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Hunter Hawk
02-11-2007, 02:48 PM
I haven't seen a thread on this yet, and I missed out on this saga till it hit the New York Times. Wait till you have some free time, then do a search for "Noka chocolate" and start reading the links. It's awesome, and is pretty much a case study in the making. The Cliff's Notes version is as follows. (The list numbering is more for conceptual purposes rather than to indicate the time-order of things.)


1 - In 2004, a chocolate company (Noka Chocolate (http://www.nokachocolate.com)) starts up in Plano TX. They sell chocolate for $2000 a pound. Yes, that's the correct number of zeros. Their web site is an amazing piece of marketing BS. (I'm actually pretty impressed at the chutzpah.) They manage to use the term "Gifting Experience" (yes, with the capital letters) and keep a straight face. Their target market is obviously people with more money than sense.

2 - In late 2006, a food blogger (who is also a long-time poster on Chowhound) does a wonderful piece of investigative journalism and rips Noka a new one (http://www.dallasfood.org/modules.php?name=News&file=article&sid=78). He demonstrates that Noka is buying couverture that costs maybe $10-15 a pound (it's actually pretty decent stuff, though), doing a half-assed job of melting it and pouring it into smaller molds, putting it in a fancy box, and marking it up to the aforementioned $2000 a pound. He concludes that you should go right ahead and get Noka chocolate if you're a rich idiot, but there much better stuff available at faaaaar better prices. PWN3D!

This is a long read but well worth it.


3 - The article gets picked up by BoingBoing and other blogs.

4 - A poster (usually calling himself "Dan") writes comments defending Noka in the comments sections for lots of different blogs (e.g., see the first comment here (http://blog.kitchenmage.com/2006/12/excellent_serie.html) and here (http://james.cridland.net/blog/2006/12/29/noka-chocolate-and-you)). He copies and pastes the same comments in blog after blog. Gee, it's almost as if somebody is a PR flack trying to do a little astroturfing, but is too much of a dumbass to do a decent job of it.


5 - Gee, who'da thunk it? Dan gets outed. Pwn3d!

See here (http://blog.rsynnott.com/dan-noka-chocolates-valiant-defender.html) for an example.


6 - Dan posts followup comments on the blogs stating that at the time, he really-honest-cross-his-heart-and-hope-to-die wasn't working for Noka; he was just posting out of the goodness of his heart to defend a company that was having unfair aspersions cast upon it. But...uhh...now he *is* working for them, and he's not gonna comment on it any more, there's nothing to see here, move along. The two sets of comments are made only hours apart. On a weekend in late December.


7 - The marketing/PR bloggers start jumping on it, deciding that what Dan did was at best unethical and at worst illegal. (To say nothing about being really fucking clumsy.) We're talking "textbook case of how to do really crappy online PR management".

See here (http://fabadger.blogspot.com/2006/12/noka-chocolate-maker-and-dpk-public.html) for an example.

Dan tries to defend himself (http://www.keeneypr.com/en/art/?222) on his blog.

Dan gets pwn3d. Again. For example (http://blog.rsynnott.com/noka-chocolates-pr.html).


8 - Noka posts a statement (http://www.dallasfood.org/modules.php?name=Forums&file=viewtopic&t=142) claiming to clarify their position. It's a textbook example of how to do a really bad job trying to weasel your way out of claims made by somebody with a better grasp of the domain than you do. You're not gonna need a pair of hip boots to get through this BS--you're gonna need a bathyscape.


9 - The Dallas Morning News runs an infomercial for Noka on its web site.

Link available here (http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/bus/stories/012507dnbusnoka.1caa3f0.html).


10 - The Dallas Morning News prints a piece (http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/bus/stories/012507dnbusnoka.1caa3f0.html) about how awful it is to have an anonymous Internet blogger attack your poor widdle business.


11 - Robert Cox, president of the Media Bloggers' Association, shows that he's really kind of a dick (http://www.dallasfood.org/modules.php?name=Forums&file=viewtopic&t=149&postdays=0&postorder=asc&start=15). It is, of course, sheer coincidence that the guy he's attacking has no real interest in joining the Media Bloggers' Association.


