Chocolate is one of the most consumed products in the world. The industry has been extremely successful in marketing chocolate as a healthy product. The industry relies on advertising chocolate as a healthy product. In recent times, researchers have proven that sugar has a negative impact on health. The effect of sugar on health continues to be a controversial topic because the industry has consistently misled the public, creating a perception that its products are healthy. The reality, though, is that a majority of chocolate products have more sugar additives than cacao content.
The global chocolate industry was worth $98.3 billion in 2016. Currently, the U.S. industry is worth $22 billion. The industry has been growing steadily for the last four decades. Chocolate is popular because of its rich, unique and sweet taste. In addition, ever since ancient times, chocolate had been used in a variety of different ways to treat different medical conditions as demonstrated by the image below taken from this class’s lecture.
The perceived health benefits of chocolate products continue to drive the growth of the industry today. The problem though is that these products contain added sugar which plays an important role in making them palatable and tasty. Sugar is also the ingredient that makes chocolate problematic for the long-term health of consumers. The consumption of chocolate is closely associated with the development of conditions such as heart disease, hypertension, and diabetes because of the sugar in it (Stanhope 52). The industry has spent vast amounts of resources in promoting the healthy aspects of chocolate. Advertising plays an important role in creating consumer awareness but it can also be used to mislead consumers about the nutritional and health value of a product. Deceptive advertising has been used to promote the nutritional value of chocolate and to obscure the negative consequences of sugar additives.
Contemporary State of the Cacao/ Chocolate Industry
Chocolate is one of the most consumed products in the world. The industry is driven by innovation because of intense competition. There are numerous chocolate products and brands that are available for different market segments. In the chocolate market, the quality and richness of a chocolate product is usually defined by the cocoa content. For example, milk chocolate contains 10% cocoa and dark chocolate contains a minimum of around 60% cocoa. With the exception of dark chocolate, any other “chocolate ” product actually contain large amounts of added sugar. Think Hershey’s Kisses, Reese’s Buttercups, Nutella. All of these aforementioned famous “chocolate” products contain a higher sugar content than cacao content. The pictures below are from the lecture slides found here. They outline the ingredients found in the Hershey’s Kiss and the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. By convention, the first ingredient listed is the most occurring in the substance, and it is no surprise to find that sugar is at the top of the list of ingredients for both chocolate products. What is important to notice as well is that the other ingredients present in these chocolates such as milk is primarily made up of a sugar itself, lactose.
The perceived health benefits of chocolate products continue to drive sales. The Chocolate Industry has spent vast amounts of resources to promote the healthy aspects of its products. Chocolate is marketed as a healthy product that keeps consumers looking young, lowers blood pressure, and makes people feel good. Marketing campaigns have claimed that chocolate delays the onset of heart disease. Ultimately, dark chocolate is popular because the industry has succeeded in managing consumer perception through effective branding.
The advertising of products plays an important tool for chocolate makers to market their products. It is no longer adequate for chocolate makers to produce high-quality products because there are many strong competitors and many channels of distribution. Besides, chocolate competes with many other confectionaries. As such, advertising is a critical success factor in the industry because it creates consumer awareness and provides information about the benefits and uniqueness of the products.
Manufacturers of chocolate have used branding with considerable success. Branding has been focused on managing the perception of chocolate in the minds of consumers (Emari, Jafari, and Mogaddam 5692). The industry has taken advantage of consumer interest in health and wellness in order to position its products. For decades, chocolate brands have made well-targeted health claims. The industry has also succeeded in making their products ubiquitous. The products are readily available to consumers in drug stores, supermarkets, high-end stores and the internet. There are many products that have chocolate in them and are chocolate flavored.
Manufacturers of chocolate products have developed sophisticated targeting strategies. They have developed a universal demographic by targeting every category with different products. The product is universally appealing and is consumed by people of all ages (Shekhar and Raveendran 306). Psychological segmentation plays a critical role in the positioning of chocolate products. For example, marketers target impulse buyers with well-placed products near the supermarket check-out counter. Looking at the local CVS and you notice the many different chocolate and other confectionary products placed near the check-out counters.
Packages additionally play an important role in the marketing of chocolate products because they have nutritional claims that influence consumer decision-making (Shekhar and Raveendran 303). Apart from nutritional claims, visual cues also play an essential role in shaping consumer choices.
