Category Archives: Multimedia Essay 2

The Harvard Square Chocolate Shop Shelf

On May 2nd, 2019, my two friends and I decided to hold a chocolate tasting in our dorm room, for our big final project. In order to save money, we chose to jointly purchase six chocolate bars from a store in Harvard Square. We collected a group of six acquaintances together to taste the chocolate with us, collecting their comments. While we coordinated in data collection and logistics, we did not coordinate in the creation of our final reports. I am excited to eventually compare our different takeaways from this project.

The six bars we chose are Cote D’ Or’s Lait-Melk bar, Valrhona’s Blond Dulcey bar, Taza Chocolate’s 80% Dark Dominican Republic bar, Taza Chocolate’s 84% Dark Haiti bar, Antidote’s 84% Cacao bar, and Antidote’s 100% Raw Cacao bar. The packages for each of these bars can be seen in the designated pictures below.

Terroir

We chose these bars for a variety of reasons. The two Taza bars have similar cacao contents and are from Haiti and the Dominican Republic, respectively. One of the Antidote bars also has a similar cacao percentage but is from Ecuador. These three bars allow us to explore the concept of Terroir. According to Rajat Parr and Jordan Mackay, “(terroir is) at once the most meaningless and meaningful term in wine, and still has the power to raise hackles and incite debate . . . The term, which was once owned wholly by the French, has now permeated the general vocabulary of wine and food in many other languages.[i]” In short, “Terroir” is the idea that a food is imbued with the essence of the location in which it was produced. Cheese from Wisconsin, wine from France, and raisins from California, are all examples of Terroir-based food marketing.

Our sample size was only six people, but our respondents were pretty consistent in saying that they didn’t notice much of a difference in taste between the three bars; this implies that these laymen did not notice any Terroir-effects. They were sensitive to textural anomalies but felt that the flavor was mostly indistinguishable. None of the group was able to tell the difference between the Taza bars, though their special “stone ground” texture resulted in a clear grainy consistency that each respondent noted. One respondent did mention that the Haiti bar had “a slight something, as if it were sitting next to a crate of raisins for a while.” Another chimed in that the light brush of flavor was not very significant; it reminded him of La Croix. Aside from these two insights, all descriptions of flavor between the bars was consistent.

This is consistent with McNeil and Riello’s discussion of French and Italian products. “Consumers today tend to think that people have always loved (them); this is not the case. In the case of French regional wines, the allure of such products was created only between the end of the nineteenth century and the Vichy years of the Second World War, a period in which the consumption of regional products was linked to a new vision of tourism made possible via the improved roads of the Routes Nationales 6 and 7. This led to a renewed emphasis on ‘regional styles’ and ‘folkloric traditions’ adapted to a completely new luxury market that stressed the importance of terroir and region, rather than just urban gastronomy.[ii]” In short, the concept of “Terroir” was made up to advertise French produce. While I would need more data to officially prove that Terroir doesn’t exist, our small taste-test seemed to lean towards that conclusion.

 

chocolate frontchocolate back

 

Taste Test Results

Brand Type Cacao % Focus Group Adjectives
Cote D’ Or Lait-Melk > 50% (unspecified) Boring “Christmas chocolate,” Hershey-like, cheap,
Valrhona Blond Dulcey 32 Toffee-esque, Doesn’t have a taste, delayed taste, creamy,

buttery, sticky,

Antidote Cacao Bar (w/ nibs) 84 Salty, Sour, Bitter, Like cooking chocolate, crunchy,
Antidote Raw Cacao Bar (w/ nibs) 100 Not soft, tree bark, earthy/soil, slow to melt, like a coffee bean,

“It tastes like punishment”

Taza Chocolate Dark Dominican Republic 80 Crunchy/flaky, aerated, gritty/sandpaper, sandy,
Taza Chocolate Dark Hatian Same texture as above – Fruity – Raisin adjacent,  like a La Croix, Fruit flavor,

 

Interesting Notes:

People would be willing to spend $5-$12

They all said they’d pay more for wine than chocolate

They all said they’d be willing to pay more for chocolate than a burrito

Most of the group said they’d prefer a Hershey bar to each of the alternatives, despite those same friends expressing a preference for darker chocolate.

Our one British friend said he didn’t like any of this chocolate. He said he prefers Cadbury.

Value

We chose the Cote D’Or bar and the Valrhona Blond Dulcey bar to compare with the Antidote 100% Cacao bar. I wanted to get a good understanding of how our friends reacted to cocoa butter, sugar, and milk content; their primary observation was that the darker a chocolate bar is, the more they feel it is worth. The members of our focus group told us this explicitly but, more importantly, when we gave them the Cote D’Or Bar, which had the highest cocoa butter content, the first reaction was “this tastes cheap . . . like Christmas chocolate.” The feeling that cacao content is proportional to value held up through the entire tasting among all our participants.

On May 1st, a guest lecturer discussed how Mexican food is underpriced when compared to other alternatives. “If you go to an Italian restaurant, they’ll charge you $20 – 25 for a bowl of pasta . . . Mexican food costs more to make in terms of ingredients and labor but people aren’t willing to pay that much for it.” Keeping this quote in mind, I asked my friends how much they would pay for one of the chocolate bars we tasted. Their responses ranged from $8 – 12. “Would you pay more for this than a burrito,” I asked them. “Absolutely,” one respondent replied. The others quickly agreed.

blog-featured_organin_labels-20180417.jpg
Photo courtesy of https://foodrevolution.org/blog/why-choose-organic/

Luxury and Organic Labeling

Chocolate is seen as a luxury product, both in our focus group and more broadly. Looking at the packages of each of our chosen bars, it’s pretty clear that chocolate companies are leaning into the luxury-angle. The bars we picked were each graced with distinctive fonts, artistic logos, and iconic color schemes. Each design is simple, yet elegant. Tucked away on the back of the bar are labels, logos, and informative blocs of text, each designed to convey information about the company’s values. Values, themselves, can be a luxury in a competitive market.

According to Peter McNeil and Giorgio Riello, “the true achievement of ‘luxury’ in the twenty-first century has been its ability to beguile as many people as possible in much the same way as mass consumption did in the post-war Western world.[iii]” Luxury is used as a marketing scheme. “It plays on our inner feeling of wanting ‘something better,’ and nurtures the rampant individualism of self-fashioning that has come so much to shape our societies since the 1980s.[iv]” Luxurious products are an expression of self-indulgence, a byproduct of an individualist mindset.

Interestingly, while ‘luxury’ is about individualism, international labeling efforts have focused on communal efforts. These labels address deforestation, unfair trade practices, and sustainability issues. They seek to turn a personal indulgence into collective action. Consumers can selfishly indulge while selflessly making a difference; labels allow consumers to, psychologically, have their chocolate bar and eat it too.

The bars we picked for our taste testing each have their own, mostly unique, labels. The Taza Bars have two different “certified organic” labels. The Antidote bars claim to be made with cocoa from “farms that use organic practices,” though their website says that “working with (officially) certified organic farms would limit us in getting the best quality cacao.” This feels somewhat sketchy, as it isn’t explained very well. Personally, I find organic certifications to be unimpressive anyway. For one, there is no commercially available GMO cacao strain, meaning all cacao is technically organic.[v] These labels have more to do with the other products within the chocolate, presumably the milk.

As Julie Guthman would say, this is “Culinary Luddism.[vi]” She explains that many people believe their food has declined in quality; they feel society needs to return to the way we used to grow food, in order to ensure quality. “The Luddites’ fable of disaster, of a fall from grace, smacks more of wishful thinking than of digging through archives. It gains credence not from scholarship but from evocative dichotomies: fresh and natural versus processed and preserved; local versus global; slow versus fast; artisanal and traditional versus urban and industrial; healthful versus contaminated and fatty.[vii]” Organic food has not been scientifically proven to be any healthier than genetically modified food. In fact, it is generally faster to rot, less efficient, and much less consistent. The organic label exists as a virtue signal to uninformed chocolate consumers. Little do they know that all chocolate is organic. Or at least, the cacao is.

In this sense, the label is a part of the advertisement. It was already a mostly meaningless declaration, designed to invoke the sentiment of doing something, to counteract the selfishness of indulgence. The organic label goes even one step further in that it actually doesn’t mean anything. Cacao farmers aren’t benefitted when their product is mixed with organic milk from a small Midwestern dairy. Organic chocolate doesn’t help them at all. It has not been proven to be any healthier and, in a general sense, there’s no good reason for it to exist. The whole label is a marketing scheme.

fair-trade-labels-pic2.png
There are way too many Fair Trade Labels – Image from https://www.fairtradewinds.net/guide-fair-trade-labels/

Other Labels

None of this is to say that labels can’t do good. With the exception of the Cote D’Or bar, every chocolate we tried was supplied via Direct Trade. Direct Trade is a new concept for our globalist age.  It evolved out of a series of complicated political fractures in the “Fair Trade” movement, which tried to ensure that Cacao Farmers were properly compensated for the work they were doing.

This proved to be highly complicated, however. As Ndongo Sylla put it, “Fair Trade is . . . a Western ‘invention’ whose survival depends on its uptake by consumers and political actors of the North. However, Fair Trade is too important an issue to be confined within the borders of developed countries.  Other voices need to be heard. The bias in this debate has resulted in the heterogeneous nature of developing countries being downplayed, and a lack of attention to the progressive and distributive nature of this new development tool.[viii]” The various countries along the Ivory Coast are different from each other and they’re definitely different from the Congo, the island of Dominica, Ecuador, and the countless other chocolate producing regions throughout the world. In some sense, Fair Trade became a one size fits all approach to chocolate pricing, that failed to properly accommodate individual cacao producers.

Moreover, Fair Trade was far from standardized. Different labels with different standards sprang up across the world, with some more popular in some countries than others. From a consumer standpoint, each of these labels were basically interchangeable, and from a producer standpoint, it was difficult to know which certifications were worth pursuing. To address this, a number of producers decided to embrace Direct Trade.

Direct Trade means a chocolate company works directly with specific farmers, that they know and trust, to secure a reliable supply of cacao. Most of the bars that we tried in our room came from companies that could easily tell us where their cacao was grown. They know their farmers and have determined that those farmers meet their ethical standards. Taza and Valrhona both file annual transparency reports, showing which farmers they are working with, where they are located, and what kind of labor practices they use. Antidote also claims to file a report; however, their link appears to have expired. Cote D’Or does not appear to use Direct Trade, though it is a part of the Cocoa Life Program, which unites large producers, including Cadbury, in an attempt to improve the lives of cacao farmers.

Conclusion

Each of the bars we consumed in our dorm room appears to be trying to improve the cacao industry. It is unclear how much of this is a legitimate desire to make the world a better place and how much of it is a cynical marketing ploy, though I am generally optimistic. Considering chocolate is normally a luxury product, meant to be a selfish indulgence, I find it impressive that cocoa companies are embracing ethics in the first place.

This cursory exploration of our local chocolate shelf was enjoyable for me; I hope it was enjoyable to you, dear reader. I know my chocolate-hungry friends really appreciated it.

 

 

 

 

 

[i] Parr, Rajat and Jordan Mackay. 2018. The Sommelier’s Atlas of Taste. pp. 7-21

[ii] McNeil, Peter and Giorgio Riello. 2015. Luxury: A Rich History. pp. 1-10, 225-293

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] Ibid.

[v] Rupp, Rebecca. 2015. Can GMOs Save Chocolate?

[vi] Guthman, Julie. 2012[2003]. “Fast food/organic food: reflexive tastes and the making of ‘yuppie chow.’” pp. 496-509

[vii] Ibid.

