The above image, originally uploaded by Nestlé, is a 1950s print advertisement for Kit Kat chocolate bars. The advertisement features a marketing slogan used by Kit Kat to this day: “Have a break… have a Kit Kat!” The “break” refers to the signature snap of the Kit Kat bar’s internal wafer as well as the worker’s much-coveted reprieve from labor. The implication of this play on words is that the small indulgence of consuming Kit Kat bars can serve as a (minimally disruptive) break from work; eating a Kit Kat bar on the clock feels like an almost rebellious act of self-care but in fact, as this blog post will show, merely maintains the existing (exploitative) system of labor and consumption.
This blog post will describe the history of chocolate advertisements’ insidious appeals to alienated workers. While chocolate has been advertised as a reprieve from the dehumanizing and alienating nature of wage work, this blog post will demonstrate that these advertisements encourage workers to consume chocolate merely so they can continue working. These advertisements redirect the worker’s feeling of alienation, exhaustion, and exploitation toward resignation and complacency rather than the capacity for rebellion. This advertising practice can be seen as a recuperation (by capital) of the seeds of discontent that could otherwise flourish into anticapitalist revolution. [By “recuperation,” I refer to the practice of normalizing radical ideas in order to render them impotent—in other words, recuperation is when “the ruling class… twist[s] every form of protest around to salvage its own ends” (Downing 59).]
Marx writes in Kapital of alienation as the dehumanizing phenomenon in which workers are reduced, essentially, to machines that produce value for capitalists. The worker is treated as nothing more than an “instrument of labor” (qtd in Hochschild 3). A very disturbing 2010 Kit Kat commercial depicts a scenario that seems to literalize the Marxist comparison of alienated workers to machines:
In this commercial, a man working at a supermarket checkout counter acts as though his body is literally a checkout scanner—literally a machine. Having recognized the dehumanizing nature of wage work, however, the commercial promises that the purchase and consumption of a Kit Kat bar will allow the man to “have a break.” There is no need for him to organize for better working conditions, the commercial implies, no need even to question the system that so dehumanizes him; being a consumer is all he needs.
A similar sentiment is expressed in the above Instagram post, published on the official Kit Kat page in 2019. The Kit Kat bar is made to resemble a watch, again invoking and recreating the association between chocolate and a reprieve from labor. But the Kit Kat’s visual resemblance to a watch also betrays a bleaker reality: that the cycle of consumption itself is a constituent part of the system of capitalist exploitation that has transformed the human experience of time into labor-time.
Kit Kat’s slogan “Have a break; have a Kit Kat” and its associated advertisements very obviously reflect the chocolate industry’s positioning of chocolate as a reprieve from work that in fact merely reproduces labor (by making the worker able to work again) and reinforces the existing economic system (by making the worker double as a consumer). But other chocolate companies use similar messaging in their advertisements. Take, for instance, the following Snickers commercial:
This commercial depicts a crew of workers performing the very physically demanding and dangerous labor of handling timber. One worker expresses a reluctance to continue and questions the purpose of this work. He is then handed a Snickers bar and transforms back into the diligent and docile worker he is expected to be. “You’re not you when you’re hungry,” the voiceover intones. Questioning the reasons for one’s hunger, one’s underpayment, one’s exploitation is depicted as the irrational whining of someone who needs more sugar. Snickers are depicted as a balm for one’s immediate discontentment—a balm that can take the place, it seems, of actual systemic change.
Chocolate companies have been insidiously recuperating anticapitalist discontent (or progressive ideals) for as long as they have existed, often depending on the comforting and indulgent associations of chocolate itself to maintain positive brand images. During the Progressive Era, “the greater American public… embraced [Milton S. Hershey] as a kindly type of industrialist and an oddly selfless capitalist,” a reputation that “dependent, in part, on the playful sweetness of the product he made” (D’Antonio 114). How could a man who “distribut[ed] happiness in a wrapper” (114), who sold what had once been a luxury product to the sugar-hungry masses, be anything like the greedy and heartless robber barons denounced by the socialist organizers of the time (113)? Cheap and sweet, mass-produced milk chocolate seems like a populist treat, and this association allows chocolate companies to continue making money off the blood and backs of workers (both producers and consumers) while appearing sympathetic to their plight.
D’Antonio, Michael. Hershey: Milton S. Hershey’s Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams. Simon & Schuster, 2006.
Downing, John. Radical Media: Rebellious Communication and Social Movements. Sage Publications, 2001.
Hochschild, Arlie Russell 1940-. The Managed Heart: Commercialization of Human Feeling. University of California Press, 2012.
For the regular consumer, chocolate does not mean much beyond the divine sensation it’s given to the human tongue for generations. Short of the socio-political significance it held in the ancient Maya and Aztec civilizations, chocolate was merely a tasty foreign cuisine to the European elite of the modern period, and a classically popular dessert now in the age of industrial commerce. However, as chocolate grew from a beloved local staple to a worldwide commodity—backed by household names such as Hershey and Nestle—it became more relevant to discussions of society and politics than ever, tucked under the veil of pleasantly inconspicuous packaging, like so:
The joyous American WWII ad embedded here captures the hidden nature of modern chocolate politics (“‘Chocolate is a Fighting Food!’ – Chocolate bars in the Second World War”). As a commodity broadly supplied by poorer nations but consumed by wealthy ones, chocolate has served as a reflection of global inequality and exploitation since its popularization in the 18th century. Although media conception works to mask this truth, the means of chocolate supply remains harsh and problematic, owing to its history as a source of inexcusably exploitative labor.
Cocoa agriculture shares a long-standing history with slavery. Traces of forced, unpaid labor in collecting and preparing raw cocoa stretch back far, and contemporary observers detail appalling conditions. Although it mostly occurred elsewhere, the slavery associated with cocoa farming has involved horrors similar to the traditional American canon. In his book Chocolate on Trial: Slavery, Politics, and the Ethics of Business, Youngstown State University Professor of History Lowell Satre writes:
“Human bones littered the sides of the trail, so many that it ‘would take an army of sextons to bury all 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…the slavers, whoever they were, had little need to worry about runaways surviving to tell their brutal tale—there was no place for the slaves to run to in the Hungry Country.”
Describing the reports of an English journalist observing 19th century Portuguese West Africa, Satre’s excerpt seems to depict a “brutal tale” indeed (Satre 2005 p. 1). Those workers in African colonies that harvested and prepared cocoa were nothing more than human media through which to meet foreign demand, meant to be cast away and/or brutalized whenever they tried to take on a different role. The violence of such practice was clear, and it combined with a racial component that strikes a note reminiscent of American slavery. Such imagery appears not only in the history of African colonialism, but also in that of other nations with widespread cocoa farming, likely with the accompanying realities. The West Indies were no exception:
The image above was taken in 1890s Trinidad, but the practice of white overseers exploiting darker-skinned laborers continued for decades after, despite worldwide movements to abolish slavery (“Rowntree & its Cocoa Plantations”). When parts of the world began to agree on the depravity of slavery, like practices such as indentured servitude or contract labor came in its place. This meant that, on paper, cocoa farmers were not enslaved, but in reality, they still faced similar issues of little-to-no pay, quiet physical abuse, and “voluntary” lifelong labor commitments, as Satre describes later in his piece (Satre 2005 p. 92). Scrutiny by journalists, researchers, and the like drove these practices further into the underground throughout the 20th century, but it failed to eradicate them completely. And how could it? There seems no better way to optimize business than to extract raw material for almost no cost, process and sell its derivatives at a competitive price, and present to consumers as though nothing questionable is going on. Cocoa farming slavery took on a new form, but in some places, it retained its explicit nature. In others, it was found to exploit those with the lowest capability of resistance—namely, children:
This facet of cocoa politics persisted through to the 21st century, a time where people across the globe feel that humanity had moved past such barbaric systems of labor (“2 Million Child Slaves on Cocoa Plantations in West Africa”). In Chocolate Islands: Cocoa, Slavery, and Colonial Africa, author Catherine Higgs writes:
“In 2000 and 2001, newspaper editorials and a television documentary alleged that Cadbury and the French firm Nestle were knowingly buying cocoa harvested by child laborers enslaved on Cote d’Ivoire’s cocoa plantations…In 2002 the London-based Anti-Slavery International estimated that approximately 284,000 children worked in the cocoa fields of West Africa…Less clear was whether the employers considered those young workers slaves…Identifying the specific factors (including hunger and poverty at home) that force children to labor on Cote d’Ivoire’s plantations has proved as difficult as it was…in 1905…Today, despite anecdotal evidence collected by a new generation of crusading journalists, African workers remain largely anonymous—and the meaning of slavery and freedom in an African context sometimes unfathomable—to the predominantly Western consumers of chocolate.”
