Tag Archives: business ethics

From Cadbury to Nestlé: Big Chocolate & Forced Labor

While chocolate is a sweet delicacy enjoyed by millions around the world, the underlying forces of cacao production often leave a sour taste in consumers’ mouths. After Europeans “discovered” chocolate in Mesoamerica, its dissemination in Europe relied on the forced labor of indigenous populations and later African slaves on cacao plantations. Slavery was abolished on paper in England in 1833. Yet, it persisted under new names from serviçal in Sao Tome e Principe to “worst forms of child labor” in Côte d’Ivoire. I will compare the response of two influential companies in the cocoa industry–Cadbury and Nestlé–when faced with evidence of forced labor  in their cacao supply chain. While both companies’ actions are ultimately profit-driven, Cadbury took more legitimate actions to divest from forced labor than Nestlé, as the latter has yet to fully invest in ethically-sourced cacao.


William Cadbury’s awareness of forced labor in cacao plantations started with rumors of horrible work conditions in Sao Tome and Príncipe in 1901. At the time, Cadbury obtained 55% of its cacao from the area (Higgs 2012:9). He met with Portuguese authorities who assured him that new labour legislation addressed concerns of minimum wage (Satre 2005:23). Still, Cadbury commissioned Joseph Burtt in 1905 to investigate the work conditions in Sao Tome e Principe. Prior to Burtt’s return, Henry Nevinson published his investigative journalism in Harper’s Magazine in 1905.

Screen Shot 2017-03-24 at 07.27.43
Cadbury's_Cocoa_advert_with_rower_1885Nevinson shed light on the forced labor of indentured servants (serviçal) in Sao Tome e Principe (Martin 2017). It was indistinguishable from slavery. Burtt returns in 1907, and his report supports Nevinson’s research. Yet, British authorities request Burtt revise his findings to assuage Portuguese authorities because Portuguese authorities were instrumental to British colonial interests in South Africa (Satre 2005: 76, 24). Up to then, Cadbury’s actions were behind the public eye. While the company researched forced labor and attempted to negotiate with both British and Portuguese authorities with no divestment in sight, their consumers continued purchasing their “guaranteed pure and soluble” cacao. 

Nevinson persevered with his reporting and published “The Angola Slave Trade” in The Fornightly Review, which garnered a lot of publicity. Forced labor alarmed British consumers because although England had abolished slavery in 1833, they were still complicit to it. Slavery did not align itself with the Quaker values of the time. As consumers started demanding Cadbury take action, Cadbury takes a final trip to Sao Tome and Principe.

Upon his return, he convinces J.S. Fry and Rowntree, other British chocolatemakers to join him as Cadbury boycotts cacao production in Sao Tome and Principe. Presumably, Cadbury divests because of the continuous failed promises by the Portuguese government to ameliorate working conditions in both islands. While the Portuguese government was not intent on ending slavery in cacao production, Cadbury did not suddenly reach enlightenment in 1909. At the time of initial evidence of slavery in Sao Tome and Principe, Cadbury had no other sustainable source of cacao if it wanted to maintain its leading status amongst British consumers. A viable option was needed as the British confectionners turned to mainland West Africa. Hence, the boycott from its main source of cacao did not hurt Cadbury because during his backdoor negotiations with various stakeholders, cacao trees were being planted in the Gold Coast (present-day Ghana). From his visit to the Gold Coast in 1906 to the official boycott from Sao Tome’s cacao in 1909, cocoa harvest in the Gold Coast increased from 9004 to 20,534 metric tons (Grant 2005: 175). Therefore, in addition to being ethically sound, the move to the Gold Coast in 1909 was also business-proof.


A century later, big chocolate makers are still guilty of profiting from the fruits of forced labor in their supply chain. In 1998, A Taste of Slavery: How Your Chocolate May be Tainted was published. The UNICEF  report was one of the first to highlight evidence of child labor in West Africa, particularly in Côte d’Ivoire. Young people were often worked almost under horrible conditions: “the [Malian] boys had little to eat, slept in bunk-houses that were locked at 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” (Off 2008: 121). Child labor in cacao farms in Côte d’Ivoire involves familial and contracted labor, often including human trafficking of children from neighboring countries like Mali and Burkina Faso. Such labor conditions violate the International Labor Organization (ILO) Minimum Age Convention and the ILO Forced Labour Convention (Schrage and Ewing 2005: 101-102).

Increasing media attention to such reports of child slavery pushed the cocoa industry to stop dawdling and take action because “the mistreatment of children posed a clear threat to corporate reputation and sales” (Schrage and Ewing 2005: 104). As the United States Congress began the legislative process of banning Ivorian cacao, the industry proposed a protocol to address the reports. In September 2001, the Chocolate Manufacters Association (CMA) and the World Cocoa Foundation signed the Protocol for the Growing and Processing of Cocoa Beans and their Derivative Products in a Manner that Complies with ILO Convention 182 Concerning the Prohibition and Immediate Action for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Chila Labor also known as the Harkin-Engel Protocol. Ever since its inception, the protocol has continuously been extended as chocolate companies fail to eradicate the worst form of child labor from their supply chain by their own deadlines. Many have critiqued the protocol as too lenient because a voluntary plan does not ensure the industry will be accountable.

Nestlé has undertook actions to adhere to the Harkin-Engel Protocol. The company joined the Global Issues Group (GIG), “an ad-hoc, pre-competitive association of cocoa industry participants formed in response to the agreements as spelled out in the Harkin-Engil Protocol” (Tulane research). Furthermore, Nestlé contracted UTZ Certified, a product certification organization, to be held accountable for its cacao consumption. Screen Shot 2017-03-24 at 16.27.24In 2009, Nestlé established the Cocoa Plan. The hyperlinked video highlights the work of the Cocoa Plan in Côte d’Ivoire. Through the International Cocoa Initiative, the Cocoa Plan has built schools throughout Côte d’Ivoire in order to provide alternatives for children who were previously child laborers or could potentially be involved in cacao production.This iniative, among others, empowers local communities and seeks to reduce the prevalence of the “worst forms of child labor” in cacao production.In addition, Nestlé has supported further investigation into their cacao sourcing. The Fair Labor Association (FLA) conducted a thorough investigation of the company’s cacao supply chain, making it the first chocolate-maker to undertake such a process (CNN 2012). The FLA has continued these investigations, which attest to Nestlé’s investment in an ethical supply chain. Nestlé’s actions were in response to growing criticism. The company had to handle lawsuits and respond to documentaries about the persistence of forced labor in Côte d’Ivoire in order to appease its consumer base, who was demanding more accountability in the cacao supply chain.


Screen Shot 2017-03-24 at 16.28.53Consumer demand for and consumption of ethically produced chocolate is highest in the United Kingdom. This trend explains why Kit Kat chocolate bars in the UK bear the Faitrade mark and Kit Kat chocolate bars in Germany do not. While both bars have the Cocoa Plan logo, Nestlé reveals that it only purchases 14.5% of its cocoa through the Plan, of which 75% is either UTZ or Fairtrade-certified (Nestle 2013: 160). While Nestlé has taken steps to ethically source its cacao, this has only been for consumers who actively demand it.

Similar to Cadbury, Nestlé is acting in a profit-maximizing way. Ethics are secondary because the investment in the Cocoa Plan for all of its chocolate would not be be as profitable beyond the UK. Unlike Cadbury, Nestlé has unfortunately not significantly addressed the Protocol because shared responsibility with other big chocolatemakers and lack of significant consumer demand diffuse the pressure to immediately conform.


Cadbury’s Advert with Rower 1885. 2010. Wikimedia Commons

CNN,. 2012. “Nestleé Advances Child Labor Battle Plan”. Retrieved March 23, 2017 (http://thecnnfreedomproject.blogs.cnn.com/2012/06/29/nestle-advances-child-labor-battle-plan/).

Grant, Kevin. A Civilised Savagery: Britain and the New Slaveries in Africa, 1884-1926.  London: Routledge, 2005.

Higgs, Catherine. Chocolate Islands: Cocoa, Slavery and Colonial Africa Athens: Ohio University Press, 2012.

Martin, Carla. “Slavery, Abolition, and Forced Labor.” Lecture, Chocolate Lecture, Cambridge, March 01, 2017.

Nestlé,. 2013. Nestlé In Society: Creating Shared Value And Meeting Our Commitments 2013. Nestlé. Retrieved March 21, 2017 (http://storage.nestle.com/Interactive_CSV_Full_2013/files/assets/common/downloads/Creating%20Shared%20Value%20Full%20Report%202013.pdf).

Nevinson, Henry Woodd. “The Slave-Trade of to-Day. Conclusion–the Islands of Doom.” Harper’s Monthly, 1906, 327-37.

Off, Carol. 2008. Bitter Chocolate. 1st ed. New York [u.a.]: The New Press.

Satre, Lowell J. Chocolate on Trial: Slavery, Politics, and the Ethics of Business.  Athens: Ohio University Press, 2005.

Schrage, Elliot, and Anthony Ewing. 2005. The Cocoa Industry And Child Labour. Journal of Corporate Citizenship. Retrieved March 22, 2017 (http://www.justice.gov.il/Units/Trafficking/MainDocs/The_Cocoa_Industry_and_child_labour.pdf).


Economic Viability vs. Social Responsibility: A Glimpse into Cadbury’s Early Business Ethics

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Every spring, particularly around Easter, the iconic Cadbury Creme Eggs (pictured above) command significant shelf space in nearly every store. For many decades people around the world have received immense pleasure from cracking the egg’s chocolate shell open to release the gooey and cloyingly sweet yellow and white fondant, which resembles a chicken egg, but tastes drastically different. Before the idea for the traditional Cadbury Creme Egg was hatched, the Cadbury company struggled to sustain its favor with the public. Chocolate adulteration scandals and questionable business ethics created public relations nightmares and could have ruined the chocolate giant. Perhaps you will be surprised (or not) to learn that Cadbury’s idyllic Quaker village in Bournville, England, constructed during a time of chocolate success and expansion, revealed a lifestyle and way of conducting business very contradictory to the laborers who procured the cocoa.[1]

Despite the Quaker values of the Cadbury family, they made some questionable decisions in terms of business ethics. When it came to the adulteration of chocolate, which littered the chocolate industry during the 1800s, and cocoa sourced under slave-like conditions, the Cadbury’s either turned a blind-eye or lacked proper oversight throughout their production chain. In these instances, it appears economic benefits outweighed moral duties.

While other companies were caught adding ground brick to their chocolate confections, Cadbury admitted to adding starch and flour to their products. By the end of the 19th century, the Cadbury chocolate adulteration scandals had been counteracted with advertising campaigns promoting their purity promise: “Absolutely Pure, Therefore Best” (Coe & Coe 2013, 245). This was successful and a period of growth followed. Keeping in line with the company’s Quaker values and its paternalistic interest in its workers, George Cadbury constructed a model village, Bournville, for Cadbury company workers complete with ample housing, recreation facilities, and a school (Satre 2005). The photograph below reveals just a small section of the Bournville Village circa 1903 with its clean, wide streets and large housing units surrounded by well-groomed landscaping. Although the company expected a high level of productivity and reliability from its chocolate factory workers during the 48-hour workweek, Cadbury clearly invested back into the community to create a family-like atmosphere.

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However, this idyllic chocolate community and way of life did not extend down to the cocoa laborers, perhaps because they were indirectly working for Cadbury. During the early 1900s, the Cadbury company relied on the islands of São Tomé and Príncipe for nearly half of its cocoa beans. Lowell Satre (2005, 24), author of Chocolate on Trial: Slavery, Politics, and the Ethics of Business, reports that in 1902, Cadbury alone purchased 20% of the cocoa produced on those two islands.

Just one year prior, in 1901, Cadbury became aware of the post-abolition slavery practices on São Tomé and Príncipe after the release of some publications from British investigative journalist, Henry Nevinson (Martin 2017). However appalled George Cadbury may have been by the thought of enslaved workers procuring the cocoa his company processed, his 7-year remiss reaction failed to show any grave concern. Catherine Higgs (2012, 137), author of Chocolate Islands: Cocoa, Slavery, and Colonial Africa reveals Cadbury, “rejected the idea of a boycott, since it would rob the chocolate makers of the leverage they enjoyed as major buyers of São Toméan cocoa.” Clearly boycotting slave-produced cocoa purely on moral grounds was not as important as economic clout and would only be used as a last resort tactic unless another economically viable option became available.

Technically, [legally] the cocoa laborers worked under a type of indentured servitude, as serviçaes, and could be repatriated after their contracts ended, though it was inefficaciously enforced. Despite Cadbury’s correspondence with island visitors who reported “good treatment” of workers, the death rate was still astronomical, with the life expectancy of an enslaved cocoa worker on São Tomé and Príncipe to be less than a decade (Higgs 2012 and Martin 2017). Even though cocoa laborers on the islands were not technically Cadbury employees, since the Cadbury company sourced a significant amount of their cocoa beans there, they were part of the demand issue that kept the laborers working more hours than required by their British counterparts. Thus, it begs the question, should Cadbury have been responsible for allowing these conditions to persist or aiding in alleviating them? Not only did the Cadbury company benefit from the cheap commodity produced by slave labor, but the Portuguese government did also. Knowing this, perhaps the British government should have shared in the responsibility as well.

