Feeling Rejected: How Chain Companies are Edging Out High Quality Chocolate Into Smaller Shops

Chocolate is everywhere. At every corner shop, at every event, at anniversaries and birthdays, we seem to live in a society obsessed with its taste and cravings. Media’s portrayal of its significance in one’s life further creates an emotional dependence on this treat: how often do we see a sad, heart-broken woman delving into a box of chocolates in order to make the breakup easier and to console herself? From big bags, to bars on the go, chocolate has infused itself into every day errands. But do people actually know what they are buying? Most often than not, people buy generic brands, names they have heard of, and which they have previously tasted themselves. With such a huge selection from which to choose—chocolate covered peanuts, chocolate beverages, chocolate mint and pretzels, peanut smothered in chocolate, and a myriad of other selections—it is no wonder that higher quality chocolate seems to be lagging behind. People want what tastes good, without having to allocate time in order to acquire that “good” taste. They do not really want to spend money on a chocolate brand they have not heard of. High quality chocolate bars are being edged out of chain stores and into smaller, independent shops, because of the chocolate franchises’ marketing strategies and portion sizes, combined with low price points and a surplus of added sugar. This subsequently limits their pool of potential customers to those familiar with cacao’s history, and who are engaged with the savoring process of chocolate. The following blog post will be comparing the chocolate selection of two shops, CVS and Cardullo’s, and it will be broken down into three categories—location and arrangement, packaging and pricing, and composition and flavors—each category delving deeper into the social influences of chocolate franchises and their ramifications on higher quality chocolate.

Location and Arrangement

When you walk into CVS, the first thing you see is the premium chocolate section, located right in front of the entrance. It is a relatively small shelf, with three sides, and it has a printed “Premium Chocolate” sign on top of it, signaling its location to customers. The sector appears to be very orderly. Each brand has its own separate and distinct shelf, there is no mixing between, nor within, brands (i.e. Lindt vs. Ghirardelli, truffles vs. bars), and the packages are arranged in a neatly and methodic manner. Going further down the aisle, one finds the bulk chocolate, which fills up an entire wall. In contrast to the Premium shelf, the arrangements here seems to have been done at random. Different flavors of the same brand are spread out, there are no categories, and it feels very packed and crowded because the bins are overstocked and very close together. The only grouping done is a split between the bags of chocolate and the chocolate bars. The presentation seems to have been done haphazardly, and compared to the Premium Chocolate section, it seems as if no thought or effort was put into making the display appealing.

Some of the Premium Chocolate selection at CVS

When walking into Cardullo’s however, one experiences a very different visual stimulation. All the chocolates are in one section of the store, clearly labeled, and easy to find. The bars are arranged neatly, one next to each other, and grouped by brand. The shelves are neatly organized and it is very easy to find what one is looking for, or to browse through if he/she does not know what kind of chocolate to buy. Both bulk chocolate and higher-end chocolate are displayed in a manner that would entice the customer to purchase it.

Based on the display then, how is it that customers still prefer CVS chocolate over Cardullo’s?

A potential explanation is that the bulk packages in CVS are arranged at random, specifically so that people would buy more. If someone does not know what they want to purchase, and are just browsing, the haphazard arrangement might tempt them to get more than one item. If the customer is forced to pay attention to every single chocolate product, subconsciously they are going to crave more than they can eat, and will buy two or three bags instead of one. If the arrangement is done by categories, it is much easier to glance over it and resist the impulse to pick up more than what is needed because the focus will be directed on the brands themselves, as a whole, and not on each individual chocolate confection.

Secondly, in contrast to Cardullo’s, CVS has smaller chocolate bars right in front of the cashier, increasing the chances of impulsive purchases based on craving. While waiting in line, the customer is likely to glance around and spend some time looking at various chocolates, stimulating their craving and their likelihood of grabbing something to go. It is a great marketing strategy, because most often than not, customers walk into the store with the intention of buying something else, and leave with a snack on top of that. Cardullo’s does not have such display by the cashier, so if someone buys a chocolate bar, it is very likely that they walked in there with the purpose of doing so. Cardullo’s’ display is intended more for those who do not mind taking their time to browse and pay close attention to what kinds of chocolates it’s selling, whereas CVS is aimed more towards those who are in a rush and need something quick. And in today’s fast paced environment, it is no wonder that the chocolate brands sold at chain stores are a primary choice for many busy people.

Packaging and Pricing

Next, packaging plays a huge role in bringing profits to a company. When going to CVS, one is immediately bombarded with an influx of color and hues. The packages are bright, and each brand seems to have its “own” color (e.g. KitKat is red, Cadbury is purple etc.), stimulating one’s visual sense and increasing the product’s appeal. Bright colors are associated with happiness and joy, so by having the wrappers decorated in such a way, franchise chocolate companies are subconsciously advertising that eating their products will put one in a better mood and make one happy. And in a culture where happiness appears to be the ultimate goal to life, the easier it is achieved, the better. The colorful spectrum is also aimed at children. Kids are attracted to bright things, so if they get visually excited by these wrappers, chances are they will ask their parents to purchase some of them. And an adult will be more inclined to buy chocolate for their child, rather than themselves.

