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Chocolate at CVS

CVS calls itself a “pharmacy innovation company,” so it is not the first place one thinks of when considering places to buy chocolate. However, the options for chocolate products in the 24-hour Cambridge, MA location claim a surprisingly large section of aisle space. More than half of the candy aisle is taken up by chocolate, and their aisle dedicated to holiday and seasonal products is also predominantly filled with holiday-themed chocolate items. There’s a tantalizing array of similar chocolate products lined up in the checkout line, neatly packaged for individual, one-time consumption. And for a customer who wants to try something fancier, there is an aisle endcap labeled “Premium Chocolates.” There are some interesting trends in the options available for purchase. With the exception of the small premium chocolate selection, all the chocolate is milk chocolate, most of it consists of chocolate in combination with another food such as peanut butter, caramel, or fruit, and all the options that I could find were produced by one of the four largest chocolate companies: Mars, Nestle, Hershey, and Cadbury. In fact, a lot of the options were simply the same product in different forms. A customer can buy a 2-pound bag of individually wrapped mini Reeses, or a bag of even smaller unwrapped Reeses, or an 8-pack of large Reeses, or an individually-wrapped large Reeses, or a bag of Easter-themed Reeses shaped like bunnies or eggs. It’s all peanut butter surrounded by a milk chocolate layer, but the customer can choose at least six different forms in which they’d enjoy eating this product. Additionally, most of these chocolate products were on the lower end of the price range. For only about two dollars, a customer can buy individually-wrapped chocolate items of up to eight ounces. Even the premium chocolate endcap is dominated by yellow stickers denoting huge sales. A picture of this is shown below.


(image taken by me)

A customer can buy two chocolate bars and get the third for free, and the most expensive bar was eight dollars.

Compiling these observations, we can see that CVS primarily sells inexpensive, sugary milk chocolate products produced by huge chocolate companies who are very focused on packaging, and that CVS branches out a little bit with their premium chocolate selection but still focuses on keeping the price down. Why is this? CVS is a drugstore where people shop to find household conveniences, health products, and snacks. According to one article, CVS tries to sell to all Americans because everyone needs pharmaceuticals, but its target market is the elderly. CVS is not primarily a food store, so it makes sense that CVS would try to sell chocolate products that are most likely to appeal to its target demographic of middle-class and elderly Americans. CVS is doing well as a company, so its products must be selling well. We can see, then, that the average American enjoys buying milk chocolate that is sugary, brightly packaged, and produced by Nestle, Mars, Hershey, or Cadbury. The explanation for why Americans prefer this style of chocolate lies in our history. Sugar production, industrialization, and aggressive marketing all contributed to the way our chocolate industry looks today.

Until the 1700s, sugar was a luxury product in Europe. People knew of its existence, but it was too expensive to eat frequently and was consumed primarily by the upper classes. Demand for sugar continued to grow, however, so from the 1500s onwards, European powers established sugar plantations in the Caribbean, imported slaves from west Africa to labor on them, and competed with one another to become the foremost sugar exporters. Britain, France, and Portugal were the most successful with sugar production and trade. Most of the sugar produced in their colonies was consumed back in Europe as demand continued to grow and grow. By the mid-1700s, sugar was a regular feature of most Europeans’ diets (Mintz 5-45). By 1850, the price of sugar in Britain dropped sharply due to new economic policies that navigated away from protectionist policies for colonies and towards free trade (Mintz 61). This decrease allowed sugar to become even more of a necessity to English diets, and since sugar was cheap, it served as a substitute for other, more expensive foodstuffs for working class people (Mintz 161). These same trends happened in the United States. The combination of the facts that sugar is cheap and that humans have a strong sweet tooth have contributed to the fact that more and more of our diet consisted of sugar until we have gotten to where we are now: a society that adds sugar to nearly all processed foods.   This explains why we like our chocolate so sugary; we like everything sugary.

