Md James Ecclestone told Food Manufacture that in the absence of a clear legal definition of handmade, manufacturers could do what they wanted when it came to using the term.
"A manufacturer can machine-make its chocolates and then place an almond on top by hand, and call it handmade. The terminology is so grey that you can't tie it down."
Ecclestone called for clearer labelling laws. "62% of our cost is labour and people can undercut me on prices when they make little of their product by hand."
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), which is now responsible for food labelling, said there were no plans to push for legislation to pin the term down, but added: "When these terms are used they must not mislead and are [already] subject to the rules regarding misleading labelling."
According to revised guidance issued by the Food Standards Agency in 2008, a product described as being 'hand-made' should be "significantly made by hand rather than just one element of the process being carried out in that way".
It added: "Terms such as 'hand assembled', 'hand carved' or 'hand decorated / finished' may be appropriate alternatives. If 'hand crafted' is used then it should be clear as to which part of the process this refers to if it is not entirely produced by hand.
"It would not however be against public expectation for a 'hand-made' product to be produced within an industrial setting."
Enfield-based Casemir, which was founded in the mid 1980s as a retail/café business, changed direction in 2000/2001 and stepped up its wholesaling activities, manufacturing chocolates for hotels, caterers and independent retailers.
Today the firm is developing prototype bars and gift boxes targeted at the supermarkets as part of a strategic plan to diversify beyond the hospitality sector, said Ecclestone.
"Now we think it’s time to diversify again and we’re working on prototypes of bars, chocolate blocks and boxed chocolates specifically for the supermarkets with a view to trying to secure local listings within a certain radius of our site in Enfield. We’re looking at a variety of concepts.”
Space to grow
Casemir currently manufactures around 40t of chocolate a year on a single-shift, four and a half-day working week, and could easily double that before having to move to larger premises, he added.
“We are obviously pretty small fry in the great scheme of things, but I think it’s not the case any more with supermarkets that you have to be able to supply all of their stores or nothing.”
Casemir supplies 84 of the nation’s top 200 hotels listed by the AA with handmade chocolates made from cream, premium cocoa beans and dairy butter.