Tag Archives: China

Why Hasn’t Chocolate Taken Off in China?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Works Cited

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

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

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

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

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

History. New York: Penguin Books

Multimedia Sources:

Picture 1&2:

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

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

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


Chocolate’s Missing History

The literature on chocolate is rich with history on the growth of chocolate prevalence in Mesoamerica and Europe. Cacao was discovered thousands of years ago, and was often combined with other ingredients to be prepared as a chocolate drink. Chocolate made the trek from Mesoamerica to Europe, where initially Spain took the reigns on making chocolate a popular and exotic beverage for European royalty. Over time, the drink became not as limited to just the upper-class, as chocolate became more commonplace in European chocolate houses (Allen 20). However, chocolate seems to have been stopped in its course to the East. Why is it that chocolate traveled from Mesoamerica to Europe, but not from Europe to Asia? While the chocolate industry exists in the East today, the introduction of chocolate in the East was severely delayed due to cultural conservatism and culinary disparities.

Maya-lord-chocolateChocolate Beginnings

Cultural Conservatism

Until very recently, chocolate never made its way into Asian culture in the same way that it significantly permeated European culture. One argument as to why chocolate was never really recognized and accepted in the East is cultural conservatism (Coe, 316). Charles Perry, an expert on cuisines of East and Central Asia, was always puzzled as to why chocolate was unable to penetrate Asian food culture, but he suggests that cultural conservatism might be the main reason (316). Cultural conservatism for Asia is likely a suggestion that Asia has strong roots in strict rules, uniform ideologies among large regions, and a reluctance for indulgence. As chocolate was often enjoyed as a delicacy among Europeans, a conservative Asian response to chocolate in the 16th century and beyond was likely to reject it. Dr. Henry Stubbes, a widely quoted and respected authority on chocolate, believed chocolate to be an aphrodisiac (312). If this perception of chocolate was carried to Asia, then it likely only made the introduction to the conservative East more difficult. Sophie Coe, author of The True History of Chocolate, agrees with Perry’s suggestion of cultural conservatism as a roadblock for the acceptance of chocolate in Asia, but believes the subject to still be somewhat of a mystery (316). While the rejection of chocolate might have been more indirect for many Asian consumers, one account of rejection almost caused disaster for one Italian Merchant (Coe, 315). Giovanni Francesco Gemelli Carreri was traveling through the city of Smyrna, on the coast of Turkey, and writes the following about his encounter:

“Thursday the Aga of Seyde came to see me. I gave him some chocolate, but this savage had never tasted it, or perhaps he was drunk, or the tobacco smoke produced the effect; he became very angry with me, saying I had made him drink a liquid to disturb him and take away his judgement. In short, had his anger lasted it would assuredly have gone badly with me, and it would have served me right, to have regaled such a coarse person with chocolate.” (Coe, 315).

Culinary Disparities

Cuisine also likely played a large role in Asia’s rejection of chocolate. Perhaps this was a reason chocolate was not ever able to permeate areas like India, Southeast Asia, or the Far East (316). For example, Jesuit missionaries and Portuguese merchants brought chocolate with them on their journeys east, but the natives had “little interest in the substance” (316). Charles Perry speculated that the bitter-sweetness of chocolate might appeal to a region of the world where nut-filled pastries are often consumed (Coe, 315). On the contrary, it seems there is nearly no correlation to be made on this front. Perry also suggested that possibly the coffee-crazed culture of the East and the way of life found around coffee houses contributed to the obstacle of establishing chocolate as a popular taste for Asian consumers (315). It appears that there was not necessarily a void that chocolate would have filled for Asian food culture, so it was easy for them to reject it.

In China, even up until the 1980s, only the most determined chocolate addict would go through the trouble of buying a chocolate bar (Allen, 33). The chocolate market was nearly nonexistent for Chinese consumers at this time, so the reward of chocolate did not usual meet the hassle of obtaining it. One news article in the early 1990s found that the Chinese eat only one bar of chocolate for every 1,000 consumed by the British (Coe, 316). Ultimately, chocolate was so foreign that the only way it was able to become a part of the average consumer’s diet was curiosity (Allen, 23). In hope of exploiting this curiosity, the Big Five chocolate companies began the difficult task of developing a presence in the East in the late 20th century. Today, the chocolate industry in many parts of Asia is growing rapidly. Advertisements in countries like Japan and India attempt to capture chocolate’s irresistible nature in order to appeal to consumers (Martin, 41). Moreover, China has recently built a Chocolate Wonderland (below) that appeals to young children in hopes of introducing the goodness of chocolate at a young age (Martin, 39). One final avenue for which chocolate is permeating Asian culture is through using it as a ritual for gift-giving (Allen, 25). Through studying the history of chocolate in Asia, it is becoming clear that the story is really just beginning.



