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Corner on the Market: The Marketing Strategies Driving Chocolate Sales

The development of chocolate as a commercial good and its mass production through factories spurred the strategy behind its sale through the use of advertising and marketing campaigns. However with great changes in the industry over the last century, there are both new opportunities and ordeals in selling chocolate. Greater data and studies have improved the scientific and creative approach to marketing all consumer product goods, and considerations related to health, pricing, gender norms, and the accuracy of claims present new and growing challenges to the marketing of chocolate.

Consumer research and the art of marketing was largely instigated by the Rowntree company at the beginning of the 1930s. Facing competition from several other chocolate producers, Rowntree struggled to keep up with sales of Cadbury’s Dairy Milk. Company leadership recognized that “consumers could exercise a large degree of preference over which non-essentials to buy or could decide against purchasing non-essentials at all… its demand had to an important extent to be created through advertising” (Fitzgerald). As sales continued to falter, Rowntree turned from individual campaigns to consumer surveys to guide their marketing policies. By incorporating sales research into their marketing mix, Rowntree was able to boost sales dramatically, targeting campaigns to consumers. Still, chocolate manufacturers were dependent upon “shopkeepers to stock and adequately display their goods at the point of sale. A large number of outlets and visibility stimulated the impulse buying of confectionary…” (Fitzgerald). Creative display aids, posters, and packaging helped increase brand visibility and draw attention to the product in stores.

aero display

After its start, marketing was deemed “essential” to the success of a firm, trading serendipity for strategy. The chocolate industry harnessed the power of economic and psychological study to drive its success going forward, incorporating new research into tried-and-true methods related to product branding, packaging, and placement in stores. Marketing and targeting are apparent even in chain pharmacy and convenience stores such as CVS, evidencing the broad and growing availability of “luxury” chocolate products.

While exact product placement varies from store-to-store even within grocery and pharmacy chains, the general formula remains the same to maintain the consistency and quality of store atmosphere. Aisle organization generally remains fixed to improve the ease of the shopping experience for regular customers. Thus, extrapolating the findings for a chain store can give a convincing picture of the broader regional or national market.

One of several CVS Pharmacies in the Cambridge, Massachusetts area, the Harvard Square location on Massachusetts Avenue provides an interesting and compelling case study for the marketing and sale of chocolate nationwide. Conveniently located on the first floor of the multi-story establishment, the confectionary aisle contains both season and non-seasonal bagged candies, chocolates, magazines, and travel items. Rotating end-cap displays showcase premium chocolate selections, and chocolate bars are also located at checkout kiosks and occasionally on the second-floor in the giftwrap and personal hygiene aisles.


Evidence suggests that these products are not only intentionally placed around the store, but in specific areas of shelf space, pointing to the power of chocolate interests in dictating shopkeeper arrangements of store layouts. This setup is underpinned by decades of research and study.

Placing products in stores which have broad exposure and are conveniently located is key to the success of any consumer product company. According to research from KPMG, an audit, tax, and advisory firm, “Convenience is a major driver for chocolate lovers, who want to grab a bar from a local store or throw a multi-pack into the trolley during a weekly shop.” Compared with other products, chocolate is an affordable luxury that is most often an impulse purchase, picked up when buying other necessities at grocery stores and pharmacies more often than at specialty chocolate stores. Survey research from Canadian Consumer found that “shoppers are most likely to trade-up on chocolate when it comes to buying indulgent groceries,” with nearly 2 in five shoppers saying they buy premium chocolate regularly or frequently, providing opportunity to reach and up-sell chocolate to those shoppers in stores they already visit.

Within the store, micro-level decisions are critical in shaping and swaying consumer purchases. Industry research from Convenience Store Decisions recommends that store owners “Leverage the impulse nature of candy by utilizing strategically-placed points of purchase that follow consumer traffic patterns.” More specifically, multiple points of impression, valuable end-cap space, shelving formulas and point-of-purchase displays are all factored into the value of the marketing mix. The Institute of Sales and Marketing in Dubai points out that “Shoppers don’t naturally go up and down every aisle in a supermarket. They dip in and out of the ones they need to go down, which is why the end of each aisle is so valuable.”

