CVS Pharmacy is a popular retail store across the United States offering everything from school supplies to pharmaceutical needs. It can be found in pretty much every corner of the country and most everyone has been inside one at least a dozen times in their lives. Of course a store with so much general merchandise also offers a selection of foods, not in the least of which is chocolate. For this blog post, I travelled to the local CVS pharmacy in Harvard Square and examined their chocolates to see what kind of standard one of the most widespread stores in America holds for their selection of chocolate. After all, because of how standardized CVS stores are in what they carry, these same chocolates are likely everywhere being offered everywhere else in the U.S. as well. It is because of this reason that makes their selection of chocolate so important, its availability to the general populace means these brands get the most face time and highest likelihood of being bought by consumers. Unfortunately, after examining the Harvard Square CVS selection I found that it was inadequate. With consideration of price point and intended audience, I believe that because of concerns of variety and ethical concerns I believe that CVS Pharmacy can do still do a better job curating their chocolate collection.
First of all, I want to note that I suspected that many CVS shoppers don’t usually go to CVS for chocolate directly. However, just because many people don’t go to CVS for chocolate doesn’t mean that CVS can just offer any type of chocolate. So I began to make a thorough exploration of the store and I found that it wasn’t actually very well organized for chocolates likely because CVS’s primary audience is not at CVS to buy chocolate. There was a small main section for sweets including candy and chocolates, but this wasn’t the only place for chocolate – there was chocolate everywhere in the store often mixed into other sections of snacks. Probably the most notable alternative section to the main chocolate area was there a small stand that had a selection of “premium” chocolates.
Throughout the store there were many different types of chocolate. There was a fair assortment of different forms from bars, pretzels to balls. On the face of it, it seemed like most of these chocolates all belonged to different companies. However, on closer inspection of the companies behind the chocolate, it turns out that despite a plethora of chocolates, most of the brands of chocolate throughout the store were one of these four companies: Lindt, Hersheys, Mars, and Nestle.
Of course, this wasn’t really a surprise. These four companies are giants in the chocolate world. It makes sense that a popular and generalist store like CVS would of course carry the most popular and general chocolate companies. It is also in line with the intended audience of CVS. It’s meant for everybody and so for this reason it’s clear that the intended audience for all their products (and not just chocolate) is just average consumers. Average consumers that are coming in are more likely to be buying chocolate more on a whim. Even if it’s not on a whim, it’s likely in junction with purchasing other items from CVS. CVS is such a general merchandise store that there seem to be little reason to go to CVS solely for the reason to be buying chocolate. If the latter were the case then these consumers would likely go to a higher end chocolate store that offers more gourmet options. If one buys chocolate on a whim, they’re most likely to be choosing brands and types of chocolate that they are familiar with. Familiarity and brand recognition is what companies like the four mentioned above are king of.
In terms of price points, I found that most of the chocolates offered were anywhere form $2.00 to $4.00 on average. The highest priced chocolates I found were in the premium chocolate section with Lindt’s Lindor Truffles costing $5.29. Very often a lot of the chocolates, whether premium or not, would have promotions where it wouldn’t be uncommon to get a small deal for purchasing two of the same chocolates. For example, the Truffles were going on sale 2 for $8.00 despite the fact that they’re being listed as premium chocolates.
There are two things that are clear from their price points and promotions. Promotions tend to show either that chocolates are not being sold well and I think this helps support my reasoning that the primary audience of CVS is not travelling to CVS for chocolates and might need incentive to purchase more. Secondly, the low price points all around show the lack of diversity the CVS selection of chocolate is. It is precisely because of how mainstream the types chocolates are that CVS can order in bulk, sell in bulk and price them in bulk. Hersheys for example even back in 1910 had such a “low cost… every grocer, druggist, and candy store owner in America could stock Hershey products” (D’Antonio, 2006). I think it shows how much of a conglomerate both CVS and these chocolate corporations are. There isn’t really any sort of care in the selection, its just purchasing whatever big brand is out there and having as much of it as possible. As you can see from the picture below CVS’ selection ends up being in line with the present American nature of having too much stuff and an excess of consumerism. I think Goody puts it best when describing the revolution of industrial food that “larger stores offer lower prices, wider choices and the impersonality of selection that a socially mobile populations appears to prefer” (Goody 1982).
However, is there really any way that we can buy chocolate in bulk this cheaply without hurting someone down the supply line? If anything, big corporations are the most likely to be perpetrators of sourcing practices that aren’t up to ethical standards. While they have been trying to improve over the years, it still isn’t good enough. Bottom lines for corporations tend to be profit so its easy to skim out and take shortcuts, but this ends up hurting very real people. As we can learn from This video shows how for our relatively cheap chocolate bars a farmer ends up working for so little he has never even tasted chocolate.
The certified cocoa from the above chart mean cacoa that is both ethically and sustainably sourced. We can see that compared to some compard to some more boutique companies, ethical concerns aren’t really the top concerns of the big corporations companies. Its not a surprise when for Forrest Mars, his concern was to just produce as much chocolate as possible and out churn the competition (Brenner, 1998). Sure, these corporations have pledged to turn out ethical and sustainable chocolate, but this is very much more likely to be lip service and a want for not upsetting consumers than it is because they truly care. If they did care, they would have already changed their supply lines years ago. Cadbury’s debacle back in the early 1900s with slave labor sourced chocolate is a similar example of this. They took their time because they didn’t know the extent of slavery that was ongoing, but they didn’t care enough to actually check for years. As we can see from another example, author Ryan’s experience with an industry executive in 2005 found that he believed there was no real child slavery in chocolate and that he ‘found it a joke’ (Ryan, 2011).These things just go to show how some of the most prominent corporations that we see in our everyday lives can really have a lack of empathy and in the end this effects those at the bottom of the supply chain the worst.
The only part of the entire section of chocolate in CVS that didn’t belong to one of the big brands was a small hidden narrow shelf in the premium chocolate section. It offered Endangered Species Chocolates, but its selection was so small it didn’t even fill up the whole shelf. It’s not put at eye level either and if one was looking for chocolates that weren’t from a giant corporation, they would have had to really put in some level of effort to find these.
I understand that CVS’ audience is an average consumer who is likely not there to purchase chocolate and if they do so it’s on a whim. It also makes sense that for big chocolate corporations the bottom line ends up being about selling as many chocolate in bulk as they can. The low prices in CVS are in line with both the audience’s intentions and the goals of CVS and the corporations. But, I am not propose that CVS should become a place where there is only a selection of fair-trade premium chocolates. I do think that big companies are part of the problem when it comes to the ethical concerns of a supply line and its not just the chocolate corporations themselves, its also the retail stores. I believe that CVS should begin transitioning to offer a larger variety of chocolates that are not just from large corporations. Instead of a just offering a premium chocolate section, they could just put up another stand that allows them to offer “Fair-trade” chocolate or “ethical” chocolates. They could even just make one part of the premium chocolates shelf solely for these new brands. Given how chaotic their current array of chocolates already are in the present, it wouldn’t be too much farther of a stretch to offer a better selection. If they could do this then it would go a long way in supporting ethical concerns in the supply line of chocolate because of how widespread CVS stores are. Doing just a small part could make a big difference and they wouldn’t even lose out on their normal profits. CVS really has much of a duty to the underpaid farmers as the big chocolate corporations. You can be better CVS.
Brenner, J. G. (1998) The Emperors of Chocolate: Inside the Secret World of Hershey and Mars. (pp. 183).
(2006). Hershey. New York, NY. (pp.
Goody, Jack. (1982). Industrial Food: Towards the Development of a World Cuisine. (pp. 87).
Ryan, O. (2011) Chocolate Nations: Living and Dying for Cocoa in West Africa. (pp. 45)
Chocolate uniquely embodies a number of contradictions. It’s almost universal, yet very personal. Consistent, yet incredibly diverse. Sweet, yet bitter. Luxurious and expensive, yet cheap and ubiquitous. Valentine’s day for adults, halloween for children—there is a chocolate for everyone. Considering all the different profiles and qualities that chocolate has taken on in its millennia-long history, it follows that there are a number of establishments consumers can go to in order to enjoy this versatile treat. Walking through Harvard Square, one can find themselves at any of the three main purveyors of chocolate—each of which carries its own unique implications, connotations, and ‘personality.’
The first such setting is perhaps best characterized by convenience, and in the context of Harvard Square, there is no store more convenient than CVS (so convenient that, not long ago, there were three within a one block radius of each other). Though technically a pharmacy, most CVS locations are better known for their general merchandise, including everything from toiletries to convenience foods. With its vast and diverse offerings, and over 9,800 stores across the United States, CVS is the epitome of a chocolate purveyor to the masses. That is, similar to grocery stores or large chain supermarkets such as Walmart, Stop & Shop, or Kroger, which is where the majority turn to for confectionary purchases (IBISWorld). That being said, chocolate is far from the focal point of these stores.
Just across the street from CVS, one may find themselves at Cardullo’s Gourmet Shoppe, which is representative of a different type of setting for buying chocolate, perhaps best described as ‘specialty stores.’ Cardullo’s in particular offers an array of fresh foods and gourmet delicacies from around the world, including wine, cheese and, of course, chocolate. There are a number of other stores nearby (and across the country) with a similar premise as Formaggio Kitchen or Bacco Wine & Cheese, where chocolate is not necessarily the focus or the sole product featured, but the food categories offered are still limited. Consequently, each such category is theoretically given more ‘weight’ in how important it is to the store. This specialization also carries the implication that the products offered are carefully/deliberately curated, and are of high quality.
The last stop on this chocolate journey through Harvard Square brings us to L.A. Burdick, which takes specialization to the next level. At L.A. Burdick, one can find themselves in a chocolate heaven of Larry Burdick’s creations, which is the clear and primary focus of the establishment. Other such stores in the greater Boston area may include the Teuscher Chocolates of Switzerland, Beacon Hill Chocolates, and EHChocolatier, representing the most niche of the three main ‘purchasing settings’ as they all primarily sell gourmet chocolate goods of their own creation.
The differences between these purveyors could not be more stark and yet they are all places consumers go to buy chocolate. Their various focal points and priorities are reflected in their respective selections, pricing, sourcing, and messaging.
Walking through the ‘Candy’ and ‘Chocolate’ aisle at CVS, one is immediately struck by the bold, bright colored packaging that marks almost all of their chocolate products. As displayed below, many of these are variations of the big name chocolate candy bars/treats that pervade the US such as Kit Kat, M&M’s and Reese’s Cups. But perhaps the first thing to note about the CVS chocolate section is how the overwhelming majority are more candy bar than actual chocolate. That is, there is a limited selection of primarily chocolate-based products (those with few additional ingredients such as caramel or ‘fruit & nut’), even fewer options for plain milk chocolate (four to be exact, of which three are owned by the same parent company), and only three options for dark chocolate. In a separate aisle, however, there is a stand for what CVS labels “Premium Chocolates,” where they have three additional labels with a ‘pure’ chocolate option—Ghirardelli, Lindt, and Endangered Species. Ghirardelli and Lindt both have multiple choices for cacao percentage (they are also owned by the same parent company).
The variety of chocolates at CVS is relatively new phenomenon that reflects the evolving tastes of American consumers. Indeed, “American consumers are expanding their consumption beyond traditional mass market chocolate such as Hershey”s” (Squicciarini & Swinnen). That being said, this notion of variety can be misleading considering that around 80% of the 45+ chocolate products found in these sections at CVS are owned/distributed by just 4 corporations, half of which are Hershey products and the other half of which are Mars, Lindt, and Ferrero products (Ferrero acquired Nestlé’s U.S. chocolate business in 2018). The selection at CVS mirrors U.S. overall market share, with these four companies controlling just about 80% of the market (Wilmot & Back). Indeed, large scale deals between retail chains like CVS and chocolate conglomerates likely perpetuate the dominance of these companies’ products in the chocolate market. Thus while the amalgam of packaging colors, shapes, and sizes may give the impression of diversity, it becomes clear that most of the chocolate and brand variety is superficial with the only differentiator being the flavoring.
Compare this to Cardullo’s Gourmet Shoppe—a family-owned, local specialty store that’s been at the heart of Harvard Square for nearly 70 years and it’s a completely different story. While they still have their fair share of ‘industrial chocolate’ varieties, i.e. “mass-produced confections [that] are intended to guarantee a consistent smell and taste, achieved through rigorous oversight and a careful blending of cacaos” (Sethi), it’s the relative variety of craft chocolate brands that leaves the greatest impression upon arriving at their designated chocolate and dessert sections. With their selection including around 15 companies producing craft chocolate who specialize solely in chocolate production, it’s easy to get a hint of the diversity in the market—as well as in taste.
