The Cadbury chocolate company is one of the largest chocolate manufacturers in the world today. Kraft/Cadbury and Mars each comprised 15% of the chocolate market in 2011, (approximately) tying for having the greatest share of the market (Statista Research Department). From its inception to now, Cadbury has presented itself as adherent to strong ethical values, having been founded as a Quaker-owned firm (Satre 14).
But it would be gullible to believe that Cadbury has always been a perfect pillar of morality. Beneath Cadbury’s highly curated public image is a complex history of involvement in African slave labor. Although the blame for the perpetuation of this slave labor can be attributed in part to Cadbury’s business decisions, Cadbury is not alone in accountability, nor are the other chocolate companies of the era; a complex system of international relations and the situational consequences of renouncing slave labor place fault on the British and Portuguese governments and the underlying market dynamics of the time as well.
Slave labor was commonplace in early 20th century Africa under the guise of servicais, “contract labor.” The English journalist Henry Nevinson was sent by a magazine company to investigate slavery in Portuguese West Africa in 1904, and in Angola he found child slaves and slave caravans, deceptively relabeled as “contract laborers” (Satre 2).
But even before this, William Cadbury of the Cadbury company was told in Trinidad in 1901 that slave labor was used in São Tomé (from which Cadbury had purchased over 45% of their cocoa beans in 1900), prompting the company to direct William to investigate further (Satre 18). However, William chose not to publish a bill of sale that “specifically identified human beings as property,” because he deemed its wording “not sufficiently clear to be taken as a statement of fact,” (Satre 19). Indeed, William saw much clear evidence of slave labor in the São Tomé plantations throughout his visit, yet chose to obscure the details, as he did not equate this slave labor to other forms of slavery in Africa, minimizing the nature of the labor abuse. Despite clear knowledge of the labor abuse, the Cadbury company ended up delaying seven years until 1908 to publish a report to the British public, having to hire another agent (Joseph Burtt) to investigate first (Satre 32). Only in 1909 did Cadbury formally stop buying cocoa from São Tomé’s slave plantations (Higgs 148).
A statement by William Cadbury sums up the company’s two-faced stance on slavery: “I should be sorry needlessly to injure a cultivation that as far as I can judge provides labour of the very best kind to be found in the topics: at the same time we should all like to clear our hands of any responsibility for slave traffic in any form,” (Satre 13).
Role of the British and Portuguese Governments
Cadbury is not alone in blame, however. Nevinson had written that the Portuguese government purposefully used the legal excuse of “contract labor” to smooth over the injustice so that they may profit economically, charging various duties for each slave, delivery, shipment, and so on (Satre 8). And the British were no better: Britain’s own government was just as complicit as the Portuguese in supporting African slave labor. While William Cadbury investigated the disguised slave labor in Africa, the British government was attempting to recruit the very same Portuguese-African slave labor to work in their South African mines. With these incentives, Britain was inclined to avoid antagonizing the Portuguese. This would lead Gosselin, the British minister to Lisbon, to recommend William to give the Portuguese a year before taking any action (Satre 24). Later, in 1907, when Burtt returned to Britain with a report detailing the slave labor in Africa, the British Foreign Office sought to minimize the report by not only attempting to negotiate a deal for suppressing the publication of the report, but also suggesting the publication of a modified version (Satre 74).
The inaction of the Cadbury firm doesn’t fall entirely on their own shoulders; the British government, acting on their motives to appease the Portuguese and mutually benefit from slave labor, became a voice that served to muddy the waters.
Game-Theoretic Complications in the Market Dynamics
Boycotting the cocoa produced through slave labor seemed a natural solution, but initiating the boycott proved a difficult choice for any chocolate firm of the time. But why, if all companies boycotting could lead to everyone benefiting from establishing a stronger moral ground?
We can see why by examining what the decision may have looked like to Cadbury and other chocolate firms. From the perspective of a chocolate firm: if some other firms chose to boycott, one firm stood to gain huge profits by continuing to buy slave cocoa, as they could undercut prices and gain a greater share of the market (granted, they would lose moral standing, but this would only occur if a large enough proportion of other firms boycotted). This financially benefit would be greater than the small benefit of being morally in the right if all firms boycotted together. If no firms boycotted, likely nothing would change. But if a firm boycotted while any other firms did not, then that firm would lose sales to the firms that continued to buy slave cocoa, endangering the firm’s survivability and potentially rendering its own employees jobless.
These conditions fit the criteria of a Prisoner’s Dilemma (though to be precise, since there are multiple players, this is an NPD, n-person prisoner’s dilemma), for which the optimal strategy (in a single game) is to defect (D), as regardless of what the other player does, the better choice is to defect.
To the credit of cooperation (C), it is true that in repeated games of the Prisoner’s Dilemma, strategies that employ cooperation can begin to outperform always defecting (Nowak 91). However, the situation at hand isn’t exactly a repeated game. For context, Britain at the time was a big proponent of free trade capitalism, having one of the most permissive commercial laws in Europe (Booth 590). So there would certainly be no help from the government in bailing out a chocolate company if it opted for the boycott and consequently went out of business (and why would they? We just saw the British government’s own role in supporting slave labor). Going out of business certainly puts an end to the game for that company.
In this frame, Cadbury’s period of inaction can be seen as somewhat defensible. In fact, even after Cadbury, Fry, and Rowntree jointly agreed to boycott in 1909, American chocolate manufacturers began to purchase the Portuguese slave-labor cocoa (Higgs 150). The market conditions of the time simply conflated doing moral good with shooting oneself in the foot.
In summary, Cadbury’s moral facade belies a history of entanglement in early 20th century slave labor, though the blame lies not only on Cadbury and the other chocolate firms of the time alone, but also on the British and Portuguese governments and the market consequences of taking action at the time.
