Luxury chocolate may not normally be top of mind when you think of luxury brands and products. So, it is not surprising if many consider this clever marketing, not a reality.
Why? Because luxury usually implies only a few select categories like fashion, watch, and jewelry. Under fashion, sub-categories may include clothing, bags, shoes, and accessories. However, almost any other category outside of these can have luxury brands that truly serve the most affluent clients.
Hotels and restaurants have five-star chains patronized by famous personalities, while the “seven-star” Burj Al Arab in Dubai is a top destination. Cars have Rolls-Royce and watches have Rolex. And consumer electronics has Apple.
Then, there is chocolate.
Many would wonder if chocolate can be a true luxury. Historically, though, the first and only available chocolate was luxury chocolate. This goes back all the way to Ancient Mesoamerica.
In its earliest beginnings, since cacao was considered a gift from the gods, chocolate was believed to possess aphrodisiac, mystical, medicinal, and energy-boosting qualities. Because of this, it was mainly the wealthy Mayans who benefited the most from drinking the bitter, foamy, and luxurious chocolate drink.
When Spain conquered the Aztec empire in 1521, the Spaniards discovered chocolate. Yet, even after they had exported chocolate back to Spain, for the next hundred years, chocolate was kept a secret by the Spanish court.
Hence, for most of history, chocolate was indeed a luxury that only the wealthy class enjoyed. It was only around the late 1700s, when the invention of the steam engine made mass production possible, that the rest of the population could finally enjoy chocolate.
Fast forward to today, luxurious chocolate brands have become somewhat overshadowed by the countless mass manufacturers of cheaper, lesser-quality, consumer chocolates. Because of technology, many things that have been a luxury in the past are now commonplace today.
What we perceive as luxury depends on the circumstances. According to its Latin root, “Luxus,” luxury means “excess.” According to the dictionary, it means, “sumptuous, elegance, or usually a delicacy, and also extremely comfortable living.” So it can be interpreted in various ways.
Therefore, mass production and the subjective or ever-changing definition of luxury throughout history, make it worthwhile to revisit what makes chocolate a true luxury today.
Let’s look at chocolates through the lens of some of the most beloved luxury brands in the world and the traits that make them true luxury, as inspired by the work of Pamela N. Danziger, Forbes’ contributor, and internationally recognized expert, speaker, and author of “Putting the Luxe Back in Luxury: How New Consumer Values Are Redefining the Way We Market Luxury.”
Imagine shopping for a new computer. You see that Apple’s Macbooks are almost thrice the price of most other brands. If most brands’ computers last a good two to three years, you would expect Apple to last around five years. Yet, many Apple users testify that their Macs consistently function well even after a decade. Superior performance at its finest!
For all luxury products, superior performance is non-negotiable. Customers who pay exorbitant fees for any item expect it to perform better than the rest but even beyond their wildest expectations. “You get what you pay for,” is not the appropriate maxim here. It is all about far more superior performance than what you expect and willing to pay for.
With luxury chocolate, superior performance primarily means having the finest ingredients and recipes that bring out the most irresistible and priceless tastes. It also means preserving those unparalleled qualities consistently over distance and time. We’ve thoroughly discussed those, as well as other critical factors, in this best chocolate article right here.
“Without craftsmanship, inspiration is a mere reed shaken in the wind,” Johannes Brahms once said. Craftsmanship channels inspiration from the craftsman to the customer. Unfortunately, consumers’ ever-increasing need for speed, mass production, and cheaper prices have almost pushed craftsmanship into becoming a lost art, forgotten over time.
Thankfully, there are brands that are not satisfied with “good enough” and intentionally imbue their luxury products with exceptional craftsmanship. Their bespoke and handcrafted items continually preserve their standard of excellence. Think of Louis Vuitton, Hermes, and Gucci and their precise perfection of timeless elegance.
Luxury chocolates are also handcrafted to perfection by world-class master chocolatiers. Their recipes are precise perfection of timeless tastes. Their presentation, packaging, and design speak of the meticulous care and creative craftsmanship invested into each piece or collection.
Diamonds, like other luxury items, are exquisite, expensive, and hence, exclusive. Only a few can own them, and not in vast amounts. That is by design. The quality and price are filters to ensure its rarity and exclusivity because when that rarity is lost, the luxury disappears.
De Beers’ game-changing ad campaigns have transformed the diamond industry forever. Higher desirability paired with a higher price tag will influence the exclusivity and the luxury of a product. But for diamonds, it is primarily the natural limited supply that makes them highly exclusive and luxurious.