This still doesn’t explain, however, why only four chocolate companies produce the chocolate we see in CVS. This limited brand choice is due to two main, overlapping factors: first, American industrialization allowed for huge economies of scale, allowing factories to mass-produce items such as chocolate at low prices. Second, a couple chocolate factories captured the American market while chocolate was still a new item and the American taste for chocolate was still forming, causing Americans to crave a certain flavor of chocolate that only those companies could produce. In the mid-1800s, the Industrial Revolution took off in the United States as people figured out how to use non-human sources of energy to power large factories that used automated processes to mass-produce items on great scale. This led to the rise of the working class and their mass demand for affordable foods. The mass manufacture of foods, then, became very important where it had previously been a small market (Goody 85). There were massive improvements in “four basic areas: (1) preserving; (2) mechanization; (3) retailing (and wholesaling); and (4) transport” (Goody 72). All of these innovations allowed for food to be produced and processed on a larger scale than ever before, shipped everywhere in the country for consumption, and sold at the lowest prices it had ever been. Processed food became a necessity in the working class diet, and mass production of foods by large-scale companies is still the way that most of our food is produced today. Chocolate is one of these foods that became mass-produced, and the first company to mass-produce chocolate in the United States was Hershey.

Hershey conceived a new business strategy that was previously unused by sweet-makers: he produced vast amounts of his products at low prices instead of making a lot of products at varying prices. This allowed him to sell his Hershey Kisses and bars to nearly “every grocer, druggist, and candy store owner in America” (D’Antonio 123). His strategy worked, and Americans liked the candy so much that Hershey made $3.6 million dollars in sales in 1911 and $5 million dollars in sales in 1912 (D’Antonio 123). Hershey has been a permanent fixture in American culture ever since. One explanation for why Hershey chocolate has stayed so popular in the United States is because it introduced a distinct flavor of chocolate to Americans before they had tried any other flavor of chocolate. Americans came to associate the Hershey flavor with true chocolate, and would be reluctant to try anything else. Europeans, meanwhile, often dislike the slightly sour taste of Hershey chocolate (D’Antonio 108). Other chocolate companies had to come up with their own innovations to compete successfully with Hershey’s initial chocolate monopoly. Mars company, for example, was mainly successful because it came up with the idea of enrobing other sweets in chocolate and selling it as a chocolate bar. This allowed Mars to sell a much larger “chocolate” bar than Hershey for the same price because other ingredients were cheaper than the chocolate, and this larger bar for the same price was very appealing to consumers (Brenner 57-59). The original Mars bar consisted of chocolate-covered nougat and caramel, and looked about three times as thick as a Hershey bar. We can see an advertisement below for the original chocolate Mars bar, where it emphasizes that it consists of 3 flavors.

Mars had the same flavor of chocolate as Hershey-in fact, Mars initially bought its chocolate from Hershey- so the only difference in products was the added nougat and caramel. Mars quickly became as successful as Hershey and competed for market share. These large companies were able to produce chocolate extremely efficiently, so they were able to sell their products at lower prices than local confectioners (Brenner 188). The large companies soon outcompeted smaller ones, and thus most of our chocolate today is produced by massive companies that can sell us chocolate for the lowest prices.

There are signs, however, that consumers are starting to pay more attention to factors other than flavor and price when purchasing chocolate. Now that chocolate is so affordable, Americans are starting to be concerned with the way in which chocolate is produced: is it fair to the cacao growers? Is it ecologically sustainable? Does it have health benefits? According to Kristy Leissle, demand for organic, healthier chocolate is on the rise (23), which is reflected by the resurgence of artisan chocolate makers. The number of bean-to-bar chocolate artisans has risen from one to thirty-seven from the 1970s until now (Leissle 23), and the number keeps growing. Recently, there has been an emphasis on how organic, dark chocolate has health benefits and is tastier than mass-produced milk chocolate. More and more Americans are buying “premium,” especially dark, chocolate (Bean to Bar 167). This growing interest in fine chocolate is reflected in CVS’s small “Premium Chocolate” section. CVS itself is attempting to become a more health-oriented drugstore. It stopped selling cigarettes and is stocking its shelves with healthier options overall (Thau). This could explain why CVS is selling some darker, higher quality chocolates. However, all of the premium chocolate that CVS sells is still made by large companies that put their chocolate through a lot of processing. The brands available are Ghiradelli, Lindt, and Chuao: all large and well-known companies with not much of an emphasis on producing their products in an ecologically and ethically sound manner. This is likely because although CVS is making steps to sell more healthy, environmentally conscious products, it still must appeal to its target audience, which wants inexpensive and convenient snacks. These brands of premium chocolate are more expensive than typical American milk chocolate, but they are still much less expensive on average than artisan bean-to-bar chocolate, or than organically produced chocolate. CVS is thus striking the balance between healthier, socially conscious options and low price options. Overall, the options at CVS are a fairly accurate reflection of American trends towards chocolate overall. Americans are still hooked on extremely sugary, processed chocolate and are not willing to pay high prices for candy, but are starting to demand more dark chocolate due to its health benefits and common linkage with socially conscious initiatives.

