The above image, originally uploaded by Nestlé, is a 1950s print advertisement for Kit Kat chocolate bars. The advertisement features a marketing slogan used by Kit Kat to this day: “Have a break… have a Kit Kat!” The “break” refers to the signature snap of the Kit Kat bar’s internal wafer as well as the worker’s much-coveted reprieve from labor. The implication of this play on words is that the small indulgence of consuming Kit Kat bars can serve as a (minimally disruptive) break from work; eating a Kit Kat bar on the clock feels like an almost rebellious act of self-care but in fact, as this blog post will show, merely maintains the existing (exploitative) system of labor and consumption.
This blog post will describe the history of chocolate advertisements’ insidious appeals to alienated workers. While chocolate has been advertised as a reprieve from the dehumanizing and alienating nature of wage work, this blog post will demonstrate that these advertisements encourage workers to consume chocolate merely so they can continue working. These advertisements redirect the worker’s feeling of alienation, exhaustion, and exploitation toward resignation and complacency rather than the capacity for rebellion. This advertising practice can be seen as a recuperation (by capital) of the seeds of discontent that could otherwise flourish into anticapitalist revolution. [By “recuperation,” I refer to the practice of normalizing radical ideas in order to render them impotent—in other words, recuperation is when “the ruling class… twist[s] every form of protest around to salvage its own ends” (Downing 59).]
Marx writes in Kapital of alienation as the dehumanizing phenomenon in which workers are reduced, essentially, to machines that produce value for capitalists. The worker is treated as nothing more than an “instrument of labor” (qtd in Hochschild 3). A very disturbing 2010 Kit Kat commercial depicts a scenario that seems to literalize the Marxist comparison of alienated workers to machines:
In this commercial, a man working at a supermarket checkout counter acts as though his body is literally a checkout scanner—literally a machine. Having recognized the dehumanizing nature of wage work, however, the commercial promises that the purchase and consumption of a Kit Kat bar will allow the man to “have a break.” There is no need for him to organize for better working conditions, the commercial implies, no need even to question the system that so dehumanizes him; being a consumer is all he needs.
A similar sentiment is expressed in the above Instagram post, published on the official Kit Kat page in 2019. The Kit Kat bar is made to resemble a watch, again invoking and recreating the association between chocolate and a reprieve from labor. But the Kit Kat’s visual resemblance to a watch also betrays a bleaker reality: that the cycle of consumption itself is a constituent part of the system of capitalist exploitation that has transformed the human experience of time into labor-time.
Kit Kat’s slogan “Have a break; have a Kit Kat” and its associated advertisements very obviously reflect the chocolate industry’s positioning of chocolate as a reprieve from work that in fact merely reproduces labor (by making the worker able to work again) and reinforces the existing economic system (by making the worker double as a consumer). But other chocolate companies use similar messaging in their advertisements. Take, for instance, the following Snickers commercial:
This commercial depicts a crew of workers performing the very physically demanding and dangerous labor of handling timber. One worker expresses a reluctance to continue and questions the purpose of this work. He is then handed a Snickers bar and transforms back into the diligent and docile worker he is expected to be. “You’re not you when you’re hungry,” the voiceover intones. Questioning the reasons for one’s hunger, one’s underpayment, one’s exploitation is depicted as the irrational whining of someone who needs more sugar. Snickers are depicted as a balm for one’s immediate discontentment—a balm that can take the place, it seems, of actual systemic change.
Chocolate companies have been insidiously recuperating anticapitalist discontent (or progressive ideals) for as long as they have existed, often depending on the comforting and indulgent associations of chocolate itself to maintain positive brand images. During the Progressive Era, “the greater American public… embraced [Milton S. Hershey] as a kindly type of industrialist and an oddly selfless capitalist,” a reputation that “dependent, in part, on the playful sweetness of the product he made” (D’Antonio 114). How could a man who “distribut[ed] happiness in a wrapper” (114), who sold what had once been a luxury product to the sugar-hungry masses, be anything like the greedy and heartless robber barons denounced by the socialist organizers of the time (113)? Cheap and sweet, mass-produced milk chocolate seems like a populist treat, and this association allows chocolate companies to continue making money off the blood and backs of workers (both producers and consumers) while appearing sympathetic to their plight.
D’Antonio, Michael. Hershey: Milton S. Hershey’s Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams. Simon & Schuster, 2006.
Downing, John. Radical Media: Rebellious Communication and Social Movements. Sage Publications, 2001.
Hochschild, Arlie Russell 1940-. The Managed Heart: Commercialization of Human Feeling. University of California Press, 2012.
When an aptly named German chocolate brand “Super Dickmann’s” posted this image of Meghan Markle, some people got upset while others laughed at their sensitivity.
The German employee in charge of the corporate Facebook account was likely not aware that the comparison between African women and chocolate is imbued with historical misogynoir. Misogynoir, a term coined by black feminist Moya Bailey (Anyangwe, 2015), is double discrimination faced by black women where bias is both race and gender-based (Verve Team, 2018).
While women have long been seen as buyers, preparers and religious devotees of chocolate, the earliest depictions associated with chocolate were those of infants such as cupids or angels (Martin, 2020). Later, chocolate became associated with an idealized image of white womanhood, as society women became an important consumer demographic. An 1874 New York Times issue announced that wealthy women were the biggest purchasers of an “elaborate style of French candies.” New ads featured elegant white women and were meant to appeal to both the tastes of upper-class consumers and the aspirations of lower-class ones (Robertson, 2010).
Such ads put white consumers at the forefront and minimized chocolate’s roots in West African agriculture. Romanticized images of white agricultural workers such as of this milkmaid carrying pails attempted to further erase chocolates’ African origins (Robertson, 2010).
These fictionalized images associated the labor required to produce chocolate with “wholesome whiteness” in the minds of consumers (Robertson, 2010). Notably, a 1930 Cadbury ad that does feature African women, shows them as faceless silhouettes balancing baskets brimming with cocoa pods on their heads (Robertson, 2010). While white women associated with chocolate were bestowed with good taste and wholesomeness, black women were dehumanized and fetishized through racist depictions.
In 1947 a new character “Honeybunch” was created to advertise Rowntree’s Cocoa (Robertson, 2010). Honeybunch looked infantile – barefoot and with bows in her hair. In this ad, she is dehumanized through the juxtaposition of her “imagined” character to “real” white people in the ad (Robertson, 2010).
A 1950 ad goes further to depict Honeybunch as a spring bouncing out of tin of cocoa – an example of a common trope of Africans drawn as actual cocoa (Robertson, 2010) This association of a person with an edible object further solidifies the idea that black people are false commodities (Polanyi, 2001). According to Polanyi, labor is one of those fictitious commodities to which the market mechanisms should not apply (2001). According to Polanyi, not only labor but also the laborer can become commodities for sale if the commodity function of labor is prioritized (2001). Commodity function of labor is the low labor cost for the sake of lower prices, and in the case of chocolate, low labor costs help support higher remuneration for cocoa processors and chocolate producers instead of African workers. This problem persists into modernity: according to the Cocoa Barometer, cocoa farmer households earn merely 37% of living income in Côte d’Ivoire, the leader in cocoa bean production supplying 40% of world’s cocoa (2018).
Blackness is also objectified and commodified through the association between black skin and chocolate – a trope that still pervades today. Food-related descriptions have long been used to describe dark skin. While light foundation shades are often called “nude” or “fair,” darker shades are often named after commodities such as cocoa or coffee. This further solidifies the toxic idea that white womanhood is the default, and objectifies black womanhood through comparisons with edible objects.
Even black women of the same status as the white women in chocolate ads are not immune to dehumanizing fetishization. In 1976, a magazine editor described supermodel Iman as “a white woman dipped in chocolate,” (Oliver, 2015). The editor’s baffling comment is akin to Charlie’s question about whether the Oompa Loompas, which were distinctly African in the original book, are made out of chocolate (Robertson, 2010).
The fact that class cannot protect black women from misogynoir sheds critical light on “respectability politics,” an ideology that emphasizes the need for black people to gain respect and “uplift the race” by correcting ‘undesirable” characteristics and embodying desirable ones (Harris, 2014). Racist treatment of Iman despite her social prominence parallels the way companies such as Rowntree or Cadbury used depictions of black girls and women like Honeybunch for their “distinct difference” while dehumanizing them.
Pat McGrath, one of the most prominent makeup artists of the century, also had a cocoa related story that shed light on how designers who hire black models failed to provide them with equal supplies. McGrath often had to use cocoa powder on set because she wasn’t provided with darker makeup shades (Prinzivalli, 2019).
A group of black women has found a way to use the association between dark skin and chocolate for their benefit, creating a food-inspired makeup brand “Beauty Bakerie,” which counts cocoa-flavored powder among its products.
And what about Pat McGrath who had to use food instead of makeup? Her beauty empire is now worth almost a billion dollars – and her dark foundation colors are named Medium Deep and Deep instead of cocoa and chocolate (Mpinja, 2018).
Before the nineteenth century, chocolate in Europe had only been available to the aristocratic classes and royal courts. In eighteenth-century Europe, during the Age of Enlightenment, the drink associated with the poor classes was alcohol and the drink of the small but growing bourgeois class was coffee: chocolate became stereotypically aristocratic during this period. Coffee was associated with bourgeois work while chocolate was associated with aristocratic leisure activities: coffee “gave to the mind what it took from the body, while chocolate was thought to do the reverse” (Coe 200). Chocolate was enjoyed by all classes in the Aztec and Mayan civilizations we have studied in this class, yet the consumption of chocolate was remarkably exclusive to the highest class in Europe. This is demonstrated by the presence of chocolate in royal family portraits such as 1762 portrait of Maria Theresa and her family, including daughter Marie Antoinette, celebrating Saint Nicholas. A large silver chocolatière and two cups are central to the portrait, seen on the breakfast table.
Marie Antoinette brought her love of chocolate from Vienna to the French court when she married Louis XVI. While Marie Antoinette was very abstemious and only consumed a small amount of chocolate at breakfast, her influence made chocolate into a craft within the French noble court (Coe 219). Chocolate has become part of the mythology of decadence that brought upon the deluge of the French aristocracy. The Versailles website features an article on “Hot Chocolate in Versailles,” which recounts how Marie-Antoinette brought her own personal chocolate-maker from Vienna to the court of France: http://en.chateauversailles.fr/discover/history/key-dates/hot-chocolate-versailles. This chocolate-maker was seen as a skilled craftsman, sometimes even combining chocolate with Orange blossoms or sweet almonds.
Chocolate is again revealed to be a status symbol for eighteenth-century European nobility in a 1768 portrait of Princesse de Lamballe and her family drinking chocolate, titled La Tasse de Chocolat. Chocolate is depicted in paintings as the stereotypical drink of the French aristocratic class, establishing the identity of the Lamballe family as refined and noble. However, it is important to note that chocolate in France during this period also became elaborate in its uses besides the way it is portrayed in historic paintings as a beverage. Chocolate biscuits, pastilles, mousse, conserve, marzipan, creams, truffle-like delicacies, chocolate sugared almonds, and chocolate wafers were also innovated during the pre-revolution period in France. These types of chocolate items are still what make up the luxury chocolate industry today, as France has become the capital of luxury products.