Moreover, within their rather vast chocolate selection, there are two columns that, at first glance, may be reminiscent of CVS’s offerings in terms of its colorful packaging and familiar brands (see Figure 4). Upon further inspection however, their place at Cardullo’s becomes evident. While chocolates in this section are indeed of the ‘industrial’ variety, they are included at Cardullo’s because the brands or country of origin are uncommon for the U.S. For example, Figure 5 illustrates that the Kit Kat at Cardullo’s has an origin and branding difference—the Cardullo’s version is manufactured by Nestlé, as is the case for all Kit Kats outside the US, while the U.S. version is made under license by a division of The Hershey Company.
Such differences have notable implications for the chocolate itself, which trace back to around the 1930s when the “process of manufacturing chocolate was gradually shifting from improvisation to exact science as manufacturers experimented with various ways to render the essence from roasted cocoa beans. No two companies employed the same practices […] Each process produced its own unique flavor, and over time, these differences translated into distinct national tastes” (Brenner 63). In the case of a Kit Kat for instance, the European version contains less sugar and a higher cocoa and fat content than its American counterpart. This national preference has even gone as far as affecting legislation such that in the UK a product is required to be at least 25% cocoa solids in order to be called milk chocolate, whereas in the US such a designation requires only that it contain a minimum of 10% chocolate liquor (Spector).
Unlike Cardullo’s and CVS, L.A. Burdick sells all its chocolate under its own brand name. It is a charming store that specializes in chocolate creations of all forms. Here, one finds a very different kind of variety wherein all of the chocolate is made from, and branded as, the same source (i.e. L.A. Burdick), but there are numerous varieties with different shapes, sizes, types, flavorings, consistencies, etc. Specifically, they offer a number of regular and themed “collections” or assortments featuring different combinations of their 36+ truffle and bonbon varieties. While some of these, usually those that are on the smaller side such as their “Chocolate Bee Collection” are displayed for purchase in the shop, the majority are available to order online as customizable gifts or for a range of special events. In the physical store, however, there is also the option to purchase several of their bonbons and truffles on an individual basis. Alongside these delicacies, they also sell chocolate-covered nuts and dried fruits, an impressive collection of more conventional chocolate bars, as well as an array of (mostly) chocolate pastries and confections. Considering these products are all made under the same name, the extent of their chocolate bar collection is particularly noteworthy: they offer 18 varieties covering a range of cacao percentages, flavorings/added ingredients, and cacao bean origin. Throughout the store there are also a handful of artfully crafted, intricate chocolate creations (e.g. Rocher nest), with one even explicitly labeled as ‘display only,’ further emphasizing the blurry line between these artisanal chocolates and art. Lastly, and perhaps most popular, is their variety of drinking chocolate options. This includes three standard drink preparations in addition to a ‘single source dark chocolate’ option, whose source rotates every month among seven different locations, each with a specific and unique flavor profile that they detail on their menu.
Quality is perhaps one of the most cited traits in chocolate, but it is also one of the most ambiguous. Depending on who you ask, quality in chocolate can refer to any number of traits–be it the cacao plant variety or origin, the maker, the consistency, the taste, the process, or even the brand. Indeed, perceptions of quality vary country by country and are often reflective of the level of a country’s economic development. Cidell and Alberts found that “quality is based on material characteristic whose relative importance in determining quality depends on the country in which different stages of economic innovation took place.” Different producers catering to different audiences tend emphasize different things with the mass market producers we tend to find at CVS emphasizing taste, consistency and lifestyle elements (think “Have a break. Have a Kit Kat”). The smaller capacity chocolate makers we find at Cardullo’s (and potentially L.A. Burdick), on the other hand, emphasize the handmade nature, small production runs, ‘pure’ ingredients and natural tastes.
There are real differences between brands of chocolate, though the effect of those differences on the esoteric notion of quality is up for debate. For example, soy lecithin is used in the majority of chocolate products as a surfactant, meaning it lowers the viscosity of the chocolate during the production process, thereby making it easier to work with for tempering and molding. While the same can be achieved by adding more cocoa butter, this is a lot more expensive as well as more time consuming as it requires a longer period of conching (Terenzi, Chess). As a result, many of the mass produced chocolates—including all of those sold at CVS employ the former process and ingredients. The chocolates at Cardullo’s tend to communicate their quality through a varied selection of single-origin bars, thereby suggesting the use of high-quality beans and/or specialty cacao which subscribes to “a notion of quality that is linked to lack of defects and the presence of fine flavor and aroma(s)” (Martin). Similarly, they imply that an “artisanal” approach to chocolate-making leads to a higher quality product—though this is not necessarily as straightforward as it may seem since the term has no standardized implication for their cacao bean sourcing or production practices. Rather, it can be more a marketing effort to increase perceived quality. On the other hand, Cardullo’s does carry some mass produced well-branded chocolates as well with dubious quality relative to their price. For example, Valrhona, Neuhaus and Godiva, all carried by Cardullo’s, have extremely strong reputations and consumer perceptions of quality, yet all contain soy lecithin and other additives in their dark chocolate products (on the other hand, Cardullo’s was the only store visited to carry some chocolate bars with just cocoa constituents and cane sugar—all of L.A. Burdick’s bars contain the ingredient). One area where consumers can gain real insight into the chocolates at Cardullo’s are the bean to bar varieties—while these chocolates are not guaranteed to be good, this increases the likelihood that the cacao is deliberately sourced as opposed to using bulk commodity cacao.
I would be remiss if, in a discussion of quality, I ignored the significant role that marketing and branding have on perceived quality, regardless of the actual ingredients, tastes, origins, etc. of the chocolate. Indeed, consumer information is imperfect and, as with wines, the majority of consumers tend to rely on factors like brand reputation, package appearance, cacao percentage, and, of course, price. Many of L.A. Burdick’s chocolates, though sold at a specialty store under a specialty brand, lack complete transparency as to their origins and are, in fact, private labeled chocolates made by other companies (potentially some of the same companies that make lower cost chocolate for stores like CVS). There are infinite ways to define quality in chocolates and most would agree the chocolates at Cardullo’s are of “higher quality” than those at CVS, but that is not universally true and the processes and ingredients used to deride more mass market chocolates can still find themselves in the ‘higher end’ line up of specialty shops like Cardullo’s. Unsurprisingly, CVS’s selection doesn’t stand out on the quality front—the majority of their chocolate options are in the form of candy bars, which were historically designed with the express purpose of using cheaper ingredients under the guise of a chocolate product, which in pn packaging would appear comparable in size to a plain chocolate bar (Lecture, The Rise of Big Chocolate).
The difference in cost between these three distinct chocolate purveyors is a little more straightforward in that, unsurprisingly, there is a linear, upward trajectory of sale price as the stores become more specialized. As the stores became more expensive, their range of prices also grew significantly, with L.A. Burdick’s, the most expensive store, having the largest gulf between its lowest cost and highest cost products. In discussing pricing however, it is important to consider the fact that it’s not only a function of the cost of the product—though that is an important consideration—but also a deliberate marketing and brand positioning decision. That being said, in the stores considered here, there is a difference in the underlying cost of producing the chocolate products that correlates with their final price. The chocolates sold at CVS, made in large manufacturing facilities targeted at the mass market, and often with bulk commodity cacao, are cheaper because such processes and resources cost less per product. On the other hand, some of the options at Cardullo’s were largely higher priced because they were made in smaller batches, used more manual or time-consuming processes and/or employed more expensive (and fewer) ingredients—as an example, Dick Taylor’s single-origin dark chocolates only have two ingredients (i.e. cacao and cane sugar) (Abesamis). Such craft chocolates often exist at “a disadvantage to the bulk, industrial market, as they often operate along lines less traditional to capitalist production” (Martin), but make up for this disadvantage by positioning their brands as premium products deserving of a higher price point.
Perception and branding is another extremely powerful driver of pricing (Lybeck, et al.). Consumers often associate specialty shops with artisan-like quality and higher prices, just as they might believe a dedicated butcher shop has higher quality meats than the butcher at a supermarket. The same phenomenon plays out in the stores that I visited, with the most specialized store, L.A. Burdick, having higher priced chocolates than Cardullo’s even though it is unclear if the underlying cost or quality of the chocolates each sells is as different. The premium at L.A. Burdick is placed on the perceived additional care a specialty shop would put into their product because, after all, it’s the only product they sell. L.A. Burdick’s website emphasizes this care (and the associated costs) when they emphasize the “hand-made” elements, even though there is likely no discernible difference between a hand-packed and machine-packed high quality chocolate: “each artisan bonbon is hand-cut or shaped, hand-garnished, hand-finished, and hand-packed” (“Chocolate Assortments”).
Takeaway: Intended Audience
Much of the reasoning behind the decisions described above, from product selection to pricing strategy, boil down to their respective target audience/consumer. As such, there is no ‘better’ place to buy chocolate (as far as chocolate for chocolate’s sake goes, this can be a different story with respect to ethical considerations), but rather the right place to suit your specific wants and needs. This is indeed reflected in the variety, quality, and cost of their respective selections. That is, at CVS, nearly everything from their chocolate options and placement in store to their pricing strategy screams convenience, accessibility, and a focus on impulse purchases (the majority of their chocolate selection is scattered by the registers and self-checkout stations) making it no secret that their chocolate selection is not a priority—nor should it be. Rather, open 24/7 in a college town with busy students and professionals, CVS is appealing to the average consumer. Specifically, it relies on those who go there for convenience because in addition to its uninterrupted hours, it’s an established, nationwide brand where people know they can go to find a little bit of everything. In this vein, it wouldn’t even make sense for CVS to offer more exclusive (and by extension, more expensive) options as they’re not targeting consumers with the deliberate intention of buying chocolate, but rather as an add-on to toothpaste at the register, a last minute ‘get well soon’ gift, or a quick snack. The other shops, however, can be destinations where consumers often come in with strong chocolate purchasing intent.
Thus while these three purveyors differ significantly in their stocking, quality and pricing strategy when it comes to chocolate, they each fill a large desire for their respective products. Indeed, their coexistence and success in different parts of the market is emblematic of the versatile role chocolate plays in our society—one that can be a low-cost treat, a delicacy, a consolation gift or an expression of love.
Cidell, Julie L., and Heike C. Alberts. “Constructing Quality: The Multinational Histories of Chocolate.” Geoforum, vol. 37, no. 6, 2006, pp. 999–1007., doi:10.1016/j.geoforum.2006.02.006.
Lybeck, Annika, et al. “Store Brands vs. Manufacturer Brands: Consumer Perceptions and Buying of Chocolate Bars in Finland.” The International Review of Retail, Distribution and Consumer Research, vol. 16, no. 4, 2006, pp. 471–492., doi:10.1080/09593960600844343.
Martin, Carla D. “Sizing the Craft Chocolate Market.” Fine Cacao and Chocolate Institute (Blog), 31 Aug. 2017, chocolateinstitute.org/blog/sizing-the-craft-chocolate-market/.
Martin, Carla D. “The Rise of Big Chocolate and Race for the Global Market.” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. 13 Mar. 2019, Harvard University: Cambridge, MA, Harvard University: Cambridge, MA.
Chocolate, today, is one of the most beloved treats in the world with an estimated 7.7 million tons of chocolate to be consumed in 2018/2019 alone (“Consumption of Chocolate Worldwide,” Statista). However, even with such interest and demand for chocolate, the average consumer does not necessarily have any strong understanding around chocolate—from what makes certain chocolate better quality to what is a fair price for chocolate. In order to gauge a deeper understanding of what drives chocolate decisions and views, I decided to conduct a small study in Harvard Square with blind taste tests in order to get to the root of how the average consumer with no prior educational or personal experience with the chocolate industry rates and evaluates chocolate. By looking at how consumers blindly view chocolate bars and how they view chocolate packaging it will become clearer that brand stereotypes, the exploitation of certifications and labels, and the use of distinct flavors and fillings all lead the average consumer to falsely attach a certain quality or price to chocolates. It can also be argued that feeding on the surface level understandings of the average consumers could be a fruitful strategy for chocolate companies when trying to grow their brand, customer loyalty, and profitability.
