It is not a secret to those who know me well that I love chocolate. I specially enjoy super dark, extremely bitter (70-90%) Cacao bars. I also like—the unfortunately less nutritious—white chocolate products. I regularly buy white chocolate bars or bon bons from local grocery stores. Yet, my finest inclinations—as a chocolate taster—are always in favor of the darkest, unsweetened, highly concentrated cacao bars.
According to content learned in Harvard University professor Carla D. Martin’s class Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food, I am a hypertaster orsomeone who has“more papillae that are very closely arranged and smaller” (Martin, 13).This can make me an unreliable taster, and it probably explains my experience with tasting food—I always sound either very excited or really disgusted about flavors in contrast to most of my friends, who seem balanced in their perception of taste. Regardless of the odds, I continue to be their main “adviser” on good local restaurants. This is probably due to my “passionate” approach, which grabs their interest.
I regularly walk to a nearby Walgreens drugstore to get my prescriptions (see fig. 1 and fig. 2). It was not until joining professor Martin’s class that I paid attention to their chocolate section. It actually happened around Valentine’s, when most of us (particularly females) are targeted with advertisements and offers of candy and chocolates. Very curious—recalling our class’ discussions—I explored these isles at the store and I found—not surprisingly—an “avalanche” of well known chocolate brands (like Lindt, Cadbury, Nestle) lying next to the candy section (see fig. 4).
Fig. 1. Walgreens drugstore at Vermont Avenue and 6th Street, Los Angeles, California.
Fig. 2. Pinned location of Walgreens at Vermont Avenue and 6th Street, Los Angeles, California.
Walgreens was founded in 1901 by Charles R. Walgreens in Dixon, Illinois. He started Walgreens as a “50 feet by 20 feet” (“Our Story”) drugstore, which later developed into a giant chain of pharmacies, and successfully expanded across the United States. In the Walgreens website, its motto reads,“A history of our company: How a neighborhood drugstore became America’s most trusted pharmacy… and changed the shopping habits of a nation”(“Our Story”) . That seems consistent with the Walgreens of today, which steadily renovates its inventory to offer beauty, household and even grocery products (see fig. 3).
Fig. 3. Walgreens’ online shopping portal.
The Walgreens Experience
So, who goes to Walgreens for chocolates? Is it just me? Highly doubtful! I visit the store at least once per month. Since last Valentine’s their chocolate supply was re-stocked. I was shocked to see some of the brands that professor Martin reviewed in class (i.e. Endangered Species Chocolate) at my local Walgreens. Their wide list of product categories, makes Walgreens a good candidate for casual grocery and retail shopping. And when it comes to chocolate and candies, I am not alone. The day that I chose to take pictures for this assignment, I had to move aside several times to let other shoppers shop, and to let their children run wild over the candy section.
It is perhaps its versatility—as business scholar Katy Mullis suggests in her paper A SWOT Analysis of Walgreens in the Competitive Pharmacy Marketplace—what keeps the retailer thriving. Mullis describes the advantage of their extensive product selection, “The company strives to offer a merchandise mix in line with this focus, providing customers with one-stop stopping for not only prescription drugs, 6 but also over-the-counter-drugs, health care products, grocery selections, gifts, holiday and seasonal items, and one-hour photo developing” (Mullis, 5-6). Walgreens—based on Mullis’ work—holds strongly as a convenience market. People go there to order prescriptions, and spend no less than fifteen minutes waiting for them to be ready. This gives the company a tremendous advantage to sell more than just pharmaceutical goods. I personally buy candles and incense at Walgreens since 2015—and now, I additionally buy their chocolates and wine.
Judging The Book By Its Cover
Although Walgreens sells a great variety of chocolates, it is not a specialty shop for cacao products. It conveniently stocks brands that are popular and generally available in other food markets. Therefore, I was not expecting to find fancy delicacies there—and none else should. It would be an exception from their purchasing habits if it ever happened. Nevertheless, their chocolate selection is sufficiently versatile—considering that Walgreens is primarily a pharmacy, and not a grocery chain like Ralphs or Gelson’s.
Fig. 4. Walgreens’ “Chocolate-Candy” section at a Walgreens store in Los Angeles, California.
The chocolate bars sold at Walgreens range from low to very good quality—as far as branding and taste. Some of their prevalent brands were mentioned atprofessor Martin’s class: Hershey’s, Cadbury’s, Nestle, Lindt, etc. It is uncommon to see organic products there (I did not find any at all), or certified products in general. But sometimes random supplies make it to their shelves and one stumbles upon a deliciously crafted chocolate bar.
With this research in mind, I selected and purchased a few items that attracted me. Recalling the chocolate tasting activities performed by professor Martin, I bought two of the Endangered Species Chocolate brand. I also picked the Chili and White Coconut—of course—bars from Lindt and a few others, nicely appealing (presentation-wise and content-wise). Notwithstanding, I avoid Hershey’s and Cadbury’s almost all the time. I feel that they make products that are so sweet and “distressed” that I am unable to taste any real chocolate in them.
Tasting And Researching Chocolate
My “repertoire” consisted of the items shown below (see fig. 5).Fig. 5. Chocolate Tasting Selection.
The description of the products in the picture is the following (in random order):
1 Damak Fine Chocolate with Pistachios bar by Nestle, $2.89 / 2.80 oz.
1 Damak Dark Chocolate with Pistachios bar by Nestle, $2.89 / 2.80 oz.
1 Dark Chocolate Cranberry Almond with Blood Orange Flavor bar by Brookside, $3.89 / 3.17 oz.
1 Dark Chocolate With Sea Salt & Almonds bar by Endangered Species Chocolate, $4.29 / 3 oz.
1 Dark Chocolate With Cranberries & Almonds bar by Endangered Species Chocolate, $4.29 / 3 oz.
1 Excellence Chili Dark Chocolate bar by Lindt, $2.50 / 3.50 oz.
1 Excellence White Coconut White Chocolate bar by Lindt, $2.50 / 3.50 oz.
The results of the experiment produced the following graph, showing percentages (fig. 6):
Fig. 6. Measuring Chocolate Tasting Results.
The tastiest bar: Endangered Species Chocolate’s Dark Chocolate With Sea Salt & Almonds.
The best deal: Lindt’s Chili Dark Chocolate.
The worst product: Nestle’s Damak Dark Chocolate with Pistachios.
The worst tasting experience corresponds to Nestle’s Damak series. Professor Martin remarked during her lectures about processing chocolate, that over-conching can result in a “flat, lifeless” (Martin, 56) and dull product—which was evident when tasting the Damak series. In regards to Brookside’s Cranberry Almond Dark Chocolate with Blood Orange Flavor, I was dazzled by its fancy name and its presentation. Beautifully enclosed in a delicate foil envelope, it featured sketches of almonds, cranberries and an orange tree etched in silver color over a dark red background (see fig. 7). Whereas its base cacao mix did not feel over-conched or poorly processed, the presence of so many strong flavors (orange, almonds, cranberries) created an ambiguous taste that did not impress my palate, so I classified it as too busy.
Decidedly, my preferred choice became the Endangered Species’ Dark Chocolate With Sea Salt & Almonds. It has a sharp, lively, delicious chocolate presence along with salty, crispy notes of sea salt and almond chunks. The only downside of this brand is that it is pricey—looking at the cost and its net weight. However, all of its certifications and its quality make it seem worth the investment. Regardless, certifications should be interpreted with caution—according to professor Martin’s research titled The Bitter and Sweet of Chocolate in Europe, co-authored with Kathryn E. Sampeck—because often they result in misguided efforts that do not really support cacao farmers as they claim to, and that benefit primarily “wealthy consumers” (Martin and Sampeck, 52) frequently halting “innovation by prioritizing consensus among participating companies and incentivizing only baseline standards adherence, ultimately becoming part of the problem” (Martin and Sampeck, 52). The problem—in this case—refers to the ever-growing poverty in many cacao-producing nations, and in the difficulties experienced by cacao farmers to sell their raw materials and to collect their earnings afterwards, whether they participate or not in certification programs.
Fig. 7. Brookside’s Refined Cranberry Almond With Blood Orange Bar.
In the next section are the details about the ratings from the chocolate tasting experiment.
Observations From The Experiment
Nestle’s Damak Fine Chocolate with Pistachios:
Mild taste, almost like candy
Burnt garlic after taste
Cacao: regular (non specified)
Certifications / Program: SadeOfset
Caloric Information: Yes
Nestle’s Damak Dark Chocolate with Pistachios:
Dark Chocolate (55%)
Soil-like taste, almost like dirt
Bitter after taste
Cacao: regular (non specified)
Certifications / Program: SadeOfset
Caloric Information: Yes
Brookside’s Cranberry Almond Dark Chocolate with Blood Orange Flavor:
Fruity flavor, citric
Cacao: regular (non specified)
Certifications / Program: Smartlabel
Caloric Information: Yes
Lindt’s Excellence White Coconut:
Cacao: regular (non specified)
Certifications / Program: N/A
Caloric Information: Yes
Lindt’s Excellence Chili Dark Chocolate:
Dark Chocolate (47%)
Cacao: regular (non specified)
Certifications / Program: N/A
Caloric Information: Yes
Endangered Species’ Dark Chocolate with Sea Salt & Almonds:
These are certifications reported by the products:
Contents (fig. 8):
NON GMO Verified
Certified Gluten Free
Fig. 8. Product Certifications.
Packaging (fig. 9):
Fig. 9. Packaging Certifications.
A curious detail revealed by the experiment, was the ubiquity of packaging certifications. Almost every chocolate product at Walgreen’s shelves displayed one or more packaging certification logos—even when the product itself was not certified. This proves that consumers are not only interested in eating well: they are also concerned about the impact that the products they consume have in the environment. Hopefully, consumers will succeed in voicing their interest to chocolate manufactures and cause them to buy more certified raw materials, and to support standardized certification programs.
Putting It All Together
Shopping at Walgreens for chocolates was quite an experience. If it was not because of taking professor Martin’s class, it would have likely skipped it. Yet, her class succeeded in making me a more conscious food shopper. I feel now compelled to read food labels and to check for certifications, which—other than USDA Organic—sounded irrelevant to me before enrolling in Chocolate, Culture and the Politics of Food. Understanding the difference between Fair Trade, USDA Organic and other classifications does make a difference in the “wholesomeness” and perception of a product. I am specially keen about the complex chain of connections that begins at a chocolate farm and ends on the hands of the consumer. I “pledge” to use more discernment in my future purchases by supporting transparent, environmentally and socially conscious chocolatiers.
An additional takeaway from professor Martin’s class—which becomes obvious while shopping for groceries—is that sugar and chocolate are quasi inseparable. Often, they are displayed in contiguous shelves, so that it is hard to define where the candy ends and the chocolate begins—this was the case at Walgreens (and many other stores). Perhaps, the subliminal reason for this is that most chocolate products nowadays are so overwhelmingly processed that—as author Samira Kawash puts it in her Candy: A Century of Panic and Pleasure book—there is an “ancestral” link between them:
“The ancestral relation between candy and today’s ultraprocessed foods is a compelling reason to look a little more closely at the rise of the candy industry and the controversies and worries that accompanied it. The story of candy in America is a story of how the processed, the artificial, and the fake came to be embraced as real food. And it’s also the story of how it happened that so much of what we call food today is really candy.(Kawash, 26)
What Kawash suggests has been historically documented and marked by the evolution of the advertisement and media. Today’s most renown chocolate brands in America (i.e. Hershey’s) produce hyper-processed, hyper-sweetened chocolate goods. There is almost no difference between eating these chocolates and eating pure candy. But there is new is hope for a positive change that arises from consumer awareness. We—as consumers—can and are transforming the current food market. The dangers of sugar addiction and chemical processing are being exposed, and food shoppers are turning to natural alternatives. We are all hopeful about the rise of healthier and tastier food (and chocolate) that—most definitely—will lay in the hands of our millennials!
*Disclaimer: This essay is drawn from a personal experience. Therefore, it is written in First-Person.
Faith, Arleena. Brookside’s Refined Cranberry Almond With Blood Orange Bar. 2017.
Digital photograph. Los Angeles, California.
Faith, Arleena. Chocolate Tasting Selection. 2017. Digital photograph. Los Angeles,
Faith, Arleena. Measuring Chocolate Tasting Results. 2017. Digital graph. Los Angeles,
Faith, Arleena. Packaging Certifications. 2017. Digital collage. Los Angeles, California.
Faith, Arleena. Product Certifications. 2017. Digital collage. Los Angeles, California.
Faith, Arleena. Walgreens’ Chocolate-Candy Section. 2017. Digital photograph. Los
Kawash, Samira . Candy: A Century of Panic and Pleasure. Farrar, Straus and Giroux,
2013, New York, Print. Apr. 2017.
Martin, Carla D. (2017). Lecture 4: Popular Sweet Tooths and Scandal [PowerPoint
presentation]. Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Martin, Carla D. (2017). Lecture 12: Psychology, Terroir, and Taste [PowerPoint
presentation]. Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Martin, Carla D., and Kathryn E. Sampeck. “The Bitter and Sweet of Chocolate in
Europe.” Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts. 2015. Print. 2017 May 2.
Mullis, Katy. “A SWOT Analysis of Walgreens in the Competitive Pharmacy
Marketplace.” College of Health and Human Sciences Oregon State University, Corvallis,
Warmth, indulgence, luxury – chocolate evokes many images as a sinfully sweet treat. Commodifying these fantasies is profitable because consumers long to be associated “with the romantic construction of chocolate” despite the fact that “systematic exploitation” and manipulative advertisements usually lurk behind chocolate (Robertson 5). In this modern age of cosmetic beauty standards and visually driven social media, the euphoric emotions associated with edible cacao products has spread to a form of non-edible chocolate consumption: chocolate infused makeup. Since chocolate products allow consumers to “express our own sense of identity” while offering ways “to say things about ourselves, our families, [and] our social world,” I situate the marketing of chocolate based makeup products in the same trajectory as the gendered, classed, and raced advertisements of edible chocolate (Robertson 19). This entails comparing a chocolate cosmetic line (Too Faced) from Sephora, a leading beauty retailer chain, to a chocolate bar sold at department stores containing Sephora outlets in order to capture the differences and similarities found when advertising chocolate and chocolate makeup. While both chocolate makeup and edible chocolate advertisements separate Westerners from chocolate’s problematic origins and perpetuate gendered, elitist Western beauty standards, the racism present in the presentation of chocolate infused makeup is more noticeable because it is an object applied to the skin rather than ingested within the body.
