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An In-depth Look Into Dandelion Chocolate: How a Unique Bean-to-Bar Craft Chocolate Company Positively Transforms the Way to Supply, Manufacture, and Retail Chocolate

Dandelion Chocolate, a small-batch chocolatier cafe, sits in San Francisco’s oldest neighborhood, The Mission. Founded in 2010 by Todd Masonis as a cafe, Dandelion Chocolate has expanded to retailers across U.S and Japan, designed tours and classes, and diversified its menu offerings with several new recipes in addition to the company’s handmade candy bars (2). Masonis, CEO of Dandelion Chocolate and previously a software developer, started the company with a vision to scale, to transform the chocolate industry, and to challenge people’s customary view of chocolate. This paper will conduct an in-depth analysis of the company’s supply chain, chocolate manufacturing process, and retail strategy. Throughout I will highlight how Dandelion’s innovative techniques are challenging the Big Five chocolate makers and redefining how chocolate is produced and sold. By the end, it will be clear how Dandelion continues to be a part of the solution to the problems in the cacao-chocolate market.

BeanTo-Bar: The Supply Chain from Cacao Trees to the Dandelion Factory

Three words sum up Dandelion’s supply chain — precise, sustainable, and global. As a bean-to-bar chocolatier, Dandelion emphasizes the quality of the beans it uses in its chocolate bars and menu recipes. The company focuses on simplicity. Since Dandelion “uses only two ingredients to make [their] chocolate — cocoa beans and organic cane sugar”, the company has to be particular of the sourced beans’ flavor profiles (2). This directly contrasts the origin, sourcing, and flavor profile of the Big Five chocolate makers. Early in Hershey’s development, Milton S. Hershey hired a chemist before firing him and hiring John Schmalbach who helped create Hershey’s taste profile that we still see today (4). When Schmalbach was done experimenting, he arrived at “a mild-tasting milk chocolate that had the perfect bite — like al dente pasta — that melted smoothly in the mouth” (4). This product utilized swiss condensed milk which helped Hershey easily pump, channel, and pour the chocolate through mass production. Unlike Dandelion’s simple single ingredient taste profile, Hershey confuses consumers with its chocolate nutritional profile. On Hershey’s site, the company states their chocolate bars are made with “simple ingredients — and never any artificial flavors, preservatives or sweeteners” (5). These ingredients include “farm fresh whole milk, cocoa 100% certified, almonds, sugar from the finest sugar plantations, and vanilla” (14). How can we believe Hershey’s promises? To begin to answer this question, consumers can look at the back of Hershey’s chocolate bar.

The iconic Hershey’s Milk Chocolate bar wrapper from 1973-1976. Clearly, consumers can see contradictions from the website today in the ingredients section. Artifical flavoring is added (6).

The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act require food companies to show nutrition labeling (1). Fortunately, this gives consumers the honest answer to the question stated above. Under the ingredients tab, Hershey lists that an artificial flavoring is added in addition to other ingredients that are not common to the average consumer (5). This is the first evidence of how Dandelion is redefining the chocolate market and supply chain process for the better. Dandelion is so precise with its sourcing and ingredients that it can give consumers the transparency and trust they desire. On their site, Dandelion gives a distinct background of the supply chain process, the origin of each of the beans, and the Chef’s preparation technique for each of the products that it retails. These details get as precise as the cacao percentage, the single origin location, ingredients, and when the cacao beans were harvested.

This is the MAYA MOUNTAIN, BELIZE 70% chocolate bar. It is one of the many single origin chocolate bars sold on Dandelions retail site and in stores. The bar’s flavor profile and the cocoa beans terror serve up beautiful “hints of honey and caramel with notes of strawberries and cream.” Finally, the bars are made with just cocoa beans and sugar, no added cocoa butter, lecithin or vanilla (10). 

 

 

 

Consumers can be confident they are getting fine cacao and that the ingredients in their chocolate are not unhealthy with too much sugar or saturated fats. This last point is critical as chocolate makers such as Ferrara, Lindt, and Nestle are making real commitment to increase health awareness surrounding chocolate products, provide better labeling and packaging, and partner with Healthier America.

Each year Dandelion publishes a sourcing report that is easily accessible on their site. The 2016 sourcing report, 48 pages long, provides consumers with information on the executives core philosophy, the geographic location where beans sourced, the fermentation and drying style, cultivation notes, farmer’s certifications, cacao beans’ exporter, tasting notes, company’s relationship/history with each farmer, price they paid per tonne in each region, and date of the company’s last visit to the farm to do a checkup (3).

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An example of all the information from the sourcing report for Bertil Akesson’s organic estate in Ambanja, Madagascar, the place Dandelion purchased their first full bag of beans, is shown above (3).

Dandelion’s control of the entire supply chain as a bean-to-bar chocolatier gives them the flexibility to synthesize and present all this information. 

In addition to providing precise transparency to consumers of every detail in the supply chain process, the Dandelion executives discuss the importance of sustainability in their core philosophy. Dandelion “pays a premium price for their cacao far above the world market price (that is fixed rather than dependent on an arbitrary market)” (3). This information is presented in the sourcing report. The average market price for cacao in 2016 was $2,892.16 per tonne. The least Dandelion paid for cacao $5,100.00 per tonne, the most $7,500.00 per tonne, and $6,599.00 per tonne on average.  This increase in income solves many of the cacao industry’s problems. With prices at the average market price or less than half Dandelion’s price, cacao farmers earn less than $2 per day in Western Africa (9).

In the two pictures, we see the ethical problem in the chocolate industry. In the picture on the left, a young boy is performing hard labor with a machete to chop cacao pods from high up in a cacao tree (16). The child faces physical and developmental risks from this kind of labor. Further, the highlight the systematic effects of child labor, the lack of education, the lack of enforcement of child labor laws, and the effects of you consuming chocolate from companies who exploit these problems (17). 