Author of this blog post. “A Payoff Matrix for Cadbury’s Decision to Boycott Slave Cocoa in early 1900s”. 24 Mar 2020.
Booth, A. (2012). Personal Capitalism and Corporate Governance: British Manufacturing in the First Half of the Twentieth Century. Twentieth Century British History,23(4), 590-592.
Centuries after the 350 year long transatlantic slave trade, it is hard to imagine that such a horrific worldwide trade could emerge from one sole underlying purpose: money. As the slave trade continued over time, everything became a price tag from crops to the people, justified on malicious racial grounds fabricated by the elite. I argue that the slave trade emerged as a result of economics that enabled the expansion of the chocolate industry, which resulted in challenges to abolishing slavery in cacao growing regions. Furthermore, I argue that cacao-based slavery is still not abolished to this day.
Economics of the Slave Trade
Europe had weapons, the Americas had crops, and what did Africa have? People. Europe wanted crops from the Americas, the Americas did not have enough people to support this, and Africa wanted the weapons (and some textiles) from Europe (UNESCO). Thus, a trade emerged. The economics of the trade started with the origin of “African Kingdoms” who”prospered from the slave trade,” but after only a few years, “meeting the European’s massive demand created intense competition” between kingdoms (Hazard). A deep-rooted moral complex soon surfaced: “capturing slaves became a motivation for war rather than it’s result” (Hazard). Kingdoms now needed more weapons from Europe to defend themselves during slave raids.
The economic prosperity continued in the New World where the slaves were sold. As seen in the images from Flickr below, which detail how humans were priced, slaves were viewed as a price tag and treated as a mere commodity. The entire slave voyage was seen simply as a “financial venture for owners and investors,” which “proved to be greatly profitable” (UNESCO). A slave could be sold multiple times in a lifetime multiplying their economic effect. Trade workers’ ultimate job was to sell the slaves at the highest price possible, meaning they often “disguise[d] the physical bruises and wounds… in order to hide their ailments” further contributing to the unethical economic driven tragedies of the trade (UNESCO). The slave trade altered societies and economies across the continent.
The greater economic impact came not from the increase in economic prosperity of the trade at the time, but rather the long lasting impact the trade placed upon Africa, still permeating society today. As Anthony Hazard explains in his TedEd video, “not only did the continent lose tens of millions of its able-bodied population, but because most of the slaves taken were men, the long term demographic effect was even greater” (Hazard). He continues explaining by the time the Americas and Europe finally outlawed the trade, “the African kingdoms whose economies it had come to dominate collapsed” (Hazard). Because of the slave trade, the future of Africa was devastatingly rewritten forever.
Why does chocolate play such an important role in the slave trade? Chocolate comes from Cacao beans, which date back to Mesoamerican societies, as early as the Olmec Empire (Dr. Martin, Lecture). Cultivating cacao is a labor intensive process that requires a humid tropical climate. For this reason, Europeans could not and did not want to grow cacao. Thus, when the Europeans discovered chocolate from South America—as early as 1591—and demand for cacao continually increased, colonialists forced local indigenous people to supply the cacao that would be transported to Europe (C-Spot). Eventually, this practice proved difficult with not enough people to maintain the expanding cacao fields, and eventually the slave trade emerged. This simply shows that “one of the stimuli of the… slave trade was Europe’s appetite for not only sugar but chocolate, too” (Duducu). As it was a “brutal, backbreaking job that nobody wanted to do,” it became the “standard job or slaves” (Duducu). The cacao industry now relied, grew, and thrived on the backs of slaves.
Challenges to Abolition in Cacao Growing Regions
Why did challenges to abolition arise specifically in cacao growing regions? Because chocolate had transformed into a good available to everyone, not just for the elite (Dr. Martin, Lecture). By the 18th century, sugar and chocolate was involved in almost every aspect of European life including medicine, religion, socioeconomic class, gender and sexuality, and politics (Dr. Martin, Lecture). It is no coincidence that cacao demand grew even further in the 1820s, as innovations in chocolate production began with Coenraad Johannes van Houten inventing a new process resulting in powdered chocolate that “soon led to the creation of solid chocolate” (Fiegl). This caused a “cascade of further developments” in chocolate production allowing for easier consumption with better taste (Christian). Not only did this cause cacao demand to increase, but it also came at a time when abolition movements were at their peak worldwide encouraging a heightened resistance from slaves as their labor demands increased. Had chocolate not recently transitioned into the realm of daily consumption by Europeans, then there is sufficient evidence to believe that abolition would have taken hold sooner.
As the market for chocolate expanded, “a number calculated at ‘nearly ten percent of the volume of the whole transatlantic slave trade’ went to work on the cacao plantations in Brazil” (Moss and Badenoch, 30). During this time, Brazil was a colony of Portugal. Although Portugal was one of the forerunners of Europe to abolish slavery within, they did not abolish slavery in Brazil until 1888, nearly 20 years after Portugal abolished slavery in their African Portuguese colonies (Brown Univeristy). This shows just how important chocolate was to Portugal, resisting abolition only in Brazil for an extra two decades with the purpose of maintaining their cacao production.
Cacao Expansion into Africa
Although slavery was abolished everywhere in the Caribbean chocolate producing colonies by the start of the 18th century, chocolate production in Africa was beginning to boom as a replacement. As formerly mentioned, when the transatlantic slave trade was outlawed, the African economy crumbled and desperately needed a replacement for revenue. The first expansion of cacao from its previously limited production region in the Americas occurred in 1822 (a few years after the end of the slave trade) when it arrived in Africa (Christian). By the end of the century, cacao production would spread across the continent exponentially as seen in the bar graph below. The cacao industry would shift from its homeland in the Americas to Africa at the turn of the century producing over 70% of the world’s cacao today (Winton).