Looking past the initial presentation, the bulk brands very rarely have anything else on them besides “Ingredients” information. Even the Premium brands do not provide any additional important information other than a paragraph aimed at marketing and boosting sales. For example, Lindt has the following passage printed on the back of its truffles bags: “Do you dream in chocolate? Then discover Lindor and enjoy a moment that is yours: when you break Lindor’s delicate chocolate shell, the irresistibly smooth filling starts to melt, gently caressing all your senses and taking you to a place where chocolate dreams come true.” They are trying to lure consumers by using words such as “caressing” and “gently”, and appealing to their desire of experiencing rich emotions, and being seduced. These are not aimed at children. These confections are aimed at adults, and more specifically, at self-indulging and at treating oneself.

On the opposite side of the spectrum we have Cardullo’s chocolate. Most of their bars are wrapped in soft, pastel colors, not aimed at drawing attention. There are a lot of dark and neutral colors, and hues that are very easy on the eyes. And in contrast to CVS brands, these wrappers provide a myriad of information: cacao percentage, location of beans, location of production center, how the chocolate is going to taste (e.g. Valrhona clues its customers in on the taste: bittersweet and elegant, fresh and tangy, balanced and velvety etc.), whether it is organic, or whether it is stone ground. Some bars even have an instruction manual on how to “enjoy an exotic chocolate bar” (see picture below).

Some example of packaging found at Cardullo’s. In contrast to CVS, these use very soft pastel and neutral colors.
On the back of the Vosges chocolate bar, there are instructions on “How to Enjoy an Exotic Chocolate Bar”. They teach the customer how to savor this chocolate by using all of their five senses.

It is no wonder that these bars are being edged out into small shops like Cardullo’s, because who would have the time, and education, to understand everything that is on the wrapper? Most people do not know the difference between cacao beans from Madagascar and those from Indonesia. Nor do they know what Criollo, Forastero, or Trinitario mean. Unless you take a chocolate class that educates you on the terminology, you will be thoroughly confused by the packaging. Cacao nibs? Aztec chocolate? Stone ground? What do they all mean? Most people go for the taste (a point which will be further explained in the following section), so if they feel overwhelmed by all the choices, they will most likely lean towards names they have already heard of: Mars, Hershey, Snickers, etc. Why waste money on something that could potentially turn out to taste awful, when it can be spent on something you know will taste great and will give you pleasure? Especially since the bags say you will “savor a moment that will carry you through the day” (excerpt from the back of a Ghirardelli’s truffle bag).

CVS does not care about opening people’s eyes to the variety and complexity of chocolate. They do not care about the experimentation aspect of the chocolate world. They are there to make money, and the way to make money is by selling generic things, at a low cost. The more people that buy it, the larger the profit. If Cardullo’s’ chocolate bars were to be sold in shops like CVS, the chain shop market would crash. Who would choose to spend $8.99 on a tiny chocolate bar whose words they do not even understand, rather than spending $4 on a huge bag of Snickers? Very few people would be adventurous enough to try Valrhona, Michel Cluizel, or Les Tropique du Chocolat. And if a product is not bringing in a profit, it is not going to be sold. Hence, tiny shops like Cardullo’s, who appreciate the refinement and finesses of chocolate, are going to pick them up. If a shop has a reputation of selling “exotic” brands (i.e. non-franchise merchandise), then those who choose to go into these stores will have already prepared themselves to the potential of new flavors, brands, and words they will not understand, and will be more open to perhaps purchasing and trying something new.

Shops like Cardullo’s are aiming their chocolate products at people who have some, if not extensive, knowledge of cacao’s history. People who are educated on the difference between beans, and point of origin. People who know that two bars that have the same cocoa percentage will taste differently because of the beans used. Their selections are aimed at those who know the difference between “munching mindlessly on a chocolate bar or bonbon and savoring its pleasures” (Williams and Eber, 2012). They are looking for those who are also willing to breathe, see, smell, and snap the bars in order to have the full, rich, experience of tasting chocolate. Who has time for such things in CVS? How is that profitable?

Composition and Flavors/Types of Chocolate

Lastly, and most importantly, the reason chocolate franchise companies are edging out higher-quality chocolate is because of their content.

When comparing a Taza chocolate bar to a Snickers bar, quality-wise, Taza is obviously superior. So then, why do an overwhelming majority of people go for the other one? Because it has an excessive amount of sugar, and we are a society addicted to sugar (Mintz, 1985). “Sweetness is the most desired taste to the point that many, if not most, people can easily be caught up in ‘excessive appetite’ for it” (Albritton, 2010), and chocolate companies know this. When looking at the ingredients on a Mars bar, and comparing it to the ones in a Taza bar, the difference is astounding. People do not crave chocolate, but rather sugar (Coe and Coe, 2013), because if they craved chocolate, Cardullo’s confections would be found in every CVS and Rite Aid across the country. The emphasis in Cardullo’s’ chocolates is on the beans themselves, where they come from and how they were prepared. The focus is on savoring each square, bite by bite, and really appreciating the flavors, and uniqueness, of each separate bar. But who has time for that? Most people just want to settle a craving, and go on with their busy lives. They do not have time to sit down and actually taste the taste, which is why one can observe the difference in chocolate products offered at CVS, versus the ones at Cardullo’s.