Before diving into the findings of this blind chocolate taste test, it is important to set up what exactly happened during the taste test. I conducted a study involving ten people around Harvard Square who each sampled twelve unique, distinct chocolates. In my study I bought four different chocolate bars of varying flavors, price points, and qualities from three stores near Harvard Square—CVS, Trader Joe’s, and Whole Foods. Next, I had each of the ten willing participants sample a square from each bar without knowing anything about the bars, including not seeing the packaging, and then have them detail out the flavors, texture, and quality as well as guess as to where I purchased the bar between the three stores available and how much the chocolate was worth per ounce. After detailing out the experience around eating each piece, then I would show the participants the packaging that the bar came in and have them describe the packaging as well as give them an opportunity to update their guesses on where I purchased the bar as well as the price per ounce. Finally, after this part was completed, I would then reveal where I actually purchased the bar and what the price per ounce was for the respective chocolate bar, taking note of any surprised reactions to my reveal. A list of all chocolate bars used as well as the stores they were bought at and the price per ounce for each bar are listed at the end of this blog post.
Stereotypes Around Big Chocolate Brands
and Store Brands
A consistent finding throughout the process of tasting all the chocolates was that when there was a bar that had a logo pressed into the piece then that logo held a large swaying power over what the perceived quality and price of the bar was. For example, one of the chocolates sampled was a Hershey’s Milk Chocolate bar which has the infamous “HERSHEY’S” pressed into each bite. When the volunteers went to sample this bar and saw the logo, the reactions were immediate with people shouting that they already knew this bar and knew it would be very low quality and cheap. People guessed on average that the Hershey’s bar would value at around $0.40/ounce which—based on all the bars surveyed—would be considered incredibly cheap and lower than the $0.59/ounce it actually costs. Surprisingly, though, for such a considerably low-end, mass-produced chocolate bar, most of the participants genuinely loved the taste and “tongue-melting” quality of the texture. Overwhelmingly, the response was favorable because the bar was consistent with their expectations and past experiences. This same response followed with other well-known chocolate bars, including Cadbury and Dove. The fact that these brands are well known and branded so strongly led most participants to associate the chocolate with a lower price point and perceived lower quality, but still the flavor was desired and left people wanting more.
This response to the mass-produced chocolate bars in this study is not necessarily surprising given chocolate’s rich history. With Van Houten’s invention in 1828 “on a process for the manufacturing of a new kind of powdered chocolate with a very low-fat content,” he gave birth to the ability to bring chocolate to the masses in a cheap, low quality, fast production form (Coe and Coe, 234). The importance of this chocolate history is that for almost two centuries cheap, mass-produced chocolate has been growing in popularity and has become a common staple in most American’s lives, which is directly correlated with why the average consumer has such a positive association and appreciation for the distinct tastes of such bars. However, given the history, the average consumer also assumes that these bars are very cheap because their brands are specifically generic enough to present an affordable front. Also, interestingly, because these large chocolate companies are linked with affordability and lower quality, they are viewed to be sold at cheaper, more generic locations too. For example, for each of the bars tested that are more mass-produced (Hershey’s, Cadbury, and Dove) the overwhelming responses from taste testers was that these bars were purchased at CVS because similarly that store is also associated with more affordable products when compared to Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods. The stereotype of the chocolate does not end at the bite of the bar but instead carries itself through the branding of any logo in the chocolate, the packaging for the bars, and even the stores that sell the chocolate.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, the chocolates
tested that instead had unique designs in the chocolate pieces were more likely
than not to be viewed as being purchased at Whole Foods because that store
seems to carry the stereotype (at least amongst the participants) to be pricier
and more connected to unique, well designed products and produce. In the scope
of this taste test, the participants on average would guess that high quality,
nicer looking bars came from Whole Foods, any decent tasting bars came from
Trader Joe’s, and all generically mass-produced bars came from CVS. It became
apparent that the value the average consumer attaches to the chocolate bar does
not stop at the flavor and bar’s packaging but extends to where the bar is
The branding these chocolate companies and the stores
have crafted completely impacts customers’ responses, no matter what the
reality is. For example, all participants assumed that every bar sold at Whole
Foods must be expensive, but the group was shocked to learn that one of the
bars tasted from Whole Foods—Chocolove’s Orange Peel—was essentially the same
price per ounce as Dove’s bar from CVS. These reactions are telling of the expectations
and the preconceived notions people link the stores to as well as the
Strategic Uses of Certifications and “Earthy” Messaging
Beyond stereotyping mass-produced bars and stores based on their histories and assumed values, the use of certifications and labels as well as “earthy” messages overwhelming sway the average consumer to associate higher value to the products. In this blind chocolate tasting test, participants would frequently hold strong views and preferences after tasting some of the chocolates and sometimes rank the bars as lower quality, lower price, but these same people would then completely change their view after seeing the packaging if it had labels—such as Fair Trade, Rainforest Alliance, etc.—or was announced to be organic, vegan, etc.
For example, when the participants were sampling the Endangered Species Chocolate’s Caramel Sea Salt + Dark Chocolate bar, many of the guests absolutely despised and detested the bar because they felt it was too salty and felt cheap in quality compared to some of the other bars sampled already; however, the moment they all saw the bar’s packaging, most of the participants then associated the bar to be high quality because it has certifications that claim the product is “Non GMO Project Verified” and Fairly Traded—not to mention the wrapping claims that ten percent of the net profits are used to save the wildlife. All of a sudden a bar that was unsuccessful in this test group, considered to be bought at CVS, and guessed to be worth roughly $0.70/ounce was then shifted into a luxury bar that must have been bought at Whole Foods and priced around $1.50/ounce—which would place it in an expensive bar category. This is just one example from this taste test that illuminates the importance of perception and the use of labels and how these elements can lead to false views of the product that was just tasted and disliked.
When a product does have such certifications or
labels front and center, the average consumer assumes these labels are linked
with better quality and more expensive chocolate. However, when asked to the
group of people involved if any of them knew what it means to be Rainforest
Alliance certified or to be Fairly Traded none of them felt confident to explain
what they mean but positively associate them to mean doing good. Interestingly,
though, many of these certifications that were created to benefit farmers and
create more clarity into the process have actually opened “the door to decrease transparency around trade terms”
(Leissle, 147). So instead, the average person who does not know what such labels
represent is blindly trusting that having any
label means better quality. Ironically, though, even some of the mass-produced
bars have labels too—with Dove claiming to be Rainforest Alliance certified and
Hershey’s claiming to use farm fresh milk—yet consumers do not necessarily associate
these well-known brands to be high quality, suggesting that stereotypes around
brands supersede stereotypes around certifications and labels.
Similarly, bars that announced on their packaging that they were organic, no soy, vegan, etc. had a comparably positive leap in the perceptions of this test group. For example, Hu’s Cashew Butter + Pure Vanilla Bean Dark Chocolate bar (one of the overall favorites from the taste test) left the participants overly impressed after witnessing the packaging of the chocolate. This bar when blindly tasted was widely enjoyed by the participants, for they seemed to enjoy the nice complexity of flavors and unique inner filling that stood out from other bars sampled; however, even though the group already considered this bar to be valuable and high quality, there was a general lift in appreciation and value after reading the packaging: “organic house-ground cacao, vegan, paleo, no palm oil, no refined sugar, no cane sugar, no sugar alcohols, no dairy, no emulsifiers, no soy lecithin, no vanilla extract.” The seemingly never-ending list of characterizations for the bar seemed to check off boxes the participants did not even know were there—almost setting a new standard for what should be expected of chocolate bars and food in general. With each new “no” read by the participants on the package it seemed to raise the price and quality slightly, even though the consumer could not taste the fact that these ingredients were missing—they had to be told on the wrapping. While, yes, creating a bar that checks off so many different items is most likely expensive and higher quality than a mass-produced bar, the use of presenting these feats on the packaging greatly resulted in the average consumer in this taste test increasing their price and standards—maybe falsely because none of the items presented on the packaging were things the consumers could taste or rather not taste.
Companies that take use of certifications, labels, and “earthy” messages seem to be trying to tap into a pathos and logos approach of swaying consumers into purchasing their products. Such identifiable items on the chocolate bars’ packaging more times than not successfully added more value and clout to the bars overall, whether or not the bar was actually enjoyed by the participants—suggesting that the addition of these elements might be a strong business model for producers in order to gain appreciation and profitability.
Flavors, Fillings, and Cacao
Another major finding and revelation that became prevalent during this conducted chocolate taste test was that bars that used complex flavors—such as fruits, nuts, espresso—, forms of fillings within bars, or higher percentages of cacao contents all left participants at large attributing higher qualities and higher price points to the chocolate bars whether or not they liked the bars.
With flavors, it is not that bars without any non-chocolate flavors are low-valued, but there seemed to be a common, underlying belief in this taste test that the addition of flavors must mean that the bar was more expensive than maybe expected. Interestingly, the use of flavors did not necessarily alter whether participants considered the bars to be higher quality but only dictated the pricing per ounce category. For example, Madécasse’s Sea Salt & Nibs Dark Chocolate was generally appreciated amongst guests but almost everyone was held up by the fact that there seemed to be some type of nut (which was actually nibs) in the chocolate. Even before seeing the packaging for the chocolate bar, participants already were guessing this bar was worth roughly $1.50/ounce, with many of the reasonings being the use of some type of nut that the guests assumed would have cost more.
Additionally, the participants added on a higher price per ounce for Trader Joe’s Cold Brew Coffee Chocolate Bar because of the velvety, rich inner filling filled with easily distinguishable espresso. The sharp, strong use of espresso as a filling left the participants excited by the fact that there was a filling and immediate reactions that espresso is expensive at coffee shops so it must be expensive in chocolate bars. Similarly, this notion led many of the people to also assume the bar was purchased at Whole Foods because of the strong general consensus that unique flavors must be only sold at high-end stores like Whole Foods. Ironically, history shows that the addition of fillings with different nuts or flavors was actually a great way to lower the cost of manufacturing the chocolate. This can best be seen with the Milky Way bar that had “malt-flavored nougat” as the main ingredient, allowing for the candy to be “much bigger, tasted just as chocolatey, but cost much less to produce” (Brenner, 54-55). Therefore, even though the consumer might associate fillings with higher price, they might be actually helping attribute to lower costs for the chocolate.
Finally, there was also a strong positive correlation that suggested that as the cacao contents raised in percentage so did the value and quality—claiming the product was more “natural” and “raw.” This became clear with the chocolate bar that had the highest cacao contents of any of the bars, sitting at 85% cacao. Valrhona’s Le Noir Extra Amer 85% Cacao from Trader Joe’s was considered by most in this taste test to be too dark and bitter in flavor, yet there was a unanimous agreeance that this bar must be a luxury bar sold at Whole Foods because of its clearly bitter taste that many guests assumed also meant higher cacao percentages. While they were correct in guessing this bar had high cacao percentages, the group was incorrect in estimating a price per ounce because the bar was $0.85/ounce—not the $2.00/ounce the participants were averaging in guesses.
In all three situations—whether it be non-chocolate flavors, fillings, or cacao percentage—the participants found themselves assuming that the addition of these contents must yield a higher price, yet many were very surprised to find that their assumption did not always turn out to be true. Studies have shown that people cannot actually taste any of these flavors, fillings, or cacao contents by just placing the chocolate on their tongue; instead, it is now assumed that there is “no real flavor” until one smells and sees the chocolate too (Coe and Coe, 261). Chocolate producers are taking advantage of these “neurogastronomical” researches in order to sway consumers. These additional elements in a bar, therefore, successfully fooled the average consumer in this taste test into attributing higher price and assumed value for the product, falsely swaying opinions on chocolates whether or not they were actually liked for their tastes.
What is the Take Away?
While there were a lot of great findings from the taste test that was conducted with ten people around Harvard Square with no extensive experience in the chocolate industry, this study is by no means a conclusive evaluation of how the average consumer values and experiences chocolate. However, this taste test is a chance to better evaluate how some consumers make decisions based on taste, packaging, and stereotypes.
At the end of the day, average consumers are just that, the average majority of people indulging in the chocolate bars being sold globally, and there are many falsifications that lead and sway people into attributing higher or lower quality and price points to bars—from the use of stereotypes, certifications and messaging, and flavors and contents. One general consensus was that no one could properly guess the price for any of the chocolate bars, showing that chocolate producers can maybe take advantage (and already do) of the fact that the average consumer does not have a strong background in what price different qualities of chocolate should be or is fair. The use of stereotypes, labels, and flavors all have a strong ability to falsely lead the average consumer away from the actual value of the product and instead make them willing to spend far more or far less for a product than it is actually worth.
Companies might be doing these things and playing to
the fact that the average consumer does not know much because it allows for
companies to grow in customer loyalty as well as dictate the pricing for each
bar and grow their profits and popularity. Consumers can try to take some of
the learning responsibility and conduct their own taste tests to find what
types of chocolates they actually enjoy, first, then consider what the price
point in reality is because often times our tasting experience or package
viewing experience filter how we price and value chocolate.
