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The Best Little Chocolate Bar You’ve Never Heard of: Why the American Craft Chocolate Industry May Not be Sustainable

There’s a certain kind of charm in “craft foods”. Not “Kraft” with a K, big industrial foods, but products created by small businesses in basements, backyards, and family kitchens by people that are so passionate about their craft that they make small batches, perfecting each one before selling them at extraordinary prices. There’s a very healthy craft beer industry in the US, craft cheese as well, but in the last few decades, the American-made craft chocolate bar has appeared. With the American history of chocolate being a cheap indulgence sold at check-out counters across the country, it’s hard to imagine the place that an $8 “craft” chocolate bar with 76% Malagasy cacao beans has in the American consumer’s lexicon. That very high price point, as well as the increased scrutiny customers willing to hit that price level give to their products, may mean that the American craft chocolate industry isn’t wholly sustainable. Looking at the trajectories of three different craft chocolate makers, Patric, Potomac, and Mast Brothers, serve as examples of the fine line that craft chocolate makers must walk to maintain their already precarious position in the American food economy.

Before discussing the specifics of these brands, it is important to lay out first why exactly these bars are so expensive. There are two prongs of this problem that need to be addressed: the cost of production and the inevitable mark-up by retailers that will carry craft chocolate bars. The cost of production for small batch chocolate bars is fundamentally different from “Big Chocolate” in the very first step of chocolate making: sourcing the cacao. These 3 chocolate makers, like many in the craft chocolate realm, are “bean-to-bar” chocolate makers, simply meaning that the chocolate makers themselves do all of the processing of the cacao in-house. These makers pride themselves on this fact in addition to using often only ethically sourced, fair-trade cacao beans. The cost to do this is significant, as fair-trade products carry with them a hefty price, and the price of buying fair trade certified bean added on to the cost of processing those beans in the same facility must be passed on to consumers. The second prong of the craft chocolate price tag being so high is that the stores that would carry said chocolate bars, the Whole Foods and luxury wine and cheese shops of metropolitan areas, know that they can make their profit with a large markup on items that they may buy for $2-3 wholesale and, as such, the price jumps from $3 to $8 (Martin “Haute Patisserie, Artisan Chocolate, and Food Justice”) . The combination of these two factors leads to the average American consumer getting sticker shock when picking up a fine bar of Potomac chocolate — the average consumer will only spend up to $3.99 on a chocolate bar (Martin “Haute Patisserie, Artisan Chocolate, and Food Justice”). So why then, have the following brands been able to become successful? Let’s investigate.

The first of these brands is arguably one of the most successful, having won national acclaim every year since 2011 ( Patric Chocolate is a bean-to-bar chocolate making outfit out of Columbia, Missouri run by a man named Alan McClure. McClure spent years tasting European chocolate in his 20s only to return to the US determined to make a better American chocolate bar in the style of the gourmet chocolate industry in France. The American chocolate industry really gained steam about 20 years after the revolutionization of the French haute chocolate industry (Terrio 14), and McClure began investigating chocolate just as the US was in the process of gaining the industrial and culinary knowledge necessary start a craft chocolate making industry in the style of Valhrona and Bernachon. The beginning of every Patric chocolate bar is the beans; Patric first sourced all of their cacao beans from Madagascar, launching the high percentage Malagasy cacao chocolate bars in 2007, and later moved on to blended bars with beans from the Caribbean and Central America. Patric chocolate boasts Fair Trade (or higher) prices paid for cacao in addition to all organic and non-GMO certified ingredients to flavor their unique bars like “PBJ OMG” and “MINT Crunch” with the very best fruit, nuts and peppermint essential oil. The fantastic ingredients of Patric chocolate bars shine through in the rich and creative tastes that melt perfectly on the tongue. Those ingredients shine through in the price tag as well: one 2.3 ounce bar of the 75% Madagascar chocolate is $14.00. 

One single Patric bar is 7x more expensive than a Hershey’s XL bar from Walmart. And on top of that, customers that purchase online have to hit a 5 bar minimum for shipping. That’s a minimum of $70 to get your chocolate if you don’t live near a retailer. 


