The next big thing is never easy to predict -- usually, people find themselves smack-dab in the middle of a trend that they never saw coming. But small initiatives by some big companies suggest that high-end chocolate may very well be the newest craze. No player has a lock on the market, but a couple of firms have taken steps to transform chocolate from a pedestrian candy into a cultural experience. Investors should keep an eye on the trend, since success promises to be lucrative.

Last spring, an establishment called Ethel's Chocolate Lounge opened its doors in a trendy Chicago neighborhood. The intimate locale, which serves chocolate fondue, cocoa, and chocolate truffles, is owned by none other than privately held candy giant Mars. Now Ethel's locations have sprung up throughout the Chicago area. By setting up places where people can "chocolate and chat," Mars seems to be aiming to make chocolate a greater part of adults' daily lives, a plan that fits in well with another company project -- the CocoaVia chocolate bar, which Mars claims provides health benefits.

Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX), one of the most successful companies at selling premium-priced consumables to everyday people, was arguably ahead of the game when it sought a chocolate hit of its own in 2004 with a drinkable chocolate called Chantico. To my surprise, Chantico flopped -- perhaps, as Alyce Lomax suggests, because it was just too rich and too caloric. But Starbucks is not giving up on its chocolate plans -- far from it. It has launched three hot chocolate drinks to replace the Chantico. With its innumerable "caffe" drinks, Starbucks stands a good chance of helping to make chocolate consumption chic.

Meanwhile, Hershey (NYSE:HSY) has yet to fully embrace the trend. True, the chocolate maker has bought some premium brands, but to make chocolate truly cool, it needs to be paired with the right venue. Hershey does have a couple of storefronts, one in New York City and one in Chicago. But these sites are primarily tourist attractions aimed at children.

Making premium chocolate consumption a part of the culture will take some time. But thanks to their initiatives, Mars and Starbucks may already be on their way to sweeter profits.

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Fool contributor Brian Gorman is a freelance writer in Chicago. He does not own shares of any companies mentioned in this article.