Chocolates used in this Blind Taste Test
Silky Smooth Dove:
Dark Chocolate ($0.90/ounce)
Species Chocolate: Caramel Sea Salt + Dark Chocolate (60% Cocoa) ($1.10/ounce)
Grocery stores, supermarkets, food marts,
or whatever you call them, the places where millions of Americans get their
food each week, are crucial to a vibrant nation. While their presence influences the economy among
many other sectors, this post will examine their relationship with consumer choices. Modern grocery stores sell much more than
food—beverages, hygiene and cleaning supplies, magazines, pharmaceutical goods,
alcohol, clothing, gasoline, pet supplies, household items—the list goes on and
on. In 2017, the average number of
items carried in a supermarket was over 30,000 (“Supermarket Facts”). Although there are many products, shelf-space
at grocery stores is nevertheless finite, leading to extreme competition among
manufacturers to get their products in front of Americans. After decades of this competition a short
list of conglomerates dominate both the grocery store brands and the
manufactures that supply them. These few
entities have tremendous influence and are involved in many industries. An excellent example of this market penetration
is the chocolate industry.
Mars, Mondelez, Ferrero, Nestle,
and Hershey “dominate the mature markets of Europe and North America” and
capture nearly two-thirds of global chocolate market share (Leissle 73-74). This percentage is staggering, and a quick
trip to CVS confirms the dominance. The
image above shows the traditional chocolate selection at the local CVS store in
Cambridge, MA and each of The Big Five has a large presence. Mars brands include Dove, M&M’s, Twix,
Milky Way, and Snickers. The Mondelez
brands are Toblerone, Cadbury, and Oreo.
Ferrero surprisingly only has one brand in the pictures which is Butterfinger. Nestle owns the brands Rolo, Reese’s, KitKat,
Crunch, and Raisinets despite some of these brands produced by Hershey here in
the United States. Lastly, Hershey
brands are many—Hershey Kisses, Heath, Reese’s, York, Almond Joy, Brookside—just
to name a few. Each of these brands
comes in countless varieties and there are over easily several hundreds of bags
of chocolate in each store. So,
chocolate is big business, but there is much more to the industry. Careful analysis of this curated selection
of chocolates reveals much more than what meets the eye in an ordinary trip to
the grocery store.
The adventure exploring this
multi-faceted industry begins in a surprising place, the non-traditional
chocolate selection in the same CVS store.
Aptly titled “Premium Chocolates,” this stand is much smaller and
contains more expensive and more exclusive brands. This premium selection includes only a
handful of brands which provide a stark contrast to the brands above. Ghirardelli, Russell Stover, Whitman’s, and
Lindt’s Excellence, are the most prominent and all owned by Lindt & Sprüngli. Also making an appearance are Ritter Sport,
Endangered Species Chocolate, and Turtles.
There are only two Big Five brands—Raffaello and Ferrero Rocher—both
which are owned by the company of the same name, Ferrero. This display encourages the consumer to
associate these chocolates with special occasions, luxury, health, romance,
extravagance, and celebration, all events worth the companies hope consumers
will splurge for. Intense Dark,
Irresistibly Smooth, Salted Caramel Cascade, Hazelnut Heaven, Sea Salt Soiree,
Blood Orange Sunset, Raspberry Radiance, Cherry Tango, 90% cacao content,
Rainforest Alliance Certified, Non-GMO verified, gluten free, and numerous
other slogans and labels all indicate this chocolate is for the advanced palate
and educated consumer. However, more
than a label is often needed to convince customers for the surcharge. Three common avenues of getting higher prices
are trade certifications, better cacao quality, and retail product differences.
First, trade certifications are stamps
of approval from agencies that generally commit to serving a mission like
paying higher cacao prices to farmers, working to end child and forced labor,
helping develop community infrastructure in Africa and other cacao-growing
regions, and many more. So many
organizations with so many different names and goals pose a difficulty to
consumers trying to select which certification is best supporting the
industry. To give an example, one of the
most popular is Fairtrade, which is overseen by Fairtrade International. As Kristy Leissle explains, “Fairtrade
International is an intermediary between labeling organizations and producer
organizations. Labeling organizations
certify that chocolate companies comply with Fairtrade price terms, and that
producer organizations comply with Fairtrade producer terms” (Leissle
141). These terms touch on working
conditions, the environment, sustainability, child labor, discrimination, and
more. The producers who meet these the
necessary conditions and pay a certification fee receive a Fairtrade Minimum
Prize on all cocoa sold in return. While
it sounds good in theory, issues arise in practice like the price floor not
rising quickly enough with inflation and other ingredients in bars not being
certified yet taking advantage of the Fairtrade premium. As one author explains “I do not challenge
the sincerity and ambition of [the Fairtrade] approach, nor the purity of its
motives,” but she continues and emphasizes that Fairtrade is “the most recent
example of another sophisticated ‘scam’ by the ‘invisible hand’ of the free
market. This noble endeavor for the
salvation of the free market was tamed and domesticated by the very forces it
wanted to fight” (Sylla 18). Nevertheless,
however misguided a consumer’s perceptions may be and despite procedural
problems like those raised by Sylla, trade certifications like Fairtrade are working
towards higher profits for vulnerable members of the cacao supply chain and are
a means for brands to demonstrate why to pay more for chocolate bars.
Another way these luxury companies
convince consumers to pay more for chocolate is the quality or type of cacao, and
in this case the classification of the plant species it comes from. In order to understand this specification,
some historical context and geography is provided. First, criollo, forastero, and trinitario are
the three main types. Criollo is most
associated with the original Mesoamerican cacao plants, distinguished by “long,
pointed, warty soft, and deeply ridged pods which contain seeds with white
cotyledons.” Forastero is most
associated with plants that originated in South American and Africa which have
“hard, round, melonlike pods, and the seeds have purplish cotyledons” (Coe
& Coe 26). From this description it
follows that criollo cacao is harder to produce, and it is with fewer pods and
higher disease susceptibility. However,
with this additional work and higher risk comes a greater reward in the form of
better flavor and improved aroma. This
is compared to forastero which is hardier but looks, tastes, and smells
different. In fact, forastero is often
translated as “strange” or “foreign” (Leissle 164). The remaining category, trinitario, is a hybrid
of these two varieties that balances the “desirable vigor of the forastero
plant with the superior quality of the criollo bean” (Coe & Coe 26). This simple classification system has faced
challenges in recent years as scientific studies claim the existence of many
more varieties. Nonetheless, with this
still as the predominant classification, criollo is found only Mesoamerican
regions, forasteros mainly in South America and Africa, and trinitarios in
North America, South America, Africa, India, and the Philippines/Indonesia
region. For the 2016-2017 season, the
African countries of Ivory Coast, Ghana, Cameroon, and Nigeria were forecast to
comprise about 71% of world cacao production (Leissle 42). In addition, it is commonly estimated that
forastero provides more than 80% of the world’s cacao crop (Coe & Coe
26). With its clear production advantage
and preference by large cacao conglomerates, forastero thus comprises most of
what is known as bulk cocoa. With this
historical context and geographical positioning, it is easy to see how both
producers and consumers would pay a premium for criollo chocolate
The third means to add value addressed
in this post is in the handling of the cacao, the machinery used in processing,
or the recipe used to make the retail product.
Once again, it is important to essential to have background knowledge on
the industry, from a comprehensive cacao vocabulary to an intricate understanding
of the many important steps that lie between the cacao tree to final chocolate
bar. First, there are several important
terms to clarify for this post. These
definitions are largely sourced from the 2019 spring semester of the Chocolate,
Culture, and the Politics of Food course at Harvard College. Cacao pods refer to the large and colorful
fruits that grow on the trunks of the cacao trees. The three major types are described in the above
paragraph. The cacao beans are the seeds
inside of this pod, covered by the cotyledon which is a white, often sweet,
pulp that connects the beans. The cacao
shell or husk is the outer layer of the bean, while the nib is the internal,
dried, and fully fermented portion we associate with chocolate. Chocolate liquor is the what forms from the
ground cacao nib. This liquor has two
parts, cocoa butter which is a waxy ivory-colored fat and the cocoa powder
which is what remains. Finally, Dutch-process
cocoa refers to the powder if it undergoes alkali treatment to neutralize the
harsh acids found in the original cacao.
Also, to briefly review the process, the first step is to have ripe
cacao pods on cacao trees. This is
difficult because cacao trees only grow in a range near the equator and it
takes roughly five years for a tree to bear fruit. These ripe pods must be removed carefully to
avoid damaging the trunk. Next, the cacao
beans and pulp are removed so that the fermentation process can begin. This process takes usually takes about a week
and often involves several stages.
Fermentation can also occur in a variety of containers, from a makeshift
pile of leaves to coolers to wooden boxes.
After this stage is complete, the beans move on to drying which also lasts
about 7 days. The beans are then sorted
and bagged before they are transported to the manufacturing facility. The first step here is to roast the beans and
then a process called winnowing where the bean is deshelled, and the cacao nib
is separated from the husk. This nib is
ground to form the chocolate liquor and then a hydraulic press extracts the
cocoa butter. One of the final steps
before molding and wrapping the bar is conching which aims to evenly distribute
the cocoa butter and improve the texture of the chocolate.
Specialty producers understand the cacao plant and the process and seek high-quality materials or develop mission-driven processes in making unique bars. The uniqueness and craft can enter at many, nearly all the stages along this supply chain. Some companies embrace the bean-to-bar model and begin by choosing select cacao pods or varieties, and proceed to oversee fermentation, drying, roasting, and more, customizing every stage until the finished product. These slight differences can have large impacts on the final taste and other attributes of the bar. The video above highlights Phil Landers of Land Chocolate, a bean-to-bar company based in London. Other companies set standards for the bean variety, type and length of fermentation and drying, etc. and then focus on the recipe or the work in the kitchen. Craft chocolate makers produce far fewer batches or quantities of chocolate and thus tend to focus on fine details more effectively than the commodity cocoa supply chain and companies. In short, specialty chocolate confectioners try to extract the natural flavors of the bean and experiment with unique processes and flavor combinations, while large companies order beans in bulk and strip all the cocoa down to a uniform powder that can be combined with traditional ingredients (sugar, milk, and butter) to make a consistent, inexpensive, candy staple. They are nearly two distinct industries, each with its own advantages and disadvantages, connected by the thread of making chocolate.
An examination of Fairtrade, the three types of cacao, and the chocolate-making process provides a better understanding of the differences between the premium chocolate section and the traditional chocolate section in CVS. The premium section takes advantage of each of these paths while the conventional selection almost exclusively offers Big Five chocolate brands. While there is insufficient room to analyze the chocolate selections of other specialized, higher-end grocery stores or even chocolate-exclusive shops in this blog post, the differences and the attributes discussed here are likely to be amplified. With this new enhanced understanding, consumers can now enter the candy aisle with more confidence of what some products are and what they are associated with. Sidney Mintz suggests a challenge to the conventional “we are what we eat” mantra; “In understanding the relationship between commodity and person, we unearth anew the history of ourselves” (Mintz 211-214). Knowledge and money are power, and consumers can make choices that will transform industries as we know them, should they choose to. Maybe one day the conventional chocolate selection will look more like the premium offering in CVS today and the cacao industry will no longer suffer from the many issues it currently battles. This transformation can start one consumer at a time. So, the next time you enter the grocery store realize the influence you have. If you won’t take my word for it, listen to Bill Gates—”When I walk into a grocery store and look at all the products you can choose, I say ‘My God!’ No king ever had anything like I have in my grocery store today” (Kurtz & Boone 72).
Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. 3rd ed.,
Thames and Hudson, 2013.
Kurtz, David L., and Louis E. Boone. Contemporary
Business. South-Western Cengage Learning, 2009.
CVS is a very large convenience store that is all over the United States. Not only does CVS have convenient food, it also has photo printing, beauty products, cleaning products, and health products. They also provide a consistent pharmacy to many of its customers. Needless to say, CVS is a hub for a lot of people’s late-night snacks, especially the 24-hour branch in Harvard Square. Since it is such a hub for Harvard students, CVS is definitely providing a defining narrative of what American snack life is like. CVS provides snacks for people who love chips, cookies, cereal, and most importantly chocolate.