[viii] Sylla, Ndongo. 2014. The Fair Trade Scandal. chapters, 1-2

The Chocolate Supply Chain: Strive for Conscious Cravings

Picture this: it’s Friday night, and after a long week of work, you are finally preparing for a nice, relaxing movie night with your family. You sit down, put your feet up, and start unwrapping a luxurious chocolate bar in the comfort of your own home. At this point, most of you are probably not thinking about the thousands of hands that went into harvesting, preparing, and producing the chocolate you’re now cuddled up with on the couch. Additionally, many people are completely unaware of the harsh reality and inhumane conditions that the cacao farmers face on a daily basis. This is partially due to the lack of knowledge regarding the chocolate supply chains, as well as the lack of conversation around hardships and unethical labor standards the farmers have to endure. Many of the farmers producing this delicious, luxury product are actually living on less than $2 per day (Granit 2017). Not only does it seem impossible for one person to survive on a mere $2 per day, but these farmers are also trying to support their families and the surrounding community. With these wages, “they earn just enough money from cocoa sales to pay for rice and cooking oil. There’s usually nothing left over” (Off 5). Clearly, this is unsustainable, unethical, and unfair. Eventually, if changes are not made, more and more of these poor farmers will be forced to turn away from harvesting cacao and move towards other crops. If that happens, the industrial, environmentally harmful, production will continue to take over.

When we walk into a store to purchase a chocolate bar we are greeted with a plethora of attractive, colorful, interesting labels riddled with buzz words such as “natural” or “raw” and enticing brand names. However, what seems to be constantly left out is transparency –-basic transparency regarding how much money the farmers are actually earning, what farming methods were used, where and how the chocolate was produced, etc. If that information was highlighted in the advertising of each chocolate bar, it would be almost impossible to avoid, and it would most likely influence the consumers’ purchasing habits. The history and stories of enslaved cocoa farmers are horrific, and many times, unbearable to read. To paint a picture of what many laborers have endured in Angola, the western coast of Southern Africa, “Human bones littered the sides of the trail, so many that it ‘would take an army of sextons to bury all of the poor bones which consecrate that path.’ The bones in the dust were those of slaves who could no longer march, who were too weak to walk. Some captives were simply left to die; many others were killed by a blow to the head” (Satre 1). This is the kind of information that isn’t advertised, the information that many large chocolate companies and manufacturers don’t want the general public to consider when purchasing their product.

I believe it all starts with education – increasing the awareness regarding the injustice within the industry is the first, extremely important, step. This post aims to educate and encourage chocolate consumers to ask questions about the chocolate they are consuming: Where is it coming from? Who produced it? How much are the farmers getting paid? What are their living conditions like? And if we really knew all of the answers to the questions listed above, would we still be able to indulge in chocolate luxury knowing that so many farmers and their families are suffering in order to produce the chocolate bar we are consuming? The answer is not to completely eliminate chocolate consumption, but rather to encourage conscious consumerism through education and brand transparency.

Many misconceptions have formed around this issue of unethical labor standards, and many of those misconceptions formed false biases. For example, the image below shows a young boy struggling to carry a sack of cacao pods. He is unnamed, it wasn’t clear who took the picture, but clearly, the situation appears to represent unethical labor standards. This image has somehow given consumers the incorrect idea that if they just avoid chocolate manufactured with cacao from Africa, the majority of the problem will be solved. Clearly, this idea comes from a lack of education regarding the cacao supply chain as a whole. I think this bias can be improved through education about The Global Slavery Index, research conducted in different parts of the world, and increased transparency across all brand labels.

As stated above, it is unclear who took the picture, but it clearly portrays a young boy carrying an extremely heavy bag of cacao pods under unethical labor standards.

When I first saw the image above, I was absolutely shocked. Many questions came to mind; one of them being, why wouldn’t the parents protect their children against such harsh labor conditions? Well, as it turns out, “children in cocoa households can fall victim to micro-level pressures (such as family breakdown) which undermine their ability not to enter the workforce and thus make them ‘unfree’. Because this ‘unfreedom’ is part of much wider processes of societal change, it is often undetected in policy circles and is extremely difficult to address” (Berlan 1088). On top of that, arguments have been made that the reason why the attempts to address this issue haven’t been effective is due to the fact that children have different rights in cocoa-producing communities that make it difficult to take action and solve the problem altogether (Berlan 1088).

When striving to satisfy chocolate cravings in a conscious way, there are already a handful of companies on their way to helping us on this journey: Theo Chocolate, Taza Chocolate, eatingEVOLVED, Alter Eco, and Sweetriot to name a few. However, I would like to discuss two companies in depth: Taza Chocolate and Alter Eco.

Taza Chocolate

Not only is Taza Chocolate produced right next door in Somerville, MA, but the company is really diving in and striving to solve the ethical issues around child labor, workers’ rights, and transparency throughout their bean-to-bar process. They created the chocolate industry’s “first third-party certified Direct Trade cacao sourcing program, to ensure quality and transparency for all. We have real, face-to-face relationships with partners who respect the environment and fair labor practices. They provide us with the best organic cacao, and we pay them prices significantly higher than Fair Trade. In fact, you can see exactly what we pay them, right here in our 2018 Annual Cacao Sourcing Transparency Report” (Taza Transparency Report 2018). This is the information that every chocolate company should be required to produce and deliver to the public.

Photo from Taza Wesbite — 2018 Taza Transparency Report — delivering data to the public regarding the exact amount they pay their “partners.”

On the website, they explicitly explain their commitment to quality, Fair Trade prices, and openness to address issues throughout the supply chain. “Our commitment to cacao quality and ethical trade is matched only by our belief in transparency. In 2012, Taza published the industry’s first Transparency Report and reported the higher-than-Fair Trade prices we pay our partners as part of our Direct Trade program. We do the same every year, and in 2016, we upped the ante again when we published farm level pricing and tackled tough issues of value and fairness in the supply chain. We don’t claim to have all the answers, but we aren’t afraid to ask hard questions around what it takes to be seriously good and fair for all and to share what we learn with others” (Taza 2019).  It’s so important to increase awareness about companies such as Taza because they truly lead by example by showcasing their strong values and great mission statement. Their transparency is incredible, and the best part is that they are ready and willing to share their information with others and inspire them to take action.

This video from YouTube describes Taza’s values and Stone Ground Organic Chocolate production

By practicing Direct and Fair Trade, developing real relationships with the human beings behind the harvesting, and sourcing from Middle and Latin America, Taza not only ensures high-quality ingredients but also shortens the supply chain, and therefore eliminates slave-labor from their production process. Taza is a company I am proud to support.

Alter Eco

Alter Eco is more than just another delicious chocolate company, it’s a company on a mission to promote “activism through food” (Alter Eco 2019), by producing Fair Trade, organic chocolate, while also improving the lives of the cocoa farmers and using environmentally friendly packaging. And, it’s free of preservatives, palm kernel oil, and soy. Talk about the perfect opportunity for conscious consuming! By creating and sustaining this full-circle approach, Alter Eco is changing the chocolate game as we know it. “Our products and packaging have evolved over time, but our values continue to guide every step forward. Together with our farmers, employees, investors, and customers, we’re taking an adventure through food, and creating a vision of the future that’s fair, prosperous, healthy and mouth-watering. Though we can’t all break bread at the same table, we like to think that every time we crack open a bag or bar of Alter Eco here in the States, we’re sharing a nourishing moment with Maria in Peru, Gustavo in Bolivia, Grover in Ecuador – and you” (Alter Eco 2019). I love the sense of community, equality, and inclusivity that Alter Eco embodies.

Photo from Taza Website — This is co-founder Ed, digging into a cacao pod during a meeting with cacao farmers in Peru in 2009

Medical Care — Alter Eco strives to create a healthy, and enjoyable, environment for their employees which includes providing the benefits and resources they deserve. For example, Alter Eco’s Fair Trade Funding goes towards member training, improved facilities (new kitchen stoves, etc.), medical exams, education advancement, financial loans, and reforestation. Because most of the farming communities are located in remote areas that can be difficult to access, medical funding is provided to ensure that farmers and their families are receiving the care they need and deserve. The medical funding includes Cholesterol, Triglycerides, and blood pressure analysis, as well as female wellness exams to prevent cervical cancer (Taza 2019).

Photo from Taza Website — One of the members of the farming community receiving medical care

Education and Training — Having the opportunity to receive an education is so important, and not having that opportunity is absolutely unacceptable. In one of the required readings this semester, I read about a lot of instances in which children were unable to receive a formal education. For example, “One man, who was kept out of school to work for his father, told me: ‘Being illiterate, people wouldn’t give me a chance; I feel like I am missing a lot’” (Ryan 46). Improving education through member training is also a priority at Alter Eco, so Fair Trade funding also offers workshops and training sessions that cover subjects such as agricultural practices, biodiverse crop formations, organic compost and agricultural practices, quality control, and even talking to parents about the importance of providing their kids with the proper education. Entrepreneurial ideas are supported and encouraged as well.

Photo from Taza Wesbite — Training provided by Fair Trade Funding

There is still a long way to go when it comes to solving the inequality, unethical labor standards, and inhumane working conditions in the chocolate industry today. Although, as demonstrated by the examples above, there are already a few companies striving to make a positive difference by shortening the supply chain, implementing Fair Trade and Direct Trade practices, and using that funding to better the lives of the farmers and their families. From now on, I will do my best to do my research before purchasing chocolate as well as food in general, so that I can be sure my money is being used to fight for a cause I believe in. I hope you will consider doing the same. R

References:

  1. Berlan, Amanda. “Social Sustainability in Agriculture: An Anthropological Perspective on Child Labour in Cocoa Production in Ghana.” 2013.
  2. Granit, Maya. “Opinion: Getting to Know the Chocolate Supply Chain.” Devex, 6 Oct. 2017, www.devex.com/news/opinion-getting-to-know-the-chocolate-supply-chain-91182. Retrieved May 3, 2019
  3. Off, Carol. Bitter Chocolate: The Dark Side of the World’s Most Seductive Sweet. The New Press, 2008.
  4. Ryan, Órla. Chocolate Nations: Living and Dying for Cocoa in West Africa. Zed Books, 2011.
  5. Satre, Lowell. Chocolate on Trial: Slavery, Politics, and the Ethics of Business. Athens: Ohio University Press. (2005).
  6. Taza Website: Taza Chocolate. (2018). 2018 Annual Cacao Sourcing Transparency Report. Taza Chocolate Website. [Online image]. Retrieved May 3, 2019 from https://www.tazachocolate.com/pages/2018-transparency-report

Media Sources:

  1. Grommet, The. “TAZA – Stone Ground Organic Chocolate.” YouTube, YouTube, 2 Nov. 2012, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sClYF2PB9nY.
  2. http://jeromepowers.com/wp/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/Cocoa-Child-Laborer.jpg Image from: “Jérôme Powers Blog.” Jérôme Powers Blog | Jérôme Powers, jeromepowers.com/wp/.
  3. “Our Story.” Alter Eco, http://www.alterecofoods.com/pages/our-story.
  4. Posts, Blog. “You’re Not Only Buying Chocolate, You’re Supporting Communities around the World.” Alter Eco, Alter Eco, 10 Oct. 2017, http://www.alterecofoods.com/blogs/blog/youre-not-only-buying-chocolate-youre-supporting-communities-around-the-world.
  5. Taza chocolate transparency report photo: Taza Chocolate. (2018). 2018 Annual Cacao Sourcing Transparency Report. Taza Chocolate Website. [Online image]. Retrieved May 3, 2019 from https://www.tazachocolate.com/pages/2018-transparency-report

The Rise of Roshen

If you grew up in the United States, you are probably very familiar with Hershey chocolate. Holding a 44% market share of all chocolate in the US, Hershey is the go-to brand for most Americans for anything chocolate related [1]. However, this is very different in Ukraine and much of Eastern Europe, where Hershey’s is practically unheard of and much of the confectionary market is dominated by a brand that most of us haven’t even heard of: Roshen. Currently Roshen is a household name in Ukraine, being the go-to brand for chocolate, candy, and even cakes, with an estimated annual revenue of one billion dollars, making up about 1 percent of Ukraine’s GDP [2]. In addition to its cultural relevance, the company has also had significant political presence in Ukraine, with its founder, Petro Poroshenko, currently serving as the Ukrainian president.

