Friday, January 14, 2011

Chocolate Surprise

I’m no stranger to chocolate bars. I’ve always been a guy that craves the salty stuff like pretzels and tortilla chips as my junk food du jour, but may a person step forward that’s ever heard me speak one nasty word about chocolate. Chocolate bars, chocolate ice cream, chocolate filled croissants, I’ve enjoyed them all probably more than I should have over the past 31 years. I’m no chocolate expert, but it’s not my first time at the chocolate dance either. So then, imagine my surprise when a little short stubby chocolate bar with a big price tag caught my attention while waiting in line at the grocery store the other day.

$2.80, for what? Two dollars and eighty cents, I must be seeing this wrong, for what? It’s a little chocolate bar, like someone cut off a third of a Snickers, packed it up in fancy gold wrapping, and priced it for three times as much as a whole bar. Now I’m no penny pincher, or price checker for that matter, but it seemed like an awfully large sum of money for a tiny little stubby piece of chocolate. I have to admit, I was intrigued, enough so to pick up the little nugget, and learn more about it, as the person in front of me took their time writing a check (who does that anymore) for a few bags of some sort of produce.

The ultimate chocolate bar crafted by hand the package read, as if to dare me to find out if it really was the ultimate. Filled with hazelnuts, and rich milk chocolate the package almost begging me now to drop 3 bills on this bar no bigger than my thumb. Ok, their marketing worked, let me test drive one of these so-called five star chocolate bars. I’ll be the judge of this impulse aisle indulgence, somebody has to do it, why not me?

Fast forward two nights, and here I am, just a few minutes ago, chewing in utter ecstasy at what has to be the best chocolate bar that’s ever graced my gums in my entire life. This bar wasn’t worth $3 it was worth $30! It was light, but rich, with just enough consistency to make it chewy, without being too soft. This bar was full of exotic ingredients found in no Hershey’s bar that I’ve ever had, was that cumin I tasted? Maybe some hints of oak? Am I drinking wine or eating chocolate, why do I feel so good after eating it? This really was an incredible mocha-filled journey, that surprisingly was satisfying after the two bites it took to finish this piece of heaven.

So how did I, and judging by the half empty box sitting in the grocery aisle, many others get here. How did we as savvy recession-crunched consumers splurge on a chocolate bar of such miniature proportions to begin with? Differentiation. By offering something that on the surface looks absurd, a tiny piece of chocolate for triple the price of a much larger piece, the product stands out. It gets people talking, and has them wondering, what gives them the right to charge that much?

It’s not just chocolate, Kona coffee, one of my personal favorites, sells for more than five times as much as Columbian per pound, another one of my favorites. Why does Kona get put into the conversation of most exotic and refined brews time and time again, when it is a relatively boutique line of coffee that is packaged and distributed much less than my Columbian brethren’s beans? Because of differentiation. The exorbitant price prompts curious consumers to ask why, which brings up romanticized stories of Hawaiian countryside estates growing coffee beans out of volcanic ash. The narrative is there, because the price prompts the inquisitiveness of the consumer.

A client that has twice commissioned my services to sell their highbrow product to a U.S. market of beauty salons kept bringing this point up over and over again in their emails to me regarding their positioning of their product. It will differentiate the salons from the competition they’d tell me, and then we’d look at the pricing of their product, the narrative, and all the rest to see how this could be done. It was harder for me to explain the formula for successfully translating their wishes into retail results then, but after my chocolate experience tonight, it’ll surely be easier next time around.


Jennifer said...

In a recession, we splurge on $3 chocolate because it is a luxury we can seemingly afford. I may not be able to afford dessert with my restaurant dinner, or even dinner out, but I can find $3 to make me feel less like I am struggling financially. These sorts of small luxuries are how most Americans can make it through the tough times without feeling like all hope is lost.

I know. Times are tough at my house right now, and while a $3 bar of chocolate is currently out of reach, I do consider it myself when I reach the check out line. If only there were coupons for those things!

Jennifer said...

You might also be interseted in this book, which is currently free through And you don't need a Kindle to download or read it.

Let Them Eat Cake: Marketing Luxury to the Masses - As well as the Classes