CVS Pharmacy is a popular retail store across the United States offering everything from school supplies to pharmaceutical needs. It can be found in pretty much every corner of the country and most everyone has been inside one at least a dozen times in their lives. Of course a store with so much general merchandise also offers a selection of foods, not in the least of which is chocolate. For this blog post, I travelled to the local CVS pharmacy in Harvard Square and examined their chocolates to see what kind of standard one of the most widespread stores in America holds for their selection of chocolate. After all, because of how standardized CVS stores are in what they carry, these same chocolates are likely everywhere being offered everywhere else in the U.S. as well. It is because of this reason that makes their selection of chocolate so important, its availability to the general populace means these brands get the most face time and highest likelihood of being bought by consumers. Unfortunately, after examining the Harvard Square CVS selection I found that it was inadequate. With consideration of price point and intended audience, I believe that because of concerns of variety and ethical concerns I believe that CVS Pharmacy can do still do a better job curating their chocolate collection.
First of all, I want to note that I suspected that many CVS shoppers don’t usually go to CVS for chocolate directly. However, just because many people don’t go to CVS for chocolate doesn’t mean that CVS can just offer any type of chocolate. So I began to make a thorough exploration of the store and I found that it wasn’t actually very well organized for chocolates likely because CVS’s primary audience is not at CVS to buy chocolate. There was a small main section for sweets including candy and chocolates, but this wasn’t the only place for chocolate – there was chocolate everywhere in the store often mixed into other sections of snacks. Probably the most notable alternative section to the main chocolate area was there a small stand that had a selection of “premium” chocolates.
Throughout the store there were many different types of chocolate. There was a fair assortment of different forms from bars, pretzels to balls. On the face of it, it seemed like most of these chocolates all belonged to different companies. However, on closer inspection of the companies behind the chocolate, it turns out that despite a plethora of chocolates, most of the brands of chocolate throughout the store were one of these four companies: Lindt, Hersheys, Mars, and Nestle.
Of course, this wasn’t really a surprise. These four companies are giants in the chocolate world. It makes sense that a popular and generalist store like CVS would of course carry the most popular and general chocolate companies. It is also in line with the intended audience of CVS. It’s meant for everybody and so for this reason it’s clear that the intended audience for all their products (and not just chocolate) is just average consumers. Average consumers that are coming in are more likely to be buying chocolate more on a whim. Even if it’s not on a whim, it’s likely in junction with purchasing other items from CVS. CVS is such a general merchandise store that there seem to be little reason to go to CVS solely for the reason to be buying chocolate. If the latter were the case then these consumers would likely go to a higher end chocolate store that offers more gourmet options. If one buys chocolate on a whim, they’re most likely to be choosing brands and types of chocolate that they are familiar with. Familiarity and brand recognition is what companies like the four mentioned above are king of.
In terms of price points, I found that most of the chocolates offered were anywhere form $2.00 to $4.00 on average. The highest priced chocolates I found were in the premium chocolate section with Lindt’s Lindor Truffles costing $5.29. Very often a lot of the chocolates, whether premium or not, would have promotions where it wouldn’t be uncommon to get a small deal for purchasing two of the same chocolates. For example, the Truffles were going on sale 2 for $8.00 despite the fact that they’re being listed as premium chocolates.
There are two things that are clear from their price points and promotions. Promotions tend to show either that chocolates are not being sold well and I think this helps support my reasoning that the primary audience of CVS is not travelling to CVS for chocolates and might need incentive to purchase more. Secondly, the low price points all around show the lack of diversity the CVS selection of chocolate is. It is precisely because of how mainstream the types chocolates are that CVS can order in bulk, sell in bulk and price them in bulk. Hersheys for example even back in 1910 had such a “low cost… every grocer, druggist, and candy store owner in America could stock Hershey products” (D’Antonio, 2006). I think it shows how much of a conglomerate both CVS and these chocolate corporations are. There isn’t really any sort of care in the selection, its just purchasing whatever big brand is out there and having as much of it as possible. As you can see from the picture below CVS’ selection ends up being in line with the present American nature of having too much stuff and an excess of consumerism. I think Goody puts it best when describing the revolution of industrial food that “larger stores offer lower prices, wider choices and the impersonality of selection that a socially mobile populations appears to prefer” (Goody 1982).
However, is there really any way that we can buy chocolate in bulk this cheaply without hurting someone down the supply line? If anything, big corporations are the most likely to be perpetrators of sourcing practices that aren’t up to ethical standards. While they have been trying to improve over the years, it still isn’t good enough. Bottom lines for corporations tend to be profit so its easy to skim out and take shortcuts, but this ends up hurting very real people. As we can learn from This video shows how for our relatively cheap chocolate bars a farmer ends up working for so little he has never even tasted chocolate.
The certified cocoa from the above chart mean cacoa that is both ethically and sustainably sourced. We can see that compared to some compard to some more boutique companies, ethical concerns aren’t really the top concerns of the big corporations companies. Its not a surprise when for Forrest Mars, his concern was to just produce as much chocolate as possible and out churn the competition (Brenner, 1998). Sure, these corporations have pledged to turn out ethical and sustainable chocolate, but this is very much more likely to be lip service and a want for not upsetting consumers than it is because they truly care. If they did care, they would have already changed their supply lines years ago. Cadbury’s debacle back in the early 1900s with slave labor sourced chocolate is a similar example of this. They took their time because they didn’t know the extent of slavery that was ongoing, but they didn’t care enough to actually check for years. As we can see from another example, author Ryan’s experience with an industry executive in 2005 found that he believed there was no real child slavery in chocolate and that he ‘found it a joke’ (Ryan, 2011).These things just go to show how some of the most prominent corporations that we see in our everyday lives can really have a lack of empathy and in the end this effects those at the bottom of the supply chain the worst.
The only part of the entire section of chocolate in CVS that didn’t belong to one of the big brands was a small hidden narrow shelf in the premium chocolate section. It offered Endangered Species Chocolates, but its selection was so small it didn’t even fill up the whole shelf. It’s not put at eye level either and if one was looking for chocolates that weren’t from a giant corporation, they would have had to really put in some level of effort to find these.
I understand that CVS’ audience is an average consumer who is likely not there to purchase chocolate and if they do so it’s on a whim. It also makes sense that for big chocolate corporations the bottom line ends up being about selling as many chocolate in bulk as they can. The low prices in CVS are in line with both the audience’s intentions and the goals of CVS and the corporations. But, I am not propose that CVS should become a place where there is only a selection of fair-trade premium chocolates. I do think that big companies are part of the problem when it comes to the ethical concerns of a supply line and its not just the chocolate corporations themselves, its also the retail stores. I believe that CVS should begin transitioning to offer a larger variety of chocolates that are not just from large corporations. Instead of a just offering a premium chocolate section, they could just put up another stand that allows them to offer “Fair-trade” chocolate or “ethical” chocolates. They could even just make one part of the premium chocolates shelf solely for these new brands. Given how chaotic their current array of chocolates already are in the present, it wouldn’t be too much farther of a stretch to offer a better selection. If they could do this then it would go a long way in supporting ethical concerns in the supply line of chocolate because of how widespread CVS stores are. Doing just a small part could make a big difference and they wouldn’t even lose out on their normal profits. CVS really has much of a duty to the underpaid farmers as the big chocolate corporations. You can be better CVS.
Brenner, J. G. (1998) The Emperors of Chocolate: Inside the Secret World of Hershey and Mars. (pp. 183).
(2006). Hershey. New York, NY. (pp.
Goody, Jack. (1982). Industrial Food: Towards the Development of a World Cuisine. (pp. 87).
Ryan, O. (2011) Chocolate Nations: Living and Dying for Cocoa in West Africa. (pp. 45)
The purpose of my chocolate tasting was to see whether the attendees could discern between the four various categories for the sourcing and materialization of chocolate as discussed in class and the readings: (1) Direct Trade, (2) Fair Trade, (3) Organic, and (4) Industrialized. Because much of Chocolate class was about the social, anthropological, and economic impacts of and differences between each of these chocolate types, I thought this would be an excellent theme to my tasting that brings historical, socioeconomic, and taste-related views.
Figure 1. The fancy invitations I used to invite 7 participants to my tasting.
Figure 2. The participants of my chocolate tasting.
Types of Chocolate in the Tasting
(1) Direct Trade There are four general types of chocolate (based on its production processes) that we have learned in Chocolate class. The first is Direct Trade, also known as bean-to-bar chocolate, as these companies have control of its manufacturing process from growing and harvesting of the cacao bean all the way to its packaging and selling into a bar. Direct Trade chocolate is usually a chocolate company that directly deals with farmers. There’s a bit of variation in its manufacturing processes, but this leaves more room for negotiation from the different chocolate companies. Direct Trade companies may place environmental and labor factors into consideration, but not to as far of an extent as other chocolate types such as Fair Trade. In Direct Trade, there is less regulation because it is assumed that there is maximum control between the cacao harvesters, manufacturers, and packagers of the chocolate product. However, the very direct control of these Direct Trade chocolate companies costs a high premium, making their products quite expensive. Because of the rarity of a chocolate company having complete control of an entire chocolate farm, which is usually located outside of the U.S., solely for their company, the quantity of Direct Trade producers which exists is very low.
(2) Fair Trade The second category of chocolates presented was the Fair Trade chocolate type. These mass-produced confections are intended to guarantee a consistent smell and taste, achieved through rigorous oversight and a careful blending of cacao. According to Michael D’Antonio of Hershey: Milton S. Hershey’s Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams, using liquid condensed milk instead of the powdered milk that the Swiss favored, Schmalbach’s mixture was easier to move through various processes: “…it could be pumped, channeled, and poured — and it required less time for smoothing and grinding. Hershey would be able to make milk chocolate faster, and therefore cheaper, than the Europeans” (D’Antonio 2006: 108). With techniques like these that were melded again and again by Hershey a century ago, efficiency of methods for the mass-production and -distribution of chocolate was possible. However, these efficient industrialized methods definitely compromise the ethics of labor, environmentalism, and health-focuses of these chocolates.
(3) Organic The third type of chocolate that is explored in this tasting is Organic chocolate. Organic chocolates place an emphasis on health and the environment. They do not use pesticides, and because it places such a large, conscious emphasis on these issues, there is a loss of yield that occurs in terms of its production and consumption. These chocolate products also tend to be extremely expensive, for there is usually a rearrangement premium placed on their price tag. Additionally, although organic chocolate products focus on health-related and environmental issues, there is no standard for the laborers of its production. Organic chocolate products must also all undergo certification, and usually the bars themselves are sold in small proportions.
(4) Industrialized The final category of chocolates which were presented during the tasting was Industrialized chocolate. Fair Trade chocolates emphasize the moral ethics of the chocolate production. They prioritize producing ethical, labor-regulated goods, and for this reason they also weigh between ingredient and product. These products also require a certification by one or more of the various Fair Trade certification companies. These groups usually require a type of price threshold, which makes this type of chocolate a little bit more expensive. Fair Trade chocolates also take the environment into account, although oftentimes not as much as Organic chocolates do. Fair Trade chocolates also focus on community development.
Figure 3. The advertising and packaging used for each of the four chocolates used in my tasting.
(1) Direct Trade:
Taza Chocolate, Seriously Dark, 87% Cacao, Organic Dark Chocolate
Observations of Packaging:
Easy-to-read font that pops out
(2) Fair Trade:
Seattle Chocolate, Pike Place Espresso, Dark Chocolate Truffle Bar with Decaf Espresso
Observations of Packaging:
“Rainy coffeehouse hipster”
Cloudy color scheme (not as bright)
Lake Champlain Chocolates, Cacao Nibs & Dark Chocolate, 80% Cocoa
Observations of Packaging:
“Typical coffee colors”
Compromise between adult- and kid-themed packaging (could theoretically work for either audience)
Cadbury, Royal Dark, Dark Chocolate
Observations of Packaging:
“Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”
“Here There Will Be No Unhappiness.” Hershey Milton S. Hershey’s Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams, by Michael D D’Antonio, Simon & Schuster, 2006, pp. 106–126.
Chocolate uniquely embodies a number of contradictions. It’s almost universal, yet very personal. Consistent, yet incredibly diverse. Sweet, yet bitter. Luxurious and expensive, yet cheap and ubiquitous. Valentine’s day for adults, halloween for children—there is a chocolate for everyone. Considering all the different profiles and qualities that chocolate has taken on in its millennia-long history, it follows that there are a number of establishments consumers can go to in order to enjoy this versatile treat. Walking through Harvard Square, one can find themselves at any of the three main purveyors of chocolate—each of which carries its own unique implications, connotations, and ‘personality.’
The first such setting is perhaps best characterized by convenience, and in the context of Harvard Square, there is no store more convenient than CVS (so convenient that, not long ago, there were three within a one block radius of each other). Though technically a pharmacy, most CVS locations are better known for their general merchandise, including everything from toiletries to convenience foods. With its vast and diverse offerings, and over 9,800 stores across the United States, CVS is the epitome of a chocolate purveyor to the masses. That is, similar to grocery stores or large chain supermarkets such as Walmart, Stop & Shop, or Kroger, which is where the majority turn to for confectionary purchases (IBISWorld). That being said, chocolate is far from the focal point of these stores.
