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The hunt is on for what we value

Treating people like chocolate

I shared my tale in the past of an April evening when I was studying for exams and got a powerful craving for a Cadbury Easter Crème Egg. Despite living in a small city filled with every type of store imaginable, I was unsuccessful in my quest to acquire the desired treat. Easter was over and the eggs were gone from the shelf.

This year, some consumers might encounter a lack of some of their favorites, or sticker shock on others, as analysts warn of the impact soaring prices are having on production. Industry giants say they have no choice but to shrink the size of their treats while trying to maintain market share. We’ve seen shrinkflation everywhere else, so why wouldn’t it hit our chocolate eggs and bunnies as well.

Customers are also noticing changes companies are making to strengthen their bottom line. One producer rolled out a new version of a classic that is now only half-dipped in chocolate. Cheaper to make, yet higher priced for the consumer. Another option for producers is embracing skimpflation and swapping out more expensive ingredients with cheaper ones.

It’s big business, as we know. The Retail Council of Canada says 87% of Canadians expect to spend the same amount of money or more on chocolate as last year. More than $3.3 billion will change hands in the United States alone. Germany will produce 230 million Easter bunnies, while the United Kingdom leads the way in product innovation. Although the massive selection available to us already appears to be overwhelming, there apparently is a clear favorite this week: Reese’s peanut butter eggs.

Since I am a big fan of all things chocolate I jumped at the chance to tour the Ethel M Chocolate Factory one summer. Located just outside Las Vegas, it is an unexpected oasis of freshly-crafted gourmet chocolates, hand-made, on site. Using family recipes dating back to 1910, the company specializes in small-batch, premium delicacies.

Behind walls of windows are chocolatiers who go to extraordinary lengths to create the perfect selection of chocolates. They are dressed like surgeons—covered head to toe so as not to contaminate any step of the process. They make their own caramel (in original copper kettles), mix their own flavors and grind nuts on site. Only the freshest of ingredients are to be used. It is in watching this process you are reminded that not all chocolate is created equal. From discount to premium, we can judge what it is worth to us.

While that might be okay for chocolate, it makes me wonder how often we think of people in the same manner. The ones with preferred titles or the prettiest packaging are viewed as worth more than others. We laud those with certain jobs or influence and value them more highly. Those that fit particular categories are in a different class. At least that seems to be how we treat them. They are seen as being made of better stuff. Premium, as compared to the rest.

Some studies bear this out. Celebrities accused of crimes are more likely to be acquitted than the general population. Among the wealthy, white collar criminals receive shorter sentences than those recommended by sentencing guidelines. And in that vein of ‘the rich just get richer’, one study found that the famous receive more than $100,000 annually in free goods and services.

I enjoy chocolate and have had some really exceptional samples over my lifetime; confections handed to me by the chocolatiers who created them, treats from other countries or exclusive shops, top brands known for their quality, and some of the prettiest looking marvels wrapped by hand and impeccably packaged. Delicious. All of them. But amongst my favourite? It might surprise.

I remember as a child looking forward to the chocolate bunnies we would get at Easter. With its hard candy eye and pretty little ribbon as decoration, the bunnies that came in a colorful box were exciting to be sure. But the best, the absolute best, was a solid one-pound bunny in simple plastic packaging purchased in a now defunct department store. Nothing fancy or impressive. But inside was delicious chocolate that hit the sweet spot for me. It wasn’t flashy and certainly wouldn’t stand out amidst the bounty of impressive packaging that is designed to catch our eye, but inside was a mighty good product. Sometimes we need to look past the flash to find the fortune.

As Canadians hunt for and partake in more than $270 million of eggs and rabbits this weekend, we will be combing through an array of options from discount varieties to premium outlets. While we can choose to spend what we want on any particular kind, let’s be sure we remember that while placing value on chocolate based on marketing and packaging is one thing, we best search a little deeper when it comes to the people around us. When we do, that’s when we’ll find the real treasure. That’s my outlook.