With 60% of revenue coming from cacao on the Ivory Coast, farmers still earn less than $2 a day (Food Empowerment Project). This forces them to turn to slave and child labor. Most children are aged 12-16 and face dehumanizing workloads and violence inflicted from the farm owners (FEP). African cacao farmers violate almost all of the International Labour Organization (ILO) Laws (FEP). The video below shows how slavery in cacao production truly has not been abolished, only transformed. The current cacao workers are still battling demoralizing working conditions, unpaid labor, minimal food, and no access to education; the only difference between the 17th century and today is that these workers are now children.
It is impossible to put a numerical dollar value that the slave trade revenued economically due to the incalculably large number of 17 million slaves that were sold and due to the long lasting economic impediment forever placed on the African economy. But it is certain that the slave trade permanently set Africa back economically which inarguably in one of the reasons cacao farmer poverty, and as a byproduct child slave labor, has become so prevalent in present day society, even decades later. Although Africans outside of Africa fought so hard to abolish slavery, it still exists to this day within the continent as a direct result from the exportations of tens of millions those people that would fight to stop it.
“Brazil: Five Centuries of Change.” Brazil Five Centuries of Change, library.brown.edu/create/fivecenturiesofchange/chapters/chapter-3/slavery-and-aboliton/.
Hazard, Anthony, director. The Atlantic Slave Trade: What Too Few Textbooks Told You – Anthony Hazard. TED, TED-Ed, 22 Dec. 2014, ed.ted.com/lessons/the-atlantic-slave-trade-what-your-textbook-never-told-you-anthony-hazard.
Chocolate is so much richer than what the label may portray, pun intended. For my final post I have decided to use the chocolate shelf in the candy isle of Harvard’s local Target to tell a story about the product being sold. At first glance we see a colorful, aesthetically pleasing array of some of the most popular chocolate brands in the U.S. What can we decipher beyond the label, beyond the product itself? What does the pricing tell us? Are there ethical concerns behind the production and history of the chocolate? This blog post aims to explore these questions and take the readers on a journey through which these tasty treats reach our shelves.
Hershey’s Kisses, M&M’s, Ghirardelli squares, Reese’s Cups, Snickers, Dove milk chocolates, Lindor truffles. Some of the most recognizable and notable chocolate brands in the United States. When looking through the local selection at Target, these chocolate brands line the shelves. Holding the largest market shares in the country, it is no surprise that you see these chocolates literally everywhere. They are household names. Hershey, Mars, and Lindt. These are the titans behind our favorite chocolate brands here in the United States. The analysis of this blog will structure around these three brands and what their product selection in Target tells us about our three critical questions.
Right when you walk into the candy isle of the Target in Central Square, you immediately see Hershey’s Kisses, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, and the classic Hershey Milk Chocolate Bars before anything else. Hershey’s holds the largest market share in the United States, estimated around 44% (Hershey 2018). The Hershey Company was founded by Milton Hershey in 1894, and is one of the largest chocolate producers in the world. Milton S. started off from humble beginnings, unknowing that he would start a revolution of chocolate mass production. He put years of time and effort into achieving the perfect chocolate recipes, constantly tweaking the smallest inputs to optimize the product. After tireless trial and error, a man named John Schmalbach helped Hershey create the perfect condensed milk that would accept all other chocolate ingredients smoothly and could be stored for long amounts of time without spoiling (D’Antonio 2006). In 1894, Hershey started his confectionary company that boomed and grew quickly. In 1900, Hershey decided to sell the caramel company and focus solely on chocolate. He took his production to Pennsylvania, where the famous Hershey community sits today. The Hershey Company has a rich history and even richer products. How much do these products cost?
One Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bar
will run you 89 cents at the local target. One pack of Reese’s Peanut Butter
Cups also costs 89 cents. A classic bag of Hershey’s kisses will cost you $3.59.
This may seem relatively cheap to what most food stuffs cost in the Unites
States, yet Hershey has confirmed that it will raise its prices over the next couple
years to keep up with increasing commodity and shipping costs (Hershey 2018). Chocolate
prices are pretty volatile and have been at the mercy of fluctuating supply and
demand. Typically, small-holder cocoa growers have a tough time managing their
production to meet the fluctuations in demand experienced worldwide (Chocolate
2003). Being that these cocoa growers make up a majority of the world’s cocao
production, this creates surplus or shortages that affect the equilibrium
prices of chocolate. Hershey’s and other big producers deal with this situation
by hedging and futures contracts. Essentially big chocolate companies like Hershey
and Mars hedge against price fluctuations to smoothen out their cash flow
(Leissle 2018). How it works is that these large producers will estimate, or
rather guarantee by being conservative, how much of an input like cocao over a
certain timeline. So they will agree to acquire that amount of input through
the futures market. This allows them to lock in their price of that input regardless
of what happens to the market prices over time. So what can these price tags on
our Hershey products tell us now? Hershey will raise its prices in accordance
to commodity and shipping costs as mentioned before. However most of this is
due to the shipping factor. The U.S. economy has created an atmosphere in which
producers like Hershey have to compete with other buyers for a capped shipping
capacity. So although Hershey can hedge against changing commodity prices, it
cannot do much for the consumers when it comes to shipping prices. Now that we
have dissected the price points of our favorite Hershey products, we can
discuss any ethical concerns behind these treats.
