The Feminine Side Of Chocolate

As women continue to express their undying love of chocolate, chocolate finally responds in kind. Confectionery companies move to target women directly.
By Renee M. Covino
For quite some time, it was a one-way love affair. Women savored and adored their delicious treats without a care that the dark and handsome chocolate just sat there and tasted good. It continued on like this until very recently, when an even stronger bond emerged between the two. It seems a number of chocolate species have finally decided to cease their coolness of heart and return the affection—with special packages, shapes, and marketing messages that speak the modern female’s language of love.  
Chocolate manufacturers will say that it has never come as a surprise to them that women love—and buy lots of—chocolate. In fact, many admit that women have always been their core customer. But as an industry, chocolate confections had fallen behind those that have been more brazen—and successful—at marketing directly to the fashionably hip side of today’s women. That’s not the case anymore.
“Chocolate was lagging behind the rest of the [female consumer products] world,” maintains Jean Thompson, CEO of Seattle Chocolate Company, based in Seattle, makers of Chick Chocolates (which are sold with the tagline, ‘like you, fabulous’). “Women, who are the supreme consumers, are totally in love with chocolate, but the industry never before positioned it the way they position other products specifically marketed to them—such as cosmetics and fashion.”
Chick Chocolates has certainly done its part earlier this year—unveiling its take-along, lipstick-sized boxes of chocolates with flavors matching “chick” personalities featured on the front, such as “Strong Chick” (calcium fortified milk chocolate); “Extreme Chick” (a high cacao content); and “Nutty Chick,” (combining milk chocolate with toffee and almonds).
“The idea is to come out with new flavors every nine to 12 months,” according to Thompson. “They’ll be like the ‘new chicks in town’—with new personality profiles to go along with the flavors, just to keep it fresh and fun.”
The current Strong Chick is just one personality profile that many women can relate to: “a fit and healthy leader with a can-do attitude—she approaches life on her own terms.”
Thompson believes today’s women relate to not only that lingo but to the two versions of take-along (two or three bites of chocolate) packaging that Chicks come in.
“There are so many women out there who grasp the concept of ‘everything in moderation,’ and so they want to be able to take their chocolate with them for when the moment arises,” says Thompson. “We have high-quality chocolate in Chicks, but without the expensive packaging. Expensive packaging is fine when you want to give a gift, but for the other nine or 10 months of the year, it’s not necessary. I think women want something in between the packaging spectrum of a plastic bag and a fancy box. That was my idea behind Chicks.”
Designing the Chicks one-ounce box in a similar size and shape to a lipstick was also no accident. In fact, the cosmetic “take-along-in-your-purse” angle is apparently catching on quickly with other chocolate manufacturers.
A sweet travel companion
The Chocolate Traveler in North Hollywood, Calif., has put out a 3.5-oz chocolate tin that contains 16 chocolate pieces cut in wedges like a pizza pie. When Jon Alberon, owner, took this portable, portion-controlled chocolate configuration to trade shows earlier in the year, “it was like a female magnet,” he says. “Women immediately saw the similarity to what they already carry in their purses like cosmetic compacts. They also told me they loved how it couldn’t fall out of a wrapper, and that they didn’t have to eat the whole thing at once.”
While the package graphics are not purely feminine (there’s a “retro 1940s aviation-looking scene with a man and a woman,” according to Alberon), “it was designed with the upscale female shopper in mind,” he says.
Just like with Chick Chocolates, high product quality is a key part of The Chocolate Traveler concept. In all of its flavors—milk chocolate, bittersweet, coffee and mint (and even in all four sugar-free versions of the same flavors)—the company uses high-quality “exceptionally smooth” Belgian chocolate. The brand has started to get distribution in Trader Joe’s, Cost Plus World Market and in select northern California Whole Foods stores.
“We’re going to be positioned in the checkout with other impulse confections,” reports Alberon.