The strong association of chocolate in Europe with luxury and aristocracy during the nineteenth century became essential to its importance among the rising bourgeois. Nineteenth-century Europe saw a transformation in attitudes towards consumption, which became a way the bourgeois could establish themselves as part of the leisure class and gain social influence. As revealed in Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, chocolate began to be consumed by the bourgeois during this period who sought a higher status, as Charles’ first wife, a bourgeois lady, “had to have her cup of chocolate every morning” (Flaubert 11). You further see it in advertisements on nineteenth-century theater cards targeted towards a bourgeois audience such as those for producer of chocolates, Chocolat Debauve & Gallais.
This is because the bourgeois had begun to partake in what economist Thorstein Vleben would term ‘conspicuous consumption’ at the end of the nineteenth century in his work, The Theory of the Leisure Class. Vleben articulates how consumption had become a tool to differentiate the leisure class from the working class, and how the working bourgeois male used goods and the leisured status of his wife to elevate himself in society. Since chocolate had already been established as a luxury good of the royal courts, it had great significance and popularity amongst the bourgeois partaking in conspicuous consumption. Debauve & Gallais, the producer of chocolates that created the above advertisement, initially created chocolates for the court of Marie Antoinette alone. Once the manufacturing guilds of the ancient regime became obsolete and the economy was transformed by the second industrial revolution and rising bourgeois, such historic chocolate makers started producing for a broader audience. However, Debauve & Gallais among others still advertise their products as part of an ancient aristocratic tradition. Debauve & Gallais is still famous for its chocolate coins, “first developed for Queen Marie Antoinette in order to ease her distaste for taking medicines” as stated on the website: https://www.debauveandgallais.com/.
Conspicuous consumption gave rise to the association of chocolate with luxury and widespread consumption of chocolate in Europe and the US that we see today. The popularity of chocolate in European bourgeois society was dependent on its association with an aristocratic past, since European bourgeois society sought a higher status. Chocolate is still understood as a treat or extravagance in the modern West, which contrasts the original nutritional or ritualistic uses by the Mayans and Aztecs.
Vleben, Thorstein. The Theory of the Leisure Class. London: MacMillan & Co, 1899.
Coe, Sophie D. The True History of Chocolate. 3rd ed. London: Thames & Hudson, 2013.
Today when we hear the word chocolate, we often picture a chocolate bar or small treat. We think of a sweet taste and often consumed as a dessert or delicacy. In various forms from luxurious truffles to drugstore bars, chocolate is often found in a person’s life today in a much different way of the past. First discovered by the ancient Mayans, chocolate consumption was not only bitter but also found in different forms than the most commonly present on the market today. The flavour that today’s society associates chocolate with is unparalleled to its original ways of consumption transformed by humans’ decisions to combine cacao powder with various other flavours and spices.
Historically known as cacao in reference to the raw material, cocoa was born as a result of the anglicization of the word cacao in reference to the commodity to be sold or processed. With consumption linked to “unhealthy” or “treat like” ideas, it is to some’s surprise that the main substance in chocolate is found on a cacao tree. Grown on the cacao trees we find cacao pods which are a colourful fruit encapsulating a seed within; the cacao bean. Undergoing processing, cacao beans become a chocolate liquor which can also be referred to as cocoa liquor. Processing this chocolate liquor, we arrive at cocoa butter, which is described as waxy and rather than the brown colour we usually associate chocolate with is actually and ivory-yellow solid (Lecture 2). By pressing the cocoa butter, we get cocoa powder which is frequently used in baking today. To arrive at the chocolate, we know today the seeds of the cacao plant must be roasted, husked and ground, then combined with other flavours, usually sugar and vanilla, to create your favourite chocolate bar.
Going back in time:
Going back in time to the 16th century, Mesoamerican’s classified chocolate as a native good similar to that of beans and squash. Through the use of a Geographic Information System, researchers are able to depict the areas and times in which chocolates flavours differed and how they evolved to the common good today. Representing a luxury during that time, cacao beverages were the most common form of consumption of cacao. These drinks however, were found in combination with goods we don’t usually consume today. Experiences described as “flowery immersion” (Sampeck 2017) provide imagery for the flower additives to the cacao beverages. Having been a luxurious edible as well as medicine, the numerous combinations define its use during early consumption. Cacao was viewed as quite a unique substance at the time, varying from its liquid form to a solid, was solely based on its preparation and preferences of the consumer. With strong ties to religious beliefs, ceremonies, and “superpower” like traits, chocolates ability to be consumed was taken much more seriously in comparison to our consumption today. The evolution of the tastes and flavours associated with each new transformation of chocolate has significant ties to historical advances over the substance’s lifetime.
Recipes: spicy to sweet to floral to umami to nutty to starchy
Chocolate during the 16th century did not describe the solid substance we consume today but rather described one of many cacao drinks. Tools used to create various recipes have also proven to have evolved over time. Originally made with a molinillo, a special type of stirring stick; the finished product was kept in a spouted pot and finally poured into a steep-sided cup. These tools used are much different to the large machines and factories presently involved in the production line for chocolate. Molinillos allowed Mesoamericans the ability to froth the beverage acting similar to a whisk, giving volume to the fatty liquid. In addition to the whisking, pouring from a great height allowed for air bubbles to enter the liquid on its way into the steep cup from the spouted pot. It was most important to the Mesoamericans to ensure that the preparation process such as the one described above be completely accurately in order to achieve the desired flavours for the beverage. Additionally, the variety and degree of ripeness of the cacao bean were just as important as the processing of cacao. Inscriptions in Mayan pottery and archeological remains describe the combination of cacao with honey, flowers, aromatic herbs, achiote, sugar, vanilla, chili, and various fruits (peaches, apricots, oranges) (Sampeck 2017).Original tastes seem to fair on the bitter side while pre-Columbian and colonial period recipes begin to incorporate natural sweeteners.
Used for centuries to whip up a foam on hot-chocolate drinks in Mexican and Central American kitchens
The Princeton Vase: Women on far right demonstrates pouring of chocolate beverage from height
Silver chocolate pot
With recipes varying mostly by geographic locations, the availability of resources determined which flavours were used in combination with the cacao to achieve each concoction. Records show that common spices used in combination with cacao for Europeans include cinnamon, nutmeg, black pepper, saffron, nutmeg, ginger, and clove (Sampeck 2017). It is evident based on these flavours that the tastes in various parts of the world seem to take individual themes. With Europeans inclined to a earthy, musky, spicier flavour, the Mayans and Spanish preferred a sweeter sensation. The commencement of trading of substances among countries jumpstarted the wide array of recipes that blossomed from attaining new spices and flavours from others. Although each spice added a new dimension to the taste and feeling of consumption of cacao, one of the most important and sought-after combinations for countries on either side of the Atlantic Ocean involved that of honey or fruit.
Recipes from the British impacted chocolate flavours by acting as a generic starting point for much of the creations across Europe having combined cacao with a wide array of ingredients, much more in fact than any other European place. With such a large array of recipes chocolate became an opportunity for each location to explore their environment and preferences to arrive at a combination they chose to consume.
Interestingly, certain recipes continued to have the chocolate name in them when in fact no cacao was included in the mixture. The name stuck due to the similar preparation style to that of chocolate beverages and included combinations of spices and flavours that would typically be found in combination with cacao powder.
Evolution over time:
Beginning in the 18th century, recipes for chocolate began to shift from a liquid substance to a solid matter. As slavery became more prevalent, the production of cacao heightened, allowing it to be used by commoners. The prestigious power of chocolate was stripped with mass amounts being consumed on the daily by all individuals of society. The famous chocolate company Nestle, gave rise to milk chocolate in the 17th century by combining condensed powdered milk, sugar and processed chocolate (Lippi). By 1847, the first chocolate bar was created by a company called J.S. Fry & Sons, made from cocoa butter, powder and sugar. Soon after Lindt curated the conching machine which allowed for production of the creamy chocolate ganache that fills their popular truffles (Klein). The 20th century opened the door to the creation and enjoyment of various chocolate flavoured solid treats, combining large amounts of sugar and other additives in order to ensure preservation and enjoyment (Fiegl).
“Flowers mean I’m sorry and chocolate means I love you.” These are the wise words of Lauren Conrad, the star of The Hills, a Los Angeles-based television show that aired in 2006. This proverb is not unique to reality TV. People have shared Lauren’s opinion for centuries; from ancient Mesoamerican civilizations to 16th century Europe to modern westernized societies, chocolate has remained a symbol of and an ingredient for romantic love. The endurance of the relationship between chocolate and love is striking, making it quite possibly the only thing that Mesoamerica and MTV have in common. Throughout history, raw and processed cacao has been imbued with cultural, medicinal, and spiritual significance regarding sexual and romantic success. As a result, chocolate is believed to not only “mean” love, but to make love.
The ancient Mayans are thought to be the first civilization to cultivate cacao, and thus the first people to endow it with sexual and romantic significance (Martin). However, later civilizations, such as the Mixtecs and the Aztecs, retained cacao as a prominent religious and cultural symbol. Mesoamerican societies always incorporated chocolate into their marriage ceremonies (Coe 97). A bride often served her groom a chocolate drink during the wedding ceremony to consecrate their marriage (Martin). The Codex Zouche-Nutall, a pre-Columbian manuscript from the Mixtec civilization, illustrates this custom in its depiction of the royal marriage of Lord Eight Deer and Lady Thirteen Serpent.
Raw cacao seeds were also part of the ceremony. Women’s dowries often consisted of cacao beans, which doubled as a form of currency in Mesoamerican economies (Martin). In some societies, the bride and groom exchanged cacao beans with the words “These I give thee as a sign that I accept thee as my husband [or wife]” (Coe 61). In this custom, cacao plays the same role as rings in modern marriages in that it symbolized and sanctified a romantic commitment.
16th Century Europe
Chocolate arrived in Europe in the 16th century via the Spanish courts, and its romantic and sexual connotations also survived the journey across the Atlantic. Bernal Díaz del Castillo, a Spanish conquistador who produced a detailed written account of the Mexican conquest, claimed Aztec Emperor Motecuhzoma drank cacao to have “success with women” (Coe 96). The Spanish perpetuated this faith in cacao’s sexual and romantic benefits, believing that its consumption would increase the probability of both conception and love (Martin). Chocolate was also considered a powerful aphrodisiac, and recommended by physicians as a remedy for a weak “venereal appetite” (Coe 122).
Modern Westernized Societies
While modern medicine has progressed far beyond that of 16th century Europe, chocolate has retained its prescribed aphrodisiacal properties. In Dr. Nicholas Perricone’s list of the “Top 10 Sex-Boosting Foods”, published by CBS News, chocolate lands at number six. In the justification for this ranking, CBS cites a study by “The Journal of Sexual Medicine” that found a positive correlation between daily chocolate consumption and sexual activity.
In case the double medical endorsement wasn’t enough to solidify the connection between chocolate and sex, CBS also includes a photo of a naked woman coating herself in liquid chocolate. This picture is just one example of the sexual presentation of chocolate in modern media. A provocative advertisement for 1848 Chocolate incorporates very similar imagery. The video involves a woman bathing in liquid chocolate, cacao pods, and cocoa powder, with sound effects that enhance the seductive tone and sexual connotations of the scene.
The chocolate industry wholeheartedly embraces the idea that “sex sells.” Sex plays a role not only in cinematic advertising, but in chocolate’s linguistic presentation as well.
