Chocolate: Caloric Convenience or Conscientious Confection

Buying chocolate in America can be much like any other purchase in terms of the shockingly wide range of options, flavors, and price points made available to the consumer.  There are basic candies and bars that will satisfy a craving and there are expensive treats that claim to be so luxurious they go so far as to hint at the possibility of providing for a longer life (https://www.theochocolate.com/product/158).  All of these options are available under the name of chocolate and convenience.  This essay will focus on comparisons between only two candy aisles at two stores:  CVS and Whole Foods; both Fortune 500 companies, neither of which are confectioneries or chocolate houses.

CVS

CVS is a $117.4 billion (according to Forbes.com) drug retail company.  Not only are they the biggest retailer of prescription drugs and the second-largest pharmacy benefits manager in the U.S., but they also provide healthcare services through medical clinics and diabetes care centers.  In addition, they also sell chocolate.

True to their origins as a pharmaceutical vendor, when one walks into a CVS, it has a compact, efficient, and even slightly clinical look and feel.  The open space is brightly lit by overhead fluorescent lights, large red tags indicate where items can be found, and special offers and discounts are loudly displayed and announced overhead.  Even the retail staff members are dressed in white lab coats lending to the authenticity of a doctor’s waiting room.

This store prides itself on health, but also low prices and convenience.  It is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week and offers weekly and even daily special discounts.  The candy aisle is located at the front of the store near the entrance, across from toys and other fun, spontaneous, instant-gratification type items and extras.  Additional chocolate items are lined up under a selection of gum at the register for last-minute impulse purchases, with sale prices highlighted to focus attention on the discount provided.

CVS counter
Display at the CVS checkout counter. Candy bars, placed under the gum, are all on sale for $0.88 or buy one and get the second one at a 50% discounted price.

As one walks to the candy aisle, the packaging and marketing materials (mostly plastic) are immediately noticeable in bright colors, bold fonts, and large labels.  The branding, for most American customers, would be quickly recognized as all belonging to the “big chocolate” brands:  Hershey’s, Ferrero Rocher, Nestle, Mars, and Cadbury (Martin, “The rise”).

There are bars of chocolate, but the majority of products offered are blended with, or provide a shell coating over, less expensive products.  The iconic milk chocolate Hershey’s bar is showcased in the middle row at eye-level, sharing the shelf with Nestle Chunky bars (a chunky-shaped candy bar with milk chocolate, California raisins, and roasted peanuts). Nips (a hard candy, some of which contain a chocolate-flavored filling), Dove chocolate bars and Cadbury Dairy Milk bars are above.  Below are larger packages of bars, including:

  • Hershey’s Special Dark (a semi-sweet chocolate bar)
  • Hershey’s Cookies ‘n’ Creme (a white candy bar with pieces of chocolate-flavored cookies interspersed)
  • Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups (large chocolate coated peanut butter confections)
  • York Peppermint Patties (dark chocolate-covered soft peppermint disks)
  • Hershey’s Mounds (a dark-chocolate covered center made from shredded coconut)
  • Hershey’s Almond Joy (a milk chocolate-covered coconut-based center topped with almonds)
  • Mars Snickers (a milk chocolate-covered nougat topped with caramel and peanuts)
  • Mars Milky Way (a chocolate-covered chocolate malt flavored nougat with caramel)
  • Nestle Butterfinger (a chocolate-toffee-covered bar with a flaky, crisp, peanut butter-flavored center)

These items can be purchased individually; however, the majority of the products are in gradually increasing sizes and quantities with prices ranging from $0.39 to $0.89 an ounce.  While no great mention or display is made with regard to the ingredients, origin, manufacturing practices, ethical concerns, or quality of cacao in these products, three of the four Dove chocolate bars are stamped with the Rainforest Alliance certification.

CVS aisle
CVS aisle stocked mostly with large-packaged chocolates.

Based on the selection provided:  the absence of cacao mentioned, the presence of larger size packages, the heavy focus on additional ingredients such as nuts, fruits, and/or confections, and lower bulk prices that accompany them, etc., we learn that the CVS’s targeted audience has limited time and money to spend.  The intention is “caloric consumption,” grab and go convenience, a meal substitution or perhaps simply to ease a craving.

Whole Foods

Whole Foods is an $18.8 billion (according to Forbes.com) supermarket chain that claims to be “America’s Healthiest Grocery Store” (www.wholefoodsmarket.com).  Their goal is to sell the healthiest foods possible and offer products that are free of artificial preservatives, colors, flavors, sweeteners, and hydrogenated fats.  There is a welcoming feel to the expansive space.  The lighting is warm without being harsh, the walls are lined with soft wood, posted signs are in uniformly calming tones, and helpful employees all wear green aprons.  It has the look and feel of an up-scale farmers market.

Whole Foods aisle
Candy aisle at Whole Foods.

