Premium Chocolate Wars Begin

NEW YORK Welcome to the premium chocolate wars.

Hershey’s Bliss, individually wrapped bite-size pieces of Milk Chocolate, Dark Chocolate and Milk Chocolate Meltaway, is launching it first campaign this week. Rival Mars, though, isn’t far behind as it prepares for the summer debut of M&M’s Premiums.

Hershey’s Bliss is positioned as an everyday indulgence. That strategy is a shift from previous premium chocolates carrying the Hershey’s name (Hershey’s Cacao Reserve, Hershey’s Origins), which tried appealing to consumers by touting antioxidants and the cacao beans’ country of origin.

Two TV spots, aimed at women, say, “Bliss is everywhere. You just have to unwrap it.” One spot shows women in simple pursuits such as strolling in a field of sunflowers, swinging on a hammock and a mom and daughter lying on a grassy field. The ad also is rich in product shots of the Hershey’s Bliss 9.6-ounce bag and candy pieces. It includes the song “Bliss” by singer/songwriter Alice Peacock.

“Hershey’s Bliss Chocolate was created with a brand character that reflects the everyday interests and personality of women,” John Staffen, chief creative officer at Arnold, New York, said in a statement. “When looking at the advertising with the mass premium chocolate category, there seems to be a common theme of decadence and extravagance that can sometimes feel a bit too manufactured and unrealistic.” Arnold handled the effort.

Ad buys will include network and cable TV programs and print support starting with May publications like InStyle and People. Hershey also is partnering with House Party, Irvington, N.Y., to recruit hosts for 10,000 chocolate parties during the April 25 weekend.

Hershey’s Bliss will have to contend with Mars’ M&M’s Premiums in June. M&M’s Premiums will come in five flavors: Triple Chocolate, Chocolate Almond, Mint, Mocha and Raspberry Almond. The 6-ounce bags will be priced at more than $3, and integrated advertising support will begin by July or August, per sources. Seasonal package extensions for Christmas, Easter and Mother’s Day (2009) will be part of the marketing mix followed by new flavors. Mars M&M’s, Hackettstown, N.J., and agency of record, BBDO, New York, did not comment.

Trade literature contends the M&M’s Premiums will not cannibalize the core M&M’s brand because Mars is targeting what it dubs the “Savvy Socials” — women who shop premium categories, like to show their sense of style and entertain.

U.S. sales of premium chocolate — defined as sweets that sell for $8 or more a pound — jumped 11 percent to $2.7 billion in 2006, per Packaged Facts, Rockville, Md. Dark chocolate sales grew 15 percent to $4 billion. (2007 numbers were not available).

Mars already is a formidable premium and dark chocolate player with the Dove and Ethyl M box chocolate lineup. Hershey, meanwhile, began making Starbucks Chocolate last month.