Celebrating its 89th year as one of the world’s most popular premium chocolate confectionaries, Godiva has expanded its reach far beyond Belgium, where it was first founded, and now operates more than 600 of its own chocolate boutiques and shops globally. The chocolatier has secured a specialized niche spot in the sweets and chocolate industry. While distinct from large chocolate-manufacturing corporations, like Mars and Hershey’s, which sell their products for general casual mass consumption, Godiva also does not have the localized focus of haute craft chocolatiers, which heavily emphasize quality over quantity when it comes to what they sell. With arguably only a few similar direct competitors in this market, such as Lindt and Ghirardelli, Godiva balances the high-end appeal of its products with their accessibility – selling the chocolate as an “affordable luxury”. As measured in terms of profitability and brand recognition, Godiva’s success as a business can be largely attributed to the chocolatier’s understanding of the fine chocolate market and the particular methods it uses to capitalize on that understanding of how the consumers relate to the product. Specifically, Godiva displays the knowledge that for the consumer, chocolate consumption is not purely rooted in taste, but rather encapsulates various other components of the consumption experience, including how it speaks to their identity and relation to society. Chocolate cannot be successfully sold on the basis of the quality and nature of the product itself; rather, the entire context surrounding the product – what it symbolizes, how it’s presented, what purpose it serves, how it relates to other goods – all have to be taken into consideration. Since these social components can vary among different cultures and groups of people, all this contributes to the formation of a personalized chocolate experience that will effectively appeal to consumers.
In contrast to the perspective that taste is a universal and natural quality that people can experience objectively, there are many arguments that explain that taste is actually a social experience – one that is constructed in and affected by the context of the surrounding cultural and social environment (Norton, 2006). There is no pure and ideal form and understanding of “good” and “bad” taste; rather, such values are influenced by the way society is structured and who or what ranks at the top and bottom of the hierarchy. When it comes to consumption, people do not just consume for the sake of consuming. They are constantly thinking about what that consumption says about their identity and about their positioning and status in reference to others. They are thinking about how consuming other alternatives and substitutes may affect those statements they are making about themselves. As Mintz articulated in his 1985 book, Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History, sugar was once used as a symbol of rank and social prestige that distinguished the superior from the inferior when it was viewed as a luxury good. Over time, as sugar changed from being a good consumed only by the wealthy to one that was for the mass population, the implications of the product and the act of eating it also altered. The same goes for chocolate. Especially as a good that is not an absolute necessity for survival, the connotations of eating it are sometimes even more important for consumers than the actual product itself. Thus, great care has to be taken into shaping those implications surrounding chocolate, which is reflected specifically in how it is produced and sold.
Artisanal chocolatiers frequently elaborate on how specialized and unique their chocolate is in terms of the care that goes into recipe creation, ingredient selection, actual production, and ultimate presentation. These chocolate craftsman also express outrage at large chocolate mass-producing corporations entering the market and selling their products as substitutes to the chocolate works of art concocted by these specialized confectionaries (Terrio, 2000). Furthermore, they express even greater frustration for how most consumers are not even able to distinguish between these mass-produced sweets, which are often formulated with cheap and artificial ingredients and flavoring, and the authentic and high-quality chocolate they make. This simply demonstrates how unless an individual is a thoroughly educated and informed consumer who specifically seeks out fine chocolate because of an understanding of the production and implications of the product, there is a limit to how much consumers know and care, and how much money and effort they are willing to spend on the eating experience of chocolate (Williams & Eber, 2012). Of course, that is not to say that all consumers don’t see a difference between a cheap candy bar they pick up at a local convenience store and an intricately designed truffle they select from a chocolate boutique. What is most significant about this pattern of behavior is that in a sense, for the general consumer, the consumption of chocolate is not solely about the pure quality of the product itself and its taste, but is also highly dependent on external factors, like its packaging, reputation, and purpose.
