Chocolate is a delicious commodity enjoyed throughout the world. However, chocolate tastes and consumption patterns vary from region to region. For example, chocolate produced for Americans is often made very sweet, contains less cacao and cocoa butter, and many times becomes an impulse buy or guilty pleasure. Chocolate is also heavily marketed towards children in the United States, and most of the chocolate consumed by Americans is from Big Chocolate companies such as Hershey. However, in many European countries, chocolate is often more luxurious and rich, is complemented with a variety of fruity and spicy flavors, and is marketed more towards the adult population. In addition, European chocolate is often more expensive given its target audience and higher cacao content. It is important to note that each country within Europe makes chocolate slightly different and has its own unique consumption trends, but in general, most European chocolate is made with more sophistication and higher quality ingredients when compared to American chocolate which is often heavily corporatized and mass-produced. The differences between American and European chocolate are so stark that we can even witness them when comparing the chocolate found in international stores in the United States to the chocolate sold in American grocery stores. For the purposes of this paper, the chocolate sold in Cardullo’s and CVS will be compared and contrasted in order to demonstrate the differences between European and American chocolate. It will be argued that variations in ingredients, target audiences, and packaging are what influence and distinguish European and American chocolate tastes, advertising, and consumption trends.
Cardullo’s is a gourmet shop in Harvard Square that sells food ranging from fresh deli meats to jams to dried pasta. Many people, including myself, believe that the store is meant to be reflective of a European shop or cafe because the store sells mainly imported brands and gives off an international vibe with its rustic and crowded interior. What is interesting is that the only thing I have ever purchased from Cardullo’s has been chocolate, and when I revisited the store this past week I realized why: their chocolate selection is outstanding! Moreover, four out of the five times I bought chocolate from Cardullo’s, the chocolate wasn’t even for me, it was meant to be a gift for someone else.
When I think about why I chose Cardullo’s for the chocolate gifts, it was because I wanted my present to feel unique, luxurious, and thoughtful. I was not about to buy someone special a plain Hershey’s bar or a bag of Reese’s. I knew that Cardullo’s sold European chocolate brands and felt that European chocolate was high quality. I feel that this is a common perception, that European chocolate is more luxurious and better than American chocolate. This bias may be based on the idea that European chocolate often contains more cacao and cocoa butter than American chocolate, which is considered a sign of quality. This is because the United States only requires its chocolate to contain 10% cacao, while in Europe to be considered “chocolate”, a bar must be at least 20% cacao (Gourmet Boutique). Many argue that American chocolate producers care more about cost than quality when it comes to their chocolate which is why they use lower quality ingredients and mass-produce their chocolate unlike many European companies (Alberts and Cidell, 224). American chocolate companies using less cacao in their bars dates back to the beginnings of the Mars Company. Frank Mars tried several times to create a popular chocolate bar and eventually ran himself into debt (Brenner, 53). However, once he and his son invented the Milky Way in 1923 (which is chocolate nugget covered in a thin layer of chocolate) the company’s costs of production fell drastically because the bars contained less cacao (Brenner, 54-55). The bars immediately became popular because they were larger and cheaper than the other current chocolate bar at the time, Hershey’s (Brenner, 55). It was partially Mar’s usage of a cheaply made filled bar that led other American chocolate producers to try to use less cacao in their bars. The fact that the Hershey company mass-manufactured and got people habituated to milk chocolate with less cacao may be another reason why Americans accept chocolate with a lower cacao content today.
Getting back to the matter at hand, the imported chocolate at Cardullo’s did contain a significant amount of cacao, the lowest cacao content I saw being 23% in a standard chocolate bar. Most of the imported European chocolate also highlighted the cacao percentage on the front of their packaging, which is something I do not recall being included on most American-produced chocolate wrappers (see Figure 1 below). This marketing tactic enables European chocolate producers to tout the high levels of cacao they are using (Wolke).
I remember that selecting the chocolate gifts at Cardullo’s was extremely difficult because of the wide variety of chocolate brands and flavors they sold. On one occasion, I had trouble deciding and ended up buying five bars each with a different flavor: chili with cherry, dark milk, 88% dark, orange, and sea salt caramel. Upon revisiting the shop, I re-discovered some of these specific chocolate bars whose brands were Chocolat Bonnat (France), Valrhona (France), and Dolfin (Belgium). What enticed me about these particular bars were their intriguing flavors, some of which I had never seen before. Most of the flavors in Cardullo’s chocolate include nuts, spices, or fruits, which is actually common for European chocolate and contrasts with American chocolate which is usually complemented with caramel, nugget, and other sugary fillings. These more savory flavors used in European chocolate tie back to the Mesoamerican origins of chocolate. In fact, several scholars believe that “Europeans developed a taste for Indian chocolate, and they sought to recreate the indigenous chocolate experience” (Norton). These scholars also claim that this “cross-culturalization of taste” led Europeans to develop an appetite for spices and vanilla (Norton).