Works Cited

“About.” CVS Health. CVS, n.d. Web. 5 May 2017.

Brenner, Joël Glenn. The emperors of chocolate: inside the secret world of Hershey and Mars. New York, NY: Broadway , 2000. Print.

Convex Strategies. “CVS: Demographics And Business Model Mean Tons Of Upside For The Stock.” Seeking Alpha. N.p., 16 Aug. 2012. Web. 5 May 2017.

D’Antonio, Michael. Hershey: Milton S. Hershey’s extraordinary life of wealth, empire, and utopian dreams. New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2007. Print.

Goody, Jack. “Industrial Food: Towards the Development of a World Cuisine.” Food and Culture: A Reader. Ed. Carole Counihan and Penny Van Esterik. New York: Routledge, 2013. 72-89. Print.

Leissle, Kristy. “Invisible West Africa.” Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture 13.3 (2013): 22-31. JSTOR. Web. 5 May 2017.

Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and power: the place of sugar in modern history. New York: Penguin , 1987. Print.

Thau, Barbara. “Can CVS Become The Whole Foods Of Drugstore Retailing?” Forbes. N.p., 22 Apr. 2017. Web. 5 May 2017.

Williams, Pamela Sue., and Jim Eber. Raising the bar: the future of fine chocolate. Vancouver, BC: Wilmor Publishing Corporation, 2012. Print.

Mars advertisement image link: http://robinthecandygirl.blogspot.com/2009/01/where-have-all-mars-bars-gone.html

The first image of Premium Chocolate was taken by me.

Hershey in War, from Rations to Friendship

Headquartered in rural Pennsylvania, over 87% of Hershey’s total revenues are based in North America, despite corporate strategies promoting global market expansion. Of Hershey’s twelve production facilities, ten are in North America and only two are in Asia.[1] Despite production and consumption based in the United States, the Hershey name has made a significant impact internationally through its association with the American military. This relationship heightens the dichotomy between cacao as a source of sustenance and a luxurious treat. Cacao promotes athletics and war on the one hand, pleasure and enjoyment on the other. In the U.S., Hershey supplied ration bars for soldiers. Its classic candies have bridged cross-cultural divides from World War I through the Berlin Airlift, the swamps of Vietnam to the deserts of Iraq.

The first documented histories of chocolate reveal the origins of the bean’s association with both indulgence and nutrition. Civilizations in Latin and South America recognized that “Armies travel on their stomachs.” The Aztecs, for example, believed that chocolate provided energy to fighters, who consumed the beverage before battle. [2] This tradition extended to European society. Britain’s Cadbury proclaimed that its cocoa, “Makes men stronger,” while Hershey deemed its chocolate bar “A meal in itself.”[3] Enjoyment of chocolate thereby spread from royal circles to the masses while it maintained its association with energy and success.[4]

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Soldiers continued to rely on chocolate as portable, high-energy fuel. In the French and Indian War, Benjamin Franklin sent each colonial officer six pounds of chocolate. The Continental Congress set price controls on cocoa, and the Americans rejoiced after the British left behind pounds of chocolate at the Fort of Ticonderoga.[5] World War II marked the intersection between the commercialization of chocolate production and the mass mobilization of armies. Mars created M&M’s in 1932, after Forrest Mars saw Spanish troops eating chocolate beads encased in sugar (to prevent melting). Mars sold M&M’s exclusively to the US military during WWII until turning to the public market in 1948.[6]