Works Cited

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

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

Martin, Carla. The Rise of Big Chocolate and Race for the Global Market. Cambridge, MA. 2017. Lecture.

Unwrapping Chocolate Potential in the East: How Foreign Companies Wooed Chinese Consumers

Chocolate was introduced to Europe in the 16th century but it was not until the end of the 20th century that the godly good made its way to China. By the end of the 20th century, China had undergone dramatic social and economic expansion, and the world’s largest chocolate companies (the “Big Five”: Ferrero SpA, Cadbury, Hershey Co., Nestlé SA, and Mars Inc.) recognized the potential of introducing chocolate to the Chinese market (Allen 202). At the time however, chocolate had no history or tradition in China, thus highlighting the importance of finding a meaningful way of introducing the good. The “Big Five” companies needed to have a profound understanding of cultural differences in order to do so (Nelson). Moreover, these companies faced numerous challenges in regards to supply chain management and distribution. Depicting how global chocolate companies attempted to gain commercial success in China highlights the intricate nature of developing into an emerging market. This also enhances our understanding of the strategies these companies will embrace as they expand further.

Gift Giving – A Cultural Gateway

Culinary traditions were very different in China and chocolate companies were challenged to find a meaningful way of introducing chocolate to the Chinese market (Allen 23). The big five chocolate companies recognized that gift giving was universal throughout China and could serve as the cultural gateway for introducing chocolate. With this is mind, chocolate companies targeted their marketing efforts toward affluent Chinese consumers and developed elaborate packaging designs to appeal to this consumer base (Allen 25).

Although many affluent Chinese consumers were willing to justify the expense of chocolate for gift giving, chocolate companies recognized that self-consumption could generate even greater profits across a variety of social classes. In established markets in other countries, self-consumption accounts for approximately 90 percent of total sales (Allen 26). In China in the 90s however, gift giving accounted for more than 50 percent of total sales, thus highlighting enormous potential for expansion into the self-consumption market! China’s economy grew substantially in the 1990s and consumers subsequently started having more pocket money. In addition, young Chinese started familiarizing themselves with Western culture and food. These social and economic changes conveniently facilitated the introduction of chocolate to the mass market in China (Allen 27).

Mars’s Master Strategy

Today, the American company Mars is the leading chocolate business in China and a number of factors allowed Mars to get ahead of its competitors. First, Mars introduced the Dove chocolate bar, the earliest chocolate product aimed for self-consumption (Allen 200). This bar allowed Mars to establish legitimacy and build loyalty among young Chinese people (Allen 21). Moreover, Mars has embraced an aggressive expansion strategy of manufacturing in China along with aggressive media and marketing initiatives primarily to build up its Dove and Snickers brand (Lannes and Blasberg)

Screen Shot 2016-03-11 at 6.59.42 PM
Mars was the official sponsor and exclusive supplier of chocolate bars during the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, representing one of many successful recent marketing initiatives.

In addition to recognizing the value of branding, Mars has also undergone some organizational changes that lowered distribution costs. The recent acquisition of the gum company Wrigley’s, resulted in the formation of the leading retail confectionary company and gave Mars extensive distribution and sales operations networks (Allen 211-212). This recent merger ultimately allowed Mars to strengthen the company’s position as the leading chocolate company in China.

This campaign, which encourages consumers to create a love art piece by using Dove’s boxes, went viral on social media, exemplifying the success of Mars’s marketing efforts.

Looking Ahead

Today, the Chinese chocolate market represents a relatively small share of global chocolate consumption. However, the country’s sales potential is huge, given that a larger proportion of the country’s population is becoming potential chocolate consumers (Allen 202; Cohen). During the last three decades, the “Big Five” companies have built brand awareness and it seems unlikely that other global chocolate companies will be able to break into the market (Allen 22). Although local Chinese competitors have lower operating costs and can thus set lower prices, it seems unlikely that these companies are an immense threat to the “Big Five” (Allen 213).