The problem is most prevalent in Western Africa where stories like of 16-year-old Alhassan Ali, who took the opportunity to work on a cocoa farm in western Ghana and left his home. Quickly, Alhassan felt “cheated as life was hard” and the conditions unbearable for a teenager who had no choice after his father died.

Children are thrown into these jobs to help their families, although less than one-quarter of cacao farmers would recommend that their children go into farming and the fact that this violates international labor laws (12, 18, 8 ). The work is dangerous and the risks include fatigue, mosquito-borne diseases, and agrochemical poisoning.

Since cacao is a commodity and harvested seasonally, cacao farmers struggle with volatile income. Dandelion executives recognized this problem as they “used to buy beans as needed but sometimes that led to chaos and stress both on the part of their team as well as on the part of our suppliers” (3). In 2016, the company constructed a 5-year plan in which they would buy beans one year in advance in order to help alleviate the stress on their producers. Employees from Dandelion visit their producers each year to ensure the quality of the cacao, environmentally friendly farming practices, and sustainable conditions for the workers. If you don’t believe their mission and core philosophy, then you can ask their producers themselves, since the company provides names, locations, and pictures to earn consumers’ trust.

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Vincente Norero, the manager of Camino Verde Cacao farm in Ecuador, sits on top of one of his machines as he explains the genetics of cacao in his region to visiting employees from Dandelion (3).  

Additionally, a major component of Dandelion’s long-term planning strategy is a rigorous quality assessment beyond fine cacao or bulk cacao, which the Big Five use. This evaluation starts out “breaking down cacao producers based on physical quality, sensory evaluation, and hedonic preference” (3). Dandelion gives the producers enough feedback so that the farmers know what is the flavor profile and the terroir that the company wants.

Finally, Dandelion has created a global network of producers that provide the company with a diverse set of high-quality cacao. Dandelion strengthens relationships between the community of producers by emphasizing information sharing. Producers in different regions visit each other and share their techniques and experiences. For instance, the heads of the farm estate “Brian and Sim from Kokoa Kimili visited Zorzal in the Dominican Republic” (3). This is unlike any craft chocolate or large chocolate make and this may be the CEO Todd Masonis’ secret weapon to scale the craft chocolatier business. The company has two factories across the globe in San Francisco and Japan. They both support the company’s global sourcing of cacao in 7 different regions: Madagascar, Ecuador, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Tanzania, Venezuela, and Belize. This degree of diversity is uncommon for one company. In fact, “70% of the world’s cocoa is grown in the region and the vast majority of that supply comes from two countries: Ivory Coast and Ghana” (7). Dandelion not only ensures to source diverse cacao but also does not mix cacao from different regions or farms. This is powerful in the cacao in the cacao industry. Not even regulation or certifications can effectively track that companies keep to this promise like Dandelion does. 

Bean-ToBar: The Exquisite Manufacturing and Chocolate Production Process and Ingenious Retail Strategy

Once the factory receives the diverse, high-quality cocoa beans which have been fermented and dried in their regions, the company undergoes another precise taste tests on each batch. Surprisingly, each testing of a batch may take “as many as eight to sixteen tastings before they are happy with the taste profile” (2). Next, the batch is sorted and dirt, rocks, and defected beans are removed.

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Here, the chocolatiers use a machine they built in-house to winnow and remove the shells. However, the company says that your household hair dryer would work the same (15).

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A melanger is used to stir and crush beans creating small particles and more fluid chocolate state (11).

After these steps, the chocolate is packaged until it is ready to be tempered and transformed into chocolate bars.

This highly technical process ensures that each chocolate bar holds up to the company standard that no added ingredients or artificial flavoring are included in the end products. The company even offers tours and classes to teach chocolatiers their craft chocolate secrets. The whole production process is transparent. This eliminates any need for certification from organizations like Fair Trade, USDA Organic, or Rainforest Alliance. Instead, consumers are educated on the labor conditions, ingredients, quality, and health information from researching online on Dandelion’s site. Dandelion utilizes this transparency and network of information to scale their consumer base and challenge the chocolate industry to have the same care for all parts of the process.

Finally, Dandelion is redefining the retail strategy for chocolate. Most people are accustomed to purchasing chocolate bars from large retail and convenience stores like CVS, Walmart, and Target. The large chocolate manufacturers spend millions on advertisements in commercials, billboards, and magazines. However, Dandelion’s executives have taken a different approach. The company’s first establishment, the Dandelion Chocolate Cafe, is the model for how Dandelion will transform the chocolate industry and how consumers expect to consume chocolate. Music blasts from the speakers playing a hip playlist that caters to the diverse crowd in the cafe. Children, young teens, and chocolate connoisseurs from Mission District crowd the shop on Valencia street for the chocolate wrapped in gold foil and custom wrappers, the blowtorched s’mores, or for a bag of locally roasted, single origin cocoa beans.  Adopting the executives’ Silicon Valley marketing and trendy style, Dandelion Cafe consumer and sales skyrockets in its first years. The company reached “$1 million in early 2013 after opening its factory/cafe in the Mission” (19). Shortly after a year, more outposts were built in Tokoya and across California. All the while, the company has elevated its online presence with a vibrant website which hosts a blog, instructional videos, and information about each of their products and locations. What was once an antiquated industry ruled by roughly 5 chocolate manufactures is being transformed by two software engineering executives and their ambitious company to scale handmade, craft chocolate globally. No longer can the chocolate industry exploit poor working conditions in their supply chain, obscure nutritional information, or produce low quality chocolate because Dandelion Chocolate and many other craft chocolate companies businesses are transforming the industry and the consumers are recognizing this transformation.


