Noka Chocolate Is A Scam

Noka chocolate is sold for $2000 a pound, but it’s actually crappy chocolate bought from another company and repackaged in a half-abandoned strip mall in Plano, Texas.

Dallas Foods posted an in-depth investigative report, which included this conversation with company owner Katrina Merrem.

DF: So you guys make the chocolate?

KM: Uh-huh. We have a commercial kitchen here where we make the chocolates here.

DF: No, I mean, you actually make the chocolate, or are you using someone else’s chocolate?

KM: Well, we don’t do the whole “bean to bar.” We actually get it in a semi-processed state based on our specifications, but we do actually make the chocolates here.

DF: Who do you get your chocolate from then?

KM: We don’t disclose that.

DF: Really?

KM: Correct.

DF: Okay.

[uncomfortable silence]

KM: Because everything is based on our specifications, so it’s our, um, our chocolate.

DF: And you can’t say, though, who’s making it for you to your specifications.

KM: Correct.

DF: Okay. Well, that’s good enough for me. Thank you.

KM: Oh, you’re welcome.

[click]

Noka chocolate is sold through Neiman Marcus and until recently, Dean & DeLuca. — BEN POPKEN

NOKA chocolate exposed! [Dallas Food via Slashfood]
(Thanks to acilletampe, John, Johnathan, and David!)

Comments

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  1. Magister says:

    Never heard of it. Is this a problem? I bet we can find lots of high-end products that are just repackage mid-end products.

  2. I think microbrews do this also – brewing your sam adams next to michelob ultra.

    but expensive chocolate is a scam anyway.

  3. AlteredBeast (blaming the OP one article at a time.) says:

    For a moment, I thought this was about that cellphone/mp3 player.

  4. Kornkob says:

    Yeah– this takes it to a whole new level though. Godiva, for instance, lands at about $60 a pound sometimes. This crap is being sold for $500 a pound (for the cheap seats).

  5. homerjay says:

    I thought Nokia was starting to go all “iPhone” on us!

    Still, This reminds me of that recent episode of The War At Home where Dave replaces Vicky’s wicked expensive wine with cheap stuff and she can’t even tell.

  6. pronell says:

    Is this supposed to be some kind of expose? I don’t get it. It’s chocolate. It’s labelled gourmet, which as far as I know holds no legal definition. It’s sold at a high price. I’ve never had it, and I never expected that it was grown in a mystical valley, bars appearing with a puff of glitter on waist-high bushes, harvested by happily married gay pixies making a living wage.

    I dunno, I didn’t want to read through a ten essay expose of expensive strip mall chocolate, especially one that reads _immediately_ that they had their minds made up before they wrote the first word.

    No, they don’t grow their own beans, and no, they don’t process the beans themselves. Nor did they ever claim that they did.

    A “scam”, now, would be if it didn’t contain chocolate. Everything else is marketing, and if you bought the marketing rather than the product, well then you just scammed yourself.

  7. Mike_ says:

    Where I live, tap water costs $1.58 per hundred cubic feet (748 gallons). Run it through a filter, put it in a bottle, and sell it at an amusement park, and the price is $2.50 for 20 oz – a 750,000% increase.

    Migraine medicine is just headache medicine with a migraine label, and both have the same active ingredients as Tylenol, Aspirin and a can of Pepsi.

  8. bravo says:

    damn, i actually read the whole thing and noka got absolutely pwned by that website.

  9. gwai lo says:

    Actually pronell, the article, while long, does an excellent job of explaining why their particular marketing technique is a scam, or at the very least, incredibly devious.
    Perhaps they did not out right claim they did all the work, but they led people to believe it in order to charge a higher price.

    Perhaps you_immediately_made up your mind before reading the first word.

  10. Hoss says:

    People that buy Noka chocolate from Neiman Marcus are people that can’t afford anything else in the store.

    It’s only a scam if you think it sucks. There are lots and lots of great chocolate formulas in underdeveloped countries that we would never get to enjoy if a capitalist bastard didn’t buy and market it

  11. Daytonna says:

    Caviat emptor…

    If your dumb enough to pay $2000.00 for a pound of choclate you didnt deserve the money in the first place. And if you have enough money to buy a $2000.00 pound of choclate and not think twice, try sharing a little with the unfortunates in third world countries picking the coca beans, and not some hot marketing shill whos selling said choclate.

  12. Bobg says:

    This is without a doubt one of the best pieces of food journalism that I’ve ever read. The author did a masterful job on this piece.

  13. AcilletaM says:

    The whole scam is they lie about making the chocolate or having it made specifically for them. They do neither.

