Mandarin oranges, peanut candy and glutinous rice cakes have traditionally been the primary foods competing for room on the snack platters of Lunar New Year celebrations in Asia and across the world.
Now there’s a new kid on the block: Godiva chocolate.
The New York chocolatier, known for its swanky boutiques, rolled out limited-edition chocolates and gift boxes this year customized to appeal to Asian palates in the United States, coinciding with the landmark holiday.
“Asian consumers like luxury, high-end brands,” Jeri Finard, president of Godiva North America, said Friday in a phone interview from New York. “And Godiva is the Rolls-Royce of chocolates.”
The idea of creating a special product for a certain demographic is nothing new. But the New Year chocolates have proved especially lucrative for Godiva because of the gift-giving habits in Asian cultures.
Of the 10,000 boxes for sale at 90 stores across the country, “well over half” are gone, Finard said. Markets with large Asian populations like the Bay Area and Southern California have seen throngs of people scooping up the sweets.
Sacramento’s Arden Fair boutique, for one, sold out of the Matcha Green Tea flavor last week, according to store manager Suzanne Lopez. The company has 24 locations in California.
The most expensive collection ($120 for 32 pieces) in the Lunar New Year line comes packaged in a box covered in red velvet – a lucky color in China. It’s no coincidence that the cover of the box prominently features the company’s logo, Lady Godiva riding a horse – 2014 is the year of the horse, according to the Chinese zodiac calendar.
The four chocolates made exclusively for the holiday are made from ingredients that appeal to Asian taste buds, Finard said: Matcha Green Tea, Dark Caramel Pear, Milk Cherry Almond and White Pineapple Macadamia.
With the purchase of the $120 box, you also receive eight red envelopes, which are customarily handed to children and elders stuffed with cash.
The company plays on traditional Chinese superstitions for wealth in its creation and marketing of the line of chocolates. For example, in the 32-piece box, eight pieces of each variety are included, since the number eight in Mandarin sounds like the word for “generating wealth.” Pineapple is often found at Lunar celebrations because, in the Taiwanese dialect, the fruit sounds like the “coming of wealth.”
Rung Fong Hsu of Sacramento, who received the large collection as a gift from relatives, described the box with one word: “beautiful.”
“After eating the chocolate, I can use the box to store my jewelry,” Hsu said in Mandarin.
A native of Taiwan, Hsu often brings loads of Godiva chocolates to her relatives in Asia because of the brand’s cachet.
“People know it’s luxurious and quality chocolate,” said Hsu, a founding member of the Chinese New Year Culture Association.
Godiva has long stocked different flavored chocolates for its Asian boutiques, but 2014 is the first time Asian-themed merchandise has made its way to shelves in the United States on a large scale. The company last year did a small test run in three Southern California stores, yielding tremendous success, Finard said.
The 88-year-old company has launched a marketing blitz to promote the collection, running ads in major Chinese language newspapers, translating its American website to Chinese and even hiring a Chinese-American singer, Jason Chen, to create a music video about chocolates.
Though the Lunar New Year collections sell for about double the price of an ordinary box, consumers are still shelling out.
Anthony Dukes, associate professor of marketing at the University of Southern California Marshall School of Business, said the strategy was a classic play.
“Chinese New Year is a time for gift-giving,” Dukes said. “Your willingness to pay is higher if you’re buying it for someone else. You’ll want to impress.”
Call The Bee’s Richard Chang at (916) 321-1018. Follow him on Twitter @RichardYChang.