Just across the street from CVS, one may find themselves at Cardullo’s Gourmet Shoppe, which is representative of a different type of setting for buying chocolate, perhaps best described as ‘specialty stores.’ Cardullo’s in particular offers an array of fresh foods and gourmet delicacies from around the world, including wine, cheese and, of course, chocolate. There are a number of other stores nearby (and across the country) with a similar premise as Formaggio Kitchen or Bacco Wine & Cheese, where chocolate is not necessarily the focus or the sole product featured, but the food categories offered are still limited. Consequently, each such category is theoretically given more ‘weight’ in how important it is to the store. This specialization also carries the implication that the products offered are carefully/deliberately curated, and are of high quality.
The last stop on this chocolate journey through Harvard Square brings us to L.A. Burdick, which takes specialization to the next level. At L.A. Burdick, one can find themselves in a chocolate heaven of Larry Burdick’s creations, which is the clear and primary focus of the establishment. Other such stores in the greater Boston area may include the Teuscher Chocolates of Switzerland, Beacon Hill Chocolates, and EHChocolatier, representing the most niche of the three main ‘purchasing settings’ as they all primarily sell gourmet chocolate goods of their own creation.
The differences between these purveyors could not be more stark and yet they are all places consumers go to buy chocolate. Their various focal points and priorities are reflected in their respective selections, pricing, sourcing, and messaging.
Walking through the ‘Candy’ and ‘Chocolate’ aisle at CVS, one is immediately struck by the bold, bright colored packaging that marks almost all of their chocolate products. As displayed below, many of these are variations of the big name chocolate candy bars/treats that pervade the US such as Kit Kat, M&M’s and Reese’s Cups. But perhaps the first thing to note about the CVS chocolate section is how the overwhelming majority are more candy bar than actual chocolate. That is, there is a limited selection of primarily chocolate-based products (those with few additional ingredients such as caramel or ‘fruit & nut’), even fewer options for plain milk chocolate (four to be exact, of which three are owned by the same parent company), and only three options for dark chocolate. In a separate aisle, however, there is a stand for what CVS labels “Premium Chocolates,” where they have three additional labels with a ‘pure’ chocolate option—Ghirardelli, Lindt, and Endangered Species. Ghirardelli and Lindt both have multiple choices for cacao percentage (they are also owned by the same parent company).
The variety of chocolates at CVS is relatively new phenomenon that reflects the evolving tastes of American consumers. Indeed, “American consumers are expanding their consumption beyond traditional mass market chocolate such as Hershey”s” (Squicciarini & Swinnen). That being said, this notion of variety can be misleading considering that around 80% of the 45+ chocolate products found in these sections at CVS are owned/distributed by just 4 corporations, half of which are Hershey products and the other half of which are Mars, Lindt, and Ferrero products (Ferrero acquired Nestlé’s U.S. chocolate business in 2018). The selection at CVS mirrors U.S. overall market share, with these four companies controlling just about 80% of the market (Wilmot & Back). Indeed, large scale deals between retail chains like CVS and chocolate conglomerates likely perpetuate the dominance of these companies’ products in the chocolate market. Thus while the amalgam of packaging colors, shapes, and sizes may give the impression of diversity, it becomes clear that most of the chocolate and brand variety is superficial with the only differentiator being the flavoring.
Compare this to Cardullo’s Gourmet Shoppe—a family-owned, local specialty store that’s been at the heart of Harvard Square for nearly 70 years and it’s a completely different story. While they still have their fair share of ‘industrial chocolate’ varieties, i.e. “mass-produced confections [that] are intended to guarantee a consistent smell and taste, achieved through rigorous oversight and a careful blending of cacaos” (Sethi), it’s the relative variety of craft chocolate brands that leaves the greatest impression upon arriving at their designated chocolate and dessert sections. With their selection including around 15 companies producing craft chocolate who specialize solely in chocolate production, it’s easy to get a hint of the diversity in the market—as well as in taste.
Moreover, within their rather vast chocolate selection, there are two columns that, at first glance, may be reminiscent of CVS’s offerings in terms of its colorful packaging and familiar brands (see Figure 4). Upon further inspection however, their place at Cardullo’s becomes evident. While chocolates in this section are indeed of the ‘industrial’ variety, they are included at Cardullo’s because the brands or country of origin are uncommon for the U.S. For example, Figure 5 illustrates that the Kit Kat at Cardullo’s has an origin and branding difference—the Cardullo’s version is manufactured by Nestlé, as is the case for all Kit Kats outside the US, while the U.S. version is made under license by a division of The Hershey Company.
Such differences have notable implications for the chocolate itself, which trace back to around the 1930s when the “process of manufacturing chocolate was gradually shifting from improvisation to exact science as manufacturers experimented with various ways to render the essence from roasted cocoa beans. No two companies employed the same practices […] Each process produced its own unique flavor, and over time, these differences translated into distinct national tastes” (Brenner 63). In the case of a Kit Kat for instance, the European version contains less sugar and a higher cocoa and fat content than its American counterpart. This national preference has even gone as far as affecting legislation such that in the UK a product is required to be at least 25% cocoa solids in order to be called milk chocolate, whereas in the US such a designation requires only that it contain a minimum of 10% chocolate liquor (Spector).
Unlike Cardullo’s and CVS, L.A. Burdick sells all its chocolate under its own brand name. It is a charming store that specializes in chocolate creations of all forms. Here, one finds a very different kind of variety wherein all of the chocolate is made from, and branded as, the same source (i.e. L.A. Burdick), but there are numerous varieties with different shapes, sizes, types, flavorings, consistencies, etc. Specifically, they offer a number of regular and themed “collections” or assortments featuring different combinations of their 36+ truffle and bonbon varieties. While some of these, usually those that are on the smaller side such as their “Chocolate Bee Collection” are displayed for purchase in the shop, the majority are available to order online as customizable gifts or for a range of special events. In the physical store, however, there is also the option to purchase several of their bonbons and truffles on an individual basis. Alongside these delicacies, they also sell chocolate-covered nuts and dried fruits, an impressive collection of more conventional chocolate bars, as well as an array of (mostly) chocolate pastries and confections. Considering these products are all made under the same name, the extent of their chocolate bar collection is particularly noteworthy: they offer 18 varieties covering a range of cacao percentages, flavorings/added ingredients, and cacao bean origin. Throughout the store there are also a handful of artfully crafted, intricate chocolate creations (e.g. Rocher nest), with one even explicitly labeled as ‘display only,’ further emphasizing the blurry line between these artisanal chocolates and art. Lastly, and perhaps most popular, is their variety of drinking chocolate options. This includes three standard drink preparations in addition to a ‘single source dark chocolate’ option, whose source rotates every month among seven different locations, each with a specific and unique flavor profile that they detail on their menu.
Quality is perhaps one of the most cited traits in chocolate, but it is also one of the most ambiguous. Depending on who you ask, quality in chocolate can refer to any number of traits–be it the cacao plant variety or origin, the maker, the consistency, the taste, the process, or even the brand. Indeed, perceptions of quality vary country by country and are often reflective of the level of a country’s economic development. Cidell and Alberts found that “quality is based on material characteristic whose relative importance in determining quality depends on the country in which different stages of economic innovation took place.” Different producers catering to different audiences tend emphasize different things with the mass market producers we tend to find at CVS emphasizing taste, consistency and lifestyle elements (think “Have a break. Have a Kit Kat”). The smaller capacity chocolate makers we find at Cardullo’s (and potentially L.A. Burdick), on the other hand, emphasize the handmade nature, small production runs, ‘pure’ ingredients and natural tastes.
There are real differences between brands of chocolate, though the effect of those differences on the esoteric notion of quality is up for debate. For example, soy lecithin is used in the majority of chocolate products as a surfactant, meaning it lowers the viscosity of the chocolate during the production process, thereby making it easier to work with for tempering and molding. While the same can be achieved by adding more cocoa butter, this is a lot more expensive as well as more time consuming as it requires a longer period of conching (Terenzi, Chess). As a result, many of the mass produced chocolates—including all of those sold at CVS employ the former process and ingredients. The chocolates at Cardullo’s tend to communicate their quality through a varied selection of single-origin bars, thereby suggesting the use of high-quality beans and/or specialty cacao which subscribes to “a notion of quality that is linked to lack of defects and the presence of fine flavor and aroma(s)” (Martin). Similarly, they imply that an “artisanal” approach to chocolate-making leads to a higher quality product—though this is not necessarily as straightforward as it may seem since the term has no standardized implication for their cacao bean sourcing or production practices. Rather, it can be more a marketing effort to increase perceived quality. On the other hand, Cardullo’s does carry some mass produced well-branded chocolates as well with dubious quality relative to their price. For example, Valrhona, Neuhaus and Godiva, all carried by Cardullo’s, have extremely strong reputations and consumer perceptions of quality, yet all contain soy lecithin and other additives in their dark chocolate products (on the other hand, Cardullo’s was the only store visited to carry some chocolate bars with just cocoa constituents and cane sugar—all of L.A. Burdick’s bars contain the ingredient). One area where consumers can gain real insight into the chocolates at Cardullo’s are the bean to bar varieties—while these chocolates are not guaranteed to be good, this increases the likelihood that the cacao is deliberately sourced as opposed to using bulk commodity cacao.
I would be remiss if, in a discussion of quality, I ignored the significant role that marketing and branding have on perceived quality, regardless of the actual ingredients, tastes, origins, etc. of the chocolate. Indeed, consumer information is imperfect and, as with wines, the majority of consumers tend to rely on factors like brand reputation, package appearance, cacao percentage, and, of course, price. Many of L.A. Burdick’s chocolates, though sold at a specialty store under a specialty brand, lack complete transparency as to their origins and are, in fact, private labeled chocolates made by other companies (potentially some of the same companies that make lower cost chocolate for stores like CVS). There are infinite ways to define quality in chocolates and most would agree the chocolates at Cardullo’s are of “higher quality” than those at CVS, but that is not universally true and the processes and ingredients used to deride more mass market chocolates can still find themselves in the ‘higher end’ line up of specialty shops like Cardullo’s. Unsurprisingly, CVS’s selection doesn’t stand out on the quality front—the majority of their chocolate options are in the form of candy bars, which were historically designed with the express purpose of using cheaper ingredients under the guise of a chocolate product, which in pn packaging would appear comparable in size to a plain chocolate bar (Lecture, The Rise of Big Chocolate).
The difference in cost between these three distinct chocolate purveyors is a little more straightforward in that, unsurprisingly, there is a linear, upward trajectory of sale price as the stores become more specialized. As the stores became more expensive, their range of prices also grew significantly, with L.A. Burdick’s, the most expensive store, having the largest gulf between its lowest cost and highest cost products. In discussing pricing however, it is important to consider the fact that it’s not only a function of the cost of the product—though that is an important consideration—but also a deliberate marketing and brand positioning decision. That being said, in the stores considered here, there is a difference in the underlying cost of producing the chocolate products that correlates with their final price. The chocolates sold at CVS, made in large manufacturing facilities targeted at the mass market, and often with bulk commodity cacao, are cheaper because such processes and resources cost less per product. On the other hand, some of the options at Cardullo’s were largely higher priced because they were made in smaller batches, used more manual or time-consuming processes and/or employed more expensive (and fewer) ingredients—as an example, Dick Taylor’s single-origin dark chocolates only have two ingredients (i.e. cacao and cane sugar) (Abesamis). Such craft chocolates often exist at “a disadvantage to the bulk, industrial market, as they often operate along lines less traditional to capitalist production” (Martin), but make up for this disadvantage by positioning their brands as premium products deserving of a higher price point.
Perception and branding is another extremely powerful driver of pricing (Lybeck, et al.). Consumers often associate specialty shops with artisan-like quality and higher prices, just as they might believe a dedicated butcher shop has higher quality meats than the butcher at a supermarket. The same phenomenon plays out in the stores that I visited, with the most specialized store, L.A. Burdick, having higher priced chocolates than Cardullo’s even though it is unclear if the underlying cost or quality of the chocolates each sells is as different. The premium at L.A. Burdick is placed on the perceived additional care a specialty shop would put into their product because, after all, it’s the only product they sell. L.A. Burdick’s website emphasizes this care (and the associated costs) when they emphasize the “hand-made” elements, even though there is likely no discernible difference between a hand-packed and machine-packed high quality chocolate: “each artisan bonbon is hand-cut or shaped, hand-garnished, hand-finished, and hand-packed” (“Chocolate Assortments”).
Takeaway: Intended Audience
Much of the reasoning behind the decisions described above, from product selection to pricing strategy, boil down to their respective target audience/consumer. As such, there is no ‘better’ place to buy chocolate (as far as chocolate for chocolate’s sake goes, this can be a different story with respect to ethical considerations), but rather the right place to suit your specific wants and needs. This is indeed reflected in the variety, quality, and cost of their respective selections. That is, at CVS, nearly everything from their chocolate options and placement in store to their pricing strategy screams convenience, accessibility, and a focus on impulse purchases (the majority of their chocolate selection is scattered by the registers and self-checkout stations) making it no secret that their chocolate selection is not a priority—nor should it be. Rather, open 24/7 in a college town with busy students and professionals, CVS is appealing to the average consumer. Specifically, it relies on those who go there for convenience because in addition to its uninterrupted hours, it’s an established, nationwide brand where people know they can go to find a little bit of everything. In this vein, it wouldn’t even make sense for CVS to offer more exclusive (and by extension, more expensive) options as they’re not targeting consumers with the deliberate intention of buying chocolate, but rather as an add-on to toothpaste at the register, a last minute ‘get well soon’ gift, or a quick snack. The other shops, however, can be destinations where consumers often come in with strong chocolate purchasing intent.
