CVS Pharmacy is a popular retail store across the United States offering everything from school supplies to pharmaceutical needs. It can be found in pretty much every corner of the country and most everyone has been inside one at least a dozen times in their lives. Of course a store with so much general merchandise also offers a selection of foods, not in the least of which is chocolate. For this blog post, I travelled to the local CVS pharmacy in Harvard Square and examined their chocolates to see what kind of standard one of the most widespread stores in America holds for their selection of chocolate. After all, because of how standardized CVS stores are in what they carry, these same chocolates are likely everywhere being offered everywhere else in the U.S. as well. It is because of this reason that makes their selection of chocolate so important, its availability to the general populace means these brands get the most face time and highest likelihood of being bought by consumers. Unfortunately, after examining the Harvard Square CVS selection I found that it was inadequate. With consideration of price point and intended audience, I believe that because of concerns of variety and ethical concerns I believe that CVS Pharmacy can do still do a better job curating their chocolate collection.
First of all, I want to note that I suspected that many CVS shoppers don’t usually go to CVS for chocolate directly. However, just because many people don’t go to CVS for chocolate doesn’t mean that CVS can just offer any type of chocolate. So I began to make a thorough exploration of the store and I found that it wasn’t actually very well organized for chocolates likely because CVS’s primary audience is not at CVS to buy chocolate. There was a small main section for sweets including candy and chocolates, but this wasn’t the only place for chocolate – there was chocolate everywhere in the store often mixed into other sections of snacks. Probably the most notable alternative section to the main chocolate area was there a small stand that had a selection of “premium” chocolates.
Throughout the store there were many different types of chocolate. There was a fair assortment of different forms from bars, pretzels to balls. On the face of it, it seemed like most of these chocolates all belonged to different companies. However, on closer inspection of the companies behind the chocolate, it turns out that despite a plethora of chocolates, most of the brands of chocolate throughout the store were one of these four companies: Lindt, Hersheys, Mars, and Nestle.
Of course, this wasn’t really a surprise. These four companies are giants in the chocolate world. It makes sense that a popular and generalist store like CVS would of course carry the most popular and general chocolate companies. It is also in line with the intended audience of CVS. It’s meant for everybody and so for this reason it’s clear that the intended audience for all their products (and not just chocolate) is just average consumers. Average consumers that are coming in are more likely to be buying chocolate more on a whim. Even if it’s not on a whim, it’s likely in junction with purchasing other items from CVS. CVS is such a general merchandise store that there seem to be little reason to go to CVS solely for the reason to be buying chocolate. If the latter were the case then these consumers would likely go to a higher end chocolate store that offers more gourmet options. If one buys chocolate on a whim, they’re most likely to be choosing brands and types of chocolate that they are familiar with. Familiarity and brand recognition is what companies like the four mentioned above are king of.
In terms of price points, I found that most of the chocolates offered were anywhere form $2.00 to $4.00 on average. The highest priced chocolates I found were in the premium chocolate section with Lindt’s Lindor Truffles costing $5.29. Very often a lot of the chocolates, whether premium or not, would have promotions where it wouldn’t be uncommon to get a small deal for purchasing two of the same chocolates. For example, the Truffles were going on sale 2 for $8.00 despite the fact that they’re being listed as premium chocolates.
There are two things that are clear from their price points and promotions. Promotions tend to show either that chocolates are not being sold well and I think this helps support my reasoning that the primary audience of CVS is not travelling to CVS for chocolates and might need incentive to purchase more. Secondly, the low price points all around show the lack of diversity the CVS selection of chocolate is. It is precisely because of how mainstream the types chocolates are that CVS can order in bulk, sell in bulk and price them in bulk. Hersheys for example even back in 1910 had such a “low cost… every grocer, druggist, and candy store owner in America could stock Hershey products” (D’Antonio, 2006). I think it shows how much of a conglomerate both CVS and these chocolate corporations are. There isn’t really any sort of care in the selection, its just purchasing whatever big brand is out there and having as much of it as possible. As you can see from the picture below CVS’ selection ends up being in line with the present American nature of having too much stuff and an excess of consumerism. I think Goody puts it best when describing the revolution of industrial food that “larger stores offer lower prices, wider choices and the impersonality of selection that a socially mobile populations appears to prefer” (Goody 1982).
