Who hasn't wanted to scarf down a Hershey bar and not pay the caloric consequences?
Bostonians got their first chance to sample Le Whif late last month at the TEDxBoston conference, when silvery packets containing a single brown inhaler were handed out to the 250 or so attendees. Le Whif inventor David Edwards, a Harvard professor of biomedical engineering, was one of the speakers, as was his former student Tom Hadfield, who made the case that over the course of human history, we've been eating food in smaller and smaller portions (whole dead mastodon -> Whopper Jr.) The next natural step, Hadfield argued, is breathing our food.
And you can now buy and try Le Whif for yourself -- though it's imported from Europe, so the price is steep.
A Le Whif inhaler comes in one of three flavors: mint chocolate, raspberry chocolate, or plain chocolate. You supposedly get three or four good whiffs out of one inhaler, which looks a bit like a lipstick tube. You pop it open and stick one end in your mouth, taking small puffs. (The inventors would like us to call this "whiffing.")
The company that makes Le Whif, LaboGroup, has been introducing it at events like the All Candy Expo, held in Chicago, and the Cannes Film Festival in France. LaboGroup is based in Paris and Boston (but mostly Paris.) They've been taking online orders since the spring, and shipping them from Boston, using Harvard students for labor. They've shipped thousands of orders so far, according to Tom Hadfield, LaboGroup's director of international operations. Hadfield tells me via e-mail that they're planning a "big social media campaign" for the fall, and says that Le Whif will also show up in U.S. retail stores "later this year."
For now, though, buying a six pack of Le Whif inhalers online, including shipping, is about €17, or $24. (Hadfield explains that shipping has recently moved to Europe.)
At TEDxBoston, several attendees wondered whether the inhalers were safe to use (will cocoa particles lodged in the lungs one day be as feared as asbestos?), but just about everyone tried Le Whif. (In the photo up top is entrepreneur David Rose taking a toke.)
My impression: the experience of Le Whif was akin to peeling back the plastic lid from a container of Swiss Miss powdered hot cocoa and taking a sniff. Not unpleasant, but also not particularly satisfying. Decent aroma, but none of that delicious, velvety mouth feel that chocolate has. And unlike just eating a candy bar and tossing the wrapper, I now had a foil wrapper and a plastic inhaler to throw away. (But presumably the inhaler is made of recyclable material...)
Here's the TEDxBoston presentation given last month by Hadfield.
What do you think? Will you pick up a Le Whif at the candy counter and give it a try (assuming it costs about $2, which is the company's goal)? Do you think this is totally absurd?
(Additionally -- and I don't quite understand this -- David Edwards also has written an illustrated novel about Le Whif, which Harvard University Press has published. No reviews yet on Amazon, and it is not exactly racing up the best-seller list...)
About Scott Kirsner
Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched Boston.com in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.
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