Bittersweet Insights: Exploring the Chocolate Selection in Harvard Square


For this blog post, I was interested in learning about the selection of chocolate in Harvard Square, and more specifically at CVS. Exploring the selection of chocolate, including the brands, price point, and absence of certifications enabled me to better understand CVS’s intended audience and stance on sustainability. Moreover, I was interested in learning about how retail stores embrace promotion techniques to influence consumer behavior. I highlight some techniques that CVS use to nudge customers to buy chocolate. Lastly, I comment briefly on how the the vastly different selection of chocolate at Cardullo’s suggests that the shop is targeting a different audience than CVS and is far more committed to sustainability.


CVS is the second largest pharmacy chain in the United States with more than 7500 pharmacy stores across the country. In addition to pharmaceutical services, most CVS stores also have an extensive retail segment. As seen in the CVS store located in the corner of Brattle Street in Harvard Square, the store’s retail segment includes a large assortment of candy and chocolate. In fact, the store has entire aisle designated to chocolate with products ranging from individual bars to large packages of individually wrapped chocolate.


As seen in the photo above, it seems that most of the bars in the main aisle a
re produced IMG_0541by” the Big Five”. These chocolate companies, which include Mars, Hershey, Nestle, and Cadbury have dominated the market for a long time and offer products that are very
affordable. In addition to the main aisle, CVS also has a small section of “premium chocolate” facing the back of the store. This section includes bars from Ghirardelli and Lindt, which are both owned by the Swiss company Lindt & Sprüngli, and chocolate confectionaries from the Italian manufacturer Ferrero. There are indeed ways that these premium chocolate bars differ from the bars in the main aisle. Firstly, the premium chocolate bars are somewhat more expensive. In addition to the higher price point, most of the premium bars are wrapped in paper whereas the bars in the main aisle are wrapped in plastic. Moreover, the packaging of the premium bars are in  darker colors and include gold, and these subtle cues prompt consumers to associate the products with luxury.

IMG_0538 IMG_0539

The premium chocolate is exposed in a wooden shelf,  which further adds to the impression that these bars are superior to the ones in the main aisle.

Despite a higher price point however, none of these premium bars have certifications that promote that they use equitably sourced cacao and ethical labor practices. Quite surprisingly, I found  two bars in the main chocolate aisle that had certifications. Two of Dove’s dark chocolate bars were certified with Rainforest Alliance and two versions of Endangered Species Chocolate were Fairtrade certified.

IMG_0541 (1)   IMG_0600   IMG_0612         

As highlighted, the Endangered Species Chocolate bars are Fair-trade certified. In addition, the company takes pride in donating 10 % of net profits for non-profits that protect wildlife. 

Interestingly, the Endangered Species Chocolate bars were located on the very edge of the shelf, making them somewhat difficult to detect at first. The location of the chocolate bars at CVS and other retail stores is no coincidence and companies pay significant placement fees to to secure prime locations on the shelves (Sigurdsson et al; Usbourne).  Research using eye tracking cameras and other devices have found that somewhat lower than eye-level (1.6 meters above the floor) is the most desirable spot to sell products, and placement fees vary accordingly to this height scheme (Almy and Wootan 19-20)

In addition to securing prime spots in the main aisle, companies pay stores large amounts to promote their products in connection to checkout counters. Consumers spend a lot of time in the checkout area compared to other parts of the store, making it a prime location to nudge consumers to make impulse purchases (Almy and Wootan 19-20; Usbourne). In fact, several studies have found that these impulse purchases are a major driver of profits for chocolate companies. Ina addition, lanes lined with chocolate and other candies play another important role in that they distract customers from getting annoyed by waiting in line (Almy and Wootan 19-20).

At CVS in Harvard Square, check out lanes are lined with portion-sized packages from the “Big Five”. Most bars cost less than a dollar, thus making the purchase easy to justify. In contrast to other CVS stores, including the smaller one on Massachusetts Avenue, this store does not have any self-check out machines and lines are often long, thus highlighting how promoting products in connection to check out counters can be particularly beneficial.IMG_0555

Moreover, companies also pay stores to promote their products on short sections of shelves at the end of aisles, which are referred to as end caps or gondola ends. Over time, customers have become habituated to associate these end caps with special offers. CVS along with many other stores have recognized this and sometimes fill up the end caps with undiscounted products under signs that make them look like promotions (Almy and Wootan 19-20). This promotion technique has enabled retail stores to boost sales. Such bright shelf signs are also found at the main chocolate aisle at CVS.


