Chocolate is a unique consumer’s item because it has exhaustive social and historical significance. Chocolate is created in similar ways but the background of one chocolate bar can vary immensely when compared to that of another chocolate bar. Chocolate bars vary in cacao percentage, sugar amount, cacao origination, labor laws, and so many more complicated factors. When you walk into a store, chocolate seems like another typical food available for purchase, but it is much more complicated than that. The average American consumed almost ten pounds of chocolate in 2015 and that number continues to rise over the years (Satioquia-Tan, 2015). It is very clear that there has been a rise in chocolate consumption that does not appear to be ending anytime soon. In fact, chocolate production and sells bring in billions of dollars per year to many countries (Figure 1), making production a top profitable market (statistica, 2016). The appeal of chocolate is strong and there is no doubt about this.
Figure 1: Consumption of chocolate in dollars in different countries.
It is evident that this rise in chocolate consumption is due to increased advertisement and mass production (Martin, 2016) and the increase of the sugar market (Mintz, 1986). Of course, all of this seems clear because I have taken AfAm119X. I learned firsthand about the joys and perils of the chocolate market. With all the new information I learned about the chocolate industry, I am more skeptical with purchases. I question the fundamentals of where a chocolate originated and the labor laws in place for its production. Unfortunately, not much information is readily available to consumers so they do not have the necessary information to understand the social impacts behind chocolate consumption. If there are no problems associated with the chocolate industry, then new information should not change views on chocolate consumption. This is not the case, however. The easy accessibility of popular brands, constant advertising, and lack of information about exploitation and health consequences all promote chocolate consumption. If people were made more aware of problems in the chocolate industry, then there could be a decline in chocolate consumption which could push industries to better their practices and have more conscious efforts in production. In an interview with a Harvard senior, it was noticed that new information of the problems of the chocolate industry influenced her chocolate consumption.
The woman interviewed for this blog is a Harvard senior who considers herself to be an avid chocolate lover. She agreed to sit down twice for the interview because there were two parts assigned for the interview. Part one of this interview has general questions about chocolate consumption. Part one ended with the interviewee being shown new information, videos, and advertisements intended to bring awareness of some problems of the chocolate industry. Part two of this interview was conducted five days later and was intended to find whether or not the negative information influenced her chocolate consumption. After the entire interview had been conducted, the interviewer was awarded with chocolate of her choosing and her answers were analyzed. It was found that the interviewer lacked background information about chocolate and the new information did influence her choices.
PART ONE OF INTERVIEW: GENERAL QUESTIONS
Interviewer: “When I say the word chocolate, what are some of your first thoughts?”
Friend: “Delicious. Chocolate is delicious and I love it. It’s a great dessert and there are so many different chocolates to choose from. You can give it to people as presents or buy it for yourself.”
Interviewer: “How often would you say you buy chocolate?”
Friend: “A few times a week. I usually buy it on the weekends.”
Interviewer: “Is there any particular type that you buy more often?
Friend: “I usually buy Hershey’s or Almond Joy. Sometimes I’ll get Snickers or Kit-Kat.”
Interviewer: “Why these? What do you consider when you buy these?”
Friend: “It’s really easy to get it. It’s in the aisles but usually it is also at the register so it’s very tempting. Also, it is pretty cheap so I can usually get a lot of chocolate for a few dollars.”.
Interviewer: “How much would you say you know about chocolate?”
Friend: “I would say that I know a lot about the types of chocolate and what they have in them.”
Interviewer: “Would you say you know a lot about how they are made or where their products come from?”
Friend: “Probably not. I honestly just know about the chocolate brands that you find at like CVS. I know they are produced in factories and there is a lot of chocolate out there.”
Interviewer: “Would you say that chocolate is healthy?”
Friend” I have heard that dark chocolate is healthy so I think chocolate can have benefits.”
From the interviewee’s responses, it is very clear that she is a frequent consumer, yet she does not know very much information about chocolate production. The majority of her chocolate experiences come from the Big Five because they control 80% of the chocolate market (Martin, 2016). These companies have made buying their chocolate easily accessible and affordable. With their mass production success, they can continue to supply at such a demand. Not only do these chocolate companies mass produce their chocolate, but they also monopolize stores to market their chocolate as much as possible. For example, the interviewee mentioned the convenience of chocolate found at checkout (Figure 2). Consumers are advertised chocolate throughout the store in the aisles, but then they are advertised again at checkout to solidify the sell. This convenience is content merchandising (Blumenfeld, 2015).
As one would predict, the exploitative side and influential advertising of chocolate production is hidden from the consumer. Chocolate making has a rich process behind it from cacao bean to bar but the consumer is hidden from this. The consumer is only advertised chocolate as a luxurious, desirable good that can only positively affect the consumer.
PART TWO OF INTERVIEW: NEW INFORMATION
At this point in the interview, I informed the interviewee that I would give her new information about chocolate that I had learned in AfAm119X. I would proceed to ask her follow up questions and I would take notes of any reactions that she had to the information. I presented the information in the following order:
1. I showed her different advertisements from popular chocolate companies. I told her about how some of these advertisements were often hyper-sexualized women and advertisements were different for men or women audiences (Farhim, 2010). Or some ads were used to promote chocolate to children from a very young age (Fed Up, 2014).