China’s market has enormous growth potential and there are two major strategies that chocolate companies can adopt to strengthen their position. First, chocolate companies should sustain business in first-tier cities and fine-tune sales and marketing efforts (Allen 202; Nelson). Secondly, chocolate companies should consider expanding to second-tier cities (Allen 202; Nelson). Supermarkets represent a new exciting distribution channel, but it will be imperative to address challenges in regards to infrastructure and product innovation to respond to the preferences and price-point of the new consumer base.

To wrap up, there is seemingly no simple recipe for success but companies that are sensitive to the varied demands of the Chinese consumers are more likely to unleash the full potential of the market.



Works Cited

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

Cohen, Luc. “China Chocolate Market Seen Growing to $4.3bln by 2019-Hershey.” Reuters. 18 February 2015. Web. 11 March 2016.

Lannes, Bruno, and John Blasberg. “Gold Medal Brands.” Bain & Company Insights. July 1 2008. Web. 11 March. 2016.

Nelson, Christina. “Chocolate Fortunes.” China Business Review. July 1 2008. Web. 11 March 2016.

Media Sources

Chocolate candy hearts. Digital Image. http://torange.biz/16365.html. Web. 11 March. 2016

Chocolate Heart. Digital Image. http://www.publicdomainpictures.net/view-image.php?image=20869&picture=chocolate-heart. Web. 11 March. 2016.

Kestrel Lee. “Dove Chocolate’s Valentine’s Day Campaign”. Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 9 January 2012. Web. March 11. 2016.

Snickers hospitality Team. Digital Image. http://www.sportsworld.co.uk/clients/snickers-beijing-olympics-2008. Web. 11 March. 2016


A Growing Taste for Chocolate: An Analysis of Chocolate Displays in CVS and FamilyMart

Globalization has created incredible challenges for modern marketing, as companies must win over new markets that feature the unique tastes and desires of a different society. When we take a look at how chocolate is marketed and sold in both American and Chinese drugstores, we can analyze how the stores display the chocolate products. Through this analysis, we can also realize how those reflect the social perception of chocolate in each country, in turn directing how those changing perceptions turn around and drive the marketing, thus creating one large feedback loop. In this analysis, we will examine the displays that sell chocolate in one Harvard Square branch of CVS and compare that with chocolate displays in a parallel store in Shanghai, China called FamilyMart.

Mass-produced chocolate in CVS "Premium Chocolate" display in CVS

To set the scene for our argument, we will begin with a basic overview of the two stores and their respective displays. CVS is the second largest pharmacy chain the USA, after Walgreens; in Harvard Square alone, there are two branches opened. Taking a look at the display of chocolate in newly opened branch on JFK Street, we can see that chocolate is sold throughout the store, with one primary area for most of the chocolate being sold. The standard bulk chocolate is sold clumped together in one aisle, with various other candies and sweets, while the “Premium Chocolate” display is placed at the end of that aisle.

Bulk chocolate bins in FamilyMart FamilyMart logo Chocolate on shelves in FamilyMart

Most readers will be familiar with CVS, but not so much FamilyMart. FamilyMart is in fact a Japanese convenience store that has flourished in China, where there are currently 1,235 stores in operation, and it can be considered a Chinese equivalent to CVS. In this Shanghai franchise of FamilyMart, we can see that chocolate is also being sold in two sections, but with significant differences in strategy. Instead of choosing bags of prepackaged chocolates, customers can instead choose their desired amount of snack-sized mass-produced chocolates (like Snickers, M&Ms, or Chinese brands) and buy that amount for a price based on the weight of chocolate. These bins stretch down the entire aisle; the shelves on either side hold the prepackaged gift-type chocolates, bars, and even displays devoted to entire brands.

With the scene set for the two drugstores in the United States and in China, we can begin to examine the specific strategies used to create those displays and how they reflect each country’s habits and perceptions of chocolate. There are two important aspects of these displays that we can focus on: the chocolate and its packaging, as well as the context of the displays themselves.

The assortment available in the regular chocolate aisle of CVS is what one would expect of any American retailer, with all the “big chocolate” players trying to assert their presence. Often, there will be yellow stickers to indicate special deals resulting in astoundingly low prices associated with a huge variety of products. This can only speak to the power of multinational corporations, which is reflected in their ability to produce and distribute millions of pounds of chocolate worldwide. This ability, as detailed by anthropologist Jack Goody in Industrial Food, is mainly due to improvements in mechanization and transportation in the Industrial Revolution of the 1800s. Coupled with this technical revolution of mass production was the increased volume of trade, and as a result, retailers are able to provide many of the same products worldwide. As a result, in the Chinese counterpart to CVS, we can see many of the same goods: M&Ms, Hershey Kisses, Ferrero Rocher. In that sense, the variety of goods that companies are trying to market do not vary much, and so they do not have to create entirely new marketing strategies for a completely different set of products.