Cocoa Cosmetics at Sephora
Sephora is a beauty and fragrance chain founded in France in 1970 (the first U.S. store opened in 1998) under the international luxury goods conglomerate LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton. Sephora offers an array of makeup, perfume, skin care, beauty tools, and body pampering items from different brands, including its own original Sephora line, in large stores complete with mirrors, makeup counters, and tester products to try on for free. Sephora believes that “every stroke, swipe and dab reveals possibility” and the company shares their “client’s love for the confidence that our products … bring to their life every day” (Sephora.com). The store oozes sophistication and style with extensive displays and its connection to the parent company’s elite Louis Vuitton brand. In 2006, J.C. Penney, a large American department store chain, began an exclusive agreement to feature Sephora outlet stores inside many of its locations in order to attract spendthrift younger crowds. In addition to home goods, clothes, and accessories, J.C. Penney also sells an assortment of Lindt chocolates including Lindor truffles, Cioccolata, and Hello chocolate. I will use an advertisement from Lindt Dark Chocolate Excellence, the main type of traditional chocolate candy bar sold in J.C. Penney according to their online inventory, as a lens for critiquing the marketing of chocolate-infused makeup.
The aisle of Sephora stores in Hawaii (left) and Minnesota (right) stocked with Too Faced products (the only cosmetics brand Sephora sells that contains cacao). These images are indicative of Sephora stores everywhere; they capture Sephora’s extravagance and its impeccably clean, classy makeup displays.
With “about 706 stores in the United States” (both outlets inside J.C. Penney and stand-alone stores) attracting consumers hoping toalign themselves with a certain image, Sephora has stores in every inhabitable continent except for one – Africa (Forbes.com). Despite selling chocolate cosmetics through Too Faced, Sephora – one of the world’s most popular makeup retailers – has no stores in the continent that produces 70% of the world’s chocolate (Wessel 2016). Consumers of chocolate infused makeup are divorced from the bean’s origins yet, in the case of makeup and edible chocolate, buy cacao to be associated with its symbolic meanings.
Separating Fact From Fiction
The majority of chocolate sold in America is from bulk cacao of the sturdy Forastero variety produced in Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Nigeria, and Cameroon. Since lesser developed areas in the global south have an abundance of unskilled labor, they rely on exporting primary products to the global market. Because colonization, slavery, and forced migration disrupted social connections, destroyed culture, and decimated the population, developing countries lack the infrastructure and capital needed to compete with developed places. Neoliberal policies of privatized industries, few regulations, and free trade instead divert international trade profits away from chocolate producing countries, which affects the modern-day chocolate industry. Commodities such as cacao are subject to extreme fluctuations in price because “price evolution is less and less dictated by changes in … supply and demand” and more determined by others in the supply chain (Sylla 40). Market volatility means that cacao farmers are mired in intergenerational debt, since relatives often work on family-owned western African cacao plantations to lower costs. However, consumers are far removed from the instability and inequality facing cacao farmers. Companies use advertisements that reinforce local cultural norms to sell chocolate so that they can entice consumers who want to satisfy and promote certain social standards. Doing so is a long-established tradition; once “chocolate became available for the working classes [in] the nineteenth century, … women were charged with providing wholesome cocoa for respectable consumption within the family,” as intimated by chocolate advertisements (Robertson 20). In a feminization of chocolate consumption, doting housewives and loving mothers provided their families with nutritious chocolate milk or sweetened their children’s day with chocolate candies. Chocolate marketing eventually progressed from idealizing familial love to idealizing heterosexual courtship by the mid-twentieth century through a focus on “light-hearted but respectable” stories of “young white couples” with female characters that were “irrational narcissistic consumers … seduced by the chocolate themselves” (Robertson 31, 33-34).
A commercial from 2016 for Lindt Dark Chocolate, which is sold in the same department store (J.C. Penney) that contains Sephora outlets selling chocolate makeup.
In a modern-day example, the commercial for Lindt Excellence dark chocolate (sold at J.C. Penney), hints at chocolate induced female “orgasmic pleasure” (Robertson 35). A woman’s silky voice encourages consumers to “experience the ultimate pleasure with Lindt,” as the chocolate is “luxurious” and “so intense.” She truly is seduced by cacao. These types of advertisements, where women feel “orgasmic pleasure” after eating chocolate, ultimately suggest “how women should project their heterosexual yearnings and fantasies onto chocolate consumption” (35). The dripping chocolate, the chocolatier caressing cacao beans, and the passionate fire add to this sexualized setting while the main character lustfully sniffs a chocolate piece. These sexual, romantic insinuations increase chocolate’s profitability as the fruit growing on cacao plantations in the global south has become fictionalized into a commodity that promises happiness and sensuality in the global north.
Chocolate Bar Palettes
Promises of happiness and feminine sensuality found in modern-day chocolate advertisements have been easily transferred to non-edible chocolate products. Through chocolate, women are encouraged to “project their heterosexual yearnings;” through makeup, women can project related fantasies involved in heterosexual courtship, such as female beauty, wealth, and seductiveness, onto cosmetic products that will allow them to be recognized as such (Robertson 35). In cacao-based makeup, chocolate, an edible item that promises pleasure, becomes a part of the user’s appearance in way that commodifies the body as a physical manifestation of chocolate’s symbolism. Chocolate makeup thereby transfers notions of female sensuality, sweetness, and lusciousness to the body, a reality that cacao cosmetic advertisements subtly emphasize.
Sephora sells a range of chocolate related facial cosmetics through two makeup brands (Bobbi Brown and Too Faced), though only the Too Faced chocolate makeup line lists cacao as an ingredient in the product. Beyond powdered bronzer and foundation, Too Faced offers a range of popular eyeshadow palettes that will be the focus of this analysis because they are packaged to look like traditional chocolate bars. For $49.00, consumers can buy Too Faced’s most reviewed, top rated eyeshadow collection that is “formulated using real cocoa powder” (Sephora).
Marketed as a “A sweetly tempting array of 16 matte and shimmer shadows,” the Chocolate Bar Eye Palette is shaped, named, scented (with Theobroma cacao fruit powder), and colored (on the outside) like chocolate to attract consumers who want to embody chocolate’s sexy sweetness (Sephora.com).
The shadow palette comes in a “playful chocolate bar tin,” complete with colors like “gilded ganache,” “black forrest truffle,” “triple fudge,” “haute chocolate,” and “white chocolate,” which evoke chocolate-related feelings of sumptuousness and opulence (Sephora.com). Subtle details, like pink cursive on the outside, cue consumers to the feminized image they are taking part of by using the product, but the wording and visuals are not as overtly sexual as the edible chocolate bar commercial. Edible chocolate like Lindt has been stripped of its physical reality, allowing non-edible products to draw from the sensual fantasy chocolate stirs. Too Faced also offers a Semi Sweet Chocolate Bar with slightly lighter colors and a Chocolate Bon Bons Palette with heart-shaped bright and neutral colors for the same steep price, as well as a smaller White Chocolate Chip Palette with metallic shadows for $26.00.
The three additional types of cocoa powder infused eyeshadow palettes sold at Sephora through Too Faced. All are shaped like chocolate bars and have colors written under each eyeshadow that are named for chocolate-related products.
Norton’s Tasting Empire mentions Bourdieu’s theory that “social subjects classified by their classifications distinguish themselves by the distinctions they make” in a way that is in “accord with social hierarchies” (Norton 663). Those reaching for Too Faced’s cocoa cosmetics are choosing to be recognized as tasteful consumers with a fondness for chocolate and all of its figurative images. The product’s high price and link with Sephora, a high-end makeup retailer, implies an elite status shared by those who use the Chocolate Bar palettes. Lindt chocolate uses similar, but more noticeable tactics beyond price and image to clue consumers in on their chocolate’s elite qualities. The chocolate is from the “Excellence” line and has the “richest flavors” from the “finest cocoa” according to the commercial’s narrator. The chocolate bar is a “thin masterpiece,” and Lindt prides itself on being known as a “Master Swiss Chocolatier since 1845.” These descriptions, plus the logo’s embossed gold, make the chocolate deluxe and top-tier, enticing consumers who seek to embed themselves in a particular class. Consumers play an active role in their product selection, using both chocolate makeup and edible chocolate as a “cultural mode” to express themselves or to “acquire social meaning” (Robertson 19). People aspire to be associated with chocolate whose presentation represents their values.
Race and Chocolate Advertisements
Besides attracting consumers with a promise of beauty and lavishness, the Chocolate Bar line sells racialized femininity and wealth, much like traditional chocolate bars.
This makeup tutorial uses the Chocolate Bar and Semi-Sweet Chocolate Bar Palette from Too Faced to create a completed look on a white woman who embodies Western standards of beauty and class.
Similar to the woman in the Lindt commercial, the women featured in the makeup tutorials for Too Faced’s collection are white and well-dressed, positioning shoppers “in relation to that product as gendered, classed and raced beings” (Robertson 19). Racism has permeated advertising for edible chocolate throughout history. Though falling prices and diverse products theoretically brought chocolate into the hands of the masses during the 1800s, only certain people were shown as deserving access to the goods. Wholesome, “sugary-sweet white boys and girls” in white families were the idealized consumers who grew “stronger through drinking cocoa;” blacks were often stereotyped in advertisements, depicted as cartoons, “supervis[ed]” by whites, or displayed as a combination of all three trends to support socially constructed racial hierarchies (Robertson 39).
In order to “reinforc[e] dominant contemporary ideologies,” chocolate “adverts created a world of white consumers in which the black producers of cocoa beans and the black consumers of chocolate were at best pushed to the margins, if not excluded completely” (54). Though Robertson is referring to the connection between Chocolate, Women, and Empire with respect to Rowntree and Cadbury, these prominent chocolate companies (founded in 1862 and 1824, respectively) successfully influenced other companies’ cocoa ads. Similar to Lindt’s chocolate advertisements, Too Faced’s Chocolate Bar Palettes also pander to white consumers, but in a more significant and noticeable way. Those with darker skin tones, for example, must guess how the shades show up on their skin, for the fair-skinned woman in the makeup tutorial is the stand-in for Too Faced’s average consumer. Reviews for the palettes are overall very high, but filtering the thousands of reviews by skin type reveals dissatisfaction from women of color. In reviews for the Semi Sweet Chocolate Bar Palette, many mention that “a few of the colors are too close for distinction on my deep dark skin” and “they tend to blend together into a muddy mess on my lids” (Sephora.com). Ironically, once a user “tried the [colors] that were lacking over a white base … then [she] was able to see them” better (Sephora.com). A comprehensive review of the Chocolate Bar Eye Palette from a female user with a dark skin tone claims:
This is an adorable palette. Pretty colors and it actually smells like chocolate. However, what’s disappointing is that it’s only suitable for lighter skin tones. The colors were pretty on my fair-skined best friend but I found that on me, they were just dull. For you girls with darker skin tones, 90% of the shadows in this palette will just look chalky when applied. Not at all a high end look (Sephora.com).
The eyeshadow pigments were not vibrant enough to be seen properly on darker skinned women, but on lighter women the colors look wonderful.
Reviews for the Semi Sweet Chocolate Bar palette when filtered by users with “fair,” “light,” “medium,” and “olive” skin tones are more glowing: “the eye shadows are pigmented, creamy and blend like a dream” raves a fair-skinned woman (Sephora.com). A paper glamour guide comes with the Bon Bons Palette to show consumers possible looks they can create with the shadows, but each eye makeup example comes from the face of a light woman. Despite the fact that the colors in these eyeshadow palettes contain cacao and are named after cacao products, women with brown skin tones are disregarded in the advertisement and testing of this product the way chocolate’s true origins are disregarded by the fictionalized symbolism of chocolate (and chocolate-based makeup). This exclusion mirrors the way female cacao farmers and black women who enjoy chocolate are purposefully left out of chocolate ads.
Too Faced’s Chocolate Bar Palettes and Lindt Excellence Dark Chocolate both use similar racialized, gendered, and classist advertising strategies that fictionalize chocolate’s reality and continue the separation between cacao producer and cacao consumer. Though the two items analyzed are sold in J.C. Penney department stores, they have different uses. Lindt Excellence’s commercial focuses on the physical pleasure chocolate brings, while Too Faced’s chocolate line plays into aesthetic beauty standards that exclude people with dark skin. Edible and non-edible chocolate products alike market values that consumers identify with and want to promote.
“Chocolate Bar Eye Shadow Collection.” Eyes/Eye Shadow Palettes. Too Faced, n.d. Web. 17 Apr. 2017.
Loeb, Walter. “Sephora: Department Stores Cannot Stop Its Global Growth.” Retail. Forbes, 18 Apr. 2013. Web. 15 Apr. 2017.
Norton, Marcy. “Tasting Empire: Chocolate and the European Internalization of Mesoamerican Aesthetics.” The American Historical Review 111.3 (2006): 660-91. Oxford Journal. Web.
Robertson, Emma. Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History. Manchester: Manchester U Press, 2013. Print.
Wessel, Marius, and P.M. Foluke Quist-Wessel. “Cocoa Production in West Africa, a Review and Analysis of Recent Developments.” NJAS – Wageningen Journal of Life Sciences 74-75 (2015): 1-7. ScienceDirect. Web. 15 Apr. 2017.
Chocolate has had romantic and sexual connotations essentially since its birth, or at least dating back to “the European conquest of Mexico,” which was dually a conquest of the Aztec Empire (Coe & Coe, 29). Even in ancient use, chocolate was seen as both an aphrodisiac and a necessary facet of marital ceremonies. Such an association has accompanied chocolate to the modern world, though not without undergoing transformations in its exact manifestation in social customs and thus marketing. These transformations are not unfounded; instead, they took place alongside and were the result of historical change. One such change, which substantiates the focus of this paper, is the demonization of obesity which consequently led to the demonization of chocolate. Chocolate entered the Western world as almost a healthy option, which doesn’t come as a surprise given that it was considered a medicine in both ancient and early European societies. This thought survived only until the 17th century, when William Harvey’s work advanced knowledge of the cardiovascular system which disproved the Galenic medical model in which chocolate was included. But even after that, chocolate was revered for its ability to sustain and give energy. Take, for example, its role as a “fighting food” in World War II. Chocolate enjoyed this favorable role until around the mid-twentieth century, when chocolate and candy were exposed for their role in weight gain during a post-WWII stigmatization of obesity. The unhealthy aspects of chocolate were brought to light, and public attitudes toward it were fundamentally changed. And although a focus on women had always been congenital to the marketing of chocolate, this shift brought with it a change in exactly how this focus was manipulated. Women in chocolate advertisements went from being depicted as wholly domestic and in charge of family matters to being depicted as overly sexual and out of control. This shift was made in order to overcome chocolate’s newly immoral image by equating it to sex, which is socially acceptable but also technically sinful. But since women remained central to chocolate marketing, this pairing exudes deeper implications about women in relation to chocolate and sex, which are ultimately unfounded and yet have profoundly impacted public sentiment.
I was brought to such a conclusion through an interview regarding chocolate that I conducted with a good female friend of mine at Harvard College. We sat down in a café and had the following conversation.
Q: What is your favorite kind of chocolate?
A: Mostly white chocolates, but I also love the Cadbury Curly Wurly and Reese’s in particular.
Q: What kind of chocolate do you consider high quality?
A: Dark chocolates, or I guess specific brands like Lindt, or Lindor truffles…definitely not Hershey’s or Snickers. Do you know Milka? I think that’s European and it’s different but I’d probably consider that nice. The kinds that people give as gifts are usually nice.
Q: To whom do you gift chocolate, if ever?