Where Patric succeeds more than many craft chocolate brands is its exclusivity. Patric only makes it to a few very pricey specialty stores and is sold online in monthly “batches” of creative flavors on the Patric website. This helps to maintain Patric’s profit margins without compromising their ingredients or hands on production process. This is key to sustaining its business and continuing to bolster both cacao and organic farmers by paying above market prices for what they deem the very best.

Potomac Chocolate, like Patric, is a small bean-to-bar chocolate maker in Woodbridge, Virginia. Founded after Patric, in 2010, Potomac has a very similar business model as that of Patric but where Potomac really excels is their single origin bars. These bars are high-percentage cacao dark chocolate bars where all of the beans are sourced from one location, estate, country. This gives each of these bars a beautiful and distinctive flavor based on the terroir of the region; for example, the Duarte Bar, with beans sourced from an estate in the Dominican Republic, has hints of tropical and citrus fruit reflecting the tropical location the beans were grown in. These nuances, however, are really something only a consumer with a deep interest in chocolate or a very refined palate would notice. With that in mind, it make sense that these bars are sold in expensive groceries like Whole Foods and specialty shops.

The Potomac packaging doesn’t boast all the labels some craft foods do (Fair Trade, Organic etc.) but has instead built a reputation for ethically sourced ingredients that encourages it purchase among the “Whole Foods Shopper” demographic 

Potomac sells their bars to these retailers at a price of only $2-3, leaving the additional $6 markup to the seller themselves. This obviously proves a challenge to Ben Rasmussen, proprietor of Potomac, to source good beans and make so little profit. Without the exclusivity and “limited edition” specialty releases of Patric, Potomac relies on these sellers to market their products to demographics that are interested or might be; where I can find Potomac at Whole Foods and a handful of other specialty shops in the Boston area, I have never seen a Patric bar for sale next to it. The cost of selling at these stores, however, means that Rasmussen must keep a day job and craft his chocolate at night. Even though Rasmussen and the company are young, it seems clear that the market for Potomac won’t sustain a chocolate maker like Potomac indefinitely. And that’s assuming that they can keep their already small consumer base intact!

Our final case study in the American craft chocolate industry is Mast Brothers. Founded in 2006 and incorporated in 2007, Mast Brothers was a rising star in the craft chocolate making industry. In one weekend in 2008, their brick and mortar store in Brooklyn made $28,000 (Person). Instead of taking a look at their business principles and sustainability, Mast Brothers is presented here as an example of what a misstep can mean for a company that works in a realm of consumers with discriminating tastes and standards. In December 2015, a food blog called Dallas Food published a 4 part expose, with it’s final piece effectively accusing the Mast Brothers of defrauding consumers since their inception by buying chocolate, not cacao, to make their chocolate bars. The distinction here is, unlike our previous two chocolate makers, the Mast Brothers were not in fact bean-to bar makers. The aftermath of the fiasco is still playing out but it’s undeniable that this, coupled with the fact that even early in 2015 the chocolate community at large was skeptical of quality and taste of Mast Brothers (Giller), has hurt the company’s credibility and limited their reach — being unable to sell in the specialty shops that cater to the finest chocolate consumers means that the average customer seeing their $10 bar is certainly less inclined to pull the trigger and purchase. Their evasiveness in answering questions on top of their fundamental lack of creativity sets the Mast Brothers apart from chocolate makers like Patric and Potomac, whose creative flavors and dedication to sourcing the best beans and ingredients make their small consumer base very loyal. The Mast Brothers should serve as a cautionary tale and poignant anecdote representing the fragility and importance of brand in an industry as small as American craft chocolate making.

As these three case studies show, the American luxury chocolate industry is unsustainable from a pure market point of view. While there will likely always be a small sector of the population, the true chocolate connoisseurs, that’s willing to pay up for their bean-to-bar indulgence, the growth outlook for a company that boasts the finest and most expensive chocolate ingredients is not very positive. Considering that the industry hinges on these very expensive ingredients and the assurance the a consumer is getting all the chocolate for their dollar, there is also not a great way to pivot to market to a broader US audience without losing their loyal customer base. Ben Rasmussen, of Potomac chocolate, is doing what he loves at night, but it seems unlikely that he’ll be able to quit his day job any time soon; the craft chocolate industry is simply not sustainable for Rasmussen and many makers like him.