Placement on shelves has also been widely studied. According to the National Institute of Health, the middle shelf is the highest selling area, though the Economic Times evinces that “lower shelves hold definite merchandising opportunities for children. Chocolates showed an increase in the range of 14 to 39 per cent in their sales as they were clearly visible to the ‘junior’ target group.” Consumer experience is further influence by the feel, language, and design of brand display aids that complement store arrangements, with different display units and surroundings which hope to make the customer “feel they are making a special purchase” (ISM).

At the CVS in Harvard Square, the laminated wood end-cap is currently used to display the higher price-point “Premium” chocolate bars from Lindt, Godiva, Ghirardelli, Ritter Sport, and Ferrer Rocher from four to five dollars. Products such as Brookside’s dark chocolate and fruit are also placed on multiple shelves in the same aisle at different heights to improve visibility. Additional register and seasonal chocolate displays saturate the shopper experience, ensuring that buyers come into contact with chocolate at least once in their visit to the store.

Interestingly, the arrangement of different products together can further influence buying behavior. A study by Ram Bezawada et al. on “Cross-Category Effects of Aisle and Display Placements” found that there is an “affinity” between different types of products which are more likely to be purchased together, influenced by display proximity, special promotion, or separate psychological factors. In sum, “retailers can use the results of affinity analyses to plan more effective in-store merchandising and promotion strategies to increase their customers’ cross-buying of products, leading to greater purchases at their stores.” Marketing items, in tandem, then can improve store’s bottom lines.


The connection between women and chocolate advertising is well documented, and the cross-marketing of certain items with chocolate in stores such as CVS further underscore this perceived connection by marketers. The location in CVS places the chocolate bars and sampler boxes closest to the store’s magazine and Harlequin romance novel display within the aisle, and again together at the point-of-purchase at the register. Assuming that the proximity of these items is strategic, it is apparent that magazine and chocolate bar purchases are often made together. Studies of chocolate scents confirm that chocolate is “congruent” with books in the food, drink and romance genres (Time Magazine). Most strikingly, special promotions and in-store placement also group chocolate with feminine hygiene products, playing into the widely-perpetuated belief that chocolate helps to alleviate- or at minimum- brighten cycles.

The tie between women and product placement comes full circle when considering the target audience of chocolate promotions in grocery stores and pharmacies. Despite the gains made by women over the last several decades, the domestic sphere remains dominated by women. According to a She-conomy report, women account for 85% of all consumer purchases, still making 93% of all food purchases. The Harvard Business Review suggests that for marketers, “food represents one of the largest opportunities. Women are responsible for the lion’s share of grocery shopping and meal preparation. Food is also one of consumers’ most important budget items, one that can be adjusted but never eliminated.” Thus, with women’s proclivity and supposed addiction to chocolate, marketers place chocolate in places that women in particular come into contact with.

women spending
Graph courtesy of HBR

Responsibility for shopping squeezed by increasing involvement in the labor market and less time makes women perhaps even more likely to indulge in the convenience of chocolate when they encounter it. As indexed by C. Nuttall in Industrial Chocolate Manufacture and Use, women are more likely than average to eat premium chocolate brands (index: 124), and more likely to eat chocolate in general (index: 106); homemakers index at 113 for heavy consumption of chocolate.

Video courtesy of WSJ

The recurring mention and admitted preference for “premium” chocolate evidences the fact that “Chocolate is becoming increasingly premiumized…as consumers develop a taste for everyday glamour” (KPMG). The marketing of premium chocolates in chain stores such as CVS stands in stark contrast, however, to the selection of premium chocolates in gourmet and specialty stores such as nearby Cardullos.

Averaging a far higher price-point around or above seven dollars a bar, the chocolate at Cardullos is marked by labels boasting fair-trade, organic, and award-winning distinctions, a much different and greater variety of brands and flavors compared with its mass-market neighbor. Both the store surroundings and the higher price strengthen feelings of chocolate sold here as an experience and true luxury.


The distinction of quality in spite of similar premium claims between the chain and specialty store betray some of the marketing challenges faced by the chocolate industry. While the chocolate sales have remained buoyant in a struggling market, with premium and dark-chocolate sales growing as a proportion of the market, the concept of quality remains hazy. Without any agency or industry watchdog, the definition of “premium” remains undefined and broadly applied as discussed in Raising the Bar: The Future of Fine Chocolate. One producer admitted that he believes “There is too much marketing and hype… It is marketing that is driving many of the decisions consumers make… Marketing is sometimes more important than the flavor and quality of product because the consumer is not in a position or doesn’t take the time to distinguish quality chocolate.” Rather than informing the consumer, marketing can manipulate opinion and buying behavior in favor of “big chocolate” over small-scale operations with little or no marketing budget.

