Savoring chocolate

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As americans develop a taste for luxury, the Chocolate Show in New York next month is taking on new dimensions.

Growing rapidly from a little-known local event in 1998, the show is expected to draw more than 15,000 connoisseurs of chocolate from the U.S., plus 50 exhibitors from around the world.

Attendees will pay $12 each to visit the show, which runs from Oct. 29-Nov. 1. In exchange, they will receive samples from exhibitors plus the chance to buy products while meeting the world's top chocolatiers.

FAST GROWING

So far the show is a pale imitation of Paris' annual chocolate festival, Le Salon du Chocolat, which draws 80,000 people each year. But Event International, New York, which organizes both shows, says the Chocolate Show is one of its fastest-growing operations among several international food-related events.

"Event International believes there is a lot of potential in this country for the Chocolate Show, because people in the U.S. are really starting to know chocolate and are becoming attuned to luxury brands," said Stephanie Teuwen, co-president of Teuwen One Image, New York, which is helping to execute the U.S. version of the show.

This year fashion designers, including Paco Rabanne and Sonia Rykiel, will create haute couture outfits for models partly made of chocolate, and a "chocolate fashion show" will be one of the event's highlights.

Chefs from top New York hotels, including the Four Seasons, plan to make chocolate replicas of their hotels to display in their lobbies to help promote the show; diverse New York-themed architectural creations also will be on display, created by New York pastry chefs.

Barnes & Noble is backing the event with a consumer sweepstakes to win prizes including a KitchenAid mixer; dinner for two at a top New York restaurant; and chocolate merchandise. The book retailer will back the promotion with dozens of special chocolate-themed window displays in its New York area stores. Barnes & Noble will also host a "cookbook store" at the show with more than 60 chefs meeting and signing books for customers.

MORE OFFERINGS

Chocolate is becoming an important sideline for Barnes & Noble, which began selling high-end Godiva chocolates in many of its stores over the last year. The company has experienced "excellent" results since expanding its upscale chocolate offerings, and linking with the Chocolate Show was "a great way to show our commitment to it," said a spokeswoman.

For more than 50 exhibitors participating in the show, many from Europe, the chance to get direct exposure to U.S. chocolate addicts is a valuable opportunity, because achieving widespread retail distribution for specialty items is very difficult.

"We struggle constantly to get widespread distribution, but since fine chocolate is sold almost entirely through specialty and gourmet stores, one-on-one marketing through events has become very important to our success," said Enrico Ascione, president of La Fenice, New York, which imports Choc-issimo, a brand of European hot chocolate mix.

MORE AWARENESS

At last year's show, Mr. Ascione gave away thousands of samples and awareness of his product shot up among chocolate connoisseurs, he said.

Despite the U.S.' growing enthusiasm for high-end chocolate, the nation has a long way to go before its equals Europe's. Americans consume merely 12.7 pounds of chocolate per year on average, compared to 15.3 pounds per person in France; 21.6 pounds in Germany and 22.4 pounds in Switzerland, said Ms. Teuwen.

"We are optimistic about [chocolate consumption] trends in the U.S., because people have shown a remarkable interest in top brands, and they're becoming very savvy, very fast," she said.

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