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Sharffen Berger

Sad but true. Hershey's is closing Sharffen Berger's factory.


Who else is going to open their chocolate factory doors to the public??

Hope that Hershey's doesn't mess up the good thing that Sharffen Berger started. I doubt that they will be trying anything innovative.

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  1. Wow. That is truly heartbreaking. So very sad.

    1. Why does this remind me of the huge renovation of the top floor of Marshall Field's Frango factory ($9M+) which was shut down to transfer production to Pennsylvania, thereby changing the Frango Mints to a duller version of their former glory? MF is gone, acquired by Macy's, but the faux frangos remain. I haven't purchased them as gifts since the factory was moved from the State Street store.

      I hope this reduction in quality doesn't happen to Sharffen Berger or Joseph Schmidt.

      13 Replies
      1. re: Caralien

        Honestly, not much of a loss with Joseph Schmidt. I met him once, and he seems like a great guy, but I've never thought much of his chocolate, especially those grotesque truffles. Scharffen Berger was a big deal when it was started, as really the first artisan bean-to-bar chocolate maker in the US, but now there are other people doing it, and doing it better (to my taste).

        1. re: Ruth Lafler

          Ruth, I also share your opinion of Joseph Schmidt truffles. I'm curious what other artisan bean-to-bar chocolate makers you like? I'm really fond of Guittard, and Valhrona, although V is French, not domestic.

          1. re: sairuh

            Scharffen Berger were the pioneers of the artisan chocolate movement in America. They loved their product and the quality showed. Since then, other makers have started to pop up. Some local, some in other areas of the country, but they're out there and they're worth seeking out.

            A quick note for people who mention Charles Chocolate or Rechiutti in the same breath. These are confectioners, who use end product chocolate to craft fine confections. The true chocolatiers, such as Scharffen Berger craft the seeds of the Cacao tree into chocolate, what we now call bean to bar.

            Locally made chocolate:
            TCHO on Pier 17. Well worth looking into.

            Farther out in the world but still great:
            Amano Chocolate in Orem Utah. Fabulous chocolate from former scientists turned insanely good chocolatiers.

            De Vries Chocolate in Denver. I consider this to be the finest chocolate made in the world today

            There's still all this great chocolate out there waiting to be tried. Even if Hershey's are doing bad things to the pioneers, the second generation is even better.

            17 San Pier, Francisco, CA

            Amano Artisan Chocolate
            496 S 1325 W, Orem, UT

            Steven DeVries Chocolate Maker
            3153 Larimer St, Denver, CO

            1. re: LarryW

              Good points. And if Hershey's walks away from the bean sources, those good beans will find a new home with a bean to bar producer who gives a darn.

              Still, it's sad to see the Sharffenberger plant close...I guess it's time to get off my tush and go have one of the tours.

              1. re: LarryW

                I went into my local purveyor of fine chocolate bars at lunch and refreshed my memory on American artisan bean-to-bar chocolate makers. My current favorite is Escazu (www.escazuchocolates.com) -- I'm not sure if all their chocolates are bean-to-bar, but their single origin bars are.

                1. re: Ruth Lafler

                  I'd love to try Escazu. Where are they available locally?

                  I've also read about a bean-to-bar producer in Somerville, Massachusetts called Tazo, so I'm trying to scope out where they might be carried locally.

                  1. re: farmersdaughter

                    I get the Escazu at Fog City News. I don't know if they have Tazo, but you should ask.

                    1. re: farmersdaughter

                      It's Taza and I'm addicted. Fortunately, my organic food delivery service includes their products so I can add them to my delivery orders.

                      They are organic and very environmentally responsible. Their products are more natural and less refined in taste and texture. I enjoy experimenting with their chocolate as a new part of my savory palate.

                      They just came out with a Mexican chocolate with Guajillo Chili. Just wonderful! Here's the info on that one.


                    2. re: Ruth Lafler

                      Hi Ruth.
                      I'm the owner and chocolate maker of Escazu and EZCA Chocolates. Thanks so much for the kind words. Adam at Fog City has been great in helping to promote small, craft chocolate makers like us, even landing me a review in Wine Spectator. Its a really exciting time in chocolate right now, as regional artisans reclaim the industry from old giants!

                      1. re: Hallot Parson

                        Yeah, Adam is very passionate about promoting small chocolate makers (or at least, their chocolate). My favorite bar, btw, is the Dark Chocolate with roasted pumpkin seeds and Guajillo Chili. Lots of people are doing some combination of chocolate and chile, but I find this one to be particularly well-done, and the pumpkin seeds are a unique touch.

                        1. re: Ruth Lafler

                          Have to agree that there are more people doing it now and better(to my taste). But they were an inovative and important company. However I felt it was over for them when Hersey bought them out. I perfer (try) to to give my money to the new generation of Sharffen Bergers and to to a big corperation. Idealistic perhaps but usually quite tasty.

                  2. re: sairuh

                    Blanxart chocolate- a artisan chocolate maker from spain. the organic dark chocolate is the best. no question. You can find it at the spanish table in berkeley.