Big Chocolate and Health
Global chocolate production has been on a consistent upward trend from the 16th century. Chocolate is rich in cocoa which contains flavonoids which are important because they lower both cholesterol and blood pressure (Drayer n.p.). Dark chocolate has the highest amount of flavonoids. The presence of flavonoids is the basis for the health claims that are made by chocolate companies (Drayer n.p.). The challenge that chocolate companies face though, is that flavonoids have a bitter taste. Bitter chocolate does not appeal to many and the most used way to make chocolate palatable and more flavorful is to add sugar.
In the 1960s, the sugar industry withheld research findings that revealed the negative health effects of sucrose. The industry’s largest companies worked tirelessly to prevent public awareness about the harmful effects of added sugar that linked excessive sugar consumption to heart disease. Through the Sugar Research Foundation, the industry used funding to divert public attention from the negative consequences of sugar (O’connor n.p.). Scientists, such as Harvard’s Frederick Stare were paid to blame saturated fats for heart disease (O’connor n.p.). In hindsight, the unethical conduct of the industry and researchers prevented an early debate about the links between sugar consumption and heart disease. For decades, the public was unaware that excessive sugar consumption could harm human health.
Excessive consumption of sugar has been linked to the development of cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes (Stanhope 52). The consumption of added sugars leads to insulin resistance and hyperuricemia. Also, the metabolism of fructose causes liver lipid accumulation and decreased insulin sensitivity (Stanhope 52). Researchers have also established that fructose consumption leads to reduced energy expenditure and increased energy uptake.
Excessive intake of sugar has also been linked to obesity. People who consume high amounts of sugar are more likely to be overweight or obese (Stanhope 52). For a long time, the public has been misinformed that sugar has nothing to do with obesity. The popularity of sugar products has contributed to the obesity epidemic. Sugar constitutes a significant portion of the daily diet of most people (Stanhope 52). Obesity is a risk factor for the most severe chronic conditions including diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease. Furthermore, sugar consumption is a risk factor for metabolic disease. Indeed, excessive consumption of fructose leads to the deregulation of carbohydrate and lipid metabolism.
Sugar addiction is a serious condition that is caused by excessive consumption of sugar. Scientists have proven that sugar has an addictive character that is harmful to human health and wellness. Experimental research on both humans and rats has confirmed that sugar is addictive (DiNicolantonio, O’Keefe, and Wilson 1). Sugar stimulates the same parts of the brain that cocaine and heroin do. In addition, sugar has a significant impact on the mesolimbic dopamine system and activates the reward system of the brain that causes the release of dopamine (Stanhop 52). Some people find it hard to resist chocolate because of the cravings that can only be satisfied through rewarding by the high sugar content. Sugar also alters the mood by inducing reward and pleasure (Danicolantonio et al. 2). Excessive sugar consumption creates dependence and should be considered as a public health problem. A YouTube video, albeit a pretty long one, by Ashley Gearhardt, Yale and Rudd Center for Policy and Obesity, demonstrates the complex science of sugar addiction here.
Increased sugar consumption leads to sugar tolerance. Repeated consumption of sugar leads to increased demand because the reward system adapts to the frequent stimulation. Consumers take in more sugar because the body needs more intakes for the same reward (Danicolantonioet al. 2). Therefore, sugar consumers experience the same tolerance that is experienced by drug addicts (Danicolantonio et al. 2). Cutting sugar from the diet is not easy because of addiction and the deceptive advertising tactics of the industry.
Deceptive advertising refers to the use of false, misleading, and untrue statements while marketing a product. It describes marketing practices that mislead and misinform (or fail to inform) prospective buyers about the nutritional value or ingredient composition of the product they are looking to purchase.The Big Five chocolate manufacturers have engaged in deceptive advertising to obscure the health consequences of sugar products.
In 2012, Ferrero paid a California mother a total of three million dollars for false advertising (Tepper n.p). The company had depicted Nutella, a chocolate product, as healthy. The case exemplifies the misrepresentation of chocolate products on mass media, and the video here shows a Nutella ad where they intentionally neglect to mention the high sugar and fat content in it and simply present it as a mixture of cacao, hazelnut, and skimmed milk.