The sale of premium, dark chocolate to women in pharmacy settings as heart-healthy indulgences also demonstrates the strength of marketing in shaping public opinion regarding a specific product, even when science behind such claims is unproven. The price disparity obvious between premium chocolate at CVS and premium chocolate at Cardullos demonstrates another challenge for the industry going forward, bringing to light the near 100 percent price difference between big and small chocolate brands and questioning whether true premium chocolate manufacturing can be sustained by the market when it does not have the mass-market audience of other brands. The development of industry standards and codes of conduct may help to alleviate some of these concerns and increase transparency both for producers and consumers.


Bezawada, Ram, S. Balachander, P.K. Kannan, & Venkatesh Shankar.“Cross-Category Effects of Aisle and Display Placements: A Spatial Modeling Approach and Insights.” Journal of MarketingVolume 73, Number 3. May 2009.Web. 6 May 2014.
Bush, Joe. “Chocolate Sales Boost Confections.” Convenience Store Decisions. 29 Feb. 2012. Web. 5 May 2014.
de Cunha, Sylvester.“The Science Behind Shelf Placement.” The Economic Times. 20 Jan. 2010. Web. 6 May 2014.
Fitzgerald, Robert. “Rowntree and Market Strategy, 1897-1939.” The Business History Conference. 1989. Web.
Gavaghan, Julian. “From Pastilles to Present: How Henry Rowntree (and Some Beloved Sweets) Turned His Family Firm into a National Icon over 150 Years.” Mail Online. 25 Jun. 2012. Web. 5 May 2014.
“Global Chocolate Market.” KPMG. 31 Oct. 2012. Web. 6 May 2014.
Godiva Seeks a Move to the Supermarket in Effort to Get Women to Eat More Chocolate. WSJ. 29 Nov. 2011. Film.
King, Valerie. “Study: UK Consumers More Likely to Indulge in Chocolate than Anything Else.” Candy Industry. 12 Mar. 2014. Web. 6 May 2014.
“MARKETING TO WOMEN QUICK FACTS.” She-conomy. Web. 6 May 2014.
Nuttall, C., and W. A. Hart. “Chocolate Marketing and Other Aspects of the Confectionery Industry Worldwide.” Industrial Chocolate Manufacture and Use. Ed. S. T. Beckett. Springer US, 1994. 362–385. Web. 5 May 2014.
Sigurdsson, Valdimar, Hugi Saevarsson, and Gordon Foxall. “BRAND PLACEMENT AND CONSUMER CHOICE: AN IN-STORE EXPERIMENT.” Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis 42.3 (2009): 741–745. PubMed Central. Web. 6 May 2014.
“Smart Business: How CVS Boosted Chocolate Sales This Year.” Image. N. p., n.d. Web. 5 May 2014.
Waxman, Olivia B. “The Smell of Chocolate Could Help Boost Bookstore Sales.” Time. Web. 6 May 2014.
Williams, Pam and Jim Beer. 2012. Raising the Bar: The Future of Fine Chocolate. 

Chocolate and Stick Method: Using Chocolate to Control, Manipulate and Treat Irrational Behavior

Since its rapid rise in the 1930s, chocolate advertising has been wrapped up in a variety of problematic representations of class, gender, and race. While the world experienced great change over the last eight decades, chocolate companies have largely failed to substantively update their advertising content, resulting in a commercial market saturated with similar, and often inaccurate, strains of messaging.

Stereotyped depictions of women’s sensual or addictive relationship with chocolate, chocolate as a luxury item, chocolate as a staple of heteronormative white relationships, and chocolate consumers  eclipsing producers abound, giving rise to parodies such as women laughing alone with chocolate.

With growing criticism of such representations in chocolate advertising, some marketers have sought to modernize their marketing schemes. In 2008, Dove chocolate marketing manager Nicole McMillan acknowledged that “Chocolate ads have been notorious for showing women in clichéd chocolate moments such as luxuriating in a bubble bath or escaping to a fantasy land. For many women today such depictions are outmoded and not reflective of how they enjoy their chocolate” (Addington).