Godiva appeals to this specific type of consumer – the average person who doesn’t have extensive knowledge (nor really wants to obtain it) about fine chocolate, so relies heavily on the image and story that is marketed to him/her about the product, who at the same time still wants to elevate his/her status and demonstrate an appreciation for goods of higher quality. Recent trends in chocolate sales indicate specifically an increase in the popularity of premium chocolate. Back between 2002 and 2006, the overall chocolate market grew at a rate of about 17%, while the premium chocolate sector grew at a rate of nearly 70% in that same five-year period (Rupani, 2007). Vreeland & Associates, a confectionary industry market research firm, reported that in the United States, the chocolate market grew to $19.29 billion in 2011 and that premium chocolate accounted for $2.7 billion of those sales, with an expected continual growth of 10% annually (Williams & Eber, 2012). People figure that if they are going to indulge, they might as well treat themselves with a product that tastes better, looks better, and feels better than convenience store candy bars, especially if it’s not unreasonably more expensive or effortful to consume. However, what exactly constitutes “premium chocolate” is subjective to the consumer. The standards could consist of the quality of the cocoa beans and other ingredients, the intricacy of the manufacturing process, whether the chocolate is organic or certified, how distinctly different it tastes from other chocolate, whether it’s artfully packaged – some of these characteristics being valued more than others by different people. Chocolatiers play a significant role in defining the standards of what constitutes refined taste and gourmet chocolate and educating the consumers in that regard (Terrio, 2000). After these standards are set, consumers then buy into the system and internalize and reinforce the evaluations by buying, eating, and gifting particular chocolates with specific social agendas in mind. Godiva is able to consistently hold a unique place in consumers’ lives by continually reinforcing the idea that its brand and products do indeed define and embody what consumers want from “premium chocolate”.
One of the greatest strengths of the company that also contribute to it being automatically grouped with higher-end chocolate brands is the longstanding image and recognizable product packaging associated with the chocolatier – people instantly recognize when the chocolate is Godiva.
From the embossed trademark of the courageous Lady Godiva who rode naked through Coventry in efforts to repeal unfair taxation on the citizens to the shimmering gold ballotin down to the satin ribbon tying the whole box together, Godiva’s packaging has been making an eye-catching and impressive statement of class, boldness, and timelessness for decades. When consumers think about Godiva, it is not necessarily the chocolate itself that comes to mind, but the entire wrapped package. In fact, the popularity of buying Godiva as gifts, particularly around special occasions like holidays and birthdays, can most likely be attributed to the brand’s exceptionally alluring appearance. Godiva representatives even agrees that their chocolate is specifically packaged in a way that doesn’t require the consumer to gift-wrap, making it the perfect present.
However, in recent years, especially with some of the setbacks in the economy, Godiva has made a move to change the focus of its business to encompass more than the gifting capability of its products. It has slightly rebranded to allow customers to view the chocolatier in a new way – a brand that they can rely on not only for seasonal gifting, but also for personal indulgence and casual sharing any time of the year. In this sense, the company is differentiating itself from the artisanal craft chocolatiers. Godiva recognizes that its customer reach is global and much less niche than these gourmet shops and subsequently, needs to capitalize on the affordability and accessibility of its chocolate to appeal to its wider and more diverse market share. Thus, the chocolatier has now balanced out the boxes of three dozen assorted chocolates that retail for $50 and lines of fancily designed truffles with new $6 soft serve, frozen Trufflelata drinks (that resemble and are priced similarly to Starbucks Frappuccinos), and individually-wrapped chocolate treats called Godiva Gems (Historic Change, 2014). They’ve started putting their chocolate in grocery stores to appeal to consumers who are looking for treats with more casual and everyday purposes in mind. However, at the same time, the chocolatier is still maintaining its high-quality, premium placement in the chocolate market. This new branding strategy has been doing well for the company, with Godiva sales growing at 10% every year since 2008 and putting its worth at $765 million in 2013 (Historic Change, 2014).
Godiva’s consumer-driven strategy and thorough understanding of the aspects of its products that are most marketable are evident in the way it segments its consumer base and how that’s reflected in the chocolatier’s product advertising. There can be distinct comparisons drawn between Godiva’s promotional tactics in the different countries where its chocolate is sold. In the United States, for example, the accessibility, easy-sharing, and delightful self-indulgence appeal of Godiva chocolate is emphasized.
This commercial campaign targeting American consumers sold Godiva as something that people can fill all aspects of their lives with.
Meanwhile, in Asia, other methods are used. The gift-giving functionality of the chocolate for special occasions, like Valentine’s Day, and the unique addition they contribute to extraordinary celebrations, like weddings, are highlighted in the promotional efforts in countries like Japan and China.