Thus while these three purveyors differ significantly in their stocking, quality and pricing strategy when it comes to chocolate, they each fill a large desire for their respective products. Indeed, their coexistence and success in different parts of the market is emblematic of the versatile role chocolate plays in our society—one that can be a low-cost treat, a delicacy, a consolation gift or an expression of love.
Cidell, Julie L., and Heike C. Alberts. “Constructing Quality: The Multinational Histories of Chocolate.” Geoforum, vol. 37, no. 6, 2006, pp. 999–1007., doi:10.1016/j.geoforum.2006.02.006.
Lybeck, Annika, et al. “Store Brands vs. Manufacturer Brands: Consumer Perceptions and Buying of Chocolate Bars in Finland.” The International Review of Retail, Distribution and Consumer Research, vol. 16, no. 4, 2006, pp. 471–492., doi:10.1080/09593960600844343.
Martin, Carla D. “Sizing the Craft Chocolate Market.” Fine Cacao and Chocolate Institute (Blog), 31 Aug. 2017, chocolateinstitute.org/blog/sizing-the-craft-chocolate-market/.
Martin, Carla D. “The Rise of Big Chocolate and Race for the Global Market.” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. 13 Mar. 2019, Harvard University: Cambridge, MA, Harvard University: Cambridge, MA.
TLDR: The following is a 2-3 day lesson plan for high school educators adapted from and inspired by Dr. Carla Martin’s course “Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food” at Harvard University. The main goal of this lesson plan is to develop students’ contemporary understandings of race and racism by situating this knowledge within the historical processes of colonization, slavery, and racial representation—through chocolate! Students should already have basic knowledge about the world geography, colonization of the Americas, chattel slavery, and the Jim Crow era.
Background for Teachers
What’s the big deal about chocolate?
Chocolate is a unsung hero of many of our everyday lives in America, especially in the lives of young people who always appreciate a chocolate candy bar after a long day of school, some chocolate cake after they’ve finished their vegetables at dinner, or a waffle cone full of chocolate ice cream on a hot summer day. If chocolate is ever controversial, it is because we may disagree with our friends or family members about whether white chocolate versus milk chocolate versus dark chocolate is the best, or in deciding if it’s really that much worth it to spend a few extra dollars on a Dove bar over a Hershey’s in the supermarket checkout line. However, what if we step back and begin to think about how chocolate got to the checkout line, on our plate, or in a waffle cone? What if we begin to think about chocolate as something that is cultural, political, social, and historical? Why in our society, for example, do we use the word “chocolate” to describe dark skin? What might chocolate be able to tell us about social phenomena like race and racism when we dig a little deeper? In fact, to understand race and racism through the lens of chocolate—something that seems like such a mundane yet integral part of our everyday lives—allows us to understand, as Michael Omi and Howard Winant tell us, how race and racism indeed shapes all part of our society and our identities. 
This is where Dr. Carla Martin steps in. Dr. Martin is a lecturer in the Department of African and American Studies at Harvard as well as the founder and executive director of the Fine Cacao and Chocolate Institute (FCCI), an organization which works to advance quality products and ethical practices in chocolate supply chains, especially issues related to unfair treatment of Black and Brown farmers in Africa and Central America. In her work and studies, Dr. Martin looks at the historical and global processes of colonization and harmful labor practices in the rise of chocolate production and consumption, predominantly focused on the people of Central America and West Africa. Through a disciplinary approach—combining anthropology, sociology, economics, history, political science, biology, African American studies, Latinx studies, and more—she teaches about the history of growing cacao (the plant used to make chocolate), chocolate’s changing cultural meanings from days of Aztecs and Mayans to being eaten by people around the world today, the relationship between the European colonization of Mesomerica and the rise of slavery to the global chocolate market today being controlled by only a few companies which often treat Black and Brown cacao farmers unfairly, and the ways that we have understood and represented race in and through this history to the contemporary moment. Her class at Harvard, called “Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food,” is extremely popular. Incentivized by weekly chocolate tastings, this course brings together a unique group of students, many of whom are white and middle-class, that typically wouldn’t take a class focused on questions of race and racism.
Schools in the United States can be understood as institutions of knowledge and identity formation which have historically been both constituted by and constitutive of meanings of race since the moment European colonizers began eliminating Indigenous people and enslaving Africans on this land, Bettina Love calling them “spaces of Whiteness”—Black and Indigenous people have nonetheless remained resistant and resilient, forging since their own institutions of knowledge and collective identity, which included establishing the public school system in the American South.[2-5] Nevertheless, the dominant mode of American schooling has always been one that seeks to do away with Indigenous culture and sensibilities, disempower and exploit Black people, and uphold ideals and systems that privilege white people. Talking specifically about the logic of whiteness in schooling/formation of knowledge, Du Bois writes, “How easy, then, by emphasis and omission to make children believe that every great soul the world ever saw was a white man’s soul; that every great thought the world ever knew was a white man’s thought; that every great deed the world ever did was a white man’s deed; that every great dream the world ever sang was a white man’s dream.” A decade later, Carter G. Woodson would echo Du Bois’ sentiment, writing, “Why not exploit, enslave, or exterminate a class that everybody is taught to regard as inferior? There would be no lynching if it did not start in the classroom.” What Du Bois and Woodson are fundamentally pointing to, and what I am presupposing in my own argument here, is that, as Jarvis Givens puts it, “violence inflicted upon Black bodies” by white people originates “at the level of ideas and knowledge.” Thus, the intervention that Dr. Martin makes through her course allows us think about how chocolate can be used as a salient pedagogical tool for constructing anti-racist knowledge not only at the university level, but for all learners, especially in spaces that are white and middle-class.
Why teach about Race and Racism?
More than 150 years since Emancipation and half a century since the Civil Rights Movement and social transformation out of the Jim Crow order, racism continues to structure American society. Today, life in the United States is characterized by what Michael Omi and Howard Winant call racial hegemony, that is whereas the nation’s past was characterized by violent, legally-explicit domination of Black and Brown people (such as through forced labor and lynching), racism today exists in the form of colorblind racism. While many people, particularly white Americans, use phrases such as “I don’t see color” to express that they try to treat everyone with understanding and compassion regardless of their racial identity, not recognizing the racial identities of others in our communities—Black and Brown people especially—can signal that we don’t see the histories and social barriers that play a role in the challenges they may face or unique cultural contributions they contribute.[10-11] By doing so in the context of education, we engage in ways of teaching that alienate and disempower Black and Brown students while socializing white students into thinking that their privileges are inherent and that racism does not exist in our contemporary moment and—therefore—does not need to be challenged beyond being friendly to people of all races. However, in a contemporary era of mass incarceration, the Black-White wealth gap, disparities for Black and Brown people in healthcare and education, widespread white nationalist politics, and the continued enslavement/exploitation of Black and Brown in global supply chains, it is crucial that educators reckon with the ways we are teaching our youth about race and racism and, just as importantly, thinking about these issues ourselves. As sociologists Michael Omi and Howard Winant tell us, “We cannot step outside of race and racism, since our society and our identities are constituted by them; we live in racial history.” All things considered—as Black and Brown educational leaders such as Frederick Douglass, Anna Julia Cooper, Carter G. Woodson, Bob Moses, and Bettina Love have modeled for us throughout U.S. history—educators can do their part to challenge racism today by teaching more critical approaches to history and society that 1.) acknowledge that racism is real today and plays a role in all parts of our lives, 2.) examine the history and dynamics of racism as a human creation organized around arbitrary meanings assigned to differences in human bodies in order to justify economic oppression that especially benefits white elites, and 3.) give students the knowledge and tools needed to be identify contemporary racism and challenge it in their schools and communities. Drawing from the example set by Dr. Martin, chocolate is a creative way that we may be able to do that.
Introductory Activity: Unpacking Assumptions about Race, Racism, and Chocolate
Live word clouds by Poll Everywhere are an fun, interactive, and effective way to introduce a new topic to your students, especially one as complex as this. Students, of course, bring their own assumptions, experiences, and associations into the classroom about any topic, and this approach allows you to draw out what those perspectives are so that you may reference and unpack them throughout your lesson.
As I discussed in the introduction, chocolate is thought of in our society as something that is ahistorical, apolitical, and acultural; however, many us of do have very personal memories, feelings, and preferences in regards to the sweet treat. This gives your students an opportunity to showcase those and begin thinking about the role of chocolate in their contemporary lives. The same applies to issues of race and racism.
You may consider posing questions like this in the following order. After each question, pause to discuss the word cloud that was generated, paying attention to what words/concepts seem to be the most prevalent in the classroom but also those that may be unique:
“What words or phrases come to your mind when you hear the word the word ‘chocolate’?”
“What words or phrases come to your mind when your hear the word ‘race’?”
“What words or phrases come to your mind when you hear the word ‘racism’?”
While inputting their responses, encourage students to think about the feelings, memories, images, preferences, movies, TV shows, songs, commercials, and even things they’ve learned in school that they associate with the word.
Part One: Who is Willy, Really? The Racist Origins of The Chocolate Factory.
To begin this lesson, you will be discussing this clip from the 2005 film Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. As explored below, the novel and film have racist origins that problematically normalize slavery and mock indigenous cultures as it relates to cacao’s origins and the production of chocolate. You can read more about that from David Yacovone whose work I will draw from below. In addition to showing this one clip, you may dedicate an additional class period or homework assignment to viewing the entire film before the start of the lesson.
Begin by asking students to raise their hands if they are familiar with the story of Charlie and The Chocolate Factory; that could be the 1971 film, the 2005 film with Johnny Depp, or the original 1964 children’s book by Roald Dahl. Now have a student volunteer summarize the plot. You will probably hear back that five children, including Charlie, won golden tickets to tour Willy Wonka’s secretive chocolate factory; after each child except for Charlie failed to impress Wonka, they were each taken away by Oompa Loompas, leaving Charlie to inherit the factory.
Ask your students to describe the Oompa Loompas. Most of us know them as the small, brown or orange, Wonka factory workers that sing catchy tunes as they whisk away the naughty children who have failed to meet Willy’s standards.
Have your students break into pairs, brainstorm what the lives of the Oompa Loompas are like, and then share out to the group: How did they get to the factory? How much are they paid, and what kinds of benefits might they receive? Where are their families? How do you think they feel about their jobs? What are their individual personalities and lives like? What is their relationship to the chocolate their producing?
Introduce the YouTube clip “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Loompa Land” from the 2005 film in which Wonka explains how he came into contact with the Oompa Loompas while exploring Loompaland. Post chart paper in four different locations of the classroom with the following quotes and related questions on them. Break students into four, pre-established groups; have them discuss and write out their responses on the sheets for 7-10 minutes.
“What a terrible country it is… The whole place is nothing but thick jungles, infested by the most dangerous beasts in the entire world.” How does Wonka represent Loompaland? What other countries do Americans often stereotype this way? Do you feel that it is wrong for Wonka, who is an outsider, to describe to another country this way, especially based on such a limited experience there?
“I went to Loompaland looking for exotic new flavors for candy. Instead, I found the Oompa Loompas.” What was Wonka’s primary motive for going to Loompaland? Think about it from his perspective as a business owner from another country. What might be wrong with Wonka saying he “found” the Oompa Loompas? Were they ever actually “missing”? How might the Oompa Loompas feel about a stranger coming to take their country’s plants, especially the cocoa beans that they view as sacred/religious, for his own financial gain?
“The Oompa Loompas ate nothing but green caterpillars, which tasted revolting. But the food they longed for most was the cocoa bean. An Oompa Loompa was lucky if he found three of four cocoa beans a year. But oh how they craved them. And all they’d ever think about was cocoa beans.” The film then shows Oompas Loompas bowing down to worship the cocoa beans and dancing around it headpieces made from cocoa pods. How does Wonka represent the food and culture of the Oompa Loompas? How does he use their love of cocoa beans to his own advantage? What does Wonka taking the cocoa beans and selling them for his own financial gain mean for the sacred/religious value that the Oompa Loompas place on them?
Speaking to the chief in Loompaland, Wonka says, “Come live in my factory. You can have all the cocoa beans you want! I will even pay your wages in cocoa beans if you wish!” Reflecting on that memory, he tells the family in his factory, “They are such wonderful workers.” How does the film represent the Oompa Loompas’ language? Why do you think the Oompa Loompas now sing in English when they initially spoke the language of Loompaland? How does Wonka use their love of cocoa beans to his own advantage? What purpose do the Oompa Loompas have for Wonka? Based on the way he represented their country, their food, and their language, do you think he actually values their culture or just their ability to work and produce chocolate for him?
Go around the room and have each group share out some of the key points from their quote discussion for 3-5 minutes each.
Have students return to their desks. Share the following with them:
As some of you have discussed in your responses to the clip, Willy Wonka represents the Oompa Loompas and Loompaland through unfair stereotypes and uses them for his own advantage while doing it. However, it is important that we realize that this just isn’t the case of one character in a movie, but actually represents a longer real history of how people in the United States and Europe represent certain people and their cultures and have taken advantage of them—or exploited and appropriated them—for our own enjoyment and financial gain, particularly as it relates to chocolate. As some of you may have gathered from our discussions so far, in our real world, these are the unfair, often inaccurate, racist ways in which we represent the people of African and Latin American descent, the people who we do actually have to thank for the chocolate we enjoy today. That’s something that we will be exploring in the rest of our lesson.
