From its journey to Europe from the New World at the beginning of the sixteenth century all the way to its modern-day iteration, chocolate has become an important staple for people all over the world. Provided here is a brief history of its long and fruitful evolution through time – from Europeans first encounter with the substance through its development into an industrialized food.
The Olmecs (1500-400 BC) were almost certainly the first humans to consume chocolate. They would crush the cocoa beans, mix them with water and add spices, chillies and herbs – thus first creating, “the nectar of the Gods!”
Over time, the Mayans (600 BC) and Aztecs (400 AD) developed their own successful methods for cultivating cocoa. For these civilizations, cocoa was a symbol of privilege and abundance. It was used in religious rituals dedicated to Quetzalcoatl (the Aztec god responsible for bringing the cocoa tree to man) to Chak ek Chuah (the Mayan patron saint of cocoa) and as an offering at the funerals of noblemen.
Discovery and Commercialization of Cocoa (16th century) In 1528Hernando Cortez drank cacao with the Aztec emperor Montezuma and brought it back to Spain.
The Spanish court soon fell in love with this exotic elixir and adapted it to their tastes, adding cane sugar, vanilla, cinnamon and pepper.
In 1585, the first cargo of cocoa beans arrived on the Iberian Peninsula from New Spain, launching the trade in cocoa, resulting in the establishment of the first chocolate shops and a rapidly growing demand for this mysterious nectar from the new world.
The expansion of cocoa in Europe (17th – 19th centuries) During the 17th century, cocoa began arriving in other ports throughout Europe, effortlessly conquering every region’s palate. Chocolate beverages were first embraced by the French court following the royal marriage of King Louis XIII to the Spanish Princess Anne of Austria in 1615.
In 1650 chocolate beverages first appeared in England coinciding with the arrival of tea from China and coffee from the Middle East. For many years it remained a treat reserved for the upper classes.
In 1659 the first chocolate-confection maker opened in Paris.
In 1720, Italian chocolate-makers received prizes in recognition of the quality of their products. Then in 1765, North America finally discovered the virtues of cocoa.
Cocoa During the Industrial Era Industrialization has had a marked democratizing effect on chocolate, transforming it from a rare delicacy reserved for royals, to a widely available and readily affordable treat for the masses.
In 1828, Dutch Chemist Coenraad van Houten invented a process for extracting cocoa butter, allowing for the extraction of cocoa powder. This made chocolate more homogenous and less costly to produce. From this moment on, the history of cacao changed drastically.
In 1847, English chocolate maker J.S. Fry & Sons produced the first chocolate bar. The use of cocoa powder not only made creating chocolate drinks easier, but also made it possible to combine chocolate with sugar to create a solid bar.
In 1830-1879 Switzerland, chocolate flavored with hazelnuts was developed by Daniel Peteris followed by milk chocolate developed by Henri Nestlé.
In 1879, the texture and taste of chocolate was further improved when Rodolphe Lindt invented the conching machine. This new machine made the process of making chocolate a lot faster, and also helped make chocolate smoother and creamier.
Within the United States in 1893, confectionist Milton Hershey found chocolate making equipment at the Worlds Fair in Chicago and began production at a factory in Pennsylvania.
Chocolate followed the French and American infantry into the trenches of the First World War, and effectively all US chocolate production was requisitioned for the military during the Second World War. In France, chocolate sweets appeared between the wars, and French pralines were considered the most fashionable. This further inspired chocolate producers to experiment with new and exciting flavors.
Converting cacao seeds into chocolate has now evolved into a complex, mechanized process. At the factory the cacao blended, roasted, cracked, winnowed, ground, pressed, mixed, conched, refined and tempered into candy bars. A few icons of the early 1900s still survive today, like Hershey, Cadbury and Nestlé. Either hand-made or as a fast food, it is now an established part of the world’s vocabulary and diet. Famous French gastronome Anthelme Brillat-Savarin poetically summed up our universal love affair with chocolate, “What is health? It is chocolate!”
In these videos from Bon Apetit! you can see cocoa’s long and laborious journey from bean to bar.
Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1996. Print.
Presilla, Maricel. 2009. The New Taste of Chocolate, Revised: A Cultural & Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press.
Goody, Jack. Industrial Food: Towards the Development of a World Cuisine. In Counihan, Carole. Food and Culture: A Reader. New York: Routledge, 1997. Print.
Chocolate is recognized as one of the most craved foods in the world, resulting in the coinage of terms such as chocoholic or chocolate addict. However, going from targeted marketing by most chocolate companies around the world, one would assume that the majority of the chocolate addicts or chocoholics were, women. As soon as a woman takes her first bite, in an advertisement, a sense of ecstasy follows triggered by the chocolate, invariably showing the relationship between women’s sexual pleasure and chocolate. Women’s sexual pleasure, much like the attitude towards chocolate, is considered sinful; the juxtaposition of these two views woven into narratives through chocolate commercials, only solidifies the concept of “naughty but nice” as they objectify women sexually while they are consuming chocolate.
Women tend to be sexually depicted in commercials in two ways, one, in which women are aroused by consuming chocolate, or two, women become attractive to men after they consume chocolate. Below are examples of two ads from Dove and Godiva that exemplify these two categories of portrayal of women in chocolate advertising.
In both the commercials, chocolate is seen as a sinful treat that women consume. In the first Dove commercial, a woman is being wrapped in chocolate coloured silk as she sighs and savors the luxury of consuming chocolate whilst being wrapped around by a luxurious fabric. It is depicting the after effects of consuming the chocolate whilst showing what a privilege it is to be able to consume chocolate. The background music and noises further alludes to the effect of sexual arousal post consumption and the use of silk in the commercial shows luxury and class, and at the same time, it represents a material that is often used to portray sex. In the Godiva commercial, three women are shown in three different locations wearing long dresses that represent three kinds of Godiva chocolates; dark, milk and white. Three men can be seen gifting chocolates to the women, which in turn sexually arouses the women and thus excites the men. It is interesting to note that the commercial does not show men consuming the chocolate, but only women. In one instance in the commercial, one of the women almost shares the chocolate with the man but then teases him as she eats the whole truffle herself, because she just cannot share it or resist it.
Professor Peter Rogers, from the University of Bristol, explains: “A more compelling explanation lies in our ambivalent attitudes towards chocolate – it is highly desired but should be eaten with restraint”, he further states that “Our unfulfilled desire to eat chocolate, resulting from restraint, is thus experienced as craving, which in turn is attributed to ‘addiction’.” (Rogers, 2007) Women in the above commercials depict this relationship of resistance and indulgence with chocolate, not only through the consumption of chocolate itself but also through their sexual desires. Due to the perception that “nice” women and their sexual pleasures should be restrained as opposed to men’s sexual pleasures, chocolate gives them the narrative, the chance of indulgence, and gives them the opportunity to be “naughty”. Chocolate then starts to show women’s relationship with their own sexual desires, that relies on chocolate to be fueled.
Chocolate, then hence is portrayed to being the food for women by commercials. In contrast, a Burger King commercial shows meat as the food for men, aptly titled “I am Man”. The commercial shows men eating burgers while chanting socially accepted norms that make them men; these are men who are strong and can lift cars and pull heavy weights, men who cannot survive on “chick food” such as quiche. Commercials such as the one by Hungry Man, as well as Mc Donald’s McRib advertisement, show only men, consuming meat products. When catered to men such as the ones that are shown in these commercials, chocolate becomes delicate and feminine. When contrasted, meat becomes the socially accepted food for men while chocolate becomes the socially accepted food for women.
Without any concrete scientific evidence, chocolate is now widely believed to be craved by women more than men. Dr. Julia Hormes from University of Albany states in her study published in Appetite in 2011 that “half of the women [in the U.S.] who crave chocolate say they do so right around menstruation,”. (Hormes, 2011) Hormes’s study tried to correlate menstruation with chocolate craving however, she arrived at the conclusion that “These biochemical, physiological hypotheses didn’t pan out.” (Hormes, 2011) Hormes believes that the strong influence of culture, particularly the kind portrayed in commercials plays a role in how women tend to react to chocolate.