Williams and Eber (2012) described this phenomenon really well, in that people want that yummy feeling, that instant pleasure reward they get when consuming chocolate: “Fine flavor manufacturers are selling to a generation that wants pleasure fast. ‘When most people eat a piece of chocolate, we want that pleasure immediately: boom! […] we do not have the patience to wait’.” And this is exactly what franchise chocolate companies are selling! They want people to get that immediate feeling so they will come back and buy some more. And people do. People get addicted to the taste. Companies like Mars and Hershey, which are the dominant brands in CVS, and subsequently in America (Coe and Coe, 2003), are focusing on pleasure because they know that if consumers do not like what they eat, chances are they will not purchase that item again. Their goal is to sell to as many people as possible, and in order to do that, they need to stick to the one common denominator: sugar. Add a little fat to that –cocoa butter—and the bar “approaches the ideal hedonic combination” (Benton, 2004).

One of the myriad of chocolate selections being sold at Cardullo’s.

In contrast, Cardullo’s chocolates such as Mazet, Nirvana-Organic, Scharffen, Les Tropiques du Chocolat, Valrhona, Vosges, Café Tasse, and many more, lack the substantial amount of cocoa butter and sugar, the two divine items needed to make sales. They know that most people may not like certain bars, but the goal is to reach that small population which has an appreciation for Dark Spicy Aztec chocolate, or Taza Sone Ground Chocolate Nibs. Moreover, they rely on the fact that even if one may dislike some of their products, they would know enough about cacao to appreciate the flavor and potentially come back to it again. CVS brands simply rely on people liking “their chocolate chocolatey and their base chocolate smooth” (Williams and Eber, 2012).

Given such disparity between CVS’ goals and smaller independent shops’, it is not wonder that companies who like to experiment with different flavors, like Vosges, are very rarely found in chain stores. Some of its flavors include bacon and chocolate, and when people see this, their initial reaction is to reject the idea of those two elements ever going together. No matter how good it may taste, most people would much rather choose a regular chocolate bar, to which they know its flavor, over something that sounds like it might be a horrible experience. And big chocolate companies know this, which is why CVS does not have much variety in their chocolate selections. These companies usually stick with the “classic” flavors, such as milk, nuts, caramel and mint (e.g. Snickers, Peanut M&M’s, Twix, Reese’s, etc.), and very rarely does one see a “crazy” combination in these aisles. They do not go out of their comfort zone to experiment because they want as many people as possible to buy their products.

It is clear that CVS and Cardullo’s are selling chocolates for two very different pools of people. While that does not mean that one is better than the other, CVS customers rarely know the contents, or history, of the products they are buying. I was one of those people. I used to think that high quality chocolate meant Snickers, or Ghirardelli, and while those brands are certainly esteemed, they are not what one would call “high end chocolate”. Until doing this assignment, I never really paid close attention to the chocolate products offered in Cardullo’s if I did not recognize their names. To me, as I’m sure to most of the population, chocolate meant tasting good, and the “fancier” it was (i.e. having words such as Criollo, or bean origin etc.), the bigger the chance I would not have liked it. Unfortunately, because of the marketing strategies and surplus of sugar in their products, brand names like Mars and Hershey are creating a culture where individuals choose the hype over substance (Nesto, 2010). If more people get educated, and informed, on cacao’s history and significance, the selection of amazing chocolates offered at Cardullo’s will slowly find their way into chain stores like CVS, and a new culture will emerge where people actually take their time to really taste a chocolate bar, and not go for the immediate yummy reward feeling.



Photo #1: https://chocolateclass.wordpress.com/2014/05/08/specialty-versus-convenience-an-analysis-of-chocolate-experiences-in-harvard-square/

Photos #2-4 are mine, taken with my camera; Cardullo’s products


Albittron, Robert . “Between Obesity and Hunger: The Capitalist Food Industry.” Food and Culture. New York: Routledge, 2010. Print.

Benton, David. “The Biology and Psychology of Chocolate Craving.” Coffee, Tea, Chocolate, and the Brain. CRC, 2004. Print.

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. 3rd ed. New York: Thames and Hudson, 2013. Print.

Mintz, Sidney Wilfred. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York, N.Y.: Penguin, 1985. Print.

Nesto, Bill. “Discovering Terroir in the World of Chocolate.” Gastronomica: The Journals of Food and Culture 10.1 (2013): 131-35. Web.

Williams, Pam, and Jim Eber. Raising the Bar: The Future of Fine Chocolate. 1st ed. Thompson-Shore, 2012. Print.


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