Monthly Archives: April 2016

Savory Chocolate: Cacao as a Seasoning

Langouste au chocolate amer;” even those who speak no French can guess at the contents of this dish, and yet many Americans would find it unbelievable. Lobster and chocolate? Who would ever think to pair such ingredients? Certain chefs of haute cuisine, evidently, and they are not alone in this tendency (Terrio 58). Maricel Presilla gives a similar recipe, this time of Catalan origin – Langosta con Chocolate y Almendras – in her book The New Taste of Chocolate. She details chocolate’s inclusion in the picada, “an essential mixture of chopped nuts and herbs, added to saucy foods almost at the end of cooking for flavor and texture,” and explains that it has played an essential role in several Catalan dishes since the 1700s (Presilla 225). Cacao can add richness and flavor to savory dishes, but this is a foreign concept for most people today, largely because “chocolate” is now synonymous with “sweet.”

The marriage of cacao and sugar is so prevalent that many consumers cannot imagine anything different, but this was not always the case. The Mayans and the Aztecs drank a variety of cacao beverages, of which only a few were sweetened. The introduction of sugar to such drinks could not take place until after European conquest, as sugar cane is not native to Mesoamerica. It was in Europe that sugared chocolate took off, eventually growing to its ubiquitous current position. This confection holds a complex place in the modern American diet; on the one hand, most chocolates are loaded with sugar, making them a potential health risk. On the other, in recent years cacao has been touted as a health food thanks to some studies, notably that conducted on the Kuna people of Panama by Norman Hollenberg (Presilla 57). Although divorcing cacao from sugar would certainly make chocolate healthier, the actual benefits conferred by cacao are still debated, complicating the health food argument. Perhaps we should eschew that reasoning, then, and instead focus on cacao for its flavor rather than its antioxidants or phenylethylamine content. Outside of Mesoamerica, much of the world has lost the knowledge of cacao as a seasoning, as a flavorful component in its own right that adds not sweetness but depth to a dish. By separating cacao from sugar, consumers can gain a greater appreciation of the beans themselves, of their quality and unique tastes, thus opening up a whole new type of cuisine to be explored.

Modern chocolate – with very few exceptions – is sweetened; it can be consumed in a

Although this bar incorporates a savory ingredient, it is still meant as a sweet treat; the first ingredient is sugar, setting it apart from the unsweetened cacao dishes eaten by the Maya

number of forms, from cakes to mousses to bars, but all of these, even when flavored with more “creative” ingredients like spices or even bacon (as pictured right), contain sugar. It thus seems rather one-dimensional in comparison to ancient Mayan and Aztec recipes, for, as Coe and Coe report, “Pre-Conquest chocolate was not a single concoction to be drunk; it was a vast and complex array of drinks, gruels, porridges, powders, and probably solid substances, to all of which could be added a wide variety of flavorings” (Coe and Coe Ch.2, “Lords of the Forest”). There was no one standardized preparation, no single ingredient present in all cacao dishes. Hieroglyphs on Maya artifacts, particularly on vases and deep bowls believed to have held cacao drinks (as shown below left),

rio azul
Discovered at the Rio Azul site, this vessel shows some of the “recipe” glyphs inscribed onto Mayan cacao-drinking ware. The glyph for cacao is apparent in the grayscale image just under the left side of the handle, and looks a bit like a fish

often include “recipe” glyphs detailing the specific contents of a particular vessel (Coe and Coe Ch.2, “Lords of the Forest). These recipes can differ tremendously, showcasing the diversity in Pre-Conquest cacao consumption. Elements of these early cacao drinks remain with some Maya descendants today, especially those recipes combining corn, water, and cacao into a type of gruel. The video below gives an example of one such modern preparation, complete with grinding the cacao beans on a metate as the ancient Maya would have done. The sweetness we now associate with chocolate, then, does not stem from its earliest consumers – Europeans were the ones to popularize sugar in chocolate.



Chocolate’s transformation from the drink of the Mayans and the Aztecs to the sweetened confection we now know happened largely in Europe after the 16th century. Marcy Norton argues that it was a slow evolution, that colonizers actually “unwittingly developed a taste for Indian chocolate” and that the move to sweet chocolate was the result of “a gradual process of change linked to the technological and economic challenges posed by long-distance trade” (Norton 660). Sugar and other Old World ingredients were more abundant and accessible to European consumers than the Mesoamerican ear-flower, for example, and so over time the former came to dominate chocolate recipes. There were a few experiments into savory chocolate dishes during the 1600s, most notably in Mexico – mole, the most well known savory chocolate sauce today, was supposedly invented during this time – and Italy, where there is recorded evidence of chocolate being added to liver, polenta, and veal (Coe and Coe Ch.7 “Chocolate in Cuisine”). These were rather unique occurrences, however; by and large, sugared chocolate swept across Europe such that by the 18th century it was the typical way to consume cacao. When the Fry firm created the first bar of eating chocolate in 1847, sugar was already an indispensible key ingredient, and it has continued to be so ever since (Coe and Coe Ch.8 “Quaker Capitalists”).

Modern consumers are so accustomed to sugar in their chocolate that – speaking from first-hand experience – the bitterness of cacao liquor can be a surprise. Sugar, not cacao, is the main ingredient in most “chocolate” candies, as demonstrated by this Snickers

Though marketed as a chocolatey candy, Snickers bars list sugar first on the ingredients list, and then again (corn syrup and sugar) later down the list. The taste of this candy is a far cry from the bitterness of chocolate liquor

nutrition label. The amount of sugar in modern American diets has become a major concern as obesity rates increase; articles like Robert Lustig’s “The Toxic Truth About Sugar” link added sugars to a number of diseases, arguing that “overconsumption of [added sugars] is driving worldwide epidemics of obesity and type 2 diabetes” (Taubes). Lots of chocolate products, particularly milk ones, are thus implicated for their high sugar content, creating a strange tension: do we love cacao, or just the sugar added to it? After all, most chocolate eaters cannot imagine enjoying unsweetened chocolate, and yet it is the sugar, not the cacao, that is the problem. In a rather ironic twist, cacao itself may have a number of health benefits.


Cacao is a complex substance, and several of the compounds it contains – including iron and magnesium – are beneficial to humans. “Every few months,” Williams and Eber write, somewhat indulgently, “another study appears touting cardiovascular, antiaging, mood-enhancing, and other healthful benefits from eating chocolate” (Williams 184). The antioxidants in cacao, specifically flavanols, have recently also come into special focus following Hollenberg’s study of cardiovascular health in the Kuna people, which “point[ed] to a link between cacao consumption and low blood pressure” (Presilla 58). This possible connection is far from conclusive evidence, and yet studies like Hollenberg’s have prompted the new “health food” status of chocolates with high cacao content. Cacao may confer some health benefits, but as James Howe reveals in “Chocolate and Cardiovascular Health: The Kuna Case Reconsidered,” some of these claims – and the studies behind them – should be taken with a grain of salt. Howe looks cautiously upon modern notions that “chocolate reduces hypertension, minimizes cardiovascular disease, and even fights diabetes and cancer,” drawing from his own experiences living among the Kuna people to push back against Hollenberg’s study (Howe 43). He notes that while the Kuna do consume a large amount of cacao, it is not nearly at the level that Hollenberg claims. Instead, Howe points to their overall diet, which is relatively low in fat; he admits that “it may well be that chocolate consumption…makes a positive contribution” to cardiovascular fitness, but puts far more emphasis on the Kuna lifestyle as a cause. Other traditional indigenous populations share in this trend of low blood pressure, despite consuming no cacao, lending weight to Howe’s argument (Howe 49). Cacao thus may afford some health benefits, but the exact nature and strength of these benefits is still unclear.

Regardless of chocolate’s precise impact on health, learning to separate cacao from sugar is still desirable. Lessening sugar content would certainly make chocolate healthier, even without taking into account the possible effects of higher cacao percentages. Stepping back from purely nutritional reasons, however, opens up even more possibilities. Cacao offers a distinct flavor that could be harnessed in cuisine outside of desserts, and perhaps doing so would allow consumers to truly appreciate the cacao bean itself instead of added sugars. Using cacao as a seasoning could potentially boost the endangered fine cacao market: just as different varieties of herbs and spices have unique tastes, so too do the different types of cacao. A Criollo bean (pictured below left), for example, will not taste the same as an Amelonado one (pictured below right), and the two would impact dishes differently. Chefs could experiment with various beans in seasoning food, thus hopefully increasing demand for the flavorful Criollo and Trinitario varieties, which currently make up only 5-7% of global production (Martin). This in turn would preserve genetic diversity in cacao, an essential factor in combating diseases and allowing this beloved crop to flourish in future generations.


