It is interesting, and often undervalued, what factors go into the decision-making process when consumers buy chocolate. Although it is often a subconscious process, a typical chocolate consumer unknowingly takes many elements into account before purchasing a chocolate bar. Undoubtedly, factors such as price comparisons, taste and ingredients, consumer preferences, and reputation of chocolate companies play a dominant role in these decisions. This partially explains how companies like the Big 5 have been so successful in integrating their products into many populations. These companies pride themselves in creating brand loyalty, or a “cradle to grave” attitude among consumers (Martin, Lecture 12). This was evident in Hershey’s attempt to become the iconic American chocolate by aligning their advertisements with American values (Martin, Lecture 12). Furthermore, they have been able to maximize profits by diminishing production costs, allowing them to sell their products at a lower price. As a result, these companies and their products have become globalized and they are all known to have a reputation of producing easily accessible, affordable chocolate.
However, a growing concern in the chocolate industry surrounds the cacao-chocolate supply chain and emphasizing the necessity for ‘ethically based cacao’ (Barrientos, 2006). This term applies to a broad range of topics including environment sustainability, fair treatment of cacao farmers, and direct contact with workers (Barrientos, 2006). These concerns arose mainly from speculations of unfair treatment of workers and exploitation of children in West African cacao regions, such as Ghana and Cote D’Ivoire (Martin, Lecture 15). In response, various certifications have arisen that attempt to motivate chocolate companies to engage in these efforts. The three main ones are organic, fair trade, and direct trade certifications. Fair trade and direct trade certifications are similar in that they both address fair treatment and pay of farmers (Barrientos, 2006). However, some argue that direct trade is a better alternative to fair trade as it addresses many of the critiques associated with fair trade. Organic certification, on the other hand, stipulates that produce has to have been grown without the use of pesticides or other fertilizers (Martin, Lecture 18).
There are now multiple chocolate companies that make a conscious effort to obtain these certifications. They identify themselves as ‘ethically sourced’ and attempt to target consumers who wish to purchase chocolate that not only tastes good, but also is ethically produced (Barrientos, 2006). However, one of the main problems with these companies is that their products are often more expensive since their production costs are higher and they are paying a premium to farmers (Martin, Lecture 18). Furthermore, there has been some controversy over the certifications themselves and whether there is accountability in some of their promises (Martin, Lecture 18). This raises some interesting questions: are consumers thinking about these issues when they make purchasing decisions? What are the tradeoffs between cost and ethics? And most importantly, what influences consumers to choose ethically sourced chocolate bars over other chocolate bars?
The challenges associated with motivating consumers to buy ethically sourced chocolate is a major barrier that companies face when producing certified chocolate bars. In order to make an impact in relation to the cacao-chocolate supply chain, the consumer has to be willing to purchase the products. The efforts of fair and direct trade chocolate companies don’t summate to anything if no one is purchasing their products. If one were to turn to the success of the Big 5 chocolate companies, they have attracted consumers primarily through advertising and marketing strategies. Since direct trade chocolate companies have additional barriers, such as inflated costs, marketing their products is even more critical to their success. As such, I would argue that the sole placement of the term ‘ethically sourced’ on a chocolate bar is not sufficient to sway the typical chocolate consumer to buy their products over a ‘more affordable’ option. Instead, these companies need to both focus on ethically based initiatives and also enable a way to connect with consumers to establish the same brand loyalty that is seen among the Big 5 chocolate companies. Thus, when it comes to influencing consumer decisions, the most impactful companies will be able to both prioritize direct trade relationships over profits as well as find an effective way to advertise their brand to appeal to the general consumer.
The importance of advertising can be assessed by closely examining a direct trade chocolate company, and gauging its overall impact on both the main issues of fair trade and of gaining consumer interest. If these two components are addressed, direct trade chocolate companies will be more successful and influential overall.
Taza Chocolate Factory is situated in Somerville, MA and was founded in 2005 by Alex Whitmore (“TAZA chocolate”, 2012). Taza chocolate-makers pride themselves in producing “stone ground, organic chocolate” (“TAZA chocolate”, 2012). From the beginning, Taza’s mission was “to make and share stone ground chocolate that is seriously good and fair for all” (“TAZA chocolate”, 2012).
The process of making Taza chocolate is relatively unique compared to other US companies. First, they use solely organic products and aim to include as few ingredients as possible. This is meant to enhance the flavors of cacao as well as promote environment sustainability (“TAZA chocolate”, 2012). Their chocolate is also unconched, giving it a grainy/course texture. This is interesting as most chocolate these days undergoes a conching process, so this aspect creates a distinctive tasting experience for consumers.
Taza chocolate was the first in the USA to establish direct trade certification. They have partnered with La Red Guaconejo, a cooperative of cacao farmers that is based in the Dominican Republic (“TAZA chocolate”, 2012). They pay a premium to these farmers upon the sale of cacao beans and make an effort to visit these cacao farms at least once per year. In order to ensure accountability, Taza chocolate produces a transparency report once a year that provides a detailed account of their impact on the cacao industry (“TAZA chocolate”, 2012). This report is highly visual and makes it easy for consumers to understand.
Some of the more valuable components of these reports are the pictures of Taza workers with the cacao farmers. These pictures really emphasize Taza’s direct relationship with cacao farmers and presents the farmers as valuable members of their business. Since the challenges associated with cacao farming are often ignored or not revealed to consumers, these pictures provide meaningful insight to a crucial element of the chocolate-making process.