I also chose the bars because they had intricate and fancy wrappers that made the chocolate look expensive. These fancy wrappers are probably a marketing ploy, again to promote the perception that European chocolate is higher in quality and more glamorous. This perceived quality is also probably factored into the price of the chocolate because the chocolate bars were not the cheapest. The price of chocolate sold at Cardullo’s ranges from $5-$65 with the pricier chocolate items being gift baskets and large boxes of chocolates. To me, the prices are justified by the fact that the chocolate is imported and because of the customer base of the shop. Whether Cardullo’s intends to attract older people or not, their clientele is mainly working men and women and arguably international students. It is understandable that middle aged and older people visit this store: they can afford the food and have more singular tastes. It is also interesting to note that chocolate is mainly marketed towards adults in Europe which may be why it is more expensive and takes on a more sophisticated look (Graham).
European chocolate has not always been luxurious or marketed in this way, especially in France. Today, France creates some of the most artistic, romanticized, and well-known chocolate in the world, but this was not always the case (Terrio, 10). Until the 1970s, French confections were very traditional and quite plain. But towards the 1980s, French chocolatiers wanted to re-brand their chocolate and make it more of a specialty item. In order to do this, they began distinguishing themselves from pastry makers and confectioners, created a new taste standard for bitter dark chocolate, worked with the government and local authorities to establish themselves, and looked to the past to make sure their chocolate had cultural authenticity and didn’t appear mass-produced (Terrio, 12-15). Finally by 1990, French chocolatiers were being recognized as craftsmen and artisans for their authentic and creative work. The French chocolatiers were ultimately able to establish themselves because they placed a tremendous amount of time and effort into making small-batch chocolate which contrasted the mass-production and lower quality work conducted at larger chocolate factories and companies at the time (Terrio, 30-35). Nowadays, there are several fine French chocolate makers such as Valrhona and Bonnat.
Some of my concluding observations about Cardullo’s were that the store mainly sells its chocolates in single bar form as compared to in bulk, but also sells several chocolate confections such as bonbons and truffles. During my revisit, I also made sure to check the sugar content, fat content, and cacao content of many of the bars in the shop in order to compare them to the chocolate bars in CVS. Finally, on my way out, I asked an employee what chocolate he preferred, European or American. He quickly replied, “European of course! It is much more creamy and rich, and I am pretty sure it doesn’t contain weird ingredients like those used in Hershey’s”. Another employee chimed in saying, “It is definitely the smoothness that distinguishes the two”. This smoothness probably derives from the European’s use of extra cocoa butter, or can be attributed to the fact that Europeans (especially the Swiss) prefer smoother chocolate so they conche their chocolate for longer (Presilla, 126). Studies have found that American chocolate companies typically conche their chocolate for 18-20 hours, whereas Western European chocolate companies conche for 72 hours (Alberts and Cidell, 222).
Now onto CVS. CVS is a large drug store chain that offers everyday use items from beauty supplies to medications to snacks. When it comes to chocolate, American CVSs have a surprisingly decent selection. However, most of the chocolate sold is from Big Chocolate brands such as Mars, Nestle, and Hershey, which can be found in most convenience stores. CVS also carries some semi-luxurious brands such as Lindt and Godiva (both European brands), but on a small scale. Walking down the candy aisle at CVS was a much different experience than at Cardullo’s. For one, I actually felt quite overwhelmed by the bright packaging of the chocolate (a common color theme was using yellow or red). I also noticed that most of the chocolate brands used animated lettering on their wrappers. This eye-catching color scheme and lettering clearly contrasted Cardullo’s calm and intricate chocolate packaging and is most likely to attract children (see Figure 2 below). To reiterate, in the United States, chocolate companies often target children in their advertisements. As a side note, chocolate marketing towards children is actually a highly controversial topic, as it takes advantage of children’s developmental vulnerabilities and may be contributing to the childhood obesity epidemic (Martin).
