Scharffen Berger Chocolate to be Bought by Hershey By CASSIE NORTON

Friday July 29, 2005

The Hershey Co., the nation’s largest candy maker, announced Monday that it plans to purchase Berkeley-based Scharffen Berger Chocolate Maker, Inc. 

Scharffen Berger makes fine dark chocolate bars and baking products, and has three retail locations in Berkeley, San Francisco and New York City. 

Hershey has declined to say how much they will pay to acquire Scharffen Berger. Co-founder John Scharffenberger said that Hershey’s resources would allow the company to accelerate its growth. 

“[The Hershey Co.] saw that we were doing a great job at what we do, and we thought they were very good at what they do,” he said. “This was bound to happen sooner or later, and we feel really lucky to be associated with a company with high ethical standards.”  

Scharffenberger said the shareholders of Scharffen Berger, of which he is one, were impressed with the Hershey Co., even though he’s not “a corporation kind of guy.” 

“They do a lot of work helping underprivileged kids get educations, a lot of good things,” he said. 

Hershey spokeswoman Stephanie Moritz said of Scharffen Berger, “We thought they were a great brand … a fantastic, complementary fit to our broad chocolate portfolio.” 

Moritz said Scharffen Berger will remain with the “artisan roots that have made them a respected name in the chocolate industry.” 

“We would not have done it if they wanted us to change our product, and that was a big factor in our decision,” Scharffenberger said. “This [acquisition] will allow us to do more creative things with the company, to do more of what we’re already doing.” 

Hershey said it expects the purchase to close in the third quarter, after the customary closing conditions are met. 

Scharffen Berger Chocolate was formed in 1996, the brainchild of family physician and Harvard graduate Dr. Robert Steinberg. He proposed the idea of an American manufacturer of fine chocolate to his friend and former patient, Scharffenberger Cellars founder John Scharffenberger, who seized the opportunity. 

“Ultimately, I joined Robert in founding Scharffen Berger because of our mutual love of fine chocolate and our desire to produce a superior product in this country,” Scharffenberger said, according the Scharffen Berger website. 

Their goal was simple: “to produce chocolate of the highest quality possible from the finest cacao beans available,” according to their website. 

To that end, Steinberg took a brief internship in France under the renowned Bernachon Chocolatiers in Lyon, France. Upon his return he and Scharffenberger went to work finding and grinding the finest cacao beans in the world. In his kitchen in 1996, they used a coffee grinder, a mortar and pestle, and an electric mixer heated with a hairdryer to simulate the chocolate making process. 

The first batch of “meaningful chocolate,” produced in their original location in South San Francisco, received accolades from foodies and celebrity chefs and by 2000, the two realized they needed to expand. 

They moved into their current location, a 100-year-old, 27,000-square-foot Berkeley warehouse on Heinz Ave. in May of 2001. The San Francisco boutique opened in August of 2003 in the Ferry Building on the Embarcadero and the Manhattan location celebrated its grand opening in November of 2004. 

They say the secrets of their dark chocolate’s flavor “lies in careful attention to bean selection, blending, roasting, and conching, and the benefits of small-batch processing.” 

Scharffenberger and Steinberg will stay at the company following the acquisition. 

“We were doing a lot of business work,” Scharffenberger said, “and this will allow us to get back to what we love to do—make really good chocolate.”