Cadbury’s moral and social responsibility seemed to be reflected more in word than in deed. Although Cadbury investigated the conditions in São Tomé over several years, both in person and through correspondences with adversaries, he did not institute a boycott of slave-grown cocoa for nearly a decade after first learning of the severe conditions. Meanwhile, the company profited. Part of the reason for the delay was the thought that if English chocolate companies did not buy cocoa from São Tomé and Príncipe, “someone else would” (Satre 2005).

Unfortunately, this was true. When the Cadbury company finally ceased purchasing cocoa from the islands, along with a few other English chocolate firms, U.S. based chocolate companies swooped in. Cadbury had not miraculously decided to finally take the high road after eight years though. Two months prior, Cadbury purchased land on the Gold Coast (present day Ghana), with plans to build a factory site (Higgs 2012). While this new cocoa district was not experiencing the slave-like conditions of the islands, it offered a different form of cheap labor, which could be considered questionable labor practices as well.

Thus, this move to the Gold Coast was economically favorable and seemed to pacify public concerns. Inequalities still persisted between the chocolate factory workers in Britain and the cocoa harvesters in Africa. One thing is clear: satisfying commercial interests took priority. The battle between economic viability, moral duty and social responsibility still persists in the chocolate world today.


[1] In this post, “cocoa” is synonymous with cacao or cacao beans; the raw product or unprocessed commodity used to make chocolate.

Works Cited

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

Higgs, Catherine. 2012. Chocolate Islands: Cocoa, Slavery, and Colonial Africa. Athens: Ohio University Press.

Martin, Carla. 2017. “Slavery and Forced Labor in the Atlantic World.” Lecture, Chocolate, Culture and the Politics of Food from Harvard Extension School, Cambridge, Massachusetts, March 1.

Satre, Lowell J. 2005. Chocolate on Trial: Slavery, Politics, and the Ethics of Business. Athens:     Ohio University Press.

Cocoa and Corruption: The Darker Side of Cadbury’s Business Practices

By the late 19th century, Cadbury had become a renowned chocolate manufacturer and humanitarian enterprise with a model factory in Bournville providing accommodating working conditions (Coe and Coe 242). However, Cadbury was soon swept into a controversy surrounding claims of slavery on São Tomé and Principe, one of the firm’s major suppliers of cacao. The documentation of Joseph Burtt, who was appointed by Cadbury to visit São Tomé, was not published until almost a decade after William Cadbury first learned of slave labor in the islands. This delay as well as the firm’s deferment of boycotting São Toméan cocoa brings to question the company’s business ethics. Ethical scrutiny should extend not only to the Cadbury corporation but also to the Portuguese and British political bodies; however, a principal cause of the delayed and arduous path to reform stemmed from Cadbury’s prioritization of business incentives over moral practices.

Cadbury’s model factory in Bournville provided adequate housing and hospitable facilities (Cadbury). The idealistic working conditions of Cadbury workers in Britain were a stark contrast to the brutal labor practices on cacao plantations in São Tomé, where enslaved people provided cacao for major British chocolate firms.

British journalist Henry Nevinson traveled to Africa in 1904 and helped expose the unethical practices of cacao labor. The servicais, or “contracted laborers,” in São Tomé were actually slaves brought from Angola; although a Portuguese decree of 1903 required the option of repatriation after a five year labor contract, none of them actually returned to Angola (Satre 8-9). Plantation owners paid their laborers less than what was required by the decree and renewed their contracts without consulting the servicais; the Portuguese government, unconcerned by these breaches of law, were often encouraging Angolan natives to commit crimes so they could be enslaved, furthering the government’s economic self-interest through the money-making benefits of the slave trade (Satre 8, 11). Not only did the Portuguese deny slavery, British authorities also seemed to refrain from thorough investigations, perhaps because Britain depended on labor in the islands (Off 60). Both Portuguese and British authority figures were driven by the economical benefits of facilitating, rather than obstructing, slave labor practices.

Henry Nevinson actively reported on the slave labor he had witnessed in Portuguese West Africa (Wikimedia Commons). His outspokenness was often unfavored by the Cadburys, who believed explicit coverage of slavery would complicate the chocolate company’s business incentives or the Foreign Office’s diplomatic approaches to Portugal.


slaves to sao tome
Though called “indentured servants,” enslaved Angolans were forcibly brought to São Tomé to work on cacao plantations under dire conditions, for the benefit of companies like Cadbury (Nevinson).

In contrast to Nevinson, who published reports on slavery immediately after returning to Britain, the Cadburys took considerably more time in taking action (Satre 12). When William Cadbury visited Trinidad in early 1901, he heard claims of slave labor in São Tomé and traveled to Lisbon in 1903 to investigate. Despite hearing from some Portuguese plantation owners that the decree of 1903 would end labor abuses, missionaries to Africa and British authorities strongly doubted the new decree would mediate any genuine reform (Satre 23-24). Despite testimony confirming brutal labor, William provided an optimistic report to his firm: “I cannot but feel that things are going to mend a little … the onus of this will lie on the British” (Satre 24). When appointing an agent to investigate the situation in Portuguese West Africa, the Cadburys chose the rather incompetent Joseph Burtt over more experienced yet more outspoken researchers such as Nevinson (Satre 32). The fact that Burtt was encouraged to approach plantation owners amicably and spent almost two years traveling in Africa imply that the ordeal was not perceived as a significantly pressing issue (Satre 32).

slave quarters
Slave Quarters in São Tomé – English chocolate manufacturers like Cadbury were indirectly employing one-third of the slaves on São Tomé (Nevinson, Satre 82).


Cadbury may have stalled for time to secure an alternative cocoa supplier through the help of their cocoa buyer Edward Thackray, who began his research shortly after William heard of the slave labor in 1901 (Higgs 135). This may explain why the Cadburys agreed to the British Foreign Office’s suggestion to delay the publication of Joseph Burtt’s documentation (Satre 92-93). During this delay, the Foreign Office tried to amicably push the Portuguese towards reform, and Thackray escalated his search (Higgs 135). This delay may have also benefited the British government, which was wary about aggravating the Portuguese, key trading partners who could provide cheap labour forces for their holdings in Africa (e.g. diamond mines in Transvaal) (Off 65-66). For Cadbury and the British Foreign Office, a cautionary approach would help preserve their standings as business or economic powerhouses.

William Cadbury persistently rejected suggestions by Nevinson and others to boycott São Toméan cocoa, placing economic reasons at the fore of his argument; boycotting would ruin Cadbury’s buying influence and the valuable cocoa would be “very readily absorbed by other nations” (Higgs 137). Newspapers criticized Cadbury, and the company chose to sue the Standard for libel. Before their trial in 1909, William traveled to São Tomé, though the primary reason for this voyage may have been to confirm cocoa export possibilities in the Gold Coast. In his 1910 diary entry, Nevinson recorded a conversation between cocoa traders implying Cadbury had to verify Gold Coast production capacities before cutting ties with São Tomé (Off 71). Only after William’s trip did Cadbury decide to stop buying São Toméan cocoa, for an alternative source had been secured (Off 69). Almost a decade had passed since William first learned about the slave labor, and the business implications of this could only be magnified during the prosecution of the Standard trial; Cadbury had imported £1.3 million ($6.3 million) worth of São Toméan cocoa between 1901 and 1908 (Higgs 151). Cadbury had partaken in the investigation of slave labor on São Tomé but profit and quality of cocoa came first and foremost.

burtt documentation
Burtt’s documentation was not published for the British public until 1910, almost a decade after William Cadbury first learned of São Toméan slavery (Internet Archive). This adds to the controversy of whether Cadbury was truly proactive in mediating reform in cacao labor practices.


Cadbury had also attempted to discourage Nevinson from publishing another report on slavery, and The Daily News, owned by George Cadbury, remained quite reticent on the subject of São Tomé (Satre 82). This further implies that Cadbury was concerned with the effects on chocolate sales if more explicit coverage of São Tomé was released to the public (Higgs 151). The years Cadbury spent on silence or reliance on the British government cannot excuse the abuse or death of thousands of laborers while the company continued to profit from the cocoa sourced from São Tomé. Had it not been for individuals such as Nevinson, who favored “publicity, not silence,” the public’s awareness of cacao slave labor would have been limited (Satre 85). Had Cadbury provided an example by boycotting sooner and working with British authorities to press the Portuguese in a more threatening rather than cautious manner, reforms may have come sooner. In actuality, nearly a decade passed and Cadbury’s cautionary approach did not lead to substantial reform, as slavery persisted and the Portuguese continued to abuse their power to operate unfair labor practices (Higgs 153). The slow path to reform surely stems in part from corruptive flaws within the Portuguese and British political systems; however, Cadbury also shared a significant responsibility through their inclination to place their business before all else. For Cadbury, divided between jeopardizing their economic prospects and tainting their philanthropic reputation, securing other sources of cocoa was pivotal for their business success. This case study of Cadbury offers perspective into pressing labor problems even today, such as child labor and human trafficking; when political, economic, and moral issues become intertwined, it is critical that we ethically prioritize and preserve the welfare of human beings.

Works Cited

An LMS Railways Advertisement – Bournville. Cadbury. Cadbury. https://www.cadbury.co.uk/the-storyAccessed 4 March 2017.

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

Henry Wood Nevinson. Library of Congress. Wikimedia Commons. https://commons .wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Henry_Woodd_Nevinson_(1856-1941)_circa_1915.jpg. Accessed 5 March 2017.

Higgs, Catherine. Chocolate Islands: Cocoa, Slavery, and Colonial Africa. Ohio University Press, 2012.

Labour in Portuguese West Africa. Claire T. Carney Library. Internet Archive. https://archive.org /details/labourinportugue00cadbAccessed 5 March 2017.

Martin, Carla. “Lecture 6: Slavery, Abolition, and Forced Labor.” Chocolate, Culture and the Politics of Food. Harvard University: Cambridge, MA. 1 March 2017. Lecture.

Nevinson, Henry. Slaves on Ship, Wearing Tin Disk and Cylinder. Photograph. “The Slave-Trade of To-day: Part VI.” Harper’s Monthly Magazine, Jan. 1906, pp. 237-246.

Nevinson, Henry. Slave-Quarters on a Plantation. Photograph. “The Slave-Trade of To-day: Conclusion.” Harper’s Monthly Magazine, Feb. 1906, pp. 327-337.

Off, Carol. Bitter Chocolate: Anatomy of an Industry. The New Press, 2006.

Satre, Lowell. Chocolate on Trial: Slavery, Politics, and the Ethics of Business. Ohio University Press, 2005.

Cacao and Slavery: Examining Responses to Cadbury’s Involvement with Slavery on São Tomé and Príncipe to Understand the Evolution of Public and Commercial Attitudes About Labor Ethics

The long-established relationship between cacao and slavery began as soon as the Europeans and indigenous American populations first interacted around cacao (Martin). For years, slave labor was accepted as an economic necessity for the labor-intensive crop. The public reaction to the discovery of slave labor in the Cadbury Brothers company supply chain illustrates that mainstream public opinion in England had changed by the first decade of the twentieth century, as British individuals overwhelmingly rejected slavery as unjustifiable on all grounds. However, the Cadbury company’s slow response — the company’s boycott of Portuguese cacao began a whole eight years after William Cadbury first heard reports confirming slave labor —  proves that corporations continued to prioritize business efficiency over ethical practice. Without public pressures, it is, I argue, uncertain that Cadbury and other companies would have taken actions to curb exploitive labor practices.

Image shows girls on a cocoa plantation in the British West Indies in the nineteenth century. Forced labor continued even after the 1834 British Slavery Abolition Act.

While a certain amount of opposition to slavery always existed, for centuries, abolition was inconceivable to many as government officials, producers, and consumers alike viewed forced labor as a necessary, albeit morally reprehensible, practice. Indeed, enslaved labor persisted in the industry following the 1834 British Slavery Abolition Act. However, by 1901-1909, the public sentiment had changed, and English citizens revealed their strong disapproval of slavery. Investigative journalists, such as Henry Nevinson, whose articles in Harper’s Magazine first made the existence of slavery on the chocolate islands widely known, and humanitarian organizations, such as the Anti-Slavery Society and the Aborigines’ Protection Society, led the public condemnation of the institution (Higgs 133-134).

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Slaves in Portuguese West Africa, as photographed for Nevinson’s report “The Slave-Trade of To-day,” published in Harper’s Magazine (1905).