Works cited

  1. Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. “Labeling & Nutrition – Small Business Nutrition Labeling Exemption.” U S Food and Drug Administration Home Page, Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/GuidanceDocumentsRegulatoryInformation/LabelingNutrition/ucm2006867.htm.
  2. “Dandelion Chocolate.” Dandelion Chocolate, http://www.dandelionchocolate.com/.
  3. “Dandelion Chocolate.” Dandelion Chocolate, http://dande.li/2016SourcingReport
  4. D’Antonio, Michael D. 2006. Hershey: Milton S. Hershey’s Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams. pp. 106-126
  5. “Fooducate.” Lose Weight & Improve Your Health with a Real Food Diet, www.fooducate.com/app#!page=product&id=530B67CE-E108-11DF-A102-FEFD45A4D471.
  6. Hershey Community Archives | Hershey’s Milk Chocolate: Bar Wrappers over the Years, www.hersheyarchives.org/exhibits/default.aspx?ExhibitId=20&ExhibitSectionId=44.
  7. “Inside Big Chocolate’s Child Labor Problem.” Fortune, fortune.com/big chocolate child-labor. O’Keefe, Brian. “Inside Big Chocolate’s Child Labor Problem.” Fortune, @2018 Time Inc., fortune.com/big-chocolate-child-labor.
  8. International Labour Organization. January 26, 2000. “Convention 182.” http://www.ilo.org/public/english/standards/relm/ilc/ilc87/com-chic.htm. (3/01/14)
  9. Kramer, Anna. March 6, 2013. “Women and the big business of chocolate.” Oxfam America. https://www.oxfamamerica.org/static/media/files/oxfam-fact-sheet-women-and-cocoa-screen.pdf (9/4/17)
  10. “MAYA MOUNTAIN, BELIZE 70%.” Products, http://www.dandelionchocolate.com/store/products/maya-mountain-belize-70/#anchor.
  11. “Melanger.” Process, http://www.dandelionchocolate.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/about13.png.
  12. Price, Larry C. July 10, 2013. “One Million Children Labor in Africa’s Goldmines.” PBS. http://www.pbs.org/newshour/updates/world-july-dec13-burkinafaso_07-10/. (3/03/14)
  13. Ryan Órla. Chocolate Nations Living and Dying for Cocoa in West Africa. Zed Books, 2012.
  14. “Take a Look inside Our Factory.” Our Brands, http://www.hersheys.com/en_us/our-story/our-ingredients.html.
  15. “Winnow Machine.” LE GRANDE EXPERIMENT, http://www.dandelionchocolate.com/2015/05/12/le-grande-experiment-part-2-making-chocolate-steve-devries-style-in-denver/.
  16. “Child Labor: The Dark Side of Chocolate.” WilderUtopia.com, 3 Mar. 2018, http://www.wilderutopia.com/international/earth/child-labor-the-dark-side-of-chocolate/.
  17. USA, Fair Trade. “Is There Child Labor In Your Chocolate?” The Huffington Post, TheHuffingtonPost.com, 7 Dec. 2017, www.huffingtonpost.com/fair-trade-usa/is-there-child-labor-in-y_b_9169898.html.
  18. Martin, Carla D. “Lecture: Modern Slavery”
  19. Shanker, Deena. “The Rise of Craft Chocolate.” Bloomberg.com, Bloomberg, 7 Feb. 2017, http://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2017-02-07/the-rise-of-craft-chocolate.

 

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The Rise of Craft Chocolate Makers and the Consequences of a Saturated Chocolate Bar Market

Whether it’s a CVS, Walgreens, Walmart, or nearby vending machine, consumers can always expect to find a Reese’s, bag of M&Ms, or Snickers. The tastes, packaging, and experience from these common chocolate bars have been ingrained in our minds since we were little.

A lighthearted commercial Kit Kat Large uses of “Dancing Babies” so people will remember the happy memories of them eating Kit Kats and to increase brand loyalty, the driving factor for the success of the Big Five companies (7). 

Up until the 1970s, the Big Five companies: Cadbury, Ferrero, Nestle, Hershey’s, and Mars faced little competition from smaller chocolate makers and if they did their strategy was to acquire them or bully them out of the market. The companies leveraged being first to enter the chocolate market when the “industrialization of the manufacturing process, retail, and transportation” of chocolate started (8). It is no surprise, these companies split over 70% the U.S. confectionery market share (5). However, after the 1970s and 1980s, the competition increased in the chocolate confectionery market due to the rise of craft chocolate makers who “returned to small-scale manufacturing and single origin fine cacao” (8) This paper will discuss why the craft chocolate makers were able to break through despite the firm grasp the Big Five has held on the chocolate market including reasons such as increasing the transparency of the manufacturing process and ingredients, embracing variations (new and old) in recipes, flavors, and richness, and because of a shift in the typical consumer’s attention to the ethics of the companies they are purchasing from.

Craft chocolate, not Kraft chocolate

There have been warning signs that hint the pendulum swing occurring in the chocolate bar market since the 1970s. By pendulum swing, I am referring to the transition from the pre-industrial chocolate which was rich, handmade with fine cacao in Mayan and Aztech households to the dip in quality and diversity that occurred after the invention of the cocoa press and dutch process chocolate and with the rise of industrial chocolate (2, 11). The year 2017 was a “positive year for many confectionery players outside of the Big Five” (14). Companies like Hershey with +1.25% and Mondelez with +2.3% net sales growth were outpaced by rest of chocolate industry growth of +3.3% (14). Furthermore, net profit took a large spike for companies in the Big Five (10).  These companies’ savvy advertising techniques, meticulous taste testing of flavor profiles, and their economy of scale are not as scary to new chocolate makers or enticing to consumers.

Pop up, craft chocolate makers have “exponentially risen over the past few decades to approximately 200 today” in North America (10). These include Scharffen Berger Chocolate Maker, Soma chocolate, and Rogue Chocolatier (1). What uniquely separates these companies are their attention to the combination of flavors, origins of cacao beans, initiatives the companies support, and experiences they create for the consumer.

