“Here, then, is the origin of Negro slavery. The reason was economic, not racial; it had to do not with the color of the laborer, but the cheapness of the labor. [The planter] would have gone to the moon, if necessary, for labor. Africa was nearer than the moon, nearer too than the more populous countries of India and China. But their turn was to come.”
– Eric Williams, historian & former Prime Minister of Trinidad & Tobago
Slavery was an integral part of the development of both the chocolate and sugar industries; without the labor provided by the tens of thousands of enslaved Africans that were taken from their homes and brought to the New World in order to perform painstaking labor on sugar and cacao plantations, I don’t think either of these industries would be where they are today. In addition to this system of chattel slavery, in which enslaved people were treated as personal property and were bought and sold as commodities, indigenous people also fell victim to European greed and conquest through the slightly different, but equally antagonistic encomienda system; natives were forced to farm the land and produce quotas as a way to pay tribute to the Spanish colonists that were intruding on their land (Martin). Today, it’s obvious that the work these people were forced to do and the conditions they had to endure, with little to no reward, were completely and utterly unjust. And according to Eric Williams, historian and diplomat, the motive behind this unjust treatment was purely economic; “it had to do not with the color of the laborer, but the cheapness of the labor” (Martin). But I have to disagree; upon further investigation of the horrendous details of the history of slavery in these industries, it’s obvious that racism and white supremacy played huge roles, and continue to do so today.
The Atlantic Slave Trade began around the mid 1500s and lasted about 300 years; the trading took place in a three-way system: ships from Europe carrying manufactured goods would sail to Africa where they’d be exchanged for “human cargo.” These enslaved people would then be transported to the New World, and raw goods, such as sugar, cacao, indigo, and tobacco, would be loaded onto the ships and taken back to Europe (Coe 186). This cycle continued for centuries, reaching its peak in the 18th century. And even after the abolition of the slave trade at the beginning of the the 19th century, thousands of ships continued to transport enslaved people to South and Central America up until 1860 (Kahn).
Five years later, slavery itself was finally outlawed in the United States, but in many Caribbean countries, this was not the case; slave labor was still used until the turn of the 20th century. In fact, Cadbury, one of the big six companies in the chocolate industry today, was caught up in a controversy involving the Portuguese government and the use of slave labor on the islands of São Tomé and Príncipe around the year 1910. A pamphlet entitled Alma Negra was published in 1912 stating that “‘the existence of slavery on the islands is a fact’” (Higgs 158). However, as time went on, situations involving slavery diminished and cacao cultivation made a transition from South and Central America and the Caribbean to the West African countries of Ghana, Nigeria, and Ivory Coast. Today, this region produces a whopping 70% of the world’s cacao (Coe 196-197). And though it may seem as if all cacao farmers are being paid for their labor, this is not the case. Unfortunately, child labor is a huge problem in African agriculture as a whole, but especially with cacao. Children are being trafficked and forced to work in dangerous conditions; they come into contact with strong pesticides, often cut themselves with the large machetes they must use, and receive little to no medical treatment (Coe 264). And that, sadly, is where we are today.
Forced, unpaid labor in itself is objectionable, and when taken at face value, it’s easy to see why Williams’s statement regarding economic opportunity as the sole motive for slavery is plausible. However, once one takes a closer look at some of the gruesome details of the system, along with the way in which cacao cultivation developed into what it is today, the large impact that racism and white supremacy had becomes more clear. Going back to “Three-Way Trade” and looking at the way in which human beings were treated as cargo: forced to lie down, chained, stacked on shelves in a ship’s hold for weeks on end, with very little food or water, forced to defecate on themselves and each other; this type of treatment can only be categorized as inhumane. In fact, in order to justify such treatment, European traders had to have believed that these enslaved people were less than human, disposable pieces of property that didn’t possess basic human rights.
And this trend continued as the enslaved people who survived the voyage across the Middle Passage entered into forced labor on plantations. The conditions were simply atrocious, so bad that the life expectancy for an enslaved person working in the Caribbean or Brazil was only seven to eight years (Martin). The lives of these people were simply not valued, and this fact is not only recognized now, but also by many who lived back then; abolitionist movements quickly arose amongst those who were enslaved and those who were not. And even as abolition has been achieved and the very slow transition has been made from slave labor to paid labor, systematic racism continues to play a role in the chocolate industry. As aforementioned, West Africans, the same people who were torn from their homes and forced to work on plantations, are the main cultivators of cacao today. And while most of them are paid, they are not paid nearly enough; they only earn a measly 3% of the profits while those involved in marketing, processing, transportation, and retail take the rest (Martin). Because of the system, these African farmers remain poor while the big chocolate companies only get richer. And the sad part is, they have no other choice; there’s no way for them to escape this system. Thus, the racist sentiments that started way back in the 1500s continue to exist, more subtly, today.
All that being said, it’s impossible to look at the history of the sugar and cacao industries without confronting slavery and the racist, supremacist views used to justify it. And though we cannot change the past, there’s still hope for the futures of these industries as more people are being made aware of the injustices that occur and are advocating for change. Hopefully, this change will come soon and the cultivators of cacao will finally get what they deserve.
Chocolate’s history is one full of rampant exploitation and profit-gouging. Beginning and in origin as an ancient Meso-American staple for religious and cultural ceremony, it is now widely known almost solely for its desert-like presentation. When Hernando Cortes discovered the Aztecs, he was welcomed in by King Montezuma, who treated him to a banquet including chocolate in the form of a somewhat bitter tasting drink. European distaste for the cacao drink quickly gave way to a sweetened form of the ‘delicacy’ more suited to European luxury (Smithsonian Magazine). The transformation of the cacao bean was rapid, as European royalty and the rich began to use it in an almost fashionable and status-gaining way. Discovered in 1828 by a Dutch man named Coenraad Johannes van Houten, the process of transforming cacao beans into cocoa powder using a hydraulic press allowed for a certain commercialization of chocolate. Previously, chocolate had been strictly served in drink form, but by 1850, when a man named Joseph Fry experimented with adding cacao butter to cacao powder, forming a solid chocolate (World Cocoa Foundation). Using sugar to make it sweeter, and physical tools to make it more industrial and marketable, Europeans quickly realized that chocolate could be mass produced as a global luxury food item, causing a massive and immediate explosion in the newfound and newly created ‘chocolate industry’.
The European processing of Chocolate which brought it into big industry.
Chocolate as we know it today is a relatively new concept, having been formed and created over the last two centuries. The issues that have been caused in wake of this rapid development are issues synonymous to the same problems that most agricultural cropping processes encounter. Exploited labor, massive exportation, and profit-gouging are rampant within the cocoa produce industry. It is estimated that nearly ninety percent of all cacao is grown on small family farms of a few acres, meaning that it passes through multiple sets of hands and transactions before making it to actual production. Consequentially, the majority of around 5 million cacao farmers live in poverty. Entirely profit driven, cacao is processed in countries and places like America, Canada, and Europe, half a world removed from the places of production origin, such as South America and Africa, meaning that it is easy for chocolate companies to claim ignorance to the fact that their growers are using child-labor, deforestation slash and burn techniques, and living in poverty themselves.
The deforestation in Cote d’Ivoire.
Corporations are inherently created and driven by massive profit margins, and though it isn’t always necessary that they maintain those margins, it is very difficult for massive beasts such as Nestlé, which employs an estimated 308,000 people, to justify a self-imposed and willing profit loss. Though it isn’t ethically right for these companies to pay their producers so little and so unfairly, reform is a much slower and more difficult process than it seems from the outside. In most, if not all, opinions, removing child labor altogether from the industry would be a major win, however, it’s estimated that in order to incentivize farmers in Africa and South America to remove children from their workforce, they would need to be paid at least fifty percent more for their crops (Sapiens), which would cause major ripples among the profit margins for these major companies.
Less profit for Nestlé means lower wages for employees and less production, but more importantly, it means less money flowing into the chocolate market. These are the factors that come into play when legislation ignores the fact that cacao production in its current form is harmful to the people and environments that it touches. Though that reasoning should and will never justify the use of forced child labor, it goes to show that this is a very ‘complex’ issue, with many factors at play, making decisions harder and harder for lawmakers and corporations alike. Unfortunately, the answer to these issues may be found in the extreme degradation of the cacao and chocolate industries. To draw a parallel of sorts, in the 1880s, at the peak of the cattle industry, a cow raised and bred in South Texas could be purchased for $10 but sold for $40 in most other states. This led to the exploitation of both labor and land in Texas, causing ranchers to overgraze and overstock their land in an effort to pay their impoverished cowboys, who made a mere $30 per month. Soon enough, prices were low due to a flood of beef in the market, and the industry collapsed, calling for a new set of reforms and regulations regarding acres/cow, cattle head maximum/ranch etc. Since the crash of the cattle industry in the late 1880s, there was an overall betterment of the industry for about a century, until large feedlot beef corporations started to profit gouge much like the Nestlés of the chocolate industry. Since the 1980s, the cattle industry in America has seen a similar trend of exploitation and unsustainable farming techniques used in order to make ends meet, but it is on a slow decline that will eventually correct itself yet again. The point I aim to make is that massive change within industry is both slow to move and incredibly difficult to set in action. Though the proof that change is needed is out there, the truth and way of our current world is that big change needs time, and maybe the cacao industry is close to that breaking point.
It’s no secret that a lot of us love chocolate, but what has always been a source of pleasure for us remains a source of pain for millions of others. When we say that chocolate is our guilty pleasure, we think of how it tastes great but is loaded with sugar and fat. However, one source of guilt that we often fail to acknowledge when consuming chocolate is the human cost hidden behind its production. From the indigenous people of Mesoamerica to the current children working in cocoa farms in West Africa, millions of men, women, and children have been exploited in the production of cocoa over the span of several hundred years. Despite countless efforts to reform labor practices in cocoa production, we continue to see issues like the child labor epidemic in West Africa. Moreover, while efforts to reduce exploitative labor practices in the chocolate industry continue, the future looks grim. With a history of cocoa and chocolate producers valuing profits over people, producers are likely to only continue looking for ways to cheapen the cost of their labor.
When the Spanish first arrived in Mesoamerica, the origin of cacao and chocolate, it took very little time for them to grasp the importance of chocolate and begin to exploit the indigenous people of the land they had invaded (Coe and Coe 110). While chocolate was initially of interest to the Spanish due to the economic importance of cacao beans in the native economy, the Spanish slowly acquired a taste for chocolate and began to export it to Europe (Coe and Coe 125). Soon after the Conquest, the Spaniards were lured to Soconusco for their cacao. As the demand for chocolate increased due to a growing craving for chocolate in Europe, rapacious conquistadors began enslaving the indigenous people of Soconusco such that a slave would be valued at one fifth of a load of cacao. However, on May 29th, 1537 Pope Paul III Farnese would publish the Sublima Deus which threatened to excommunicate any Christian that enslaved an “Indian”. While this led to the end of the enslavement of indigenous people, this merely led to the Encomienda system in which encomenderos were getting what amounted to forced, free labor in return for which they were to see that the native people became Christians (Coe and Coe 178). However, due to an epidemic of diseases of Old World origin and mistreatment by the Spaniards, approximately 90% of the ingienous population of the Americas had died while the demand for chocolate only grew (Coe and Coe 125).