12 - The NYT runs a story (http://www.nytimes.com/2007/02/10/business/10money.html) about how rich idiots also need some way to prove how studly they are, so if you're a rich idiot it doesn't matter whether the chocolate is any good as long as you pay a lot for it.

Hunter Hawk
02-11-2007, 03:13 PM
Forgot one.

8a - In a masterful riposte to the bloggers who are ripping their lame-ass marketing spin to shreds, Noka announces that they are...wait for it....introducing a new box (http://www.marketwire.com/mw/release_html_b1?release_id=199427)! This time with a hinge!

Khadaji
02-11-2007, 03:28 PM
This again goes to show what I have said for years: Americans have too damn much money.

I don't object to this, I just want to find a way to cash in on it.

Who in their right mind would pay 2000 dollars for chocolate? It would have to make my eyes roll back into my head for months to be that good.

Wow.

Green Cymbeline
02-11-2007, 03:40 PM
Hunter, thanks for posting about this interesting story. Those "chocolate makers" are some of the biggest scam artists I have heard about in a while. They're disgusting. Although it just goes to show that with fancy packaging and hype, uneducated consumers will believe anything and pay a heft price for it, and make scammers like these rich in the process.

Little Nemo
02-11-2007, 04:38 PM
$2000 a pound? Are they crazy? The only way I'd pay two thousand dollars for a pound of chocolate is if I got to lick it off Salma Hayek.

Queen Bruin
02-11-2007, 04:44 PM
Who in their right mind would pay 2000 dollars for chocolate?

I would, if it were magically delicious calorie-free chocolate.

Robot Arm
02-11-2007, 04:57 PM
I read the whole expose. If you bought a whole pound of the stuff, you wouldn't pay $2,000.With that said, the least charitable approach in assessing the value of Noka's chocolates would be to focus on the 4-piece "Vintages Collection" in the "Signature Box." For those who are curious, the price for that is $39. That's $9.75 per piece. Each chocolate tablet weighs approximately seventy-five one-thousandths of an ounce. (They're no longer than a quarter's diameter and no wider than a nickel's, as you can see here.) So, at that rate, one pound of Noka's chocolate tablets would cost about $2,080.More pieces in a different box brings it down to $309 per pound. A relative bargain, really. At that price, maybe Little Nemo can lick it off Penélope Cruz.



P.S. I am not Dan.

Hunter Hawk
02-11-2007, 06:38 PM
A couple of other things I forgot to note:

8b - Bloggers who are into branding start to wonder what the value of the Noka brand is and what it's going end up as. Example here (http://tenayagroup.com/blog/2007/01/01/noka-brand-crisis-or-marketing-spin-meltdown).

11a - Robert Cox gets his ass kicked in the ensuing debate. It's kind of entertaining to see what happens when a self-important "media blogger" tries to take on people who actually, y'know, have a clue.



And FWIW, I don't think Noka is a scam per se. They're pretty clearly positioning themselves not as purveyors of chocolate qua chocolate; instead, what they are really offering is the opportunity to pay entirely too much for a commodity good. Granted, this is the sort of thing that only has value for rich idiots, and lord knows I wouldn't be able to sleep at night if I worked at a company like that, but scrictly speaking I don't think it's a scam.

Kayeby
02-11-2007, 08:08 PM
A really interesting series of articles, even for someone like me who knows next to nothing about chocolate - thanks for sharing!

Ca3799
02-11-2007, 08:09 PM
I just read an article about Noka in Texas Highways magazine (Feb, 2007).

Noka presents itself as a high end boutique chocolatier who speciaizes in "rare" and "single estate" cacao (all the beans from one location or grower). According to the article, a 4 piece "bite sized" box is $16.00 ($39.00 for the "signature" polished steel box!) and comes with a tasting guide. They also sell truffles made with dark chocolate and fresh, organic cream with no emulsifiers or flavorings- not even vanilla. The shelf life of the truffle is 7 days. They say thier chocolates are 75% cacao and recommend against consuming white wine (too cold) and port (too sweet "for chocolate this dark") with the bon-bons.

