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Monetary vs Dietary Consumption: Men’s role in women’s consumption of chocolate

Bonjour dessert: tout ce que les femmes désirent. The hyperlinked advertisement shows a “sexy” shirtless man, whose apron barely covers him, laboring to make chocolate. The background music and his tone as he whispers French are meant to arouse the female consumer. French is the language of love, and as the male actor concludes in French, Bonjour Dessert are all a woman desires to have. The commercial is actually for a Russian audience and was televised in Bulgaria. While the men are working to produce the chocolate, it seems to be for the consumption of women.

Chocolate consumption can refer to the purchase and eating of chocolate (Fahim 2010). While women eat slightly more chocolate than men (91% versus 87% respectively), the chocolate industry heavily targets women in its advertising (Mintel Research in CNN 2012). Cholust choco.jpgcolate is marketed as sexy, and women exude lust in chocolate advertisements as seen in the advertisement below. I decided to explore the legitimacy of these claims from the perspective of men. Specifically, how does chocolate marketing influence men’s role in women’s consumption of chocolate? I interviewed seven male students who responded to the following up: a male who has ever bought chocolate for a significant other. I will situate my findings in the appropriate historical and contemporary contexts. All names have been changed to preserve the anonymity of my respondents. Based on my analysis, men’s purchase of chocolate is not in direct response to media and marketing influences. Instead, men attribute their motivation to purchase chocolate for significant others because of their semiotic understanding of the product and the expressed needs of their partners, coupled with its affordability.

Chocolate as a romantic gesture

Chocolate is associated with romance or love. When asked about the presence of chocolate in his relationship, John described how he and his girlfriend “once went to the taza chocolate factory; it was an entire date around chocolate. I thought it was a nice date. There was a festival with free chocolate, hot chocolate [and] I bought some. Essentially, chocolate serves as a long memory of that date which was cool”. His girlfriend loves chocolate, but he does not particularly indulge in it. Yet, he planned that date to show his girlfriend that he could be interested in the things that bring her joy. It was a chance for him to be romantic in his actions besides saying I love you. The semiotic association of chocolate with love naturally predates John and all of my respondents. 

marriage choco.jpg

Marriage vows between a couple in ancient Mayan civilization

In addition to exchanging vows, it was customary for a bride and groom in ancient Mayan civilization to give each other five cacao beans in order to finalize their marriage process (Coe 2013:61). As depicted in the photograph above, cacao beans were integral to to relationships in Mesoamerica and chocolate continues to be a placeholder in that sense. For example, Cadbury invented the heart-shaped box of Valentine’s chocolates in 1861 (Coe 2013:243). The commercialization of Valentine’s Day as a holiday around love has persisted until today. Purchasing a heart-shaped box of chocolates has evolved into a commonplace display of affection for a significant other. More importantly, the box is filled with chocolates, which my respondents associated with love. In his thesis, Fahim describes a Hershey’s commercial in which the girlfriend is upset with her boyfriend. She starts to warm up to him when he offers her Hershey’s kisses. The Hershey’s kisses are how he convinces his girlfriend to listen to him and show him affection (Fahim 2010). I asked respondents to contextualize their chocolate gift-giving experiences. Matt explained “If I meet someone for the first time and I’m interested, I might get a Lindt chocolate bar because it’s still high quality but it’s not the deepest and truest thing to my heart”. Matt associates the actual chocolate with romance, and does not value “cliché packaging” like the heart-shaped box. The more interested he is in someone, the higher the quality chocolate he offers her. Because of this, he would not gift a girl Hershey’s chocolate kisses. Nevertheless, the principle of offering chocolate as a romantic gesture persists although Matt and other respondents do not turn to specific brands because of their advertising. Overall, the amount of care and effort put into impressing the potential significant other speaks to his semiotic understanding of chocolate with romance.