Works Cited

Giller, Megan. “The High-End Chocolate World Hates Mast Brothers .” Slate Magazine. 2015. Web. 04 May 2016.

Martin, Carla. “Haute Patisserie, Artisan Chocolate, and Food Justice”” Harvard University. 27 Apr. 2016.

Person, Deena Shanker, and Http:// “How the Mast Brothers Fooled the World into Paying $10 a Bar for Crappy Hipster Chocolate.” Quartz. 2015. Web. 04 May 2016.

Terrio, Susan J. Crafting the Culture and History of French Chocolate. Berkeley: U of California, 2000. Print.

Williams, Pam, and Jim Eber. Raising the Bar: The Future of Fine Chocolate. Vancouver: Wilmor Pub., 2012. Print.

“Mast Brothers: What Lies Behind the Beards (Part 4, Confessions).” DallasFood. Web. 04 May 2016.

“Patric Chocolate Handcrafted American Chocolate Online Store.” Patric Chocolate RSS2. Web. 04 May 2016.

“Welcome to Potomac Chocolate.” Potomac Chocolate. Web. 04 May 2016.


Reframing the Golden Moment: Analyzing Sexual Tone in Godiva Chocolate Ads

Luxury chocolate has historically been sold and advertised to wealthy, white, female consumers. The class connotations of chocolate advertisements from companies like Cadbury, Ferrero Rocher and Godiva use luxurious settings and beautiful well-dressed white women in ecstasy to capitalize on the implications of wealth as well as the association of chocolate and female pleasure. This Godiva Ad, featuring said beautiful white woman and a “golden moment”, plays into the ubiquitous advertising tropes discussed above. By using an innuendo for orgasm and a sophisticated model, the ad suggests that the woman consuming Godiva luxury chocolate is something to aspire to not just because of the trappings of her class but also because of the pleasure she’s able to attain. In pushing back on this ad, I suggest that every woman’s “Golden Moment” is not a sexual climax but rather any good feeling. The hope of this original ad is to dispel the notion that chocolate is pleasurable because it is like sex for women; the pleasure of chocolate does not need to be sexualized because of the subject’s gender.

The ad in question is one of many that feature women, often as “Godiva Divas” indulging in chocolate and basking in the afterglow of having consumed Godiva products. 

Any close reading of an ad for Godiva Chocolate would be required to start at the very branding of the luxury chocolate. In its very name the company draws on historical associations with female sexuality through Lady Godiva, the nude noblewoman on horseback. The small, stylized logo in the bottom left-hand corner evokes the lady in question but most prominently features the company name “Godiva”. This subtle inclusion of branding in an ad that features a mostly clothed woman, albeit in bed, strengthens the tie between the chocolate and female sexuality that is essential to the ad’s messaging.

godiva outline
An enlarged version of the stylized logo shows in more detail and underlines the importance of the Lady Godiva legend in the branding of their chocolate – just the outline of a nude breast is the subtle connection between Godiva Chocolate and female sexuality that runs through all of their branding. 

The next important feature of this ad is the subject—the woman lying in bed. While the setting of the ad will be discussed later, the woman herself is an important piece of understanding the intent and result of the ad. This woman, much like the white women historically featured in Rowntree Ads (Robertson 28), represents aspirational upper-class whiteness, suggesting that to consume luxury goods like she does is a right reserved for the wealthy. The styling of her clothes, face and hair reinforce this notion as she is in a form fitting, sophisticated black dress with glamorous eye makeup. Her hair is styled to make it look effortless and slightly tousled but beautiful, reflecting the ease of her elegant lifestyle. These aspects of her styling also are sexually suggestive—the dress is cut to frame her breasts with a sweetheart neckline and the same effortless and tousled look is evocative of post-coital bed head. The pose in the bed and also against the pillow strengthens again the association between this ad and female sexuality, placing the subject of the ad in a pose and place evocative of sex.