The company Chuao Chocolatier describes its Spicy Maya bar as a blend of “seductive cinnamon, pasilla chile and warming cayenne bedded in dark chocolate.” Chuao’s advertising copywriters don’t stop there: the Spicy Maya bar is “[a] warm cinnamon embrace, velvety dark chocolate, and an infusion of cayenne and pasilla chile. With just enough heat to melt your heart, it’s a truly delicious way to brighten up your day. Spicy maya is the perfect mix of sweet and seductive.” The numerous references to heat are subtle sensual suggestions, whereas “bedded,” “embrace,” and the repetition of “seductive” are blatantly sexual.
Sex sells, but so does romance. In Cocoa, Kristy Leissle acknowledges that chocolate companies “steer consumer desire for chocolate in certain directions,” and in many cases that direction is love (Leissle 9). Cadbury’s 2020 Valentine’s Day advertisement literally embodies the idea of chocolate leading to love. The video depicts a man guiding his impatient female partner through the woods. Her irritation evaporates when they end up in a clearing of fireflies and he gives her his heart — or at least the heart-shaped centerpiece of the Cadbury Dairy Milk Silk Heart Pop chocolate bar (a Valentine’s Day Special Edition!). This interaction reflects Leissle’s idea that manufacturers promote chocolate not only as the path to romantic love, but as a “surrogate for romantic love” itself (Leissle 9). At the end of the video, Cadbury asks its audience, “How far will you go for love?” The answer is the nearest chocolate aisle.
Just as sex and romance promote chocolate in advertisements, chocolate promotes sex and romance in cinema. According to TV Tropes, a website devoted to explaining common cinematic themes and motifs, chocolate appears in three primary sexual and romantic contexts: in the progressing of a relationship, often in the form of a gift during courtship, anniversaries, or holidays; in the mending of a relationship, offered in exchange for forgiveness; in the initiation of intimacy, consumed before characters are sexually intimate. This latter trend has a subtle presence in the Cadbury ad: when the man presents the woman with chocolate, the music changes from instrumental to lyrical, starting with the words “Kiss me.” Chocolate plays a critical role in the promotion, progression, and preservation of sexual and romantic relationships in the media.
While TV Tropes and the Cadbury ad focus on chocolate facilitating romance between two people, it’s possible that chocolate can create love regardless of whether its consumer has a significant other. Along with its abundance of sexual suggestions, Chuao Chocolatier promises that the Spicy Maya bar will “melt your heart” and “brighten up your day.” There is some data to back up these claims: “[d]ark chocolate contains phenylethylamine, a chemical believed to produce the feeling of being in love” (CBS News). While the connection between chocolate and love has typically been symbolic, it may also be scientific.
There is a reason chocolate is so strongly associated with Valentine’s Day, a holiday celebrating romantic love. Throughout history, chocolate has been credited with sexual and romantic benefits. Chocolate has been used to consecrate Mesoamerican marriages, attract romantic partners, improve sexual performance, and even increase the chance of pregnancy. Today, it is a means to flirt, to court, to celebrate, to seduce, to apologize, to appease. Chocolate is more than just an aphrodisiac: it is a modern-day love potion. Chocolate might be a “surrogate for romantic love,” but in many ways it is also an ingredient. We give chocolate the power not only to “mean” love, but to make love.
Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. Thames & Hudson, 2013.
Leissle, Kristy. Cocoa. John Wiley & Sons, 2018.
Martin, Carla. “Introduction.” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. 29 Jan. 2020, Harvard University, Cambridge. Class Lecture.
—. “Mesoamerica and the “Food of the Gods’.” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. 5 Feb. 2020, Harvard University, Cambridge. Class Lecture.
Mintz, Sidney Wilfred. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. Penguin, 1986.
To better understand the thought process that a stakeholder, such as a parent of a child with ADHD, might go through as they attempt to understand what role chocolate should play in their child’s life, this project simulates the experience from the point of view of the parent. To that end, this project first explores a typical informational website that a parent might find through a simple web search with the keywords ‘chocolate’ and ‘ADHD,’ since that would likely be how many parents would start their journey of information gathering. Then, anticipating that some parents might wish to further explore the relevant scientific literature, this project explores a couple of representative scientific studies on PubMed that a parent might find. In order to best reflect the agency of the parent as they try their best to make complex decisions for their children, this project attempts to narrate the diverse range of potential considerations for the parent to grapple with as they progress through their journey of information gathering.
For both the educational websites and the scientific articles, parents can find multiple legitimate reasons to second guess the trustworthiness, especially when pharmaceutical advertisements and industry ties create, at least appearance of, potential influence. While the information on chocolate and ADHD was relatively sparse for both educational websites and scientific literature, the general consensus was that chocolate, and other dietary choices, do not cause ADHD or worsen the symptoms. There were a small number of studies that suggested various mechanisms in which chocolate could in fact be therapeutic, but these studies all appeared to be isolated from each other, suggesting that this specific line of research is still in its infancy stages; parents of an ADHD children should probably wait for these studies to be reliably replicated by other studies before putting too much faith in any preliminary study’s findings.
III Online Resources: ADDitude Website
One of the few articles online that explicitly mentions
chocolate and ADHD is an article from ADDitude5. The website describes
itself as being “the trusted resource for families and adults living with ADHD
and related conditions and the professionals who work with them”1.
They further elaborate, “since 1998, millions have trusted ADDitude to
deliver expert advice and caring support, making us the leading media network [emphasis added] for parents and adults
living with attention-deficit disorder, and for professionals working in the
Before reading what the article states about chocolate and
ADHD, parents of children with ADHD often first make decisions regarding how
trustworthy the content is. If they do not find it trustworthy, they might not
even bother to read the article.
One factor to promote trust is the stamp of medical
authority. Next to the author’s name is the author’s title (‘PH.D.’), and underneath
that is a note “Reviewed on January 18, 2019,” which seems to echo the language
of a peer-review scientific process5. At the bottom of the website
is a disclaimer that “ADDitude does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or
treatment. The material on this web site is provided for educational purposes
only”5. This disclaimer appears to flatly contradict the website’s
claim that they “deliver expert advice,” and arguably undercuts the importance
of highlighting the author’s authority status. Of course, this is assuming that
the reader actually scrolls down to the bottom of the page to read the
disclaimer, which is probably unlikely overall. This suggests that the
disclaimer’s primary aim to avoid future legal risk, rather than to inform the current
reader about the nature and limitations of the website.
Another factor to consider is the pharmaceutical advertising, and whether the revenue from pharmaceutical companies could influence the website’s content. The screenshot (see above) captures at least once incident in which the article displays an advertisement for Vyvanse â, which is a prescription stimulant medication for ADHD. There is a hint of irony that right above the headline (which is about ADHD brains craving stimulation) is an advertisement with bright green colors meant to grab the reader’s attention. A purple button pops out in contrast against this bright green background, beckoning the reader to click to “Learn more.” The section for “important safety information” is quietly placed to the side in small font, perhaps so that a parent might overlook the warning that Vyvanse is a controlled substance with risk for abuse/dependence.
III Online Resources: Pharmaceutical Advertisements
Parents may wish to better understand the history of marketing
ploys that the makers of Vyvanse have employed in the past as they decide whether
they can trust ADDitude in spite of the website’s financial relationship with Vyvanse.
In other instance of Vyvanse attempting to incorporate their ads against the
backdrop of an ostensibly educational medium, readers may wish to take a look
at a live TV interview on ABC News featuring Ty Pennington, a celebrity who is
open about having ADHD (see clip above)2. At the end of the segment,
the interviewer asks him for recommendations for ADHD resources. Pennington repeatedly
struggles to recall the exact name of a certain ADHD support website; he ultimately
settles on recommending ‘Vyvanse.com,’ which suggests that Vyvanse could have
played a financial role for Pennington and/or the ABC News interview. Given
that Pennington misspelled Vyvanse with a ‘c’, it could suggest that he does
not personally make it a habit to visit that website, and that instead he was
coached to give this shout out to the Vyvanse website.
Readers may be further surprised to learn that Shire, the
company that owns Vyvanse, also owns Adderall â (they sold away the
rights to the immediate release (IR) formulation, but still own the extended
release (XR) versions)4. Vyvanse and Adderall both rely on
amphetamine as the active drug, but Vyvanse is a prodrug formulation of amphetamine,
which means that the amphetamine in Vyvanse does not become activated until it
has passed through the patient’s digestive system7. Theoretically,
this can reduce the temptation for the patient to abuse the medication (snorting,
intravenous, etc.) compared to non-prodrugs such as Adderall. As such, Shire had
hoped that the FDA would classify it as a schedule 4 substance instead of a
schedule 2 substance (such as Adderall, Ritalin, and other stimulant
medications)7. This lower classification would allow prescribers and
patients to face fewer government regulations. For instance, prescribers would then
be allowed to write scripts that include monthly refills (instead of needing to
write a new prescription each month). Though Shire ultimately failed to
persuade the federal government, Shire appears to have convinced the medical establishment
to accept its claims about Vyvanse’s hypothetical safety advantages7.
Shire’s need to promote Vyvanse, perhaps even at the expense of their existing Adderall XR product, begins to make more sense to the reader once they understand the context of Shire’s competition from generics. After Shire’s patent protections on Adderall XR expired, Shire’s sales plummeted from nearly 300 million dollars per quarter in 2009 to 67.4 million dollars in Q2 20104. While this decline was to be expected, even desired from the public’s perspective, Shire shockingly later managed to increase its sales by 21 percent to $111 million in Q1 20114. According to legal complaints by generic competitors, Shire first further raised the price of their brand name Adderall XR, and then manipulated the complex national supply chain of the raw amphetamine such that the generic manufactures had a shortage of raw material4. Thus, even though affordable generics were theoretically available, many patients had to resort to paying for the exorbitantly expensive brand name version. Even after the shortage of generic Adderall XR eventually cleared up, Shire was able to continue to benefit long term from this chaos, due to its new product, Vyvanse. During the shortage, patients who could not afford the brand name Adderall XR, or who perhaps could not physically locate any pharmacies that had any Adderall XR, naturally could be incentivized to try Vyvanse, which was not undergoing a shortage, and which was less expensive at the time than brand name Adderall XR4. By building a long-term customer base for Vyvanse, which is still is patent protected until 2023, Shire retains a dominant share of the ADHD medication market4.
III Online Resources: Chocolate and ADHD
The factors mentioned above are just some examples of the
considerations that could be in the back of the mind of an actively engaged
reader who encounters this ADDitude article on ADHD and chocolate. Some might read
the article with heavy skepticism (or perhaps choose to skip the article
entirely), while others might decide to grant credibility to the claims made in
The article explains that the impulsive ADHD brain has
trouble with self-regulation, particularly in the dopamine reward center5.
As such, “chocolate is appealing to ADHD brains because it increases glucose
and has the added stimulation of caffeine.” The glucose satisfies the ADHD
brain’s cravings, which leads to a release of dopamine in the dopamine reward center.
