Comparing Brands and Products Found at Chain Stores

As we’ve discussed this semester, throughout history, chocolate has grown from a form of currency in Mesoamerica, to a drink for the elite in Europe, into the solid form we know and love today that makes up the chocolate industry that brings in an estimated 110 billion dollars every year, according to “Cocoa-nomics”, a CNN article that is apart of their CNN Freedom Project. This industry is made up of large manufacturing companies, such as Hershey and Mars, chocolatiers (who use already-made chocolate to create something new), and craft chocolate makers, who are small companies and are usually bean-to-bar manufacturers. All three types produce chocolate that is, in most cases, distributed nationally, or even internationally, but there are a few companies that only sell locally. Most big name chain stores like CVS, Wal-Mart, and 7-11 carry only the chocolate made by the “big five” manufacturing conglomerates: Hershey, Mars, Ferrero, Cadbury, and Nestle, and possibly a few various other smaller, yet still internationally recognizable, brands. One would be hard-pressed to find chocolate from craft chocolate manufacturers in big chain stores, however, some national stores that pride themselves on stocking smaller, more socially conscious brands, such as Whole Foods and Central Market, will carry products from these craft chocolate companies. My goal was to analyze the selection of chocolate that a local brand name store, in this case CVS, carried and what kinds of different aspects of each brand I noticed when looking at them.

Walking into a chain store like CVS, it is easy to spot the candy aisle with a broad assortment of candies, and more specifically, chocolates that people have come to be familiar with. At first glance, there are dozens of options for one to choose from, whether it is Kit Kat, Milky Way, Toblerone, or one of many other choices offered; however, after a quick glance at the back of the wrapper, it is possible to see that almost all of the available choices are all made by the same two or three companies. Milky Way, Twix, Three Musketeers, Dove, and M&M are all manufactured by Mars Inc., while Kit Kat, Reese’s, Whoppers, Symphony, and others are manufactured by Hershey. That represents a large portion of chocolate that people consume, and it’s all made by only two companies, so while there is an illusion of choice when it comes to chocolate, it is an industry consistently dominated by two or three companies. The companies that have established themselves as the major players in the chocolate industry have, without coincidence, been in business since the very early days of solid chocolate, and in some cases like Nestle and Lindt, have invented the processes that made some of the products that are popular today possible. Hershey and Mars have a long history between them, and actually used to be allies before becoming big rivals in the industry. In The Emperors of Chocolate: Inside the Secret World of Hershey and Mars, by Joël Glenn Brenner, he details the little known trading of information between the two companies during World War II which changed the chocolate landscape forever. Hershey sent technology and information to Mars (for M&M’s) in order to help them manufacture for the military, but Mars “exploited the opportunity. Brenner notes that, “Few people outside the industry are aware of this part of M&M’s success. Neither company is quick to advertise it. But the truth is, the histories of these two industry rivals are closely intertwined,” and goes on to make the bold claim that, “one could argue that Mars would not have succeeded without Hershey, and vice versa” (Brenner 48).

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While the “big five” companies have been around for close to a century, if not longer, last few decades has brought about the rise of craft chocolate makers, who also benefit from the rise of both social and health consciousness. While each company has a different reason for doing what they do, craft companies have caught on with customers who strive to make an impact on changing how the chocolate and food industry treats both laborers and the environment. A Washington Post article detailed the founding of several different craft chocolate companies and the reasons behind each, and each had different motivations for why they decided to start making chocolate. Adam Kavalier, who launched Undone Chocolate with his wife, wanted to merge his knowledge of science with his love for chocolate. According to the article, Kavalier, who has a PhD in plant biochemistry, “started looking at the chemical makeup of chocolate using a process called mass spectrometry. He has placed an emphasis on antioxidants and on determining how the type of bean and the way it’s treated affect the amount of antioxidants that end up in the chocolate.” He took his expertise from his educational background and turned it into a successful craft chocolate company. Another example from the Washington Post article was that, “When Colin and Sarah Hartman, the married co-founders of Concept C, decided to launch their brand, they had a different health interest in mind: that of the rain forests in Sarah’s native Brazil.” They both were in graduate school together at Penn, Sarah for sustainability, Colin for business, and came up with an idea to use chocolate to help create environmental sustainability and restoration of the rain forests in Brazil, where they frequently travel to do research and build their brand.

