Examining Community Preferences Through Supermarket Chocolate Aisles

Jamaica Plain and Roxbury, two of Boston’s twenty-three neighborhoods, have held historical significance since the seventeenth century and today serve as the home toBoston Neighborhoods more than 55,000 Bostonians (Boston Redevelopment Authority). There is a high level of racial and socioeconomic diversity within the two neighborhoods, and resultantly there are a wide variety of grocery stores and supermarkets that cater to many types of customers in the distinct surrounding communities. We can see examples of the neighborhoods’ socioeconomic and culture compositions by examining the dissimilar chocolate selections available in three major grocery stores that cater to parts of the community operating less than two miles away from each other, specifically Whole Foods Market in Jamaica Plain’s Hyde Square, Super Stop & Shop  in Jamaica Plain’s Jackson Square, and Tropical Foods in Roxbury’s Dudley Square.

Neighborhood Demographics and Store Locations

In Jamaica Plain, 25.3% of the population is Hispanic or Latinx (many of whom live in the Latin Quarter area near the Jackson Square MBTA station), and 13.4% of the population is Black or African American. 24% of the population was born outside of the United States, and roughly 18.6% of the population has a household income below the poverty line (Boston Redevelopment Authority). Within Jamaica Plain, however, there exist sub-neighborhoods with notably homogenous racialJP and Roxbury Stores composition (Kent). The population of Jamaica Plain that lives in the census tract containing the Latin Quarter and Super Stop & Shop (census tract 812) has a population that is (as the name “Latin Quarter” implies) 53% Hispanic and 29% Black. A large portion of that census tract is comprised of the Mildred C. Hailey apartments, a low-income public housing development. The Super Stop & Shop is located directly across the street from the edge of the Mildred C. Hailey complex.

The adjoining Jamaica Plain census tract (tract 1204), however, which abuts Jamaica Pond and contains Whole Foods Market, has a population that is 76% white (Bloch). The Hyde Square area is a district filled with small-businesses that appear to be thriving despite rising commercial and residential rents. The Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council has expressed concern over the gentrification of the area, noting that the Latinx and Hispanic community and culture that was once so central to Jamaica Plain is being pushed further and further away from the Hyde Square area towards Jackson Square (Ad-hoc Whole Foods Committee: Report to Full JPNC). As a result, although the Jamaica Plain Whole Foods Market and Super Stop & Shop are about half a mile apart, they are located in and serve disparate communities.

Within Roxbury the distribution of race and socioeconomic statuses is more even than within Jamaica Plain – there is not the same significant difference in racial composition from census tract to census tract (Kent). Throughout Roxbury, 27.5% of the population is Hispanic or Latinx and 51.8% of the population is Black or African American. Almost a quarter (23.6%) of the population was born outside of the United States, and roughly 36.1% of the population has a household income below the poverty line (Boston Redevelopment Authority). Graphical representations of racial densities in Boston and in the United States at large can be further explored with this New York Times tool.

Store Histories

The Jamaica Plain Super Stop & Shop first opened in 1996 in the Latinx neighborhood of Jamaica Plain near the Jackson Square MBTA station next to what was then the Bromley-Heath Complex (now called the Mildred C. Hailey Apartments), a large low-income public housing development. The store was initially met with resistance from local businesses (particularly small bodega owners) for fear of the economic repercussions of a national chain monopolizing food sales. To quell the controversy, Stop & Shop created a $500,000 fund to support any local businesses hurt by their arrival in the neighborhood, but not a single store applied for funding through this project. Two decades later, those fears appear to have been unfounded; indeed, the introduction of Stop & Shop appears to have improved business for many local bodegas carrying specialty Latinx foods (Ruch). The Super Stop & Shop filled the community’s need to have a large selection of affordable food for the residents in the surrounding area after a large number of national grocery chains had migrated to the Boston suburbs for cheaper rents and on-average wealthier customers (Anguelovski).

The introduction of Whole Foods Market into the Hyde Square area in 2011 was more controversial than the introduction of Super Stop & Shop into the Jackson Square area because Whole Foods Market was replacing Hi-Lo, an affordable Latinx grocery store that had become a community fixture after forty-seven years in business. Super Stop & Shop, however, had been built on an unused lot (Anguelovski). After much discussion in the community, the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council chose to formally oppose Whole Food Market’s arrival; they did, however, acknowledge that Whole Foods Market was likely to arrive regardless of community sentiments, and as a result they chose to propose recommendations for a better integration into the community, which Whole Foods Market publically committed to honoring (Ad-hoc Whole Foods Committee: Report to Full JPNC). Regardless, many bemoaned the transformation from an affordable, food-just, accessible community under Hi-Lo to a white, exclusive, upper-class community under Whole Foods Market (Anguelovski).