In order to meet the demands for cocoa by Europe without the loss of profits, the falling population of the indigenous people of Mesoamerica were offset by the importation of slaves from Africa. By the 17th century, two triangles of trade would arise in which raw materials, goods, and slaves would be traded between the New World, Europe, and Africa. The most important feature of these triangles was the “Middle Passage” in which human beings were sent across the Atlantic to be forced into labor on plantations run by European colonizers (Mintz 44). This plantation system in which sugar, cacao, and other products were produced were grounded in the use of harsh, forced labor in which the average life expectancy of an enslaved person living in the Caribbean and Brazil was about seven to eight years. Despite abolition and the emancipation of slaves throughout the 1800s, abolition did not put an end to extreme inequality or exploitative labor practices. For example, in the early 1900s, it was found that cocoa plantations in Fernando Po and Cameroon were still using slave labor. Moreover, the use of slaves was common on Portuguese plantations from the 1880s well into the 1950s (Martin). Thus for years many plantations were able to keep the price of cocoa down as demand went up by using forced labor and slavery.
Currently despite labor reformation efforts, child labor is still being utilized to produce the chocolate that we eat in the United States. Although major chocolate producers like Mars, Nestlé, and Hershey pledged to discontinue their use of cocoa harvested by children approximately 20 years ago, a great portion of the chocolate we buy and consume today contains cocoa produced by child labor (Whoriskey and Siegel). According to the U.S. Labor Department, more than 2 million children have been found to be engaged in dangerous labor in cocoa-growing regions in West Africa, where 60 percent of the world’s cocoa supply comes from (“Child Labor in the Production of Cocoa”). Despite efforts to eradicate child labor from the chocolate industry, chocolate industries are unable to identify the farms from which their cocoa comes from, let alone identify their labor practices. For example, Mars can only trace 24 percent of their cocoa supply back to the farms in which they were produced (Whoriskey and Siegel). Thus, despite efforts by the chocolate industry to solve the child labor epidemic in the cocoa industry, deadlines and goals have only been pushed back.
While the fight to improve labor conditions in the chocolate industry continues, it is unlikely that we will see big changes any time soon. With the history of cocoa producers having a blatant disregard for human life and clear mindset of profits over people, it will be extremely difficult for chocolate producers to trace their cocoa supplies back to farms or punish farms for exploitative labor practices as both of these efforts would require a large financial investment and cuts to profit. Moreover, until chocolate producers are willing to pay more for ethically sourced cocoa, farmers will be forced to continue using child labor in order to cope with cocoa’s low market price (Whoriskey and Siegel). Therefore, as long as the cocoa industry refuses to cut its profits in order to enact change, exploitative labor practices will continue.
“Child Labor in the Production of Cocoa.” U.S. Department of Labor,
The cafe is cozy and dimly lit, the perfect setting for an interview. Dave and I head to the back and sit at a small wooden table. A few days ago, he had eagerly agreed to be interviewed as soon as I mentioned that the subject of my questions would be chocolate. Of course, he only became more enthusiastic after I mentioned that we would be doing a blind taste test as well. We order a couple of loose leaf teas and two slices of white bread — an odd order at a cafe, but we would need them to cleanse Dave’s palate during the tasting.
I start out by asking Dave how much he likes chocolate, to which he replies, “A pretty large amount.” I then ask him why he likes chocolate, but he seems confused at how to answer. “Well, it has a unique taste,” he says. “It has that melt-in-your-mouth quality. It’s creamy, fragrant, smooth, appealing.” Basically his answer in a few words was that chocolate simply tastes good — it has a good flavor and a good texture.
The question I asked seems simple, but upon closer examination there seems to be no clear answer. Why is the world so crazy about chocolate? In “The Biology and Psychology of Chocolate Craving,” author David Benton notes that chocolate is “by far the most common food item that people report that they crave” (205). But is there some scientific reason behind this, or are we just continuing the traditions of ancient civilizations (such as the Aztecs and the Maya) who called chocolate the ‘food of the gods’?
In my interview, I aimed to first look at chocolate from a more historical point of view to examine reasons behind its inherent ‘specialness,’ before comparing this to what we think of chocolate today. I then wanted to examine something a little less black and white — Dave’s general feelings towards chocolate, and why these certain feelings may have developed as a result of pop culture and the media. After this, I wanted to touch on some thoughts about the nature of the chocolate industry and some of the problems in it. And finally, I wanted to try a blind chocolate taste test, to compare my knowledge about chocolate companies with Dave’s blind opinion about the chocolates themselves. I thought it would be interesting to see whether he could taste differences in quality, flavor, and texture.
Chocolate in History vs. Today: What do you associate with chocolate?
“I have fond memories of chocolate from when I was little,” Dave explains. “In a lot of the events I would go to, like performances, they’d have chocolate to give us kids and we’d eat it while watching the performers.”
It might seem rather arbitrary that we associate chocolate with special events and celebrations. However, this has been a pattern throughout history. Going back to the ancient Aztec and Mayan civilizations, chocolate has often appeared in rituals and religious ceremonies. In a sacred Mayan text, the Popol Vuh, cacao appears several times — for example, there are stories about gods being represented by cacao pods (Coe & Coe, 39). Cacao was also linked to marriage rituals (for example, as dowries) and rites of death.
There are many sources that talk about how chocolate has always been special, historically. It has often appeared in religious and spiritual contexts. Such myths about cacao and gods may seem so detached from us now; maybe we are ‘logical’ or ‘scientists’ and no longer widely believe in such tales. But then maybe we are not so far from this mindset as we may initially think. We still romanticize chocolate as being a mystical substance with mysterious powers. Although we may not call it the ‘food of the gods,’ we still hold it with a similar regard. We still serve it at events and special occasions, we still relate it to fertility (it is associated with aphrodisiacs and romance), and yet we cannot easily explain what makes it so special.
For children especially, chocolate is an alluring treat associated with intensity and excitement (as it was to Dave). This may be why marketing to children is such a huge business: children are even more likely to ignore any logical arguments and accept chocolate as being magical. But there is even evidence of adults today thinking of chocolate in this way: for example, in “Chocolate and Cardiovascular Health: The Kuna Case Reconsidered,” James Howe describes a doctor who was trying to scientifically explain the remarkable cardiovascular health of the Kuna people. The doctor notices that they drink a lot of cacao and immediately relates this to their heart health, although he may not have made the same conclusion had they been drinking a common cornmeal drink. And of course, their healthiness turned out to be unrelated to cacao drinking. The doctor had simply been romanticizing cacao, perhaps because it was more mysterious to him.
As for the reason why we are drawn to cacao, it could be scientific: chocolate has been shown to be one of the most complex natural flavors (Brenner, 64), so perhaps we are simply attracted to this multi-dimensionality. Or maybe the fascination of the Aztecs and Mayans with chocolate has carried over to our time. Or as Benton explains in “The Biology and Psychology of Chocolate Craving,” it could just be because it tastes good (214). Either way, all we can conclude is that chocolate is mysterious to us and that we still tend to consider it under in mystical context — kind of like how the Aztecs and Mayans did so long ago.
Chocolate and Emotions and Pop culture: How do you feel about chocolate?
“I think of chocolate and happiness,” Dave says fondly. “Yeah, it’s definitely a happy food. I sometimes eat it when I’m stressed, but then I eat a lot when I’m stressed in general.”
It seems that Dave is not the only person who thinks that chocolate encourages happiness. Chocolate is often given as a gift of love or celebration, in order to urge someone to think of you in a fond or romantic way. But because of chocolate’s clear link with improving mood, people often eat it when upset, bored, or stressed. As Benton describes in his essay, there is a link between chocolate and ‘emotional’ eating, and there is also “consistent evidence that chocolate craving is associated with depression and other disturbances of mood” (206). In other words, because we associate chocolate with happiness, our cravings often occur when we are upset.
Dave doesn’t explicitly mention eating chocolate when he is stressed or sad, but he does describe some of the chocolates he likes best: specifically, those small dark chocolate nuggets wrapped in colorful foil with inspirational messages written on the inside. It seems that the companies manufacturing chocolate are aware of its power to improve mood, and they try to exaggerate this effect as much as possible in order to encourage people to keep coming back. And yet, as Benton describes, there is no convincing evidence of certain constituents in chocolate having special mood-improving powers. This is again part of what makes chocolate so mysterious to us; we can look at its components and try to analyze scientifically, but in the end it’s the chocolate as a whole that is inexplicably stimulating.
But what deeper effects could these emotions have? Chocolate encourages happiness for so many people; how can we see the effects of this in the media and pop culture? I ask Dave how he relates chocolate to pop culture. He leans back in his seat, looking a little wistful.
“Oh, romance for sure,” he says, waving a hand. “And holidays… I always buy the most chocolate during those Christmas, Halloween, and Easter sales. And Valentine’s Day, of course — although I haven’t recently gifted chocolate in a romantic way or anything. But I want to.” He goes on to describe a romantic scene of him standing in a park near a bench with snow on the ground, holding a red box of chocolates and a single rose. “I always think of those little red heart-shaped boxes of chocolates. Dark chocolates. With a bow.”
It’s surprising how specific these images are; we now seem to inherently relate Valentine’s Day to chocolate without questioning why we would do so. As for the other holidays, they are also important earning opportunities for chocolate-selling companies, especially if those companies take advantage of our associations of chocolate with romance and love. Many a chocolate advertisement will ruthlessly target women, appealing to them as mothers and housewives.
In terms of romance, Dave’s answer reveals the influence that these advertisements and depictions in the media have on us: he never even considers the possibility of a woman gifting a man chocolate. As a male, he assumes that it is his duty to do the giving. And this is no new concept — as Emma Robertson describes in “Chocolate, Women, and Empire: A Social and Cultural History,” women have been positioned as consumers since the time of the Aztecs (68). So we see again that there are common themes throughout history that have survived even until today.
Ultimately, we know that we crave chocolate because it tastes ‘good,’ and that we consider it an aphrodisiac and so relate it to fertility. We also know that historically, people have also loved and obsessed over chocolate, and wondered at its unusual powers — so much so that they associated it with divinity and spirituality. But in the end, we marvel at chocolate just as much as them. There are few satisfying or scientific answers as to why we associate chocolate so strongly with love, women, and happiness, rather than some other delicious treat. The fact that chocolate has held such an important position since so early in history just enhances its image in our eyes, and we continue to romanticize and fantasize, as can be seen from the media and its influence on people like Dave. At this point, we are fed so much information about chocolate’s link to romance and happiness that I would be surprised if Dave had not described the exact specific imagery that he had.
The Chocolate Industry: What do you know about the industry?
I knew that when asked about the ‘biggest’ chocolate brands, Dave would most likely name Hershey. But I wasn’t so sure about the others.
“I love Lindt, Godiva. Ferrero,” Dave lists. I was surprised. Lindt is the first one he mentions? “And Hershey’s, of course. Hershey’s is comfortable.”
I ask him why it’s comfortable. He describes how one of his teachers used to give him a big Hershey’s Symphony cookies n’ cream bar on his birthday, how he would split it among his friends, and hide it from his parents. “Well, it’s comfortable but the taste is aggressively sweet. I like dark chocolate, mostly.”
It seems that so many people have fond memories associated with Hershey’s. But is Hershey’s actually good? All of the other brands Dave mentioned suited his preference for dark chocolate; Lindt and Godiva are known for making higher quality, more expensive products (especially better quality dark chocolate). Hershey’s, however, seems to have established itself as a reliable and homely brand. As seen in advertisements such as the one for Hershey’s syrup, they appeal to family and strive to create good memories to associate with themselves. So it would make sense that people such as Dave would remember Hershey’s fondly, even if their preferences lie elsewhere.