In response to these “clichéd” and harmful representations in other chocolate commercials, Dove produced a series of “chocumentaries.” Created by Cummins Nitro for the Australian television media market in 2008, these one minute commercials featured characters like the dramatic Em Ocean and the forgetful Pam Nesia who “ each have their own unique and slightly neurotic relationship with chocolate,” promoting the individually wrapped Dove Individuals (Addington).


In light of these modernizing aims, a review of these ad spots is disappointing. The exaggeration of the characters may pass as satire on the surface, but public statements by Dove suggested that these commercials were aimed at depicting more realistic depictions of chocolate consumption, not ironic ones.

Forced to respond to complaints filed against the advertisements, Dove stated that “Through extensive research we found that chocolate advertising to women tended to be cliched and unrealistic… Importantly we found that women do have a sense of humour and they appreciate honesty. We really wanted our advertising to talk to them on this level… Women’s chocolate moments are varied and unique…[and this] campaign celebrates women’s special relationship with chocolate because just as Dove® chocolate comes in their own individual wrapping, so too do the women who eat them” (Advertising Standards Bureau).

The narratives in fact do very little to depart from overused imagery in chocolate advertising, incorporating typical views of class, gender, and sexual preference within a storyline with a crazed or scatterbrained woman. The supposed attempt to challenge these ideas by giving an “honest” account in this commercial and the failure to do so is only a stronger reflection of the strength of these stereotypes within chocolate advertising.

From the outset, the commercial is scripted from an exclusively white, wealthy, Western perspective, with characters from developed countries including France, Australia and the United States. Opulent furnishings including a grand piano and tapestries play into class distinctions and reaffirm chocolate as a luxury product.  The relationship depicted, while arguably modern in the sense that an unmarried couple is shown together in their bedroom, follows the heterosexual skew of the chocolate industry. The man is obviously dominant, the woman dually dependent on him and chocolate to function normally. Additionally, the scenes are largely circumscribed in the domestic sphere. The scene of Pam in her workplace is hardly empowering: she clearly holds no leadership role and is shown sending an inappropriate email across the company list serve, reinforcing prejudices by suggesting that women are “silly” and not suited for the work world.

Most disturbingly, the commercial preserves the harmful theme of women as “scatterbrained” and “irrational consumers” (Robertson). The setting and the interaction between the characters can in many moments be construed as clinical. Flashes of nightmare and fear woven into the storyline of love and chocolate recall 18th century gothic romance novels depicting the damsel in distress. Here, Pam shows little personality, with her glazed eyes and tightly woven hair appearing doll-like and constrained, a common and degrading theme of females in advertising.

doll eyes

With the boyfriend carefully buttoned up and offering several clinical evaluations of his girlfriend, “It’s good for her… It’s okay. We get by,” the story pushes far beyond “scatterbrained” to something more serious and disturbing. Dysfunctional and controlled by chocolate and her boyfriend, Pam’s amnesia is managed by her daily dosage of, and possible addiction to, chocolate. These scenes are pseudo-scientific, falsely observing that “smooth chocolate dissolves the memory cells,” only trivializing serious conditions such as dimentia.

As clinical neuropsychologist Sallie Baxendale points out, “most profound amnesic syndromes have a clear neurological or psychiatric basis.” One forum commenter remarked on the inappropriateness of the commercials overtones, saying “I don’t think Dove Chocolate is a cure for depression, so they shouldn’t be marketing it  as one” (ABC Gruen Transfer Forum).

The ad targets women as individuals, but given Pam’s debilitating condition even with chocolate, there appears to be limited product appeal. Equally problematic is the consideration of chocolate’s effect on men. From the story, it appears that  “Alexandre” either does not eat chocolate at all and therefore does not suffer from memory loss, or his stronger constitution as a man allows him to eat chocolate without such effects, precluding one market or offending another.