Chocolate therapy
Another female-forward chocolatier on the scene is b.sweets, based in Briar Hill, Pa. The company’s products not only target today’s women, but the company itself is comprised entirely of young women—two pairs of sisters (all four of them cousins with the same last name, Bashour, for the b in b.sweets). The clan grew up surrounded by their two fathers’ 53-year-old regional candy business, which they say resulted in “chocolate running through their veins.”
Despite the fact that that they all currently hold “regular jobs,” the twenty- and thirty-something foursome have recently put out their first chocolate collection—the b.sweets chocolate Rx line—targeted to women just like themselves, with the idea and subsequent tagline that: “any self-diagnosed problem can be treated the right way . . . sweetly.”
With four milk-chocolate-covered boxed treats—pretzels, peanut butter crunch bars, classic grahams and marshmallows, the Bashours believe that they have hit on certain comfort foods that women think about to ultimately make themselves feel better—and again, consume with moderation.
“We all sat around at Christmas two years ago talking about how the chocolate market didn’t tap into women like us,” says Erica Bahour, the eldest of the group at 33, and a practicing attorney. “We created the chocolate Rx collection straight from the heart with the idea that no one should take themselves too seriously, and that a little chocolate is always therapeutic.”
“The right time for a sweet dose of chocolate Rx—wedding planning stress, mother-in-law drama, a rough day at work, a break-up with a boyfriend, anytime you want your girlfriends around,” adds Bree Bashour, the packaging designer for the collection, which features an overall color palette of cotton candy pink stripes and cool blues stripes accented by chocolate brown stripes.
Godiva’s new campaign
But not to be outshone by these newest chocolate companies on the block, chocolate makers with history are targeting today’s females as well.
Godiva Chocolatier, best known for its classic gold-boxed chocolate confections, is spending $5 million this fall on a new “diva” ad campaign, a play on the last four letters of the brand name. While Godiva’s traditional target market has been women over the age of 35, it is now seeking to broaden its appeal to younger women, aged 25-30. 
“As we looked at the marketplace, we saw a real opportunity to be more attractive to the younger, more fashion-involved female consumer,” says Gene Dunkin, president of Godiva North America, based in New York, N.Y. “We’re learning that you become even more desirable to your core customer base, as well as pick up the younger consumers, when you speak in a younger voice. It’s the primal psychology of human nature—everyone aspires to youth, whether they’re 20 or 70. And that’s precisely why I don’t think we’ll lose any customers during this younger focus.”
The Godiva ads feature such models as Frankie Rayder of Victoria’s Secret catalog fame. The copy in one of the ads reads: “Every woman is one part diva, much to the dismay of every man.” The “diva” in the sentence is highlighted within the “Godiva” brand, with the “Go” in a lighter hue.
“A couple of years ago we started a significant battery of research that delved into our customer’s psyche—what she thinks and how she feels about chocolate,” explains Dunkin. “We learned that women today look at Godiva as an experience that pleasures all their senses. From there, we got some very interesting playback that every woman is actually one part diva. All women reserve the right to pleasure themselves in a myriad of ways in the course of a typical day—whether it’s a cup of cappuccino at Starbucks, truffles from a box of Godiva that they take out after the kids go to school, having a pedicure or manicure, etc. This was the genesis of the Diva Campaign.”
And if all this female frenzy on chocolate leaves the men wanting, Chick Chocolates has come up with a possible remedy: “Maybe we’ll come out with a Chick Chocolate just for them—Chick Magnet,” says Thompson, who confirms that men have actually told her that her attention on women exclusively is “not fair.”
Dunkin adds that “it’s not that we’re ignoring the men—we do have unique offerings for Father’s Day and other times like that,” he maintains. “But clearly, the key chocolate target has always been, and will always be—women.” n
Ex-Rocket Scientist ‘Cocoa Pete’ Now Has a Sweet Mission
Don’t think it takes a rocket scientist to make fine chocolate? Well, in the case of Campbell, Calif.-based Cocoa Pete’s Chocolate Adventures, it does. Founder Pete Slosberg—formerly best known as the craft beer brewer who concocted Pete’s Wicked Ale—actually majored in space mechanics and propulsion as an undergraduate and worked briefly at a NASA lab before getting an MBA and embracing the world of food and beverage.