Therein lies both the long-standing narrative of chocolate labor and its clear relevance to consumers today (Higgs 2012 p. 164). Despite being so far removed from the conception of chocolate eaters today, exploitation and inequality still reside at the heart of chocolate commerce and have done so beyond this past century. As much as current media may glamorize chocolate products, as exemplified by the modern ad below,
chocolate is hardly a fix for the world’s issues, and more accurately seen as another form of its problems (“This Panda Dark Chocolate Ad Proves Chocolate Can Fix It All”). As the late British economist Michael Barratt Brown explains in his article “‘Fair Trade’ with Africa” in the Review of African Political Economy, the exploitation that characterizes cocoa agriculture is a systemic issue (Brown 2007 pp. 268-269). Because Western nations have the advantage in industrial processing and manufacture, and cocoa prices were made to remain low starting in the 1970s, countries such as Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire are relegated to being long-term exporters of cheap raw material, rather than highly lucrative product manufacturers. To remedy these issues in chocolate supply denotes a tall task, but it begins with the spread of awareness. Empirical research by the likes of Brown, Higgs, Satre, and others shows the importance and relevance of chocolate beyond its food consumption, what with their broad implications about human nature and commerce. With proper study, analysis, and action, perhaps the world of chocolate consumers can one day bring a similar sweetness to the reality of chocolate politics. Equally dark as the complexion of cocoa product is that of its profit-seeking process, but if we continue to see beyond the packaging, we just might learn how to rid the content of all its hidden impurities.
Today, chocolate is a common food item that you can buy at basically any convenience store. But, today’s Hershey’s kiss, Reese’s Pieces, and Kit-Kat have taken a long journey to find themselves at the front of every cashier window. Originally introduced into Western society as a delicacy only consumed by society’s elite, chocolate has gone through various transformations and innovations before its current manifestation as a treat enjoyed by people of all ages and walks of life.
The most influential factors that led to chocolate’s commodification from a luxury item occurred broadly due to advances in technology that were happening simultaneously as chocolate was entering the market during the 19th century. Specifically, developments in the chocolate-making process itself made the product more interesting and complex, innovations in production & transport made chocolate cheaper for the consumer, and advancements in branding and advertising allowed chocolatiers to become household names for consumers and build loyal followings. These emerging technologies following the Industrial Revolution made chocolate a more viable commodity, fundamentally changing the chocolate industry by making chocolate more appealing and more accessible to the general public.
Many innovations in the commercial development of chocolate as a mass product occurred in Switzerland during the late 1800s. The leading Swiss innovators of the chocolate industry used their inventions to make chocolate tastier and more interesting to the market. For example, Daniel Peter invented the first milk chocolate bar, which was extremely popular and introduced a different flavor of chocolate to the public . In addition, Rudolf Lindt developed the conching process in 1879, which allowed for the equal distribution of ingredients across a chocolate recipe. His conche, pictured below, mechanized the technique “by which [Lindt] could manufacture chocolate which was superior to all others of that period in aroma and melting characteristics”, and was the machine by which he perfected the classic Lindt truffles (History, n.d.)
Finally, Jean Tobler came up with Toblerone bars, which were the first chocolate products to shape chocolate into a non-bar shape and insert a filling, such as nougat. The development of intricate molds for chocolate also elevated the eating experience (Coe & Coe, 2013). As a whole, these new developments allowed for more varied flavors, shapes, and sizes of chocolate to enter the market and widen the scope of the industry.
Not only did these innovations push the chocolate industry forward with their novel conceptions of what a chocolate product could look like, but also matured the industry in an economic sense. Another huge factor that played into chocolate’s successful infiltration into the popular market was print marketing. The first newspaper ad was printed in 1625, but advertisements became more common in the 18th century and were a critical component in the rise in popularity of various chocolate products. As chocolatiers became renowned nationally and products were being sold large-scale, producers needed a form of communication that closed the gap between them and the consumers and created a market for their products (Goody, 2013). For example, companies began to push chocolate products to children. One can see from the Cadbury advertisement below that it is not royalty that are consuming chocolate, but everyday kids. This change in media representation shifted the public’s perception away from chocolate as an elite food item and portrayed the commodity as more approachable.
As these developments were occurring in the chocolate industry, major movements in the industrial food industry as a whole also precipitated major shifts in the public perception of food as a wholesale commodity. These advances in the general food industry had positive spillover effects into the chocolate world. For example, canning, developed by Nicolas Appert in the early 1800s, started becoming a more common practice throughout the century, along with other methods of preserving food (Goody, 2013). Out of this movement towards preserved foodstuffs arose the invention of powdered milk, which also began to be incorporated in chocolate recipes.
In addition, preserved foods initially did not sell too well in shops due to their high price, which resulted from labor costs. The introduction of machines to take over various steps in the food preparation process lowered producers’ variable costs and made these foods cheaper on the market. Distribution also slowly became more mechanized as the development of large cargo ships and the railway boom during the late 1800s made the transport of raw materials and finished products more efficient (Goody, 2013). These advancements also served to help chocolate become a more viable product in stores as well, as chocolate moved towards large-scale national manufacturing.
In sum, the technological developments surrounding chocolate during its maturation in the Western market cemented its success. The innovations in the chocolate production, advertisement, and distribution processes served not only to make the product more accessible and diverse for its target market, but also to distinguish certain brands as household, national names and appeal to a greater audience than ever before.
Coe, S. D., & Coe, M. D. (2013). The True History of Chocolate.
Goody, Jack (2013). Industrial Food: Towards the Development of a World Cuisine.
Connecting the establishment of chattel slavery in the Americas to the development of the culture of taste begins with the historical analysis of both commodity crops and chattel slavery as fundamental to the development of capitalism. Crops such as cacao, sugar, rum, tobacco, and coffee, were introduced to and commodified by Europeans in the span of over 400 years. As the economic value of these crops rose within European society, so did the demand for them. Chattel slavery was a direct response to this demand. From 1500-1900 approximately 15 million Africans were forcibly transported across the Atlantic Ocean and enslaved in the Americas. Enslaved Africans were treated as the “chattel” or personal property of an owner and were therefore bought and sold as commodities. Owners forced enslaved Africans to work on highly surveilled plantations, producing commodity crops. Sugar produced a greater influx of slaves than the other crops and the labor of fifty-thousand enslaved Africans was required to produce 20,000 tons of sugar a year for English consumers. Chattel slavery became fundamental to economic gain for Europeans because of the demand for commodity crops.
Over time slavery became a key element of white self-fashioning identity and therefore slavery became entangled with the culture of taste. In Slavery and the Culture of Taste, Simon Gikandi defines the culture of taste as “the world of politeness, manners, and aesthetics” (Gikandi 2011, x). Slavery, especially the cruelties of slavery, was seen as a taint to good taste and therefore left out of the narrative high culture. Gikandi explains this as having to do with the Western world’s culture of modernity with defined itself by human values that were contrary to the establishment of slavery (Gikandi 2011, 4). Despite the rejection of slavery from the narrative of high culture, ownership of slaves remained a symbol of status and wealth. One of the most popular mediums for flaunting good “taste” was displaying enslaved black people in portraits. Medieval and Renaissance Era art featured black servants and slaves as “accessories” to the high culture white bourgeois. Additionally, in these depictions of black people, their facial features were exaggerated and are presently deemed as racist caricatures. The caricatured aspect of these portraits also demonstrates how the rise of racism derived from slavery and is also very much entangled with the culture of taste.
So, how does all of this connect to chocolate? In addition to slavery being a direct response to the growing popularity of commodity crops, enslaved black people were often depicted on advertisements for food regarded as high culture such as chocolate. As enslaved black people featured in portraits became a symbol of wealth became popularized, chocolate manufacturers capitalized and began advertising using racist caricatures to establish their product as tasteful. In this vein, the word “taste” in the culture of taste holds a dual meaning.
As an early form of advertising, trade emerged in the late 1860s. These trade cards were produced at a relatively low cost and were slipped into shopping bags and used for product packaging. In Racial Indigestion, Kyla Wazana Tompkins explains the importance of these trade cards,
“The effective excess and semiotic overload of these images encode the use of disgust to facilitate and accompany the white bourgeois consumer’s disavow and enjoyment of commodity pleasure. Here I am understanding disgust as the form of pleasure-in-excess that often accompanies comedy. Disgust here is married not only to the disavowal of big affect—joy, pain, desire, pleasure—away from the white, Protestant, middle-class body and onto black, Asian, and ethnic white bodies; it is also, seemingly inversely, married to envy and desire. Disgust is thus born of the everyday public encounter with bodies that seem to enjoy what whiteness is meant to disavow” (Tompkins 2012, 150).
In both using black bodies as a means to demonstrate good taste, and by using racist misrepresentations of black bodies, the white public sphere dehumanizes enslaved black people in order to justify slavery and the exclusion of slavery from the narrative of high culture.
Depictions of enslaved black people in art and advertising regarded as high culture and tasteful exemplify how the display of black bodies became a symbol of status and taste for the white bourgeois. The development of the culture of taste is inextricable from the establishment of chattel slavery and “tasteful” foods. The enslavement of Africans and the economic system employed from this exploitation led to the culture of taste that depended on overlooking the antithetical nature of slavery to the Western World’s culture of modernity for economic gain and good taste.
Gikandi, Simon. Slavery and the Culture of Taste. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2011.
The crackdown on sugar and high-calorie foods garnered a lot of media attention in 2010 with the passage of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act and the proposed ban on the sale of large sodas and other sugary drinks in New York and it brought a public health crisis into the spotlight. Chocolate as we know it today is itself an example of a sugary food with high caloric content common in the diets of many Americans. Dark chocolate, which often tastes bitter because it has higher cacao content and less sugar, contains an average of 14 grams of sugar per ounce (USDA). That said, most candy bars that contain chocolate far exceed that amount. Although a number of research studies conducted in the last two decades have highlighted potential health benefits of chocolate consumption (specifically dark chocolate), chocolate is often referred to as a “guilty pleasure” and it is seen in the public eye as something unhealthy associated with weight gain. We know that this was not the case throughout much of history, when cacao and chocolate were considered healthy and, in a few societies, as medicine. I find this shift in public opinion interesting and believe it to be a direct result of the democratization of chocolate and its high sugar content. By winding back the clock and analyzing changing perceptions of cacao and chocolate in different areas of the world with a focus on health, we can better understand when and why this transition happened.