Scharffen Berger Chocolate Maker - Ferry Building, San Francisco

Founded in 1996, Scharffen Berger was the first Modern bean-to-bar chocolate company in North America. One of its slogans Romancing the Bean highlights the companies finest chocolate bars paired with luxurious wine. This company was one of the first to start selling bars made with cocoa from Madagascar. (12) Note Scharffen Berger was acquired by Hershey in 2005 after its success as craft chocolate maker. 

This stainless steel instrument is a grindometer. A worker at the Dandelion Cafe is using it to measure particle size in suspensions in order to arrive at the smooth sweet chocolate texture the chef desires. This is a prime example of DIY small machines that allow for craft chocolate makers to produce high-quality products by controlling the whole chocolate making process. 

Just like the culture change beer and coffee are experiencing with new small breweries and niche coffee shops, the chocolate market is growing with new ideas and diverse flavors (13).

A great example of this change in culture around chocolate is Dandelion Chocolate. The cafe sits in the hip Mission District of San Francisco. Here is a sign showing the advertising the company is using to draw consumers in and convince them of their unique chocolate bar’s taste (3). 

These craft chocolate companies describe their process as “Bean-To-Bar Chocolate”, meaning all produced in-house. Cases like these are reshaping the chocolate retail market slowly as the market shifts back to pre-industrial chocolate making and the frequent use of vintage machines to produce Mayan and Aztec inspired tastes and chocolate forms as opposed to “industrial chocolate: low cost and taste consistency” (4).

The dynamics of the selling point for chocolate companies have changed and the new millennials and advancements in communication with social media are at the core pushing this transformation. Over the past two decades, the Big Five chocolate companies have been facing large scrutiny for their negligence or responsibility for some of the worst forms of child labor and forced labor in its supply chain and industry. “On average, cacao farmers earn less than $2 per day” in Western Africa (1). While these large companies profits reach the billions, these countries fall into a trap of poverty and dependence on the commodity. To combat this scrutiny in the eyes of the public, these companies set up plans to address these issues. Mars, Hershey, and Ferrero promised that by 2020 they would purchase 100% of their cacao from “certified producers (6). While the other large companies aimed to invest in cacao non-profits to train and assist farmers in these regions such as Western Africa.

From these companies’ ambitious responses and promises, it is clear that they are worried about the perception of the manufacturing processes they use. However, we have yet to see how the chocolate market will respond or if they will reach these goals. The advantage heavily favors craft chocolate makers who produce the chocolate from scratch. The maker “roasts, grinds, and smoothens them into chocolate in a single facility” (6). The success of these small companies are driven by consumers who can trust the chocolate is made carefully and without ethical concerns.

This brings me to my last topic, the implications of the saturation of the chocolate market with more craft chocolate makers. As the pendulum swings to more traditional small chocolate chains, I suspect more pressure on the large-scale companies that depend on in-store purchases to change their marketing model and increase transparency of their manufacturing processes beyond ensuring their cacao comes from certified cacao farms. E-commerce will be the biggest cause of this transformation. The Big Five market share for in-store purchases will shrink, they will be forced to consolidate their large product/brand offerings into one brand, and companies will explore different recipes to pair with chocolate. Additionally, with the increase in the number of companies, I believe there will be a stronger necessity for a standardized, international regulation of cacao quality and a metric to quantify rich, milk,  or real chocolate. All in all, the rise in craft chocolate makers will lead the charge for more ethical cacao farming and increased standard of living in regions that grow cacao.


Works cited

  1. “Child Labor and Slavery in the Chocolate Industry.” Child Labor and Slavery in the Chocolate Industry | Food Empowerment Project, http://www.foodispower.org/ slavery-chocolate.
  2. Coe, Sophie D. and Coe, Michael D. The True History of Chocolate.  Thames & Hudson Ltd: London (1996) Print 
  3. “Dandelion Chocolate.” Dandelion Chocolate, http://www.dandelionchocolate.com/.
  4. Giller, Megan. Bean-to-Bar Chocolate: Americas Craft Chocolate Revolution: the Origins, the Makers, and the Mind-Blowing Flavors. Storey Publishing, 2017.
  5. Hershey. “ The Hershey Company Fact Book.” Thehersheycompany, Oct. 2017, https://http://www.thehersheycompany.com/content/dam/corporate-us/documents/investors/2017-fact-book.pdf.
  6. “Inside Big Chocolate’s Child Labor Problem.” Fortune, fortune.com/big chocolate child-labor. O’Keefe, Brian. “Inside Big Chocolate’s Child Labor Problem.” Fortune, @2018 Time Inc., fortune.com/big-chocolate-child-labor.
  7. Kit Kat Dancing Babies Commercial, YouTube, 18 Jan. 2013, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0o2qeU4RSuA.
  8. Martin, Carla D. “Lecture 1: Introduction” and “Lecture 3: Chocolate Expansion”
  9. Martin, Carla, D. “Sizing the craft chocolate market,” Fine Cacao and Chocolate Institute (blog), August 31, 2017, https://chocolateinstitute.org/blog/sizing-the-craft-chocolate-market/.
  10. “Mondelēz Revenues Slide 13% in 2016 as Analysts Casts Doubt on Kraft-Heinz Merger.” Confectionerynews.com, 7 Feb. 2017,  http://www.confectionerynews.com/Article/2017/02/07/Mondelez-2016-results-Sales-sliDe-13-organic-growth-target-missed.
  11. Presilla, Maricel E. The new taste of chocolate: a cultural and natural history of cacao with recipes. Random House Digital, Inc., 2009
  12. SCHARFFEN BERGER|Artisan Chocolatehttp://www.scharffenberger.com/ en_us/home.html.
  13. Shanker, Deena. “The Rise of Craft Chocolate.” Bloomberg.com, Bloomberg, 7 Feb. 2017, http://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2017-02-07/the-rise-of-craft-chocolate.
  14. “The Candy Papers: Confectionery Industry Year in Review 2017.” Confectionerynews.com, William Reed Business Media Ltd 2018., 12 Dec. 2017, http://www.confectionerynews.com/Article/2017/12/12/The-Candy-Papers-Confectionery-industry-year-in-review-2017.

