Indulgent and affordable, chocolate is a popular gift during tough economic times. Two-thirds of U.S. adults buy chocolate during the holidays, according to researcher Mintel International Group. Americans will spend more than $200 million on gift boxes, predicts market tracker Nielsen. And the shoppers most likely to buy chocolate this season, Mintel says, are millennials aged 18 to 24, such as Daniel Killeen. The 23-year-old associate at a Boston venture capital firm plans to spend as much as $75 on Teuscher's Swiss chocolates for his mother and grandmother.
Trouble is, younger consumers are famously tricky for manufacturers such as Kraft Foods, Nestlé, and Godiva to reach via traditional marketing. That's pushing many chocolate makers—long content to pitch consumers through magazine ads or supermarket promotions—online in search of youth with a sweet tooth.
In June, Switzerland's Lindt & Sprüngli hired its first digital marketing manager, a Panasonic veteran named Kate Dickman, who chats with consumers and provides product updates (such as details on its new Lindor truffles) via a blog, Twitter feed, and Facebook page. "Lindt is allowing the brand to be far more accessible than it has ever been in the past," says Thomas Linemayr, chief executive officer of Lindt USA. New York boutique chocolatier Jacques Torres is also embracing the Web. Besides the usual social media tools, he'll soon debut a live video feed from his factories that he hopes will wow serious chocoholics.
Last year, Yildiz Holding's Godiva Chocolatier showed that Web promotions can lure young buyers when it successfully launched a Facebook campaign featuring virtual chocolates that visitors could send to friends and family, says Chief Marketing Officer Lauri Kien Kotcher. When the recipient "opened" the cybergift, she and the sender were entered into a contest to win a free assortment of Godiva bonbons monthly for a year. Jenny Polledri, 23, a recent college grad in North Caldwell, N.J., says she usually doesn't endorse specific brands on Facebook but would "definitely" follow Godiva's page if it meant a year of free sweets. Godiva has also launched a loyalty program giving members samples and free shipping—popular draws for Gen Yers on tight budgets.
Chocolate makers are cutting prices, too. Nestlé's Wonka brand, based on the fictional chocolate factory owner, has a line of stocking stuffers priced from $3 to $5, with offbeat packaging that appeals to younger buyers and stands out in a sea of white rectangular boxes, says seasonal marketing manager Jeremy Vandervoet. He says millennials comprise a good chunk of the 780,000 fans of Nestlé's Wonka Facebook page.
New York's La Maison du Chocolat, which sells a $1,200 "Candy Cane Christmas Tree" that takes 18 hours to prepare, launched a Facebook page this season to encourage store visits. Michael Olsen, who runs the French company's Madison Avenue store, says about 30 percent of Maison's New York shoppers are under age 30. Many are students from Manhattan private schools who come for a chocolate fix after class. "We can talk about our chocolate until we're blue in the face," he says. "It's all about getting them into the stores to taste it."
The bottom line: Chocolate, a popular holiday gift, is a winner with Gen Y consumers. To reach those younger buyers, confectioners are using the Web.