Measuring a love affair by calculating the number of dollars spent on the object of affection is a callous approach to involvement. Nevertheless, it's time to discern whether Americans do purchase chocolate in proportion to their often-stated professions of passion for the confection.
Statistics compiled by the U.S. Department of Commerce on chocolate consumption and sales indicate that the frequently mentioned romance between consumers and processed cocoa is gaining in intensity.
The most recent figures chart continually climbing sales from 1980 through 1983, the year when high-priced, upscale chocolate just began to hit its stride. The government reports that in 1983 there were 2.18 billion pounds of chocolate distributed throughout the United States, an increase of 16% from four years earlier. The dollar value of this sweet cargo amounted to nearly $4 billion, or a fairly healthy 21% improvement over 1980.
A figure easier to digest, though, is that the per capita consumption of chocolate in the United States during 1983 approached 11 pounds per person, according to statistics provided by the Chocolate Manufacturers Assn. in MacLean, Va. Many industry representatives believe this figure will climb as consumers become more knowledgeable, and thus sophisticated, about chocolate.
60,000 Subscribers to Catalogue
"There's always been an interest in chocolate," said Elaine Sherman, founder of Madame Chocolate in Glenview, Ill., a mail-order business that distributes a catalogue to 60,000 subscribers four times annually. "We just need to educate people more on what to look for. (Americans) are an inquisitive people and (now) want to learn all about chocolate and taste it as much as possible."
Sherman claims that it's difficult to pinpoint a sales figure for her company, saying only that she distributes tons of fine quality domestic and imported chocolate nationwide. The key to maintaining sales increases, she said, is to expose consumers to quality chocolates, primarily those that have been used for years by commercial confectioners and bakers.
"There is nothing better than a cake or cheesecake or a brownie or cookie made with a wonderful chocolate," Sherman said. "It's what I call a divine indulgence."
The Madame Chocolate catalogue is free upon request by writing to the company at 1940-C Lehigh Ave., Glenview, Ill. 60025.