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Online Shopping and its Impact on the Chocolate Industry

Purchasing chocolate has never been as easy as it is today, in contemporary times. Chocolate is readily available at any convenience store, grocery store, and pharmacy, and is often found in two separate locations within the store: the candy aisle, and arranged in shelves lined up near the check-out register as a last-minute addition to the main items being purchased. In fact, much of the contemporary chocolate industry relies on the fact that, aside from major holidays such as Valentine’s Day, consumers most often purchase chocolate as an impulse buy. As Lawrence Allen describes it, there is a “grab-and-go” culture surrounding the purchasing of chocolate, as chocolate is present next to “virtually every cash register today” (Allen 20). This “grab-and-go” culture, however, is largely affected by the modern tendency to shop for most items, including groceries, online. Kate Taylor, a contributor to the Business Insider, writes, “More people are ordering groceries and other products online, meaning increasingly shoppers don’t have the chance to be tempted by snacks in the checkout line” (Business Insider). This shift in the shopping experience could indicate that online shoppers who purchase chocolate are doing so more intentionally than their in-store chocolate purchasing counterparts. In other words, when people buy chocolate online, it is more likely that their purchase is planned rather than impulsive. For example, when navigating the CVS website, one would have to type the word “chocolate” into the search bar to view the selection of chocolates available online. Only after one actively searches for the term “chocolate” can he or she view the results page displaying the selection of chocolate, and only after viewing this results page can he or she complete the process of purchasing it. Due to this contemporary cultural shift in the shopping experience from in-store to online, I thought it would be interesting to analyze the online chocolate selection of local chocolate retailers, rather than their in-store selections. I plan to compare the online display, available selection, intended audience, and price points of chocolate sold on the website versions of two local stores: CVS and Whole Foods. By doing so, I hope to reveal some ethical concerns and marketing strategies employed by companies involved in the current cacao-chocolate industry, in addition to the way these strategies may impact consumers.

CVS

Let us begin by exploring the chocolate selection available on the CVS website, (https://www.cvs.com/gbiSearch/?searchTerm=chocolate). After typing “chocolate” into the search bar, the customer is bombarded with four hundred twenty seemingly different chocolate products. The chocolate items are presented rather haphazardly, and although the default system of organization seems to be sorting and presenting the products by “relevance,” there is no clear rationale behind which products appear on the top of the list, and which appear further down. Customers do have the option of changing the way the products are displayed, with options such as “price Low to High,” “price High to Low,” and “top rated.” Based on personal experience, however, the default setting of a website seems to be used most often. The way the chocolate products are displayed online influences customers, as the products that appear on the top of the first page are more likely to be seen and purchased than those on the last page. This differs from the way chocolates are presented to customers in-store, as chocolate products are simply lined up on shelves in an aisle, so the customer has an equally likely chance of seeing one product as another.

(CVS Website vs Candy Aisle)

Some chocolate products on the CVS website are marked as ‘Best Sellers,’ with a bright red label presented next to the image of the chocolate product. Not all best sellers, however, appear at the top of the displayed list of chocolates. The “Best Seller” label is likely awarded to the chocolate products that are purchased most frequently by customers, or sold in the highest quantity. Yet, the label seems rather arbitrary, as there are several best-selling products—over ten to be exact. It is rather misleading to label products ‘best sellers’ when the term is not defined (could eight out of ten possible products all be labeled ‘best sellers?’). Additionally, the “Best Seller” label likely incentivizes customers to purchase more of that specific product, so by labelling a product a best seller, CVS likely ensures that the product will retain its best-seller status. Sales for the product either remain as high as they have been, or increase, as consumers feel they can trust the product since other consumers purchase it in high quantities. The “Best Seller” label, in this way, becomes a self-fulfilling advertisement.

 

(screenshots of best sellers from CVS website)