In this Japanese commercial, the chocolate is specially wrapped in pink for Valentine’s Day and given between lovers in celebration of romance. Another noteworthy component of both this and the U.S. commercial is that they both emphasize the foreign nature of Godiva – the former one choosing to have the commercial star a Caucasian couple rather than an Asian one, and the latter including a narrator with what is presumably a Belgian accent. The European exoticism of the company contributes to the overall special quality and luxury image of the chocolatier.
This next promotional video that introduces the new Godiva wedding collection that will be sold in China includes a famous Chinese actress to market the new product line.
China has traditionally been a more difficult market for chocolate companies to break into, because the Chinese have a cultural taste for treats that aren’t sweetened with cream-based fillings, which are quite widespread among European desserts (William & Eber, 2012). However, it’s extremely popular for the Chinese to buy chocolates as gifts or as tangible celebration symbols, and when they do so, they want the chocolate to have the appearance and taste of rareness and high quality. The knowledge of the consumer preference in this region of the world shapes Godiva’s marketing strategy here. Instead of following an advertising campaign similar to the one in the U.S., the confectionary went in a different direction to appeal to this particular market. Moreover, Godiva even created a new chocolate collection just this year for Chinese New Year, a holiday that involves plenty of gift giving and celebrations.
The collection was promoted on Godiva’s popular Facebook page in February. The posts and pictures indicate a clear knowledge of the cultural traditions involved with the holiday – placing the plate of Godiva chocolates on a table with other foods that are eaten for Lunar New Year and Chinese decorations that resemble prosperity and luck. The collection’s popularity is evident with the immediate release of the design for next year’s Chinese New Year (Year of the Monkey), which boasts the same recognizable gold and red Godiva holiday packaging, but features an embossed picture of a monkey alongside the Godiva trademark.
Chocolate consumption in the Asia-Pacific region is predicted to grow at almost twice the global chocolate consumption rate over the next four years and is predicted to reach $16.3 billion in 2018 (Chanjaroen, 2014). Godiva takes advantage of the unique market placement of its chocolate – which contrasts with mass-production companies like Hershey’s, which more directly face Chinese domestic competitors – and expands its product lines for these Asian countries based on what it knows the consumers there favor most about the brand.
Godiva’s success as an internationally recognized premium chocolatier has less to do with the actual taste of its chocolate, especially when compared to other high-end gourmet chocolate brands, than with the way it sells the chocolate consumption experience to its consumers. Of course, this is not to say that Godiva chocolate is no better, in terms of ingredients and manufacturing quality, than chocolate mass-producing companies like Nestle and Mars; the luxury and premium quality of the brand indeed comes from somewhere. However, Godiva is not quite categorized in the same group as true artisan and fine chocolate shops that are really focused on the craft of chocolate making and tasting. What the global confectioner’s success and popularity is rooted in is its unique take on the experience of eating chocolate. Godiva expertly addresses every part of this entire consumption experience from beginning to end, from the way the chocolate looks aesthetically to the purpose for which it’s purchased to what it’s like to eat and taste it to what it says about the consumer who buys it, in terms of both individual and social identity. All of these different components are carefully analyzed and personalized for each individual consumer segment in the market that Godiva operates in. Even so, at the end of the day, in all these various regions around the world, the combination of that gold ballotin and satin ribbon conjures up similar overarching notions of decadence, luxury, tradition, and timelessness.
A historic change for Godiva’s golden brand. (2014). CBS News. Retrieved May 5, 2015, from http://www.cbsnews.com/news/godiva-broadens-appeal-with-soft-serve/
Mintz, S. (1985). Sweetness and power: The place of sugar in modern history. New York: Penguin.
Norton, M. (2006). Tasting Empire: Chocolate And The European Internalization Of Mesoamerican Aesthetics. The American Historical Review, 111(3), 660-691
Rupani, S. (2007). The Sweet Business of Gourmet Chocolate. BloombergBusiness. Retrieved May 5, 2015, from http://www.bloomberg.com/bw/stories/2007-08-31/the-sweet-business-of-gourmet-chocolatebusinessweek-business-news-stock-market-and-financial-advice
Terrio, S. (2000). Crafting the culture and history of French chocolate. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Williams, P., & Eber, J. (2012). Raising the bar: The future of fine chocolate. Vancouver: Wilmor Pub.