A: You! Haha. But also my little sisters and anyone I feel bad for. It’s a nice quick way to make someone feel better. It’s easy, convenient, and everyone likes chocolate.
Q: Do people ever give you chocolate?
A: My family at holidays, and sometimes guys.
Q: In what situations do you eat the most chocolate?
A: Holidays and if I feel bad or upset about something. Chocolate is nice because it makes you feel happy. I think there are studies on that, that it makes you feel happy because of the sugar. Some people are addicted to it I think.
Q: Understandable. Lastly, in what context do you see chocolate most often advertised?
A: Oh! Wait. This is something I can really go on about because it’s so weird to me, and so interesting. Advertisements use women and eating, and sexualize the women eating it, which makes it seem doubly attractive because of both the woman and the chocolate. It makes you think of sex and like, sinning, because chocolate’s unhealthy and sex is associated with sin. Not that sex is something to be ashamed of, but they’re associated. If you’re writing a paper on this you should do it on that!
My friend’s influence on my topic is pretty evident from my last question, which excited her to the extent that she insisted I use the interview to highlight that correlation. But even her answers to other, non-explicitly gender-based questions contribute evidence to the sexualization of women in chocolate advertising, its exact form, and the misconceptions it generates even to someone so obviously aware of it. To elaborate, her responses demonstrate how higher quality chocolate in particular is gifted to women by men or by other woman, but rarely to men. Furthermore, she clearly buys into the indulgent role of chocolate, and its ability to make her feel better instantly. This thought, unbeknownst to her, is also partially the result of chocolate advertising. But the advertising does not function this way arbitrarily; it acts on associations which, despite having morphed over time, are in fact grounded in chocolate’s roots.
Chocolate’s ancient romance-based role as an aphrodisiac and a factor in betrothal may be the starting point of the focus on women in particular since these connotations include heteronormative and monogamous assumptions. Women are therefore necessarily involved. In Mayan culture, kings purportedly sent messengers equipped with beaten chocolate out to found them wives (Coe & Coe, 61). And at the ceremony itself, the bride and groom would give each other five grains of cacao (Coe & Coe, 61). The first instance clearly illustrates that chocolate would, in that case, be expected to woo such a bride. Thus, chocolate’s supposed love-inducing power on women is seen even here. This concept was somewhat exempt from some of the early to mid-twentieth century chocolate advertising campaigns, which had other intentions, but it resurfaces in the current environment.
The aforementioned campaigns, which took place in the first half of the twentieth century, lack this concept because they sought to situate women and chocolate in the domestic realm. They were particularly prolific following the First and Second World Wars, due to the fact that women had worked traditionally male jobs in place of men who had been drafted. Female empowerment and the beginnings of an understanding of equal ability regardless of sex had emerged, and a heady effort was made to re-establish gender roles and thus reduce any competition with women for jobs. One way of doing this was to trumpet the image of the “housewife,” generally in an overwhelmingly positive light, so that women understood that this was still their primary role. Naturally advertising campaigns are an efficient way of making public statements, and so it isn’t surprising that cocoa and chocolate ads in this era worked to this end. Instead of focusing on women in a sexual manner, they focused on them in their roles as “the main shopper of the family, or at least the coordinator of the all the family shopping” (Robertson 23). A Rowntree poster depicts a woman carrying cups of cocoa for her children while they play with her outfit, which is starkly reminiscent of a maid’s uniform. This design is purposeful, and is included to insinuate that the purpose of wives and mothers is directly comparable to that of a maid. And a 1937 Baker’s Chocolate ad shows happy children and, separately, a woman eating dessert with her husband with a description that exclaims, “Gee, Mother’s a parent with swell ideas! (She’s smart, too, to make her soufflé with Baker’s Chocolate.” Ultimately, this illustration of women gives them some kind of power, even if it comes from a distinct “feminine knowledge” which was gleaned through being relegated to full-time housewife status (Robertson 23).
In the 1940s and 50s in America, however, nutritional health concerns suddenly became paramount and obesity was increasingly stigmatized. Although being overweight was viewed as unappealing in previous decades, “psychiatrically-oriented postwar medical thinking about obesity was more stigmatizing…newer biomedical theory linked fatness to the already stigmatized condition of addiction and authorized attribution of moral blame to the fat” (Rasmussen 880). This new psychiatric attitude also directly blamed mothers for the obesity of children. Hilde Bruch, a New York psychoanalyst claimed that the “key element of a family environment promoting obesity…was a domineering mother too invested in mothering…this overmothering involved overfeeding” (Rasmussen 883). Given this blame-oriented reaction to unhealthiness and fat, chocolate advertisements naturally needed to alter their methodology and move away from the idea that smart mothers feed their children large amounts of chocolate and cocoa. Because although chocolate served as a sustainer, in its most popular form it also contained large amounts of sugar and fat. But the question then became one of what the new appeal of chocolate would be. This was an especially difficult issue, for the reason that unhealthy foods like candy and chocolate were not only stigmatized…they were essentially demonized (Lecture note, 8. March 2017). This is largely due to timing and grouping— “addiction and fatness attracted widespread popular stigma at about the same time—and for the same set of reasons based in a Protestant morality strained by the abundance of industrial capitalism” (Rasmussen 881). Opiate and cocaine addiction came to the forefront of societal concerns at the beginning of the twentieth century, and addicts were gradually seen as incurable and even criminal (Rasmussen 881). And those involved in the temperance movement which was in full swing until the repeal of Prohibition in 1933 continued to condemn alcohol consumption largely for the addiction it was so disposed to cause. Now that obesity was also thought to be the result of addiction, but to food, the overweight were similarly denounced and eating junk food was, through this parallel, equated to committing a sin.
The best way to conquer this new face of chocolate was ultimately to embrace this idea of sin by pairing it with sex and lust. This pairing made sinning out to be a good thing, grounded in the understanding that sex is technically a “sin,” or morally perverse, and yet people engage in it regardless and with pleasure. If chocolate had instead been paired with a sin that has virtually no nuance and which is inhumane as opposed to immoral for religious reasons which not all people agree with, such as murder or theft, such a method would plainly fail. Needless to say, no advertising agency would assume this position—the comparison seeks only to elucidate how the choice of lust is one of few ways to save a name which had been thrust into the realm of immorality. From the pairing of sex and chocolate, emerges a concept of dual indulgence in both. The thought is that although eating chocolate is wrong for health reasons, it is addictive and pleasurable and understandable in the eyes of modern society, as is sex. This manifested itself in commercials and posters of beautiful women eating chocolate in a notably seductive fashion, and acting as though the chocolate itself is as pleasurable as sex. Some advertisements even make a point of acting as though the women are so drawn to the chocolate that it makes them irrational and out-of-control. This idea is pervasively linked to romance, where women are also stereotypically (albeit unfairly) thought to be irrational when inextricably involved with men. And sex in particular is thought to be a cause of this irrationality. The other common form of chocolate advertising features men gifting chocolate to women with “implied meanings of gratitude and sexual submission” (Robertson 33). Random gifting takes on the insinuation of seduction, or of chocolate’s ability to literally seduce a woman both in its intrinsic role as an addictive delicacy and in its role as reasoning to be grateful to a man and therefore be willing to indulge him. And in another chocolate-gifting trope, chocolate is given to appease a woman who is angry with her significant other. In these scenarios, the woman “overcome[s] such faults as a bad temper…the man is never really bad and there is a reason for his moodiness” (Robertson 30). Therefore, here too is the idea that women are inherently irrational, and that they can be either “subdued by the gift of chocolate” or simply seduced by it (Robertson 32). Regardless, they are often portrayed as out of control through images of them being both driven crazy by and placated by chocolate. It is important to note that this type of advertising was originally restricted mostly to nice chocolates and chocolate assortments—Emma Robertson qualifies that “at least until the 1970s, the link between sex and chocolate had become circumscribed according to the type of chocolate being marketed” (30). Cocoa powder and chocolate geared toward children remained innocuous. This is still the case on some level, which is why my friend equated nice, dark chocolates with the kinds one would gift. But this is a qualifier mostly only when concerning gifting—modern advertisements such as those first described tend to link women and sexiness regardless of quality. The sexual connotation now comes across in most marketing of chocolate.
Clearly, even before the health revolution of the 1950s, women were a focus of advertising efforts. Marketing is often gendered—commercials for traditionally “masculine” commodities such as cars and razors and cologne focus conversely on men to promote a masculine association with their product. An example of this which ironically coincides with gendered chocolate marketing is this Axe commercial. While still primarily featuring a man, it insinuates that the passion women ostensibly have for chocolate and the passion they will have for men that wear Axe deodorant are equivocal. For this to be appealing to men, this passion is necessarily sexual.
Aside from highlighting the toxic masculinity that emerges in advertising from companies such as Axe, this campaign functions for our purposes on two levels. As previously touched upon, it proves that chocolate has been shaped into something that the public feels women are literally attracted to in a sexual manner. The man is happy because, in his role as a man made entirely of chocolate, he is a recipient of the sexual desire men crave. Secondly, the fashion in which women respond to him is intentionally almost animalistic, so crazed are they by chocolate. While this implicitly lends proof to the earlier idea that gifted chocolate is meant to elicit a sexual response, it also speaks to the broader theme of female irrationality and impulsiveness at the hands of both chocolate and sex.
This theme can be proven to be artificially manufactured, however, at least in terms of chocolate. Societal views on female irrationality regarding sex are more nuanced and deserve to be more deeply analyzed separately. The trajectory of chocolate and a lack of control began when chocolate and other junk foods, after being caught up in the wave of altered medical and psychiatric thought of the mid-twentieth century, were classified as addictive. But the chocolate industry clearly decided to use this to their benefit. By subsequently linking chocolate to sex, the addictive classification was exacerbated. Sex is also considered classically addictive—Jamal Fahim notes that we “typically associate addictive behavior with drugs, alcohol, or sexual behavior” (13). So the link to sex compounded the addictive label and implied that chocolate can elicit reactions similar to those elicited by drugs and alcohol—chemical and unnatural. This made chocolate into a necessary indulgence, which is one way of increasing sales. Advertising is therefore necessarily involved, since it is the realm in which the association grew. It is also interesting to note that, in an age where addictions to such substances were under heavy criticism, “tobacco and alcohol are socially deemed masculine luxuries” (Fahim 12). Thus, it appears that the addictions plaguing the public were largely those associated with masculinity. It is therefore convenient that a new addiction emerged which was almost concretely linked to women through the media. Though it cannot be stated with any certainty, it is possible that likening chocolate to an addiction and then placing it in the female realm redistributed blame for a societal problem which previously had more of a male affiliation. After all, women were also targeted in Hilde Burch’s aforementioned concept that the overfeeding mother is responsible for child obesity. Regardless, claims of the addictive properties of chocolate are for the most part unsubstantiated— “studies on chocolate have indicated that the amounts of these mood-enhancing chemicals, such as alkaloids or Phenethylamine, are at such a low level that it is unlikely that they are the reason behind the euphoria one feels when they consume chocolate” (Aaron and Bearden 2008:169, as qtd. in Fahim, 14). Yes, chocolate tastes good and the alkaloids that it contains (caffeine and theobromine) may have some positive effects on mood and stimulation, but it is not addictive in the same way that drugs and sex are. Research that portrays it in such a manner in order to “validate a deeper relationship to sex [is] so negligible and trivial that one must conclude that it is only chocolate marketing that perpetuates chocolate’s association with love and sex and its implied special relevance to women” (Fahim 15).
The lack of scientific evidence to back chocolate addiction theories doesn’t change the fact that the stereotypes crafted by the advertising world have genuinely imbedded themselves in society. This is evident in the interview with my friend. For example, the gender-based one-way gifting is validated by her anecdotal evidence, in that she recalls giving gifts to me and her sisters alone, while receiving them from men. She also has a little brother, and so it is significant that she didn’t mention him while describing giving chocolate to little siblings. The history of chocolate’s public image makes the gifting of chocolate to boys and men seem almost outlandish. She also touched upon her tendency to eat chocolate when she’s upset because it makes her feel happier, even adding that this is why some people are possibly addicted to it. This made me realize that misconceptions put forth by the marketing of chocolate have been widely accepted by the public, because her description of chocolate betrays a belief that chocolate has powers similar to that of a drug in enhancing mood. And this notion has been strongly influenced by advertising’s exaggerated depictions of the female reaction to chocolate.
There is, however, probably some validity to the natural mood-enhancing capabilities of chocolate. Recent years have yielded an abundance of literature heralding positive effects of chocolate on maladies such as depression, blood pressure, and inflammation. It is important to keep in mind that, in such research, “reported results are based upon dark rather than milk chocolate” (Coe & Coe, 30). But since entirely dark chocolate is not sweet like milk chocolate, it has not been incredibly popular with the public. Thus, even if such research is valid, it wouldn’t apply to the vast majority of the mainstream chocolate onto which the media projects its fabricated claims.
What is most interesting to me about the marketing of chocolate is its loyalty to a feminine focus. When the basis of the domesticity-based chocolate and cocoa campaigns was uprooted by the obsession with thinness and the stigmatization of obesity of the mid-twentieth century, marketers of chocolate turned to sex in connection with women in particular to make chocolate similarly alluring and deserving of indulgence. The link to sex also purposefully deepened chocolate’s addictive connotation, so that consumers would feel chocolate was a necessary purchase. But the new methodology didn’t fail to maintain the strong feminine association of the domestic campaign. Although men are implicit in the sexually-tinged gifting policies, it is women that appear in almost all advertisements and often alone with their chocolate, being seduced by it and also seducing the viewer. This propensity to preserve the pairing of women and chocolate, combined with what appears to be growing acknowledgement of dark chocolate and its health benefits, leads me to wonder what kind of marketing we can expect to see if chocolate’s image shifts again. One might think that the focal point of its advertising strategy would simply revert back to domestic life as in the early twentieth century and earlier, but I would argue that the economic equality of women, although not complete, has advanced to the extent that this would not be the new structure. Instead, I think it would be based on the modern focus on women and a societal expectation that they will maintain their health and their body image. For example, I can picture marketing similar to that of this Special K commercial, but trumpeting mental health or blood pressure as opposed to weight loss.
Because unfortunately, it appears that the marketing of chocolate is insistent on keeping a gendered focus. But we can at least hope that, if dark chocolate’s health benefits become fact and are widely understood by the public, chocolate consumption will lose the connection to immorality which likens it to sex, and that women in chocolate advertising will thus cease to be over-sexualized. Granted, this could be replaced by the gendered double standards of health maintenance, but I consider those to be the lesser of two evils. Lastly, needless to say, in the best case scenario the gendered focus of the advertising would be eradicated entirely—but given no guarantee of this, I aim only to predict a slightly better alternative.
Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. 3rd ed. New York: Thames and Hudson, 2013. Print.
Robertson, Emma. Chocolate, Women and Empire: a Social and Cultural History. Manchester and New York: Manchester U Press, 2009. Print. Distributed in the United States exclusively by Palgrave Macmillan.