The discussion of setting is brief only because the major setting of the ad is in a well-appointed bedroom. As discussed above, the fact that this woman is in bed is evocative, almost purely, of sex. Settings like this are not unique, with ads featuring bedrooms, bathrooms, and bathtubs are almost ubiquitous in the luxury chocolate marketing world. The sexual implications of these places are clear and they endow each ad with a sensuality that chocolate companies have long exploited to sell chocolate. The additional implications of this setting are class related. The major feature of the furniture in the bedroom is the beautiful tufted headboard in the background. While the recognition of the design value of a headboard as such has certain class implications, the mere fact of a headboard when many don’t have them at all puts the wealth of the subject on display, creating in addition to sexual implications, class implications for the consumption of Godiva chocolate.

new ad
The new ad pushes on the boundaries of class and race with a black family set without the trappings of wealth. The family aspect additionally pushes back on the sexualization of eating chocolate. 

In pushing back on this ad I hoped to do two things. First, I wanted to create “The Golden Moment” that had to do with pleasure or accomplishment that was not inherently or implicitly sexual. In creating this ad I wanted to find a “moment” accessible to women regardless of class. I chose to celebrate sharing chocolate with family in an ad whose “Golden Moment” is a smile between a grandmother and a granddaughter. The setting was also explicitly chosen to not reflect upper-class sensibilities as the focus. Much lik other campaigns that try to feature “unconventional models” for selling chocolate, the family here is American Black, giving Black Americans the opportunity to see themselves as the target consumer of the product (Leissle 135). Finally, instead of using the female silhouette logo created by Godiva, I opted instead for the logo used on Godiva products that includes only the name. This ad eliminates the use of female sexuality by positioning its subjects in a completely non-sexual situation and setting. This creates a new Golden Moment associated neither with sex nor with upper-class whiteness.


Works Cited

Kristy Leissle (2012): Cosmopolitan cocoa farmers: refashioning Africa in DivineChocolate advertisements, Journal of African Cultural Studies, 24:2, 121-139

Robertson, Emma. Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History. Manchester: Manchester UP, 2009. Print.
Elliott, Stuart. “Godiva Rides in a New Direction.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 2009. Web. 08 Apr. 2016.

The History of Chocolate Advertising: How Parenting got Involved and Big Chocolate Took Advantage

The buying power for the family pantry in the 20th century has historically rested with the mother. To get after that market, then, the candy makers of the 20th century went after the children’s sweet tooth by advertising to the mothers that would buy sweets for them. From being a cheap snack to a quick meal supplement to finally evolving into the sugar loaded evil we know today, the appeals companies made to moms are striking evidence of the dominant health and parenting practices and how they changed between 1900 and today. It was in this fashion that the chocolate companies could maintain and grow chocolate consumption through the century, even to today, where the average American consumes 22lbs of chocolate per year (Allen 28).

Before even the start of the 20th century, sugar generally was being consumed as a cheap and quick calorie boost. By the 1850s, sugar was a necessity in most British households. Households, and especially the women and children, were economically inclined to substitute away from more expensive and nutritious parts of meals for the quick calories from sugar instead (Mintz 148). The advertising of the time reflects this in showing chocolate or cocoa as an adequate substitute for a child’s meal despite the fact that we now realize that a nutritious meal and cocoa are not even in the same ballpark in terms of healthfulness (Mintz 186).

This early Cadbury ad featuring a small child lauds the benefits for her of a cup of cocoa

Despite today’s reality of chocolate’s health effects, the price tag and the calories it provided made it hard to resist meal supplements like Cadbury’s cocoa.

While the reputation of sugar and chocolate for being a cheap calorie boost hadn’t really gone away, it’s primary utility grew to be its ease in preparation and consumption. The quickness with which one could mix a cup of cocoa or hand a child a bar made it an attractive option for parents that suddenly found that they didn’t have as much time to make a family meal (Mintz 186). One can see this change in the rapid rise of prepared foods throughout the second half of the 19th century first half of the 20th (Goody 74). With chemical and technological advancements in the creation of processed or preserved foods as well as in the actual methodologies and containers used to preserve them, it became easier and more practical to get nutrition in the smallest amount of time possible (Goody 78). A large part of this is likely due to the entrance of more women into the workforce in later half of the 20th century. In war and peace times, chocolate and manufactured food products allowed mothers to put a “nutritious meal” on the table for their kids, even if their day would have prevented cooking a family meal.

Companies capitalized on this sentiment with advertising like this, featuring “a glass and a half” of milk in every bar

Even the government made it hard to deny the nutrition of milk chocolate bars, when the bars they gave to soldiers headed out on long missions were made of chocolate (Kawash).