    No, they don’t grow their own beans, and no, they don’t process the beans themselves. Nor did they ever claim that they did.

    Yes, they do. Most of the press refers to them as the actual chocolate makers and they do too. If pressed they say it is made specifically for them but that’s not true either, the chocolate they use is freely available to the public from the company that actually makes it.

    Yeah, the article is long and a feature spread over 10 days but they cover all the bases as far as researching and backing up the accusations they make.

  14. timmus says:

    Amazing investigative journalism… sometimes I think the art is dead in this country, and then I’m surprised.

  15. LintMan says:

    Great article, very informative. But it’s gonna add about 10 pounds to me, though, because I’ve got a serious chocolate craving going on now.

    And I’ve learned a new vocabulary word: “Sneetchcraft”. I love it!

    As for people spending $2K on Noka chocolate: it’s not just them getting ripped off; it’s the people who spend $16 and get 0.3 ounces of Noka, when the Bonnat chocolate bar costs $7.50 for 3.5 ounces (a more than 20x cost difference).

  16. bbrug says:

    I read the whole long article and found it fascinating. Thanks for pointing it out.

    In your write-up, however, you say that “it’s actually crappy chocolate.” Scott never makes that accusation. Rather, he explains that it’s perfectly respectable chocolate that is used without acknowledgment (though all the professional chocolatiers Scott queries are happy to say who makes their couverture), under the pretense that it’s custom-made (which it almost certainly is not), somewhat ineptly retempered and molded.

    It’s not “crappy”; it’s just not unique, and it’s outrageously overpriced, for what it is.

  17. Lesley says:

    That series was incredibly well-written and very engaging. I bet all those “respectable” magazines wish they had a writer that good working for them.


    And personally, I prefer chocolate at 72%, though I’ve had some good 68%, too. I got both bars at Target.

  18. Berklie says:

    This is one of the finest articles I’ve ever read. Absolutely every point leading to the final judgment as to why NoKa should be considered a “scam” was validated and surfaced with such a professional and thorough tone and demeanor, that I see no recourse that NoKa could take in objecting to Scott’s (the critic) opinion. How could they possibly defend their product’s value after this? Unique quality.. no. Individual artistry… no.

    Not only did Scott prove his opinion (and we’ve all learned that opinions aren’t supposed to be facts); but I’ve also learned a ton about chocolate. Sweet, sweet chocolate. (Well, not “sweet,” per se… but you catch my drift.) Maybe I’ll walk right down to Vosges on Armitage Avenue and throw some fancy terms around, and act a fool… until they debunk my knowledge, that is. While reading this, I kind of felt like Homer in this scene from “The Simpsons”:

    Land of Chocolate
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=abIJ2MPtWOk

    Look out, Whole Foods, you’re next on my list for tonight!

  19. etinterrapax says:

    Whether or not they claim to make it, they shouldn’t be shy about disclosing their supplier if everything is on the up-and-up. The only reason they wouldn’t is that it wouldn’t somehow add to their prestige if people knew the brand history. Hearing what they have to say for themselves didn’t exactly clear up any suspicions a customer might have been harboring.

  20. acambras says:

    Is that 2000 dollars per pound or .002000 dollars per pound?

  21. Grrrrrrr, now with two buns made of bacon. says:

    But it’s made in the same forest where unicorns frolic, so it must be worth $2000 a pound!

    Now excuse me while I go enjoy my new Rollex watch. Would you believe the only way I found the website was because somebody accidentally mailed me the link?

    (There’s a sucker born every minute, and sometimes that sucker is us :/)

  22. ElizabethD says:

    Awesomely researched article, and concisely presented. A big WOOT to the author of that piece. I learned a lot about chocolate, and I am proud to have savored a bar of Dagoba from Whole Foods this fall – though I bought it because its name reminded me of Yoda’s planet in Episode 5.

    PS: For full disclosure, how much was spent on all the taste comparisons for the article? Heh.

  23. weave says:

    Wow, I read that entire article. Great reading. Great journalism!

  24. Xkeeper says:

    I really hope NoKA sees that page.

    I mean, good god, that’s the best piece I’ve ever seen. It just TEARS them apart.

  25. This is not a scam. This is called ingenious marketing. Kudos to the Noka people for being able to pull this one off.

  26. pronell says:

    Alright, alright, I was wrong.

    I still haven’t read the whole piece, as I just don’t care that much, and I have a lot of other things that I’m avoiding reading at the moment anyway. But I have no problem retracting my statements. And I did read the first part of the article, at which point I balked at reading nine more. I should’ve known better.