Big producers like Hershey and
Mars need to source their cocao from somewhere. The cocao bean primarily grows
in the tropical climates of Latin America, Western Africa and Asia (Leissle
2018). Western African countries supply more than 70% of the world’s cocao, and
is purchased by large chocolate producers (Child 2019). This also means that
the labor indirectly going into chocolate production is outsourced to these
countries. That is where the issue lies, as several journalists and researchers
over the years have uncovered the widespread use of slavery and even child
labor on many of these cocao farms. Cocao is a commodity crop, meaning that it
is primarily grown for export to other countries. The Ivory Coast alone realizes
almost 60% of its export revenue from cocao exports alone (Child 2019). As chocolate
continues to become more popular around the world and big producers continue to
grow, the demand for chocolate increases. This means that the supply must also
increase to keep up with demand. When supply and production need to increase,
so does labor. Sadly in the case of cocao, this usually means an increase in
forced and child labor (Higgs 2012). Many of the children that are put into cocao
farming do it because they are forced by poverty, not only physically. It
becomes a means to help support their families and livelihood. Without sufficient
infrastructure combined with widespread corruption, many local governments actually
support forced and child labor. They reap the benefits of the increased exports
and have even gone as far to enact violence on those trying to expose and stop
the child labor. In 2004, the Ivorian first lady had her entourage kidnap and
kill a journalist reporting on the government’s corruption. Six years later
three more journalists were kidnapped after publishing an article on the cocao
sector corruption (Child 2019). Although Hershey does not partake in any of the
forced child labor occurring in these countries, most of the controversy centers
around the indirect support of this corruption through the purchase of the
cocao. Two separate lawsuits had been filed against Hershey over the past few years.
One in 2015 on behalf of the state of California, and one in 2018 on behalf of
the state of Massachusetts, where our local Target resides. The lawsuits
claimed that Hershey did not disclose its knowing use of child labor in its
supply chains. Both cases were dismissed on account that Hershey did not
deceive in either case. The law has spoken, but it still remains an ethical
debate whether or not it is okay for big producers to supply from places where slavery
and child labor is used. As a consumer we purchase these products, so does that
mean we support it once-removed as well? Food for thought… Now that we have
looked into Hershey products, what else lines the shelves of our local Target?
M&Ms, Snickers, Milky Ways and
Dove chocolates. Some of the delicious and tasty treats created by chocolate titan
Mars. Mars is the sixth largest privately held company in the US according to
Forbes, and is headquartered in Virginia. It holds about 30% of U.S. market
share, making it the second biggest chocolate producer in America behind Hershey.
Frank Mars, the founder, contracted polio at an early age and surrounded
himself with the science of cooking. Particularly, he was fond of candy and the
many processes that went into making them (Brenner 1999). Mars began as the
Mar-O-Bar Company in 1911. Over the next decade Frank quickly grew the company.
In 1920, Frank Mars created two of the most famous chocolate bars in the U.S.,
the Snickers bar and the Milky Way bar (Brenner 1999). Fun fact, the Snickers bar
actually started off as only the middle of the modern bar we know today. There
was no chocolate coating. In 1940 Frank’s son Forrest Mars founded the M&M
brand we know and love today. The M&M brand was actually created to
strategically solve the problem of chocolate storage over the summer. When the temperatures
increase, retailers purchase less chocolate because storing the chocolate becomes
more of a challenge. Especially back circa 1940. Forrest manufactured these
chocolates in a sugar shell specifically to solve that problem. It was genius! Forrest
quickly capitalized on the idea, and it was a huge success. Mars went on to
battle with Hershey throughout the 70s and 80s to be the biggest chocolate
giant in the United States. Since then, the two titans have created several
brands that encompass America’s favorite chocolate candies. Now that we know a bit
about the history of chocolate giant Mars, we can dive into the pricing behind
One box of M&Ms cost 99 cents,
One Kit-Kat bar costs $1.49, one Snickers bar costs 89 cents. Looking at the
price and the amount of chocolate you get per package, these price points reign
true to competitor Hershey. Especially the Snickers bar, which is the exact same
cost and very similar volume of chocolate to the 89- cent Hershey bars. Also
very similar to Hershey, Mars is raising its prices by about seven percent (Reports
2019). They claim that this is also in accordance with increasing production
costs as well as shipping. Although Mars can control for price fluctuations
using futures and hedging as discussed with Hershey, there are still variable
costs that cannot be accounted for and must be put onto the consumers, us. With
every chocolate titan comes issues regarding the ethics behind their supply
The same class action lawsuit that
was brought against Hershey was brought against Mars by the same court. The
suit alleges that Mars has violated the Massachusetts Consumer Protection Act, which
essentially indicates deception (Child 2019). Mars actually does have a reputation
of being very secretive and clandestine. Yet just as the case had been dropped
by the court against Hershey, Mars got off scot-free on the basis that no
actual deception was intended or committed. Most of the court cases brought
against Mars and similar producers have been on the basis of deception. Most of
the time it is found that these chocolate producers haven’t actually committed any
wrongdoing by not deliberately disclosing child labor and slavery on their
labels. In the opinion of this blog, it again becomes an issue of how far
removed you are from the actual problem. When the origins of a company’s supply
chain are tainted by unfair labor practices, does this make the company itself
corrupt? Are chocolate giants supporting unfair labor practices by purchasing inputs
from where they are readily available? What about us as consumers? All important
questions to ask when considering this delicate ethical crossroads.
The chocolate isle at Target may be a pretty fun and simple place. In reality it really is just the very tip of the iceberg that is the chocolate industry. One small finished product above the waterline while there are years of rich history, complicated economics, and important ethical concerns lurking beneath the surface. There is so much more to chocolate than what the finished product may show, and this blog post was intended to give you a glimpse into what that world is all about.
“2018 Market Share.”
Produced by myself.
