Taking a page from Willy Wonka's book, Cadbury (CBY) has created the world's most expensive candy bar. No, it isn't sprinkled with truffles, filled with caviar, or made from shade-grown, free-market, fair-trade, hand-sourced cocoa beans. Actually, it's actually a fairly normal Wispa Gold bar. So why is it so expensive?
The secret is in the wrapper. Rather than use the standard plastic or aluminum coating, Cadbury wrapped the special edition bar in gold leaf. $1,600 worth of gold leaf, to be precise.
Given the economic state of things, Cadbury's gold bar -- selling for a thousand British pounds -- was a tough sell, to put it mildly. The company put it on display in a Selfridge's department store in London and announced that the highest bidder could take it home. But as you might guess, a limited-edition masterpiece that must be refrigerated and will eventually go stale didn't attract much feverish bidding.
After a week on display -- and not a single bidder -- Cadbury bought the thousand-pound candy bar back and plans to display it in its popular chocolate museum, Cadbury World, in its hometown Birmingham, England.
The gold-wrapped Wispa bar highlights a nexus of intriguing trends. Just as its inability to sell reflects recessionary forces, so does its very existence: premium chocolate has emerged as a recession-busting, affordable indulgence for consumers cutting back in most other aspects of their lives.
Some unexpected players have gotten into this high-end act. Cadbury gobbled up premium chocolatier Green and Black several years ago, and U.S. rival Hershey Co. (HSY) scarfed down Scharffen-Berger. And Mars Inc. responded to the trend with Premium M&Ms, which sell for $3.99 per package and which have a texture comparable to dry chocolate dipped in latex housepaint. (Flavors include raspberry almond, mint chocolate, and triple chocolate.)
Of course, the danger with owning a beloved brand is provoking the public's very specific opinions about how that brand should be treated. Cadbury sparked an outcry when it retired its Wispa Gold bars in 2003, culminating in a 20,000-member Facebook group, Bring Back Wispa Gold, that prompted Cadbury to do just that.
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