Nonetheless, these racist representations were not a coincidence to the story of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and were intentionally written in by the author Roald Dahl when he published the book in 1964, a time when Black and Brown people around the world were engaging in social movements to challenge white supremacy, racism, and poverty; such as the Civil Rights Movement, Black Power, and the American Indian Movement here in the United States. Historian David Yacovone tells us that Dahl originally wrote the Oompa Loompas in as enslaved Africans. The following image, in fact, shows how they were illustrated in the 1964 edition of the book:
According to Yacovone:
When Charlie and the four other golden ticket holders and their parents first spied the Oompa-Loompas Wonka explained that the workers were not made of chocolate, but they “are real people! They are some of my workers!” They belonged to “a tribe of tiny miniature pygmies known as Oompa-Loompas. I discovered them myself,” Wonka exclaimed. I brought them over from Africa myself—the whole tribe of them, three thousand in all. I found them in the very deepest and darkest part of the African jungle where no white man had ever been before.”
After luring them in with the promise of endless cocoa beans, according to Yacovone:
Wonka “shipped them over here, every man, woman, and child in the Oompa-Loompa tribe. It was easy. I smuggled them over in large packing cases with holes in them, and they all got here safely.”
Once enslaved and shipped over to England in way similar to that of real enslaved Africans on the Middle Passage, Wonka not only forced them to do labor in his factory for nothing but beans in return and no chance of leaving or asking for more, but he also performed unethical experiments on them at his own leisure, such as turning them into blueberries. This treatment reflects the real violent ways that enslaved Black and Brown people have been treated by Europeans and the United States in the production of chocolate both historically and even in many ways in today’s world.[24-25] Eventually, Dahl would revise this racist representation in his story in 1982 after decades of criticism from the NAACP, but he continued to use such racist representations in other stories, and as we just saw, those representations continue to circulate through the 2005 film, one the most popular movies about chocolate in our contemporary lives. By not questioning the meanings behind these representations, as you all have done so well today, and understanding their histories, we hide the ways in which Black and Brown people still experience racism in our world today. To learn this history, we can all do our part to create a world without racism and poverty.
Part Two: Culture, Colonization, Slavery, and Chocolate Bars: How Chocolate Went from Something Sacred to Something Bittersweet
In part two, I will work with Professor Martin to further develop this lesson plan to include the cultural and spiritual significance of cacao in ancient Mesoamerican culture, the fundamental role of colonization and slavery in appropriation and production of chocolate in the Global North (drawing on my earlier blog post in the course), and the inequality and role of consumers in global chocolate production today.
Part Three: How to Recognize and Respond to Racism Today
To wrap up the lesson, teachers will revisit the earlier considerations around race and racism in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, examining chocolate’s broader use as a racist metaphor for Blackness in the twenty and twenty-first centuries. To end, students will again respond via live word clouds to the initial questions, comparing their original word clouds to the newly-enlightened ones, and the teacher will discuss ways for students to challenge racism in their lives today, which may include: creating a community action project to address an issue of racial inequality in their community in partnership with a local chocolate shop/producer, starting a reading/discussion group to talk about issues related to race and racism, starting a “Chocolate Week” to educate their school or community on the history of chocolate and celebrate/support the producers who we have to thank for it, implementing strategies to call out and change racist behaviors or representations. To celebrate their new knowledge, students should have a chance to enjoy ethically-sourced chocolate at the conclusion of the lesson!
 Michael Omi and Howard Winant, Racial Formation in the United States, 3rd ed. (New York, Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group, 2015), 137.
 Patrick Wolfe, “Settler Colonialism and the Elimination of the Native,” Journal of Genocide Research 8, no. 4 (2006), 392.
 Wolfe, “Settler Colonialism and the Elimination of the Native,” 399.
 Heather Andrea Williams, Self-taught: African American Education in Slavery and Freedom, John Hope Franklin Series in African American History and Culture (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2005), 13.
 Bettina Love, We Want To Do More Than Survive: Abolitionist Teaching and the Pursuit of Educational Freedom (Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 2019), 13.
 W. E. B. Du Bois, “The Souls of White Folk,” Monthly Review 55, no. 6 (2003): 46.
 Sylvia Wynter, “No Humans Involved: An Open Letter to My Colleagues,” Forum H.H.I. Knowledge for the 21st Century 1, no. 1 (Fall 1994): 57-59.
 Jarvis R. Givens, “‘There Would Be No Lynching If It Did Not Start in the Schoolroom’: Carter G. Woodson and the Occasion of Negro History Week, 1926–1950,” American Educational Research Journal (2019): 9.
 Omi and Winant, Racial Formation, 132, 211.
 Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, Racism Without Racists: Color-blind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in America, 5th ed. (Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield, 2017), 2-4.
Bonilla-Silva, Eduardo. Racism without Racists: Color-blind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in America. Fifth ed. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2018.
Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. 3rd ed. New York City, NY: Thames & Hudson, 2013.
Du Bois, W. E. B. “The Souls of White Folk.” Monthly Review 55, no. 6 (2003): 44-58.
Givens, Jarvis R. “‘There Would Be No Lynching If It Did Not Start in the Schoolroom’: Carter G. Woodson and the Occasion of Negro History Week, 1926–1950.” American Educational Research Journal (2019): 1-38.
Love, Bettina. We Want To Do More Than Survive: Abolitionist Teaching and the Pursuit of Educational Freedom. Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 2019.
Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power. New York, NY: Viking, 1985.
Omi, Michael, and Howard Winant. Racial Formation in the United States. Third ed. New York: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group, 2015.
Williams, Heather Andrea. Self-taught: African American Education in Slavery and Freedom. John Hope Franklin Series in African American History and Culture. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2005.
Wolfe, Patrick. “Settler Colonialism and the Elimination of the Native.” Journal of Genocide Research 8, no. 4 (2006): 387-409.
Wynter, Sylvia. “No Humans Involved: An Open Letter to My Colleagues.” Forum H.H.I. Knowledge for the 21st Century 1, no. 1 (Fall 1994): 42-73.
To better understand the thought process that a stakeholder, such as a parent of a child with ADHD, might go through as they attempt to understand what role chocolate should play in their child’s life, this project simulates the experience from the point of view of the parent. To that end, this project first explores a typical informational website that a parent might find through a simple web search with the keywords ‘chocolate’ and ‘ADHD,’ since that would likely be how many parents would start their journey of information gathering. Then, anticipating that some parents might wish to further explore the relevant scientific literature, this project explores a couple of representative scientific studies on PubMed that a parent might find. In order to best reflect the agency of the parent as they try their best to make complex decisions for their children, this project attempts to narrate the diverse range of potential considerations for the parent to grapple with as they progress through their journey of information gathering.
For both the educational websites and the scientific articles, parents can find multiple legitimate reasons to second guess the trustworthiness, especially when pharmaceutical advertisements and industry ties create, at least appearance of, potential influence. While the information on chocolate and ADHD was relatively sparse for both educational websites and scientific literature, the general consensus was that chocolate, and other dietary choices, do not cause ADHD or worsen the symptoms. There were a small number of studies that suggested various mechanisms in which chocolate could in fact be therapeutic, but these studies all appeared to be isolated from each other, suggesting that this specific line of research is still in its infancy stages; parents of an ADHD children should probably wait for these studies to be reliably replicated by other studies before putting too much faith in any preliminary study’s findings.
III Online Resources: ADDitude Website
One of the few articles online that explicitly mentions
chocolate and ADHD is an article from ADDitude5. The website describes
itself as being “the trusted resource for families and adults living with ADHD
and related conditions and the professionals who work with them”1.
They further elaborate, “since 1998, millions have trusted ADDitude to
deliver expert advice and caring support, making us the leading media network [emphasis added] for parents and adults
living with attention-deficit disorder, and for professionals working in the
Before reading what the article states about chocolate and
ADHD, parents of children with ADHD often first make decisions regarding how
trustworthy the content is. If they do not find it trustworthy, they might not
even bother to read the article.
One factor to promote trust is the stamp of medical
authority. Next to the author’s name is the author’s title (‘PH.D.’), and underneath
that is a note “Reviewed on January 18, 2019,” which seems to echo the language
of a peer-review scientific process5. At the bottom of the website
is a disclaimer that “ADDitude does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or
treatment. The material on this web site is provided for educational purposes
only”5. This disclaimer appears to flatly contradict the website’s
claim that they “deliver expert advice,” and arguably undercuts the importance
of highlighting the author’s authority status. Of course, this is assuming that
the reader actually scrolls down to the bottom of the page to read the
disclaimer, which is probably unlikely overall. This suggests that the
disclaimer’s primary aim to avoid future legal risk, rather than to inform the current
reader about the nature and limitations of the website.
Another factor to consider is the pharmaceutical advertising, and whether the revenue from pharmaceutical companies could influence the website’s content. The screenshot (see above) captures at least once incident in which the article displays an advertisement for Vyvanse â, which is a prescription stimulant medication for ADHD. There is a hint of irony that right above the headline (which is about ADHD brains craving stimulation) is an advertisement with bright green colors meant to grab the reader’s attention. A purple button pops out in contrast against this bright green background, beckoning the reader to click to “Learn more.” The section for “important safety information” is quietly placed to the side in small font, perhaps so that a parent might overlook the warning that Vyvanse is a controlled substance with risk for abuse/dependence.
III Online Resources: Pharmaceutical Advertisements
Parents may wish to better understand the history of marketing
ploys that the makers of Vyvanse have employed in the past as they decide whether
they can trust ADDitude in spite of the website’s financial relationship with Vyvanse.
In other instance of Vyvanse attempting to incorporate their ads against the
backdrop of an ostensibly educational medium, readers may wish to take a look
at a live TV interview on ABC News featuring Ty Pennington, a celebrity who is
open about having ADHD (see clip above)2. At the end of the segment,
the interviewer asks him for recommendations for ADHD resources. Pennington repeatedly
struggles to recall the exact name of a certain ADHD support website; he ultimately
settles on recommending ‘Vyvanse.com,’ which suggests that Vyvanse could have
played a financial role for Pennington and/or the ABC News interview. Given
that Pennington misspelled Vyvanse with a ‘c’, it could suggest that he does
not personally make it a habit to visit that website, and that instead he was
coached to give this shout out to the Vyvanse website.
Readers may be further surprised to learn that Shire, the
company that owns Vyvanse, also owns Adderall â (they sold away the
rights to the immediate release (IR) formulation, but still own the extended
release (XR) versions)4. Vyvanse and Adderall both rely on
amphetamine as the active drug, but Vyvanse is a prodrug formulation of amphetamine,
which means that the amphetamine in Vyvanse does not become activated until it
has passed through the patient’s digestive system7. Theoretically,
this can reduce the temptation for the patient to abuse the medication (snorting,
intravenous, etc.) compared to non-prodrugs such as Adderall. As such, Shire had
hoped that the FDA would classify it as a schedule 4 substance instead of a
schedule 2 substance (such as Adderall, Ritalin, and other stimulant
medications)7. This lower classification would allow prescribers and
patients to face fewer government regulations. For instance, prescribers would then
be allowed to write scripts that include monthly refills (instead of needing to
write a new prescription each month). Though Shire ultimately failed to
persuade the federal government, Shire appears to have convinced the medical establishment
to accept its claims about Vyvanse’s hypothetical safety advantages7.
Shire’s need to promote Vyvanse, perhaps even at the expense of their existing Adderall XR product, begins to make more sense to the reader once they understand the context of Shire’s competition from generics. After Shire’s patent protections on Adderall XR expired, Shire’s sales plummeted from nearly 300 million dollars per quarter in 2009 to 67.4 million dollars in Q2 20104. While this decline was to be expected, even desired from the public’s perspective, Shire shockingly later managed to increase its sales by 21 percent to $111 million in Q1 20114. According to legal complaints by generic competitors, Shire first further raised the price of their brand name Adderall XR, and then manipulated the complex national supply chain of the raw amphetamine such that the generic manufactures had a shortage of raw material4. Thus, even though affordable generics were theoretically available, many patients had to resort to paying for the exorbitantly expensive brand name version. Even after the shortage of generic Adderall XR eventually cleared up, Shire was able to continue to benefit long term from this chaos, due to its new product, Vyvanse. During the shortage, patients who could not afford the brand name Adderall XR, or who perhaps could not physically locate any pharmacies that had any Adderall XR, naturally could be incentivized to try Vyvanse, which was not undergoing a shortage, and which was less expensive at the time than brand name Adderall XR4. By building a long-term customer base for Vyvanse, which is still is patent protected until 2023, Shire retains a dominant share of the ADHD medication market4.
III Online Resources: Chocolate and ADHD
The factors mentioned above are just some examples of the
considerations that could be in the back of the mind of an actively engaged
reader who encounters this ADDitude article on ADHD and chocolate. Some might read
the article with heavy skepticism (or perhaps choose to skip the article
entirely), while others might decide to grant credibility to the claims made in
The article explains that the impulsive ADHD brain has
trouble with self-regulation, particularly in the dopamine reward center5.
As such, “chocolate is appealing to ADHD brains because it increases glucose
and has the added stimulation of caffeine.” The glucose satisfies the ADHD
brain’s cravings, which leads to a release of dopamine in the dopamine reward center.
