Before I go, I have something to say

Don’t Mess With My Chocolate

Dear Baker’s Chocolate Company,

You have disappointed me. I’m sure you know I’m a chocoholic, and my favorite chocolate recipe requires two ounces of your fabulous unsweetened baking chocolate. I’ve been making it for years, slipping a box into the shopping cart as the spirit moves me, which is, I’ll admit, all too often. My college roommate, who is my friend to this day, found the recipe for your chocolate sauce right on one of your boxes years ago, and I’ve been making it ever since.

I noticed, as you did, when the competition (I won’t name any names, but we all know who that is) downsized their box and their product, offering only four ounces instead of eight. What? I hollered, holding up the thin, pathetic box. What do they think they’re doing? But then I looked, and there was your box, still fat, still bursting with eight ounces of chocolate joy. Whew. That was a close one.

We all know, don’t we, that a box of baking chocolate ought to contain eight squares, each one nicely wrapped in white paper, each one enclosing one complete ounce. Since the chocolate sauce recipe requires two ounces of unsweetened baking chocolate, I could make it four times from just one box. What did it cost? Something under four dollars, so each time I made it, it only cost about a buck. That seemed more than fair to me.

But then. You know what’s coming, don’t you?

Two weeks ago, my husband and I were at Hy-Vee. Into the cart went the Cheerios, the sandwich thins, the reduced-fat Triscuits, the Jazz apples and the maybe-they’ll-taste-better-this-time basket of fresh blueberries. Sailing down the baking aisle, I scanned the shelves for your familiar orange and brown box. I found it, but something was . . . off. Something was . . . going on. Deception had entered the chocolate shelves. There it was: “Baker’s Unsweetened Baking Chocolate Bar. All Natural; 100% Cacao.” Fine. It used to be called “Baker’s Unsweetened Baking Chocolate SQUARES,” but fine.

Then I noticed something new. Instead of saying “2X More Product than competitor’s package,” it now said, “ NEW! 4 oz Easy Break Bar. Same great chocolate.” Et tu, Baker’s?

Both boxes – and yes, I have an old one and a new one right here by my laptop – boast, “Since 1780.” Wow, that’s a long time. I wonder what a box contained two hundred years ago? Sixteen ounces? Thirty-two? Because you’re obviously on a downward slide.

Not only that, but we no longer get each square wrapped individually in nice white paper. Now what we get is a thin, scored bar of rectangles, each rectangle worth a puny one-quarter ounce, all in one flimsy foil wrap. So, in other words, it takes eight of those rectangles to make my beloved chocolate sauce, and I can only eke two recipes out of one box. And that one box costs just about as much as the old, twice-as-big, box used to cost.

Your marketers must have had a field day with this. I can just see someone from management telling the team, “We need to make more money! And you need to make the customers think we’re doing them a favor! Put on your thinking caps!” So, as all good marketers do, they tried to look on the bright side. Sure, you’re selling half as much product for the same four bucks, but hey, it’s easier to break! And it’s the “same great chocolate” you’ve been selling since the middle ages, but it’s, um, slim! So maybe customers will get the crazy idea that they, too, will slim down by eating it!

Coincidentally, I was just reading an article about the way food products have become taller and slimmer to trick us grocery shoppers into thinking we’re still getting the same amount, even though we’re not. The article, “Fooled by Food,” appears in this month’s issue of the wonderful Nutrition Action Health Letter, which is published by the hardworking Center for Science in the Public Interest. It’s a thin publication, but it carries no ads, so it’s packed with flavor, the way a box of chocolate ought to be.

This happened to my favorite cereal. I didn’t even notice how thin the box had become, because it was as tall as ever. But I happened to have an older box in the cupboard, and boy, was there a difference. It was like my cinnamon Puffins had gone on a diet. It was hardly a shadow of its former self and yet, it was selling for the same inflated price. Isn’t that funny?

So, Baker’s, or whatever your corporate parent might be. (For all I know, your little chocolate company is owned by a corporate behemoth that also markets cigarettes, guns, and gummy worms.) What am I to do? I love this chocolate sauce. I really do. Why, I love it so much I’ve gotten friends hooked on it, too. Maybe we need to form a support group, and write up a twelve-step program for going cold turkey on chocolate sauce. It’s just that it’s sooo much better than anything DQ or Beecher’s ever poured over a scoop of vanilla ice cream. So much better than anything Hershey’s sells in a can. What’s that? It comes in plastic squirt bottles now? Of course it does.

I still miss the old Hershey bar, the one with the chocolate in squares, not rectangles. (Yeah, I know. Food geometry is important to me. I have no idea why.) I know people who roast their own coffee and – who knows? – will soon be growing it in their back yard. Maybe it’s time for me to make my own chocolate. I’ve been looking for a new hobby.

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