“Child Labor and Slavery in the Chocolate Industry.” Food Empowerment Project, 2019. foodispower.org/human-labor-slavery/slavery-chocolate/.
The history of cocoa in West Africa goes back to late 1800’S where it was grown in the Western parts of the Ivory Coast, close to Liberia, but it did not capture the attention of colonists until two decades later.(1) One of the many colonial legacies is that a lot of African countries inherited economies that relied heavily on the exportation of one commodity. Ivory Coast, for example, has become the leading producer of cocoa and it accounts for more than 15% of its GDP. While this is not necessarily a negative thing in itself, such a narrow economic base places the country at risk of volatile world prices and spillover effects from foreign markets that linked to cocoa. In article featured in Africa Business, early March 2019, the author notes that “between September 2016 and February 2017, the cocoa Barometer for 2018 reported that the global market price declined steeply, with a tonne of cocoa…declining from $3000 to $1900.”(2) This was a result of many factors including the lack of domestic infrastructure to store cocoa beans in season of high yield and less demand. This results in pressure to sell all the beans from one season before they go bad and the farmers have to throw them away.(2) Expectedly, farmers and labor workers who work in this industry were hit the hardest and the Ivory Coast lost about $1billion.
Following this crisis, the government of Ivory Coast has been working with the African Development bank to “rehabilitate the industry with new programs and schemes to attract more young people into the industry.” (3) They are also focusing on creating more domestic chocolate processing factories to capitalize on their raw materials and capture more value from the production of cocoa.(3) However, this cocoa industry, like the agriculture industry in general, is still a risky business and can easily crumble down in times of floods, pest epidemics and other natural disasters. In this essay, I discuss the colonial origins that have shaped the current cocoa industry in the Ivory Coast, their influence on the ongoing conflicts over cocoa related resources, and finally the need for Ivory Coast to diversify their economy to avoid the brutal effects of trade imbalances that may arise and exacerbate the conflicts.
Colonial roots of cocoa production in West Africa.
The colonial rule in most African countries not only shaped the economic evolution of many African states but also the political and the social. In order to understand this, it is important to understand the framework of institutions and how colonial rule helped shape the subsequent nature and shape that African institutions took in the postcolonial era. In their paper on institutions, “Understanding Institutions”, Acemoglu and Robinson argue that institutions- in other words how society is organized and functions- affect the economic performance of a country and account for the varying success in the performance of African countries post-colonialism. They find a strong correlation between extractive institutions and poor economic performance over a certain period of time. While there are some endogenous weaknesses in this analysis, it provides us the framework we need to understand the colonial effects of French rule in the Ivory Coast and how the cocoa industry became a battleground for elite ethnic groups.(4)
For the Ivory Coast, French colonial rule influenced how labor and land policies evolved over time- through both what it did and what it did not do. Firstly, because the country was sparsely populated, European settlers maintained strict laws on labor distribution through a quota system that prohibited African farmers from hiring labor until white farmers had their adequate supply of labor.(5) After the second world war, labor became increasingly scarce and many local farmers rallied against forced labor laws which led to “the cocoa boom of the 1950’s.”(5) However, this also meant that demand for land increased dramatically as both locals and migrants scrambled to take part in the booming industry of cocoa production. Secondly, the colonial legacy of taking land without formal political and legal processes has fueled the culture of entitlement for most ethnic groups. In her paper on, “Neocolonialism or Balanced Partnership? Reframing Agricultural Relation Between the EU and Africa”, Ioana Lungu discusses the influence of colonial history in perpetuating the culture of land grabbing within a modern context. She argues that “land grabbing can be understood as a crisis of neoliberalism intersecting with neoliberal development narratives…” (6)
To reframe this within the Ivorian context, by claiming land without any institutional accountability, colonists set a foundation for future conflicts over land redistribution. As Dwayne Woods, an associate professor of political science, notes “generous concessions of land from forest reserves were authorised”. (5) To summarize, while the French had a legal framework for the distribution of labor from which Ivorians could build their own, there was none for land. A clear example of poor institutions is the absence of solid property rights that leave the elite in charge of redistribution. Thus, setting in motion the trend that would ultimately lead to extreme violence between tribes when these resources were no longer enough.The increasing costs of forest rent have become a major factor in the ethnic conflicts that are tearing apart the once socially and politically state of Ivory Coast. Forest rent is defined as the difference between “the cost of producing a kilogram of coca after clearing forest land and the cost of producing a kilogram of cocoa upon replanting.”(5)
This increase is as a result of multiple factors including the rise of land and labor costs over time as demand for arable land became higher. This also stems from the increasing marginal costs associated with re-planting cacao trees which was not there at the pioneer front- “sporadic development of unexploited tropical forest lands to plant cocoa trees”.(5) These marginal costs result from the increasing need for fertilizers, labor and better seeds to maintain the same level of production once the soil starts losing its original richness. With all these moving pieces, farmers become anxious to acquire more tropical forestland and the “cost of reclaiming land with violence is less than trying to mobilise the increased labour and capital costs to maintain the forest rent.” (5) However, one can argue that this aggressive demand for land is tied to the narrow economic base that the Ivory Coast, like many other African countries, inherited from their colonial histories. These populations have limited options for economic activities and continue to fight each other over the “most profitable” economic activity available to them- cocoa production.
Economic development through Trade
This is going to become an even bigger problem as environmental groups push for less deforestation- that happens when farmers clear the forest in order to plant cocoa trees(7)- and land share becomes smaller for the demands rising population. Pests and diseases, old age cocoa farms and lack of soil nutrients have also contributed to the continuous decline of productivity and farms might not be able to meet the global demand for cocoa.(8) This would have larger implications if major buyers had to shift to other countries to acquire their supply demands. Yet, cocoa production still remains a major contributor to economic growth and urbanization in Ivory Coast. The question thus arises on whether Ivory Coast should invest in diversifying its economy away from the cocoa industry or if it should focus on creating interventions that increase productivity in the cocoa sector. There are various implications of either choice. As the lead producer of cocoa in the world, the Ivory Coast has gain tremendous economic profits from trading on the world market. These developments have gone beyond trading and had spillover effects in the rest of the economy resulting in urbanization and other economic development improvements.