Slosberg incorporated Pete’s Brewing Company in 1986 and sold his remaining stake in 1998. Slosberg’s brewing business ventures took him to Belgium frequently, and the widespread availability of top-notch chocolates there got him thinking about opportunities in the U.S. marketplace.
Slosberg established his chocolate company in 2002. His mission is to take a serious, almost reverential approach to making chocolate by adhering to strict production standards and formulating with a high cacao content. His company uses only natural ingredients.
Slosberg’s approach to marketing these products is completely irreverent. That’s reflected in the names of Cocoa Pete’s signature offerings—Maltimus Maximus (real brewer’s malt in milk chocolate); Nuts So Serious (hazelnut butter and pistachios in milk chocolate); Caramel Knowledge (soft dark caramel plus a hint of coffee in dark chocolate); and Berry, Berry Dangerous (dried organic strawberry bits in dark chocolate). It can also be seen in public relations strategies such as using a "moan-o-meter" to measure the satisfied moans of those who savor the taste of Cocoa Pete chocolates. Packaging warns consumers about the "hazardous" consequences of consuming the chocolate via caution statements such as "moan inducing" and "crave causing."
The company offers two product lines—2.5-ounce bars and .7-ounce Cocoa Petites. The bars feature four domed, snap-apart pieces and the Petites boast two smaller pieces bridged to form a miniature version of the original offering.
Cocoa Petites are designed to satisfy consumers who are seeking a portion-controlled chocolate experience, and they also serve as a trial size for the brand. The large bars have a suggested retail price of about $2.50, and the Petites retail for less than $1.
The fact that no artificial ingredients are used in the formulations makes the products a good fit for natural food stores. The products are also sold in premium grocery stores, on corporate office campuses, and at movie and concert venues.  
Needless to say, Slosberg is committed to continually expanding distribution: "We want to make great chocolate available everyday to everybody," he says.
The Comeback Confectioner: Fannie May Begins a New Chapter
For a while there, Fannie May Confections, a Chicago candy icon, was looking like Fannie Maybe. In February, the situation appeared bleak when previous owner, Archibald Candy Co. of Chicago, filed for bankruptcy and closed all 228 stores in and around the Windy City.
Then Utah-based Alpine Confections Inc. emerged with a plan to keep the brand alive. Signs of hope glimmered this summer with the success of Fannie May’s "other" avenues of business and the way its loyal customers flocked to them. Under the auspices of Alpine, Fannie May reportedly did "extensive" food, drug and mass sales (stores such as Walgreen’s, Jewel-Osco, Dominick’s, Cub Foods) of boxed favorites, Pixies (a caramel/chocolate/nut "turtle-like" piece) and Trinidads (pastel yellow, crunchy coconut coating over a creamy chocolate center), to name just its top two.
Fannie May’s continued web presence was also impressive. Apparently hungry for information, as well as their favorite confections, Fannie May fans couldn’t sign up fast enough for an email service on that promised to update them on any changes in the company’s status and the availability of its sweets. The company garnered 20,000 new email addresses, adding to the 80,000 it already had in its database.
Now, all 100,000 subscribers have been told the good news: Fannie May is back in business on all fronts—mass market stores, corporate and mail-order catalogs, fund raisers, the Website—and best of all, its stores. During the month of October, 45-plus Fannie May retail stores have been re-opened.
"Basically our entire business has been put back into place," says Alan Petrik, executive vice president and general manager of the "new" Fannie May. "And we’re all set for growth and stability."