From frothy Mesoamerican ceremonial beverage to widespread currency system to sugary candy bars consumed by millions daily, chocolate has taken many forms since its discovery thousands of years ago. Its current uses and perception by Western society have been largely influenced by the first Europeans to encounter chocolate in the late 16th century. The use of chocolate as a medicinal and luxury item by the early Europeans is largely the reason why chocolate is still viewed as an insubstantial food item linked with holidays and romance in Western society today.
Europeans were first introduced to cacao sometime in the decade following Christopher Columbus’s arrival in the New World, and began paying attention to it after noticing how highly the native Mesoamericans regarded the beans. Explorer Ferdinand Columbus says of the Mayans, “They seemed to hold those almonds [cacao beans] at a great price; for when they were brought on board ship with their goods, I observed that whenever any of these almonds fell, they all stooped to pick it up, as if an eye had fallen” (Coe 109). Explorer Hernán Cortez planted a vast plantation of twenty thousand cacao trees, recognizing their value as currency (Presilla 23-24). The colonizing Spanish who settled in the New World first scoffed at the odd, bitter-tasting beverage that the natives held so dear, but soon grew fonder of the substance. They altered the traditional Mesoamerican recipe of cold, frothy chocolate powder mixed with water and spices by adding sugar and drinking it hot rather than cold (Coe 114-115). This Europeanized form of the beverage was introduced to the Spanish court, where it became a fashionable drink among nobility. Due to cacao’s exoticness and to the high labor intensity required to prepare the cacao for consumption, chocolate remained a beverage for the upper classes only. Intricate porcelain teacups and saucers were specifically designed for the consumption of chocolate so that ladies of the Spanish court would be able to drink the beverage without spilling on themselves (Coe 131). A new cooking utensil, the molinillo, was invented for the sole purpose of frothing chocolate beverages, and special chocolate pots were crafted (Presilla 26). An aura of luxury and exclusivity was built up around the consumption of chocolate among the first Europeans to experience it (Presilla 25). This exclusivity was in stark contrast to chocolate consumption among several Mesoamerican cultures that came before them, or to the South Americans of the same time period, who often mixed chocolate with ground maize, water, and spices, and drank it as a nutrient-providing meal (Presilla 28-30). The Europeans largely ignored this use of chocolate and regarded it only as a sweet treat. Thus, when chocolate was finally introduced to the European working class, it did not occur to European chocolate companies to serve it as anything other than a sugary beverage.
Since modern Western culture is largely influenced by early Europe, chocolate has continued to be regarded as a dessert and not as something of nutritional value. An example of this is in Dove chocolate advertising.
The inside of the chocolate wrappers contain often contain messages telling consumers to indulge in the delicious chocolate and give themselves a treat, such as in this image. This chocolate wrapper conveys the message to consumers that Dove recognizes the frivolousness of chocolate consumption, but endorses it anyway because it brings joy. Dove does not even try to make chocolate sound healthy, but instead capitalizes on its deliciousness. This current perception of chocolate is very close to and stems from the early European perception of chocolate as a tempting luxury item that should be eaten sparingly.
Chocolate had a second purpose in its early days of discovery by the Europeans. Not only was it viewed as an elite product, but it was also praised for its medicinal properties. The Spanish colonists noticed the stimulant properties of chocolate and believed it to be an aphrodisiac (Coe 29). The Spanish physician Francisco Hernandez was sent to the New World by the Spanish king Phillip II to study undiscovered plants in Mesoamerica and document them. He classified chocolate according to the traditional Galenic medicinal method and called it “cold and dry,” thus making chocolate suitable for treating illnesses such as fevers, stomachaches, dysentery, and constipation (Dillinger et al). The medicinal properties of chocolate were touted across Europe, and in the 16th and 17th centuries, “medical complaints treated with chocolate/cacao have included anemia, poor appetite, mental fatigue, poor breast milk production, consumption/ tuberculosis, fever, gout, kidney stones, reduced longevity and poor sexual appetite/ low virility” (Dillinger et al). As such, chocolate was carefully consumed in small quantities; one seventeenth-century noblewoman remarks, “I observe my chocolate diet, to which I believe I owe my health. I do not use it crazily or without precaution” (Coe 136). Physicians often recommended that chocolate be drunk in small quantities with precaution (Coe 123-172). Chocolate was treated almost like a miracle drug in early Europe.
The early European view that chocolate has medicinal properties has also continued to have influence on Western perception of chocolate. Coe points out that it is fairly common for products to start out as medicinal items and then eventually be used recreationally. The most famous example of this is Coca-Cola, which was initially used medicinally but became a wildly popular beverage (Coe 126). Chocolate underwent a similar transformation. It was believed to be healthy in small doses, as we can see from this 1935 Hershey’s advertisement.
Here, Hershey is telling us that eating chocolate makes one healthy. Although chocolate started to be consumed more for its taste than for its health benefits, the rumor that chocolate was an aphrodisiac stuck around and furthered its recreational usage. This has caused Western society to link certain types of chocolate with romance and sex. Valentine’s Day and wedding anniversaries are often celebrated with a box of chocolates. The message that chocolate is sexually stimulating still makes its way into our advertising. For example, the advertisement below for Aero chocolate features an attractive half-dressed man who talks about chocolate in terms of sexual puns, such as when he remarks, “And that, ladies, makes the pleasure even more intense.”
Another advertisement for 1848 chocolate features a woman closing her eyes and making excited noises interspersed with footage of cacao being processed into chocolate.
In both advertisements, the companies are pushing the idea that eating chocolate is linked with sexual arousal and that making chocolate can make one sexier. Clearly, chocolate and sex are still linked in popular culture, and this stems from early European optimism that chocolate was a medicine and aphrodisiac.
In conclusion, chocolate has had many roles in many different cultures, but its current usage in Western society is largely influenced by early European chocolate customs. These customs will continue to influence Western chocolate consumption for years to come.
Coe, Sophie D. and Michael D. Coe. 2013. The True History of Chocolate. 3nd edition. London: Thames & Hudson.
Digital Image. More of the Chocolate, Less of the Sexuality. Accessed March 10, 2017. https://chocolateclass.files.wordpress.com/2015/04/dove-wrapper.jpg.
Dillinger, Teresa L., Patricia Barriga, Sylvia Escarcega, Martha Jimenez, Diana Salazar Lowe, and Louis E. Grivetti. “Food of the gods: cure for humanity? A cultural history of the medicinal and ritual use of chocolate.” Journal of Nutrition 130, no. 8 (August 2000): 057S-2072S. Accessed March 10, 2017. http://jn.nutrition.org/content/130/8/2057S.long.
Hershey Company. Digital Image. The History of Hershey Advertising. Accessed March 10, 2017. http://imgc.allpostersimages.com/images/P-488-488-90/17/1721/HP13D00Z/posters/hershey-s-syrup.jpg.
Kmclan80. “Jason Lewis Looking HOT in new Aero Bubbles ad”. Filmed [April 2007]. YouTube video, 00:31. Posted [April 2007]. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Brz8jjXuKyg.
Chocolate at the Disneyland Resort is found in nearly every retail and food location in and around the resort with it primarily being portrayed with the same innocence surrounding the founding of Disneyland and its characters (Marciodisney, 2011): yet the marketing of the chocolate that primarily uses Disney characters and images to sell its products while delightful is tainted because a theme of secrecy, sex, and exclusivity exist in and around the resort where chocolate is concerned.
Chocolate and products that contain chocolate surround most of us in our daily lives as consumers (Allen, 2010). As I contemplated what to write about in my final post on chocolate for this class I could not think of another place that I desired to explore how chocolate is used, influences, and motivates behavior than at the Disneyland Resort, a place that holds a special place in my heart. In order to fully explore the relationship between chocolate and Disneyland I traveled to California and spent two days “researching” how chocolate is used, where Disney sources the chocolate they use, and the role that marketing plays in the production and sale of chocolate at Disneyland. What I found was that chocolate, like many other foods and products at the Disneyland Resort is influenced by many factors both positive and negative. Several of the factors used to motivate and guide consumer behavior to purchase chocolate in Disneyland are enjoyment, food, and it is an outlet for consumers to entertain themselves, however it appears that some of the motivation is driven under the often subtle guise of providing a source of supplemental income for the resort at the cost of violations of morals and stereotypes that fuel and drive consumer behavior.
History of Products in Disneyland
Nestled in Anaheim California, Disneyland is advertised as the Happiest Place on Earth (Disneyland, 2014), but is more than a tourist destination, it is a beacon American capitalism generating more than 3 million dollars per day in revenue (Disneyland Resort Public Affairs, 2012). When Disneyland opened in 1955 Walt Disney proclaimed that “Disneyland is dedicated to the ideals, the dreams and the hard facts that have created America” (Disneydreamer, n.d.), with no hard facts more true that those of capitalism and marketing. Since the beginning Disneyland has incorporated products and businesses into its operational structure to offset costs and guide consumer behavior, a strategy that is still used today as evidenced through my exploration of how chocolate is used and sold in the park and how the success of the Ghirardelli Soda Fountain and Chocolate Shop
Image Source, personal photo, May 7, 2016
continues the trend of outsourcing products and brands for profit. In addition to bringing in the popular chocolate brand Ghirardelli to the resort (Disneyland Resort Public Affairs, 2012), Disneyland sells several products that capitalize on the characters and animations that they have developed and created often using these in seductive and sexually enticing ways, ways that are often copied by other companies as they attempt to capitalize on the success of Disneyland (Coe & Coe, 2013).
Exploring the Chocolate Selection at the Disneyland Resort
Throughout the Disneyland Resort several shops sell a variety of chocolate items that are both prepackaged and “made” at the resort. The items that are available include chocolate bars, prepackaged chocolate items such as nuts and non-perils, items hand created out of chocolate including dipped apples, a variety of desserts at restaurants, and other chocolate items where chocolate is used not as a main ingredient but as a decorative and supplemental additive such as when it is drizzled on fruit and used as a tool to write a message on a plate. Several products are available throughout the resort and most of the stores that sell them all have similar if not an identical selection available no matter where I shopped for chocolate.
As I was shopping throughout the resort for chocolate I noticed a striking similarity, in addition to all of the products being similar and identical in every store all of them, including the products sold exclusively at the Ghirardelli Soda and Chocolate Shop, shared the common characteristic of not being sourced as to where the chocolate originated. Additionally, the packaging on both the prepackaged and in-house packaged chocolate items (see figure 1)
Figure 1, source personal photo, May 7, 2016
made no representation as to where the chocolate originated nor where it was processed aside from where the final product was made (see figure 2).
Figure 2, source personal photo, May 7, 2016
Even upon further investigation and asking employees where the chocolate originated I was left unfulfilled in my quest to find out the source of the chocolate that the use in their products. At one register I inquired if the cashier knew where the chocolate came from and she stated that it “came from the chefs in the back” of which I asked her where the chefs get it and she said it was all made at the resort (A. Cast member, personal communication, May 7, 2016), something that I knew was not accurate because I believe that they would advertise if Disneyland was a bean to bar operation, therefore I believe that they are operating a type of chocolatier making and selling items originally and repackaged.
Disney cast members making chocolate items, source personal photos, May 6, 2016
Exploring the Originally Produced Items
A large variety of items are offered for sale throughout the resort that are produced by hand and not mass produced. Many of these items are quite unique and include a variety of chocolate covered apples, various items dipped in chocolate including nuts, peanut butter, fruit, marshmallows, and candy (see figure 3 & 4).
Various items available for sale in Disneyland, Figures 3 & 4, source personal photos, May 6, 2016
While these items were unique and quite tasty with a desirable aroma, good color, and a flavor characterization that merged into one another in a seamless manner (Presilla, 2009) based on empirical observations conducted using several taste samples, all of the chocolate products shared similar characteristics. The similarities that existed centered around three common themes, the first was chocolate items that represented Disney cartoon characters and other fictional characters such as Darth Vader and Tigger (see figure 5 & 6).
Figures 5 & 6, source personal photos, May 7, 2016
The second theme was several products were created to represent and celebrate the 60th anniversary celebration that is underway at the Disneyland Resort (see figure 7).
Figure 7, source personal photo, May 6, 2016
The third theme that was observed throughout my shopping adventures was that traditional items that are not associated with any Disney specific character or event itself were also available for purchase. In addition to the in-house made chocolate items available for sale several already packaged items were offered for sale as well that included chocolate bars, nuts, and other items all packaged and sold as products that depicted either a Disney character or promoted the Disneyland Resort itself (see figure 8)
Figure 8, source personal photo, May 7, 2016
Exploring the Prepackaged Items
The prepackaged items that were available for sale fell into two categories, those that were formal and directed toward any audience and those that attempted to use humor by portraying Disney characters or Disney quotes in an attempt to grab the consumers interest and motivate them to buy. Within the products that attempted to use humor some were funny, some were silly, and some were offensive and portrayed women in sexual ways that I thought were inappropriate. Some examples of the items that I found to be funny was a chocolate bar that portrayed Mickey Mouse as Sorcerer Mickey with the title “And now I will make this chocolate disappear”(see figure 10). A chocolate item that I thought was silly was a milk chocolate caramel item that was titled “Mood Chocolate” and stated “If you’re feeling Grumpy, it can make you Happy. But don’t be Dopey and eat too much… or you’ll have to see the Doc!” using a portrayal of the Dwarfs from Snow White (see figure 9)
Figures 9 & 10, source personal photos, May 7, 2016
The chocolate bar that I was offended by featured a picture of Jessica Rabbit from Roger Rabbit wearing a low cut dress and showing a great deal of her animated breasts with the caption “I’m not bad I’m just drawn to chocolate” (see figure 11).
This chocolate item in particular is one that Disney is crossing the barrier from cute to sexism because they are using sex to sell chocolate. Despite the overarching theme of innocence in most Disney characters, having this chocolate bar puts Disney into the same category as many other chocolate manufacturers who use sex and sexual innuendo to sell products by reinforcing the dominate ideologies that classify women as sexual objects (Robertson, 2009). While the marketing is at times distasteful and offensive one cannot argue its success with the lines at the chocolate shops often stretching a dozen or more people at any given time of the day or night which not only promotes marketing of this type it reinforces it as well financially.
In addition to the creative and sometimes distasteful marketing that exists surrounding the chocolate for sale at the Disneyland Resort many other concerns exist regarding the price point of the products for sale. Because the Disneyland Resort only sells their own chocolate with the exception of the Ghirardelli Soda Fountain and Chocolate Shop they are free to set whatever price point they desire for their products. Because many consumers who visit plan to spend disposable income on food and beverage purchases a market of willing consumers pays for the privilege to buy the chocolate offered for sale with no possibility of free market competition to help regulate the price market demanded for some of their items. Because this situation exists several chocolate items are priced well above traditional pricing normally found for similar items sold outside the gates of the resort. An example of this can be found when looking at the chocolate covered apples available that are priced between $10.99 and $13.99 apiece (see figure 12).
Figure 12 & 13, source personal photos, May 6, 2016
These prices coupled with 16 ounce box of assorted chocolates being sold for over $23 and a variety of items at Ghirardelli offered for sale over $30 makes buying chocolate at the Disneyland Resort a potentially pricey scenario, all for chocolate that is not sourced, described, or explained outside of its affiliation with the Disney marketing on the packages and the availability to only purchase many of the items inside of the Disneyland Resort after admission is paid which varies but averages $100 per person per day (Disneyland, 2016).