Mesoamerican attitudes towards cacao (c. 600 C.E. – 1500 C.E.)
People in Central America and Mexico during the height of the Mayan and Aztec empires used cacao as an offering in healing rituals, to ensure successful travel, and during social unions such as banquets, baptisms, burials, weddings, and ceremonies to confirm the legitimacy of dynasties (Martin and Sampeck 39). The importance of cacao and its link to the gods can be found in the Dresden Codex, a Mayan book and the oldest surviving from the Americas, where “gods can be seen holding cacao pods, or dishes heaped with cacao beans” (Coe and Coe 42). In addition, cacao had several medicinal uses, including help with indigestion, inflammation, and fertility. Other applications of medicinal cacao used for afflictions can be found in Chilam Balam and The Ritual of the Bacams (18th century manuscripts recopied from ancient codices). Cacao was also prepared as a beverage using distinctive tools such as the molinillo, the steep-sided cup, and the spouted pot and ingredients including chile, custard apple, maize, achiote, and more ingredients specific to colonial Mesoamerica (Martin and Sampeck 42). Notably, the amount of sugar was much lower and the list of ingredients is wildly different from that of modern-day chocolate.
French attitudes towards chocolate (c. 1600 C.E. – 1800 C.E.)
Chocolate was likely introduced in France from Spain as a drug by Alphonse de Richelieu, who, as we learned in class, believed it could be used as a medicine for his spleen. Prevailing theories in sixteenth and seventeenth century Europe credited chocolate as being “a generally nutritious, energizing, fortifying beverage” that was also “credited as being an antidepressant, an aphrodisiac, a laxative, an agent to strengthen the heart, liver, and lungs, and a treatment for hemorrhoids” (Cather Studies 285). By 1690, chocolate was a regular offering at Louis XIV’s court at Versailles and was popular among the aristocracy (Coe and Coe 157-60). There were, of course, conflicting opinions about chocolate and its merits, but nonetheless a culture developed around it among the wealthy such that when Thomas Jefferson assumed the role of Minister to France in 1785, he wrote the following in a letter to John Adams from Paris:
Chocolate. [T]his article when ready made, and also the [c]acao becomes so soon rancid, and the difficulties of getting it fresh have been so great in America that it’s use has spread but little … by getting it good in quality, and cheap in price, the superiority of the article both for health and nourishment will soon give it the same preference over tea & coffee in America which it has in Spain.”
RC (MHi: Adams Family Papers). PoC (DLC). Published in PTJ, 9:62–3.
American attitudes towards chocolate (c. 1700 C.E. – 1950 C.E.)
Chocolate, although very rare at the time, had made its way into what would later become the state of Massachusetts, and more specifically onto Judge Samuel Sewall’s breakfast plate, by the year 1697. George Washington was apparently fond of chocolate, and “…connections to the drink have been attributed to patriot luminaries like Ben Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, [and] Thomas Jefferson” (Laiskonis). Notably, however, chocolate was provided to the troops in the French and Indian War. Six pounds of chocolate was offered to each officer by Benjamin Franklin, who “…saw chocolate as a compact, energizing, and tasty food that could be easily carried and boosted morale” (National Geographic Partners 20). By 1800, chocolate was affordable for most colonists (while it was still an expensive drink reserved for the nobility in France) because they (the colonists) imported cacao beans directly from the Caribbean rather than buying them from the British to evade the cost of taxes (National Geographic Partners 18). The cost was further brought down with the rise of mechanization and changes in transportation. Chocolate went from being consumed primarily as a drink to a solid with the development of new techniques, namely pressing and tempering, and became less gritty with the invention of the conch in 1879. Major chocolate companies like Hershey’s, Nestlé, Mars, Cadbury, and Lindt became so successful by standardizing their recipes, scaling up their operations, investing in effective marketing techniques, extending the shelf life of their products, and eventually gaining control of the supply chain. Hershey’s and Nestlé also reaped the benefits of war by providing chocolate for U.S. army rations during WWII (Jacobson). Up until about 1945, therefore, chocolate was still viewed largely the same as it had been by Benjamin Franklin two centuries prior. The idea that chocolate could restore one’s strength, on the other hand, went all the way back to the Maya.
So, what caused the change in public opinion of chocolate after 1950? I believe that it was a combination of wide availability of chocolate back at home after WWII and the heavy advertising that chocolate companies did during the war. Additionally, our lives today are significantly more sedentary, and we consume more food/calories now than before. I would argue that all these factors shifted the focus from the benefits of chocolate to its sugar content as we became more aware of the grip of high calorie foods on our diet. It seems that tide is turning now, with research supporting some potential health benefits of chocolate.
Chocolate is a staple for U.S. children, whether they consume it in the form of chocolate milk at schools; receive chocolate gifts for birthdays, Easter, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, and Halloween; or whether they indulge in chocolate through impulse purchases and conscious consumption at restaurants. It can hardly come as a surprise that this consumption–which includes the ingestion of copious amounts of sugar within various forms of chocolate–has seen the same upward trend as many chronic illnesses now affecting children, including diabetes and obesity.
Children cannot be blamed for this uptrend. They are reliant on their parents to regulate their dietary consumption. Furthermore, they are seen as a valuable target audience for chocolate and confectionery makers, who create appealing targeted messages aimed to make children (and their parents) more receptive to consuming chocolate, establishing brand loyalty early on, and exacerbating the rise of the aforementioned chronic illnesses.
This analysis of the chocolate market and its ties to children will first give a general overview of the global and U.S. chocolate markets, looking specifically at the chocolate sales aimed at and purchased by children and teenagers. It will then examine the history of chocolate, the intertwined narrative of chocolate and sugar, the addictive qualities of sugar, and the intentional misdirection away from the negative impacts of sugar by the industry itself.
Setting the Stage: The History of Chocolate and Sugar
The History of Chocolate
Cacao, chocolate, and chocolate beverages were first consumed by the Olmecs as far back as 2,600 years ago, which was regarded to have aphrodisiac, spiritual, medicinal, and godly qualities. It was subsequently used by the Mayans and the Aztecs, with both preparing the beverage similarly, although the former consumed it hot, while the latter consumed it cold. This cacao was used for legal tender, an elite commodity (as a beverage), and rituals. It was also used in marriage discussions and fertility rituals .
For instance, the Aztecs held enormous storehouses of cacao beans, since they had to be transported 900 miles to the Aztecs cities, as the Mexican soil did not favor cacao tree growth. For a trader, one load of cacao was three xiquipillis, or 24,000 beans; the major courts, such as that of Netzahualcoyotl, had to be stocked with 4 xiquipillis daily, equivalent to 11,680,000 beans annually, or 486 loads .
Cacao was highly revered as a godly commodity. The foam itself was seen as the most sacred part of the drink  and was seen as an elixir for the soul. When depicted on ancient artifacts, it is often featured being consumed by the gods or depicts the royal bloodline of deities by portraying the deity blossoming forth among pods and flowers .
However, the chocolate produced and exalted in these Mesoamerican civilizations did not remain unchanged after the arrival of Columbus, nor is this ancient the most commonly consumed in contemporary America, especially among the young children in question, who would not be receptive to unsweetened, bitter chocolate.
According to The True History of Chocolate, some of the older ingredients Europeans began to substitute out were:
These new ingredients included:
However, the largest change was the regular addition of cane sugar . Before chocolate became the tantalizing treat of children’s dreams (and dieticians’ nightmares), it had to become intimately interwoven with sugar. Just like cacao, sugar has a complex narrative often full of deceit and exploitation.
The Human Toll of Sugar Production
Sugar was first produced in 500 C.E., with Hindu religious texts mentioning the boiling of molasses and crystallization. Before sugar was produced in the New World, it was grown in the Middle East. Sugar spread through conquest, trade, and travel, with Europe first having access to sugar in 700 C.E and having continued exposure during the Crusades. However, even after Middle Eastern sugar production slows when operations were moved to the New World, the sugar plantations were supposedly transplanted .
The warm, moist climate of the Caribbean, which facilitated cacao growth, also proved extremely favorable for sugar crops. Once the sugar cane is ready to harvest, it is collected, chopped, and then ground into a pulp. This pulp is then pressed, pounded, or soaked in liquid. Next, the liquid is heated, which causes it to evaporate and concentrate into sugar crystals. The video below demonstrates the complexity of creating sugar even the available modern technology . For production in the 1800s, the process was much more difficult.
Because of the labor-intense process required to produce sugar, sugar company owners turned to slaves to reduce costs. Overall, 12.5 million abducted Africans were shipped to the New World, of which 10.7 million survived the Middle Passage; in other words, 14.4% of kidnapped people died. Once there, 95% were sent to Brazil and the Caribbean, with only 5% being sent to the present-day U.S. In the Caribbean from 1701 to 1810, Barbados had 252,500 and Jamaica has 662,400 African slaves .
Corruption Continues: Sugar Lies in the 1960s
“They were able to derail the discussion about sugar for decades.”