In an interview with Kate Bratskeir of Huffington Post, Hormes talks about chocolate marketing, she says;
“Chocolate is marketed as a way for women to deal with negative emotion (like, say, the stress and headaches that come with PMS), Hormes said. It is an “indulgence” because it is an exception to the rule — women who diet and subscribe to a certain ideal of beauty should only consume chocolate when they “need” it.”…“Only in America. In Spain, for example, women don’t report craving chocolate perimensturally nearly as much as women in the U.S. do. It’s not that Spanish women have a different make-up to their cycle, it’s really that tampon and chocolate ads aren’t aired during the same commercial break. In the U.S., it seems, there’s something so strongly feminine about chocolate that fewer men report wanting it. But, “Spanish men are almost as likely to crave chocolate as Spanish women.” In Egypt, neither men nor women really report craving chocolate; “They tend to crave savory foods,” Hormes said.” (Hormes, 2011)
The need that is described above by Hormes is a culturally manufactured one that is fabricated through commercials showing women needing chocolates, specially when it comes to sex.
Chocolate advertisements not only play into women’s sexual desires but also women’s body image and various insecurities. The above print ad from Ferrero Rocher shows a naked model being tempted by chocolates that are growing from the tree. The ad is attaching the narrative of Eve and the forbidden fruit to chocolate, depicting this woman as a “sinner” for consuming chocolate and having sexual desires. The ad also shows a skinny model indulging in the sinful act of consuming chocolate. The inclusion of a model, gives off an image that makes it okay for women of regular sizes to indulge in chocolate. It shows that women can still be thin and be naughty, and consume chocolate as a guilty pleasure. While talking about the relationship of female body image and chocolate marketing, in his paper, Occidental College student, Jamal Fahim writes,
“In order to remain slim and attractive, women must avoid foods that are high in fat, sugar and calories. Images of the ideal body have permeated the minds of many consumers who are inclined to view the body as an object of admiration and a model for self-construction. Moreover, consumer goods may serve to compensate for a person’s “feelings of inferiority, insecurity or loss, or to symbolize achievement, success or power” (Campbell 1995:111)”.
Chocolate companies tend to play up various different feelings that Campbell described whilst talking about consumer products, however in most cases those feelings within the wide spectrum from insecurity to success are usually related to sex and women in chocolate advertising. The print Dove advertisement above, for example, associates itself with an insecurity that is often linked with sex, lasting longer. The ad compares indulging the Dove bar to lasting longer while showing the face of a woman who is satisfied.
All the advertisements mentioned above adds to the misconception of chocolate as an aphrodisiac and that it works more on women. The New York Times article, tries to evaluate this claim stating;
“Nowadays, scientists ascribe the aphrodisiac qualities of chocolate, if any, to two chemicals it contains. One, tryptophan, is a building block of serotonin, a brain chemical involved in sexual arousal. The other, phenylethylamine, a stimulant related to amphetamine, is released in the brain when people fall in love. But most researchers believe that the amounts of these substances in chocolate are too small to have any measurable effect on desire. Studies that have looked for a direct link between chocolate consumption and heightened sexual arousal have found none. The most recent study, published in May in the journal Sexual Medicine, looked specifically at women, who are thought to be more sensitive to the effects of chocolate. The researchers, from Italy, studied a random sample of 163 adult women with an average age of 35 and found no significant differences between reported rates of sexual arousal or distress among those who regularly consumed one serving of chocolate a day, those who consumed three or more servings or those who generally consumed none.” (O’ Connor, 2006)
The article concludes by stating that, “if chocolate has any aphrodisiac qualities, they are probably psychological, not physiological” (O’ Connor, 2006).
This psychological perception of chocolate and sex is one that is manufactured by chocolate advertising bringing out various themes that are associated with female sexuality starting from the perception that female sexual desires are akin to a sin, to body image issues that perpetuates women’s need to be slim to various other insecurities associated with sex such as lasting longer or overall satisfaction. Even though the findings and correlation between chocolate and sex are negligible, the marketing for chocolate continues to perpetuate chocolate’s association with sex and its implied special relevance to women’s sexuality as it plays into societal expectations from women, that require them to be and make them more attractive if they are “naughty but nice”.
We often see varieties of chocolate neatly arranged in so many stores, and the display is so tempting for customers walking by. Every shopping trip to a convenience or drug store is the same – make a rewarding selection between mainstream (and sometimes exotic) chocolate products. The tastings were set up in a way to acquire as much information as possible. The samples I acquired from CVS were: Ferrero Rocher hazelnut truffles (Italian), Hershey’s milk chocolate (American), Cadbury milk chocolate (English), Toblerone milk chocolate with nougat (Swiss), and Brookside dark chocolate with blueberries and almonds (American). The samples I acquired from Cardullo’s were: Niederegger’s Chocolate with marzipan (German), Truffettes milk chocolate covered marshmallows (French), Chuao Milk chocolate with potato chips (American/Venezuelan based), Vivra 65% dark with candied violets (American), and Taza 50% dark chocolate with guajillo chili. I recruited six tasters, and one taster was unable to try the dark chocolate samples, because dark chocolate disagrees with him. I expected that the tasters I shared various chocolate samples with would prefer more generic and familiar brands, such as the brands offered by CVS. However, by analyzing the results of my research done on various flavors of chocolate, it is apparent that my tasters generally preferred the less common chocolate bars without realizing it. This suggests that people do not put as much thought into their chocolate preferences as they really should be.
When organizing tastings for my research, I tried to get as many tasters as possible to taste my CVS and Cardullo’s products by themselves. There ended up being two groups of two, and two lone tasters. I wanted each person’s response to influence another person’s response as little as possible. Furthermore, none of the tasters were enrolled in Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. The students of the class now have an above average level of training for identifying specific tastes and smells in the chocolate, so I decided to test the abilities of non-chocolate scholars. I must admit that the whole tasting set-up was done by having in the back of my mind Barb Stuckey’s self-observation of her tasting skill after spending time working for the Mattson company. Barb excitedly recalls her “newfound skill” explaining that she “could take one bite of a food, consider it for a millisecond, and know exactly what it was missing that would give it an optimal taste (Stuckey 3)”. However, I was delighted to hear my tasters use descriptions for the samples, such as: dry, “varied texture”, “pop rock texture”, generic, “dull ‘thud’ sound”, sandy, “old book taste”, chalky, and/or matte colored.
The chocolate samples came from two different stores: CVS, and Cardullo’s Gourmet Shoppe, both in Harvard Square in Cambridge. Both stores are conveniently located in an area filled with people, some of whom may be hungry for a chocolate snack. Cardullo’s and CVS have their similarities, including the fact that they have their specific chocolate-seeking audiences. However, there is a difference between the chocolate-seeking audiences of Cardullo’s and CVS. Cardullo’s targets consumers of European origin and consumers with an interest in European culture, while CVS targets consumers that are not extremely fussy, and less willing to spend more for chocolate that would satisfy their cravings just as effectively. On a side note: the cost for all of the products between CVS and Cardullo’s totaled $46.34.
CVS’s chocolate is meant to “cater” to the general public. The store manager of the CVS location himself explained the ways in which the companies featured in the store cater to the general public. The confections sold at CVS are internationally recognized American and European brands whose confectionery styles do well with their plain chocolate, but also with commonly added flavors (some additional flavors include: caramel, nougat, nuts, and fruit). Hershey’s is a quintessential product at CVS, and must maintain their consumer loyalty with recognizable packaging, as well as producing creative ideas. For example, Hershey’s has designed resealable packaging to give their consumers a choice to eat some chocolate now and save the rest for later. A better alternative, rather than the consumer being forced to eat the entire product once it has been opened. Chocolate investigator, Kristy Leissle, begins her journal with, “Consider a hershey’s (sic) kiss. At once minimalist and iconic, the twist of silver foil sends a familiar flavor message to the brain, while the wrapper imparts nothing substantial about the chocolate (Leissle 22)”. When we see a chocolate product that is familiar to us, its iconic and memorable packaging prompts us to remember that what the product is. We also can trust familiar looking products to taste delicious if we decide to purchase them, rather than us risking the possibility of feeling like our money has been wasted on a bad tasting product.
