Walgreens: My Unlikely Source Of Chocolates*

About The Taster

It is not a secret to those who know me well that I love chocolate. I specially enjoy super dark, extremely bitter (70-90%) Cacao bars. I also like—the unfortunately less nutritious—white chocolate products. I regularly buy white chocolate bars or bon bons from local grocery stores. Yet, my finest inclinations—as a chocolate taster—are always in favor of the darkest, unsweetened, highly concentrated cacao bars. 
 
According to content learned in Harvard University professor Carla D. Martin’s class Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food, I am a hypertaster or someone who has “more papillae that are very closely arranged and smaller” (Martin, 13). This can make me an unreliable taster, and it probably explains my experience with tasting food—I always sound either very excited or really disgusted about flavors in contrast to most of my friends, who seem balanced in their perception of taste. Regardless of the odds, I continue to be their main “adviser” on good local restaurants. This is probably due to my “passionate” approach, which grabs their interest. 

Why Walgreens? 

I regularly walk to a nearby Walgreens drugstore to get my prescriptions (see fig. 1 and fig. 2). It was not until joining professor Martin’s class that I paid attention to their chocolate section. It actually happened around Valentine’s, when most of us (particularly females) are targeted with advertisements and offers of candy and chocolates. Very curious—recalling our class’ discussions—I explored these isles at the store and I found—not surprisingly—an “avalanche” of well known chocolate brands (like Lindt, Cadbury, Nestle) lying next to the candy section (see fig. 4).
Fig. 1. Walgreens drugstore at Vermont Avenue and 6th Street, Los Angeles, California.

Fig. 2. Pinned location of Walgreens at Vermont Avenue and 6th Street, Los Angeles, California. 

Walgreens was founded in 1901 by Charles R. Walgreens in Dixon, Illinois. He started Walgreens as a “50 feet by 20 feet” (“Our Story”) drugstore, which later developed into a giant chain of pharmacies, and successfully expanded across the United States. In the Walgreens website, its motto reads, “A history of our company: How a neighborhood drugstore became America’s most trusted pharmacy… and changed the shopping habits of a nation” (“Our Story”) That seems consistent with the Walgreens of today, which steadily renovates its inventory to offer beauty, household and even grocery products (see fig. 3).
Fig. 3. Walgreens’ online shopping portal.

The Walgreens Experience

So, who goes to Walgreens for chocolates? Is it just me? Highly doubtful! I visit the store at least once per month. Since last Valentine’s their chocolate supply was re-stocked. I was shocked to see some of the brands that professor Martin reviewed in class (i.e. Endangered Species Chocolate) at my local Walgreens. Their wide list of product categories, makes Walgreens a good candidate for casual grocery and retail shopping. And when it comes to chocolate and candies, I am not alone. The day that I chose to take pictures for this assignment, I had to move aside several times to let other shoppers shop, and to let their children run wild over the candy section. 
 
It is perhaps its versatility—as business scholar Katy Mullis suggests in her paper A SWOT Analysis of Walgreens in the Competitive Pharmacy Marketplace—what keeps the retailer thriving. Mullis describes the advantage of their extensive product selection, “The company strives to offer a merchandise mix in line with this focus, providing customers with one-stop stopping for not only prescription drugs, 6 but also over-the-counter-drugs, health care products, grocery selections, gifts, holiday and seasonal items, and one-hour photo developing” (Mullis, 5-6). Walgreens—based on Mullis’ work—holds strongly as a convenience market. People go there to order prescriptions, and spend no less than fifteen minutes waiting for them to be ready. This gives the company a tremendous advantage to sell more than just pharmaceutical goods. I personally buy candles and incense at Walgreens since 2015—and now, I additionally buy their chocolates and wine. 

Judging The Book By Its Cover 

Although Walgreens sells a great variety of chocolates, it is not a specialty shop for cacao products. It conveniently stocks brands that are popular and generally available in other food markets. Therefore, I was not expecting to find fancy delicacies there—and none else should. It would be an exception from their purchasing habits if it ever happened. Nevertheless, their chocolate selection is sufficiently versatile—considering that Walgreens is primarily a pharmacy, and not a grocery chain like Ralphs or Gelson’s.