Stanton Glantz, professor of medicine at U.C.S.F. and an author of JAMA Internal Medicine
The deceit around sugar continued into the 1900s, where the sugar industry used its immense power to prioritize profit over health, a trend seen by many confectionery companies and other large corporations that purposefully target children without any regard for their health. During the 1960s, and for the next five decades, the sugar industry paid scientists to shift the blame for the rising trend in obesity rate onto fat .
The trade group called the Sugar Research Foundation paid 3 Harvard scientists to “minimize the link between sugar and heart health and cast aspersions on the role of saturated fat” .
However, this was not an isolated incident, with Coca-Cola also having bribed researchers with millions in 2015 to have them downplay the connection between sugary drinks and obesity. Moreover, more directly connected to chocolate makers, in June 2016, The Associated Press reported that candy makers were also funding biased reports to claim that children that who ate candy weight less than those who did not .
As these cases show, these large sugar and candy industries are not interested in the well-being of American children; in fact, they are perfectly willing to fabricate lies that directly impact children and their health to generate revenue. In the case of the candy makers, their corruption of scientific research is especially concerning because it prevents parents from making informed decisions for their children’s health, and it demonstrates that any targeted action toward children, especially regarding food advertising, should be viewed with scrutiny.
Before examining the role of marketing to children and the harmful impact of advertising on youth, a brief overview of the chocolate market is necessary.
Overview: Global and U.S. Chocolate Markets
Globally, 300 million people consumed 7.3 billion tons of retail chocolate confectionery annually during 2015-2016, with it expected to reach 7.7 million tons by 2018-2019 . This comes out to around 12 pounds per person . These global sales of chocolate reached $98.2 billion USD during the same years, with the U.S. comprising the largest percentage . However, these numbers only portray a minuscule portion of the narrative for the contemporary chocolate market. The average omits the unequal distribution of both producers and consumers; ignores the nuanced intersections with race, class, gender, age, and sexuality that impact target audiences and their consumption; and obscures the immense power disparities between the poorest cacao farmers and the most profitable chocolate corporations.
This enormous industry is incredibly homogeneous; for instance, only 3 companies make up 99.4% of snack-sized candy on the market :
The U.S. makes up the largest portion of the industry, with 4 of the top 10 global confectionery companies by net sales value originating in the U.S  :
Mars Wrigley Confectionery, division of Mars Inc (USA) – $18,000
Mondelēz International (USA) – $12,390
Hershey Co (USA) – $7,779
Kellogg Co (USA) – $1,890
Overall, the U.S. market in 2015 amounted to approximately $18.3 billion USD in global of the total global sales of $98.2 billion , meaning the U.S. market accounts for 18.6% of the global market.
Marketing to Children
Children are a valuable market for advertisers, especially in industries that directly appeal to children and teenagers, such as toys, clothing, license and merchandise, and of course, food. Marketing to kids is a large, profitable business, with $17 billion spent annually on advertisements specifically targeting them (up from $100 million in 1983). Likewise, children under 14 spend approximately 40 billion annually and teenagers spend $159 billion, with children overall influencing $500 billion in purchases yearly .
These children spend their lives constantly bombarded with branding, holding 145 brand conversations a week; witnessing more than 25,000 ads a year just on television from the ages of 2-11; and consuming ads via the Internet, cell phones, video games, and even in school . With such a constant stream of advertising, chocolate makers stand to make generous profits from children, even at the expense of their health.
Federal Trade Commission Regulations on Advertising to Children
Under the Advertising and Promotion Law 1997, Minnesota Institute of Legal Education, the Deception and Unfairness Authority, under Section 5 of the FTC Act, prohibits unfair and deceptive acts in commerce, as set by their Deception Policy Statement. They identify deceptive advertising toward children as:
“An interpretation that might not be reasonable for an adult may well be reasonable from the perspective of a child. Claims tend to be taken literally by young children” .
Starek, III, Roscoe B. “The ABCs at the FTC: Marketing and Advertising to Children.” Federal Trade Commission, July 18, 2013.
They clearly consider the more limited ability of children to “detect exaggerated or untrue statements,” which may have been used in ads to further promote sales. Of course, teenagers have a much easier time discerning between truth and exaggeration in advertisements, but they can also still be reasonably misled by advertising, especially in a field as dynamic and unstable as nutrition.
The FTC includes a special page dedicated to addressing food marketing to children and adolescents, especially since irresponsible advertising would only serve to exacerbate the increasing obesity and chronic illness rates in the U.S. However, the FTC did note that: “responsible marketing can play a positive role in improving children’s diets and physical activity level” . Perhaps chocolate companies, especially since many have been making public commitments to provide ethically sourced, sustainable chocolate, can also make a similar commitment to responsible marketing toward youth.
The Negative Effects of Advertising on Children and Adolescents
As advertising in media (and to children) evolves, the line between entertainment and advertising blurs (ex. The production and entertainment value of Super Bowl commercials). This line, already more ambiguous for younger children and teens, becomes harder and harder to differentiate, and with that, the impact of advertising on children should be carefully examined. How much is too much? Where does it fall into exploitation? How do large chocolate corporations appeal to one of their target demographics–children–ahead of their competition without falling into manipulation? Besides carefully following the FTC’s regulations, the psychological and behavioral impact of marketing to children should be clearly understand by both the government and chocolate companies, and clearer regulations for what is or is not acceptable should be drafted to manage chocolate and other food companies.
For instance, some of the themes conveyed in ads toward children can influence poor behavior in children. Just as advertisers seek children for marketing because they are malleable and are still developing their life-long preferences and tastes , children can be exposed to detrimental themes such as unhealthy food brand preferences, tobacco, etc. Likewise, children, particularly girls (although it also affects boys) may be harmed or have negative body/self esteem issues exacerbated by harmful marketing .
Children under 7 are especially vulnerable because, according to Piaget, they are not able to detect “persuasive intent,” meaning they are much easier to fool and manipulate . Likewise, although there are calls to educate children about advertising to help them protect themselves from malicious ads, but current efforts may not be effective; in fact, some studies have shown that the <7 may be much higher, with “children…not capable of understanding the ‘commercial intent’ of advertising until they reach the age of 12” .
Example of Rejected Chocolate Advertising
Kinder Egg Websites
In the UK, several Kinder egg websites (a subsidiary of Ferraro) promoting Kinder toys and eggs have been banned for promoting junk food advertising toward children. Some, like Kindernauts, had activity pages and child-friendly crafting activities, while others, like magic.kinder/en, have Kinder-themed video games for children aged 3+. In the UK, these violate their Committee of Advertising Practice rules of not promoting food with high fat, salt, or sugar for youth .
 Martin, Carla D. “Mesoamerica and the ‘Food of the Gods.’”
 Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate.
 Martin, Carla D. “Mesoamerica and the ‘Food of the Gods.’”
 Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate.
 Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History.
 Discovery UK. SUGAR | How It’s Made.
 Eltison and Richardson, “Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database.”
 O’Connor, Anahad. “How the Sugar Industry Shifted Blame to Fat.”
 “Consumption of Chocolate Worldwide, 2012/13-2018/19.” Statista.
 Martin, Carla D. “The Rise of Big Chocolate and the Race for the Global Market.”
 Martin, Carla D. “The Rise of Big Chocolate and the Race for the Global Market.”
 “The Chocolate Industry.” International Cocoa Organization.
 “Chocolate Market Retail Sales Worldwide by Country, 2015.” Statista.
 Martin, Carla D. “Race, Ethnicity, Gender, and Class in Chocolate Advertisements.”
 Starek, III, Roscoe B. “The ABCs at the FTC: Marketing and Advertising to Children.” Federal Trade Commission.
 “Food Marketing to Children and Adolescents.” Federal Trade Commission.
 “Marketing and Advertising to Children.” ICC – International Chamber of Commerce.
 Lapierre, Matthew A., Frances Fleming-Milici, Esther Rozendaal, Anna R. McAlister, and Jessica Castonguay. “The Effect of Advertising on Children and Adolescents.”
 Watson, Bruce. “The Tricky Business of Advertising to Children.”
 Smithers, Rebecca. “Websites of Kinder Chocolate Banned over Ads Targeting Children.”
Avena, Nicole M., Kristin A. Long, and Bartley G. Hoebel. “Sugar-Dependent Rats Show Enhanced Responding for Sugar after Abstinence: Evidence of a Sugar Deprivation Effect.” Physiology & Behavior 84, no. 3 (March 16, 2005): 359–62. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.physbeh.2004.12.016.
Avena, Nicole M., Pedro Rada, and Bartley G. Hoebel. “Evidence for Sugar Addiction: Behavioral and Neurochemical Effects of Intermittent, Excessive Sugar Intake.” Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews 32, no. 1 (2008): 20–39. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2007.04.019.
Lapierre, Matthew A., Frances Fleming-Milici, Esther Rozendaal, Anna R. McAlister, and Jessica Castonguay. “The Effect of Advertising on Children and Adolescents.” Pediatrics 140, no. Supplement 2 (November 1, 2017): S152–56. https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2016-1758V.
Martin, Carla D. “Mesoamerica and the ‘Food of the Gods.’” Harvard University: Cambridge, MA. February 20, 2019. Lecture. ———. “Race, Ethnicity, Gender, and Class in Chocolate Advertisements.” Harvard University: Cambridge, MA. April 3, 2019. Lecture. ———. “The Rise of Big Chocolate and the Race for the Global Market.” Harvard University: Cambridge, MA. March 13, 2019. Lecture.
Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. Reprint edition. New York: Penguin Books, 1986.
The purpose of my chocolate tasting was to see whether the attendees could discern between the four various categories for the sourcing and materialization of chocolate as discussed in class and the readings: (1) Direct Trade, (2) Fair Trade, (3) Organic, and (4) Industrialized. Because much of Chocolate class was about the social, anthropological, and economic impacts of and differences between each of these chocolate types, I thought this would be an excellent theme to my tasting that brings historical, socioeconomic, and taste-related views.
Figure 1. The fancy invitations I used to invite 7 participants to my tasting.
Figure 2. The participants of my chocolate tasting.
Types of Chocolate in the Tasting
(1) Direct Trade There are four general types of chocolate (based on its production processes) that we have learned in Chocolate class. The first is Direct Trade, also known as bean-to-bar chocolate, as these companies have control of its manufacturing process from growing and harvesting of the cacao bean all the way to its packaging and selling into a bar. Direct Trade chocolate is usually a chocolate company that directly deals with farmers. There’s a bit of variation in its manufacturing processes, but this leaves more room for negotiation from the different chocolate companies. Direct Trade companies may place environmental and labor factors into consideration, but not to as far of an extent as other chocolate types such as Fair Trade. In Direct Trade, there is less regulation because it is assumed that there is maximum control between the cacao harvesters, manufacturers, and packagers of the chocolate product. However, the very direct control of these Direct Trade chocolate companies costs a high premium, making their products quite expensive. Because of the rarity of a chocolate company having complete control of an entire chocolate farm, which is usually located outside of the U.S., solely for their company, the quantity of Direct Trade producers which exists is very low.
(2) Fair Trade The second category of chocolates presented was the Fair Trade chocolate type. These mass-produced confections are intended to guarantee a consistent smell and taste, achieved through rigorous oversight and a careful blending of cacao. According to Michael D’Antonio of Hershey: Milton S. Hershey’s Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams, using liquid condensed milk instead of the powdered milk that the Swiss favored, Schmalbach’s mixture was easier to move through various processes: “…it could be pumped, channeled, and poured — and it required less time for smoothing and grinding. Hershey would be able to make milk chocolate faster, and therefore cheaper, than the Europeans” (D’Antonio 2006: 108). With techniques like these that were melded again and again by Hershey a century ago, efficiency of methods for the mass-production and -distribution of chocolate was possible. However, these efficient industrialized methods definitely compromise the ethics of labor, environmentalism, and health-focuses of these chocolates.
(3) Organic The third type of chocolate that is explored in this tasting is Organic chocolate. Organic chocolates place an emphasis on health and the environment. They do not use pesticides, and because it places such a large, conscious emphasis on these issues, there is a loss of yield that occurs in terms of its production and consumption. These chocolate products also tend to be extremely expensive, for there is usually a rearrangement premium placed on their price tag. Additionally, although organic chocolate products focus on health-related and environmental issues, there is no standard for the laborers of its production. Organic chocolate products must also all undergo certification, and usually the bars themselves are sold in small proportions.
(4) Industrialized The final category of chocolates which were presented during the tasting was Industrialized chocolate. Fair Trade chocolates emphasize the moral ethics of the chocolate production. They prioritize producing ethical, labor-regulated goods, and for this reason they also weigh between ingredient and product. These products also require a certification by one or more of the various Fair Trade certification companies. These groups usually require a type of price threshold, which makes this type of chocolate a little bit more expensive. Fair Trade chocolates also take the environment into account, although oftentimes not as much as Organic chocolates do. Fair Trade chocolates also focus on community development.
Figure 3. The advertising and packaging used for each of the four chocolates used in my tasting.
(1) Direct Trade:
Taza Chocolate, Seriously Dark, 87% Cacao, Organic Dark Chocolate
Observations of Packaging:
Easy-to-read font that pops out
(2) Fair Trade:
Seattle Chocolate, Pike Place Espresso, Dark Chocolate Truffle Bar with Decaf Espresso
Observations of Packaging:
“Rainy coffeehouse hipster”
Cloudy color scheme (not as bright)
Lake Champlain Chocolates, Cacao Nibs & Dark Chocolate, 80% Cocoa
Observations of Packaging:
“Typical coffee colors”
Compromise between adult- and kid-themed packaging (could theoretically work for either audience)
Cadbury, Royal Dark, Dark Chocolate
Observations of Packaging:
“Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”
“Here There Will Be No Unhappiness.” Hershey Milton S. Hershey’s Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams, by Michael D D’Antonio, Simon & Schuster, 2006, pp. 106–126.
AFRAMER 119X: Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food
May 3, 2019
Since the colonizers of the new world heard of the cacao plant, they have sold myths of not only its tastes and pleasures, but also of its healing powers, religious importance, and cultural ties. And while advertisements today do not preach the same stories as our old world ancestors, they still perpetuate false promises to consumers. Concepts such as health, gender, and race have been and are still manipulated by the chocolate industry to entice consumers to buy their brand. This paper will discuss the wrongdoings of chocolate advertisements over the years as it pertains to race, health, and gender. Similarly, the paper will look into solutions to create more integrity and honesty in today’s chocolate industry.
To fully understand the scope of chocolate advertisements and how they mislead consumers, it’s important to start when the product first hit the mainstream media. A major issue at the start of the chocolate industry, and particularly in advertising, was race.
Rowntree’s Cocoa created an African American girl (seen above) in 1947 as part of a new advertising campaign to display their chocolate. And as was common with other advertisements at the time, the Rowntree Chocolate portrayal of this African American girl was as not well spoken, poor, and simply dressed. Emma Robertson, in “Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History,” discusses the negative race relations that Rowntree had in its production as well as in its advertisements of chocolate. Furthermore, she discussed how Rowntree was just a microcosm of the greater problems at stake regarding race in the chocolate industry (Robertson 86). Specifically, common portrayals of African American people as poorly dressed and with simple language created a negative and offensive perception of the black community during that time.
But what about today? Does the chocolate industry still implement race in their advertisements?
The answer is yes. Above is a current Spanish chocolate brand known as Conguitos. The Atlanta Black Star’s article, 12 Racist Logos You Didn’t Know Were Used by Popular Brands, points out the racist overtones the brand’s character still holds. But while the company altered the image to have the character’s spear removed after receiving extensive criticism, the character still retains its main characteristics (Moore).
Diana Palardy, in “The Evolution of Conguitos: Changing the Face of Race in Spanish Advertising,” discusses the offensiveness of these characteristics. A bald head, red lips, as well as the name Conguitos, which derives from the word Congo, all perpetuate the same offensive stereotypes we saw in the 1940s with Rowntree Cocoa’s ad with the young African American girl (Palardy 48). The character stays because it is a Spanish household name and its removal would risk Conguitos losing sales of their chocolate. The very idea that Conguitos survives and won’t remove a racially controversial figure from its advertisements because it’s profitable demonstrates that racism is still very much alive in the chocolate industry.
Although problems still exist, there has been extensive work to eradicate racism from the chocolate industry. But while Racism is fading out or trying to fade out of chocolate advertising, false claims of chocolate’s health benefits are steadily rising.
Healthline released a news article recently outlining the various health benefits of dark chocolate. The article claims promises of chocolate lowering blood pressure and reducing heart disease all under the pretext that it is evidence-based and scientifically backed (“7 Proven Health Benefits of Dark Chocolate”). To Healthline’s credit, they are not the first nor last media source to proclaim chocolate as the next big breakthrough in health science. Under unclear evidence, various research done on the backs of the chocolate industry has found cacao to have numerous health benefits.
In fact, the Guardian released a news article releasing findings of some of these scientific studies. They claim health benefits such as chocolate reducing heart flutters, strokes, and cognitive decline (Fleming). And while some of these reports and news articles aren’t trying to mislead consumers, there still are not factual. Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition at New York University, explains why we have seen the myth of chocolate’s health arise in the media as of late.
In her book, Unsavory Truth: How Food Companies Skew The Science of What We Eat, Nestle demonstrates how the research performed on foods like chocolate are financially backed by the food industry itself, so the results usually come out in favor of the producer (Nestle). She writes, ‘“Industry-funded research tends to set up questions that will give them desirable results”’ (Fleming). The chocolate health myth, therefore, is continuing in the world today because the companies that benefit most from chocolate being a health food are backing the research that says it is healthy.
Moreover, even researchers not backed by the chocolate industry can make mistakes and perpetuate the current chocolate-health hoax. James Howe in “Chocolate and Cardiovascular Health: The Kuna Case Reconsidered” looks at a popular study, the Kuna Case, that claimed chocolate led to numerous health benefits. Dr. Norman Hollenberg of the Harvard Medical School did research on the Kuna people, finding those still living in the indigenous areas along the northeast coast of Panama experienced much lower blood pressure and risk of cardiovascular disease than their migrant cousins in Panama City. Hollenberg’s study found that the Kuna people had significantly low blood pressure and healthy hearts because they consumed a lot of chocolate (Howe 45).