Summary of Chocolate at the Disneyland Resort
During my two-day chocolate consuming adventure, I learned several things including the chocolate at Disneyland is geared toward an American pallet using a formula and process that is very similar to chocolate commonly found produced by mass American chocolate companies (Coe & Coe, 2013). The second thing I learned was that despite the commonality of the chocolate, where the source is kept secretly hidden and the “nothing unique” thoughts I had about its taste, I loved the presentation and the creativity that is put into the manufacturing of the items. Disney does a great job of having their employees visible to the general public as they are producing and packaging many of the chocolate items that they sell. As a consumer I found this to be delightful because I could see for myself how many of the items I purchased were being made. This added a great deal to the experience and motivated me to spend even more of purchasing items to see what they tasted like as I had just seen them being made and was curious.
Aside from the unique items produced in-house at the Disneyland Resort I found many of the prepackaged items to have a similar taste as the in-house made items despite them being produced in a factory. Overall the quality of these items was good and the only drawback that would dissuade me from purchasing more of these items would be the price. In addition to the items available for purchase in the store the restaurant original items that were themed and created were wonderful and would be a motivation for me to return to the park again with friends because the flavors that Disney used created a chocolate taste that mixed fruit, nuts, and cake to make unique flavor combinations that would be perfect to share as a way to bond and come together as we consume items that perhaps may not be the best for us nutritionally but would fill social needs (Mintz, 1985). Even though the price was high for most items, the marketing was somewhat offensive on one item, and the variety between and among brands was lacking I would still recommend sampling items available at the Disneyland Resort because it is one of the most unique chocolate adventures and tastings one will ever have.
Source personal photo, May 7, 2016
Allen, L. L. (2010). Chocolate fortunes: The battle for the hearts, minds, and wallets of China’s consumers. New York: American Management Association.
Coe, S. D., & Coe, M. D. (2013). The true history of chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson.
The competition in the chocolate industry isn’t as linear as it used to be with only the ‘big boys’: Cadbury, Nestle, Ferrero, Mars and Hershey, sharing territory and profits. This age has seen the introduction of a more diverse group of craft bean-to bar-chocolate makers. There is a niche in the market for this small group but first, they are tasked with prying away the ‘cradle to the grave’ brand loyalists from the big five. One apparent way that has evidenced itself in the way these competing David’s against the Goliath’s of the chocolate industry has shown itself, is through careful and innovative packaging. Bearing that in mind, this paper will look at various ways packaging influences consumerism and how it has made a former monopoly into a battle ground for the most creative minds.
Arguably, these companies do not have the disposable budget that is privileged to the big chocolate companies with regards to advertising. Therefore, they resort to a more packaging focused marketing tactic which is a cheaper and effective method that has a targeted and far reaching aspect to it. Specifically, packaging has three unique aspects of it that can influence consumerism and increase sales. 1) Packaging can be used to target impulse buyers not only by using promotional cues but most specifically, visual cues- students are found to be highly influenced by visuals. 2) Packaging is cheap and effective and when done correctly, allows the product to sell itself without much intervention. 3) Packaging can also be used as a tool for social and cultural consciousness. With the rise in interest of bridging gaps culturally in the face of increased globalization, chocolate packaging can be used as a tool to promote these ideals and garner patrons via shared ideologies.
The big chocolate companies over the last couple of years have kept packaging changes to a bare minimum because they have created a bond with their consumers where it is easy to spot a Snicker bar or M&M’s package from a mile away. These companies have relied on the ability of the consumer to recognize their package and help in sustaining sales. This is not so with the growing contenders in the chocolate industry. They do not have the recognizable packaging that these companies have established over the years. In order to break this boundary bean-to-bar chocolate makers have paid specific attention to packaging to target impulse buyers.
The moment one walks into a store, there is a small window of time for purchases that are on one’s list but majority of other purchases are impulse based buying. “81% of in store purchases are due to impulse buying, with a vast majority of these purchases being the design that catches the consumer’s eye” (Saka 2011). Within this small period of time and amidst a plethora of competition, these small chocolate companies are provided the opportunity to draw the attention of an impulse buyer or even a brand loyalist based on an elaborate packaging that peeks the interest of the consumer. The function of packaging design “has now transitioned into a primary tool used by organizations to make its presence felt in a crowd and sell products at point of purchase” (Saka 2011). Tying into the four P’s of marketing, packaging has now been contended as the fifth P, “Because it has now become an integral element of the modern lifestyle and the branding process” (Shekhar and Raveendran 2014).
The power of packaging based marketing with regards to product placement has garnered a momentum that cannot be denied, not only in the chocolate industry but across the board. It is so essential in the chocolate industry however because chocolate is such a high impulse purchase. Majority of consumers usually do not go into food stores with chocolate on their ‘To purchase’ list, it is something that we generally are persuaded to buy. A scientific study done to show the influence of packaging cues, found that students were greatly influenced in purchasing chocolate based on visual cues alone (Shekhar and Raveendran 2014). This find is not surprising because the major consumers of chocolate are the younger generation as opposed to the older ones. This generation is also easily influenced to abandon brand loyalty for whatever happens to be ‘trending’ at the moment. The attention of the younger chocolate consumers can easily be persuaded by strategically placed cues.
There are various aspects of visual cues but the strongest draw to the subconscious is color and shape. “Color is the most important tool for emotional expression of a package because it reflects an image for the product” (Shekhar and Raveendran 2014). According to Jenn David Connolly, Color in food packaging is so important because it leverages our emotional connection to taste (Connolly 2013). To expound on this, she expresses what several colors denote in food packaging with Red and Yellow taking the chief lead in fast food industry packaging. Orange is said to be an appetizing color, white connotes clean and pure, brown and earth tones symbolize warm, appetizing, wholesome and natural, bright colors shows a pop in flavors and subdued-muted colors are for rich and deep complex flavors (Connolly 2013). Often times several colors can also influence our tastes, for instance, orange is usually associated with citrus, off white with vanilla and red with strawberry, this association of color with taste, ties into the “associational aspect of color” (Shekhar and Raveendran 2014).
Shape is another visual cue that also influences the mind. “The shape of a package is normally the first thing a consumer notices in a store, an old fashioned shape of a package could suggest reliability and maturity to the consumer” (Shekhar and Raveendran 2014). The L.A Burdick chocolate package shape and color was so influential in persuading me to purchase my first chocolate bar from the chocolatier and I have since returned weekly ever since. There was something trusting in the brown, earthy envelope like package that assured me that this was a brand I could trust and the chocolate would be equally as sophisticated. The stamp visible in the front of the package had a personal feel as if the chocolate bar was specifically made for me.
In the situation of an impulsive buy, the intention to purchase is determined by what is communicated at the point of purchase, the package is a critical factor in the decision making process because it influences purchase decisions (Shekhar and Raveendran 2014). The shape of a chocolate bar can also influence the way it tastes as Cadbury would rudely discover when it attempted to change “the rectangular chunks to carved segments” (Miller 2015), the company received a huge backlash of protest for their efforts. Packaging is a cheap and powerful method of marketing that is slowly changing what chocolate brands consumers patronize, “because it makes a difference in our subconscious mind in what gets noticed and eventually purchased” (smartmarketing n.d.).
The power behind successful packaging lies in its ability to allow the product sell itself. It has an extrinsic value to it because the information on the package is taken into account when deciding whether to purchase or not (Shekhar and Raveendran 2014). Packaging allows bean-to bar companies to cut their costs and get their brands out into the market without resorting to advertising. In certain ways, advertising can be limiting because it requires the perfect time slot or location for a billboard or a particular commercial to air on television. A good package is not burdened with these limitations, it has a “wider reach and has strong potential to engage majority of the target market. For a package to be effective it does however need to meet a few requirements. The package needs to be “attractive, informative and also identify with the product; it also needs to continuously communicate the product’s real benefits and create awareness to ensure image and brand preference” (Shekhar and Raveendran 2014).
Packaging is more influential than advertising because it clearly stimulates emotions in the consumer that advertising is not able to pull out. In purchasing decisions, the ability to see, feel and touch easily outshines the strategically filmed commercial any day. The human mind is exceptionally influenced when majority of the senses can be used to influence decisions. Packaging is no longer perceived as a method for safe and effective way to transport a product, but has now become a “contributing factor to its marketability, a vividly beautiful product, to some extent, develops a positive image about it in the minds of the consumers” (Vartak 2013). During the chocolate tasting in the Chocolate Class that held this semester, I was influenced by the artful way in which the Dick Taylor Craft Chocolate packaging was constructed and it seemed to amplify the taste of the chocolate.
The innovation that goes into packaging that clearly shows itself in the world of bean-to-bar chocolate makers today, is one that is clearly missing in the big chocolate companies; this ability to influence has however not gone unnoticed by them. As of recent, Godiva has changed its packaging and has started marketing ‘specialty’ brands clearly aimed at consumers that are influenced by package based marketing
With the ever growing list of brands in the chocolate industry, loyalty for brand choice is fast becoming a dying era. Consumers are now resorting to more of an impulse buying and are eager to try new products prompting companies to spend more time on packaging based research to add value to their product via means of innovative packaging (Vartak 2013). With the aspect of packaging that leans on brand loyalty based on recognition, it is pertinent to small bean-to-bar chocolate owners to invest in this method of marketing to influence product sales. Not only does the package need to be attractive, it must also be recognizable in order to compete in a fast widening industry.
Gone are the days that consumers are ignorant about the source of their cacao that is sourced to make their chocolate. With increased awareness that has stemmed from globalization, people are more savvy with these issues and in the face of a pressing need to bridge social and cultural gaps, packaging is used to create an awareness in ways that it never did before. For certain bean-to bar chocolate makers, this is an opportunity that they have already tapped into. The Divine chocolate advertising ploy of featuring women cocoa farmers in their chocolate packaging was a brilliant way to initiate conversation about the binary that has plagued Africa from time immemorial. “In their depiction of women cocoa farmers as glamorous business owners, the images provide a fresh visual re-framing of goods and capital between Africa and Europe and a contrast to postcolonial literature on state capital formations in Africa” (Leissle 2012). In this evocative marketing strategy, it additionally attempts to bridge the cultural gap between Africa as this ‘other’ and the Western world as the ‘isolationist’ that has made it so.
Using the women farmers as models was also an effective way of injecting women into the conversation of cacao farming in a way that previously has not been a conversation point. It invites viewers to see women as potent actors in the world of cacao sourcing and chocolate making in addition to being beneficiaries of these same exchanges (Leissle 2012). Another chocolate maker that has followed a similar part is Camino chocolate, “the word Camino stands for “path”, the chocolate packaging futures an intricate design of quirky-named streets with illustrations reflecting the happy, vibrant and sustainable communities’ that Camino supports through its fair trade practices”(Canadian Packaging Staff 2011).
Camino chocolate has tapped into packaging as a way to create social awareness of cacao sourcing and the communities that are sustained by this arrangement, thereby aptly informing chocolate consumers with regards to the origins of cacao used to produce their chocolate.
Through the use of innovative packaging, bean-to-bar chocolate companies are now able to influence consumers and create brand loyalty with their product. As the chocolate industry continues to evolve, it will be greatly interesting to see how the ‘big boys’ of chocolate push back against this marketing tactic. It is no longer enough to ply consumers with advertisements, people are becoming a lot more informed about the products they choose to consume and packaging is used as an influential tool in a way advertising is simply unable to do. As more bean-to- bar companies emerge, there will also be a rise in competition between these companies and at that time, perhaps the influence of packaging will need to be re-valuated and perhaps tweaked in other ways. For now, it is clear that the ‘big five’ have competition knocking on their doorstep and it would be ill advised to ignore it. Packaging is the next big thing and it has already arrived for many.
Leissle, Kristy. 2012. “Cosmopolitan cocoa farmers: refashioning Africa in Divine Chocolate advertisments.” Journal of African Cultural Studies (Routledge) (24:2): 121-139. Accessed May 6, 2016. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13696815.2012.736194.
Chocolate has fallen from its archaic divinity; as industrial chocolate manufactures, such as Hershey, Ghirardelli, Cadbury, Mars, L.A. Burdick and the multitudes of other small and large confectionary manufactures have strategically subverted religion and evaded the creation of a static definition of what can be classified as health food (Off, 2008). This has been done on a global scale (Allen, 2010). Yet, for all of the exploitation of natural and human labor resources in the mad capitalist race to net exponentially larger profits, methods of chocolate consumption have changed. Chocolate has invaded every home in America and continues to spread into even the most remote regions of the world were chocolate is merely grown as a exported market good (and the farmers have never tasted the finished product) (Leissle, 2012) (Martin 2016) (Stuckey, 2012). Modern chocolate consumption has continuously increased and transformed from a relished delicacy into an addiction, one that has fostered a cultic fanaticism in its omnipresence in American culture (Martin, 2016). Chocolate addiction has been fostered by dynamic consumption practices, various health benefits, ideals of beauty, sexualization of female chocolate consumption, and the reframing of sales advertisements to secularize and/or create holidays revolving around chocolate consumption (Leissle, 2012) (Howe, 2012) (Robertson, 2009) (Martin, 2016). Addiction is an all encompassing cultural mindset which has gone further in the continued liminal state of chocolate’s meaning to contemporary American society (Benton, 2004) (Robertson, 2009). Average American households often are not aware that their chocolate consumption is irrevocably linked to the various external methods of ideological implantation of chocolate as a religious iconographic good. A brief ethnographic analysis of an average New England household, comprising of my future in-laws, engenders a radical deviation from chocolate as a coveted, addictive necessity and furthers chocolate’s ideological transformation by coming full circle to again reify chocolate’s worship as a physical manifestation of divinity.
Cacao, or Kakawa, is a substance similar to maize, corn, in its purveyance in Mesoamerican culture and religious iconography (Coe & Coe, 2013). Cacao is also shown in Mayan iconography to have been conflated with the Maize god, this has rendered archaeological interpretations of cacao as the food of the gods (Coe & Coe, 2013). Ancient associations of cacao with the food of divinity has not been lost in modern methods of advertisement (Leissle, 2012). Even analyses of chocolate advertisements can be interpreted to illustrate that chocolate and divinity are intrinsically linked. Capitalism has not so subtlety transformed and secularized religious holidays by constructing the consumption of chocolate as a ritualized activity, in which participants (consumers) will be glorified and feel euphoria through acts the giving and receiving chocolates (Martin, 2016) (Robertson, 2009). Valentine’s Day, Christmas, and even the forty days of Lent have all become associated with chocolate consumption (Coe & Coe, 2013). Lent is the most indicative of chocolate’s association with divinity, through its construction as a vice (particularly for women) which should be avoided so as to liken oneself to the divinity of Christ’s fast and then temptation by Lucifer in the desert. My fiancée’s (F) family is traditionally Irish-Catholic, like much of the greater Boston area, and has their roots firmly set in the nomenclature of religious etiquette. However, like many religious followers, they merely retain a religiously linked ethnic identity. This is not to say that they do not follow a set of religious rituals that underpin their daily lives, but the god (chocolate) to which they devote both cognitive and subconscious worship, is revealed through the family’s vocalization and ritualization of chocolate consumption. Through almost a year of total emersion into their household I have observed both passively and actively their emphasis on the importance of ritual chocolate consumption. By cooking, and baking, with the father (FD); observing F’s sister’s food habits (FS); and through consensual approval to inquire about their chocolate habits during informally structured interviews, I have captured a snapshot of the ethnographic phenomenon by which chocolate has been re-deified.
