I once found a 12-pack of Kit Kats in the Amsterdam airport on my layover home from Uganda. I was ecstatic. My idea of “normal” chocolate bars were not available in the places I stayed in Uganda, and why would I buy just one when I could buy this pack of twelve duty-free. I’ll never forget my extreme disappointment when I broke into the first one after the plane had taken off. They tasted awful! Somehow they were too creamy or milky: just plain bad. The crunch was there, but the chocolate was off. I understood chocolate varied by country, but I thought something as normal as a Kit Kat would be the same everywhere. I was severely mistaken. This was my first experience with chocolate differences internationally, and it was eye opening.
This experience exemplifies that the chocolate market has catered to the differences in preferences across countries. How did these preferences come to be? Are European people biologically predisposed to prefer chocolate with more milk than Americans? Probably not. The differences in taste most likely originated from each country’s unique history of chocolate consumption.
With the rise of global consumerism, today you can find Snickers in Germany, Cadbury Dairy Milk in America, and Milo (an Australian chocolate drink) in Canada. Through a series of interviews with various people of different nationalities, I have determined that despite this global market, one’s nationality and country of upbringing definitely affect one’s chocolate preferences. Children’s chocolate preferences across the world are in flux, influenced by advertisements, their family’s preferences, and the preferences of their peers. Likewise, once children become adults, their chocolate preferences are mostly established. All of the factors that influence children vary by country, and continue to lend diversity and complexity to the chocolate market.
The widespread chocolate market began with companies like Cadbury, Nestle, Lindt, and Hershey, as they innovated with chocolate to make it scalable for the masses. Cadbury started in the United Kingdom and had the privilege to be the royal chocolate suppliers for Queen Victoria (Coe, Ch 8). It is no wonder that Cadbury is still so popular among the British. Likewise, Nestle in Switzerland discovered how to make powdered milk, which was able to capitalize on the large Swiss dairy industry (Coe, Ch 8). Today, Swiss chocolate is known for being milkier (Alberts). Hershey, founded in America, wanted to make chocolate affordable for everyone, so focused on cutting costs by lowering the amount of cocoa and increasing the amount of sugar, which was cheaper (Coe Ch 8, “European”). Thus, Americans have grown up with sweeter chocolate that uses less cocoa, whereas Europeans pride themselves on the high cocoa content and smoother chocolate (made by increasing the fat content) (“European”). The Spanish, on the other hand, generally prefer stronger, more bitter chocolate; it is closer to what the original chocolate brought from the New World would have tasted like (Alberts). As certain companies gained traction at the start of the big chocolate expansion, their localized environment developed preferences for their type of chocolate (Alberts). These preferences developed and refined over time, combining with advertising and other factors to create national preferences that still exist today.
The different chocolate markets and general preferences affect children as they are growing up in these countries. Advertisements are a critical source of influence. Numerous studies show the susceptibility of children to advertisements, especially those targeted specifically at kids (Gunter 52). In fact, children are so likely to be influenced by advertisements that strict regulations have been put in place to limit the extent to which children as mislead by advertisements’ exaggerations (Gunter 132).
Because advertisements are directly targeted at children and children have been proven to be extremely susceptible to the influence of advertisements, chocolate advertisements play a large role in children’s chocolate preferences. Of the interviewees who watched television when they were younger, all of them remember at least one chocolate advertisement that stuck with them to this day. An interview with a college student who grew up in Newcastle, England, particularly remembered the Cadbury and Cadbury Dairy Milk advertisements (Nick). If the Cadbury advertisements are as ridiculous as they are today, it is easy to understand why. The following is a Cadbury advertisement from 2009. The advertisement shows no relevance to their actual chocolate product, but will gain the attention of kids nonetheless, insinuating that the joy and fun observed in these videos will be theirs if they eat Cadbury too.
Similarly, an Australian grad student remembers the ads for Milo chocolate energy drinks.
“It’s a chocolaty ‘energy’ drink, but it’s ridiculously delicious and also comes in chocolate bars. Kids grow up on it.” (Timnah).
Notably, only the British interviewees talked about Cadbury advertisements, whereas American interviewees talked about Snickers, Hershey, and other chocolates more popular in America. As someone who grew up in Minnesota, I had never heard of Milo until the Australian interviewee told me of its importance to Australian children. A child’s nationality definitely affects the advertisements they see and are influenced by. These advertisements vary by country, aligning with the companies that are the most popular and have the most market share. Consequently, children develop preferences for the chocolate that is already prevalent in their country.