The reactions of consumers and journalists to the allegations of slavery on São Tomé and Príncipe illustrates that the general public opinion strongly opposed coercive labor practices. Nevinson’s accounts roused widespread public discontent, and newspapers such as the Manchester Guardian, the Standard, and the Evening Standard published articles criticizing Cadbury for continuing to purchase Sao Toméan cocoa (Higgs 143). The outcome of the case between Cadbury and the Standard further indicates the extent to which the public, and legal system, disapproved of Cadbury’s purchase of Sao Toméan cocoa. While the jury agreed that Cadbury Brothers had been libeled, it expressed its condemnation of the firm’s practices by awarding only a single farthing (equivalent to one quarter of a penny) in reparations (Higgs 152).

Although the Cadbury company prized its Quaker values and prided itself on having concern for its workers, the company failed to take strong or timely actions in the face of slavery allegations. Satre notes the strikingly late response of the company in the face of substantiated evidence, remarking that, “Given this extensive evidence, it is surprising that the Cadburys had not recognized this slavery early on…” (Satre 21). It took William Cadbury over four years after he first heard allegations of slave labor and received reports which “graphically confirmed” those allegations to take action (Satre 16). And even then, his actions were weak. Cadbury sent a company agent, Joseph Burtt, to travel to Portuguese West Africa as a “friend” to the planters, and urged him to take his time with this “gentlemanly inquiry” (Martin). Revealing his desire to quash public interest in the situation, Cadbury did not allow Burtt’s report confirming the existence of slavery to be published until October 1908, a year after its final publication in Portuguese (Satre 93).

Given Cadbury’s deliberately slow and mild reaction to the evidence of slave labor in São Tomé and Príncipe in the face of widespread outrage, it is difficult to imagine that the company would have taken action had public outcry not demanded it. Considering the controversy in historical context demonstrates the extent to which popular attitudes had evolved by the early twentieth century to condemn slavery on all grounds, and in spite of any perceived benefits for business. Nonetheless, the Quaker company’s weak, I contend, inadequate, response to reports of slavery reveals that corporate greed and commercial interest would remain a challenge to free labor, despite the public’s overwhelmingly anti-slavery sentiments. Indeed, even today, some of the world’s largest chocolate makers are allegedly knowingly using child slaves.

Works Cited:

“British Colonial Apprenticeship: Slavery by Another Name?” Web blog post. US Slave. Blogpost, 5 Jan. 2012. Web.

Haglage, Abby. “Lawsuit: Your Candy Bar Was Made By Child Slaves.” The Daily Beast. Newsweek/Daily Beast, 15 Sept. 2015. Web.

Higgs, Catherine. Chocolate Islands: Cocoa, Slavery, and Colonial Africa. Athens, OH: Ohio UP, 2012. 133-65. Print.

Martin, Carla, PhD. “Slavery, Abolition, and Forced Labor:.” AFAM 119X. CGIS South, Tsai Auditorium, Cambridge. 9 Mar. 2016. Lecture.

Nevinson, Henry W. “The Slave-Trade of To-Day.” Harper’s Magazine. Google Play, n.d. Web. 1 Jan. 1905.

Satre, Lowell J. Chocolate on Trial: Slavery, Politics, and the Ethics of Business. Athens, OH: Ohio UP, 2005. 1-99. Print.


This is a work of fiction. All characters and scenarios appearing in this story are purely fictitious and originate from the imagination of its author or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, characters, businesses, organizations, places, events and incidents, living or dead, past or present, is purely coincidental. Now gentle reader, “look at this tangle of thorns.”

Dramatis personae:

Dr. James Baldonado……………………………..World-renowned cacao geneticist.
Warner Barrett ……………………..Chairman and largest stakeholder of Kranebury Foods.
Gerald Beard……………. Proprietor of Beard’s Bestes Sweets, a craft chocolate maker.
G. Elwood Dickens………………………………………Chief Executive, Pluto Foods Industries, one of the largest confection companies in North America.
Enzo Fannuci……………. Heir and chief executive of Fannuci Proteins and Nuts SpA.
Marla Heartens…………………………………………… Educator and social activist.
Millard Holmby IV……………………………………Heir and chief executive of Holmby Company, based in Ohio and the largest chocolate manufacturer in the United States.
Franz Tannenbaum………………………………………………….Managing Director of Nectar SA of Lichenstein, makers of chocolate and producers of beverages.
Don Jose Traficante…………………………South American cacao plantation owner.
Abe Watson…………………Craft chocolate maker and founder of Cacao Rebel Fine Sweets.
Emma Watson…………….Co-founder of Cacao Rebel Fine Sweets and wife of Abe Watson.
Itzel Zacapa………………………………………………………………Cacao laborer.


“I welcome you all to Cuba, and I thank you for momentarily placing aside our rivalries and sojourning here, not only for the warm yellow Caribbean sun and hospitable locals, but to discuss an issue that is a growing threat to all our interests,” G. Elwood Dickens smiled. “Mr. Holmby, of the Holmby Chocolate Company of Ohio. Signore Fannuci of Fannuci Proteins and Nuts. Mr. Warner Barrett, who has just taken majority control of Kranebury Foods. And Mr. Franz Tannenbaum, of Nectar, all the way from Lichtenstein.”

None of the men rose, but each nodded and smiled at each other.

“As you know, there has been a rising sea-change in attitudes in our markets. Our consumers are, quite annoyingly,” Dickens tightened his right hand into a fist, “starting to think for themselves.”

The other three men swayed their heads in disapproval as if one of the Cuban servers had toppled one of the tall drinks before them.
“This is true,” Warner Barrett interrupted. “Since purchasing control of Kranebury, our revenue in our top market lines have slowed and is threatening to flat-line.” Rolling his tongue in distaste, “In an environment of growing markets!”

“The main culprit,” G. Elwood Dickens stared hard ahead out of the window into Havana harbor, “is this so-called ‘craft chocolate’ movement. Those animals are raising the ceiling – and thus the floor – of consumer expectations.”


“Tell me what you think of this one,” Marla Heartens told the audience. “Wait not yet! All together. Remember. See the texture first. Then smell it. Snap it off, then let it sit on your tongue.”

The group began to fish the pieces of chocolate in their white paper cups. One boy emptied the contents down his throat at once, his head titled back. He began to chew.

“It’s a bit plumy, almost citrusy. Bit of woodish? A cedarish taste to it.,” smiled one woman, looking up.

“IT TASTES GOOD!” the eager boy replied, getting up to ask for more. “Its not as sweet like the stuff they give out on Halloween! I’ve never had anything like it,” he said, palming more pieces from a cloth covered table.

“Its different because unlike the confections you typically purchase from the drug store or given on Valentines,” Heartens replied. “Its single-sourced. The cacao beans that are the primary ingredients come from just one farm. It has its own unique terroir, a flavor, genetics and history unique to that one region. Regular chocolate doesn’t have much chocolate. Perhaps a few percent. Its mostly fat and sugar that’s chocolate flavored.”

The audience were no longer chewing, their eyes bright and heads titled up.

“Regular candy that’s flavored as chocolate – every step of production wants to eliminate that uniqueness you just tasted. The goal is for their products to taste and look the same all the time. Its costs less to do that and people no longer expect other flavors, just the one they sell you.” Marla Heartens looked at the audience. They were smiling.“Single-sourced chocolate also has another sweet side I think you’ll love even more!” Heartens scanned the audience.

They looked up.

“There’s almost no slave or child labor used farming the cacao. The small craft manufacturers – most of them as far as I know – have very close relationships with the farmers. They pay them very fair prices for their beans and this helps them make a decent living without resorting to cutting corners.”
The audience was beaming, the hungry boy even more so.


“Don Traficante, thank you so much for hosting us again.” Gerald Beard smiled and with both hands offered a large uncovered box of chocolates.

“Welcome. How is your location? I hear the real estate is ‘hot’ in your particular location.” Jose Traficante took the box without looking and handed it to a pair of hands, also without looking.

“Very much so, Don Traficante. The borough is changing. The useless people are disappearing. Probably to jail. The smart and good-looking people are now settling. They’re bringing safety, cleanliness, as well as money. Most of our sales are local.” Gerald Beard smiled.

“I wish fortune would grant us the same here. Too many useless, lost souls. I find it my life’s mission to guide them. Without me, without my farm, there would be chaos. Anarchy. They steal. They fight. They rape. With me, they work. It is my burden to keep the nation in order. Very hard work.” Don Traficante stood up. Gerald Beard again smiled.

Itzel Zacapa bagged the last cacao pod that would fit in her sack, which the taller, older natives had snipped from the tree and deposited in a pile. Her mouth was dry. The water bucket was two thousand feet away beside the husking shed. Itzel wished she and the fifty pounds sack of fruit could simply levitate like a bird and get to the water bucket.
She closed her eyes. FLIGHT!
Her bare feet lifted from the leafy jungle floor and Itzel and the fifty pounds of cacao were released from friction and gravity.
Two men dumped more cacao into the pile.

“Joven,” Jose Traficante said, looking out into the endless tall green horizon, from the wide, clear windows of the vehicle, “You, Gerald, remind me of me. This is the action of a wise man.”

“Yes Don Traficante,” Gerald Beard nodded. “The other men, they care too much about the work preparing the chocolate. Work no one sees. We focus on what people understand. They understand packaging. They understand image. These others, the chocolate is their craft. That’s money. Us, our packaging is the craft. Ink costs less than chocolate.”

“And a man sees before he tastes.”

“They’re suckers, Don Traficante.” Gerald Beard laughed. A waiter moved with a silver tray of drinks. “I almost have as much fun watching them buy the products as raking in the cash.”

Juan Traficante eyes shot and narrowed on Gerald Beard.

“Perception becomes reality, Don Traficante.”

The waiter lingered a bit, then moved to refill Juan Traficante’s glass.

“No Manolo,” Traficante brushed the air with his hand. He turned to Gerald Beard. “You are a capable man who understands the pragmatic world. My men will clear one hundred more hectares for production with the new CCN51 breed. They are rugged plants, strong. They cannot be felled by the fungus. If you remember, our Brazilian friends to the south have suffered much loss from this. I will not allow this here.” Don Traficante’s jaw tightened.

“I hope not Senor Traficante. Twenty years ago, the Brazilians in Bahia were the second biggest export region globally. Now they’re not even top five.”

“The taste will not be an issue correct?” Juan Traficante glanced an eye towards Gerald.

“No issue Don Traficante. Your new CCN51 forests will let us to ramp up production to meet demand. We’re hiring a new package designer, he’s helped sell a lot of shoes with his great artwork in ads. The other small guys don’t stand a chance. We’ll kill them off hard one by one and we’ll look good for the big ones, when they decide to buy in. They’ll pick the strongest pup in the litter.” Gerald Beard took a sip of cold pineapple juice.

“You will get your seeds then. As much as necessary. I shall increase my stakes in our partnership another twenty percent. Si?” Juan Traficante’s eye aimed towards Gerald and right arm outstretched.

Gerald Beard removed his fashionable black, thick framed non-prescription glasses and touched his forehead on Traficante’s hand. “Yes Don Traficante.”


In one efficient motion, Abe Watson held the cacao bag over the stainless steel table and sliced one end open. The beans poured into a brown volcano. His hands caressed the edge of the pile and drew a handful of beans. Abe put his face closer and smiled – this batch looks clean again. His careful selection of reliable farmers and cultivation by friendship and paying well more than fair prices ensured most of the beans that followed him up to his basement were usually outstanding.

“Emma! They’re great! The beans look great!”

Emma was in the kitchen and smiled. She remembered how much time she and Abe had spent making their very first batch – with all their learning errors, it took twice as many beans to make the first five hundred bars, than it will this latest batch. Emma smiled again. That first tasting at the farmer’s market, the most common reaction to Abe’s and her efforts were ‘What the hell is this?’ That was a close run day. Both were praying to simply break even. Towards the end of the day, and nearly despondent at having not sold very many, a well-heeled couple happened on their narrow frail table and found the chocolates to their taste – and bought out the batch.

“Great! Need any help down there?”

“Maybe in a bit!”

Abe could certainly handle the crafting part. He was self-taught. He came from making pastries and learned to bake – bake well. Going out on the ledge, he decided to try make chocolate, straight from the cacao beans. First, he learned how to select the cacao. Learned to differentiate between good beans and not so good ones. Learned to roast the ones that made his cut. Learned to grind. Not to mention learning to build many of his machines himself. Before the inevitable competition when the stronger fish ate the less quick, less strong, less well-connected and less lucky fish, and had gotten bigger, stronger and meaner; the pond was full of small chocolate manufacturers like the Watsons. Most of them used purpose-made machines. But those days were gone. If they were lucky, they might find an antique online that was made when Woodrow Wilson was still in the White House, that the owner was selling for its scrap value. Abe could fix those. A person who couldn’t fix the machines could probably not run them well, either. It went with the job. Other times, he found machines that approximated close enough for what they needed. And with the sorter Abe was using now, that was half of her effort. She had sawed, hammered, nailed – built much of it. Emma headed down. When Abe was working, you could never get him out of the basement.

“How’s it going?”

Abe looked up from the beans. He smiled.

“Just finished the orders. We have buyers from Shanghai again!” Emma smiled.