To understand how Roshen managed to acquire so much influence and become the confectionary powerhouse it is today, we must explore its history and how it was established. A unique attribute to the Roshen corporation is that unlike most other chocolate companies, it wasn’t built from the ground up, but rather established as a unification of various chocolate factories, each with its own unique history. The largest and most significant factories of the Roshen company are the Kyiv Confectionary Factory located near Ukraine’s capital, and the Vinnitsa Confectionary Factory [3].

The Kyiv factory was originally opened in 1886 by Valentin Yefimov and was named after Karl Marx by soviet authorities in 1923 to celebrate his 105th anniversary. Around the same time the production volume exceeded 700 tons per year, and the factory relocated to a sugar factory, which allowed it to reach a production of 32,800 tons per year by 1940. Notably, around 1950, the then called Karl Marx Confectionary Factory began producing Kyiv Cake, made of airy layers of meringue with cashew, chocolate glaze, and buttercream filling. The cake has since remained as one of the symbols of Kyiv city, and continues to be popular in many post-soviet states [4]. Throughout the existence of the Soviet Union the factory was government-controlled, and it continued to be state-owned shortly after its collapse in 1991.

The Vinnitsa branch of Roshen also has a unique history and specialization. The factory was first formed when the Vinnitsa city counsel decided to establish a confectionary factory on the site of a former brewery. The range of sweets was originally limited, with only sugar-coated caramel, gingerbread, candy dots and biscuits available, however the assortment gradually expanded. Unfortunately, the factory was destroyed during World War II, and had to be rebuilt, with new buildings being added in the 1960’s. By 1980 the factory was considered among the five most powerful enterprises in the USSR [5].

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Kyiv and Vinnitsa factories, along with various others, were sold to the Ukrprominvest group, headed by Petro Poroshenko. These factories were soon combined by Poroshenko to form the Roshen group in 1996, earning him the nickname “Chocolate King” [6].

For the unification of the original four factories, the Ukrprominvest group began by taking control of all factory activities, from production and sourcing of raw ingredients, to sales and distribution. The group established a unified quality standard that would be used in all four factories and consistent requirements for the finished products were put in place. Unfortunately, the products from the four factories were still not associated with one manufacturer, so the company would have to find a way to establish itself as an identifiable national Ukrainian brand.

In the year 2000, the Roshen group decided to establish Roshen as a brand to make consumers associate products from their factories with one producer. Interestingly, the Bureau of Marketing Technologies questioned the foreign sounding brand name, as Roshen was not a Ukrainian sounding word, and the group justified the choice by identifying plans for creating an international confectionary brand to later expand to foreign markets. Eventually the brand was approved, and the company began active advertising for the Roshen brand in 2002 [7]. During the time of the changes in name and style, the company also updated most of the equipment at their four factories, establishing a more modern manufacturing process that would allow them to meet increasing demands and standards [8].

The company later attempted to establish corporate legends about the name “Roshen”, spreading stories about a god of sweets with the same name in some ancient mythologies, or a count who was particularly fond of sweets, but none of these stories stuck with consumers. It is believed that the name is derived from the name of the owner of the corporation, Petro Poroshenko, by taking the middle two syllables of his last name. However, Poroshenko was not just responsible for the name of the company, with much of the brand’s success having been due to his management skills and resources.

Petro Poroshenko was born in the Soviet Union in 1965 to a mother who was a teacher at a technical school and a father who was an engineer and later managed multiple factories under Soviet rule. Poroshenko graduated Kiev State University in 1989 with a degree in economics after having founded a legal advisory firm mediating contract negotiations in foreign trade. Upon graduation he undertook negotiations himself, starting to supply cocoa beans to the Soviet chocolate industry in 1991, while also serving as the deputy director of the Republic Union of Small Businesses [9]. Prior to Poroshenko’s foreign trade negotiations, good chocolate was hard to come by in Soviet states, so once he established a trade route for chocolate companies the demand for chocolate increased greatly [10]. Through his experience with the cocoa trade, Poroshenko also became acquainted with the confectionary market, and later headed the acquisition and unification of a Ukrainian national brand, seeing a huge potential for a sweets company following the end of the Soviet Union.

After establishing the Roshen group and acquiring various other holdings, Poroshenko went start a political career in the ranks of the Social Democratic Party of Ukraine. He later left and formed his own party called the Solidarity Party of Ukraine, which had a center-left political agenda, and soon joined the emerging Party for the Regional Renaissance Solidarity of Labour, or Party of Regions. At this time Poroshenko developed his political base in the Vinnitsia region, the location of the largest Roshen factory, and eventually left the Party of Regions for his previous party.

At the end of 2001 Poroshenko was chief of staff for Viktor Yushchenko and the main sponsor of his campaign. During this time, tax inspectors launched an attack on his businesses as a result of the campaign, however UkrProminvest and its holding Roshen managed to survive until Yuschenko came to power. During Yuschenko’s presidency, Poroshenko was one of his closest associates, counteracting the influence of nationalist right-wing politicians in his inner circle.

Following his role during the Yuschenko presidency, Poroshenko served various other roles, notably as the Secretary of the National Security and Defense Counsel, and as the foreign minister in the Yanukovich government [9].

In 2014 Ukraine experienced the Euromaidan Revolution, in which a series of violent events culminated in the ousting of pro-Russian Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich and the overthrow of the Ukrainian government. Yanukovich had previously promised to enter an association agreement with the European Union, which would have provided Ukraine with loans in return for liberalizing reforms, however he ultimately decided not to sign it. This sparked a wave of protests which soon became violent, resulting in the deaths of almost 130 people, causing Yanukovich to be relieved of his duty in a 380-to-0 vote [11].

The center of Kyiv before and during the Ukrainian revolution [19]

During the years leading up to the revolution, Roshen managed to gain significant popularity and support through various social initiatives, boosting Poroshenko’s political backing as well. This included a Roshen founded initiative for the repair and construction of playgrounds, reconstruction of a historic theater, and later the development of the Cherkasy Zoo. Roshen also provided consistent support towards the protection of Ukraine’s sovereignty by dedicating resources for caring for wounded Ukrainian fighters, along with supporting orphans from the violent area. Additionally, Roshen provided around 100 million dollars’ worth of assistance to armed forces involved in the post-revolutionary conflict, helping buy cars, body armor and other military equipment to support the cause [10].

However, Roshen has also had its fair share of political controversies over the years. In May of 2012, Roshen changed the Ukrainian-language inscriptions on candy wrappers into Russian, triggering heated discussion and even protests as a result of Ukraine’s attempts at establishing independence from Russia [13]. The president of the corporation explained that the action was done out of necessity for the company’s survival in foreign markets, however Poroshenko convinced the managers that “Ukrainian goods in the Ukrainian market should be Ukrainian”, further establishing his political stance on Ukrainian sovereignty [14].

Following the Ukrainian revolution and formation of an interim government led by Arseniy Yatsenyuk, Petro Poroshenko won an unscheduled presidential election in a landslide [15]. During his bid for presidency, Poroshenko had announced that he plans to sell the Roshen company if he is elected in response to concerns over his potential diversion of attention and concern towards his enterprise. Poroshenko later appeared to make efforts to sell the business but claimed that he could no longer sell the company since the assets were frozen by a court investigating one of the company’s factories.

Leading up to the Ukrainian revolution, Russia banned Roshen’s chocolate for alleged quality and safety violations, including a claim that the candy contained benzopyrene, a potentially carcinogenic additive. Roshen rejected the allegations, claiming that neither Russia nor Ukraine have regulations against the additive, which is found in many burnt food products such as dark-roasted coffee. Russia also stated that the chocolate had inadequate fat content as well as problems with taste and smell. Poroshenko claims the ban on Roshen candy is due to his support of Ukraine’s alignment with the EU, which Russia strongly opposes. Russian authorities later took further actions against Roshen, closing a Roshen factory in the Russian city of Lipetsk after a court found the company guilty of trademark violations, leading to Poroshenko’s inability to sell after his nomination [16]. Following the sanctions, Roshen took a significant hit in sales as a result of its loss of presence in the Russian market and its Russian-based factory [18].

Following Poroshenko’s presidency, the president ran to stay in office and ended up losing to comedian Volodymyr Zelensky, with concerns over Poroshenko’s refusal to sell Roshen playing a significant role in the election. While Poroshenko’s political ambitions may have reached a peak, Roshen continues to thrive, with aspirations to expand into more of the eastern European market, where it is considered a premium brand. In the process of perusing their goals for international expansion in Europe, Roshen recently acquired Hungarian firm Bonbonetti, and is planning to continue growing its current 4.2% market share of the Eastern European confectionary market [17].

The Eastern European chocolate scene is particularly interesting because by many standards it lacks behind the western market, with experts pointing out that lower quality bulk cocoa beans are often used, giving a flatter, less nuanced taste. Some experts also claim that the beans are often over-roasted to hide deficiencies, and that such methods have been used for most of the industry’s lifespan in the region, causing many to become accustomed to it and expect the flavor in chocolate that they taste [18].

Overall, Roshen and its founder have had an interesting and exciting history over the past two decades, having grown to dominate the chocolate industry in the region, and playing a role in the political and social climate of its country. Roshen continues to hold the title of the Hershey’s of Ukraine, creating attractions for kids and a friendly environment associated with its sweets. We will likely see much more of Roshen in coming years, with developments in their chocolate as well as the chocolate of the whole of Eastern Europe as the industry matures, and welcomes innovations in taste, texture and ingredients.

Roshen’s flagship store in the center of Kyiv [18]

Citations:

  1. [Scholarly] ECONOMICS OF CHOCOLATE. OXFORD UNIV Press, 2019.
  2. [Multimedia] “2017 Global Top 100: Part 4 | Candy Industry.” Candy Industry RSS, www.candyindustry.com/2017-Global-Top-100-Part-4.
  3. [Multimedia] “Factories and Plants.” Factories and Plants, roshen.com/en/en/about-roshen/factories-and-plants.
  4. [Multimedia] History of the Famous Kyiv Cake – Destinations.com.ua. destinations.com.ua/fine-dining/history-of-the-famous-kyiv-cake
  5. [Scholarly] Kaflevska, Svitlana, and Oleksandra Lysiuk. “The Current State Of Development Of Agricultural Enterprises Of Vinnytsya Region.” Economic System Development Trends: the Experience of Countries of Eastern Europe and Prospects of Ukraine, 2018, doi:10.30525/978-9934-571-28-2_17.
  6. [Scholarly] Tadeusz A. Olszański; Agata Wierzbowska-Miazga (28 May 2014). “Poroshenko, President of Ukraine”. OSW, Poland. Archived from the original on 8 March 2016. Retrieved 10 March 2016.
  7. [Multimedia] Brandpedia – история брендов и шедевры рекламы. “История Бренда ROSHEN (Рошен).” Brandpedia, http://www.brandpedia.ru/brand-972.html.https://www.next-brands.com/roshen/
  8. [Scholarly] Diuk, Nadia. “The Maidan and Beyond: Finding Ukraine.” Journal of Democracy, vol. 25 no. 3, 2014, pp. 83-89. Project MUSEdoi:10.1353/jod.2014.0041
  9. [Multimedia] Freeman, Colin. “Petro Poroshenko, the Billionaire Chocolate Baron Hoping to Become Ukraine’s next President.” The Telegraph, Telegraph Media Group, 29 Mar. 2014, www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/ukraine/10731848/Petro-Poroshenko-the-billionaire-chocolate-baron-hoping-to-become-Ukraines-next-president.html.
  10. [Multimedia] “Ukraine MPs vote to oust president”. 22 February 2014. Retrieved 24 March 2019.
  11. [Multimedia] Poroshenko bought and transferred 100 sniper complexes to the 3rd Regiment of Special Operations Forces . http://www.ukrmilitary.com . Quoted from 2017-10-29 .
  12. [Multimedia] Gazeta.ua. “Українці Відмовляються Купувати Солодощі ‘Рошен’ з Російськомовними Написами.” Gazeta.ua, 29 Jan. 2014, gazeta.ua/articles/life/_ukrayinci-vidmovlyayutsya-kupuvati-solodoschi-roshen-z-rosijskomovnimi-napisami/467974.
  13. [Multimedia] “Порошенко Повернув На Свої Цукерки Українську Мову.” Pravda.com.ua, 25 Nov. 2012, http://www.pravda.com.ua/news/2012/11/25/6978131/.
  14. [Multimedia] Damien McElroy (23 February 2014). “Ukraine revolution: live – Ukraine’s president has disappeared as world awakes to the aftermath of a revolution”The Daily Telegraph.
  15. [Multimedia] Flintoff, Corey. “Why Chocolate Is A Bargaining Chip In The Ukraine-Russia Conflict.” NPR, NPR, 8 Apr. 2014, www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2014/04/08/300265710/why-chocolate-is-a-bargaining-chip-in-the-ukraine-russia-conflict.
  16. [Multimedia] Nieburg, Oliver. “Roshen Acquires Hungarian Firm Bonbonetti.” Confectionerynews.com, William Reed Business Media Ltd., 13 Nov. 2012, www.confectionerynews.com/Article/2012/11/13/Roshen-acquires-Bonbonetti.
  17. [Scholarly] Lubos, Smutka, et al. “Agrarian Import Ban and Its Impact on the Russian and European Union Agrarian Trade Performance.” Agricultural Economics (Zemědělská Ekonomika), vol. 62, no. No. 11, 2016, pp. 493–506., doi:10.17221/294/2015-agricecon.
  18. [Multimedia] “In the Center of Kiev Set Fire to the Store Roshen.” 24, 24-my.info/in-the-center-of-kiev-set-fire-to-the-store-roshen-5/.
  19. [Multimedia] MsTriaI. “Ukrainian Revolution Turning Incredibly Sour.” Medium, Medium, 11 Sept. 2017, medium.com/@chillinois/ukrainian-revolution-turning-incredibly-sour-6cc15275efba.