While Mars approached the U.S. to begin their relationship, the state reached out to Hershey.[7] The Office of War Information popularized the “militarization of food” through posters, film shorts, radio broadcasts, and propaganda that the Allie would win from combining democratic institutions with productive capitalism.[8] The initial request for Hershey in 1937 was for a 4 ounce bar, high in energy, resistant to heat, and tasting “little better than a boiled potato.”[9] The resulting product was terribly dense, earned the moniker “Hitler’s Secret Weapon” for its effect on the digestive system, and found itself more often discarded than eaten. Hershey continues to revise the recipe, introducing new iterations from Korea to Vietnam.[10]

Sugar-filled, traditional version of American chocolate became tools of diplomacy across language, culture, and generational gaps, a narrative that Hershey helped build. World War I saw troops from opposing trenches across the western front held a temporary truce in December of 1914.[11] British soldiers shared Rowntree chocolate biscuits, sent to support soldiers from its headquarters in York. They broke the biscuits together and then they played friendly games of football, at least until the war resumed the next week.[12] During World War II, this process began at home. Hotel Hershey interned 300 Vichy diplomats in the United States from 1942 through late 1943, since C-suite officials of Hershey offered the Hotel to the State Department.[13] Diplomats and wealthy businessmen, including the Hershey family and even the Vichy diplomats, continued to frequent luxury French dining establishments to enjoy chocolate, despite rationing restraints.[14] Meanwhile, the general public was forced to remove sugar from large parts of their diet.[15] Thus, the elite continued to mix chocolate and business, while soldiers and the poor traded in traditional sweet treats for subpar alternatives.

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Chocolate from the United States began to foster goodwill among noncombatants soon thereafter. Operation Vittles earned international acclaim during the Berlin Airlift, when 1st Lt. Gail Halvorsen included a few pieces of candy for children in his drops. Soon, his fellow soldiers began to participate, chipping in Hershey treats from their rations. As the public grew aware of the effort, corporations began to donate massive shipments of candy. Ultimately Halvorsen dropped 12 tons of candy and gum for the children of West Berlin from his C-47.[16]

Memoirs of American soldiers exchanged dropping candy out of planes for personal contact with children through candy. David Todeschini arrived in Vietnam as a medical aid provider at age 19. In his first visit to an orphanage, he recalled how,

[The children] ran out to greet us, asking for candy bars, and to have their pictures taken. We had a box full of assorted candies, chocolate, and peanuts donated by the GIs on base, which we distributed immediately upon our arrival; the cache being depleted in less time than it took for the medics to unload their medicine and equipment from the jeeps.[17]

Though the friendship began with sugar and smiles, he argued that the children “sure took notice of us, and it certainly goes beyond the fact that they always begged us for chocolate and candy—you could see it in their eyes, and many of us could see ourselves in their faces.”[18] Steven Alexander expressed similar sentiments in his memoir. The soldiers dreaded receiving C-ration boxes with tropical Hershey chocolate bars, too hot ever to melt and inedible. He instead found joy through chocolate by giving children Hershey bars and then seeing their reactions. Alexander reflected, “I only wished I had a real chocolate Hershey bar from home so she could really enjoy the candy. But she seemed to be happy with what I gave her.”[19] His tropical bar ration may not have added to his happiness, but the classic Hershey treat let him give temporary good cheer to others.

However, these relationships sometimes soured. Todeschini recounted a horrific, heart-wrenching dilemma that faced some of his comrades. The Vietcong began using children as weapons, playing on the moral affinity of American soldiers for local children:

Here comes an innocent child running down a dirt path, barefoot, and carrying about five or 6 pounds of high explosives heading right for you. The child may be racing several others to get there first; to be the first to get a Hershey bar. You know that in 10 seconds, you, your comrades, and the children will die.[20]

Could any man bring himself to shoot? The Vietnam War left behind some valid, anti-American sentiment. However, many of the soldiers attempted to build relationships with local communities based on trust, companionship, and shared appreciation for Hershey. These efforts sometimes ended tragically, but they facilitated an image of generosity regarding American soldiers toward Vietnamese children.