While this can bring needed “please and greater calm” to the ADHD brain, “many
people with ADHD chide themselves for indulging in [pleasurable foods], when
their brains are actually demanding those foods instead of salad.” The article sympathizes,
“It is no wonder that those with ADHD struggle with diet and nutrition. When
they self-medicate with food, their brains enjoy a surge of dopamine,” and
their various chemical imbalances are addressed, at least temporarily. Addressing
more broadly the general life struggle of an ADHD individual, the article
explains, “understanding what ADHD brains want makes it clear that the struggle
for self-regulation is neurological, and has nothing to do with character
This article does not explore treatment options, so it does not explicitly address the issues of whether chocolate (and/or poor diet) is the cause of ADHD, or whether or not it can worsen ADHD symptom severity. It does seem to suggest that the ADHD leads to the overeating, rather than the other way around, but an explicit clarification would have been helpful. Also, it broadly lumps chocolate together with carbs, pastas, and cookies as being generally unhealthy foods; the author might be scientifically justified with this system of classification, but she never cites any outside sources or evidence. One possible explanation was that her main purpose of the article was not to give dietary advice, but rather to increase self-compassion in ADHD individuals who might otherwise be berating themselves for not being able to stick to their own dietary goals. In the context of the Vyvanse ads, the reader may wonder whether this article is attempting to emphasize a chemical imbalance view of ADHD in order to render the reader more amenable to the idea of a pharmaceutical treatment.
IV Medical Literature: Chocolate Does Not Cause ADHD
For stakeholders who are still are looking for hard, scientific reassurance that ADHD is not caused by poor dietary habits, the general medical consensus is that diet does not cause ADHD. A metareview notes that “parents and teachers alike attribute excessive motor activity and other disruptive behaviors to candy consumption,” which are often hypothesized to harm children through a combination of sugar, food additives/coloring, and through chocolate itself3. However, after combing through numerous placebo-controlled studies, the researchers could not find a single study that supported any of those hypotheses. They conclude, “for children with behavioral problems, diet-oriented treatment does not appear to be appropriate. Rather, clinicians treating these children recommend a multidisciplinary approach. The goal of diet treatment is to ensure a balanced diet with adequate energy and nutrients for optimal growth”3.
IV Medical Literature: Dark Chocolate Can Improve Attention
A study on humans found that dark chocolate improved
alertness and attentiveness as measured by EEG scans6. A negative
side effect was that it raised blood pressure due to the stimulants in the cocao.
However, the side effect of raised blood pressure could be offset by adding L-theanine
to the dark chocolate. Unfortunately for consumers, chocolate bars with
L-theanine are not yet available, so Larry Stevens, one of the authors of the
paper, opines that companies should heed the results of the study and consider
developing such a chocolate bar6.
Certainly, at least one chocolate company will be carefully
examining the results: Hershey, which is listed in the paper as a sponsor of
the study. On the website of the press release that accompanied this paper, one
online visitor commented, “We’re supposed to expect unbiased results for a
study on chocolate sponsored by Hershey? Hello- this isn’t good.” See
Someone who is presumably Larry Stevens himself (based on
the user name) responds with a long defense (see screenshots below)6.
Stevens first acknowledges and thanks the commenter for raising awareness of this
important issue. He unequivocally stands by the impartiality of the research
and explains that “Hershey’s role was only to respond affirmatively to my
request to provide the chocolate confections used in the study and to quite
astutely suggest the addition of the L-Theanine additive.” He elaborates on all
the effort that the research team did by themselves (without any involvement or
help by Hershey), and that clarifies that the team members never received any offers
of gifts or rewards.
While his explanations, if they are to accepted at face value, could adequately explain away the ethical concerns, it may not have been worth it from a public perception standpoint to have accepted the free chocolate confections, especially if the expense of chocolate confections is negligible compared to the rest of the expenses of running this human clinical experiment. Further, by accepting the advice from Hershey on adding the L-Theanine test group, it could feed a public perception that public taxpayer dollars for research are being diverted for Hershey’s own purposes; after all, if Hershey is indeed interested in experimenting with L-Theanine, they could have conducted their own private experiment with their own money. Of course, this criticism may or may not be fair, but the public’s perception of these issues can influence how receptive the public is to accepting scientific findings and to politically supporting public research funding.
Ultimately, the parents of children with ADHD must make their own judgments regarding which pieces of advice to heed and which to ignore. Parents must constantly screen for signs of potential sources of biasing influence, such as pharmaceutical or food industry ties. Similarly, educational websites and scientific articles must remain cognizant of the myriad of ways in which they can be scrutinized by parents, and they must earn the trust of the parents if they are to succeed at spreading their intended information.
As a massive international corporation, CVS offers numerous products and services to their customers around the globe. Traditionally, they have acted as a pharmacy and drug store. Yet, within recent decades, CVS has become more of a convenience store in that it still offers pharmaceutical services and drugs, but it also now offers everything from cleaning supplies to ice cream. Furthermore, considering the fact that many Americans live relatively close to a CVS, it could be argued that many of the smaller consumables, such as chocolate, are purchased there. Thus, in analyzing the modern-day chocolate market for the majority of the public, CVS is an excellent case study to examine how chocolate is being sold to the masses. Thus, this multimedia essay will utilize the chocolate selection from CVS as a case study to determine how chocolate is being marketed to the public.
Race, Gender, Luxury
and How Chocolate is Advertised
The history of chocolate advertisement is one that is extremely rich with influence from countless external forces and cultures. Since its conception, chocolate, and the advertisement for its consumption, have been heavily influenced by both race and gender. The relationship between chocolate and race is strong and the two have related to one another since the Europeans found out about chocolate. Chocolate and chocolate production have historically been related to slavery, particularly African slavery, which continues to this day. The enslavement of African men and boys does still continue to this day and, “in a 2000 report on human rights in Côte d’Ivoire, the U.S. State Department estimated, with startling candour, ‘that 15,000 Malian children work on Ivoiran cocoa and coffee plantations… Many are under 12 years of age, sold into indentured servitude for US$140 and work 12-hour days for $135 to $189 a year’” (Off 133). Along with gender, race’s long connection with chocolate and chocolate production can still be seen to this day within the form of chocolate advertisement. That is, many of the ways in which chocolate is advertised play on these relationships between gender and race and chocolate. This can be seen in the fact that, “contemporary chocolate advertisements as well as wrappings feature black bodies or distorted images of blackness in order to promote chocolate products” (Hackenesh 98). Within the context of gender, “the consumption of chocolate in the west became feminized early in its history” (Robertson 20). That is, “women were charged with providing wholesome cocoa for respectable consumption within the family” (Robertson 20). Along with race and gender, the idea of chocolate as a luxury item is yet another aspect of its history that can be seen to this day. This early western idea of chocolate as a luxury good can best be seen within the coffee and chocolate houses of the seventeenth century. That is, “from the male-dominated coffee and chocolate houses of the seventeenth century, chocolate became associated with luxury and leisure in the domestic sphere from the eighteenth century” (Robertson 20). The influence of this idea of chocolate as a luxury item cannot be overstated and its influence can be seen to this day. This influence has been so powerful that it remains one of the most utilized tropes within modern chocolate advertisement. Thus, although race and gender have influenced chocolate throughout its history, and can be seen within many forms of multimedia chocolate advertisements, this idea of chocolate as a luxury good remains one of the strongest advertising tropes and one that can be seen throughout the selection of chocolate available at stores such as CVS. So, because of this, the luxury aspect of chocolate advertising will be the main focus of the remainder of this case study of the chocolate selection available at CVS.
Selection at CVS
As CVS has expanded its selection of items, particularly its selection of consumables, its chocolate so too has expanded. When you search for chocolate on the CVS website or you enter a physical CVS location, you are immediately confronted with the classic brands that you would expect. This includes brands such as: Dove, Hershey, Cadbury, Toblerone, Mars, Lindt etc. These brands have remained staples throughout America, and the world, for decades and thus they have garnered loyal support from many customers. That is, “the main reason for this longevity [of the major chocolate producers] is consumers’ usually strong loyalty to the taste of their chocolate; many consumers make a lifetime commitment to thei favorite chocolate brands” (Allen 21). Seeing these brands immediately made me feel comfortable. I felt that because I knew these brands, I could make an informed decision based on the brand name. At no point was I concerned with how the chocolate was produced, or even the ingredients of the chocolate, my decisions were based solely on brand name and packaging. Furthermore, as I view chocolate as a luxury and not something that should be eaten all the time or in large quantities, I was not concerned with the calorie content of any of the items. I knew that I was buying this luxury good to splurge and thus, calories were of no concern to me. Many of the large brands utilized images and colors on their packages so that they seemed luxurious and special. Dark purple and blue are often used on the packaging, as well as gold, in order to exude a certain type of luxury and exclusivity. Although much of the selection from the larger brands, such as Mars and Hershey, revolved around their classic treats, there was also a number of chocolates that were a darker chocolate with more cocoa. These chocolates were attempting to be more luxurious and exclusive even though they come from a well-known and inexpensive brand like Mars, Hershey, or Cadbury. An example of this can be seen in the Hershey’s Kisses Special Dark. Hershey’s kisses are a classic product from Hershey, and arguably one of the most famous chocolate treats in America. They are inexpensive and not considered to be the highest-end or most luxurious chocolate treat. Yet, by changing the packaging by adding a dark purple color and wrapping the Kisses in purple tinfoil rather than the classic silver foil the treats seem much more luxurious and high-end. The addition of ‘Special Dark’ on the label speaks to a certain level of prestige and luxury, and it also hints at the ingredient content of the treats which seem to be of better and higher quality. This attempt of a large brand that is not necessarily known for extremely high-quality and luxurious chocolate, like Hershey, attempting to advertise a luxurious and high-end product differs from a large brand that is more synonymous with high-end chocolate. This can be seen in the packaging of the Lindt Lindor chocolates. Lindt is more synonymous with a higher-end and more luxurious chocolate than is Hershey, thus all of their products immediately have that luxury cachet simply because of the brand name. The Lindt Lindor packaging is simple and elegant and includes colors such as dark blue and gold.
The Dangers of
One aspect of these attempts at
utilizing luxury as a selling-point for chocolate is that these companies use
this idea of luxury without backing it up through an explanation how the chocolate
is produced and why it is of better quality than other treats. The containers focus
on textures and mouthfeels of the various products, yet do not speak about what
makes the particular chocolate more expensive and of better quality than other products.
The Lindt Lindor packaging, for example, says “Irresistibly Smooth” on the
front, yet does not speak to the actual quality of the chocolate and the
ingredients of the product. This is an ingenious ploy by the chocolate companies
because they need not drastically increase their cost of production, but rather
just adjust the advertising and increase the price to create the lure of luxury
and exclusivity. Thus, consumers must become aware of these ploys by the
chocolate manufacturers and ensure that they are paying for quality of
production and ingredients, not luxurious advertising.
Lawrence L. Chocolate Fortunes :the Battle for the Hearts, Minds, and
Wallets of China’s
Consumers. AMACOM, American Management
Silke. “Advertising Chocolate, Consuming Race? On the Peculiar Relationship of
Chocolate Advertising, German
Colonialism, and Blackness.” Vol. 12, no. 1, 2014, pp.
Carol. 2008. Bitter Chocolate: The Dark Side of the World’s Most Seductive
Emma. 2010. Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History.
The chocolate industry has a huge commercial impact on contemporary North American society; this impact is not just commercial, however. Consumers, particularly women, often have a larger emotional connection [to chocolate] that goes beyond capitalist values. Regrettably, consumers, are often not always aware of the exploitive nature the chocolate industry has been historically. Nor are they aware of how incredibly inequitable it is primarily for the farmers and their families who are instrumental to the chocolate industry. Through an interview with my friend, Mara Peters (alias), I attempt to analyze these emotional connections female consumers have with chocolate while also revealing the disconnects they have with the ‘dark side’ of the chocolate supply chain. Lastly, this paper will also consider alternative ways how to make the industry more equitable, diverging from popular models that exist like, Fair Trade and Free Trade, as well as, some internal sustainable programs implemented by the chocolate companies, like Nestle’s Cocoa Plan.
