The conquistadors may have invaded Mesoamerica in the 1500s, but chocolate has invaded the hearts and minds of individuals around the world ever since. Once a commodity meant for the royalty of England, chocolate has evolved over the centuries to become accessible by virtually everyone in the developed world, regardless of class or their geography. Although it certainly helped, this evolution wasn’t caused by the typical factors of production simply making chocolate cheaper; it was done through capitalistic marketing over the centuries, creating holidays and products, widening appeal while maintaining the idea of self-indulgence. Today, chocolate has it’s hold across industries and products unlike any other(Allen), depending on the context, its marketed as healthy yet indulgent(Howe), romantic yet for juveniles, a stimulant yet a stress reliever. Just searching twitter briefly and you will see the dynamics of the good.
Any mention of chocolate is sure to entice happiness or excitement(Nehlig), which is exactly what happened when I offered to host a chocolate tasting to a few friends. I wanted to test people’s perception of chocolate in relation to its labeling and marketing. By using five different varieties of chocolate bars from different brands, stores, and additives, I hoped to find out what people thought of chocolates without knowing where it comes from, and if that’s different than the perception when they are aware of its branding and everything in accompany. The results were curious, and what was more interesting was the social interaction that came about it.
The Set Up
I had 5 different chocolates, and thus 5 different note cards. In order to truly compare the affects of marketing, I had a few of my friends act as subjects partake in a half-blind tasting. For ever chocolate, half of the tasters saw the labeling or packaging the chocolate came in and the other half didn’t. Because I had 7 different chocolates, I had 7 rounds of taste testing. After every round, I had the subjects write what they thought about the chocolate, as well as provide any comments on what they tasted. Lastly, I had them rate the chocolate on a 1-5 scale with 1 being bad and 5 being extraordinarily good. I’ll make note that the subjects could best be described as “novice” in their experience with chocolate tasting and perhaps even “drunk” to describe their physical state. Nevertheless, I feel that this is irrelevant as these chocolates are marketed specifically the particular demographic of my subjects. It wouldn’t make sense to test the impact of marketing or taste if the marketing wasn’t aimed at the subjects. Each chocolate was presented similarly, and the tasters were encouraged to keep comments to themselves until after they wrote them down. Here are the chocolates’ pictures here (Plus two more that I didn’t get to use), I took it myself.
Five chocolate bars were used, they were:
- “The dark chocolate lover’s chocolate bar”, Smooth and fruity, From trader Joe’s, 85% cacao, Colombian
- “Chocolove, Orange peel in Dark Chocolate”, from cardullo’s, 55%
- “West Africa Dark Chocolate”, Neuhaus, 52%, from caudullos
- “Potato chip”, chuao chocolatier, milk chocolate, from cardullo’s
- Raaka Virgin chocolate with coconut milk, 60% cacao, from cardullo’s
The first interesting part of the tasting was the expressed assumptions about the chocolates used. Some assumed the chocolates were of a relatively higher quality and expensive without any suggestion of such from myself. I had to make clear that most of these chocolates were bought locally and are reasonably priced in Harvard Square.
The first chocolate tasted was the “Dark Chocolate Lovers” from Trader Joes. Comments received by the blind tasters were:
- “Distinct, fruity taste 3/5”
- “Smells better than it tastes 3/5”
- “Very bitter, a bit harsh 2/5”
Comments received by those who read the label were:
- “Fruitiness coming through nicely, dark but not unpleasantly so, less than I would have expected 4/5”
- “Dark, but smooth 4/5”
Outside the written comments, one taster asked me why in the world the producers of the chocolate bar wouldn’t add sugar with obvious disgust and disappointment in their first sample. I take this all to mean an obvious and distinct expectation when one consumes chocolate, but if warned, it can still be enjoyed, as shown by the non-blind tasters. This is important as you consider what chocolate “should” taste like to people, and also explains the subtle, yet blaringly intentional warning about the intensity of dark chocolate.
The next chocolate tasted was the one made with coconut milk, comments of the blind tasters were:
- “I don’t like coconut 2/5”
- “Smoother and milkier, toasted-tasting, somewhat lower acidity 3/5”
- “Milk chocolate and solid 3.5/5”
Comments received by the non-blind tasters were:
- “Milky and sweet 4”
- “Milky and coconutty 4”
With such a rich coconut flavor, one’s opinion of this chocolate can very well be conditional on your opinion of coconut. It was rated poorly by members of both groups of tasters, and was merely average otherwise. Still, the comments weren’t as particularly harsh as some of the other chocolates, but was still rated as one of the worst ones. When reading the label to the non-blind tasters, they seemed excited to try a taste of it, but were seemingly left largely disappointed. I take these results to show that people will not conform tastes and preferences for what looks or sounds good. What’s emphasized in this round is that there is an extent to which people will enjoy additives to chocolate, even if they enjoy the additive on its own.
The third chocolate tasted was the West African Dark Chocolate, comments from the blind tasters were:
- “Taste like cocoa butter 4/5”
- “Semisweet and quite creamy 4/5”
Comments from the non-tasters were:
- “Milkier, more palatable 3/5”
- “I like it! But it doesn’t taste expensive 4/5”
At 52% cacao, I feel this chocolate plays to the robust, earthy taste associated with dark chocolate while satisfying the need for sweetness associated with chocolate in general. It contrasts to the first dark chocolate tasted and seemed to be more widely enjoyed. The two non-blind tests commenting on its cheap taste and greater palpability would assume a deviation from their expectations about the chocolate based off the labeling. However, this deviation was taken as a good one, evident by the high ratings. I would hypothesize that the high sugar content enabled the dark chocolate to taste smoother and sit easily on the palate, which made both groups happy.