Artisanal, handcrafted, gourmet chocolates are luxury products because they possess exclusivity with their relatively limited supply compared to machine-made, mass-produced, off-the-shelf chocolates. They achieve exclusivity through production and not natural scarcity.
Aside from scarcity and price, the location used to be another factor that brings exclusivity. The majority of expensive chocolates were best enjoyed in-store or close by. However, with the advent of innovative logistics technology, brands like zChocolat can offer worldwide express delivery almost anywhere in the world without affecting quality.
Over 20 years ago, zChocolat was primarily founded by Jean-Philippe Khodara as a digitally native, online chocolate gift retailer. It swiftly became the pioneering brand that paved the way for authentic French luxury chocolate to be enjoyed globally.
Today, it has become an e-commerce giant that delivers breathtaking customization and personalization in its packaging while preserving exceptional quality in customer service and delivery. This is exclusivity at its finest at every level.
So, exclusivity is now achieved through customization, personalization, and personalized unparalleled customer service. Just like bespoke shoes, bags, and suits, or customized and personalized diamond rings, the most exquisite chocolates captivate the high-end clients with their various arrays of exclusivity.
To say that the iPhone changed the way we use mobile phones is an understatement. It transformed the way we communicate live, work, travel, learn, create, shares, sell, etc. It changed everything. Today, if you ever have a task for anything, there’s almost always an iPhone app for that. If not, and there is a great need for it, soon there will be, no doubt about it.
Now, imagine if you bought the first generation iPhone—or even the best selling iPhone 6—and are still stuck using it today. You may be one of the top 0.1% of the world who became the first and earliest adopters but that would not be exactly considered luxurious today as they were years ago when they first came out and disrupted the world, in this era of iPhone 13.
In short, when it comes to luxury products, innovation becomes a necessity. Technology is changing so fast and the marketplace evolves quickly. When brands are not moving forward, they are getting left behind. What may be luxurious last year may not necessarily be today's or tomorrow’s luxury.
“Luxury brands must make the quantum leap to the now, presenting innovative ideas of luxury in line with the needs and expectations of today’s, not yesterday’s customers,” says Pamela N. Danziger. Hence, the need for innovation has become a critical business priority.
Luxury brand chocolates also require a certain level of innovation to become a true luxury. Innovation can be in the recipe, ingredients sourcing, production techniques, personalization, customization, packaging, or shipping and delivery. zChocolat innovated all those key areas. And they did not stop there.
Recently, when zChocolat’s buildings were razed down to the ground by a ravenous fire, rather than dwelling on the misfortune, they used that opportunity to build and install more innovative storage, packaging, and delivery solutions to serve clients better and as well as help prevent similar catastrophes in the future.
When you fantasize about the most irresistible pasta and pizza, what place comes to mind? “Italy” would probably be at the top of your list. And when you picture the most perfect and timeless timepiece, what word comes to mind? No doubt, “Swiss” will come to mind.
Just as very few places can rival Italian pasta and pizza, very few non-Swiss brands can rival Swiss watches. These are not coincidences but the result of years of experience and expertise put into achieving that luxurious sensibility of place and time, both literally and figuratively.
Swiss brands Patek Philippe & Co—original inventor of the first timepiece—Vacheron Constantin, and Audemars Piguet form the luxurious Holy Trinity of Watchmakers. Even Rolex, arguably the most well-known timepiece brand in the world, despite being British-founded, is Swiss in design and manufacturing.
These brands embody the meticulously tiring and challenging profession of watchmaking just like how restaurants embody the demanding culinary art.
Dining in any authentic Italian restaurant around the world teleports you to Naples, Bologna, Venice, or Rome where Italian culinary art was perfected. Moreover, wearing a sensational Swiss timepiece sends you back in time when the meticulously tiring and challenging profession of watchmaking was at its inception.
True luxury chocolates, like Italian restaurants and Swiss watches, offer you a different and delightful sense of place and time, and a wide array of sensory experiences depending on the origin of the ingredients, the authenticity of recipes, or the tradition and savoir-faire of the brand. Such is the power of true luxury.
Now imagine yourself in a picturesque little Italian cafe at a not-so-busy intersection. Just before you sip your caffè doppio for a double shot of espresso al fresco, three sleek and shiny cars suddenly pull up in slow motion…
How would you react if those cars were a Toyota, Kia, and a Citroën? Now, how about if those three cars were luxurious automobiles like a Rolls Royce, a Bentley, and a Ferrari? It would be quite natural that with the former you would feel indifferent, but with the latter, you would watch and wallow in admiration.