  27. humphrmi says:

    If they do buy pre-processed chocolate, it’s probably from this place: http://www.blommer.com/history.html – Blommer Chocolate, in Chicago.

    Every morning Chicago commuters are treated to the smell of processing chocolate as they walk across the Chicago river.

    The best part is, they have an outlet store, where one can stop by and buy their products at a discount. So if NoKA is buying it from them, I bet I can get some NoKA on the cheap!

  28. Berklie says:

    It’s not a “scam” because NoKA was/is able to upcharge the choclate they purchase, mold, temper and repackage… it’s a “scam” because they mislead the public into thinking NoKA (A) makes the chocolate themselves using a proprietary method; or (B) has the chocolate made to NoKA’s unique standards. This implies that their product is available at no other outlet. Not to mention the fact that NoKA also states incorrect facts about their products (re: single-planation vs. single-estate vs. single-origin).

    Chime in when you’ve read the article. The principle (wrapped in a delicious chocolate coating… love it!) is “misleading the public,” not “upcharging is wrong.”

  29. Berklie says:

    humphrmi… I hear you! Love that smell!

  30. SexCpotatoes says:

    I read something about the gov’t. being pricks and making that chocolate plant filter the smell, and how because of the pleasant smell there was less domestic violence in that neighborhood, etc, don’t know how much was true.

    Anyway, misrepresentation is lying, lying under oath will (supposedly) get you thrown in jail. Lying or misrepresenting to sell a product or service is illegal, in other words, a scam. Next thing you know, these lying douchebags will be in government jobs.

    Yeah, anyone willing to drop 2 Grand on a Lb. of chocolate deserves to lose it, but that is $2000 less for those rich dumb people to donate to charity, when the yearly “social conscience bug” bites them on the ass, or they wanna save on taxes.

  31. RapperMC says:

    Mike_:

    “Where I live, tap water costs $1.58 per hundred cubic feet (748 gallons). Run it through a filter, put it in a bottle, and sell it at an amusement park, and the price is $2.50 for 20 oz – a 750,000% increase.”

    I think the major difference, and why this is a helpful article to read, is that the price markup on amusement park water a) isn’t as big of a deal considering the price compared to these chocolates, and b) relates to the accessibility of conveniently bottled cold water once you are inside the amusement park.

    So, yes, by all means, bring your own bottle and fill it up from the water fountains at the amusement park. It’s a smart idea. Some people forget to, or don’t mind forking over the $2.50 for the bottle.

    It is different, though, to make an attempt to expose the truth behind why people are marking chocolates up to win consumers. Noka is misleading, and the article attempts to clear it up so that consumers can make a more educated choice. When you have a choice, and that much money is being spent, having this information is helpful. Comparing it to the water at an amusement park, when there is no competition except your own preparedness, is different.

  32. Trai_Dep says:

    I want to share a tale with you and my misfortunes result in a gift to you.
    Several years ago, a friend of my mother-in-laws went to Neiman-Marcus with her friend to shop.
    While there, they ate at the restaurant. The friend ordered a salad, and soup. She decided to splurge – since she was following her diet – with a slab of delicious, N-M Noka chocolate. It was SO good, she swooned.
    As she called for the check, she complimented the dessert, saying she’d like to have it to take home with her.
    She paid the bill without checking too carefully, but found upon her return that the bill was for $100,080.00!
    Shocked and chagrinned, she called N-M demanding an explanation and was told to double check her bag. Upon doing so, she saw an ivory-colored, engraved envelope, blank except embossed logo, “Noka”. Opening it, she found an exquisitely printed recipe for chocolate.
    After talking to the N-M representative, then her manager and his manager, it became clear that what the restaurant did was to sell her the recipe for the Nieman-Marcus chocolate, not another bar.
    I’m writing this in the hope that readers check your receipt before leaving restaurants! Don’t make my friend-of-a-friend’s mistake. If you see an error of hundreds of thousands of dollars for your soup/salad combo, be sure not to sign the bill!

    I’m also hoping the ferocious pitbulls of Consumerist , and their readers, can advise me.

    As promised, here’s a gift to all for reading this far. My M-i-L’s friend’s loss is your gain. Here is the $100,000.00 Neiman-Marcus Chocolate Recipe:

  33. Trai_Dep says:

    9 ounces Robust Dark Chocolate (70% cocoa solids)
    4 ounces unsalted butter
    1 ½ tsp. vanilla extract
    5 eggs, separated
    ½ cup sugar
    confectioners’ sugar
    cocoa powder

    In a double boiler, melt the chocolate and butter. Remove from heat, and let it cool a bit. Stir in vanilla and beat in yolks one at a time, beating well after each addition.