To point out the absurdity of these constructs, an alternative commercial is constructed. Reversing gender roles and swapping eerily serious storyboards for one imbued with humor through the use of graphics interchange format (gifs), this depiction demonstrates the use of chocolate to reverse the balance of gendered power and to “brainwash” men: erasing their embarrassing moments and manipulating them into performing domestic tasks.

caption 1 woman rolling her eyes

caption 2 dance fail caption 3 DARYL-MCCOY-GETS-PANTSED

caption 4 jason-puncheon-missed-penalty-kick caption 5 kiss fail

caption 6 man-milk caption 7 office dance fail   caption 8 spill food

caption 9 woman giving chocolate to man man smiling silly

caption 10 man cleaning 2 man cleaning gif

caption 11 winking gif Dove-chocolate-xb1qot

The great difficulty in finding stock photos that depict women gifting or serving chocolate to men underscores the gender imbalance that permeates chocolate culture. Further, few gifs contain diverse characters and settings, largely depicting attractive, western figures and scenarios.

This storyboard  uses satire and inversion to highlight problems related to gender and crazed behavior, but elements of it are still inscribed in stereotypical roles and settings. Defying established advertising norms, women gain the upper hand through chocolate. However, men are manipulated to inhabit women’s domestic sphere using chocolate, depicted as distinctly out of place. Stereotypical spheres of influence including sports and the office are preserved here, and typical representations of men as “goofy” or “risk-takers” are not disputed.  Such shortcomings demonstrate the challenge in addressing and defying all problems associated with chocolate advertising stereotypes.

Future commercials might tackle these points and should also address and incorporate racial diversity, queer relationships, and typically excluded chocolate producers.


Addington, Tim. “Mars Use ‘chocumentaries’ for Major Dove Launch.” B&T. 9 May 2008. Web. 10 Apr. 2014.
Advertising Standards Bureau. “Case Report of Mars Australia Pty Ltd.” 11 Jun. 2008.
Baxendale, Sallie. “Memories Aren’t Made of This: Amnesia at the Movies.” BMJ : British Medical Journal 329.7480 (2004): 1480–1483. Print.
“Discussion: Boost Ad.” ABC1, The Gruen Transfer Forum.
Lukas, Scott. “Dolls.” The Gender Ads Project. Web. 2012.
O’Barr, William M. “Representations of Masculinity and Femininity in Advertising.” Advertising & Society Review 7.2 (2006): n. pag. Project MUSE. Web. 10 Apr. 2014.
Robertson, Emma. 2010. Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History.
pp. 1-131
Smith, C. et al. “Losing Memories Overnight: A Unique Form of Human Amnesia.” Neuropsychologia (2010): n. pag.



An Army Marches on its Stomach: A History of Chocolate in the Military

Napoleon Bonaparte once said that “an army marches on its stomach.” The famous French Emperor was also said to have carried chocolate on his many military campaigns to provide energy. Unlike much of chocolate’s decadent history, the story of chocolate in the military is utilitarian, putting practicality before pleasure.  The development of the functional use of chocolate parallels and contrasts its evolution as an indulgent treat with broader implications on social roles and taste.

Military use of chocolate can be traced to antiquity, with the Aztec army’s use of cacao and chocolate documented by various sources. With chocolate consumption restricted to certain social groups, the army occupied a high class in Aztec society and was crucial in ensuring the state’s continued prosperity. Given their critical roles, Aztec warriors were among the few who were given the right to eat chocolate, able to purchase it in public markets in addition to receiving it on their military campaigns (Presilla 19).  Fray Diego Duran gave particularly descriptive accounts of cacao’s use as a military ration, which was made into pellets, wafers, and balls and distributed to each soldier (Coe 98). While chocolate was typically consumed as a beverage during this time, these solid forms were easier to carry and could be shaved into pieces or dissolved in water.

Aztec Warriors
Aztec Warriors from the Codex Mendoza

Old World soldiers were among the earliest to encounter chocolate, and they initially showed an aversion to its bitter taste. Greater exposure over time as well as a hybridization of flavors improved receipt among conquistadors, with one “gentleman of Hernan Cortes” asserting in 1556 that “the drink is the healthiest thing, and the greatest sustenance of anything you could drink in the world, because he who drinks a cup of this liquid, no matter how far he walks, can go a whole day without eating anything else” (Coe 84).

For the next two centuries, chocolate spread throughout Europe. From the late 17th century on, chocolate could be found in public coffee-houses, the caffeinated drinks fueling political debate. Chocolate houses came into their own in the mid-1700s, and these meeting houses nurtured political ties and talks of revolution. Chocolate played a role in Europe’s revolutions, but it was not yet listed among standard military provisions.