According to researcher Remi Jedwab, in his paper on, “Why is African Urbanization Different? Evidence from Resource Exports in Ghana and Ivory Coast”, argues that cocoa booms have led to city booms and consequently economic growth. He disputes the idea that structural transformations such as the green economy and the industrial revolution that accounted for the development of cities through their effect on labor mobility in the West apply in the African context. He then proceeds to argue that, for countries like the Ivory Coast, urbanization trajectory has been closely interconnected with that of cocoa production.(7) He notes that cocoa production, like urban growth, started in the East of the country and moved towards the West, but cities in the East did not collapse as more cities were formed in the West. He found that about 80% urban growth in the Ivory Coast happened in areas suitable for cocoa production and traces the trajectory as it moved East to West. That being said, it is important to maintain that correlation is not necessary causation. This urbanization could be a result of infrastructural investment and labor migration to areas of cocoa production due to its central place in the general economy. If most jobs are generated within the Agriculture sector, and more precisely cocoa production, then more people will follow wherever the industry seems to be heading.
Yet, we have seen that Ivory Coast is moving towards industrialization. The government is investing increasing both yield per ha and factories that manufacture various cocoa products. This means capturing as much value from the supply chain as possible through creating a range of factories from grinding entities to chocolate-making companies.(9) It is working towards expanding the secondary market that processes products from cocoa to reduce tensions surrounding land acquisition. This is also an attempt to create a market for their surplus and address the issue of declining cocoa prices that has resulted from a supply surplus and “substantial reserve held by consuming countries”.(9) The latter is another consideration for the Ivory Coast when evaluating its position in the world market as a country with the highest comparative advantage in cocoa production. As noted by the OECD, in a report on cocoa production by the Ivory Coast, developed countries took advantage of falling prices to store reserves and thus changing the trading landscape. Ivory Coast, and other African producers of cocoa, remain price takers because of low investment in reserves and the lack of regulation policies that protect local farmers. The result of a limited market creates tensions in which the elites struggle to accumulate all profits from cocoa along ethnic and tribal lines. This leaves farmers insecure about the safety and sustainability of their businesses and in turn affects their production capacity as well as their livelihood.
So far, we have studied two difficult problems. On one hand, the comparative advantage that Ivory Coast has in cocoa production has not realized its full potential due to lack or limited complimentary infrastructure and policy framework to protect farmers and the economy in general. This lack of policy framework and infrastructure is a result of a combination of factors including the legacy of colonial institutions, poor leadership, and ethnic diversity along economic lines. On the other hand, we have seen an opportunity within this problem. The possibilities to diversify within the cocoa producing sectors by creating secondary markets through which the now majority youth working in the cocoa sector can transfer. I also discussed, briefly, the need for diversification to other sectors and other exports that do not rely on acquisition of big lands and that doesn’t require high labor demands. Alternatively, the Ivory Coast can consider investing in mechanized systems of cocoa production along with new education practices that allow the current labor surplus to transition in other sectors. Additionally, the new trade agreement among African countries to open borders- remove tariffs, allow labor mobility might help address this issue in the long run as more people have the choice of immigrating to other countries where they can contribute. That being said, this cannot solved without a political commitment by the government to address these challenges without partiality and with accountability.
Where are most people first introduced to chocolate? Perhaps through advertisements, through their families, through popular culture with movies such as Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, or maybe even cultural events such as Halloween. One might wager, however, that many of us first encountered the delight that is chocolate in the candy aisle of a retail store. Indeed, advertisements aimed at mothers often involved a child’s wide eyes upon the sight of chocolate in the candy aisle of a grocery store and their insistence that their mother purchase this chocolate. Thus, one finds it interesting to flesh out chocolate’s existence in a retail setting, given its prominence in the way that we purchase and experience chocolate. Chocolate is a product with global ties to a variety of issues including racial and economic inequality, illegitimate labor practices, and issues with the distribution across the supply chain. I contend that the retail setting in which chocolate is sold contributes to these issues, for better or for worse, and will detail these relationships in today’s blog post.
The picture I’m painting in this post is inevitably anecdotal – it’s based of my experience at one store – but nevertheless I feel it is representative of a typical, non-specialty marketplace where many people purchase chocolate. I conducted my field research at a Walgreen’s in Central Square. Of course, this was a bit ironic, given that a pharmacy/health store was selling chocolate and many other (perhaps less healthy) sweets, but I digress. As we all know, chocolate is an incredibly popular treat, and it is often the base for many other sweets such as Reese’s, Snickers, or M&M’s for example. However, for the sake of this paper, I intend to focus more on “pure” chocolate – or rather sweets that are presented as chocolate first and not those in which chocolate is simply an ingredient. For example, a Hershey’s bar may count (even with almonds!) but a Snicker’s bar or a Butterfingers would not. I choose to do this to minimize and focus the scope of my analysis, but also to ensure a fairer comparison between products and the various analyses that come from these comparisons.
High Class Chocolate
After entering the candy/snacks aisle of the store, it became exceedingly obvious that intentional thought had been put into the arrangement of the various delicacies. Let’s begin with the sexiest section, or the section of the aisle that was dedicated to the fanciest chocolates that the store had to offer. This section was clearly demarcated from the rest of the confectioneries, suggesting a fundamental difference in quality between these offerings and the others. This suggestion was further entrenched when one looks at the prices of these products. By my quick estimation, these products ranged from 33% to 50% more expensive than similar offerings in the aisle that weren’t presented as luxury. Additionally, these chocolates were encased in packaging with connotations of luxury and elegance.
