The 1970s saw an upsurge in premium foods, and all those foodies were happily upgrading their sweet tooths with expensive European treats. Let’s take designer chocolate, specifically Belgium-made Godiva, which opened up a whole new world, dominating the market with its gold boxes, sinful truffles and high prices. We willingly pushed aside old favorites, like Hershey and Mars, and went in search of a richer, fancier and more beautifully packaged chocolate. For the first time, many Americans no longer associated the word “truffles” with a fungus which pigs dug up in France. They were chocolate candies which produced almost a spiritual experience with one incredible bite. Even peanut brittle went upscale, as pricier nuts replaced the humble peanut, chocolate replaced the “brittle” and highfalutin almond or cashew bark took center stage.
So went the food culture, as Americans opted for a more sophisticated lifestyle, pricier restaurants and elegant eating experiences. Having a bad day? Treat yourself. Feeling depressed? Nothing satisfies like chocolate. Looking for a hostess gift? That gold box of truffles will impress. Importers jumped on this trend and more and more premium candies flooded the stores, while some even opened boutiques featuring their decadent fare. Young professionals were no longer satisfied with their childhood Butterfingers, Hershey bars or Snickers. They wanted more, and they got it. If you still preferred chocolate bars, Cadbury obliged with larger sizes filled with nuts, raisins or caramel. Ghiradelli introduced a bag of foil-wrapped milk or dark chocolate squares, filled with raspberry, caramel or mint.
So who are these upscale companies catering to our chi-chi palettes? European chocolatiers like Lindfors, Perugina, Ghiradelli, Toblerone, Ferrero Rocher, Neuhaus, Lindt and of course the grande dame of them all, Godiva. Not to be left behind, American chocolate manufacturers scrambled to compete, upgrading their packaging, expanding their repertoire and charging higher prices to meet the new demand. And just as Americans sought out better coffee rather than the standard grocery brands, so did they purchase better candies for baking. Even tried-and-true Toll House morsels met their first competitors in Ghiradelli and pricey regional brands. Cleverly marketed, they promised to produce a better-tasting chocolate chip cookie, and some bakers took notice.
So, have we back-pedaled and renewed our loyalty to more modest and far less expensive brands? Not anytime soon. In 2007, two brothers by the name of Mast dared to charge ten dollars for a “better” chocolate bar, and like moths to the flame, chocolate fans gobbled them up. Online, you can purchase their “collections” of different chocolate bars, nicely packaged. Six bars go for $45, but some are made with goat’s or sheep’s milk, which justifies the cost, according to them. A single bar will run you eight to ten dollars. (Eat very slowly.)
And we haven’t even started on organic or rainforest chocolates. Too daunting to even think about.