Chocolate as an Economic Indicator?

Good chocolate is something to be prized.  I learned this early in life, because I had relatives in Canada (most of them) and when they visited, they brought things like Aero bars, which easily outclassed the best Hershey’s and Milky Way.  I’m no connoisseur of chocolate, it’s just that I can tell something good from something that’s utilitarian.  So can you (compare some Easter candy manufactured by Palmer’s with some from Cadbury).

When we moved from Wisconsin to Connecticut at the end of summer, 2008, the bubble was bursting, but the economy was not nearly at its worst.  Here’s the Dow:

Once we were in our new place in Connecticut, one of the more delightful discoveries we made was that there was a drug store a block or so from our house.  More to the point, it had an utterly fantastic chocolate collection.  I saw stuff there that I hadn’t seen since SAP bought out the software company where I worked, some years before.

Where in Wisconsin I would be lucky to find Cadbury Dairy Milks (which are, sorry to say, only a pale imitation of the version you can find in England), I could find a wide variety of English, Swiss, German, etc., etc. chocolate bars.  They occupied one entire side of an aisle of the store, and the other side was given to “convenience” bags of mini-bars.  The whole thing.  That was August 2008.

Over the next months and years, however, the chocolate aisle gave way.  The variety was a little less, and the quantities much smaller, than they had been when we arrived.  Today the chocolate section takes up perhaps half an aisle (granted, still on both sides) and you’re more likely to find domestic chocolate than exotics (though there are still some of the latter).  And there’s more.

Halloween and Easter used to mean enormous feasts of chocolate–so much that there were always bags and bags of leftovers (which people bought).  These days, you’re lucky to find Cadbury eggs left by Easter, and the few bags of leftovers the day after are like as not pitiful Palmer’s products.  And there are few bags left over.

My initial read on this was that Chocolate consumption varied with the economy.  I haven’t been able to quickly find confirmation of this, though it appears to be well-settled that while sales have increased in terms of money, quantity has not.

So what accounts for my perception?  It might be the economy (in fact, it would be hard for it not to be the economy) but it might be some other factors as well.  Ye olde local drugstore also faces a poor economy, and therein hangs a risk.  Loading up on, say, Easter candy, creates a problem–because after Easter, you can’t sell the stuff at full price.  You have to sell at a discount, which is the way, let’s be honest, that we like it.  A predictable consequence is that you buy smaller quantities overall, and especially of the good stuff, which is costly.  The good stuff sells out first, then all that’s left is the Palmer’s, which people will buy because, well, it’s Easter.  And so very little is left over.

And stores have gotten much better at assessing their needs, Thanks to computers and universal product codes, which tell the merchant what is selling and, more importantly, when.  In a hot economy, the risk was lower and (probably) merchants paid a little less attention to the reports from their systems (rather like how, in times of cheap gas, nobody worries about how their car is performing or how far it is to a particular place).  But now, those reports are a lifeline.

So celebrate that chocolate while you may–and remember to shop early.  You can’t make an economic omlet without breaking some Cadbury eggs.


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