Given the recent collapse of several key U.S. investment banks and the subsequent Wall Street tailspin that reduced my 401k retirement savings to something akin to a 201k, I thought readers (and yours truly) could use a little cheering up.

Granted, I stole part of that headline from a Mintel International Group press release that suggested chocolate, cigarettes and alcohol were “going strong despite trying financial times.”

As Marcia Mogelonsky, senior analyst at Chicago-based Mintel, pointed out,  “Chocolate, cigarettes and alcohol again seem relatively recession-proof…People might be cutting back or switching to store brands, but they definitely aren’t giving up their small daily indulgences.”

According to Mintel, the chocolate market continues to grow rapidly, with innovative, dark and premium chocolates gaining in popularity. The research company predicts that those segments will post 4% sales gains each year for the next six years.

I’m not sure I’d position chocolate as a “sin stock,” given the dearth of positive news  regarding chocolate’s health benefits, but I certainly understand why tough times prompt people to seek comfort and solace.

The same question popped up during my interview with Barry Callebaut’s Patrick De Maeseniere, ceo of the world’s largest cocoa and chocolate company. De Maeseniere was in Chicago last month to attend the grand opening of the company’s Chocolate Academy - the first in the United States.

In a wide-ranging, albeit short interview at the Academy covering rising cocoa prices, developing markets, better-for-you alternatives and geographical expansion, De Maeseniere touched on chocolate’s two-fold ability to please us when we’re happy as well as when we’re sad.

Noting that even though global chocolate consumption has tailed off from a 3% growth rate in 2007 to an anticipated 1.5% pace this year, the “head chocolate officer” remained optimistic. “It’s still growing.”

The growth, as the Mintel research affirms, continues to focus on the premium sector, a phenomenon that’s affecting many food segments, not only chocolate, he added.

And while I readily agree, I would also add that good, mainstream chocolate products continue to resonate with Mr. Everyperson. Take the most basic peanut/pecan/cashew cluster, and you’d be hard-pressed for anyone to say no to a sampling.

Our two feature stories this month, Tcho and Seroogy’s, provide a perfect example of chocolate’s impact on professionals in the business and the people they cater to. There’s little doubt that chocolate industry newcomers Childs and Rossetto have embraced theobroma in an obsessive manner, taking their Silicon Valley energy and experience and transferring it to chocolate making. In doing so, they are introducing groundbreaking approaches to sourcing, processing, marketing and tasting.

At the same time, one reads about Seroogy’s, a third-generation family business that has stood the test of time by producing sweet and comforting chocolates. From “snappers” to chocolate butter fudge, the Seroogy brothers, Jim and Joe, have found that down-home quality works well in the Midwest.

That’s not to say that they’re not being influenced by the nation’s swing for dark chocolates or more premium items. Still, in the nation’s Dairyland, basic values go hand in hand with value basics. Hence, Seroogy’s success.

Despite chocolate’s resiliency to a recession, none of us want this economic downturn to continue. As De Maeseniere pointed out, it’s the perfect indulgence to celebrate good times as well. Well, maybe it’s time to send those politicians and investment bankers some single-origin bars or a peanut cluster to remind them of chocolate’s duality. It could prompt them to get us back on the right track.