I'm not sure what I think about this, but I'm leaning toward not liking it. What think you?



Posted on Thu, Mar. 24, 2005
Easter Bunny jilted? Chocolate crosses move into mainstream


Associated Press

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - A symbol of Christianity that sits atop church steeples, dangles from necks and hangs on walls is finding a new home - in the mouths of the faithful.

A mass-produced chocolate cross has entered the mainstream this Easter, with Kansas City-based Russell Stover distributing the treat to around 5,000 stores throughout the country.

Chocolate crosses have long been available, largely through smaller candy makers. But chocolate expert Clay Gordon said Russell Stover's addition of the item under its Pangburn's brand appears to be the first such effort by a major American company, meaning they'll likely end up in far more Easter baskets this year.

"Obviously they've seen that there's a market for chocolate crosses at Easter," said Lisbeth Echeandia, a consultant for Candy Information Service, which monitors candy industry trends. "I don't see it growing tremendously but I think there would be growth in the Christian market."

The chocolate cross is by no means expected to oust bunnies as an Easter basket staple. But Russell Stover president Tom Ward thinks it could expand the market to include "people who are new to our company that wouldn't buy rabbits."

"I think it's a market that's potentially overlooked," said Gordon, who runs four chocolate Web sites, including Chocophile.com.

At Schimpff's Confectionary in Jeffersonville, Ind., owners sell hundreds of various chocolate crosses each Easter. Owners at Broken Wheel Farm in Dracut, Mass., say chocolate crosses have become a tradition among some customers, but don't come close to eclipsing sales of their Easter ducks. And along with cross-shaped cookies, Cookies by Design offers Nativity scenes and Stars of David.

Stores across the country have put chocolate crosses on their shelves, but the Russell Stover-made crosses are perhaps the most widely available ever, found in about one-tenth of the 50,000 locations nationwide that also sell its other products. Ward said he has no sales figures from the item's inaugural season, though it stands to tap into a huge market.

Susan Smith, a spokeswoman with the National Confectioners Association, estimates Americans will buy $1.85 billion in candy this Easter. It is the second-biggest holiday for candy producers, behind Halloween.

Russell Stover hopes to see greater sales among Christians in general, but the third-largest American chocolate manufacturer is focusing specifically on Hispanic Americans.

Pangburn, which Russell Stover bought in 1999, has long had a hold in that market. The milk chocolate cross they're selling is about 6 inches high, adorned with a floral bouquet and filled with caramel made of goat's milk, popular in Mexico and Latin America. Its packaging features Spanish more prominently than English.

The idea of chomping on a piece of religious iconography may seem strange to some, but Ward said no one in his company felt there was anything negative about a chocolate cross.

"There are other things that we considered that we passed on," Ward said. "A molded Jesus, for example, would not be a good call and a cross with Jesus on it wouldn't be a good idea either."

But Joseph McAleer, a spokesman for the Roman Catholic diocese in Bridgeport, Conn., said the idea of a chocolate cross is no better.

"The cross should be venerated, not eaten, nor tossed casually in an Easter basket beside the jelly beans and marshmallow Peeps," he said. "It's insulting."