While this can bring needed “please and greater calm” to the ADHD brain, “many
people with ADHD chide themselves for indulging in [pleasurable foods], when
their brains are actually demanding those foods instead of salad.” The article sympathizes,
“It is no wonder that those with ADHD struggle with diet and nutrition. When
they self-medicate with food, their brains enjoy a surge of dopamine,” and
their various chemical imbalances are addressed, at least temporarily. Addressing
more broadly the general life struggle of an ADHD individual, the article
explains, “understanding what ADHD brains want makes it clear that the struggle
for self-regulation is neurological, and has nothing to do with character
This article does not explore treatment options, so it does not explicitly address the issues of whether chocolate (and/or poor diet) is the cause of ADHD, or whether or not it can worsen ADHD symptom severity. It does seem to suggest that the ADHD leads to the overeating, rather than the other way around, but an explicit clarification would have been helpful. Also, it broadly lumps chocolate together with carbs, pastas, and cookies as being generally unhealthy foods; the author might be scientifically justified with this system of classification, but she never cites any outside sources or evidence. One possible explanation was that her main purpose of the article was not to give dietary advice, but rather to increase self-compassion in ADHD individuals who might otherwise be berating themselves for not being able to stick to their own dietary goals. In the context of the Vyvanse ads, the reader may wonder whether this article is attempting to emphasize a chemical imbalance view of ADHD in order to render the reader more amenable to the idea of a pharmaceutical treatment.
IV Medical Literature: Chocolate Does Not Cause ADHD
For stakeholders who are still are looking for hard, scientific reassurance that ADHD is not caused by poor dietary habits, the general medical consensus is that diet does not cause ADHD. A metareview notes that “parents and teachers alike attribute excessive motor activity and other disruptive behaviors to candy consumption,” which are often hypothesized to harm children through a combination of sugar, food additives/coloring, and through chocolate itself3. However, after combing through numerous placebo-controlled studies, the researchers could not find a single study that supported any of those hypotheses. They conclude, “for children with behavioral problems, diet-oriented treatment does not appear to be appropriate. Rather, clinicians treating these children recommend a multidisciplinary approach. The goal of diet treatment is to ensure a balanced diet with adequate energy and nutrients for optimal growth”3.
IV Medical Literature: Dark Chocolate Can Improve Attention
A study on humans found that dark chocolate improved
alertness and attentiveness as measured by EEG scans6. A negative
side effect was that it raised blood pressure due to the stimulants in the cocao.
However, the side effect of raised blood pressure could be offset by adding L-theanine
to the dark chocolate. Unfortunately for consumers, chocolate bars with
L-theanine are not yet available, so Larry Stevens, one of the authors of the
paper, opines that companies should heed the results of the study and consider
developing such a chocolate bar6.
Certainly, at least one chocolate company will be carefully
examining the results: Hershey, which is listed in the paper as a sponsor of
the study. On the website of the press release that accompanied this paper, one
online visitor commented, “We’re supposed to expect unbiased results for a
study on chocolate sponsored by Hershey? Hello- this isn’t good.” See
Someone who is presumably Larry Stevens himself (based on
the user name) responds with a long defense (see screenshots below)6.
Stevens first acknowledges and thanks the commenter for raising awareness of this
important issue. He unequivocally stands by the impartiality of the research
and explains that “Hershey’s role was only to respond affirmatively to my
request to provide the chocolate confections used in the study and to quite
astutely suggest the addition of the L-Theanine additive.” He elaborates on all
the effort that the research team did by themselves (without any involvement or
help by Hershey), and that clarifies that the team members never received any offers
of gifts or rewards.
While his explanations, if they are to accepted at face value, could adequately explain away the ethical concerns, it may not have been worth it from a public perception standpoint to have accepted the free chocolate confections, especially if the expense of chocolate confections is negligible compared to the rest of the expenses of running this human clinical experiment. Further, by accepting the advice from Hershey on adding the L-Theanine test group, it could feed a public perception that public taxpayer dollars for research are being diverted for Hershey’s own purposes; after all, if Hershey is indeed interested in experimenting with L-Theanine, they could have conducted their own private experiment with their own money. Of course, this criticism may or may not be fair, but the public’s perception of these issues can influence how receptive the public is to accepting scientific findings and to politically supporting public research funding.
Ultimately, the parents of children with ADHD must make their own judgments regarding which pieces of advice to heed and which to ignore. Parents must constantly screen for signs of potential sources of biasing influence, such as pharmaceutical or food industry ties. Similarly, educational websites and scientific articles must remain cognizant of the myriad of ways in which they can be scrutinized by parents, and they must earn the trust of the parents if they are to succeed at spreading their intended information.
Disclaimer: While this is an ethnographic look at the Piety and Desire Chocolate brand, it is incomplete simply for the fact that I have not actually seen the store, factory, or products in person myself, nor have I ever visited New Orleans or conducted significant research of the sociocultural atmosphere of the place. This post is also strictly meant to be read in an academic and is not an endorsement of the Piety & Desire Chocolate brand, nor is it sponsored by the company.
Meet Piety and Desire Chocolate
Piety and Desire Chocolate is a craft
“chocolaterie” in New Orleans, Louisiana, not far from the French Quarter. Owner
and chocolate maker Christopher Nobles opened the “factory and boutique” in
2017 and has started making a name for the brand in the realm of local, artisanal
products in New Orleans. I encountered them surfing the “#beantobar” tag on
Instagram, evidence of the brand’s commitment to marketing its process as a way
to distinguish itself in a competitive food market.
According to their website, the brand describes itself as:
Piety and Desire Chocolate mines the fine lines. Just as its holy beginnings as a “food of the gods” led to its transformation into a seductive delight, so we strive to strike the perfect harmony between reverence and passion in the balance of science and art, the parity of piety and desire.
Detail-oriented and passionate about
their product, Piety and Desire appears to uphold the commitment to high-quality
products of the craft food movement. (Martin) The name of the company is striking,
too, and clearly important to the business’s philosophy of chocolate making.
Piety and desire – both human elements with long histories with cocoa – are at
the foundations of the company’s motivation, according to an interview with Nobles:
I wanted a name that reflected my family’s six-ish generations of New Orleans history in an honorable, non-fleur-de-lis-laden or culturally appropriated fashion… I’m the third of the past five generations to settle in (Faubourg) Marigny. [The name] Piety and Desire mirrors the history of cacao itself. Beginning as a sacred food of the gods in ancient Mesoamerica (among many spiritual aspects), these noble seeds also represented more secular aspects of life, from its use as a currency to its use as an aphrodisiac.
Christopher Nobles, Freund interview
Immediately from these two sources of
information about the company, its website and its owner, a prospective
consumer is marketed a product that is desirable for more than just its taste –
it is desirable for its cultural and religious symbolism, for its connection to
nobility, and for the sensual experience so highly associated with it.
Another important part of the company’s
model is its commitment to the environment. According to its frequently asked
questions section, the company website states:
Not only are our chocolate bars are all packaged with recycled paper and compostable cellophane, but the outside sleeve is wildflower-seed-infused. You can simply plant this sleeve to support your local pollinators!
This specific packaging choice shows
a real dedication to environmental issues and the health of the planet. In
addition to recyclability, compostability, and the extra benefit of encouraging
consumers to plant wildflowers after indulging in their confections, Piety and
Desire also offers vegan options among its products. The impact of veganism of
the environment is a highly contentious issue, but including vegan products
widens the audience of the store such that people who may already be concerned
about the environment (and thus choose to be vegan) are more likely to bring
The packaging also points to another result
of Piety and Desire’s bean-to-bar philosophy: it lacks many certifications that
some would expect as givens for a craft chocolaterie. They are not certified
organic, according to their frequently asked questions, but the company offers a
worthy explanation as to why they do not have this certification for the cacao they
buy. Bean-to-bar chocolate requires a certain level of engagement between
chocolate makers and cacao farmers that does not exist in other corners of the
industry. By pointing out that the cacao they buy is most likely grown
organically but grown by farmers who may not be able to afford the fees associated
with official certification, Piety and Desire goes one step further and puts
their customers in direct conversation with the farmers who supply their cacao.
Consumers who talk with Nobles or read their website, or even scroll through
their Instagram account, are made to think about the conditions of cacao
farmers. Piety and Desire engages in direct and conscious trade, lacking a “fair
trade” certification, as well. The willingness to explain why these
perhaps-expected certifications are absent is very positive because, as we have
seen since our first lecture, not all certifications mean what we as consumers
may think that they mean. (Martin, “Chocolate Politics…) Ethical actions do
not always come with labels to brand them as such.
One cannot discuss Piety and Desire
Chocolate without discussing New Orleans. The culture and history of the place
is inextricably linked to the chocolate that Piety and Desire creates in many
The flavors and shapes of the bonbons
that Nobles crafts in-house are very specifically situate the brand in New Orleans.
From King Cake and Sazerac bonbons to the use of very New Orleans flavors like
bourbon, coffee, and rum, the brand appeals to local tastes.
Nobles also specifies that he uses “100%
raw Louisiana cane sugar” in all his products in various interviews, on the
packaging for Piety and Desire Chocolate, and on their website. Despite the historical
connection between cane sugar production and plantation slavery (in Louisiana,
no less), the use of a local sugar to sweeten the chocolates and confections he
makes seems to be seen as a point of pride and a dedication to crafting high
quality products. After all, emblazoning “made with 100% raw Louisiana cane
sugar” on packaging makes it into a marketing tactic.
On top of using local flavors, cultural institutions like Mardi Gras, and some local ingredients, the language used in the official company Instagram page was fascinating to me. Here, I wish that I had more personal knowledge of New Orleans’ cultural norms, especially due to the complicated and fraught racial history of the region, but I will attempt to unpack what I can. The language used, presumably by Nobles as the proprietor of Piety and Desire Chocolate, very clearly uses ebonics and stylized writing in order to communicate a “blaccent.”
This reminded me of Robertson’s discussion on how people talk about chocolate:
In the mythology of chocolate the power relations of production and consumption are subsumed by a more attractive narrative of exotic peoples and their surroundings, and by historical anecdote. Chocolate seems to generate a particular type of history writings – even in purportedly ‘academic’ texts – one which delves unashamedly into the realms of fantasy and romance.
Robertson, pp. 85-6)
A huge aspect of white fantasy is the
fantasy of black bodies, black actions, and black words – we can see as much is
the gentrification of hip hop and rap by artists like Iggy Azalea and Miley Cyrus,
to point to one modern example. The use of the blaccent in advertising
initially made me, as a spectator, imagine that the person making this chocolate
was black. Of course, as someone very far removed from New Orleans, I am not
sure this is a fair assumption to have had, but it was an assumption nonetheless.
Then, through my research, I saw that Christopher Nobles was the owner of Piety
and Desire Chocolate – a white man.
This context put almost everything I
had thought about Piety and Desire in a new light. While there are bonbons in
the store’s offerings that use common, locally-based flavor profiles, there
were also more complex, rare flavor offerings including saffron, matcha,
jasmine, and goat cheese, to name a few. While there may may be no such thing
as an “average consumer,” (Martin, “Haute patisserie…”) and generalizations simply
do not apply in the real world of consumer palates, seeing flavors like this –
flavors that a consumer could never find in the candy isle of a drug store –
made me think even more about Piety and Desire’s audience. As someone from a
low-income background, I know that I have seen my family members turn their
noses up at flavors which come from outside our comfort zone or flavors which
have been marketed in such a way as to emphasize their “gourmet” qualities (one
immediately thinks of truffle, for example). I wonder if this, too, is
something that narrows the audience of a craft chocolate store like Piety and
Desire, and how that can be amended – I firmly believe that flavors should not
belong to certain classes, as food is a human right.
Without a detailed investigation of
the demographics Piety and Desire serves, one cannot be certain of any sort of
racial or class-based disparity in consumers, especially not in terms of flavor-profiling
according to generalized perceptions of different races/classes. It is simply
something to that I thought about as I continued to learn about the company; it
became especially curious to me when I found this post on the company’s Instagram:
I encountered it twice – once before seeing that Christopher Nobles was white, and then again after. My first impression was that the brand was attempting to raise awareness of cacao slavery and use its platform to try to inspire change. Additionally, giving away chocolate, however small of a boon it may seem in the grand scheme of things, seemed to be a form of reparations for a community which has been seeking long-deserved justice and reparations for generations. Before going more in depth on this particular topic, I’d like to evaluate the ethical stances of Piety and Desire Chocolate as a company more broadly.
In an interview, Nobles is quoted as saying:
…our movement [craft chocolate] being a global business has a greater thread of social responsibility. Many of us go above and beyond the standards of Fair Trade, paying many times more than that price directly to producers, cooperatives and farmers in what’s known as direct or conscious trade. I feel it’s my responsibility to source from organic sources, who, by intercropping or abandoning less environmentally sustainable agricultural models, make the world a little bit greener.
The ethical awareness, then, can be
seen as foundational to the company’s operations. Beyond operations, the
company’s impact on the consumer seems to be targeted as well, as best as these
things can be. Without tasting the chocolate, the true sense evidence that
would be able to tell someone if Piety and Desire Chocolate is doing anything
different from the crowd of commodity chocolate brands with its chocolate, I am
not sure I can address this; however, from its attempts to educate consumers
not only about how its chocolate is made but also about social issues surrounding
cocoa production, I think that Piety and Desire Chocolate is very good to its
Another positive aspect is the
commitment to environmental health, evidenced by packaging choices that go
above and beyond sustainability. While the pleasure-based language of much of
its advertising does lead me to believe that physical health is not a priority
of Piety and Desire, its use of local and some organic ingredients as part of
the craft food movement, putting it in opposition to the heavily processed
commodity food industry, makes me more hopeful about its health consciousness
as a company. It is also transparent about its production process, both
enumerating steps on its website and having an open-space design in its shop
that allows consumers to see different stages of chocolate production.
