The Oh-So-Convenient Sugar Aisle

When you traverse around a convenient store for your necessary groceries and finally make it to the front counter, you begin to notice a bright array of sugary delights staring upwards at you as you wait lethargically in line for the cashier to call “NEXT!” You begin to think, “well, I am craving something sweet…and that’s not too expensive” before picking up a chocolate bar and adding it to your tab. But have you ever stopped to wonder why it may be that the candy isle is so conveniently located at the check-out around waist-level when it already has a bigger isle devoted to it right in the back of the store? Coincidence? Well it is surely far from it.

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A candy selection at the checkout counter of a generic convenient store. Notice the placement of the isle and physical height. 

[https://www.flickr.com/photos/call-to-adventure/5365750201]

In this blog post, a discussion will arise pertaining to the varying types of chocolate bars sold at a convenient store such as CVS, the history and contents of this selection of chocolate, and all in relation to contemporary issues in sugar and obesity in youth, harkening back to the advent in the rise of sugar amidst the chocolate industry historically.

Among the selection of candy bars sold at CVS there include, but are not limited to: Reese’s, Twix, Hershey’s chocolate bar, M&Ms, Butterfinger, Kit Kat, 3 Musketeers, and the like. Such inexpensive candy bars tend to sell at a price at or around $1 USD. Interestingly enough, although there seems to be a wide selection of candy bars at these check-out counters, oftentimes all these bars fall under roughly three major chocolate companies: Hershey’s, Mars, and Nestle. After Henry Nestle’s creation of milk chocolate in 1875, the chocolate conglomerate race began. In the 1920s, competition began to run starkly between Hershey’s and Mars with Forest Mar’s cheap but selling creation of the Milky Way. When customers would approach the candy counter back then and see a flat Hershey’s bar adjacent to a bulging, thick Milky Way, they surely chose the latter, raising sales for Hershey’s competitor (Brenner). What was interesting about Mar’s company as well as the big chocolate companies back then, was that even though they were putting out over 20 million candy bars, their infrastructures didn’t actually appear on the outside as manufacturing plants. Instead, they adopted cultural architectural styles, and had magnificent grass lawns; in essence, an emulation of a utopia (Brenner). But competition really wasn’t too strong between Hershey’s and Mars all the time: when Hershey’s was starting out with Mars, Mars was actually helping sales of the former by purchasing its chocolate coating and Hershey’s would make specific chocolate coatings for different Mars bars. Unfortunately, candy spies arose amidst these companies, with workers disguising themselves to find secrets about the chocolate making of these large companies, thereby contributing to a rise in competition (Brenner).

            Soon these companies realized they could add other materials inside their candy bars such as nougat or even peanut butter, racing each other with novel inventions and mass or bulk production of chocolate. And with industrialization underway by the late 1800s, culinary modernism–a period of processed and bulk production of food (especially cacao)–was prominent entering into the 20th century (Laudan, 2001). Representing these industrial manufacturing plants as utopias and embodying American values, companies like Hershey’s would be found producing commercials that represent core American values and common societal motifs. Yet not only was industrialization helping these companies sell their products, but a steep rise in sugar consumption was also attracting customers. In 1830-1840, with a drop in the price of sugar by over 30%, the working and middle class were beginning to outnumber consumption rates over the wealthy, with sugar being added to most foods, especially tea and chocolate products. Children at young ages were now being accustomed to larger caloric intakes of sugar, as sugar began to represent, and continues to represent, the most significant upward production curve of any other food item on the market over the course of several centuries (Mintz, p. 142-145; Martin, Lecture 7).

            Consequently, with a rise in cacao production, the manufacturing of bulk or processed candy, and higher sugar intake in these processed items, major ethical issues have arisen. As a matter of fact, when looking at the nutritional facts and ingredients in a Hershey’s candy bar, one may be surprised to find out that a generic Hershey’s Chocolate Bar only has roughly 11% cacao content. If that is the case, then one may ask what the remaining contents are; the answer being mostly milk and sugar. Simply put, the chocolate bars you may find at a store like CVS may be considered mere imposters or cheats of chocolate bars when you consider that a purchase of such a bar that brands itself as a “chocolate” bar only has at or around a tenth of chocolate in all [See: Washington Post below].

Washington Post: Chocolate By the Numbers 

Article explaining the cacao contents in contemporary chocolate

[http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A24276-2004Jun8.html]

More frightening is the fact that such bars contain nearly the entire daily recommended percentage value of sugar intake and over a fifth of the daily amount of fat intake  As a result, it is noteworthy to inquire as to why these candy bars are being purchased in such high quantities, and as to who these companies attract as their target audiences.

