Imagine walking into a grocery store with a sugar craving. You walk directly to the section with sweets and chocolates only to be visually bombarded by the large variety of options. Maybe you want a simple Mars bar- or if you are in a nutty mood, a Snickers. Alternatively, you could be looking for a smaller, more “snacky” option, such as an M&M or one of the varieties of Skittles. Perhaps you don’t want candy at all, so you stop at the gum aisle and pick up a Juicy Fruit or Orbit pack of gum. On the way to the register, a Dove and Twix bar catch your eye, and you make your purchase. Walking out of the store, you deem your trip a success and are happy that you were able to narrow your options from the variety presented above. Little did you know, however, that every confection mentioned previously is owned by one massive conglomerate: Mars Inc.
According to Zion Market Research (2018), the global Total Addressable Market (TAM) for chocolate is a staggering $103.38 billion and is expected to grow with a compound annual growth rate of 7% for the next 7 years ($161.56 billion by 2024). This TAM is higher than the GDP of 130 nations and is composed mainly of five large corporations: Mars, Mondelez, Nestle, Ferrero, and Hershey’s.
Even into the late 19th Century, processing cacao beans was still a manual task that took a significant amount of labor on a large scale (The History of Chocolate, 2007). So how then, in 150 years, have we arrived at a point where chocolate is so all expansive and profitable? The mass production and distribution of sugar, tools resulting from the Industrial Revolution, and innovative entrepreneurial solutions transformed the nature of chocolate from a rare, bitter, localized delicacy, to the massive, mass-produced, money-making machine it is today.
Cane sugar is the ingredient that unlocked the real marketability of chocolate, allowing it to be widely consumed and enjoyed. Sugar, in addition to chocolate, has a complicated history that begins with it as a specialty item, reserved for royalty and special occasions and slowly trickling down to the masses through plantation slavery as its production mechanism. In Sidney Mintz’s “Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History” (1985), she claims that “no later than 1800, sugar had become a necessity… in the diet of every English person; by 1900, it was supplying nearly one-fifth of the calories in the English diet” (p. 94). This rapid acceleration in the late years was due to the end of experimentation with sugar and its many uses. Not only did it have medicinal uses for chest and throat pain, but sugar was also found to slow the spread of bacteria, making it a useful preservative. In addition, pure, white, cane sugar was a common decorative addition that became synonymous with nobility. It was only through brutal exploitation of slaves that sugar was able to be prepared en masse, allowing for it to shift from a spice- a mere addition in some recipes- to the star of a given food or diet. Mintz (1985) corroborates this analysis when she claims that “As the spread of sugar downward and outward meant that it lost some of its power to distinguish those who consumed it, it became a new substance” (p. 95). Another contributing factor to the proliferation of sugar was the rise of coffee, tea, and chocolate as these goods reinforced each other in a cycle that led to the mass adoption of all of them as household staples. Once sugar’s role as a sweetener had been solidified, it was only a matter of time until this sweet addition seeped into the chocolate industry.
In addition to the availability of raw resources, the entrepreneurs and innovations of the Industrial Revolution propelled the industry forward in ways that set up the mass production of chocolate to succeed. As mentioned earlier, it was not until late into the 19th century that the manual removal of cacao was replaced by more mechanized solutions. Dutch chemist Coenraad van Houten is attributed with inventing the Cocoa press in 1828. This machine was able to separate the cacao butter from chocolate liquor (The Sweet Lure of Chocolate, 2020). This mechanization lowered costs and sped up the chocolate-making process. In 1879, Rodolphe Lindt, the Swiss chocolatier, invented the conching machine, which allowed for the production of standardized, mass-produced, smoother, and superior tasting products (The Sweet History of Chocolate, 2014). In his piece “Industrial Food,” Jack Goody (2013) also argues that the transition from a mixed marketplace in cities, such as London, to the privatized individual storefronts and grocery stores allowed for the chocolate to be more accessible as prices fell. In addition, the ability to preserve milk in the condensed form (in cans) allowed for even greater mass production (p. 81-83).