Marketers use words commonly associated with health and fitness and specifically gear their ads to a certain target audience. These companies have targeted women with specifically tailored messages that tie sugary products to self-worth (Union of Concerned Scientists n.p.). Children, moreover, have also been the target of customized messages and advertisements by chocolate marketers (Union of Concerned Scientists n.p.) Research indicates that children are vulnerable to advertising and failure to regulate marketing to children has been one of the shortcomings of the Federal Communications Commission.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned the corn sugar industry to stop deceptive advertising by using the term “corn sugar” instead of high fructose corn syrup, a product found in many household products. The industry has invested in a marketing campaign aimed at portraying “corn sugar” as natural sugar that is safe. Scientists have argued that high fructose corn syrup is more damaging than regular sugar. The corn industry has been misleading consumers that the added sugar, the high fructose corn syrup, is natural sugar.
Aggressive and misleading advertisements have contributed to the increased consumption of sugar. Most products have “hidden sugar” in their ingredients. In the current environment, it is not enough to rely on the information provided on the label. Sugar-free labels are often misleading (Reichelt n.p). In some cases, sugar-free simply means that there is no added sugar (Reichelt n.p). In other cases, it is that the product is manufactured with sugar substitutes (Reichelt n.p). Products that contain artificial sweeteners are usually labeled as sugar-free. Moreover, sugar-free products may contain carbohydrates or fruits which have sugar components (Reichelt n.p). Most sugar-free products contain naturally occurring sugars such as lactose and fructose.
Deceptive advertising by the sugar industry targets low-income populations. A disproportionate amount of advertising for sugary products is aimed at African-Americans. These low-income areas are less likely to be aware of the harms sugar-free or sugar substitutes, such as high fructose corn syrup, actually cause. Another method to lure people in these low-income areas to purchase sugary products is by retail outlets providing coupons and discount offers for them.
The advertising of food products is highly regulated because of safety and health concerns. False or deceptive advertising is unethical and illegal. The Federal Trade Commission Act contains regulations that define false advertising. The federal trade commission (FTC) is charged with the mandate of protecting consumers from deception in the marketplace. Section 5 and 12 of the FTC Act prohibit misleading advertisements. The FTC has made clear statements about the misuse of corn sugar instead of high fructose syrup in advertisements on the internet.
The Food and Drug Agency (FDA) protects consumers by ensuring that chocolate manufacturers comply with labeling regulations. Chocolate manufacturers are expected to comply with specific labeling requirements. Chocolate product labels have to label the quantity of natural sugar and added sugar. The FDA uses warning letters to inform industry players that they are breaching labeling regulations. The regulator has already warned against the use of corn sugar instead of high fructose syrup. Also, the FDA has strict regulations governing the claims that can be made by advertisers on product labeling. Health claims can only be made if they are supported by scientific evidence. The FDA has stated that science experts must support such evidence.
Government regulations provide a basis for legal action by consumers. Chocolate makers have been sued because of deceptive advertising. Consumers who are victims of misleading advertising can contact a lawyer and take legal action. Ferrero and Nestle have settled claims out of court because of misleading advertisements. Youth targeted marketing has been one of the challenges posed by deceptive advertising tactics. However, both the Federal Trade Commission and Federal Communications Commission have failed to address the marketing of chocolate to children (Union of Concerned Scientists n.p.).
What To Do With What We Know?
The chocolate industry has continued to experience growth because of the popularity of its products. Its products have been marketed as healthy and there is an increase in the amount of sugar-free or healthier foods that keep popping up on the market. It is a fair conclusion to come to that most chocolate products have more sugar additives than actual cacao. Also it is fairly evident that sugar is an addictive substance, and their presence in these chocolates makes them more desirable and more addictive.
Despite all the evidence that correlates increased sugar consumption with an increase in diabetes and fueling of the obesity epidemic, the debate about the ill effects of sugar is still ongoing. However, due to the ever-increasing restrictions and stricter rules by the government, consumer’s rights are finally being protected. Chocolate companies are culpable to sanctions and lawsuits if they are guilty of deceptive advertising and neglectful labeling . Consequently, consumers are better protected and educated to make their own choice, whether they opt for a healthy option or not. By having the proper information available to them, whether that is understanding the names of sugar substitutes (high fructose corn syrup, etc.) or being skeptical about what is meant by sugar-free, consumers are now able to understand the harms of what it is they would be consuming. Having this information, awareness and healthy skepticism allows consumers to understand how these sugary products are being advertised to them, what is in them , and the potential effects of consuming them.
The big question that we face now though, despite the information at our disposal, is this: the next time you are at your local supermarket/CVS, will you grab a chocolate or sugary product from by the counter?
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