Chocolate is defined as “a preparation of the seeds of cacao, roasted, husked, and ground, often sweetened and flavored, as with sugar and vanilla” (Martin Lecture 1/28). There are many different ways to prepare chocolate, as different companies and chocolate producers use different methods to create their delicious treat. To investigate the different ways that companies prepared chocolate, I hosted a chocolate tasting for my friends. I went out and bought chocolate bars of different types and had some friends taste samples from each one. After asking them questions about what they tasted and which chocolate they preferred, their responses provided great insight about the goals of the chocolate production industry and why chocolate companies make chocolate the way they do. Their inclination towards sweeter but lower quality chocolate embody the shift to industrialization and mass production of chocolate. Companies display their quest for profit over quality of cacao in their chocolate by using more sugar and other ingredients that not only make their product cheaper to make, but also have addictive properties that have their consumers craving for more.
When I gathered my friends together, I had them sample from three distinct different bars: Hershey’s (shown above), Milky Way (shown further up), and Lindt dark chocolate. I removed the chocolate from their wrappers and put the pieces into cups, and I refrained from telling my friends what type of chocolate they were eating in an effort to prevent any previous bias from entering the discussion. I then asked them questions about what they noticed about the tastes, which chocolate they felt was the highest quality, and which of the three chocolates they preferred overall. My friends all pointed out the same differences in tastes between the three bars. Everyone immediately noticed that Milky Way had other food wrapped inside it besides chocolate, and one friend asked me why I even included it in my samples if it was not even pure chocolate. Everyone also noticed that the Lindt chocolate tasted bitterer than the other two, and they also pointed out that Hershey’s had the milky taste and most claimed that it was definitely the sweetest of the three bars. When asked about which bar they thought was the highest quality, the majority claimed that they thought Lindt was the highest quality, with a couple saying they believed Hershey’s was the highest quality. When asked about which chocolate they think tastes the best, all but one chose Hershey’s or Milky Way (I do have one friend who I know prefers dark chocolate over other chocolates and therefore preferred the Lindt bar). When I asked them for more detail about why they leaned towards Hershey’s or Milky Way, the common response was that the sweetness of both candy bars swayed them. One friend even cited Hershey’s milky taste as the main reason for his preference.
Once they gave their responses, I began to see how their preferred choice of chocolate exemplified how “Big Chocolate” companies shifted towards industrialization and mass production as part of their effort to make a profit. Hershey’s, for example, has always prided themselves on the industrialization and assembly line techniques that they brought into their chocolate production, as shown above (Martin Lecture 3/9). The shift to industrialization did not just allow them to make their chocolate at a faster pace; it also allowed them to make chocolate using less labor, which lowered their cost of production and increased their profits. Mars (the company who produces Milky Way) also prioritizes making a profit in their chocolate production. Both Hershey’s and Mars utilize less cacao in their products than finer chocolatiers such as Lindt. The Lindt dark chocolate bar (shown below) contained 85% cacao, which is much higher than percentages that Big Chocolate companies will use in their chocolate. Hershey’s, for example, has 11% cacao in its traditional milk chocolate bar. Mars, on the other hand, has caramel and other fillings inside the bar, with chocolate wrapped around. This allowed Mars to lower their cost of production as well, as the Milky Way bar requires less chocolate than usual to make a bar as a result of the caramel fillings.
This difference in cacao percentage helps account for the differences in tastes that my friends noticed between Lindt, Hershey’s, and Mars. The very high percentage in cacao in the Lindt chocolate bar lead to the bitterer taste. Lindt prides themselves on their gourmet chocolate, as they prioritize having the “finest cacao beans” in all of their chocolate products (Story of Lindt). The sweet, lighter taste in the Hershey’s bar is the result of more sugar being used than cacao, and also as a result of the use of milk; Hershey’s light taste especially noticed by one of my friends is caused by the fermentation of milk fat in its production, which was used at Hershey’s inception because the taste it caused distinguished American chocolate from chocolate produced in other countries (D’Antonio 108). The Milky Way bar created by Mars also uses chocolate with less cacao, and even goes to the point of using less chocolate in a bar by filling its center with caramel and other sweet fillings. With the chocolate bar designed this way, the person tasting a Milky Way still gets a strong taste of chocolate and sweetness without having as much overall chocolate in the bar (Brenner 54-55). Thus, it made sense that I had a friend ask me why I even included the Milky Way bar in the tasting, as it is not entirely made of chocolate (that friend actually said the Milky Way was his favorite though!).