The products from CVS have important descriptions that set them apart from the products at Cardullo’s. There were a few products made with dark chocolate, but most of the products sold at CVS were made with milk chocolate. The most popular CVS product was a tie between Toblerone and Ferrero Rocher – all six tasters liked the two products equally. Four out of six tasters especially liked the chocolate center of the truffles. The Toblerone sample was described by four out of six tasters as “better than Hershey’s.” Three out of six tasters did not care for the Brookside product, two tasters thought the product was “okay,” and one taster loved the Brookside product so much that it won CVS over as her favorite store of the two for buying chocolate. Fun fact: Hershey acquired Brookside in 2011 (Schroeder). Hershey’s milk chocolate was the least popular CVS product, and Cadbury’s milk chocolate was described by every taster as “better than Hershey’s,” while Cadbury’s still was not the most popular CVS product.
Most of the products were neatly arranged by brand on the candy aisle. The rest of the products could be found on the end cap of the candy aisle on the side furthest away from the registers. The products on the end cap are known as the “deluxe chocolates.” The Deluxe brands included, but were not limited to Lindt and Chuao. Recall that I bought my Chuao potato chip milk chocolate at Cardullo’s. I had gone shopping at Cardullo’s before shopping at CVS, and was surprised to find the same type of Chuao bar in the Deluxe section of CVS. The Chuao bar was more hidden than the easily seen Cardullo’s Chuao bar, and it was two dollars cheaper at CVS. Perhaps, the Deluxe chocolates at CVS are placed so that the adventurous customers who already know about the products will know where to find them. The specific placement of products could be CVS’s precaution against scaring away most of their customers with expensive, daring flavors of chocolate as the first available chocolate snack.
Cardullo’s confections are meant to cater to people with more sophisticated tastes regarding confections. More specifically, Cardullo’s employees pointed out that the shoppe targets Europeans (and a few other ethnicities) who grew up with their featured products that are hard to find outside of their countries. The store manager of Cardullo’s herself explained that Cardullo’s products are special because they invoke a strong feeling of nostalgia among visitors/immigrants from various countries. You can find a wall stocked with Cadbury products, and Cadbury is one of the few iconic chocolate brands featured in the entire store. There is no chance of finding any products from Hershey when shopping at Cardullo’s. The American products featured at Cardullo’s tend to have avant-garde flavors. For example, Cardullo’s features Vosges, a Chicago based chocolate company. One of Vosges products at Cardullo’s is a chocolate bacon bar. What a combination!
As preferred by five out of six tasters, Cardullo’s was the most popular of the two stores for chocolate shopping. The opportunity to taste new flavors of chocolate was a little intimidating, yet exciting to each of my chocolate tasters. Chloé, the chocolate connoisseur featured in Raising the Bar, voices her concern for a general lack of appreciation for chocolate variety, “[c]onsumers can be fickle and even dismissive when it comes to matters of taste… (Raising 147)”. The tasters were enthralled by the Vivra dark with violets, and this product was enjoyed by everyone that could try it. Four out of six people did not care for the Chuao potato chip chocolate, but the two other tasters enjoyed the sweet and salty combination within it. Niederegger’s marzipan milk chocolate was described by three tasters as “too sweet.” The other three tasters liked the marzipan milk chocolate, especially the consistency of the marzipan. When biting into the Truffettes milk chocolate covered marshmallows three tasters experienced them as “too chewy.” The other three tasters enjoyed the consistency of the marshmallow. Five tasters could try Taza’s Guajillo chili. Four tasters did not care for the guajillo chili infusion with the dark chocolate. One taster said that the Taza sample with guajillo chili was “awesome stuff!”
I would especially like to highlight the presence of Taza products at Cardullo’s. Taza is one of the few American chocolate companies with products for sale at Cardullo’s, and they happen to operate locally in Somerville, Massachusetts. What is special about Taza in comparison to many other American products is that the workers of Taza are interested in traditional, authentic Mexican chocolate-making methods. With a high demand in place for their products, Taza has had to find means of efficient production that would still allow for the presence of a Mexican quality surrounding the chocolate. By producing solid chocolate bars, Taza is aware that consumers are seeking a snack with traditional Mexican flavors, rather than traditional Mexican beverages. Taza’s YouTube channel serves as an efficient tool to connect with their customers on a more personal level than relying only on their website and word of mouth to deliver information to consumers. Taza wants its consumers to remember that there is still care involved with Taza’s chocolate making process, as their YouTube page’s introductory paragraph states that, “we hand-carve granite millstones to grind cacao… (TazaChocolate)”. The introductory video on their YouTube channel is an invitation for all who would like to catch a glimpse of the chocolate making process inside the factory:
It is exciting to learn a little bit about another culture’s specific methods for creating products that are so similar, yet so different from what we are usually exposed to.
It is worth noting that every person has unique preferences for chocolate products, among all other products. There are people who prefer CVS products over Cardullo’s products, as astounding as it may sound to the people who appreciate variance in chocolate. Some people may enjoy every chocolate product presented to them, while others may only accept milk chocolate. Allergies to common foods such as nuts will skew a person’s preferences, because they must work around their health concerns when determining their favorite flavors to have with chocolate. The confections we looked at for this project demonstrate the many creative and culture-specific ideas that so many talented confectioners have cooked up since chocolate became more available around the world. Perhaps, if my tasters were all chocolate connoisseurs that my research would have yielded different results about chocolate preferences.
Williams, Pamela Sue., and Jim Eber. “To Market, To Market: Craftsmanship, Customer Education, and Flavor.” Raising the Bar: The Future of Fine Chocolate. Vancouver, BC: Wilmor Corporation, 2012. 143-209. Print.
This video is a Chinese advertisement of Dove chocolates, focusing on the smooth and sweet taste of chocolate. Among the Big Five, Dove has been one of the leading chocolate products in China. Since the 1980s, the Big Five have invested massive resources into trying to sell chocolate, with hopes of a lucrative return as China’s consumer class grows. Although some companies such as Ferrero and Mars have had some success, the dream of reaching all Chinese consumers has yet to be fully realized. Why these companies have struggled to successfully penetrate the Chinese market is a question worthy of exploration. Although some literature sources address this puzzle, none of them offer fully convincing arguments for why this might be. Building on Mintz’s consideration of how “sweetness” fits into the cuisine of different cultures, I argue that we must understand how people understand flavors and food in China to fully understand why chocolate may not be as popular.
The Big Five have made concerted efforts to market chocolate to Chinese people, using different concepts to attract the attention of consumers. For example, some have focused on the cultural practice of “gift-giving”–finding that more people may choose to give chocolate rather than buy it for the sake of self-indulgence. To some extent, these efforts seem to be working. This next video is a news report that reports how chocolate in China is becoming more popular. However, as the video points out, the consumption of chocolate in China remains extremely low, and a person in China only eats about 100 grams of chocolate annually.
Interestingly, one of the points made in this video and other news reports also comment on the short history of chocolate in China. Many point to China’s recent industrialization as the start of the country’s interaction with chocolate. As Allen writes in the opening paragraph of his book “Chocolate Fortunes : The Battle for the Hearts, Minds, and Wallets of China’s Consumers,”
Until twenty-five years ago, almost none of them had ever eaten a piece of chocolate. They were, to coin a phrase, ‘‘chocolate virgins,’’ their taste for chocolate ready to be shaped by whichever chocolate company came roaring into the country with a winning combination of quality, marketing savvy, and manufacturing and distribution acumen.
Here, Allen’s analyzes China through a highly orientalist and capitalist lens, describing Chinese people as “chocolate virgins” to be “conquered in a war” between chocolate corporations. Allen’s description is highly problematic in the way that it views Chinese people as simply “consumers” who can fulfill the wild dreams of one of the big five chocolate companies. By saying that before 25 years ago, “none of them had ever eaten a piece of chocolate” is a gross exaggeration, and would suggest that chocolate has had a very recent entry into China. On the contrary, there is evidence that shows chocolate has long been in China, and some sources say its presence dates as far back as the 1600s (Grivetti and Shapiro 2011; Gordon, 2011). These scholars point to several opportunities in which chocolate could have been introduced into China, including its close proximity to European countries (like Turkey) where chocolate and coffee were extremely popular; England’s colonization of Hong Kong in the mid 1800s, and the outsourcing of Chinese laborers to the Philippines where both cane sugar and chocolate were popular (Clarence-Smith 2003; Grivetti and Shapiro 2011). In searching through a database of Chinese trade and business documents, I also found a journal entry from 1883 where missionaries documented their consumption of chocolate, suggesting that it was not a foreign substance or food to the Chinese (See Picture 1 & 2).
