Every year, U.S. embassies around the world have a delicate chore: Finding presents to give foreign officials and other Department of State contacts in their region. It’s best if the presents are uniquely American and not too expensive. Above all else, they have to be culturally appropriate. No diplomat wants to create an international incident by giving a devout Muslim who abstains from alcohol a bottle of Kentucky bourbon.
Thankfully, there’s one gift almost everyone loves: chocolate. The go-to confectioner for the diplomatic corps is California-based See’s Candies. The company, which was founded in 1921 and is now owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, has rung up at least $330,000 in sales to the State Department since 2010, according to Bloomberg data. (The total may be higher; the government isn’t required to report purchases of less than $3,500.)
Orders have streamed in from U.S. diplomats in Kazakhstan and Kosovo, Colombia and Costa Rica, among other countries. The lion’s share comes from Tokyo. Japan is home to one of the largest State Department missions and also has one of the world’s most elaborate gift-giving cultures, especially around New Year’s Day. In 2014 the embassy spent almost $45,000, enough to buy more than 2,400 1-pound boxes of the company’s filled chocolates, which list for $18.50. “See’s is an American company, and their gift options are very appropriate,” says Gabrielle Price, a spokeswoman for the State Department’s Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs.
Other popular holiday giveaways include White House Christmas tree ornaments and coffee-table books highlighting American scenes. Giving such gifts, Price says, helps convey “the richness of American values, culture, and cuisine.”
See’s dominance at State hasn’t carried over to other government agencies. In the last decade, the Department of Defense hasn’t reported buying anything from the company, but it did spend at least $270,000 in fiscal year 2015 on goodies from Hershey. See’s is thrilled to have hit the diplomatic sweet spot, says spokeswoman Alison Pang: “Sending American-made, delicious treats is always a good idea!”
The bottom line: Since 2010, American diplomats have spent more than $330,000 buying holiday gifts from See’s Candies.