Western consumers of cacao products are no longer oblivious to the potential harms that a diet high in sugar and carbohydrates can have on the human body. Once rare in the typical cupboard, sugar has expanded its dominion to reach areas of consumership to which it was once a stranger. Observing the present day average sugar consumption of a regular American person provides a look at the immense amount of sugar (around 130 pounds every year) that people consume nowadays. For the sake of comparison, in 1822 the average American consumed 45 grams of sugar every five days, whereas present-day Americans consume around 160 grams of sugar per day, or 800 grams every five days—
almost 18 times more than in 1822.
The increase in sugar consumption has had many causes, but a very important one was its incorporation into medicine and sweets. When medicinal properties were attributed to sugar, its consumption increased; however, research has shown that excessive consumption of sugar can have adverse effects on health. Sadly enough, the typical American diet still contains copious amounts of sugar, mainly in the form of sweetened snacks and drinks, of which the Cadbury Dairy Milk Bar poses a great example. In this essay I argue that Cadbury engages in a practice known as health-washing to encourage virtuous consumership by incentivizing their purchasers to allegedly live a healthy lifestyle thanks to Cadbury products. In the upcoming paragraphs, I will touch on the concept of health-washing and analyze an ad used by Cadbury that is an example of this practice.
The practice of health-washing consists of presenting or introducing a product as being healthier than it actually is. This can be in the form of highlighting specific nutrients, adding conceptual words to make the packaging appear healthier, or reducing the specified serving size so that the number of calories per serving becomes smaller. Nowadays, an educated consumer audience has led companies to redesign their advertisements and packages to better cater to a more conscious demographic, and deceptive advertisings have been the result of that. Let’s look at the ad used by Cadbury to advertise their Dairy Milk Bar, which has been in the market for over a hundred years:
As we can see from the above image, the ad depicts one and a half glasses of milk being poured into a swirly white splash that contains a Dairy Milk Bar and the phrase “a glass and a half of
milk in every bar.” Something very interesting about this ad is that the phrase is significantly larger than the image of the chocolate bar itself—in fact, the word “milk” alone is almost the same size as the bar. This denotes the importance of
the concept of presenting the benefits of consuming a bar to an audience that understands this. It is widely accepted that the consumption of milk has benefits for human health, which has been supported by a variety of campaigns, such as “Got Milk?” from 1993, one of the most prominent nutritional campaigns that the U.S. has seen. The intentions of Cadbury with the presentation of their product as something that contains a large amount of milk are clear: they are presenting their product as a healthy edible option, potentially even as a substitution for milk in a quotidian diet. As a response to this ad, the image below was created:
This second image shows a similar color scheme, as well as the substitution of the glasses of milk by an overflowing spoonful of sugar. The phrase “Six spoonfuls of sugar in every bar” appears captured in a cloud-like white figure, reminiscent of the original ad, and shows the amount of sugar that is present in a single Cadbury Dairy Milk Bar—the information was taken from the nutritional information section of the Cadbury website. This ad aims to present one of the realities of sugar consumption in today’s industrialized-food world. The amount of sugar in one of these bars is equal to the daily recommended intake that an average adult woman should have, and almost the one for an average adult man. This is clearly a high dose of sugar for such a little bar, and the fact that Cadbury aims to disguise this fact by telling its customers that the bar contains “a glass and a half of milk” falls into the practice of health-washing, and attempts to expand its market by appealing to the virtuous practice of caring for one’s health—in this case, by drinking milk, a nutritious beverage.
While the packaging of the Cadbury Dairy Milk Bar is not deceptive, the advertisements used to sell it are. By choosing to highlight the positive qualities of the bar when the negative qualities are predominant—the bar also has extremely high contents of sodium and fat—the company chooses to present their product under a light of health consciousness when in reality, it does not differ significantly from other commercial chocolate bars. The practice of health-washing is misleading, and the Cadbury Dairy Milk Bar case is a prime example of that.
Baker, Andrew. (2013). Dairy Milk versus the Hershey Bar—our verdict. Retrieved from: http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/culture/andrewbakerchoc/100071490/dairy-milk-versus-the-hershey-bar-our-verdict/.
Johnson, Lisa. (2010). Healthwashing: The New Greenwashing. Retrieved from: http://www.lisajohnsonfitness.com/healthwashing-the-new-greenwashing/.
Walton, Alice G. (2012). How Much Sugar Are Americans Eating [Infographic]. Retrieved from: http://www.forbes.com/sites/alicegwalton/2012/08/30/how-much-sugar-are-americans-eating-infographic/#7df79d021f71.