There is a stark difference, in fact, between what American consumers and other consumers think of Hershey’s. Americans, having grown up on it and having forged many good memories with a Hershey’s bar in hand, are more likely to say that Hershey’s tastes ‘like home.’ However, other consumers have commonly remarked that Hershey’s tastes rather ‘like vomit.’ In his chocolate-making process, Hershey unintentionally added the side effect of milk fat fermentation, which creates a sour note in his milk chocolate (D’Antonio, 108). Since the milk is partially soured, it creates an acid that is found in substances such as baby spit-up — but American consumers are now too accustomed to the taste, or perhaps swayed by their pleasant memories of Hershey’s, to notice or complain (Metz).
One other surprising aspect of Dave’s comment was that he failed to mention Mars, indisputably one of the most influential chocolate snack manufacturers. When I tried to bring up candies Twix and Snickers, he commented that he had had a vague idea that such candies were produced by the same umbrella company, but that he hadn’t heard much about it. Perhaps this is due to the fact that Mars has always been a secretive company — Forrest Mars had cared about quality and his empire vision and little else. Others had always agree that “Mars’s intelligence operations [were] infamous… they tried to pump information out of… anybody they could” (Brenner, 62). It is clear, then, that the nature of the company also largely impacts what the general public thinks of their brand and products.
I then asked Dave what he knew about unethical labor in the industry, just to gauge his awareness. He commented that he was aware of problems such as child labor in the system. “Consumers are definitely implicated in these problems, though,” he says, almost uncomfortably. “But if I saw a normal chocolate bar and a more expensive one labeled ‘ethically sourced,’ I’d probably go with the normal one. Nowadays it seems like labeling your candy as being ‘ethically sourced’ is more of a gimmick to squeeze more profit out of consumers. If I’m shopping and looking for a few items, I often don’t have the motivation to research the brand then and there.”
In other words, Dave was able to tell that the problem was complex enough that there could be no simple solution. He knew that just adding labels would not be enough to motivate consumers like himself to do research themselves and to start acting upon their new knowledge. As is true in many other situations, complex lives require holistic responses.
Tasting: what do you taste?
I had Dave close his eyes and taste test three different brands of dark chocolate (with a palate cleansing in between each): Cadbury, then Hershey’s, then Lindt. I was interested to see how his opinions might match up with the information I had about each brand.
On Cadbury: “This smells like dark chocolate! It is nutty, quite smooth, not too sweet, and melts nicely. But the taste is rather straightforward. It doesn’t linger.” Rated: 8/10
On Hershey’s: “This has a very odd odor. I’m not sure how to describe it. It melts incredible fast, is very sweet, and tastes a bit like coffee. It tastes lighter than the other one… maybe milk chocolate?” Rated: 7/10
On Lindt: “This smells very chocolatey; no odd scent here. It seems to melt slower though, and it tastes both very sweet and not so sweet at the same time. It does have some astringent notes and it seems to make my tongue dry. It’s very rich.” Rated: 5/10
Dave’s comments surprisingly matched up with what I predicted. He sensed that Hershey’s uses a lower percentage of actual cacao (by guessing that it was milk). He even smelled the sour note in the Hershey’s chocolate. However, he didn’t seem to like the texture of the Lindt chocolate as much, which was unexpected to me since Lindt was the one who invented the conching process. But in the end, he seemed to enjoy all three samples of chocolate (and continued eating them after the interview had ended).
After a closer examination, it becomes clear that chocolate has a complex and rich history, a controversial and influential role in society, and is the center of a competitive and powerful industry. The whole world is obsessed with this single characteristic flavor; so many people are constantly craving it, giving and receiving it, and talking about it. But is this such a surprise? The biggest conclusion at the end of the day is that chocolate is mysteriously delicious — and that perhaps we are not so different from those ancient civilizations and their myths about the ‘food of the gods.’
Benton, David. “The Biology and Psychology of Chocolate Craving.” Coffee, Tea, Chocolate, and the Brain, by Astrid Nehlig, CRC Press, 2004.
Brenner Joël Glenn. The Emperors of Chocolate: inside the Secret World on Hershey & Mars. Broadway Books, 2000.
Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. Thames and Hudson, 2019.
“‘Here There Will Be No Unhappiness.’” Hershey: Milton’s S. Hershey’s Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams, by Michael D’Antonio, Simon & Schuster Paperback, 2006.
Howe, James. “Chocolate and Cardiovascular Health.” Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture, vol. 12, no. 1, 2012, doi:10.1525/gfc.2012.12.1.cover.
Metz, Elle. “Does Cadbury Chocolate Taste Different in Different Countries?” BBC News, BBC, 18 Mar. 2015, http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-31924912. “’The Romance of the Cocoa Bean’: Imperial and Colonial Histories.” Chocolate, Women, and Empire: A Social and Cultural History, by Emma Robertson, University of York, 2004.
The chocolate industry has a huge commercial impact on contemporary North American society; this impact is not just commercial, however. Consumers, particularly women, often have a larger emotional connection [to chocolate] that goes beyond capitalist values. Regrettably, consumers, are often not always aware of the exploitive nature the chocolate industry has been historically. Nor are they aware of how incredibly inequitable it is primarily for the farmers and their families who are instrumental to the chocolate industry. Through an interview with my friend, Mara Peters (alias), I attempt to analyze these emotional connections female consumers have with chocolate while also revealing the disconnects they have with the ‘dark side’ of the chocolate supply chain. Lastly, this paper will also consider alternative ways how to make the industry more equitable, diverging from popular models that exist like, Fair Trade and Free Trade, as well as, some internal sustainable programs implemented by the chocolate companies, like Nestle’s Cocoa Plan.
Emotional Connections: Women & Chocolate Consumption
Chocolate is all around us. Accessible to us at any moment, at grocery stores anywhere in the world, from a convenient store in a small town in California to a large shopping complex in Japan. When we buy our favorite bar or bonbon, we know it will taste the same EVERY SINGLE TIME. We can take comfort in that, especially women on the western part of the world. For women chocolate has become something more than a simple treat. Instead it is a food that has taken on a significant emotional role in women’s lives. Case in point. For my friend Mara, chocolate has provided a sense of comfort helping her to manage several types of emotions, such as stress, depression, and yes, even pleasure. This strong emotional connection is psychologically real. There has been many scientific studies to show these strong associations. Turning to chocolate was a way Mara could relieve stress. During our interview, she recalled when writing her PhD dissertation in biochemistry she literally did not eat much except for chocolate. “When I was writing my PhD dissertation, I stopped eating real food and just ate chocolate cake from Trader Joe’s 😵 I definitely cope with 🍫” (Peters, M. 2019, April, 1. Text Message. S. Martinez). The emoticon ‘Dizzy Face’ (open mouth and X’s to resemble spirals for eyes) in the text message she used to respond to my question expresses heightened disbelief, awe, amazement (emojipedia, n.d.). She was in total disbelief that she could eat so much chocolate to get through that difficult period of her life. Getting a PhD is no easy feat. There was a lot of pressure to do well and finish strong, so why not take off the edge with chocolate. When she looks into further she recognizes how much chocolate has definitely been used as a coping mechanism throughout her life. After Mara’s second pregnancy she experienced postpartum depression and as a result again turned to chocolate to help her cope with those daily mental hardships (Peters, M. 2019, April, 1. In Person. S. Martinez).
Mara is not the only one who has relied on chocolate as a way to deal with stressors in one’s life. Chocolate is the most common food item people report they crave to alleviate emotional distress according to Dr. David Benton a psychologist and biochemical pharmacologist (Benton, 2004, p. 205). Chocolate has been studied for sometime by scientific researchers to determine whether or not the chemicals compounds in chocolate have real influences over our moods and/or behaviors. Dr. Benton’ studies suggest that these chocolate cravings are not really derived from any pharmacological and/or biological processes to induce the craving but rather a physiological reaction from taste and the attractiveness of the mouthfeel (Benton, 2004, 214). When we bite into our favorite chocolate our taste buds are awaken sending a signal to the brain releasing endorphins from our opioid systems. This system controls our pain, reward and addictive behaviors (European College of Neuropsychopharmacology, 2007). When these endorphins are triggered (by eating chocolate) they are helping us to relieve our pain or stress by replacing them with feelings of happiness and/or pleasure.
Women actually experience stronger cravings for chocolate more than men (Hallam et al., 2016, p. 163). That number has been consistently shown to be higher than 92 percent according to a few studies (Hallam et al., 2016, p. 163). Women experience a higher intensity cravings for more palatable, sweeter, fattier and high caloric foods than men. When it comes to sweets, women prefer chocolate, pastries, and ice cream (Hallam et al., 2016, p. 163). While men, on the other hand, tend to crave more savory foods such as meat, fish, eggs (Hallam et al., 2016, p. 163). When it came to sweets men prefer a sweet beverage, but not chocolate (Hallam et al., 2016, p. 163). Interestingly Mara expressed a similar observation. Her husband does like chocolate but he definitely does not crave it. “I don’t think he craves it or anything. He usually likes fruit desserts more than chocolate. Blasphemy!!” 🤣 (Peters, M. 2019, April, 1. [Text Message]. S. Martinez).These cravings are not just triggered by physically consuming chocolate or other delectable food but can also be induced by environmental stimuli or ‘induced craving cues’ (Hallam et al., 2016, p. 162). For example seeing an ad like Godiva pop on the television can elicit these craving (Hallam et al., 2016, p. 162). To capture this activity occurring functional magnetic resonance (fMRI) have been performed on women’s brain. When women are shown images of palatable foods there is more neural activity in areas of the brain where the taste-region is located (Hallam et al., 2016, p. 164). Mara’s experience aligns well with the study conducted by researchers at Yale. Mara recalls being obsessed with chocolate in college. Being in a bigger town and at the university she had accessed to better quality chocolate. Dark chocolate was and still is her favorite (Peters, M. 2019, April, 1. In Person. S. Martinez). Consuming refined chocolate opened up her palette for a new tasting experience more so than the Hershey Bars and Kisses as a kid (Peters, M. 2019, April, 1. In Person. S. Martinez). She craved it; the sugar, the fat, it tasted good providing a “huge dopamine rush” which satisfied that high caloric need (Peters, M. 2019, April, 1. In Person. S. Martinez). If that were enough emotional connection between women and chocolate, researchers have also shown that there is also a hormonal mechanism at play during that across a woman’s menstruation cycle. Women have reported strong increases craving for sweets in the luteal phase (after ovulation), but overall can have strong food craving right before menses well into menstruation (Hallam et al., 2016, p. 164). One appropriate meme floating around the internet is ‘Women need chocolate. It’s a scientific fact.’ (credited by English author Sophie Kinsella) and I wouldn’t argue with this compelling scientific evidence.
