Mars Fights Hershey With New Pure Dark Pop-Up

Categories: Sweet Beat
Jonathan Kauffman

Wednesday sees the launch of a pop-up store in Cow Hollow promoting a line of artisanal-looking chocolates that SFoodie has never encountered before: Pure Dark. Today, SFoodie was sent a press packet containing a thick 70 percent cocoa "slab" whose edges were marked with the tines of a chocolate chipper, as well as a couple of barks covered in things like dried fruits, nuts, and cocoa nibs. 

We did some Googling, and found out that the first Pure Dark pop-up opened in the West Village in the fall of 2008; not long after, SFoodie's Village Voice colleague Robert Sietsema called its bark "chocolate crack." The New York store stayed open for almost two years, and allowed customers to make their own bark in addition to buying the premixed options.

It wasn't until SFoodie inspected the back of the package that we noted the origin of the bars ― "Pure Dark is a division of Mars Chocolate North America" ― and realized what we were looking at: Mars' response to Hershey's 2005 purchase of Scharffen Berger.

It appears that the two titans of the American chocolate industry ― Mars and Hershey ― are responding in similar ways to the new generation of artisanal, bean-to-bar chocolate makers that have made them look hopelessly populist.

Hershey simply bought Scharffen Berger, acquiring an established premium brand. Mars, a little later to the game, is creating Pure Dark from scratch, using the SB template. The slab chocolate is graded by cocoa content, one of Scharffen Berger's main contributions to U.S. chocophilia. SB was wrapped by hand for many years; the Pure Dark packaging looks automated but rustic. And while the chocolate doesn't have that distinctive, fruity Scharffen Berger profile, we passed samples to an industry pro who pronounced it rather well made. In fact, the flavor combinations on the barks are rather fashion-forward. Candied ginger, roasted pecans, and chocolate nibs? Not something you'd see at a family fudge shop.

Despite the fact that the new brand's slogan is "Chocolate harvested from nature," Mars is keeping mum on the sourcing, been selection, and production process ― all things that Scharffen Berger founders Robert Steinberg and John Scharffenberger talked about openly. Mars only states that the chocolate is "hand-crafted by expert chocolatiers who measure, mix, and taste-test batch by batch." (Mars has announced SB-like sustainability goals elsewhere.) Truthfully, we don't feel compelled to pass judgment on the product ― we're just marveling at what Pure Dark represents.

The Pure Dark store, which is located at 1775 Union (at Octavia), is projected to stay open through March.
Follow us on Twitter: @sfoodie. Follow me at @JonKauffman.
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