Dark chocolate and its consumer

In the world today, every individual has different preferences, favourites and likes. In chocolate, this can be the choice of either milk or dark, expensive or cheap, fair-trade or big-5 company etc. These differences are partly due to the specific taste of the person, but also the influence of society and the economy.

In order to understand this concept better I decided to run an experiment. This is how it was conducted:

1) I gathered 4 different chocolates with differing cocoa contents (pictured below). The 4 samples were:
– 45% Hershey’s Special Dark
– 60% Ghirardelli Squares
– 70% Lindt Dark Chocolate
– 85% Lindt Dark Chocolate

I chose these chocolates as they include three common brands that the tasters are familiar with. They are available at almost any convenience store and are recognisable. This was important to me, as I wanted to look at the effect of the big chocolate companies on the consumer. Many of these companies are also associated with the less rich and lower cocoa content candy bars, so they also opened the eyes to the smaller market of dark chocolate within the bigger companies.

samples

2) I then gathered a group together (some of them pictured below) and asked them to taste the chocolate and see whether they could decipher distinctly between the cocoa-content of the chocolates. This was a blind test, so the tasters didn’t see the packaging prior to tasting, but they could tell the brand of the chocolate due to the imprint on the chocolate bar itself. The test was done with no conferring as to test the single taste of the person. I asked them to make note of the taste and mouth feel while tasting.

tasters

 

testing

3) Prior to them tasting the chocolate I asked some simple introduction questions. These included:
– Gender
– How often do you eat dark chocolate?
– When was the last time you ate dark chocolate?
– On a scale of 1-10 (1-will never eat, 10-can’t get enough), how much do you enjoy DARK chocolate?
– On a scale of 1-10 (1-will never eat, 10-can’t get enough), how much do you enjoy MILK chocolate?

4) This was followed up by a series of question considering purchasing, packaging, and associations with dark chocolate.

My experiment came back with very useful results. I tested a total of 7 people, 2 of which were male. Conclusively, the tasters who preferred dark chocolate (3 out of 7) to milk chocolate came back with a 100% correction in distinguishing the different cocoa content of the chocolate. Those that preferred milk chocolate found it hard to separate the 60% chocolate from the 70% chocolate. I feel like this is due to not being accustomed with the taste. However, two of the four people that preferred milk chocolate had eaten dark chocolate within the last week, while some of the dark chocolate eaters hadn’t eaten dark chocolate for a longer period of time, but were still able to define the difference.

I wanted my testers to state their gender so that I could indicate whether there was a difference between male and female in their preference or how they choose chocolate. The two males that taste tested were milk chocolate lovers. One of these males could not tell between the 60%, 70%, and 85% chocolate, while the other couldn’t determine 60% from 70%. The following advertisement from Lindt claims dark chocolate being a product for the female. It is described as sticking in your throat, being bitter, and having a smudgy texture. This association with dark chocolate and the female may be a possible deterrent for the male, or it could also be down to science and the way that females taste different to males.

lindt advertisement

When describing the taste and mouth feel of the 85% chocolate, the reactions of the milk and dark chocolate lovers were very different. The milk chocolate lovers described it as ‘bad’ and ‘horrible aftertaste’, whereas the dark chocolate lovers were less harsh by noting it as ‘bitter’ and ‘chalky’. It appears that it wasn’t their favourite chocolate, but for the milk chocolate lovers, the taste was so bad that it sparked a bigger reaction. This raises the question as to whether milk chocolate lovers are hyper-tasters due to their sensitivity to the bitterness of the chocolate, and how the smoothness and less intense taste of milk chocolate on their taste buds is better suited.

One of the main disparities between milk chocolate and dark chocolate lovers was their approach to purchasing chocolate. The group as a whole decided that dark chocolate is a high-end product and in general is more expensive compared to your everyday candy bar. The tasters that preferred milk chocolate were more likely to opt for cheaper, more for your money, and well-known chocolate bars. As for the dark chocolate lovers, they were likely to spend more on dark chocolate to satisfy their cravings, but if they wanted a quick energy boost they would turn to the cheaper candy bars. They were more likely to savour dark chocolate and spend time enjoying it, which also attributes it to being a luxurious good associated with high class. One participant in this experiment told me that her family would not allow her dark chocolate until she reached a certain age, which also gives it a higher status, in comparison to the many candy bars we find at the counter at a checkout. Two companies mentioned when discussing what chocolate brand they buy, Hershey’s and Mars were at the top of the list. As we know, these are both part of the big-5! However, the dark chocolate lovers said they would also consider smaller companies and seek out something alternative, giving them a more exploratory nature. Laudan writes, “For all, culinary modernism has provided what was wanted: food that was processed, preservable, industrial, novel, and fast, the food of the elite at a price everyone could afford” (Laudan 40). This statement appears to correlate with the feedback from my tasters. Dark chocolate is now more available at a lower cost, but the price issue even presides over taste. We can also put this down to the sugar craving and the rise of sugar in the diet.

For the American consumer, impulse and self-indulgence purchases drive the companies. However, in a new market to chocolate, such as China, there is more gifting taking place.

“China’s breath-taking transformation from a command to a market-socialist economy over the past twenty-five years has turned some 300 million of its 1.3 billion people into ravenous consumers of everything from candy to cars. And until twenty-five years ago, almost none of them had ever eaten a piece of chocolate. They were, to coin a phrase, “chocolate virgins,” their taste for chocolate ready to be shaped by whichever chocolate company came roaring into the country with a winning combination of quality, marketing savvy, and manufacturing and distribution acumen. In short, China was the next great frontier, a market of almost limitless potential to be conquered in a war between the world’s leading chocolate companies for the hearts, minds, and taste buds – and ultimately the wallets – of China’s consumers. To the victor of the chocolate wars would go the spoils of over a billion potential customers for generations to come” (Allen Introduction).

Allen explains how the big-5 companies targeted the Chinese population to convert them to become chocolate consumers. However, the society was very unprepared for it as “chocolate was so foreign that it would have limited appeal to their untrained palates” (Allen 10). There was a shift in the consumption of chocolate but not to as great of an extent as experienced in the west. Chocolate was also seen as a means of gifting, as opposed as a purchase for self-consumption. My tasters explained that sometimes it was hard to purchase higher quality and more expensive chocolate for themselves, but when they looked towards seeking a chocolate gift for someone they would turn to dark chocolate and spend more. They explained that this was due to the association of dark chocolate as a classy product. The packaging as a gift would also sway their choices as they didn’t want to purchase chocolate that looked low quality and cheap.

Dark chocolate seems to hold a role in society which places it above that of milk chocolate. The disparity between people that like the two different types of chocolate cause changes in how they purchase, as well as consume chocolate. Dark chocolate seems to retain its authoritative nature through a word-of-mouth concept about its good properties, as opposed to candy bars with higher sugar and lower cocoa content.

Works Cited

Allen, Lawrence L. Chocolate Fortunes: The Battle for the Hearts, Minds, and Wallets of China’s Consumers. New York: American Management Association, 2010. Print.
Laudan, Rachel. Cuisine and Empire: Cooking in World History. Berkeley, CA: U of California, 2013. Print.

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