Anonymity Disclaimer: all proper names are changed to protect anonymity and personal privacy.
The demographic biological sex ratio in my fiancée’s family, including myself, is three females to two males. I entered their household in June 2015, as it was the most convenient way to save up money for our wedding and attend school. My fiancée and her sister both have severe cases of mental illnesses, and have self-proclaimed themselves vegetarians, which has inhibited their ability to consume a wide variety of food products. Prior to my debut, F’s family cooked for and brought FS any food that FS desired, while FS was unable to leave her bedroom due to severe agoraphobia. During this period and into the first several months of living with the F-in-laws, the father (FD) and mother (FM) brought FS mass quantities of sweets (per her request)- the vast majority of which contained chocolate in some form. These sweets were then incorporated into FS’s daily diet through both home cooked treats and purchased delicacies. So pervasive was chocolate into the kitchen and pantry, I could not open the refrigerator without stumbling upon 8 out of 10 items containing chocolate. Even F considered pancakes unsatisfying is they did not contain chocolate chips, accompanied by chocolate milk, and chocolate croissants, from FD’s crafting or purchased from the local French bakery. Upon my alien perspective into this near total emersion of chocolate into every aspect of nutrition, as I prefer recipe purity without the forced inclusion of chocolate, F’s mother (FM) made it quite clear that the extant to which chocolate was considered medicinal. Even long-standing family recipes, such as their grandmother’s scone recipe, that originally contained fruit changed to substitute chocolate chips; this was celebrated not only by F’s immediate family but the extended relatives as well. F, FD, and FM prefer dark chocolate; FS prefers milk chocolate. Methods of dietary consumption are among the easiest to witness, but also the amount to which F’s family purchases or crafts feminine hygiene products known to contain cocoa butter, and the amount of objects, utensils, and other paraphernalia used in the consumption, production, promotion, or distribution of chocolate.
Saying that their mass consumption of all things chocolate is a product of the historical engendering of chocolate as healthy for dietary consumption limits the extent to which FM’s concept of medicinal use resonates with the subjectivity of healthy consumption (Albritton, 2012) (Watson, Preedy, & Zibadi, 2013). FS suffered tremendous weight gain from overconsumption of carbohydrates and sugars (Albritton, 2012), most in the form of chocolate pastries and confections, but FM continued to supply these “medicinal” chocolates. In accordance with popular conceptions of the medicinal use of chocolate, it historically has been linked to a healthy state of mind and postulated to aid the treatment of mental illnesses such as “hypochondriac melancholy“(Watson, Preedy, & Zibadi, 2013). FM’s utilization of chocolate as a medical ritual to expedite the healing of FS’s mental faculties echoes: the Mesoamerican use of cacao as a restorative of the deities, the early European adoption of cacao as a similar but secularized restorative devoid of divine embodiment, and contemporary literature on chocolate’s ability to illicit pleasure responses from the brain. Contemporary concepts of chocolate’s medicinal use illuminate the chocolate industry’s persistent norms of advertisement and the increase of processed sugar consumption and sugar additives into nearly all forms of processed foodstuffs. Yet FM’s use goes beyond these analyses and parallels the sentiments that “‘chocolate is a divine, celestial drink, the sweat of the stars, the vital seed, divine nectar, the drink of the gods, panacea, and universal medicine'” (Coe & Coe, 2013: 206). While FM’s use may be a product of the historical connections of chocolate and sugar with pleasure and medicine, through the incorporation of chocolate into the entirety of the family’s diet, chocolate has been ritualized and elevated beyond the simple medicinal binary to that of a religious deity, with whom daily worship will foster inner-peace, health, and happiness in its followers. FM’s deification of chocolate retains striking parallels to the Christian description of a personal daily relationship with God, as advertised by the Bible.
F’s family’s ritual utilization of chocolate’s medicinal benefits are the product of historical polemics concerning the increase of sugar consumption, the socio-economic shift of chocolate from Mesoamerican stable to European luxury to plebian stable, and subliminally engendering advertisements (Coe & Coe, 2013). Sugar has been directly linked to diabetes, obesity, and increasing addictive behaviors, akin to drug addiction, through it’s association with pleasurable reinforcement as a reward (Benton, 2004)(Mintz, 1985). The historical shift in utilizing sugar as a preservative (Goody, 2013) directly led to the chocolate industry’s use of sugar as a stabilizing agent which also happened to increase sweetness aka. desirability, and thus “unintentionally” producing a method of engendering consumer addiction for chocolates at a early stage of industrialization (Brenner, 1999) (D’Antonio, 2006: 107) (Mintz, 1985). By keeping in context the link between sugar and addiction, the increase of sugar in chocolate opened new possibilities of advertising. Not only was chocolate now sweet, it also had been historically constructed as medicinal; it could now be produced in vast quantities previously unavailable until the industrial revolution (Brenner, 1999) (Coe & Coe, 2013). Chocolate could now be produced cheaply, containing adulterated products and sweeteners, masking the purity of the roasted cacao bean’s savory nature, and enabled new advertising strategies, informed by chocolate’s newly found socio-economic versatility (Stuckey, 2012) (Allen, 2010). These advertising campaigns have been able to pander to chocolate’s versatility in its ability to render multiple positive responses from consumers. F’s family utilization of chocolate as a restorative “cure-all” is the product of sugar’s addictive qualities, but their daily, weekly, monthly consumption of chocolate as a dietary necessity (only in the manner to which it produces a mental release of endorphins via the sugar and the Pavlovian association of chocolate with sugar) goes beyond this sweet binary to echo the mental and physical rejuvenation that religious ritual produces (Benton, 2004).
Mars’ Snickers campaign “You’re Not You When You’re Hungry, Snickers Satisfies” illustrates the multi-faceted approach that the Mars company takes in its marketing (Brenner, 1999). Mars’ advertisements embody the concept of satisfaction through one of it’s original marketing strategies to simply make a larger candy bar cost the same as the competition’s small one, through the incorporation of peanuts, caramel, and nougat (the primary ingredient of two of these is sugar)(Brenner, 1999). The campaign simultaneously engenders the concept that the Snickers’ bar will satisfy the physical manifestation of hunger and that the consumption of the candy will elevate the psyche back to normalcy (Benton, 2004). This engenders the ritualization of chocolate consumption as a divine facilitator of both inner (mental) and outer (physical hunger) peace; thus similarly paralleling the act of taking communion at Catholic Mass, this advertisement reifies a foodstuff to miraculously facilitate the divine restoration of the mortal self. F’s family reflects this theological embodiment of chocolate consumption as a canonized ritual, yet this advertisement does not alone explain why the three women are so captivated by chocolate’s allure.
Hershey’s Dove chocolate campaign (above) has a clear agenda engendering a gender stereotype of women being the primary consumers of chocolate (Robertson, 2009). F’s family represents this as the three women (F, FS, and FM) are the primary consumers of chocolate, while FD is the primary facilitator of consumption through his production of meals and snacks that prominently incorporate chocolate. This stereotype of women as chocoholics is rooted in historical contexts and has long been debunked as an “[addiction not] to chocolate but to sugar” (Robertson, 2009) (Coe & Coe, 2013: 260) (Benton, 2004). However, no matter the scientific or psychological realities of sugar addicts (Benton, 2004), this advertisement embodies chocolate’s reconstructed relationship with divinity by directly linking the consumption of Dove chocolate with the Mesoamerican concept of deification of oneself through the consumption of divine foodstuffs: particularly in their artistic conflation of the Maize god with cacao trees (Coe & Coe, 2013: 39), and through Mayan recipes mixing maize and cacao (Tokovinine, 2015). The Maya considered all objects to be of divine embodiment (Tokovinine, 2015), particularly those containing maize, which they believed was the physical embodiment of their physical selves as they were created from sacred Maize, stated in their sacred origin text the Popul Vuh, and were also divinely given the sacred crops of maize and cacao for consumption (Coe & Coe, 2013). By conflating the Maize god with a cacao pod the Mayans set a ritual precedent for the divine consumption of chocolate as enabling humanity to transcend into a divine state of epiphany. The Dove advertisement then conflates this ancient cultic practice with the more modern concept of women as the primary consumers of chocolate. Women, constructed in the advertisement as the downtrodden and oppressed gender (Bourdieu, 2001), can escape this existence through consuming chocolate and experiencing their own “moment” or existential epiphany outside of this oppression (Robertson, 2009). F’s family’s near unilaterally gender-stratified consumption of chocolate represents the religious epiphany of transcendental existence, which also reinforces the earlier discourse concerning chocolate as a parallel of Communion. Chocolate consumption now enables modern humanity to embody divinity.
Hershey furthers this gender binary of chocolate consumption through Dove’s “Only Human” advertisement campaign, which in chocolate consumption provides and escape from being female (Benton, 2004). The women are shown to be weak and “Only Human,” but Dove chocolate then provides a “real” comfort from the harsh realities of femininity (Benton, 2004). Going beyond this advertisement’s sexist engenderment, chocolate can now be associated with another of religion’s coveted abilities: the offerance of sanctuary. Chocolate makes the difficulties of human existence tolerable by offering brief sanctuaries, at the ‘moment’ of consumption, meta-physically separated from the human experience. The sanctuary that chocolate provides in these ‘moments’ parallels the sanctuary offered to praticioners of prayer, which provide a ‘moment’ with divinity meant to rejuvenate and make right the pain of a human existence. F’s family’s incorporation of chocolate into nearly all foodstuffs is now clearly representative of ritual prayers for protection from the evils and difficulties of a modern human, explicitly female, existence.
Other modes of ritual chocolate consumption are woven throughout the family’s daily lives: that of hygienic products. It has been well documented that cocoa butter, made from hydraulically pressing cacao liquor (Coe & Coe, 2013: 255), is highly effective in the treatment and prevention of various skin, and hair ailments. Placement of cocoa butter into hygienic products echoes both Baptism and the Catholic ritual of the Anointment of the Sick. Both of these religious rituals engage in a ritual purification of the body and soul. Chocolate can be religiously vindicated through the purification of the human existence, and divinely heal the physical manifestations of the human condition. Dissenters, who would disagree with this statement, are to be reminded of the Christian Science movement, whose belief in the healing power of prayer is thought to heal all physical ailments (thought to be sins’ physical manifestations), and scientific medical treatments are spurred as sinful disregard of God’s will (Norton, 1899). Thus a conflated argument to be made is that the consumption of chocolate is equal to prayer, regardless of the science behind cocoa butter’s ability to remedy topical ailments of the skin and hair. Even through dissent, contemporary chocolate consumption has reified itself as divine through F’s family’s hygienic self anointment with sacred cocoa butter.
Ritual can be identified easily through archaeological interpretation of material culture- that is to say, the artifacts by which rituals are carried out with. Chocolate manufacturing has built megalithic structures dedicated to the continual production of chocolate, such that entire communities sprung into existence to support its cultic fanatical production. Milton Hershey’s factory communes illustrate this quite succinctly (Brenner, 1999)(D’Antonio, 2006). Even the consumption of chocolate has ritual implements, such as: stylized porcline serveware, chocolatière, and the appropriated Mesoamerican molinillo (Martin, 2016). F’s family does not have all such ritual implements as modern technology’s updated versions of the chocolatière and molinillo (serving kettle and whisks), but they do have stylized ceramic ware for the sole consumption of chocolate, indicated by the imprinted logo of L.A. Burdick (a chocolatier company). F’s house has designated chocolate cabinets for the storage of preserved “instant” chocolate beverages, edible chocolates, and hygenic cocoa products; while this cabinet space is shared with similar items for drink, eating, and hygeine, the totality of chocolate’s combination with these other products merely increases the variety by which chocolate’s ritual artifacts are incorporated into daily life.
Chocolate’s transtitional state speaks to the originial liminal state by which the Mayans contextualized their existence around divinity. Chocolate has come full circle in the historical utilizations and perperonderances by which chocolate consumption has been stereotyped, redefined, and ritualized. Through the analysis of F and her family’s cultic ritual habits of chocolate, they are revealed to be the ultimate by-product of a centuries-long polemic that has created a new world religion focused on the ritualized production and consumption, based on an engendered, constructed faith that chocolate is divinely able to elevate the human condition out of the mire of oppression, through psychological and physical restoration of peace, harmony, happiness, and self-satisfaction.
Albritton, R. (2012). Between Obesity and Hunger: The Capitalist Food Industry. In Food and Culture: A Reader (3rd ed., pp. 342-352). S.l.: Routledge.
Allen, L. L. (2010). China and Chocolate: East Meets West. In Chocolate Fortunes: The Battle for the Hearts, Minds, and Wallets of China’s Consumers (pp. 7-39). New York: American Management Association.
Allen, L. L. (2010). Going the Distance: China’s 10L Chocolate Race. In Chocolate Fortunes: The Battle for the Hearts, Minds, and Wallets of China’s Consumers (pp. 201-223). New York: American Management Association.
Allen, L. L. (2010). One Country, Three Centuries. In Chocolate Fortunes: The Battle for the Hearts, Minds, and Wallets of China’s Consumers (pp. 1-6). New York: American Management Association.
Presilla, M. E. (2009). The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural and Natural History of Cacao with Recipes (Revised ed.). Berkeley: Ten Speed Press.
Robertson, E. (2009). Chapter One: ‘A deep physical reason’: Gender, race, and the nation in chocolate consumption. In Chocolate, women and empire: A social and cultural history (pp. 18-63). Manchester: Manchester University Press.
Robertson, E. (2009). Chapter Three: ‘There is no operation involved with cocoa that I didn’t do’: Women’s experiences of cocoa farming. In Chocolate, women and empire: A social and cultural history (pp. 91-131). Manchester: Manchester University Press.
Robertson, E. (2009). Chapter Two: ‘The Romance of the Cocoa Bean’: Imperial and colonial histories. In Chocolate, women and empire: A social and cultural history (pp. 64-90). Manchester: Manchester University Press.
CVS versus Whole Foods Market? Many, to include myself, would say hands down, there is no comparison or competition. Considering the distinctive customer, core values, accessibility of brands, ingredients, and price tags of chocolate displayed in each establishment, Whole Foods stands as bar none (no pun intended). According to Nielsen’s Global consumer study, which conducted a survey on snacking with a poll of 30,000 online consumers in 60 countries to identify what attributes were most important to them–in regards to consumption, confection (led by chocolate) accounted for $20 billion USD in sales (Nielsen 5). Furthermore, in a span of 30 days, 64% of global respondents consumed chocolate (6). Moreover, consumers chose chocolate second to fruit out of 47 snacking options as their favorite (6). Thereby, results concluded that in addition to chocolate being favored by consumers through mass consumption: chocolate is big business.