Chocolate as comfort food 

Respondents recalled they were likely to purchase chocolate for their girlfriends when the latter needed to be comforted. Brian noted that “whenever [his girlfriend’s] studying, whenever she’s stressed, chocolate is just a go-to. It tastes good, makes her happy, [and in turn] makes me happy”. Chocolate brings relief to his girlfriend in times of stress and provides her with energy. In the nineteenth century, chocolate was marketed to mothers as essential to keeping a healthy family. For example, medicinal recipes involved cocoa and women were meant to make these concoctions, not consume them. Such recipes were perceived solutions to physical ailments like stomach aches and fevers (Grivetti and Shapiro 2009:71). Nowadays, women consume chocolate to calm down. Stressing out or worrying too much can be detrimental to one’s health. So it is interesting to trace the trajectory of chocolate from a remedy to physical illnesses to a potential solution of psychological ones. In the same vein, the gender norms associated with chocolate also changed. Women would traditionally prepare the chocolate-infused medicine for men or their children, but not themselves as it was considered “sinful”. Men now gift chocolate to women to bring them comfort, which signals a change in the target audience for the dietary consumption of chocolate.

Furthermore, I was interested in what sort of chocolate respondents purchased. John admitted his girlfriend likes dark chocolate so he either gets her Dove Dark Chocolate or Ghirardelli Dark Chocolate. Connor always purchases Ghirardelli Raspberry and Dark Chocolate Bar for his girlfriend. Sean recalled, “the particular person I have in mind, she really loved chocolate. So that’s why I bought her chocolate instead of flowers [to help her through a rough time]”. My respondents’ primary motivation for purchasing chocolate to provide comfort was because their girlfriends explicitly said they enjoyed chocolate. They were not consciously responding to chocolate marketing ads. Instead, they were simply trying to be great partners because purchasing chocolate was not an adventure or exploration. Rather than in response to media attempts to sway chocolate consumption, the respondents bought chocolate merely what their significant others already had a strong preference for.


Chocolate is affordable

Overall, chocolate is an accessible treat. I asked respondents why they purchased chocolate for significant others. Six of the seven respondents purchase chocolate for their significant other because it is affordable. John explained that “chocolate is a small constant reminder that I care about her and want her to be happy. I’m willing to pay four bucks for two weeks worth of chocolate to make that point”. Chocolate was not always this affordable. The Industrial Revolution was instrumental to the drop in pricing because of drastic improvements in four areas of manufacturing: preservation, mechanization, retail/wholesale and transportation (Goody 2013:85). These improvements exponentially increased the number of  manufactured foods, which in turn made them more accessible and affordable to the average shopper.

Beyond manufacturing improvements, the production of cacao also influence the supply chain. The cacao-chocolate industry has a long history of ethical problems in its supply chain as it pertains to forced labor and slavery on cacao plantations. From slavery in Latin America to forced labor in Sao Tome and Principe to “the worst forms of child labor” in Ivory Coast, the chocolate we consume is often tainted (Coe 2013:192; Mintz 1985:48-50; Off 2006: 122). Cacao is a commodity that large chocolate manufacturers can buy in huge amounts and farmers are not involved in the price-setting discussions. Furthermore, farmers are not always paid on time and therefore struggle to wholly rely on cacao production to make ends meet (Martin Lecture 2017). The respondents were neither aware of nor concerned with the labor abuses and low standard of living of cacao farmers. Respondents did not seek to buy ethically-sourced chocolate and did not look for logos like FairTrade certification. The one respondent who arguably spent more than “four bucks on chocolate” valued the quality of the chocolate he purchased for significant others. Particularly, he would procure Limonoro Sorrento Madagascar-Tohisoa, an exquisite Italian chocolate bar with single-sourced cacao from Mlimonoro choco.jpgadagascar (pictured to the right).  Still, his primary motivation for purchasing such chocolate was the quality of the chocolate and not its ethical considerations. Therefore acquiring it at a lower price compared to bean-to-bar chocolate makers. There are attempts to ethically source chocolate through certifications like FairTrade, Rainforest Alliance Certified and UTZ Certified . Yet, consumers are largely unaware of the distinctions and from my small sample size, not worried about the ramifications of their dollars. 