Moreover, just like at Cardullo’s, the price of the chocolate at CVS is probably influenced by its targeted population and the type of people who visit the store. Since American chocolate is mainly marketed to children in the US, and CVS seems to be a weekly stop for the average person, it makes sense that their chocolate prices are extremely reasonable, ranging from $1-$15. This affordability allows the chocolate to be an impulse or everyday purchase. Another thing that somewhat differed between Cardullo’s and CVS chocolate was its placement in the store. The Cardullo’s chocolate was on the wall sort of close to the register as was the CVS chocolate, but CVS also had a row of chocolate bars right under the register to entice impulse buyers. Chocolate is considered to be more of a guilty pleasure or impulse purchase in America versus in Europe where people eat chocolate more regularly. This is because in Europe chocolate is viewed as a food rather than an indulgence (Alberts and Cidell, 224). This is also revealed in reports showing that Europeans consume about half of the world’s chocolate whereas the United States only consumes about 20% (CNN’s “Who consumes the most chocolate?”). This trend is possible because many European countries consume more chocolate per capita than the US (see Figure 3 below). Furthermore, in CVS the chocolate treats were mainly in bar form, were often sold in bulk, and did not come in luxury forms such as bonbons or truffles, again speaking to the target audience’s tastes and trends. This yet again reveals that American chocolate producers value cost over quality.
Finally, when examining the nutrition labels, it was evident that the chocolate in CVS contained more sugar, less fat from cocoa butter, and less cacao altogether. For example, a Cadbury Milk Bar from Cardullo’s contained 23% cacao, while a Hershey’s Bar from CVS only contained 11%. What was even more striking was when comparing the same Cadbury Milk Bars, an imported one from Cardullo’s and one from CVS, the nutrition facts and packaging were not equal (see Figure 4 below for a video of a family comparing the British Cadbury bar to the American one). It is also interesting to point out that the chocolate sold at Cardullo’s was mainly dark chocolate while CVS was capitalized by milk chocolate. This may be because children prefer sweeter milk chocolate to bitter dark chocolate which is a more acquired taste, or that dark chocolate is truer to the origin of chocolate which is why it is produced more often for European audiences. Regardless, this finding is not a coincidence in that Americans prefer lighter milk chocolate and Europeans prefer darker chocolate (Presilla, 119).
Figure 4: Video of a Family Trying a Cadbury Milk Bar from the UK vs. the US
In summary, I found Cardullo’s European chocolate and CVS’s American-produced chocolate to be radically different. What I discovered was that European chocolate contains more cacao, is occasionally complemented with unique spices and flavors, has more sophisticated packaging, and targets a more mature population. Moreover Europeans tend to prefer dark chocolate and consume chocolate more regularly than Americans. On the other hand, American-produced chocolate is sweeter with less cacao and more sugary fillings, utilizes bright and animated wrappers, is often mass-produced, and is marketed more towards children. With these differences in ingredients, packaging, and target audience, it is no wonder that European and American chocolate tastes, consumption trends, and advertising differ.
For added entertainment, click on this link to see a video of two British boys comparing American and British chocolate bars: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cyD74bJJOTk
Alberts, Heike C., and Julie L. Cidell. “Chocolate Consumption Manufacturing and Quality in Western Europe the United States.” Geography (2006): 218-226.
Brenner, Joel Glenn. The emperors of chocolate: Inside the secret world of Hershey and Mars. Broadway, 2000. 48-55.
Graham, Caroline. “Too Sweet, Too Cheap and Full of Ghastly Chemicals – Why Even Americans Can’t Stand American Chocolate.” Daily Mail. Associated Newspapers Ltd., 21 Nov. 2009. Web. 29 Apr. 2015. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1229924/Too-sweet-cheap-ghastly-chemicals–Americans-stand-American-chocolate.html.
Martin, Carla. “Race, Ethnicity, Gender, and Class in Chocolate Advertisements.” Class. Harvard University, Cambridge. 1 Apr. 2015. Lecture.
Norton, Marcy. “Tasting Empire: Chocolate and The European Internalization Of Mesoamerican Aesthetics.” The American Historical Review 111.3 (2006): 660-91. Web. 29 Apr. 2015. http://ahr.oxfordjournals.org/content/111/3/660.full.pdf html.
Presilla, Maricel E. The New Taste of Chocolate. Berkeley, California: Ten Speed Press, 2001. 119, 126.
Terrio, Susan Jane. Crafting the culture and history of French chocolate. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000. 1-40.
“Who Consumes the Most Chocolate?” CNN. 17 Jan. 2012. Web. 2 May 2015. http://thecnnfreedomproject.blogs.cnn.com/2012/01/17/who-consumes-the-most-chocolate/
Wolke, Robert. “Chocolate by the Numbers.” The Washington Post. 9 June 2004. Web. 2 May 2015. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A24276-2004Jun8.html
Figure 1: My personal IPhone at Cardullo’s and CVS
Figure 2: My personal IPhone at Cardullo’s and CVS
Figure 3: http://www.confectionerynews.com/Markets/Interactive-Map-Top-20-chocolate-consuming-nations-of-2012 (Accessed May 1, 2015)
Figure 4: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0cgDAQXZ-LA (Accessed April 29, 2015)