How Hershey’s Assembly Line Changed Chocolate

For much of the 19th century, chocolate was considered a food for the elite class.  The wealthiest Europeans and Americans could afford expensive confections, bars, and chocolate drinks.  This association of chocolate with the upper class had been unchanged in European society since it was introduced into the culture two centuries prior.  Milton Hershey catalyzed the evolution of chocolate from a food for the elite to a food for the masses with his founding of the Hershey Company in the late 19th century.  Hershey applied new techniques of mass production and his background in making caramel confections to create massive amounts of low cost milk chocolate.  This low cost milk chocolate production chain shifted the perception of chocolate from a pure elitist product to a sweet and sustaining food for any socioeconomic class to enjoy in America and beyond.

The above picture is an advertisement for Cadbury Cocoa prior to the success of Milton Hershey.  The major headline in this ad states “Cadbury’s Cocoa is absolutely pure.”  The fact that this phrase is placed in bold at the center of the poster shows how important the concept of purity was to chocolate sales at this time period.  Elite consumers are very concerned with the quality of the product they are purchasing.  Modern chocolate companies operating during this pre-Hershey period catered to these traditional elite chocolate consumers with high cost, high quality methods of chocolate productions and marketing.

Hershey started his career holding a similar ideology of chocolate sales as Cadbury and other competitors.  Hershey’s first candy company specialized in “mainly caramel confections” that were finely crafted and marketing towards elites (Coe 250).  After some success with his confection company, Hershey began to produce milk chocolate bars, wafers, and eventually the famed Hershey Kiss (Hershey’s History).  The key to success came from Hershey’s mass production techniques.  A modern version of these techniques are depicted in Hershey’s Chocolate World Tour shown in the youtube video above.  The entirety of the tour is very mechanical and shows the dedication to machine automation for fast production.  The focus on fast industrial production that Hershey implemented severely undercut the cost that chocolatiers and high quality chocolate providers faced.  This allowed the company to gain tremendous scale and popularity selling cheap chocolate to the American masses.

Hershey’s assembly line method for chocolate began to catch on, and the new world of low cost chocolate production allowed for chocolate consumption by all classes.  The above Cadbury’s advertisement, which was released after Hershey had revolutionized chocolate production showcases the effect that Hershey had on the industry as a whole.  Rather than emphasizing purity and picturing what appear to be upper class adults in advertising, Cadbury is now catering to the masses with an image of lower class children eating chocolate from the ground.  The major difference between the ads is the shift from a focus on elegance, purity, and class to taste and ability to satisfy hunger.

Milton Hershey undeniably changed the global chocolate industry.  Whether this change is better or worse for chocolate and the world is up for debate.  Creation of these massive publicly traded chocolate companies has led for greater incentive to cut cost.  This trend of cost cutting led to the rise of bulk cacao over fine cacao as the most common cacao in the world today and is one of the reasons slave labor continues to exist.  Catering to the masses also provides incentive for the companies to create addictive sugary products and scale back on the purer and healthier products of the pre-industrial age.  Hershey opened the door of chocolate for the masses, but changed what we view as chocolate in the process.

Works Cited

1.  The Cadbury Family. Digital image. The History Channel, n.d.

2.  Hershey Chocolate World Factory Tour Full Ride – It’s the Milk Chocolate!Inside the Magic, n.d.

3.  Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1996. Print.

4.  “Hershey’s.” The Hershey Company. N.p., n.d.

5.  Vingtage Chocolate Ads. Digital image.


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