 Fig. 4. Walgreens’ “Chocolate-Candy” section at a Walgreens store in Los Angeles, California.

The chocolate bars sold at Walgreens range from low to very good quality—as far as branding and taste. Some of their prevalent brands were mentioned at professor Martin’s class: Hershey’s, Cadbury’s, Nestle, Lindt, etc. It is uncommon to see organic products there (I did not find any at all), or certified products in general. But sometimes random supplies make it to their shelves and one stumbles upon a deliciously crafted chocolate bar.
 
With this research in mind, I selected and purchased a few items that attracted me. Recalling the chocolate tasting activities performed by professor Martin, I bought two of the Endangered Species Chocolate brand. I also picked the Chili and White Coconut—of course—bars from Lindt and a few others, nicely appealing (presentation-wise and content-wise). Notwithstanding, I avoid Hershey’s and Cadbury’s almost all the time. I feel that they make products that are so sweet and “distressed” that I am unable to taste any real chocolate in them. 

Tasting And Researching Chocolate 

My “repertoire” consisted of the items shown below (see fig. 5). Fig. 5. Chocolate Tasting Selection.

The description of the products in the picture is the following (in random order):
  • 1 Damak Fine Chocolate with Pistachios bar by Nestle, $2.89 / 2.80 oz.
  • 1 Damak Dark Chocolate with Pistachios bar by Nestle, $2.89 / 2.80 oz.
  • 1 Dark Chocolate Cranberry Almond with Blood Orange Flavor bar by Brookside, $3.89 / 3.17 oz.
  • 1 Dark Chocolate With Sea Salt & Almonds bar by Endangered Species Chocolate, $4.29 / 3 oz.
  • 1 Dark Chocolate With Cranberries & Almonds bar by Endangered Species Chocolate, $4.29 / 3 oz.
  • 1 Excellence Chili Dark Chocolate bar by Lindt, $2.50 / 3.50 oz.
  • 1 Excellence White Coconut White Chocolate bar by Lindt, $2.50 / 3.50 oz.
The results of the experiment produced the following graph, showing percentages (fig. 6):
 
Fig. 6. Measuring Chocolate Tasting Results.
  • The tastiest bar: Endangered Species Chocolate’s Dark Chocolate With Sea Salt & Almonds.
  • The best deal: Lindt’s Chili Dark Chocolate.
  • The worst product: Nestle’s Damak Dark Chocolate with Pistachios.
The worst tasting experience corresponds to Nestle’s Damak series. Professor Martin remarked during her lectures about processing chocolate, that over-conching can result in a “flat, lifeless” (Martin, 56) and dull product—which was evident when tasting the Damak series. In regards to Brookside’s Cranberry Almond Dark Chocolate with Blood Orange Flavor, I was dazzled by its fancy name and its presentation. Beautifully enclosed in a delicate foil envelope, it featured sketches of almonds, cranberries and an orange tree etched in silver color over a dark red background (see fig. 7). Whereas its base cacao mix did not feel over-conched or poorly processed, the presence of so many strong flavors (orange, almonds, cranberries) created an ambiguous taste that did not impress my palate, so I classified it as too busy. 
 
Decidedly, my preferred choice became the Endangered Species’ Dark Chocolate With Sea Salt & Almonds. It has a sharp, lively, delicious chocolate presence along with salty, crispy notes of sea salt and almond chunks. The only downside of this brand is that it is pricey—looking at the cost and its net weight. However, all of its certifications and its quality make it seem worth the investment. Regardless, certifications should be interpreted with caution—according to professor Martin’s research titled The Bitter and Sweet of Chocolate in Europe, co-authored with Kathryn E. Sampeck—because often they result in misguided efforts that do not really support cacao farmers as they claim to, and that benefit primarily “wealthy consumers” (Martin and Sampeck, 52) frequently halting “innovation by prioritizing consensus among participating companies and incentivizing only baseline standards adherence, ultimately becoming part of the problem” (Martin and Sampeck, 52). The problem—in this case—refers to the ever-growing poverty in many cacao-producing nations, and in the difficulties experienced by cacao farmers to sell their raw materials and to collect their earnings afterwards, whether they participate or not in certification programs.
Fig. 7. Brookside’s Refined Cranberry Almond With Blood Orange Bar.
 