Chocolate as an Aphrodisiac: A Historical Analysis

Dating back to the earliest known origins of chocolate—or rather its characteristic ingredient, cacao—this extraordinary substance has consistently been associated with socially intimate and aphrodisiacal properties. The particular manifestation of these aphrodisiacal properties, however, and how they have taken shape over time tells an interesting story of the power of media and advertising. Much of this early knowledge is situated around the ritual practices and mythology of the Maya civilization in the pre-Columbian period, during which cacao was heavily featured and revered in the context of fertility and marriage rites. In the Popol Vuh, the sacred book of the Quiché Maya documenting Mayan mythology, “when the gods were creating humans in their final form,” cacao was among the “foods which were to form their bodies” (Coe & Coe 39). This notion of cacao playing a role in the creation of human life is a recurring theme in surviving remnants of Mayan society, bringing to mind a clear connection with procreation and fertility. In much the same way, archeological/anthropological research has indicated the “widespread, perhaps even pan-Maya, use of chocolate in betrothal and marriage ceremonies” (Coe & Coe 60). Similar beliefs and rituals held true for Mixtec and Aztec societies, as we can see in this detail from the Codex Nuttall (Mixtec book) displayed below, or in the Aztec poem that refers to “‘flowering chocolate’ [as] a metaphor for luxuriousness and sensuality” (Coe & Coe 104).

Picture6.jpg
Figure 1: This image shows an exchange of a frothy cup of chocolate from the bride, Lady Thirteen Serpent, to the Mixtec King, Lord Eight Deer (1051 BCE) (Coe & Coe 97)

Even more explicit, is the account of Spanish conquistador, Bernal Díaz de Castillo, upon attending a lavish Aztec banquet in which he writes about the emperor, including that “ they brought him some cups of fine gold, with a certain drink made of cacao, which they said was for success with women” (Coe & Coe 96). While this certainly speaks to the Spanish conquistadors’ beliefs and interpretations of cacao, whether there is any actual truth to this testimony is unsubstantiated. However this did not stop the notion of cacao as a sexual stimulant from spreading throughout Europe after it was first introduced in Spain. Almost a century after for instance, Dr. Henry Stubbes (1632-72), a prominent English authority on chocolate, was “convinced, as were most of his contemporaries in England and on the Continent, that chocolate was an aphrodisiac” (Coe & Coe 171).

If we fast forward to the 19th and early 20th centuries, these themes associated with chocolate seem to not only persist, but become ever-more present. This is likely the consequence of two key changes in the chocolate industry, the first being Dutch chemist Coenraad Johannes van Houten’s 1828 invention of the hydraulic press, which allowed for the production of chocolate in solid form. The second shift lies in the industrialization of food, which gave way to mass production and, by extension, lower food costs, resulting in the democratization of chocolate (Coe & Coe 234-235). Considering its history as a substance once only available to the elite and wealthy upper echelons of society, this new potential for chocolate to be available and affordable to the masses meant immense economic opportunity—cue mass marketing. Chocolate advertising in its earlier days often featured women providing chocolate to their families, as the ideal wife and mother—roles which were both, at the time, at the forefront of any socially accepted notion of female identity. Kids were also considerably featured in these ads, thus by placing chocolate at the nucleus of the family bond, we are reminded of the original role cacao played in marriage and fertility for the Maya.

Figure 2: Nestle poster, c. 1898 – A mother, depicted in accordance with the beauty ideals of the time, is with her kids in nature, which advances the wholesome, natural image of milk chocolate
Figure 3: Post-war Rowntree’s Cocoa ad; acts as a clear representation of the role & expectations of women

In a similar vein, ads in which chocolate is the embodiment of romance soon seem to take center stage—at least for those ads targeted toward males (which speaks to a whole other dimension on the gendering of foods, but I’ll leave that for another discussion). While this notion of chocolate is clearly linked to aphrodisia, it is also convenient for business when it comes to special occasions centered around love and affection, such as Valentine’s Day and anniversaries.

Figure 4

Figure 5

As is hinted at in the ads above, this idea of chocolate as the perfect gift for a girlfriend or wife goes beyond its supposed inherent powers of attraction, to suggest that it’s so irresistible that it could win over any woman. The implication here being that simply a box of chocolates can render a woman so feeble-minded and lacking control over her desires that it removes any sexual resistance. This, again, plays into sexist stereotypes of women as mindless, emotional, pretty, sweet objects, lacking any intelligence, authority, or confidence.

While it would be nice to think this sort of messaging has subsided in recent years, the truth of the matter is that this pattern of perpetuating socially prescribed feminine ideals and stereotypes, particularly in relation to romance and desire is still common practice, only less overtly sexist. A prime example of this is for an Axe commercial in which women uncontrollably lust over a man who, upon spraying Axe Dark Temptation, turns into a walking, talking piece of chocolate. Despite being cloaked in a veil of humor, this message here is no different from that found in earlier advertising.

In a similar vein, while society has changed over time to embrace more progressive values, namely freedom of sexual expression and independence, it’s interesting to see how chocolate advertising has used this to make even more explicit the connection between chocolate, desire, and pleasure—all the while often maintaining their use of female stereotypes and ideals, which only works to delay or set back feminist efforts. That is, women are sexualized, objectified, and interlaced with sexual innuendo in such ads where there is an apparent attempt to blur the lines between chocolate and sex. Oftentimes these advertisements are targeted towards women as a way of “encouraging self indulgence for a food that provides feelings equated to sex and love” (Fahim 7).

It’s quite interesting, or perhaps more than that, it’s rather informative of the power that lies in the hands of media and marketing to perpetuate a notion with little to no basis in fact, as evidenced by numerous studies debunking any real effect of chocolate on libido or as an aphrodisiac (Shamloul 2010, Brent 2018), yet remains at the core—in some way, shape, or form, of chocolate marketing strategy.

In analyzing the way these advertisements have marketed chocolate, we can see the progress of the way society views the female role. In the earlier times, we see how the importance of women in society is closely intertwined with reproduction as well as the simple-minded housewife trope, which was quite clearly reflected in the messaging of chocolate at the time. And, subsequently, as women’s expression of sexuality in media becomes more commonplace, the importance and relevance of chocolate in society comes in large part from overt and subtle references to its purported (yet unsubstantiated) supernatural or aphrodisiacs properties. Specifically, it aims to encourage “ self indulgence for a food that provides feelings equated to sex and love.

All that being said, while this current theme of hypersexuality, desire, and indulgence is unlikely to subside any time soon (especially considering it’s persisted over thousands of years), it will be interesting to see how and if the portrayal of women in ads related to chocolate will change in this new wave of female empowerment as a marketing strategy (e.g. the new Nike and Gillette ads), which still have their issues but show an overall positive progression towards gender equality.

Works-Cited & Sources:

Brent A. Bauer, M.D. “Do Natural Aphrodisiacs Actually Work?” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 8 Mar. 2018, http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/sexual-health/expert-answers/natural-aphrodisiacs/faq-20058252.

Fahim, Jamal, “Beyond Cravings: Gender and Class Desires in Chocolate Marketing” (2010). Sociology Student Scholarship. http://scholar.oxy.edu/sociology_student/3

French, Michael. “Modernity in British Advertising: Selling Cocoa and Chocolate in the 1930s.” Journal of Historical Research in Marketing, vol. 9, no. 4, 2017, pp. 451-466. ProQuest, http://search.proquest.com.ezp-prod1.hul.harvard.edu/docview/1973450713?accountid=11311, doi:http://dx.doi.org.ezp-prod1.hul.harvard.edu/10.1108/JHRM-05-2017-0015.

Robertson, Emma. Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 2009.

Shamloul, Rany. “Natural Aphrodisiacs.” The Journal of Sexual Medicine, vol. 7, no. 1, 2010, pp. 39–49., doi:10.1111/j.1743-6109.2009.01521.x.

Multimedia Sources:

http://www.historyworld.co.uk/retroimage.php?opt=retro&pic=123

http://www.atticpaper.com/proddetail.php?prod=1954-whitmans-chocolates-ad-valentines-day

https://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/business/cocoa-kings_the-pioneers-of-switzerland-s–chocolate-revolution-/43592024

https://blog.retroplanet.com/vintage-whitmans-valentines-day-ads/


The Development of Chocolate as an Industrialized Food

Anywhere you go in the world, you can find people enjoying various brands of chocolate with a smile on their face. With chocolate being so widely consumed, nobody ever thinks about how a market was actually born from the universal enjoyment of chocolate. It originated in the Pre-Columbian times as a ritualistic treat for Mesoamericans. Chocolate was not as sweet back then, but they nonetheless added sweeteners to try to improve the taste. Nowadays, much more complex ingredients are used to obtain the sweet, rich, and creamy goodness that is chocolate. Chocolate can be found in grocery stores and homes all over the world; it’s so commonly seen that if you went to a check out line in any store and they weren’t selling chocolate bars, you might actually question the legitimacy of their business. For as long as many of us have been alive, chocolate has been bought and sold abroad but it wasn’t always so widely industrialized.

Chocolate first arrived in Spain in the early 16thcentury. It took some time to become widely accepted, as many Spaniards were initially skeptical of the foreign, bitter drink (Norton 2004). Eventually, acceptance of chocolate became widespread in Spain as the Spanish royal court began to develop a growing taste for it and certified it as an elite delicacy. From then on, all of Europe had a different respect and interest for chocolate.

Until 1828 when a technique was developed to separate cocoa butter from cacao solids, chocolate was something you could only drink. Casparus van Houten created the cocoa press method and his son, a Dutch Chemist by the name of Conraad Johannes van Houten, perfected it. In an attempt to make chocolate more soluble, Houten was able to effectively separate the cacao butter from cacao solids by adding alkaline salt. This would make it so that chocolate could be made in the home fairly easily and therefore would be more accessible to the common man. With the invention of the cocoa press method, chocolate became more than something you could just drink; people were for the first time able to eat it as a snack (Cox 1993). Chocolate as a solid bar caught the attention of the entire continent and eventually became more prevalent than its previously enjoyed liquid form. The chocolate that results from the cocoa press method is now referred to as Dutch-Process cocoa. Dutch-Process cocoa is one of the standard ingredients in most of the chocolate we consume today.