“Great! I really wish we had a website in Chinese.”

Both nodded in unison. They knew that unlike the American palette, which for generations tapped to the sweet taste of Pluto, Nectar, and Holmby, the Chinese tongue appreciated bitterness. Cacao Rebel Fine Chocolates – theirs, used cane sugar. That was it. The best cacao they could find and sugar cane. Most chocolates had everything but chocolate. Also, the price tag on their chocolates were more in a way more suited for the Chinese, who bought them as gifts. Cacao Rebel Fine Chocolate’s domestic market was trained to see chocolate as a quick – and cheap – treat. Anything above $4 was a non-seller. Emma’s phone twirled.

“Look! Look!” she screamed

“What!” Abe looked up, hitting his head on the bean grinder.

“Someone gave $3000, we’ve met the Puntkicker goal!”

“We’ve got to book tickets soon.”

Emma smiled inside. Financially, the chocolate gig meant life hadn’t been easy. But they were more alive and free than ever, when both had ‘real’ jobs. ‘Real’ as in working for someone else. A captive. Told what they had to do, how to do it, when to do it. And having to force a smile. Sure they were well-fed and were had a home. But so does a wolf at the zoo. There was quite a gap between an animal behind the glass and one out in its element.

“Look at this,” Abe held up a belt buckle.

“Are you serious?” Emma’s jaw fell.

“I’m kidding.” Abe smiled.

Before the chocolate thing, they once went on a tour inside one of the big boys’ factory, while visiting her mom in Ohio. Everyone had a one task and one task only. Management had broken down the production of the candy bar into the most simply and basic steps possible. How would Van Gogh’s paintings look if each brush stroke was categorized by shade, texture, and placement and each assigned to one man. There would be a lot more Van Goghs but they wouldn’t be Van Goghs. Here the masterpiece was theirs to create for the world. Emma put down her laptop and dug her hands in the aromatic volcano.

“Move over will you,” she smiled.


“Gentlemen – colleagues – I present Dr. James Baldonado, one of the foremost cacao geneticist in the world, and consultant scientist of Pluto Foods Industries!”

“Thank you Mr. Dickens.” James Baldonado adjusted his yellow tie, which did not match his green jacket. “As most of you know, the global market for chocolate is fast expanding. There is a great gap between the cacao the world demands, and what the world can produce. This is about 1 million metric tons.”

The eyes in audience took in the scientist.

“In fifteen years, this gap will increase to two million tons.” Baldonado could sense his audience tensing with his words. “The price of the commodity, meanwhile, has increased as well. From 1993 to 2007, the prices of cacao was an average of $1,465 a ton. In the last seven years alone, it has shot up almost 90 percent.”

The audience’s eyes were now narrowed and smoldering.

“With the support of Pluto Foods Industries, my lab believes we have discovered a solution,” Baldonado beamed. “Pests and diseases can decimate a third to 80% of cacao crop yield.”

A drink glass tipped on the table and a small waterfall of liquid cascaded on the floor. Several Cuban attendants appeared at once and rushed to the wet spot.

“We have bred a series that we call Pluto 1, Pluto 4, and Pluto 6. These strains are resistant to all known cacao diseases and exceeds the CCN51 strain in terms of flavor.”

G. Elwood Dickens jumped up. “That is all Dr. Baldonado. You may go.”

Baldonado was rushed from the hall along with all the entire wait staff. Only the principles remained.

“This Pluto Series will be our weapon against the craft-chocolate threat,” Dickens smiled. “Unlike other strains, the Pluto Series are proprietary. Due to the work of others in this room,” Dickens paused and looked out.

The men from Nectar, Fannuci, Kranebury, and Holmby smiled.

“Due to your efforts – and funding – we have finally achieved an amiable political climate, and as a result of our work, cacao boards sympathetic to our views are now forming in all major growing regions. Not a single bean shall be sold without the permission of these boards. We will provide free but binding licenses for the Pluto series to all the regions. Gentlemen, we will achieve standardization. There will only be three strains, which belong to us,” G. Elwood Dickens beamed.

The room thundered in applause.

“This so-called ‘craft chocolate’ movement will have even narrower choices. Choices without any logistical infrastructure.”

The crowd laughed.

“They’ll now pay triple in freight what they bid for the beans.” G. Elwood Dickens smiled. “That or they could walk it out like pack mules.”

“I have a concern, “ Franz Tannebaum of Nectar SA stood up. “Many of these craft makers are attempting to save production costs by dispensing with conching. What are your views?”

“Yes, our accounting department projects a savings of sixty percent in energy costs compared to a conched product,” Spoke Millard Holmby, heir and head of the Holmby Chocolate Company.
“This is true.” Dickens nodded. “Craft chocolate is indeed producing un-conched product. From an accounting perspective, the savings are not insignificant, as Millard has pointed out. And there is a market for it. However,” Dickens took a sip from his glass. “By dancing to their tune, we will loose the initiative. We will never allow them to set the market tempo. Through conching, we dictate the taste of the consumer. They are used it. We define good taste. We will continue to turn its high cost into an advantage, for us! The cost of conching is a massive barrier to entry and competition. They’ll run out of blood long before we do.”

More laughter.

“Also gentlemen, we have a reliable source that has informed us that a certain partnership between one of the most strongest – but not the finest as I understand – craft-chocolate maker and an independent grower are hoping for a buyout, from us. Our source tell us they cast themselves as premium only in marketing and expect premium buyout prices.”

Boos in the crowd.

G. Elwood Dickens stretched both hands and arms out to placate the grumbling. “They expect a bidding war from us. But, we’re all friends, aren’t we?”

Laughter in the crowd.

“If that foolish hipster and old Venezuelan, or any of these fellows think they can pry open our checkbooks…”

“They’ll get the boot,” someone roared.

“A boot with killer fungal spore,” added another.

“We always win, gentlemen,” smiled G. Elwood Dickens. “Or at least we try.”

The crowd laughed.

A Journey in Vain: Introducing My Husband to Craft and Fine Dark Chocolate

This Tranquilidad chocolate bar is made by Rogue Chocolatier, a fine bean-to-bar chocolate maker located in Western Massachusetts and considered by many to be the best such maker in North America (Martin “Rogue”). Photo by the author.
This Tranquilidad chocolate bar is made by Rogue Chocolatier, a fine bean-to-bar chocolate maker located in Western Massachusetts and considered by many to be the best such maker in North America (Martin “Rogue”). Photo by the author.

The chocolate in our house is typically mass-produced chocolate purchased from Trader Joe’s, our usual grocery store stomping grounds. Frequent fliers include the mini milk chocolate peanut butter cups, sea salt and turbinado sugar dark chocolate almonds, Belgian milk chocolate bars 3-packs, and more recently, a selection influenced by this course, mini Valrhona 56% dark chocolate bars, as well as their more formidable 71% cousins. All of these chocolates are milk and/or high in sugar and cacao butter, with the exception of the 71% bar, making these products extremely palatable to the average American consumer. Also, with the possible exception of both Valrhona bars, all of these products are most likely produced with bulk cacao, the term used to describe over 90 percent of the world’s cacao, which is grown with the intent of producing “a solid core of satisfactory—or better—chocolate flavor” (Presilla 123-124; Presilla 118). Uniformity is key for bulk cacao, since the Big Five chocolate manufacturers prize consistency of taste above all else to cater to their customers’ strong brand (and flavor) loyalty (Allen 21).1 Although I have long been familiar with dark chocolate and some bean-to-bar chocolate, particularly the Somerville-based Taza Chocolate, taking this class has exposed me to the world of craft and fine chocolate. The obvious end result was a trip to the gourmet food store, Formaggio Kitchen, to purchase four bars of craft and fine dark chocolate to share with my husband, and, as a counterpoint, with some of my coworkers. As the title suggests, sharing these new flavors with my husband was a spectacular failure, but my journey revealed the elitist side of craft and fine chocolate, as well as the hold that the flavors of milk and sugar have on (an admittedly very small sample of) American chocolate consumers.

Seen here is part of the storefront of Formaggio Kitchen’s Cambridge location, which is tucked away in a semi-residential area, accessible by car, several bus lines, or by foot from Harvard Square (as I did). Photo by the author.
Seen here is part of the storefront of Formaggio Kitchen’s Cambridge location, which is tucked away in a semi-residential area, accessible by car, several bus lines, or by foot from Harvard Square (as I did). Photo by the author.

My trip to Formaggio Kitchen was an experience in privilege in and of itself—my ability to access these chocolates, let alone pay for them, would not be true of many Americans. Formaggio Kitchen is an excellent gourmet food shop with locations in Cambridge, Boston, and New York City, as well as an online store. It focuses on cheese, but its list of products from the website includes, “Artisan Cheese, Chocolate, Cheese Clubs & Samplers, Specialty Seafood, Olives & Antipasti, Olive Oils & Specialty Oils, Candy & Confections” (formaggiokitchen.com), and others, with language that advertises products from an expensive, high quality store. Two levels of remove put this establishment at a distance from most Americans—first, there are only three physical locations, so if you do not live in the greater Boston or NYC area, you are out of luck. The second level of remove is the placement of the two Formaggio Kitchen locations within Cambridge and Boston. The Cambridge location is located on 244 Huron Avenue, about a 20-25 minute walk from Harvard Square, in what feels more like a residential neighborhood than a commercial district. While the Boston location is slightly more accessible, both stores are pretty out of the way for anyone who is reliant on public transportation and/or the commercial hubs of the city that spring up around major transit centers. Certainly, the internet, theoretically the world’s great equalizer, could partially remedy this situation, but the delicate nature of Formaggio Kitchen’s perishable products requires expensive shipping, which is a deterrent for many consumers in this age of free shipping and even free returns from many large online retailers. In short, Formaggio Kitchen is designed to be accessible to those with the resources to afford its products.

This image shows the main chocolate section of Formaggio Kitchen in Cambridge. Note the small selection and tiny square footage, the curated feel of the display, and the signs handwritten in elegant script. Photo by the author.
This image shows the main chocolate section of Formaggio Kitchen in Cambridge. Note the small selection and tiny square footage, the curated feel of the display, and the signs handwritten in elegant script. Photo by the author.

Indeed, these craft and fine chocolate bars are not cheap. I purchased four bars, two of the Rogue Tranquilidad variety, each for $16.95 for 2.12 ounces or 60 grams, one bar of Amedei 70% Chocolate for $9.95 for 1.75 ounces or 50 grams, and one bar of Aynouse L’Artesa for $6.95 for 5.3 ounces or 150 grams, coming to a total of $50.80 spent on 11.29 ounces of chocolate. This kind of cost is intentionally contrary to the trend that Coe and Coe describe as “the near-disappearance of the connoisseurship that had typified the aristocratic and clerical chocolate drinkers of a bygone era [such that] [inexpensive] mass-produced chocolates seem to have conquered all” (257). Presilla notes similarly that “even excellent chocolate had become faceless and anonymous, for the great majority of customers had no way of seeing and judging the cacao from which it was made” (41). Formaggio Kitchen’s shelves, while fairly inaccessible to many, are working to counteract the trend of chocolate as a cheap, mass-produced, faceless indulgence. According to their online webpage dedicated to “Artisan Chocolate,” “Ahhh, the power of chocolate. Touted for its health benefits and enjoyed by just about everyone, this is certainly one of our favorite food categories. We focus on bean-to-bar producers who eschew emulsifiers and create their wondrous chocolates with nothing more than sugar and cacao” (formaggiokitchen.com). Although problematic in several places—most notably, Castell, Pérez-Cano, and Bisson’s article makes it clear that further studies are need for conclusive connections between chocolate consumption and health, as well as at what doses (271)—this statement sums up one of the newer trends in conscientious chocolate consumption, one that has given rise to these fine and craft chocolate bars.

Note the handwritten label identifying the chocolate's origins, cacao percentage, and flavor notes.
Note the handwritten label identifying the chocolate’s origins, cacao percentage, and flavor notes. Photo by the author.

Accordingly, Formaggio Kitchen curates its selection to include chocolate makers doing relatively small batch chocolate production, which sometimes, but not always, indicates greater ethical standards in cacao production and sourcing. Also, the in-store labels describe individual bars’ flavor profiles, identifying nutty, floral, or earthy notes in the chocolate, as well as (in most cases) the company, source of the beans, percentage of cocoa solids, and type of chocolate. While the labels do not explicitly name the individual people who grow cacao or who make chocolate, restoring connoisseur vocabulary and culture to the chocolate industry may begin to put a human face and intrinsic value on the production of fine chocolate similar to the cachet of excellent wine, craft beer, or artisan cheese. That being said, Colin Gasko of Rogue Chocolatier is concerned about the viability of the future of craft and fine chocolate (Gasko), let alone the reality that any shifts in consumer culture defined by such a large conglomerate of the Big Five chocolate companies, as well as larger mid-size companies, is an uphill battle.