Women Depicted in Advertisements
As you can see through my interview with Mara with support from scientific studies about women do indeed have a strong emotional connection to chocolate which can help provides some emotional stability in their lives. Of course when we talk about women and emotions they can oftentimes be taken out of context, something that the chocolate companies have been effective doing throughout the last century. What they have been able to do is reinforce stereotypical notions about women’s emotional connection to chocolate as author, Emma Robertson discusses in her book Chocolate, Women and Empire. That the men at Rowntree and Cadbury were able to really lay the foundation of depicting how women and mothers should be behaving in their “ideal gendered roles” (Robertson, 2009, p.26). One example is a commercial that target moms and their children questioning their motherly role. In a recent Hershey’s commercial a mom offers a chocolate to her teenage daughter after a break up (Hershey’s, 2018). The girl is upset and locked up in her room (Hershey’s, 2018). Mom is on the other side of the door with a Hershey’s bite size chocolate. Mom slides it underneath the door and tells her daughter, “I promise its going to get better” (Hershey’s, 2018). This touches on several things, 1) Hershey’s is telling women that in order to be a good mom you should be offering your children chocolate when they are sad 2) Hershey’s in trying to highlight that special bond between mother and daughter 3) Hershey’s is gaining a new customer feeding on young women’s emotions. They are learning that chocolate can be that food that helps them get through a tough time. Oh, the chocolate companies are brilliant at playing into emotional consumerism that has really impacted female consumers.
The Disconnect of Consumers to Cocoa Beans through Colonization and Racism
Now switching gears from discussing women’s emotional connection to chocolate to consumer’s disconnect to the cocoa bean supply chain. When interviewing Mara about the cocoa bean supply chain she was aware of the slavery in the industry, but to what extent she was not sure. She always brought free or fair trade chocolate thinking this is what she could do to support responsible business practice in a product [chocolate] she loves to consume regularly. Mara is a scientist and thus a big believer in climate change and trying to do her part to do things more sustainably. Her go to chocolate brand has been Endangered Species. I asked if she would be willing to take the Slavery Footprint quiz and she agreed. She was shocked about her results. She had 63 slaves working for her and did not think it would be so many. She thought maybe 12 at most (Peters, M. 2019, April, 1. In Person Interview. S. Martinez). Taking the quiz really opened her eyes to our unequal systems and just how implicated we are in our capitalistic system of unethical production of goods. It became overwhelming for her because these injustices do not only exist in the chocolate industry but other industries as well, “The issues seem so big and sound unsolvable that one feels so helpless” (Peters, M. 2019, April, 1. In Person Interview. S. Martinez). Mara admitted that since being a mom its been incredibly challenging to prioritize issues like these that she knows are so important for overall global sustainability. She has two kids which is a full time job. Her family is a priority and managing all the other things occurring in her life becomes extremely difficult to set really high expectations about consumption habits. Her parents, unfortunately, lost their home in the Paradise California wildfires so trying to solve the inequities of cocoa bean farmers or eradicate slave labor on the other side of the world seems unrealistic. Mara wants to make good consumer choices but she admitted since having children her consumption choices have been short of ideal. We can imagine that is the case for many here in the U.S. For a couple of years now Mara actually stopped buying fair trade chocolate and was buying the ‘cheaper’ stuff. It’s just easier she says. Regarding other products, she doesn’t have time to sit and look at every label she buys to see if it was made sustainably and ethically, “It so hard to know for consumers because who knows if the companies are really telling the truth” (Peters, M. 2019, April, 1. In Person Interview. S. Martinez). But she can’t imagine how others who might not be so privileged or educated could think about what they buy, especially if they too are struggling to get by. Consumption in the U.S. is all about being fast, cheap and convenient Mara brought up salient point, “ People just do not care” (Peters, M. 2019, April, 1. In Person Interview. S. Martinez). Mara hits the nail on the head because making people care by tugging at their heart might not be as effective as their bottom line.
Coincidentally, comedian, Ronny Chieng, from the Daily Show poked fun of this exact issue about Americans not caring nor actually knowing where their food actually comes from. One of the examples he used was chocolate. A very effective comedian is able to shine a light on some very real issues and he did just that. What happened was An ‘entitled’ American consumer from New Jersey was was suing Belgium chocolate maker Godiva for mislabeling where they make chocolate (The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, 2019). The label says ‘Godiva Belgium 1926’. This consumer apparently bought the chocolate from one of the many chocolatier Godiva shops in the New Jersey Area and not in Belgium! Mr. Chang asked sarcastically “Why is this person even suing?” (The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, 2019) Then proceeded to say that that this person probably doesn’t even know where Belgium is on a map! I like to highlight that since this consumers does not know where Belgium is, it is highly likely they do not know where cocoa beans are sourced. Mr. Chang goes on to say “… Americans love chocolate so much that they don’t care where chocolate is made. It could be made in Bernie Sanders shoes and they will still eat it.” Yes, it was a funny segment. But in all seriousness how do we get people to care? Or equally why don’t they care?
I think they don’t care because people do not appreciate or understand the historical colonial and racist roots that have created systems that were designed to financially benefit Europeans and the U.S. They don’t appreciate or understand because the European chocolate makers were very effective in disconnecting those who produced it, especially through advertisements. According to author Emma Robertson the advertisements had defined boundaries of black/white and colonized/colonizer’ (Robertson, 2009, p. 36). Advertisements depicted Africans in demeaning, unintelligent, uncivilized, and inferior ways to suit the image of European consumers to mask the reality of the chocolate industry’s connection to where their wealth was sourced (Robertson, 2009, p.39). It was indeed ‘strategic’ and intentional. (Robertson, 2009, p. 36.). Since consumers are so disconnected about the cocoa supply chain we have to bring more awareness to the problem and actually highlight these disparities between cocoa farmers and the chocolate companies. The chocolate industry is immensely wealthy and powerful. The families and the executives that run them are filthy rich. In the one hundred years of operation the Mar’s family has a net worth of $78 Billion (Alux, 2019). The Cadbury Family made $19 billion after being bought by Kraft Staples, 2010). Ferrero Group CEO Giovanni Ferrero (grandson of founder Peitro Ferrero) has a personal wealth of $23 Billion and he is only 54 years old (Segal, 2019). Mondelez International (owned by Kraft), paid its Chief Executive Officer, Dirk Van de Put, $42,442,924 in 2017 (his first year in the position) making him the top four overpaid CEOs worldwide (Weaver, 2019). He makes 990 times more than the average Mondelez worker (Weaver, 2019). As we learned in the film by Social Papel that Brazilian cocoa farmer, Antonio Augusto Dos Santos and his family, make R$100 per month for arduous labor that helps to make the west’s most prized delight (Giovanaz, Casara, and Dallabrida, 2019). It’s incredibly inequitable and unethical. It’s a system that is corrupt, hidden, and exploitive that keeps cocoa farmers trapped in perpetual, generational poverty (Leissle, 2018, p.110). It’s insane that seventy of the world’s chocolate comes from West Africa and yet they only consume 4 percent (Leissle, 2018, p.43). Farmers Dos Santos said that chocolate has very little value to them; it’s a product they can’t even afford to buy (Giovanaz, Casara, and Dallabrida, 2019). It’s a moral obligation to start putting people over profits. When speaking with Mara about these inequities again it’s overwhelming, “What we buy comes at a high cost of some else’s rights. On an individual level all we can do is our best to become aware and make better consumer choices.” (Peters, M. 2019, April, 1. Phone Interview. S. Martinez).
However, consumer efforts cannot ‘fix’ this problem alone. As the Brazilian delegation’s pointed out in order to address these wrongs it has to be a concerted effort that must include many all stakeholders in the supply chain, the big chocolate industry, consumers, government institutions, non-profit organizations, farmers and their families everyone to sort out the mess and make the supply chain transparent so that child labor or enslaved labor can be eradicated (Giovanaz, Casara, and Dallabrida, 2019) (Picolotto et al, 2018). We have a moral obligation and we must hold those on the top accountable. It is morally reprehensible that the chocolate industry families, like Mars and Ferrero should have that much wealth, especially when it at the cost of someone’s else human rights. Some Companies have their own sustainable efforts, like Nestle’s Cocoa Plan but when reporting their outcomes they usually focus on the positive, yet still manage to be vague or inefficient about their operations (Nestle Cocoa Plan: Not Quite Enough, 2018). Though fair and free trade certifications were the first on the move to help address these problems in the supply chains“they are not a panacea” (Martin, 2019). These certifications have become incredibly confusing for consumers as they become overwhelmed with labels, “We have no idea if companies are ‘sustainability’ washing or just a marketing gimmick” (Fisher, 2019) Additionally, certifications put the onus on famers who opt not to participate (Fisher, 2019). How can consumer even appreciate or be connected to our food systems when the system seems so confusing and backwards?
If we are to going to change the system I agree with Dr. Martin that there must be alternative ideas brought. In the case of Brazil, I am not sure if pushing the companies to make commitment to work together to address the issues might not be enough. It might have the same results as the Engel-Harkin protocol. There needs to be political will and radical policy. I think trying to work within the same system is not going to get us anywhere. Because the same people at the top still will remain wealthy, just slightly different rules. Leissle said something that struck me which was the inequities are not going to equalize any time soon. Generations of colonizations, slavery and racist policies for example have again created these inequities. In the U.S. it will take African-America 234 years to catch up to white wealth today and for Latinos 84 years (Asante-Muhammad, D., Collins, C. Hoxie, J. and Nieves, 2017). I can’t imagine what that looks like for people who are farmers at the bottom of supply chains. They will never catch up at this rate. The alternative ideas I propose which might be radical to some, is reparations of the cocoa industry to cocoa farmers. People at the top would complain and hypothetically say “It’s not fair”. Or “There is not enough money!” Which we all know is hogwash. Reparations in the U.S. gets a lot of pushback and some presidential nominees have brought up the topic but still wrestling with it (Kurtzleben, 2019). Many believe is would not be fair because you are putting blame and taking someone’s wealth that had nothing to do with our dark past. Because how are we supposed to know whose ancestors were enslaved? Yet, research has been done that white slave owners in the U.S. actually received reparations for their loss of slaves after the civil war (Hunter, 2019). Wow, that is incredible! The Injustice! Slave owners received $300 for each slave they lost and it was supported by President Abraham Lincoln (Hunter, 2019).. He commissioned a board to oversee 1000 petitions from slave owners for 3,000 slaves (Hunter, 2019). The largest sum received was $18,000. So, I am not sure why people, especially white people have an issue with it. Because of actions like these people of color at the bottom and still catching up economically.
The other alternative is that we need to educate women all around the world and empower them by giving them rights to land and resource in the agricultural industry, e.g. cocoa. According to Project DrawDown we can make an incredible difference as 100 to 150 million people would no longer go hungry and could help close the parity gap with men (Project Drawdown, n.d.). Lastly, another alternative is we need to invest in entrepreneurs from the places that grown cocoa. We need to provide them the infrastructure, tools, resource, machinery to start their own cocoa business. There is no reason why people who produce cocoa bean shouldn’t make it.
I am not sure if any of my so called radical idea will live up. But, I’ll end with on another powerful connection which is chocolate brings people together. Kakawa, as we know played a significant role in Mayan culture and society. There is even a special word for this chokola’j = ‘drink chocolate together’ [Martin, 2019]. Mara and I had not seen one another for nine years and were appreciative how chocolate re-connected us! The next time we get together we have chocolate from 57 Chocolate, a Revolutionary artisanal chocolate made from bean to bar by a dynamic duo of Pan-African sisters. With this purchase we are already helping to make a progress one chocolate bar at a time.