Companies combined children, soldiers, and family to show the health virtues of chocolate bars in a truly “All American” Way

How then, did we get to today, when doctors, dentists, and other parents advise against overconsumption of chocolate and especially sugar? The health revolution was quick to pounce on sugar as yes, quick, but empty calories that would give your child (and you) diabetes and cavities (Albritton 342). As the adverse health effects of eating too much candy became the more prominent reputation of their products, candy advertisers had to react accordingly— children may still go into the chocolate aisle to purchase a chocolate bar but their health-conscious moms certainly wouldn’t. Chocolate and candy advertisers went about combatting this in two ways. The first was to start somewhat artificially limiting the overall sugar content of their products and started to market them as “reduced sugar” (Bailin, Goldman, and Phartiyal. 5-8).

This cereal box is a perfect example, where the health benefits of this breakfast are lauded on top and the “reduced sugar” banner is prominently displayed. Frosted Flakes still aren’t that good for you

The second way in which advertisers continued to go after parents’ conscious wallets was to return to sentimental advertising appeals (Nudd). This could be nostalgic, with a beloved theme song from a 1960s childhood, or offer up a piece of chocolate as a meaningful connection with a child.

Here, Mars has used nostalgia to both honor its history and make an appeal to new and older consumers with its 75th M&M anniversary ad, that feature a modern take on a classic song that was featured in an M&M advertisement as well as cuts of historical ads. Children can connect because of its modernity, but parents will connect with its history.

Hershey’s in particular has done a brilliant job capitalizing on the latter because of its reputation as “America’s candy bar”. Ads for Hershey’s chocolate may feature adorably animated chocolate kisses but end with the wrapped kiss given from parent to child.

Here, a recent Hershey’s ad uses the bond between father in daughter to sell Hershey’s chocolate as a way to spend quality time as a family in a busy world.

The transformation of these ads from print to video short is remarkable in of itself in terms of how consumers process information about the barrage of products in the world. But just as interesting is the feedback loop that is created when dominant attitudes about certain products (and the people that consume them) change. There was always a clear reason for eating sugar and chocolate—even if it was just because it was a sweet treat! Advertisers over time evaluated those reasons and found the best ways to get the candy addict in every child the sugar fix he or she needed by appealing to a parent’s nutrition needs for their child. Chocolate and sugar have mutated in the public mind from cheap calories to quick meal supplement to sweet indulgence without a lot of the actual chemical or procedural makeup changing over time. Ads from throughout the1900s to today tell a different story, however, one that almost seems to advertise three different products at three different times. Given that the product was, however, more or less the same, it is fair to conclude that the prevailing parenting and health attitudes on chocolate and sugar drove childhood sugar consumption and chocolate companies responded by routinely creating advertising that would appeal to those attitudes and keep sugar consumption growing.

Works Cited

Albritton, Robert. “Between Obesity and Hunger.” Coulihan, Carole and Penny van Estrik. Food and Culture. New York: Routledge, 2013.

Allen, Lawrence. Chocolate Fortunes. New York: Amacon, 2010.

Bailin, Deborah, Gretchen Goldman and Pallavi Phartiyal. Sugar-coating Science. May 2014. UCSUSA. 9 March 2016 <>.

Goody, Jack. “Industrial Food.” Counihan, Carole and Penny van Esterik. Food and Culture. New York: Routledge, 2013.

Kawash, Samira. Candy and Corn: “Rich in Dextrose”. 24 September 2010. 9 March 2016 <;.

Mintz, Sidney. Sweetness and Power. New York: Penguin, 1985.

Nudd, Tim. M&M’s UNveils 75th Anniversary Spot Featuring Zedd and Aloe Blacc’s ‘Candyman’. 29 February 2016. 9 March 2016 < >.

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The Mancerina and Chocolate’s Place in Baroque Europe

The history of chocolate’s movement from the New World of Mesoamerica to the Old World of Europe is as much about the drink itself as it is about the customs surrounding it. When European colonial powers brought chocolate back to their home county  to be consumed by the elite, they took the preferred mode of consumption (liquid), the temperature (warm), and process of finishing (foaming). One thing they did innovate with, however, was the vessels that they consumed chocolate with.

