Chocolate has been a staple of Western culture since the time that it was brought over from Mesoamerica by the Europeans. Big Chocolate companies like Cadbury, Hershey, Mars, Nestle, and Ferrero Rocher now control over 99% of this market (Martin, “The Rise of Big Chocolate and Race for the Global Market”). On the other hand, single origin chocolate companies make up a much smaller margin of this market. Now that there are so many options – including brand, flavor, and texture to choose from – how does one make their ultimate decision? Factors like consumer awareness of production methods, the way that it is marketed, and convenience play crucial roles in the kind of chocolate people choose to consume.
To begin, it’s important to illustrate what Fair Trade is and who exactly it affects. Making chocolate is a ten-step process, and most of those steps are conducted by people in places like West Africa, specifically in Cote de’Ivoire and Ghana (Martin, “Modern Day Slavery”). In addition to the big companies controlling the vast majority of the market, Big Chocolate also retains over 90% of the money from the sale of the chocolate, while the actual producers are left with what little remains (Martin, “The Rise of Big Chocolate and Race for the Global Market”). This is one of the many problems in the relationships between Big Chocolate and their African farmers, as will soon be further illustrated.
Fair Trade Certifications and other labels indicating positive labor treatment are becoming more sought-after by consumers to the point where companies are creating labels of their own (cite – lecture). The goal of Fair Trade is to help farmers build sustainable businesses that can continue to prosper and be beneficial benefit all parties involved (Martin, “Alternative Trade and Virtuous Localization/Globalization”). Since the conditions in other countries aren’t being monitored by their government, it is important for them to be monitored by some sort of organization to ensure ethical treatment. However, the goals of Fair Trade are often far from what is actually achieved. While they’re trying to invest in the local communities, Fair Trade can lead to an inefficient marketing system where corruption flourishes (Martin, “Alternative Trade and Virtuous Localization/Globalization”). It’s also been known to hurt the non-certified farmer (Martin, “Alternative Trade and Virtuous Localization/Globalization”) because a positive addition to the circumstances in Africa shouldn’t be a negative one for those that aren’t able to be a part of it. In order to have a Fair Trade Certification label on a product, only 20% of the ingredients have to be produced under the specified conditions (Fair Trade USA), which can be incredibly misleading for the people who aren’t aware of this. The Fair Trade system, while it does have positive goals and some positive outcomes, can’t necessarily be relied on for regulating the labor conditions under which chocolate is produced.
Who Cares about Fair?
Consumers today are becoming more aware of ethically sourced chocolate, which Maricel Presilla talks about in New Taste of Chocolate: “Many consumers today share such concerns about cacao farming. They are starting to ask questions about farming methods and the well-being of farmers. There are people who as a matter of principle won’t buy anything produced without Fair Trade or organic certification” (133). This definitely doesn’t represent all consumers, however, a trend has begun in this direction as it hasn’t before – the consumer is being made aware of the conditions of the producer. Although these certifications are marked on many items and are advertised for their positive regulation of conditions, disregarding the efficacy of the certification, the fact that not all ingredients have to be ethically sourced goes entirely unpublished to the general consumer. If searched for, the companies’ websites will generally provide all information, but that isn’t accomplished without significant individual time and effort.
“In its press release announcing the launch, the Co-op indicated that it wished to ‘start a race amongst major UK supermarket groups anxious to demonstrate that they care and are eager to establish their ethical credentials’” (Nicholls & Opal, 101). This trend was also seen across the world as Starbucks changed all of its own-brand chocolate to Fair Trade Certified in 2002 (Nicholls & Opal, 101). While Starbucks is generally known to be a socially conscious brand in America and its consumers are a wide range, they still reach a huge number of people with their positive message of certification. When people are aware of why certain products are Free Trade certified, it is generally assumed that some of them would take that into account when making a purchase. However, it can be difficult to rely on consumers for such a task since Big Chocolate companies, which often aren’t certified, produce such large quantities for such an inexpensive price.
