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Chocolate Makers Invest in Gourmet Brands

The Hershey Co., Mars Inc. and other confectionery giants confronting chocolate start-ups making pricey dark chocolate and other gourmet varieties are ramping up investments and marketing in high-end confections, reported USA Today.

This week Hershey formed a subsidiary, Artisan Confections Company, and acquired the assets of Joseph Schmidt Confections, Inc., a premium chocolate maker. Joseph Schmidt is known for its artistic and innovative truffles, colorful chocolate mosaics, specialty cookies, and handcrafted chocolates presented in distinctive
packaging. These products are sold in select department stores and other specialty outlets nationwide as well as in Joseph Schmidt's stores located in San Jose and San Francisco.

The company also completed the acquisition of Scharffen Berger Chocolate Maker, started eight years ago near San Francisco by a former vintner. It was Hershey's first plunge into the premium-chocolate market.

Mars is launching a gourmet line, Ethel's. It ranges from traditional truffles to trendy treats inspired by cocktails, such as cosmopolitans. They're sold in a chain of cafes with plush chairs that Mars launched in Chicago last spring.

Godiva Chocolatier is extending seasonal sales of its limited "couture-style" G Collection to include Mother's Day on top of Christmas and Valentine's Day, the newspaper reported. The G Collection, which launched two years ago, features 48-piece boxes for $125.

Gourmet chocolate-making statistics are elusive; the National Confectioners Association trade group doesn't track them. There's no official definition of gourmet chocolate, although Chocolatier magazine says it's often made in small batches without preservatives. Executive Editor Matthew Stevens estimated there are as many as 1,000 mostly tiny gourmet makers vs. about 250 just five years ago. Annual revenue averages $500,000 each. Most sell to local and regional customers
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