It's major party time with candies

August 20, 2008|By Courtney Pomeroy | Courtney Pomeroy,Sun reporter

When the Democratic National Convention begins Monday, voters will have more than bumper stickers and buttons to buy in the name of their party. Food and candy companies have started to realize that they can profit from democracy as well.

Burdick Chocolate, based in Walpole, N.H., capitalized on the attention that came to its home in the first primary state with its new line of election chocolates.

When Sen. Barack Obama, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, was campaigning there before the primary election, he stopped by the company's factory for a tour. It was then that founder Larry Burdick was inspired to create a selection of sweets based on Obama's background. His father was born in Kenya, and Kenyan coffee, Burdick thought, would go particularly well with dark chocolate. Hawaiian Pineapple, a flavor hailing from Obama's birthplace, would also make a tasty combination.

"We started talking about it when he was here. ... He chuckled," says co-founder Paula Burdick.

After the idea for Obama-themed chocolates was spawned, chocolates for Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, had to be created next. Some of his flavors include Arizona Citrus and Kentucky Rye. While the company did send a box of chocolates to each of the candidate's campaign headquarters, Burdick Chocolate is more interested in pleasing other consumers.

"A lot of our customers are having a really fun time with it, you know. You've got some families [whose] political designs are split down the middle, so you have daughters that are McCain supporters sending their fathers who are Obama supporters McCain chocolates. It's just a fun way to express your affiliation," Burdick says.

Donald Green, a political science professor at Yale University, thinks the politically themed food products will do extremely well.

Green says that while lots of people aren't interested in politics, "it's downright fascinating to a small but intense minority and those people are very often surrounded by partisans of a similar stripe. To the extent that they can have a conversation piece to share with their friends and co-workers ... they'll go for it."

It also doesn't hurt, he adds, that this year's race has been very talked-about because of the parties' presumptive candidates.

For example, "Obama is a candidate who comes along only once every few decades, and I think that that special kind of enthusiasm that he inspires would be deployed in all kinds of ways - in T-shirts, in candies, in whatever, and I think that among Obama's supporters in particular, sharing these kinds of knickknacks is probably a fun thing to do," he says.

Moonstuck Chocolate Co., a company based in Oregon, feels that way about its Election Collection, made up of donkey- and elephant-shaped truffles that are meant to represent the party icons.

"We do have a number of critter, animal-based truffles; it's kind of a specialty of ours," says company spokesman Darin Linnman.

"Earlier this year, our chocolatier just happened to be working on an elephant truffle, and at the same time he was working on a new pony-shaped truffle," he says.

During a company meeting, while staffers were admiring the new creations, they had a thought: "What if we made some slight adjustments to the pony and we made him a donkey and we could put the two together and market them as an election-themed release?"

The collection has been very popular, he says, both because the animal imitations are cute and cartoonish (some customers have commented that the donkey resembles Winnie the Pooh's Eeyore) and because of the well-timed marketing. Government officials have taken to the candy as well, especially a local Republican senator who sent a letter thanking the company for the free samples he received. "He actually ate the donkeys and saved the elephants," Linnman says.

Jay Klein, the president of Bonus Gum in New York, is also interested in marketing his product to candidates. Although his Election Gum, which comes in party-specific packaging, was originally created to make citizens more aware of the importance of voting, Klein has further aspirations for the candy.

"We actually have a program where the candidates can call our office and we can put their name right on the gum," he says. According to Green, the practice of handing out edible gifts to voters, otherwise known as "treating," has been around for years, although in George Washington's days the merchandise was a bit more potent. It was whiskey, not gum, that politicians distributed back then. Still, he says, "it's a way for candidates to express thanks to their activists."

Whether it's gum or chocolate, whether the company accidentally stumbled onto the idea or purposefully wanted to help people express their political views, "These products offer a way for people to have fun with it," says Linnman.

courtney.pomeroy@baltsun.com

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