Fisher, K. (2019, April, 10). Fair Trade. [Lecture]
Hallam, J., Boswell, R.G., DeVito, E.E., and Kober, H. (2016, June 27). Gender-related Differences in Food Craving and Obesity. Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine. 89(2): 161-173. Retrieved from 1794 Park Ave, San Jose, CA 95126
Chocolate is an exceptionally human product. When one observes a cacao pod next to a bar of chocolate, it turns strikingly clear that the contents of a cacao pod must have undergone significant transformations before taking the shape and taste of a chocolate bar. And all of these transformations are inherently at the mercy of human decisions. As a matter of fact,“during nine tenths of its long history, chocolate was drunk, not eaten,” (Coe and Coe, 12). But, humans eventually metamorphosed chocolate back into a solid. To gain any insight on the present state of the chocolate industry, it is therefore essential to focus on the engagement between humans and chocolate. Hence, interviewing a Brazilian woman was an ideal, taken opportunity to better understand a 21st-century individual’s relationship with chocolate, the role chocolate plays on the individual’s life, and how chocolate’s significance may or may not have changed over time. Among other important themes, the interview leads to a two-faced thesis thatthe qualitative aspects of chocolate and its production are more dependent than ever on the desires of the consumers (the demand side of the market), and that cultural preferences and tastes for chocolate have changed.
Taking on the pseudonym “Marcela,” the subject of this interview has consumed chocolate all her life. As a child, Marcela had a preference for sweet, chocolaty treats. Today, Marcela consumes only dark chocolate, usually the 70% Lindt chocolate bar. Transitioning from sweet, cheaper chocolates to darker, more expensive chocolates, Marcela said she developed a more refined taste as she got older. But, while her tastes for chocolate changed over time, she thinks she remained hooked to chocolate mostly because of the addictive caffeine and sugar it contains. Discussing the contents of chocolates, Marcela actually was aware of the presence of flavonoids, which she thought to be “good for the heart.” Cacao contains hundreds of compounds, one of which is the antioxidant flavonoid compound, quercetin, “known to have not only antioxidant but also anti-inflammatory activity,” (Coe and Coe, 31). Since the Olmec civilization, cacao has indeed been associated with medical benefits, but also it has served as a sacred symbol, supposed aphrodisiac, source of energy and strength, unit of currency, and congregational drink. Today, though not all the potential benefits from the complex chemical structure of cacao are understood, at least dark chocolate can be recommended as a healthier alternative to sweeter, milky chocolates. Marcela revealed that the primary reason why she stopped eating sweet, milk-containing chocolate was because she took a conscious decision to regulate her sugar and fat intake.
Interestingly, Marcela drew a parallel between her consumption of chocolate and coffee: Both contain caffeine, and she does not go a day without either of them. Moreover, one should add that not only do chocolate and coffee contain caffeine in common, but they also each contain one more alkaloid (methylxanthine), theobromine and trigonelline, respectively. Marcela came to the conclusion that a piece of dark chocolate and a cup of coffee are like substitute goods for her: hence, in a kind of tradeoff between chocolate and coffee, she notices that she consumes more of one when she reduces the consumption of the other, and vice-versa. This characteristic of the demand side could have significant implications for the supply side of the markets of chocolate and coffee.
If coffee and dark chocolate were indeed substitute goods, and consumers behaved like Marcela, in theory the cross-price elasticity of demand should always be positive (Hayes). Since chocolate’s caffeine is addictive, people tend to be less sensitive to changes in its price. But, if coffee is a kind of substitute for chocolate, the demand for chocolate could perhaps be less inelastic than previously thought. So, ceteris paribus, if for instance dark chocolate’s price were to increase, some of the consumers could consume more coffee instead, and the relative strength of this substitution could impact the profitability and survival of the chocolate business. Unfortunately, cacao trees are pickier than humans when it comes to survival in the environment they live in, and cacao trees are very susceptible to diseases, too.
With climate change, and the potential variation of temperatures and humidity away from the desirable conditions for cacao to prosper, cacao producers may gradually have to transition away from cacao and into other crop plantations. Interestingly, some of this transition away from cacao in some regions may be partially offset by flexible businesses like Mayorga Organics. One of their food scientists, Melanie, mentioned in a lecture to college students in Massachusetts that Mayorga Organics is transitioning from coffee production to cacao production due to global warming. Meanwhile, large chocolate companies are investing in genetic modification as an alternative: In September 2018, “the 35 billion dollar corporation [Mars] pledged $1 billion as part of a plan to reduce the company’s carbon footprint by 60 percent or more by 2050,” (Vandette, Kate). Plus, Mars and UC Berkeley are collaborating in the exploration of gene editing by using CRISPR technology, as supported by an account in the World Economic Forum, (Brodwin, Erin).
Consumers today are surprisingly more educated about supply chain issues than they used to be. But how much do consumers know about the factors of production involved in the chocolate business, and how much do they care? During a significant period in history, both crops of cacao and coffee were dependent on human enslavement as a source of labor. Having visited cacao farms in Brazil before, Marcela knew that today the initial stages in the production process are still very manual, with no machinery; in big chocolate businesses the next parts are more industrialized. She remembered the strong smell she scented when walking in the shade of seemingly randomly-sorted cacao trees, and the humid tropical weather which makes her skin sticky. Today, in the typical production process of chocolate from bean to bar, there are several steps and technological components involved: machetes are generally used in the hand-labor-intensive harvesting of cacao pods within 20 degrees from north and 20 degrees south of the equator; extracted beans are fermented, dried, sorted and bagged, roasted, potentially Alkali-processed, winnowed, ground; pressing (in a hydraulic press) and conching happen last (Coe and Coe, 19). A chocolate bar may be complemented with additives such as milk, sugar, salt, pepper, other spices, nuts, or fruits, too.
Though Marcela might know a bit more than the average person about the process of chocolate, on an ordinary day she does not interrupt her chocolate eating to think of all the work which happens behind the scenes, before she purchases the packaged, final product at a supermarket. Even while Marcela was well-aware of the sad demise of cacao farms in Brazil affected by the witches’ broom disease, she was not aware that there are still concerns regarding illegal kinds of child labor found today in cacao farms, including some in Brazil (for example, see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8H6088tpE8c and https://vimeo.com/332509945). Fortunately, Brazil has several programs for whistleblowing on child labor, and some are focused on publishing the names of those who need to be held accountable for. There are also several certifications through which companies may commit to avoid child labor. But, when it comes to chocolate production, it is a true endeavor to detect and regulate child labor in rural settings with weak infrastructure and limited access to technology, like Medicilândia in Pará, Brazil. Yet again, this is the time in history where consumers have perhaps the biggest say on supply than ever.
Millennials account for approximately one fourth of the world population, and play an increasingly significant role in the establishment of consumer trends. As a matter of fact, in the U.S., Millennials amount to the largest consumer group ever in the history of the country (Das Moumita, 76). Millennials are exerting their power through demands for more socially and environmentally sustainable processes (The Nielsen Company). Hence, moving forward, they are expected to continue having an important role in impacting the supply chain processes for chocolate production all around the world.
The targeting of the Millennial audience is already present in a very recent innovation – a “fourth” kind of chocolate. In her interview, Marcela mentioned that during Easter she read about a newly-created “Ruby Chocolate” in a section of the newspapers on palate. It is important to note that Easter is a very important in Brazil not just because the holiday has a large following population, but also because the nation as a whole adopted the custom of creating and consuming chocolate eggs during Easter. Regardless of the religious affiliations they may associate themselves with or without, Brazilians consume large quantities of chocolate during Easter. So, when Marcela set out to buy some Easter eggs, she decided to try Callebaut’s new chocolate:
“After dark, milk, and white chocolate, the ruby chocolate is the most incredible discovery of the last 80 years! // It is a new experience of flavor and color, obtained from ruby cacao almonds. With pink coloration and fruity, slightly acidic flavor, the ruby has unique characteristics which come from ingredients naturally present in cacao, without artificial coloring or flavoring. // The almonds of ruby cacao are found in diverse producing regions in the world, like Ecuador, Ivory Coast and even Brazil. // The authentic Belgian ruby chocolate of Callebaut is done with cacao cultivated in a sustainable manner, and its sales contribute with programs supporting cacao farmers and their families. // [In pink font] Give in to this experience and discover the color and flavor of ruby, the pink chocolate of Callebaut.”
This picture Marcela took provides a great opportunity to analyze the marketing strategy of the company. The first line of the propaganda markets ruby chocolate as a brand new, innovative product by placing it as “the most incredible discovery of the last 80 years.” This is probably especially attractive to Millenials, who are all about market disruptions. The choice of pink coloration is an interesting way to contrast with the tones of brown chocolate and white chocolates that consumers are used to. Perhaps it is a way to further target women, given the stereotypical association of pink with women. Plus, the possibility that this ruby chocolate is targeting women would actually make sense in the larger context of chocolate advertisements: if observed closely, many of the video advertisements for chocolates usually use the figure of a woman. In fact, the chocolate gift-giving culture overarchingly centers around men giving women chocolate – take Valentine’s day for example. So, with its pink coloring, ruby chocolate does seem to fit in this more general tendency to focus on attracting the more feminine consumers. This appeal to the status quo, or cultural recurrence, is then followed by a reference to the sources for the raw cacao materials in this chocolate bar. With strict adherence to the words used, one might be consuming ruby chocolate made with cacao from the Ivory Coast (the world’s largest cacao producer) or Ecuador, but the inclusion of Brazil as a source among these others may sway the Brazilian consumer towards thinking that ruby chocolate is actually Brazilian. That is thus a clever strategy to attract Brazilian consumers. This aspect of nationalism is also seen in the selling of the product as Belgian, which prompts the reputation of Belgium as a competent, quality chocolate producer. The next complement is again an appeal especially to Millennials: “The authentic Belgian ruby chocolate of Callebaut is done with cacao cultivated in a sustainable manner, and its sales contribute with programs supporting cacao farmers and their families.” With that, Callebaut leverages its social and environmental causes, without necessarily pinpointing exactly what these programs do, how effective they are, or what “a sustainable manner” means. The final phrase, in pink, circles back to the theme of women in chocolate media while also hinting at a sensual tension with chocolate through the imperative command, “give in.”
Regarding the actual experience Marcela had tasting the ruby chocolate, she reported that she did indeed feel a more fruity, citric taste. In her case, it turns out that she did not really enjoy that acidic feel. Taste is really something personal, as each individual consumer has his/her own particular preferences. Marcela likely would have preferred the taste of a chocolate with greater alkali (Dutch) processing, which reduces acidity and darkens the color of chocolate.
With the generous amount of time devoted by this interviewee in sharing her experiences with chocolate, two important insights stand out. First is a confirmation of the increasingly important say of consumers in the chocolate market. Second is the realization that cultural preferences and tastes for chocolate have changed over time. The adoption of cacao in different cultures, with changing preferences of taste, coupled with technological innovations meant the world could eventually reap the benefits of democratization and widespread consumption of chocolate. At the heart of the expansion of the chocolate market is the critically important increase in the social and economic power of women as consumers. Meanwhile, more sophisticated machinery and methods of processing further viabilized mass chocolate consumption and the rise of big chocolate industries.
Just as Marcela the interviewee changed her preferences from childhood to adulthood, so did the world’s consumers in a longer run. Today it is no longer common to see cacao beans used as barter currency, or to have chocolate drinks before going to war in ritual of Aztec warriors. Instead, chocolate is now more popularly consumed in a solid state, is frequently sweetened and mixed with milk, and is often purchased as a gift; the stereotypical gift-giving of chocolate is associated with a woman on the receiving end. Plus, cacao fruits themselves might be induced to change in the human led effort to genetically modify them, increase yields, improve immunity to diseases, and sustain the supply in the midst of climate change.