In colonial Mexico and South America, chocolate was consumed as the people in Mesoamerica had done: with a jícara. However, the nobles of colonial Spain wouldn’t be drinking from the hollowed and dried squash vessels as the indigenous people would (Ionescu 41)—they instead updated the jicara to reflect their more elegant tastes. The European version of the jícara was to be made of clay in a Spanish method of potterymaking called mayólica (Gavin 254). These ceramic jícaras served a similar function, however, they still had the unfortunate side effects of being mildly clumsy to drink out of. This would require another innovation.

A classical style gourd jícara


The mancerina had a distinctive shape and two parts – a handle-less silver cup, much like the jícara, and a saucer with a ring in the middle so that the jícara cup could be held in place. While initially the goal was simply to provide a wall on the saucer to “prevent [the cup] from tipping over” (Ionescu 41), eventually these elaborate and beautiful  pieces of silver would grow to look like cups in a wide leaf or the seat of a seashell.

A precious silver seashell mancerina; the ring in the center holds the cup filled with the chocolate beverage

The evolution of this drinking vessel for Europeans, like many processes in the movement of chocolate throughout the 17th century, is convoluted. There isn’t just one true story of why it was created. The who of the matter is relatively agreed upon: the man that created it, the Marques of Mancera, gave the new cup its name. There are two versions of the reasons behind the invention of the mancerina that hint at the different places of esteem chocolate held in Baroque Europe.

A portrait of the Marquez of Mancera, Pedro de Toledo y Leyva

The first story, as put forth by Sophie and Michael Coe, involves an elegant banquet that the Marques of Mancera held at his property in Peru, somewhere between 1639 and 1648 (Gavin 254). As was custom for the time, chocolate was served and consumed by all the nobles in attendance. To his horror, one of the ladies spilled chocolate all over dress from being unable to handle the jicara (Coe and Coe 135). In order to avoid similar mishaps in the future, the Marquez invented the mancerina.

This origin story points to the close associations between class and chocolate drinking in Baroque Europe and the colonies it spawned. These practices, most prevalent in Spain, France and Italy among royal courts and nobles, are detailed throughout Chapter 5 of Coe and Coe.

The second origin story of the mancerina, one which Coe and Coe do not touch on in The True History of Chocolate, involves the Marquez’s health. The Marquez of Mancera was said to suffer from palsy, or a tremor in his hands; that tremor often prevented him from holding the jicara without spilling any chocolate on himself. Thus, the mancerina may have been created to aid the elderly or ill in consuming chocolate for their health. Most of Europe was still subscribing to Galen’s Theory of Humors as healthcare (Coe and Coe 128) at the time chocolate was introduced in the 16th century. As all of their foods had to be classified according to this system of 4 characteristics, chocolate was naturally also brought into the regime. More important than the classification itself is the immediate intimate relationship chocolate and health had. Chocolate was “prescribed” to nobles and people of ill health across Europe; many ladies in French court began to cling to the positive effects so much that they couldn’t get out of bed without their daily dose of chocolate (Coe and Coe 136). The mancerina (or trembleuse in France) made this kind of dosage in bed easier to administer to high-born ladies as well as the invalid.

The history of the mancerina is an important part of the history of chocolate not only because it is a beautiful piece of European art history and innovation, but also because the confusion surrounding its very invention is indicative of the important role chocolate grew to play in Europe. These stories and their reflection on the involvement of chocolate not only in the noble rituals of the high courts of the continent but also the esteemed place it began to held in the European (albeit misguided) system of medicine. These relationships would shape many discussions about chocolate in the centuries to come.

Works Cited

Baird, Ileana Popa, and Christina Ionescu. Eighteenth-century Thing Theory in a Global Context: From Consumerism to Celebrity Culture. Farnham: Ashgate, 2014. Print.

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1996. Print.

Gavin, Robin Farwell., Donna Pierce, and Alfonso Pleguezuelo Hernández. Cerámica Y Cultura: The Story of Spanish and Mexican Mayólica. Albuquerque: U of New Mexico, 2003. Print.

Lange, Amanda. “Chocolate Preparation and Early Serving Vessels.” National Museum of American History. Web. 18 Feb. 2016.