Going back to an observation made in the introduction of this discussion, it should be reiterated that not only is the candy isle located both in the back of the store and at the check-out counter, but that it is also conveniently placed at waist level: keyword being convenient. Convenient for whom? Children! The wider selection of the back-of-the-store candy isle can be found stocked with finer chocolates such as Lint Bars or Ghirardelli, but take notice that the front checkout counter merely contains your $1 candy bars supplied by Hershey’s, Mars, and Nestle. And this all makes sense now when shining the light on youth. Given the sweet tooth common among children, Lint Bars and 72% cacao may not be enough for their desperate taste buds. Instead, they may desire the high, sugary content of a Reese’s bar or M&Ms, flashing over 24 grams of sugar. Yet oftentimes a caring parent avoids the candy isle. But what he/she cannot avoid is the child’s stare at the array of colorful candy bars as mom/dad pulls out the credit card to pay for the groceries. Clearly, manufacturing companies like Mars team up with store owners to win over their target audiences: youth. Colorful candy wrappers and animated characters, teamed up with a beautifully placed, waist-line presence of candy bars, mom and dad cannot help but cease the wining and begging of their children, ultimately conceding to the purchase of a sugar-packed candy bar from one of the top chocolate conglomerates.

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The animated characters that candy companies utilize to help attract youth. 

[https://www.flickr.com/photos/pareeerica/16877815242/in/photostream/]

As a result, significant ethical issues have arisen, especially over the current decade and continuing on into the present: namely, in relation to sugar consumption and child obesity. As the documentary film “Fed Up” mentions, “They’re in business to make money, not to make America healthy” (“Fed Up”  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UVX6_LzX4mM ). What is more interesting is to find recent research studies supporting the findings that the human brain reacts similarly to sugar intake as it does to drugs such as cocaine (Serge, Karine, and Youna, 2013). The reward pathway in the brain lights up nearly identical to that of the reaction to the intake of hard drugs. In fact, the dopamine reward pathway of someone who consumes sugar has more activity than someone who is obese, and the person who is obese shows a similarly dulled dopamine response as someone who is addicted to drugs (http://mic.com/articles/88015/what-happens-to-your-brain-on-sugar-explained-by-science#.52zWKxwvS). What this shows is that sugar intake can be a very dangerous aspect of human culture, but more so, that with the rise in sugar production and consumption significantly, and with a target audience of youth for candy companies, issues are arising. Looking back at the 1800s, the average American consumer consumed what is now equivalent to the amount of sugar in one can of soda, but during the length of five days. Now in the second millennium, that 5-day intake has risen to over fifteen cans of soda or nearly 20 times the amount of sugar intake.

The Rise in Sugar Consumption

[http://mic.com/articles/88015/what-happens-to-your-brain-on-sugar-explained-by-science#.52zWKxwvS]

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), obesity rates in youth ages 6-11 years old rose from 7% (1980) to 18% (2012), almost three times the amount, tagging almost one in five children as obese, and one third of youth and adolescence combined falling under the category of obesity. With cheap prices, flashy advertising, and high sugar/calorie contents of these candy bars, the rise in obesity in youth and teens is strongly increasing, posing risks for cancer, cardiovascular health, diabetes, and obesity during adulthood, which may further affect offspring and their further risk for obesity and related health problems (http://www.cdc.gov/healthyschools/obesity/facts.htm).

In summary, current society is posed with a vital issue at hand: obesity. And much of this problem can lend itself to the big candy companies who continue to contribute significantly to the rise in production and consumption of sugar. Adding to their sales repertoire, flashy candy wrappers, color cartoon mascots, joyful commercial advertisements, and conveniently placed candy at convenient stores for youth to run into, candy companies and stores like CVS are only contributing to the problem. The CDC points out that statistics for child and adolescent obesity are rapidly increasing and posing risks for adulthood and future generations. Documentary films such as “Fed Up” attempt to expose the sugar industry and the issues at hand. And parents claim to be trying hard to provide healthy alternatives to their children. Yet issues are still arising and issues will continue to arise until the conglomerates are staunchly confronted. Until then, they may hide behind flashy advertisements and commercials that appear to embody true American values, concealing the truth of crushing these values with issues like obesity.

Works Cited

Ahmed, Serge H., Karine Guillem, and Youna Vandaele. “Sugar addiction: pushing the drug-sugar analogy to the limit.” Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition & Metabolic Care 16.4 (2013): 434-439.

Brenner, Joel. 2000. The Emperors of Chocolate: Inside the Secret World of Hershey and Mars. chapters 5, 13 pp. 49-69, 179-194.

 

“Chocolate By the Numbers.” Washington Post. The Washington Post, n.d. Web. 03 May 2016.

Kate, Nina. “The Cacao And Cognition Connection | HoneyColony.” HoneyColony. N.p., 12 Mar. 2013. Web. 03 May 2016.

Laudan, Rachel. “A Plea for Culinary Modernism: Why We Should Love New, Fast, Processed Food”. Gastronomica 1.1 (2001): 36–44.

Mintz, Sidney W. 1986[1985]. Sweetness and Power. pp. 142-145

http://www.cdc.gov/healthyschools/obesity/facts.htm)

[https://www.flickr.com/photos/call-to-adventure/5365750201]

[https://www.flickr.com/photos/pareeerica/16877815242/in/photostream/]

[http://mic.com/articles/88015/what-happens-to-your-brain-on-sugar-explained-by-science#.52zWKxwvS]

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