The fourth chocolate was the bar with Orange peel, comments of the blind tasters were:
- “Fruit works nicely in the chocolate 5/5”
- “Too dang fruity, 3/5”
- “Fruitier than I prefer, but I like the crunch 3/5”
Comments received by the non-blind tasters were
- “ love the crunch, 5/5”
- “don’t like the orange 2/5”
- “Orange really makes it bitter 2/5”
Much like the second chocolate bar tasted, which was made with coconut milk, a lot of the opinions came down to the favorability of orange in the chocolate. Some loved it, other despised it, and those thoughts came separate of prior knowledge of its presence. If anything, looking at these two bars makes me wonder if those who were expecting the coconut or orange flavor had a set expectation of it’s taste in their mind, and the bitterness associated with this tasting and the milkiness associated with the second tasting was off putting. If this were true, it would make more sense for marketers to set expectations on the product more clearly, if only to surpass said expectations, rather than deviating from them.
The fifth chocolate tasted was one with potato chips added, creating an exceptionally sweet and salty taste. Comments of the blind tasters were:
- “yum 4/5”
- “Does this have potato chips? Yum! 5/5
Comments received by the non-blind tasters were
- “liked it 4/5”
- “Salt and texture complemented chocolate, super sweet, not rich 4/5”
Considering this was the last chocolate tasted while I had planed to do two more, I wonder if the subjects were suffering from fatigue, as seen in their short and generic answers. Regardless, this chocolate was well liked, and probably the most liked of all the chocolates tasted. For the non-blind tasters, I think the texture was a pleasant surprise, even when they knew what was inside. And for the blind tasters, the sweet and saltiness was thoroughly enjoyed. What I learned from this round is that a well done chocolate product often surprises and fulfills the customer, the surprise in this case came from the salt and the sense of fulfillment came from the sweetness from the milk chocolate content.
Thoughts and Conclusion
While hosting a small chocolate tasting was fun, it was more fun for me to see the interactions people had with chocolate while tasting them. It wasn’t hard to convince the subjects to participate in a tasting, but the hard part was teasing out their thoughts, which became harder as the night went on. Nevertheless, everyone involved had fun, and it seemed as if the chocolate connected the subjects to one another as they talked about what they tasted and how they felt. I’ve been to wine, cheese, and chili tastings, and I can’t say the same connectivity was felt there, something about chocolate and it’s Mesoamerican roots makes it something special in a way words cannot articulate.
Of course, that’s not to say nothing could be improved, if I were to do this all again, I would sit down the subjects and provide a bit more background on the tasting, teach them what to taste for and how to taste, as well as require a bit more thorough responses across the board. I also would have liked to test at least two more chocolates, just to get a wider variety, my subjects got pretty full of chocolate by 5th round, and essentially refused to go continue. Regardless, I feel that I found results that at least started to explain the questions I had.
Fundamentally, I saw how someone’s perception of the quality of a chocolate bar could change if reality dealt a hard blow to their expectations. It seems it’s almost better for the chocolate producers to have their consumers have 0 expectations as oppose to any, because missing those expectations could mean dissatisfying the consumer. While this thought concept might lead a marketer to cut back on their marketing in order to stem high expectations, the opposite ought to occur as there is a very high premium on meeting expectations set by the consumer, or surprising them in a pleasant, satisfying fashion. Either way, you can draw out a few key points:
- The success or failure of a chocolate bar relies in consumer’s perception going into the tasting.
- Additives can help compliment the product, but nobody likes it when it’s overbearing.
- Sugar always helps
- If you present your product as dark, give them dark, but give them what they really want (sweet)
In today’s society, chocolate is inescapable, it can be found in smoothies, candies, ice creams, nature bars, cereals, covering fruits, and even in alcohol. It makes sense that the average American eats 11 pounds of it a year, and is a 100-billion-dollar industry. How we interact with it is important, because we don’t interact with chocolate like most consumer goods. Examining this concept was fun, but I know there could deeper research done on the topic.
CNBC’s Katy Barnato and Luke Graham. “Future of the Chocolate Industry Looks Sticky.”CNBC, CNBC, 24 Mar. 2016, http://www.cnbc.com/2016/03/24/future-of-the-chocolate-industry-looks-sticky.html.
#Sweet tooth? #Chocoholic ? or just a little treat… #Chocolate Infusion at #CreweFoodFest 27th & 28th May” twitter, 4 May 2018., https://twitter.com/CreweFoodFest/status/992377201449369601
@HealingMB “Eating chocolate while studying helps the brain retain new information easily and is directly linked to high test scores
#nutrition #chocolate ” twitter, 4 May 2018,. https://twitter.com/HealingMB/status/991743847070871553
James howe. “Chocolate and Cardiovascular Health: The Kuna Case Reconsidered.” Gastronomica, vol. 12, no. 1, 2012, pp. 43–52. JSTOR, JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/gfc.2012.12.1.43.
Nehlig, Astrid. Coffee, Tea, Chocolate, and the Brain. CRC Press, 2004.
Allen, Lawrence. Chocolate Fortunes: The Battle for the Hearts, Minds, and Wallets of China’s Consumers .
Martin, Carla. “The Rise in Big Chocolate and the Race for the Global Market.”