James Howe, however, debunked Hollenberg’s claims in 2013. The researcher pointed to numerous other environmental factors besides the drinking of cacao that led to healthier hearts in the indigenous Kuna people. Howe exclaims, “Among the friends and colleagues I consulted, some of them Kuna themselves and the others anthropologists, not one found the key claims of the chocolate researchers plausible” (Howe 45).
The Kuna Case anecdote is a perfect representation of the current state of chocolate advertising as it pertains to health. Findings that are favorable to the chocolate industry itself, whether initially performed with a bias or not, are taken as true because that is what people want to hear. Consumers would love to think that one of their favorite snacks, chocolate, is healthy for them. The problem is that it’s not. The myth will keep spreading, however, because the chocolate industry has and will keep trying to perpetuate this lie and the public will likely not refute it because they want the lie to be true (Nestle).
The last malpractice chocolate advertising uses is its mistreatment of gender. And like with race, it is important to look at the history of gender in chocolate advertising before diving into the contemporary problems the industry still faces.
Chocolate has always been geared toward women. Whether advertised toward romance or housewife ideals, chocolate targeted and still targets the female gender. In her book, “Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History,” Emma Robertson discusses how early on the housewife ideal was fetishized by chocolate advertising. Starting during the war and into the 1950s and beyond, chocolate geared its ads towards woman buying chocolate to make their husbands, children, and themselves happy. In other words, chocolate companies advertised that by buying chocolate a woman would be a good mother and wife. The companies rationalized the ad campaigns as saying their main consumers were families so it only made sense to advertise toward the main shopper in the house: the mother (Robertson 20).
Chocolate advertising, therefore, changed when women began to digress from the typical American household. As women entered the workplace, chocolate advertisements changed to target the sexuality of women rather than the housewife ideals. Rowntree’s ‘“My Wife’s a Witch”’ Campaign demonstrates this switch in chocolate advertising. The campaign, while still focussing the positives of a woman based on her ability to be a housewife, also centered her beauty as a main part of the ad. The pitch of the advertisement was to make it seem as though men fall in love with a woman’s looks, cleaning and cooking abilities, and the chocolate she buys. So, according to the ad, if a woman bought this chocolate, her husband or boyfriend would love her more (Robertson 22).
The sexualizing of women, which started as soon at this Rowntree’s ad in the 1950s, is still present today. Whether it be for valentines day, a romantic occasion, or a simple indulgence, contemporary advertisements make out chocolate to be a highly sexualized product skewed towards women.
As the above advertisement represents, women, sex, indulgence, and love are associated with chocolate. It not only satisfies their hunger for food but hunger for something else more taboo. It’s a representation that does not extend to men in the advertising world and creates a stereotype based on gender.
But is it true? Do women love chocolate more than men? The National Institute of Health did a survey on the cravings of men and women in a college population and found no difference between indulgences of chocolate based on gender (Weingarten & Elston). According to Katherine Parkin, an associate professor of history at Monmouth University and the author of Food is Love: Food Advertising and Gender Roles in Modern America, the stereotype that women love chocolate more than men is due to marketing and a societal flaw. “Men have more freedom to indulge in all kinds of pleasures,” she writes. Therefore, women are less likely to buy chocolate without hard advertising geared toward them (Parkin).
As Parkin articulates, the problem with chocolate, sex, and women is both in part a fault of the industry and of society itself. Women are less free to indulge, so chocolate advertisements try to convince women indulgence is okay when they are consuming their chocolate brand (Parkin). As a result, there is a back and forth between society and industry that creates a culture that lies about the fact that women are obsessed or infatuated with chocolate. Why? Because it sells.
Overview and Solution
Overall, the chocolate industry has perpetuated three myths to help their sales. First, some companies still portray race in demeaning and offensive ways because some of the brands have become household names and to change them and their characters would risk losing profits (Palardy). Second, the chocolate industry has backed false research to prove chocolate is a health food with numerous benefits such as heart health, low blood pressure, and better cognitive function (Nestle). Lastly, the industry had portrayed women as infatuated with chocolate even though research has shown no difference between chocolate cravings in men and women (Parkin) (Weingarten & Elston). So what do we do to create more integrity and honesty in the chocolate industry?
The first and possibly most important step is demanding more from consumers. Catherine Higgs in “Chocolate Islands: Cocoa, Slavery, And Colonial Africa” discusses the problems that Portugal had with cocoa production using slave labor in places such as São Tomé and Príncipe. One of the main solutions she and others at the time had was to have consumers boycott and demand only chocolate that was not produced from slave labor (Higgs 148). We can do the same with chocolate today. We can boycott those products that use racially offensive advertisements, lie about health benefits, and use false gender stereotypes.
Another solution used in Catherine Higgs book to solve the issue of slave labor in the chocolate industry was for government intervention (Higgs 147). Government regulation of offensive material for both gender biased and racist adds can reduce the negative advertisements we see in the media today. Furthermore, demanding reviewed and verified studies on the health benefits of chocolate can help inform consumers on whether chocolate is truly healthy for them.
Overall, government regulation and consumer boycotts, which we have seen work in the past as in the case with reducing Portuguese slave-produced chocolate, can help solve the contemporary advertising issues we see with race, gender, and health today. It may take effort, as many attempts to make changes in society do, but it will lead to a stronger and more integrity driven chocolate industry.
At the end of the day, there are problems present in the chocolate industry that many would expect to have been eradicated a long time ago. Race, gender, and health all are misused and taken advantage of by the chocolate industry in their advertising campaigns. But with consumer and government support these problems can be reduced and eventually stopped. All it takes is a concentrated effort from a grassroots and consumer level as well as support from increased government regulation in the industry. If these are done, long-standing problems can be either fixed or eliminated from the chocolate industry’s advertising campaigns.
The contemporary cacao-chocolate industry benefits greatly from seasonal sales surrounding major American holidays. In the U.S. market, Easter/Passover, Christmas/Hannukah, Halloween, and St. Valentine’s Day see large spikes in candy and chocolate sales. These contemporary patterns of chocolate purchasing and consumption are intimately bound to a broader historical and social context. By exploring associations between chocolate and each of these major candy-selling holidays, I analyze the legacies of colonialism, religious debates, gender stereotypes, and industrialization in modern consumption and gift-giving patterns.
The candy industry is a giant in the U.S. economy. Nielson (2015) reports that candy, including chocolate and non-chocolate products, is the third top-selling category among food and non-alcoholic beverage categories in America with $20.8 billion in sales in 2014. American consumers buy candy year-round, making up the majority of all candy dollar sales (Nielson 2015). However, seasonal candy sales are a fast-growing sector of the candy industry, increasing by 5.8% in 2014 (Nielson 2015). Nearly 20% of all annual candy sales in 2014 occurred during five top-selling holiday weeks (Nielson 2015). These top 5 holiday weeks are, in order of greatest to least candy sales: Easter/Passover, Halloween, Valentine’s Day, Pre-Christmas/Hanukkah, and Christmas/Hanukkah (Nielson 2015). During each of these holiday seasons chocolate sales spike along with the sales of all candies. Chocolate is an illustrative example that sheds light on broader changes in consumption and underlying social meanings over time.
Winter Holidays and Hot Chocolate: A Colonial Legacy
The Judeo-Christian winter holidays of Christmas and Hannukah account for two of the top five weeks of all candy sales in the United States. Chocolate is an important part of these holidays. During Hannukah, traditional chocolate coins wrapped in gold and silver foil are gifted to children (Prichep 2014). During Christmas celebrations, people bake chocolate chip cookies for Santa Claus and exchange chocolates as gifts. Throughout the winter holidays, hot chocolate is a special treat. In the following clip from the Polar Express, a children’s Christmas movie, hot chocolate is associated with the Christmas holiday and is depicted as a childhood luxury.
Chocolate as a beverage has a long and complex history that highlights European colonialism. Chocolate is one preparation of the beans from the tree theobroma cacao. Cacao was first domesticated and consumed by Mesoamerican Olmec, Aztec, and Maya peoples (Coe and Coe 1996). For these indigenous Mesoamericans, cacao was a beverage, not a solid bar (Sampeck and Thayn 2017). The most treasured part of the cacao beverage was the foam, which was produced by pouring the beverage on high from one vessel to another and later by mixing with a molinillo (a colonial invention) (Coe and Coe 1996). The image below depicts a Maya woman pouring cacao to create foam as was common practice. Today, we still add foam to our hot chocolate in the form of marshmallows and whipped cream (Coe and Coe 1996, 49; Leissle 2018). Contrary to modern hot chocolate, cacao was sometimes consumed cold by the Mesoamericans (Coe and Coe 1996). Maya and Aztec elites also exchanged cacao as a gift in royal marriages, military victories, holiday ceremonies, and political negotiations (Leissle 2018). The history of chocolate as a beverage and gift extends to the very origins of domesticated cacao.
Hot chocolate came to resemble what we know today through European colonial modification. Spanish colonizers came to refer to all cacao preparations as chocolate because the most profitable cacao-producing region, Izalcos, was known for a specific preparation named “chocolatl” (Sampeck and Thayn 2017, 79). Cacao was introduced to Europe by Spanish colonizers as “chocolate,” a hot beverage. Europeans adapted the traditional cacao beverages to include ingredients that were common in Europe, such as cinnamon, almonds, sugar, and floral elements (Sampeck and Thayn 2017, 85). Chocolate-drinking spread among the European royalty via intermarriage, and material culture developed around chocolate (Coe and Coe 1996). The French elite served chocolate in a silver chocolatiere with porcelain cups and saucers, which can also be seen in the clip from Polar Express (Coe and Coe 1996, 158-9). North American chocolate tastes and recipes most closely resemble the British and European preparations of hot chocolate, transmitted to America during our own colonial period (Sampeck and Thayn 2017, 89). Thus, the story of hot chocolate and its significant place in our own holidays draws heavily on early Mesoamerican rituals and traditions as well as colonial European modifications. The experience of a creamy hot chocolate today is intimately bound to a legacy of colonialism.