It doesn't sound like good eating to me, but apparantly Noka is positioning their chocolates as some kind of high-end wine tasting kind of experience.

Both proprieters were accountants before they opened the shop.

astro
02-11-2007, 08:54 PM
As much as you might disdain the notion of 300 dollar a pound chocolate, it really is a magnificently crafted conceit that astutely identified a target market, and went after it successfully. There are lots of things that are way out whack re relative value, but people still purchase them because they derive some degree of utility from them.

Even if the chocolate is just very, very good, the effort that goes into crafting, marketing and delivering the decadent indulgence that's worth some absurd amount to a well funded cohort is a value added component of the food experience. What it's worth is ultimately up to the consumer.

IMO the blogger does a great job laying out the origins of the chocolate, but he comes off as somewhat too "nannying" in terms of scolding the marketers for their pricing, and in telling people how foolish they are for daring to purchase this chocolate.

His zeal to punish them for their temerity in selling an absurd product to people willing to pay absurd prices is really a bit arrogant.

Bambi Hassenpfeffer
02-11-2007, 09:48 PM
That may be true, Ms. 3799 (or may I call you Ca?), but the point is that the chocolate they sell is far overpriced relative to similar (and identical) products on the market. You can buy a 100g bar of the chocolate they use in their production for $7.50 online. In addition, the truffles and coins they sell are very poorly made -- in the blog article, you can see bloom, rough edges, and poor texture throughout their products, and the truffles look as professional as my homemade ones.

What is it that they say about a fool and his money?

What Exit?
02-11-2007, 10:28 PM
I just want to get this straight. A pair of accountants hit upon a brilliant idea to separate the foolishly rich from their most likely not hard earned money? They actually provide the product described? How are they much different from Godiva that sells overprice, under taste chocolates that instead rip of the middle-class?

They are doing nothing wrong and apparently hurting no one. As a bonus they appear to be targeting people for the overpriced product that can better afford to waste money than the target consumers of Godiva.

Jim

FilmGeek
02-11-2007, 10:42 PM
I immediately thought of the fake chocolate called "Mocklate" from Friends.

Noka is like some freakish no coca thing to me.

clayton_e
02-12-2007, 12:03 AM
Reminds me of the Bullshit! episode entitled "The Best". (http://www.tv.com/penn-and-teller-bullshit!/the-best/episode/424639/summary.html) (sorry, that's the best link I could find to info on the episode.. Although I admit I didn't look for long.)

Nava
02-12-2007, 04:43 AM
I just read an article about Noka in Texas Highways magazine (Feb, 2007).

Noka presents itself as a high end boutique chocolatier who speciaizes in "rare" and "single estate" cacao (all the beans from one location or grower). According to the article, a 4 piece "bite sized" box is $16.00 ($39.00 for the "signature" polished steel box!) and comes with a tasting guide. They also sell truffles made with dark chocolate and fresh, organic cream with no emulsifiers or flavorings- not even vanilla. The shelf life of the truffle is 7 days. They say thier chocolates are 75% cacao and recommend against consuming white wine (too cold) and port (too sweet "for chocolate this dark") with the bon-bons.

It doesn't sound like good eating to me, but apparantly Noka is positioning their chocolates as some kind of high-end wine tasting kind of experience.

Both proprieters were accountants before they opened the shop.

Nestle's Red Boxes come with a tasting guide. Cuétara's Surtidos come with a tasting guide. But they're just chocolate and just cookies, and sold in supermarkets. Nobody is saying that "our barritas, made from single-farm hand-mashed organic wheat flour and hand-raised vanilla, coated with the purest and most exclusive sucre*, will be a never-encountered Giftgiving Experience during your next Yuletide Season."

The best chocolatier in Northern Spain sells truffles with a shelf life of "1 day on the table, 2 weeks in the fridge, 6 months if frozen as soon as acquired". That's some serious yum right there, believe you me (you better believe me, since you have to come to Pamplona to find their products).