However, in the clash of cultures that is “East Meets West”, companies must tackle the task that comes with marketing to Chinese consumers. China is one of the most famous cases of growing globalization and capitalism: reforms in the 1980s shifted the Chinese economic structure from communalism to a market-based economy, and according to the World Bank, over 500 million people have been pulled above the poverty line with GDP growth rate averaging around 10% yearly. With this quickly growing economy and a population of 1.3 billion, China became the popular target for the big chocolate companies. Access to this market has not been easy for many of the companies, and these companies have had to come up with new strategies from those used in the United States to break into the Chinese market.

Thus, when we take a look at the packaging, we can see obvious differences that show that these companies are reacting towards the different perceptions that Chinese people hold about chocolate. The first main difference is that in CVS, the bulk chocolate is already packaged in bags of about ten to twelve ounces for consumers to buy. As mass production become increasingly easier for companies to use, the West saw that “choices to be made about eating…are made…by what are perceived as time constraints” (Mintz 202). Americans began prioritizing the convenience of food and snacks, and so these packs are ready-made with a variety of products for customers to grab and go.

Hersheys Spring Assortment Mars Halloween Assortment

In American society, the “experience of time…is often one of an insoluble shortage, and this perception may be essential to…the principle of ever-expanded consumption”(Mintz 202). As people in America feel increasingly pressed for time due to the pressure to do more and be more successful, these conveniently packages have unconsciously driven the mass consumption of chocolates, which in turns fuels the support for selling chocolate in such method. In other words, the packaging in CVS showcases the American impulse of buying chocolate on a whim, often to self-indulge themselves with large quantities of chocolate, which only reinforces that particular marketing strategy.

Contrast this to the packaging in FamilyMart, which reflects the more careful and thoughtful selection of Chinese consumers. Customers instead get to scoop their own bags and combinations of chocolates. This Chinese strategy of selling snack-sized chocolates has a much more practical air, in that customers can pick exactly how much of what they want to eat without the trouble of having to buy at least ten or so ounces of it. This process of selecting their chocolate and having it weighed, similar to how one would buy chocolate or candy from a specialty store in the United States, requires more upfront investment in the purchase, perhaps due to an underlying purpose of gift giving.

Gift giving itself is an act that requires much more thought and preparation, and the importance of gifts is a Chinese cultural code that successful companies have recognized while marketing in China. While the bulk chocolate can be catered towards someone’s particular tastes for chocolate, other products on the FamilyMart shelves can be seen packaged very ornately to leave a positive impression upon receipt. The M&Ms are packaged in the fun shape of the M&M mascot and even with a gift inside, while the Dove chocolate has been placed in a respectable tin. In fact, Mars has adopted this tactic of appropriate packaging rather well, and the commercial below is just one example that reflects Mars’ overall strategy of emphasizing the appropriateness of Dove chocolate for a gift.

[Chinese Kinder ad]

This commercial is the second of a two-part series of ads that focuses on the same actor and actress. The smitten man brings chocolate to the door of the woman he pursued in the first installment, and gives it as a gift of his season’s greetings. She shares the chocolate with her friends and then coyly asks him to bring another box just for her, and so the commercial ends on a promising note. We could also examine this ad for the way it plays into stereotypical gender roles and associations with chocolate, but will instead keep the focus on the action of gift giving. This ad targets the gift giving aspect of Chinese culture incredibly well, giving the audience positive images of love and associating that with Dove chocolate. As Professor Martin discussed in lecture, Mars has been able to win over the hearts of Chinese consumers more successfully than the other companies, simply by showing a distinguished knowledge of and dedication to Chinese consumers.

After analyzing the product availability and packaging in each of the stores, we can also look at the particular placement of the displays themselves within the store. As described earlier, CVS has most of its chocolate in one main aisle with the “Premium Chocolate” display labeled as such, and at the end of that aisle. This has several effects, the first of which is the mere placement of more chocolate at the end of one aisle. Because customers only pick an aisle if they know the product is in that aisle, they are more likely to walk past all the ends of the aisles. Having chocolate on the end of the aisle thus promotes its visibility in the store and entices people to pick up some “premium” chocolate, in this case various bars and packages of Ghiradelli, Lindt, and Ferrero Rocher. In the case where they prefer other kinds of chocolate, they have still been distracted by the mere image of chocolate and are then pulled into the aisle in search of the chocolate they want instead. In this particular CVS, and most American stores in general, there chocolate and candy even at the counter, which has the same effect of distracting the customer and relies again on the impulse and self-indulgence snacking tendencies that Americans tend to display.