The consumers of CVS chocolate definitely are different depending on the area. Back in my hometown of Detroit, CVS customers are mostly African-American people who are picking up prescriptions or picking up a small thing. Furthermore, the CVS in Harvard square mostly has customers that are college students that do all of their grocery shopping there, or tourists who are visiting Harvard. Personally, I have experienced both of these consumer experiences multiple times. Here are two recollections of my different experiences with CVS:
Back home in Detroit, I can remember many times of going to CVS with my mother. She would pick me up from school, and then we would get on the freeway back home. We would get off the freeway at an earlier exit to go to CVS. My mom would park the car and ask me if I wanted to come in the store or stay in the car. I usually would say yes at the hope that I can get a snack before dinner was ready. We would enter the store and my mother would go to the pharmacy to pick up a prescription, and I would walk towards the snacks and was always welcomed by the sight of a lot of chocolate. I fell in love with dark chocolate pretty early, and I always gravitated towards dark chocolate covered pretzels along with a bag of salt and vinegar chips. Every time I went with my mother I would ask if she could buy me these snacks, and she always said yes when realizing how cheap they were.
Here at Harvard, I go to CVS many times for anything that I need. Whenever I run out of my favorite snacks I always go to CVS. I tend to hover near the dark chocolate in this store as well. If I want fancier chocolate I have to go to the back of the store, and the cheaper and more accessible chocolate is in a wide aisle with all of the other candy. When picking up my dark chocolate almond Dove chocolates, I head to the cashier. When waiting in line, I always see a lot of fancy snacks with chocolate near the checkout, and very few cheaper chocolates near the checkout. This sometimes tempts me to indulge myself with a fancier chocolate snack as well.
The difference between these two locations is that the one in Harvard Square is open 24 hours and the one in my hometown is not. The Harvard Square store also places more expensive chocolate snacks near the checkout, while the one in Detroit does not. These two stores are structured different because of the difference in their customers and what CVS believes to be the best way to profit off of each group.
CVS is known to have a lot of cheap everything, but especially cheap snacks. Even with inflation, snacks still remain cheap in stores like CVS. This store has a lot of cheap chocolates like Snickers, Kit-Kats, M&Ms, and Hershey bars. All of these companies’ producers, from Mars, to Nestle, to Hershey’s, all have a large customer base, and they also have dominated the candy industry for decades. Hershey’s is a prominent and historical brand that specializes in many things but especially chocolate over the years. Hershey is especially good at making cheap and accessible chocolate that is essentially everywhere in the world. In Hershey: Milton S. Hershey’s Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams,the author highlights that Milton Hershey hired a chemist in order to make the Hershey bar that we all know and love. Because of this perfected version of a chocolate bar, “Hershey would be able to make milk chocolate faster, and therefore cheaper, than the Europeans (D’Antonio 108).” This perfected mixture is the one that we enjoy and love today. It is interesting to think that the Hershey legacy is so built on family and being made by family, yet, Hershey had to hire a chemist outside of his family in order to create the backbone of their legacy. That part of the legacy is not talked about in the mainstream, and it leaves the question of what else are they not telling us? CVS displays these cheaper chocolates frequently and in the most accessible aisle to maximize profit on the societal desire for sweet and junk foods. Furthermore, “it happens that the sugars, fats, and salts that are so central to junk food, are not only the foods that humans most crave, but also are among the cheapest food inputs (Albritton 344).” CVS is a hub for all things cheap, and even more of a hub for people who will be the most likely to buy cheap food, like college students and low-income people of color. CVS displays cheap candy and junk food, like chocolate, almost all over the store, so that no matter where a customer turns they have to continuously decide whether or not to pick up some chocolate. This marketing seems unjust because it does not help consumers in leading a healthy diet and can make them crave the treats even more.
CVS also has a large selection of more luxury chocolates, or chocolates that are little pricier than the average chocolates that can be bought at the movie theater. These chocolates are Ferrero Rocher, Ghirardelli, Godiva, Russel Stover, and Turtle chocolates. These chocolates are more expensive than the average chocolate bar, but not too expensive that they cannot be picked up sometimes when going to the store. Their prices range from four dollars to seven dollars per bar, and if a whole box of turtles is bought, one can expect to pay about ten dollars per box. These chocolates are located at the back of the store near where all the more expensive nuts are. They are displayed in a fancier and more elegant way and are organized very neatly by brand. The labels have an elegance and shine to it that automatically indicates to the consumer that they are of higher quality than the candy bars of a lower price. The shine and pictures of the chocolate convey to the consumer that they are getting luxury and elegance within their chocolate. This idea of luxury “it plays on our inner feeling of wanting ‘something better’ and nurtures the rampant individualism of self-fashioning that has come so much to shape our societies since the 1980s (Mc Neil & Riello 229).” It’s the same feeling that is experienced when consumers desire to buy a fancy shirt simply because it is expensive, even though they can buy a similar shirt for a cheaper price at a different store. Consumers feel the same way when buying chocolate, and that is probably why CVS displays these two chocolates separately. This is so consumers do not have the chance to compare the cheaper chocolates to the more expensive ones. So, consumers who only see the expensive chocolate buy it and are not swayed by a cheaper and similarly enjoyable chocolate option. This also can go the other way by limiting consumers choices to only cheaper and more sugar filled chocolate snacks. For example, if a customer only passes by the cheaper options of chocolate they are not offered the same opportunity to indulge in less sugary and higher cacao content chocolate. CVS sets up their store in an unfair way for their consumers, so they are not able to make an educated and deliberate choice about the chocolate they choose.
Some of the chocolates in CVS have various certifications to prove that they are ethically made. These certifications give consumers peace of mind when buying products, especially chocolate, even when the certifications are very vague in what they mean. The way certifications are portrayed to consumers is in a way that makes it seem like all people involved are getting equally fair changes; however, with the Fairtrade certification, benefits are not so fair. “Fairtrade selects the most capable producer organisations locally. This is actually its ‘in-house policy’, as it boosts the rapid growth of the movement” (Sylla 208). This is not only unfair to the consumers, but it is also extremely unfair to the poorest countries that produce is grown in. The Fairtrade act betters the conditions for countries who already produce so much and make so much money from the market. It is the easiest way to ensure that customers are getting an ethically made product. The countries that need this act the most in order to keep up their presence and value in the major markets are not getting the benefits of the many certifications used on products. The certifications on the products we love are supposed to improve production conditions for all, and not just for the countries where it is most convenient. From this, we can infer that certifications on products may not be so ethical after all.
The ethicality of our sweetest treats has been addressed countless times throughout history. Whether it be from the Cadbury scandal or a lack of transparency with Mars, there have been many ethical concerns surrounding chocolate, ever since the advancement of widespread media. The point that interests me most is that a lot of these ethical concerns arise from the practices of really large companies, like Hershey’s, yet, they make the least amount of change within their product production. These are major companies that can make the most institutional change by altering their production ways, yet, they make the smallest amounts of change or they wait until the news dies down, so they do not have to address it. This is an unethical way to run a business, especially ones like Hershey’s where the brand is so centered on wholesomeness and family bonding. Companies like Hershey’s show very little about what they are trying to do regarding the ethical concerns of their products, and theymostly focus on the wonder associated with Hershey chocolate. There are some large companies that are actively addressing and being very transparent about the ethical concerns of their products. My favorite company that does this is Nestle. They have a very detailed website that includes making sure that workers and children are protected, and they also want to ensure that they are growing their cacao very sustainably. Here is a capture of their page dedicated to protecting children and workers:
This detailed page really works towards the issues of not bein transparent with consumers about a companies practices. I think that big companies should follow in Nestle’s footsteps because they have a good balance of environment sustainability and working conditions as well. I usually see companies, like Ghiradelli, that solely focus on environmental sustainability, but even with that they provide very vague information generally about the steps they are taking to ensure that. Here is a capture of the vagueness in Ghirardelli’s sustainability page:
In conclusion, transparency and fair and equal advertising is the right of the consumer, and the duty of the producers to provide. This can overall provide a better experience for customers in choosing the brands they want, which can alter how large companies function within the market. The consumers have the power to make companies more accountable and want to change. If customers are given all information fairly when buying things, we may be able to see more change in the future. Consumers engaging in more conscious consumption of goods can definitely influence large corporations to make change, and I believe that we can strive for that.
Albritton, Robert. “Between Obesity and Hunger: The Capitalist Food Industry.” Food and Culture. Routledge. Print.
D’Antonio, Michael. Hershey: Milton S. Hershey’s Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams. Simon & Schuster. Print,
McNeil, P., Riello, G. Luxury: A Rich History. Oxford Univeristy Press. Print.
Sylla, Ndongo S. The Fairtrade Scandal: Marketing Poverty to Benefit the Rich. Ohio Univeristy Press. Print.
Photo Credits (in order)
CVS, 13580 Grand River Ave, Detroit, MI. Detroit. Date accessed: May 3, 2019.
Harvard Crimson. New 24-Hour CVS Opens At 6 JFK Street. Cambridge, MA.
WordPress. CVS Chocolate Value Store. Cambridge, MA.
CVS Luxury Chocolate Display. 2 May 2019.
Ghirardelli. Sustainability And Corporate Social Responsibility. Date accessed: May 3, 2019.
Nestle. Protecting children and workers. Date accessed: May 3, 2019.
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.
Chocolate is a high commodity. In most cases, if you are on the hunt for chocolate it is most likely that you will be able to walk into any store; convenience store, mom and pop shop, grocery store, etc., and find chocolate. In the United States “in 2016, American consumers spent $22 billion on chocolate, ate a collective 3 billion pounds of chocolate, and on average, ate 12 pounds per person.” (Lecture Slide 4, Class 4) If an American is able to consume 12 pounds of chocolate in one year then that’s a clear indication that Americans are able to find some cheap, high supply, and conveniently located chocolate in many parts of the country.
If one were to ask what the quality of the 12 pounds of chocolate that an American is consuming in a year tasted like my guess would be that this chocolate contains high counts of sugar and less cacao. Those who have not studied chocolate or know much about what goes into chocolate believe that when they are in line purchasing their Hershey bar that they are getting a high quality chocolate bar. That is not the case. On average, premium chocolate that can be found in more exclusive stores will be much more expensive. Why is that? The observation I would take from this scenario is that the more cacao being used in the chocolate the more expensive the product. Why would a snickers bar, Twix, or Kit Kat be cheaper to purchase? More sugar included in the product costs less to make? These are the type of questions that need to be answered.
In this paper I will be comparing the chocolate I find in CVS to a store in my city called Janssen’s Market. Jansen’s is quite different from CVS in that it is not a chain convenience store, but a one-location store in a more ritzy area of the city. If one were to walk into Janssen’s they would find aisle after aisle of organic, locally farm grown products. The prices of items in Janssen’s are also very different from the prices of products in CVS in that they are much higher and in my opinion extremely overpriced.
Chocolate stand from CVS, Wilmington, De
In the CVS close to my house in Wilmington, Delaware I found a section marked “Premium Chocolates” where it placed all of the more exotic tasting chocolates. If you look closely at this picture you will notice that all of the chocolates on the racks have a yellow sticker hanging from them stating if you buy 1 at $3.79 you will get the 2nd bar for free. This sounds like a great deal to me. Two bars of chocolate and you notice at the top the Ghirardelli chocolates are made with more cacao, for the price of one chocolate bar. WIN! Then I stood there and wondered, “Why are these premium chocolates which are supposed to be the best of the best at this CVS on the shelf begging to get sold by having a yellow sticker hanging from them?” They seem to be screaming for someone to scoop them up, purchase them, and indulge in a chocolate soiree but how come? Shouldn’t they be so exclusive that people are snatching them off of the shelves before the store even opens?
CVS in Wilmington, DE
It is my observation that the intended audience in the CVS does not prefer to purchase premium chocolates, but would rather purchase candy bars like Hershey bars, dove bars, reeses cups, and other brands associated with those candy bars. The reasons I feel that the intended audience would prefer that type of chocolate over the more exclusive brands are because of the sugar content. “It [sugar] is very cheap and it produces a craving, and in the case of Pepsi and Coca-Cola there is often strong brand loyalty too- a sure formula for fabulous profits in the food industry.” (Albritton, 344) Sugar is a cheap commodity to make and gives off an addictive craving, so these brands above that are selling candy bars for $2 to $3 dollars at CVS are filled with sugar. This sugar in return gives off a feeling of satisfaction, which makes the customer want to go back and buy more of this product. The sugar content in this Dove Milk Chocolate Bar below is 23 grams however the serving size in this bar is about 2. So the sugar content in this entire milk chocolate bar is roughly 46 grams of sugar. This is an outrageously high amount of sugar that the average American is consuming on a daily basis. I do not see a Fair Trade or Direct Trade Certification stamp on this candy bar. Without seeing this stamp on the wrapper means that the farmers growing the cacao that is used in making this Dove chocolate bar barely make any money off of the sale of the beans. The quality of life for the cacao farmers is already below poverty level, but it is especially bad for those who are not under the fair trade certification.