In the late 1600s and 1700s, chocolate made its way back across the Atlantic to British colonies in America. As early as 1755, chocolate was used as a ration for troops during the French and Indian War, as it that could be transported without spoiling. Benjamin Franklin himself helped to supply chocolate to officers serving under General Braddock (Snyder). Chocolate rations were also distributed by rank to Continental soldiers during the Revolutionary war (McKay). As the war stretched on, chocolate was limited due to British interception of imports and occupation of chocolate production centers (Grivetti and Shapiro). With dwindling supplies, Massachusetts even forbade its export as it was needed “for the supply of the army” (Snyder).

American military use of chocolate proved to be long-lived, playing an important role in feeding troops and boosting morale in every war and conflict thereafter. During the Civil War, Union soldier Henry Pippitt of the 104th Ohio Volunteer Infantry wrote of the capture of rebel supplies, saying “we were quite surprised to find what our enemy subsisted upon. Aside from similar particulars including hard tack and smoked meats, it appears our southern brethren quite prefer the taste of peaches… bologna links, and milk sweetened by what appears to be chocolate.”

Industrial revolution and the turn of the century brought greater organization surrounding the transportation and distribution of food products, both at home and overseas. After the outbreak of WWI, R.F. Mackenzie, president of the National Confectioners Association remarked that “The world must have its sweets. As the wise man has said, ’Candy’s fair in love and war.’ The lover demands his package of bon-bons with which to propitiate his sweetheart; and the veteran of the tranches requests his strength-renewing tablet of chocolate” (Kawash).

Organizations such as the YMCA set up canteens to provide treats and entertainment to soldiers, including hot chocolate which was said to make the soldiers feel “like new men” (McKay). YMCA canteens supported soldiers in both WWI and WWII, and as one canteen girl wrote, “we had ministered to the boys’ souls in the morning, fortified the inner man with free hot chocolate at six o’clock, now we were going to finish out the day by satisfying their romantic cravings with a film drama of love and adventure” (Morse).

YMCA Canteen Girls Distribute Hot Chocolate During WWII

The military officially sanctioned chocolate as part of the standard ration in 1937, working closely with Hershey to develop a special bar for hard-traveling, calorie-expending soldiers. The bar was designed to be heat resistant, high in food energy, and low on sugar and taste so as to prevent soldiers from snacking on the chocolate in non-emergency situations. Field Ration D, coined the Logan Bar after the Army Quartermaster Captain who helped develop it, was broadly disliked. These brick-like chocolate rations were distributed to the Allied troops across Europe, and spurred other chocolate manufacturers such as Cadbury and Nestle to target soldier consumers.

war chocolate poster
Nestle WWII Campaign

On the home front, chocolate was often rationed during WWII, and occupied countries especially saw very little of it. Chocolate, then, was used by soldiers to exchange for other goods and foods or to build good-will with foreign populations, fueling both fighting and diplomacy.

Soldiers Donate (Delicious) Chocolate to Children at Christmas

Continuous refinement of the military-grade bar, from the Logan Bar, to the high-heat resistant Tropical Bar, to the much later desert bar in the from the 1980s, showed efforts to improve the flavor of the bar, particularly by adding sugar, while preserving its long shelf-life and heat-resistant qualities. Still, the bar was far from artisan. Globalized military use of chocolate became increasingly common in the 20th century, with chocolate included in standard military rations or Meals Ready to Eat (MRE) as a treat that provides sustenance as well as morale.

Scandinavian MRE chocolate comparison. Denmark was unanimously voted least edible. #MRElivetweet

— Filet mignon (@momecat) December 30, 2012

To the military, chocolate’s function is largely practical in giving troops energy to fight. But its use in war is also multipurpose, as a soldier’s ration, a morale boost, a method of diplomacy and good will, and sometimes as one of its spoils. Military-grade chocolate, while very different than that sold to the public, shares some aspects with its commercial counterpart. Even on the battlefield, chocolate serves to bring moments of happiness and forge friendships, adding some sweetness to an otherwise serious, somber world.