    Whip the egg whites until soft peaks form; then slowly add the sugar and beat the mixture until stiff. Fold into the chocolate mixture and pour into the greased and floured springform pan. Bake at 325° for 30 to 40 minutes, or until a slight crack forms on the top. Place on rack to cool. Remove sides of pan. Dust with equal parts of confectioners’ sugar and cocoa, and serve.

    Collect $1,000 from each guest. Ignore complaints and try not to snicker too loudly when pocketing the cash.

  34. Trai_Dep says:

    (tell them it’s a steal at 1/2 off)

  35. Hoss says:

    trai_dep: Nice try at starting another Neiman-Marcus urban legend (similar to the $250 cookie recipe). Did you get the recipe here?

    http://www.chocolatebyjamieson.com/recipes/index.shtml

  36. Skeptic says:

    The series of articles are a terrific piece of journalisim. You have to read them all before commenting on whether Noka is a scam. I’d have to agree, based on the article, that Noka is a scam. Noka purports to have custom chocolate made but instead is apparently buying fully finished over the counter chocolate which it remolds using inferior techniques. The resulting molded Noka chocolates are poorly tempered and lack even the proper snap that the original chocolate had. So, I’d say that charging 1000% more for reducing the quality of an existing over the counter chocolate does count as a scam.

  37. akersmc says:

    I don’t think it’s fair of consumerist to call the chocolate NoKa is using “crappy.” According to the article, Bonnat chocolate may not be the best in the world, but it is a very good premium chocolate.

    If NoKa were melting down Hershey special dark bars to “make their chocolate,” then you could call the original chocolate crappy :)

    That said, I agree that NoKa is misleading the public to think they make their chocolate themselves. I’d call it a scam.

  38. Mr. Gunn says:

    What a great story and what a great site. dallasfood.com totally pwned noka. Bonnat’s is out of stock everywhere I’ve looked, too!

  39. katewrath says:

    It’s not as if certain types of chocolate might not be worth more than the raw material from which it’s made. I’m a fan of Maison du Chocolate, which blends its couverture with earl grey tea, peach puree, tarragon and the like, with spectacular results. It’s that these bastards haven’t done anything to the chocolate to justify their price except put it in a pretty box.

    Mike_: When certain over-the-counter pain killers put a little caffeine in the mix and slap the word “migraine” on the label, that makes it medicine that’s marketed to migraneurs. When it costs $18-22 a pill and contains a substance that shorts out the neurochemical reaction known as a migraine (like Imitrex or Relpax), then it’s migraine medicine.

  40. Demingite says:

    The comments here led me to read the whole article series. I’m glad I did. It’s extremely well done, and informative. And if anyone thinks — especially if they actually read the whole series — “that’s not a scam, that’s just marketing,” God help us.

  41. Demingite says:

    The comments here led me to read the whole article series. I’m glad I did. It’s extremely well done, and informative. And if anyone thinks — especially if they actually read the whole series — “that’s not a scam, that’s just marketing,” God help us.

    I hope Neiman Marcus has read this story. I think it’s time for NoKa’s pure chocolate gravy train to come to a stop.

  42. snowferret says:

    I read this article, it was really realy well done the writer really did thier research. Im impressed and I hope Noka gets whats comming to them. Also… where did I put tha box of chocolates I got for xmas? Im jonesing…

  43. Trai_Dep says:

    @Hoss:
    Yup, was satire. I read the Noka story and “Neiman Marcus” and synapses fired the cookie story. Props to chocolates by jamison (your cite for those interested) and of course affection towards N-M. And as always, http://www.snopes.com and of course, Jan Harold Brunvand, who should be sainted by now.

  44. jacflash says:

    It’s not crappy chocolate. It’s actually top-tier gourmet chocolate — not the very best in the world, maybe, but certainly good enough to be mentioned in the same sentence with the very best. It’s just not what they claim it is. And that was easily the best product review/exposé I’ve read in ages. Thanks for linking it.

  45. Mike76 says:

    Who is this Scott character from DallasFood.org? I have a book recommendation for you: “Crimes Against Logic” by Jamie Whyte. You are a good writer sir but your logic is suffering.

    Also, Isn’t it a bit hypocritical to condemn a company for keeping trade secrets when you yourself remain anonymous?

    Lastly, I did manage to get through the very long 10-page rant about NoKA and I was struck by one thing in particular. Not disdain for NoKA doing business much like other businesses out there (bottled water is a good example), but the immense amount of hate Scott has for them. I bet you Scott is the same guy who yelled at me for waiting in line for an iPhone…maybe it’s not worth it to you but it’s worth it to me.