Gift-Giver’s Dilemma: Is Organic Chocolate Worth the Cost?

Illustrative image of Green and Black's chocolate; part of Cadbury Plc.

If you plunk down some big bucks for organic chocolate this Valentine’s Day, your sweetie may or may not be impressed.

Despite what some people say, such candy doesn’t taste better just because the ingredients are organic, according to experts. The manufacturing process plays a major part.

Andy Ciordia, owner of The Secret Chocolatier in Charlotte, North Carolina, says consumers are most likely to notice that mass-produced chocolates using a cacao solution taste flatter than those made on a smaller scale and with natural ingredients.

The primary reason for purchasing organic chocolate is the social and environmental motivation.

Among the best-known organic brands are Dagoba from Hershey (HSH), Green & Black’s from Mondelez International’s (MDLZ) Cadbury and Newman’s Own.

To be called “organic,” a chocolate bar must consist only of certified organic ingredients. That means pesticides and genetically modified ingredients can’t be used.

Other chocolates, including the high-end and artisanal kind, may use similar standards but simply lack the certification. Most of what you find at fancy chocolatiers isn’t organic.

The certification costs money, which is one reason organic chocolate costs more.

You can pay still more if you buy from the growing number of bean-to-bar organic chocolate makers.

Acquiring beans from small co-ops and farms rather than the bulk market and the time-intensive way to produce a chocolate bar results in the big premium.

A typical 1.8-ounce bar made by Raaka Chocolate in Brooklyn, New York, for example, retails for $7.99, or $4.44 an ounce.

At a Walmart (WMT) store, though, you can find a 3.5-ounce organic Green & Black’s bar for 94 cents an ounce. Ounce for ounce, that is still more expensive than what the chain charges for a premium Lindt bar, which isn’t organic, at 71 cents or a giant bar of Hershey’s Special Dark for 29 cents.

But bean-to-bar chocolate is likely to have only two or three ingredients, usually the beans and sugar, sometimes cocoa butter.

By contrast, a bar of Hershey Special Dark has sugar, chocolate, cocoa butter, cocoa processed with alkali, milk fat, lactose, soy lecithin, PGPR (emulsifier), vanillin, artificial flavor and milk.

A Matter of Principle

U.S. sales of organic chocolate and organic candy bars were up 16.5 percent in 2013, according to the latest Organic Trade Association data.

That is quadruple the growth rate for the overall chocolate market, says Curtis Vreeland, president of confectionery industry market research firm Vreeland & Associates.

However, he notes, the organic side represents only about 1 percent of the $20 billion U.S. chocolate market.

Perhaps that is because buying organic is more about principles than product.

“The primary reason for purchasing organic chocolate is the social and environmental motivation,” says Carl Jorgensen, director of global consumer strategy-wellness for the branding firm Daymon Worldwide.

Amy Grey, 24, a writer for exercise bike retailer Spinning’s website in Venice, California, says eating organic chocolate makes sense.

“You wash your fruit and vegetables to get the pesticides off before you eat them, but you can’t really wash your chocolate to get rid of those chemicals,” Grey says. “Organic chocolate means no pesticides and no harmful chemicals being put into your body.”

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