Given that the data suggests chocolate has had a much longer history in China, this makes the puzzle of why chocolate has not been fully taken off even more interesting. Allen posits that many of the challenges that explain why chocolate has not taken off in China are logistical barriers that have gotten in the way. For example, he cites the difficulty in finding places that can keep chocolate at an appropriate temperature to avoid melting. Additionally, Allen even talks about how China is not as developed as the west, therefore their stores simply do not fully expose consumers to chocolate. Although Allen talks briefly about the importance of understanding how food is understood in China (citing the yin and yang concept), he ultimately criticizes China for being too close-minded to chocolate. He writes,
Ironically, in spite of such a wide variety of tastes and textures, chocolate was so foreign to the Chinese palate that the only culinary gateway into the diets of Chinese consumers was as a foreign and exotic curiosity. Therefore, to make their chocolates appealing to Chinese consumers, the Big Five’s marketing approaches and products had to be consistent with this prevailing view.
Despite acknowledging China’s diverse and rich culinary culture, Allen still believes that through thoughtful marketing, the Big Five can make chocolate popular in China. I argue that this is a problematic and limiting understanding of chocolate in the Chinese context. Even if companies face no logistical supply-chain barriers or have perfect marketing campaigns, there are cultural factors to account for that explain why chocolate has not, in its history, been fully accepted into Chinese culture. In order to understand this, I believe we need to take a more nuanced look at the food system in China. Although there are certain regions, such as eastern China, that may prefer sweet foods, most of the country is not accustomed to eating solely sweets; there is a cultural system in China that dictates what what foods are better than others dependent on the season, weather, or condition of one’s body. To indulge in a sweet confectionary, or many pounds of it, is fundamentally oppositional to the balance of foods that one should consume.
In discussing the minimal role of sugar in French cuisine, Mintz’ cultural explanation provides a compelling framework that can help us understand why something sweet like chocolate may not be as popular in places like China. He writes,
Sweetness does not seem to ever have been enshrined as a taste to be contrasted with all others in the French taste spectrum–bitter, sour, salt, hot–as it has in England and America. Though dessert has a firm place in french meals, the position of cheese is even sturdier, often as if it were a spice. This is rather like the Chinese usage, where sweetness occurs somewhat unexpectedly, and also not always as the climax to the meal.
As Mintz points out, both French and Chinese cuisine are different from American and English cuisines in that they do not necessarily treat sweetness as a main or core component of dishes. Given sweetness’ smaller role in the cuisine of China, confections such as chocolates may therefore not be as attractive to consumers. Acknowledging the way that food is understood culturally is essential to understanding why chocolate companies may find resistance in China; if the Big Five truly want to take a stab at China, then they need to understand that the cuisine and cultural food systems are more important than consumers’ purchasing power or logistical barriers.
Allen, Lawrence. 2010. Chocolate Fortunes: the Battle for the Hearts, Minds, and
Wallets of China’s Consumers. pp. 1-39, 201-224
Clarence-Smith, William Gervase. 2003. Cocoa and Chocolate.
Gordon, Bertram M. 2011. Chapter 44: Chinese Chocolate in the book Chocolate: history, culture, and heritage edited by Grivetti and Shapiro.
Mintz, Sidney. 1986. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern
History. New York: Penguin Books
The Chinese Recorder: Missionary Journal. 1883. Volume 14, Issue 1. China: Trade, Politics & Culture.
Britain has a sweet tooth, to put it mildly. Modern day consumption is in excess of 140 pounds per year per person, which means that the average Brit eats almost one cup of added sugar per day. However, sugar is very much a product that has been introduced to the British diet over the past few hundred years. In the year 1700, the average person ate less than ten pounds of sugar per year (Martin Lecture “Sugar and Cacao”, 13 Feb 2017). The explosion of sugar consumption started in large part due to Britain’s Caribbean colonies, which produced and continue to produce much of the sugar the world consumes. I will argue that the culture of sugar consumption in Britain has largely been influenced by issues of class: that it started out as a primarily upper class product and spread to the lower classes through their desire to emulate wealth, that debates over abolition and free trade of sugar were largely a reaction by the bourgeois classes, and that even the modern day debates over sugar consumption and health issues are intrinsically linked to socio-economic status.
“Hero’s recruiting at Kelsey’s; – or- Guard-Day at St. James’s” by James Gillray, 1797
As sugar began to take off in Britain, it was primarily an upper class product, viewed as one of the spoils of empire. Illustrations from the period, such as the above engraving from 1797, portray sweets and confections such as the sugar plums the soldiers are eating as products for those who have profited from Britain’s imperial expansion. The soldiers are caricatures of the troops who would go overseas to establish and maintain British colonies, and in the engraving they are the lucky few enjoying the spoils of their victory. The overweight soldier guarding the door and the bustling street scene outside further establishes the soldiers as removed from, and superior to the masses outside. As sugar became cheaper over the course of the 18th century and grocers began to market it to lower classes, they billed it as an exotic good, often comically mislabelling their products. In an effort to portray the now affordable product as a mark of status and participation in the British empire, descriptions such as “Lisbon sugar” were common (Stobart 178). The increase in sugar consumption over the course of the 18th century reflected sugar’s status as a wealthy product that had recently become affordable, making that mark of status affordable to the masses but not yet having lost its meaning.
Advertisement for a Slavery-Free Sugar Basin, late 18th century
Towards the end of the 18th century and into the Victorian Era, there emerged a largely upper-class-based abolition movement in Britain. Given that slaves were central to the British colonial sugar industry, they quickly set their eyes on it. Some abandoned eating sure entirely, whereas some tried to make sure that they sugar they were eating had not been produced by slaves. Even companies that employed slaves like the East India Company capitalized on this trend, selling Slavery-Free products like the sugar basin in the advertisement above. Abolition became more palatable amongst the upper classes in large part because slavery made products such as sugar that had previously been marks of status affordable to the masses, causing them to lose their meaning. After slavery was gradually abolished in the early 19th century, abolitionists turned their sights to lobbying for a continued tax on non-British (meaning slave-produced) sugar. As Richard Huzzey argues, this “was not a battle to preserve a shred of anti-slavery principle” but competing visions of abolitionism trying to make themselves heard (Huzzey 361). As sugar consumption rose and it lost its value as a status symbol, the upper classes were swift to turn on it.
Fast forwarding to the modern day, British sugar consumption is higher than ever, and there is a growing movement by the government and health sectors to get people to eat less due to its unhealthy effects. Articles such as “Sugar tax: what does it mean, which drinks will be affected, and will it work?” in the Telegraph demonstrate the current culture around sugar consumption. Soda and other sugary drinks are viewed as the biggest culprits, and there is a growing awareness of the amount of added sugar in other processed food. However, the foods attacked for containing the most sugar are typically the cheapest and the ones most likely to be disproportionally consumed by those of lower socio-economic status. A recent study even showed that the parents most likely to have receive counseling as to lower their children’s sugar intake are disproportionally poor (Park et al.). While the health risks of sugar are real, many modern efforts to combat them do not confront the fact that many of the foods most responsible are also the most affordable.
Gillray, James. “Hero’s recruiting at Kelsey’s; – or- Guard-Day at St. James’s.” http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2001695092/. Accessed 9 Mar 2017.
Huzzey, Richard. “Free trade, free labour, and slave sugar in Victorian Britain.” The Historical Journal 53.02 (2010): 359-379.
Image. http://www.mylearning.org/learning/global-citizens-make-an-impact/sugar%20notice.jpg. Accessed 9 Mar 2017.
Martin, Carla D, lecture “Sugar and Cacao,” Harvard College, Cambridge, MA. 13 Feb 2017.
Park, Sohyun, Bettylou Sherry, Heidi M. Blanck; Characteristics of parents receiving counseling from child’s doctor to limit child’s sugar drink consumption. J Public Health (Oxf) 2012; 34 (2): 228-235. doi: 10.1093/pubmed/fdr071
Stobart, Jon. Sugar and Spice: Grocers and Groceries in Provincial England, 1650-1830. Oxford University Press, 2013.