Examples of Criollo (left) and Amelonado (above) cacao pods. The different varieties of cacao differ in appearance, taste, and genetic makeup; increasing production of Criollo varieties, despite their relative frailty, will go a long way towards preserving diversity

Chocolate and sugar have gone hand-in-hand in recent centuries, but consumers stand to gain by learning to separate the two. The ancient Mayans and Aztecs showed that there are ways to enjoy cacao unsweetened, and cooking and seasoning with cacao would allow people today to rediscover those lost dimensions and tastes. As added motivation, sugarless chocolate is healthier and may help combat cardiovascular diseases. If we allow an appreciation of cacao’s flavor to drive these culinary experiments, it might even help bolster the market for fine cacao, thus preserving the genetic diversity and flavorful variations of the crop. In order to better appreciate cacao as a whole, we must allow it to divorce from sugar and break out of its constraints as only a sweet confection.


Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. 3rd ed. London: Thames & Hudson, 2013. E-book.

Howe, James. “Chocolate and Cardiovascular Health: The Kuna Case Reconsidered.” Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture 12 (1) (May 1): 43–52. 2012

Martin, Carla D. “Lecture 7: Sugar and Cacao.” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. CGIS South, Tsai Auditorium S010, Cambridge. Lecture.

Norton, Marcy. “Tasting Empire: Chocolate and the European Internalization of Mesoamerican Aesthetics.” The American Historical Review 111 (3): 660-691. 2006.

Presilla, Maricel E. The New Taste of Chocolate Revised: A Cultural and Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. Berkeley: Ten Speed, 2009. Print.

Taubes, Gary and Christin Kearns Couzens. “Big Sugar’s Sweet Little Lies.” <;

Terrio, Susan J. Crafting the Culture and History of French Chocolate. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000. Print.

Williams, Pam, and Jim Eber. Raising the Bar: The Future of Fine Chocolate. Wilmor Pub., 2012. Print.

Multimedia Sources:

Bacon bar image: “20091226 – Christmas Presents.” Flickr. Yahoo! Web. 30 Apr. 2016.

Rio Azul vessel image: Martin, Carla D. “Lecture 2: Mesoamerica and the ‘food of the gods.’” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. CGIS South, Tsai Auditorium S010, Cambridge. Lecture.

Chocolate drink video: Teabelize. “Toledo Ecotourism Association – Making a Chocolate Drink.” YouTube. YouTube, 2008. Web. 30 Apr. 2016. <;.

Snickers nutrition: “Ingredients – Snickers Production.” Snickers Production. Web. 30 Apr. 2016. <;.

“The Toxic Truth about Sugar” link: Lustig, Robert H., Laura A. Schmidt, and Claire D. Brindis. “Public Health: The Toxic Truth about Sugar.” Nature 482.7383 (2012): 27-29. Web.

Criollo cacao image: “Cacao Varietals.” Cocoa Kiss. Web. 30 Apr. 2016. <;.

Amelonado cacao image: “Beniano.” C-Spot. Web. 30 Apr. 2016. <;.



L.A. Burdick: A Sweet Idea

Larry Burdick was in his twenties working as a pastry chef in New York when he first traveled to Paris and later to Switzerland to train as a chocolatier in the 1970s and 80s (Gilles, 2014). During his time in Switzerland, Burdick was inspired to begin his own chocolate business, which he opened in 1987 in New York City. Since that time, Burdick’s has expanded to four storefront locations and relocated its headquarters to Walpole, New Hampshire. In the following post, I will explore the values L.A. Burdick aspires to uphold, Burdick’s bean to bar venture which leads to much of its success by allowing it to oversee its production process, and the ways in which the company has given back to local communities overseas. I will analyze Burdick’s goals and endeavors in the context of the chocolate industry locally and abroad.


In the mid-1980s, Larry discovered “in a confiserie the heady aroma of pure chocolate and hand-made delicacies” that inspired him to open his own business, L.A. Burdick’s website recounts (L.A. Burdick Handmade Chocolates). Burdick returned to the United States with a chocolate pot, guitars for cutting shapes, and dipping forks. Upon his arrival, he and his wife, Paula, co-founded a small chocolate business. Paula’s background in design and style – acquired through her education at the Fashion Institute of Technology – guided her in creating glamorous chocolate products which could be enjoyed in an “ambiance of relaxed elegance” (L.A. Burdick Homemade Chocolates).

When the couple launched its company, they made chocolates out of their home in Brooklyn, but they soon moved to New Hampshire to expand their facilities and staff. This Walpole location remains the home base of the Burdick mail and online shipping business, and its chocolate and pastry production. Larry and Paula chose to start their business in Walpole when Larry was driving up Interstate 91 from Brooklyn, “looking for a good place to raise his family and his business” (Tree, 2008). Larry bought a store on Main Street in Walpole and turned it into a chocolate factory with a storefront café and space for filling mail orders. Adjoining the chocolate store is Walpole Grocery and the Restaurant at Burdick’s, “which presents quality ingredients, an imaginative menu and impeccable service along with a distinctive wine list” (Burdick Catalog, 2012).

This Walpole venture kept the Burdicks busy for the first decade of their success, and its popularity spread as a result of the 1996 Consumer Reports which rated L.A. Burdick chocolates the best in the country (Tree, 2008). In 1999, L.A. Burdick opened in Cambridge, followed by a storefront in Manhattan in 2010. In 2012, the fourth and final location opened in Boston’s Back Bay. Today, the L.A. Burdick chocolate business includes retail chocolate shops in Boston, Cambridge, New York City, and Walpole, a French-inspired restaurant, and a small specialty grocery store (L.A. Burdick Homemade Chocolates).


Chocolate bonbons (
Burdick’s signature chocolate mice (

Much of Burdick’s popularity is tied to its famously created bonbons (above, top). Other signature items include truffles and chocolate mice (above, bottom). Even more notable is the fact that “every double-caramel bonbon, white chocolate-coated, spiced mousse mouse, and beautifully wrapped, wooden gift box of truffles is made by hand,” according to a 2015 YouTube advertisement video. While Burdick’s chocolate production processes take place overseas in its Grenada factory, the bonbons, truffles, and chocolate delicacies are all made in Walpole. The YouTube video serves as a promotion effort for its Manhattan location, “a café counter where you can get coffee, pastries, and chocolate to take away,” an employee explained in the video. Customers who enter the storefront can sit at tables to enjoy their purchases, socialize over a cup of coffee, or buy baking items, chocolates, and chocolate bars to take with them. “Even if you don’t see the person who receives it, when you put together a basket or box of chocolates and you know it’s going to someone who will really appreciate it, that’s the best part of it. It’s knowing at the end of the day that you work somewhere that makes people happy. People are happy to come in here and people are happy to receive our gifts,” the employee shared in the YouTube video.

This luxurious experience is quickly appreciated when one enters the restaurant. Upon walking into Burdick’s (on April 27, 2016) to observe the storefront in Cambridge, I noted how its customers were able to consume chocolate in an elegant manner; the eating experience was purposefully created through the design of the products, their packaging, and the sophisticated setting of the coffee shop. The Burdick’s location I observed is situated in a wealthy area – the heart of Harvard Square neighboring expensive real estate property – which enables the company to sell high priced chocolate bars, drinks, and desserts because its customers can afford and are wiling to pay for these items to enjoy their taste and the Burdick’s experience.

Further, it must be acknowledged that L.A. Burdick is a chocolatier, which means the company “uses fine chocolate produced by chocolate manufacturers/makers to create unique chocolate products and confectionary” (Martin, “Lecture 5”). Susan Terrio explores the craft community of French chocolatiers in her 2000 Crafting the Culture and History of French Chocolate. She writes about walking into a French chocolaterie as her eyes glossed over the assortment of offerings: “their size, aesthetic display, and evocative names suggested radically different symbolic meanings and social uses than the – dare I admit it – chocolate bars I purchased at home” (Terrio, 2000: page 2).

Burdick’s success within the chocolate industry can be linked more closely to its place as a chocolatier, rather than as a chocolate maker. Terrio writes “when one considers artisanship as a cultural category, it is clear that chocolatiers possess an intermediate, highly ambivalent class position and social status” (Terrio, 2000: page 12). A chocolate maker creates chocolate from cocoa beans; a chocolatier’s role is more romanticized and profitable. Burdick’s chocolate production processes take place overseas in its factory in Grenada, which I will investigate in the following section.


When Larry and Paula set out on what would become a successful business endeavor, they selected Grenada to acquire the majority of their chocolate. “Long known as the ‘Spice Isle,’ the nation of Grenada is one of the world’s largest mace and nutmeg exporters…Grenadian cocoa portrays characteristics unlike cocoa from any other growing region. A robust chocolate, it has an uncommon, bright forefront acidity with long-lasting finishing notes of nutmeg, banana, and molasses” (L.A. Burdick Homemade Chocolates, The Cocoa Isle). Despite the appealing fragrance of Grenadian cocoa, it makes up less than 0.01 percent of the world’s cocoa supply (Ellman, 2014).