Standing apart from the other two stores in this study, Tropical Foods (formerly El Platanero, or The Banana Man) has been welcomed and supported by the community since its inception in 1974 as a corner store that exclusively sold plantains. The store has been passed through many hands in the same family and expanded from a plantain store to a bustling corner grocery store to, in early 2015, a brand new 27,000 square foot superstore (Tropical Foods). The store describes itself as follows:

Since 1974, Tropical Foods/(El Platanero) has been the supermarket of Roxbury. Always adapting to meet its customers’ needs, Tropical Foods has earned the reputation of: having unique/hard-to-find product from the Caribbean, Central & South America, and Africa; while also meeting Roxbury’s every day grocery needs. No wonder Tropical Foods/(El Platanero) is called ‘The Supermarket for Everyone!’ (Tropical Foods).

Tropical Foods continues to be a major supermarket in Dudley Square, the business district of Roxbury. It carries brands from a wide variety of countries, including the United States, Caribbean nations, African nations, and South American nations, and it is widely revered as a pillar in the Dudley Square community (Luna).

Chocolate Selections

The chocolate offerings at the Jamaica Plains Whole Foods Market are broken into four distinct displays in addition to small candies available near the registers. Although allWhole Foods 4.JPGdisplays are within a few steps of one another, the layout makes it feel as though chocolate is spread throughout the store as opposed to grouped together into a specific candy aisle. Whole Foods Market carries a variety of craft chocolate brands at high price points, and the displays draw attention to chocolates that are produced locally through brightly colored tags next to the prices. A picture of a featured local chocolate is included to the left.

In this case, Whole Foods Market is featuring Pure 7 chocolate, a brand based in Lynn, Massachusetts (about 16 miles away from this store) that produces sugar-free, dairy-free, and gluten-free chocolate sweetened with honey. The Pure 7 website explains, “of course we assure that all of our ingredients are non- GMO, fair trade and organically produced… [Our] chocolate is Paleo compliant and Paleo certified. It also means you can enjoy it without worrying about ingesting refined sugar which causes a host of health issues in a large number of people” (About Our Company). At Whole Foods Market, Pure 7 is sold for $6.99, which is well within the store’s normal chocolate price range (although charging that price for a chocolate bar would raise eyebrows outside of Whole Foods).

Super Stop & Shop, half a mile away from Whole Foods Market, has a very different chocolate selection from Whole Foods Market. The Jackson Square store has a full,Stop and Shop 5 dedicated snack and candy aisle that extends the length of the store, and it had the largest chocolate selection of the three stores examined in this paper (pictured to the right). The Jamaica Plains Super Stop & Shop carries large, national brands, including Hershey’s, Dove, Cadbury, Lindt, Nestlé, and Ghirardelli at a much lower price-point than the chocolate carried at Whole Foods Market. The two Jamaica Plain stores do not carry any overlapping brands; while Whole Foods carries craft chocolate made in small batches at a high price that might inhibit regular consumption for many people, Stop & Shop carries widely recognized brands at a price that is more accessible for the average consumer. The most expensive unit price available at Stop & Shop was for Ghirardelli 86% Cacao Intense Dark Chocolate at $18.60 per pound. By contrast, the most expensive unit price observed at Whole Foods for traditional chocolate was $62.13 per pound for Raaka Virgin Chocolate’s Yacón Root chocolate.

Finally, the chocolate selection at Tropical Foods is distinct from the other two stores in its emphasis on chocolate products to drink. The chocolate selection at Tropical Foods  Tropical Foods 3.JPGwas the smallest of the three stores. It was divided into three sections: chocolate with which to bake; mixes to make chocolate milk, hot chocolate, and other chocolate beverages; and a small selection of chocolate bars produced by large American companies near the register. Unlike Whole Foods Market and Super Stop & Shop, Tropical Foods did not have a dedicated spot in the store for chocolate bars. A significant section of the store is dedicated to chocolate drinks (as pictured to the right). In particular, Tropical Foods carries the Mexican brand Maizena, a maize-based drink, in four varieties: chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, and coconut, which neither Stop & Shop nor Whole Foods carried.