“Sugar Tax: What Does It Mean, Which Drinks Will Be Affected, and Will It Work?” The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group, 18 May 2016. Web. 09 Mar. 2017.
Since the 1940s chocolate advertising has largely been dominated by stereotyped and hypersexualized images of women, or sexualized images of men FOR women4. They depict women with a lack of self-control, of women caving to their ‘guilty’ pleasures, of women giving in to the temptation and sins of chocolate4. This form of advertising, however, has consequences that go beyond its blatantly offensive stereotypes. Such highly gendered advertising perpetuates images of perfection that in turn create impossible standards. The resulting culture is one of indulgence and shame that often has extremely negative consequences. To combat the negative imagery that exists in advertising, there needs to be a shift, where women are portrayed as inspirations of a healthy lifestyle that encourages moderation instead of guilt and perfection.
“A six-pack that melts a girl’s heart.” This ad often appears in critiques of chocolate advertising. It shows the abs of what appears to be a black male, clearly edited and enhanced. The ad makes reference to the temptation of the male body for women in the same way that chocolate also tempts women. This reinforces the stereotype that women are both sex crazed and obsessed with chocolate; a stereotype that is largely a consequence of chocolate’s supposed aphrodisiac qualities4. But I would like to dig a little further into the effects of this ad. To sell the product, the advertisement compares Dove chocolate to this impossibly perfect male figure. The association begins with women, who are clearly the target of this ad, desiring this perfect male figure. His figure dominates the visual space of the ad, filling the image with a picture of desire for women. The attention then focuses to the bottom right hand corner, to the bar of chocolate. This bar and the figure have the same coloring, the same editing, and even the same shaping. This resemblance serves to create an immediate association between the man that is desirable and the chocolate, thereby making that chocolate desirable. The text at the bottom is the final focus, since it is small print that blends into the coloring of the picture, which serves to reinforce the association between this “perfect” man and thus the perfect chocolate that all women are supposed to want desperately. This ad plays to the sexual desires of women as well as their insecurities about body image and its implications for actually being in a relationship with the perfect man. This ad has two major implications: 1) it is created based on the idea that women must desire the ‘perfect’ man who is represented by singularly physical (and unattainable) attributes and 2) that men do the “melting” while women are the ones who are “melted”, reinforcing a hetero-normative sexual hierarchy that chocolate advertising has long perpetuated. As well there is a distinct contradiction at work- the male figure is perfect in this ad, thereby selling the chocolate to women. However, according to mainstream media, to get the perfect man, women shouldn’t being eating chocolate because they too need a perfect body! Such impossible standards and contradictions breed a culture that shames women and places them into an inferior relationship with the men around them.
The entire purpose of advertisements is to make consumers buy a product. But in ads like the Dove ad above, marketers are inflicting a ridiculous cultural stigma onto customers with potentially very damaging effects. In a 2009 study, researchers found that women who were exposed to advertisements that used thin models were more likely to avoid chocolate2. The counter to this avoidance was that the women then experienced extreme cravings for chocolate since they were intentionally depriving themselves of it, leading to excessive indulgence and feelings of guilt and shame2. The study concluded that this could be a possible link to a culture of eating disorders brought on by the exposure to the advertisements2. The Dove ad that uses a male model may be less directly correlated to female eating disorders, but it still has massive psychological effects and contributes to the impossible standard that is present in our culture.
As a response to such negative and damaging advertising, I created an ad that featured images of the top female rock climbers in the world. I chose pictures that intentionally showed them doing their sport rather than modeling. My purpose in including them was to inspire rather than demoralize women. These women constitute several generations of ground breaking female athletes at the top of their sport, competing and often ahead of their male counterparts. These pictures show their skill and strength rather than objectifying them. The accompanying slogan is a direct response to the previous reference that only males have six-packs and muscles. Additionally I think that despite our crazy guilt over what NOT to eat, chocolate can have a healthy place in our diet. In moderation, it can in fact be a very positive food, and not just an indulgence to an irrational craving. By showing that real women eat chocolate on a daily basis as part of a balanced diet serves to encourage a healthy lifestyle that is not fraught by a binge and purge mentality.
Ads that encourage healthy habits instead of guilt and impossible standards do actually exist in the world of advertising. In an ad for JoJo’s chocolate bark (a homemade dark chocolate snack), we encounter a woman with an inspirational story who is simply trying to live a healthier lifestyle after a close call with cancer. Additionally, the ad features a woman and a man who do cross fit and eat the bark, showing its benefits as well as showing real unedited people who live a healthy active life. While not entirely rid of stereotypes (white woman in her kitchen, making chocolate that her son likes to eat… sounds eerily similar to the original housewife ads of Cadbury and Rowntree) I think it is a step in the right direction. Ads like this will help to break the relationship between women and the stereotypes of guilty eating and hypersexualization, as well as help to make chocolate a part of a healthy balanced lifestyle.
Dove Chocolate. Dove Chocolate Ads and Commercials Archive, Seoul. Ed. Mars, INC.
Durkin, K., and K. Rae. “P02-53 Women and Chocolate Advertising: Exposure to Thin Models Exacerbates Ambivalence.” European Psychiatry1 (2009): S743. Doi:10.1016/S0924-9338(09)70976-9. Web.
Chocolate is very popular. In the 2014/2015 cacao year, 4201 thousand tons of cacao were produced globally. Unfortunately, unfair labor practices abound within the chocolate industry. And because of the casual chocolate culture- dominated by cheap candy bars – these unfair labor practices will be difficult to move away from.
Chocolate hasn’t always been treated casually. As explained in The True History of Chocolate, “In the New World that gave [chocolate] birth, this seed was so valuable as a foodstuff, as a currency, and as a religious symbol that the literature about it is unrivalled in quantity and diversity by writings about any other American plant which made the journey to the Old World” (p. 17). Later, in Baroque Europe, drinking chocolate was elaborately prepared and linked with the nobility and ecclesiastical.
A portrait of the family of the Duke of Penthievre drinking chocolate.
But as the demand for chocolate grew and technology advanced, chocolate transitioned from a celebrated rarity into a “solid food for the masses”. A Bloomberg Business article reveals the top 5 best selling candies (not including gum) in America today:
5.Kit Kat (annual U.S. sales: $198.9 million)
4.Snickers (annual U.S. sales: $441.1 million)
3. Hersheys (annual U.S. sales: $475 million)
2.Reese’s (annual U.S. sales: $516.5 million)
1. M and M’s (annual U.S. sales: $637.2 million)
There’s no question that candy bars and similar, cheap chocolates now dominate the American chocolate experience. Chocolate countlines (chocolate covered bars, like Snickers) and chocolate straightlines (small identical items, like M and Ms) make up over 80% of the confectionery market:
Clearly, the candy bar and similar cheap chocolates’ ubiquity in the United States creates a conception of chocolate as something cheap and casual. People associate “chocolate” with the dollar treat (Snickers bars are 89 cents at Target) that gets picked up by bored shoppers waiting in line. This is very different from the ritual and festivity that surrounded chocolate in Baroque Europe and Mesoamerica.
As long as a large percentage of chocolate is viewed in the same, casual way as an 89-cent Snickers bar, the push towards ethical chocolate production will have very little success. The major players in the chocolate candy bar business rely on cheap cacao to keep their prices low. And this cheap cacao is often produced through the use of unethical business practices like child labor.
In order to change the behavior of large chocolate companies, people must care about chocolate again. But for this, we must move away from the cheap, convenient, and consequence-free perception of chocolate that accompanies our current candy bar culture.
 ICCO Quarterly Bulletin of Cocoa Statistics, Vol. XLI, No. 4, Cocoa year 2014/15
 Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1996. Print.
Theobroma Cacao’s favorable adoption and portrayal in popular culture throughout the centuries played a vital role in facilitating “the food of the god’s” transition from little known product, to the preferred drink of the elite, and then the masses, in a trend that continues to this day.
