STATEWIDE Gourmet chocolate lover Ashley Rahll says she always has at least one chocolate bar on hand at home. But a recent trip to Portland chocolate retailer Cacao with friend Adam Morris meant an extra-special splurge on a spicy dark drinking chocolate and single-malt scotch chocolate.
“I’ve definitely had to cut back on chocolate because of the recession,” says the 28-year-old bartender. “But it’s a special treat, and sometimes all you need is a bite.”
Like Rahll, most Oregonians are reining in spending. But many are still willing to devote some of their hard-earned dollars, albeit fewer of them, to buy colorful jelly beans and luxurious truffles.
Oregon retailers point to candy’s affordability and chocolate’s natural mood-boosting qualities as key to their continued success. Someone may not be able to afford a vacation or a meal out, but spending $10 on candy can still give you a taste of luxury, says Jess Lobo, Sweets Etc. sales manager.
The holidays appear to be a bright spot for Oregon confectioners, with Portland stores like Sahagún Chocolate Shop and JaCiva’s Bakery & Chocolate reporting strong holiday candy sales over last year. “Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Easter, Mother’s Day — people are still going to celebrate these holidays in a recession,” says Sahagún’s owner, Elizabeth Montes. “Chocolate is a fancy, affordable gift.”
Oregon entrepreneurs such as Ashland artists Jean Bakewell and Kay Cutter are using the recession to start their candy empire. The two opened the Recession Candy Co. in January, selling English toffee in their hand-designed “art boxes” with a encouraging note inside: “In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.”
While total retail sales have risen for the $28 billion national confectionary market, which includes gum, chocolate confections and non-chocolate confections, Oregon’s candy retailers anecdotally report flat or only slight growth in sales.
Although local retailers can’t say conclusively why sales aren’t growing as fast as the national trend, several say they notice customers purchasing only one or two of their favorite, pricier candies, where before they would have purchased several.
“Café and Internet sales have remained flat,” says Darin Linnman, company spokesman for Moonstruck Chocolatier. “We have remained fairly consistent, which in and of itself is a success story.”