                  3. re: Ruth Lafler

                    I second (or third Ruth). Scharffen Berger was a leader once, but if you want nothing more than a great bar of chocolate, there are plenty of alternatives for any taste. I continued to buy their chocolate after Hershey bought them out because I wanted to support a business that was still at least partly local, and I didn't notice any reduction of the quality. Guess I'll need to find another go-to brand.

                2. Too bad. The factory tour was a great local field trip for little kids.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: Glencora

                    yea . . . about the factory tour.

                    Just called them and they have decided to stop doing the tour. You can now only do a virtual tour of the factory online.

                    Half of the joy of the tour was to leave reeking of chocolate for the rest of the day.

                    But you can still visit their store. . . HOW LAME!! Grrrrrrrr.

                    Call and complain!! (510) 981-4066

                    1. re: BeanBoy

                      They have no reason to do tours now. I will have to go to their store in the factory building one more time, though.

                      1. re: Mick Ruthven

                        I wonder how long the bricks of that building will reek of chocolate :D

                  2. I used a lot of their chocolate. No more.

                    Robert is spinning in his grave right now.

                    Ever since Hershey bought them, the quality has been slipping little by little. This was the final straw.

                    I'm very sad now.

                    1. It was bound to happen. It almost always happens when small companies are bought by big ones. I was just hoping it would an exception. :(

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: PegS

                        Unfortunately this is true. Large corps acquire and consolidate and it seemed pretty obvious that it would happen sooner or later. What I dislike is large corps using the poor economy as cover for this behavior. Wonder how many jobs will be sacked?

                        I haven't bought SB chocolate for a bit but tours were always great to send friends and visitors on and I'll miss being able to roll into the factory store and buy 90% of my holiday gifts in 15 mins.

                        1. re: ML8000

                          Over 150 jobs lost, between JS and SB. But Hershey's stock is up! Grrrrr....

                          1. re: dixieday2

                            Sorry if this is getting off topic, but I'm not sure it's fair to demonize Hershey here. I would think SB and JS went to Hershey because they needed the cash. Perhaps we should be asking, how much sooner would they have had to close if Hershey were not in the picture? I think there are two sides to this story.

                            1. re: Martin Strell

                              You are assuming they sold to Hershey because they were distressed. That is often *not* the case - usually it's because a founder wants to leave, retire, cash out, or move on to some other projects that interest him or her.

                      2. What a joke. Corporate America at its worst again. Good news is that Guittard is still around, and their chocolate is very nice. They are still looking at opening a store in and possibly moving their factory to Fairfield. QUEVEDO!

                        1. I'm actually kinda crushed by this. Take a good brand, buy it, don't respect the brand or its quality, change it, diminish it, shut down the factory, move it, layoff employees -- kill a wonderful brand, essentially.

                          Is this a reflection of corporate rapaciousness, or the current economy, or both? Was this Hershey's plan all along?

                          20 Replies
                          1. re: maria lorraine

                            Of course it was. Further, there is no way to have the scale of brand that Hershey wants to make out of it and keep the quality up, because there is no way to source enough beans and keep the QC up. As soon as this happened, I predicted this, and just as Starbucks and now Peet's can't keep the QC up, neither can Hershey. Hershey just announced better than expected earnings. Their economy is fine. I'm sorry to see the place go, but I don't think I've been in there more than 1 or 2 times since the local ownership departed.

                            1. re: lmnopm

                              do your job and buy local. I personally never liked #2's evil spawn or Peet's, preferring my again local roaster in NY. My CA caterer wasn't happy that I wanted to supply my own beans, but they're what I like and I refused to serve my guests something I wouldn't drink myself.

                              1. re: Caralien

                                But Peet's is, or was, local to Berkeley. I agree with your point, though.

                                1. re: Glencora

                                  Peet's had outlets in Chicago before I moved to CA in 2004, and their coffee had a following; so does Chock Full 'O Nuts in Brooklyn. Personally, I never found Peet's as good as NY's Porto Rico. They didn't smell or taste as fresh. So now I can have my coffee and support a local (50 mile) company instead of having it shipped across the country. :)

                                  1. re: Caralien

                                    Peets was started in the 60's in Berkeley. We shipped Peets coffee to Chicago for years in the late 80's and early 90's. There was nothing like it there at the time. In spite of the expansion, the local Peets still feels more local.

                            2. re: maria lorraine

                              This is an interesting topic all on its own, but I'd say its unlikely Hershey planned this.

                              I've also seen this in other industries time and time again. Only one time out of a hundred the parent company goes into the deal intending to close another. That happens only when there is a near duopoly, and the price of the other company can be justified by stealing the customers.

                              Such is not the case with Scharfenberger, you'll not be buying Hershey chocolate now. So they haven't bought you as a customer.

                              The common case is a business doesn't appreciate the transition, integration, or scaling costs, or just that something goes wrong internally at the company, or, say, the economy takes a huge unexpected nose dive and the parent's perception is a lower demand for high-end product, or a million other reasons for failure.