Late 16th and early 17th century Spanish explorers, friars, and merchants, such as Juan de Cárdenas, and Juan de los Barrios brought back with them from the new world varied accounts and manuscripts extolling the medicinal and aphrodisiacal properties of the newly discovered Theobroma cacao (Coe and Coe, 123; Van Patten, 161). These accounts contributed to the popularity of cacao in Spain, and eventually led to the widespread adoption in courts throughout Europe. Less than half a century later, cacao was being consumed regularly in drink form by the political elite, to the extent that it mired the Catholic church in debate over the legality of drinking cacao during the Catholic fast (Coe and Coe, 147-150).
While still mainly reserved for the elite, by the early 18th century, chocolate houses, such as White’s and Ozinda’s had opened up across England, in which anyone, regardless of status could purchase a cacao drink if they had the monetary means. Samuel Pepys, a naval administrator under King Charles II and King James II wrote extensively in his diary on how he often enjoyed cacao drinks as he rose up through the ranks of English society (Coe and Coe, 166-168).
With the procurement of sugar-producing lands from the Portuguese, and the widespread use of slave labor, Britain witnessed a massive increase in sugar production (Mintz, 39-55). Increased sugar production combined with the technological advancements within the cacao industry (such as the hydraulic press in 1828, and the conch in 1879), led to inexpensive production of cacao, allowing the middle class to partake in cacao products, previously reserved for the elite, on a regular basis (Presilla, 39-41). In “Smyth’s Travels in Virginia, In 1773”, it is noted that the lower and middle classes ate chocolate for breakfast (Grivetti and Shapiro, 285). As a result of this increased demand for cacao products, by the late 18th century, there existed over 70 chocolate companies in North America (Grivetti and Shapiro, 282-283).
The populace’s dive into the world of cacao was further spurred by articles appearing in the media, such as the 1841 edition of “The Family Magazine,” which discussed the virtues of cacao and its superiority to coffee and tea. Additionally, chocolate was frequently referenced in popular books at the time, such as Charles Dickens “A Tale of Two Cities,” and even in the music industry, where the early 1900’s singer G.H. Elliot became known as (what would now be considered un-pc) “The Chocolate Colored Coon” (“CHOCOLATE”, 380; Dickens; “G H Elliott”).
Many of the large chocolate manufacturers, in order to boost their sales and the overall reach of cacao in society, initiated cultural customs based around chocolate that exist even today. In 1868, Richard and George Cadbury created the first heart-shaped box of chocolates, which soon became a hallmark of Valentine’s Day (Chocolates – history.com). Cadbury was also responsible for the invention of chocolate easter eggs (cadbury.com.au).
Video Credit: CBS Worldwide Inc
Chocolate and cacao are now imbued in much of our popular culture; with references to, and entire episodes on chocolate in TV shows from “I Love Lucy,” to “Seinfeld” to the “Simpsons,” books such as Roald Dahl’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” and even video games such as “Minecraft,” played by over one hundred million people (“Adventurize”).
Video Credit: Daniel Harris, produced for this blog post
While it is difficult to directly attribute the dramatic rise in chocolate and cacao consumption to the popular culture that surrounded the much-loved product, it assuredly contributed to its consumption in a circular fashion (i.e., the more people wrote about chocolate, the more people ate it, the more people wrote about it, and so on).
Six centuries after Europe was first introduced to the cacao bean, and proceeded to spread “the food of the gods’” across the entire planet, cacao has become ingrained in our books, TV shows, movies, history, and cultures. Cacao has become an increasingly sought after, and irreplaceable global resource.
Coe, Sophie D, and Michael D Coe. The True History Of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1996. Print.
Van Patten, Nathan. “THE MEDICAL LITERATURE OF MEXICO AND CENTRAL AMERICA”. The Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America 24.1/2 (1930): 150-199. Web.
Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness And Power. New York, N.Y.: Viking, 1985. Print.
Presilla, Maricel E. The New Taste Of Chocolate. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press, 2001. Print.
Over the course of the semester, I’ve found myself chiefly concerned with the appropriation of Indigenous cultures within the production of goods for non-Indigenous consumption. To be clear, my concern is not with the sharing of culture, taste, and economies of people across land and oceans. Rather, the dilemma with chocolate exists in the historical institution of slavery and continued poor labor conditions ingrained in its industry, as well as the present appropriation of culture evident specifically in craft or artisanal chocolate and its advertisements. In order to observe how this subtle, and sometimes not-so-subtle, appropriation of culture interacts with the modern day consumer, I decided to host a chocolate tasting party and record the social and individual responses. I found that, regardless of the individual’s personal connection, chocolate served to highlight the importance of food both as culture and as shared community in their connection to sense memory; additionally, the chocolate tasting also revealed how food reflects the transformation of culture in displaced communities that have experienced forced assimilation and adaptation.
As this class knows by now, the theobromine cacao tree originates from the equatorial region, primarily within 20 degrees north and south of the equator (Presilla 8), that encapsulates modern-day Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America. From this magnificent tree, the Indigenous peoples from the region were able to use cacao from the pods that grew on the theobromine’s trunk to produce chocolate. You might be thinking, “So what? Some Indians figured out how to make chocolate products.” We’re not talking about a discovery of plant use and food product within the last hundred years; we’re talking about the use of a plant to make chocolate products by, at least, 300 B.C., which dates chocolate production and consumption by more than 2,500 years. Anthropologists and researchers have found that the Olmec civilization (1200 B.C. to 300 B.C.), from the southeast coastal area of what is now Mexico, were most likely the first peoples to regularly use cacao for commerce, food, and religion. (Coe and Coe, Fash, Presilla). The Maya, who wielded great influence throughout the region from about 250 A.D. to 900 A.D., learned much about cacao from the Olmecs and continued to rely on it for their commerce, short and long distance trade, ceremony, and food. Their connection to cacao and chocolate is well-documented via burial chambers, pottery (including pottery from Chaco Canyon in the southwest U.S.), glyphs, and stories that survived European invasion and colonialism. (Presilla, Fash)
The Aztecs (more accurately known as the Triple Alliance) who politically and militarily dominated much of present-day Mexico at the time of Spanish arrival, intensified the reliance on cacao as an economy, using it for actual currency and building a highly stratified system wealth around cacao. The evidence is clear: cacao and chocolate predates European contact with the America, and was deeply embedded in the lives of Indigenous peoples throughout the Americas for their consumption, economies, and ceremonies.
When the Spanish arrived, they quickly gleaned that cacao was highly valued within Indigenous society. Ever interested in political, religious, and economic dominance, Europeans quickly organized to control over the region and, in particular, cacao. In Bernardino de Sahagun’s “Historia general de las cosas de nueva España,” chocolate was observed to be grown at a large scale, used as money, and, under Aztec leadership, was limited for consumption by only nobility and those who were granted permission. (Presilla)
More accounts would be written and documented: the 1544 presentation of chocolate to Prince Phillip by a delegation of Kekchi Maya nobles; the first large shipment of cacao from Veracruz to Seville in 1585; an English traveler, E. Veryard, and his account of the production of chocolate; and the general, widespread European fascination and inclusion of chocolate across its courts, medicine, art, and social settings. (Coe and Coe) Europeans encountered chocolate in a big way; they fell hard for chocolate and “sought to re-create the Indigenous chocolate experience.” (Norton 1) In fact, Presilla writes that “within fifty or sixty years, the [habit of drinking chocolate] had spread to France, Italy, England, and most parts of Europe.” (24) Of course, this intense spread of chocolate was powered by the trading and brutalization of Indigenous and African peoples in the transatlantic slave trade. (Mintz) Although the chapter on slavery and colonization in chocolate’s history is critical, I have previously written on it and will continue to focus this paper on the exploration of appropriation.
Chocolate, like any other food, is an edible heritage, a tangible thing that we can savor, smell, bond over, learn from, and have deep feelings about. (Mintz) It is a vehicle through which we can remember the past and create a future. People all over the world have tied their well-being, income, and sense of community to it. Today, the craft chocolate industry has seemingly awakened from a long history of unethical practices, and is creating space within the industry to produce goods in a sustainable way and to employ fair labor practices. While this is a welcome shift in paradigm, this ethical or fair trade and organic chocolate movement has brought with it an inclination toward “Aztec” or “Mayan” chocolate making. At best, chocolate makers are paying homage to Indigenous traditions, and, at worst, they are appropriating Indigenous culture for capital, as has been common practice since Europe encountered the Americas. To explore this problem of appropriation, I conducted a chocolate tasting with some friends. The following chocolates were sampled:
Cadbury’s Royal Dark;
Nirvana’s Aztec Chocolate;
Hershey’s Milk Chocolate;
Ritter Sport Milk Chocolate with Hazelnuts;
Chuao’s Spicy Mayan Chocolate;
Three Taza Chocolates from their Chocolate Mexicano sampler pack (specifically, Pura Cacao, Cinnamon, and Guajillo Chili).