Emotional Connections: Women & Chocolate Consumption
Chocolate is all around us. Accessible to us at any moment, at grocery stores anywhere in the world, from a convenient store in a small town in California to a large shopping complex in Japan. When we buy our favorite bar or bonbon, we know it will taste the same EVERY SINGLE TIME. We can take comfort in that, especially women on the western part of the world. For women chocolate has become something more than a simple treat. Instead it is a food that has taken on a significant emotional role in women’s lives. Case in point. For my friend Mara, chocolate has provided a sense of comfort helping her to manage several types of emotions, such as stress, depression, and yes, even pleasure. This strong emotional connection is psychologically real. There has been many scientific studies to show these strong associations. Turning to chocolate was a way Mara could relieve stress. During our interview, she recalled when writing her PhD dissertation in biochemistry she literally did not eat much except for chocolate. “When I was writing my PhD dissertation, I stopped eating real food and just ate chocolate cake from Trader Joe’s 😵 I definitely cope with 🍫” (Peters, M. 2019, April, 1. Text Message. S. Martinez). The emoticon ‘Dizzy Face’ (open mouth and X’s to resemble spirals for eyes) in the text message she used to respond to my question expresses heightened disbelief, awe, amazement (emojipedia, n.d.). She was in total disbelief that she could eat so much chocolate to get through that difficult period of her life. Getting a PhD is no easy feat. There was a lot of pressure to do well and finish strong, so why not take off the edge with chocolate. When she looks into further she recognizes how much chocolate has definitely been used as a coping mechanism throughout her life. After Mara’s second pregnancy she experienced postpartum depression and as a result again turned to chocolate to help her cope with those daily mental hardships (Peters, M. 2019, April, 1. In Person. S. Martinez).
Mara is not the only one who has relied on chocolate as a way to deal with stressors in one’s life. Chocolate is the most common food item people report they crave to alleviate emotional distress according to Dr. David Benton a psychologist and biochemical pharmacologist (Benton, 2004, p. 205). Chocolate has been studied for sometime by scientific researchers to determine whether or not the chemicals compounds in chocolate have real influences over our moods and/or behaviors. Dr. Benton’ studies suggest that these chocolate cravings are not really derived from any pharmacological and/or biological processes to induce the craving but rather a physiological reaction from taste and the attractiveness of the mouthfeel (Benton, 2004, 214). When we bite into our favorite chocolate our taste buds are awaken sending a signal to the brain releasing endorphins from our opioid systems. This system controls our pain, reward and addictive behaviors (European College of Neuropsychopharmacology, 2007). When these endorphins are triggered (by eating chocolate) they are helping us to relieve our pain or stress by replacing them with feelings of happiness and/or pleasure.
Women actually experience stronger cravings for chocolate more than men (Hallam et al., 2016, p. 163). That number has been consistently shown to be higher than 92 percent according to a few studies (Hallam et al., 2016, p. 163). Women experience a higher intensity cravings for more palatable, sweeter, fattier and high caloric foods than men. When it comes to sweets, women prefer chocolate, pastries, and ice cream (Hallam et al., 2016, p. 163). While men, on the other hand, tend to crave more savory foods such as meat, fish, eggs (Hallam et al., 2016, p. 163). When it came to sweets men prefer a sweet beverage, but not chocolate (Hallam et al., 2016, p. 163). Interestingly Mara expressed a similar observation. Her husband does like chocolate but he definitely does not crave it. “I don’t think he craves it or anything. He usually likes fruit desserts more than chocolate. Blasphemy!!” 🤣 (Peters, M. 2019, April, 1. [Text Message]. S. Martinez).These cravings are not just triggered by physically consuming chocolate or other delectable food but can also be induced by environmental stimuli or ‘induced craving cues’ (Hallam et al., 2016, p. 162). For example seeing an ad like Godiva pop on the television can elicit these craving (Hallam et al., 2016, p. 162). To capture this activity occurring functional magnetic resonance (fMRI) have been performed on women’s brain. When women are shown images of palatable foods there is more neural activity in areas of the brain where the taste-region is located (Hallam et al., 2016, p. 164). Mara’s experience aligns well with the study conducted by researchers at Yale. Mara recalls being obsessed with chocolate in college. Being in a bigger town and at the university she had accessed to better quality chocolate. Dark chocolate was and still is her favorite (Peters, M. 2019, April, 1. In Person. S. Martinez). Consuming refined chocolate opened up her palette for a new tasting experience more so than the Hershey Bars and Kisses as a kid (Peters, M. 2019, April, 1. In Person. S. Martinez). She craved it; the sugar, the fat, it tasted good providing a “huge dopamine rush” which satisfied that high caloric need (Peters, M. 2019, April, 1. In Person. S. Martinez). If that were enough emotional connection between women and chocolate, researchers have also shown that there is also a hormonal mechanism at play during that across a woman’s menstruation cycle. Women have reported strong increases craving for sweets in the luteal phase (after ovulation), but overall can have strong food craving right before menses well into menstruation (Hallam et al., 2016, p. 164). One appropriate meme floating around the internet is ‘Women need chocolate. It’s a scientific fact.’ (credited by English author Sophie Kinsella) and I wouldn’t argue with this compelling scientific evidence.
Women Depicted in Advertisements
As you can see through my interview with Mara with support from scientific studies about women do indeed have a strong emotional connection to chocolate which can help provides some emotional stability in their lives. Of course when we talk about women and emotions they can oftentimes be taken out of context, something that the chocolate companies have been effective doing throughout the last century. What they have been able to do is reinforce stereotypical notions about women’s emotional connection to chocolate as author, Emma Robertson discusses in her book Chocolate, Women and Empire. That the men at Rowntree and Cadbury were able to really lay the foundation of depicting how women and mothers should be behaving in their “ideal gendered roles” (Robertson, 2009, p.26). One example is a commercial that target moms and their children questioning their motherly role. In a recent Hershey’s commercial a mom offers a chocolate to her teenage daughter after a break up (Hershey’s, 2018). The girl is upset and locked up in her room (Hershey’s, 2018). Mom is on the other side of the door with a Hershey’s bite size chocolate. Mom slides it underneath the door and tells her daughter, “I promise its going to get better” (Hershey’s, 2018). This touches on several things, 1) Hershey’s is telling women that in order to be a good mom you should be offering your children chocolate when they are sad 2) Hershey’s in trying to highlight that special bond between mother and daughter 3) Hershey’s is gaining a new customer feeding on young women’s emotions. They are learning that chocolate can be that food that helps them get through a tough time. Oh, the chocolate companies are brilliant at playing into emotional consumerism that has really impacted female consumers.
The Disconnect of Consumers to Cocoa Beans through Colonization and Racism
Now switching gears from discussing women’s emotional connection to chocolate to consumer’s disconnect to the cocoa bean supply chain. When interviewing Mara about the cocoa bean supply chain she was aware of the slavery in the industry, but to what extent she was not sure. She always brought free or fair trade chocolate thinking this is what she could do to support responsible business practice in a product [chocolate] she loves to consume regularly. Mara is a scientist and thus a big believer in climate change and trying to do her part to do things more sustainably. Her go to chocolate brand has been Endangered Species. I asked if she would be willing to take the Slavery Footprint quiz and she agreed. She was shocked about her results. She had 63 slaves working for her and did not think it would be so many. She thought maybe 12 at most (Peters, M. 2019, April, 1. In Person Interview. S. Martinez). Taking the quiz really opened her eyes to our unequal systems and just how implicated we are in our capitalistic system of unethical production of goods. It became overwhelming for her because these injustices do not only exist in the chocolate industry but other industries as well, “The issues seem so big and sound unsolvable that one feels so helpless” (Peters, M. 2019, April, 1. In Person Interview. S. Martinez). Mara admitted that since being a mom its been incredibly challenging to prioritize issues like these that she knows are so important for overall global sustainability. She has two kids which is a full time job. Her family is a priority and managing all the other things occurring in her life becomes extremely difficult to set really high expectations about consumption habits. Her parents, unfortunately, lost their home in the Paradise California wildfires so trying to solve the inequities of cocoa bean farmers or eradicate slave labor on the other side of the world seems unrealistic. Mara wants to make good consumer choices but she admitted since having children her consumption choices have been short of ideal. We can imagine that is the case for many here in the U.S. For a couple of years now Mara actually stopped buying fair trade chocolate and was buying the ‘cheaper’ stuff. It’s just easier she says. Regarding other products, she doesn’t have time to sit and look at every label she buys to see if it was made sustainably and ethically, “It so hard to know for consumers because who knows if the companies are really telling the truth” (Peters, M. 2019, April, 1. In Person Interview. S. Martinez). But she can’t imagine how others who might not be so privileged or educated could think about what they buy, especially if they too are struggling to get by. Consumption in the U.S. is all about being fast, cheap and convenient Mara brought up salient point, “ People just do not care” (Peters, M. 2019, April, 1. In Person Interview. S. Martinez). Mara hits the nail on the head because making people care by tugging at their heart might not be as effective as their bottom line.
Coincidentally, comedian, Ronny Chieng, from the Daily Show poked fun of this exact issue about Americans not caring nor actually knowing where their food actually comes from. One of the examples he used was chocolate. A very effective comedian is able to shine a light on some very real issues and he did just that. What happened was An ‘entitled’ American consumer from New Jersey was was suing Belgium chocolate maker Godiva for mislabeling where they make chocolate (The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, 2019). The label says ‘Godiva Belgium 1926’. This consumer apparently bought the chocolate from one of the many chocolatier Godiva shops in the New Jersey Area and not in Belgium! Mr. Chang asked sarcastically “Why is this person even suing?” (The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, 2019) Then proceeded to say that that this person probably doesn’t even know where Belgium is on a map! I like to highlight that since this consumers does not know where Belgium is, it is highly likely they do not know where cocoa beans are sourced. Mr. Chang goes on to say “… Americans love chocolate so much that they don’t care where chocolate is made. It could be made in Bernie Sanders shoes and they will still eat it.” Yes, it was a funny segment. But in all seriousness how do we get people to care? Or equally why don’t they care?