“AMERICANS IN BRITAIN, 1942 – 1945.” Imperial War Museums. Image. N. p., n.d. Web. 14 Mar. 2014.
“Hershey Community Archives: Ration D and Tropical Bar.” Hershey. Text. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Mar. 2014.
Brett & Kate McKay. “The Surprisingly Manly History of Hot Cocoa.” The Art of Manliness. N. p., n.d. Web. 14 Mar. 2014.
Burrows. “Burrowsblog: Rationing in World War 2 Australia.” Burrowsblog 16 Apr. 2012. Web. 14 Mar. 2014.
Carruth, Allison. “War Rations and the Food Politics of Late Modernism.” Modernism/modernity 16.4 (2009): 767–795. Project MUSE. Web. 13 Mar. 2014.
Cervera Obregon, Marco A. “Mexica Weaponry: Codex Mendoza Image.” Aztecs at Mexicolore. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Mar. 2014.
Coe, Sophie Dobzhansky, and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. Thames and Hudson, 2013. Print.
Graham-Harrison, Emma. “The Eat of Battle – How the World’s Armies Get Fed.” The Guardian 18 Feb. 2014. The Guardian. Web. 13 Mar. 2014.
Grivetti, Louis E., and Howard-Yana Shapiro. Chocolate: History, Culture, and Heritage. John Wiley & Sons, 2011. Print.
Jones. “Chocolate at War!” Delicious History. N.p., 15 Oct. 2012. Web. 13 Mar. 2014.
Kawash, Samira. “Taking Candy from a Soldier.” Candy Professor. N.p., 18 Jan. 2010. Blog. 13 Mar. 2014.
Morse, Katherin D. Uncensored Letters of a Canteen Girl. NY: Henry Holt, 1920.
National Confectioners  Association. “Americans: Candy Makes Friends Poster.” The Story of Chocolate. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Mar. 2014.
Pippitt, Henry. The Henry Pippitt Diaries: 1862-1865. Diary.
Presilla, Maricel. 2009. The New Taste of Chocolate.
Snyder, Rodney. “History of Chocolate: Chocolate in American Colonies.” Colonial Williamsburg. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Mar. 2014.

Chocolate as Medicine: Mending More than Broken Hearts

In modern discourses of diet and nutrition, the health benefits of chocolate are widely debated and steeped in uncertainty. Tracing the history of medical claims, theories on chocolate date almost as far back as the domestic origins of the plant to ancient Mesoamerica. Examining the medical history of chocolate can help to explain the food’s global reach and also highlights the ways in which chocolate “cures” have changed, or perhaps more interestingly, have remained the same over thousands of years.

The use of chocolate as medicine in its area of origin may be considered narrow in scope when compared with the cure-all claims of modernity. While it is true that the Maya and the Aztec cultures used cacao most often for religious ritual and was restricted to the elite, cacao spilled into almost all aspects of their culture, including health.

The most straightforward use of cacao as a Mesoamerican treatment was to provide energy, its sustaining and stimulating effects sourced from its calories and caffeine. Aztec warriors were provided rations of chocolate for long marches, and one Conquistador observed that chocolate was “…the greatest sustenance of anything you could drink in the world, because he who drinks a cup of this liquid, no matter how far he walks, can go a whole day without eating anything else” (Coe and Coe 84).

Illustration of the Cacao Tree, top center. Badianus Manuscript,16th century Latin Aztec herbal.

In some regards, cacao was used in a greater variety of ways for medical treatment in Mesoamerica than in Europe. With direct access to the tree and its pods, M esoamericans  were not constrained to using only cacao bean and its chocolate product in treating illnesses, but rather  were able to incorporate the whole cacao pod and cacao flowers into remedies. The Badianus Manuscript, a colonial compilation of Aztec herbal traditions “ included remedies using cacao flowers to prepare a poultice for sore and injured feet as well as for curing sterility and/or female complaints” (Wilson and Hurst 35). The manuscript finds further use for the flower of the cauliflory cacao tree, prescribing them “as an ingredient in a perfumed bath, prepared to cure fatigue…” (Dillinger et. al  2060s).

Cacao itself was also used in medical concoctions of Mesoamerica. As Bernardino de Sahagun recorded in the Florentine Codex, there were many mixtures to treat a range of illnesses including one “prescription of cacao beans, maize and the herb tlacoxochitl to alleviate fever and panting of breath and to treat the faint of heart” (Dillinger et al 2057s). Whether such treatments were accessible to all levels of society in the Maya and Aztec cultures is unknown, imbuing medicine and its access with ethical considerations from an early date.