As one who adores all things Whole Foods, frequenting the store no less than ten times a week, yet also familiar with the convenient trappings of CVS, I tasked myself with curiosity in my search to examine the differences between these consumer giants more critically. In addition to online research of their histories and ethics, I perused the aisles to investigate their chocolate products, price points and distinctive experiences of each visit. Among obvious differences, my findings revealed incongruenciesin the mission and ethics of one giant, and a resolve to the question of why each giant may serve a valid purpose beyond health consciousness.
History and Mission
For centuries chocolate has represented a broad range of symbolisms–including wealth, delicacy, medicinal healing, religious rituals, and pleasure. Over a period of the 16th through 20th century, Europe and New Spain produced 100 medicinal uses for cacao/chocolate, which included treatment of anemia, exhaustion, bowl dysfunction and skin irritations (Dillinger et al. 2057S). Today, we consume chocolate mainly for the purposes of pleasure and indulgence. This pleasure and indulgence is heightened by the allure of marketing and availability of chocolate products produced by manufacturers who have industrialized their brand for affordable global mass consumption and maximized profits. This industrial mass globalization of products were well represented in my visit to CVS, where I found the allure of chocolate advertisements and products to be excessive. In comparison, Whole Foods displayed a much smaller and more refined chocolate section.
Consumer Value Stores (CVS), now CVS Health Corporation, was founded in 1963 by two brothers, and became the first store to sell health and beauty products, later expanding into pharmaceuticals and health management in 1967. CVSs mission statement reads: “Millions of times a day, close to home and across the country, we’re helping people on their path to better health” (CVS Health, Our Story).
With a closing revenue of $41.1 billion USD in 2015, a first quarter revenue of $20.1 billion USD as of March 2016 (Marketwatch), and the recent acquisition of Target’s pharmacies and clinics (CVS Health, History 2010s), CVS stands as the top national retail pharmaceutical company nationwide. Apart from their financial success, ethically I find their choice to sell Hershey, Nestle and Mars chocolate brands–all produced by GMO and child slave labor–where children are forced to pick cocoa beans to be sold to companies, beaten, abused and denied compensation for their work–to be deplorable and incongruent with their mission statement. From this, I can only assume that CVS is either ignorant to the truth that “better health” is not limited to pharmaceutical drugs and healthcare, but include the standards of ingredients of the food we consume. Moreover, “better health” should include and extend to the environmental conditions and treatment of labor workers who are responsible for creating chocolate for retail profit. The alternative possibility is that CVS just doesn’t care about the bean-to-bar process, rather reserving interest in chocolate reaching their shelves and retail portfolio. Overall, I find these possibilities to be the most disparate among these two giants.
In 1980 Whole Foods Market was founded by four local businessmen/women during a time when fewer than six natural food supermarkets existed in the United States. Their goal was to integrate the natural foods industry into a supermarket experience (Whole Foods Market, History). Today, Whole Foods Market closed 2015 with sales of $15 billion USD and reached $3.7 billion USD in sales the first quarter of this year. Their mission statement reads: “[H]ealthy means a whole lot more… [b]eyond good for you, to also encompass the greater good. [W]e offer a place for you to shop where value is inseparable from [our] values.” In line with their mission, they provide a list of unacceptable foods that contradict their values and standards, which they refuse to sell to their consumers.
Unlike CVS, Whole Foods value system is committed to creating health from a whole perspective, to include food consumption. Whole Foods prides the purchase of their chocolate through ethical sources (Whole Foods Market, Why Your Chocolate Choices Matter). In addition to their Organic Standards, which confirm a product has been produced through approved methods and met specific USDA verified requirements prior to labeling (Whole Foods Market, Organic), the foundation of their value system largely exists on Whole Trade. Whole Trade is a program which highlights their commitment to ethical trade, the environment and quality products sourced from developing nations (Whole Foods Market, Whole Trade). Many of the chocolate bars are also certified by Fair Trade USA, a nonprofit organization, and third-party certifier which audits and certifies transactions between domestic companies and their international suppliers, to ensure that farmers and workers are paid fair prices and wages, work in safe conditions, protect the environment and receive community development funds to empower and improve their communities (Whole Foods Market, Fair Trade).
In further alignment with their mission and values, in 2012, Whole Foods ended their relationship with Scharffen Berger Chocolate, a high-end product of Hershey’s, over child labor abuses (International Labor Rights Forum). As Hershey provided no evidence to disprove their use of child labor abuse in producing their product when requested, Scharffen Berger was removed from Whole Foods shelves nationwide. Although this move was considered just and honorable by many, Judy Gearhart, Executive Director of the International Labor Rights Forum, thought it to be contradictory. According to Gearhart, in more than one instance Whole Foods has “turned a blind eye” to the conduct of other suppliers who violate workers’ rights, by refusing to hold them equally accountable as Hershey (International Labor Rights Forum). Although there are arguments and critiques of the fairness involved in Fair trade, one being the exorbitant costs to farmers to attain certification for which they lack resources, I still view Whole Foods choice to partner with organizations and programs that pay attention and care about both the workers that produce the product, and the product ingredients, to be ethically honorable and socially responsible.
In data retrieved from Nielsen’s Global consumer study, respondents reported to care more about the ingredients which create their chocolate and preferring to “stick to the basics” (Nielsen 9). Nature-based ingredients scored 45% (9), but it was the environmentally conscious consumers that counted sustainability and organic among the most important in their snacking [experiences] (9). Based on these results, why do we continue to purchase chocolate from CVS?
Products and Price
In my visit to CVS, I had no challenge locating chocolate. From the registers near the front of the door leading to the aisle, I was surrounded by daunting quantities and advertisements of chocolate. Upon first observation, the magnitude of sale stickers and value buys that were gifted with increased quantities of purchase, were distracting. Noticeably leading in options were the Big Five chocolate competitors: Cadbury, Ferrero, Hershey’s, Mars and Nestle (the “Big Five”). The Big Five were the top five chocolate brand competitors who waged a chocolate war in China during the 1980’s – 90’s, with the purposes of introducing the then new product to Chinese consumers by creating a dominating brand presence. In the end, Mars emerged as the superior battle champion.
In CVS, the average cost of a chocolate bar was $2.50, with promotional sales for Buy 1- get-the 2nd 50% off and 2-for-$3.00. The lowest priced bar by Hershey’s Chocolate, cost $1.19. Shockingly, there was only one health conscious brand available, appearing to the far right: Endangered Species Chocolate. The Endangered Species Chocolate label advertised Fair Trade, Non-GMO Verified, Gluten Free Certified and Certified Vegan, at a modest price of $2.99 for 3 ounces. As socially conscious as Endangered Species Chocolate brand appears to be, with products rated at nearly five stars by consumers, I was disappointed when visiting their website that they chose to use an image of a young African child’s face to appear in connection to the phrase endangered species. Is there no consideration or awareness of how this image connotes racist beliefs about people of color? Moreover, is it their responsibility to be aware, or our responsibility to know the history of chocolate to bring awareness?
In my visit to Whole Foods, along with overwhelm and oversaturation of choices and products found at CVS, noticeably absent were the beloved Big Five. Available brands were Taza Chocolate, Icelandic Chocolate, Lake Champlain Chocolates and Whole Foods 365 Chocolate (to name a few). Though unfamiliar, I felt an instant attraction to these brands mainly due to the simplicity and sophistication of their wrappers and refined ingredients. Aesthetically and logistically, Whole Foods displays their chocolate in a small section–nestled amongst other products, with equal promotion. As there were sale advertisements on select chocolate products, similar to CVS of 2-for $3, the quality of chocolate was healthier and certified Fair Trade.
The average price for a chocolate bar was $4.00 for 3 ounces. The most inexpensive bar was their Whole Foods 365 brand, boasting a label of Whole Trade and USDA Organic certifications at $2.49 for 3 ounces. The most expensive was $7.99 by El Ceibo, a fine dark chocolate brand from Bolivia. Although Ceibo’s label did not promote the popular certifications (e.g., Fair Trade, Rainforest Alliance, etc.) of their less expensive competitors, their core driving principle is environmentally sustainable production and respect for life, cultures and the environment. While fine chocolate is expected to be more expensive, do higher prices equal a better product?… According to Clay Gordon, creator of the chocolate lover’s website, The Chocolate Life, and internationally recognized independent authority on all things chocolate: Not so. Gordon states that “[although certain] bars might cost significantly more than… [CVS at] $7 [plus] per bar, [it is] because [you are] paying a fair price that actually accounts for the labor, shipment, and processing of the beans, instead of one artificially subsidized by abusive practices” (Shanker, 2013). Nevertheless, the ingredients of both bars pictured below bare clear distinctions of unknown ingredients, versus whole ingredients available in our kitchens and local supermarkets.
In conclusion, I am left to wonder if the most overlooked distinction between CVS and Whole Foods is the why and how we choose to consume chocolate? A trip for snacks is usually a quick in-and-out venture that can happen anytime of the day or night. Avoiding the possibility of long lines at the grocery store is a deterrent. Nielsen reported 58% of consumers do not plan their snack purchases (Nielsen 13) and prefer them at arms-reach (15); with 31% purchased at the check-out counters; and 43% on sale (13). While chocolate sales do not affect my purchase choices, I admit that as much I love Whole Foods, when my sweet tooth aches for candy, I don’t immediately consider healthy options. Instead I beeline for convenience and the uber unconscious Snickers with Almonds, Raisinets, Almond M&M’s and Tootsie Rolls (not all at once, promise) – which are all available at CVS. However, on the days when I am more health conscious about my chocolate choices, I intentionally visit Whole Foods for my favorite Dark Chocolate and Almonds Bar with Sea Salt by Chocolove. I admit that there is a difference in how I feel when I purchase and indulge in my beloved Chocolove bar in comparison to Snickers and Kit Kat from CVS. In addition to taste and quality, the most important difference is that purchasing from Whole Foods feels more deliberate and rewarding–knowing that my investment in my personal wellness extends to the social, economic and financial wellness of others.
Both CVS and Whole Foods hold clear and distinct ideas and values on health, wellness and integrity. However, I count leading a company whose integrity corresponds with the brands they market and sell to their consumers as the greatest distinction. As a supermarket, Whole Foods has not limited their product offerings to just food; medicinal and healthcare products are also made available to their customers. In view of that fact, why does CVS limit their offerings of health and wellness to pharmaceutical products and healthcare? Perhaps as we continue to rise socially and globally to the occasion of conscious responsibility for our wellness and environmental safety, CVS will revisit their mission and branding to fully align the practices of chocolate manufacturers’ with their intent to “… help people on their path to better health.” In the meantime, I will continue my occasional beeline visits to conveniently fulfill my moments of unconscious consumption.
CVS Health. Web. 9 May 2016.
“CVS Health Reports First Quarter Results; Confirms 2016 Adjusted EPS Guidance.” Marketwatch Online, 2016. Web. 9 May 2016.
Dillinger, T.L. et al. “Food of the Gods: Cure for Humanity? A Cultural History of the Medicinal and Ritual Use of Chocolate.” The Journal of Nutrition 130 (2000): 2057S-2072S. Web. 9 May 2016.
Nielsen. “Snack Attack. What Consumers are reaching for around the world.”September 2014. Web PDF. 9 May 2016.
Shanker, Deena. “A Guide to ethical chocolate.” Grist, 13 Feb. 2002. Web. 9 May 2016.
Whole Foods Market. Web. May 2016.
“Whole Foods Drops Hershey’s Scharffen Berger Chocolates Over Child Labor Abuses.” International Labor Rights Forum. Press Releases, 2012. Web. 9 May 2016.
The chocolate industry is evolving. Though major companies like Hershey and Mars have dominated it for its entire existence, new artisan or boutique chocolatiers are appearing, ready to challenge them for supremacy. The idea of small, local competition is nothing new for the behemoths, who had to combat independent grocers earlier in the 20th century. These new companies are more legitimate than an independent grocer, though. Some, like Taza, experience enough success that they grow into fairly large companies, and others, though they may remain small, still carry a distinct air of legitimacy.
These two sectors are quite different in scale, so how do they differentiate themselves in terms of how they advertise themselves to customers? Historian Emma Robertson notes that, “chocolate has long-standing associations with female sexuality” and discusses how this manifests itself in chocolate marketing in her book, Chocolate Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History (Robertson, 1-3). Though these sexualized undertones are strong throughout the chocolate industry and sometimes become painfully explicit in advertising, I will not focus on them here. Instead, I will be concerned with how the two sectors of companies differentiate themselves from each other in how they discuss and market their products. My two main examples will be Jacques Torres Chocolate and two subsidiaries of Mars, Dove and Galaxy. On the whole, the Jacques Torres material focuses on the quality of the product and the personality of Torres, while the Mars subsidiaries focus on chocolate’s larger connotations and its idealized worlds, which represents an evolution in the larger cultural discussion about chocolate in advertisements.
Historically, these two subsets of the chocolate industry have had to jointly combat the stigma of adulteration. Chocolate contains a multitude of ingredients, which, dating back to Cadbury in 1869, have a long history of being adulterated to cut costs. In her article “Blame Candy” in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Samira Kawash reports that, “candy makers were suspected of cutting corners… [and] boosting the bottom line by adding fillers like plaster or sawdust…, replacing chocolate with wax or nuts with cardboard, employing toxic dyes to create eye-catching colors” (Kawash). Though large companies like Cadbury were often implicated, this stigma was attached to all chocolate, including chocolate made by independent producers. One newspaper ad from the early 1900’s produced by Mars was entitled “You’ll Never Sell Her Cheap Candy Again” and introduced a short vignette with parents blaming their daughter’s stomach ache on cheap candy purchased at the local corner store, as opposed to the fine Mars products that “give you more quality” (Proquest Database). The branding war between large companies and small, independent producers, then, is nothing new.
Not only did small grocers and large companies compete over who would be stuck with chocolate’s negative associations, they also have differentiated themselves in their advertising for as long as chocolate has been mass produced. In their book Chocolate: History, Culture and Heritage, Louis Evan Grivetti and Howard-Yana Shapiro note that in the late 1800’s, chocolate “manufacturers would supply retail merchants with large chromos [small cards with designs and advertisements on them] to stimulate sales.” While, “Victorian sentimentality prevailed” with larger chocolate companies’ ornate designs, the authors note that, “cards for grocers were much more business-like,” and often just listed prices or products (Grivetti & Shapiro, 185-7). This difference in marketing was probably merely one of necessity, as the smaller grocers could not afford the ornate designs of the larger companies. The underlying trend, however, of smaller chocolatiers focusing on their product exclusively and bigger companies worrying more about its connotations and ancillary benefits, persists to this day.