Tying back to the conversation on Juneteenth,
slavery, and reparations, an issue I had with Piety and Desire Chocolate’s
model is that they seem not to use West African cacao. We know that most cacao
comes from West African farmers, but that the craft food movement has been
loath to use West African cacao due to questions of quality. (Martin, “Haute
patisserie…”) Additionally, the McNulty article on Piety and Desire Chocolate
stated that “Beans arrive fermented and dried in burlap sacks from farms in
Central America and South America,” implying that there is no use of West
African cacao in the company’s products. Of course, a direct inquiry in
necessary to ascertain the validity of that claim, but operating on that
assumption reveals some hypocrisy in the brand’s supposed activism.
How can Piety and Desire say that it
is trying to promote awareness of the slavery in cacao farms when their direct/conscious
trade cacao is not from West Africa, where this problem is the worst? How can
they tie together the historical trauma of slavery in Louisiana to the slavery
of modern day cacao farmers without acknowledging the greater similarity: that both involved the exploitation of West
African people by white people? (Off) By not buying West African cacao, Piety
and Desire is also not helping to end
slavery on West African cacao farms. Using this tactic and connection to promote
itself to an audience that likely includes people of the African diaspora in Louisiana
seems tone deaf.
In conclusion, Piety and Desire
Chocolate seems to have been founded from a place of immense privilege, as most
artisanal chocolate is. This does not mean that their products are not created
ethically or of lesser quality than they could be, but that they are simply one
of many craft chocolate companies attempting to makes its mark on the industry
without making much of an impact on the actual issues endemic to the industry. I
think that Piety and Desire Chocolate does its part as well as it can in the
context of the craft food movement, but I would like to know more about their
pricing, the sources of their cacao, and the demographics of their customers.
(2018). Cocoa. Medford, MA: Polity Press.
Martin, C. (2019) AFRAMER 119X: Chocolate,
Culture, and the Politics of Food: “20190501 Haute patisserie, artisan
chocolate, and food justice: the future?” and “20190220 Sugar and cacao” and “Chocolate
Politics: How History, Multinational Corporations, Governments, NGOs, and
Critics Influence the Chocolate We Eat” [Powerpoint slides]. Retrieved from drive.google.com/drive/folders/1DEbPgnxsDAOhcgOsW0sHLyafD5yVuPUK.
I grew up in a very traditional Chinese
household, where my mother and father took care in buying foods from Chinese
markets back in my small suburban Midwest hometown. The dishes I had growing up were the same
dishes that my mom and dad grew up eating in China, nutritionally balanced both
in terms of the U.S. government’s MyPlate standards and the Yin-Yang balance
that is rooted deep in Chinese culture and tradition. However, chocolate was never an element of
these meals. That is not to say that
I’ve never had chocolate before (whether it be in the sense of chocolates
handed out at school during a Valentine’s Day event or the occasional chocolate
gift from friends); nevertheless, our family has never had the habit of buying
chocolate. Our family’s traditions give
a peek at how China’s isolationist culture has created a barrier to
cacao-chocolate industries due to both traditional food tastes as well as an
ethnocentric pride against foreign products.
These long-standing traditions that tie back thousands of years into
China’s past provide insight into how some of the Big Five Companies— specifically
Ferrero Rocher, Cadbury, and Nestle—struggled to market chocolate to a Chinese
populace with virtually no exposure to the sweet treat.
A few years ago, I travelled back to China with my father and lived in Hangzhou, Zhejiang for two months. During this time, I was able to understand a lot of the atmosphere and culture surrounding one of China’s most popular cities. One of my biggest understandings in terms of food culture in Hangzhou was a very significant bias towards salty and umami foods. The supermarket shelves were lined with a large assortment of salty snacks; fish tofu snacks decorate the central aisle and classic sweet potato chips stand beckoningly one the cashier shelves. In the middle of the supermarket, small vendor-like counters offer mountains of steamed buns filled with a variety of meats, curries, and vegetable mixed filling. Every direction one looks gives sign after sign of foods that satisfy salty and umami tastes. On the other hand, a stark contrast between American and Chinese supermarkets is the distinct lack of assorted chocolate bars and snacks that are seen lining the cashier counters of stores in the U.S.; instead, these chocolate products are replaced by more traditional Chinese snacks such as bags of salted or seasoned sunflower seeds, an essential welcoming snack that is almost always offered to guests of the house in addition to fruit. This lack of presence in chocolate in China again ties into China’s traditional tastes. Because of the distinct food tastes among China’s population, chocolate has a hard time of showing up on supermarket shelves.
This struggle of incorporating chocolate into Chinese markets began in the 1980s and 1990s, when the Big Five companies all tried their hand at assimilating China’s near one billion population into the chocolate-loving consumerism, with each company bringing its own strategy and experience into China’s budding and diversifying market (Allen 15). Perhaps one of the biggest challenges facing these companies was trying to make chocolate desirable. From the beginning of China’s history, China has mostly isolated itself from the rest of the world. It wasn’t until the late 1900s when China marked the beginning of its transition from communism to market socialism (Allen 14). This transition came with consequences, as not all of China’s one billion citizens could catch up to the upcoming sweep of technological and social changes over the next few decades. In fact, less than 50 million people are living in the twenty-first century, while the rest of China’s population are in living conditions alike to that of the twentieth century or even from the late 19th century. This disconnect of most of China’s population to changes from modern day society probably was the main cause in the struggle that surrounded big cacao-chocolate companies. When chocolate first arrived in China in the 1980s, the isolated people of China perceived chocolate as a foreign good, something that they’d never interacted with in the past (Allen 11). Many families in China struggle to feed their families even today, so people prioritize more well-rounded nutrition over the luxurious delicacy that is chocolate. Knowing this, the Big Five chocolate companies all set foot into China’s emerging global market with the same amount of inexperience with Chinese consumers, all trying their hand at winning over one billion Chinese mouths whose tongues had never touched chocolate in any shape or form.
With its delicately wrapped chocolates in a golden-colored box, Ferrero Rocher was a brand that portrayed the good life. Despite the company being relatively new to the global confectionery scene (introduced in 1982 in comparison to 1907 for Hershey and 1923 for Mars), Ferrero Rocher has been the most successful in establishing a large presence in the global market, and it became one of the first companies to enter China and depict the ideal image of chocolate in the minds of Chinese consumers (Allen 42-43). Ferrero’s success in marketing chocolate to Chinese consumers originated from its intensely aggressive strategy of portraying its chocolate as the perfect gift. One of the integral parts of Chinese social etiquette is the concept of giving gifts. Regardless if the occasion is a wedding, a means to say thank you, or even just welcoming visiting guests into one’s home, gifts are deemed as a necessary and polite gesture towards each other. It’s not uncommon to see families offer baskets of fruit or home-cooked dishes as gifts to strengthen social connections and express good tidings. Ferrero Rocher saw this is a prime opportunity to take advantage of, targeting major festivals such as the Mid-Autumn Festival and Chinese New Year (Allen 62). The company mass produced its finely wrapped chocolates just before these holidays and placed them on shelves in popular shopping districts. The look of Ferrero Rocher’s chocolate satisfied the criteria that Chinese citizens look for in a gift: its lucky round shape and golden color combined with its status as a high-quality brand with fancy packaging strike a luxurious image in consumers’ hearts (Hermesauto). Ferrero Rocher’s mission was to ensure the quality of its chocolate, giving Chinese consumers something that they could enjoy by guaranteeing its high quality and elevating it to a social status worthy of gift giving.
Cadbury followed a similar initial path of chocolate distribution to Ferrero Rocher, but later the company took a new direction. Cadbury believed that the key to achieving success with chocolate in China would be to build infrastructure to mass produce chocolate within China itself. And so, in 1993, Cadbury established the first chocolate producing factory in the suburbs of Beijing (Coe & Coe 173). This marketing move came with drawbacks; Cadbury took many gambles on the ingredients it used, including using China’s fresh milk production system for its milk chocolate instead of the safer, albeit lesser quality powdered milk (Allen 75-76). Cadbury and Ferrero Rocher both show a willingness to adapt to the customs and traditions of the foreign land that they were trying to sell their chocolate to. In Ferrero’s case, it was adapting to the culture of gift-giving, while Cadbury took a stand at using China’s natural ingredients. On the other hand, Cadbury’s mission was different from Ferrero Rocher’s; instead of marketing their chocolate as a high-end luxury product that acted as a superior gift, Cadbury intended to make their chocolate a form of self-conception, to win over the pockets of Chinese consumers on the daily. However, the previously established image of chocolate as a luxury good would prove a painful stake in trying to incorporate chocolate into Chinese customers’ daily consumption (Zhou). Furthermore, the production of chocolate on mainland China came with many high costs: the risk that Cadbury took with using fresh milk from Chinese farm of questionable quality resulted in a cheesy smell and taste in their milk chocolate, a result of pasteurized milk. As a result, Cadbury’s reputation sank to a low point, and the company would continue to struggle in regaining the hearts of Chinese consumers. Another problem with Cadbury’s production came with its portioning; Chinese consumers favored food products that came in smaller portions, as that would present a smaller investment risk when purchasing the product for the first time (Allen 81). These problems would haunt Cadbury up to this day as it still has been unable to place a strong, cohesive foot onto the chocolate market in China.
Today, Nestlé’s brand is “Good Food, Good Life” (Nestle.com). This message embodied Nestlé’s results and efforts in the global market. Out of the Big Five companies, Nestlé is unique in its diverse line of products that offer not only rich chocolates but also included other offerings that would improve the health and nutrition of its consumers. Nestlé’s products earned the company a reputation for healthy products that would flood Chinese pantries and incorporate itself into the lives of millions of Chinese citizens, a feat that the other four big companies continue to struggle to achieve (Allen 145). This emphasis on health and nutrition ties in closely with Chinese traditions for maintaining health. One of the challenging aspects of selling chocolate in China is the product’s innate nature as a sugary food. These simple carbohydrates are often stigmatized by news and entertainment as a source of unhealthy calories, depicting chocolate as an indulgence rather than a staple food. On the other hand, branding is an essential part of China’s consumer culture; as Jason Cieslak from Forbes Councils notes, a brand is “a purpose that attracts and unites employees who bring the product and customer experience to life; a purpose that connects different market segments and product offerings into a broader story and an emotional connection to customers who see a brand as an extension of their own value system” (Cieslak). In other words, building up the brand of a company is important to establish a positive reputation with the consumer audience, thus leading to trust and connection between the brand and the consumer. Nestlé built its brand first through non-chocolate products such as developing milk hydrating and processing technology, which ultimately improved the health and nutrition of Chinese citizens (Allen 147-148). With this trust in place, Nestlé began exporting its chocolate, Kit-Kat, into Hong Kong, in the same way Cadbury and Ferrero Rocher began their chocolate expansion into China. Nestlé also ran into a similar problem as Cadbury in terms of the portioning of its chocolate. However, Nestlé decided that Kit-Kat’s seventy percent chocolate to thirty percent wafer composition possessed the light chocolate taste that would appeal to Chinese consumers, which preferred smaller proportions in food. This proved successful for Nestlé, and Kit-Kat became the most popular of Nestlé’s chocolates in China’s global confectionary market (Allen 150).
These three of the Big Five companies—Ferrero Rocher, Cadbury, and Nestlé—all had to adapt to the traditions and cultural habits of Chinese consumers. Ferrero Rocher conformed chocolate into a symbol of gift-giving. Cadbury utilized domestic practices and incorporated local fresh ingredients for their domestic chocolate production in China. And finally, Nestlé built its brand as a nutritious, healthy choice and formed a trustworthy partnership with Chinese consumers that gave its chocolate bar a solid reputation. Overall, all the cacao/chocolate companies that try to capitalize on China’s emerging market face the same problems of adjusting to the vastly different customs of Chinese customers by understanding the needs and wants of people that have virtually never laid eyes on a bar of chocolate.
Allen, Lawrence. “Chocolate Fortunes: The Battle for the
Hearts, Minds, and Wallets of China’s Consumers.” Thunderbird
International Business Review, vol. 52, no. 1, 2010, pp. 13–20.
An Examination of Unethical Practices in
the Cocoa Industry
(Food Empowerment Project)
This semester we
looked intensively at the use of slave labor in the chocolate industry, and the
responsibility of chocolate companies to do their part in ensuring that the
chocolate they sell is not coming from unethical child labor. Top chocolate
selling companies like Nestle and Hershey have all taken accountability for
their role in the problem and pledged to fight to eliminate child labor in the
production of cocoa. In fact, a couple
of years ago, Nestle made the news with its pledge that its iconic KitKat bars
would be made with cocoa that has been verified by third party agencies to
ensure that it was supplied from ethical sources. Yet, KitKat is only one type
of bar that Nestle makes, and no statement was issued regarding whether or not
the rest of their chocolate products would be subjected to this new guideline. This
small step was not highly regarded by those looking for chocolate companies to
take legitimate steps towards fighting this issue. Although Nestle hoped that
their pledge would take some pressure off of them, it had no such effect. In
2018, a U.S. federal appeals court reopened a lawsuit filed by a group of
former child slaves accusing Nestle of perpetuating child labor in the Ivory
Coast. (Bellon) Nestle was also sued by a legal firm who alleges that they
deceived consumers about the use of slave labor to provide cocoa for their
brands Crunch and Butterfinger. This same legal firm has also opened a lawsuit
against Hershey and Mars on similar grounds. So, the three largest chocolate companies
in the world, are all facing lawsuits over using chocolate that is the result
of slave labor. Anyone who is familiar with the horrors children face on cocoa
farms would surely be angered and disgusted. Due to the history of this
country, the term slavery should be enough of a trigger word alone to dissuade
any company from wanting to be associated with any product that is the result
of slave labor. This, coupled with the fact that chocolate companies are
consistently being sued for their role in perpetuating slave labor on cocoa,
makes me wonder why chocolate companies are not doing more to distance
themselves from these unethical cocoa farms.