The entirety of Burdick’s chocolate production is completed within its factory, making it a “cocoa bean to chocolate bar” venture (L.A. Burdick Homemade Chocolates, The Cocoa Isle). This process includes harvesting, fermenting, sorting, drying, roasting, and conching. Burdick’s purchases and processes beans from farmers at its Grenada factory to sell at its stores and to other high-end chocolate makers. These efforts have led to the success of Burdick’s through ethical practices in contrast to other large companies which cannot oversee their overseas sources. Carol Off writes about the use of forced labor in Cote D’Ivoire, arguing that “almost every critic of the industry has identified the key problem: poverty among the primary producers.” She suggests that an end to the practice could be achieved if cocoa companies “simply undertake to make sure the farmers received a decent price for their beans” (Off, 2010: page 146). By overseeing the entire process of chocolate production, Burdick’s ensures its farmers are both well-paid and well-educated by “opening a chocolate factory that could ship single-origins bars to commercial outlets across the globe” (Smith, 2015).

Another advantage of bean to bar production is that it encourages farmers and workers to produce high quality chocolate because they care about the goods they will send back to the United States. Together, the structure of Burdick’s sourcing makes “cocoa farming more profitable, keeps the unique Grenadian cocoa legacy alive for future generations, provides L.A. Burdick Chocolate with an excellent couverture for our bonbons and enriches the palates of chocolate gourmands everywhere” (L.A. Burdick Homemade Chocolates, The Cocoa Isle). The concept of bean-to-bar has become popular in the United States; there are over 150 craft chocolate makers who oversee the various parts of the production process, like Burdick does, ensuring their standards are met while improving their relationship with the source (Martin, “Lecture 13”).

Pam Williams and Jim Eber’s Raising the Bar: The Future of Fine Chocolate investigates how the industry of fine flavor chocolate has recently evolved and will continue to do so in the future due to its growing popularity and the public interest in sustainable and just practices. In examining the impact of efforts in newer markets, “it is about helping farmers understand that what they do affects the end product – how what they do with harvest and fermentation and drying stages is so critical” (Williams and Eber, 2012: page 51). Thus, Burdick’s helps the farmers who produce its chocolate witness the connection between their efforts and the finished products, creating a sense of pride in their work.

Williams and Eber acknowledge that small US manufacturers “have been driving the recent changes for the better in the industry: Change the world – make better chocolate. They pride themselves on direct and transparent trade, paying top dollar for the best beans, speaking out against forced labor, investing in education, and making chocolate that tastes nothing like the multinational mass-market brands” (Williams and Eber, 2012: page 156). While most of those chocolatiers in the United States are forced to rely on specialty stores, groceries, and to online markets for profitable sales, “more and more of them are also building their success in what might be called a very European way: targeting their local communities at markets, events, and their own retail locations and combining that with a factory tour and tasting experience” (Williams and Eber, 2012: page 156). Perhaps as a result of Larry’s training and chocolate education abroad, Burdick’s has focused its success into efforts in Grenada (alongside many of these small manufacturers).

Burdick’s website emphasizes the relationship the company has with Grenada, which I will delve into in the following section. However, upon walking into the storefront, I noticed that they sold various single origin chocolate bars from different sources. The bars, priced between $8 to $13, are from Chuao, Bolivia, Peru, Brazil, Madagascar, Venezuela, and Ecuador. I was surprised that the website did not describe any relationship between Burdick’s and these other single origin sites given its unique arrangement with Grenada.


The Burdicks’ relationship with the Grenada Cocoa Association began in 1999, when they requested one hundred bags of dry cocoa beans for their only L.A. Burdick store at the time. “Our continuous search for superlative quality, full-flavored chocolate has led us to Grenada…the lush mountain terrain and volcanic soil host a bounty of heady tropical flowers, fruit and nut trees and scattered amongst them – cocoa trees” (L.A. Burdick Homemade Chocolates, Cocoa Journey). However, shortly after, Larry and Paula set out to work with the farmers themselves to eventually establish the Cocoa Farming Future Initiative (CFFI) in Grenada.

By 2001, the Burdicks were traveling to work on this fair trade project in Grenada themselves. However, it was not until 2011 that Paula founded the non-profit CFFI. In 2004 and 2005, hurricanes across Grenada created serious setbacks to the Burdicks’ endeavors, according to the CFFI website. Once farming stabilized, the Burdicks “began working with the island’s cocoa farmers to help them reclaim their lands, improve their crops’ quality and value, and create value-added businesses that will increase and diversify their incomes – all of which support the preservation of this unique tropical ecosystem” (CFFI – Cocoa Farming Future Initiative, About CFFI). Paula also began an educational nonprofit to teach cocoa farmers sustainable farming methods and to help them manage the economic conditions that accompany working as a cocoa farmer.

New Hampshire’s EIV News released a YouTube video highlighting the Burdicks’ work in Grenada in 2012. “The project has created a lot of interest on the island of Grenada. The farmers are excited about the project. I think it’s encouraged people to stay in cocoa farming,” Larry said in the video interview. By partnering with Grenadian cocoa farmers to build a factory on the island, “this helps decrease cost of shipping overseas, and puts more money in farmers’ pockets [since the middle man is cut out]. When you add that fine cocoa to the island’s ecosystem – the terrior, the organic soil, the plant life that grows on the island – you have a special flavor in the beans” (Smith, 2012). By establishing this model in Grenada, the farmers have been exposed to organic farming practices and are able to “realize the benefits of value-added processing” (Pienda, 2016).

Furthermore, Burdick’s refuses to use cacao produced by child labor. In contrast to larger companies far removed from their chocolate source, Burdick’s supervision of chocolate production from bean to bar mandates just practices. Though the Fair Trade certification theoretically demands that companies engage in fair practices, critics of the initiative suggest that the marketing system is difficult to monitor, and fails to ensure standards are met (Sylla, 2014). Sylla argues “Fair Trade is but the most recent example of another sophisticated ‘scam’ by the ‘invisible hand’ of the free market” (Sylla, 2014: page 18). The Fair Trade movement has also been criticized for being used to expand the consumer base and appeal of certain brands of chocolate rather than focusing on improving the work of farmers themselves. Instead of depending on a certification, Burdick’s takes pride in the origin of its chocolate through its bean-to-bar venture.


Through an investigation of L.A. Burdick Chocolate, I have presented the evolution and expansion of a chocolate business that started in Walpole, New Hampshire less than three decades ago. While one must acknowledge that Burdick’s is a chocolatier, allowing the company to more easily be profitable, I argue that the success of the business is at least in part due to its maintenance of all parts of the chocolate production process. Further, Burdick’s has used its success to give back to the island of Grenada by founding the Cocoa Farming Futures Initiative, creating jobs in its sourcing community, and educating farmers on sustainable practices.


“Burdick Catalog.” L.A. Burdick Homemade Chocolate (2012): n. pag. Web. 27 Apr. 2016.

“CFFI – Cocoa Farming Future Initiative – Raising Funds and Awareness for Grenada Cocoa Farmers.” CFFI – Cocoa Farming Future Initiative. Web. 28 Apr. 2016.

Gilles, Gaelle. “L.A. Burdick Makes Delicious Homemade Chocolate.” DOWNTOWN Magazine. DOWNTOWN Magazine NYC, Inc. 25 July 2014. Web. 27 Apr. 2016.

Ellman, Lloyd. “Crop-to-Cup Cocoa: L.A. Burdick Offers a Liquid Tour of the World’s Premier Producers | Edible Manhattan.”Edible Manhattan. N.p., 17 Nov. 2014. Web. 02 May 2016.

L.A. Burdick Handmade Chocolates, Company History, L.A. Burdick Chocolate. April 27, 2016,

L.A. Burdick Handmade Chocolates, Company Today, L.A. Burdick Chocolate. April 27, 2016,

Martin, Carla D. “Lecture 5: Popular Sweet Tooths and Scandal.” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. CGIS South, Tsai Auditorium S010, Cambridge. Lecture.

Martin, Carla D. “Lecture 13: Haute Patisserie, Artisan Chocolate, and Food Justice: the Future?” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. CGIS South, Tsai Auditorium S010, Cambridge. Lecture.

Manhattan Sideways. “LA BURDICK.” YouTube. YouTube, 14 June 2015. Web. 27 Apr. 2016.

Off, Carol. Bitter Chocolate: Investigating the Dark Side of the World’s Most Seductive Sweet. Vintage Canada, 2010.

Pienda, Melanie. “Burdick Clears the Air on Rumors of Walpole Chocolate Company Sale.” N.p., 5 Apr. 2016. Web. 27 Apr. 2016.

Smith, Courtney. “L.A. Burdick Chocolate’s Grenada Project.” YouTube. YouTube, 26 Mar. 2012. Web. 28 Apr. 2016.

Smith, Zoe. “New Grenada Chocolate Company Offers Youth a Future in Agriculture – Grenada 40.” Grenada 40. 2015. Web. 28 Apr. 2016.

Sylla, Ndongo. The Fair Trade Scandal: Marketing Poverty to Benefit the Rich. Ohio University Press, 2014.

Terrio, Susan J. Crafting the Culture and History of French Chocolate. University of California Press, 2000.

