published Saturday, April 3rd, 2010

Chocolate's guile withstands banality of recession


by Tamara Best

From fudge to fondue, cookies to strawberries, chocolate is a mainstay in American culture. The recent economic downturn appears to have little impact on curbing cravings or spending for confection products like chocolate and candy.

"Candy is somewhat recession proof," Matthew Fenton, vice president of marketing at Farley & Sathers, a candy company with major operations in Chattanooga, said. "It tends to do well in bad and good economies. It's an acceptable indulgence for a cheap amount of money."

According to an AC Nielsen recession vulnerability analysis, candy is one of the most resistant categories with the tasty product being consumed in 98 percent of U.S. households.

Chocolate's appeal leads the way through its sales.

The National Confectioner's Association said chocolate accounts for 58 percent of total confectionery last year, representing a 3.4 percent gain from the preceding year.

Locally, shops that specialize in chocolate treats say their business is holding steady despite the overall economic slump.

"Literally, the day we signed the lease, the recession was announced and I thought, 'What have I gotten myself into?'" said Wendy Buckner of the Hot Chocolatier on Cherokee Boulevard. "But business keeps increasing every day."

Fudgewrights co-owner Jennifer Wright said the Market Street store that caters to tourists has experienced a decline in the number of visitors. "But we do have a lot of local people come by who help, and try to keep us in business," she said.

Kimberly Beattie of A Bountiful Harvest, said that having a wide variety and being flexible have been the key to success during tough economic times.

"There are two kinds of chocolate lovers: those that appreciate those fresh to order and those that expect it to be prepackaged. There's something for everyone here," she said of the handmade treats. "We have clients that are 7 or 8 years old who only eat our chocolate because their parents made the mistake of bringing them here," she added.

The thoughts at local chocolate shops mirror those from the National Confectioner's Association, which says that low cost combined with impulse buying enhances sales.

"You can get a really delicious piece of chocolate that will make you happy for less than a dollar," Ms. Whiteside said.

These trends are strengthened by candy -- chocolate specifically -- being made a part of so many holidays, including Easter when it takes the shape of eggs and bunnies as part of the holiday celebration.

"Easter is huge," Mrs. Buckner said. "I start making bunnies just before St. Patrick's Day and don't stop until Easter gets here."

CHOCOLATE FACTS

* 52 percent of U.S. adults said chocolate is their favorite flavor

* U.S. chocolate manufacturers use 40 percent of the almonds produced in the U.S.

* Approximately 3.5 million pounds of whole milk are used every day in the U.S. to make chocolate.

* Sixty-five percent of American chocolate eaters prefer milk chocolate.

* The melting point of cocoa butter is just below the human body temperature of 98.6 degrees

Source: National Confectioner's Association

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