First, let’s take
a look at some statistics that contribute to the problem. There are about 5 to
6 million cocoa farmers in the world, and another 40-50 million who depend on
the cocoa industry for their livelihood. (USDOL) Almost 70% percent of the
world’s cocoa comes from West Africa. Nearly 40% of the Ivory Coast’s
population is involved in some form of cocoa farming and 60% of the Ivory Coast’s
export revenue is funded by the cocoa industry. (USDOL) As you can see, West
African countries heavily depend on the cocoa industry for economic stability. For
many of them, it is their most consistent and stable form of income for the
country. Thus, it makes sense that they want to minimize their costs as much as
possible. The typical cocoa farmer in the Ivory Coast and Ghana is paid an
average of $2 per day. This forces many farmers to turn to the cheapest form of
labor possible, child/slave labor. Because many in West Africa live in poverty,
children are often forced to start working to help support their families at
very young ages. This makes them a lot more susceptible to being trafficked,
kidnapped, or sold into slave labor. The children can work up to 100 hours a
week and perform a number of dangerous tasks such as: operating a machete,
carrying bags of cocoa pods that weigh over 100 lbs, and operating in close
proximity with chemicals without protective gear. (slavefreechocolate) If they
try to escape or aren’t working fast enough, they are beaten and whipped. Some
of the children involved in slave labor are as young as 5 or 6 years old.
Chocolate Companies’ Role
With the knowledge
of all the horrors children face in the cocoa industry, it would seem that
everyone, including the major chocolate companies, would want to fight to end
this issue. Yet, chocolate companies have been largely idle. In 2001, the US
House of Representatives decided to take action and voted to consider a bill
which would require all chocolate companies to confirm that they were child
labor free and to label their products this way. (Willow) American chocolate
companies responded with a fierce lobbying campaign against this law. They
argued that there was no way for them to control what happened on cocoa farms
across the world, and that cocoa supply lines were usually so long and complex
that it was nearly impossible to verify that the cocoa they receive came from a
farm that did not make use of child labor. Because of the lobbying efforts of
American chocolate companies, the protocol the house wanted to vote on was
watered down and released in 2001 as the Harkin-Engel Protocol. (Willow) The
Harkin-Engel protocol did not require companies to verify that their chocolate is
not supplied by slave labor, and the issue of labeling seemed to be completely
forgotten. We are almost 20 years removed from the release of the protocol and
almost nothing substantial seems to have been accomplished. Even KitKat’s
gesture is not even close to the type of support needed to spark real change in
the industry. This was a major win for chocolate companies, whose response to
the original protocol is indicative of the fact that they just don’t have any
real interest in solving this issue.
There are a couple reasons the chocolate giants
are disinterested in putting forth any real effort towards solving the
child/slave labor issue we have examined so far. One, as stated earlier, is that
it would require effort on the part of the chocolate companies to ensure that
their cocoa is produced ethically. Supply chains in the cocoa industry are long
and complex, and because of the enormous child labor problem in Western Africa,
it would take a lot of verification on their end to determine that the
companies they are buying from are using ethical practices. However, second and
probably most important, is the fact that it would require chocolate giants
like Hershey and Nestle to sacrifice some of their profit. According to the
Prime Minister of the Ivory Coast, chocolate companies will have to pay around
10 times the current price of price of cocoa if they want to end the use of
unethical child labor there. This would obviously drive up the price of their
products, and cut into a big percentage of their profits. Any strategy that
encourages corporations to sacrifice profit in the name of morality is one that
is flawed. So, let’s look at some alternative ways to end dangerous child labor
on the Western Africa cocoa farms.
The biggest reason
that this situation exists is poverty. The West African economy depends so
heavily on the cocoa industry, however there is not even a minimum wage or
minimum price for farmers to sell their cocoa. This was not the case until the
cocoa industry was privatized in 1999. Once the industry was privatized, cocoa
prices fell drastically, poverty became widespread, and the government stopped
spending money on necessities such as healthcare and education. (USDOL) This
all came at the expense of the cocoa farmers who work in isolation on small
farms with no way to communicate with each other about market cocoa prices. World
cocoa prices have been well below the price of production costs since the
industry was privatized. Some countries refuse to buy cocoa from West African
countries who they suspect of using slave labor on their farms. This causes
West African farmers to have to sell their cocoa at an even lower price. Farmers
do not even make enough money to afford trucks to transport their beans so they
are forced to rely on exploitative middlemen, who give them cash for the beans
and haul them away. Without the knowledge of the worth of their beans, farmers
are unable negotiate better prices for them. Instead, they must just accept the
prices that these exploitative buyers are willing to pay or risk not selling
their beans at all. So, even if cocoa prices rise, the farmers themselves will
not be able to benefit from it.
A major step
towards a solution would be for more advanced countries, like the United
States, who purchase large amounts of cocoa from countries who use slave labor
and are concerned about slave labor in Africa to invest in the farmers in those
countries. Equipping farmers with something simple like trucks to transport
their beans to markets would allow them to have an understanding of world
prices, negotiate better prices for themselves, and cut out exploitative
middlemen who take away a lot of their profit. This alone would increase
producer surplus exponentially and allow farmers to be able to rely on more
ethical forms of labor to produce their cocoa. Another possible solution would
be a mandate of a minimum price for cocoa. Thanks to Fair Trade Certified
producer groups, this is the case in some countries in Western Africa. These
groups cover different nine African countries and represent thousands of
farmers. Chocolate companies who buy from farms belonging to a Fair Trade
Certified group pay the farmers the world market price plus a stipend that guarantees
farmers have livable wages. (Food Empowerment Project) Farms that belong to
these groups are inspected once a year and there is zero tolerance for
unethical labor practices. Although only a small portion of the world’s cocoa
is produced on Fair Trade Certified farms, they represent a possible solution
to the problem. A more drastic approach would be to standardize groups like
this, and to force all farms to join a group like this in order to be legally
able to sell cocoa beans. This approach would likely be seen as problematic
because the chocolate giants are not buying their cocoa from Fair Trade
Certified farms. However, to combat that point, we must hold large
chocolate-selling companies like Nestle and Hershey accountable. Countries who
allow these chocolate giants to sell their products should pass legislation
similar to that of the original Harkin-Engel protocol proposal. These companies
should not be allowed to sell their products without verifying that their cocoa
is supplied by ethical sources. This is extremely important because, like the
farmers, these companies are looking to minimize their production costs.
Changing the way the farmers do business won’t completely eradicate child labor
if the chocolate giants are not forced to also make the switch to more ethical
practices. Forcing the chocolate companies’ hand will ensure that the farmers are
not the ones who suffer the consequences of changed legislation. Because, as we
have seen, when the farmers suffer, they turn to cheap, unethical solutions.
countries depend heavily on the cocoa industry for economic success. Their reliance
on this industry, cocoa farmers struggle to sell their product for a livable
wage and chocolate companies refusal to acknowledge their role in the situation
resulted in this large-scale slave labor problem that we see today. If we truly
want to eradicate this problem in Western Africa, solutions like the one laid
out in this paper are a good start. I hope that through this paper you have a
better understanding of the horrors of slave labor on cocoa farms. However, I
also hope that you are optimistic about the future, because solutions are right
in front of us. We just have to hold the major players in this cruel game accountable.
The Ghirardelli Chocolate Company was founded by and is named for Domenico Ghirardelli. Ghirardelli was born in 1817, in Rapallo, Italy (Wiki, 2019). During his teen years, he apprenticed under Romanengo, a noted chocolatier in Genoa (Wiki, 2019). When Ghirardelli was about 20, he moved to South America, and in 1838 he established a confectionery in Lima Peru (Ghirardelli, 2019). Then in 1849, at the recommendation of his former neighbor, In 1849 he moved to California on the recommendation of his former neighbor, James Lick (who went on to become a real estate investor, and land baron, and the wealthiest person in California (James Lick, 2019)), who had brought 600 pounds of Ghirardelli’s chocolate with him to San Francisco the year before. In that year (Wiki, 2019), Ghirardelli opened his first store in Stockton, CA, selling confections to California Gold Rush miners, who were looking for a little sweet relief from a day of digging in the dirt for shiny objects (Ghirardelli, 2019).
Ghirardelli opened his second store in San Francisco. In 1852, The Ghirardelli Chocolate Company was incorporated and flourished (Ghirardelli, 2019). In 1865, a Ghirardelli employee discovered the Broma process to extract the cocoa butter, producing a much more intense chocolate flavor than other processes like Dutching (Ghirardelli, 2019). In 1884, Ghirardelli’s sons became partners in the business, which shipped products throughout the West and to the eastern U.S., China, Japan, and Mexico (Ghirardelli, 2019). In 1893, the company expanded its operation by moving its manufacturing to the Pioneer Woolen Building on San Francisco’s waterfront; present site of Ghirardelli Square (Ghirardelli, 2019). By the end of the 19th century, the entire chocolate industry was riding the wave of the industrial revolution (Coe & Coe, 2013) and maturing quickly, and Ghirardelli Chocolate had a stake in that industry. Advances in manufacturing and transportation technology enabled increased chocolate quality, manufacturing, and distribution to consumers everywhere (Coe & Coe, 2013).
Despite chocolate manufacturing innovations over the many years, one thing remained constant; growing and harvesting the raw material, cacao beans, was a manual labor intensive process (Coe & Coe, 2013). Labor was originally performed by slaves, like many other global commodities like sugar, coffee, and cotton (Leissle, 2018).Though slavery no longer provided the overall cacao labor resource by the early 1900’s, many countries, where cacao was grown and harvested, continued to use illegal labor (Leissle, 2018).
Lindt & Sprüngli Family Welcomes Ghirardelli and others.
In 1998, Ghirardelli was purchased by the Lindt & Sprüngli holding company, formally Chocoladefabriken Lindt & Sprüngli AG (Lindt & Sprüngli , 2019). Founded in 1845, Lindt & Sprüngli is a Swiss chocolatier and confectionary company. It’s known worldwide for its chocolate truffles and chocolate bars. As of 2018, it is the 7th largest chocolate company in the world with net sales of $4.1 Billion. Mars Wrigley Confectionary is 1st with $18 Billion in net sales. Over the last 25 years, Lindt & Sprüngli or its holding company has also acquired chocolate makers Cafferel, Hoffbauer, Küffner and Russel Stover. All combined, these Lindt & Sprüngli chocolate makers have over 700 years of bean to bar chocolate making experience.
Social Sustainability Policies and Practices
Ghirardelli is committed to accomplishing the sustainability goals set
forth by Lindt & Sprüngli (Ghirardelli, 2019). Lindt & Sprüngli and its companies have
been actively pursuing and accomplishing sustainability goals in every aspect
of their chocolate making since the early 2000’s (Lindt &
Sprüngli , April 2019). Most recently, they embrace and set
out to achieve the United Nations Sustainability Development Goals (SDG) (United
Specifically, and as a notable example
of Lindt & Sprüngli’s sustainability efforts, the company is committed to
responsibly sourcing its raw materials for chocolate, cacao beans. In
2008, Lindt & Sprüngli started its cocoa farming program in Ghana.
Prior to that and
during the program’s establishment, West Africa and specifically Ghana had been
in the media, and formally reported as using illegal child labor and putting
children at risk in unsafe conditions (Ryan, 2011). Later there was overall agreement that those reports
were somewhat inaccurate or sensationalized (Berlan, 2013). The child labor
situation was a product of the local culture and extremely poor economic conditions
in Ghana (Berlan, 2013). Since Lindt & Sprüngli sources 100% of
its West African cocoa bean supply from Ghana because of the high quality of
cocoa beans in the region, it has a vested interest in ensuring the Ghana cacao
farming communities are supported (Lindt & Sprüngli , April
With the farming program, Lindt & Sprüngli’s goals are to ensure
decent and resilient livelihoods for cocoa farmers and their families, by
addressing poverty, child labor and deforestation (Lindt &
Sprüngli , April 2019). In kind, Lindt & Sprüngli ensures
supply of high quality of the cacao beans. Their program achieves this by higher
productivity on the farms, diversified incomes, preservation of biodiversity
and natural ecosystems, reduced risk of child labor and improved infrastructure
in communities (Lindt & Sprüngli , April
There are 4 elements to their farming
program; traceability and farmer organization, training and knowledge transfer,
farmer investments and community developments, and verification and continuous
progress (Lindt & Sprüngli , April
Traceability of the cocoa beans is the key for ensuring sustainable cocoa sourcing (Lindt & Sprüngli , 2019). Transparency enables them to guarantee the quality of the cocoa while at the same time knowing the social and ecological farming conditions on the ground. This also allows them to provide targeted support for the farmers. As of 2017/2018 cocoa season, 72,528 farmers were participating in the program (Lindt & Sprüngli , April 2019). 28% were women. As a basis for their engagement with the farmers, they gather baseline data about the farms (including GPS coordinates) including the communities, and farmers to assess their specific needs. To implement the program the farmers are organized into structures that are adjusted to match the local context.
