The Untold Truth Of Ghirardelli Chocolate

Who among us hasn't enjoyed one of Ghirardelli's delectable squares filled with caramel, blueberry, or bourbon? Not only are they delicious, but these chocolates stand testament to the company's longevity. Incorporated in 1852, the Ghirardelli Chocolate Company has solidified its position as one of the leading chocolate manufacturers in the United States. After changing hands several times, the company was acquired by its current owner Lindt & Sprüngli in 1998.

Today, Ghirardelli has 19 outlets across the US, with 12 of these locations in California (via Rentech Digital). It's also a world-recognized brand with a successful retail and wholesale business, selling bagged candy squares, chocolate bars, and Ghirardelli brand baking chocolate and cocoa in stores. The company also operates ice cream and chocolate boutiques, including at San Francisco's Ghirardelli Square, a famous landmark that once served as the company's manufacturing hub (via Reference for Business). Keen to learn more about Ghirardelli's success story? Keep reading!

Ghirardelli has roots in 19th century Peru

With its Italian name, one would assume Ghirardelli has roots in the boot. However, while its founder was born in Italy, the company itself ended up in the US via South America. Domenico Ghirardelli was born in Rapallo, Italy, in 1817 where he completed an apprenticeship in the confectionery business before leaving for Uruguay with his wife at the tender age of 20. He began working in the chocolate and coffee trade, but the couple soon moved to Lima, Peru where Ghirardelli opened his first chocolate and confectionery shop (via Candy Hall of Fame).

According to Chocolate Class, a neighboring businessman named James Lick brought 600 pounds of Ghirardelli's chocolate to California, which he quickly sold. Realizing the potential of the chocolate's popularity in the US, Lick encouraged Ghirardelli to set up shop in California. Ghirardelli headed to San Francisco in 1849, keen to sell his chocolate to the large number of miners who had appeared for the Gold Rush.

Ghirardelli is the oldest continuously run chocolate factory in the U.S.

After opening his first general store in the US in 1849, Ghirardelli followed up with a store in San Francisco on the corner of Battery and Broadway. Just a few short years later, he opened a third store called Ghirardely & Girard at Kearny and Washington streets, which later became the Ghirardelli Chocolate Company (via Ghirardelli).

Today, after 170 years in operation, Ghirardelli is the oldest continuously run chocolate factory in the US. Officially founded in 1852, Ghirardelli was up and running well before Hershey which opened its doors in 1894, and Nestlé Toll House which started operations in 1939 (via Eater). However, Ghirardelli wasn't the first chocolate company in the US. This title goes to Baker's Chocolate, which was founded in 1765 and made its first branded chocolate in 1780. Today, Baker's sells a wide range of chocolate products and is owned by Kraft Heinz (via Business News Daily).

Ghirardelli Square is a San Francisco landmark

In 1893, following decades of chocolate-selling success, the company purchased the Pioneer Woolen Building on the northern waterfront in San Francisco — the modern-day location of Ghirardelli Square. In 1906, an earthquake and fire ruined a significant part of San Francisco, but Ghirardelli production facilities avoided the worst, and business started up again 10 days following the disaster. The giant Ghirardelli sign erected on the square in 1923 is still a landmark for boats coming in and out of the Golden Gate Strait (via Ghirardelli).

In 1962, shortly after the chocolate factory was sold, a group of San Franciscans bought Ghirardelli Square fearing that the area would be destroyed. To renew the space, shops and restaurants were opened, taking special care not to impinge on its Victorian character (via Ghirardelli Square). In 1982, the square earned its place on the National Historic Register, preserving it for future generations. Today, it offers a maze of passageways and plazas, as well as the original Ghirardelli Ice Cream and Chocolate Shop and the Ghirardelli Chocolate Experience Shop.

Ghirardelli has changed hands several times

Before its acquisition by the chocolate powerhouse Lindt & Sprüngli in 1998, Ghirardelli Chocolate had quite a journey. While it flourished during the first century of its operations, by the 1950s most of the company's machinery had become outdated, and with little ambition from the family the business went into decline. To make matters worse, the 40 or so stockholders wanted to be paid dividends rather than allow for profits to be used to improve the company (via Company Histories).

Discouraged, the Ghirardelli family sold the company to the Golden Grain Company in 1963, an iconic San Francisco brand that ended up moving the production facility from Ghirardelli Square to San Leandro in California in 1967, per Orange County Register. Around a decade later, Quaker Oats took over both Golden Grain and Ghirardelli Chocolate, eventually selling the latter in 1992 to a private investment group. By the late 90s, Lindt & Sprüngli purchased the company, leading to a peak in production and sales.