Food for thought?

None of my respondents attribute their purchase of chocolate for significant others to successful chocolate marketing. When asked why they thought chocolate was in fact their “go-to treat” for their girlfriends John argued, “if my girlfriend was into licorice, I would always have a supply of licorice in my room [instead of chocolate]. I just want to make her happy”. According to John, chocolate was not the inherent solution to romance or comfort. Instead, it was because his partner explicitly suggested she was into it that he bought it for her. For the most part, my respondents bought chocolate with the direct intent to please their girlfriends. This explains why they stuck to the one brand of chocolate they knew would elicit joy from their girlfriends, whether it was Ferrero Rocher or Dove Dark Chocolate. Chocolate marketing did not influence them to purchase the chocolate that a specific advertisement claimed would help men score points with women. While this key distinction important in men’s understanding of their role in women’s consumption, I cannot fully argue that chocolate marketing played no role in men’s semiotic understanding of chocolate.

While respondents did not buy the advertised chocolate, chocolate marketing as it stands today reinforces and rewards the notion that men should purchase chocolate for women’s consumption. Therefore, there is a possibility that chocolate marketing subconsciously influenced my respondents to feel affirmed in their chocolate consumption and therefore continue purchasing chocolate for their girlfriends. I understand that there are limits to my sample of Harvard students and sample size of seven and I cannot make generalizations on the underlying factors of men’s purchases. Furthermore, the scope of paper is heteronormative because all male respondents had female significant others. Respondents also assumed significant other referred to a girlfriend as opposed to a close friend of any gender.

Overall, this blog post serves as an exploration of men’s understanding of their role in women’s dietary consumption of chocolate, especially when they are in a relationship. My respondents believed purchasing chocolate was an easy and affordable way for them to brighten their girlfriends’ moods. They also purchase it because their girlfriends explicitly asked for chocolate. They did not purchase chocolate as a direct response to chocolate marketing efforts. Still, it does not mean chocolate marketing cannot subconsciously affirm men’s decision to purchase chocolate. The investigation begs the question of women’s motivating factors to consume chocolate and if chocolate marketing efforts play a more salient role in their perspective.


Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. 3rd ed. New York: Thames and Hudson, 2013.

Fahim, Jamal, “Beyond Cravings: Gender and Class Desires in Chocolate Marketing” (2010). Sociology Student Scholarship.

Grivetti, Louis and Howard-Yana Shapiro. Chocolate: History, Culture, and Heritage. Wiley, 2009.

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

Off, Carol. Bitter Chocolate: The Dark Side of the World’s Most Seductive Sweet. New York: The New Press, 2006

Multimedia Sources

Advertisement of woman eating chocolate

Bonjour YouTube commercial

Limonoro Sorrento Madagascar Chocolate

Mayan Marriage


From Cadbury to Nestlé: Big Chocolate & Forced Labor

While chocolate is a sweet delicacy enjoyed by millions around the world, the underlying forces of cacao production often leave a sour taste in consumers’ mouths. After Europeans “discovered” chocolate in Mesoamerica, its dissemination in Europe relied on the forced labor of indigenous populations and later African slaves on cacao plantations. Slavery was abolished on paper in England in 1833. Yet, it persisted under new names from serviçal in Sao Tome e Principe to “worst forms of child labor” in Côte d’Ivoire. I will compare the response of two influential companies in the cocoa industry–Cadbury and Nestlé–when faced with evidence of forced labor  in their cacao supply chain. While both companies’ actions are ultimately profit-driven, Cadbury took more legitimate actions to divest from forced labor than Nestlé, as the latter has yet to fully invest in ethically-sourced cacao.


William Cadbury’s awareness of forced labor in cacao plantations started with rumors of horrible work conditions in Sao Tome and Príncipe in 1901. At the time, Cadbury obtained 55% of its cacao from the area (Higgs 2012:9). He met with Portuguese authorities who assured him that new labour legislation addressed concerns of minimum wage (Satre 2005:23). Still, Cadbury commissioned Joseph Burtt in 1905 to investigate the work conditions in Sao Tome e Principe. Prior to Burtt’s return, Henry Nevinson published his investigative journalism in Harper’s Magazine in 1905.