Chocolate Lessons: Knowledge Gleaned from Chocolate Bars Sold in the Natural Foods Aisle

On average, Americans consume 12 pounds of chocolate per person each year or a little less than a quarter pound of chocolate per week. A typical chocolate bar ranges from 1.5-3.5 ounces. Therefore, 12 pounds of chocolate equates to enjoying 55-128 chocolate bars (depending on its size) per year! It is safe to say, for better or for worse, chocolate has become an integral part of the American diet.

Historically, chocolate was consumed for medicinal purposes, primarily as a source of nourishment and energy. Today, the developed world struggles with being simultaneously over nourished and malnourished from an imbalanced diet. Nevertheless, chocolate health claims persist, usually in reference to darker chocolates. Beneficial properties of cocoa include antioxidant, cardiovascular, and psychological enhancement, which are linked to its polyphenol, flavanol, and caffeine content (Castell, Pérez-Cano, and Bisson, 2013). These health claims are not present on chocolate bar labels, though.

In the last couple of decades, food packaging has actually become quite informationally dense. How can you sift through all of the information on chocolate labels to know what’s really important? Additionally, what can we learn from a chocolate bar’s packaging, besides its nutritional content? The goal of this blog post is to help decipher the various symbols, certification meanings, and key words that appear on chocolate wrappers.

Ultimately, you, as the consumer, have to decide what is important to you and what you are looking for in your chocolate purchases, not only in terms of taste but also social responsibility. Equipping yourself with the knowledge to know what to look for, and what symbols, certifications, and other words on chocolate packages mean, makes informed chocolate purchases a much smoother process and ensures you have the best chocolate buying experience possible. Before chocolate tasting can become embodied knowledge, it requires repetition in order to pick up on flavor nuances of single origin chocolate or to be able to tell if a chocolate bar was made with over-roasted cacao beans. In the same way, learning the stories and processes behind the chocolate you are eating requires some research, occasionally beyond the label itself.

I studied the chocolate bars in the natural foods aisle of a Stop & Shop grocery store in the greater Boston area to see what information could be gleaned from the chocolate labels within this section. I did not include enrobed chocolate candies within this aisle, “regular” chocolate bars (i.e., Hershey’s) in the main candy aisle or those present in the checkout lanes. I chose to focus on the chocolate bars within the natural foods aisle because, typically, these brands offer more information and stories about cacao procurement, processing, and its impact on people or the environment, whereas chocolate produced by most Big Five brands only provide nutritional information on the back of the wrapper. The Big Five chocolate brands include well-known companies: Hershey, Mars, Cadbury, Nestle, and Ferrero (Allen, 2010).

The type of consumer who shops for chocolate in the natural foods aisle is most likely not just looking for a sugar fix because there are cheaper ways to meet that need. The intended audience includes individuals who may be interested in supporting social or environmental causes, and who are probably health conscious, even though it is still chocolate. Additionally, he or she may have a sophisticated or informed palate, and prefer quality chocolate with nuanced flavors. The natural foods aisle typically offers products that are slightly more expensive than its conventional counterparts, so the consumer is not making his or her choice of chocolate based solely on price point. Rather, the consumer possibly has a higher disposable income and is able to spend two or three times as much money on a chocolate bar from this section than on chocolate from one of the large chocolate corporations previously mentioned.

The natural foods aisle in Stop & Shop offers eight different brands of chocolate bars: Chocolove XOXOX, Green & Black’s, Divine, Theo, TCHO, LILY’s, Endangered Species Chocolate, and Alter Eco. These bars are being sold for $2.50-$3.99, with Chocolove XOXOX being the cheapest because it was on sale. Divine, LILY’s, and Alter Eco lands at the upper end of the options. The TCHO 70% dark chocolate bar usually retails for $4.29, but happened to be on sale. Still, these are moderately priced “good” chocolate bars compared to other specialty chocolate companies and retailers who sell their bars for about double the price. The juxtaposition of these brands, with a $1.00 (or less) Hershey’s chocolate bar, provides an interesting comparison in both price and taste.

The eight brands offer bars in a variety of flavors ranging from 34% milk chocolate to 85% dark chocolate with the option of added fruit or nut pieces. The white chocolate selection was nonexistent in this section at this particular grocery store. However, just for informational purposes, one brand (outside of the eight focused on here) does contribute a white chocolate peanut butter cup.

Just a few of the brands provide chocolate bars made from single origin cacao, which might be a more common provision at specialty retail stores. Both TCHO and Divine use Ghanaian cacao, and Alter Eco sources its cacao beans from Ecuador. Chocolove XOXOX states on the back of the wrapper that their Belgian chocolate bars are crafted with African cocoa beans. This somewhat vague statement only alludes to the fact that their beans do not come from Central or South America, or Southeast Asia but could be sourced from one or more of the cacao producing countries within the large continent of Africa. Additionally, Green & Black’s credits Trinitario cacao beans for giving their chocolate a rich and unique flavor profile. Trinitario cacao beans are thought to embody the best qualities of its genetic parents, the Criollo and Forastero varieties, with the hybrid cacao being both hardy and possessing a nice flavor profile (Prisilla, 2009). Likewise, the purpose of brands specifying single origin or the use of a single cacao variety suggests an increase in quality or flavor characteristics that add value to the end product. Thus, the price of these types of bars is usually slightly higher compared to mixed bean origin or variety, and especially compared to bulk cacao.

