PARIS (Reuters Life!) - Just like President Nicolas Sakozy and Economy Minister Christine Lagarde who admit to having a soft spot for it, French people seek pleasure in chocolate and many women say it's better than sex.
"If there is something we won't do without, it's chocolate," Sophie Dupondt, a self-admitted chocolate aficionado, said while visiting the Salon du Chocolat (Chocolate Show) taking place in Paris this week.
"It's good, relaxing and we need it these days!," Annie Turbaud, a grandmother said, referring to the ongoing financial crisis that has knocked French consumer morale to record lows.
Production and consumption have risen consistently over the last few years in France. The country's chocolate market rose eight percent alone last year to 2.7 billion euros ($3.44 billion), producing more than 360,000 tonnes of the cocoa-based delight in 2007.
Studies show that a vast majority of people see chocolate -- mainly produced by international giants such as Swiss-based Nestle, Britain's Cadbury or U.S. Kraft Foods -- as one of their most regular sources of pleasure.
Nearly 90 percent of people polled in August for the "Salon du Chocolat" and French newspaper Le Figaro said chocolate had a positive impact on their spirits.
Among women, 36 percent considered chocolate as comforting and 41 percent said it brought them more pleasure than sex.
Research has demonstrated that when a person eats chocolate, the body releases dopamine, a chemical in the brain's reward centers that sends signals of pleasure.
The chocolate show, which looks like a giant chocolate supermarket, will move to New York next week, Moscow late November, Tokyo in January and Shanghai at an unspecified date in the first semester of 2009.
The organizers of the show and producers believe that China is today's most promising market.
"It is very likely that when the Chinese -- not very fond of sweet food for the time being -- turn to chocolate, (the) fever will burn cocoa prices," the organizers said in a statement.
In 2006, the Chinese were absent from the top 16 world consumers, dominated by the Belgians who eat an average 10.7 kg (23.59 lb) per person per year, a study by the International Cocoa Organization (ICCO) showed.
They were closely followed by the Germans and the Swiss who also eat more than 10 kg of chocolate per year. Britain was sixth at 9.2 kg, France ninth with 6.8 kg and the United States 10th with just over half a kg per person, it showed.
Editing by Marcel Michelson