The Luxury Chocolate Market

A couple of weeks ago a number of news sources reported the arrival of the £5,000 box of chocolates at Harrods in London–that’s almost $10,000 for 49 chocolates hand-wrapped and placed in suede leather, partitioned with gold and platinum. Lebanese chocolatier Patchi is said to have used “the finest grown cocoa.”

The reports don’t really tell us how the chocolates were made, but I wonder if Patchi actually made the chocolate that ended up in his fancy chocolates.

There is a big difference between making chocolate and making chocolates. The former is a complex process that requires quite a bit of machinery and know-how while the latter can be done in a regular kitchen by a modestly skilled person.

This difference, however, is lost on most people and that opens up the market for all kinds of schemes that dupe consumers into buying very expensive chocolates. Two years ago, undertook a wonderful investigation of one such scam. Noka Chocolate sold and continues to sell “single estate” chocolates at  markup of 1,300 percent over retail prices of the Bonnat chocolate they apparently used for their products.

It’s a perfect scam: buy chocolate in bulk, melt it, temper it again, mold it in small little squares and package it in a fancy box. Then you create the right kind of buzz about it, mumble a lot about percentage of cocoa solids, throw in terms like “single origin” or “single estate,” make references to “terroir” and sell the little boxes to unsuspecting customers for a huge markup.

This is possible because chocolate has become a status symbol that invites the kind of snobbery that comes with all items that cater to the well-to-do. Last week, Reuters reported that the “premium” chocolate market seems recession proof, a sure indicator that there are plenty of people out there who are willing to be taken for a ride.

A piece of advice: ask your chocolatiers who their chocolate supplier is. If they don’t tell you, don’t buy their chocolates, you are being ripped off.

If they do tell you, ask yourself what the value-added is. Did they make amazing truffles that infuse the chocolate with other flavors or did they simply remold bars. In case of the latter, you are pobably better off buying the original. If you can’t find them locally, there are plenty of websites that offer some of the best chocolate bars in the world. The only drawback is that you might have to wait for winter before they can ship it to you.

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