Tree, Christina. “Burdick Lure Works in New Hampshire, Too.” Boston Globe. N.p., 5 Oct. 2008. Web. 27 Apr. 2016.

Williams, Pam, and Jim Eber. Raising the Bar: The Future of Fine Chocolate. Wilmor Pub., 2012.


Comparing Chocolate: CVS versus Whole Foods Market

Earlier in the semester, we discussed how consumers may have as much responsibility as companies when it comes to impacting the social and ethical concerns surrounding chocolate. Some of these concerns are classism, unethical forms of labor and fair wages for cacao farmers. One way to study these issues is by focusing on a store and seeing what selection it offers; this post will discuss these issues surrounding chocolate and consumerism by looking at two retail chains, namely CVS and Whole Foods.


CVS is a pharmacy retailer with more than 9,600 stores in the United States, making it one of the top hundred drugstores in the nation (“Company”). In addition to offering pharmacy services, it usually contains an extensive retail portion in the store. Most CVSs are large enough to have an aisle dedicated to snacks and chocolate. If not, they are sure to include chocolate in the bins near the registers. In this post, we will first look at the chocolate aisle. Unsurprisingly, we see the Big Five: Ferrero, Nestle, Mars, Hershey’s and Cadbury. Most were fairly affordable as they ranged from roughly $1 to $6. The more expensive chocolate, however, were fairly large bags of chocolate consisting of at least 8 ounces of chocolate or more (up to 20 ounces). The selection ranged from individually wrapped chocolates in large bags to single chocolate bars. CVS also offered ways to cut down costs, often applying “Buy 2 Get 1 Free” deals or “Buy 2 for $6” deals. From this, it seems that CVS targets people who are less willing to spend exorbitant amounts on chocolate and are looking for convenience and value instead.

CVS Aisle
An image of the chocolate aisle at CVS. There was a mix of single bars, super-sized bars and bags of chocolate.

An interesting part was that CVS offered “Premium Chocolates” at the end of the aisle. While the unit price in the aisle chocolate did not usually exceed $0.80, the “premium” chocolates often had unit prices of around $0.95 to $1.39. Although one of the Big Five, it seems that Ferrero appeals to a slightly different audience that may spend more on chocolate, as a product line of Ferrero, Ferrero Rochers, were designated as “premium.” Some brands in this section were Lindt and Ghirardelli, with a large majority being Lindt chocolate bars. Lindt and Ghirardelli are both products of the Swiss company Lindt & Sprüngli. Lastly, most of the chocolate offerings were dark chocolate, often labeled “intense” or incorporating other flavors such as spice and fruits. As we will later see, even these “premium” chocolates were cheaper than the majority of the chocolates sold at Whole Foods.

CVS Premium booth.jpg
One side of the “Premium Chocolate” section at CVS.

The cheaper price point of chocolate is a double-edged sword. Although the ability to provide cheap chocolate has extremely negative connotations associated with it such as child slavery and other unethical practices, cheap price points allow for chocolate to be distributed to a wider amount of people. This helps negate discriminating against certain classes. First, we can discuss how chocolate manufacturers are able to get such cheap prices and the history behind this. One important factor was industrialization. Goody notes that four immediate factors made this possible: 1) preserving, 2) mechanization, 3) retailing (and wholesaling) and 4) transport (72). Because of industrialization, foods like chocolate were able to be shared worldwide and costs were able to be decreased. Compared to its initial beginnings as an upper-class commodity in Europe and North America in the 1600’s, chocolate has been significantly democratized in terms of price and accessibility (Coe & Coe 138).

This desire to drive down prices was also historically relevant, especially with the Big Five as they competed against each other for larger market shares. For example, in the early 1900s, Frank Mars originally depended on Hershey’s for their chocolate coating, but eventually stopped contracting out this manufacturing need. Frank Mars wanted total control of his chocolate, so that he could go head-to-head with Hershey (Brenner 181). Thus, we see the results of this fierce competition as the chocolate prices are quite comparable for the most part among these giants.

While capitalism and industrialization have helped democratize chocolate, there are also ethical concerns associated with such low price points. One of the largest ethical concerns are the types of labor used to farm the cacao. Big Chocolate, especially, has had trouble with this. In 2001, a scandal erupted with headlines saying that American chocolate was made from child slavery (Off 139). Many Big Chocolate companies were blind-sided and U.S. companies like Mars and Hershey’s “insisted that the cocoa chain in Cote d’Ivoire was outside their control” (140). Despite this pushback from the industry, the Harkin-Engel Protocol came to fruition.

A young child raking cacao beans as they dry.

The Harkin-Engel Protocol was a fully voluntary arrangement for regulating industry in the U.S. In this agreement, chocolate companies agreed to follow this program to “eliminate child slave labour in the cocoa chain” (144). Although well-intentioned, it ran into many obstacles including but not limited to: debates on what was considered child slavery, lack of increase in farmers’ wages, meddling by Big Chocolate to downplay the scandal, and not meeting the deadline of 2005 to eliminate slavery (145-46). Carol Off says the Harkin-Engel Protocol was significant in that it forced the chocolate industry to recognize forced child labour, but it “amount[ed] to window dressing” (161).

There has been a history of slavery in chocolate and it shouldn’t be ignored by consumers. For example, in the 1900s, Cadbury was scandalized for its cacao grown by forced laborers in São Tomé and Príncipe. Although industry and government should perhaps try to combat this, consumers also have the power to influence the market through their purchases. Thus, evaluating the history of chocolate as well as its present situation helps consumers make more educated decisions in their purchasing.

Lastly, something to note was the chocolate selection offered near the registers. Compared to the chocolate selection in the aisles, the chocolate near the registers were smaller and thus, cheaper on the whole. However, while these items near checkout account for only 1% of a store’s final sales, they account for 4% of its profits. Hershey’s and other big chocolate manufacturers took note of this and have implemented ways to profit from the psychological effect of chocolate. For example, Hershey’s has conducted research on “chocolaty gratification” to study why people are so apt to buy items near checkout and have increased the visibility of their products near the register (Harwell). At CVS, there were either bins of chocolates on the counter itself or below the counter.

CVS Register
The chocolate selection near the checkout area at CVS.

Whole Foods

Compared to CVS, Whole Foods Market is a supermarket chain with about 300 to 400 stores in the United States. It focuses on selling foods that are “free of artificial preservatives, colors, flavors, sweeteners, and hydrogenated fats.” In their company values, they promote quality and the well-being of their customers (“Quality”). There is an overall emphasis on health and “natural, whole” foods and ingredients, appealing to a certain niche market.

Whole Foods Aisle
The chocolate section at Whole Foods.

The chocolate section in Whole Foods seemed smaller than CVS’s. Whereas the chocolate in CVS seemed to take up one whole aisle, the Whole Foods chocolate section was only a portion of the aisle. First, I noticed the lack of Big Five’s products. Instead, there were some recognizable products from smaller brands. Some of these brands included Taza Chocolate, Green & Black’s, Theo Chocolate, Pure7 Chocolate, and Not Your Sugar Mama’s. Several of these brands were also local, such as Pure7 Chocolate and Taza Chocolate.

Whole Foods Taza
A portion of the chocolate section dedicated to Taza Chocolate, a local chocolatier in Somerville, MA.

In discussing the market of CVS versus Whole Foods, Whole Foods appeals to a different customer who 1) is willing to spend more on chocolate, 2) is health-conscious, and 3) is perhaps conscious about forms of labor and the purity of the ingredients. Off the bat, the prices of the chocolates at Whole Foods were more expensive. Although there were $6 bags of chocolate sold at CVS, it was a bulk purchase. However, in Whole Foods, for $6.99 it was a 2 oz. bar of chocolate. As education grows around chocolate, there seems to be an increasing trend of people who are willing to spend more for a luxury item. High prices don’t necessarily mean that chocolate may be “slave-free,” though, or fully ethical; high prices aren’t the end-all-be-all situation for ameliorating the ethical concerns surrounding chocolate. However, these smaller companies often pay farmers much more, sometimes triple the price, for their beans, suggesting that these smaller chocolatiers are trying to address some of these labor and wage issues (Martin). Taza Chocolate, in particular, is known for its “Taza Direct Trade” philosophy where there is transparency for the consumer about the farmer’s wages.

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A few chocolate brands that market certain health benefits of chocolate or sugar-substitutes.

In addition to labels concerning fair prices and labor practices, there are also labels more oriented towards health-conscious consumers. For example, there was an abundance of chocolates labeled as “USDA Organic” and “Non-GMO Certified.” At CVS, there were much fewer chocolates if at all with these labels. Furthermore, many of these chocolates were labeled as “antioxidant-rich superfoods,” suggesting that chocolate is a healthy food. In addition, many chocolates marketed their sugar-free alternatives. For example, Pure7 emphasizes its use of honey as a sugar alternative.