More than 2 centuries ago, John Phillips, founder of Phillips Exeter Academy, claimed that “[…] goodness without knowledge is weak and feeble, yet knowledge without goodness is dangerous, and that both united form the noblest character, and lay the surest foundation of usefulness to mankind.” The truth in these words has not changed. But, the relationship between humans and chocolate certainly has, and is constantly subject to alteration. So, looking into the future, change is the one thing people can be certain about. Hopefully, change shall come for the better, under the influence of both knowledge and goodness, together.
Ashihara, Hiroshi. “Metabolism of Alkaloids in Coffee Plants.” Brazilian Journal of Plant Physiology, vol. 18, no. 1, Mar. 2006, pp. 1–8. Crossref, doi:10.1590/S1677-04202006000100001.
Seldom will the average consumer find a chocolate company as unique as Tony’s Chocolonely. From its irregularly divided bars representing the inequality in the chocolate industry, to its quirky name referencing the founder’s sense of solitude as a crusader against slavery in the industry, all of the company’s efforts aim for ethical reform through delicious chocolate. This Dutch company arose from the investigative journalism work of Teun “Tony” van de Keuken. After discovering the reality of slavery in the cocoa industry, Tony sought to tackle the issue himself. He realized the importance of consumer responsibility in reinforcing these industrial injustices, going so far as to “prosecute [him]self for buying and eating chocolate” that involved slavery in its production (Tony’s, “The Story”).
Thus, Tony’s Chocoloney was founded on the principle of producing completely “slave free chocolate” and influencing chocolate makers around the globe to follow suit. Its products, characterized by bright colors and eye-catching designs, are emblazoned with company’s mission: “Together we make 100% slave free the norm in chocolate” (Tony’s, Report 11).
This mission is not only applied toward its own products; Tony’s also aspires to elevate the worldwide chocolate industry to this same standard. Tony’s takes a holistic approach to transforming the chocolate industry from within. This begins with grassroots community efforts at the local farmer level, continues through to consumer transparency, and extends beyond to the global chocolate industry. Tony’s Chocolonely hopes to leverage its loyal customer base and prominence in the Dutch market to alleviate ethical issues in the global cacao-chocolate supply chain.
Tony’s dedication to ethical chocolate starts with the social and economic well-being of its cocoa farmers and continues through every ingredient and packaging material. These steps trace the company’s five sourcing principles for 100% slave free chocolate: traceable cocoa beans, higher prices, strong farmers, long-term sustainability, and improved quality and productivity.
Each of these social, economic, and political tactics is tailored to the key players in Tony’s chocolate supply chain: cocoa farmers, chocolate makers, stores, fans, and governments (Tony’s, Report 13). Beginning with the farmers, Tony’s has been strategic in choosing which cocoa-producing regions to work with. Rather than shying away from countries with severe social abuses in farming, the company has embraced them head-on. After discovering the prevalence of slavery in West Africa, Tony’s formed partnerships with five cocoa farming cooperatives in Ghana and the Ivory Coast. This direct contact with farmers at the local community level has been necessary to target the engrained unjust cultural practices. Tony’s works with farmers on a personal level to address social, financial, and educational issues. The company sources 100% of its cocoa beans from these five cooperatives, establishing balanced relationships through which it can introduce fundamental institutional changes. Tony’s engages in direct trade with these farmers, eliminating profits lost by the farmers to intermediaries in the supply chain. This direct contact also helps develop strong, stable long-term relationships that enable the cooperatives to grow and organize.
Principles Over Profits
Financial stability is one of the most pressing issues facing West African cocoa farmers. This problem has been poorly addressed in the chocolate industry due to incomplete or misdirected efforts. A popular suggestion involves paying higher prices for cocoa; however, this approach fails in many cases if the national government is the intermediary between the farmers and the global market, or if national policies incentivize the cultivation of other crops (Off 146, Martin slide 40). Cocoa farmers are paid the farm gate price for their beans, but this may not reflect the global market price. However, farmers can enhance their earnings through certification premiums. All of Tony’s cocoa farmers are Fairtrade certified; however, this still does not relieve them from financial insolvency. Due to its pervasiveness and widespread effects, poverty is Tony’s target and root cause of labor abuses.
Considering these challenges, Tony’s goal to pay farmers living wages—enough to hire adult workers and send their children to school—seems almost quixotic. To work towards this goal, the company has instituted an additional Tony’s premium that bypasses institutional middlemen and directly benefits farmers: “We pay the extra Tony’s premium straight to the cooperatives of our partner farmers, so not every link in the chain (such as local and international traders, cocoa processers or bar manufacturers) in the chocolate chain receives a percentage of this higher premium” (Tony’s, Report 27). During the 2017-2018 fiscal year, on top of the Fairtrade premium of $200 per metric ton, Tony’s paid an additional $400 per metric ton in the Ivory Coast and an additional $175 in Ghana (103). Thus, the cooperative farmers in the Ivory Coast received a payment 47% greater than the farm gate price; in Ghana, 21% greater (29). The additional Tony’s premium is also dynamic, taking into account the current cocoa market, farm family size, cost of family sustenance, and agricultural input costs. For example, in response to the 2016 excess Ivorian cocoa harvest, Tony’s more than doubled its premium to compensate for the decline in farm gate price. This contrasts from the nearly static Fairtrade price and premium, which will be updated in late 2019 from their 2011 values (Fairtrade).
The Proof is in the (Chocolate) Pudding
One of the unique aspects of Tony’s relationships with farmers is its comprehensive analysis of progress. Tony’s has partnered with the KIT Royal Tropical Institute, “an independent centre of expertise and education for sustainable development,” to investigate the impact of its efforts on local communities (KIT 2). The interviews documented in the FAIR Report indicate that the farmers have generally positive feelings toward their relationships with Tony’s. The cooperative managers have a greater sense of ownership and confidence in their farms. Women in the cooperatives are more empowered and can contribute tangibly to the cocoa communities. Overall, farmers appreciate the additional Tony’s premium, but there is no explicit evidence regarding the extent to which the premiums have directly increased their incomes (Tony’s, Report 36). Although increased living incomes is one of Tony’s goals for its farmers, these economic efforts are also intended to indirectly prevent systemic causes of slavery and child labor.
The Climb for Ethical Labor with CLMRS
Tony’s efforts at eradicating slavery and child labor extend beyond the economic sphere in its collaboration with the Child Labor Monitoring Remediation System (CLMRS). This system was founded by the International Cocoa Initiative and Nestle to track, target, and eradicate child labor in the cocoa industry (Nestle 23). Tony’s has thoroughly embraced this system by mobilizing local communities to “actively and structurally [search] for child labor” (Tony’s, Report 1). The system is centered on the CLMRS community facilitators. trained individuals who spread awareness of prohibited forms of child labor among local communities. These facilitators visit farmers at their homes to interview both farmers and children to identify the children at greatest risk for child labor. They also hold awareness sessions to teach farmers about fair labor practices. From an interview with KIT, an administrative manager at an Ivorian cooperative indicated his involvement in CLMRS has enabled him to “educate people and strengthen groups” and fulfill a personal goal of being a “role model for the youth” (34).
One of the major strengths of this system is its focus on the collective local identity and social solidarity of cocoa communities through personal interaction. However, this also leads to inefficiencies including incomplete data collection and difficulties in data analysis. In 2017, CLMRS found 268 cases of child labor—primarily children performing dangerous tasks on family farms—and no cases of modern slavery. Very reasonably, Tony’s admits this may be an underestimate. However, after only one year of working with CLMRS, it has visited over 3,000 households and interviewed nearly 4,000 children (Tony’s, Report 40). On a larger scale, CLMRS spans multiple companies in West Africa, and its overall performance shows promising signs of progress. As of 2017, CLMRS as a whole identified nearly 15,000 cases of child labor, over half of whom were longer in child labor three years later (USDOL 74). Considering this broader progress, Tony’s appears to be on an upward trajectory of identifying and eliminating child labor.
Tony’s Chocolonely also prioritizes education—of both producers and consumers—as a proxy for social change. The company invests in agricultural education and works with farmers to improve their yields through sustainable farming practices. They help develop skills for cultivating cocoa and other crops, for higher farm productivity and less dependency on cocoa. Focusing on education helps target and prevent inequalities that arise downstream in the supply chain. The company seeks to “professionalize farming cooperatives and farms, giving them more power to structurally change inequality” (Tony’s, Report 27). In addition to educating farmers and managers, Tony’s also provides children with direct resources to help them attend school. Its efforts range from arranging birth certificates and health insurance to distributing school supplies and bicycles. Rather than fixing surface-level issues of productivity and management, Tony’s targets the core of the problem, laying a solid foundation to enable the farmers to grow.
Scrutiny in Sourcing
Another ethical point of contention along the cocoa-chocolate supply chain is the sourcing and sustainability of ingredients. Since Tony’s engages in direct trade with its five cooperatives for all of its cocoa beans, it is able to maintain complete transparency and traceability throughout the process. All of its cocoa beans are 100% traceable, meaning Tony’s knows exactly who produced the beans, under what conditions they were produced, and the path they took to arrive at its bean warehouse in Antwerp, Belgium (Tony’s, Report 27). Another key ingredient, cocoa butter, has also come under scrutiny regarding sourcing and sustainability. Tony’s produces its cocoa butter in conjunction with Barry Callebaut in Abidjan, the economic capital of the Ivory Coast. The company focuses on improving sustainability in cocoa butter production by using locally grown mid-crop beans (52). Because these beans are out of season and lower in quality, the Ivorian government prohibits them from export. Consequently, cocoa farmers generate significantly less income during the off season. However, these beans can still be used to produce cocoa butter, which is exactly what Tony’s does. It also pays these farmers the same Tony’s additional premium, allowing them to maintain a more stable income year-round.
In addition to its cacao products, Tony’s also pays close attention to the sourcing of its various flavorings and chocolate add-ins. The FAIR Report displays a traceability map of the main ingredients in various chocolate products (80-81). This includes basic ingredients such as Fairtrade cane sugar from Mauritius, to limited edition flavorings such as red wine powder from France. The company doesn’t stop at only the edible ingredients; they also take into consideration their packaging. Their chocolate wrappers are made of Forest Stewardship Council-certified recycled paper and printed with plant-based inks in a climate neutral and environmentally friendly facility. Furthermore, the pages of the FAIR report were printed on paper made from recycled sugar cane leaves and corn cobs (127).
The other side of Tony’s chocolate industry mission is its consumer base. The company relies on its loyal Dutch fans and growing international customers to spread its chocolate and mission. One of the most recent initiatives to spread consumer awareness is the Tony’s Chocotruck Tour featuring the “Bean to Bar Journey.” This unique approach to fighting the “‘anonymity’ of the market” sensitizes consumers so they know conditions of production of the goods they consume (Sylla 47).
The colorful truck is adorned with bright lights and operated by enthusiastic Tony’s employees eager to share both Tony’s chocolate and mission. This fun, jovial atmosphere contrasts from the sobering message that the company is trying to convey: slavery and child labor are ubiquitous in the chocolate industry, and consumers and companies must take action. Through the tour, Tony’s seeks “to meet loads of new chocofans and serious friends who will share our chocolate and our story” (Tony’s “Chocotruck”). The truck contains interactive displays highlighting labor abuses in the chocolate industry, as well as Tony’s efforts to remediate them. It begins with staggering statistics revealing human trafficking, slavery, and child labor on cocoa farms. The displays continue by describing Tony’s various measures and sourcing principles to address the issue. The focus on consumer interaction— “The choice is yours. Are you in?”—makes visitors feel like they are directly involved in impacting these injustices.
