Godiva's chocolate mooncakes find favor in US

Updated: 2013-09-19 06:04

By CAROLINE BERG in New York (chinadaily.com.cn)

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Every year around late summer, boxes of mooncakes fill the shelves at grocery stores and bakeshops in China. In 2007, Belgian chocolatier Godiva made its first foray in Asia's mooncake market. Now, for the first time, Godiva's unique chocolate mooncakes are available in the US.

"We've heard stories of people asking friends and families whenever they're traveling back home [to the US] during this time to bring back the Godiva chocolate mooncakes," Michelle Chin, vice president of integrated marketing and communications for Godiva North America, told China Daily. "We figured it was a good opportunity to test that theory out to see if that's something they really want here in the US, and it's proving out quite nicely."

Godiva's chocolate mooncakes find favor in US

A customer looks at the mooncakes at a Godiva shop in New York on Wednesday. [Bai Jie/CHINA DAILY ]

Mooncake is a bakery product traditionally eaten during the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival, which celebrates the moon and is held on the 15th day of the 8th lunar calendar month. This year, Mid-Autumn Festival falls on Thursday, Sept 19.

Mooncakes are typically round or rectangular and consist of a variety of fillings, such as lotus seed paste, sweet red bean paste, nuts and seeds, or a combination of lotus paste with a salted duck egg yolk in the center.

Godiva is the first major chocolatier to offer US customers an alternative to the traditional mooncakes. Their chocolate versions are being sold in select Godiva stores in California, Washington, DC, Hawaii, Maryland, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Virginia and Washington state, as well as off the Godiva website online.

Ashley Guzman, a supervisor at the Godiva shop in Times Square, New York, said the mooncakes have been selling well.

"I can tell you, every Asian person in the community who has come into our shop has been very happy to have their culture represented," Guzman told China Daily. "I've learned a lot from the customers. They like to tell the stories behind the holiday and talk about the traditional mooncakes."

Depending on the store and availability, customers have a choice between buying an individual mooncake, which comes in two flavors — Mandarin cherry hazelnut or orange-currant crisp — for $6.50 each, and Godiva's nine-piece Mid-Autumn Festival mooncake collection for $50.

The centerpiece of the collection is a dark chocolate mooncake with a layered filling of orange, red currant and lemon zest, with chestnut pear rice crisp. Surrounding the centerpiece mooncake are eight smaller mooncakes comprised of three flavors.

The milk chocolate variety is filled with apricot and peach ganache with a hint of ginger on a layer of Turkish hazelnuts and Louisiana pecan praline. Two of the pieces are dark chocolate filled with passion fruit juice and mango crystal ganache on a layer of Australian macadamia praline, caramelized hazelnuts and soy nuts. The remaining three pieces are white chocolate filled with pomegranate juice and strawberry crystal ganache on a layer of Belgian almond praline and caramelized crispy rice.

"People like that the mooncakes are already cut into individual pieces," Guzman said. "Traditionally, the centerpiece chocolate is saved for the grandmother or grandfather in the family, depending on who's still alive. If they're both alive, well, then, the grandparents have to fight for it," Guzman said with a laugh.

Guzman said customers have been both Asian and non-Asian, and customers tend to buy the individual mooncakes for family and friends and save the nine-piece package for corporate gift giving. She also said selling the mooncakes has been effective in introducing customers, many of which are foreign tourists, to the Mid-Autumn holiday and mooncake tradition.

"We had some Brazilian tourists come in looking for something with marzipan. I told them that we don't have anything with marzipan, but we do have this [Mandarin cherry hazelnut] mooncake that has a marzipan taste," Guzman said. "They ended up loving it and then they're curious about the mooncake and want to know more about them."

Chin said Godiva changes its mooncake fillings every year.

"The flavors we use are always tied back to the traditional flavors that consumers tend to be consuming during the season," Chin said. "We know that fruits and nuts are things that consumers typically share during the season when friends and family come over to one another's homes."

Although Godiva chefs have tested recipes with traditional mooncake fillings, Chin said they have yet to crack the perfect combination so that the chocolate versions don't become overwhelmingly sweet.

"I think part of the challenge, but also probably the exciting area, is how can we really leverage chocolate to pair up with something that is equally as sweet," Chin said. "While we want to respect the traditional mooncakes and bring forth that flavor, if it doesn't pair well with the chocolates and it ends up being too sweet for our consumer base, then that's not something we want to be offering from a taste experience."

Godiva has experienced competition in the Asian markets overseas with companies like Haagen Dazs coming out with ice cream mooncakes and Starbucks offering coffee or tea flavored mooncakes. Stateside, however, Godiva remains a pioneer.

"In terms of other competitors focusing on the Mid-Autumn Festival, or on chocolate mooncakes, we haven't seen anything here," Chin said. "Godiva is quite unique in the US market."