Luxury chocolates have similar effects. Walking past any random chocolate boutique and browsing through zChocolat’s online catalog of luxury French chocolates would elicit similar reactions. This is why luxury items put a premium on sophistication and design aesthetics: to capture, captivate, and then hold the attention of consumers at first glance until the very last.
From selecting to unboxing, from the first bite to the last, all the way until the licking of the last bit of golden and glistening praliné clinging to your fingertips, exquisite chocolate immerses you in its sophistication, design, aesthetics, and taste, almost in one fell swoop.
What makes a bunch of colors across a canvass so expensive? Why are the mega-famous and ultra-rich clamoring for them and splashing scandalous amounts of money into them like those paints on those paintings? In other words, why is art so expensive?
Without going into its financial and investment implications, art is expensive because it is the tangible, unique, creative, and often historic expression of the artist’s imagination and interpretation of the world. Think of Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, Vincent Willem van Gogh’s The Starry Night, and Pablo Picasso’s Guernica.
Like luxurious artworks, luxury chocolate that showcases the full artistic expression of its maker is the epitome of culinary art. The passion and ingenuity of the master chocolatier are creatively channeled through the remarkable recipe flowing through the flavors of the premium ingredients that explode in your palates.
Imagine stepping into your walk-in closet. You have dresses painstakingly and perfectly organized. Louis Vuitton on the right wall, House of Bijan on the left, and Gucci straight ahead. You own dresses from the top three most luxurious fashion brands. Which dress would you pick to wear for the evening?
All else held equal, you would probably pick the most luxurious dress relevant for the occasion. Invited to the Cannes Film Festival? Louis Vuitton may be the obvious choice. Attending the Fajr International Fashion and Clothing Festival? Perhaps it’s smart to wear House of Bijan. Heading to The Milan Fashion Week? You better wear Gucci.
Like luxury fashion, exquisite chocolates thrive with relevance. zChocolat, for example, continually partners with a World Champion Master Chocolatier and world-class experts and artists to create chocolate collections that are perfect pairings for your preferred beverage, taste, or diet for all your important events, holidays, and life moments.
In 1847, 29-year-old Louis-François Cartier bought his mentor’s jewelry workshop Rue Montorgueil, Paris. He officially established the House of Cartier as a humble Parisian shop and quickly grew it into a global success. By 1904 In fact, Cartier became the official purveyor to King Alfonso XII of Spain and King Edward VII of the United Kingdom.
Today, Cartier is one of the oldest luxury brands that is still living up to its heritage since 1847. Only Hermès and Tiffany & Co.—both founded in 1837—are the two other luxury brands that older than Cartier. It’s amazing how they all have held up their luxurious heritage all these years.
As we explored at the beginning of this article, the exceptional origin and heritage of chocolates have been passed on for centuries. If you pair that with the unrivaled and world-renowned, French savoir-faire, there is little room for doubt that luxury French chocolate is a class apart.
Finally, the urgency to address climate change, global warming, ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance), and CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) makes industries, companies, and brands respond to a much greater call for responsibility.
The great news is that already about 85% of the top 50 global luxury brands—Prada, Tiffany, Rolex, etc.---are involved in socially responsible activities like philanthropy, environmental sustainability, and ethical business practices. True luxury chocolate brands exercise similar responsibilities that begin with responsible sourcing of raw ingredients.
zChocolat’s response to a crisis is the perfect way to close this article on a high note. Shortly after the world started opening up after the lockdown, zChocolat committed to doubling the delivery of delectable chocolates at no additional cost and enabled sending them to partner charities and hospitals. zChocolat also partners with Graine de Vie to plant trees in Madagascar to zero out its carbon print. Luxury may be discretionary. But responsibility is a necessity.
We have uncovered that, historically, chocolate was indeed originally a luxury a few enjoyed. As centuries passed, however, chocolate became commoditized and widely available so much so that most people never even remember or bother to learn about its curious and luxurious origin.
Yet today, by looking at the most elegant chocolates vis-à-vis the different luxury brands and items, we begin to see how they are considered a luxury in every sense of the word They possess superior performance, craftsmanship, exclusivity, sense of place & time, sophistication & design aesthetics, creative expression, relevance, heritage, and most of all, responsibility.
Faithful to its history and heritage, luxury chocolate is a true luxury that shares the same specific traits and characteristics as other luxury products the world has love.