Chocolate Conundrum

Department of bubble bursting: Hershey’s chocolate is the lowest common denominator of chocolate. Too sweet by far, with an insipid flavor and beans of questionable provenance.

Scharffen Berger produces a limited range of super-high-quality chocolate; sourcing, roasting, and conching their own beans. The company was in the vanguard of the new wave of artisan chocolatiers.

Dagoba crafts enticingly whimsical chocolate bars while practicing “Full Circle Sustainability that blends quality, ecology, equity & community.”

But as Wired’s Chris Anderson reports, the apparent differences between these chocolatiers may be only skin deep, because, as he reports in his blog, a few years ago, Hershey bought Scharffen Berger. Last year it acquired Dagoba.

Anderson, whose “Long Tail” theory of business has captured the nation’s imagination, posits that while big companies used to buy smaller ones and fold the smaller company’s products into their own, these days consumers are looking for “the authenticity and quality of niche products.”

It is a testament to the inversion of power in the marketplace that for the influentials Hershey is trying to reach, an artisanal Berkeley chocolatier such as John Scharffenberger apparently has more brand power than America’s largest candy company.

The only catch? Hershey’s doesn’t really want people to notice that now, apparently, all chocolate, even artisan chocolate, is Hershey’s.