Most recently, the U.S. Air Force has been engaged in dropping food, water, and medicine to people struggling in remote areas, separated from relief by fighting. Another single pilot began this wave, this time Master Sergeant Stephen Brown, who added a little candy to each drop before his peers joined him.[21] Of the 109 bundles of 10,545 gallons of water and 7,056 Halal Meals Ready to Eat, each contained Hershey bars, Starbursts, or other sweets. Brown reflected that they hoped to provide “something that will make a dire situation a little brighter, even if it’s just for a few moments.”[22] Though Hershey remains a distinctly American brand, its reputation has thus extended overseas through the military, from the trenches of France to the desserts of Iraq. Hershey chocolate’s role in military rations and in civilian contacts recalls a dichotomy that has existed since the earliest days of chocolate, between sustenance and pleasure. However, the reality that Hershey chocolate, in both cases, is provided by Americans to soldiers and to children, respectively, shows that it continues to reflect a legacy of luxury and elite access, even in this arena.

[Word Count: 1293]

[1] “The Hershey Company,” 10-K (Hershey, PA, December 31, 2015), https://www.sec.gov/Archives/edgar/data/47111/000004711116000095/a2015_formx10-kq4.

[2] Sophie Coe and Michael Coe, The True History of Chocolate, 3rd ed. (London: Thames & Hudson, 2013), 73.

[3] Ibid., 239.

[4] Ibid., 234. The rise of financial systems in Protestant countries, with capital stores and technological framework, facilitated this democratization of chocolate. The estates of sugar plantations in outposts of empire reduced the price of sugar. And two inventions specifically improved taste and lowered price: Van Houten’s addition of alkaline (to reduce bitterness) and Fry’s creation of milk chocolate (to increase sweetness and lower price).

[5] Though these blocks did not have sugar added, their caffeine content energized soldiers just as they had the Aztecs. Rodney Synder, “History of Chocolate: Chocolate in the American Colonies,” Colonial Williamsburg, http://www.history.org/history/teaching/enewsletter/volume9/jan11/featurearticle.

[6] Mars formed a partnership with Hershey’s, founded in 1898, to supply the milk chocolate for this confection until he could produce the filling internally. M&M’s remain a part of Meals Ready to Eat (MRE) today. Laura Schumm, “The Wartime Origins of the M&M,” History.com, 2017, http://www.history.com/news/hungry-history/the-wartime-origins-of-the-mm.

[7] Allison Carruth, “War Rations and the Food Politics of Late Modernism,” Modernism/Modernity 16, no. 4 (January 1, 2010): 767–95, doi:10.1353/mod.0.0139.

[8] Carruth, 770; U. S. Office of War Information, Food for Fighters, 1943, http://archive.org/details/FoodforF1943. This short film argued that “Food correctly used means fighting strength for our soldiers and better health for civilians,” discussing food plants, university laboratories, and quartermaster corporal studies. These promoted “good food in plenty of variety,” supplied on the front using repurposed assembly lines from candy companies.

[9] Stephanie Butler, “D-Day Rations: How Chocolate Helped Win the War,” History.com, http://www.history.com/news/hungry-history/d-day-rations-how-chocolate-helped-win-the-war.

[10] For more information on the evolution of Hershey through military research, alongside other food developments, see Anastacia Marx de Salcedo, Combat-Ready Kitchen: How the U.S. Military Shapes the Way You Eat (New York, New York: Current, 2015). These chocolate bars have remained relatively unpalatable given the difficulty of replicating the melting temperature of good chocolate once eaten without turning into a puddle in desert heat.

[11] Iain Adams, “A Game for Christmas? The Argylls, Saxons and Football on the Western Front,” International Journal of the History of Sport 32, no. 11 (June 2015): 1395.

[12] Gemma Mullin, “New Exhibition Reveals How Chocolate Was Morale Booster for Soldiers,” Mail Online, July 22, 2014, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2701170/How-chocolate-helped-win-WW1-New-exhibition-reveals-important-confectionary-morale-booster-troops-trenches.html.