Mass production of any goods tends to lower the quality, whether in regard to cars, clothing, or chocolate. Yet affordability is such an important aspect when buying a treat on the way out of the store – a tendency that is specific to Americans (Martin, ““The Rise of Big Chocolate and Race for the Global Market”). Rosie Wigglesworth, a sophomore at Harvard University, said that she never spends the money required to purchase a single origin chocolate bar from a specialty shop when she can spend a fraction of that money to buy the same amount or more chocolate from CVS.
In addition to being less expensive, Big Chocolate companies get their customers to keep coming back by marketing to what we celebrate most – holidays. So often, the marketing insinuates all that will come out of giving chocolate as a gift, like falling in love on Valentine’s Day. Consumers have been conditioned to accept chocolate as such an important aspect of many holidays that intrinsically have nothing to do with it. As soon as Valentine’s Day is over, being inside a CVS can be both a sad and exciting thing. For chocolate lovers, it is a great day since all of the themed candy is now 50% off, but it is generally a mess and broken. Next to the Valentine’s Day themed candy shoved in the corner is all of the fresh Easter candy that has just been shelved and waiting for Easter to come in order for it to reach its many consumers. Since much of the candy that is bought is done so for the sake of festiveness and quantity, the general consumer wouldn’t even consider buying it at a specialty shop that likely wouldn’t attend to the holiday in such a dedicated way. This form of specialized advertising can be seen multiple times throughout the year, and is one of the ways that Big Chocolate companies retain its customers.
Another strong reason for so much popularity of the cheap chocolate is its convenience. Located next to every CVS register, it is incredibly easy for a consumer to just grab it on his way out, even if he wasn’t originally planning on getting any. In The Economics of Chocolate, Squicciarini and Swinnen talk about nudging, which can get someone to make one decision over another due to convenience (161). Given the observation that food decisions are often made relatively mindlessly and the environmental cues can therefore play a large part in steering these decisions, we explore the possibility that nudging is a potentially powerful technique to trigger behavioral change” (Squicciarini & Swinnen, 161). People go to CVS every day for things that meet their needs for medicine, beauty, and school. Sometimes they probably have chocolate in mind when they come in, but regardless, it definitely is when they are heading out. This kind of store, where almost all shopping needs can be met, is an excellent place for such an easy temptation to be stored. Big Chocolate knows this, and they can afford to acquire the shelf space and deliver the profit margins to stores like CVS that keep this cycle going.
Single Origin Chocolate
Unlike Big Chocolate, single origin brands pride themselves on the way that their chocolate is produced. While companies like Cadbury are incredibly secretive and have very rarely given the world insight on their chocolate-making process, these single origin businesses tend to be incredibly upfront about their production methods and values. They use this fact as a marketing alternative to that of Big Chocolate. These can easily be found on their websites, which is not what one would find on Hershey’s. This chocolate is made in small batches, so the quality is significantly higher.
These companies are known for outsourcing in ways that allow for ethical treatment in the production process, and therefore, many of them are Fair Trade Certified. Small chocolate companies tend to be founded for reasons other than mass expansion and market takeover in the way that the Big Chocolate companies currently dominate, such as passion or happening to be in the right situation.
Single origin companies advertise, but in a way much different than Big Chocolate does. Of course there is the difference of scale to which they are able to market but also the chocolate they choose to display. Instead of it being about what chocolate can do for you, as is the case for some Big Chocolate marketing, they focus more on its origin and quality. It’s not about the big events going on that it is a gift for, but rather appeal to consumers to make the ethical and environmentally sound choice when choosing to buy chocolate.
A major difference in terms of convenience of the products, is that these are much more difficult to find in a price-conscious store like CVS. The small batches with attention to detail plus the Fair Trade prices result in a single specialty bar commonly reaching about $9. This is not the kind of thoughtless purchase one generally makes at the register.
