A Lot Can be Learned from the Selection of Chocolate at CVS

As a massive international corporation, CVS offers numerous products and services to their customers around the globe. Traditionally, they have acted as a pharmacy and drug store. Yet, within recent decades, CVS has become more of a convenience store in that it still offers pharmaceutical services and drugs, but it also now offers everything from cleaning supplies to ice cream. Furthermore, considering the fact that many Americans live relatively close to a CVS, it could be argued that many of the smaller consumables, such as chocolate, are purchased there. Thus, in analyzing the modern-day chocolate market for the majority of the public, CVS is an excellent case study to examine how chocolate is being sold to the masses. Thus, this multimedia essay will utilize the chocolate selection from CVS as a case study to determine how chocolate is being marketed to the public.

Race, Gender, Luxury and How Chocolate is Advertised

            The history of chocolate advertisement is one that is extremely rich with influence from countless external forces and cultures. Since its conception, chocolate, and the advertisement for its consumption, have been heavily influenced by both race and gender. The relationship between chocolate and race is strong and the two have related to one another since the Europeans found out about chocolate. Chocolate and chocolate production have historically been related to slavery, particularly African slavery, which continues to this day. The enslavement of African men and boys does still continue to this day and, “in a 2000 report on human rights in Côte d’Ivoire, the U.S. State Department estimated, with startling candour, ‘that 15,000 Malian children work on Ivoiran cocoa and coffee plantations… Many are under 12 years of age, sold into indentured servitude for US$140 and work 12-hour days for $135 to $189 a year’” (Off 133). Along with gender, race’s long connection with chocolate and chocolate production can still be seen to this day within the form of chocolate advertisement. That is, many of the ways in which chocolate is advertised play on these relationships between gender and race and chocolate. This can be seen in the fact that, “contemporary chocolate advertisements as well as wrappings feature black bodies or distorted images of blackness in order to promote chocolate products” (Hackenesh 98). Within the context of gender, “the consumption of chocolate in the west became feminized early in its history” (Robertson 20). That is, “women were charged with providing wholesome cocoa for respectable consumption within the family” (Robertson 20). Along with race and gender, the idea of chocolate as a luxury item is yet another aspect of its history that can be seen to this day. This early western idea of chocolate as a luxury good can best be seen within the coffee and chocolate houses of the seventeenth century. That is, “from the male-dominated coffee and chocolate houses of the seventeenth century, chocolate became associated with luxury and leisure in the domestic sphere from the eighteenth century” (Robertson 20). The influence of this idea of chocolate as a luxury item cannot be overstated and its influence can be seen to this day. This influence has been so powerful that it remains one of the most utilized tropes within modern chocolate advertisement. Thus, although race and gender have influenced chocolate throughout its history, and can be seen within many forms of multimedia chocolate advertisements, this idea of chocolate as a luxury good remains one of the strongest advertising tropes and one that can be seen throughout the selection of chocolate available at stores such as CVS. So, because of this, the luxury aspect of chocolate advertising will be the main focus of the remainder of this case study of the chocolate selection available at CVS.

A racist chocolate advertisement relating African skin color to chocolate treats
Source: Lecture 4, Slide 5
A classic feminized add for chocolate
Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/14/opinion/sex-and-candy.html

The Chocolate Selection at CVS

            As CVS has expanded its selection of items, particularly its selection of consumables, its chocolate so too has expanded. When you search for chocolate on the CVS website or you enter a physical CVS location, you are immediately confronted with the classic brands that you would expect. This includes brands such as: Dove, Hershey, Cadbury, Toblerone, Mars, Lindt etc. These brands have remained staples throughout America, and the world, for decades and thus they have garnered loyal support from many customers. That is, “the main reason for this longevity [of the major chocolate producers] is consumers’ usually strong loyalty to the taste of their chocolate; many consumers make a lifetime commitment to thei favorite chocolate brands” (Allen 21). Seeing these brands immediately made me feel comfortable. I felt that because I knew these brands, I could make an informed decision based on the brand name. At no point was I concerned with how the chocolate was produced, or even the ingredients of the chocolate, my decisions were based solely on brand name and packaging. Furthermore, as I view chocolate as a luxury and not something that should be eaten all the time or in large quantities, I was not concerned with the calorie content of any of the items. I knew that I was buying this luxury good to splurge and thus, calories were of no concern to me. Many of the large brands utilized images and colors on their packages so that they seemed luxurious and special. Dark purple and blue are often used on the packaging, as well as gold, in order to exude a certain type of luxury and exclusivity. Although much of the selection from the larger brands, such as Mars and Hershey, revolved around their classic treats, there was also a number of chocolates that were a darker chocolate with more cocoa. These chocolates were attempting to be more luxurious and exclusive even though they come from a well-known and inexpensive brand like Mars, Hershey, or Cadbury. An example of this can be seen in the Hershey’s Kisses Special Dark. Hershey’s kisses are a classic product from Hershey, and arguably one of the most famous chocolate treats in America. They are inexpensive and not considered to be the highest-end or most luxurious chocolate treat. Yet, by changing the packaging by adding a dark purple color and wrapping the Kisses in purple tinfoil rather than the classic silver foil the treats seem much more luxurious and high-end. The addition of ‘Special Dark’ on the label speaks to a certain level of prestige and luxury, and it also hints at the ingredient content of the treats which seem to be of better and higher quality. This attempt of a large brand that is not necessarily known for extremely high-quality and luxurious chocolate, like Hershey, attempting to advertise a luxurious and high-end product differs from a large brand that is more synonymous with high-end chocolate. This can be seen in the packaging of the Lindt Lindor chocolates. Lindt is more synonymous with a higher-end and more luxurious chocolate than is Hershey, thus all of their products immediately have that luxury cachet simply because of the brand name. The Lindt Lindor packaging is simple and elegant and includes colors such as dark blue and gold.

The ‘luxurious’ packaging for Lindt Lindor chocolates which are synonymous with luxury and exclusivity
Source: https://www.cvs.com/shop/lindt-lindor-truffles-dark-chocolate-prodid-271345
A screenshot from the first products that come up when one searches ‘chocolate on the CVS website
Source: https://www.cvs.com/search?searchTerm=chocolate

The Dangers of Chocolate Advertising

            One aspect of these attempts at utilizing luxury as a selling-point for chocolate is that these companies use this idea of luxury without backing it up through an explanation how the chocolate is produced and why it is of better quality than other treats. The containers focus on textures and mouthfeels of the various products, yet do not speak about what makes the particular chocolate more expensive and of better quality than other products. The Lindt Lindor packaging, for example, says “Irresistibly Smooth” on the front, yet does not speak to the actual quality of the chocolate and the ingredients of the product. This is an ingenious ploy by the chocolate companies because they need not drastically increase their cost of production, but rather just adjust the advertising and increase the price to create the lure of luxury and exclusivity. Thus, consumers must become aware of these ploys by the chocolate manufacturers and ensure that they are paying for quality of production and ingredients, not luxurious advertising.

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Works Cited

Allen, Lawrence L. Chocolate Fortunes :the Battle for the Hearts, Minds, and Wallets of China’s

            Consumers. AMACOM, American Management Association, 2009.

Hackenesch, Silke. “Advertising Chocolate, Consuming Race? On the Peculiar Relationship of

            Chocolate Advertising, German Colonialism, and Blackness.” Vol. 12, no. 1, 2014, pp.

            97–112.

Off, Carol. 2008. Bitter Chocolate: The Dark Side of the World’s Most Seductive Sweet.

Robertson, Emma. 2010. Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History.

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