In the next section are the details about the ratings from the chocolate tasting experiment. 

Observations From The Experiment

Nestle’s Damak Fine Chocolate with Pistachios:
  • Milk Chocolate
  • Mild taste, almost like candy
  • Burnt garlic after taste
  • Cacao: regular (non specified)
  • Certifications / Program: SadeOfset
  • Caloric Information: Yes
  • Rating: 3/10
  • Presentation: 2/5
  • Price: 2/5
Nestle’s Damak Dark Chocolate with Pistachios:
  • Dark Chocolate (55%)
  • Soil-like taste, almost like dirt
  • Bitter after taste
  • Cacao: regular (non specified)
  • Certifications / Program: SadeOfset
  • Caloric Information: Yes
  • Rating: 3/10
  • Presentation: 2/5
  • Price: 2/5
Brookside’s Cranberry Almond Dark Chocolate with Blood Orange Flavor:
  • Dark Chocolate
  • Fruity flavor, citric
  • Mildly bitter
  • Cacao: regular (non specified)
  • Certifications / Program: Smartlabel
  • Caloric Information: Yes
  • Rating: 7/10
  • Presentation: 5/5
  • Price: 4/5
Lindt’s Excellence White Coconut:
  • White Chocolate
  • Fruity, coconut
  • Sweet
  • Cacao: regular (non specified)
  • Certifications / Program: N/A
  • Caloric Information: Yes
  • Rating: 8/10
  • Presentation: 5/5
  • Price: 5/5
Lindt’s Excellence Chili Dark Chocolate:
  • Dark Chocolate (47%)
  • Spicy, chili
  • Sweet
  • Cacao: regular (non specified)
  • Certifications / Program: N/A
  • Caloric Information: Yes
  • Rating: 9/10
  • Presentation: 5/5
  • Price: 5/5
Endangered Species’ Dark Chocolate with Sea Salt & Almonds:
  • Dark Chocolate (72%)
  • Sharp, salty and crunchy
  • Just perfect
  • Cacao: Fair Trade, Non-GMO
  • Certifications / Program: Fair Trade, NON GMO Verified, Certified Gluten-Free, Certified Vegan
  • Caloric Information: Yes
  • Rating: 10/10
  • Presentation: 4/5
  • Price: 3/5
Endangered Species’ Dark Chocolate with Cranberries & Almonds:
  • Dark Chocolate (72%)
  • Fruity, spicy and crunchy
  • Just perfect
  • Cacao: Fair Trade, Non-GMO
  • Certifications / Program: Fair Trade, NON GMO Verified, Certified Gluten-Free, Certified Vegan 
  • Caloric Information: Yes
  • Rating: 9/10
  • Presentation: 4/5
  • Price: 3/5
These are certifications reported by the products:
Contents (fig. 8):
  • Kosher, Dairy
  • Fair Trade
  • NON GMO Verified
  • Certified Gluten Free
  • Certified Vegan
Fig. 8. Product Certifications. 
Packaging (fig. 9):
  • SadeOfset
  • Smartlabel
  • PCW Certification

Fig. 9. Packaging Certifications.
 
A curious detail revealed by the experiment, was the ubiquity of packaging certifications. Almost every chocolate product at Walgreen’s shelves displayed one or more packaging certification logos—even when the product itself was not certified. This proves that consumers are not only interested in eating well: they are also concerned about the impact that the products they consume have in the environment. Hopefully, consumers will succeed in voicing their interest to chocolate manufactures and cause them to buy more certified raw materials, and to support standardized certification programs. 

Putting It All Together 

Shopping at Walgreens for chocolates was quite an experience. If it was not because of taking professor Martin’s class, it would have likely skipped it. Yet, her class succeeded in making me a more conscious food shopper. I feel now compelled to read food labels and to check for certifications, which—other than USDA Organic—sounded irrelevant to me before enrolling in Chocolate, Culture and the Politics of Food. Understanding the difference between Fair Trade, USDA Organic and other classifications does make a difference in the “wholesomeness” and perception of a product. I am specially keen about the complex chain of connections that begins at a chocolate farm and ends on the hands of the consumer. I “pledge” to use more discernment in my future purchases by supporting transparent, environmentally and socially conscious chocolatiers.
 