                              Trust me in this: Hershey's sees this as a failure too. Even if their plan was to lower quality and hope no one noticed, their plan was to bleed the cash cow of the brand name for decades. Closing the factory and terminating the chocolate is a failure.

                              1. re: bbulkow

                                Well, we won't be buying Scharffenberger chocolate either.

                                1. re: bbulkow

                                  Just to clarify, they aren't terminating the brand or the chocolate -- they're going to be making it at their other factories. It's hard to imagine they'll be able to maintain any kind of "artisan" level quality or quality control under those conditions.

                                  1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                    They have been making most of the Scharffen Berger at the other factory for awhile now. When I took the tour a year ago they told us that they're only making a small percentage of the brand's output in Berkeley. They abandoned the "artisan" concept a long time ago.

                                    1. re: Shane Greenwood

                                      If that's true (and I assume it is), they've kept the quality remarkably the same.

                                  2. re: bbulkow

                                    >terminating the chocolate is a failure<

                                    We don't yet know that's going to happen or that the quality will drop. We can speculate, but no one knows yet.

                                    What it did do for me was eliminate any loyalty points for Scharffenberger being local. I'm already trying other chocolate and loving the experience (still really like Scharffenberger, though).

                                    1. re: bbulkow

                                      I dunno, bbulkow. Closing factories and consolidating them to the parent company's existing factories always seems to be part of longer-term strategies. They may have left the possibility open that they *wouldn't* but I'm sure doing it down the line was an early consideration. I do agree that that they probably have no active plans to shut the brand down, though, and it's still possible the brand will survive. (Crosses fingers)

                                      1. re: PegS

                                        I agree. Acquisitions and mergers are almost always based on the idea of eliminating duplicate overhead (people, facilities, etc.) while keeping the brand for market shares, branding, etc. When banks or software companies do an acquisition, it's a given they're going to cut jobs and try to reduce costs. When whoever bought Bank of America (another locally grown business) they moved everything to North Carolina and cut jobs here. I can't see how Hersey is any different except they're dealing in chocolate.

                                        1. re: ML8000

                                          There is a difference. Money is only money but chocolate is love. Who but Scrooge McDuck would ever want anything dipped in money?

                                          1. re: wolfe

                                            I can't disagree but apparently the Hersey Food Corporation (HSY) doesn't see a difference. It's about efficiency damn it!

                                            I'm not a big chocoholic but I did stop buying SB a while after the merger thinking why not ween myself now...because it will go full corp soon enough.

                                        2. re: PegS

                                          They specifically said they had no (current) plans to shut the brand down. I'm guessing the Sharffen Berger factory isn't very cost effective to run compared to their other factories and that they decided that the quaintness/PR factor of continuing to use it became a luxury they thought they could no longer afford (I suspect they're wrong, that this is the kind of short-term, bottom line thinking that American industry is being dragged down by, but they didn't ask me!).

                                          1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                            A factor with the West Berkeley location (and I'm sure not the determining factor, as I'm sure this was always in the plan) is the new West Berkeley Bowl - Access and parking were going to become quite big issues for employees and customers alike.

                                            1. re: lmnopm

                                              Maybe Berkeley Bowl should buy it and make their own house-made chocolate! :-) Just think of the interesting combinations they could make with all those fruits, vegetables, nuts, spices, etc. Or custom chocolate bars. Wouldn't that be cool? Pick a chocolate base (let's say a nice 65 percent cocoa solids Venezuelan dark chocolate) and add your own combination of flavorings and have it made into bars (minimum 36 bars, maybe). Sounds worth working up a business plan for anyway!

                                              1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                What a great idea! B.B. Chocolates..with that amazing array of fruits and nuts would definitely be great...I hope they are reading your suggestion...!

                                            2. re: Ruth Lafler

                                              This all makes a lot more sense --- they're keeping the brand and simply closing the factory. That's a standard game plan.

                                              My confusion.

                                      2. They called today to tell me they've cancelled all factory tours - we were scheduled for 10:30am on the 18th of Feb. :-(

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: uhockey

                                          You won't miss anything. When I took the tour it was a 40 minute powerpoint presentation by an office assistant who thought he was funny and a 10 minute stroll through an off-line factory.

                                        2. I worked for ScharffenBerger at Plaza Farms up in Healdsburg, when John Scharffenberger and Robert Steinberg had a tiny shop there. Both gentlemen were great artisans and passionate about their craft and product, but Robert was terminally ill, and John decided they needed to sell in order to help Robert through his medical bills. John stayed on as a consultant to Hershey's and had a hand in bringing forth a number of darker, more toward artisanal chocolates in the Hershey's line. It had to be heartbreaking for both of them to see the quality and character of their creations change, not for the better.
                                          Personally, I did notice a change from the original to the Hershey's version. I wonder if the corporation dropped or shortened the step of painstaking, time-consuming fermentation of the cacao at the place of origination, a step so vital to depth and quality of flavor.

                                          And I agree about Schmidt - never have cared for their products - overrated, I think.

                                          Also, remember that Hershey's also bought out Dagoba.