The four people surveyed covered a range of tastes and habits around the consumption of chocolate:
Person 1 stated that they did not care for chocolate;
Person 2 said they prefer 80% dark and fair trade chocolates;
Person 3 said they love chocolate and crave it often;
Person 4 consumes chocolate a few times a week, mostly as the sweetener to their coffee.
Each person saw the chocolate and the packaging before sampling. As they ate, I asked them to be cognizant of the feel or snap of the chocolate, the smell, the texture, the taste, and after taste of the chocolates.
Though they had clear instructions to analyze the flavors, textures, and smells they experienced, my tasters were more eager to talk about how the chocolate made them feel. Amidst all of the mmm’s and ew’s, one of the more interesting responses was from a Native American female from White Earth, Minnesota, whose favorite chocolates were the Ritter Sport and the Nirvana. Here is her response:
“[The Ritter Sport] reminds me of home, and growing up on my father’s reservation, harvesting hazelnuts. I didn’t realize how expensive they were until I arrived here [Cambridge] and had to buy them for the first time. They grow naturally in White Earth, and in where I went to high school on the Lac du Flambeau reservation. Every August, usually in the second week, the hazelnut trees (which look more like overgrown bushes) start getting ready to drop the clusters. That’s when you want to grab them, when the leaves covering them have turned from green to brown, but before they drop to the ground. My father and I would take these giant burlap sacs and go and fill them up; my favorite spot by the refuge has almost an entire acre of them. It’s a hassle to harvest them, and most of the time we leave them raw in their shells in order to savor them until next year’s harvest.
I also liked the Mayan chocolate for much the same reason–I grew up with the flavors. My mom is a spice nut, so if something isn’t spicy it’s not in our house. She says it’s from going to boarding school in New Mexico and having to learn how to cook with what you’re given out there. We still have relatives who live in the Southwest and ship us ingredients on the regular.”
When prompted to comment on the fact that the spicy Mayan chocolates were not, in fact, made by Mayans, a chorus of “UGH” ensued. One Native American male commented that hearing that didn’t surprise him and that the clothing industry appropriates Native American culture often. Another taster, a Mexican-Native American female said, “I love the flavor of this chocolate, and that I can go buy this whenever I’m in the mood for spicy chocolate, but I do wish that it was actually Mayan chocolate.” I mentioned that Taza chocolates are also not Mexican made and that the factory is right down the street. The fourth taster responded, “It doesn’t bother me that they are White-owned, but I do wish they gave back to community that they got this product, or method of chocolate making, from. Like, don’t appropriate, please. Native people are still around.”
While I didn’t observe the overwhelming negative reactions to instances of appropriation as I expected, I did observe how ingrained issues of identity are in our every lives. They may not be explicit in their connection, from a broader perspective, but these instances reveal some of the long-standing effects of interactions between communities and their cultures. For instance, the woman from White Earth preferred, over all others, the chocolate with hazelnuts, as it took her home, in her mind, to a place that is deeply involved with long-standing traditions around harvesting nuts. Maybe my findings point more to issues of being directly involved with one’s culture versus being a product of a multicultural environment. Or perhaps at this day and age, we’ve become so comfortable with cross-cultural exchange that we are not always mindful of which products are Indigenous modeled instead of Indigenous made. We might also be so inundated with examples of cultural appropriation, that having to identify whether or not our foods are examples of appropriation would make it impossible to feel comfortable or at ease in our own neighborhoods. Either way, in my ideal world, the craft chocolate or bean-to-bar companies would do more to serve the Indigenous communities that remain connected to this delectable food and culture that we seem to love.
Author’s note: If I were to do this again, I would want to shift perspective and explore the preconceptions and misconceptions of chocolate in connection to Indigenous roots and Latin-American usage. I would also use more than just chocolate bars, and incorporate foods like traditionally made mole and pozol!
Fash, William. Entry on the Maya. Moctezuma’s Mexico: Then and Now Course Reader.
Mintz, Sidney Wilfred. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York: Penguin Books, 1986. Kindle Version
Norton, Marcy. “Tasting Empire: Chocolate and the European Internalization of Mesoamerican Aesthetics” American Historical Review: The Oxford Journal, 2006. Online. Accessed March 17, 2014
Presilla, Maricel E. The New Taste of Chocolate Revised: A cultural and Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. New York: Ten Speed Press, 2009. Print
Celebrating its 89th year as one of the world’s most popular premium chocolate confectionaries, Godiva has expanded its reach far beyond Belgium, where it was first founded, and now operates more than 600 of its own chocolate boutiques and shops globally. The chocolatier has secured a specialized niche spot in the sweets and chocolate industry. While distinct from large chocolate-manufacturing corporations, like Mars and Hershey’s, which sell their products for general casual mass consumption, Godiva also does not have the localized focus of haute craft chocolatiers, which heavily emphasize quality over quantity when it comes to what they sell. With arguably only a few similar direct competitors in this market, such as Lindt and Ghirardelli, Godiva balances the high-end appeal of its products with their accessibility – selling the chocolate as an “affordable luxury”. As measured in terms of profitability and brand recognition, Godiva’s success as a business can be largely attributed to the chocolatier’s understanding of the fine chocolate market and the particular methods it uses to capitalize on that understanding of how the consumers relate to the product. Specifically, Godiva displays the knowledge that for the consumer, chocolate consumption is not purely rooted in taste, but rather encapsulates various other components of the consumption experience, including how it speaks to their identity and relation to society. Chocolate cannot be successfully sold on the basis of the quality and nature of the product itself; rather, the entire context surrounding the product – what it symbolizes, how it’s presented, what purpose it serves, how it relates to other goods – all have to be taken into consideration. Since these social components can vary among different cultures and groups of people, all this contributes to the formation of a personalized chocolate experience that will effectively appeal to consumers.
In contrast to the perspective that taste is a universal and natural quality that people can experience objectively, there are many arguments that explain that taste is actually a social experience – one that is constructed in and affected by the context of the surrounding cultural and social environment (Norton, 2006). There is no pure and ideal form and understanding of “good” and “bad” taste; rather, such values are influenced by the way society is structured and who or what ranks at the top and bottom of the hierarchy. When it comes to consumption, people do not just consume for the sake of consuming. They are constantly thinking about what that consumption says about their identity and about their positioning and status in reference to others. They are thinking about how consuming other alternatives and substitutes may affect those statements they are making about themselves. As Mintz articulated in his 1985 book, Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History, sugar was once used as a symbol of rank and social prestige that distinguished the superior from the inferior when it was viewed as a luxury good. Over time, as sugar changed from being a good consumed only by the wealthy to one that was for the mass population, the implications of the product and the act of eating it also altered. The same goes for chocolate. Especially as a good that is not an absolute necessity for survival, the connotations of eating it are sometimes even more important for consumers than the actual product itself. Thus, great care has to be taken into shaping those implications surrounding chocolate, which is reflected specifically in how it is produced and sold.
Artisanal chocolatiers frequently elaborate on how specialized and unique their chocolate is in terms of the care that goes into recipe creation, ingredient selection, actual production, and ultimate presentation. These chocolate craftsman also express outrage at large chocolate mass-producing corporations entering the market and selling their products as substitutes to the chocolate works of art concocted by these specialized confectionaries (Terrio, 2000). Furthermore, they express even greater frustration for how most consumers are not even able to distinguish between these mass-produced sweets, which are often formulated with cheap and artificial ingredients and flavoring, and the authentic and high-quality chocolate they make. This simply demonstrates how unless an individual is a thoroughly educated and informed consumer who specifically seeks out fine chocolate because of an understanding of the production and implications of the product, there is a limit to how much consumers know and care, and how much money and effort they are willing to spend on the eating experience of chocolate (Williams & Eber, 2012). Of course, that is not to say that all consumers don’t see a difference between a cheap candy bar they pick up at a local convenience store and an intricately designed truffle they select from a chocolate boutique. What is most significant about this pattern of behavior is that in a sense, for the general consumer, the consumption of chocolate is not solely about the pure quality of the product itself and its taste, but is also highly dependent on external factors, like its packaging, reputation, and purpose.