Ghirardelli invented the Broma chocolate making process

In 1865, a Ghirardelli employee accidentally discovered a new chocolate-making process after leaving a sack of ground cacao beans hanging at a warm temperature. Unbeknownst to the employee, the chocolate butter dripped out through a hole in the bag and when the residue was processed, it resulted in a more intense chocolate flavor than what was produced with other methods (via Ghirardelli).

The Broma processing technique remains very popular in the production of cocoa and chocolate in the US. Per Chocolate Apprentice, it manages to withdraw more cocoa butter than a hydraulic press, an alternate method for removing fat from cacao beans developed in 1828. Less fat remains in the cocoa powder, which allows it to dissolve more smoothly into a liquid. In addition, the Broma method results in a more chocolaty taste than similar confectionery made using the Dutch process, which involves treating the cacao with an alkalizing agent to modify its taste and flavor.

Ghirardelli used to host a Chocolate Festival

Starting in 1995, the Ghirardelli Chocolate Festival ran annually, celebrating the pleasures of all that is sweet in life. During this time, the community-driven event held at San Francisco's Ghirardelli Square has raised more than $1 million for Project Open Hand, a California non-profit that delivers groceries and nutritious meals to the elderly and homebound. However, Ghirardelli took a hiatus from hosting the event in 2019 to "reimagine the chocolate experience and fine-tune the philanthropic event." Chocolate lovers all over are eagerly awaiting the festival's return.

The most recent rendition boasted more than 50 vendors from around the Bay Area who showcased their sweet and savory goodies. The event also featured dessert demonstrations by the Ghirardelli Chocolate Master and celebrity chefs at the company's "Chocolate School." As well, the Ghirardelli Chocolate Lounge offered attendees a taste of some fine tunes and local wine.

Ghirardelli was one of the first companies to include cocoa content on its labels

When Ghirardelli released its Dark Squares in 2005, they became the first of their kind to display cocoa content on the labels. The percentage refers to three different components that are derived from cocoa beans, including cocoa butter, cocoa powder, and chocolate liquor. Since these three ingredients are used in different amounts, two chocolate brands with the same cocoa percentage may not taste the same. The other ingredients typically found in chocolate include sugar and various flavor fillings.

It's important to remember that a higher cocoa content isn't always desirable in chocolate, and many people don't like the intensity and bitterness. Per the company website, it even sells a 100% Cacao Unsweetened Baking Bar, which contains zero sugar and isn't meant to be eaten directly. Ghirardelli's other dark chocolate comes in three types: 60% Cacao Evening Dream, 72% Cacao Twilight Delight, and 86% Cacao Midnight Reverie.

Ghirardelli is well-known for its Chocolate Squares

While Ghirardelli has come up with hundreds of different products since its inception some 170 years ago, the brand's most famous products are its Chocolate Squares. Developed in 1999, the chocolates feature an appealing liquid center and they come with either a dark or milk chocolate coating. The chocolates are also offered in a huge range of quantities, from 5-ounce packages with six squares to 14-pound cases containing 540 pieces (via Ghirardelli).

From classic to imaginative, Ghirardelli's Chocolate Squares come in a wide variety, including limited-edition seasonal flavors. Some flavors among the selection are caramel, sea salt caramel, peppermint bark, mint, raspberry, blueberry, bourbon, pumpkin spice, and sea salt roasted almonds. According to LOL Candy, Ghirardelli's Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Caramel Squares are one of the brand's biggest crowd-pleasers, and it's not hard to see why: "The touch of sea salt [...] adds the slightest bit of texture to the creamy and smooth caramel that seeps out of the chocolate square with each bite."

Ghirardelli has come under fire for false advertising

In 2014, a class action lawsuit alleged that Ghirardelli's advertising misled its customers. In particular, the lawsuit claimed that the labeling on Ghirardelli's Premium Baking Chips – Classic White and Premium Baking Chips – Classic White Chips misled customers into believing that they contained white chocolate (when in fact they didn't). Ghirardelli eventually agreed to settle the case and make labeling changes to its products. A similar case against the company, which was tossed out by the appeals court in 2021, is currently being reviewed by the Ninth Circuit.

That's not all; in 2019, Ghirardelli was forced to change its chocolate squares packaging after the company was sued for misleading customers with its oversized containers. More specifically, the packaging was said to make customers believe that they were "purchasing more product than they are actually receiving." The case was settled with Ghirardelli agreeing to pay $750,000 in penalties and packaging its chocolate squares in transparent bags (via