Google images: Dove Milk Chocolate Bar
When I entered the Janssen’s Market I noticed a whole different environment. Many people were purchasing organic products, ecofriendly, and most seemed to be in shape and concerned with their health and wellness. “The fine chocolate market exhibits what she calls “resistance” – a form of agency – distributed in a fine chocolate assemblage of connoisseurs, products, producers, and institutional discourse, and characterized by a group force or momentum to link sensual enjoyment with ethical concern.” (Martin-Sampeck, 52) Every aisle was geared towards organic products. As I was walking around the store I was in search of the candy aisle. What was a bit surprising and shocking to me was that they didn’t have a candy aisle. Every grocery store has a candy aisle! But, Janssen’s does not. Instead they had a stand right by the check out counter where they sold their deluxe chocolate bars.
Janssen’s Market, Greenville, Delaware
The selection of chocolate bars were somewhat similar to the premium chocolates sold at the CVS about 3 miles away, however they cost way more money with a much larger selection of chocolates to choose from. If you notice from comparing the pictures of the premium chocolates at CVS to those at Janssen’s you can see the markup of pricing at Janssen’s on very similar bars. However, a very interesting thing I found at Janssen’s was the Fair Trade & Direct Trade Certification. When I saw that stamp I instantly got very happy! For those who aren’t aware of what these certifications do, “an attempt to redeem the free market, rather than introduce an alternative form of globalisation, Fair Trade is perhaps the most revolutionary and hopeful initiative for workers in the poorest countries of the planet.” (Sylla, 17) With this label alone, many chocolate consumers who are conscious about what goes into making chocolate, the laborers, etc., will spend the $5 to $10 on this candy bar because they know that by purchasing this bar not only is it certified and organic, but that the proceeds from this bar will in fact go to the farmer with a higher compensation increase than a chocolate bar that is not certified. In Robertson’s article Chocolate, Women and Empire she states “the politics of commodity chains have gained wider popular currency… the shift is related to worries over health (the use of pesticides in agriculture for example), the environment (the carbon footprint of each product), and the exploitation of workers in a global economy. Ethical consumption, now an essential element of middle-class identity, depends partly on a sense of consumer responsibility for the conditions under which commodities such as chocolate are produced, and a guarantee of a fair price for the producer.” (Robertson Pt 1, 4-5)
Chocolate, Culture and the Politics of Food, Lecture 9, Slide 10
Found at Janssen’s Market, Greenville, DE
As you can see by the writing on the wrappers, Madécasse pure dark chocolate and green & black’s organic dark chocolate are very different from the typical brands of Hershey’s, Mars, and Cadbury. This was great. Finally some real authentic cacao with one brand from Madagascar made with Heirloom Cocoa with 80% content. The other brand Green & Black states right on the front of the wrapper a very important piece of information to the modern chocolate conneisuer that this dark chocolate bar was made with fine Trinitario with 70$ cacao content. This is great information to see to those who have studied chocolate. They are able to determine exactly what kind of bean was used in making this bar, how much actual cacao was used, and/or what part of the world these beans came from.
The Madécasse Company works directly with the cacao farmers engaging in direct interaction with the laborers. They get to know them on a first name basis and also become comfortable getting to know the farmers families. This makes for better business because they understand the struggle that farmers go through on a daily basis with production being low at different times of the season, or even just not receiving the proper compensation for the amount of work they do. They also make the chocolate in Madagascar where the cacao is grown. The purpose for this is to try and keep the clarity of the product secure, so what is advertised on the brand is a true indication of what is in fact in the bar.
Also, the advertisement of the chocolate is very important in the sale of the product at different stores. It is easier for people to watch television and see countless TV ads on Hershey kisses and self-indulgence associated with that little “kiss”, as well as reeses cups with the half bitten portion left at the end of the commercial. Many people watching television see these advertisements and decide to run to the nearest convenience store, which in my case would be the CVS, and pick up those delectable treats! You don’t usually, if ever, see any advertisements on the more exclusive chocolates. For this reason alone, the demand for Hershey and Mars products would be greater than a brand like Black & Green’s or Chuao.
Different social environments tend to sell goods and services that tailor to the demographics in that specific area. In terms of chocolate, people who are willing to spend more money on organic, pure cacao chocolate bars will find these bars in grocery stores that cater to naturally produced items. I spoke about Janssen’s Market, which is located in a higher social class demographic, and sold organic fair and direct trade chocolate from companies who embody values and morals tailoring to the cacao farmers in third world countries. For those who do not have access to Janssen’s, a similar market comparable would be a Trader Joes. They are smaller grocery stores that catch the eye of a buyer interested in environmental friendly products.
CVS almost does the opposite of what Janssen’s is trying to do. If you live in a city you can most likely find multiple CVS’ in a small radius because they are the go to convenience store that has all of your essential products. They also have at least two aisles that are filled with candy. Most of this candy is pure sugar. On average, people would prefer to indulge in sweet tasting chocolates to bitter dark pure chocolate. But, isn’t it true that if it tastes good it’s usually not good for you but you still eat it anyway! My assumption is that if most people are willing to indulge in a piece of chocolate they are most likely going to go after the typical candy bar that you will find in your local CVS over a pure 90% cacao bar that has less sugar in it.
It seems that some of the chocolate that is sold in the CVS may be unethical due to the fact that the chocolate companies treat the cacao farmers less than they should actually be treated and with much less compensation. In fact, they do not know the farmers at all. Have no idea how they are compensated, their living conditions, and so on. With most of the chocolate sold in Janssen’s it seemed to me that almost all if not every single bar had a fair trade or direct trade certification stamp on the wrapper. This is indicating that those chocolate companies are treating the cacao farmers appropriately by giving them the fairest wage possible, by engaging with the farmers on a name to face basis and going lengths to meet family members also. They care about the well being of the cacao farmers that they are paying to grow their supply of cacao, and try to make them feel appreciated.
Would you rather enjoy sugar filled chocolate that is being produced by individuals who may have never even tasted a piece of chocolate in their life, or delicious dark chocolate bars that have less sugar and are made from companies that participate in the Fair Trade Agreement where you know the farmers will earn more for the sale of their cacao and are treated with respect?
Albritton, Robert. “Between Obesity and Hunger: The Capitalist Food Industry.” Food and
Culture. 3rd ed. New York/London: Routledge, 2013. 342-51. Web.
CVS, Wilmington, Delaware
Janssen’s Market, Greenville, Delaware
Martin, Carla D., and Kathryn E. Sampeck. “The Bitter and Sweet of Chocolate in Europe.”
The Social Meaning of Food (n.d.): n. pag. Web.
Robertson, Emma. Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History.
Manchester/New York: Manchester UP, 2009. Part 1. Web.
Sylla, Ndongo Samba. The Fair Trade Scandal Marketing Poverty to Benefit the Rich. Athens, OH: Ohio UP, 2014. Print.
When we hear the word premium it conjures up thoughts of luxury, exceptional quality, hand crafted, expensive…I hate to burst your bubble, but some of the fancy premium chocolate you might’ve enjoyed couldn’t be farther from that definition. Well, actually, it probably was expensive. The lack of regulation of “premium” chocolate allows many brands to vigorously market their chocolate products as high end and grab a piece of the burgeoning market. Yet, this lack of definition and regulation is dangerous because consumers are tricked into buying chocolate with false promises that benefit the chocolate company, but not the cocoa farmers, middlemen, or consumers. Premium is then defined by the packaging, presentation and stores, but not the ingredients or labor.
“Premium chocolate” accounted for over 14% of chocolate sales in the United States in 2011 and was projected to expand 10% annually (Williams and Eber 167). However, the problem is there’s no real standard or definition for premium chocolate. One offered definition is, “chocolate that sells for greater than $8.00 a pound” and has “better quality ingredients, execution, packaging” and more (Williams and Eber 168). Yet, fine chocolate ranges anywhere from $24.00 to $100.00 a pound (Williams and Eber 169).
To find out more about premium chocolate around Harvard Square, I visited two stores: CVS and Cardullo’s Gourmet Shoppe.
Consumer Value Stores (CVS), created in 1963 by two brothers Stanley and Sidney Goldstein, is a national chain of one stop shop stores for everyone (CVS). Walking into the CVS candy aisle is an attack on your eyes. Candy with big flashy packaging line the shelves from the Big five candy companies: Mars, Nestle, Cadbury, Hershey and Ferrero (Allen 21).With their displays, CVS capitalizes on the fact that approximately 70% of chocolate is consumed on impulse (Allen 31). Therefore, loud packaging is key to attract a consumer’s wandering eye. Red or orange wrappers (Reese’s Peanut butter cups, M & M’s, Kit Kats, Snickers, Crunch bars) are prominent because studies have proven that people’s associations with these colors make one hungry (Harrington). In addition to the packaging, placement inside a store is very important. Only 22% of shoppers will ever venture down the candy aisle, so stores need to be creative about attracting attention to chocolate (Allen 32). To address this issue, CVS lines their check-out counter with chocolate bars to entice consumers to grab one for a quick snack. In addition, lots of the chocolates in CVS are on sale. I’ve visited multiple times and can always find bright yellow sale tags on a variety of chocolates. The sales often encourage one to buy multiple chocolates such as 3 for $5.00 or 2 for $6.00. The cheapest chocolate I could find were singular Hershey bars for .88 cents and the most expensive bar were the Chuao bars, at $5.29. However, even these were on sale, buy one get the second half off. The majority of their chocolates (individual bars or bags) were under $3.00. The placement of their chocolate, available brands, and price range, demonstrate that CVS targets consumers who are in a hurry, don’t want to spend much on chocolate, or didn’t intend to buy chocolate until enticed on the way out.
CVS also sells premium chocolate on a separate stand that contrasts nicely with the regular candy aisle. It’s featured on the end of the candy aisle facing sodas and other refrigerated items. The end of an aisle is a prime spot as it gets more foot traffic and attention (Clifford). The stand is made of dark wood (fake), which appears more refined than the other shelves and is filled with Lindt, Ghiradelli, Ferrero Rocher, Ritter, Raffaelo, Chuao and Endangered Species chocolates. However, these brands are misleading because many of these companies are owned by the big five and when one thinks premium, Hershey’s doesn’t come to mind. For example, Lindt owns Ghiradelli and even though it is not a big five chocolate company, Lindt generates over a half of Hershey’s net sales (Scully). In addition, Ritter is distributed in over 100 countries and Fererro owns Raffaelo (Ferrero, Ritter). The only slightly distinct chocolates are the Chuao and the Endangered Species bars. Chuao is a fairly new Venezuelan brand, created in 2002. It is available in the US, Canada, Puerto Rico, and Barbuda in stores such as CVS, Target, Whole Foods, Bed Bath and Beyond, and the Omni and W hotels (Chuao). Endangered Species Chocolate donates 10% of their profits to support wildlife organizations (Endangered Species). This brand is sold at Amazon, CVS, Target and more. Nevertheless, premium chocolate for CVS is still mostly mass produced chocolate from the big five companies or other large companies.
Compared to CVS’ regular chocolate, premium chocolate’s packaging was less flashy and featured gold and shiny touches and script lettering. The packaging used thicker paper or plastic and contained the words: excellence, collection, luscious, and classic to convey to the customer that these bars are distinct and higher quality. The bars also come in a variety of different flavors like fruit, caramel, honey, mint, salt and hazelnut. This example of the hybridization of chocolate or blending of two cultures was distinct from the cheaper chocolate bars that mainly featured peanut butter fillings (Coe and Coe 113). Descriptions on the back of the bar also play into the link between chocolate and sex which traces back the widespread belief that chocolate was an aphrodisiac (Coe and Coe 171). With descriptions such as, “irresistible smooth filling”, “gently caressing all your senses”, and “caramelized honey mingle with deep dark chocolate, like secret lovers meeting on a warm summer night”, these bars capitalize on how women should “project their heterosexual yearnings and fantasies onto chocolate consumption” (Robertson 35). They detail the experience you will have with their chocolate and with the exception of the Endangered Species and Chuao bars, they do not make promises about the source of their cacao or cocoa production. The Chuao bar has an ethically sourced label and the Endangered Species bar has Fair Trade and Organic labels. From CVS’ selection, premium chocolate seems to be chocolate with gold packaging that sells an experience, is slightly more expensive than their regular selection, and is mass manufactured.