Counter of CVS selling chocolate snacks

This snacking tendency actually has been seen as a historical trend away from full and separate meals, to smaller snacks in between main mealtimes. The French anthropologist Fischler, “appalled by the way “snacking” has supplanted meal taking…raises questions about the trend toward desocialized, aperiodic eating” (Mintz 212). This tendency is so common and has become so ingrained in our diets that it aligned perfectly with Western packaging of chocolate in convenient grab-and-go sizes. Mintz further goes on to say that today one might sense the “quickening of such diffusion, a speeding up, even in large, ancient societies that were apparently once resistant to such processes, such as China and Japan”.

In FamilyMart too, there were small packets of chocolate at the register for people to glance at and perhaps buy to snack on. However, the mass of the chocolate in FamilyMart was deep within the aisles of the store. The pictures have shown the large self-scoops of mass-produced chocolate, as well as the shelf displays of more nicely packaged chocolate. These displays were on either side of the bulk chocolate, and although it makes sense at first to group all the chocolate together, seems to have other effects. In order to look at those chocolates, customers must literally turn their backs on the bins in order to look at the shelves. This causes a literal separation between the two types of packaged chocolate, which directly contrasts with the placement in the American display. The chocolate in CVS at the end of the aisle drew the customer in, whereas the bins are what will catch the Chinese consumer’s eyes and potentially keep them there and cause them to be completely distracted from the contents of the shelves.

How then, can chocolate companies be so successful with the ornate packaging in FamilyMart that is actually rarely seen in generic drugstores like CVS? This apparent contradiction can be explained through the perception of chocolate in China and the nature of the consumers’ purchases. We have also explained the impulse buys that mark American purchases, and contrasted that with the gift-oriented purchases of the Chinese. The separation of the shelves and the bins push this explanation even further, in that Chinese consumers must truly have given genuine thought to the idea of purchasing chocolate as a gift rather than whimsically deciding to buy it for someone after seeing it. After all, the likelihood that they look at the shelves is very low when the large bins of chocolate capture their eyes first. Even when consumers buy chocolate as gifts in CVS, it still may be marked by impulsive tendencies merely because their thoughts have been primed by the image of chocolate. The placement of certain chocolate on the shelves was further emphasized by flashy displays. Of particular mention were the following two displays for Ferrero Rocher and Kinder.

Ferrero Rocher display in FamilyMart Kinder display in FamilyMart

These displays were of particular interest due to the fact that Mars has been so successful relative to the other chocolate companies in China. Ferrero, another of the big five companies, owns these two brands. As a matter of fact, Ferrero has carved out its own “niche in China by taking the path of least resistance” and successfully employing tactics aimed at the Chinese culture of gift giving. In Chocolate Fortunes, Lawrence Allen tells of how Ferrero “successfully sold the Chinese people on its delicate, foil-wrapped hazelnut treats”, using its foreign and exclusive image to promote the value of its chocolate as a luxury gift (Wharton article). Thus, placed in this historical context, the display in FamilyMart of Ferrero with its predominantly gift-oriented goods and personalized spotlights makes complete sense.

With this explanation, the other display of Kinder chocolate then seems somewhat of an anomaly, since the packaging looks too simple to mark the goods as gifts. We often do not see Kinder chocolate in the United States; the CVS in this comparison certainly did not sell Kinder products. The reason for its presence and marketing is in fact driven by another aspect of Chinese culture – that of the value placed in children. The marketing of this product was likely developed through the social valuation of children in Chinese culture, and the parental desire to raise successful children. In the following ad, the mother has prepared Kinder chocolate for the children when they say that they want to eat something tasty. The chocolate is further described as having the nutritional value of a large glass of milk within the bar, and the children are shown playing outside happy and healthy. These images really draw on the parents’ desires to have similarly happy and healthy children, and so Ferrero demonstrates truly effective marketing that plays on aspects of Chinese culture that Mars does not.

