Cacao Reserve by Hershey's Chocolate Bars
A new era of Hershey bars. All photography by Melody Lan.





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KAREN HOCHMAN is the Editorial Director of THE NIBBLE.


October 2006

Product Reviews / Main Nibbles / Chocolate

Cacao Reserve By Hershey’s

America’s Chocolate Giant Makes Gourmet Chocolate Bars—Very Well!


CAPSULE REPORT: The same company that sells the country’s most famous newsstand chocolate bar has launched gourmet chocolate that sounds similar to the products offered by the finest chocolatiers in the world. And they’re doing a good job! The drinking cocoas are less noteworthy, but are better than most of the instant products.

The 2005 purchase of Scharffen Berger, the great American chocolate house, was a first step in associating the mass-chocolate giant with top-quality chocolate. The new line of Cacao Reserve by Hershey’s bars is the second. Scharffen Berger was not involved with the new line of all-natural, premium chocolate bars, but whoever developed the recipes did well.

Are they El Rey, Domori, Michel Cluizel, Pralus or Valrhona, or for that matter, Scharffen Berger?  No. They didn’t aim to be prestige (see the chart below), but are a delicious premium chocolate bar, falling into a group that includes such well-known brands as Godiva and Lindt, and specialty producers like Chocolove.

Let’s take a quick look at how the industry classifies chocolate:

  Price Examples
Mass 30¢ to 50¢ an ounce Hershey, Nestlé, Mars
Mass Premium 51¢ to 99¢ an ounce Dove, Toblerone, Baci
Premium $1.00+ an ounce Cacao Reserve by Hershey’s, Chocolove, Godiva, Lindt
Prestige $2.00-$3.00/ounce+ Scharffen Berger, Valrhona

Worrisome to others in this space should be the huge distribution and marketing clout of Hershey’s—which may be greater than everyone else in the Mass Premium, Premium and Prestige spaces combined. These bars, which will be distributed through Hershey’s existing relationships with every mass grocer in America, could make the line ubiquitous—something no other brand in the premium category could hope to achieve.

Just about everyone shops at a mass grocery store. Thus, anyone even thinking of getting a better candy bar—including those who would have gone an extra few miles to buy Prestige bars at a chocolate shop—might find themselves very content to pick up Cacao Reserve by Hershey’s bars in Aisle 3.

The Bars

The debut line consists of:

  • 35% milk chocolate
  • 35% milk chocolate with hazelnuts
  • 65% semisweet bar
  • 65% semisweet bar with cacao nibs

The milk chocolate achieves a beautiful balance of chocolate without any excess of sugar that most milk bars fall victim to, training palates to enjoy a cloying sweetness. Instead, these bars are smart and sophisticated, allowing the consumer to taste the chocolate, not the sugar. The hazelnut bar has the highest proportion of hazelnuts in a bar we have seen, giving us the impression of hazelnuts bound with chocolate. Those who love hazelnuts and chocolate will find heaven here.

The 65% semisweet bars seem more serious than 65%, owing to a very dark roast—one might say, a char, on the beans. It’s almost as if the chocolatiers recognized that this is a Starbuck’s country, and roasted their cacao to match the Starbuck’s beans. While we would have preferred no charcoal on the finish, we liked the flavor of the chocolate: a blend of beans that in fact would go very nicely with a cup of coffee or espresso.

In December, the line will expand to include single origin bars:

  • A 32% bar from Java
  • A 50% Arriba bar from Ecuador
  • A 67% Santo Domingo bar from the Dominican Republic
  • A 70% São Tomé bar from Africa

We eagerly look forward to seeing what the chocolatiers will do with the beans!

Drinking Cocoa

We were not equally enamored with the line’s hot cocoas, called Drinking Cocoa - Premium Mix. They are a disconnect in quality and temperament from the chocolate bars. In single-serve pouches meant to be mixed with water, they didn’t distinguish themselves much beyond what is generally available in the supermarket—a better, thicker version of Swiss Miss, and not far apart from what Land O’Lakes offers in its gourmet cocoa line. Unlike the restraint with sugar shown in the bar milk chocolate, these milk chocolate cocoas are relatively sweet. 

  • Mayan Blend / Classic Chocolate is indistinct, a cup of cocoa you could have been served anywhere.
Cacao Reserve- Cocoa
  • Aztec Blend / Mildly Spiced Chocolate is a formulation with a bit of an identity issue. Usually, flavors marked “Aztec” aren’t mild, but have some amount of chile flavoring in addition to cinnamon, an homage to the tepid, spiced cacahuatl drunk by the Aztecs. This version is chile-free, floral and feminine—mild, as the label promises. There is an unusual candied effect that’s difficult to pinpoint—perhaps vanillin, cinnamon and allspice—with a hint of nutmeg on the back palate (except for vanillin, no seasonings are listed in the ingredients). One taster described it as “drinking potpourri.”

We can imagine young girls drinking this Mildly Spiced Chocolate at a tea party, but our preference would be for a more macho/Montezuma flavor profile. Adding milk and other spices would have fixed up both cups to our satisfaction.

And More Chocolate

In December, milk and dark truffles will join the line, along with the four single-origin bars. We applaud Hershey’s on this venture—although we know they did it not for the applause, but to reap the rewards of the growing consumer demand for better chocolate.

Chocolate Bars & Cocoas

  • Chocolate Bars
    1.3-Ounce Bars
    $.99 to $2.89
    3.5-Ounce Bars
    $1.99 to $3.29
  • Drinking Cocoas
    $1.98 to $2.49 per box

The products are available nationwide at mass grocery retailers.

Prices and product availability are verified at publication but are subject to change.

Hersheys Bars


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