Moving away from the manner in which products are displayed and labeled, and towards the selection of products available, it seems that CVS offers a wide selection of chocolate brands and products. To name a few products from the first page of results, CVS sells: Brookside Dark Chocolate-Covered Berries, M&Ms, York Peppermint Patties, Dove Chocolates, Cadbury Eggs, Ferrero Rocher Fine Chocolates, Kit-Kats, Taza Chocolate, and Theo Chocolate. Upon further inspection, however, the seemingly wide array of brands and products are not so diverse after all. After perusing through the Brookside website (http://www.brooksidechocolate.com/usa) , and clicking on the privacy policy link, it is apparent that the brand is owned by the Hershey Company. York Peppermint Patties (https://www.hersheys.com/york/en_us/home.html) and Kit-Kats are also clearly owned by the Hershey Company (https://www.hersheys.com/kitkat/en_us/home.html) , and surfing through the Dove (https://www.dovechocolate.com/Home) and M&M (https://www.mymms.com/home.do) websites for a few minutes is all it takes to uncover the fact that they are both owned by Mars. Aside from Taza Chocolate and Theo Chocolate, nearly all of the chocolate products sold on the CVS website are brands owned by the large companies Mars, Hershey’s, Nestle, Cadbury, and Ferrero. These companies, referred to as the Big Five, make up over 50% of the world’s confectionary market share (Martin Lecture 1). Not surprisingly, their chocolate products are also the most affordable products sold at CVS, as they minimize their costs by paying as little as possible for their cacao, since most of it is not Fair Trade Certified (Darhan 227). Theo and Taza Chocolate, both organic and fair trading companies, retail for over $40 on the CVS website, at around ten times the price of the Big Five chocolate products. Of course, this price surge is due to the fact that Theo and Taza Chocolate are sold in bulk rather than individually on the CVS website. To the average customer, however, prices this high are an enormous disincentive from purchasing the item, regardless of the amount of product he or she would be receiving. By selling Theo and Taza chocolate on their website only in bulk, CVS effectively advertises the other, less expensive chocolate product options– the very products that are owned by the Big Five companies. Whether intentional, or unintentional, the CVS website promotes chocolate sold by the Big Five chocolate companies over smaller, more ethical companies, like Taza and Theo.

(Comparing the prices of Taza and Theo Chocolate to Big Five Company chocolate products).

Screen Shot 2017-05-05 at 8.57.09 PM.png

(The Big Five Companies)

Whole Foods 

Moving on to the chocolate section of the Whole Foods website, the contrast between the CVS chocolate selection and Whole Foods chocolate selection is quite vast. After typing “chocolate” into the Whole Foods search bar  (https://delivery.wholefoodsmarket.com/store/whole-foods/search_v3/chocolate?page=1), the customer is met with thirty four pages of results. Similar to the CVS website, there is no clear rationale behind the organization of these chocolate products, and no explanation for why certain products appear on the first few pages, and others on the last few pages. This is one similarity in the method by which chocolate is sold on the CVS and Whole Foods websites. Within the thirty four pages of the Whole Foods chocolate products, brand names such as barkThins, Chocolove, Guittard, Justin’s, Theo, and Endangered Species arise. None of these brands, however, are offshoots of the big five companies: Hershey’s, Nestle, Mars, Ferrero, or Cadbury. They are, instead, independent chocolate manufacturing companies. Additionally, all of these companies produce products that are Fair Trade certified.

Screen Shot 2017-05-05 at 9.21.51 PM

(Whole Foods website chocolate selection)

There are no Best Seller” labels strewn across any of the chocolate products, and none of the chocolate bars are sold in bulk, in direct contrast with the chocolate sold on CVS’s website. In terms of price, no single chocolate bar is significantly more expensive than another, since all of them are being sold individually, rather than in bulk. In this way, it seems there are no external factors pushing consumers toward certain brands or companies sold on the Whole Foods website. The fact that nearly all of the chocolate products sold on the Whole Foods website are Fair Trade certified, however, demonstrates the values of Whole Foods as a retailer. There may not be external influence from Whole Foods pushing a consumer to buy certain products, but that lies in the fact that Whole Foods does not carry chocolate products they do not approve of in the first place. Although the CVS website contains elements that may influence a consumer’s decision to purchase certain items (i.e. Best Seller signs and only selling certain chocolate products in bulk), the CVS online site carries chocolate products produced by the big five chocolate companies, in addition to certified Fair Trade chocolate products, like Theo and Taza. It is still ultimately the consumer’s decision to purchase the chocolate product they desire. Whole Foods, on the other hand, seems to pre-select chocolate products for the consumer; there are no chocolate products owned by any of the big five companies available for purchase on the Whole Foods website at all, so the consumer does not have the option to purchase them, even if he or she so desires.

By choosing to exclusively sell chocolate products that are Fair Trade certified, Whole Foods makes an ethical statement– that the company and its customers are Fair Trade supporters.

Screen Shot 2017-05-05 at 10.28.35 PM.png

The image above is taken from the Fair Trade Website, and depicts a cacao farmer in Ecuador. With images like these, Fair Trade promotes the idea of close relationships between cacao farmers and chocolate producing companies. The idea behind forging these close relationships with farmers, and the “prompt payment of fair prices and wages” pushes chocolate producers and retailing companies like Whole Foods to support Fair Trade. There is also consumer influence on the push for companies to become Fair Trade Certified. As the demand for Fair Trade Certification increases, so do companies’ desires to become Fair Trade Certified.  As ethical and utopian as it sounds, the impact of Fair Trade certification does not always hold up to its claims, unfortunately. As depicted in the video entitled “The Fair Trade Shell Game” http://www.vocativ.com/40932/fair-trade-shell-game/, Fair Trade certification has negative impacts, such as hurting non-certified farmers, and does not have solid evidence to support its claim that money reaches farmers in the developing world (Martin Lecture 9).