This Amedei Jamaica Cru 70% bar is made from cocoa mass, cane sugar, cocoa butter, and vanilla, according to the label. Donal and I (really, I) tasted this bar third, after the Trader Joe’s milk and Valrhona 56% dark bars. Photo by the author.
This Amedei Jamaica Cru 70% bar is made from cocoa mass, cane sugar, cocoa butter, and vanilla, according to the label. Donal and I (really, I) tasted this bar third, after the Trader Joe’s milk and Valrhona 56% dark bars. Photo by the author.

Sharing these craft and fine dark chocolate bars with my husband, Donal (name changed), was not a success based on his taste preferences but was more successful than the tasting with my coworkers in terms of flavor analysis. I selected three different chocolate bars that I hoped would appeal to his taste buds, which I knew to have a strong preference for milk chocolate and a dislike for even the mildest dark chocolate. Based on these criteria, the Rogue Tranquilidad bar was a stretch at best, but I hoped that he might try it after getting through the Amedei 70%, chosen for its sweeter flavor profile, and the Aynouse L’Artesa 65%, chosen for its high sugar content and similarity to Taza chocolate, with which Donal is familiar. We also began with a Trader Joe’s Belgian milk chocolate bar and a Valrhona 56% dark chocolate bar, again to try to ease into the tasting. I went over the steps of tasting with him, using methods modified from class tastings, Presilla’s The New Taste of Chocolate, and Stuckey’s Taste What You’re Missing. We began by looking at the chocolate and evaluating its color and gloss, then smelling it for any underlying flavor notes. Next, we broke the piece of chocolate to determine the sharpness of its “snap,” and smelled it again to see what other scents we could determine. Finally, we tasted it for texture, letting it melt on the tongue, and then for flavor.

This roughly processed Aynouse L’Artesa Fondant 65% bar is made from cocoa paste, sugar cane, and cocoa butter, according to the label. We tasted it fourth. Photo by the author.
This roughly processed Aynouse L’Artesa Fondant 65% bar is made from cocoa paste, sugar cane, and cocoa butter, according to the label. We tasted it fourth. Photo by the author.

Donal enjoyed tasting the milk chocolate, which he is used to eating, and learning about the influence that cocoa butter and cocoa solids have on the snap of a piece of a chocolate bar. Given that milk chocolate has a high fat content from the added milk and cocoa butter, the break in the first chocolate sample was not smooth, like a bar high in cocoa solids would have. Having taken a Science of Wine class for his science requirement in college, Donal is familiar with the steps in a wine tasting, which are quite similar to those for chocolate tasting. He identified a slight citrus flavor in the milk chocolate that I was unable to detect, but that was overwhelmed by caramel when I told him that was the main note that I could sense. When we moved to the Valrhona chocolate and I asked him what he smelled, he said with a pronounced frown, “dark chocolate.” He did not finish the sample. After that, he chose not to taste the Amedei or the Rogue bars, but he was willing to smell each one for the flavor notes. He did give the Aynouse L’Artesa bar a brief nibble, being familiar with Taza’s roughly finished dark chocolate, but the rest of that piece was also returned to me. He did note that the chocolate bar wrappers all gave the impression of imitating high-end wine labels, with frequently minimalist or otherwise elegant design and layout. While we enjoyed seeking out the different notes in the smells and tastes of the bars, we concluded that I need to bring back dark milk chocolate from Formaggio Kitchen, although I am unconvinced that anything darker than traditional milk chocolate will be a success in this (hopeless? helpless?) case.

This Rogue Chocolatier 75% bar is made only with cacao and cane sugar, making it the darkest chocolate of the group. I saved it for tasting last (with Donal, so to speak). Photo by the author.
This Rogue Chocolatier 75% bar is made only with cacao and cane sugar, making it the darkest chocolate of the group. I saved it for tasting last (with Donal, so to speak). Photo by the author.

The tasting I conducted with two colleagues, Sarah and Adam (names changed), was better received in terms of taste but less nuanced in terms of flavor than the tasting with Donal. It was also a much more informal and quick tasting due to the nature of the workplace setting. I talked a little about smelling, snapping, and tasting the chocolate, as well as the difference between chocolate made with pure cacao solids and sugar versus that with added cocoa butter and/or other additives or flavorings, but I was not able to do so in as much detail as I was with Donal. Adam, who has similar tastes to Donal, actually enjoyed the Rogue chocolate quite a bit, which surprised me. He did not have any significant flavor feedback, but he did enjoy the “snap” too. Clearly, the physical engagement with the “snap” can be a satisfying “in” for people who have not done much or any intentional chocolate or food tasting. Sarah sampled both the Rogue and the Aynouse L’Artesa bars, and while she enjoyed the Rogue sample, she seemed to like the second sample better. Her immediate reaction to the Aynouse L’Artesa was to say that the flavor profile was more complex, but upon further consideration, she asserted that perhaps it had more to do with what seemed to be a greater amount of sugar in that bar when compared to the Rogue bar.

Donal did not appreciate the complex flavors in this piece of dark chocolate from Rogue chocolatier.
Donal did not appreciate the complex flavors in this piece of dark chocolate from Rogue Chocolatier. Photo by the author.

Combining the feedback from these two tastings leads to some interesting commentary on the types of tasters and an affirmation of the common flavor preferences for some, if not many, American chocolate consumers. While it was somewhat disappointing for me that Donal was not able to enjoy the craft and fine dark chocolate in the tasting, Barb Stuckey’s article suggests one possible reason why. Her husband, who cannot stomach many bitter flavors like red wine, green vegetables, or dark chocolate, is what is known as a supertaster, or as Stuckey prefers to say, a hypertaster. Both labels describe a member of the population with the highest number of taste buds on the tongue, which renders that person extra sensitive to strong or bitter flavors (20-21). It is possible that Donal is a supertaster, but it is also possible that he is a taster or tolerant taster (nontaster) who simply does not enjoy bitter flavors—Stuckey’s article makes it clear that the breakdown between hypertasters, tasters, and tolerant tasters cannot account for all food preferences, just as one way to understand some of them (29). Donal was familiar with these categories of tasters from his Science of Wine course, and we were able to have a conversation about taste and flavor preferences in the context of Linda Bartoshuk’s system.2

Dark chocolates like the ones sold at Formaggio Kitchen may simply not have the same flavor appeal for the average American as an industrially processed milk chocolate bar.
Dark chocolates like these ones sold at Formaggio Kitchen may simply not have the same flavor appeal for the average American as an industrially processed sugar-and-milk chocolate bar. Photo by the author.

Another outcome from this wider chocolate tasting experiment was anecdotal evidence that supports the theory that many Americans prefer sweeter, milkier chocolate as a general rule. In “Big Sugar’s Little Lies,” Taubes and Couzens have documented the aggressive tactics of the American sugar industry to resist regulation of sugar consumption guidelines, to the detriment of Americans’ health. Unsurprisingly, thanks to these efforts, as well as other trends in food production and marketing, most Americans now have a strong taste for sugar and other sweet foods. I would argue that these marketing efforts have been so influential that they may have led Sarah to think initially that the more sugary chocolate was more flavorful, when in fact it simply had more sugar and cocoa butter in the recipe. Donal’s reactions also reflect the widespread preference for milk chocolate over dark chocolate in our society. While these preferences themselves are not “good” or “bad,” per se, they do have a strong influence on what types of foods we choose to consume, and they may be something for the craft and fine chocolate industry to consider as it evolves.3

The three main dark chocolate barwrapperss from the tasting placed together for comparison.
The three main dark chocolate bar wrappers from the tasting placed together for comparison. Photo by the author.

My next steps, following this expedition? In short, to try more fine chocolate and share it with more people. While I have identified some of the issues with high end gourmet foods, and fine and craft chocolate in particular, Formaggio Kitchen is an excellent place to start for trying bean-to-bar chocolate if you are interested and live in the Boston or Cambridge area. I am curious to see what some of my other family and friends, particularly those who already have an affinity for dark chocolate, think of brands like Rogue and others. I also look forward to trying some dark milk chocolate with Donal, if he will consent to being a guinea pig one more time. While I acknowledge the problematic elitism of fine and craft chocolate, I also believe these products are providing a much needed perspective in an industry so otherwise dominated by only five companies. I look forward to supporting these small bean-to-bar companies, particularly the ethically sourced ones, now and in the future.


  1. The Big Five chocolate companies—Hershey, Mars, Cadbury, Ferrero Rocher, and Nestlé (Allen 21)—do not include Trader Joe’s, of course, but they do dominate the market with incredible control over what kind of cacao is most commonly grown and therefore available to other chocolate manufacturers.
  2. Donal has in fact taken one of the tests that assesses taster type, as a requirement for his Science of Wine class, and he is unsurprisingly either a taster or a hypertaster (supertaster).
  3. Indeed, a growing number of small batch chocolate makers are offering “dark milk” chocolate bars, which are intended to appeal to consumers who prefer their fine chocolate with larger amounts of milk and sugar (Martin “Haute Patisserie”).

Thanks to Formaggio Kitchen for permission to take the pictures included in this blog post. The thoughts and opinions expressed here are my own.

Works Cited

Allen, Lawrence L. Chocolate Fortunes: The Battle for the Hearts, Minds, and Wallets of China’s Consumers. New York: AMACOM, 2010. Print.

Castell, Margarida, Francisco Jose Pérez-Cano, and Jean-François Bisson. “Clinical Benefits of Cocoa: An Overview.” Chocolate in Health and Nutrition. Ed. R.R. Watson et al. Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, 2013. 265-275. Print.

Coe, Sophie D. and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. Third Edition. London: Thames & Hudson, Ltd., 2013. Print.

formaggiokitchen.com. Formaggio Kitchen. Web. 10 May 2015.

Gasko, Colin. “Film Viewing and Rogue Chocolatier Tasting and Interview.” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard Extension School: Cambridge, MA. 6 May 2015. Class Lecture.

Martin, Carla D. “Film Viewing and Rogue Chocolatier Tasting and Interview.” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard Extension School: Cambridge, MA. 6 May 2015. Class Lecture.

Martin, Carla D. “Haute Patisserie, Artisan Chocolate, and Food Justice: The Future?” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard Extension School: Cambridge, MA. 29 Apr. 2015. Class Lecture.

“Mini Peanut Butter Cups.” traderjoes.com. Trader Joe’s, 9 Oct. 2012. Web. 10 May 2015.

Presilla, Marciel E. The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural and Natural History of Cacao with Recipes, Revised. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press, 2009. Print.

“Sea Salt & Turbinado Sugar Chocolate Almonds.” traderjoes.com. Trader Joe’s, 19 Mar. 2012. Web. 10 May 2015.

Stuckey, Barb. Taste What You’re Missing: The Passionate Eater’s Guide to Why Good Food Tastes Good. New York: Free Press, 2012.

Taubes, Gary and Cristin Kearns Couzens. “Big Sugar’s Sweet Little Lies.” MotherJones. 31 Oct. 2012. Web. 10 Apr. 2015.

tazachocolate.com. Taza Chocolate. Web. 10 May 2015.

“Three Chocolate Bars.” traderjoes.com. Trader Joe’s, n.d. Web. 10 May 2015.

“Valrhona Le Noir.” finedarkchocolate.com. Fine Dark Chocolate, n.d. Web. 10 May 2015.

“Valrhona Le Noir Amer 71% Cacao Dark Bittersweet Chocolate (Pack of 5).” amazon.com. Amazon, n.d. Web. 10 May 2015.

Askinosie Chocolate: Fair and Direct without Labels

With the growing international popularity of chocolate, the number of chocolate companies has increased dramatically and the competition between each has become more and more fierce. Along with the growth in chocolate companies, the number of chocolate certification organizations has also increased, to a point where the numerous labels are confusing to the normal American consumer. Today, chocolate companies can choose from a wide array of certifications to apply for, including Fair Trade USA, Fairtrade UK, Fair for Life, Rainforest Alliance, Direct Trade, USDA Organic and more. A question we should consider is: are these fair trade certifications actually creating the social impact they say they are in the chocolate industry and around the world? In considering this question, we will take a look at the history and business of one craft chocolate company without any certifications – Askinosie Chocolate. Askinosie Chocolate, through their direct relationship with farmers, is able to have a sustainable impact on the chocolate growing community and their own local community while maintaining the high quality of its products, without the distraction of any third-party certifications or labels.

The term “fair trade” was defined by the international Fair Trade Federation in 2003 and is as follows: “Fair Trade is a movement promoting trading partnerships based on dialogue, transparency and respect, and that seeks greater equity in international trade. It contributes to sustainable development by offering better trading condition to, and securing the rights of, marginalized producers and workers.” (Witkowski) In order to achieve its goals, the Fair Trade movement relies on secondary organizations, such as the International Fair Trade Association, Fair Trade Federation, or Ten Thousand Villages, to implement an auditing system for supply chains to ensure they meet the standards. However, the goals of Fair Trade are broad and vague, and the standards of each Fair Trade organization can vary widely. For example, Rainforest Alliance, a non-profit, claims to certify fair trade products, but does not include standards for compensating producers above market price and in actuality has worked closely with Kraft and Chiquita, big food corporations, which may lead to competing interests (Witkowski).

