Chocolate Controversy

Upscale Texas grocer reaffirms orders of controversial Mast Brothers Chocolate

Texas grocer reaffirms orders of controversial Mast Brothers Chocolate

Mast Brothers chocolate
Mast Brothers Chocolate is at the center of a controversy. Courtesy photo

UPDATE: According to correspondence from Central Market shared by a Mast Brothers spokesperson, some employees "may have been confused," and the grocery will recommence orders of Mast Brothers chocolate shortly.

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A domino has fallen for Mast Brothers, the chocolate maker from Brooklyn known for its colorful paper wrappers and bearded owners. The company's chocolate bars are being discontinued at Central Market, the Dallas-based, high-end grocer that specializes in gourmet foods.

According to sources at Central Market, the store has stopped all future Mast Brothers orders, following an expose on the chocolatier by a Dallas food blog. In a four-part series called "Mast Brothers: What Lies Behind the Beards," Dallasfood.org questioned the company's claims that it always made its chocolate straight from the bean, when in its early days, it was actually buying chocolate made by others, remelting it, and selling it under its own label.

Employees at three stores in the Dallas area stated that the line would be gone. Shelf labels at the Dallas store have lines drawn through the bars' UPC codes and are marked "D/C," shorthand for "do not carry." And a manager at the store on North Lamar Boulevard in Austin confirmed that the chain had pulled the plug.

"We still have some in stock, but it's been discontinued from our stores," she said. "We stopped stocking it because of the controversy. That happened immediately on the day the article came out. The chocolate buyer decided to discontinue it."

A Central Market spokesperson stopped short of that, saying only that "there has been a lot of discussion as information has unfolded, but for now they are selling the chocolates in all stores."

And a statement from Mast said that "Mast Brothers has received an overwhelming amount of support from its partners and sales have remained strong, which reaffirms their relationship with its partners."

It makes sense that Central Market would prefer to avoid controversy, not to mention the possibility of losing money on inventory already in stores. But given its reputation for high-quality merchandise, it's also understandable that the chain might want to distance itself from a company that has been compared to Lance Armstrong and Milli Vanilli.

The Mast Brothers — actual brothers Rick and Michael — have become the poster boys for craft chocolate, an image they cultivated by growing beards and wearing old-timey suits and aprons. They're also one of the most successful brands in the rising craft chocolate movement, sold at stores across the country and at three shops in Brooklyn, Los Angeles, and London.

The charge that they were dishonest about their product has blossomed into an international scandal, spawning debates about authenticity and the artisanal goods movement. The brothers did not help their situation by changing their tune as more news reports emerged, from their original denials to their eventual admission to The New York Times that they did remelt chocolate made by others.

Harvard Business School historian Nancy Koehn predicted they would lose customers because those buying bean-to-bar chocolate are also buying the story behind it.

"They believe that they are buying something that is more authentic than a Hershey's bar or more authentic than the chocolate in Mars M&M's," she said.