These relatively quiet claims of the medicinal properties of New World foods reached the ears of Europe in the latter half of the 16th century, spurring interest among its condition-riddled elite. Philip II of Spain was so intrigued by the possibility of cures harbored in the New World that he ordered his Royal Physician, Francisco Hernandez, to draw up a report of the plants of Mesoamerica. In his classifications, Hernandez makes reference to cacao and suggests its use for a variety of ailments.

Hernandez’s study of chocolate as medicine was viewed through the lens of the humoral theory of medicine, which purported health when the body and its elements were in balance. In circumscribing chocolate to the medical theories of the Old World, Hernandez classified it as “cold and humid,” laying the groundwork for its adoption as a New World treatment for Old World ailments (Coe and Coe 122).

Chocolate Apothecary
Chocolate Advertisements and Apothecary Trade Cards, 16th-18th centuries.

Just as modern wellness and diet trends sweep across the country, so too did chocolate as a treatment in Europe. With hundreds of examples of advertisements from the 17th and 18th centuries touting its restorative effects, chocolate and its prescription was big business. Chocolate made its way across Europe by way of doctors’ orders, quickly accumulating ailments for which it was an antidote as it traveled through Spain, Italy, France and England. Among its laundry list of treatable illnesses, “chocolate lessens agitation reduces angina and asthma, reduces cancer and has a calming [e]ffect. It reduces emaciation, improves energy, relieves hoarseness, reduces fever and quenches thirst” (St. Jean). Similar considerations of access to this medical “treatment” arise given that chocolate was a luxury item used mostly by the elite.

With time, chocolate was not only a primary medication, but also as an ingredient to enhance other medicines. Sulpice Debauve, as pharmacist to Louis XVI, is credited with creating a Pistole “made of cocoa, cane sugar, and medicine mixed together” to mask the poor taste of certain medicines for Marie Antoinette (Debauve and Gallais Company History).

Chocolate Flavored Medicine
Chocolate Worm Cakes, 19th Century. Museum of London.

This use of chocolate not necessarily as medicine but in medicine continued for some time, with wafers and cakes of medicine “made more palatable through the addition of chocolate flavoring” (Museum of London). Such practices lowered the quality of chocolate used but increased access to chocolate incorporated in pills and wafers.

Dr. Oz Tip – Dark Chocolate from ReviewVelocity on Vimeo.

Chocolate as medicine may persist in pop-culture, but its health benefits could be more than myth. As published by the Harvard Medical School HealthBeat, dark chocolate  “is an antioxidant that may improve your cholesterol; it improves endothelial function and may lower your blood pressure; it may lower your blood sugar; and its antiplatelet activities could reduce your chances of developing an artery-blocking clot. Taken together, these could reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke.” Consistently, chocolate has been used  to treat emaciation – likely effective due to the naturally high fat content of cocoa butter- as well as to provide a boost from its caffeine and alkaloid content. With medical benefits still tentative rather than proven, the future of chocolate as medicine remains open.


Badianus Manuscript. UT Health Science Center. Web.

Breen, Benjamin. “Nature Poetry by a Seventeenth Century Apothecary [February 2011 Update].” Res Obscura 8 July 2010. Web. 21 Feb. 2014.

Coe, Sophie Dobzhansky, and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. Thames and Hudson, 2013. Print.

“Debauve and Gallais Company History.” Debauve and Gallais.

Dillinger, Teresa L. et al. “Food of the Gods: Cure for Humanity? A Cultural History of the Medicinal and Ritual Use of Chocolate.” The Journal of Nutrition 130.8 (2000): 2057S–2072S. Print.

Dr. Oz Tip – Dark Chocolate. 2013. Film.

Druggist’s Trade Card. Early 18th Century. Yale’s Center for British Art. Web.

“Harvard Medical School HealthBeat.” 3 Mar. 2009.

Lippi, Donatella. “Chocolate in History: Food, Medicine, Medi-Food.” Nutrients 5.5 (2013): 1573–1584. Web. 21 Feb. 2014.

St Jean, Julie. “Medicinal and Ritualistic Uses for Chocolate in Mesoamerica.” HeritageDaily – Heritage & Archaeology News. Web. 21 Feb. 2014.

Tin of Worm Cakes. Museum of London. Web.

Wilson, Philip K., and William J. Hurst. Chocolate as Medicine: A Quest Over the Centuries. Royal Society of Chemistry, 2012. Print.