With the European chocolate industry growing rapidly throughout the 19th century, people continued to try to find new ways to optimize the taste of it and make it more marketable. In 1875, Daniel Peter and Henri Nestle invented milk chocolate by blending milk with chocolate. Milk chocolate boomed in Europe, but the growing market for chocolate was increasingly more crowded. As more and more people got into the market and tried to develop better chocolate than their competitors, the quality of chocolate inevitably improved. With inventions like the conching machine in 1879 by Rodolphe Lindt, the texture of chocolate became much smoother and was able to be made much faster, pushing further industrialization. In order to attack a new market that had never seen the type of chocolate they specialized in, Peter and Nestle brought their product to America and created Nestle’s Chocolate Company in 1905. From the invention of milk chocolate and the introduction of it to the American market sprung the industry we are most familiar with today. Major chocolate companies today would not be so profitable if it weren’t for Daniel Peter and Henri Nestle.

Since 1905, a few (and I do mean a few) other companies have also gotten in on the mega-market that the sale of chocolate has grown to produce. The top companies that make close to all of the brands of chocolate sold around the world are Nestle (who is till the biggest company), Cadbury, and Mars. These companies drive what has turned into an ever-growing market that we all are guilty of contributing to on a regular basis.

Chocolate has come a long way from the time when it was first consumed on Earth to the much more marketed chocolate we are familiar with today. It went from being a hand made commodity to being produced through a much more mechanized process and from being consumed in one particular part of the world to being consumed worldwide. Chocolate is and will always be a part of our lives, as our love for it seems that it will never fade. Hopefully this Food of the Gods, as it was once regarded (Presilla 2009), will be waiting for us in the afterlife.

Works Cited

Cox, Helen. 1993. “The Deterioration and Conservation of Chocolate from Museum Collections”. Studies in Conservation, vol. 38, no. 4.

Norton, Marcy. 2004. “Conquests of Chocolate”. OAH Magazine of History, vol. 18, no. 3.

Presilla, Maricel. 2009. The New Taste of Chocolate, Revised: A Cultural & Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press.

The Movement of Cacao and its Contributions to Today’s Contradictory Chocolate Culture

Chocolate. Convenient, but luxurious. Heartwarming, yet harmful to health. Innocently childish, but sinfully sexual. Rich and elite, yet somehow democratized. The cultural impact and social connotations of chocolate are about as diverse and confounding as the chemical makeup of the cacao beans themselves. Metaphorically and physically, it seems as if chocolate can take on any form we impose on it. It has no strict definition, so it either contributes to the confusing complexity of our culture today or is oversimplified through the imposition of a specific but incomplete structure. One might wonder how and why chocolate, specifically, so profoundly developed these odd cultural characteristics in the Western world.

The development of the role of chocolate in society today ties fundamentally back to the effect of the spread of chocolate from its Mesoamerican home to Europe, when the functionality of chocolate shifted and developed into what we know today. Whereas all aspects of chocolate production and consumption were intertwined and fundamentally connected in Mesoamerican society, its spread to Europe caused an irreversible disconnect between all stages of the chocolate experience. Chocolate no longer served as a reflection of or connection to humanity and society. Instead, it took on an exotic quality, able to be molded into the desires of the person.  It became a social construct and developed a standardized, homogenous cultural trap for Westerners, both fulfilling and now defining their own desires rather than reflecting it.

In Mesoamerican society, where cacao was first cultivated and consumed, cacao served as a pillar of the social, cultural, and religious structures and was as a crucial reflection of the state of society as a whole (Coe 17, 39-40). Mesoamerican people, specifically the Aztec and Maya, integrated cacao into every portion of their life and were connected to cacao and chocolate at every stage of its harvesting, consumption, or use otherwise. Cacao served as a currency, a luxury food for the elite, a powerful source of energy for warriors, a symbol of religious significance, and a deep and meaningful connection to the significance and origins of life (Leissle 30-32). All members of society were aware of its role at every stage of development and consumption and felt a personal stake in maintaining and cherishing the importance of the cacao plant. Each person’s life was intrinsically connected to that of the cacao plant (Coe 41-42). Cacao reinforced the social structure, the culture, and the way of life, and consequently also reflected it.

However, cacao’s connection to European societies was intrinsically different. Europeans were introduced to cacao with prejudice, with a mindset already in place that would forever change the way that they interact with the plant. Their goals in traveling to the Americas were to find cures and remedies for all that seemed to be plaguing their own societies. They were looking for sources of wealth, medicine, romance, and more (Coe 96).  And with such a strong, desperate desire to find these things, they ended up fabricating them out of whatever they found, especially cacao. The first Europeans to “discover” cacao already had a destiny planned out for cacao before even setting eyes on it, and this destiny was what they brought back to their home.

What does this mean for the contribution of cacao and chocolate to Europe’s culture? Clearly, since the very beginning, chocolate served as a mode of fabricating a reality that fit the wishes and desires of Europeans. It served as an exotic, luxurious drink of the elite (Leissle 35-36). It served as a medicine, a cure-all for the various ailments that plagued European society (Coe 126-129). It was simultaneously sexualized (Coe 171) for adults and later purified for children. It was politically, religiously, and medically debated (Leissle 35). Chocolate could be anything and everything. Since Europeans felt no historical, traditional, or other connection to cacao, they had complete discretion over the role it played in their own lives. As this power fell into the hands of millions of Europeans, the role of cacao was suddenly no longer well-defined. Chocolate became a little bit of everything, but it thus fell victim to not truly being much of anything. Because of this, it escapes specific categorizations and is associated with general contradicting characteristics (sensuality, wealth, luxury, innocence, etc.). Take, for example, a Ferrero Rocher advertisement, displaying chocolate as a luxury for the wealthy (Ferrero Rocher). Another advertisement, released by Sainsbury, depicts quite the opposite scenario where chocolate is meant to warm the hearts of the jaded common men fighting in WWI (Sainsbury’s).

Ferrero Rocher Commercial: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jld1rpsrtSI

Sainsbury Commercial: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NWF2JBb1bvM

Or consider, for instance, a Godiva commercial where chocolate is advertised as a highly gendered, sexualized product (Godiva Chocolates). Yet, we can quickly turn to a Cadbury commercial that ties chocolate to innocent young children and family values (Cadbury):

Godiva Commercial: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EfA1iAgPczY  

Cadbury Commercial: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l0eEqeizNCA

Curiously, as early Europeans defined cacao and chocolate culture, they were unconsciously setting themselves up to later be dominated by the same product that they once controlled. Besides its enticing flavors, the ability to fit any desire gradually made chocolate extremely popular, which transferred power back to cacao. The Western world trapped itself in a generalizing, homogenifying culture defined by chocolate’s cultural associations. Today, we see that chocolate has grown so powerful that now it defines for us the contradictory culture that we initially created for it.

One of the clearest examples of this is how cacao’s role changed in the reinforcement of class structure. In Mesoamerican society, cacao reinforced strict social dichotomies, mainly through how each class interacted with the substance (Leissle 33) (Martin and Sampeck 39-40). The chocolate drink and cacao cakes were for the nobility and warriors (Coe 33, 76, 95).  Lower classes did not consume it often (Coe 95), but they were fundamentally connected to cacao ecologically, financially (as a currency), and symbolically (Leissle 30). No matter the class, everyone was aware of every step of cacao harvesting, use, and value addition. This universal awareness of cacao’s role in society seemed to create a very transparent social structure.

When cacao moved to Europe, it took on a different way of reinforcing class structure. Cacao production was moved to far away plantations in Sao Tome, Principe, Ghana, Nigeria, Côte D’Ivoire, and more (Martin and Sampeck 49-50). Cacao stopped reflecting society or connecting cacao and humanity. We are no longer familiar with who grows it, how it is made, and how it affects us. We have trapped ourselves in a world of mirrors, where all that is visible is our final personal interaction with the product. All else is hidden behind closed doors. Europeans could define the role that chocolate played; they could show what they wanted, hide what they wanted, cherish some aspects, and spit on others. But, fragmenting cacao’s value and social impact inherently fragmented humanity as well.

It is common in this day and age to believe that ancient societies like those of the Aztec and Maya were incredibly powerful, stable, and knowledgeable. It appears as if these people held the key to life, youth, health, happiness, and more, but this is not necessarily true. The Maya and Aztec appeared successful because their lifestyle was centered around traditions and objects that dated back centuries, possibly even millenia. In contrast, with the diversity of concepts, foods, objects, and more that the Europeans had been introduced to which had no traditional or fundamental connection, they were essentially given the incredible power to decide for themselves how to incorporate each new discovery into their own society. By pure nature of the situation, as we see with cacao specifically, out of a stable and established culture grew a fluid, moldable, and complex one that has trapped Westerners in a contradictory culture that now ironically defines their roles for them.

Works Cited:

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

Cadbury. “Cadbury – Mum’s Birthday TV Advert – 2018 (60 secs).” YouTube, Cadbury, 12 Jan. 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l0eEqeizNCA.

Ferrero Rocher. “Ferrero Rocher: Christmas Greetings.” YouTube, Ferrero Rocher, 29 Nov. 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jld1rpsrtSI.

Godiva Chocolates UK. “New Godiva Masterpieces Chocolates. Chocolate Never Felt so Good.” YouTube, Godiva Chocolates UK, 3 Oct. 2017, www.youtube.com/watch?v=EfA1iAgPczY.

Leissle, Kristy. Cocoa. Polity Press, 2018.

Martin, Carla D., and Kathryn E. Sampeck. “The Bitter and Sweet of Chocolate in Europe.” Socio.hu, no. Special issue 3, 2015, pp. 37–60., doi:10.18030/socio.hu.2015en.37.

Sainsbury’s. “1914 | Sainsbury’s Ad | Christmas 2014.” YouTube, Sainsbury’s, 12 Nov. 2014, www.youtube.com/watch?v=NWF2JBb1bvM.

Why Did the Spaniards Choose Cane Sugar over Honey? Was This the Healthiest Choice?

Before the colonial encounter, Mesoamericans commonly consumed cacao as a chocolate beverage in ritualistic, medicinal, and social contexts. Ingredients, such as flowers, spices, and honey, were added to diversify the flavor of the beverage. Specifically, honey is the oldest sweetener known to man in the world, although its exact date of origin is unknown. However, humans did begin to use honey at least 10,000 years ago, as was demonstrated by a cave painting found in the early 1900s in Valencia, Spain.

Honey seeker depicted on 8000 year old cave painting at Arana Caves in Spain

This painting is at least 8,000 years old and shows a honey seeker, and in ancient times people in the Middle East, Roman Empire, and China collected honey to use as a sweetener, currency, and medicine (Nayik et al., 2014). When the Spaniards first encountered the Mesoamerican chocolate drink in the 1500s, it was too bitter for their palates and thus they relied on the principal spices or honey to consume the beverage comfortably (Coe & Coe, 2013). Although the intake of honey as food and medicine provided many nutritional and therapeutic benefits, soon after the Spaniards encountered chocolate, the Mesoamerican chocolate recipe was transformed in that cane sugar replaced honey as the sweetener. The sugar cane plant was a novelty to the Maya and the Aztecs when the Spaniards introduced and began to cultivate it in Mesoamerica after the Conquest (Coe & Coe, 2013). Honey as a sweetener could not satisfy the European sweet tooth, which was accustomed to the cane sugar that was introduced during medieval times in the western part of the Old World (Coe & Coe, 2013). In addition to the enhanced sweetness cane sugar offered, the chocolate recipe transformation occurred due to the increase in the perceived medicinal and nutritional properties and the source reliability that cane sugar also offered. In the modern context, however, this transformation may have not been for the best.