Analysis

Whole Foods sells chocolate at the highest price point of the three stores examined here, and its chocolate selection is the only one to emphasize organic, free trade products. Additionally, most chocolate sold at Whole Foods Market is dark chocolate combined with other unique flavors and ingredients. Its focus on expensive, ethically produced craft chocolate might reflect Whole Foods customers’ preferences. Indeed, dark chocolate has been consistently marketed as a luxury good to be consumed by those with so-called “refined” taste, which some argue is the same demographic targeted by Whole Foods Market in their emphasis on healthy, organic foods (Anguelovski).

The chocolate selection at Super Stop & Shop appeared to be tailored to its target demographic; the community surrounding Stop & Shop is made up primarily of middle- to lower-income people for whom the Whole Foods chocolate prices would be prohibitive, whereas the prices at Stop & Shop are more reasonable for regular consumption. The way that chocolate is sold at the Jackson Square Super Stop & Shop makes it a regular food item that can be purchased regularly instead of a luxury item. The lack of emphasis on organic and fair trade chocolate might mean that the consumers who shop at Stop & Shop are unable or unwilling to pay a premium for those benefits, which contrasts with the Whole Foods Market customers who are willing to spend more for these unseen benefits.

Finally at Tropical Foods, the emphasis on drinkable chocolate seems notable especially when compared to the other stores. It seems as though a number of patrons of this store might prefer to consume chocolate in liquid form, which might not be surprising given the historical consumption pattern of drinking chocolate in Mesoamerica, a region from which many of Tropical Foods’ targeted demographics’ ancestors come. Tropical Foods’ mission includes carrying brands that are traditionally hard-to-find in the United States, so carrying Maizena fits in well with their mission of serving the needs of the community in which they are located.

Conclusion

Despite the fact that these three stores operate within two miles of one another, their target demographics and immediately surrounding communities are markedly different. The chocolate selection carried at these three stores can be used a lens through which to examine the general offerings of these stores and the consumption preferences of some of their patrons. The chocolate offerings range from expensive, craft chocolate at Whole Foods Market in Hyde Square, to more affordable, national brands at Super Stop & Shop in Jackson Square, to chocolate products meant to be consumed as a beverage at Tropical Foods in Dudley Square. These three stores cater to specific communities prominent in their areas, and their chocolate offerings are strong examples of this fact.

 

 

 

Works Cited

“About Our Company.” Pure7 Chocolate. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 May 2017. <https://pure7chocolate.com/about-our-company/&gt;.

Ad-hoc Whole Foods Committee: Report to Full JPNC. Rep. Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council, 28 June 2011. Web. 1 May 2017. <http://www.jpnc.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/Ad-Hoc-WF-Committee-Report-June-28-2011.pdf&gt;.

Anguelovski, Isabelle. “Alternative Food Provision Conflicts in Cities: Contesting Food Privilege, Injustice, and Whiteness in Jamaica Plain, Boston.” Geoforum, vol. 58, 2015, pp. 184–194.

Bloch, Matthew, Amanda Cox, and Tom Giratikanon. “Mapping Segregation.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 08 July 2015. Web. 01 May 2017. <https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/07/08/us/census-race-map.html&gt;.

Boston Redevelopment Authority. Boston in Context: Neighborhoods. Publication. 2009-2013 American Community Survey. Aug. 2015. Web. 1 May 2017. <https://www.bostonplans.org/getattachment/290cae05-72b0-47ba-a214-4a6645d43b01&gt;.

Heath, Richard. “Bromley Heath Homes Renamed for Longtime Housing Leader Mildred Hailey.” Jamaica Plain News. N.p., 19 May 2016. Web. 2 May 2017. <http://www.jamaicaplainnews.com/2016/05/19/bromley-heath-homes-named-after-longtime-housing-leader-mildred-hailey/19555&gt;.

Kent, Alexander, and Thomas C. Frohlich (24/7 Wall St). “The 9 Most Segregated Cities In America.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 27 Aug. 2015. Web. 01 May 2017. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/the-9-most-segregated-cities-in-america_us_55df53e9e4b0e7117ba92d7f&gt;.

Luna, Taryn. “Tropical Foods to Open Store in Dudley Square – The Boston Globe.” BostonGlobe.com. N.p., 04 Feb. 2015. Web. 02 May 2017. <https://www.bostonglobe.com/business/2015/02/04/tropical/JBh1Ed1GK0dhdDLZG9oeYJ/story.html&gt;.

Ruch, John. “JP’s Last Supermarket War.” Jamaica Plain Gazette, 29 Apr. 2011. Web. 01 May 2017. <http://jamaicaplaingazette.com/2011/04/29/jp%E2%80%99s_last_supermarket_war/&gt;.

Tropical Foods (El Platanero): The Supermarket for Everyone. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 May 2017. <http://tropicalfoods.net/&gt;.

 

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