Why do Hershey’s and Mars place such a high emphasis on sugar and sweetness in their chocolate production and not as much on cacao? Sugar is known as being a fairly cheap way to give food a great sweet taste. Historically, families with lower income often buy foods that are high in sugar once sugar became more available to people of all social classes as sugar allows those families a cheap way to flavor their food (Mintz). Thus, Hershey’s and Mars take full advantage of sugar’s relative low price to provide a sweeter flavor to their chocolate, and it could be seen when my friends tasted both chocolate bars and pointed out that those two bars were much sweeter than the Lindt dark chocolate bar. This theme of sugar being a cheaper food also ties into most of my friends concluding that the Lindt dark chocolate bar was the highest quality chocolate bar of the three. Even though most of my friends preferred Hershey’s or Mars over Lindt, they all concluded that Lindt is a higher quality, likely because Lindt has less of an emphasis on sugar in their dark chocolate products, as seen in the ad below: “Lindt Excellence, a gourmet chocolate that is prepared by selecting the world’s finest cacao beans and creating the finest textures, lingering tastes, and elegant flavors chocolate can offer.”
Another important and often overlooked aspect on why chocolate companies such as Mars and Hershey’s utilize sugar in their products, and potentially why the majority of my friends preferred those two brands, is that sugar also has addictive properties similar to a drug. By sweetening their chocolate with more sugar and having less cacao percentage, Hershey’s and Mars are creating a product that will leave their consumers craving for more (Mintz). With this knowledge in mind, it makes sense that almost all of my friends stated that they preferred Milky Way or Hershey’s over the Lindt dark chocolate bar. I also saw this aspect when I finished the tasting; I had some leftover pieces from all three chocolates and offered the remainders to my friends to take with them, and the majority of them (other than my friend who revealed that she preferred dark chocolate) went for the Hershey’s or Milky Way. Not only do Hershey’s and Mars save money when using more sugar over cacao in their products, but they also gain additional profit from sugar’s addictive properties.
Looking back at my friend’s reactions from my chocolate tasting, it was interesting to see so many themes and trends appear that signify how Big Chocolate companies sacrifice less quality cacao in their products in order to make a profit. Mars was the highest profiting chocolate manufacturer in 2014, with $18.5 billion in sales, while Hershey’s was also near the top at $7.4 billion in sales (icco.org). Lindt, which specializes in gourmet chocolate and prides themselves on the quality of the cacao in their brand, does not appear on any list of chocolate companies that make the highest profit. When taking into account my friends’ reactions and their chocolate preferences based on the three choices, the Big Chocolate quest for profit became clear. The use of more sugar in Hershey’s and Milky Way compared to Lindt’s dark chocolate is both a result of sugar being cheaper than cacao and also leading to consumers such as my friends desiring more due to sugar’s addictive properties. Lindt’s dark chocolate is not as preferred as much by the majority of my friends but its bitter taste and lack of sugar causes them to think that it was the higher quality chocolate. With a greater understanding of the history of chocolate, the companies, and the production techniques that come into play, just observing my friends and their reactions to different chocolates provided great insight into the chocolate industry.
Brenner, Joel Glenn. “Chapter 5: To the Milky Way and Beyond.” The Emperors of Chocolate: Inside the Secret World of Hershey and Mars. New York: Random House, 1999. Print.
“The Chocolate Industry.” International Cocoa Organization. ICCO, 23 Jan. 2015. Web. 4 May 2015. <http://www.icco.org/about-cocoa/chocolate-industry.html>.
D’Antonio, Michael. “Chapter 7: “Here There Will Be No Unhappiness”” Hershey: Milton S. Hershey’s Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2006. Print.
Martin, Carla. “Lecture 2: Introduction.” AAS119x. Emerson Hall, Cambridge, MA. 28 Jan. 2015. Lecture.
Martin, Carla. “Lecture 12: The Rise of Big Chocolate and Race for the Global Market.” AAS119x. Emerson Hall, Cambridge, MA. 9 March. 2015. Lecture.
Mintz, Sidney. Sweetness and Power. Penguin Group: New York. 1985.
“The Story of Lindt.” Lindt Chocolate. CrossView, Inc., 1 Jan. 2013. Web. 2 May 2015. <http://www.lindtusa.com/shop/story-of-lindt>.