Despite honey’s ancient history, cane sugar quickly gained nutritional and medicinal popularity first among the wealthy and then most households in Europe. Cane sugar was first introduced to Europeans around 1100 AD, but it was classified as a spice rather than as a sweetener (Mintz, 1986). Around this time, cane sugar began to replace honey for medicinal purposes. Medical figures declared that cane sugar was more “soothing and solving” than honey (Mintz, 1986). Due to its perceived heightened medicinal properties, cane sugar was reserved for the wealthy while honey was delegated to poorer patients (Mintz, 1986). However, as cane sugar became more commonplace, honey became more expensive (Mintz, 1986). All around, cane sugar replaced honey, and this transformation was not limited to medicine. By the middle of the thirteenth century, cane sugar began to replace honey as a sweetener in wealthy households. Cane sugar came to replace honey in the diets of Europeans because of the perceived nutritional benefits it provided. It became a source of calories for the often undernourished working class. With the rise of coffee and tea, both of which lacked calories, cane sugar provided much-needed calories (Mintz, 1986). Also, cane sugar provided a cheaper alternative to other calorie-rich, but expensive, food items. Lastly, cane sugar was a better preservative than honey, as it contained the more effective sucrose (Mintz, 1986). Therefore, Europeans could save perishable foods, such as meats and fruits, for longer periods of time, which was also cost-effective. The perceived medicinal, nutritional, and financial benefits of sugar over honey led to the shift of honey as a sweetener to cane sugar as a sweetener, which played a part in the Spaniards altering the Mesoamerican chocolate recipe.

Another factor that influenced the shift from honey to cane sugar in Spaniards’ chocolate recipes was the source from which cane sugar is extracted compared to that of honey. Comparable to cane sugar’s source, honey’s source is variable and more biologically expensive.

Video representation of the honey production process

The video above describes the process of producing honey from the nectar of flowers via bees. Considering that a single bee must drink from thousands of flowers to fill its honey stomach, then serially transfer said nectar into the mouth of other bees before fanning their wings to create an air current that evaporates and thickens the nectar, the honey-making process is labor intensive on the part of the bees. Furthermore, for just one pound of honey, more than 10,000 bees will together fly three times around the world and drink from 8 million flowers. In contrast, the source of cane sugar is much more reliable and the biological cost is lower, as it is not an organism that must travel back and forth and rely on the movement of other organisms.

Video representation of the cane sugar manufacturing process

The video above demonstrates the cane sugar manufacturing process, starting from the sugar cane plant. This plant is a tropical grass that can grow up to 20 feet high. When sugar cane is ready for harvest, the tops of the grass are cut, and the base stocks are left behind so they can grow into the next crop. Due to this harvesting style, sugar cane is a renewable resource as it does not have to be replanted to produce a new crop. This is one benefit that cane sugar provides over honey, as bees must reproduce to continue the lines of queen bees and forager bees. After harvest, the sugar cane is transported to a mill and washed and cut into shreds. The shreds are crushed by rollers before they are placed in separators that remove the fibers and send the juice to evaporators. The resultant syrup is boiled to remove water, and then cooled before crystallization. More steps follow, but despite the complex extraction of cane sugar from the sugar cane plant, this source is more reliable than bees who are subject to climate change, infertility, and diseases. This reliability was summed up by Alexander the Great’s Admiral Nearchos around 300 BC, who referred to the sugar cane plant as “‘Indian reeds that make honey without bees’” (Nordic Sugar A/S, 2019) . Even during ancient times and without modern sugar production technology, the juice from the sugar cane plant was pressed out and boiled to produce crystallized sugar (Nordic Sugar A/S, 2019) . Since cane sugar production primarily relies on a renewable resource and man-made technology, it is more constant and not as biologically expensive as honey production, which makes cane sugar more readily available as a sweetener.

Although cane sugar was perceived as providing more medicinal benefits and nutritional benefits to the diets of Europeans than honey, research today discounts this belief. According to a study published in the Journal of Natural Resources and Life Sciences Education, since honey is denser than cane sugar, one tablespoon of honey carries more than one tablespoon of cane sugar (Anonymous, 2011). Also, honey offers some nutrients that cane sugars does not, such as antioxidants (Anonymous, 2011). Therefore, this research overrides the notion that cane sugar is medically and nutritionally superior to honey. In hindsight, replacing honey as a sweetener with cane sugar does not appear to have been the healthiest choice, as honey does provide more calories and nutrients. However, cane sugar was and still is a better preservative and its taste more enjoyable, comparable to honey.

Overall, the honey to cane sugar transformation in chocolate recipes ultimately served to sweeten the beverage at the expense of healthier consumption. Although sugar cane is a more reliable source for sweetener than flowers and bees, nowadays humans are relying on an insubstantial added sweetener. Even though honey is also an added sweetener, it is nutritiously and medically superior to cane sugar. However, cane sugar was integral to the rise in popularity of chocolate, as its sweetness and taste could not be matched by honey in the palates of Europeans.

Multimedia Sources

Hanson, Joe [It’s Okay To Be Smart]. (2016, March 28). How Do Bees Make Honey [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nZlEjDLJCmg

[Imperial Sugar]. (2015, June 9). How Cane Sugar Is Made [Video file]. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/EP_fgp7zYKk

Nayik, G., Shah, T., Muzaffar, K., Wani, S., Gull, A., Majid, I., & Bhat, F. (2014). Honey: Its history and religious significance: A review. Universal Journal of Pharmacy, 03(1), 5-8.

References

Anonymous. (2011). Honey or Sugar? Journal of Natural Resources and Life Sciences Education, 40(1), 224.

Coe, S. D. and Coe, M. D. 2013[1996]. The True History of Chocolate. 3rd edition. London: Thames & Hudson.

Mintz, S. 1986[1985]. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York: Penguin Books.

Nordic Sugar A/S. (2019). A Sweet Story. Retrieved March 8, 2019, from https://www.nordicsugar.com/know-your-sugar/natural-sweetness/a-sweet-story/

A chocolate tasting, connecting people through food

Introduction

The conquistadors may have invaded Mesoamerica in the 1500s, but chocolate has invaded the hearts and minds of individuals around the world ever since. Once a commodity meant for the royalty of England, chocolate has evolved over the centuries to become accessible by virtually everyone in the developed world, regardless of class or their geography. Although it certainly helped, this evolution wasn’t caused by the typical factors of production simply making chocolate cheaper; it was done through capitalistic marketing over the centuries, creating holidays and products, widening appeal while maintaining the idea of self-indulgence. Today, chocolate has it’s hold across industries and products unlike any other(Allen), depending on the context, its marketed as healthy yet indulgent(Howe), romantic yet for juveniles, a stimulant yet a stress reliever. Just searching twitter briefly and you will see the dynamics of the good.

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Any mention of chocolate is sure to entice happiness or excitement(Nehlig), which is exactly what happened when I offered to host a chocolate tasting to a few friends. I wanted to test people’s perception of chocolate in relation to its labeling and marketing. By using five different varieties of chocolate bars from different brands, stores, and additives, I hoped to find out what people thought of chocolates without knowing where it comes from, and if that’s different than the perception when they are aware of its branding and everything in accompany. The results were curious, and what was more interesting was the social interaction that came about it.

The Set Up

            I had 5 different chocolates, and thus 5 different note cards. In order to truly compare the affects of marketing, I had a few of my friends act as subjects partake in a half-blind tasting. For ever chocolate, half of the tasters saw the labeling or packaging the chocolate came in and the other half didn’t. Because I had 7 different chocolates, I had 7 rounds of taste testing. After every round, I had the subjects write what they thought about the chocolate, as well as provide any comments on what they tasted. Lastly, I had them rate the chocolate on a 1-5 scale with 1 being bad and 5 being extraordinarily good. I’ll make note that the subjects could best be described as “novice” in their experience with chocolate tasting and perhaps even “drunk” to describe their physical state. Nevertheless, I feel that this is irrelevant as these chocolates are marketed specifically the particular demographic of my subjects. It wouldn’t make sense to test the impact of marketing or taste if the marketing wasn’t aimed at the subjects. Each chocolate was presented similarly, and the tasters were encouraged to keep comments to themselves until after they wrote them down.  Here are the chocolates’ pictures here (Plus two more that I didn’t get to use), I took it myself.

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The Chocolates

Five chocolate bars were used, they were:

  • “The dark chocolate lover’s chocolate bar”, Smooth and fruity, From trader Joe’s, 85% cacao, Colombian
  • “Chocolove, Orange peel in Dark Chocolate”, from cardullo’s, 55%
  • “West Africa Dark Chocolate”, Neuhaus, 52%, from caudullos
  • “Potato chip”, chuao chocolatier, milk chocolate, from cardullo’s
  • Raaka Virgin chocolate with coconut milk, 60% cacao, from cardullo’s

Results

The first interesting part of the tasting was the expressed assumptions about the chocolates used. Some assumed the chocolates were of a relatively higher quality and expensive without any suggestion of such from myself. I had to make clear that most of these chocolates were bought locally and are reasonably priced in Harvard Square.

The first chocolate tasted was the “Dark Chocolate Lovers” from Trader Joes. Comments received by the blind tasters were:

  • “Distinct, fruity taste 3/5”
  • “Smells better than it tastes 3/5”
  • “Very bitter, a bit harsh 2/5”

Comments received by those who read the label were:

  • “Fruitiness coming through nicely, dark but not unpleasantly so, less than I would have expected 4/5”
  • “Dark, but smooth 4/5”

Outside the written comments, one taster asked me why in the world the producers of the chocolate bar wouldn’t add sugar with obvious disgust and disappointment in their first sample. I take this all to mean an obvious and distinct expectation when one consumes chocolate, but if warned, it can still be enjoyed, as shown by the non-blind tasters. This is important as you consider what chocolate “should” taste like to people, and also explains the subtle, yet blaringly intentional warning about the intensity of dark chocolate.

The next chocolate tasted was the one made with coconut milk, comments of the blind tasters were:

  • “I don’t like coconut 2/5”
  • “Smoother and milkier, toasted-tasting, somewhat lower acidity 3/5”
  • “Milk chocolate and solid 3.5/5”

Comments received by the non-blind tasters were:

  • “Milky and sweet 4”
  • “Milky and coconutty 4”

With such a rich coconut flavor, one’s opinion of this chocolate can very well be conditional on your opinion of coconut. It was rated poorly by members of both groups of tasters, and was merely average otherwise. Still, the comments weren’t as particularly harsh as some of the other chocolates, but was still rated as one of the worst ones. When reading the label to the non-blind tasters, they seemed excited to try a taste of it, but were seemingly left largely disappointed. I take these results to show that people will not conform tastes and preferences for what looks or sounds good. What’s emphasized in this round is that there is an extent to which people will enjoy additives to chocolate, even if they enjoy the additive on its own.

The third chocolate tasted was the West African Dark Chocolate, comments from the blind tasters were:

  • “Taste like cocoa butter 4/5”
  • “Semisweet and quite creamy 4/5”

Comments from the non-tasters were:

  • “Milkier, more palatable 3/5”
  • “I like it! But it doesn’t taste expensive 4/5”

At 52% cacao, I feel this chocolate plays to the robust, earthy taste associated with dark chocolate while satisfying the need for sweetness associated with chocolate in general. It contrasts to the first dark chocolate tasted and seemed to be more widely enjoyed. The two non-blind tests commenting on its cheap taste and greater palpability would assume a deviation from their expectations about the chocolate based off the labeling. However, this deviation was taken as a good one, evident by the high ratings. I would hypothesize that the high sugar content enabled the dark chocolate to taste smoother and sit easily on the palate, which made both groups happy.

The fourth chocolate was the bar with Orange peel, comments of the blind tasters were:

  • “Fruit works nicely in the chocolate 5/5”
  • “Too dang fruity, 3/5”
  • “Fruitier than I prefer, but I like the crunch 3/5”

Comments received by the non-blind tasters were

  • “ love the crunch, 5/5”
  • “don’t like the orange 2/5”
  • “Orange really makes it bitter 2/5”

Much like the second chocolate bar tasted, which was made with coconut milk, a lot of the opinions came down to the favorability of orange in the chocolate. Some loved it, other despised it, and those thoughts came separate of prior knowledge of its presence. If anything, looking at these two bars makes me wonder if those who were expecting the coconut or orange flavor had a set expectation of it’s taste in their mind, and the bitterness associated with this tasting and the milkiness associated with the second tasting was off putting. If this were true, it would make more sense for marketers to set expectations on the product more clearly, if only to surpass said expectations, rather than deviating from them.

