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Monique Keiran: Chocolate has its day — many of them, in fact

How odd that April and May are the only months lacking chocolate-celebration days.

VKA-keiran-7924.jpgHow odd that April and May are the only months lacking chocolate-celebration days.

Perhaps the oversight is due to the surfeit of chocolate-related celebrations in preceding months — Chocolate Cake Day (January 27), Nutella Day (February 5), Valentine’s Day (you know), Chocolate Mint Day (February 19), Chocolate Caramel Day (March 10), and Chocolate-covered Raisin Day (March 24).

Or maybe the lunar timing of (the unofficial) Eat Chocolate Easter Bunny Ears Day throws the makers, bakers, and shapers of chocolate goods off the scheduled promotion game.

Easter, with its chocolate bunnies and eggs, is second in candy sales only to Halloween. The event presents an annual bonanza to chocolate makers and sellers, including those here in Victoria. Yet, despite the rush on chocolate of all varieties and qualities, all has not been smooth, rich sweetness in Canada’s world of chocolate recently.

I’m not talking about the many local and artisan chocolate sellers in our region. Last year was an annus horribilis for four of Canada’s biggest chocolate-candy dealers. In June, the Competition Bureau of Canada announced that, after a five-year investigation, it had uncovered evidence suggesting Nestlé Canada, Mars Canada and ITWAL Limited, a national network of independent wholesale distributors, had attempted to fix prices of chocolate products in this country.

Under Canadian law, it is a serious criminal offence for two or more competitors or potential competitors to conspire, agree or arrange to fix prices of a product. If found guilty, businesses and individuals face penalties of up to $25 million and up to 14 years in prison. However, the alleged activities in this Case of the Costly Chocolate occurred before the Competition Act was amended in 2009, so lower penalties would apply — up to $10 million or five years in jail.

Nestlé and Mars deny the allegations, which date back to 2007 and, in some cases, 2002.

A fourth company under investigation, Hershey Canada, admitted wrongdoing and co-operated with investigators. As a result, the courts were lenient: Hershey was fined $4 million last June.

The second act of last year’s Big-Chocolate drama occurred in September. Hershey, Mars, Nestlé, ITWAL and Cadbury’s agreed to pay more than $23 million to settle a six-year-long class-action lawsuit that also alleged price fixing in Canada. The defendants deny the allegations here, too, but settled to avoid further protracted litigation.

In case you didn’t get the memo, eligible Canadian consumers and commercial purchasers in Ontario, British Columbia and Quebec who had bought $1,000 in chocolate products between October 2005 and September 2007 could claim compensation from the settlement.

There’s a catch, of course. Only those who kept records of their chocolate purchases during that period could claim the full amount. Those who purchased chocolate products from the companies but couldn’t produce proofs of the amount could claim only the default amount: $50.

There’s another catch: The deadline for making a claim was Dec. 15.

Yeah, I know. I missed it, too.

To compensate for that bad timing, here are some chocolate facts to consider Sunday as the youngsters in your life search out their supply of foil-wrapped goodies:

— Canadians buy about $1.4 billion of chocolate each year.

— 90 million chocolate Easter bunnies are made each year.

— Solid chocolate bunnies are favoured over hollow bunnies.

— Technically, white chocolate isn’t chocolate. It lacks the requisite cocoa solids or cocoa liquor. But, then, fans of dark and milk chocolate knew that all along.

— Resistance is futile. A 2007 study suggests that women who try to not think about chocolate end up eating 50 per cent more of it than those who talk about their cravings.

So, go ahead: nibble a chocolate-bunny ear. It will, after all, have to last you until the trifecta of Chocolate Eclair Day (June 22), Chocolate Pudding Day (June 26), and the biggest day of all, Chocolate Day (July 7).

keiran_monique@rocketmail.com