As indicated, Taza chocolate claims to be ethically sourced in two respects. First, they claim to only use organic ingredients in their recipes and second, they are direct trade certified. What makes Taza chocolate stand out, however, is their high accountability and transparency to consumers, which builds a reputation in the product. While Taza’s efforts address some of the cacao-supply chain issues, the problem of attaining consumer interest still remains.
There has certainly been more interest in buying ethically sourced products. As Low and colleagues (2005) state, fair trade sales are continually growing and it is evolving to become more mainstream. They describe this shift as an ethical consumer movement, where the consumer has the ability to create positive change by choosing one good over another (Low & Davenport, 2005). Given this rise in popularity, they emphasize the importance of building fair trade brands and marketing their products to consumers (Low & Davenport, 2005). On average, a typical consumer spends about 4 seconds examining a shelf before making a purchasing decision (Low & Davenport, 2005). In this time, they are likely not considering the details of each company, but rather choosing products based on the labels and taste preferences.
While people enjoy the idea of being an ethical consumer, they are not always willing to incur the additional costs associated with it. An average Taza chocolate bar sells for about $7.50, whereas a regular-sized Hershey’s bar sells for about $1.00 (“TAZA Chocolate”, 2012; “The Hershey’s Company”, n.d.). This is a significant gap between prices. This means that there has to be additional incentives to purchase fair trade chocolate. As such, in order to compete with the sales of the Big 5 companies, fair trade companies like Taza need to be able to effectively advertise their products to the public.
If we look to the success of companies like Hershey’s, it has become such an iconic brand in the USA because they are able to align themselves with mainstream values. This is commonly displayed in their advertisements as they integrate elements of taste and pleasure to create a sense of desire among consumers. That way, consumers are primed to crave Hershey’s chocolate before they even step into the store.
For example, in their S’mores Around The Campfire commercial, it takes a popular social gathering and makes it seem more appealing with the addition of a Hershey’s chocolate bar.
The ad features adults and children, all smiling, and sitting around a campfire enjoying a s’more that is made complete with a Hershey bar. It plays on elements of taste by capturing people biting into the s’more as well as showing close up shots of the construction of the s’more. Even though it’s only a 15 second clip, it builds an association with a pleasurable event that consumers can draw on when making purchasing decisions.
If fair trade chocolate companies could integrate similar marketing strategies, consumers could build positive associations with the product, which would ultimately increase the likelihood of buying their products. As of now, Taza chocolate company does market their brand in some respects. They have online videos that are meant to increase brand awareness and make consumers aware of their story.
These videos are targeted toward the ethical consumer and are meant primarily to be educational. In the first video, the viewer is taken through a brief story of the creation of Taza chocolate. This video is interesting as there is no script, just festive music playing in the background.
The second video, on the other hand, focuses on children and educates them on the processes that go into making the chocolate. Both these videos were likely created with the intention of raising awareness and maintaining their image of transparency.
However, both these videos lack the psychological elements that implicitly draw consumers to chocolate. David Benton (2004) states that the consumption and craving for chocolate is highly psychological. Eating chocolate is a very emotional process and is often craved due to its association with mood elevation (Benton, 2004). Given this knowledge, it seems as though the implementation of psychological elements in advertising is necessary to attract a wide consumer-base.
In sum, the increase in direct trade initiatives is positively impacting the cacao-supply chain in numerous ways. Companies, such as Taza Chocolate, have been able to generate more interest in ethically sourced cacao and sustain relationships with their cacao-supplying nations. However, while fair trade companies excel at portraying these efforts to consumers, they lack in their ability to directly relate and incentivize their brands over others. Since marketing and advertising has a tremendous effect on consumer purchasing decisions, improving in this area would likely lessen the discrepancy in profits between the Big 5 chocolate companies and fair trade companies. Thus, the ability to influence consumer decisions plays a big role in the success of chocolate companies, and is an area that is lacking in the fair trade industry.
- Barrientos, S. (2006). Transformation of Global Food: Opportunities and Challenges for Fair and Ethical Trade. In Ethical sourcing in the global food system. Sterling, VA: Earthscan.
- Benton, D. (2004). The Biology and Psychology of Chocolate Craving. Nutrition, Brain and Behavior, 205-218.
- Chocolate Products, Recipes, Nutrition Information. (n.d.). Retrieved May 1, 2015, from http://www.hersheys.com
- Low, W., & Davenport, E. (2006). Has the medium (roast) become the message?: The ethics of marketing fair trade in the mainstream. International Marketing Review, 494-511. Retrieved May 1, 2015, from http://www.emeraldinsight.com.ezp-prod1.hul.harvard.edu/doi/full/10.1108/02651330510624354
- Martin, C. (2015, March 9). The rise of big chocolate and race for the global market. AAAs 119x: Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food . Lecture conducted from , Cambridge.
- Martin, C. (2015, March 25). Modern Day Slavery. AAAS 119x: Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food . Lecture conducted from , Cambridge.
- Martin, C. (2015, April 6). Alternative trade and virtuous localization/globalization. AAAS 119x: Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food . Lecture conducted from , Cambridge.
- Taza Chocolate | stone ground chocolate. (2012). Retrieved May 1, 2015, from http://www.tazachocolate.com
- Curious George Visits The Chocolate Factory, 2010. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MY_wD10tszA
- Hershey’s “S’mores Around the Campfire” Commercial, 2014. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hGRAmQeu2xo
- Taza Workers and Cacao Farmers, Image http://www.tazachocolate.com/documents/image/DirectTrade.jpg
- The Taza Chocolate Story, 2012. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7tcA51tUOxU