Chocolate and misleading pricing

Those interested in chocolate, or who delight in seeing fraudsters uncovered, should have a look at this exposé on Noka Chocolates from (via BoingBoing) The ten part series might be a bit excessive, but you get the idea pretty quickly.

Apparently, a couple of accountants (Katrina Merrem and Noah Houghton) have been buying bulk chocolate for about $17.82 a pound – melting it down, shaping it, putting it into fancy boxes – then selling it for up to $2000 a pound. All this while pretending that they are actually involved in the process of making the original chocolate, as well as advancing additional dubious claims about their methods.

Amazing the crazy stuff that people who make ‘premium’ branded products can get away with. When you exploit the perception that you are providing people with the very best, and charge them accordingly, it seems fairly easy to pass off the utterly mediocre as superlative.

Those still dubious should have a look at the superb Feng Shui / bottled water episode of Penn & Teller’s: Bullshit! (Season One, Episode Seven). In it, they fill a bunch of fancy bottles using a garden hose, then sell it to the patrons of an upmarket restaurant for high prices. Listening to the customers discussing the subtle ‘notes’ they experience, and generally praise the water – interspersed with footage of a crazed looking waiter refilling the bottles on the patio – is incredibly amusing. They even call one of the options “L’eau du Robinet” (Tap Water), and sell it for $4.75 a bottle.

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

10 thoughts on “Chocolate and misleading pricing”

  1. As my mother would say, there are a lot of people out there with more money than brains.

  2. Jessica,

    I don’t think caveat emptor does it here. These people aren’t just making unjustified claims, they are being straightforwardly fraudulent and willfully deceptive about what they are selling.

  3. The Noka thing does sound pretty reprehensible, for reasons independent of whether people can be duped into buying expensive things through clever advertising.

    Whether it is fraud or not, they deserve to go broke from the negative publicity that spins off from all of this internet furor.

  4. Perhaps it’s a function of growing up without a lot of money, but I tend to be suspicious of anything that comes with a premium price. Call me cruel, but anyone willing to pay $40 for four slivers of chocolate in a metal box deserves to be ripped off.

    That said, I have a strong feeling that this is going to be a case of the Emperor’s New Clothes. The people who have been paying the premium will keep doing so, because stopping would be the same as admitting they’d been duped.

  5. Jessica,

    The psychology of ex-buyers, when exposed to this kind of information, would be an interesting thing to observe.

    I agree that it is right to be skeptical about premium products, but as owners of Etymotic headphones, we cannot say that we never allow our skepticism to be overcome.

  6. I remember a similar TV scam thing with cosmetics. They simply re-packaged cheap moisturisers and such and sold them for massive profit, peddling bull**** about ‘natural herb ingredients’ and the like. (Since they interviewed several victim/customers afterwards, I assume they were refunded)

    On psychology, I believe it’s the case that most people experience ‘buyers’ regret’ after major purchases (I’m really talking cars and houses, but maybe major depends on your budget – for us the likes of PCs, iPods and bikes probably qualify) – that ‘did I di the right thing?’ worry…

  7. Ben,

    iPod Shuffle: amazing purchase
    iPod 20GB: decent purchase
    Extended warranty on iPod 20GB: superb purchase

    iBook G4: excellent purchase
    Etymotic ER6i earbuds: excellent purchase

    Canon EOS Elan 7N: good purchase, but I would have been smarter to wait for a dSLR
    Canon EOS Rebel G: very good purchase
    Canon 50mm f/1.8 lens: very good purchase
    Canon 28-105mm f/4.5-4.5 USM II lens: excellent purchase

    Garmin GPS 76: good purchase
    Bike from Beeline Cycles, Cowley Road: decent purchase, a bit liable to fall apart, but from a shop fairly happy to fix it

  8. Ludicrously expensive bottled water for rich morons

    By Mark Frauenfelder

    Forbes Traveler has a rundown on costly bottled water, such as Berg, made from ice-age Arctic icebergs, and Bling, which comes in a bottle emblazoned with fake diamonds. I don’t know which more obviously brands you a fool: being seen with a bottle of Bling, or sporting a forehead tattoo.

    Initially introduced only to “hand-selected athletes and actors,” Bling H2O is now available to the rest of us mere mortals. It has made appearances at the MTV Music Video and Emmy awards, but did anyone tell the celebs the water comes from Dandridge, Tennessee? Never mind, the point in this case is not what’s in the bottle as it is what’s on it: Swarovski crystals spelling out “bling.” The frosted glass bottle is labeled “Limited Edition Spring Water” and is sealed with a cork.

    You can buy Bling H2O in bottles without crystals, but why would you? $441 per case of 12 bottles (750ml)

    Per 750ml bottle: $36.75

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