Cardullo’s Gourmet Shoppe
Big Five European selection in Cardullo’s
Chocolate in Cardullo’s
Cardullo’s opened in 1950 and is a specialty food store in Harvard Square. A quick trip to their website shows pages of gourmet foods, gifts, and most importantly: Coffee, Tea, and Chocolate. These three stimulants have gone hand in hand since the colonial era (Mintz 113). Inside the store, there is a stand dedicated to Lake Champlain Chocolates and then a wall of chocolate at the edge of the store near the cashiers. At first glance, bright packaging led me to the Big Five products, except they were European brands: Aero, Maltesers, Flake, and Milka. Next, there were the more specialized bars. The packaging was less flashy overall and they featured muted tones such as a variety of pastels and browns. They also had many more fair trade, organic, and ethically grown stamps than the selection in CVS. However, many of these chocolate labels are misleading. For example, the goal of Fair Trade is to help “cocoa farmers, traders, and chocolate manufacturers participate in long-term, stable relationships that support a dependable living for farmers and their families” (Fair Trade 4). Yet, The Fair Trade Scandal, sheds light on the realities of this label. In fact, Fair Trade unequally distributes its profits and is mostly beneficial to the wealthiest countries (Sylla 205). In addition, Maricel Presilla warns in The New Taste of Chocolate, that organic of Fair Trade cacao can be “mediocre or worse in quality” (133). This is not to say that all of the labels are not producing positive results, but that labels should be noted with caution.
At first glance, I was wowed. There was a large selection of single origin bars and phrases such as “stone ground”, “craft”, and “art of blending”. Some of the brands included, Scharffen berger, Neuhaus, Chocolove and Lake Champlain. I assumed that these brands were artisanal brands that were sold in small batches, but to my disappointment, these brands were available across the U.S and in multiple countries. Their upscale looking appearance led me astray. Scharffen Berger chocolate is owned by Hershey (Lubow)! Once America’s first bean to bar manufacturer that originated cocoa content labeling, Hershey has shut down their artisan factory in California and moved it to Illinois (Scharffen Berger). Fans of the chocolate have noticed a considerable drop in the quality of the chocolate since the factory switch (Lubow). Yet, as Rachel Lauden notes, mass produced and industrialized food does not deserve the negative attention we direct toward it. For example, “the ethnic foods we seek out when we travel are being preserved, indeed often created, by a hotel and restaurant industry determined to cater to our dream of India or Indonesia, Turkey, Hawaii, or Mexico.” Perhaps for chocolate, it is important to recognize how crucial technology such as the conche or refrigerated transportation has been in creating the more refined candy we eat today (Goody 82). Quality, then is not necessarily tied to quantity.
Cardullo’s does sell bean to bar and single origin small batch chocolate. They carry Chequessett, Dolfin, Castronovo, Taza, Chocolat Bonnat and Farvarger. The most expensive bars were from Chocolat Bonnat at a whopping $17.00! A quick trip to their website revealed that these bars are from specific terroirs. I found a bar with beans from Trinite, an island in the Caribbean. These single origin bars are special because the soil, environment, and farming styles affect give their beans a unique taste (Presilla 126).
The more expensive bars only had cocoa beans, cocoa butter, sugar and possibly milk in them. I could count all of the ingredients on one hand, whereas in CVS, even in the premium chocolate section, bars had ten or more ingredients. The bars also featured more hybridized expensive flavors than the ones offered in CVS. For example, there are bars with ginger, orange peel, rose, coconut ash, cranberry pumpkin spice and chili. These ingredients were more exotic and inventive than the raspberry, salt, and peanut butter found in CVS.
Unlike CVS brands, most of the chocolate companies featured in Cardullo’s had pages on their websites dedicated to the environment, labor, conservation and the history of chocolate. Instead of catering to the mass market, it was clear that they wanted to demonstrate a knowledge of the cacao plant and chocolate making process. These brands also described the ingredients or process on the back of the bars in different ways. The wrappers stressed the ethical process and sustainability of their chocolate as well as quality ingredients. The descriptions were also bar specific and did not generalize company history like the CVS bars. They were also more transparent about the ingredients in their chocolate. For example, Milkboy featured Swiss milk, Castronovo describes the types of cacao (Criollo, Trinitario, and forastero), Chequessett labeled the origins or terroir, and nearly every bar listed the percent cocoa content. Cardullo’s chocolate appealed to the customer who would spend their time perusing the selection and carefully reading the back of each bar. The customer cared about the production and quality of chocolate. In contrast, the CVS customer would probably not know the difference between Criollo and Trinitario or how cacao origin or content affects taste.
Pictured: The difference between the backs of chocolate from Cardullo’s and CVS
Back of Chequessett Chocolate bar in Cardullo’s
Back of CVS Russell Stover Bunny
From my two visits, I’ve found that marketing is key to selling “premium” chocolate. It seems to outrank ingredients, flavor or quality of cacao. For example, in the U.S, anything containing 15% cacao liquor can be labeled as chocolate (Food and Agriculture Organization). You could be eating 85% sugar and think that it’s great chocolate. Or, like me, you could be fooled by the packaging into thinking you’ve bought a white chocolate bunny, when it is in fact simply sugar and corn oil. Yet, if the packaging has flecks of gold and can convince you that it is premium, it is. Premium, as demonstrated by both CVS and Cardullo’s, seems to be relative to the chocolate selection you have. Both stores had chocolate from the big five companies which were the cheapest in both stores, so the more expensive brands seem more premium. The higher end chocolates are differentiated through packaging from the quality of the wrapper, the labels or commitments to organic, fair trade, or ethically sourced cacao, to the description of the creation of each bar. Perhaps, similar to the 15% rule, premium chocolate should have requirements that includes a standard for % cacao content, origin of cacao, or a promise for ethically sourced ingredients. Possibly, instead of a industry implemented standard, a chocolate guide or rating system, similar to Wine Spectator would be influential in determining premium chocolate.
Allen, Lawrence L., and Angel Cabrera. Chocolate Fortunes: The Battle for the Hearts, Minds, and Wallets of China’s Consumers. New York, American Management Association, 2010.
Chuao. “About.” Chuao Chocolatier, chuaochocolatier.com/about/. Accessed 7 May 2017.
Chocolate seems to permeate our lives. It saturates the grocery shelves during the holiday seasons and appears on our television screens. It is a true constant in our rapidly-changing world. Because our modern world is always developing, how has chocolate maintained permanent-product status? The easy answer is: sugar. Several hundred years ago when sugar first emerged onto the European food scene, it was a new and exciting ingredient from Mesoamerica that served many uses. It began as an expensive superfluous supplement to the natural European diet, but after two centuries, sugar had become a staple to the English diet and essential to the rest of Europe (Prof. Martin Lecture). This kind of integration was not isolated to sugar. Chocolate made the journey from a fancy, elite delicacy to a common household item… or so it seems. As this article of fun facts reveals, Modern day “Americans consume 2.8 billion pounds of chocolate each year, or over 11 pounds per person” which is much more than the average for Europeans. I argue that although statistics show that the common person consumes great amounts of chocolate, it still retains its original status as a highbrow item despite its price. This is best showcased by the chocolate sections at CVS.
There are a couple of different places to find chocolate at CVS, each with their own chief marketing purpose. The first is in the candy aisle. Here you can find the label “bagged chocolate” and see an assortment of chocolate from big, well-known companies like Hershey, Reese’s, etc. They all have seemingly endless variations of dark, milk, and white chocolate, sometimes mixed with peanut butter, nuts, or other embellishments. As you walk into the aisle, the sheer amount of options is overwhelming. The range of your selection makes them all seem to blend together. It is even hard to read each label individually because your eye is constantly being drawn elsewhere by cartoon images and bright colors. Eventually, you just go with what you know. This is either a run-of-the-mill choice like plain milk chocolate or something slightly more niche like salted caramel dark chocolate. In the case of a more niche preference, you will likely already know its position in the aisle because it does not change. Never at eye-level, your bag of salted caramel dark chocolate is eternally juxtaposed to the bag of mint milk chocolate, both sold by the same company. At any given CVS, they will sometimes be on a high level but more often than not, they will be off to the side. This particular bag of chocolate will reside at shin-level so you have to bend down to pick it up. It never goes on sale. But your friend has a slightly different experience. You see, she is a big fan of Hershey’s Dark Chocolate, no almonds or other extras. She needs two bags because finals are coming up and she stress eats when she feels bloated. She turns into the candy aisle, finds the sign indicating the chocolate, and walks right up to inspect her choices. She does not have to look for long. As she glances to the side, her eyes find the Hershey’s label and her brain immediately recognizes the color. She grabs two bags since there is a sale that applies to this type of chocolate (second bag is 50% off!) and you both head to the front of the store to pay.
Now let’s say that you and your friend prefer the finer things in life. Pretend that there has been a tragic epidemic and every chocolatier in your immediate vicinity has been destroyed. This leaves CVS as your only option for buying chocolate. The two of you cannot eat “commoners chocolate,” whatever that means (you and your friend are chocolate-snobs) so you head to the “Premium Chocolates” stand that CVS has on display. There is a notable absence of plastic bags and cartoon labels, no bright colors that remind you of late Halloween nights. The characteristics of this section that stand out to you are the highbrow-looking packaging, lack of “Big Chocolate” name brands (or so you think), and the fact that the vast majority of the packaging features some sort of picture of smooth chocolate.
Because you and your friend prefer everyone to know the percentage of cocoa that your chocolate is, you grab a package from eye-level that advertises “85% Cocoa” in big, bold letters beneath the word “Excellence” written in a super fancy script font. This chocolate is slightly pricier than the chocolate in other areas of CVS so you and your friend agree to split the bag. Then you both head to the counter to pay.
In both situations, you have to pass the “impulse buy” test. As you wait in line to pay, you are surrounded by shelves of mini-sized candy. It is a slue of small packaging, with candy, gum, donuts, and chocolate all mixed together. The gum is at the top because it is the easiest to justify in a situation where you need to freshen up your breath. Directly below the gum are four entire shelves of candy, mostly chocolate. This is a departure from the fancy marketing you saw earlier. It is a return to the “Big Chocolate” name brands like Hershey. In contrast to the chocolate aisle, this chocolate is being sold in much smaller quantities. Its small size and location in the store point to a popular marketing ploy that stores like to use, especially in America. In America, we are very susceptible to the “impulse buy.” It is very easy to justify buying a small chocolate candy bar on your way out of CVS than buying a whole bag. Even further, these candies are not at adult-eye level but they are positioned perfectly to draw the attention of any child who walks past them. You, however, are not a child. You wait your turn and pay for your chocolate at the cash register. Then you leave CVS, concluding your shopping experience.
These elaborate scenarios showcase various ways that chocolate plays a part in our everyday lives. For instance, the way that companies choose to visually represent their chocolate speaks to how we perceive chocolate. The “Premium Chocolates” section is a perfect example of this. In “Tasting Empire: Chocolate and the European Internalization of Mesoamerican Aesthetics”, Mary Norton discusses how sociologists and cultural historians “have eschewed biological or economic determinism and instead theorize taste as socially constructed” (Norton, 663). She uses Mintz’ work on sugar’s development “from a medicinal additive to a luxury good among the upper classes” to complement his argument that “sugar ‘embodied the social position of the wealthy and powerful.’ He points to ‘sugar’s usefulness as a mark of rank—to validate one’s social position. To elevate others, or to define them as inferior.’” (Norton/Mintz). This seems antiquated to us in modern day but it really holds true to society’s perception of chocolate. If you take into account the countless ads like this one that present chocolate as a luxury item that should be desired, then it becomes easier to see why presenting their product as “Premium Chocolates” is an effective marketing tactic used by Lindt and Ghirardelli in CVS.
Looking at this commercial, the first thing to notice is the incredible CGI they have used to recreate Audrey Hepburn, an icon of class and elegance. There is classic music playing in the background. Audrey Hepburn leaves the public transport bus and makes the transition into a handsome man’s car where he proceeds to act as her chauffeur as she eats chocolate in the backseat. This is a very clear way of associating chocolate with a certain lavish lifestyle that mirrors the purpose of the upscale display at CVS. This demonstrates how chocolate is still thought of as a luxury good despite its frequency.