I think they don’t care because people do not appreciate or understand the historical colonial and racist roots that have created systems that were designed to financially benefit Europeans and the U.S. They don’t appreciate or understand because the European chocolate makers were very effective in disconnecting those who produced it, especially through advertisements. According to author Emma Robertson the advertisements had defined boundaries of black/white and colonized/colonizer’ (Robertson, 2009, p. 36). Advertisements depicted Africans in demeaning, unintelligent, uncivilized, and inferior ways to suit the image of European consumers to mask the reality of the chocolate industry’s connection to where their wealth was sourced (Robertson, 2009, p.39). It was indeed ‘strategic’ and intentional. (Robertson, 2009, p. 36.). Since consumers are so disconnected about the cocoa supply chain we have to bring more awareness to the problem and actually highlight these disparities between cocoa farmers and the chocolate companies. The chocolate industry is immensely wealthy and powerful. The families and the executives that run them are filthy rich. In the one hundred years of operation the Mar’s family has a net worth of $78 Billion (Alux, 2019). The Cadbury Family made $19 billion after being bought by Kraft Staples, 2010). Ferrero Group CEO Giovanni Ferrero (grandson of founder Peitro Ferrero) has a personal wealth of $23 Billion and he is only 54 years old (Segal, 2019). Mondelez International (owned by Kraft), paid its Chief Executive Officer, Dirk Van de Put, $42,442,924 in 2017 (his first year in the position) making him the top four overpaid CEOs worldwide (Weaver, 2019). He makes 990 times more than the average Mondelez worker (Weaver, 2019). As we learned in the film by Social Papel that Brazilian cocoa farmer, Antonio Augusto Dos Santos and his family, make R$100 per month for arduous labor that helps to make the west’s most prized delight (Giovanaz, Casara, and Dallabrida, 2019). It’s incredibly inequitable and unethical. It’s a system that is corrupt, hidden, and exploitive that keeps cocoa farmers trapped in perpetual, generational poverty (Leissle, 2018, p.110). It’s insane that seventy of the world’s chocolate comes from West Africa and yet they only consume 4 percent (Leissle, 2018, p.43). Farmers Dos Santos said that chocolate has very little value to them; it’s a product they can’t even afford to buy (Giovanaz, Casara, and Dallabrida, 2019). It’s a moral obligation to start putting people over profits. When speaking with Mara about these inequities again it’s overwhelming, “What we buy comes at a high cost of some else’s rights. On an individual level all we can do is our best to become aware and make better consumer choices.” (Peters, M. 2019, April, 1. Phone Interview. S. Martinez).
However, consumer efforts cannot ‘fix’ this problem alone. As the Brazilian delegation’s pointed out in order to address these wrongs it has to be a concerted effort that must include many all stakeholders in the supply chain, the big chocolate industry, consumers, government institutions, non-profit organizations, farmers and their families everyone to sort out the mess and make the supply chain transparent so that child labor or enslaved labor can be eradicated (Giovanaz, Casara, and Dallabrida, 2019) (Picolotto et al, 2018). We have a moral obligation and we must hold those on the top accountable. It is morally reprehensible that the chocolate industry families, like Mars and Ferrero should have that much wealth, especially when it at the cost of someone’s else human rights. Some Companies have their own sustainable efforts, like Nestle’s Cocoa Plan but when reporting their outcomes they usually focus on the positive, yet still manage to be vague or inefficient about their operations (Nestle Cocoa Plan: Not Quite Enough, 2018). Though fair and free trade certifications were the first on the move to help address these problems in the supply chains“they are not a panacea” (Martin, 2019). These certifications have become incredibly confusing for consumers as they become overwhelmed with labels, “We have no idea if companies are ‘sustainability’ washing or just a marketing gimmick” (Fisher, 2019) Additionally, certifications put the onus on famers who opt not to participate (Fisher, 2019). How can consumer even appreciate or be connected to our food systems when the system seems so confusing and backwards?
If we are to going to change the system I agree with Dr. Martin that there must be alternative ideas brought. In the case of Brazil, I am not sure if pushing the companies to make commitment to work together to address the issues might not be enough. It might have the same results as the Engel-Harkin protocol. There needs to be political will and radical policy. I think trying to work within the same system is not going to get us anywhere. Because the same people at the top still will remain wealthy, just slightly different rules. Leissle said something that struck me which was the inequities are not going to equalize any time soon. Generations of colonizations, slavery and racist policies for example have again created these inequities. In the U.S. it will take African-America 234 years to catch up to white wealth today and for Latinos 84 years (Asante-Muhammad, D., Collins, C. Hoxie, J. and Nieves, 2017). I can’t imagine what that looks like for people who are farmers at the bottom of supply chains. They will never catch up at this rate. The alternative ideas I propose which might be radical to some, is reparations of the cocoa industry to cocoa farmers. People at the top would complain and hypothetically say “It’s not fair”. Or “There is not enough money!” Which we all know is hogwash. Reparations in the U.S. gets a lot of pushback and some presidential nominees have brought up the topic but still wrestling with it (Kurtzleben, 2019). Many believe is would not be fair because you are putting blame and taking someone’s wealth that had nothing to do with our dark past. Because how are we supposed to know whose ancestors were enslaved? Yet, research has been done that white slave owners in the U.S. actually received reparations for their loss of slaves after the civil war (Hunter, 2019). Wow, that is incredible! The Injustice! Slave owners received $300 for each slave they lost and it was supported by President Abraham Lincoln (Hunter, 2019).. He commissioned a board to oversee 1000 petitions from slave owners for 3,000 slaves (Hunter, 2019). The largest sum received was $18,000. So, I am not sure why people, especially white people have an issue with it. Because of actions like these people of color at the bottom and still catching up economically.
The other alternative is that we need to educate women all around the world and empower them by giving them rights to land and resource in the agricultural industry, e.g. cocoa. According to Project DrawDown we can make an incredible difference as 100 to 150 million people would no longer go hungry and could help close the parity gap with men (Project Drawdown, n.d.). Lastly, another alternative is we need to invest in entrepreneurs from the places that grown cocoa. We need to provide them the infrastructure, tools, resource, machinery to start their own cocoa business. There is no reason why people who produce cocoa bean shouldn’t make it.
I am not sure if any of my so called radical idea will live up. But, I’ll end with on another powerful connection which is chocolate brings people together. Kakawa, as we know played a significant role in Mayan culture and society. There is even a special word for this chokola’j = ‘drink chocolate together’ [Martin, 2019]. Mara and I had not seen one another for nine years and were appreciative how chocolate re-connected us! The next time we get together we have chocolate from 57 Chocolate, a Revolutionary artisanal chocolate made from bean to bar by a dynamic duo of Pan-African sisters. With this purchase we are already helping to make a progress one chocolate bar at a time.
Fisher, K. (2019, April, 10). Fair Trade. [Lecture]
Hallam, J., Boswell, R.G., DeVito, E.E., and Kober, H. (2016, June 27). Gender-related Differences in Food Craving and Obesity. Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine. 89(2): 161-173. Retrieved from 1794 Park Ave, San Jose, CA 95126
Chocolate is an exceptionally human product. When one observes a cacao pod next to a bar of chocolate, it turns strikingly clear that the contents of a cacao pod must have undergone significant transformations before taking the shape and taste of a chocolate bar. And all of these transformations are inherently at the mercy of human decisions. As a matter of fact,“during nine tenths of its long history, chocolate was drunk, not eaten,” (Coe and Coe, 12). But, humans eventually metamorphosed chocolate back into a solid. To gain any insight on the present state of the chocolate industry, it is therefore essential to focus on the engagement between humans and chocolate. Hence, interviewing a Brazilian woman was an ideal, taken opportunity to better understand a 21st-century individual’s relationship with chocolate, the role chocolate plays on the individual’s life, and how chocolate’s significance may or may not have changed over time. Among other important themes, the interview leads to a two-faced thesis thatthe qualitative aspects of chocolate and its production are more dependent than ever on the desires of the consumers (the demand side of the market), and that cultural preferences and tastes for chocolate have changed.
Taking on the pseudonym “Marcela,” the subject of this interview has consumed chocolate all her life. As a child, Marcela had a preference for sweet, chocolaty treats. Today, Marcela consumes only dark chocolate, usually the 70% Lindt chocolate bar. Transitioning from sweet, cheaper chocolates to darker, more expensive chocolates, Marcela said she developed a more refined taste as she got older. But, while her tastes for chocolate changed over time, she thinks she remained hooked to chocolate mostly because of the addictive caffeine and sugar it contains. Discussing the contents of chocolates, Marcela actually was aware of the presence of flavonoids, which she thought to be “good for the heart.” Cacao contains hundreds of compounds, one of which is the antioxidant flavonoid compound, quercetin, “known to have not only antioxidant but also anti-inflammatory activity,” (Coe and Coe, 31). Since the Olmec civilization, cacao has indeed been associated with medical benefits, but also it has served as a sacred symbol, supposed aphrodisiac, source of energy and strength, unit of currency, and congregational drink. Today, though not all the potential benefits from the complex chemical structure of cacao are understood, at least dark chocolate can be recommended as a healthier alternative to sweeter, milky chocolates. Marcela revealed that the primary reason why she stopped eating sweet, milk-containing chocolate was because she took a conscious decision to regulate her sugar and fat intake.
Interestingly, Marcela drew a parallel between her consumption of chocolate and coffee: Both contain caffeine, and she does not go a day without either of them. Moreover, one should add that not only do chocolate and coffee contain caffeine in common, but they also each contain one more alkaloid (methylxanthine), theobromine and trigonelline, respectively. Marcela came to the conclusion that a piece of dark chocolate and a cup of coffee are like substitute goods for her: hence, in a kind of tradeoff between chocolate and coffee, she notices that she consumes more of one when she reduces the consumption of the other, and vice-versa. This characteristic of the demand side could have significant implications for the supply side of the markets of chocolate and coffee.
If coffee and dark chocolate were indeed substitute goods, and consumers behaved like Marcela, in theory the cross-price elasticity of demand should always be positive (Hayes). Since chocolate’s caffeine is addictive, people tend to be less sensitive to changes in its price. But, if coffee is a kind of substitute for chocolate, the demand for chocolate could perhaps be less inelastic than previously thought. So, ceteris paribus, if for instance dark chocolate’s price were to increase, some of the consumers could consume more coffee instead, and the relative strength of this substitution could impact the profitability and survival of the chocolate business. Unfortunately, cacao trees are pickier than humans when it comes to survival in the environment they live in, and cacao trees are very susceptible to diseases, too.
With climate change, and the potential variation of temperatures and humidity away from the desirable conditions for cacao to prosper, cacao producers may gradually have to transition away from cacao and into other crop plantations. Interestingly, some of this transition away from cacao in some regions may be partially offset by flexible businesses like Mayorga Organics. One of their food scientists, Melanie, mentioned in a lecture to college students in Massachusetts that Mayorga Organics is transitioning from coffee production to cacao production due to global warming. Meanwhile, large chocolate companies are investing in genetic modification as an alternative: In September 2018, “the 35 billion dollar corporation [Mars] pledged $1 billion as part of a plan to reduce the company’s carbon footprint by 60 percent or more by 2050,” (Vandette, Kate). Plus, Mars and UC Berkeley are collaborating in the exploration of gene editing by using CRISPR technology, as supported by an account in the World Economic Forum, (Brodwin, Erin).
Consumers today are surprisingly more educated about supply chain issues than they used to be. But how much do consumers know about the factors of production involved in the chocolate business, and how much do they care? During a significant period in history, both crops of cacao and coffee were dependent on human enslavement as a source of labor. Having visited cacao farms in Brazil before, Marcela knew that today the initial stages in the production process are still very manual, with no machinery; in big chocolate businesses the next parts are more industrialized. She remembered the strong smell she scented when walking in the shade of seemingly randomly-sorted cacao trees, and the humid tropical weather which makes her skin sticky. Today, in the typical production process of chocolate from bean to bar, there are several steps and technological components involved: machetes are generally used in the hand-labor-intensive harvesting of cacao pods within 20 degrees from north and 20 degrees south of the equator; extracted beans are fermented, dried, sorted and bagged, roasted, potentially Alkali-processed, winnowed, ground; pressing (in a hydraulic press) and conching happen last (Coe and Coe, 19). A chocolate bar may be complemented with additives such as milk, sugar, salt, pepper, other spices, nuts, or fruits, too.
