An Analysis of CVS’s Chocolate Displays and How They Affect Chocolate Consumption of Customers

Throughout the course, we have learned that the type of chocolate that we purchase and from whom plays a large role in the health of our body and of the sustainability of the supply chain. A large portion of the chain of events that gets the cacao beans from farms into the mouths of most chocolate consumers is heavily controlled by corporations. We have learned the role that advertising and chocolate conglomerates play in the consumption habits of chocolate, but a large role is also played by the stores which sell the chocolate. How the chocolate is presented in stores plays a large role in the consumption of chocolate as well. There is “strong evidence that people are influenced by marketing tactics in ways they cannot easily recognize or resist” (Cohen, e1). This paper will analyze how the 24-Hour CVS in Harvard Square displays their chocolate, as well as what motivations they may have behind their placement.

Harvard Square CVS
Harvard Square 24-Hour CVS

The 24 Hour CVS in Harvard Square has devoted its entire first floor of its establishment to selling food. Almost all of food sold in CVS is heavily processed and packaged food. The few fresh items that are sold in the store are in one refrigerated section of the store and they too are heavily packaged meant to be a quick grab and go selection.

The chocolate products that CVS sells has been divided up into three different sections of the store. Chocolate is displayed by the Cash Register, in a long main aisle, and in a “Premium Chocolate” section off of a side aisle.

The chocolate displayed by the cash register is in small package edges and in small individual bars which are clearly designed to be last minute additions to purchases by customers. This display is not purely just chocolate products but has other candy and gum mixed in with the chocolate. The display space near the cash register is considered to be some of the best space for impulse buys. In grocery stores, the space near cash registers is 1% of shelf space, but it accounts for 4% of its profit (Harwell).

Portion of Aisle Section

The Long Main Aisle Display is split into three sections: oversized bars, bagged candies, and resealable bagged candy. The oversized bars are clearly designed to be either for people who want more candy than what an individual bar from the cash register section would offer, but not quite as much as an entire bag of candy would offer.The bagged candies are for the most part individually wrapped and could be purchased by a customer for an event or to be shared in a candy dish. These are the cheapest  The resealable bags of candy are clearly designed for an individual or group to consume over time. The resealable bags were filled with smaller versions of candy labeled as “minis”, “drops”, “bites” or “pieces”. These words are clearly designed to portray that the candy you would consume from these bags is somehow less caloric or better than you because they are smaller portions. In theory, this is true because eating a Milky Way “bite” is way less than consuming an entire bar, but if a consumer consumes a significant amount of “bites”, they run the risk of consuming the same if not more than if they had just eaten a full size bar.  This section also contains candy explicitly marketed towards dieters, like the Skinny Cow brand which makes lower calorie candy through reducing the size and adding sugar substitutes.

CVS’s “Premium Chocolate” Dispaly

The Premium Chocolate Section is located at the end of the aisle that the budget chocolate was located on. Its display is clearly labeled as “premium chocolates”   Upon further inspection, the majority of the premium chocolates were produced by only 2 manufacturers Lindt and Ghirardelli. The premium chocolates come in much fancier packaging which is more structured and manufactured out of much nicer material than the aisle or cash register sections of chocolate. The design on the packaging is also much more simplistic. The middle section of the premium chocolates display is devoted to bagged and individually wrapped chocolates. Each brand has the exact same packaging and look to each bag of chocolate, with essentially only the color of the packaging changing between the different favors or types of chocolate. The lighter the type of chocolate the lighter the corresponding packaging is. For example, the white chocolate Lindt truffles come in a very light sky blue bag whereas the sixty percent cacao chocolate truffles come in a very dark brown bag with heavy shadowing. The pricing of the “Premium Chocolate” was, to be expected, the most expensive chocolate in the store. For example, the Lindt truffles are packaged in bulky packaging which obscures buyer from seeing the true amount of chocolate being purchased.  All of the chocolate found in the premium chocolate display comes from big manufacturers. While the premium chocolate is priced higher and of a higher quality than that of the aisle or  cash register displays, it is far from quality and price of the bars that we sampled throughout this course.

The Oversized bars were some of the lowest per unit priced of all the candy in the store. This may be attributable to the lowered packaging costs. The packaging for the bagged candies is most likely more because they are individually wrapped in addition to being bagged. The resealable bags are much sturdier and higher quality so they too were probably more expensive to produce.

Oversized Chocolate Bars
Oversized Chocolate Bars

It is important to note that while almost all other foods seem to be put in one section together. Chocolate is found in three different places throughout the store. The Premium, Cash Register, and Aisle displays seem to serve their own purpose. The three different display types described earlier seem to be very deliberate uses of space which targets different types of customers.

The Premium Chocolate section is located on the side on an aisle where people walk when they are trying to find what they are looking for. This seems to suggest that it is meant to be an impulse treat. The Premium chocolate display is designed to be discovered and purchased by someone who has not finished shopping and still has room both physically and price point wise in their cart. The Premium display is meant to attract the customer to purchase a product that he or she had “no intention of buying” (Bowlby, 212).

The Cash Register chocolate section is very clearly designed to be an impulse buy for customers who purchase items from it. It is something you are forced to look at while waiting for your turn in the cash register. The price point is very low which allows a customer to grab a bar or bag without adding that much to their final tally at the cash register. The size of the packaging and chocolate is also much smaller than those found in the aisle or premium displays, so a person can easily grab a treat with their free hand. This display is a classic example of “Impulse Marketing” which is a common tactic used in supermarkets to get unprepared customers to purchase things they hadn’t intentionally planned on purchasing (Cohen 2012,1381). Studies have shown that customers are tired of shopping by the time they reach the cash register and are thus “more vulnerable to displays at the cash register” (Cohen 2015, e2).

The Aisle chocolate display is the largest of displays in the 24 hours CVS, and it is the one you are directed to if you enter the store explicitly looking for chocolate. All of the chocolate displayed here, and in the rest of the store, is from one of the brands of the large chocolate manufacturers. The three chocolate displays of CVS do not contain fair trade products or other products which are considered to be more ethically sourced. The lack of these type of fancier and more ethically sourced products means that the decision to purchase ethically sourced chocolate is not in the hands of the customer, but rather it has already been made by CVS for them.

As a publicly traded corporation whose main, and frankly only objective, is to maximize profitability, it makes sense that CVS’s Chocolate Displays reflect that. The employment of impulse marketing techniques (such as having chocolate on the end of an aisle and by the cash register in addition to having it in an aisle) show that CVS, like other corporations whose stores sell food products, has a much larger effect on the amount and type of chocolate that consumers buy and consume then may appear at first glance.

Works Cited:

Bowlby, Rachel. “Sad hearts and supermarkets.” Textual Practice 11.2 (1997): 199-218.

Cohen, Deborah A., and Susan H. Babey. “Candy at the cash register—a risk factor for obesity and chronic disease.” New England Journal of Medicine 367.15 (2012): 1381-1383.

Cohen, Deborah A., et al. “Store Impulse Marketing Strategies and Body Mass Index.” American journal of public health 0 (2015): e1-e7.

Harwell, Drew. “Hershey on a Mission to Revive Impulse Chocolate Buying in US Supermarkets.” The Guardian. N.p., 3 Feb. 2015. Web.


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