Following the examination of chocolate displays in an American CVS and a Chinese FamilyMart, we can see that both the variety of goods, their packaging, as well as the environment of their displays all reflect the societal perceptions of chocolate. These in turn show how each culture has particular values that are played upon by chocolate companies in order for them to successfully sell their product; and in doing so, these chocolate companies further reinforce the same habits that then continue to draw sales of chocolate. Yet in the Chinese market, we can see two divisive approaches that sell chocolate: one approach sells chocolate in customized bulk purchases of snack-sized chocolate, while the other approach leads to elaborate packaging the name of gift giving. These approaches, although both effective thus far, are signs that Mars has perhaps a slippery hold on the Chinese market for chocolate. There remains still an enormous amount of potential in a market of this size, and through the continued, careful analysis of Chinese culture, any company can emerge successful in the years to come.

Works Cited

The Paradoxical Selflessness of China’s Chocolate Market

The experience of eating and purchasing chocolate in our western society can often be defined by our individual love for its taste and its self-indulgent nature. It would make sense that in trying to extend this experience to the Chinese marketplace, the “Big Five” producers (Ferrero, Cadbury, Hershey, Nestle, and Mars) should try to replicate many of these same factors. Interestingly, China’s adoption of chocolate as something not primarily for oneself was rather backwards when compared with our traditional western practices, so much so that some may even consider it paradoxical. Yet it is this paradox that reveals that power of a specific culture to shape the experience of chocolate into one that is suitable for its audience.

In the taste arena, chocolate was very foreign to the Chinese palate. As described by Lawrence Allen in his work China and Chocolate: East Meets West, China had gone through a period of austerity from the 1950’s to the 1970’s. During this time, “people became accustomed to a limited range foods that were predominantly indigenous…variety was not only limited, it was also highly seasonal” (Allen 27). As such, existing populations found “the taste, texture, and particularly the sweetness of chocolate too foreign and extreme” (27). Frank McCafferty, a senior manager for chocolate product development in Asia, describes the dichotomy between westerners’ and China’s tastes well: “In the U.S. it has to be sweet, sweet, sweet, more sugar is better — not in China” (Doland). Thus, rather than embracing the rational attraction of its sweet taste, the Big Five had to take a much different strategy and promote chocolate as a “foreign and exotic curiosity” (Allen 23). The means to do this would be through the Chinese culture of gift giving.

Trends revealed that Chinese consumers were not largely buying chocolate for themselves. Not only does this support the idea that the fundamental chocolate taste was not playing a major factor in consumption, but also that chocolate for self-consumption was a rather underdeveloped market, again defying much of our traditional views on the self-indulgent nature of chocolate. For other established chocolate markets, the gift-giving purpose of chocolate only accounted for less than 10 percent of total sales (Allen 27). This was not the case in China. With over half of chocolate sales attributed to gifting, Allen puts it well when he writes, “Chocolate gift sales do not require the purchaser to have a taste for chocolate – only that he or she be willing to pay the price” (26). In this way, it almost appears that the inherent food qualities of chocolate were secondary to its role as a good gift, a symbol of “prosperity and fashionable good taste” (Allen 26). As seen in this media post by Shanghai Jungle, the author writes about how much of the success seen by Ferrero in China can be linked to its good gifting qualities, such as a the company’s premium gold packaging as seen in the image below from a Hong Kong shop.

Chocolate: A Gift That Conveys Love

Come 2008, despite economic challenges in China, Ferrero was doing well with the sales of their gift boxes outperforming the overall growth of the chocolate market. However, the development of their self-consumption products remains “elusive” (Allen 204).

It’s helpful to keep in mind that China’s chocolate market is still very young. Chocolate has only been around for a little over 20 years, as pointed out by the reporter in the following news video.

Yet so much of the market has been shaped by chocolate’s introductory role as a high end gift. The Godiva store shown in the video is just one example of the Chinese desire for chocolate as a luxury item for social interaction, rather than an everyday candy for personal enjoyment. Possible reasons for this are the geographic, demographic, and logistical barriers of reaching the masses in China. While high-end “first tier” cities have been tapped into, “consumers who lived beyond third-tier city standards were physically, culturally, and financially inaccessible for chocolate” (Allen 35). Indeed, this is just a start. Starting with China’s major cities, it will be fascinating to see how demand for chocolate will evolve over these next few decades and spread out to the masses. In many ways, the development of a selfless gift giving chocolate market not revolving around its good taste and personal satisfaction is highly paradoxical. But it does show a side of China’s gift-giving culture that chocolate has helped to illuminate.

Multimedia Sources:





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

Doland, Angela. “Who’s Winning China’s Chocolate War?” Advertising Age. N.p., 8 Dec. 2014. Web. 13 Mar. 2015.