Children are also influenced by their parent’s chocolate preferences. When children live in a different country from the one their parents grew up in, they still develop preferences for the chocolate of the parents’ nationality. One generation ago, chocolate was more of a localized good. According to an interviewee from Canada with Dutch parents, when her parents were younger, a vast majority of their chocolate consumption was Dutch chocolate (Jessica). Thus, the older generations developed even more specific chocolate preferences than children today. These parents keep certain kinds of chocolate in the house, prefer to buy those kinds at the store, and use chocolate for occasions as they were raised to do in their childhood country. Consequently, children in these families also develop these taste preferences and practices. For example, the same interviewee with Dutch parents prefers Dutch chocolate to American and Canadian chocolate. It is familiar to her because of her upbringing and it reminds her of home. She also talked about the practice of giving chocolate letters on Christmas, and spoke fondly of the chocolate practices surrounding Sinterklass, a Dutch holiday celebrated in the beginning of December. This holiday has special types of chocolate that children receive for putting out hay and carrots for the Dutch “Santa’s” animals (Jessica). Her love for Dutch chocolate practices and preferences were influenced by her families tastes and customs.
However, children are also influenced by their peers and new locations. Children often receive chocolate at school, whether its for Valentine’s Day in America, Halloween in Australia, or other local customs and practices. Children also find chocolate at friend’s birthday parties or other occasions with their peers. These experiences allow children to develop tastes for local chocolate even if their family has different chocolate preferences. The Canadian girl with Dutch parents admitted that she loved Dutch chocolate, but that she became used to Reece’s, Snickers, and other common North American chocolates. Now in college, she finds it hard to buy Dutch chocolate, as it is not commonly sold in stores like CVS. In order to get her chocolate fix, she is just fine with American brands like Hershey and Mars. (Jessica) Another girl who moved to New Jersey from Namibia at the age of five expressed similar experiences. She definitely grew to like American chocolate, and attributes it to the chocolate she had at school and with friends. “Hershey’s is definitely my favorite,” she claimed (Mimi) It’s hard to get any more American than that. Thus, children develop tastes similar to their friends, due to shared experiences and perhaps even peer pressure to conform.
Unlike children, adults are less likely to switch their chocolate preferences when moving to a new country. This is likely because their preferences were formed and cemented while they were children, from a combination of advertising, familial, and peer influences. An interviewee from Australia illustrated this phenomenon.
“I hate American chocolate, it’s gross! I definitely still prefer Australian chocolate. And I guarantee you that if you ask any other Australian, they will say the same thing. We crave Australian chocolate, probably more than Americans crave American chocolate when they are abroad. Its part of our culture.” (Timnah)
Likewise, the British interviewees who only moved to America to attend college showed express disgust for American chocolate.
“I definitely prefer Cadbury, plain old Cadbury Dairy Milk is the best. American chocolate is disgusting, I don’t know how you live with it.” (Nick)
In summary, national chocolate preferences developed because of a combination of factors, including that chocolate was originally a local good, which led to availability and market power of certain brands. These national taste trends were cemented, especially for the older generations. With the increase in global consumer products, most large brand name chocolate has become available all over the world. Nonetheless, children develop preferences based on their nationality. Within their countries, they are influenced by advertisements, their family’s preferences, and their peers’ tastes. If their family moves locations, they may develop dual preferences associated with both nationalities. However, this preference development stage has an age limit: most people who move to a different country after childhood maintain the chocolate preferences they formed as children based on their nationality. Nationality has an indelible impact on chocolate preferences. Differences like these contribute to the complex and diverse picture of chocolate preferences around the world.
Alberts, Heike, and Julie Cidell. Chocolate Consumption, Manufacturing and Quality in Western (n.d.): 218-26. University of Washington, 2006. Web. 5 May 2015.
Cadbury Eyebrows Advertisement. Web. Accessed May 5 2015. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TVblWq3tDwY>
Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. London: Thames and Hudson, 2013. Print.
Chocolate Letter Image. Web. Accessed May 5 2015. <https://tippinthescales.files.wordpress.com/2008/11/chocolate_letter01.jpg >
“European vs. American Chocolate: What’s the Difference?” Gourmet Boutique Tasting Room. N.p., 03 July 2013. Web. 05 May 2015.
Gunter, Barrie, Caroline Oates, and Mark Blades. Advertising to Children on TV: Content, Impact, and Regulation. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, 2005. Print.
Milo Advertisement. Web. Accessed May 5 2015. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1EOAOhMAZLY>
Tim Tam Image. Web. Accessed May 5 2015. <https://gracedavis.files.wordpress.com/2011/08/tumblr_licri1kglw1qbwpuuo1_500.jpg>