One can find the candy aisle located next to the produce section, across from organic baby foods, and adjacent to a beautiful display of organic “Whole Body” healing bath salts and soaps.  The chocolate bars (mainly bars and mostly dark, only a few milk chocolate or blended confections are offered) are wrapped in expensive papers and foils featuring endangered species, philanthropic organizations and specific causes, picturesque scenes or artistically created designs.

There are no “big chocolate” products to be found.

Each bar appears to have been hand-selected from a variety of artisanal chocolatiers.  Some are smaller than others, but all promise their own unique look, feel, story, and taste.

Instead of being recognized and advertised by known “big chocolate” brand names, these brands chose to focus instead on highlighting select ingredients and percentage of cacao.  Each bar clearly calls out the selected ingredients, origin and percentage of cacao as well as the origin and processing of any included ingredients.  Some examples include:

  • 45% cacao milk chocolate with Congo coffee and cream
  • 55% dark chocolate with chilies and cherries
  • 57% organic dark chocolate with sea salt and caramel
  • 60% dark stone ground chocolate with toffee almond and sea salt
  • 65% dark chocolate with forbidden rice
  • 70% organic fair trade dark chocolate with cherry almond
  • 70% dark chocolate bar with ancho chile, cinnamon, and orange
  • 72% cacao organic dark chocolate, cardamom, cinnamon, and chili
  • 88% cacao – extreme dark
  • 99% cacao
Whole Foods_chocolate
Some of Whole Foods’ chocolate selection.

Ethical, health, and religious concerns are also addressed through seals of (sometimes multiple) certifications on each chocolate bar, such as: Demeter, Whole Trade, Fair Trade, Fair for Life, Direct Trade, Non GMO Project Verified, Oregon Tilth, Certified Gluten-Free, Rainforest Alliance, Taza Chocolate Direct Trade Certified Cacao, Dairy-Free, Soy-Free, Vegan, Kosher Dairy, and USDA Organic. If additional information is desired, the store has also placed a display rack at the entrance to the aisle featuring a free publication titled, “For a Better World, Issues & Challenges for a Just Economy.”  It even includes a reference guide to fair trade and worker welfare programs provided to educate customers and raise awareness levels of labor practices.

Whole Foods_chocolate2
Whole Foods’ chocolate selection.
Whole Foods_magazine
Fair World Project free magazine provided to customers at Whole Foods.

The price points reflect the additional information, attention to detail, and more expensive packaging.  Costs per ounce range from $0.59 to $3.85.  Not only are costs higher than CVS, but even the cost differential within Whole Foods’ offerings are significant.

Errol Schweizer, executive global grocery coordinator for Whole Foods Market, stated that “The fair trade chocolate category in our grocery departments has grown by more than 350 percent over the past five years. That’s a true indicator that ourshoppers are really making a positive impact on the lives of cocoa growers in developing countries” (Martin, “Alternative trade”).

The intended audience has time and money to spend.  Whole Foods has created a shopping experience that intentionally targets the “conscientious consumer,” someone who is educated on agricultural sourcing and labor practices – or would at least like to be.

These high-end chocolates are being provided for someone who wants to treat themselves to something delicious and feel good about it; a way of thinking that their self-indulgence (via the chocolate and price point) is making a positive impact on the world around them.

Ultimately, both stores sell chocolate while focusing on “health” and “healthier living”, albeit through very different lenses.  CVS provides chocolate and chocolate-coated items intended for mass consumption at a lower price point – making the process as quick and efficient as possible through placement and known brands.  Whole Foods provides high-end, more artisanal chocolates intended for indulgence at higher price points.  Their goal is to provide their customers with a buying experience – chocolate is located in the middle of the store (not as convenient for quick shops) and intended to have time to browse, read, and learn about different products and practices as part of a shopping routine.

 

Works Cited

Fair World Project. “For a Better World:  Issues & Challenges for a Just Economy.” Issue 12 Spring 2016.

Forbes.  The World’s Most Valuable Brands. http://www.forbes.com/companies/cvs-health/.  N.p. N.d. Web. 11 May 2016.

Martin, Carla D. “Alternative trade and virtuous localization/globalization.” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard Extension School: Cambridge, MA. 6 Apr. 2016. Class Lecture.

Martin, Carla D. “Haute patisserie, artisan chocolate, and food justice: the future?” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard Extension School: Cambridge, MA. 27 Apr. 2016. Class Lecture.

Martin, Carla D. “The rise of big chocolate and race for the global market” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard Extension School: Cambridge, MA. 9 Mar. 2016. Class Lecture.

Mintz, Sidney. 1986[1985]. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York: Penguin Books.

Theo Chocolate, Inc.  Chocolate Bars. https://www.theochocolate.com/product/158. N.p. N.d. Web. 11 May 2016.

Whole Foods Market.  http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com. N.p. N.d. Web. 11 May 2016.

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