Screen Shot 2017-03-24 at 07.27.43
Cadbury's_Cocoa_advert_with_rower_1885Nevinson shed light on the forced labor of indentured servants (serviçal) in Sao Tome e Principe (Martin 2017). It was indistinguishable from slavery. Burtt returns in 1907, and his report supports Nevinson’s research. Yet, British authorities request Burtt revise his findings to assuage Portuguese authorities because Portuguese authorities were instrumental to British colonial interests in South Africa (Satre 2005: 76, 24). Up to then, Cadbury’s actions were behind the public eye. While the company researched forced labor and attempted to negotiate with both British and Portuguese authorities with no divestment in sight, their consumers continued purchasing their “guaranteed pure and soluble” cacao. 

Nevinson persevered with his reporting and published “The Angola Slave Trade” in The Fornightly Review, which garnered a lot of publicity. Forced labor alarmed British consumers because although England had abolished slavery in 1833, they were still complicit to it. Slavery did not align itself with the Quaker values of the time. As consumers started demanding Cadbury take action, Cadbury takes a final trip to Sao Tome and Principe.

Upon his return, he convinces J.S. Fry and Rowntree, other British chocolatemakers to join him as Cadbury boycotts cacao production in Sao Tome and Principe. Presumably, Cadbury divests because of the continuous failed promises by the Portuguese government to ameliorate working conditions in both islands. While the Portuguese government was not intent on ending slavery in cacao production, Cadbury did not suddenly reach enlightenment in 1909. At the time of initial evidence of slavery in Sao Tome and Principe, Cadbury had no other sustainable source of cacao if it wanted to maintain its leading status amongst British consumers. A viable option was needed as the British confectionners turned to mainland West Africa. Hence, the boycott from its main source of cacao did not hurt Cadbury because during his backdoor negotiations with various stakeholders, cacao trees were being planted in the Gold Coast (present-day Ghana). From his visit to the Gold Coast in 1906 to the official boycott from Sao Tome’s cacao in 1909, cocoa harvest in the Gold Coast increased from 9004 to 20,534 metric tons (Grant 2005: 175). Therefore, in addition to being ethically sound, the move to the Gold Coast in 1909 was also business-proof.


A century later, big chocolate makers are still guilty of profiting from the fruits of forced labor in their supply chain. In 1998, A Taste of Slavery: How Your Chocolate May be Tainted was published. The UNICEF  report was one of the first to highlight evidence of child labor in West Africa, particularly in Côte d’Ivoire. Young people were often worked almost under horrible conditions: “the [Malian] boys had little to eat, slept in bunk-houses that were locked at night, and were frequently beaten. They had horrible sores on their backs and shoulders, some as a result of carrying the heavy bags of cocoa, but some likely the effects of physical abuse” (Off 2008: 121). Child labor in cacao farms in Côte d’Ivoire involves familial and contracted labor, often including human trafficking of children from neighboring countries like Mali and Burkina Faso. Such labor conditions violate the International Labor Organization (ILO) Minimum Age Convention and the ILO Forced Labour Convention (Schrage and Ewing 2005: 101-102).

Increasing media attention to such reports of child slavery pushed the cocoa industry to stop dawdling and take action because “the mistreatment of children posed a clear threat to corporate reputation and sales” (Schrage and Ewing 2005: 104). As the United States Congress began the legislative process of banning Ivorian cacao, the industry proposed a protocol to address the reports. In September 2001, the Chocolate Manufacters Association (CMA) and the World Cocoa Foundation signed the Protocol for the Growing and Processing of Cocoa Beans and their Derivative Products in a Manner that Complies with ILO Convention 182 Concerning the Prohibition and Immediate Action for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Chila Labor also known as the Harkin-Engel Protocol. Ever since its inception, the protocol has continuously been extended as chocolate companies fail to eradicate the worst form of child labor from their supply chain by their own deadlines. Many have critiqued the protocol as too lenient because a voluntary plan does not ensure the industry will be accountable.