Finally, Tony’s has also worked with the Dutch government in an attempt to pass legislation addressing corporate responsibility of child labor. The “Zorgplicht Kinderarbeid” Child Labor Due Diligence Act would require businesses in the Netherlands to declare that they are taking all necessary measures to prevent child labor, identify the risks of child labor in their supply chains, and address these risks to the best of their abilities (Beltman 1). Although this bill would have only applied to Dutch businesses, it was an earnest attempt at governmentally enforceable change in the political sphere. Despite Tony’s petition including 42 cocoa businesses and over 13,000 signatures, the bill failed to pass the Dutch Upper House (Tony’s, Report 66). The company admitted that efforts at government progress in child labor due diligence have been met with resistance. However, the wide support of the petition demonstrated that the company has succeeded in spreading awareness and inspiring others to act. Despite the lack of political progress, Tony’s shows no signs of resignation.
Solidairy-ty in the Industry
Overall, Tony’s Chocolonely presents a wide array of strategies aimed at their singular mission of 100% slave free chocolate. These principles have helped Tony’s excel in spreading awareness among consumers, and it hopes to further inspire other chocolate companies to act. However, no single company can successfully address every complex ethical issue in the chocolate industry. Tony’s has a significant presence in the Netherlands, but Dutch chocolate is only a fraction of the global industry, in terms of consumption and economy (ICO 39-40). Additionally, Tony’s currently works with approximately 5,000 individual farmers in West Africa, only about 0.2% of the total 2.5 million farmers in region (Tony’s, Report 34). The company values strong personal relationships with its farmers, but this comes as a tradeoff to the breadth of its influence. Finally, Tony’s mission of slave free chocolate may initially seem like too simplistic of a goal. If the company were to approach this mission exclusively through traditional tactics of policy, certifications, or consumer pressure, this would indeed be too low a bar. However, Tony’s uses an innovative, holistic approach to targeting systemic social, economic, and political issues at different stages within the supply chain. These principles, combined with over-the-top enthusiasm for its “chocofan” consumers, are helping Tony’s transform the chocolate industry’s ethical standards from within.
Works Cited: Scholarly Sources
Beltman, Henk Jan. “A Law on the Duty of Care for Child Labour Seriously Tackles the Issue of Child Labour.” Received by Senate of the Netherlands: Standing committee for foreign affairs, defence and development cooperation, 3 October 2017, The Hague, Netherlands.
Fairtrade International. Fairtrade Minimum Price and Fairtrade Premium Table. Bonn, Germany: Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International. 28 March 2019.
International Cocoa Organization Executive Committee. The World Cocoa Economy: Past and Present. London, United Kingdom: International Cocoa Organization. 18–21 September 2012.
KIT Royal Tropical Institute. Annual Report 2017. Amsterdam, Netherlands. 2017.
Martin, Carla D. “Modern Day Slavery” AAAS 119X, Cambridge, MA, Harvard University. 27 Mar. 2019.
Nestle Cocoa Plan. Tackling Child Labour 2017 Report. Vevey, Switzerland. 20 June 2017.
Off, Carol. Bitter Chocolate: the Dark Side of the Worlds Most Seductive Sweet. The New Press, 2008.
Sylla, Ndongo Samba. The Fair Trade Scandal: Marketing Poverty to Benefit the Rich. Ohio University Press, 2014.
Tony’s Chocolonely. “The Bean to Bar Journey – Chocotruck Tour.” Tony’s Chocolonely, 2019, tonyschocolonely.com/us/en/chocotruck.
Tony’s Chocolonely. “Tony’s Chocolonely – the story of an unusual chocolate bar.” Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 15 October 2015. Web.
Tony’s Chocolonely. “Tony’s Chocolonely – Tony’s Bean to Bar Journey.” Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 7 March 2019. Web.
Tony’s Chocolonely. “Tony’s Chocolonely USA on Instagram: ‘Girl Power! These Ladies Supply Cocoa Beans to ECOJAD, Our Partner Cooperative in Ivory Coast. This Picture Was Taken on Their Cassava…”.” Instagram, 2 August 2018, http://www.instagram.com/p/Bl_lLgXBgts/.
Dating back to the Olmec civilization
starting around 1500 BCE, cacao has taken on uses in religious, cultural, and
medicinal contexts (Coe & Coe, 2013). It was featured in early colonial
documents alleviating fevers and treating fatigue. Global consumption of sugar
and chocolate skyrocketed so that it contributed to the obesity epidemic in
America. Americans now question the “healthy” snack that used to “food of the
gods” (Lippi, 2009). As our society becomes more health conscious, chocolate
consumption declines. Brands like Hershey’s and Mars are adjusting their
products, and snackers opt for vitamin-rich dark chocolate, smoothies, and
salads. For years to come in the United States, chocolate most likely will
remain integral to social events but be consumed in smaller amounts and
different contexts, such as protein shakes and bars, more frequently than
caloric snacks off the shelves at the cash register.
Although chocolate was consumed in religious rituals, social settings, and used for decorations, it was also applied to cure illnesses. The ancient Maya believed it had many benefits, including aphrodisiac qualities, which is why we gift it on Valentine’s day (Martin, Feb. 13 Lecture). Manuscripts featured chocolate in medical applications, such as the Badianus Codex of 1552 using cacao flowers to treat fatigue, the Florentine Codex of 1590 using cacao beans to treat hearts, and the Badianus Manuscript of 1552 applying cacao flowers to energize men in public office (Dillinger et al., 2000). The books of Chilam Balamand and The Ritual of the Bacabs are copies of codices and also feature cacao being used as medicine (Dreiss & Greenhill, 2008). The Maya used it during ceremonies to alleviate fevers, seizures, and skin abnormalities. Their botanical remedies typically featured cacao as the main ingredient to cure such ailments.
Alphonse de Richeliu introduced the treatment to France, and it was taken on for energy, digestion, breast milk production, kidney stones, poor appetite, and other purposes (Coe & Coe). The Spanish even believed it improved conception probability and breast milk quality (Dillinger et al., 2000). Chocolate was thought to have many nutrients, so the Church banned consuming it during religious fasts unless for medicinal purposes. Chocolate was considered a cure for almost any ailment.
Chocolate consumption grew exponentially throughout the 1900s due to several innovations that allowed mass production of cheaper chocolate and enabled it to spread beyond the elite. Incomes rose and production costs fell after the Industrial Revolution. Coenraad Johannes Van Houton invented the hydraulic press, which separated cocoa solids from cocoa butter (Coe & Coe, 2013).
As shown above, the press is comprised of cylinders,
pistons, and hydraulic pipes. A piston is inserted into the small cylinder to
create pressure so liquid cocoa can move through the pipes (Coe & Coe, 2013).
As it goes through the press, the fat is squeezed out and the result is fat
free cocoa powder. Another development was conchin, a stirring process to make
chocolate smooth. These inventions allowed chocolate to change from a foamy
drink only consumed by the elite to a cheap and delicious option for all
classes. Fry & Nestle even created a solid form of chocolate, which further
increased accessibility (Coe & Coe, 2013). Mintz noted that sugar
production increased so much that it became integral to the English diet
(Mintz, 1986). By 1900, sugar constituted 20% of English calories consumed and
chocolate was a major part of their diets.
There are positive effects to chocolate. Dark chocolate has a high cocoa content and antioxidants. Harvard Health notes that dark chocolate can help athletes’ oxygen availability during competition (Tello, 2018). Americans adopted chocolate as a delicious treat but had difficulty consuming it in moderation. Today, chocolate mostly is seen as a contributor to obesity. Many favorite snacks are loaded with sugar and fat. Cacao butter is filled with saturated fat and harmful for cholesterol (Mintz, 1986). With America wrestling with an obesity epidemic, chocolate and sugar are identified as culprits.
Rather than focusing on the medicinal qualities of chocolate, society now raises concerns about high sugar content (Twitter). Low prices of huge sharing size bags lead to some consuming excessive amounts of sugar in one sitting. A bag of Hershey’s individually wrapped chocolate bars contains up to 81 grams of sugar (Google Images). The negative health effects commercial chocolate contains are gaining media attention, and people are adjusting their eating habits accordingly.
Consumption of chocolate is now falling in America because of trends toward being healthier and losing weight. Diet brands are raking in dollars as consumers opt for more nutritious options with less sugar. Salad chains, Weight Watchers, and workout classes such as Barry’s Boot Camp and Soul Cycle have become popular. Chocolate consumption drops. The average American ate 12.6 lbs of chocolate in 2007 but only 9.5 lbs in 2015 (Wong, 2016). Healthier brands like Atkins and Kind are selling better than Hershey’s and forcing companies to adjust to their audiences. A recent Skinny Pop commercial depicts the new trend:
The commercial ends with a child remarking, “It’s all real, that’s pretty cool” regarding the three ingredients in Skinny Pop (popcorn, sunflower oil, salt). The next generation is being raised to be more health conscious and to consume natural ingredients rather than sugar and saturated fat.
The consumption decline is shown by dominant brands diversifying as they lose market share. More than 50% of confectionary market share was controlled by only five brands: Hershey’s, Mars, Nestle, Craft, and Ferrero (Coe & Coe, 2013). Hershey’s recently acquired amplify snack brands, which owns Skinny Pop, in a $1.6 billion deal (Global News Wire, 2017). Hershey’s is even beginning to produce meat bars, as their former best sellers are no longer sailing off shelves. Hershey’s isn’t the only old dominant brand struggling. Mars invested in Kind Bars, which features health conscious mottos on their labels (Global news Wire, 2017). Chocolate brands adjust their products and tailor to a changing audience, which will alter how chocolate is consumed.
Not only are Americans consuming less chocolate, but when they do it is in different contexts. Fitness spots such as Equinox still sell chocolate but offer bars that are gluten, dairy, sugar alcohol, and trans fat free.
Chocolate is featured in low sugar bars and protein shakes more frequently than in caloric foamy drinks. The turn in society towards healthier lifestyles, less sugar consumption, and increased fitness has caused vendor diversification and is changing the way chocolate is consumed.
Despite chocolate and cacao’s widespread medicinal uses in the past, it has been demoted to a sugary dessert in America. As people fight the obesity crisis, consumers practice self-control and grab alternative foods off the shelves. Brands with “skinny” in the name have grown in number: skinny pop, skinny cow, and halo top with the number of calories in huge print. Advertisements featuring natural ingredients, such as the Skinny Pop commercial, are successful. The chocolate market may never be the same—Hershey’s with the famous brown sealed chocolate bar now is selling popcorn and even meat bars (yuck). Not only has chocolate consumption declined, but the way the population consume it has changed because it is being revamped into healthier foods and not just sweet desserts.
Coe, Sophie D. and Michael
D. Coe. 2013 . The True History of
Chocolate. 3rd edition. London:
Thames & Hudson.
Dillinger, Teresa, et al. “Food of the
Gods: Cure for Humanity? A Cultural History of the Medicinal and Ritual Use of
Chocolate.” Oxford Academic The Journal of Nutrition, Oxford
University Press, 1 Aug. 2000, academic.oup.com/jn/article/130/8/2057S/4686320.
Dreiss, Meredith L., and Sharon Edgar
Greenhill. Chocolate: Pathway to the Gods. University of Arizona
Martin, Carla D. “Mesoamerica and the ‘Food of the Gods.’” Chocolate, Culture and the Politics of Food. Harvard University: Cambridge, MA. 13 Feb. 2017. Lecture.