The Industrial Revolution resulted in technology that could mass-produce confection; however, smart and savvy entrepreneurial minds were still necessary to capture the business and stomach of chocolate hungry consumers. The stories of Milton S. Hershey and Forrest Mars shed a great deal of insight into how small local confectionaries grew into global powerhouses. In the case of Hershey, due to his lack of experience in the chocolate industry, he teamed up with John Schmalbach, whose proprietary method allowed for the team to produce on a grander scale than in Europe. This was due precisely to the massive availability of condensed milk and sugar (D’Antonio 2006, p. 107-108). Hershey was able to gain market power, cutting costs, and therefore pushing out the smaller competition, forcing labor to come to them. The Hershey factory became central to the town (later renamed Hershey), and unlike Standard Oil and other large-scale monopolists, Hershey’s operations were not viewed in an evil light (D’Antonio 2006, p. 115).
Mars had a slightly less linear growth story that began with Forrest finding his estranged father, reviving his business with the original Mars bar, being cut out of his own family operation, and exploring European chocolate making facilities to perfect his craft. Upon arrival back to the states, Forrest dismantled the relations his father Frank had built with the Hershey company and began to source his own chocolate. Not only did this decision allow for greater manufacturing independence, but Mars had previously been Hershey’s most significant revenue stream. Cutting business ties crippled Hershey’s operations in the short run, allowing Forrest and his new line of products to dominate the market (Brenner 2000, p. 182). While both Mars and Hershey’s dominate the chocolate space, as of 2018, Mars had net sales of $18 billion (the most of any confectionary), while Hershey had less than half the net sales ($7.7 billion). Clearly, the first is not always the most successful (International Cocoa Organization, 2019).
The story of the mass production of chocolate is one of timing, exploitation, and ingenuity. Without the mass production of sugar using slave labor, particular inventions that made chocolate-making processes easier and cheaper, and smart minds such as Mars and Hershey to put all the pieces together, the chocolate industry would look very different today. The issue of labor source is one that needs to be explored and illuminated further as although these corporations don’t rely on slave labor, there are still large swaths of labor exploitation in Ghana and the Ivory Coast. Having already secured incredible profits, behemoths such as the Big Five should look to invest more greatly in fair-trade sources for their chocolate as farmers are subject to abject working conditions with little compensation for their labor.
Brenner Joël Glenn. “To the Milky Way and Beyond and Breaking the Mold.” In The Emperors of Chocolate: inside the Secret World of Hershey and Mars. New York, NY: Broadway Books, 2000.
DAntonio, Michael. Hershey: Miltons S. Hersheys Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams. New York: Simon & Schuster Paperback, 2006.
Goody, Jack. “Industrial Food: Towards the Development of a World Cuisine.” In Food and Culture: a Reader, edited by Caroline Counihan and Penny Can Esterik , 72–90. Routledge, 2013.
“International Cocoa Organization.” The Chocolate Industry. Accessed March 23, 2020. https://www.icco.org/about-cocoa/chocolate-industry.html.
Klein, Christopher. “The Sweet History of Chocolate.” History.com. A&E Television Networks, February 14, 2014. https://www.history.com/news/the-sweet-history-of-chocolate.
Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power: the Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York, 1985.
Research, Zion Market. “Global Chocolate Market Set For Rapid Growth, To Reach USD 161.56 Billion By 2024.” Global Chocolate Market Worth Over USD 161.56 Billion By 2024. Accessed March 23, 2020. https://www.zionmarketresearch.com/news/chocolate-market.
“The History Of Chocolate.” Chocolate – All About Chocolate – History of Chocolate. Accessed March 23, 2020. http://archive.fieldmuseum.org/chocolate/history.html.
“The Sweet Lure of Chocolate.” Chocolate: Facts, History, and Factory Tour | Exploratorium Magazine. Accessed March 23, 2020. https://www.exploratorium.edu/exploring/exploring_chocolate/.
Sugar Consumption Over Time. Photograph. Historical Consumption of Sugar. Accessed March 23, 2020. http://www.sugar-and-sweetener-guide.com/consumption-of-sugar.html.
The Chocolate Conch – Episode 12 – Craft Chocolate TV, Youtube, 2018. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZGkJGDWn0J8 (accessed March 23, 2020).
U.S. Confectionary Market Share. September 9, 2016. Photograph. FoodBusinessNews. https://www.foodbusinessnews.net/articles/8592-competition-challenging-confectionery-market.