In developed countries today, when people think of chocolate, they most likely think of a solid, chocolate bar. However, for many years after its discovery, chocolate was consumed in liquid form and was limited to the wealthy and the elite. So when and why did chocolate change states? And what happened that enabled the general public to have access to chocolate? With a specific focus on consumption trends in England, it will be argued that when chocolate first reached England in the 1650s it was most commonly consumed as a beverage and by the upper class; however, inventions such as the hydraulic press and chocolate bar coupled with mass production and marketing eventually made solid chocolate more convenient, affordable, and available to the masses, making it the most popular way to consume chocolate in England by the early 20th century.
Drinking Chocolate in Early England
Chocolate was formally introduced to England in the 17th century, and it was primarily consumed as a beverage (Coe and Coe, 161). In addition, until the late 18th century, chocolate was time-consuming to produce and complicated to turn into a beverage making chocolate expensive and unappealing to those who did not have the time or tools to make the beverage (i.e. the poor and the working-class) (Coe and Coe, 169). Therefore, as a rare, complex, and exotic commodity, chocolate was primarily consumed by the elite who could have their servants prepare the beverage for them or the wealthy who could afford to purchase a chocolate drink at a chocolate house in London (Figure 1 below) (Coe and Coe, 166-167). However, chocolate would not be an exclusive beverage forever. In fact, by the late 18th century, Industrial Revolution innovations had profound social and economic impacts on chocolate consumption.
Inventions that Paved the Way to Mass Production
Three inventions that transformed chocolate consumption were the steam mill, the hydraulic press, and the alkalization process. The steam mill was invented by Dubuisson around 1776 and was used to grind cocoa beans, which had previously been done by hand (“Discovering Dickens”). The steam mill reduced labor intensity and costs, and thus helped decrease the cost of chocolate itself. Next, the hydraulic press was invented in 1828 by Coenraad Van Houten and was used to efficiently squeeze the cocoa butter from cocoa beans, leaving behind a cocoa “press cake” which could be ground into cocoa powder (Coe and Coe, 234). Van Houten also invented the alkalization process in which cocoa powder is treated with alkaline salts. This process eliminates some of the acidity from the cocoa, increases the powder’s miscibility, and gives cocoa powder a smoother consistency (Presilla, 28-29). Van Houten’s hydraulic press and alkalization process cut chocolate prices even further, reduced processing time, and made chocolate more desirable (“Europeans”). Overall, these three inventions paved the way towards the mass production and eventual mass consumption of chocolate.
The Solid Chocolate and Mass Production
The three aforementioned inventions enabled Joseph Fry (of Fry & Sons in Bristol, England) to create the first chocolate bar in 1847. The bar was made by mixing alkalized cocoa powder, sugar, and cocoa butter into a paste and then pressing the mixture into a mold (Coe and Coe, 241). Two years later, Cadbury of Birmingham, England, was also manufacturing “chocolate for eating” (“The History of Chocolate”). Since both companies used methods of mass production to manufacture solid chocolate, the price of chocolate declined, making it more affordable to the general public of England.
Advertising and the Domination of Solid Chocolate
Even though Fry’s and Cadbury were now selling solid chocolate, they were still selling cocoa mix to make drinking chocolate. However, solid chocolate was more heavily advertised and marketed towards the masses than drinking chocolate, ultimately leading to solid chocolate’s domination in England by the early 20th century.
When Cadbury and Fry & Sons marketed drinking cocoa, their advertisements often included well-dressed men and women who seemed to resemble the upper class (Figures 2-3 above). However, when they marketed solid chocolate, their advertisements often portrayed children or more middle-class looking men and women (Figures 4-5 below). In Figure 4, one can see a boy going through the five stages of receiving and finally eating a Fry’s chocolate bar, revealing how Fry’s was marketing its bar to children as a quick and delightful snack. In Figure 5, one can see a seemingly middle-class man dropping Cadbury chocolate and children swarming to eat it off the ground, revealing that Cadbury also marketed its solid chocolate to kids.
Not only was solid chocolate marketed towards children, but it was also marketed towards the working-class and mothers. Since solid chocolate required no preparation, it was much more convenient than drinking chocolate. Therefore, solid chocolate lent itself well to the British working-class who may have needed a quick energy boost on the job and wives who had little time to cook for their families (Mintz, 147). Mothers were also interested in buying solid chocolate because they enjoyed it themselves, and solid chocolate was now a relatively inexpensive way to satisfy their children (Martin).
In sum, these different marketing strategies revealed that drinking chocolate was historically a luxury of the upper class while solid chocolate was something any person of any age or social class could enjoy. With ads that encouraged the entire British population to try chocolate, solid chocolate popularity surged, and by the late 19th – early 20th century solid chocolate overtook drinking chocolate in popularity (Presilla, 29).
From the 1650s to around the mid-1800s, the British upper class primarily drank chocolate. However, as new industrial innovations facilitated the creation and mass production of solid chocolate, this original consumption trend would eventually wane. By the late 19th – early 20th century, solid chocolate proved to be more convenient than drinking chocolate and more affordable than in the past enabling more of the British population such as the working-class and children to enjoy the commodity. Finally, with the usage of broad-based advertising, Fry & Sons and Cadbury were able to popularize solid chocolate to the masses, eventually establishing solid chocolate’s dominance over drinking chocolate.
Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. 3rd ed. London: Thames and Hudson, 2013. 161-169, 234, 241.
Discovering Dickens – A Community Reading Project. January 1, 2002. Accessed March 10, 2015. http://dickens.stanford.edu/dickens/archive/tale/issue5_gloss.html.
“Europeans.” The Story of Chocolate. Accessed March 11, 2015. http://www.thestoryofchocolate.com/Who/content.cfm?ItemNumber=3446.
Martin, Carla. “Lecture 8: Popular Sweet Tooths and Scandal.” Lecture, Class, Cambridge, February 23, 2015. Discussed around Slides 11-15.
Mintz, Sidney Wilfred. Sweetness and Power. New York, N.Y.: Viking, 1985. 147.
Presilla, Maricel E. The New Taste of Chocolate. Berkeley, California: Ten Speed Press, 2001. 28-29.
“The History of Chocolate.” The Nibble. May 1, 2010. Accessed March 11, 2015. http://www.thenibble.com/reviews/main/chocolate/the-history-of-chocolate.asp.
Figure 1: http://now-here-this.timeout.com/2013/12/10/london-chocolate-festival-take-a-choco-tour-of-london/ (Accessed March 11, 2015)
Figure 2: https://chocolateclass.wordpress.com/2014/03/14/a-timeline-of-cadbury-adverts/ (Accessed March 11, 2015)
Figure 3: http://us.ebid.net/for-sale/postcard-fry-s-pure-cocoa-drinking-chocolate-advert-1893-the-sketch-nostalgia-106714206.htm (Accessed March 11, 2015)
Figure 4: http://pocketbookuk.com/2013/11/26/frys-five-boys/ (Accessed March 11, 2015)
Figure 5: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Science_and_invention_in_Birmingham (Accessed March 11, 2015)