The fifth chocolate tasted was one with potato chips added, creating an exceptionally sweet and salty taste. Comments of the blind tasters were:

  • “yum 4/5”
  • “Does this have potato chips? Yum! 5/5

Comments received by the non-blind tasters were

  • “liked it 4/5”
  • “Salt and texture complemented chocolate, super sweet, not rich 4/5”

Considering this was the last chocolate tasted while I had planed to do two more, I wonder if the subjects were suffering from fatigue, as seen in their short and generic answers. Regardless, this chocolate was well liked, and probably the most liked of all the chocolates tasted. For the non-blind tasters, I think the texture was a pleasant surprise, even when they knew what was inside. And for the blind tasters, the sweet and saltiness was thoroughly enjoyed. What I learned from this round is that a well done chocolate product often surprises and fulfills the customer, the surprise in this case came from the salt and the sense of fulfillment came from the sweetness from the milk chocolate content.

Thoughts and Conclusion

While hosting a small chocolate tasting was fun, it was more fun for me to see the interactions people had with chocolate while tasting them. It wasn’t hard to convince the subjects to participate in a tasting, but the hard part was teasing out their thoughts, which became harder as the night went on. Nevertheless, everyone involved had fun, and it seemed as if the chocolate connected the subjects to one another as they talked about what they tasted and how they felt. I’ve been to wine, cheese, and chili tastings, and I can’t say the same connectivity was felt there, something about chocolate and it’s Mesoamerican roots makes it something special in a way words cannot articulate.

Of course, that’s not to say nothing could be improved, if I were to do this all again, I would sit down the subjects and provide a bit more background on the tasting, teach them what to taste for and how to taste, as well as require a bit more thorough responses across the board. I also would have liked to test at least two more chocolates, just to get a wider variety, my subjects got pretty full of chocolate by 5th round, and essentially refused to go continue. Regardless, I feel that I found results that at least started to explain the questions I had.

Fundamentally, I saw how someone’s perception of the quality of a chocolate bar could change if reality dealt a hard blow to their expectations. It seems it’s almost better for the chocolate producers to have their consumers have 0 expectations as oppose to any, because missing those expectations could mean dissatisfying the consumer. While this thought concept might lead a marketer to cut back on their marketing in order to stem high expectations, the opposite ought to occur as there is a very high premium on meeting expectations set by the consumer, or surprising them in a pleasant, satisfying fashion. Either way, you can draw out a few key points:

  • The success or failure of a chocolate bar relies in consumer’s perception going into the tasting.
  • Additives can help compliment the product, but nobody likes it when it’s overbearing.
  • Sugar always helps
  • If you present your product as dark, give them dark, but give them what they really want (sweet)

In today’s society, chocolate is inescapable, it can be found in smoothies, candies, ice creams, nature bars, cereals, covering fruits, and even in alcohol. It makes sense that the average American eats 11 pounds of it a year, and is a 100-billion-dollar industry. How we interact with it is important, because we don’t interact with chocolate like most consumer goods. Examining this concept was fun, but I know there could deeper research done on the topic.

Works Cited

CNBC’s Katy Barnato and Luke Graham. “Future of the Chocolate Industry Looks Sticky.”CNBC, CNBC, 24 Mar. 2016, http://www.cnbc.com/2016/03/24/future-of-the-chocolate-industry-looks-sticky.html.

@crewefoodfest. “ tooth? ? or just a little treat… Infusion at 27th & 28th May” twitter, 4 May 2018., https://twitter.com/CreweFoodFest/status/992377201449369601

@HealingMB “Eating chocolate while studying helps the brain retain new information easily and is directly linked to high test scores ” twitter, 4 May 2018,. https://twitter.com/HealingMB/status/991743847070871553

James howe. “Chocolate and Cardiovascular Health: The Kuna Case Reconsidered.” Gastronomica, vol. 12, no. 1, 2012, pp. 43–52. JSTOR, JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/gfc.2012.12.1.43.

Nehlig, Astrid. Coffee, Tea, Chocolate, and the Brain. CRC Press, 2004.

Allen, Lawrence. Chocolate Fortunes: The Battle for the Hearts, Minds, and Wallets of China’s Consumers .

Martin, Carla. “The Rise in Big Chocolate and the Race for the Global Market.”

 

 

Green & Black’s: Ethical Chocolate, Corrupt Connections

Green & Black’s, a popular bean to bar company offers a chocolate bar completely outside of the realm of the common candy bar. However, the company’s outward ethical stance is at odds with the practices of its parent company Mondelēz International. Green & Black’s believes in a bean to bar ethical standard, meaning they expect co-manufacturers, partners, and sources to uphold certain standards in terms of wages and labor expectations. Green & Black’s marketing centers on their ethics; this is emphasized by their grassroots origin story. According to their website, Green & Black’s, founded in 1991 by Craig Sams and Jo Fairley, launched with a mission to create chocolate with the finest and most sustainable sourcing principles (Green & Black’s: Our Story). Craig Sams, founder of organic food company Whole Earth, was sent a sample of 70% dark chocolate made from organic cocoa beans. He left the half-eaten bar behind, only for his wife Jo Fairley to try it. They fell in love with the taste and set out to sell it to others. Today, Green & Black’s has a wide collection of bars, which are “all expertly crafted with hand-selected, ethically sourced cocoa beans” (Our Story). Green & Black’s were the UK’s first Fair Trade chocolate bar and in 2012, they launched Cocoa Life, a “third party verified cocoa sustainability program” which they certify their bars with (Green & Black’s: Responsibility). The chocolate industry is inundated with bars from major manufacturers that do not offer ethical verifications, no not present an upscale image, and do not offer transparency in their sourcing. Thus, Green & Black’s stands out among  the  common cheap candy bar. However, the Green & Black’s ownership by Cadbury and Mondelēz International (formerly Kraft Foods) undermines the company’s brand. While Green & Black’s seems to offer an ethical choice to consumers, it’s ownership by major manufacturers cheapens it’s brand by tying it to chocolate companies with possible unethical practices.

 

Green & Black’s gourmet chocolate offerings are full of variety. They offer bars under the categories of “dark,” “milk,” “organic,” “white,” “salted,” “nuts,” “caramel,” “fruit,” “mint,” “toffee,” and “ginger.”  With around 17 different bars, Green & Black’s flavors extend from 70% dark to pure milk chocolate to dark with raspberry and hazelnut (Green & Black’s: View Chocolates). Promoting the quality of their products, Green & Black’s writes the green “symbolizes our commitment to always sourcing ethical cocoa” and black stands for “our high quality and the delicious intensity of our chocolate” (Our Story). With an organic line, Green & Black’s successfully creates candy that caters to the rising interest in organic foods. Organic foods are foods grown without pesticides, fertilizers, or other chemicals (Martin Lecture: Alternative Trade). Foods that do not carry the organic label may possibly use these products in agricultural production, or in other stages of manufacturing. These chemicals can be environmentally dangerous. Claire Williamson writes that “organic food has become an increasingly popular choice for consumer over recent years with salves of organic food increasing tenfold in a decade” (Williamson 231). Green & Black’s organic line thus targets specifically those consumers who buy in the interest of avoiding potentially contaminated food, despite the insufficient amount of studies to suggest that conventionally produced food have worse nutritional value (Williamson 234). However, Green & Black’s ensures that part of its audience includes organic food buyers through their products, which sharply contrasts the typical convenient store chocolate bar brand.

 

In addition to Green & Black’s variation in flavor and target demographic, the company further separates itself from traditional candy by its branding; Green & Black’s distinguishes itself through its narrative, advertising, and packaging. A Green & Black’s bar is a refreshing new take on chocolate, as the use of bright colors, intense flavors, certification stamps, and luxurious designs in its website and social media elevate the bar as a gourmet item and not simply a snack food. Green & Black’s achieves this image through its marketing. Packaging, in particular, relates to food intake (Argo and White 67). The colors and shape of a package influence a consumer’s decision to buy it, by making consumers believe it tastes better (Miller). For example “the yellow hue of a 7Up can make the soda taste more lemon-y” (Miller). Thus, Green & Black’s takes advantage of this psychological phenomenon. Their packages use bright colors with bold fonts. Some of the bars are packaged in paper rectangles, giving the bar a more upscale exterior. The look of a Green & Black’s bar is luxurious and high end, when compared to Snickers or M&M bag.

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Source:  blogspot

In chocolate packaging, visual cues and promotional cues have a “direct positive significant effect in the buying influence of chocolates” (Shekhar and Raveendran 55). Indeed, Green & Black’s takes advantage of the power of color – the most important too for “emotional expression of a package” (Shekhar and Raveendran 56). Shekhar and Raveendran argue that in chocolate packaging the size, shape, and color influence the consumer’s decision to buy. Green & Black’s stands out for its use of elegant black combined with bright colors that suggest refined taste but also gourmet flavoring. Shekhar and Raveendran conducted a study of chocolate buyers and found that students were influenced in purchasing chocolate based on visual cues alone.

 

Green & Black’s chocolate is thus a completely stand out brand. The offerings are diverse, have exciting colors, and their promotional websites and social media brand them as a fine chocolate. However, Green & Black’s packaging further works to attempt accurately represent their ethical stance as well, through certification stamps. The cocoa life and fair trade certification suggest the company engages in ethical practices and works to invest in community development projects (Fair Trade America). However, given the little knowledge consumers have about fair trade and other certifications, Green & Black’s packaging comes off as simply a lifestyle and aesthetic choice for consumers, rather than an ethical choice. For example, Green & Black’s’s Instagram page @greenandblacks has no posts referring it’s certifications or ethical processes. Instead, the Instagram is a lifestyle page of bright colors, coffee cups, fruit bowls, and plants next to chocolate bars. What the Green & Black’s’s Instagram page seems to be selling is not simply chocolate, but a way of life. The biography states, “Green & Black’s create delicious ethically sourced chocolate from the finest ingredients” (@greenandblacks). But a typical posts celebrates Easter or Father’s Day and suggests that followers buy Green & Black’s to celebrate the holiday. Indeed, the branding of Green & Black’s confuses the message of ethically-sourced and organic food by instead promoting a lifestyle full of bright colors and upscale food.

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Source: Instagram

 

In Raising the Bar: The Future of Fine Chocolate, Pam Williams and Jim Eber suggest that the finest part of fine chocolate is the packaging alone. This is because defining premium chocolate is a grey area (Willams and Eber 168). There is no expectation for cacao percentages bean quality, or location of the chocolate source. Truly, Green & Black’s premium label is a work of personal brand and not simply fact.

 

While Green & Black’s is distinct for its bright colors and certifications, the company holds ties to business that is not as ethical as Green & Black’s claims to be. In 2005, Cadbury bought Green & Black’s and it became part of Mondelēz International (formerly Kraft foods). Both Mondelez and Cadbury have a poor record in sustainable and ethical chocolate sources. NGO Might Earth found that Mondelez was using cocoa grown illegally in protected areas in the Ivory Coast and Ghana (Chocolate’s Dark Secret). In certain areas, the actions of the companies have led to massive deforestation – a study by Marius Wessel and Foluke Quist-Wessel found that the search for new land to accommodate the increasing cocoa production in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana has led to “large-scale deforestation” as farmers establish new farms in the forest zone (Wessel and Quist Wessel). Since then, however, Mondelez has lead the private sector in forming initiatives to combat deforestation through a Cocoa Life program (Mondelez International). According to a 2015 press release on the Mondelez website, Cocoa Life is a “$400 million investment to empower 200,000 smallholder farmers and create thriving cocoa communities in Côte d’Ivoire and five other cocoa origins. Through Cocoa Life, Mondelēz International will participate in Côte d’Ivoire’s national REDD+ program to support the country’s bold ambition to reach zero-net deforestation in cocoa” (Mondelez International).

