IN HIS PIERCE HALL OFFICE ON THE fringes of Harvard’s campus, Edwards, looking very much like a French academic in a T-shirt, blazer, and long wavy hair, demonstrates the proper way to whiff. "Very, very gentle," he says, as he closes his eyes, puts his lips to the tube, and draws in tiny sips of air. (The process is not entirely dissimilar to taking a hit from a bong—or so we’ve been told.) Whiff too eagerly, or too deeply, and you’ll get a throat full of dust and spur a round of dry hacking. This is uncool, and very un-French. "There’s always a small learning curve," says Edwards. "People think more is better."
This spring, Le Whif was released in a limited run, quickly selling out tens of thousands of units at both its online store and a select group of French specialty shops. Trendy French boutique Colette described Le Whif as "the ultimate experience of a new food gesture…perfect to finish a meal, to offer with coffee, and to satisfy all these needs of chocolate." The store sold the device in packs of six for 10 euros, or about $14. "The response was immediate, even before the press buzz," says Sarah Lerfel, Colette’s creative director and buyer. New product turnover is important, she adds, with the store never keeping any one thing for too long—"but we can’t stop selling Le Whif. Too many requests for it!"
Emboldened, Edwards and his team set out on a grand "world tour," traveling to a number of American and European cities, including Cannes, where Le Whif girls paraded around the swank Majestic hotel doling out free Le Whifs to the film festival crowd.
The buzz closer to home has mostly centered on a particularly American concern: the fact that Le Whif has zero calories. In May, Le Whif had its official U.S. premiere at the annual All Candy Expo in Chicago, the candy industry’s biggest trade show, at which some 450 exhibitors debuted 2,000 products. This year’s highlights included bacon lollipops, Intoxi-tators (potato chips infused with margarita and bloody mary flavors), and Le Whif, which emerged as one of the show’s stars. Edwards’s team ran out of its stash of demos each day. Caitlin Kendall, managing editor of the blog Candy Addict—the most trusted source in candy news, as it were—nearly missed the booth because, she says, the crowd around it was too thick. Candy Addict’s review described Le Whif as if the product had appeared when some hopeful woman rubbed Aladdin’s lamp: "Calorie-free chocolate has arrived!" While the flavors were uniformly praised ("Mmm, refreshing…felt like a little snow flurry in my mouth"), overall, the review concluded, "it’s an exemplary replacement for air, less so for candy." Still, "it seems tailor-made for extreme dieters."
It’s a nice idea—that a hit of chocolate might be enough to sate a dieter’s appetite—if not a wholly convincing one. The science of overeating doesn’t work that way. People eat for a lot of reasons, of course: stress, boredom, entertainment (not to mention sustenance).
Le Whif doesn’t address these impulses, but it might not matter. The billion-dollar diet industry is not built on effectiveness. It’s built on hope. If one person says Le Whif quiets her hunger, others will follow.