The re-opened stores have been "face-lifted and updated," according to Petrik. As for product, updated wrappings and packaging, some with a nostalgia element, have been added, even though the core boxes of Fannie May have kept to their tradition. Customers will also find some new items, along with a "create your own" selection box, available to them. Additionally, the company’s management team has completed a new training program.
A huge media campaign will coincide with a grand opening campaign in November. Radio spots, billboards across town, freestanding inserts in Chicago-area newspapers, print ads, post cards, and emails—all will target core customers with the news of Fannie May’s comeback.  
"We’re going to be able to reach in three weeks in November, 90 percent of our target, eight or more times," reports Jan Waanders, spokesperson for Fannie May.
Petrik says the company focus for the next 8-10 months will be to reestablish its "very seasonal" business using the same ingredients, recipes and candy concoctions that many have missed. "We want to get back our core customers and put our candy back into their mouths, especially for Christmas, Valentine’s Day and Easter," he maintains. "We will look at other opportunities after we get through this first set of holidays."
Fannie May will do this with fewer SKUs and a product line that has been "reduced substantially from the past," according to Petrik. "But doing that really brings back the core competency," he adds. "We know our customers mostly want our core products back, so we’ll take the business backwards a bit to be able to take it forwards later in an even bigger way."
Therefore, Pixies, Trinidads, Mint Meltaways, and butter creams, will all be back in boxed business, as will certain single-serve items, such as Fannie May’s two-ounce bar line and its two- and four-piece sampler boxes. 
In keeping with that smaller way of thinking, Fannie May’s line of miniatures, called Debutantes, will be back for Easter.
More Luxury for the Masses
It’s a small way for mass consumers to feel rich and indulgent, and it’s catching on quickly: Trade up in relatively affordable pleasurable categories such as chocolate. 
Upscale chocolate manufacturers have been closely following the trend. “Consumers are now demanding that luxury be put conveniently in their path,” says Gene Dunkin, president of Godiva North America.
“We’ve noticed a few supermarket chains trading up to some special chocolate gift sections,” adds Al Bono, president and CEO of Quality Candy Company based in Julian, Calif. “Some are taking special six-pack cases of our King Leo brand Belgian chocolate gift tins and trying it out. They will sell from $15-$20 retail.”
Lindt is partnering with different retailers in several mass retail channels (such as bookstores and food stores) to put in “Lindt chocolate shops” within the stores; fixtures vary from two feet in width to 12 feet and more.
“These shops-in-the-shop systems offer us the chance to present the whole Lindt variety in a premium environment to the consumer,” says Thomas Linemayr, CEO of Lindt & Sprungli (USA) Inc. “We can cover all key usage occasions such as impulse, shared consumption, and gift items, as well as all important price points to the consumer in the same spot.”
This evolutionary merchandising process can eventually place 100 premium Lindt SKUs within a mass retail store. “We have a clear consumer trend towards premium chocolate, as well as a clear trend towards convenience,” adds Linemayr.
In an opposite way, the mainstream chocolate manufacturers are also accommodating the luxury/convenience chocolate trend. Of course they already have the convenience—it’s the premium element they needed to enhance.
Nestlé USA’s Specialty Confections division was created for just that purpose. It has recently introduced a European Chocolate Premium Bag Collection.The line features a 5-ounce bag of Perugina Baci (hazelnut centers in dark chocolate); a 5-ounce bag of Perugina Delizia (assorted fillings); a 5.8-ounce bag of Perugina Duetto (a dual assortment of solid milk and dark chocolate pieces), and a 4.1-ounce bag of Perugina Emotions (whole hazelnuts layered in white fudge and crispy chocolate crème enrobed with dark chocolate). Each chocolate piece is individually foil-wrapped; the bags have a suggested retail price of $2.99.
European-inspired flavors in limited editions have come to Hershey’s Nuggets chocolates. Limited Edition Cookies ‘N’ Mint is ready for November; Limited Edition Dark Chocolate Raspberry and Limited Edition Strawberry ‘N’ Cookies will both be released in January of 2005.