BRUSSELS -- Inside the white-chocolate-colored walls of Godiva Chocolatier's manufacturing plant in Brussels, a frantic assembly-line worker, hairnetted and besmocked, pleads with her co-worker to halt the unrelenting parade of freshly coated chocolates en route from mold to masterpiece.

"Arrete! Arrete!" she yells as the bite-size jewels stoically plunge from the conveyor belt into discarded chocolate shavings on the floor faster than she can snap them up to tuck into a shipping box.

When the march of chocolates finally slows, she mumbles an irritated but relieved "merci," and the clockwork pace resumes in a corner of this vast labyrinth of confection- ery heaven.

Reminiscent of the classic "I Love Lucy" episode, this Belgian factory scene is not unlike one found much closer to home. Give the globe a spin, land in Reading, Pa., and you'll find chocolates being created in Godiva's U.S. plant in much the same way. Tiny conveyor belts nudge the same chocolate-covered cherries toward the same Christmas-red wrappers; the same marzipan-filled ovals topped with almonds and enrobed in dark chocolate shells are marbleized with machine-precise flourishes of the same white chocolate; the same squiggles are bestowed upon individual chocolates by trained craftsmen performing sleight-of-hand with pastry bags.

But if to-die-for Godiva chocolate, one of the world's premier brands, is produced so similarly on both sides of the ocean, why do many chocolate lovers believe that Belgian-made and American-made Godiva chocolates taste different?

The answer is important, not just for the rarefied taste buds of chocophiles but also for those consumers who advance the general notion that anything European-made is better than anything made in the United States.

"I'm not positive I could tell you the difference blindfolded, but the American and Belgian tastes really are quite different," says Giselle Eggermont, the first secretary at the Embassy of Belgium in Washington. "Maybe it's with the sugars -- and also the alcohol."

Melanie Draps, granddaughter of Godiva founder Pierre Draps, agrees. "I've tried the American Godivas and they do taste different," she says. Having made her own chocolates for 10 years as owner of Les Delices de Melanie of Brussels, she thinks different butters and creams, as well as the alcohol, account in large part for the flavor variations.

Godiva officials agree that there are differences in the chocolates but say they arise out of regulations and consumer preferences, not out of lower-quality, or even different-quality, ingredients.

David Albright, president of Godiva Worldwide and of the confectionery group for Campbell's Soup Co., which purchased Godiva in the 1960s, says, "Our couverture, or chocolate coating, is precisely the same as what we use in Brussels because we contract with a manufacturing facility to process it identically and to ship {it} to both plants."

But Albright readily acknowledges that flavors and fillings are a different story. For one thing, 36 American states restrict alcohol in candy. So, the dashes of liquor that enhance the flavors inside Godiva's European chocolates are missing, and Godiva's American recipes must be altered.

But can't the flavors even of recipe-identical fillings differ if they're made with different ingredients? After all, American-produced cream, milk, butter and sugar are used to make fillings in the United States, while European counterparts go into the fillings for chocolates made in Brussels. Beet sugar is used in Europe, cane sugar primarily in the United States. Won't that make a difference?

Not really, believes David Johnston, general manager of Godiva's European operations for the last year. "I used to assume that {the sugars} were different, but they're not in the end," he says. "And it's not a matter of quality -- cane {sugar} needs more sunshine, and beet {sugar} can grow in the ground, as we don't have much sunshine here. They are different raw sugars, but when processed, they are chemically no different in the end result.

"As for the milk, I wouldn't think it would make that much of a difference."

But market preferences do play a big role, says Albright. "We have a global chocolate, and what is customized are some of the fillings, some of the shapes -- a tailoring that comes from extensive consumer research to find out what our customers want. A lot of people who grew up on Hershey chocolate in the U.S. say, 'But doesn't the U.S. palate want a sweeter taste?' and the answer is 'no,' not for super-premium sophisticated chocolate eaters."

Originally Godiva exported its Belgian-made chocolates to the United States. But as the years went by, Americans began to prefer certain types, such as the truffle. Godiva catered to what was popular, and the American truffle became rounder and more coated than its Brussels cousin, and the centers changed as well.

"We tend to be led by the national palate of the country we're operating in to make modifications and minor changes," says Johnston. "There wasn't a separate range developed in the U.S.; I'd surmise that we just observed what was selling better over the years and pushed those. But I think the differences aren't that pronounced; the core range is the same."

According to Godiva, mint and caramel-nut are among the most popular flavors in U.S. Godiva stores, whereas marzipan and hazelnut flavors are European favorites.

But Godiva has not modified its confections for non-European markets other than the United States; elsewhere in the world, the chocolates sold are those made in the Belgian plant. So perhaps whatever "minor changes" have taken place have happened simply because they could -- because of the existence of the Pennsylvania manufacturing facility -- and because the majority of people in this enormous market for chocolates don't know the original.

"If we change one of the recipes over here, we'll have about 1,000 letters from people, consumers, who'll know, whereas in the U.S. and Japan you don't have such an educated consumer population," says Johnston. "I don't mean that disrespectfully, but they just have different priorities and aren't as sensitive to the nuances of changes as Europeans are."

Johnston believes that the perception of better-over-there is a widespread phenomenon, "that if I'm going to the fount, to the source, that it's got to be better. If I go to Bordeaux to drink the wine, it's got to taste better than if it were put in a ship and carted 'round the world." Johnston, a native Scot, adds, "Whiskey does taste better in Scotland if you drink it with the water from the river with which it was made ... it's an extension of the drink. But there are other age-old issues -- right now, I'm selling to a lot of Germans, who say, 'But the chocolates aren't really our taste. We'd like more milk, more white chocolate. Can you make more of the German taste?' I can do that, but then do you want more German chocolate of which there are 100 different manufacturers, or do you want something different, like Belgian chocolate?"

That last consideration is what has formed the philosophy of Marlene Vonken, president of the Belgian chocolate company Neuhaus, Godiva's closest Belgian rival in size and quality. She says Neuhaus exports its Brussels-made chocolate to the United States, with the exceptions of those with alcohol and those with short shelf-life because of fresh-cream contents. She has found the American market quite receptive. "Our whole range goes over there and sells well. Americans already have American chocolate, and they want European," she says.

Perhaps to the average Belgian consumer, subtle international flavor variations are of less importance than deciding which brands and flavors of chocolate to buy. Says the Belgian Embassy's Eggermont, "When my father goes to buy some for a girl, he buys certain ones from this store and certain ones from another, very carefully.

"We're a chocolate country. There are so many types of chocolates in Belgium, and it's taken very seriously."

Sara Hope Franks is a former Washington freelancer now based in Brussels.