Though Marcela might know a bit more than the average person about the process of chocolate, on an ordinary day she does not interrupt her chocolate eating to think of all the work which happens behind the scenes, before she purchases the packaged, final product at a supermarket. Even while Marcela was well-aware of the sad demise of cacao farms in Brazil affected by the witches’ broom disease, she was not aware that there are still concerns regarding illegal kinds of child labor found today in cacao farms, including some in Brazil (for example, see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8H6088tpE8c and https://vimeo.com/332509945). Fortunately, Brazil has several programs for whistleblowing on child labor, and some are focused on publishing the names of those who need to be held accountable for. There are also several certifications through which companies may commit to avoid child labor. But, when it comes to chocolate production, it is a true endeavor to detect and regulate child labor in rural settings with weak infrastructure and limited access to technology, like Medicilândia in Pará, Brazil. Yet again, this is the time in history where consumers have perhaps the biggest say on supply than ever.
Millennials account for approximately one fourth of the world population, and play an increasingly significant role in the establishment of consumer trends. As a matter of fact, in the U.S., Millennials amount to the largest consumer group ever in the history of the country (Das Moumita, 76). Millennials are exerting their power through demands for more socially and environmentally sustainable processes (The Nielsen Company). Hence, moving forward, they are expected to continue having an important role in impacting the supply chain processes for chocolate production all around the world.
The targeting of the Millennial audience is already present in a very recent innovation – a “fourth” kind of chocolate. In her interview, Marcela mentioned that during Easter she read about a newly-created “Ruby Chocolate” in a section of the newspapers on palate. It is important to note that Easter is a very important in Brazil not just because the holiday has a large following population, but also because the nation as a whole adopted the custom of creating and consuming chocolate eggs during Easter. Regardless of the religious affiliations they may associate themselves with or without, Brazilians consume large quantities of chocolate during Easter. So, when Marcela set out to buy some Easter eggs, she decided to try Callebaut’s new chocolate:
“After dark, milk, and white chocolate, the ruby chocolate is the most incredible discovery of the last 80 years! // It is a new experience of flavor and color, obtained from ruby cacao almonds. With pink coloration and fruity, slightly acidic flavor, the ruby has unique characteristics which come from ingredients naturally present in cacao, without artificial coloring or flavoring. // The almonds of ruby cacao are found in diverse producing regions in the world, like Ecuador, Ivory Coast and even Brazil. // The authentic Belgian ruby chocolate of Callebaut is done with cacao cultivated in a sustainable manner, and its sales contribute with programs supporting cacao farmers and their families. // [In pink font] Give in to this experience and discover the color and flavor of ruby, the pink chocolate of Callebaut.”
This picture Marcela took provides a great opportunity to analyze the marketing strategy of the company. The first line of the propaganda markets ruby chocolate as a brand new, innovative product by placing it as “the most incredible discovery of the last 80 years.” This is probably especially attractive to Millenials, who are all about market disruptions. The choice of pink coloration is an interesting way to contrast with the tones of brown chocolate and white chocolates that consumers are used to. Perhaps it is a way to further target women, given the stereotypical association of pink with women. Plus, the possibility that this ruby chocolate is targeting women would actually make sense in the larger context of chocolate advertisements: if observed closely, many of the video advertisements for chocolates usually use the figure of a woman. In fact, the chocolate gift-giving culture overarchingly centers around men giving women chocolate – take Valentine’s day for example. So, with its pink coloring, ruby chocolate does seem to fit in this more general tendency to focus on attracting the more feminine consumers. This appeal to the status quo, or cultural recurrence, is then followed by a reference to the sources for the raw cacao materials in this chocolate bar. With strict adherence to the words used, one might be consuming ruby chocolate made with cacao from the Ivory Coast (the world’s largest cacao producer) or Ecuador, but the inclusion of Brazil as a source among these others may sway the Brazilian consumer towards thinking that ruby chocolate is actually Brazilian. That is thus a clever strategy to attract Brazilian consumers. This aspect of nationalism is also seen in the selling of the product as Belgian, which prompts the reputation of Belgium as a competent, quality chocolate producer. The next complement is again an appeal especially to Millennials: “The authentic Belgian ruby chocolate of Callebaut is done with cacao cultivated in a sustainable manner, and its sales contribute with programs supporting cacao farmers and their families.” With that, Callebaut leverages its social and environmental causes, without necessarily pinpointing exactly what these programs do, how effective they are, or what “a sustainable manner” means. The final phrase, in pink, circles back to the theme of women in chocolate media while also hinting at a sensual tension with chocolate through the imperative command, “give in.”
Regarding the actual experience Marcela had tasting the ruby chocolate, she reported that she did indeed feel a more fruity, citric taste. In her case, it turns out that she did not really enjoy that acidic feel. Taste is really something personal, as each individual consumer has his/her own particular preferences. Marcela likely would have preferred the taste of a chocolate with greater alkali (Dutch) processing, which reduces acidity and darkens the color of chocolate.
With the generous amount of time devoted by this interviewee in sharing her experiences with chocolate, two important insights stand out. First is a confirmation of the increasingly important say of consumers in the chocolate market. Second is the realization that cultural preferences and tastes for chocolate have changed over time. The adoption of cacao in different cultures, with changing preferences of taste, coupled with technological innovations meant the world could eventually reap the benefits of democratization and widespread consumption of chocolate. At the heart of the expansion of the chocolate market is the critically important increase in the social and economic power of women as consumers. Meanwhile, more sophisticated machinery and methods of processing further viabilized mass chocolate consumption and the rise of big chocolate industries.
Just as Marcela the interviewee changed her preferences from childhood to adulthood, so did the world’s consumers in a longer run. Today it is no longer common to see cacao beans used as barter currency, or to have chocolate drinks before going to war in ritual of Aztec warriors. Instead, chocolate is now more popularly consumed in a solid state, is frequently sweetened and mixed with milk, and is often purchased as a gift; the stereotypical gift-giving of chocolate is associated with a woman on the receiving end. Plus, cacao fruits themselves might be induced to change in the human led effort to genetically modify them, increase yields, improve immunity to diseases, and sustain the supply in the midst of climate change.
More than 2 centuries ago, John Phillips, founder of Phillips Exeter Academy, claimed that “[…] goodness without knowledge is weak and feeble, yet knowledge without goodness is dangerous, and that both united form the noblest character, and lay the surest foundation of usefulness to mankind.” The truth in these words has not changed. But, the relationship between humans and chocolate certainly has, and is constantly subject to alteration. So, looking into the future, change is the one thing people can be certain about. Hopefully, change shall come for the better, under the influence of both knowledge and goodness, together.
Ashihara, Hiroshi. “Metabolism of Alkaloids in Coffee Plants.” Brazilian Journal of Plant Physiology, vol. 18, no. 1, Mar. 2006, pp. 1–8. Crossref, doi:10.1590/S1677-04202006000100001.
Cambridge, Massachusetts presents consumers with a number of different retailers from whom to buy chocolate. And within and across these retailers, consumers are presented with a number of different options of flavors and brands of chocolate. I visited four stores in the Cambridge area that sell chocolate: CVS, Cardullos, Cambridge Naturals, and Formaggio Kitchen. After my visit to each of these stores, as well as spending time on each one’s respective website, I noticed an interesting dynamic surrounding the implied social class of each expected consumer base created through the selection of chocolate within each store. Helping to situate these findings are a number of academic sources that aided my discovery of this dynamic. By looking at the varying role of chocolate across markets, as evidenced by price and quantity, packaging and marketing, and surrounding retail items, one is able to use chocolate to determine the underlying social dynamics that connect contemporary ideas of nutrition and consumer class.
Price and Quantity
The price of food has an important impact on the quantity and quality of consumption for the global population. As Robert Albritton points out in his book “Between Obesity and Hunger: The Capitalist Food Industry”, price and quantity inextricably link nutrition and class. One quarter of the population suffers from a price point on food that is too high and are malnourished as a result of insufficient quantity (Albritton 342). A second quarter suffers at the hands of the price point in relation to quantity being too low, driving up their consumption and causing high levels of obesity (342). While the first example seems intuitive, the second deserves more exploration.
seems counterintuitive that a corporation, created to profit from its sold
goods, would provide a surplus of food to consumers at a low price. Why would
these corporations not either reduce the amount of food they sell or raise
prices? Why would consumers pay for more food than they need, and not spend the
equivalent amount of money on appropriate portion sizes? The answer to the
first question is that these corporations, often denoted as fast food
companies, compete with each other for business, so it is in their interest to
provide consumers with the most food at the lowest price, so as to win
business. This works because of the incredibly low costs of production of this
kind of food (344). The profit margin of cheap food is barely lowered by the
addition of one more patty on a burger or a few more chicken nuggets in a meal.
Therefore, the competition among fast food corporations results in lower prices
and larger quantities of food, in a way that is not present in other types of
restaurants that have the higher costs of production associated with a higher
(and often times healthier) quality of food. As for consumers, the psychology
of taste reveals that this type of food leads to over consumption as a result
of its better taste and lack of the kinds of nutrients needed for a person to
feel full (Benton 211). Lower classes that may be priced out of consistently
eating healthy must turn to alternatives that are not only unhealthy but
psychologically addicting. This means income not only affects material
possessions, but health as well, which is much more concerning. While the
example used above was fast food restaurants, a similar problem is visible
today in the industry of chocolate consumerism.
An important example is the comparison of the chocolate selections in two stores in the Cambridge area, CVS and Cardullos. When comparing the average prices of similar quantities (as measured in ounces) of chocolate between the two stores, CVS appears to average .58 cents per ounce, while Cardullo averages .75 cents per ounce. Additionally, while the costs of CVS bars were lower on average, the average number of calories from each CVS bar was higher than Cardullos’ bars, with the majority of the caloric difference coming from a higher sugar content in CVS chocolate. While these are rough estimates I calculated by hand, the significant difference between them, along with what we know about the price and quantity relationship for cheap goods, is in line with what is to be expected from a store like CVS, known for its everyday items, and Cardullos, which prides itself on its “Gourmet international and local chocolates” suitable for the “chocolate connoisseurs” of Cambridge (Cardullos Web).
A second example of nutrition and class and how its relationship is demonstrated through the economic factors of price and quantity is found in chocolate’s role as a gift. Cambridge Naturals, a health and wellness store just outside of Porter Square, displays chocolate in a manner that provides evidence of the problematics of this relationship. The store sells chocolate mostly in small quantities meant for individual consumption. The chocolate is marketed alongside self-care products such as cbd oils, moisturizers and lotions.
Of note though, is the larger quantities of chocolate, which come packaged in a mock gift wrap, as if to say that while the buyer of the gift would never purchase such a quantity of chocolate for himself or herself, he or she would if it were to be given as a gift. It shows the consumers personal commitment to health, while also demonstrating their ability to pay more for a larger quantity of chocolate that will be given as a gift. The individual chocolate only exists in unornamented wrap, while the larger exists, with few exceptions, in decorative packaging. From this, the store seems to imply negative social connotations around both the giving of a single bar of chocolate as a gift as well as the purchase of a large quantity of chocolate for oneself. One could also make the argument that Cambridge Naturals is trying to balance the image of health it hopes to be associated with, with the higher profit margins that come from selling a larger amount of chocolate at a more expensive price. The store offers the consumer the ability to purchase the larger box of chocolate under the pretense that it is a gift, as the consumer would be remiss to indulge in such a quantity of chocolate by himself or herself.