2. I gave her a chart of the benefits of cacao and advised her that popular chocolate bars, such as Hershey’s, were only made of 20% chocolate (Martin, 2016). I presented her with a nutrition label chart of a Snicker’s bar and pointed out that there was no daily value percentage assigned to the sugar information.
3. I told her the statistic that every metric cacao has only a $200 premium most of the profit does not go directly to the farmer (Martin, 2016).
4. I showed her some clips from the documentary “Fed Up”. The clips showed the major control that the sugar industry has on food today and its negative impact on health. I explained that many efforts to control this industry have been denied due to profit concerns (Fed Up, 2014).
Interviewer: “With this new information about chocolate behind-the-scenes, how do you feel about chocolate or what are some thoughts you are having?”
Friend: “I feel like I’ve been lied to before. I didn’t know that a chocolate bar was more sugar than actual chocolate. I also never really considered how much farmers were exploited and overworked just so that I could eat a chocolate bar. All of this information makes me believe that there is a bad side to the chocolate industry that I didn’t know about.”
Interviewer: “Which of these would you say is sticking with you more?”
Friend: “I’m actually quite upset with the Fed Up clips that you showed me. I can’t believe that there is such a monopoly in advertisements. They influence children and adults and work to stop change from happening. I almost feel responsible like I should only buy chocolate that is more socially conscious.”
Interviewer: “Who would you say is responsible for these problems?”
Friend: “The chocolate companies and politics. It is unfair that we don’t know this information because they are afraid that their sales will decrease. It is my fault as well though for not questioning the production of chocolate.”
The interviewee had a very negative reaction to the new information. She was angered by the lack of information available to the consumer. Even though this information is not available to consumers, it affects them indirectly or directly when they consume chocolate. When consumers increase their demand for chocolate, chocolate companies must increase their demand of cacao. This could cause more exploitation of farmers to meet the demand, which is an indirect effect. Directly, chocolate is about 80% sugar so one chocolate bar could exceed the recommended daily consumption amount (Martin, 2016).
A particularly interesting finding of this interview was that the interviewee was mostly offended by the advertising efforts of companies. Many companies target children from very young ages because if they can accustom them to the consumption of their product when young, at older ages they will continue to buy the products (Fed Up, 2014). Children are much more impressionable to such advertisements and companies monopolize on that fact. The advertising efforts begin at home when children watch television and they continue elsewhere. The interviewee’s reaction to this shows that people would be angered if they had the necessary information. Chocolate companies have mastered the act of hiding their problems and promoting the taste of their chocolate.
PART TWO OF INTERVIEW
Interviewer: “How did this new information affect you?”
Friend: “I feel like it prevented me from buying as much chocolate as I normally would. I also bought some different type of chocolate that advertised that it had higher percentages of cacao. I considered buying chocolate that had more of a story on its label. It made me more aware of my purchases.”
Interviewer: “What were your overall feelings when you bought the new chocolate and what did you consider?”
Friend: “When I tried to buy the popular chocolate brands, I felt guilty. I didn’t want to know that I was being a part of the manipulation of the sugar industry. Plus, the other chocolate is healthier and still tastes somewhat good.”
Even though this was only one person, a bit of new information about the problems in the chocolate industry were influential. The information from part one affected what the interviewee considered when buying chocolate. In fact, she no longer considered easy accessibly and cheap cost. Instead, she was more conscious about the background of the chocolate bar and its health benefits. It has been known that chocolate can cause feelings of guilt because there is a false dichotomy (Martin, 2016). However, the feelings of guilt that the interviewee felt were due to her lack of information about exploitation and advertising. After learning the new information, the interviewee made an active change to her consumerism. She avoided Big Five chocolate companies and attempted to buy more socially conscious chocolate.
It is important to acknowledge the social issues that were presented to the interviewee. Sugar consumption is at a high and chocolate companies monopolize on this. Mass production of chocolate leads to high demand which can increase exploitation. Advertisement efforts often target children and women. Each of these issues alone is problematic but they persist anyhow. People are not aware of these issues so there is increasing success of major chocolate companies. One interviewee’s consumption practices were changed with some new information which signals that more awareness about the problems in the chocolate industry could influence many more people.
Chocolate industries have manipulated information available to their consumers. They manipulate country taxes to exploit countries’ cacao profits (Sylla, 2014). They manipulate the health information known about chocolate. Their success in advertisements, mass production, and low cost mask the problems of chocolate production. Even though this is true, a bit of awareness could influence consumers. The interviewee made changes in her consumption and others could too. Next time, buy a Taza Chocolate bar!
Blumenfeld, J. (2015). The art of chocolate: Woo customers with craft, story and health. New Hope Network.
Farhim, J. (2010). Beyond cravings: Gender and class desires in chocolate marketing. Occidental College; OxyScholar.
Fed Up, documentary. (2014). Film.
Martin, C. (2016). Introduction to chocolate, culture, and the politics of food. Harvard College, Lecture.
Mintz, S. (1986). Sweetness and Power.
Satioquia-Tan, J. (2015). Americans Eat HOW MUCH chocolate?. CNBC.
Statista.com. (2016). Statistics and facts on the chocolate industry.
Sylla, N. (2014). The fair trade scandal.