According to a 2009 study, fair trade consumers tended to value universalism, for example unity with nature and protecting the environment, as well as self-direction, or freedom and control over their own individual decisions, more than non-consumers of fair trade products (Doran). This study demonstrated that the values the fair trade movement promotes are important to a sizeable number of consumers. However, whether or not purchasing all products certified by a certain “fair trade” label is productively achieving those values is a question for further research.

A sample of different fair trade certifying organizations

As the market for fair trade products has grown, it seems the way in which the original values have been manifested have changed, and not necessarily for the better. Because of the numerous fair trade certifications and the incongruent nature of their standards and information provided to consumers, consumers should question the true value of any fair trade certified product they choose to purchase (Ballet). The case of Askinosie Chocolate is an exemplary model for transparency and social impact in the chocolate industry today.

Askinosie Chocolate was founded in 2006 by Shawn Askinosie, originally as a new hobby to replace his stressful criminal defense lawyer day job. Like some of the big chocolate companies today, for example, Hershey’s, Askinosie Chocolate started out as a family business. Shawn began by making chocolate in his office kitchen, perfecting recipes with his wife, and then managing the business side with his high school aged daughter. As the company grew, it made a noticeable effort to maintain the personal touch in their products, as evidenced through the personal stories of Shawn’s family members who are involved in the business as well as their business practices.

One major practice that sets Askinosie Chocolate apart from its bean-to-bar competitors is their commitment to direct trade with farmers. Unlike its competitors, Askinosie Chocolate has not sought fair trade certification or established a third party organization to certify its direct trade practices. In fact, Askinosie Chocolate doesn’t use any type of certification for its cocoa or chocolate at all (their sugar, however, is certified organic). Shawn himself travels to the farm sites and establishes partnerships with farmers through acquaintances and business partners, and then evaluates the beans and the cacao farming process himself in person. By avoiding a broker/middleman, Askinosie Chocolate is able to incorporate their value of cooperation and transparency throughout their supply chain.

Askinosie Chocolate’s direct trade model is especially beneficial for the producers of cacao because producers are paid a higher price than the set fair trade commodity price as well as 10% of the company’s profits every year (Attoun). Because the beans are routinely tested before providing the bonus profits, the producers have an incentive to produce the highest quality cacao beans for Askinosie Chocolate. Instead of relying on a middleman to inspect quality, Askinosie Chocolate sends a company representative, often Shawn himself, to visit the sites and to meet the farmers while drawing up a contract and developing a partnership with them (“Askinosie Chocolate”).

Although fair trade programs originally set out to shorten the supply chain that causes brands profit disproportionately compared to farmers, in reality, fair trade itself has become a cumbersome instrument like those it has tried to change.

Cacao producing farmers often only get 3% of the profit from a chocolate bar

In contrast with fair trade certification programs, which often require the farmers and cooperatives to front a cost of anywhere between $2,500 – $10,000 for annual inspection and certification fees, the Askinosie Chocolate model doesn’t cost the farmers money because it is a business partnership (Tellman). The combination of these yearly fees as well as the fixed commodity price for fair trade chocolate inhibit small farmers from participating in the system and limit the impact of fair trade overall. Askinosie Chocolate on the other hand plays a role in each step of the supply chain, ensuring that the business runs smoothly and that the partnership with farmers is fair at every single step. From finding the beans, building partnerships, shipping the beans, and actually making the chocolate, Askinosie Chocolate personally touches each part of their production process.

Since the founding of the company, Askinosie Chocolate asserts that they have been “weaving social responsibility into everything we do” (“Askinosie Chocolate”), and that company value is evidenced by their numerous philanthropic ventures and careful business endeavors.

Beginning in 2009, Askinosie Chocolate started Chocolate University, an18-month program for local high school students to learn about the bean-to-bar company, beginning from the bar that is completed in their town and ending with a visit to Tanzania – a site of one farm where Askinosie gets their beans (“Askinosie Chocolate: Bringing”).

This program is a way for the company to empower the youth in the community to become global citizens while teaching them about the ethics of the chocolate business and experience first-hand the types of decisions chocolate companies may face, for example, choosing a farm at which to source cacao beans. Before the trip to a cacao source, students in the program research the needs of the community and raise funds in order to address those needs and create a social impact during their visit.

In addition to their community impact, Askinosie weaves their value of transparency into every part of their business. By creating personal connections with the farmers, Shawn is able to put a face to the product, and the company literally uses farmer’s faces as images on some of their products.

Askinosie Chocolate bars featuring images of actual farmers

The personal touch on the marketing of the chocolate bars indicates to consumers that there are real people behind the products they are buying, and tempt the already socially-minded consumer to purchase even more. In addition, Askinosie Chocolate claims that their products are “100% traceable”, and their website has a tool for consumers to input the identification code of their product to track where individual ingredients actually come from (“Askinosie Chocolate”).

Besides enriching the lives of consumers, Askinosie Chocolate takes care to also educate their farmers on their products. When Shawn visits farms to do yearly inspections, he will bring with him official sales numbers and even samples of the finished chocolate to allow the farmers to actually taste what their raw food product can create. By being transparent in their partnership with farmers and their relationship with consumers, Askinosie Chocolate is solving the problem fair trade certifications face today of unclear communication/information.

In conclusion, Askinosie Chocolate is able to have a sustainable impact on the cacao growing community through their equitable direct-trade relationship with farmers, and company value of transparency by foregoing cumbersome fair trade certification programs. In addition, Askinosie Chocolate empowers its own local community through its social initiatives, such as Chocolate University. However, the question of how to scale their impact remains. As we have seen with fair trade certification, although it began with ethical values and goals, as the programs expanded, the desire for profit and larger impact outweighed the earlier ideals and distracted the movement from its origins. The direct trade movement and the family owned craft chocolate business should also be aware of the potential dangers of scaling while still maintaining its product quality.

Multimedia Sources

Fair Trade Organizations: https://chocolateclass.files.wordpress.com/2015/05/ebc26-1411662799381.jpg

Shawn Askinosie: https://youtu.be/utic2PaXjwE

Chocolate Bar Infographic: https://nancydrew4613.files.wordpress.com/2014/10/screen-shot-2014-05-08-at-2-04-31-am.png

Chocolate University: https://youtu.be/zAbbzvrIKTk

Askinosie Chocolate Bars: http://www.marketsofnewyork.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/EJL-140219-1007-Askinosie-Chocolates-2014-02-19-at-00-00-00-600×400.jpg

Works Cited

“Askinosie Chocolate: Bringing The World Together One Bean At A Time.” Markets of New York City. N.p., 18 June 2014. Web. 05 May 2015. <http://www.marketsofnewyork.com/2014/06/askinosie-chocolate-bringing-the-world-together-one-bean-at-a-time/&gt;.

“Askinosie Chocolate.” Home Page. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 May 2015. <http://www.askinosie.com/&gt;.

Attoun, Marti. “A Chocolate Factory with a Higher Purpose.” The Christian Science Monitor. The Christian Science Monitor, 6 Nov. 2014. Web. 05 May 2015. <http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Making-a-difference/Change-Agent/2014/1106/A-chocolate-factory-with-a-higher-purpose&gt;.

Ballet, Jèrôme. “Fair Trade and the Depersonalization of Ethics.” Journal of Business Ethics 92.Supplement 2: FAIR TRADE IN DIFFERENT NATIONAL CONTEXT (2010): 317-30. JSTOR. Web. 05 May 2015.

Doran, Caroline Josephine. “The Role of Personal Values in Fair Trade Consumption.” Journal of Business Ethics 84.4 (2009): 549-63. JSTOR. Web. 05 May 2015.

Tellman, Beth. “Not Fair Enough: Historic and Institutional Barriers to Fair Trade Coffee in El Salvador.” Journal of Latin American Geography 10.2 (2011): 107-27. JSTOR. Web. 05 May 2015.

Witkowski, Terrence H. “Fair Trade Marketing: An Alternative System for Globalization and Development.” Journal of Marketing Theory and Practice 13.4, Globalization and Its Marketing Challenges (2005): 22-33. JSTOR. Web. 05 May 2015.

Cardullo’s: A Mélange of Cultural and Historical Flavors in Chocolate

The industrialization period brought about the emergence of mass-production chocolate companies that have come to dominate the modern-day economic realm. The crucial component fueling this industry rests on the interplay between consumers and chocolate manufacturing companies, whose existence relies on accommodating the subsequent party’s needs. Competition between big chocolate companies fosters growth in the industry, however it also challenges the quality and practice of chocolate production, as companies employ cheap means in order to provide the most profitable product for the consumer. Cardullo’s is a small retail shop located in Harvard Square that historically has focused on supplying quality international foods, carrying a wide array of artisanal as well as bulk-produced chocolate. The shop very much intertwines with Harvard’s cultural values, and has adapted to provide a unique Harvard type “experience” by carrying crafted chocolates that stray from the conventional mass produced chocolates typically purchased by Americans. Cardullo’s legitimizes its products by generating a “social terroir” inviting the inquisitive Harvard community to taste the history of chocolate infused by different cultures inside the varying brands of chocolate, while simultaneously redefining the psychology behind high quality taste appreciation by promoting good ethics of production with its foreign associates and higher pricing of its chocolates. Ultimately, Cardullo’s challenges modern societies devalued sense of chocolate tasting appreciation that has been tainted by this generation’s fast pleasure-seeking life style.

Cardullo’s was established at the steps of one of the world’s most pristine academic institutions, luring in students and visitors from an array of cultural and ethnic backgrounds. Franck Cardullo, who set out to fill a niche that could provide quality foods for the neighborhood’s international population, developed the store in 1950 (Culinary Cambridge, 2012). The original store was located across the street form it’s current location, however the layout and décor inside the shop remains much in the traditional style of the old days. The shop carries a wide assortment of imported chocolate, from recognized brands like Tobleron and Mars, to less known labels such as Francois Pralus and Reger. Interestingly, the store piles all the popular mass produced brands of chocolate and crams them in the lower right hand level of a shelf, while what are to be considered “finer” and more expensive chocolate brands are shelved with more precision, in a somewhat artistic manner. The two images below depict the cluttered arrangement of the cheaper over-refined chocolate in comparison to the graceful layout of the pristine deemed Godiva chocolate.


Cardullo’s carries chocolate brands and flavors specifically targeted towards an audience of consumer conscious students, as well as the bountiful international tourists flocking to the University’s historical site. Harvard students are vey much driven by moral issues, and the community fosters consciousness on many social and ethical issues unfolding around the world. I will later introduce a concept of moral and social terroir that drives Harvard’s consumer choices. A second factor driving the choices of these consumers results from the impact of history in the community. Harvard students and tourists visiting the university have a great appreciation for historical contexts and the preservation of historical traditions. Marcy Norton describes in a book on “Tasting Empire,” 16th century records from Zapoteca, Nahua, and Mayan regions depict entries in diaries of cacao drinks being prepared with cacao and maize, cacao and chili peppers, and sometimes cacao alone (Norton, 2006). The tastes of the cacao drinks may be unique to the time, but Cardullo’s has found a means to capture a similar historical essence by selling a spiced Mayan cocoa drink labeled as such, instead of simply tagging it as “hot chocolate”. The chocolate supplied by Cardullo’s can thus be seen as a connection between the past and the present, serving as a means of unifying different cultures and historical eras.

Premium chocolate blend made with Venezuelan chocolate, which is considered one of the finest in the world (also historically important in the chocolate industry). Deeply flavored, aromatic drink.

While Cardullo’s supplies chocolate containing original flavors consumed by the people in Mesoamerica, it also emphasizes the detrimental role played by Europeans in the transformation of chocolate form it’s ancient condition to renown modern form. Many scholars have argued the case that the Spanish were appalled by the taste of the chocolate drink consumed by the natives and drastically transformed it when they returned to European soil. Norton however, counters this misconception by arguing that while Europeans added their own inventions to the chocolate they brought from Central America, “there was no conscious effort to radically reinvent the substance. Instead, modifications came about because of gradual tinkering motivated by efforts to maintain- not change- the sensory impact of chocolate” (Norton, 2006). Cardullo’s further supports Norton’s argument, and seeks to educate it’s consumers on the transformative history of chocolate as a part of their experience. The image below portrays a box of German chocolates called “Reber Mozart Kuglen,” plastered with a portrait of Mozart himself. The chocolate is placed on the highest level of the shelf in the store, almost as if on a pedestal, thus accentuating the celebration of European tradition in chocolate. The label further details that the box contains “filled chocolates,” a crucial European innovation to the manufacturing of chocolate.

Classical Reber Picture Box containing 20 “Genuine Reber Mozart-Kugeln” filled with pistachio marzipan with green pistachios, almond,s and hazelnut praline. They are coated with milk and bitter-sweet dark chocolate and are imported from Germany.