Similarly, you can discern the intended audience from the location and price of the chocolate. In the chocolate aisle and the section right before the cash register, the position of the chocolate can reveal many things. If it is at eye-level for an adult, odds are that product is very popular. An example of this is the Hershey’s chocolate staple: plain dark chocolate. If the product is more particular, it is likely that it will be on a different shelf in order to make room for the standard products. One exception to this rule is when products are placed at the eye-level of children. Today, ads everywhere target kids because they want to create costumers for life. This has various ethical complications, not the least of which are explored in the article “Big Sugar’s Sweet Little Lies” by Gary Taubes and Cristin Kearns Couzens. Their article describes the way sugar’s detrimental effects on public health were covered up by greedy corporations. Along the way, scientific research has found that “sugar and its nearly chemically identical cousin, HFCS, may very well cause diseases that kill hundreds of thousands of Americans every year, and that these chronic conditions would be far less prevalent if we significantly dialed back our consumption of added sugars” (Taubes). The ethical complications arise when the companies knowlingly advertised their product that contained unhealthy ingredients without making the public fully aware of their effects. There is also research that links the overconsumption of sucrose and HFCS to obesity and type 2 diabetes, both of which disproportionately affect young people. Ad campaigns like this one from Cadbury target young people in an effort to foster a relationship between the child and the brand so that as an adult, their potential purchasing power increases because of their trained loyalty to the specific company.
The ad works likes a commercial to kids for kids. The use of children and upbeat music to advertise chocolate is a convincing strategy to associate chocolate with fun. This targeting of children as consumers is demonstrated in stores like CVS where chocolate is placed in the perfect position for children to recognize them from ads on television and the internet.
Chocolate might seem like a normal treat that you indulge in after a difficult day, but if you look deeper into your own perception of chocolate, you will learn that it is integral to multiple societal structures. Not only can you see from the different placements of chocolate in CVS that it is associated with elitism and opulence, but it is also incredibly gendered. This post on reddit.com by user Te1221 establishes the subconscious connection between chocolate and women.
The caption is “CVS boosted chocolate sales this year” which implies that its location next to female hygienic products would help it sell more. The suggestion that women on their period are more likely to buy chocolate is widely spread idea. This is just a small example of how chocolate can really represent institutions within our society like gender (like power through its elitism).
Just from looking at chocolate placement in a CVS in Harvard Square, you can begin to understand its intrinsic nature. Chocolate is a symbol of delicacy, power, femininity, and sinfulness (both in relation to physical health and sexually). All you need to do is look.
Norton, Marcy. 2006. “Tasting Empire: Chocolate and the European Internalization of Mesoamerican Aesthetics.” The American Historical Review 111 (3): 660-691
Mintz, Sidney W. “Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History” (New York, 1985), 140, 139, 153, 166–167.
Martin, Carla D. “Sugar and Cacao.” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Lecture, Harvard University, Cambridge, Feb. 15, 2017.
As modes of communication have improved, the world community has become more aware of the circumstances of the people around us. Few situations prove more compelling to action than the plight of cacao farmers in West Africa and South America, for cacao farmers live in incredible poverty, completing long hours of backbreaking work for little pay in fields which typically lack access to bathroom facilities and clean water and which also expose the farmers to a host of dangerous tropical diseases (Martin).
In learning more about the conditions under which cacao farmers work, there has been a marked increase in the world community’s support for “fair trade” practices, in which the chocolate companies have been certified to split profits equally with the cacao farmers who supply the cocoa to be used in manufacturing the chocolate. There has also been an increase in support for ethical sourcing practices in which the cacao farm is certified to have satisfied a high level of “social, environmental, and economic standards”, ensuring that each cacao farmer can not only survive, but thrive by selling cocoa beans (Fair). Click below to view a video which explains Fair Trade Practices in more detail (Fair):
A wealth of modern scholarship exists which touts the important role of the consumer in incentivizing chocolate sellers to change their current buying practices and to offer a wider selection of Fairtrade Certified options in their stores. However, evidence exists which contradicts the conclusions of this body of scholarship. A comparison of the chocolate selections at CVS Convenience Store and Cardullo’s Gourmet Shop suggests that there is not as strong a desire among consumers to buy responsibly sourced chocolate as scholarship might conclude; in fact, this comparison suggests that the Fairtrade label and similar certifications are only important selling points to a small, niche group of customers.
Scholars are generally in agreement that the concept of “social responsibility” has become a more significant component within the business model of modern chocolate retailers such as grocery and convenience stores. Susie Khamis describes the mechanics of this phenomenon in her paper, A Case Study in Compromise: The Green & Black’s Brand of Ethical Chocolate:
The discourse of [social responsibility and] ethical consumption is predicated on consumers’ interest in such matters, which are often of a humanitarian or environmentalist nature. In turn, consumers can either reward brands and businesses that are similarly inclined, or punish those that are not (Khamis 19).
Other works document the growth in sales of Fairtrade Certified chocolate. More Chocolate Manufacturers Moving to Ethical Sourcing describes the role of the British public’s support for Fairtrade Certified chocolate as having driven an expanding the market for Fairtrade Certified bars in Britain and Europe. David Pierson, a writer for The Los Angeles Times, identified the same phenomenon in the United States as he described the Fairtrade, bean-to-bar process as practiced by the Los Angeles based chocolatier, Ryan Berk (Pierson). These works prove useful in explaining and illustrating the principles in effect when consumers incentivize chocolate suppliers to provide a wider array of responsibly sourced goods, yet they fall short in that they over attribute widespread support for Fair Trade and responsibly sourced chocolate.
So if, according to modern scholarship, customers are so anxious to purchase Fair Trade certified chocolates, chocolate bars, and chocolate products, why is it that the CVS convenience store in Harvard Square fails to provide responsibly sourced chocolates for their customers to enjoy? Picture #1 indicates the types of chocolate available at CVS.
The varieties of chocolate available for purchase are endless. The store offers: Reese’s Cups, M&M’s, Cadbury Cremes, Dum Dum Lollipops, Dove chocolate bites…etc. Furthermore, the checkout counter offers additional choices of chocolate from which customers may choose (Spear CVS Chocolate). The chocolates available for purchase at CVS have been produced at high volume; the chocolate bars on display are all packaged in cheap, brightly colored plastic wrapping meant to catch the eye and convince the customer to buy the candy. Furthermore, the chocolates on display were produced by the largest chocolate conglomerates in the world such as Hershey’s, Nestle, and Cadbury, none of which are Fair Trade certified. None of the available chocolates are Fair Trade Certified or responsibly sourced certified. Recently, Hershey’s was certified as having 30% of their cocoa responsibly sourced, Nestle only recently made the Kit Kat bar certified fair trade, while Cadbury recently did away with their Fair Trade Certification altogether (Gunther, Brownsell, Rodionova).
In addition to the “regular” chocolate available in the main aisle, CVS provided one small stand towards the back of the store (shown in image #2), not connected to the rest of the chocolate shown in image #1.
This display, labeled “Premium Chocolate”, provided a variety of chocolate bars which were packaged with paper and foil, rather than plastic, and were presented as a higher quality alternative to the other chocolates offered in the store. However, despite the nicer packaging, and “premium” description, nearly none of the chocolate bars in the display were Fair Trade Certified. Of the entire offering, only two of the bars were certified as Fair Trade, the “Endangered Species” brand found hidden towards the bottom of the shelf (Endangered).
On the other hand, Cardullo’s offers a far wider range of options for consumers hoping to purchase Fair Trade chocolate. As seen in picture #3, Cardullo’s not only offers a large quantity of “higher quality” chocolates, which contained higher cocoa content, and lower amounts of sugar than the chocolate available at CVS, but the majority of the chocolate bars offered by Cardullo’s display a Fair Trade certification, or some other sort of “ethically sourced” branding.
The most obvious difference between the selections available at CVS and Cardullo’s is that the chocolates which Cardullo’s offers seem to have been produced by smaller chocolatiers, rather than by the large chocolate producers. Every one of the bars are individually wrapped in paper and foil. The chocolates bars’ wrapping is presented in such a way as to make the chocolate bar seem to be very high quality; the wrappers also emphasize themes such as being organic, responsibly sourced, or single source origin. Notably, most of the chocolate producers represented in Cardullo’s (found in picture #3) are craft chocolatiers, or chocolatiers based outside of the United States: Dolfin Chocolates (Belgium), Cote D’Or Chocolates (Belgium), Drost Chocolatiers (the Netherlands).
Cardullo’s and CVS target different consumers, which affects the type of chocolate that they offer. CVS, as a convenience store, is meant to serve as a one-stop-shop which offers any good which a customer might need. The CVS business model caters to consumers who value affordability and speed in their buying habits; as such, the chocolate offered at CVS costs anywhere from $1 for a generic candy bar to $4 for the bars stocked in the “premium” section. Average chocolate bar prices at Cardullo’s however, rarely dip below $6 for a single bar and the typical price approaches $8. This is because Cardullo’s markets itself as an establishment which specializes in high-quality, gourmet, foods- as is clear from their website:
From Cardullo’s website, one might assume that the typical customer expects higher quality goods (“the finest meats and cheeses, the freshest vegetables, and locally made rolls and baguettes” (Cardullo’s)). Because consumers shopping at Cardullo’s value higher quality goods, they are willing to pay more for the items they purchase because the customer understands that they are purchasing quality goods.
Understanding the basic differences between the quality, price, and ethical background of the chocolate bars that are offered for sale by CVS and Cardullo’s, several conclusions can be drawn about the desires of the typical shopper at Cardullo’s and CVS. Because Cardullo’s offers such a wide variety of high-quality, though highly priced, chocolate bars, it’s obvious that Cardullo’s customers value high quality goods. The many certifications which have been awarded to chocolate makers for Fair Trade, organic, or ethical business practices certainly figure into the consumers’ approximation of the value and quality of the chocolate bar when they are considering making their purchase. Specifically in the case of Cardullo’s, consumers appreciate the responsible sourcing practices of the chocolate bars that Cardullo’s sells, and they reward Cardullo’s with their business, although the prices of chocolate bars at Cardullo’s are a higher price than in other places, like CVS.
While Cardullo’s business model and consumer practices provide some evidence to support the conclusions of writers and researchers like Susie Khamis and David Pierson, the selection of chocolate bars available in CVS suggest that Khamis’ and Pierson’s conclusions cannot be assumed to apply to the population as a whole. Although customers are clearly happy to pay higher prices for higher quality chocolate in shops like Cardullo’s, CVS customers most likely appreciate CVS for its convenience and affordability and would be less likely to pay $8 for a chocolate bar. That CVS offers essentially no ethically sourced or Fair Trade chocolate bars in their stores implies that CVS customers either care little about purchasing ethically sourced chocolate bars or that the typical CVS customer does not care enough to take their business across Harvard Square to shop at Cardullo’s. Because CVS is the largest pharmacy chain in the United States (with over 9,600 locations nationwide), the company has an incredibly large client base and must remain responsive to the desires of the general public, or risk losing the business of large amounts of people (CVS). It follows that CVS must research the desires of their customers, monitoring how their consumers’ preferences change over time so that they can anticipate and respond to changing market conditions. Because CVS does not currently sell ethically sourced chocolate bars in their stores, one can conclude that ethical sourcing is important only within a small portion of the population.
Following Khamis’ model describing how a consumer punishes or rewards a company based on that company’s alignment with the consumer’s principles, if a significant portion of the population actually cared about ethically sourced chocolate, then those people would have found other, more ethically aligned stores such as Target and Walmart (or Cardullo’s!) and stopped buying chocolate bars from CVS. In response, CVS would be forced to adapt to the demands of the market and sell chocolate bars which satisfy the consumer’s ethical sourcing requirements.
Patterns within CVS’s selection of chocolate are significant in that a study of one CVS store provides a reliable approximation of the chocolate offerings at all other CVS stores nationwide. Because CVS stores nationwide serve more than 5 million customers daily, one can conclude that a very large portion of the United States’ population is satisfied with CVS’ chocolate bar options, and that a non-significant portion of the population cares about ethically sourced chocolate (CVS). Watch this documentary on ethically sourced chocolate, in which respondents tell that the taste of the chocolate is more important than the ethically sourced background (watch from 11:00 to 11:30) (Fair Trade and Chocolate):
Modern scholarship contends that a large portion of the population feels that Fair Trade and ethical sourcing practices are important aspects that factor into a consumer’s decision when purchasing a chocolate bar. Yet, data exists which suggests that scholars’ conclusions about the importance of fair trade practices to the consumer are not as widely applicable as scholars have concluded. Although the chocolate selection at Cardullo’s suggests that there is a portion of the population which is willing to pay premium prices for higher quality, responsibly sourced chocolate, the chocolate selection at CVS implies that there is also an incredibly large portion of the American population which does not see ethical sourcing practices as being important enough to “punish” or “reward” the retail chain over their selection of chocolates. In the future, interest groups should work to educate and persuade consumers of the merits of Fair Trade and responsibly sourced chocolate so that a larger portion of the population can become responsible consumers and can begin to effect positive change in the world through their purchasing habits.