* That's sugar in French, courtesy of the same people who call water "aqua" (in Latin) in the packaging of pharma and dermo products.

even sven
02-12-2007, 08:41 AM
Of course it's their right- and brilliant at that- to sell cheap commodities at a rediculous price to status-hungry people. But it's also the blogger's right to expose the reality behind what they are doing. It's completely normal to want to make fun of status-insecure people going to great lengths to show how rich they are. Also, in the name of fighting ignorance it's useful for us to know that diamonds are not geographically rare, that bottled water is not higher quality than tap water, and that chocolate from these guys ins't better than any other premium chocoalte. I found the article pretty facinating and consider my world a little enriched for having read it.

ralph124c
02-12-2007, 09:10 AM
All of this is nothing new-Thorstein Veblen described this behavior 100 years ago in "The Theory of the Leisure Class". Once you have a certain level of income, you need to advertise your wealth-and paying big money for ordinary products is one way to do so. it's like luxury cars-a $260,000 MAYBACH isn't demonstrably better than a $50,000 Lincoln-it's value 9to its bvuyer) lies in advertising its owner's wealth and status.\
Personally, i'm glad that the idle rich spens their money in such idiotic ways-it provides jobs for the rest of us!

hawthorne
02-12-2007, 10:04 AM
Thanks for this thread, Hunter Hawk . Very interesting stuff - although I could not be less outraged.

I'm reminded of a Roald Dahl story about wine on this issue. (A servant and cook leave a house revealing that they have drunk the good wine whilst the host wanks on about about the cellar to his guests.)

The presumptions of the Dallas Food person are as interesting as the behaviour of the choclatier and its customers. Cost is the source of the poster's unhappiness, not taste. If the chocolate had come from suppliers who only produced that type of bean on a certain feast day and had to transport through the jungle by specially costumed virgins, I doubt the tone of the article would have been quite so negative.

My view is that if you like Cadbury as much as Valrhona, you're lucky. If someone persuades you to buy Valrhona anyway, you're a damn fool, no matter what Valrhona might cost to produce.

Elendil's Heir
02-13-2007, 01:13 AM
...I'm reminded of a Roald Dahl story about wine on this issue. (A servant and cook leave a house revealing that they have drunk the good wine whilst the host wanks on about about the cellar to his guests.)....

Jeffrey Archer wrote a similar short story. A wine expert makes a bet that he can name, through a blind taste test, ten of the rare vintages in a nouveau riche asshole's cellar. The expert says it's all swill when he tastes it, however, and is astonished when he's shown the labels, which indicate it's the good stuff. Turns out he's been right on every guess, and that the butler has replaced all the good wine and resold it, swapping the labels to fool the homeowner, who wouldn't know a good wine if it bit him. The butler buys a feast for the wine expert later, though, to ensure his silence.

hawthorne
02-13-2007, 10:15 AM
That's kind of interesting, Elendil's Heir, because there's another Dahl story where a supposed expert makes a bet at a dinner party that he can guess blind the vineyard and vintage of a wine. The bet turns out to be the hand of the party giver's daughter. And the expert is revealed to be a cheat.

A lot of short stories are written off templates.

SCSimmons
02-13-2007, 10:08 PM
... in the blog article, you can see bloom ...

Bloom!? :dubious: How long are they storing this stuff before shipping it? And in what conditions?

If they didn't have pictures, I wouldn't believe it. That is so easy to prevent! Are we positive the photographer didn't leave it sitting open for a few days before taking the pictures? Chocolate is not supposed to look like that coming out of the box, not when it's coming from an alleged 'high-end' chocolatier ...

Bambi Hassenpfeffer
02-13-2007, 11:45 PM
Bloom!? :dubious: How long are they storing this stuff before shipping it? And in what conditions?
Bloom (http://www.dallasfood.org/photos/noka/nokabloomdetail.jpg). Poor tempering (http://www.dallasfood.org/photos/noka/nokathreepiecestobarcomparisontwo.jpg). Sloppy construction (http://www.nokachocolate.com/grandcrutruffles.html).

It's just shoddy work all around.

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