Just across the street from CVS is Cardullo’s. This small grocer has been around since 1950 and offers a large assortment of gourmet foods and beverages. Cardullo’s offers an extensive selection of chocolate bars, truffles, and chocolate covered nuts and the store takes pride in offering products from a large number of countries as well as local producers such as Taza Chocolate. The products are organized according to country of import, making it easy to navigate for their conscious consumers.

IMG_0598Cardullo’s offers a huge assortment of chocolate and the products are seemingly organized based on brand and country of import. 

The chocolate bars sold at Cardullo’s differs from the bars sold at CVS in a number of ways. Firstly, they are generally more expensive, with prices ranging from 5 to 17 dollars. Moreover, a large number of the bars have labels that suggest that these companies use equitably sourced chocolate and support fair relationships with farmers. Such certifications, include Fairtrade, USDA, Rainforest Alliance, and UTZ. As highlighted in class, there are a number of problems in regards to these certifications but it is evident that Cardullo’s offers a selection of brands that are committed to sustainability. Moreover, the back of the packaging of the many of the bars sold at Cardullo’s provides information about the brands’ commitment to sustainability and ethical labor practices. In addition, the back of the packaging for some of the bars includes information about the brands’ mission and history. This information is important in that it may help the consumer to feel more connected to the product, ultimately building strong brand loyalty.

 IMG_0588  IMG_0587  IMG_0597

Although Cardullo’s pride themselves with having primarily chocolate bars brands that use equitably sourced cacao, the store also has a shelf with bars from the “Big Five”. This shelf is however located further back in the store.


The vastly different selection of chocolate at Cardullo’s and CVS suggest that they target different audiences. As noted earlier, impulse purchases are a major profit driver for retail stores including CVS.  Cardullo’s however does not seem to rely on impulse purchases as a main driver of profits. The store has a smaller and more conscious customer base that is willing to pay more, as reflected in the higher price point. I find it problematic that CVS seemingly lacks commitment to promote products that use equitable sourcing and ethical labor practices. I justify the higher price point at Cardullo’s by knowing that many of these brands use equitably sourced cacao and promote fair relations with farmers and supplier. Moreover, the bars are Cardullo’s also seem superior in regards to taste and quality.

Analyzing the chocolate selection at CVS also provided some bittersweet insights regarding the stores’ use of promotion techniques to nudge its customers’  purchases. Given what we know about placement fees in retail stores, it is not surprising that we find products from the “Big Five” at prime spots in the store. It seems important to prompt retail stores to weigh their conscious against making profits. CVS is the second largest pharmacy chain in the United States and can really make a difference if they decide to actively promote brands that embrace sustainable and ethical labor practices.

Lastly, we need to educate people about the issues that are prevalent in the chocolate industry. After taking this class, I have become a more conscious consumer and promoting education may help other to make better decisions.


Works Cited

Amy, Jessica and Margo G. Wootan. “Temptation at Checkout: The Food Industry’s Sneaky Strategy for Selling More.” Center for Science in the Public Interest. August. 2015. Web 4 May 2016.

Martin, Carla D. “Alternative Trade and Virtuous Localization/Globalization” Harvard University. Cambridge, MA. 6 April. 2016. Lecture.

Martin, Carla D. “Modern Day Slavery” Harvard University. Cambridge, MA. 23 March. 2016. Lecture.

Sigurdsson, Valdimar, Hugi Saevarsson, and Gordon Foxall. “Brand Placement and Consumer Choice: An In-store experiment.” Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis 42.3 (2009): 741–745. PMC. Web. 5 May 2016.

Usbourne, Simon.”The Secret of Our Supermarkets.” The Independent. 26 Oct. 2012. Web. 4 May 2016.

Media Sources

Chocolate. Digital Image. Web. 4 May. 2016.


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