Although the same few companies make all of these popular chocolate products found in stores, one thing that is interesting to note from these different brands is how they are marketed to their target audience. For instance, although M&M’s and Dove Chocolates are both manufactured by Mars, Dove is branded as a smoother, more elegant, higher class product (which is reflected by the price point), whereas M&M’s are more of an everyman’s candy, good for any type of person or event, and it is a lower price point which goes hand-in-hand with how it is marketed. I noticed that the products that were branded with a sense of high class to them (Cadbury Chocolate, for example) were also priced higher than the standard, familiar products. The marketing and packaging of these products was one of the main factors in determining at what kind of price point they were available to consumers.

Cadbury Milk Cadbury 73.4¢/oz
Symphony Hershey 55.8¢/oz
Hershey’s Milk Hershey 53.9¢/oz
Hershey’s White Hershey 59.3¢/oz
Russell Stover Assrmt. Russell Stover 83.3¢/oz
Lindt Assorted Lindt 210¢/oz
Ghirardelli Caramel Ghirardelli 109¢/oz
Milky Way Mars 46.7¢/oz

As one can see from this chart, the companies that do a very good job of branding themselves as luxury, high class brands (i.e. Ghirardelli and Lindt), are able to price their products a little higher than normal because they have done a great job marketing their product as superior and very fine. Also to be noted from this chart is the fact that two companies that pride themselves on signature packaging, Russell Stover and Cadbury, with the packaged boxes and purple wrappers, respectively, were able to also have their prices be higher than the standard chocolate bar manufactured by Hershey’s or Mars. Those two companies, two of the biggest chocolate producers in the world, sell enough chocolate by sheer volume that they don’t depend on the higher price points in order to gain revenue, like a Ghirardelli might. This means that their packaging and branding is able to be a little more “common” and less flashy and convincing because their brands are well-known enough to sell without those things. The packaging of these products from the “big five” found in stores like CVS is very different from bars we have in class seen from smaller, craft companies. Only one bar in the store had any reference to their process for making the chocolate, and that was Ghirardelli, and none of the bars examined had any mention of where their cacao beans came from or whether or not they were from Fair Trade production.

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The packaging details the process which we learned in class, from selecting beans all the way to conching, in order to get the texture and melting right on the finished product. Many craft chocolate companies include where they get their beans and advertise the fact that they value social issues like workers’ rights and the environmental impact of their manufacturing, but information on those things were nowhere to be found on the packaging of the large brands’ products. They don’t need to sell their brand on those specific things like certain craft companies do to attract a niche group of customers, so they leave it off their packaging. Despite this omission on their packaging, on Mars.com and Thehersheycompany.com, the official websites of Mars and Hershey, respectively, they do have sections where they describe what kinds of efforts they make to ensure both environmental sustainability and human rights. In this day and age, it is demanded of companies to be open and transparent in their business practices in order to show their customers and the chocolate/food community that they are proponents of Fair Trade practices.

Wrapping up (no pun intended), I think that while there is an appearance of diversity within the chocolate, a lot of the products that people see everyday and have come to know and enjoy are really under the manufacturing umbrella of the same two or three companies. The main takeaway from the analysis of the chocolate selection at a big chain store like CVS, is that a large part of the differential in price comes from how the brand chooses to market and package its products. This is why the advertising aspect of the chocolate industry is so crucial to a company and product’s success, and also why their ads come under so much scrutiny to get them perfect. Smaller, craft companies are very likely to use their morals and values to attract a certain customer base, whereas the established, big name brands have more success playing to the strength of their brands to sell product. Overall, the products tasted a very similar quality, and the price point is really a reflection of how the companies choose to brand, market, and advertise their products.

Works Cited

Brenner, Joël Glenn. The Emperors of Chocolate: Inside the Secret World of Hershey and Mars. New York: Random House, 1999. Print.

Krystal, Becky. “Washington’s Craft Chocolate Industry Continues to Grow.” Washington Post 10 Feb. 2015: n. pag. Washington Post. Web.

Schumm, Laura. “The Wartime Origins of the M&M.” History Channel. N.p., 2 June 2014. Web. 6 May 2015.

Torre, Inez, and Bryony Jones. “Cocoa-nomics.” CNN. N.p., 27 Feb. 2014. Web.

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