Candy Bar Culture

Candy Bar Culture

Chocolate is very popular. In the 2014/2015 cacao year, 4201 thousand tons of cacao were produced globally[1]. Unfortunately, unfair labor practices abound within the chocolate industry. And because of the casual chocolate culture- dominated by cheap candy bars – these unfair labor practices will be difficult to move away from.

Chocolate hasn’t always been treated casually. As explained in The True History of Chocolate, “In the New World that gave [chocolate] birth, this seed was so valuable as a foodstuff, as a currency, and as a religious symbol that the literature about it is unrivalled in quantity and diversity by writings about any other American plant which made the journey to the Old World” (p. 17). Later, in Baroque Europe, drinking chocolate was elaborately prepared and linked with the nobility and ecclesiastical.[2]

A portrait of the family of the Duke of Penthievre drinking chocolate.91-000374-02_small

source: http://100chefsdoeuvre.versaillesarras.com/index.php/en/oeuvres-salles/major-artworks/387-the-family-of-the-duke-of-penthievre

But as the demand for chocolate grew and technology advanced, chocolate transitioned from a celebrated rarity into a “solid food for the masses”[3].  A Bloomberg Business article reveals the top 5 best selling candies (not including gum) in America today:

5.Kit Kat (annual U.S. sales: $198.9 million)

4.Snickers (annual U.S. sales: $441.1 million)

3. Hersheys (annual U.S. sales: $475 million)

2.Reese’s (annual U.S. sales: $516.5 million)

1. M and M’s (annual U.S. sales: $637.2 million)[4]

There’s no question that candy bars and similar, cheap chocolates now dominate the American chocolate experience. Chocolate countlines (chocolate covered bars, like Snickers) and chocolate straightlines (small identical items, like M and Ms) make up over 80% of the confectionery market[5]:

U.S. Chocolate marketConfectionery-Category-Segmentationsource: http://www.mechtron.com/blog/challenges-for-chocolate-brands/                                    

Clearly, the candy bar and similar cheap chocolates’ ubiquity in the United States creates a conception of chocolate as something cheap and casual. People associate “chocolate” with the dollar treat (Snickers bars are 89 cents at Target[6]) that gets picked up by bored shoppers waiting in line. This is very different from the ritual and festivity that surrounded chocolate in Baroque Europe and Mesoamerica.

As long as a large percentage of chocolate is viewed in the same, casual way as an 89-cent Snickers bar, the push towards ethical chocolate production will have very little success. The major players in the chocolate candy bar business rely on cheap cacao to keep their prices low. And this cheap cacao is often produced through the use of unethical business practices like child labor[7].

Labor-Abuse-Countries

source: http://blogs.baruch.cuny.edu/mgt4880hershey/files/2013/04/Labor-Abuse-Countries.png

In order to change the behavior of large chocolate companies, people must care about chocolate again. But for this, we must move away from the cheap, convenient, and consequence-free perception of chocolate that accompanies our current candy bar culture.

 

Sources:

[1] ICCO Quarterly Bulletin of Cocoa Statistics, Vol. XLI, No. 4, Cocoa year 2014/15

[2] Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1996. Print.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Arndt, Michael. “America’s 25 Favorite Candies: Kit Kat.” Bloomberg.com. Bloomberg, 14 Oct. 2009. Web. 10 Mar. 2016.

[5] Haasch, Karianna. “Challenges for Chocolate Brands.” Mechtronics. Mechtronics, 17 Feb. 2015. Web. 10 Mar. 2016.

[6] “Snickers Candy Bar 2.07 Oz.” Target. Target, n.d. Web. 13 Mar. 2016.

[7] The True History of Chocolate.

 

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