Cardullo’s really builds on the idea of providing its consumers with a unique sensory experience of chocolate’s historical origins, by focusing on removing any outside influences of modern times that could be altering the pureness of chocolate appreciation. Cardullo’s captivates the interest of its consumers by appealing to their focus on good morality and strive towards a greater appreciation of the world. One of the ways in which they achieve this is by supplying single origin chocolate, as a means of directly altering the consumer’s sensory experience to a foreign region. Over the recent years, consumer preference in the US has increasingly shifted towards single origin bars, resulting from an appeal towards the “localization” of foods whose origins tend to be anonymous (Leslie, 2013). This can also be described as the “beans to bar” notion that Leslie characterizes as chocolates that are produced from a single variety of cacao produced in one region. An example of this can be seen in the Francois Pralus selection at Cardullo’s shown below, which even details the precise latitude and longitudinal coordinates of the region in which it was produced.

Different origins of the Francois Pralus chocolate. Notice the global coordinates printed above the brands logo.

Such emphasis on location of the origins of the chocolate draws on the notion of terroir, which can be described as a characteristic taste and flavor of chocolate resulting from the environment in which it is produced. Nesto argues the case for single origin chocolate, in which using site-specific, quality cacao produces a bar fused with terroir given the minimal and sensitive processing sustained (Nesto, 2013). Cardullo’s generates a “social terroir” in its selection of chocolate by providing its consumers with a taste of the history of chocolate simultaneously infused with different cultures. This attraction to the exotic and unknown is what drives consumers to purchase chocolates from origins of Sao Tome, Madagascar, and Indonesia, like the ones seen above. Madagascar for example is an attractive origin largely because of “it’s cooca’s unusually bright, high citrus notes” (Leissle, 2013).

This social terroir provides information to the consumer about the potential ethical dilemmas behind the chocolates production, while also serving as a publicity measure promoting the improvement of relations between the United States and its foreign partners. Most of the brands supplied by the store stray from the renowned brands of mass-produced chocolates that carry negative qualifications due to the ethics behind production. Cardullo’s sells brands labeled with other countries, which the United States promotes positive relations with as a tool to draw a parallel between positive foreign relations with countries and the good ethics behind their chocolate production. One can observe Cardullo’s supply of the Madagascar and Sao Tome selection of Francois Pralus almost as a diplomatic tool. As Leissle argues, Madagascar has a positive reputation in US popular understanding since it “seems culturally, historically, and politically separate from the troubled continent of Africa proper” (Leissle, 2013). On the other end of the spectrum, Cardullo’s also supplies the Sao Tome label as a means to amend the negative light shown on the region as a result of its past turmoil with the Cadbury Company. As Catherine Higgs describes in her book, Cadbury employed slave labor practices on cocoa farms in Sao Tome during the early 20th century, leaving behind a region that continues to be rocked by political and social turmoil (Higgs, 2012).

Cardullo’s strays from supplying conventional fair trade and organic stamps as a means of legitimizing its products, and instead focuses more on the price range of chocolate. If you click on the chocolate tab on the stores website (http://www.cardullos.com/category/view/chocolate), there is a range in chocolate from the most expensive price being $65.00 for a chocolate basket, to more moderate chocolate bars sold for $10.00. The lofty price of the chocolate boxes reflects on the artistic quality of the design as well as the ingredients, but comparing similar sized chocolate bars across the spectrum there is a significant price difference that results from the quality of cocoa beans and other ingredients used. Williams et al. wrote a piece in which they argue against the cheap cocoa beans and artificial ingredients used by certain companies to make a profit, further asserting the freshness in flavor that results from the use of natural ingredients, such as in the Mast Brothers Chocolate’s products (Williams et al., 2012). People tend to develop different levels of taste appreciation depending on the exposure to different types of chocolate during their lifetime, which can be a result of the affordability in price of the chocolate. However, consumer’s appreciation of chocolate can also be influenced by the price of the chocolate. People automatically tend to associate more expensive chocolate to a higher quality and sophistication in the product, especially in modern day society where most consumers purchasing decisions are driven by financial forces. Stuckey argues there is a psychology behind consumers understanding the food they are tasting (Stuckey, 2012). This can result in consumers quite literally focusing on the taste of the price of chocolate, and lead them to try unusual flavors such as “Mo’s Dark Bacon Bar,” simply because they assume the higher price applies to higher quality.

Mo’s Dark Bacon Bar made with applewood smoked bacon,  Alder wood smoked salt, and 62% dark chocolate. Sold for $8.99

This however, serves as an important marketing strategy allowing Cardullo’s to redefine the tastes associated with more expensive, and finer chocolate.

Cardullo’s marketing measures divulges the stores concern on redefining consumer’s ordinary, present day experience when eating chocolate. The chocolate sold at Cardullo’s presents a break in tradition of which Williams et al. would describe as “a generation that wants pleasure fast,” (Williams et al., 2012) further challenging the morality and taste appreciation of the mass-produced chocolate market. The store’s attempt goes hand in hand with the Harvard culture’s desire to experience new things, while paralleling to Harvard’s exclusive nature in providing unique tastes, such as the collection of brands and flavors seen below. Stuckey argued the importance behind the psychology of taste, stressing the more food you taste the more you will develop to appreciate it (Stuckey, 2012). Cardullo’s wide selection of chocolates differing in origins and tastes therefore reflects the businesses goal in challenging the way this generation appreciates chocolate.


Works Cited

 “Cardullo’s.” Culinary Cambridge. N.p., 2012. Web. 04 May 2015 <http://cambridgehistory.org/discover/culinary/cardullos.html&gt;.

“Chocolate.” Cardulloscom RSS. Cardullo’s Gourmet Shoppe, n.d. Web. 04 May 2015. <http://www.cardullos.com/category/view/chocolate&gt;.

Higgs, Catherine. 2012. Chocolate Islands: Cocoa, Slavery, and Colonial Africa. pp. 133- 

Leissle, Kristy. 2013. “Invisible West Africa: The Politics of Single Origin Chocolate.” Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture. 13 (3): 22-31

Norton, Marcy. 2006. “Tasting Empire: Chocolate and the European Internalization of Mesoamerican Aesthetics.” The American Historical Review 111 (3): 660-691

Stuckey, Barb. 2012. Taste: What You’re Missing. pp. 1-30, 132-156

Williams, Pam and Jim Beer. 2012. Raising the Bar: The Future of Fine Chocolate. pp. 141- 209

Fair Trade: An ethical revolution in the chocolate labor supply chain or a visual marketing technique?

The world of artisan, high-quality chocolate, the likes of which can be found at specialty stores like Whole Foods, is not just selling you its chocolate. The packaging on these premium chocolate bars is overflowing with a multitude of seals and logos, from Fair Trade to USDA Organic to Gluten-Free. Whether this is a result of companies taking increased responsibility for labor practices and ethical concerns in their supply chain, a reaction to consumer demand for ethically-sourced products, or simply a convenient marketing technique, chocolate manufacturers have started incorporating new standards, which go beyond just taste, into their products and packaging in order to appeal to consumers’ moral sensibility. The proliferation of different licensing organizations, particularly around Fair Trade, has made chocolate consumption into a logo-oriented process, in which the number of seals on the packaging serves as a stand-in for the quality or morality of the product, regardless of what actual standards and real-world impact the product has.

History of Fair Trade

blog post 4.1.1  blog post 4.1.2
Two examples of the fair trade logo or seal, which appears on packaging and is now recognized by 50% of the population (Doherty 694).

When I surveyed the chocolate bar selection at my local Whole Foods, Fair Trade was one the most common seals I saw on the packaging – its not surprising that retailers are inclined to include it, as the Fair Trade logo is now recognized by 50% of the population (Doherty 694). Fair Trade USA self-defines its organizational mission as helping “farmers in developing countries build sustainable businesses that positively influence their communities” (Fair Trade USA). The idea is that chocolate bearing a Fair Trade logo uses cacao produced by farmers who are “justly compensated,” which means a $200 premium per ton of cacao over the commodity price (Fairtrade and Cocoa). Basic fair trade principles include prompt payment of fair prices and wages, no child labor, safe working conditions, and investment in community development projects.

In terms of economic theory, Fair Trade is an approach that perceives quality as the fundamental concept for the analysis of economic life, as opposed to neo-classical theory, in which the price mechanism encapsulates all the required information about a product (Renard 87). Instead of this price-oriented model, Fair Trade is, as Goodman describes it, an attempt to “reconnect producers and consumers economically, politically, and psychologically through the creation of a transnational moral economy” (Goodman 891). In order to do so, it must make capitalism appear “nice,” by fostering ethical relationships with growers through a range of economic and non-economic benefits, such as higher wages and community development. It must also expand into the mainstream of the “Euro-American consumption-scape,” getting its products into “coffeehouses, multiples, the charity shop, and the candy aisle at one’s alternative grocer,” like Whole Foods (Goodman 892).

The fair trade model, at its core, has several implications: it reaffirms a belief in capitalism and the market as capable of just distribution by enabling farmers in developing countries to better compete within existing capitalistic structures; it promotes a shift away from pure aid and instead puts an increased emphasis on development and trade; and finally, produces the ideal of “individualized shopping for a better world” (Doherty 697), in which responsibility for the poverty of farmers lies not with international organizations or governments, but with everyday consumers and their personal choices.

Existing controversies over Fair Trade

However, critiques of Fair Trade abound. Fair Trade retail sales in the US are over $1.5 billion, but there is little evidence of its impact, and it is unclear how much of that money reaches developing countries and the farmers themselves. In fact, a study conducted by the School of Oriental and African Studies in London found that “wages are typically lower, and on the whole conditions worse, for workers in areas with Fairtrade organizations than for those in other areas” (Cramer). Additionally, the study found that the “community” projects supported with funds generated by the “social premium” were not actually for community use – they give an example of one Fairtrade tea co-operative in which “the modern toilets funded with the premium were exclusively for the use of senior co-op managers” (Cramer).

The certification process for Fair Trade is long, challenging, and expensive, which automatically favors wealthier larger farmers – there is also no way to prove that the workers are the ones getting the benefits of the extra payout, especially when its going to developing countries in which corruption is rife and enforcement is difficult (Marchmont). The Fair Trade system also hurts non-certified farmers, who’s products may even very well be higher in quality than the products of their Fair Trade compatriots. This is because once a farmer is certified Fair Trade, he is guaranteed to be paid the Fair Trade premium, so there is no quality incentive to produce a high-quality product, as explained nicely in the following video on coffee, The Fair Trade Shell Game:


Finally, the marketing around Fair Trade is often misleading, particularly in the US where a product does not need to be comprised of 100% Fair Trade ingredients in order to utilize the logo on the packaging. Not only are the standards constantly changing, there is also an enormous proliferation of certifying bodies, from Fair Trade to Rainforest Alliance to Equal Exchange to Fair for Life, that it poses an immense challenge for consumers to be truly savvy and aware of the implications and standards of each when they’re faced with a display of chocolate packaging. Low uses the term “clean-washing” to describe Fair Trade’s “halo effect,” which is “derived by mainstream retailers who sell only a small percentage of fair trade products” but who gain the moral benefits across all their products, as well as the consumer confusion of products labeled “fairly traded” when they are separate from and do not conform to the principles of Fair Trade (495).

A lazy pathway to moral high ground

The principles Fair Trade espouses are particularly appealing to Western consumers, because it plays into both the digital-age phenomena of “slacktivism” and the old trope of the white man’s burden. Low writes, “Ethical consumerism is a seductive concept because it suggests the transformative power of individual choice and action. It is also a message of inclusion – all consumers can, through the simple act of choosing one good in preference to another, create positive social and/or environmental change” (495). It is significant that the Fair Trade movement is prominent with artisan chocolate sold at an upscale, pricier grocery store like Whole Foods – there is no Hershey’s bar with a Fair Trade logo on it in your local CVS. Fair Trade is trying to target a specific white, upper-middle class demographic with growing pocketbooks and simultaneous growing awareness of their own privilege.

Fair Trade offers a quick fix for assuaging feelings of guilt and a quick pathway to moral self-satisfaction. Similar to the modern phenomena of ‘slacktivism,’ in which people feel as if they’re contributing to a cause simply by posting or tweeting about it over social media, people feel that they are making a significant difference simply by purchasing one chocolate bar over another. One of the most prominent examples of slacktivism was the #KONY 2012 movement run by Invisible Children, which garnered incredible outpouring of support and attention on social media, but ultimately failed to mobilize much action on the ground and was forgotten in just a few months. Sarah Kendzior described the video for it in an Al Jazeera article as embodying the slacktivist ethos, with “viewers oblivious to a complex foreign conflict made heroic by watching a video, buying a bracelet, hanging a poster” (Kendzior). Ultimately, movements like Fair Trade and other slacktivist movements necessitate only minimal effort and superficial involvement, and require no real behavioral change or reduction in consumption. In fact, Fair Trade and other movements could even be worsening the problem: by clean-washing products and supply chains to appear as if they are very ethical and sustainable, they not only lull consumers into thinking the problem is being solved one chocolate bar at a time, they also make people ignorant of the large-scale structural violence and injustices that perpetuate inequalities between the global North and the global South and keep farmers in poverty and unethical working conditions.