Health and chocolate have had a long relationship, so it is unsurprising that a health-conscious store would select chocolates that tout its health benefits. The Mesoamericans (the Olmec, Maya and Aztecs) were known for their medicinal uses of cacao, which were often recorded by Europeans in the 1500s. For example, Fray Bernardino de Sahagún wrote the Florentine Codex (1590), documenting detailed cacao prescriptions for ailments such as infection, diarrhea and cough used by the Aztec (Dillinger et al.). Europeans adopted some of these medical uses and also applied their Galenic theory of hot, cold, wet, and dry onto cacao in the 1600s. Health and chocolate still have strong ties today. Most recently, in 2007, Norman Hollenberg associated chocolate with the low blood pressure in the Kuna people. However, James Howe, an anthropologist, criticizes medical research for its sometimes unilateral methods and oversimplification when dealing with communities of people (Howe 50). Lastly, some scientists have further explored the clinical benefits of chocolate some of them being: cardioprotection by improving endothelial function, enhanced antioxidant defenses, mood elevation, and anti-inflammatory effects (Castell 265).

Evaluating two different stores with different markets in terms of chocolate consumers reveals a lot about consumers’ habits. Whole Foods was, on the whole, more expensive, but had more labels and fewer added ingredients in their chocolate. However, its chocolate was more expensive, perhaps excluding those who are unable or unwilling to spend over $6 for a bar of chocolate. CVS, on the other hand, had more bulk chocolate at more affordable prices. This high price versus low price shouldn’t be the only focus, though, as high prices don’t necessarily correlate with fairer practices. For example, labeling can often be vague or unclear about its purposes and methods. Perhaps through better education about chocolate and food, one can make more socially conscious purchases as well as be aware of certain marketing ploys, whether it be in stores like CVS or stores like Whole Foods.

Works Cited

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

Castell, Margarida, Jean-François Bisson and Francisco Perez-Cano. “Clinical Benefits of Cocoa: An Overview.” Chocolate in Health and Nutrition. Ed. Ronald Watson, Victor Preedy, and Sherma Zibadi. N.p.: Springer, n.d. 265-75. Print.

Coe, Sophie, and Michael Coe. The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson, 2000. Print.

“Company Information, Facts & Figures.” CVS Health. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Apr. 2016. <;.

Dillinger, Teresa, Patricia Barriga, Sylvia Escárcega, Martha Jimenez, Diana Lowe, and Louis Grivetti. “Food of the Gods: Cure for Humanity? A Cultural History of the Medicinal and Ritual Use of Chocolate.” The Journal of Nutrition 130.8 (2000): 20575-0725. Web.

Goody, Jack. “Industrial Food: Towards the Development of a World Cuisine.” Food and Culture: A Reader. Ed. Carole Counihan and Penny Esterik. New York: Routledge, 1997. 72-90. Print.

Harwell, Drew. “Hershey’s Plan to Hook Americans onto Impulse-buying Chocolate Again.” Washington Post. The Washington Post, n.d. Web. 28 Apr. 2016.

Howe, James. “Chocolate and Cardiovascular Health: The Kuna Case Reconsidered.” Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture 12.1 (2012): 43-52. Web.

Martin, Carla. “Haute Patisserie, Artisan Chocolate, and Food Justice: The Future?” African and African American Studies 119x Lecture. Tsai Auditorium, Cambridge. 27 Apr. 2016. Lecture.

Off, Carol. Bitter Chocolate: The Dark Side of the World’s Most Seductive Sweet. New York: New, 2008. Print.

“Quality Standards.” Whole Foods Market. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Apr. 2016. <;.

Conscientious consumerism in the chocolate sphere

It’s a foregone conclusion that consumption of chocolate products has profound implications for many people, both up and down the supply chain. For one, our consumption habits have a direct effect on the economic livelihood of workers upstream. In addition, consumption of any good in a market economy operates as a feedback loop of sorts: the extent and way that we consume informs future consumption patterns.

The popularity of socially responsible consumerism has perceptibly blossomed over the past decade or so, and the particularly astute firms—including those operating in the chocolate sector—have certainly leveraged this new type of consumer demand, oftentimes by coupling the “socially responsible” component with a notion of the “artisanal” product. This type of savvy marketing, when successful, creates a mythos around the product in such a way that enables the supplier to extract significant value out of the consumer by way of an ample price premium. The Mast Brothers are certainly one of the more visible firms in the chocolate business to have taken advantage of this model, and public awareness of their brand has only ratcheted up in light of the recent controversy regarding the Brothers’ potentially disingenuous history. In spite of this negative press, their products have been indubitably successful: Mast Brothers have recently launched a chocolate “subscription” platform, where customers can elect to have a sampling of 12 chocolate bars delivered to their doorstep four times a year.


Each quarterly shipment, however, will run the chocolate club member $100, for about two pounds of chocolate by weight. For comparison, the USDA guideline on a weekly grocery budget for an entire family of four’s meals is pegged at less than $150 on the thrifty end. Clearly, Mast Brothers’ target market segment is the upscale American consumer. Surprisingly, evidence points to firms increasingly marketing niche products and services to the wealthier segment—even as income inequality rises in America.[1]

So the logical question necessarily becomes: what kind of chocolate does the average middle class American consume? One way to make a reasonable inference on this question is to look into what options in shopping the typical middle class American has. The average American eats 4 “commercially prepared” (sit-down restaurant, fast food, food truck, etc.) meals a week, which, though high, still leaves 17 meals a week where the food is presumptively prepared at home. The natural place to shop in preparation of cooking at home would be a grocery store, so it would be reasonable to assume that the most accessible route to chocolate for the average American would be in a grocery store aisle. As a baseline premise, we establish that our hypothetical American consumer does not shop at a specialty food or health food store à la Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods. Though there are regional cost of living differences that might make one of the former stores only nominally more expensive than a regular chain grocery store (Cambridge, MA has exorbitantly high cost of living, for example), a specialty grocery store has a more upscale price point, on average, across the country.


These aren’t the chocolates you’ll find in your average grocery store (Credit:

Star Market is a chain of supermarkets across the New England region, operating as a wholly-owned subsidiary under Albertsons, which has more of a presence in the West Coast. As alluded to above, because of Boston’s high cost of living, Star Market is not cheaper than a Trader Joe’s by a wide margin. However, for our purposes, it’s appropriate as an example of a prototypical supermarket that the middle class segment of the population would frequent.

Surprisingly, after an extensive search, Star Market did not have a dedicated section down their aisles for chocolate, or even a candy aisle. The most analogous thing was a section of an aisle reserved for cookies.


It would indeed be difficult to put Chips Ahoy chocolate chip cookies and Oreos dusted with cocoa powder into the “chocolate” bucket. Star Market did have, however, a limited selection of chocolate bars, albeit marketed as being for baking—the bars were found alongside packages of chocolate chips in the baking aisle.


To be fair, eating baking chocolate bars—particularly the semisweet variety—is not unheard of.[2] However, it’s certainly atypical; it would be fair to posit that most people would not purchase a baking bar for the express purpose of direct consumption, even if it were a recognizable chocolate brand like Ghirardelli. So just where is all the chocolate at a grocery store?


The only real chocolate that could be found across the entire store was scattered amongst the candy bars at the checkout line. To be fair, most of the candy bars shown above have some kind of chocolate element to them, but it could be argued that the purely “chocolate bar” products—even when being generous with nomenclature—are categorically restricted down to the Hershey products, M&Ms, Crunch bars, Mr. Goodbars, Rolos, and the three-packs of Ferrero Rocher. If we were to further isolate our selection down to the products most similar to the premium artisanal chocolate bars found elsewhere—say, by ranking the products by cacao content—the most viable competitor would be the Hershey’s Special Dark chocolate bar near the bottom of the rack, which has a 45% cacao content. Unsurprisingly, our limited chocolate selection above represents four of the five companies that together make up Big Chocolate, none of whom are particularly known for their corporate social responsibility. Hershey, for example, has consistently been in the news for their exploitative use of illegal child labor upstream.[3] In review, it seems that the average American’s immediate accessibility to chocolate is neither robust by way of selection, nor socially responsible.

But what this American does have access to is a comparatively cheap, mass produced chocolate product. The Hershey’s Special Dark bar’s retail price, as seen in the picture, is $1.09 for a 1.45 ounce bar: a fraction of the price of a Mast Brothers bar.

So what precludes entry of more niche, socially responsible chocolate makers and chocolatiers into this market segment? In a free market system, a potential entrant will move into the marketplace so long as it makes economic sense to do so. Is it purely a pricing consideration that prevents these smaller chocolate firms from existing in this space?

Each American spends an average of $57 on chocolate every year.[4] For our purposes, we’ll assume that one of those premium Whole Foods-branded chocolate bars above come in at $4 per 3.5 ounce bar—roughly twice as expensive as a common Hershey’s bar, but more affordable than a super premium $10 Mast Brothers bar. In this sense, our middle class American consumer is able to purchase roughly twice as much common, Big 5 chocolate, as they are able to purchase more premium chocolate products. Not so unreasonable.

