February 13, 2009 / 7:19 PM / 9 years ago

Sweet tooth in hard times keeps chocolatiers going

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Chocolatiers have been concerned about the impact the recession would have on their business but a sweet tooth, even in hard times, has kept them going.

<p>A chocolate roller coaster made by chef Laurent Richard of the Ritz-Carlton New York, Battery Park for his Valentine's Day "Chocolate Bar". REUTERS/Diana DeLucia/Handout</p>

Chef Laurent Richard, of The Ritz-Carlton hotel in lower Manhattan, feared the massive chocolate Valentine’s Day sculptures he had created the past seven years would be canceled,

Other chocolate makers, big and small, were bracing for their business to worsen, yet clinging to the hope that sweets would provide easy comfort in uncertain times.

So far, the recession has not quashed Americans’ chocolate appetite. U.S. chocolate giant Hershey Co posted stronger than expected earning and even small producers have managed to stay afloat.

“Like every other businesses in America, we may be in a fight for our very survival, but it’s made us better at what we do,” said Francis Schott, who recently launched “The Restaurant Guys Chocolate” with his partner Mark Pascal.

Schott and Pascal charge $36 for 16 pieces of hand-made chocolates with flavors that include elderflower and bergamot.

“It’s an indulgence that a lot people can afford,” said Schott, who serves the chocolates in one of his restaurants and ships up to 150 boxes of chocolates a week to online customers.

<p>A chocolate ferris wheel made by chef Laurent Richard of the Ritz-Carlton New York, Battery Park for his Valentine's Day "Chocolate Bar". REUTERS/Diana DeLucia/Handout</p>

Most chocolate makers aim to evoke a sense of comfort or indulgence but Stephen McDonnell chose a different path.

He says his chocolate doesn’t only taste good, it also does good.

“It’s a double-gift,” said the 53 year-old who runs Applegate Farms, an organic meat company he founded more than two decades ago.

McDonnell’s Kallari organic chocolate is from cacaos grown by about 850 indigenous Kichwa families in the Amazon region in northern Ecuador. Besides earning a higher than average price for their cacaos, the Kichwa families get all profits from the Kallari chocolate.

“I don’t think people have hot-dog craving like they have chocolate craving. It’s easier to sell chocolate than organic meat,” said McDonnell.

In three months, McDonnell has sold 40,000 chocolate bars, nearly a quarter of amount he has on hand.

The recession also didn’t put a dent in Richard’s Valentine’s Day chocolate extravaganza. Inspired by New York’s Coney Island amusement park, Richard built three massive chocolate sculptures including a 650-pound rollercoaster that required a crew of four to assemble.

“We were sold out for Valentine’s Day,” he said with a smile.

Reporting by Richard Leong; editing by Patricia Reaney.

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