There are a few things that stand out upon taking a closer look at the packages. First, Alter Eco is the only brand that uses a cardboard packaging to house its chocolate. All of the other brands wrap their bars in a glossy paper. In both cases, the chocolate is likely sealed in foil before receiving either the glossy paper or cardboard outer wrapper. While the outer cardboard layer looks visually appealing and feels nice to the touch, it also makes the bar appear larger than it actually is. The 2.8 ounce Alter Eco chocolate bar looks bigger than the 3 ounce LILY’S bar sitting next to it on the shelf, as the image shows below. Thus, most consumers probably believe they are purchasing a larger chocolate bar if they do not read the front of the package and realize the chocolate bar is smaller by weight than some other options.

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Alter Eco 2.8 ounce chocolate bar

Like several other brands, Theo includes a brief description about the company and their procurement and processing practices on the back of the package. Here, Theo shares it is a bean to bar chocolate company, which means the company purchases the fermented and dried cacao beans, and then carries out each of the remaining processing steps (about 10) from roasting to packaging, according to their unique preferences. Thus, the company oversees the entire chocolate making process and can tweak each batch according to its needs and the desired outcome, making it a true craft.

Green & Black’s label does not readily offer information about the company’s processing practices other than it uses fair trade and organic ingredients. Interestingly, the backside of the label does say Mondelez Global LLC distributes Green & Black’s chocolate bars. Mondelez is one of the largest global snack food companies and now owns Cadbury, one of the Big Five chocolate companies. Last year, Mondelez even attempted to acquire the Hershey Company, but Hershey declined the offer (Bukhari, 2017). Thus, Mondelez is a significant player within the global food system. This association alone may deter some consumers from purchasing Green & Black’s chocolate.

Another unexpected but perhaps pioneering find is LILY’s, whose chocolate bars are sweetened with the natural sweetener, Stevia, and erythritol, a sugar alcohol. Additionally, LILY’s adds inulin, a fiber commonly used as a bulking agent. These are not traditional chocolate bar ingredients, but perhaps the fewer calories and grams of sugar allow individuals with specific dietary restrictions to still purchase fair trade chocolate. The bar also boasts that it is still “100% indulgent.”

Before dissecting the chocolate bars’ various certifications, I want to look at Divine’s commitment to its producers. In the West, chocolate consumption has long been feminized, associated with temptation and indulgence (Robertson, 2009). Women are important as both chocolate consumers and producers, something Divine has recognized. The two images above depict Divine’s pledge to support the female cacao farmers within Kuapa Kokoo (cocoa co-operative) in Ghana and make sure their voices are heard. In doing so, these female business owners are positioned as powerful actors within the cacao and chocolate industries, rather than being viewed as exploited workers in an underdeveloped country (Leissle, 2012). This has significant implications not only for the female producers, but also culturally, and for future standards within the chocolate industry.

This final section includes a brief discussion on food certifications. Fair trade certification is the most popular certification that the eight brands feature. Other certifications that appear on the chocolate wrappers include USDA Organic, Non-GMO Verified, Certified Gluten-Free, Certified Vegan, Kosher (dairy), Fair for Life, and rBST free. I was surprised I did not find the UTZ Certified symbol on any of the chocolate bars, since UTZ is the most common cacao certification related to sustainable farming practices.

Fair trade certifications can be represented in a variety of ways depending on the party providing the certification. The images above show several different certifications present on the different brands’ packaging that symbolize the employment of fair trade practices. In order for a product to be labeled “fair trade,” all members of the processing chain (including producers) must pay into the fair trade system. As a result, producers are promised better trading conditions including long term relationships with buyers, garner presumably higher wages, have better working conditions, and live overall improved lives. However, many question whether this system is as transformative as it claims to be. The terms “fair trade” and “sustainable” have become ubiquitous, and the commodification of the terms also threatens their legitimacy (Sylla, 2014).

When thinking about food certifications, it is important to remember these certifications are neither all encompassing nor meant to solve all social or environmental issues with one label. Companies are now starting to launch their own certifications rather than going through a third party certification. It will be up to the individual company to define the criteria for “fair” or “sustainable,” or any new term it deems important. Whole Foods already uses its “Whole Trade Certified” label. Consequently, continuing to be an educated consumer will be extremely imperative in order to know what the certifications represent and what the companies stand for. It is unclear whether these self-certifications will be viewed as legitimate certifications or just add to the confusion many consumers feel when reading food labels.

While the objective of self-certification is to offer more affordable fair trade items to consumers, it raises the question of whether that should be the ultimate goal of selling fair trade products, and what the tradeoffs are for making fair trade more affordable and part of the mainstream? If large food conglomerates begin to self-regulate certifications, rather than paying third party companies, who is to say the consumer will actual benefit from the money saved? Historically, when the price of goods has dropped, large corporations scoop up the difference and pocket the extra profits, rather than decreasing the cost for the consumer (Albrittion, 2013). However, consumers still have the power to vote with their dollars.

The next time you peruse the chocolate selection within a store, feel empowered to study the information provided on the packaging (and conduct further research if needed) rather than being overwhelmed by various symbols and industry jargon.

 

**All images were taken by the author

 

Works Cited

Albritton, Robert. 2013. “Between Obesity And Hunger: The Capitalist Food Industry”. In Food And Culture: A Reader, 3rd ed., 342-352. New York: Routledge.

Allen, Lawrence L. 2010. Chocolate Fortunes: The Battle For The Hearts, Minds, And Wallets Of China’s Consumers. New York: American Management Association.

Bukhari, Jeff. 2017. “Why Investors Are Bingeing On Snack-Maker Mondelez”. Fortune.Com. http://fortune.com/2017/02/22/why-investors-are-bingeing-on-snack-maker-mondelez/.

Castell, Margarida, Francisco Jose Pérez-Cano, and Jean-François Bisson. 2013. “Clinical Benefits Of Cocoa: A Review”. In Chocolate In Health And Nutrition, 1st ed., 265-276. Humana Press.

Leissle, Kristy. 2012. “Cosmopolitan Cocoa Farmers: Refashioning Africa in Divine Chocolate Advertisements.” Journal of African Cultural Studies 24 (2): 121-139. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13696815.2012.736194

Prisilla, Maricel E. 2009. The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural and Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. 1st ed. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press.