Overall, it seems that the CVS and Whole Foods online stores cater to two different chocolate consuming populations. Consumers searching for chocolate on the CVS website likely purchase chocolates they have grow accustomed to eating, either from prior impulse purchases when shopping in the grocery store, or from acquiring tastes for certain brands of chocolate over time. These consumers are also likely influenced by the price of the chocolate, which ranges from one to around four dollars a piece. Consumers who purchase their chocolate from the Whole Foods online store are likely driven by the idea of purchasing healthy and ethical chocolate, since nearly all of the chocolate sold on the website is Fair Trade certified. The price difference in chocolate bars does not differ too drastically from the CVS chocolate products, with chocolate bars ranging in price from three to around seven dollars a bar. While CVS online chocolate shoppers may have different intentions from Whole Foods online chocolate customers, both sets of chocolate consumers share one thing in common: they are all influenced by the vendors they buy from. The CVS and Whole Foods websites influence customers’ purchasing decisions, either directly, through bulk retailing and influential labelling (like CVS’s website), or by simply excluding certain products from retail altogether. It may seem as though purchasing chocolate online is more thought-out and purposeful for consumers than impulse-buying chocolate in stores, but consumers are just as easily persuaded through online tactics as they are in person.

Works Cited

Scholarly Sources:

Allen, Lawrence L. Chocolate Fortunes the Battle for the Hearts, Minds, and Wallets of China’s Consumers. New York: American Management Association, 2010. Print.

Dahan, Nicolas M., and Milton Gittens. “Business and the Public Affairs of Slavery: A Discursive Approach of an Ethical Public Issue.” Journal of Business Ethics, vol. 92, no. 2, 2010, pp. 227–249., http://www.jstor.org/stable/25621557

Martin, Carla D. Lecture 1: Mesoamerica and the Food of the Gods. 01 February 2017. Lecture.

Martin, Carla D. Lecture 9:Alternative trade and virtuous localization/globalization. 04 May 2017. Lecture.

Taylor, Kate. “Online shopping is killing a category that retailers have been relying on for years– and now they’re scrambling.” Business Insider, 10 Nov. 2015.

Images:

Screenshots from CVS website: https://www.cvs.com/gbiSearch/?searchTerm=chocolate

Screenshots from Whole Foods website: (https://delivery.wholefoodsmarket.com/store/whole-foods/search_v3/chocolate?page=1)

Big Five Companies chart: Martin, Carla D. Lecture 9:Alternative trade and virtuous localization/globalization. 04 May 2017. Lecture.

Image of Fair Trade farmer:

Rodriguez, James A. Fortaleza del Valle: Manabi, Ecuador. 26 Oct. 2015. Fair Trade, Fair Trade USA,ftusa.photoshelter.com/galleries/C00006y5VLM3yg74/G0000r4djXMuM0aw/I0000bV8fmylvn5o/ Fortaleza-del-Valle-Manabi-Ecuador. Accessed 5 May 2017.

Video:”The Fair Trade Shell Game.” Vocativ, 20 Dec. 2013, http://www.vocativ.com/40932/fair-trade-shell-game/. Accessed 5 May 2017.

Chocolate and Romance: A Historical Exploration of Chocolate’s Association with Love

Chocolate in modern society is deeply intertwined with ideas of romance, love, and lust. From our celebration of Valentine’s Day, a holiday in which the exchange of chocolate and love notes is foundational, to advertisements from chocolate companies filled with sexual innuendos, we are constantly bombarded with ideas and images depicting chocolate’s association with romance. While many consider chocolate’s relationship with love to be a tactic manufactured by large chocolate companies to increase sales, there has been a long-standing association between chocolate and budding romance that began in pre-Columbian times. Chocolate’s affiliation with love and romance today is both rooted in tradition and influenced by capitalistic endeavors to sell more chocolate.

One of the earliest examples of chocolate’s role in romantic relationships is an ancient Mayan marriage ritual called tac haa. The ritual involved the potential groom’s family serving a chocolate drink to the father of the woman he wanted to marry. The men, including the father of the potential groom, father of the potential bride, and the admirer himself would sit together and discuss the marriage, while women remained removed from the negotiations. The women, such as the potential groom’s mother, would be involved in making the chocolate drink that was served to the guests (Martin, Lecture 2).  Another Mayan marriage ritual involving chocolate took place at the actual wedding ceremony. The Mayan bride and groom would exchange five cacao beans with each other, and wedding guests would drink chocolate together (Coe and Coe 61). Ancient rituals such as tac haa and the exchange of cacao beans do not directly resemble modern traditions surrounding chocolate and romance (i.e. heart-shaped chocolate boxes that are presented to significant others), but both ancient Mayan marriage rituals and heart-shaped chocolate boxes share the common thread of lovers being united through chocolate. It could be that rituals like tac haa serve as prototypes for modern traditions involving chocolate and courtship.

