This weekend, after the holiday season’s biggest artisanal food scandal, wherein Texas-based blogger Scott Craig wrote an exposé claiming Mast Brothers remelted French industrial chocolate in their early days, and re-wrapped it as its own, I found myself at Mekelberg’s. On a rack near the front of the shop, I was surprised to see several flavors of the recognizable bars, wrapped in gorgeous paper. After the brothers admitted to some of Craig’s re-melting claims—and a media storm followed—were people still spending ten bucks per bar on Mast chocolate?
On Monday, Grub Street reported that, yes, they are. But since the news broke, sales in several of its 1,000 retail shops, compared to the same period the year before, have dropped.
It took quite some time for the Masts to admit to any chocolate remelting, so, as Grub Street points out, it is not so surprising that the company reported its sales “held steady” in the weeks following the news. Online, they said sales had even doubled compared to the same period the year before. But five retailers contacted by Grub Street, including Bklyn Larder, and Bedford Cheese Shops in Williamsburg and Gramercy, told a different story; in total, their sales were reduced between 17 to 66 percent.
The sharpest decline occurred at Bklyn Larder, where co-owner Sergio Hernandez sold $1,700 worth of Mast Brothers bars after the chocolate remelting was uncovered, compared to $5,000 in sales over the same period the year before. Hernandez claimed he already planned to reduce the selection of Mast Brothers chocolates offered at his store before news of remelting broke, to make room for a bigger selection of smaller labels. Nonetheless, he will carry only two selections from Mast Brothers, compared to seven, in the future.
Sales reductions at both Bedford Cheese Shop locations, in Gramercy and Williamsburg, were calculated at 17 and 40 percent; on the west coast, Bi-Rite Markets sales dropped by either 27 or 47 percent, depending on whether a single large order, placed directly after the scandal, is incorporated in the calculation.
Meanwhile, just down the street from Mekelberg’s in Clinton Hill, three customers at Brooklyn Victory Garden decided to return their bars, after reading news of the remelting.
If we’ve learned anything about how Rick and Michael Mast respond to claims against their chocolate, it’s that their confidence, beyond considerations of quality or design, is healthy as ever.
A Mast Brothers company representative, in response to Grub Street’s findings, had this to say: “Mast is a ‘growing, profitable business, and retail sales are only one part of the overall business.'”