As I mentioned previously, the packaging of the various chocolates had major implications. In order to unpackage (pun intended) these implications, I feel it appropriate to examine a few case studies found in Walgreen’s.
The first chocolate we will examine is The Lindt Excellence 90% Cocoa Supreme Dark chocolate (pictured above). Off the bat, we notice several intended effects of this packaging and branding. To begin with, Lindt is an established brand of chocolate from Switzerland. This indicates to a consumer that this product is high-quality (a point hammered home by the subsequent “Excellence” on the label) and that the product is from perhaps the most reputable country in chocolate production: Switzerland. With an academic background in chocolate, we understand that the cocoa beans that went into the production of the bar are likely from South America or West Africa, a notable omission from the packaging. Next, in large font, the package indicates it is 90% cocoa. This is important for a myriad of reasons, some of which we have covered in class. One, it indicates to a consumer that this product is literally 90% pure cocoa, a fact that should differentiate it from other chocolates with more additives. In a larger sense, however, this percentage is included to suggest to the consumer that this product is in a different class than other chocolate offerings due to its adherence to strong cocoa content in light of a confectionery market largely dependent on sugar-infused products. Interestingly, the label states “90% cocoa” instead of “90% cacao.” We’ve discussed in class how the term “cacao” is often used by marketers to instill a sense of higher quality or to connect the consumer more directly to the source product, suggesting that their product is more “real” or “pure” than other competitors. There are elements of classist dialogue in play here, mirroring historical realities of chocolate consumption, where chocolate was a delicacy enjoyed by only those of a high class.
Another case worth looking at is the Ghirardelli Intense Dark 86% Cacao Midnight Reverie chocolate. Right away, we notice some similarities between this product and our first case. The producer is a well-known, reputable chocolate brand. Although Ghirardelli is an American brand, it’s name suggests the quality of its European competitors. It includes a reference to its high cacao content (notably utilizing the term cacao as opposed to cocoa). The similarities end here though, as we are able to determine a different means by which Ghirardelli intended to reach their potential customers: portraying chocolate as an aphrodisiac. This is expressed in multiple ways. First, they refer to the chocolate as an “intense” dark. While I’m sure the chocolate is quite dark (86% cacao), the use of the adjective intense is a loaded move meant to add a level of sensuality to the name of the chocolate. This point is hammered by home by the last part of the name:”midnight reverie.” Midnight suggests the darkness of the chocolate, but also has sexual connotations, while reverie means a state of bliss or pleasure, again with obvious sexual connotations. Candy is often thought of as a treat that children enjoy, but evidently Ghirardelli is attempting to influence an adult market with this product.
Top Shelf Status
In addition to the various messages put forth by the packaging on the chocolates I researched, the arrangement of the items on the shelves indicated the importance of the various products on the shelves. The first (and perhaps most intuitive observation) is that the most expensive chocolate products in this section resided on the top shelf, with prices decreasing as one looked down. For context, the top shelf in this store would be about eye level for the average woman. Additionally, one noticed that the packaging became less fancy as one’s eyes followed down the shelves, which is consistent with the falling prices.
The existing literature has much to say about the way that shelves are arranged in retail settings and consumers’ interpretations of these arrangements. Consumers believe that expensive products exist on the top shelf, while the middle shelves contain the most popular products (Valenzuela et al. 2012). We also know that consumers take advantage of “visual saliency” in their decision making, meaning that they utilize their knowledge of products’ appearance or placement in a retail setting to help determine their purchasing decisions (Gidlof et al. 2017). Additionally, simply looking at a product longer results in a higher chance of a consumer buying the product. Thus, a consumer is definitely impacted by both the placement of a product and the ability of its packaging to catch their eye. These facts are consistent with my experience at Walgreen’s despite the fact that I was at the store for observation purposes, and not to actually purchase anything.
What about health and spirituality?
Notably absent from my field research at Walgreen’s were two archetypes of chocolate that we have discussed in class: products promoting health benefits (whether in an absolute or relative sense) or those attempting to connect a consumer with the products historical and spiritual roots of cacao by using aztec or mayan imagery to promote the product. Perhaps this absence was tied with the similar absence of any craft or local chocolate products. Intuitively, it makes sense that a national chain like Walgreen’s would only carry the standard fare of chocolates that one might find anywhere else, but considering that they did have a surprising variety of chocolates in general, one might’ve expected some craft chocolates as well.
Products for the health-conscious are a particularly interesting omission considering the setting: a pharmacy. Many people consider chocolate as an unhealthy snack, while others espouse its supposed health benefits such as fighting hypertension and minimizes cardiovascular disease (Howe 2012). Of course this point is debated, although it is often the other products found in chocolate (sugar being the main culprit) that contribute to negative health effects of chocolate. Nevertheless, one might’ve expected to see some products advertised as healthy (or heart-healthy). Only one product was noticeably labeled as organic. Perhaps, this suggests that even in a pharmacy setting, chocolate companies don’t feel that marketing explicitly to the health-conscious is the most effective means of marketing. Instead, they prefer promoting ideas of luxury, sensuality and quality.
The Other Guy(s?) – Hershey’s and …?