[13] This hotel was the center of the resort town centered on the Hershey factory in Pennsylvania. The State Department did pay Hershey a $256,643 bill, and the Hotel reopened to the public the next year. Jackie Kruper, “A Sweet Prison Camp,” World War II 20, no. 2 (May 2005): 58–60.

[14] Carruth, 779.

[15] The poor, at this point, relied on inexpensive treats like chocolate for 30% of their daily calories, so the rationing significantly impaired their nutrition. Sidney W. Mintz, Sweetness and Power (New York: Penguin, 1985), 256.

[16] “Berlin Airlift: The Chocolate Pilot,” PBS, http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/airlift/sfeature/candy.

[17] David Todeschini, Land of Childhood’s Fears – Faith, Friendship, and the Vietnam War (Lulu.com, 2005), 105.

[18] Ibid., 19.

[19] Steven Alexander, An American Soldier in Vietnam (Page Publishing, 2013), chpt. 9; 10.

[20] Todeschini, 258.

[21] Dorian de Wind, “The ‘Candy Bombers’ of Iraq,” Huffington Post, September 4, 2014, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dorian-de-wind/the-candy-bombers-of-iraq_b_5769316.html.

[22] “The ‘Almost’ Candy Bombers of Iraq,” U.S. Air Force, accessed March 16, 2017, http://www.af.mil/News/ArticleDisplay/tabid/223/Article/494965/the-almost-candy-bombers-of-iraq.aspx.


Works Cited

Alexander, Steven. An American Soldier in Vietnam. Page Publishing Inc, 2013.

Butler, Stephanie. “D-Day Rations: How Chocolate Helped Win the War – Hungry History.” HISTORY.com. Accessed March 15, 2017. http://www.history.com/news/hungry-history/d-day-rations-how-chocolate-helped-win-the-war.

Carruth, Allison. “War Rations and the Food Politics of Late Modernism.” Modernism/Modernity 16, no. 4 (January 1, 2010): 767–95. doi:10.1353/mod.0.0139.

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

Kruper, Jackie. “A Sweet Prison Camp.” World War II 20, no. 2 (May 2005): 58–60.

Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power. New York: Penguin, 1985.

Mullin, By Gemma. “New Exhibition Reveals How Chocolate Was Morale Booster for Soldiers.” Mail Online, July 22, 2014. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2701170/How-chocolate-helped-win-WW1-New-exhibition-reveals-important-confectionary-morale-booster-troops-trenches.html.

Salcedo, Anastacia Marx de. Combat-Ready Kitchen: How the U.S. Military Shapes the Way You Eat. New York, New York: Current, 2015.

Schumm, Laura. “The Wartime Origins of the M&M – Hungry History.” HISTORY.com. Accessed March 16, 2017. http://www.history.com/news/hungry-history/the-wartime-origins-of-the-mm.

Synder, Rodney. “History of Chocolate: Chocolate in the American Colonies.” Colonial Williamsburg. Accessed March 16, 2017. http://history.org/history/teaching/enewsletter/volume9/jan11/featurearticle.cfm.

“The ‘Almost’ Candy Bombers of Iraq.” U.S. Air Force. Accessed March 16, 2017. http://www.af.mil/News/ArticleDisplay/tabid/223/Article/494965/the-almost-candy-bombers-of-iraq.aspx.

“The Berlin Airlift: The Chocolate Pilot.” PBS. Accessed March 15, 2017. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/airlift/sfeature/candy.html.

“The Hershey Company.” 10-K. Hershey, PA, December 31, 2015. https://www.sec.gov/Archives/edgar/data/47111/000004711116000095/a2015_formx10-kq4.htm.

Todeschini, David. Land of Childhood’s Fears – Faith, Friendship, and the Vietnam War. Lulu.com, 2005.

S. Office of War Information. Food for Fighters, 1943. http://www.archive.org/details/FoodforF1943.

Wind, Dorian de. “The ‘Candy Bombers’ of Iraq.” Huffington Post, September 4, 2014. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dorian-de-wind/the-candy-bombers-of-iraq_b_5769316.html.