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Source: Forbes

 

Although Mondelez is acknowledging deforestation and working to fix it, it’s impact and practices in the region are a stain on the company that now connect it with Green & Black’s. In its report, Might Earth notes that “in West Africa, chocolate is rare and unaffordable to the majority of the population. Most Ivorian cocoa farmers have never even tried chocolate” (Chocolate’s Dark Secret). Mighty Earth underscores the biggest hypocrisy in big chocolate business – that the regions in which major companies create chocolate are the same ones that suffer from its worst environmental impact while simultaneously, the farmers there are not able to enjoy the products they create. Wessel and Quist-Wessel offer to companies proposing to make change: “take also into account aspects of the rural infrastructure such as education, health, and roads and access to credit and inputs” (Wessel and Quist Wessel). Additionally, their analysis pushes for companies to find advancements that allow more cocoa to be grown on less land as climate change and increasing demand for production will have a “negative impact on the size of the present cocoa growing area” (Wessel and Quist-Wessel).

 

Recently, Green & Black’s has also adopted the Cocoa Life stamp for their products. However stamps such as Cocoa Life, while they represent great investments in sustainable food sources, further confuse consumers. Increasingly, more companies are establishing their own forms of certification for their products.  However, this undermines Fairtrade through alternative certifications that simply confuse consumers. For example, Mars established a certification plan. Other certifications include Fair for Life, UTZ Certified, and Rainforest Alliance. However, customers who already don’t understand Fair trade, are negatively affected by this. More certifications lead to disinterest and an unwillingness to understand the differences between the certifications. In 2011, NPR Morning Edition argued that Fair Trade labels confuse coffee drinkers, particularly as what is “fair trade” evolves (Carpenter). The Guardian agrees that Fair Trade is confusing and broad, referencing a survey of 1,000 shoppers conducted by consumer group “Which?” (Smithers). According to the survey, “seven out of 10 UK customers “admitted they would pay more attention to the environmental impact of the foods they buy if labels were clearer and more meaningful” (Smithers).  Green & Black’s “Cocoa Life” only adds to this problem. Fair Trade labels are poorly understood and there are far too many of them for consumers to keep up. The survey also found that “Nearly half the respondents (47%) said there were already too many things to think about already without worrying about the environmental impact of the food they buy” (Smithers). Thus, consumers cannot be left to understand the growing landscape of Fair Trade certifications. It should be on Green & Black’sand Mondelez International to make it clear on their packages what exactly “Cocoa Life” means. At face value, the label looks promising to consumers who look for certifications, however, consumers do not actually understand what separates one form of certification from another.

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Source: MediaFairTrade.org

Ultimately, Green & Black’s stands out as a fine chocolate maker with ethically and sustainably sourced cocoa. Despite this, Green & Black’s suffers from many of the same failures of the major chocolate and candy sellers: they contribute to a business that confuses it’s buyers. Their marketing strategy is more of a lifestyle brand and their use of bright colors attracts buyers more interested in design than content. Additionally, Green & Black’s parent company does not leave them controversy-free; they must work to overcome environmental and economic damage that their products have caused in particular regions.

 

Sources:

Carpenter, Murray. “Fair Trade Labeling May Confuse Coffee Drinkers.” NPR, NPR, 30 Nov. 2011.

“Fairtrade America.” Fairtrade Certified Coffee – Fairtrade America.

“Chocolate’s Dark Secret: Investigation Links Chocolate to Destruction of National Parks.” Mighty Earth, 29 Mar. 2018.

Martin, Carla. Course Lecture: Alternative Trade AAAS 199x: Chocolate. 2018

“Mondelez International to Lead Private Sector Action in Côte D’Ivoire’s Program to Combat Deforestation.” Mondelēz International, Inc., ir.mondelezinternational.com/news-releases/news-release-details/mondelez-international-lead-private-sector-action-cote-divoires.

“Our Story | GREEN & BLACK’S Our Story.” Green & Black’s, us.greenandblacks.com/our-story.

Shekhar, Suraj Kushe, and P. T. Raveendran. “Chocolate Packaging and Purchase Behaviour: A Cluster Analysis Approach.” Indian Journal of Marketing, vol. 43, no. 6, 2013, p. 5., doi:10.17010/ijom/2013/v43/i6/36388.

Smithers, Rebecca. “Food Labelling Confuses Ethical Shoppers, Says Survey.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 27 Sept. 2010.

Wessel, Marius, and P.m. Foluke Quist-Wessel. “Cocoa Production in West Africa, a Review and Analysis of Recent Developments.” NJAS – Wageningen Journal of Life Sciences, vol. 74-75, 2015, pp. 1–7., doi:10.1016/j.njas.2015.09.001.

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

Williamson, Claire. “Organic Food: Is It More Nutritious?” Practice Nursing, vol. 19, no. 5, 2008, pp. 231–234., doi:10.12968/pnur.2008.19.5.29218.

Images:

http://w-duffy0912-dc.blogspot.com/2011/03/green-blacks-products.html

https://www.forbes.com/companies/mondelez-international/

https://www.instagram.com/greenandblacks/

http://stage.mediafairtrade.org/fair-trade/

The Cacao Cure

We hastened indoors after a long morning of sledding. Rhode Island public schools had all been cancelled for a snow day, and the hills around my hometown were cluttered with sheer exuberance. My brothers and I had been outside for hours, so we’d finally returned home to enjoy a much-anticipated cup of hot chocolate. After shuffling through the door, we bolted into the kitchen and wrapped our hands around the warm mugs that awaited us. But just moments later, my mother rushed in. Boys. Somebody needs to go close the front door—now. Money doesn’t grow on trees! 

Looking back on this phrase my mother commonly used, I can’t help but laugh at the multi-layered irony. First, it actually did grow on trees (though it’s not technically used as money anymore), and I was drinking it. And second, the hot chocolate I had really didn’t deserve to be called chocolate at all. In actuality, I was drinking chocolate-flavored milk and sugar, and it’d be years before I’d taste an authentic piece of chocolate or raw cacao. Although they’re not classic Mesoamerican vessels, the cups below demonstrate the simplicity and delicacy of the drink compared to our Americanized whipped-cream smothered cups of pure sugar. But still, there is one thing this cup of “cocoa” did for our frozen cores and stuffy noses, regardless of the actual cacao content. It healed us.

Bowe
Mesoamerican drinking chocolate (Bowe)

Before I get into what I mean by this, let’s take a brief step back in history. The warm, liquid “hot chocolate” we drink today is far different from the Mesoamerican drinking chocolate whose origins lie deep in the rainforests of Central and South America (St Jean). Dating back to about 1900 BC, people followed a multi-step process to treat the beans, which were ground into a chocolate liquor and mixed with water along with various spices. The finished, frothy drink was prized in a wide variety of occasions, one of which happened to be in a medical setting. If you’re interested in a unique timeline, you’ll surely be mesmerized by the rollercoaster of cacao’s use as medicine across time.

From early to modern times, cacao has been used in three unique stages with respect to medicine: a flavorful disguise for actual medicines, a preventative and remedial cure-all for a variety of ailments via the humoral system, and a targeted, well-researched concentrate. Many speculators actually assume that the early success of chocolate, not unlike other stimulant beverages, was due to its acceptance as a medicine, claiming that it was only later appreciated as an object of recreation and pleasure (Norton 36).

In the first “stage” I’ve referenced above, cacao was typically used as a medicinal disguise for “real” medications. According to the Florentine Codex, a study compiled by priest Bernardino de Sahagún back in 1590, the Aztecs brewed a drink from cacao and silk cotton tree bark to treat infections starting around 1400. Additionally, children suffering from diarrhea received a drink made from ground cacao beans and healing plant roots (Thompson). Again, the cacao was used here to disguise the bad flavors of additives.

During this same time period, Aztecs used cacao to mask unsavory flavors of medicinal ingredients such as roots used to treat fevers and “giant bones” used to treat urinary bleeding. This manuscript of Maya curative chants suggests that, after chanting, patients consumed a cacao-flavored concoction of herbs that treated skin rashes, fevers, and seizures (Thompson). Thus, perhaps the fact that was cacao was so commonly associated with healing is the real reason it eventually became known as a curative food itself.

This brings us to the second “stage.” After Maya dignitaries introduced chocolate to Spain in 1552, cacao really took on a medicinal role in society. Whether or not chocolate was good, bad, or indifferent for one’s health was a vital topic for many Spaniards, who were “at the mercy of a worthless and often destructive constellation of medical theories which had held the Western world in its grip for almost two millennia” (Coe et al 120). It’s important to note that, at this point in time, European medicine still drew heavily on the philosophy of classical scholars Hippocrates and Galen (Coe et al 120).

Hippocrates held that the body contained four humors: blood, phlegm, yellow bile, and black bile. Whenever these humors fell out of balance, disease ensued (Thompson). Diseases could be “hot” or “cold” and “wet” or “dry,” and physicians typically treated them with oppositely classified pharmaceuticals. Though cold by nature and therefore normally used in this state, cacao could be prepared in hot or cold forms, depending on necessity (Thompson). As a side note, I’m surprised that chocolate was considered “cold” given it was strongly flavored and quite bitter (Coe et al 128).

In a 1631 treatise, Spanish physician Antonio Colmenero de Ledesma gave a glowing description of cacao as a wide-reaching medicinal food: “It quite takes away the Morpheus, cleaneth the teeth, and sweeteneth the breath, provokes urine, cures the stone, and expels poison, and preserves from all infectious diseases” (Thompson). Later, in the 1700s, many doctors began the transition to focusing cacao on specific ailments, incorporating chocolate into smallpox treatments as a way to prevent weight loss associated with the disease. Richard Saunders—a pen name for Benjamin Franklin—references the benefits of chocolate against smallpox in the 1761 edition of Poor Richard’s Almanac (Thompson). Can you imagine walking into the doctors office and getting a shot of chocolate to treat something? I know I’d be “sick” every day!

Thompson
Hypothetical depiction of chocolate as a vaccine (Thompson)

This brings us to “stage” three. I’ll start by reluctantly admitting that, dutching—a process by which chocolate is treated with an alkalizing agent that modifies color and gives a more mild taste—has removed dark chocolate’s acidity and flavanoids since it began in the 1800s (Thompson). This can be explained by the fact that many people started adding cocoa butter back into processed chocolate to make bars, along with dairy and sugar that are now widespread across modern chocolate candy, and dutching simply made it taste better when combined with these other sweet additives. Ironically, however, these manufacturing methods likely made chocolate more of a medical hindrance than help.

But there’s a bright side. Recently, raw, unadulterated cacao has been re-recognized as a so-called “superfood” that boasts healthful sources of phytochemicals including procyanidin, flavonoids, catechin, and epicatechin (Keen 436). Note that I say re-recognized given that, even though the Aztecs and Maya appeared to be shooting in the dark with their many claims about cacao’s medicinal properties, they were actually quite brilliant. In fact, they’re now joined in their claims by leading institutions such as Harvard, which are even looking closely at using cacao for treating serious ailments. If this study on using cacao to protect against heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes produces positive results, these scientists definitely can’t take all the credit.

I’ve left my chocolate-flavored sugar days in the past, now savoring dark chocolate each and every day, and it’s particularly comforting to know that this delicious treat is still being proven as a healthy food hundreds of years after it was first claimed to be so. Now, I’ll embrace my new saying: A cacao bean a day keeps the doctor away!

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Works Cited

Bowe, Tucker. “The Legend and Lore of Hot Chocolate.” Gear Patrol, Gear Patrol, LLC, 18 Dec. 2015.

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. 3rd ed., vol. 1, Thames & Hudson, 2013.

Keen, Carl L. “Chocolate: Food as Medicine/Medicine as Food.” Journal of the American College of Nutrition, vol. 20, no. 5, 21 June 2013, pp. 436–439. Taylor & Francis.

Norton, Marcy. “Tasting Empire: Chocolate and the European Internalization of Mesoamerican Aesthetics.” The American Historical Review, vol. 111, no. 3, 1 June 2006, pp. 660–691. Oxford Academic.

St Jean, Julie. “Medicinal and Ritualistic Uses for Chocolate in Mesoamerica.” HeritageDaily, Heritage Foundation, 9 Feb. 2018.

Thompson, Helen. “Healers Once Prescribed Chocolate Like Aspirin.” Smithsonian.com, Smithsonian Institution, 12 Feb. 2015.

Image Links

  1. https://gearpatrol.com/2014/12/12/legend-lore-hot-chocolate/
  2. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/healers-once-prescribed-chocolate-aspirin-180954189/