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

Sylla, Ndongo Samba. 2014. The Fair Trade Scandal: Marketing Poverty To Benefit The Rich. 1st ed. Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press.

Why Hasn’t Chocolate Taken Off in China?

This video is a Chinese advertisement of Dove chocolates, focusing on the smooth and sweet taste of chocolate.  Among the Big Five, Dove has been one of the leading chocolate products in China. Since the 1980s, the Big Five have invested massive resources into trying to sell chocolate, with hopes of a lucrative return as China’s consumer class grows. Although some companies such as Ferrero and Mars have had some success, the dream of reaching all Chinese consumers has yet to be fully realized. Why these companies have struggled to successfully penetrate the Chinese market is a question worthy of exploration. Although some literature sources address this puzzle, none of them offer fully convincing arguments for why this might be. Building on Mintz’s consideration of how “sweetness” fits into the cuisine of different cultures, I argue that we must understand how people understand flavors and food in China to fully understand why chocolate may not be as popular.

The Big Five have made concerted efforts to market chocolate to Chinese people, using different concepts to attract the attention of consumers. For example, some have focused on the cultural practice of “gift-giving”–finding that more people may choose to give chocolate rather than buy it for the sake of self-indulgence. To some extent, these efforts seem to be working. This next video is a news report that reports how chocolate in China is becoming more popular. However, as the video points out, the consumption of chocolate in China remains extremely low, and a person in China only eats about 100 grams of chocolate annually.

Interestingly, one of the points made in this video and other news reports also comment on the short history of chocolate in China. Many point to China’s recent industrialization as the start of the country’s interaction with chocolate. As Allen writes in the opening paragraph of his book “Chocolate Fortunes : The Battle for the Hearts, Minds, and Wallets of China’s Consumers,”

Until twenty-five years ago, almost none of them had ever eaten a piece of chocolate. They were, to coin a phrase, ‘‘chocolate virgins,’’ their taste for chocolate ready to be shaped by whichever chocolate company came roaring into the country with a winning combination of quality, marketing savvy, and manufacturing and distribution acumen.

Here, Allen’s analyzes China through a highly orientalist and capitalist lens, describing Chinese people as “chocolate virgins” to be “conquered in a war” between chocolate corporations. Allen’s description is highly problematic in the way that it views Chinese people as simply “consumers” who can fulfill the wild dreams of one of the big five chocolate companies. By saying that before 25 years ago, “none of them had ever eaten a piece of chocolate” is a gross exaggeration, and would suggest that chocolate has had a very recent entry into China.  On the contrary, there is evidence that shows chocolate has long been in China, and some sources say its presence dates as far back as the 1600s (Grivetti and Shapiro 2011; Gordon, 2011).  These scholars point to several opportunities in which chocolate could have been introduced into China, including its close proximity to European countries (like Turkey) where chocolate and coffee were extremely popular; England’s colonization of Hong Kong in the mid 1800s, and the outsourcing of Chinese laborers to the Philippines where both cane sugar and chocolate were popular (Clarence-Smith 2003; Grivetti and Shapiro 2011). In searching through a database of Chinese trade and business documents, I also found a journal entry from 1883 where missionaries documented their consumption of chocolate, suggesting that it was not a foreign substance or food to the Chinese (See Picture 1 & 2).

Given that the data suggests chocolate has had a much longer history in China, this makes the puzzle of why chocolate has not been fully taken off even more interesting. Allen posits that many of the challenges that explain why chocolate has not taken off in China are logistical barriers that have gotten in the way. For example, he cites the difficulty in finding places that can keep chocolate at an appropriate temperature to avoid melting. Additionally, Allen even talks about how China is not as developed as the west, therefore their stores simply do not fully expose consumers to chocolate. Although Allen talks briefly about the importance of understanding how food is understood in China (citing the yin and yang concept), he ultimately criticizes China for being too close-minded to chocolate. He writes,

Ironically, in spite of such a wide variety of tastes and textures, chocolate was so foreign to the Chinese palate that the only culinary gateway into the diets of Chinese consumers was as a foreign and exotic curiosity. Therefore, to make their chocolates appealing to Chinese consumers, the Big Five’s marketing approaches and products had to be consistent with this prevailing view.

Despite acknowledging China’s diverse and rich culinary culture, Allen still believes that through thoughtful marketing, the Big Five can make chocolate popular in China. I argue that this is a problematic and limiting understanding of chocolate in the Chinese context. Even if companies face no logistical supply-chain barriers or have perfect marketing campaigns, there are cultural factors to account for that explain why chocolate has not, in its history, been fully accepted into Chinese culture.  In order to understand this, I believe we need to take a more nuanced look at the food system in China. Although there are certain regions, such as eastern China, that may prefer sweet foods, most of the country is not accustomed to eating solely sweets; there is a cultural system in China that dictates what what foods are better than others dependent on the season, weather, or condition of one’s body. To indulge in a sweet confectionary, or many pounds of it, is fundamentally oppositional to the balance of foods that one should consume.

In discussing the minimal role of sugar in French cuisine, Mintz’ cultural explanation provides a compelling framework that can help us understand why something sweet like chocolate may not be as popular in places like China. He writes,  

Sweetness does not seem to ever have been enshrined as a taste to be contrasted with all others in the French taste spectrum–bitter, sour, salt, hot–as it has in England and America.  Though dessert has a firm place in french meals, the position of cheese is even sturdier, often as if it were a spice. This is rather like the Chinese usage, where sweetness occurs somewhat unexpectedly, and also not always as the climax to the meal.