An additional takeaway from professor Martin’s class—which becomes obvious while shopping for groceries—is that sugar and chocolate are quasi inseparable. Often, they are displayed in contiguous shelves, so that it is hard to define where the candy ends and the chocolate begins—this was the case at Walgreens (and many other stores). Perhaps, the subliminal reason for this is that most chocolate products nowadays are so overwhelmingly processed that—as author Samira Kawash puts it in her Candy: A Century of Panic and Pleasure book—there is an “ancestral” link between them: 

“The ancestral relation between candy and today’s ultraprocessed foods is a compelling reason to look a little more closely at the rise of the candy industry and the controversies and worries that accompanied it. The story of candy in America is a story of how the processed, the artificial, and the fake came to be embraced as real food. And it’s also the story of how it happened that so much of what we call food today is really candy.(Kawash, 26)

What Kawash suggests has been historically documented and marked by the evolution of the advertisement and media. Today’s most renown chocolate brands in America (i.e. Hershey’s) produce hyper-processed, hyper-sweetened chocolate goods. There is almost no difference between eating these chocolates and eating pure candy. But there is new is hope for a positive change that arises from consumer awareness. We—as consumers—can and are transforming the current food market. The dangers of sugar addiction and chemical processing are being exposed, and food shoppers are turning to natural alternatives. We are all hopeful about the rise of healthier and tastier food (and chocolate) that—most definitely—will lay in the hands of our millennials! 
*Disclaimer: This essay is drawn from a personal experience. Therefore, it is written in First-Person.

Works Cited

Faith, Arleena. Brookside’s Refined Cranberry Almond With Blood Orange Bar. 2017.

Digital photograph. Los Angeles, California.   

Faith, Arleena. Chocolate Tasting Selection. 2017. Digital photograph. Los Angeles,

California. 

Faith, Arleena. Measuring Chocolate Tasting Results. 2017. Digital graph. Los Angeles,

California.

Faith, Arleena. Packaging Certifications. 2017. Digital collage. Los Angeles, California.

Faith, Arleena. Product Certifications. 2017. Digital collage. Los Angeles, California.

Faith, Arleena. Walgreens’ Chocolate-Candy Section. 2017. Digital photograph. Los

Angeles, California.

Kawash, Samira . Candy: A Century of Panic and Pleasure. Farrar, Straus and Giroux,

2013, New York, Print. Apr. 2017. 

Martin, Carla D. (2017). Lecture 4: Popular Sweet Tooths and Scandal [PowerPoint

presentation]. Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Martin, Carla D. (2017). Lecture 12: Psychology, Terroir, and Taste [PowerPoint

presentation]. Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Martin, Carla D., and Kathryn E. Sampeck. “The Bitter and Sweet of Chocolate in

Europe.” Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts. 2015. Print. 2017 May 2.

Mullis, Katy. “A SWOT Analysis of Walgreens in the Competitive Pharmacy

Marketplace.” College of Health and Human Sciences Oregon State University, Corvallis,

Oregon. 2006. Web. 2017 April 20. http://www.teschi.edu.mx/TESCHI-web/TESCHI-papelera/%20cevm/diapositvas/Anexos%20Modelos/Anexos%20Modelo%20Empresa/DAFO/A%20SWOT%20Analysis%20of%20Walgreens.pdf

“Our Past.” Walgreens, 2017. Web. 2017 April

28, https://www.walgreens.com/topic/history/ourpast.jsp

“Shop” Online shopping portal. Chicago: Walgreen Co., 2017. Walgreens. Walgreen

Company. 2017. Web. 2017 April 28.

“Walgreens.” Online map. Los Angeles: Google Inc., 2017. Google Maps. Google

Maps. 2017. Web. 2017 April 28.

Walgreens. 2017. Photograph. Google Maps. Google, Inc. Web. 2017 April 28. 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s