The lack of entry might speak to differences in marketing between the two tiers of chocolate products, as opposed to a hardline pricing issue. Though the price for premium chocolate is markedly more expensive, it’s not prohibitively so; even a middle class consumer would be able to purchase premium chocolate—just less of it. Chocolate is anything but a staple food. However, the reality is that it’s certainly marketed as if it were a staple food; over time, chocolate has turned into a high volume, affordable, and easily accessible commodity in the West, on par and often indistinguishable from candy or other “junk foods.” Note, how, in the photo above of the chocolate bars at Star Market, that the Hershey’s Special Dark bar (which implies a certain premium quality) is positioned at the very bottom of the aisle, out of the immediate line of sight. The most visible products, for both kids and adults alike, also happen to be the most sugar-laden milk chocolate varieties.

Conversely, the artisanal sector of the chocolate business advertises its products as a sort of positional good, with a certain cachet derived out of its exclusivity. This marketing strategy has arguably adversely impacted potential market penetration in the middle class customer sector. The issue has to do with framing: many ordinary consumers currently premise their chocolate consumption on the notion that chocolate, as a food item, is no big deal from an accessibility and cost standpoint. Moving forward, if chocolate were instead marketed, successfully, as a “once in a while” product that’s supposed to be more expensive than your run-of-the-mill Snickers bar, sales in the premium chocolate sector might foreseeably rise. We certainly see things trending this way recently; white chocolate sales (bars with the lowest cacao content) are down, whereas dark chocolate sales (bars with the highest cacao content) are up.[5]

Penetrating the middle class market with premium chocolate that has an element of fair trade and corporate accountability attached is by no means a solution to the exploitative practices up the supply chain. At best, it serves as a form of harm reduction. It’s fair to say that chocolate products at a Whole Foods generally carry the presumption of being in some shape or form fair trade. However, as evidence makes abundantly clear, slapping a fair trade label on a chocolate bar is seldom enough to effect tangible change. There is, however, the hope that a fundamental shift in the market’s expectation as to what chocolate as a consumer product means will spur more meaningful change moving forward. Recently, the documentary film Blackfish had immediate and stark effects on SeaWorld’s attendance, and therefore its income, to such an extent that SeaWorld has announced an eventual end to its formerly famous—and now infamous—orca shows. Perhaps, by incentivizing sparser consumption overall, but from more reputable brands of chocolate, a similar type of positive outcome could be fostered in the chocolate space as well.


[1] Nelson D. Schwartz, In an Age of Privilege, Not Everyone Is in the Same Boat, New York Times, April 23, 2016,

[2] Carly Schuna, Baking Chocolate vs. Chocolate Bars, Livestrong, January 28, 2015,

[3] Eleanor Bloxham, Chocolate and child labor: A hurdle for Hershey, Fortune, November 16, 2012,

[4] I should cocoa: which country spends the most on chocolate?, The Guardian, July 19, 2015,

[5] Leslie Josephs and Neena Rai, Chocolate Prices Soar in Dark Turn, Wall Street Journal, September 22, 2013,

Martin, Carla. “Lecture 9: Race, Ethnicity, Gender, and Class in Chocolate Advertisements.” AFAM 119X. CGIS South, Tsai Auditorium S010, Cambridge. Lecture.

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. London: Thames & Hudson, 2013. Print.

Combating the Fetization of Chocolate

Dove Chocolate, a product made by the Mars company, released the following commercial as part of their recent advertising campaign in the United States.

As you can see, the video very obviously sexualizes Dove chocolate, and presents it as a sort fetish for the woman in the commercial. Her flowing, silky brown nightwear, resembling a form of lingerie, helps to portray the sexiness that chocolate represents in this advertisement.

The commercial includes multiple shots of a woman closing her eyes and smiling as she consumes delicious-looking Dove chocolate. Close ups of her lips, mouth, the soft skin on her shoulders, and specifically the visual of the chocolate slowly being put into her mouth, all aim to further sexualize the woman and the chocolate in the commercial. When she consumes the chocolate she looks incredibly happy, although a more accurate or appropriate way to describe her expression would be: pleased.

Throughout the commercial, sensual music plays in the background and a provocative female whisper describes how the chocolate makes women “savor,” “sigh,” and “melt” – all things that can very obviously used to describe sexual pleasure. The commercial ends with a silky blanket uncovering the chocolate, much like someone would uncover his or herself in bed.

Ultimately, the commercial’s message is that chocolate for this woman is the same thing that silky lingerie is for men – a tantalizing fetish. Incredibly, the Mars company is so convinced that women feel this way about chocolate that they explicitly conveyed this message as a way to attract women to their product.

This commercial comes into production after a longstanding history of women being targeted by chocolate companies in an effort to sell their product. Chocolate companies have long umbrellaed females into a group that perceives chocolate as a fetish or guilty pleasure. By making a commercial like this, they only perpetuate such inaccurate stereotypes.

To combat the stereotypical portrayal of women being enthralled or seduced by chocolate, I created the following ad:

Bathroom 2.jpg

The advertisement is simply three bathrooms, one male, one female, and one multi-gender. The slogan reads:

“Just like everyone poops, everyone loves chocolate. Be more like these bathrooms and just include everyone.”

The first line of the slogan “Just like everyone poops…” pays homage to a popular children’s book entitled “Everyone Poops.” It is primarily incorporated in the ad to catch the viewers attention and provide a sense of humor, as memorable one liners and humor are both psychologically proven to resonate more with the human brain. This line also does a very good job of making the ad incredibly un-sexy, which is perfect in light of the Dove commercial it was created to contrast.

The main message of the ad is very clearly to acknowledge that chocolate companies need to stop targeting specific groups with advertisements that promulgate negative stereotypes, and to include every group in their advertisement campaigns, and to do it fairly.

Transparency and Fair Trade

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Forced labor, and the associated corrupt abuse of capitalist colonialism, has been an enduring issue for the cocoa industry since the chocolate has been consumed by European masses, and while the lucid facts of that reality might not be apparent or appreciated by the vast majority of consumers, there are companies that endeavor to advocate change in their practices and  their commercial structuring so their profits are equally and fairly distributed to farmers and those who have been historically disenfranchised by the industry. However, advertisements, like the one above, do a disservice to the community as a whole by cashing in on some cheap “wholistic” or “healthy” image without educating the consumer or elucidating the true benefit of their product in their marketing material. Who is being benefited by the hypothetical sale of the chocolate, what is the true context of the product’s mission, or just how would this product make a tangible difference to the farmers? Vague marketing initiatives that don’t elucidate or clearly delineate the intent, or motivation, of Fair Trade do little to effectively communicate the ideological underpinnings of what needs to be communicated to the masses if a true difference is going to be made. This vague variety of advertisement is even worse than the kind that banks on some kind of guilt, guilt without facts, that essentially builds the consumer up like their sale makes them a savior of some kind.
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However, even this type of advertisement for Fair Trade rarely brings clarity on the inner workings, or at the very least the true, lasting benefits, of the industry being supported. Now, obviously, in this kind of graphic image, there is only so much that can be done, but that makes it even more essential to focus on the right thing if an advertisement is limited to certain 2 dimensional, single frame limitations. Rather than focusing on the aesthetic experience of the food, or giving some kind of vague “it’s a green label, so it’s better” product messaging, it is better to show where the product comes from and show, tangibly how the product will help to its part to fix a broken system. Yet it is important to not give the consumer false consumer empowerment by focusing on a vague, “you’ve saved this person’s life” kind of message, because that type of embedded marketing focus perpetuates a obfuscation of the reality of how products are produced and where exactly cons

umer money is being allocated. Again, this can be difficult to communicate in a graphical advertisement, but it is always essential to know what not to do if one is going to positively make a better effort.

The illusion of transparency is another danger is Free Trade marketing material and companies that seek to associate themselves with free trade movements. For example, under Fair Trade USA’s current labeling system, and this is especially a danger for milk chocolate brands, these companies can use the Fair Trade Certification logo while only having to utilize ingredients that will give the Certification which is only a percentage — “32%” (1) for most milk chocolate —

of the whole product. According to, “a brand that buys cheap sugar through an exploitative supply chain… will get to use the same fair trade seal as brands like Equal Exchange and Alter Eco who use 70-100% fair trade ingredients”. This proves that merely showing the Fair Trade certification logo on a product does not often represent the whole, accurate story — and it actively can be considered false advertising. The majority of individuals who would care to buy Free Trade Certified products, at least from an ideological perspective, would be appalled to know that money from their sale is directed to support potentially dangerous industries that could contain child-labour and colonialist oppression.

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This hypothetical ad that I’ve conjured up shows the true background of where the product comes from without compromising or focusing on the wrong ideas. Its prime attributes are that its single focus is to show, transparently the journey of the funds and what they actually go to, rather than some vague picture of some man or woman eating chocolate, or some destitute farmer.