Easter, Chocolate, and the Church
The Easter and Passover spring holidays account for the single greatest week of candy sales annually. In the week preceding Easter in 2014 Americans spent $823 million on candy and purchased 146 million pounds of sweets (Fahey 2016). This level of consumption is interesting given the history of chocolate, the Catholic church, and the Lenten season.
In the Catholic religious tradition, the Easter holiday marks the end of Lent, months of fasting and reflection. Upon cacao’s introduction to European society, the Catholic clergy debated whether consuming chocolate beverages broke the fast. Catholic missionaries were active in the colonization and Christianization of indigenous Mesoamericans and had early exposure to cacao. Beginning in 1591 with Juan de Cardenas, militant clergymen argued that, though beverages (as chocolate was in those days) were generally exempt from the fast, chocolate offered substantial nourishment, which would break the fast (Coe and Coe 1996, 149). Debates raged in the clergy for nearly three centuries over the issue of chocolate and the fast, pitting the chocolate-trading Jesuits against the puritanical Dominicans (Coe and Coe 1996, 149). Seven Catholic popes commented on the issue over the years, arguing that consuming chocolate would not break the Lenten fast (Coe and Coe 1996, 150). Perhaps these clerical debates set us down the path of viewing chocolate as a sinful indulgence. Regardless, the heightened consumption of candy and chocolate for the Easter holiday marks the end of the fast and a time for celebratory indulgence. Had the Dominicans won the debate over chocolate and the fast, perhaps we would not see such excessive candy purchases in the week preceding Easter.
St. Valentine’s Day and Gendered Chocolate
Valentine’s Day is yet another major holiday for the chocolate industry. The holiday on which romantic partners gift heart-shaped boxes of chocolates to one another is also part of a broader context. Chocolate in particular is a common gift on Valentine’s Day because of its historical association with fertility. In indigenous Mesoamerican societies, cacao was considered an aphrodisiac and gifted at weddings for fertility (Coe and Coe 1996). The idea of chocolate as an aphrodisiac carried over into European societies and lingers to this day, though it has no factual basis. As Henderson (2015) and Butler (2018) detail, early chocolate companies began marketing their chocolates with romantic imagery, such as heart-shaped boxes and “kisses.” The association between chocolate and Valentine’s Day is a celebration of heterosexual romance that draws on a history of chocolate as an aphrodisiac.
The gifting of chocolates on Valentine’s Day also draws heavily on gender stereotypes. On Valentine’s Day, men are expected to purchase and gift chocolate to women. In the Russell Stover Valentine’s Day commercial below, the intended audience is men, who are instructed to gift chocolate to women for the holiday.
In chocolate advertising and narratives surrounding Valentine’s Day, women are meant to be seduced by the sinfully indulgent chocolate and-by extension-the men who gifted it to them. The following Ferrero Rocher Valentine’s Day commercial depicts a woman who is seduced by the decadent chocolate and subsequently embraces the romantic partner who gifts these chocolates to her. The message is one of chocolate as a tool in heterosexual relationships that men can use to seduce women.
Gender stereotypes in advertisements for Valentine’s Day chocolates are by no means a recent development. Narratives of male gifting of chocolates and female seduction are prevalent throughout past advertisements as well. The Whitman’s Sampler advertisement below is from 1936. In American society, Valentine’s Day chocolates are associated with a long context of heterosexual romance and the trope of the seduced woman.
Halloween and Industrialized Chocolates
Nielson (2015) reports that candy sales in the week preceding Halloween total $787 million, coming in at the second highest week for candy sales in 2014. Halloween in its modern form centers around pre-packaged, standardized candies, but this was not always the case. Kawash (2010) and Nix (2018) provide a brief history of Halloween and candy. In the early 20th century, candy makers were not targeting Halloween as a candy holiday (Kawash 2010). Trick-or-treating first emerged in the 1930’s and 1940’s, and Halloween handouts were not restricted to candy at this time (Kawash 2010). By the 1950’s candy became an inexpensive and convenient Halloween handout, but candy was not yet the exclusive Halloween treat (Kawash 2010). Candy eventually won out as the face of Halloween handouts in the 1970’s because it was industrialized, standardized, pre-packaged, and safe from tampering (Kawash 2010).
These trends between candy and Halloween closely follow developments in the cacao-chocolate industry. In the early 20th century, the big American chocolate manufacturers were just getting started. At the end of the 19th century, Frank Mars, founder of the Mars chocolate company (creator of M&Ms, Snickers, Mars bars, Milky Ways, etc.), was still watching his mother make homemade candies and sweets in the family kitchen (Brenner 2000, 50). For the first decade of the 20th century, Frank Mars was experimenting with small-scale candy distribution and failing repeatedly (Brenner 2000). By the 1920’s Mars had built a profitable chocolate company, but it wasn’t until his son, Forrest Mars, took control of the company in the 1960’s that Mars, Inc. became a giant in the American chocolate industry. Forrest Mars mechanized the factory, vertically integrated production, and industrialized the production and labor at every level (Brenner 2000).
Similar developments were occurring in the Hershey’s chocolate company. In the first decade of the 20th century, Milton Hershey was building his factory town at Hershey, Pennsylvania (D’Antonio 2006). The first Hershey’s Kiss was manufactured in 1907 (D’Antonio 2006). Milton Hershey industrialized his company by vertically and horizontally integrating production. Hershey’s chocolate factory did it all–from building trains to ship sugar from Cuba to housing workers to sourcing milk from local cows (D’Antonio 2006). This consolidation of Hershey’s supply chain took place over the first half of the 20th century. Hershey’s was the well-integrated and undisputed American national chocolate brand until the mid-20th century when competitors like Mars and Reese’s gained power in the national market (D’Antonio 2006; Brenner 2000).
By the time Halloween became a major candy holiday in the 1970’s, the American chocolate industry was dominated by Hershey’s and Mars (Martin 2019). Hershey’s and Mars alone make 84.2% of all snack-sized Halloween candy, with another 15.2% contributed by Nestle (Martin 2019). Internationally, the Big 5 chocolate companies (Hershey’s, Mars, Nestle, Kraft [Cadbury], and Ferrero) dominate the market (Martin 2019). Chocolate manufacturing and distribution is concentrated in an oligopoly of companies. The association of Halloween with pre-packaged, bite-sized candies emerged as these large companies developed and industrialized. Halloween as we know it today is a consequence of the industrialization and integration of the American chocolate industry.
In analyzing the history of chocolate in each of these major candy-selling holidays, I have uncovered legacies of colonialism, religious debate, gender stereotypes, and industrialization in the modern cacao-chocolate industry. To understand why and how the cacao-chocolate industry operates today, it is important to examine this broader social and historical context. Americans’ holiday favorites of hot chocolate, chocolate bunnies, heart-shaped chocolate boxes, and bite-sized chocolates were all brought to us via interesting legacies in the development of the chocolate industry. Next time you enjoy a foamy hot chocolate or Hershey’s kiss, consider the history of cacao and chocolate from its origins in indigenous Mesoamerica to its modern industrialization and mass marketing.
Sampeck, Kathryn E. and Jonathan Thayn. 2017. “Translating Tastes: A Cartography of Chocolate Colonialism.” Pps. 72-99 in Substance and Seduction: Ingested Commodities in Early Modern Mesoamerica, edited by S. Schwartzkopf and K.E. Sampeck. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press.
The exploitation of people of color in the chocolate industry is almost as old as chocolate itself. Ever since Europeans utilized native peoples in Mesoamerica and later enslaved Africans to produce cacao, there has existed an inherent link between race and chocolate, a relationship not only seen in the production of chocolate but also in chocolate advertising. Just as Black individuals were and are utilized for their physical labor, they were and are being exploited for advertising.
The consumption of
cacao dates back to the Mayan and Aztec societies of Mesoamerica. When settlers
came to the Americas, exploitation and forced labor came with them. The Spanish
introduced the encomienda system in which Spanish settlers were supposed to
protect and care for native peoples in return for voluntary labor when in
reality the settlers seized lands and forced natives into pseudo-slavery
working long hours without pay resulting in the deaths of many. Though cacao had
been introduced to and was being brought back to Europe, it was primarily used
for medicinal purposes until sugar began being added to cacao which made it
more palatable for Europeans. Emma Robertson, a professor and scholar at La
Trobe University, states that “this was ‘thanks to the emergent slave-based sugar
cane economy of the Americas’. The story of chocolate subsequently becomes increasingly
intertwined with that of European imperial politics…Chocolate thus first gained
meaning in England as a product of imperialism” (Robertson 67). As time went on—around
1900—some cacao production shifted from the West Indies to West Africa,
particularly in São Tomé. The Cadbury company became a center of attention for
its labor practices and accusations that it utilized slavery in São Tomé during
this period. William Cadbury responded to these claims by stating, “I do feel
that there is a vast difference between the cultivation of cocoa and cold or
diamond mining, and I should be sorry needlessly to injure a cultivation that
as far as I can judge provides labour of the very best kind to be found in the
tropics: at the same time we should all like to clear our hands of any
responsibility for slave traffic in any form” (Satre 19), though he refused to reveal
a bill of sale for the plantation as it “specifically identified human beings
as property” (Satre 19). This is an example of chocolate companies blatantly
and knowingly minimizing the perceived severity of their production practices
of Black individuals goes well beyond just labor practices. As Robertson
explains, “The use of black people in advertising has a long history. As Jan
Pieterse demonstrates, products made available through the use of slave labour,
such as coffee and cocoa, often used, and many still use, images of black
people to enhance their luxury status” (Robertson 36).