As Mintz points out, both French and Chinese cuisine are different from American and English cuisines in that they do not necessarily treat sweetness as a main or core component of dishes.  Given sweetness’ smaller role in the cuisine of China, confections such as chocolates may therefore not be as attractive to consumers. Acknowledging the way that food is understood culturally is essential to understanding why chocolate companies may find resistance in China; if the Big Five truly want to take a stab at China, then they need to understand that the cuisine and cultural food systems are more important than consumers’ purchasing power or logistical barriers.

Works Cited

Allen, Lawrence. 2010. Chocolate Fortunes: the Battle for the Hearts, Minds, and

Wallets of China’s Consumers. pp. 1-39, 201-224

Clarence-Smith, William Gervase. 2003. Cocoa and Chocolate.

Gordon, Bertram M. 2011. Chapter 44: Chinese Chocolate in the book Chocolate: history, culture, and heritage edited by Grivetti and Shapiro.

Mintz, Sidney. 1986[1985]. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern

History. New York: Penguin Books

Multimedia Sources:

Picture 1&2:

The Chinese Recorder: Missionary Journal. 1883. Volume 14, Issue 1. China: Trade, Politics & Culture.

Video 1: Dove Chocolate Advertisement. Extracted from Youtube.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EhwYbH5n15c

Video 2: Chinese news report on chocolate. Extracted from Youtube.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s9qRl9Lj818

Great Chocolate, Greater Relationships

“Great chocolate, greater relationships”. That is the slogan for Tabal chocolate, a company that claims it is “chocolate’s power to bring people together” that inspires them to make their best chocolate (“History”). Through a chocolate exchange at the Denver Art Museum in 2014, the CelebrARTE and Journey programs began a partnership to help students create Mayan chocolate-inspired poetry and art and to “grow as artists and teachers” (Salazar). And in 2013, Milka chocolate came up with a fun project that required Argentine workers to link hands and work together to connect a cow statue with a vending machine and receive free chocolate bars (Cullers). In each of these situations, chocolate is seen as something that brings people together and this is not a new concept.

The Olmecs and Mayans

From the origins of cacao, society and people groups have gathered together to consume some form of chocolate. In as early as 1500 B.C., the Olmecs would remove the seeds from the pods by hand and prepare them for fermentation- a process that had to be done only when many people got together. Joel Palka, a director of an archaeological project around Chiapas, Mexico, still encounters people in the area who prepare chocolate as a family tradition and cultural practice. He says in a Smithsonian article, “like coffee in the Arab world, or beer in northern and Eastern Europe, it’s not only something that’s good, but part of their identity” (Garthwaite). There is also a Mayan word chocola’j that literally means “to drink cacao together”. The upper class in Mayan society found great significance in communal consumption and cacao became almost a luxury set aside only for special situations.

The Cistercians

Recipes using cacao beans have been discovered in a 12th century Cistercian monastery where Cistercian communities, even to this day, gather to prepare and enjoy chocolate in a specific room located above the cloister called the “chocolateria”. Drinking chocolate became such a popular beverage for communal events that Catholics often debated over whether it could be considered a food and should not be consumed during fasting.

monks

Monks preparing chocolate together in a Cistercian monastery

The British

Once cacao was brought to Europe, it served a similar purpose. Chocolate was served at “chocolate houses” in England, where members of the elite upper class would gather together to drink their liquid chocolate, gamble, and share opinions on the pressing philosophical and political issues of the day. Soon, these “houses” became associated with one of the Parliamentary parties, and some evolved into a gentlemen’s club, like the “Cocoa Tree Club”, made up of Tories in England.

The Big Five

By observing some of the original advertisements of the Big Five chocolate companies, we can further understand how throughout history, chocolate is seen as something that brings people together. Many of Cadbury’s advertisements have shown families drinking and enjoying chocolate together, such as one (shown below) in which a woman is seen commenting “This is the nicest way to end an evening” (drinking chocolate together).

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A Cadbury advertisement depicting people drinking chocolate together

Another advertisement depicts a family drinking cocoa for breakfast as a “substitute for milk”. Similarly, many older Nestle advertisements depict children playing together, while Mars and Hershey also focus on illustrating couples eating chocolate together.

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A Cadbury advertisement depicting a family drinking chocolate for breakfast

This brings us to today. Chocolate companies are still advertising their products as being something that unites people – from couples to friends to even different social groups or cultures. A few years ago, Divine chocolate came out with a series of ads that portrayed female Ghanaian cacao farmers with different captions like “Just developed an appetite for fighting global poverty?” or “Craving a better world or just another piece?”, as if chocolate plays a role in large global issues (Leissle). Many Hershey ads include the motto “shared goodness”, which suggests that consumers are eating the chocolate with others and enjoying it together.

Divine-print-ad

A Divine chocolate advertisement

Outside of how chocolate companies affect our perception of chocolate, society, in general, still gathers around consuming this sweet. It’s common to see families and friends drinking hot chocolate together on a cold winter night, or couples enjoying chocolate together around Valentine’s Day. To enjoy chocolate with others is to share love and joy. As Audrey Richards once said, the “need for nutrition brings people together and creates social groups”. Although chocolate may not necessarily be seen as a necessary nutrition and more as a luxury, it is evident that throughout history, chocolate has done the same.

Works Cited

Cullers, Rebecca. “For Free Chocolate, Strangers Must Hold Hands in Argentine Vending Stunt”. AdWeek. 3 Oct. 2013. Print.

Garthwaite, Josie. “What We Know About the Earliest History of Chocolate”. Smithsonian.com. 12 Feb. 2015. Web. 9 Mar. 2017.

“History”. Tabal Chocolate. Web. 10 Mar. 2017

Leissle, Kristy. “Cosmopolitan Cocoa Farmers: Refashioning Africa in Divine Chocolate Advertisements”. Journal of African Cultural Studies. (2012): 121-139.

Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York: Penguin, 1985. Print.

Salazar, Madalena. “Chocolate Brings People Together at CelebrARTE”. Denver Art Museum. 11 Feb. 2014. Web. 10 Mar. 2017.