An example of a contemporary courting ritual involving chocolate is depicted in the following advertisement for Edible Arrangements: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b1I1FW1ffSc. The advertisement showcases a man setting up a romantic evening on Valentine’s Day. It is clear to any viewer that this is a romantic evening because of the cultural connotations of the objects presented in the ad. For example, the man lights candles, there is a rose and box of chocolates set on the table, and slow music plays in the background. Roses, candles, and chocolate are all objects American society associates with romance, specifically with courting women. As the advertisement progresses, the heart-shaped box of chocolates begins to speak, saying that he is the “ultimate wing-man,” reiterating the idea of chocolate being used to woo women in our society. The object of the advertisement is to demonstrate how Edible Arrangements is superior to the box of chocolates in wooing the woman. However, including the box of chocolates as something to compete with further emphasizes the notion of offering chocolate as an established method of courtship in our society.

Presenting chocolate to a significant other is not only used as a method of courtship in modern society, but has evolved into becoming fundamentally associated with the definition of “romantic” altogether. For example, AskMen, a popular website that offers life advice to men, contains an article entitled “9 Simple Romantic Ideas for Every Man” linked here http://www.askmen.com/dating/heidi_60/77b_dating_girl.html.  One of the romantic ideas listed is to “Be More Thoughtful,” and a suggestion on how to do so is to “leave [your significant other] a chocolate ‘kiss’ on her pillow before bedtime.” It is apparent that giving your partner chocolate should be viewed as a thoughtful gesture, and by doing so one can be described as “romantic.” Thousands of men visit AskMen for daily advice and likely follow it, indicating how chocolate has become an extremely conventional method of showcasing a man’s thoughtfulness and affection for a woman. Similarly, the way chocolate is presented in this article suggests that women too have been conditioned to feel loved and appreciated when their partner gives them chocolate.

Chocolate’s affiliation with romance extends further than simple courtship and gift-giving. In fact, people have long used chocolate as an aphrodisiac, or in combination with believed aphrodisiacs, to heighten sexual desire in themselves and in others.  A chocolate beverage called Atextli consumed by the Aztecs was believed to be healthy due to its supposed aphrodisiac qualities (Elferink 27). Chocolate beverages have also been documented as being used in love potions to seduce and control men. Margarita Orellana writes, “Because of its dark color and grainy texture, chocolate provided an ideal cover for items associated with sexual witchcraft. These included various powders and herbs, as well as female body parts and fluids, which women then mixed into a chocolate beverage and fed to men to control their sexuality” (81). Whether chocolate truly possesses aphrodisiac qualities or not, modern chocolate companies often use chocolate’s historical association with sexuality as the basis of their marketing. Linked here is an example of a typical chocolate advertisement from Lindt, a company known for their chocolate truffles: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RgGz2oNk0Pg. Although not overt, once can see how Lindt is sexualizing chocolate in this advertisement. Terms like “irresistible,” “passion,” and “luscious” have carnal connotations, and the image of the woman removing her scarf suggests that the idea of consuming chocolate has heightened her sexual desires.

The affiliation between chocolate and romance, beginning with Aztec and Mayan traditions, perseveres in modern times. Something else that has remained in tact is the idea of men using chocolate to court women, and women having sexualized responses to chocolate. There seems to be a stark difference between men and women’s interactions with chocolate that have become engrained into contemporary society.

Works Cited:

Coe, Sophie D., Michael D. Coe, and Ryan J. Huxtable. The true history of chocolate. London: Thames and Hudson, 1996.

De Orellana, Margarita, et al. “Chocolate III: RITUAL, ART AND MEMORY.” Artes De México, no. 110, 2013, pp. 72–96., http://www.jstor.org/stable/24318995.

“Edible Arrangements Advertisement.” YouTube, uploaded by MBR616, http://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=b1I1FW1ffSc. Accessed 10 Mar. 2017.

“Lindt Chocolate Commercial.” YouTube, uploaded by LindtChocolateUSA, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RgGz2oNk0Pg. Accessed 10 Mar. 2017.

Jan G. R. Elferink. “Aphrodisiac Use in Pre-Columbian Aztec and Inca Cultures.” Journal of the History of Sexuality, vol. 9, no. 1/2, 2000, pp. 25–36., http://www.jstor.org/stable/3704630.

Martin, Carla D. “Mesoamerica and ‘The Food of the Gods’.” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard College: Cambridge, MA. 1 Feb. 2017. Class Lecture.

“9 Simple Romantic Ideas for Every Man.” AskMen, http://www.askmen.com/dating/heidi_60/ 77b_dating_girl.html. Accessed 10 Mar. 2017.