Godiva appeals to this specific type of consumer – the average person who doesn’t have extensive knowledge (nor really wants to obtain it) about fine chocolate, so relies heavily on the image and story that is marketed to him/her about the product, who at the same time still wants to elevate his/her status and demonstrate an appreciation for goods of higher quality. Recent trends in chocolate sales indicate specifically an increase in the popularity of premium chocolate. Back between 2002 and 2006, the overall chocolate market grew at a rate of about 17%, while the premium chocolate sector grew at a rate of nearly 70% in that same five-year period (Rupani, 2007). Vreeland & Associates, a confectionary industry market research firm, reported that in the United States, the chocolate market grew to $19.29 billion in 2011 and that premium chocolate accounted for $2.7 billion of those sales, with an expected continual growth of 10% annually (Williams & Eber, 2012). People figure that if they are going to indulge, they might as well treat themselves with a product that tastes better, looks better, and feels better than convenience store candy bars, especially if it’s not unreasonably more expensive or effortful to consume. However, what exactly constitutes “premium chocolate” is subjective to the consumer. The standards could consist of the quality of the cocoa beans and other ingredients, the intricacy of the manufacturing process, whether the chocolate is organic or certified, how distinctly different it tastes from other chocolate, whether it’s artfully packaged – some of these characteristics being valued more than others by different people. Chocolatiers play a significant role in defining the standards of what constitutes refined taste and gourmet chocolate and educating the consumers in that regard (Terrio, 2000). After these standards are set, consumers then buy into the system and internalize and reinforce the evaluations by buying, eating, and gifting particular chocolates with specific social agendas in mind. Godiva is able to consistently hold a unique place in consumers’ lives by continually reinforcing the idea that its brand and products do indeed define and embody what consumers want from “premium chocolate”.
One of the greatest strengths of the company that also contribute to it being automatically grouped with higher-end chocolate brands is the longstanding image and recognizable product packaging associated with the chocolatier – people instantly recognize when the chocolate is Godiva.
From the embossed trademark of the courageous Lady Godiva who rode naked through Coventry in efforts to repeal unfair taxation on the citizens to the shimmering gold ballotin down to the satin ribbon tying the whole box together, Godiva’s packaging has been making an eye-catching and impressive statement of class, boldness, and timelessness for decades. When consumers think about Godiva, it is not necessarily the chocolate itself that comes to mind, but the entire wrapped package. In fact, the popularity of buying Godiva as gifts, particularly around special occasions like holidays and birthdays, can most likely be attributed to the brand’s exceptionally alluring appearance. Godiva representatives even agrees that their chocolate is specifically packaged in a way that doesn’t require the consumer to gift-wrap, making it the perfect present.
However, in recent years, especially with some of the setbacks in the economy, Godiva has made a move to change the focus of its business to encompass more than the gifting capability of its products. It has slightly rebranded to allow customers to view the chocolatier in a new way – a brand that they can rely on not only for seasonal gifting, but also for personal indulgence and casual sharing any time of the year. In this sense, the company is differentiating itself from the artisanal craft chocolatiers. Godiva recognizes that its customer reach is global and much less niche than these gourmet shops and subsequently, needs to capitalize on the affordability and accessibility of its chocolate to appeal to its wider and more diverse market share. Thus, the chocolatier has now balanced out the boxes of three dozen assorted chocolates that retail for $50 and lines of fancily designed truffles with new $6 soft serve, frozen Trufflelata drinks (that resemble and are priced similarly to Starbucks Frappuccinos), and individually-wrapped chocolate treats called Godiva Gems (Historic Change, 2014). They’ve started putting their chocolate in grocery stores to appeal to consumers who are looking for treats with more casual and everyday purposes in mind. However, at the same time, the chocolatier is still maintaining its high-quality, premium placement in the chocolate market. This new branding strategy has been doing well for the company, with Godiva sales growing at 10% every year since 2008 and putting its worth at $765 million in 2013 (Historic Change, 2014).
Godiva’s consumer-driven strategy and thorough understanding of the aspects of its products that are most marketable are evident in the way it segments its consumer base and how that’s reflected in the chocolatier’s product advertising. There can be distinct comparisons drawn between Godiva’s promotional tactics in the different countries where its chocolate is sold. In the United States, for example, the accessibility, easy-sharing, and delightful self-indulgence appeal of Godiva chocolate is emphasized.
This commercial campaign targeting American consumers sold Godiva as something that people can fill all aspects of their lives with.
Meanwhile, in Asia, other methods are used. The gift-giving functionality of the chocolate for special occasions, like Valentine’s Day, and the unique addition they contribute to extraordinary celebrations, like weddings, are highlighted in the promotional efforts in countries like Japan and China.
In this Japanese commercial, the chocolate is specially wrapped in pink for Valentine’s Day and given between lovers in celebration of romance. Another noteworthy component of both this and the U.S. commercial is that they both emphasize the foreign nature of Godiva – the former one choosing to have the commercial star a Caucasian couple rather than an Asian one, and the latter including a narrator with what is presumably a Belgian accent. The European exoticism of the company contributes to the overall special quality and luxury image of the chocolatier.
This next promotional video that introduces the new Godiva wedding collection that will be sold in China includes a famous Chinese actress to market the new product line.
China has traditionally been a more difficult market for chocolate companies to break into, because the Chinese have a cultural taste for treats that aren’t sweetened with cream-based fillings, which are quite widespread among European desserts (William & Eber, 2012). However, it’s extremely popular for the Chinese to buy chocolates as gifts or as tangible celebration symbols, and when they do so, they want the chocolate to have the appearance and taste of rareness and high quality. The knowledge of the consumer preference in this region of the world shapes Godiva’s marketing strategy here. Instead of following an advertising campaign similar to the one in the U.S., the confectionary went in a different direction to appeal to this particular market. Moreover, Godiva even created a new chocolate collection just this year for Chinese New Year, a holiday that involves plenty of gift giving and celebrations.
The collection was promoted on Godiva’s popular Facebook page in February. The posts and pictures indicate a clear knowledge of the cultural traditions involved with the holiday – placing the plate of Godiva chocolates on a table with other foods that are eaten for Lunar New Year and Chinese decorations that resemble prosperity and luck. The collection’s popularity is evident with the immediate release of the design for next year’s Chinese New Year (Year of the Monkey), which boasts the same recognizable gold and red Godiva holiday packaging, but features an embossed picture of a monkey alongside the Godiva trademark.
Chocolate consumption in the Asia-Pacific region is predicted to grow at almost twice the global chocolate consumption rate over the next four years and is predicted to reach $16.3 billion in 2018 (Chanjaroen, 2014). Godiva takes advantage of the unique market placement of its chocolate – which contrasts with mass-production companies like Hershey’s, which more directly face Chinese domestic competitors – and expands its product lines for these Asian countries based on what it knows the consumers there favor most about the brand.
Godiva’s success as an internationally recognized premium chocolatier has less to do with the actual taste of its chocolate, especially when compared to other high-end gourmet chocolate brands, than with the way it sells the chocolate consumption experience to its consumers. Of course, this is not to say that Godiva chocolate is no better, in terms of ingredients and manufacturing quality, than chocolate mass-producing companies like Nestle and Mars; the luxury and premium quality of the brand indeed comes from somewhere. However, Godiva is not quite categorized in the same group as true artisan and fine chocolate shops that are really focused on the craft of chocolate making and tasting. What the global confectioner’s success and popularity is rooted in is its unique take on the experience of eating chocolate. Godiva expertly addresses every part of this entire consumption experience from beginning to end, from the way the chocolate looks aesthetically to the purpose for which it’s purchased to what it’s like to eat and taste it to what it says about the consumer who buys it, in terms of both individual and social identity. All of these different components are carefully analyzed and personalized for each individual consumer segment in the market that Godiva operates in. Even so, at the end of the day, in all these various regions around the world, the combination of that gold ballotin and satin ribbon conjures up similar overarching notions of decadence, luxury, tradition, and timelessness.