(1) Lawson, Cathy. “Fair Trade USA New Labeling Policy for Multi-Ingredient Products Is Harmful to the Fair Trade Movement.” Accessed April 09, 2016.

Resistance and Submission- The Power of Negative Publicity



      While the power of publicity is a well-known tool of business, it is a less understood fact that negative publicity can create more business and public awareness in its wake. Witness British sugar consumption levels in the 18th century. At the time, vast commercial interests were beginning to build commerce networks in Europe and around the world. Chocolate and sugar were among those products that were highly desired among the privileged class in Europe. This fact made the consumption of chocolate and sugar somewhat of an elite hobby–more reserved for the elites/well moneyed in Europe. As far as chocolate and sugar sales, this may not have been the best way to maximize your chocolate/sugar company sales. It is interesting to note that, just like today, when these two products (sugar in particular) began to experience pushback in the form of negative publicity, the sales of these products started to head upward. For example, when British traveler and philanthropist Jonas Hanway stated that sugar creates: ” fantastic desires and bad habits in which nature has no part”, his was a mild form of protest of the perceived evils of sugar (Levinovitz, 2015, p. 1). Of course, Hanway also considered tea to be akin to drinking gin and that “there is not quite so much beauty in this sand as there was” due to the British tea habit sapping the beauty of the woman of Britian (“Tea,” 2015, p. 1). At the time, the English consumed around four kilograms of sugar per year (“Sugar,” 2000, p. 3).


photo credit: Mary likes cake via photopin (license)


It was not long after that in 1852 when sugar came under a more rigorous attack from physicians like James Redfield, who claimed that every time the carbohydrate was refined, it was another “stage in the down-hill course of deception and mockery, of cowardice, cruelty, and degradation” (Kawash, 2013, p. 75). This harsh criticism from a credible authority was accompanied by the doubling of British sugar consumption (“Sugar,” 2000, p. 3). Of course, there were many other factors involved with the exponential rise in the popularity of sugar in this time: a budding global economy, a rapidly expanding industrial capability and the beginnings of international commerce and banking all had a hand in it. Yet, it is a classical psychological trait that the beginnings of sugar’s negative publicity was also the time when sugar was beginning to be written about as something that gives the consumer “fantastic desires” and the like (“Reactance,” 1977, p. 1).

Screen Shot 2016-04-11 at 3.58.23 PM.pngSugar’s meteoric rise to popularity (credit enclosed in graphic)


Fast-forward to the present alarmist press being given to sugar and compare it with the popularity of it now. “Sugar: Killing us Sweetly. Staggering Health Consequences of Sugar on Health of Americans” is an article by Dr. Gary Null on the website. His findings indicate: “30%–40% of healthcare expenditures in the USA go to help address issues that are closely tied to the excess consumption of sugar and suggests that our national addiction to sugar is around $1 trillion in healthcare costs each year (Null, 2014, p. 1). You might accurately guess that sugar consumption is up as well. How much? 60 Kilograms per person per year, almost ten times the amount when it began its meteoric rise to popularity. One might consider comparing the health consequences over the same period of time to see if there has been an impact in sugar’s negative publicity–are those who are in the know keeping an arm’s length from sugar? It is not within the scope of this paper to address this issue, but the fact that them more strident the negative publicity, the more popular the product. This reminds one of the rises in popularity of certain presidential candidates in this day and age.



     A Social History of the Nation’s Favourite Drink. (2015). Retrieved from

Kawash, S. (2013). Candy: a Century of Panic and Pleasure. []. Retrieved from Google Books

Levinovitz, A. (2015). No, Sugar is not the New Heroin. Retrieved from

Null, G. (2014). Sugar: Killing us Sweetly. Staggering Health Consequences of Sugar on Health of Americans. Retrieved from

Several Examples of Reactance Research. (1977). Retrieved from

The Taste for Sugar. (2000). Retrieved from






Guilty Pleasures of Chocolate in High Definition

Guilty Pleasures of Chocolate in High Definition


Alexis Parkin – Flickr

In her article, “Hunger as Ideology”, sociologist Susan Bordo claims that chocolate advertisements have long used the symbolism of the idealized female body because the advertisers are aware of the insecurities women have about their bodies (Bordo, 2000, p. 104). Susan Terrio claimed that ads reinforce the stereotype of the female being unable to resist chocolate and therefore surrender to temptation (Terrio, 2000, p. 253). In the advertisement below, one of the related concepts to surrender is portrayed as “Guilty Pleasure”. This image typifies the subtler brand of idealizing the female body (notice the breast shape covered in chocolate with a cherry for the nipple). Not satisfied with the impact of the imagery, the text goes on to reinforce the primal emotional reaction: witness flavors like “Love Hangover”, “Red Hot Lover” “Dangerous Liaison”, and “Afternoon Delight” (“Pleasures,” 2012, p. 1).
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Close up of graphic. Photo Credit:


In the following modified advertisement, the aim of the graphic is to take a phrase that has long been assigned a certain meaning (guilty pleasure as a sensual and suggestive meaning) and modify the meaning by promoting the rethinking of the words “guilty” and “Pleasure”. This is being done by stating that child labor (arguably slave labor) is responsible for at least some of the production of chocolate. This concept is married to the guilty pleasure meaning to form a new and (hopefully) powerful meaning and message to the consumer of chocolate. The strength of this approach is that, because of the familiarity of the “guilty pleasure” part of the message, there is a better chance for the new meaning to be found, rather than using the part about child labor by itself.

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photo credit: via photopin (license)


Ultimately, this approach removes both the idealized female form, along with the connotation of feminine weakness for chocolate (if that is legitimate, this paper does not address) and replaces it with something completely different. Along with those concepts, the overt sexualization of chocolate is now missing, replaced with something much more disturbing to the eye and the senses. The subtle image of charged energy is now replaced with what seems to be an anonymous person hiding behind a basket. This image has nothing to do with the traditional forms of advertising chocolate, and therefore begin to break the stereotypes and phrases that serve as the foundation of thought structures related to chocolate. Ultimately, the combination of image and message evokes an emotion that is far removed from hunger, craving, sex, idealized physical bodies, innuendo and the privileged class. It is allowed into our mind’s eye because of the usurping of the “guilty pleasure” phrase, and therefore stands a higher chance to make an impression on the viewer.



Bordo, S. (2000). Hunger As Ideology. New York, NY: The New York Press.

Guilty Pleasures Four New Flavors. (2012). Retrieved from

Terrio, S. J. (2000). Crafting the Culture and History of French Chocolate. Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press.




The Natural Taxonomic History of Cacao

photo credit: Akvo FLOW training for UTZ – Ende, Flores, March 2016 via photopin (license)

The history of Cacao and its byproducts is still being written today. There are large corporate concerns that each will have a hand in creating the future of cacao and many of those same concerns will have differing versions of its history. That aside, it is perplexing to imagine how cacao, a small evergreen that produces orange football-shaped fruit periodically, could ever become the chocolate bars and confections that we know today. Popcorn, for example is easy to understand: one auspicious night, someone cooking corn allows a bit of the dried corn kernels to fall into the fire. Moments later: pop! Not so with cacao. Genetically speaking, it is most likely native to South America (Presilla, 2009, p. 8). Its name hails from Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus in 1753. He chose to call it Theobroma Cacao. Theobroma which, when translated becomes: food of the gods is immediately followed by cacao, a word derived from the Nahuatl (Aztec language) word: xocolati (bitter water)(“cocoa,” 2015, p. 1). The taxonomy (or classification of Theobroma cacao L. can be divided into six general subcategories: Class, Subclass, Superorder, Order, Family, and Genus. Theobroma

Class: Equisetopsida. Equisetopsida is among a few of the highest taxon groups that has normally been used to refer to the scouring rush type of land plants (related to “horsetails”). However, due to recent challenges, the Equisetopsida is now used in modern taxonomy to refer to all land plants (“Land Plants,” 2015, p. 1).

Subclass: Magnoliopsida. Magnoliopsida is a subclass that has 39 families and approximately 12,000 species of angiosperms.(“Subclass,” 2011, p. 1) They are referred to colloquially as the Ranalian complex (or a taxonomic group containing one or more orders) (“Ranalian,” 2015, p. 1) characterized by pollen displaying three pores (“Subclass,” 2011, p. 2).

Superorder: Rosanae. Rosanae is a superorder in the kingdom Plantae. Rosanae comprises more than three hundred species, cultivars, and varieties (“Rosanae,” 2000, p. 1). Vernacular names for superorder Rosanae include Apache Plume, Almond, Cydonia, Plum, Prune, Roses and Silverweed. Plum? Prune? Yes, with a bit of imagination, one might begin to imagine that as we narrow down our taxonomy, we are seeing some fruits that are beginning to share a similarity to Theobroma Cacao L. Onward!