However, is there really any way that we can buy chocolate in bulk this cheaply without hurting someone down the supply line? If anything, big corporations are the most likely to be perpetrators of sourcing practices that aren’t up to ethical standards. While they have been trying to improve over the years, it still isn’t good enough. Bottom lines for corporations tend to be profit so its easy to skim out and take shortcuts, but this ends up hurting very real people. As we can learn from This video shows how for our relatively cheap chocolate bars a farmer ends up working for so little he has never even tasted chocolate.
The certified cocoa from the above chart mean cacoa that is both ethically and sustainably sourced. We can see that compared to some compard to some more boutique companies, ethical concerns aren’t really the top concerns of the big corporations companies. Its not a surprise when for Forrest Mars, his concern was to just produce as much chocolate as possible and out churn the competition (Brenner, 1998). Sure, these corporations have pledged to turn out ethical and sustainable chocolate, but this is very much more likely to be lip service and a want for not upsetting consumers than it is because they truly care. If they did care, they would have already changed their supply lines years ago. Cadbury’s debacle back in the early 1900s with slave labor sourced chocolate is a similar example of this. They took their time because they didn’t know the extent of slavery that was ongoing, but they didn’t care enough to actually check for years. As we can see from another example, author Ryan’s experience with an industry executive in 2005 found that he believed there was no real child slavery in chocolate and that he ‘found it a joke’ (Ryan, 2011).These things just go to show how some of the most prominent corporations that we see in our everyday lives can really have a lack of empathy and in the end this effects those at the bottom of the supply chain the worst.
The only part of the entire section of chocolate in CVS that didn’t belong to one of the big brands was a small hidden narrow shelf in the premium chocolate section. It offered Endangered Species Chocolates, but its selection was so small it didn’t even fill up the whole shelf. It’s not put at eye level either and if one was looking for chocolates that weren’t from a giant corporation, they would have had to really put in some level of effort to find these.
I understand that CVS’ audience is an average consumer who is likely not there to purchase chocolate and if they do so it’s on a whim. It also makes sense that for big chocolate corporations the bottom line ends up being about selling as many chocolate in bulk as they can. The low prices in CVS are in line with both the audience’s intentions and the goals of CVS and the corporations. But, I am not propose that CVS should become a place where there is only a selection of fair-trade premium chocolates. I do think that big companies are part of the problem when it comes to the ethical concerns of a supply line and its not just the chocolate corporations themselves, its also the retail stores. I believe that CVS should begin transitioning to offer a larger variety of chocolates that are not just from large corporations. Instead of a just offering a premium chocolate section, they could just put up another stand that allows them to offer “Fair-trade” chocolate or “ethical” chocolates. They could even just make one part of the premium chocolates shelf solely for these new brands. Given how chaotic their current array of chocolates already are in the present, it wouldn’t be too much farther of a stretch to offer a better selection. If they could do this then it would go a long way in supporting ethical concerns in the supply line of chocolate because of how widespread CVS stores are. Doing just a small part could make a big difference and they wouldn’t even lose out on their normal profits. CVS really has much of a duty to the underpaid farmers as the big chocolate corporations. You can be better CVS.
Brenner, J. G. (1998) The Emperors of Chocolate: Inside the Secret World of Hershey and Mars. (pp. 183).
D’Antonio, M. (2006). Hershey. New York, NY. (pp. 121).
Goody, Jack. (1982). Industrial Food: Towards the Development of a World Cuisine. (pp. 87).
Ryan, O. (2011) Chocolate Nations: Living and Dying for Cocoa in West Africa. (pp. 45)
Child Labor in Your Chocolate? Check Our Chocolate Scorecard. (2018, October). Retrieved from https://www.greenamerica.org/end-child-labor-cocoa/chocolate-scorecard
VPRO Metropolis. [VPRO Metropolis]. (2014, February 21). First taste of chocolate in Ivory Coast [Video file].