In 2016, the two groups wage a similar war, one that is played out online and on television as opposed to in newspapers. On Jacques Torres’s website, the company asserts itself as a provider of high quality, artisan, hand-crafted chocolate. The most subtle way it does this is through its name. Jacques Torres, nicknamed “Mr. Chocolate” is a relatively famous personality, but Torres’ name gives the company clout even independent of his reputation. The fact that the company is named after a specific person makes the customer feel as though they are personally interacting with Torres every time they engage with his company. It adds a level of personality and specificity that a big company cannot match. The “About Us” section goes on to detail Torres’s many accomplishments in his culinary career, granting him an air of absolute legitimacy. Nothing Mars puts out can compete with something personally crafted by an award-winning French chef. The section goes on to write that, “Jacques Torres Chocolate is proud to produce real food bursting with real flavor made without taking any shortcuts or adding any preservatives, extracts or ‘essences.'” Here, the company is appealing to the fraught history of chocolate, and assuring potential customers that they have no part of that. Jacques, it seems, is above such tricks.
Other parts of the website underscore this point. In the picture above, Torres appears to be in touch with nature, and therefore healthy. The About Us section does claim, after all, that Torres’ chocolate is “better for you”. Though it does not elaborate on exactly what the chocolate is better than, any discerning chocolate customer may easily guess. The section closes with the words, “Real. Authentic. Original.” All of these words are variations on the same idea, which is that Jacques Torres chocolate creates a personal connection with the customer, and leverages that connection to gain legitimacy.
The video appearing prominently on the site achieves a similar effect.
This video is something called “A Taste of The Terminal”, and was produced by Grand Central Terminal. In its decision to include it in their website’s promotional material, though, the company elaborates upon the personableness and legitimacy that it has built in its “About Us” section. First, Jacques seems eminently likable. He is very nice to all whom he interacts with, posing for pictures and doing fist bumps with random strangers. The viewer wishes that he or she could have been in the station when he was handing out his crepe samples. Perhaps oddly, though, the video does not discuss chocolate much. The main focus, one could argue, is crepes. Here again, though, the company has shrewdly positioned Jacques as a culinary authority, a master of all. In establishing his ability as a maker of crepes, the video has established his ability as a chef overall, which makes him seem even more legitimate to a customer. Through all of his company’s promotional materials, Jacques Torres appears as a world-renowned pastry chef, who has come to personally cater to his customers’ needs.
Mars company, on the other hand, cannot quite compete with Jacques on a personal level. What it can do, is emphasize certain connotations about its products and those that eat them.
According to an article in the advertising journal The Spot, this advertisement was meant to “give the brand a fresh look, and spur more everyday purchases by customers” (Nudd, The Spot). The advertisement accomplishes this goal by using actors that appear more normal and even quirky. These are not the “classically” beautiful models from stereotypical perfume or chocolate commercials. The decision to film the advertisement as a stop-motion movie increases the quirkiness of the environment, and makes the magical enhancement of the environment by the characters seem more normal. The advertisement ties in these environmental expansions by telling the viewers, “It’s always better when there’s a little more to love”, connecting the bigger bar with the bigger landscape features. This advertisement is working on a much more implicit scale than the Jacques Torres promotional material, though. Whereas Torres touts the craftsmanship of the product and the legitimacy of the chef, Dove focuses on an idealized vision of the world in which its chocolate exists. If you want to live in that world, then you want to eat Dove chocolate.
The vision of an idealized world shines through even more clearly in this Galaxy advertisement, which Dove also used a shortened version of in America. The actress depicted is Audrey Hepburn, who has been CGI’ed into the scene. This detail already sets up the world as a sort of idealized fantasy-land, as Hepburn, long dead, could not possibly appear in a new advertisement–and yet, there she is. Inspired by her Galaxy bar, Hepburn leaves her bus and gets into the back of a man’s car and speeds away from a generic quaint European town into a generic quaint European countryside. The slow fade-in of the song, which is “Moon River”, a song from one of Hepburn’s most famous films, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, increases the sentimentality, as non-diagetic sound gradually overpowers diagetic sound. In this fantasy-land, Galaxy chocolate reins supreme. It has driven Hepburn to act boldly and run away with the man of her dreams (we may assume). People who would like a window into such a world or perhaps to be like Hepburn must eat Galaxy chocolate in order to attain such dreams.
The central difference between the Dove and Galaxy advertisements and the promotional material for Jacques Torres is that the Jacques Torres material focuses on the quality of the product and the Mars subsidiaries focus on its connotations. It seems that now, with chocolate under fire as an unhealthy food, the smaller artisans are attacking that stigma head on, while the larger companies are skirting it entirely and trying to reframe the conversation around not what chocolate contains, but, rather, what it means. Mars’ side-stepping of the debate positions it not so much as a food company, but as a lifestyle company. If you want to eat well, eat Jacques Torres. If you want to live well, eat Dove and Galaxy.
Kawash, Samira. “Blame Candy.” The Chronicle of Higher Education 60.08 (2013). Biography in Context. Web. 12 Mar. 2016.
Robertson, Emma. 2010. Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History
Grivetti, Louis, and Howard-Yana Shapiro. Chocolate: History, Culture, and Heritage. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2009. Print.
Chocolate is a unique consumer’s item because it has exhaustive social and historical significance. Chocolate is created in similar ways but the background of one chocolate bar can vary immensely when compared to that of another chocolate bar. Chocolate bars vary in cacao percentage, sugar amount, cacao origination, labor laws, and so many more complicated factors. When you walk into a store, chocolate seems like another typical food available for purchase, but it is much more complicated than that. The average American consumed almost ten pounds of chocolate in 2015 and that number continues to rise over the years (Satioquia-Tan, 2015). It is very clear that there has been a rise in chocolate consumption that does not appear to be ending anytime soon. In fact, chocolate production and sells bring in billions of dollars per year to many countries (Figure 1), making production a top profitable market (statistica, 2016). The appeal of chocolate is strong and there is no doubt about this.
Figure 1: Consumption of chocolate in dollars in different countries.
It is evident that this rise in chocolate consumption is due to increased advertisement and mass production (Martin, 2016) and the increase of the sugar market (Mintz, 1986). Of course, all of this seems clear because I have taken AfAm119X. I learned firsthand about the joys and perils of the chocolate market. With all the new information I learned about the chocolate industry, I am more skeptical with purchases. I question the fundamentals of where a chocolate originated and the labor laws in place for its production. Unfortunately, not much information is readily available to consumers so they do not have the necessary information to understand the social impacts behind chocolate consumption. If there are no problems associated with the chocolate industry, then new information should not change views on chocolate consumption. This is not the case, however. The easy accessibility of popular brands, constant advertising, and lack of information about exploitation and health consequences all promote chocolate consumption. If people were made more aware of problems in the chocolate industry, then there could be a decline in chocolate consumption which could push industries to better their practices and have more conscious efforts in production. In an interview with a Harvard senior, it was noticed that new information of the problems of the chocolate industry influenced her chocolate consumption.
The woman interviewed for this blog is a Harvard senior who considers herself to be an avid chocolate lover. She agreed to sit down twice for the interview because there were two parts assigned for the interview. Part one of this interview has general questions about chocolate consumption. Part one ended with the interviewee being shown new information, videos, and advertisements intended to bring awareness of some problems of the chocolate industry. Part two of this interview was conducted five days later and was intended to find whether or not the negative information influenced her chocolate consumption. After the entire interview had been conducted, the interviewer was awarded with chocolate of her choosing and her answers were analyzed. It was found that the interviewer lacked background information about chocolate and the new information did influence her choices.
PART ONE OF INTERVIEW: GENERAL QUESTIONS
Interviewer: “When I say the word chocolate, what are some of your first thoughts?”
Friend: “Delicious. Chocolate is delicious and I love it. It’s a great dessert and there are so many different chocolates to choose from. You can give it to people as presents or buy it for yourself.”
Interviewer: “How often would you say you buy chocolate?”
Friend: “A few times a week. I usually buy it on the weekends.”
Interviewer: “Is there any particular type that you buy more often?
Friend: “I usually buy Hershey’s or Almond Joy. Sometimes I’ll get Snickers or Kit-Kat.”
Interviewer: “Why these? What do you consider when you buy these?”
Friend: “It’s really easy to get it. It’s in the aisles but usually it is also at the register so it’s very tempting. Also, it is pretty cheap so I can usually get a lot of chocolate for a few dollars.”.
Interviewer: “How much would you say you know about chocolate?”
Friend: “I would say that I know a lot about the types of chocolate and what they have in them.”
Interviewer: “Would you say you know a lot about how they are made or where their products come from?”
Friend: “Probably not. I honestly just know about the chocolate brands that you find at like CVS. I know they are produced in factories and there is a lot of chocolate out there.”
Interviewer: “Would you say that chocolate is healthy?”
Friend” I have heard that dark chocolate is healthy so I think chocolate can have benefits.”
From the interviewee’s responses, it is very clear that she is a frequent consumer, yet she does not know very much information about chocolate production. The majority of her chocolate experiences come from the Big Five because they control 80% of the chocolate market (Martin, 2016). These companies have made buying their chocolate easily accessible and affordable. With their mass production success, they can continue to supply at such a demand. Not only do these chocolate companies mass produce their chocolate, but they also monopolize stores to market their chocolate as much as possible. For example, the interviewee mentioned the convenience of chocolate found at checkout (Figure 2). Consumers are advertised chocolate throughout the store in the aisles, but then they are advertised again at checkout to solidify the sell. This convenience is content merchandising (Blumenfeld, 2015).
As one would predict, the exploitative side and influential advertising of chocolate production is hidden from the consumer. Chocolate making has a rich process behind it from cacao bean to bar but the consumer is hidden from this. The consumer is only advertised chocolate as a luxurious, desirable good that can only positively affect the consumer.
PART TWO OF INTERVIEW: NEW INFORMATION
At this point in the interview, I informed the interviewee that I would give her new information about chocolate that I had learned in AfAm119X. I would proceed to ask her follow up questions and I would take notes of any reactions that she had to the information. I presented the information in the following order:
1. I showed her different advertisements from popular chocolate companies. I told her about how some of these advertisements were often hyper-sexualized women and advertisements were different for men or women audiences (Farhim, 2010). Or some ads were used to promote chocolate to children from a very young age (Fed Up, 2014).
2. I gave her a chart of the benefits of cacao and advised her that popular chocolate bars, such as Hershey’s, were only made of 20% chocolate (Martin, 2016). I presented her with a nutrition label chart of a Snicker’s bar and pointed out that there was no daily value percentage assigned to the sugar information.
3. I told her the statistic that every metric cacao has only a $200 premium most of the profit does not go directly to the farmer (Martin, 2016).
4. I showed her some clips from the documentary “Fed Up”. The clips showed the major control that the sugar industry has on food today and its negative impact on health. I explained that many efforts to control this industry have been denied due to profit concerns (Fed Up, 2014).
Interviewer: “With this new information about chocolate behind-the-scenes, how do you feel about chocolate or what are some thoughts you are having?”
Friend: “I feel like I’ve been lied to before. I didn’t know that a chocolate bar was more sugar than actual chocolate. I also never really considered how much farmers were exploited and overworked just so that I could eat a chocolate bar. All of this information makes me believe that there is a bad side to the chocolate industry that I didn’t know about.”
Interviewer: “Which of these would you say is sticking with you more?”
Friend: “I’m actually quite upset with the Fed Up clips that you showed me. I can’t believe that there is such a monopoly in advertisements. They influence children and adults and work to stop change from happening. I almost feel responsible like I should only buy chocolate that is more socially conscious.”
Interviewer: “Who would you say is responsible for these problems?”
Friend: “The chocolate companies and politics. It is unfair that we don’t know this information because they are afraid that their sales will decrease. It is my fault as well though for not questioning the production of chocolate.”
The interviewee had a very negative reaction to the new information. She was angered by the lack of information available to the consumer. Even though this information is not available to consumers, it affects them indirectly or directly when they consume chocolate. When consumers increase their demand for chocolate, chocolate companies must increase their demand of cacao. This could cause more exploitation of farmers to meet the demand, which is an indirect effect. Directly, chocolate is about 80% sugar so one chocolate bar could exceed the recommended daily consumption amount (Martin, 2016).
A particularly interesting finding of this interview was that the interviewee was mostly offended by the advertising efforts of companies. Many companies target children from very young ages because if they can accustom them to the consumption of their product when young, at older ages they will continue to buy the products (Fed Up, 2014). Children are much more impressionable to such advertisements and companies monopolize on that fact. The advertising efforts begin at home when children watch television and they continue elsewhere. The interviewee’s reaction to this shows that people would be angered if they had the necessary information. Chocolate companies have mastered the act of hiding their problems and promoting the taste of their chocolate.
PART TWO OF INTERVIEW
Interviewer: “How did this new information affect you?”
Friend: “I feel like it prevented me from buying as much chocolate as I normally would. I also bought some different type of chocolate that advertised that it had higher percentages of cacao. I considered buying chocolate that had more of a story on its label. It made me more aware of my purchases.”
Interviewer: “What were your overall feelings when you bought the new chocolate and what did you consider?”
Friend: “When I tried to buy the popular chocolate brands, I felt guilty. I didn’t want to know that I was being a part of the manipulation of the sugar industry. Plus, the other chocolate is healthier and still tastes somewhat good.”
Even though this was only one person, a bit of new information about the problems in the chocolate industry were influential. The information from part one affected what the interviewee considered when buying chocolate. In fact, she no longer considered easy accessibly and cheap cost. Instead, she was more conscious about the background of the chocolate bar and its health benefits. It has been known that chocolate can cause feelings of guilt because there is a false dichotomy (Martin, 2016). However, the feelings of guilt that the interviewee felt were due to her lack of information about exploitation and advertising. After learning the new information, the interviewee made an active change to her consumerism. She avoided Big Five chocolate companies and attempted to buy more socially conscious chocolate.
It is important to acknowledge the social issues that were presented to the interviewee. Sugar consumption is at a high and chocolate companies monopolize on this. Mass production of chocolate leads to high demand which can increase exploitation. Advertisement efforts often target children and women. Each of these issues alone is problematic but they persist anyhow. People are not aware of these issues so there is increasing success of major chocolate companies. One interviewee’s consumption practices were changed with some new information which signals that more awareness about the problems in the chocolate industry could influence many more people.
Chocolate industries have manipulated information available to their consumers. They manipulate country taxes to exploit countries’ cacao profits (Sylla, 2014). They manipulate the health information known about chocolate. Their success in advertisements, mass production, and low cost mask the problems of chocolate production. Even though this is true, a bit of awareness could influence consumers. The interviewee made changes in her consumption and others could too. Next time, buy a Taza Chocolate bar!
Blumenfeld, J. (2015). The art of chocolate: Woo customers with craft, story and health. New Hope Network.
Farhim, J. (2010). Beyond cravings: Gender and class desires in chocolate marketing. Occidental College; OxyScholar.
Fed Up, documentary. (2014). Film.
Martin, C. (2016). Introduction to chocolate, culture, and the politics of food. Harvard College, Lecture.
Mintz, S. (1986). Sweetness and Power.
Satioquia-Tan, J. (2015). Americans Eat HOW MUCH chocolate?. CNBC.
Statista.com. (2016). Statistics and facts on the chocolate industry.