Most people have a general knowledge of Fair Trade Certification’s existence and the fact that it benefits people at the bottom of the production ladder. Many people don’t know the details, especially the negative aspects that can be so severe that struggling groups of farmers in other countries make the choice to not be a part of it. The general public consensus right now, from the people I spoke to about it, is that Fair Trade is an overall positive certification and group to be a part of.
I decided to test how much of an effect on taste preference this knowledge of Fair Trade had on consumers. I did this by recruiting people I know and asking how much they knew about Fair Trade. I then divided them into three groups – one that knew almost nothing but assumed that it was good; one that knew some details about the way that it operated; and one that was fully aware of both the goals and consequences since two of them are also in the class. All three groups were part of trials conducted separately, but they all received the same chocolate in the same order. The only difference is what I said about each piece they were about to eat. All four pieces were from Potomac’s 70% dark chocolate, including bars with cacao beans from Costa Rica, Peru, Venezuela, and the Dominican Republic. Each trial I changed which ones I said were from Fair Trade Certified companies, always changing the two I said that were and the two I said that weren’t. I then asked everybody to rank the four chocolates in order of the favorite.
The results showed that everyone always had at least one of the “Fair Trade Certified” bars in their top two preferences. While these four bars did vary slightly in flavor, I still conclude that people were affected by the knowledge of where the chocolate came from and how it was made.
A lack of awareness can play a huge role in the conditions that still exist for chocolate producers today. Millions of children are involved in child labor today, specifically to produce chocolate, by being trafficked mostly from Mali to Cote de’Ivoire and Ghana (Coe & Coe, 263-264). Blatant racism is also unrecognized because people miss the subtly that exists now as a byproduct of the extremely long history connecting chocolate and slavery. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’s Oompa Loompas, Spanish Conguitos, and Belgian chocolate hands have all been discreetly displaying racism in a way that few perceive. These “cultural blindspots” show the gaps that exist in knowledge about where such images and concepts came from (Martin, “Race, Ethnicity, Gender, and Class in Chocolate Advertisements”), which holds us back as a whole.
While not everybody can be convinced to spend more money to buy Fair Trade Certified chocolate bars, many more people could be swayed against buying chocolate that depicts slavery in such a way. Not everyone knows about the way that chocolate is made, and that along with how it’s marketed and convenience of consumption is how people make the decision of what chocolate to buy.
Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. 3rd ed. London: Thames & Hudson, 2013. Print.
2Collier, Dan. “Green & Black’s.” Dan Collier. Green & Black’s, n.d. Web. 01 May 2017.
1“EXCLUSIVE: Cadbury’s Tapping the Specific Occasional Gifting Opportunity: Anil Viswanathan.” Pitchonet. Pitch Magazine India, n.d. Web. 02 May 2017.
3Friends trying different types of chocolate, Cambridge. Personal photograph by author. 2017.
Martin, Carla. “Alternative Trade and Virtuous Localization/Globalization.” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard University, Cambridge. 5 Apr. 2017. Lecture.
Martin, Carla. “Modern Day Slavery.” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard University, Cambridge. 22 Mar. 2017. Lecture.
Martin, Carla. “Race, Ethnicity, Gender, and Class in Chocolate Advertisements.” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard University, Cambridge. 29 Mar. 2017. Lecture.
Martin, Carla. “The Rise of Big Chocolate and Race for the Global Market.” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard University, Cambridge. 15 Mar. 2017. Lecture.
“Multiple Ingredients Product Policy.” Fair Trade USA. Fair Trade USA, 2017. Web. 03 May 2017.
Nichollis, Alex, and Charlotte Opal. Fair Trade: Market Driven Ethical Consumption. London: Sage, 2011. Google Books. Google. Web. 1 May 2017.
Presilla, Maricel E. The New Taste of Chocolate, Revised: A Cultural & Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press, 2009. Print.
4“Shop.” Potomac Chocolate. Potomac Chocolate, 2017. Web. 03 May 2017.
Squicciarini, Mara P. and Johan Swinnen. The Economics of Chocolate. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016. Google Books. Google. Web. 1 May 2017.