They provide adaptive training to address the local circumstances and needs. A large local field staff support the farmers to professionalize in many areas. They train on farming practices related to cacao planting cultivating, harvesting, fermenting and drying, and use model farms as a training aid (Lindt & Sprüngli , April 2019). They also educate the farmers about environmental measures such as biodiversity, organic fertilizers, and forest preservation and restoration. Training on health, labor safety and labor standards including child labor, is provided (Lindt & Sprüngli , April 2019). There is also business practices training to help farmers increase productively, decrease costs and advise on how to diversify their income with other opportunities (Lindt & Sprüngli , April 2019).
Farmer and Community Investment and Development
Lindt & Sprüngli invests in its cacao farmers
and supporting the farming communities. The program distributes higher yielding
and disease resistant cacao seedlings to the farmers as well as shade trees to help
rejuvenate older unproductive trees and overall plantations. Thus far the program has distributed over 3
million seedlings and almost 1 million shade trees (Lindt &
Sprüngli , April 2019). They provide a provision of farming
supplies such as pruning tools, personal safety gear and fertilizer to help the
farmers become more efficient and apply the farming practices that they have
been trained on. They have constructed water systems for clean drinking water
also waste water. And finally, they have
provided renovation of primary schools to combat the risk of child labor as
well as support awareness and monitoring measures.
Verification and Continuous Improvement
Finally, they have a robust verification and
continuous progress, provided internally as well as externally by independent a
3rd party (Lindt & Sprüngli , April
The internal monitoring is provided by hundreds
of local project partner staff. They
visit the farmers and their farms annually and provide assessment and feedback.
External monitoring is provided by the nonprofit Earthworm Foundation (Earthworm
Earthworm assesses the entire Lindt
& Sprüngli farming program including its internal monitoring. Earthworm provides recommendations for program
improvement and ways to resolve the underlying reasons for non-compliance (Lindt &
Ghirardelli Chocolate Co. and Lindt & Sprüngli: Global Citizens
Lindt & Sprüngli not only sources its
high-quality cocoa beans from Ghana but from the world’s most renowned cocoa
origins such as Latin America (mainly Ecuador), the Dominican Republic,
Madagascar and Papua New Guinea.
Farming programs have been put in place in those countries and they are continuously working to establish the program in other countries that they source from. Today, more than 72,500 farmers participate in the Lindt & Sprüngli farming program (Lindt & Sprüngli , 2019). Over 85% of Ghirardelli cocoa beans are sourced through the Lindt & Sprüngli Farming Program (Ghirardelli, 2019).
More information about the Lindt & Sprüngli Farming Program, can be found in the youtube video below.
Lindt & Sprüngli chocolate companies, including Ghirardelli, have a long, interesting, and successful history of bean to bar chocolate making. They have invested in the short and long term future of their company as well as the future of their cacao suppliers. They are not just a top ten global chocolate company that generates high revenues and profits for its shareholders, but also a responsible socially sustainable global citizen.
Berlan, A. (2013). Social Sustainability in
Agriculture: An Anthropoligical Perspective on Child Labour in Cocoa Production
in Ghana. 1088-1100.
Coe, S. D., & Coe, M. D. (2013). The True
History of Chocolate. London: Thomas & Hudson.
The well-documented history of cocoa tells the story of an
industry driven by greed. However, the picture that is often painted does not
speak to how this has evolved.
Dating back as far as 1500 BCE to 400 BCE, the period spanning the Olmec civilization, discoveries and research have firmly validated the significant role that cocoa has long-played in both culture and religion (Coe and Coe, 2013). The same history speaks to a past whereby:
origins and producers were exploited by explorers, instigating and contributing to the slave trade for years;
industrialized nations seeking to dominate processing and control greater market share, sparked proxy wars with the imposition of tariffs on imports originating from colonies other than their own (present and/or former); and
saw industrialized nations assume a patriarchal stance that significantly limited powers and diminished the voice of producing origins (former colonies)—lost ground that would take them years to recapture.
The following seeks to detail cocoa’s dark past—one whose opacity perpetuated years of human rights abuses including forced and child labor. Having evolved as an industry, the following will also outline industry’s transition into an ever-increasingly transparent and responsible global industry that remains challenged by perceptions based on its past and wrestling to break free from its dark history.
Cocoa’s Sordid Past and Contribution to the Slave Trade
Spanning the Pre-Classic (2000 BCE to 300 CE) to Post Classic
(900 to 1500 CE) periods, the number and diversity of explorers ballooned,
ultimately leading to a dramatic shift in where and by whom cocoa was produced,
as well as who (specifically which nations and companies) would profit from its
trade, increasingly efficient processing, and mass manufacturing.
Due largely to voluntary and involuntary migration (i.e., the slave trade) the movement of goods and saw Theobroma cacao cultivation spread from its genetic origins of the Amazon Basin and cultural and religious roots which have been traced back to Mesoamerica (present-day Mexico through Central America) (Coe and Coe, 2013).
In what is now present-day Central and South America, during
the early 1500s, under the encomienda system, Spanish conquistadors were
granted rights to force indigenous inhabitants to perform labor in their favor
(Martin, 2019). This led to an irreparable deterioration of culture and loss of
land (Martin, 2019). On the other side of the Atlantic, chattel slavery, the practice
whereby people are treated as property, between 1500 and 1900, it is estimated
that up to 15 million Africans were enslaved, of which 40 out of every 100 died
in waiting or during transatlantic transport. In both cases, indigenous peoples
were forced to cultivate cocoa while seeing little to no profit in return. In addition,
favoritism played into economic positioning among industrialized nations as tariffs
and quotas sought to control production and supply with demand (Leissle, 2018).
As cocoa’s production footprint broadened, applications and
formulations evolved, popularity within consumer markets increased, and its importance
as a traded commodity destined for processing units around the world surged.
As competition grew fiercer, regulation became an ever more critical
element to ensure the crop’s viability. But most importantly, it was introduced
to ensure economic stability for countries and operators who relied on the trade.
This period gave rise to regulatory standards and voluntary certification programs
in cocoa—both of which grew more diverse and exacting during the late 1980s present
Perhaps the most prolific shift, and marking industry’s
acknowledgment that improvements were both possible and needed, with the
enactment of the Harkin Engel Protocol in 2001, accountability, and
requirements to proactively identify instances, address breakdowns, and prevent
arrange of defined human rights abuses took center stage. When introduced, regulatory
requirements and elements core to voluntary certification systems fundamentally
changed how supply chain operators engaged producers, managed their businesses,
interacted with the market, and reported.
During the same period, industry associations were
established, and collective efforts launched. Among them were groups such as
the World Cocoa Foundation (WCF), International Cocoa Initiative (ICI), and the
Child Labor Cocoa Coordinating Group (CLCCG), all groups representing interests
at every level from all sides.
In due course, regulations and certifications designed to
promote best practices, ensure worker (producer), crop, and environmental
protections, combat fraudulent claims, and ensure accurate reporting and
labeling (i.e., of provenance, certification claims, production practices,
quality, etc.) have improved, expanded, and been welcomed.
Adoption, adaptation, replication, and the proliferation of programs, as well as their capabilities and level of sophistication, continue to evolve rapidly. Not glued simply to factors related to compliance, conformity, or competitiveness, companies are investing significant amounts of resources to align with and exceed regulatory, consumer, and commercial standards and expectations. However, despite advances, and an elongating track record of progress and proactive effort, the industry is often chastised for not doing enough, investing enough, or sharing enough.
Stuck in the Past and Unable to Break the Cycle: The Vilification of the Cocoa Industry
Sampling of Collective Industry Efforts – Programs and Reporting
Seeking to address systemic constraints perpetuating or exacerbating breakdowns, the industry has demonstrated its willingness and ability to come to affect change.
For example, after launching, implementing, and learning
from the original and subsequent iterations of the World Cocoa Foundation (WCF) Cocoa
Livelihoods Program (CLP), after several years of complex negotiations
(balancing risk, exposure, and financial implications), WCF and its member
companies launched, and have developed good traction with Cocoa
Action, one of several WCF initiatives designed, developed, and implemented
with and through its members. While
they admit that it took more time to lay the groundwork that they had initially
anticipated, they ultimately emerged with a thoughtful and thorough platform
that continues to progress well.
Additionally, since its founding in 2002, the International Cocoa Initiative (ICI)
has significantly influenced positive movement on all fronts concerning child
labor, including the development of new tools, systems, and metrics to measure
progress. This includes the consultative process that led to the development of
standards for collective and individual Child Labour Monitoring and Remediation
Recognizing that they can only harness so much, Industry has teamed with governments, international standard-setting bodies, research institutions, and others to advance efforts to combat forced and child labor, address its root causes, and improve reporting practices to bolster transparency.
Sampling of Individual Company Efforts – Programs and Reporting
Having worked inside and alongside the world’s leading cocoa
companies, I recall several meetings where heads of responsible sourcing and
on-the-ground activities expressed concern that not enough was being done to
address the root causes. Without taking on migration, land, voting, and school
registration issues, efforts would continue to face challenges. To do this, the
group discussed land ownership and migratory movements of Burkinabe to Côte d’Ivoire,
their inability to secure land, and in many cases, to register their children in
school. While it was not the first, and certainly not the last, this was a good
reminder that addressing the child labor issue was not as clear-cut as many
often like to think.
Beyond programs that tighten controls, incentivize parents
for producing school registration certificates, third-party certification audits
that verify adherence to specific standards and practices, and collective and individual
company efforts to refine and expand CLMRS, the industry continues to improve the
technical scope of their programs.
The following list provides a snapshot of reports detailing global efforts to address a wide range of unique challenges faced by cocoa farming communities—including child labor. These are offered in response to comments made during the recent film screening and panel discussion “Examining Brazil’s Cocoa-Chocolate Supply Chain.” – May 2019 Discussion
Key takeaways from the May 2019 discussion [and report] aligned with similar panels and studies that point to:
The complexity and scope of the issue;
range and number of actors and implications along the value chain at each stage;
need for leaders, officials, and representatives from all sides (public and private), and on all levels (municipal, regional, national, and international) to work together to develop and enact responses that effectively address root causes; and
calls for greater transparency.
Specific to claims around the lack of transparency and access, deficiencies noted during the discussion included the following:
Visibility into supply chain monitoring plans, geographical scope, findings, and improvements; and
the number, frequency, and quality of public disclosures of internal reports.
In practice, the following are evident:
Companies are proactively and thoughtfully engaged in addressing child and forced labor—not merely in response to regulations or calls from consumers or international bodies;
companies are leading in investments in certification programs, traceability systems, coordinating industry-wide efforts and policy formulation; and
the quality and frequency of reporting are there despite claims that it is absent of lacking.
These are vital considerations to bear in mind when looking
at the balance of what is being done, by whom, how it financed, and what is
being said about those leading the way and reporting on it as appeals for
greater transparency play into the vilification of cocoa companies instead of
praise for their role in realizing progress.
While there is much more to bring into the frame, the above
does tell speak to the other side of the story—one that is rarely shared.
Things have come a long way; however, despite grand efforts
to date, many forms of forced and child labor still exist, and the number of
instances of human rights violations are still far too prevalent. To that end, much
more can and will continue to be done. Going forward, stakeholders must move
forward together with the mindful that this is an ever-evolving and continuously
improving process in terms of design, implementation, and measurement.
So while independent company activities and collective industry-wide
efforts have evolved and improved with learnings over the years, there are
programmatic gaps and blind spots that must be proactively and constructively
Casara, M., Dallabrida, P., Martin, Carla D. “Examining Brazil’s Cocoa-Chocolate Supply Chain”.
Harvard University: Cambridge, MA. April 24, 2019. Film Screening and
Martin, Carla D. “Slavery, Abolition, and Forced Labor”.
Harvard University: Cambridge, MA. March 6, 2019. Lecture.
Picolotto, A., Giovanaz, D., Casara, J., Loth, Laura W., Lambranho,
L., Casara, M., Dallabrida, P., Sabrina, R., and Kruse, T. “Cocoa Supply Chain:
Advances ad Challenges Toward the Promotion of Decent Work”. 2019. International
Labour Organization (ILO), Public Labour Prosecutor’s Office (MPT), Papel
“Examining Brazil’s Cocoa-Chocolate Supply Chain: Film
Screening and Discussion, Part 1” [Multimedia Video]. Retrieved from the Fine
Cacao and Chocolate Institute YouTube Channel. April 27, 2019. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OKr2_0egfzA.
“Examining Brazil’s Cocoa-Chocolate Supply Chain: Film
Screening and Discussion, Part 2” [Multimedia Video]. Retrieved from the Fine
Cacao and Chocolate Institute YouTube Channel. April 27, 2019. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OKr2_0egfzA.
“Child Labour Monitoring and Remediation System (CLMRS) in
the Société Coopérative Ivoirienne du Négoce des Produits Agricoles (SCINPA) Cooperative”.
Olam International. 2017.
Leissle, Kristy. Cocoa. Polity Press, 2018.
Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of
Chocolate. 3rd Edition, Thames & Hudson, 2013.