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How Jacques 'Mr. Chocolate' Torres is beating the downtrend in retail sales



This year, Americans are expected to spend more than $18.2 billion this year on gifts for their loved ones, according to the National Retail Federation. That's slightly less than last year's all-time record high of $19.7 billion.

Despite consumers being a bit more frugal, Valentine's Day continues to be a popular gift giving occasion. And nothing says 'I love you' like a box of chocolates.

In fact, candy of all stripes are the most popular gifts to give on the February holiday. About 50 percent of those surveyed by the NRF planned on purchasing sweets for their sweetie, followed by an evening out (37 percent) and flowers (35 percent).

When it comes to what men and women hope to get, an evening out and chocolate tops the list, according to a survey conducted by Splender, an online cash back shopping site.

"Valentine's day is the biggest single day of the year, the biggest sale day of the year," New York chocolatier Jacques Torres told CNBC's "On the Money" in an interview recently.

Torres noted that Christmas takes the crown as his biggest holiday season for chocolate, and that's because people are buying gifts for multiple people. On Valentine's Day, he says it's more typical to buy for just one person.

Source: Jacques Torres

Some of his best sellers for Valentine's Day include the classic heart box filled with chocolates. Others are a bit more adult in nature—including a chocolate pop that says "Spank Me" and a box of chocolates that includes a kissing game.

The chocolatier has 8 retail locations in New York City, and notes that right now, only ten percent of his sales come from online. However, he said that trend growing.

"The good thing is, the season of chocolates is during the cold months. During the cold months I can send ground [shipping]," said Torres.

When the weather is warmer, he says time is of the essence because the chocolate will melt, and next day shipping is expensive.

But as more and more people shop online, brick and mortar stores are struggling. Retailers, such as Macy's and Sears are closing many of its locations this year, and Torres says his industry is not immune to the trend.

That's why he has a new strategy this year: Events.

Consumers "will go to the store if the store has an experience, if they are going to learn, if there's something special about it," said Torres.

He plans to start doing classes at his chocolate shops this year that will teach people about the history of chocolate, how it gets made, and other events geared towards kids.

As more people are looking to eat healthier and lose weight, you may think this is bad for the chocolate makers. However, Torres says he sees it as a positive, because he can offer a healthier product than his mainstream competition.

"If you don't want too much sugar, you have to use very good cacao bean, [which produces] higher cocoa contents," he said. "We buy those expensive beans and then make the chocolate."


"On the Money" airs on CNBC Saturdays at 5:30 a.m. ET, or check listings for air times in local markets.