Nestlé has undertook actions to adhere to the Harkin-Engel Protocol. The company joined the Global Issues Group (GIG), “an ad-hoc, pre-competitive association of cocoa industry participants formed in response to the agreements as spelled out in the Harkin-Engil Protocol” (Tulane research). Furthermore, Nestlé contracted UTZ Certified, a product certification organization, to be held accountable for its cacao consumption. Screen Shot 2017-03-24 at 16.27.24In 2009, Nestlé established the Cocoa Plan. The hyperlinked video highlights the work of the Cocoa Plan in Côte d’Ivoire. Through the International Cocoa Initiative, the Cocoa Plan has built schools throughout Côte d’Ivoire in order to provide alternatives for children who were previously child laborers or could potentially be involved in cacao production.This iniative, among others, empowers local communities and seeks to reduce the prevalence of the “worst forms of child labor” in cacao production.In addition, Nestlé has supported further investigation into their cacao sourcing. The Fair Labor Association (FLA) conducted a thorough investigation of the company’s cacao supply chain, making it the first chocolate-maker to undertake such a process (CNN 2012). The FLA has continued these investigations, which attest to Nestlé’s investment in an ethical supply chain. Nestlé’s actions were in response to growing criticism. The company had to handle lawsuits and respond to documentaries about the persistence of forced labor in Côte d’Ivoire in order to appease its consumer base, who was demanding more accountability in the cacao supply chain.


Screen Shot 2017-03-24 at 16.28.53Consumer demand for and consumption of ethically produced chocolate is highest in the United Kingdom. This trend explains why Kit Kat chocolate bars in the UK bear the Faitrade mark and Kit Kat chocolate bars in Germany do not. While both bars have the Cocoa Plan logo, Nestlé reveals that it only purchases 14.5% of its cocoa through the Plan, of which 75% is either UTZ or Fairtrade-certified (Nestle 2013: 160). While Nestlé has taken steps to ethically source its cacao, this has only been for consumers who actively demand it.

Similar to Cadbury, Nestlé is acting in a profit-maximizing way. Ethics are secondary because the investment in the Cocoa Plan for all of its chocolate would not be be as profitable beyond the UK. Unlike Cadbury, Nestlé has unfortunately not significantly addressed the Protocol because shared responsibility with other big chocolatemakers and lack of significant consumer demand diffuse the pressure to immediately conform.


Cadbury’s Advert with Rower 1885. 2010. Wikimedia Commons

CNN,. 2012. “Nestleé Advances Child Labor Battle Plan”. Retrieved March 23, 2017 (

Grant, Kevin. A Civilised Savagery: Britain and the New Slaveries in Africa, 1884-1926.  London: Routledge, 2005.

Higgs, Catherine. Chocolate Islands: Cocoa, Slavery and Colonial Africa Athens: Ohio University Press, 2012.

Martin, Carla. “Slavery, Abolition, and Forced Labor.” Lecture, Chocolate Lecture, Cambridge, March 01, 2017.

Nestlé,. 2013. Nestlé In Society: Creating Shared Value And Meeting Our Commitments 2013. Nestlé. Retrieved March 21, 2017 (

Nevinson, Henry Woodd. “The Slave-Trade of to-Day. Conclusion–the Islands of Doom.” Harper’s Monthly, 1906, 327-37.

Off, Carol. 2008. Bitter Chocolate. 1st ed. New York [u.a.]: The New Press.

Satre, Lowell J. Chocolate on Trial: Slavery, Politics, and the Ethics of Business.  Athens: Ohio University Press, 2005.

Schrage, Elliot, and Anthony Ewing. 2005. The Cocoa Industry And Child Labour. Journal of Corporate Citizenship. Retrieved March 22, 2017 (