Mintz, Sidney. 1986. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York: Penguin Books.Popcorn, SkinnyPop. “SkinnyPop | Simple Tastes Better.” YouTube, YouTube, 10 Aug. 2016, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_iCta8t7BmU.
Today if someone wanted to have a chocolate bar, they would go to the supermarket and find at least ten different kinds of chocolates, in different shapes, flavors, and fillings. If you asked someone to name at least three chocolate companies they would be able to list at least five off the top of their head. Thanks to the industrial revolution (1760- 1840) chocolate is one of them most popular treat available today. In the 17th century, chocolate became a fashionable drink through Europe and was a privilege of the rich until the invention of the steam engine which allowed not only mass production to be a possibility but also eliminated the socio-economic divide between classes due to chocolate’s availability. Throughout the industrial revolution chocolate went through several advancements including: the invention of the hydraulic press, dutching, inclusion of milk in chocolate, and conching.
In the book The True History of Chocolate, authors Sophie and Michael Coe write about the history of chocolate consumption before the industrial revolution “for at least 28 centuries, chocolate had been a drink of the elite and the very rich… the Industrial Revolution, which changed chocolate from a costly drink to a cheap food” (Coe & Coe 232 -233). Before chocolate could be made available for the masses a few advancements needed to take place starting with invention of the hydraulic press. In 1828, Dutch Chemist Coenraad Johannes Van Houten took out a patent on a process for the manufacture of a new kind of powdered chocolate with a very low fat content eventually creating the hydraulic press. “This allowed untreated chocolate “liquor”—the end result of the grinding process—which contains about 53 percent cacao butter, but Van Houten’s machine managed to reduce this to 27–28 percent, leaving a “cake” that could be pulverized into a fine powder” (Coe & Coe 260) creating what today is known as cocoa. Van Houten treated this cocoa mix with alkaline salt (potassium or sodium carbonates) to mix better with water. This process became known as “Dutching” it improved the powder’s miscibility (not, as some believed, its solubility) in warm water, it made the chocolate darker in color and milder in flavor. Even today, many people prefer “Dutch” chocolate, thinking it to be stronger in taste, when it is only the difference in color that makes it seem so” (Coe & Coe 260). Van Houten’s discover lead to a large scale manufacture of cheap chocolate in both powdered and solid form for everyone regardless of their social class or economic status.
Twenty years after Van Houten’s discovery, Francis Fry of Fry Enterprises figured out how to mix a blend of cocoa powder and sugar with melted cacao butter and cast it into a mold. Thus creating the first ever edible chocolate bar.
Due to the demand for chocolate bars, the price of cacao butter increased, once again creating a class barrier for chocolate, by providing chocolate bars for the elite. However, this price increase of chocolate bars and cacao butter, decrease the price of cocoa powder making it available to the masses. With the emergence of chocolate companies in the United States chocolate bars soon became available for the masses. In the United States of America, the production of chocolate proceeded at a faster pace than anywhere else in the world.
One of the most important evolutions of chocolate consumption includes the use of milk. the addition of milk to chocolate bars is credited to two people the first is Henri Nestlé, a swiss chemist and Daniel Peter, a chocolate manufacturer. In 1867, Nestlé discovered a process to make powdered milk by evaporation; when mixed with water, this could be fed to infants and small children (Coe & Coe 268). In 1879, Peter used nestlé’s powder in the fabrication of a new kind of chocolate, thus the first milk chocolate bar was created. “The process was simple: they dried out the moisture in the mix and replaced it with cacao butter, so that it could be poured into a mold” (Coe & Coe 268). Without this the discovery of Hershey Chocolate Kisses or famous Chocolate bars would not exist today.
One of the last advancements made during the industrial revolution was the process of conching created by Rudolphe Lindt in 1879, which improved the quality of chocolate confectionary. A very meticulous process, “The traditional conche is formed by a flat, granite bed with curved ends, upon which heavy granite rollers attached to robust steel arms move backwards and forwards; the rollers slap against the curved ends, causing the chocolate liquor to splash back over the rollers into the main body of the mechanism. Since the action of the process causes friction and therefore heat to build up in the chocolate dough or paste, the preliminary roasting of the cacao beans may sometimes be omitted. After 72 or more hours of such rock-and-roll treatment, the chocolate mass reaches the desired flavor, as well as attaining a high degree of smoothness, due to a reduction in the size of particles. ”(Coe & Coe 268 ). This advancement allowed chocolatiers to make smoother chocolate bars, tasting almost like fondant, getting rid of the coarse and gritty texture it used to have, conching then became a common practice among the business.
In The Bitter and Sweet of Chocolate in Europe Carla Martin and Kathryn Sampeck explore the role of race, gender, and class inequality attributed with chocolate production and consumption. While analyzing the social inequality and popularization of chocolate Martin and Sampeck write “ With the industrialization of chocolate, it was no longer a commodity for the the elite, expensive or consumed primarily as a drink but rather an inexpensive cocoa powder to be drunk or low-cacao-content chocolate bar to be consumed as a food by elite and non-elite alike” ( 49). Chocolate became a treat that anyone can purchase and enjoy, well known companies like Lindt, Nestlé, Cadbury, Hershey’s, and Mars, attempted to produce a product that would taste the same every time thereby commercialize a product that had gone through enormous changes since the pre-columbian mesoamerica days.
While seen in the past a commodity to establish social identity in Kirsty Leissle’s book Cocoa she writes that today modern American companies including Cadbury and Hershey have contributed to the pre-existing social identity of chocolate. “ The companies most successful at crafting this social identity, including Cadbury and Hershey, have helped steer consumer desire for chocolate in certain directions – as an affordable luxury, holiday accompaniment, and surrogate for romantic love” (Leissle, 9). This remains true today, often during Valentine’s day Chocolate hearts, boxes shaped like hearts containing chocolate or even chocolate cake at restaurants on this holiday connect the idea of love to chocolate. The effects of the industrial revolution remains a strong component of consumer consumption of chocolate today, due to the advancements of the past it has never been easier to produce chocolate or purchase. Today people can enter almost any store and find a chocolate bar and that should be celebrated!
Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. 3rd ed., Thames and Hudson, 2013.
Leissle, Kristy. Cocoa. Polity Press, 2018.
Martin, C. D., & Sampeck, K. E. (2015). The bitter and sweet of chocolate in Europe. Socio.hu, (Special issue 3), 37-60. doi:10.18030/socio.hu.2015en.37
Why is there a misconception surrounding chocolate today?
Since its introduction in the sixteenth century, chocolate has been a controversial topic in society. It has been labeled as the cause of adult acne to an “unbelievable” treat that can “help you live longer” and “lose weight” (Vox 2015). These conflicting ideologies date back to the Aztec empire and their use of cacao as both a religious ritual and medicine. Throughout time the usage of cacao, more commonly consumed today as chocolate, has shifted from a religious medicine to a indulgent treat. Whether or not that treat is considered healthy depends entirely as to what is being consumed. The reality is that the chocolate society consumes today is very different from the Aztec recipe. This is largely in part to the European influence on cacao, the growth of a new market, and the high demand for sweeter flavors.
What is chocolate?
While most chocolate is commonly associated with brand name companies such as Hershey’s, chocolate in Mesoamerica had a different purpose and taste. Chocolate is the product of cacao, its original form, which has a bitter taste. Not only was it used as a “source of currency” and mostly “reserved for the nobility,” but it was also part of the “Mexica healing system” (Dilinger et al 2059S). In fact, cacao was thought to “soothe stomach problems…reduce fevers…and promote strength before military or sexual conquests” (Wilson 158). This is reflected in the image on the left (Figure 1). This vessel depicts a battle scene that was most likely given as a political gift and served chocolate as a drink.
When chocolate was introduced to Europe during the seventeenth century, the medicinal properties of cacao were still widely accepted. Many physicians claimed that chocolate had the power to “sure patients suffering from fever and infirmities of the liver” (Wilson 9937). Some even stated that “in great quantities” chocolate was “beneficial for the ailments of the chest” and “good for the stomach if drunk in small quantities” (Wilson 9937).
Despite the similarities in uses, the medicinal value of chocolate in Europe did differ from the Mesoamerican usage. The “Mexica” valued religion and even “perceived cacao to be an intoxicating food,” mirroring many critics in the modern day who claim chocolate is “addictive” (Dilinger et al 2095S)(Vox 2015). In contrast, European society in the seventeenth century did not view chocolate as a dangerous or “intoxicating food.” This was mostly a result of the persuasive techniques physicians used to convince the public of “chocolate’s perceived benefits” by reporting “cases of seemingly respectable witnesses” (Wilson 158). Thus, with the ideology of chocolate being both a tasty and “healthy” option, the demand began to increase, paving the way for a new market.
The Transition from Medicine to Commodity
With an increase in demand, a new industry was born. Chocolatiers began to experiment with new recipes, which is how milk chocolate was born. Cacao was then associated with milk and given new health benefits as a “good-tasting restorative drink high in both proteins and carbohydrates” (Wilson 159). As a result, chocolate was “truly prized” and led to the development of a new market (Lippi 9938). However, in order to meet the rising demand, chocolatiers also had to create recipes that would “replace cocoa with other low-cost ingredients that offered the same aspect” (Lippi 9939). This led to a decrease in the amount of cacao used in chocolate and an increase in the amount of added sugars, milk and other products.
So… Is chocolate healthy or a health hazard?
With a decrease in the amount of cacao, came a decrease in the health benefits. The “high sugar content” was thus associated with “obesity, tooth decay, and gum disease” which is why chocolate has become such a controversial snack today (Wilson 9939). The reality is that chocolate is not the main culprit for this sudden decrease in health value. On the contrary, sugar and all of the added ingredients are responsible. The cacao bean, in its raw form, has flavanols which are high in antioxidants. These micronutrients are what serve as mood boosters, improved cognitive performance, and even a small decrease in cardiovascular disease (Vox 2015). However, it is important to note that these effects only increase if the percentage of cacao within a chocolate bar is high, as well. According to YouTuber and chocolatier, Alyssia Sheikh, a bar or 100% cacao is “disgusting” but healthy (Mind Over Munch 2016). In her video, listed below, she highlights several differences between chocolates with varying cacao percentages. In her conclusion, she defines chocolate as both a healthy snack and a potential health hazard. The higher cocoa percentage is equal to more fat and less sugar. While this fat is “healthier,” consuming large quantities will prove to be just as unhealthy as consuming a chocolate bar made up of less cocoa and more sugar (Mind Over Munch 2016). In other words, chocolate, in any recipe, can be dangerous if you consume too much and healthy if you consume just the right amount. At the end, the risk is entirely up to the consumer and it is one that millions are willing to take.
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, vol. 130, no. 8S Suppl, 2000, pp. 2057S–72S.
Lippi, Donatella. “Sin and Pleasure: the History of Chocolate in Medicine.” Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, vol. 63, no. 45, 2015, pp. 9936–41.
Wilson, Philip. “The Art of Medicine: Centuries of Seeking Chocolate’s Medicinal Benefits.” The Lancet, vol. 376, no. 9736, 2010, pp. 158–9.
Mind Over Munch. “Is Dark Chocolate Healthy? Misconceptions, benefits & more! FAN REQUESTED!– Mind Over Munch.” YouTube, 24 Mar. 2016, https://youtu.be/iEhAHGk6DXM