and inside of the box. Project Seahorse is a marine conservation organisation. Guylian has been its major sustaining sponsor since 1998, donating over €1.75 million in support. Project Cocoa is Guylian's sustainability programme, powered by Barry Callebaut's Cocoa Horizons Foundation. Under the plan, Guylian seeks to only use 100% sustainable cocoa by 2025.
I expected each bar to be wrapped in paper or foil, but it's a film which is disappointing to see. Foil would have been easier to reseal (remember, this pack appears to be all about convenience), and it would have been easier to recycle too.
Each of the identical 25g snack bars features four segments. One carries the seahorse motif while another carries the GuyLian logo. It's at this point I realised Guylian has a capital 'L' in the middle. The company was formed by Guy Fouber and his wife Liliane in 1967. Guy and Lian. GuyLian Sea Shell Chocolates were the first development for the business, with Guy responsible for the roasted hazelnut praline filling and Liliane for the artistic flair, marbling white and dark chocolates and creating the delicate shapes.
I'm familiar with the Belgian chocolate seahorses and seashells as they're a Christmas favourite, with a status similar to the annual tub of Celebrations, Heroes, Roses, or Quality Street. But how does this hazelnut chocolate bar fair compared to the hazelnut praline shapes?
The aroma is sweet, creamy and nutty, with a hint of cheese in the fray too. The bars have a soft snap to them, with a generous amount of hazelnut pieces inside.
Hazelnut sits at the top of the flavour, and the addition of an abundance of hazelnut flecks helps to cement this flavour. There's a lactic, cheese quality to the flavour of the chocolate beneath which quickly melts away into nothingness. The chocolate is sweet and creamy, but doesn't have much to offer up. It quietly sits in the background, leaving the hazelnut flecks to do the talking.
Personally, I'd take seahorses and seashells over these bars any day. Perhaps the shape affects flavour? Perhaps the recipe is different? Perhaps seahorses and seashells evoke a stronger emotion at Christmas? Either way, this flat-pack alternative doesn't do it for me. While the roasted flavour of the hazelnuts comes through clearly - and there's an abundance of pieces in each bar - the flavour of the chocolate doesn't sit right for me.
A chocolate seahorse is a chocolate seahorse. Little compares to it. But there are plenty of hazelnut chocolate bars out there on the market and this one doesn't excite me in the same way others have achieved. In a bar like this, the chocolate is key and here it seems to lack enough depth of flavour to round off the nutty flavour in a satisfying manner.
If you're a Guylian chocolate fan, I'd love to know what you make of this bar. You can share your thoughts in the comments below. For me, I'll be sticking to the seahorses and seashells.
Guylian Hazelnut Milk Chocolate Bars Review
RRP: £3.00 | Guylian | Shop now
I bought this bar to see how it compared against the iconic Belgian chocolate seahorses and seashells. While the recipe wasn't an exact match, it was broadly similar. I liked the abundance of hazelnut pieces in the recipe, and the convenience of four individually-wrapped bars, the chocolate in this soft bar just didn't do it for me. I'd take a handful of chocolate marine models over this bar format any day.
Where to Buy Online
The flavours in the range are: Guylian Intense Dark 84%, Guylian Premium Dark 72%, Guylian Creamy Milk, Guylian Milk, Guylian Hazelnut, Guylian Dark 72% Raspberry, and Guylian Salted Caramel. Each features four individually-wrapped 25g bars inside a standard 100g outer box.
Seahorses or chocolate bars - which is best? There's only one way to find out. Comment below!