Silverweed flower. Photo credit: Anne Burgess Creative Commons license

Order: Malvales. Maveles is a widely distributed order that only contains nine families and ‘only’ 6000 species of flowering shrubs and trees (“Malvales,” 2001, p. 1). Here we can find Balsa, Lime, Linden and Cotton. The family Diperocarpaceae contains several tropical hardwood trees. It is here we can see the trees for the forest: tropical trees that yield valuable products.

Family: Malvaceae. Malvaceae are a family that contains around 2,300 species in 200 genera. It is here that we begin to see plants and trees that add color and flavor to life: Hibiscus, Kapok tree, Shaving Brush Tree, and Hawaiian stunners like Aybiscadelphus hualalaiensis, Abutilon Menziesii and Kokia Cookei. Other, less celebrated types like the Dead Rat Tree, and the stinking fruit of the Durion (Durio Zibethinis) add a certain aromatic quality to this family.


From left to right: T Cacao, ,T. Bicolr,T T. Grandiflorum, T. Speciosm Image Credit: Roy Bateman Creative Commons license

Theobroma. At last we find the last 72 species of which Theobroma Cacao L. is a member.(“Theobroma,” 2011, p. 1) This group contains the ‘other cocoa’: Theobroma bicolor, a species similar to Theobroma Cacao L. but it is used to either make a poor quality chocolate or sometimes as an adulterant to Theobroma Cacao L. beans. (“Other Members ,” 1998, p. 1) Buyers beware! This brings us to the end of our short taxonomic tour of the food of the gods. As the future of Theobroma Cacao L. develops, perhaps there will be need to come back and revise this article, but for now, rest easy in the knowledge that Theobroma Cacao L. is being carefully monitored and catalogued by many interests from around the world.


Equisetopsida ClassificationsLand Plants. (2015). Retrieved from

Magnoliidae. (2011). Retrieved from

Malvales. (2001). Retrieved from

Presilla, M. E. (2009). A Natural and Cultural History of Chocolate. In The new taste of chocolate (1 ed., p. 8). New York, NY: 10 speed press.

Ranalian Complex. (2015). Retrieved from

Rosanae. (2000). Retrieved from

Theobroma. (2011). Retrieved from

Theobroma cacao (cocoa tree). (2015). Retrieved from

What other members of the genus Theobroma are possible origins of cocoa-like products? (1998). Retrieved from

Chocolate Edible Bodies

The fetishization of Black people, particularly their skin, in cocoa advertising has been posited to relates to the peculiar historical relationships founded on the commodification of both. [1] According to Silke Hackensech, a German scholar, chocolate is  “a commodity that has historically been produced, in the first stage of the production process, on cocoa farms by enslaved Africans, or people working under conditions akin to slavery.”[2]   Through historical and complex systems of global trade, labour, and production, chocolate and Blackness have been linked together, particularly as it relates to the marketing of and advertisements for chocolate whereas the “usage of the chocolate signifier . . . illustrates how configurations of vision and visuality invest the body with social meaning.”[3] 

In the first four chocolate advertisement provided, the adverts reenact colonial fantasies through its representation of the Black body, particularly the skin, as something produced and to be consumed for a mainstream mass market audiences. These marketing images perpetuate “[W]estern sexist and racist ideologies under a veneer of pleasurable consumption” [4] and symbolically fetishize the Black bodies (as proxy for chocolate) as a consumable commodity.

This is exemplified in Figure 1, 2 and 3, whereas the subjects are disembodied and dominate the adverts with very little reference to the actual product itself. In both of these adverts the subjects are Black but shown only in pieces as if not human and their skin is meant to visually allude to chocolate.


Figure 1. Dove Chocolate (2007)
Figure 2. Magnum Chocolate (2012)
Figure 3. An Unknown Brazilian Chocolate Company’s Ad

By visually alluding to these images as chocolate, these ads seem to invite consumers to consume these black bodies. In the essay “Eating the Other: Desire and Resistance”, Bell Hooks examines how racial difference is commodified and represented as the “Other” for the figurative consumption of white audiences and further explain that as “cultural, ethnic, and racial differences will be continually commodified and offered up as new dishes to enhance the white palate–that the Others will be eaten, consumed, and forgotten.” [5] In all of the example adverts provided, they demonstrate a dehumanizing effect by showing the photo subjects as dismembered black bodies with eyes that cannot be met by the viewer.

Essentially, these adverts invoke the trope of the eroticized “edible black body” explained as “a devouring cultural connections between black bodies and food objects . . . bring to the forefront the violence and ambivalence of American racial politics in which desire and disgust for black bodies.” [6] Moreover, images like the examples shown visually “produce representations of market, parlor, and kitchen cannibalism”[7] and “at its most extreme . . . the representation of the black body as food itself.”[8] The representation of Black bodies as consumable is troublesome as it harkens back to the tendency for the humanity of Black people to be diminished due to the racial stereotype of them being not quite human.

While the linkages between women, chocolate, and sex are common themes found in cocoa advertising [9], Figure 4. Is racially problematic in a different way found through its use of Blackface minstrelsy.

Figure 4. Magnum Chocolate Ad (2012)

In this instance, the advertisement showcases a model painted brown evoking images of not only being covered in chocolate but Blackface. What is striking is the contrasted poses of the subject  without Blackface and with Blackface. When unpainted, she strikes a  direct pose which is contained and features her thoughtful gaze into the camera. However, once painted, she is posed in a sexualized and oddly disjointed manner that is completely divorced and seemingly oblivious of the camera in what is assumed to be due to her being in some sort of sexual ecstasy.  This advert comes to  represent what scholar Michael Pickering termed commodity racism, which is the selling of not only what is produced but racial stereotypes as well for consumers.[10]

In all of examples of Figures 1-4,  a theme is repeated where the subject is presented as a sexualized objects with that sexuality seemingly imbued in the festishization of Black skin. Moreover, these images engages in the harmful reproduction of the harmful racial stereotypes that Black people are hypersexual and subhuman. [11] This is meaningful to analyze as scholars like Robertson recognize that the “textual analysis of chocolate advertising has, then, been useful in illuminating contemporary understandings of gender, race and the nation.”[12]

After analysing many of the themes I found problematic in several chocolate advert examples, I decided to try my hand at creating an advert that is able to subvert the racially discursive content found above while featuring a Black person enjoying chocolate shown in figure 5.

Figure 5. My Chocolate Ad


For instance, in my reimagined chocolate ad, like all of the others, this ad focuses on the visual. However, unlike the other examples, the subject of my photo is fully-dressed, stands in a non-sexualized pose, and stares straight into the camera, her gaze meeting with her audience easily. This photo exhibits strength, agency, and the subject as an individual  human being that can be related to by  the audience. Most importantly, this ad is clearly showing what is to be consumed as food, chocolate bar, and the subject as the consumer rather than the consumable. 


  1. Hackensesch, S. (2015). ‘To Highlight My Beautiful Chocolate Skin’: On the Cultural Politics of the Racialised Epidermis. In C. Rosenthal & D. Vanderbeke (Eds.), Probing the Skin: Cultural Representations of Our Contact Zone (pp. 73-91). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Scholars Publishing. (Pg. 88)
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Robertson, E. (2009). Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History. Manchester: Manchester University Press. (Pg. 10)
  5. Hooks, B. (1992). Eating the Other: Desire and Resistance. In Black Looks: Race and Representation (pp. 21-39). South End Press. (Pg. 39)
  6. Tompkins, K. W. (2007). ” Everything ‘Cept Eat Us”: The Antebellum Black Body Portrayed as Edible Body. Callaloo, 30(1), 201-224. (Pg. 201)
  7. Ibid.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Robertson, E. (2009). Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History. Manchester: Manchester University Press. (Pg. 34)
  10. Pickering, M. (2013). Commodity Racism and the Promotion of Blackface Fantasies. Colonial Advertising & Commodity Racism, 4, (Pg. 119)
  11. Yancy, G. (2008). Black bodies, white gazes: The continuing significance of race. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. (Pg, 144)
  12. Robertson, E. (2009). Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History. Manchester: Manchester University Press. (Pg. 20)


  • Hackensesch, S. (2015). ‘To Highlight My Beautiful Chocolate Skin’: On the Cultural Politics of the Racialised Epidermis. In C. Rosenthal & D. Vanderbeke (Eds.), Probing the Skin: Cultural Representations of Our Contact Zone (pp. 73-91). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Scholars Publishing. (Pg. 88)
  • Hooks, B. (1992). Eating the Other: Desire and Resistance. In Black Looks: Race and Representation (pp. 21-39). South End Press. (Pg. 39)
  • Pickering, M. (2013). Commodity Racism and the Promotion of Blackface Fantasies. Colonial Advertising & Commodity Racism, 4, (Pg. 119)
  • Robertson, E. (2009). Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History. Manchester: Manchester University Press. (Pg. 10)
  • Tompkins, K. W. (2007). ” Everything ‘Cept Eat Us”: The Antebellum Black Body Portrayed as Edible Body. Callaloo, 30(1), 201-224. (Pg. 201)
  • Yancy, G. (2008). Black bodies, white gazes: The continuing significance of race. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. (Pg, 144)