Thursday, December 28, 2006

The Great Chocolate Ripoff

Hoo Boy! From DallasFood.org, here's an amazing expose of Noka Chocolates, a super-dooper expensive chocolate company. This gripping ten-part (!) series details how the fancy-pants company buys bulk chocolate from French chocolate-maker Bonnat, forms it into undistinguished truffles, and sells it at a markup ranging from 2500-7000%. Worst of all, they have a pattern of deliberate obfuscation on the issue of where their chocolate comes from, suggesting strongly in all their promotional materials and personal appearances that they make it themselves.

The article is currently bouncing all over the Web, including good discussions on Metafilter and BoingBoing. This is the kind of superb online investigative journalism that can kill off a slimy company in one fell swoop.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

I don't know. Maybe I look at things a bit different, but after reading the series I had a completely different impression than you're describing. NOKA's chocolatier repeatedly clarifies that they do NOT make the chocolate from "bean to bar." If, as the chocolatier claims, NOKA does specify how their couverture is made and with what ingredients, wouldn't she be justified in calling attention to the quality and purity of the source material they use? Why shouldn't they? If Mercedes discusses their fine leather seats, should we really expect that they disclose the source that actually made the leather or the manufacturer that covered seats? Of course not. Mercedes says "We go to the ends of the earth to source the finest leather for our stunning interior...." It's called marketing! And then the author dismisses NOKA's claim that the couverture they use is made to their specifications, but offers nothing other than a taste test as proof. That might be convincing if the author had a palate that was well respected, but the author doesn't even identify him/herself. This so-called expose merely exposed the fact that the writer discovered the NOKA truly does offer a high quality, high purity single-source chocolate, just as they claim.

PeaceLove said...

Thanks for the comment. The article makes pretty clear that the Noka owners obfuscate mightily when discussing the origin of their chocolate, frequently encouraging the mistaken belief that they have some role in the actual chocolate making process ("We search out the finest beans" etc...). The author makes a convincing case that the chocolate is stock Bonnat and there's frankly no reason to think otherwise. Feature by feature it matches stock Bonnat chocolate exactly. The fact that they apparently taste the same too is bonus evidence.

The article also demonstrates that the truffles Noka makes are unexceptional in quality and artistry.

You're free to chalk their obscene markup as "marketing" if you like. To me it smacks of consumer ripoff, if not from a legal standpoint then certainly from a moral and ethical one. I'd be pretty surprised if anyone could read that article and have anything but contempt for Noka and its founders.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous #1, WTF? Has Noka hired an army of shills or something? If you read the article they lied when initially asked whether they made the chocolate, and encouraged media outlets and magazines to describe the company as "chocolate makers." Your comparison to a Mercedes is patently ridiculous...you can't whip up a Mercedes Benz in your kitchen with a mail order chocolate bar from Bonnat costly less than 10 dollars! And...for the record...some upscale car manufacturers DO detail exactly where their leather comes from.

Jeff said...

I guess I don't see the need for outrage here. So there's a company selling obscenely expensive chocolate for people with money to burn, and guess what? They engage in creative marketing techniques to spin the truth and help you justify your ridiculous purchase.

Oh, the horror.

PeaceLove said...

In the first place, there's no question that on the scale of global outrages this story is quite unimportant. However they are not selling "obscenely expensive chocolate." They are selling reasonably priced chocolate at an obscene markup. Therein lies the rub.

The main reason I posted the link is that I found the story truly compelling to read, a lively and gripping piece of investigative journalism. And I do think the company is sleazy and deserves to go out of business.

jb said...

"obscene markup" is now a problem? That's capitalism, plain and simple. If we are poo-pooing this little chocolate company for selecting an audience and marketing effectively to them, what shall we do with the likes of Google, Microsoft, eBay, Niemann Marcus, and so many others who have tremendous markup and market well?

The company's site claims they make their truffles from single-origin chocolate, this doesn't say they go pick the beans or grow them, just that they source from what they feel is the best. They take pride in the quality and purity, that doesn't mean they make it, just that they are proud of their product.

I say there are much worse out there, and this wouldn't be the first company I'd run out of town.

PeaceLove said...

Here's my late, late reply, J.B. The companies you cited add value to the world. Possible exception: Neiman Marcus, although I'd still argue their role historically has been to seek out and offer truly exceptional products. Even Microsoft isn't re-badging someone else's product and selling it at a 600% markup. They sell their own product, one which--like it or not--adds value to offices worldwide. Maybe not as much value as another system would offer, but at least MS products do what they are supposed to for most people in most situations.