Marketing and Packaging
This point segues nicely into what the packaging and marketing of chocolate say about the connection between class and nutrition. As discussed by Gary Taubes and Cristin Kearns Couzens in their blog “Big Sugar’s Sweet Little Lies,” many corporations, especially those selling goods with potentially detrimental effects to consumes’ health, have an incentive to put profits above human well-being. The most effective way they have done this in the past is through targeted marketing campaigns that address the controversial aspects of their business. The Sugar Association, which faced potential regulation from the FDA in the 1960s, spent millions on convoluting the idea that sugar was unhealthy. The crux of their argument was that “there was no conclusive evidence” sugar had negative effects to a person’s health (Taubes par. 3). Of course, no study is infallible, and the exercise of picking independent details off as inaccurate in order to invalidate an entire study feels like a reprehensible strategy. The Sugar Association shifted the burden of proof off of themselves and onto other agents, meaning they did not have to prove sugar was healthy, rather, until it was proved definitively by these outside agents that it was categorically unhealthy, no judgment could be made (par. 8).
While Taubes and Couzens focused on how marketing fought against the idea their products were not nutritious, Emma Robertson’s analysis of marketing in “Chocolate Women and Empires” shows how companies would reinforce social stereotypes through their ads depicting idealized consumption. There has been a long standing class separation between industrialized chocolate as that of the working class and craft as that of the sophisticated intellectuals (Robertson 3). Robertson focuses on the example of Rowntree’s attempt to associate their various chocolates with different social classes based on price and quality. For example, Rowntree depicted a sophisticated woman consuming one of their more expensive bars of chocolate (26). This not only targeted people within a certain class, but also those of a specific gender. Rowntree attempted to idealize all the classes in their activities. By doing so, they maintained an appeal to all markets across price points. Those in the lower class saw an idealized version of themselves eating a Rowntree chocolate bar. This type of advertising would have been more realistic, and therefore more appealing, than if they saw a wealthy person consuming chocolate. The message of Rowntree was not that if a person ate this chocolate they would elevate their social status, this would have been difficult to be convincing for obvious reasons. Instead the message was that if one eats this chocolate they become a better version of themselves. When the only difference between a person and the idealized version of that person was a bar of chocolate, that idealized version became more attainable. With this type of marketing, Rowntree bucketed people by social class and reinforced social inequity through expectations of the type of chocolate that person was consuming.
Coupled with Taubus’s and Couzens’s argument on nutrition, Emma Robertson’s analysis of marketing in “Chocolate Women and Empires” evidences how advertisers have pushed narratives in nutrition and class for the benefit of their own sales. These narratives have continued into contemporary society. Returning to the four chocolate stores, there are again two prime examples that can be explored. The first compares the packaging and marketing of CVS products with that of Formaggio Kitchen. These two stores share the largest discrepancy in price point of the four, which makes for a good comparison around how each advertises and packages their respective chocolates. CVS sections all of their chocolate under one category, arranged by increasing quantities, not by brands. In doing so they focus more on quantity than quality. The below image shows the increase sizes in quantity. The movement from right to left in the store is reflected in the below image moving top to bottom, with the right corresponding to top and far left corresponding to the bottom.
Consumers are expected to search by consumption and price. Formaggio Kitchen on the other hand, arranges their chocolates by brand, reflecting a consumer base that knows the kind of chocolate they want to purchase, with the quantity being of secondary consideration. CVS retails producers who package their chocolate in wrappers with larger amounts being encased by plastic bags. Formaggio Kitchen also uses wrappers for individual bars, but a comparison of the touch of the wrappers of those bars retailed by Formaggio Kitchen and those retailed by CVS exhibit’s a noticeable different in quality of wrapping. Many of the chocolates in Formaggio Kitchen contain thicker, smoother wrappers than those in CVS. While small, it is noticeable and enhances the experience of the consumer as he thumbs through the potential chocolate for purchase. Finally, nearly all of CVS advertises the price of their chocolate as being on sale, be it buy one–get one free, or a markdown from the original price. Formaggio Kitchen,on the other hand, is not as concerned with letting their consumer know the price, subtly displaying it below the bar. The differences in presentation of chocolate in these retail stores affirms who each store is trying to market to. Consumers who buy their chocolate at CVS are expected to be concerned with how much they want, and where they can get the best deal. Formaggio Kitchen consumers need to come in with more knowledge of the chocolates they are presented with, as traditional name brands are absent from the selection. Consumers are also expected to be less concerned with the price, a quality of those with higher incomes. The contrast between these two retail stores highlights contemporary class distinctions that markets, such as chocolate, attempt to capitalize on.
A second comparison is the online presence of these chocolate companies. Most notably is the prevalence of Cambridge Naturals Instagram page.
It is full of pictures of healthy, largely white, millennials holding Cambridge Natural products. The Instagram feed is linked at the bottom of every page one could visit within the Cambridge Naturals website, often with their most recent posts displayed. For context, all three other stores in this comparison do have Instagram’s, but the link is confined to the home page and only appears as a small icon at the bottom. And each Instagram appears to cater to a consumer base that is much more diverse than the one Cambridge Naturals hopes to attract. Through a handful of posts, Cambridge Naturals reinforces stereotypes that those who enjoy its craft chocolates are wealthy, white, healthy millennials. This depiction of the ideal consumer is dangerous. It shows a disregard for thoughtful advertising that can appeal to a consumer base without excluding a social class or body type. Again through these examples, as situated by scholarly articles, the link between nutrition and class becomes increasingly problematized through the chocolate industry.
Surrounding Retail Items
Finally, the last example I would like to present here is the importance of the experience for consumers, and the role it plays in connecting nutrition and class. Julie Guthman provides a good example of this with the consumption of organic salad mix by the noveau riche of San Francisco in her book, “Fast food/organic food: reflexive tastes and the making of ‘yuppie chow.’” Organic salad was first introduced as an organic food in restaurants that provided its consumers with the experience of dining with other sophisticated members of society who could also appreciate the importance of organic food (Guthman 503). The markups in restaurants made the salad mix inaccessible to the common people, and the idea of organic food as healthy caused body weight to be used as a measure of separation between social classes. Peter McNeil and Giorgio Riello also write about the importance of consumer experience and the role it played for members of various classes in “Luxury a Rich History.” Those who can afford to do so, have shifted their preferences away from brands as a measure of luxury and focused more on achieving the extraordinary through paid experience (McNeil 235). For retailers, the challenge is to create an environment that convinces the consumer of the value of their product. They can no longer rely on brand name and recognition, so the selection of the various kinds of products the retailer includes in the store is what creates the environment.
For CVS, their store has everyday items, ranging from school supplies and cleaning products to other snack foods. They aim to capture the everyday consumer who stops by to grab supplies in small amounts, such as laundry detergent, a snack, or shampoo. In many ways it is a better stocked, convenient store. The surrounding environment to the chocolate situates it as a low cost, everyday item that fits in with the overall consumer environment created by CVS. They hope to move product in large quantities, and their chocolate selection reflects this. The environment does its best to cater across classes by being accessible to the lowest one. Its food selection captures this approach, and as a result, explains why much of that food is not fruit or vegetables, but highly processed foods, including chocolate made by companies with an eye toward profits.
Cardullos, on the other hand, advertises a quintessential New England experience. The store contains a deli restaurant, wine selection and even “New England” goods. Their chocolate selection is meant to both benefit and enhance this environment for the consumer. Catered to those looking to experience New England, the store appears to appeal to tourists visiting Cambridge. It provides a place to get lunch, as well as purchase souvenirs in the form of wine or chocolate.
Those who can afford to travel are often in the upper echelons of society, and those who eat fresh deli food are at least somewhat health conscious, especially given the other food options they would have passed over in the square, such as Flat Patties and Felipe’s. By marketing the deli as quintessentially New England, an identity appealing to those who do not spend extended amounts of time in New England regularly, the chocolate is selected to reflect healthier and wealthier consumers. This deduction on its own may seem contrived, but given the large amount of evidence of such connection existing between nutrition and class, this assertion is well founded.
As mentioned previously, Cambridge Naturals selects products and brands that will collectively create an experience to appeal to their target demographic. Outside of chocolate, there are no other food products sold at Cambridge Naturals. The majority of the store is focused on self-care products, arranged cleanly in rows of the store. Given mainstream knowledge of chocolate is that it is generally unhealthy, seeing it in the store might seem somewhat out of place. Yet it is one of the three FCCI retailers that sells fine cacao, which minimizes additional ingredients to chocolate outside of cacao and sugar (Martin 4). As a healthier version of non-mainstream chocolate, the target consumer base of wealthier millennials can rely on the qualities of craft chocolate as an explanation for why it is marketed along health products. The variety of chocolate offered also indicates this approach has worked. Craft chocolate now comprises a significant part of the store and the brands have carved out a place among the consumerism of healthy, wealthy millennials.
Finally, the environment of Formaggio Kitchen is the most upscale. They market cheese, wine, and chocolate. The pairing of fine cheese and wine is known to be a practice engaged by the upper echelons of society. Formaggio Kitchen must feel then that their selection of chocolate would correspond to the type of luxurious environment those searching for wine and cheese would like to experience. In addition to food, Formaggio Kitchen also offers tasting classes that range from $40 to $100. Access to these classes being restricted to those with the desire and ability to pay for a class focused on learning about finer foods. The dynamics surrounding these types of classes are important, unlike cooking classes, Formaggio Kitchen does not teach you a skill but rather a knowledge. This knowledge can only be further utilized through the continual purchase of these more expensive foods one has learned about. So while the price of the class can be between $40 and $100, there are undoubtedly continued expenses to allow the student to utilize this knowledge.
This upper tier and what it says about nutrition and class are important. Unlike CVS, consumers are not purchasing chocolate based on cost, and unlike Cardullos and Cambridge Naturals, consumers are not even consuming healthier chocolate for the purposes of better nutrition. Formaggio Kitchen situates itself in a class of people that consume its product solely for the experience. Cheese, wine, and craft chocolate do not contain many of the essential calories needed for a complete meal. They are not consumed for their nutrition but rather for their taste, demonstrating how in the most elite parts of society, consumption of food may transcend nutritional value if it presents the consumer with an experience of luxury.
In conclusion, the versatility of chocolate makes it a very interesting food that is consumed across classes for a number of different reasons. As a result, an analysis of how it is retailed gives insights into the connected role class plays with nutrition. Those most worried about nutrition often seek to maximize their caloric intake with minimum price. Those seeking healthier chocolate often do so because they are able, and willing to pay more. And then those simply searching for the modern luxury of experience do so through chocolate, which has found a place alongside wine and cheese as a fine food that can provide such an experience.
Albritton, Robert. 2012. “Between Obesity and Hunger: The Capitalist Food Industry.” pp. 342-354
2004. “The Biology and Psychology of Chocolate Craving.” pp. 205-218
“Cardullo’s Gift Baskets
and Fine Wines.” Cardullo’s Gourmet Shoppe, cardullos.com/.
Guthman, Julie. 2012. “Fast food/organic food: reflexive tastes and the making of‘yuppie chow.’” pp. 496-509
and Giorgio Riello. 2015. Luxury: A Rich History. pp. 1-10, 225-293
“Sizing the craft chocolate market,” Fine Cacao and Chocolate Institute (blog),