January 30, 2011

Holiday-specific products are lower in quality and higher in price

Looking over the chocolates in the Valentine's Day section of the supermarket today, I noticed how inferior the ingredients are to everyday chocolates. Like several candy bar brands, quite a few of the Valentine's Day chocolates had replaced most or all of the cocoa butter with vegetable oils -- and not even a nice one full of saturated fat like palm kernel oil or coconut oil, which would at least retain some of the creaminess, but inflammatory polyunsaturated junk like soybean or cottonseed oils, usually hydrogenated.

I also noticed a greater proportion of chocolates that had some kind of cheap corn syrup instead of sugar or honey, and virtually none that had things like egg whites added for extra richness. Those are standard for a Toblerone bar, which isn't anywhere as expensive per gram as the Valentine's Day chocolates, but does cost more than a Hershey bar because it has higher quality ingredients and tastes better.

How can that be? -- that they deliver a lower-quality product and charge more?

When someone's buying a gift for a special occasion, one that's supposed to be sacred like Valentine's Day, they're not supposed to scrutinize what's in it. That's what you do when you're buying something for use, not for exchanging it as a signal of your thoughtfulness. The same goes for the recipient: they're not going to put the ingredient list under a laboratory microscope because they're not eating them for personal enjoyment but to show that they acknowledge and appreciate the gift.

After all, if these Valentine's Day chocolates were so great at giving personal enjoyment, wouldn't they be sold throughout the year in the candy aisle, rather than only a tiny slice of the year?

Although it would be cheaper and taste infinitely better to get some Reese's peanut butter cups, a Heath bar, and a Clark bar, those are ordinary chocolates, not specialty ones. And even the Valentine's Day version of the Reese's cups that are heart-shaped look too kiddie to serve as suitable gifts, unlike the "fine selection" chocolates that are pretentiously packaged in wrapping paper and have things printed on them like "hand-made in small batches" -- I guess adding "by artisans" would have been gilding the lily.

Everyday products generally get punished if they are low in quality and high in price, so this pattern is hardly pervasive. Still, watch out when the things are made only for sacred occasions.

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