Thus, even if Fair Trade is not intended to be a one-stop-shop for all ethical problems in the cacao labor supply chain, its marketing is in fact doing quite some damage. Fair Trade’s marketing effectiveness hinges on its ability to convince you that your own individual choices in the grocery store are directly impactful in a big way, which is a ridiculous and almost patronizing notion. The trope of white man’s burden is repeated, in sending messages that it is up to white, wealthy consumers in America and Europe to shell out a little more cash in order to lift these struggling farmers out of poverty. In actuality, Fair Trade has little evidence of making a significant difference in farmers’ lives; perhaps all it lifts is the consumer’s own moral self-satisfaction.

blog post 4.3
A political cartoon depicting the white man’s burden: the US and the UK carrying developing countries, like China, India, and Cuba, on their backs up a hill towards “civilization.”

Even if this is casting Fair Trade in a harsh light, Low points out that “a key critique of modern “ethical consumerism” has been its individualized nature which pits individuals against global institutions to solve global problems” (496). Its lack of collective focus means it becomes a neutralized and ineffective campaign.

Fair trade – a marketing technique

The fact that Fair Trade is “forged semiotically” (Goodman) through the packaging, logos, symbols, and design of the products and their packaging, means that visuals become key to creating the networks and emotional connection between consumer and producer. What this meant for me, in my trip to Whole Foods, was a visual sensory overload on the chocolate packaging, overflowing with a variety of quality seals and logos, in an effort to convince me, the consumer, that sheer quantity was a reference to quality.

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6 chocolate bars that I found at my local Whole Foods chocolate display, each with multiple certification seals.

Some packages have 2-3 seals competing for the consumer’s attention. The different certifying bodies are also confusing – everything from Fair Trade, to Rainforest Alliance, to USDA Organic, Fair for Life, Non-GMO, Gluten Free, One World, Equal Exchange, and Whole Trade. The last is particularly interesting, as it is Whole Foods’ own self-created certification body, making it an excellent illustration of the redundant and unnecessary proliferation of certifications, simply for the sake of creating a busier product packaging. Equal Exchange is also interesting, because it clearly seems to mimic fair trade principles, and writes ‘fairly traded’ on the packaging, but like Low described with “clean-washing,” it isn’t officially affiliated or regulated by Fair Trade USA, so its standards and impact are unclear. Ultimately, it felt to me as if these certifying bodies and their stamp of approval had devolved into more of a marketing technique than a genuine effort to make an ethical product.

Ways to change

For chocolate manufacturers, it should not be about collecting certification stamps like Boy Scout badges to be displayed on their packaging. Nor should chocolate be about checking off a list of the trendiest consumer concerns of the day, like Organic, Gluten-Free, and Fair Trade, only to move beyond them when the consumers stop taking interest. If these certification seals are to have any real significance to customers, and more importantly, real significance to the farmers and the causes they claim to help, there needs to be a simplification, unification, and regulation of certifying bodies. The sheer quantity of organizations makes for a confusing consumer experience, and leads to customer confusion and disinterest. The lack of transparency and clarity about what each seal really means and what impact each organization really has renders these seals ultimately meaningless, because it makes accountability very difficult.

Most importantly, chocolate producers cannot think only in terms of marketing. The certification seals should not be functioning as a marketing technique, as they currently do. And if these certification seals are here to stay as the industry standard for addressing ethics in labor supply chains, chocolate manufacturers should not be focusing on accumulating the most logos on the packaging, but about the actual quality, accountability, and impact of the standards themselves, as well as the quality of the product. Once that shift in thinking happens, I would hope that the quality and impact of the chocolate and its production process would speak for itself.


Cramer, Christopher. (2014, May 24). Harsh truths are necessary if Fairtrade is to change the lives of the very poor. The Guardian.

Doherty, Bob. (2006). “Radical mainstreaming” of fairtrade: the case of The Day Chocolate Company. Equal Opportunities International, 27(7), 693-711.

Fairtrade and Cocoa: Commodity Briefing. Fairtrade Foundation. August 2011.

Fair Trade USA. Website.

Goodman, Michael. (2004). Reading fair trade: political ecological imaginary and the moral economy of fair trade foods. Political Geography, 23, 891-915.

Kendzior, Sarah. (2012, April 5). The subjectivity of slacktivism. Al Jazeera.

Low, William. (2005). Has the medium (roast) become the message? International Marketing Review, 22(5), 494-511.

Marchmont, Sarah. (2010). Some caution that fair trade isn’t always fair to the worker. Medill Reports Chicago.

Renard, Marie-Christine. (2003). Fair trade: quality, market and conventions. Journal of Rural Studies, 19, 87-96.

“Advertisers are selling us something else besides consumer goods: they are selling us ourselves”

The evolution of chocolate production changed the way in which chocolate was available and advertised to the public. Historically, chocolate was known as a luxury item, only available to the elite, the rich, or those with connections to the trade. In the late 19th century, chocolate shifted from being provided in liquid form to a solid candy. As competition between chocolate confectioners increased, their outreach to attract customers shifted as well. The earliest known chocolate promotions were posters, sometimes detailed illustrations that took advantage of new advancements in lithography, graphic arts, and commercial advertising (Grivetti, p. 193).

chocolat ideal hot-chocolate

Members of the chocolate history group at the University of California, Davis spent two years searching and finding over 500 chocolate advertisements from 11 countries, during this period. In their synopses of the advertisements, similar themes repeat throughout:

  • Incorporation of children – especially young girls and infants (of both genders) – holding chocolate bars, playing games with chocolate, being mischievous
  • Most adults within the advertisements were women, either a mother or caretaker.
  • The mother-child relationship was highlighted: the mother was giving or receiving chocolate from a child, or having a ‘moment’ (drinking hot chocolate together) with their child
  • Most adults (primarily women) were portrayed as being from a higher socio-economic class
  • The health, energy, joyful benefits of consuming chocolate
  • Incorporating a sense of nationalism or romanticism in chocolate – people were portrayed in their traditional dress or courtship scenes included chocolate (Grivetti, pp. 193-198)

200 years later and the messaging in chocolate advertising is still the same. Again, as the narrative of chocolate – its history – has evolved, so have the connotations around its production, promotion, and purchase. Ellen Moore states it succinctly:

“The examination of chocolate companies’ advertisements allows a glimpse into how different identities – including gender, ethnic, and national – can be constructed through a consumption of chocolate. The stereotypes presented for the consumer through advertisements serve to reinforce cultural notions of ethnically homogenous British and U.S. national identity [while also concealing] the realities of chocolate production in Africa and Central America. The consumption of chocolate is thus almost exclusively associated with whiteness, while production is largely associated with exotic “Others”’ (Rubin, p. 67).

The advertisement below was created for the 2012 Super Bowl. It takes a unique perspective on the ‘other’ as it involves an interaction between people of white/European descent and an anthropomorphic entity – a piece of candy that has been given human characteristics. The traditional, stereotypical tropes around femininity and chocolate, as well as the racial disparity, are all more subtly apparent:

Ms. Brown, is the M&M ‘spokescandy’ highlighted under the tagline “not your average chocolate”.  This was her introduction. Until 2012, the only ‘female spokescandy’ was Miss Green, whose persona is vastly different. Miss Green is characterized as sensual and seductive, from her movements, to her voice, to the promotions in which she is seen. In contrast, Ms. Brown, titled the “Chief Chocolate Officer”, is portrayed as intelligent, well-spoken, and successful. Her appearance differs as well. Ms. Brown wears glasses and comfortable, what would be referred to in the business world as ‘no-nonsense’ heels. Her voice and persona seem to command respect.  The conversation she is having with her girlfriends at the party, before being interrupted, references a meeting with a head of State.

Ms. Brown, M&M Miss Green M&M

However, this promotion still slips into the stereotypical trends prevalent in chocolate advertising and societal gender dysfunctions. Before she is interrupted, the story that Ms. Brown is sharing highlights gender stereotypes around women’s place in business. Ms. Brown is heard saying “Mr. Prime Minister (PM), I’m flattered that you love chocolate, but I’m here strictly in a professional manner.” This infers that the PM was not focused on their business meeting but in making (sexual) advances to Ms. Brown; possibly because she is female or because – as we see a moment later from men at the party – he also assumed that she was ‘naked’.  This is similar to the harassment that women regularly receive in the workplace; further there is an allusion to the sexualization of an anthropomorphic being.

The interruption also implies the childishness of these men. They are snickering because of Ms. Browns supposed nudity. It is an oblique reference to the ‘sinful’ pleasure associated with chocolate, a fascination with the exotic, and the associations of sex already incorporated into chocolate mythology (Robertson, p. 68). However, in a crisp, condescending tone she acknowledges their assumption and corrects them. Then Red, a male M&M arrives, sees Ms. Brown, and removes his ‘clothing’. The ad ends with the song “Sexy and I Know It” playing, Red dancing, and Ms. Brown disgustedly looking on. Though the song is Red’s anthem and he too plays into the immature male persona; the advert and the chocolate promoted, is still a gendered product. While Ms. Brown is portrayed as a ‘modern, business woman’ this, and most advertisements, clearly imply the subjectivity of a female consumer. Women have been recognized as the gate-keepers of chocolate – the primary purchaser for themselves and their families, as well as the primary consumer (Cooper, 2004) so the advertising must strongly appeal to women. It is interesting that in this advert, that role has been fulfilled wholesale – our ‘woman’ is more than a purchaser or consumer, she is chocolate. Ms. Brown has become the ultimate ideal.

Further, this advert alludes to Moore’s earlier presumption that the primary identity of the chocolate consumer is white. Ms. Brown’s friends are white; in the background of the club, all of the attendees are white. Ms. Brown and Red are the only ‘beings of color’ at the event. This is a clear ethnic distinction and it can be assumed that this active construction of an ethnically homogenous chocolate consumer, is partially based within the history of chocolate and its early consumption by rich, white Europeans. Finally, in their appearance, from the figure flattering clothing to their jewelry, it can be assumed that their (her, her girlfriends and background people) socioeconomic background could be higher than middle class. The background music and ‘party atmosphere’ are more upscale and relaxed than the strobe lights and pounding music of a night club.

Sidney Mintz shares that “food choices and eating habits reveal distinctions of age, sex, status, culture, and even occupation” (Mintz, p. 3). These distinctions can be uniquely noted in this advertisement. They can also be turned on their head, as shown below:

This ‘twist’ on the M&M advertisement still acknowledges the atmosphere of friends getting together, but the norms have changed. The immaturity is missing; they are all of an age, enjoying their time together – eating, talking, possibly listening to a story. The friends are all mixed (gender and ethnicity) groups of (what could be) varying socioeconomic backgrounds. The new tagline ‘how do you eat your M&Ms?’ replaces ‘not your average chocolate’ to highlight the communal experience of enjoying M&Ms, instead of focusing on an anthropomorphic piece of candy with feminine characteristics that is possibly nude and unexpectedly intelligent.

The focus is more gender neutral, as no one member of a photo can be immediately sexualized and previous stereotypes of class, race, and national identity within an audience have been set aside. Finally, the song emphasizes the idea of “being friends” and not being “sexy and knowing it”.


Cooper, Glenda. Women and Chocolate: Simply Made for Each Other. New York Times. 13 March 2004. Web. 09 April 2015. < http://www.cacao-chocolate.com/choclove/women.html >

Grivetti, Louise E. and Shapiro, Howard-Yana. Chocolate: History, Culture, and Heritage. Hoboken. 2009. Print.

History timeline. Mars Company Website. History. N.D. Web. 10 April 2015. < http://www.mars.com/global/about-mars/history.aspx >

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

Robertson, Emma. Chocolate, Women, and Empire: A Social and Cultural History. Manchester University Press. 2010. Print.

Rubin, Lawrence C. Food for Thought: Essays on Eating and Culture. McFarland and Company Publishers. 2008. Print.

Multimedia resources:  

BestCodTrolls. M&Ms Super Bowl Commercial 2012 – I’m Sexy and I Know It. Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 05 February 2012. Web. 8 April 2015. < https://youtu.be/Pc7BnT5X1tw >

Character photos. Ms. Brown and Miss Green. M&M. N.D. Web. 10 April 2015. < http://www.mms.com/#character >

Mucha, Alphonse. Chocolat Ideal, 1897. Web. 10 April 2015. < http://www.artnet.com/artists/alphonse-mucha/chocolat-ideal-a-fDVy2jZnfv6prLHLQxw8jg2 >

Nyree1luv. Friends: A Chocolate Production. Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 10 April 2015. Web. 10 April 2015. < https://youtu.be/voUcekR2kfA >

Vintage 19th century French poster. Chocolat Delespaul-havez. N.D. Web. 10 April 2015 < http://www.museumoutlets.com/vintage-french-posters/chocolat-delespaul-havez-vintage-french-advertising-poster >