Mixed News From Hershey: Recession is Good - Closing Plants
Posted in: News & New Product Press
Let's consider the phrase "Artisan Confections" - confections made by the hands of artists. Those of us who visited the Scharffen Berger facility, a factory in a funky warehouse in Berkeley with exposed red brick and bottomless samples of perfect hot cocoa, felt the artisan origins of that company. John Scharffenberger and Robert Steinberg were rebels in the chocolate industry. "Why make your own chocolate?" people routinely asked them in the early days. "Just buy it from a big manufacturer." But Steinberg in particular had a vision - he wanted to make sustainably produced chocolate in small batches the way the artisans he met in Europe made it. When he tells the story (see ESSENCE OF CHOCOLATE BY John Scharffenberger and Robert Steinberg) of his cancer diagnosis, his bittersweet exit from his job as a doctor and his turn to food for inspiration, you'll hear the voice of a very non-corporate guy. He decided to grind fresh beans in his coffee mill at home then melt the paste with a hair dryer and scour trade shows looking for used equipment to bring about a new American chocolate. Did he worry about efficiencies and shipping costs? Absolutely. Scharffen Berger was an extremely successful business. But did those concerns impinge on his product? Not too much, he made a great one.Hershey's, also founded by a visionary, bought the company as a prestige brand with a market niche they didn't control. So they'll close the Berkeley factory for efficiency sake, they'll make good chocolate, much like Steinberg & Scharffenberger made, but something will be missing. The personal choices - Robert pulling twigs out of jute sacks of cocoa beans from Venezuela or proudly smelling the day's batch in the old-fashioned conch machine - will be made by committees and robotic machines. I believe Hersheys will still make a fine chocolate. But the important point is for artisan chocolatiers - those of us poking around cacao plantations, tempering, molding, using our senses, adding a touch of sugar here, a 1/2 ounce of anise there - to continue the personal, unpredictable, passionate, artistic work of guys like Steinberg and Scharffenberger.