The exploitation of Black people did not stop with cacao production. The image above is an advertisement for Rowntree, an early 20th century power-house chocolate and sweets corporation that still exists today and has developed the Kit Kat among other recognizable treats. It depicts a young Black girl named Honeycomb using broken and stereotypically Black verbiage to convey the benefits of her Rowntree beverage. It is one of many chocolate advertisements to utilize a caricatured Black subject to sell a product. On using Honeycomb specifically for a powdered cacao beverage, Robertson states, “Though processed by western industry, cocoa powder is closest to the ‘raw’, colonial material. The two Rowntree characters only exist through their relation to the cocoa, effectively disempowering them. There is no recognition of the actual connections between the commodity and the labour of black people in the colonies” (Robertson 42). Thus, not only does the Rowntree company exploit and make a caricature of the idea of blackness, they either intentionally or unintentionally, directly linked their advertisements and the subject therein to slavery.
In a similar vein, above is the advertisement used for Banania, a French chocolate drink, from 1915. It depicts a Senegalese infantry soldier with a red fez, a uniform item worn by Senegalese soldiers. This advertisement presents a caricature of this man by depicting him with a stereotypically large smile as well as the slogan for the product “y’a bon” (translating to “it’s good”) which is derived from the pidgin French commonly spoken by these Senegalese solders. The popularity of the product cemented the character with the slogan, making the Black man portrayed on the ad and packaging and this lower form of language inseparable.
Finally, the above
video is an advertisement for the Spanish chocolate, Conguitos. This commercial
goes even farther to portray Black individuals as “the other.” Whereas the Rowntree
and Banania advertisements both push racial and colonial traits and themes on
the subjects of their ads, this commercial depicts the subjects as extremely stereotyped
natives, completely naked, living in small straw huts, and carrying spears. The
music in the background aids in this stereotyping, a light flute and
tribal-sounding drum. In the final scene of the commercial, the animated character
rolls uncontrollably and the video fades into the character essentially being
turned into a ball of chocolate which is then consumed by a white actress. This
is concerning on a number of levels. This aspect of the advertisement effectively
conveys that the people of color in their eyes are consumable and expendable at
the hands of a white individual, a clear similarity to the treatment of Black
slaves and laborers in cacao producing regions. Overall, these advertisements
speak volumes for the influence that the chocolate labor practices and
production had on advertising and how much the colonial mindset permeated every
level of the chocolate industry.
Looking toward the
modern-day chocolate industry, in terms of production and cultivation, much has
changed and yet much has stayed the same. Today, a majority of the world’s
cacao comes from Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana. Though the methods and aspects of
production may have changed—for instance, instead of massive plantations owned by
large corporations and companies, today a vast majority of cacao is produced by
smallholder farmers on relatively small plantations—the exploitation of African
peoples for labor and production of cacao seems to be a constant in the
chocolate industry. The same way companies utilized slavery and pseudo-slavery
in centuries past, even in the cacao industry of today’s day and age, companies
have established a form of pseudo-slavery by offering the lowest prices
possible for beans and creating a cycle of debt or living for growers.
After a series of
small wars and conflicts around the turn of the century, some of which had to do
with conflict over coveted cocoa groves, Côte d’Ivoire was in shambles. Carol
Off, a Canadian journalist and author, states, “By the end of the millennium, Côte
d’Ivoire was one of the most indebted nations on earth, even as it supplied
almost half of the world’s cocoa to the multi-billion-dollar industry and helped
to satisfy the world’s addiction to chocolate” (Off 118). This situation of
debt and vulnerability resulted in mass corruption and exploitation of labor,
essentially slavery. Cacao growers had no other choice. Due to the fact that
cacao is a tricky crop to grow and harvest, only being able to do so by hand
for the most part, the amount able to be produced per unit area tends to be
very low. This dilemma is exacerbated due to the smaller cacao farms of today. Órla
Ryan, an author for the Financial Times, a publication in London, explains, “On
most the production per hectare is either low or very low. In many cases, yields
have been stagnant for some time. Roughly one-third of farms yield as little as
137.5 kg per hectare. What this means is that the poorest farmers can make just
$500 a year, an income which makes it impossible to do little more than survive”
(Ryan 59-60). When looking at the differences between slavery and this modern
system of cacao production, there is an obvious difference in that today the
growers are getting paid an actual wage, but looking realistically, $500 is not
an income that can sustain a healthy life for one person let alone families in
which the farmer making the $500 is the primary income source. Thus, farmers
must look for options to solve their situations since most cannot afford to hire
laborers which usually comes in the form of using their own families to work on
the farm, which includes their children.
work is a slippery slope as there are many instances in which it is completely
fine and others where it is not. Ryan describes how the International Labor
Organization’s (ILO’s) standards for what constitutes the worst forms of child
labor is contextualized in the chocolate industry: “‘work which, by its nature
or the circumstances in which it is carrier out, is likely to harm the health,
safety or morals of children.’ On the cocoa plantation; this is generally
defined to include work which involves dangerous machinery, equipment or tools,
the handling of heavy loads and exposure to pesticides or chemicals” (Ryan 47-48).
Child labor offers just another area of exploitation in the cacao production
process. In many cases, child trafficking also plays a role as children are
brought to plantations and intimidated out of reaching out to authorities (Ryan).
Off describes the story and mission of Abdoulaye Macko, a man who took it upon
himself to liberate conscripted child workers from the cacao farms in Côte d’Ivoire.
“The farmers, or their supervisors, were working the young people almost to
death. The boys had little to eat, slept in bunkhouses that were locked during
the night, and were frequently beaten They had horrible sores on their backs
and shoulders, some as a result of carrying the heavy bags of cocoa, but some
likely the effects of physical abuse” (Ryan 121). This goes beyond helping
parents, cousins, or other family with light work around the farm. This is
systematic and calculated abuse and exploitation of a vulnerable population for
the purpose (knowingly or unknowingly) of improving the profit margins of the
large chocolate corporations.
We have now looked at how labor practices have changed (or refused to change) but how have chocolate advertisements changed to adjust to the modern market? First, let us take a look at Banania, the company with the stereotyped Senegalese soldier, above. The lifelike depiction of the character has been traded out for the head and hand of an animated version of the same character. The identifiable red fez remains a constant. One major change is the smile which is still distractingly large but now the lips are thick and bright red. This aspect simply adds to the stereotyping involved in this character. In an attempt to solve an outdated and stereotyped subject, Banania did away with most of the harmless aspects of the character and kept or amplified the caricature aspects, though the French pidgin slogan is gone which is for the best.
The next advertisement, shown above, is for Magnum ice cream. It depicts a Black woman whose shoulder is cracked resembling the cracking of the chocolate shell of a Magnum ice cream bar. Overlooking the issue of the sexualization and fetishism of the ad (which is common in chocolate advertising and too extensive of a topic to cover here), Magnum uses the woman’s race in a botched attempt at visual wit, thus adding to the extensive history of utilization and exploitation of Black people. In addition, the fact that the inside ice cream is vanilla further degrades the woman shown as, in an ice cream bar, the ice cream is the thing that matters, thus the chocolate shell and therefore this woman’s race are simply things one must get through into order to reach the vanilla (read: white) center. Finally, this ad for Dove chocolate below further demonstrates the blatant utilization of race and the exploitation of Black individuals for the benefit of the chocolate company. In this case, the man’s face is not even shown, hammering home the idea that this does not need to be anyone in particular, just a Black man. The Magnum and Dove advertisements are not intentionally reminiscent of the racially charged ads of the prior century, but advertising companies and departments need to both understand the society we live in today in which no one’s race should be utilized for commercial gain as well as a basic background of the history chocolate as to not make these kinds of mistakes.
Just as labor and cacao production has evolved and yet also held onto key defining elements up through the modern era, so has chocolate advertising. In both cases, basic improvements were made, such as there no longer being colonialism or slavery in their truest forms or no longer having racially charge language and stereotyping in advertisements. Yet, both also held onto elements of their past. The economic and commercial model that chocolate producers work within keep them in a state of pseudo-slavery and advertisements still use race to sell products and link chocolate to the race of people that cultivate cacao in its rawest form.
Off, Carol. Bitter Chocolate: The Dark Side of the World’s Most Seductive
Sweet. The New Press, 2008.
Robertson, Emma. Chocolate, Women and Empire: a Social and Cultural History. Manchester University Press, 2013.
Ryan, Órla. Chocolate Nations Living and Dying for Cocoa in West Africa. Zed Books, 2012.
Satre, Lowell Joseph. Chocolate on Trial: Slavery, Politics, and the Ethics of
Business. Ohio Univ. Press, 2006.