Having extensively examined Walgreen’s “luxury section,” I continued down to the aisle to examine the store’s other offerings (which I’ve already used as a comparison point for the initial group significantly). To my initial surprise, this section consisted nearly entirely of Hershey’s Bars and its variants including bars with almonds and Hershey’s dark chocolate offerings. I thought to myself: this is odd – why is there only one brand here? This was particularly interesting given the relatively large selection of brands of the luxury chocolates. Then it struck me: Hershey’s IS the standard for the average chocolate consumer in America. The Hershey’s bar is nearly archetypical of chocolate bars in the US. For bite sized pleasures, the Hershey’s Kiss comes to mind first for many. I had to think for a good while trying to name any other US chocolate bars not promoted in a luxury or craft manner but failed to do so.
It’s well documented that the chocolate and confectionery market is concentrated, with Hershey and Mars dominating over 60% of the 2015 US confectionery market share (Statista 2018). As we have encountered in class, Hershey’s recipe for chocolate is largely responsible for shaping Americans’ taste for chocolate (D’Antonio 2007). In practice, Hershey more or less represents the standard chocolate bar in the United States, and the way Walgreen’s presented Hershey’s bars in their aisle seems to follow the research. The separation of these chocolates from the luxury chocolates (across the aisle from each other) depicts a dichotomy in decision that a consumer must face. Will you choose the tried and true product that everyone is familiar with? Or will you venture into the exotic, the unknown, or the luxurious temptations of the products across the aisle (while paying more to do so)?
This dichotomy brings to light thoughts about classism in food, a topic we have touched on briefly before.Unlike its luxury peers, Hershey’s chocolate bars do not offer a perceived sense of higher-class consumption. Of course, this is truly a “perceived” sense of class, considering that by and large one’s social class is not determined by the chocolate that one eats. Additionally, given the previously discussed omission of craft or local products from the chocolate section, one can’t necessarily argue that their purchasing of luxury chocolate from multinational corporations provides any sort of access to the inner circles of the chocolate aficionado world. Indeed, those searching a more intimate experience with the finer and more exclusive side of chocolate perhaps would be better served to visit a chocolatier instead of a nationally-branded pharmacy such as Walgreen’s.
Evidently, something as seemingly simple and standard as the candy aisle at a pharmacy can tell us a great deal about the chocolate industry, and even a bit about ourselves. Chocolate is a treat that we experience in a variety of contexts, and often these contexts can affect the way we think about chocolate and the way that chocolate affects us. Retailers make conscious decisions about the way they market and present chocolate products, which in turn influence the way that we experience and enjoy chocolate. Next time you are at a retail food store, take a stroll through the candy aisle with a new perspective on how chocolate exits in its “natural habitat.”
D’Antonio, Michael. Herhsey: Milton S. Hershey’s Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams. Simon & Schuster, 2007.
Gidlöf, Kerstin, et al. “Looking Is Buying. How Visual Attention and Choice Are Affected by Consumer Preferences and Properties of the Supermarket Shelf.” Appetite, vol. 116, 2 Mar. 2017, pp. 29–38., doi:10.1016/j.appet.2017.04.020.
Howe, James. “Chocolate and Cardiovascular Health: The Kuna Case Reconsidered.” Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture, vol. 12, no. 1, 2012, pp. 43–52., doi:10.1525/gfc.2012.12.1.43.
As you have probably discovered when looking through the chocolate display in various retail and grocery stores, five large players dominate the global chocolate market. Their prevalence allows them to dictate the rhetoric and information synthesized by chocolate consumers on a daily basis. However, the industry is fraught with serious issues that these companies are not taking drastic enough steps to solve. Instead, we must look to other companies, although less well known and smaller-scale, that are forging innovative paths to solve these very real problems, in order to learn from them but also recognize where there is room for improvement. One such company is Taza Chocolate.
Taza Chocolate is a bean to bar chocolate company based in Somerville, Massachusetts. It was founded in 2005 by CEO Alex Whitmore, who was inspired by the stone ground chocolate he had tasted on a trip to Oaxaca, Mexico. He apprenticed under a molinero in Oaxaca in order to learn how to make and work with traditional Mexican stone mills. The result of these unique mills and minimal processing is chocolate with bolder flavors and a grittier consistency than the smoothness that is usually expected from more mainstream companies.
Taza chocolate can be bought online through its website or at Amazon and can be found at retailers such as Whole Foods. According to the Taza Website, “We do things differently. We do things better. We are chocolate pioneers” (Taza Website: Direct Trade). They are pioneers not just because of their unique production process and flavor, but also because of their commitment to addressing the problems that plague the industry today through supply-chain transparency.
Problems: Slavery, Economics and Gender Inequality
In order to critically analyze Taza’s attempted solutions, it is important to first understand the problems, which unfortunately are not new but rather have plagued the industry for centuries. Slavery was an integral part of chocolate’s history, and can be traced back to the 1500’s when the Spanish Encomienda system forced natives in Mesoamerica to grow cocoa and perform labor without pay. The terrible working conditions and disease spread by the Spaniards ravished the native population, and Africans were brought in to replace them. From 1500-1900, between 10 and 15 million enslaved Africans were transported to the Americas and the Caribbean to grow cocoa and other commodity crops. However, even after slavery was abolished, it continued and continues to plague the industry today, mostly in the form of child labor. The International Labour Organization defines child labor as, “all forms of slavery or practices similar to slavery… work which, by its nature or the circumstances in which it is carried out, is likely to harm the health, safety or morals of children” (ILO). Carol Off found evidence of such child labor in Cote D’Ivoire, with some farmers or their supervisors “working… young people almost to death. The boys had little to eat, slept in bunkhouses that were locked during the night, and were frequently beaten” (Off, 121). A 2009 study by Tulane corroborated Off’s discoveries when it found that more than half a million children in Ghana and Cote D’Ivoire were working in conditions that violated ILO guidelines as well as national laws on minimum wage and minimum hours (Berlan).
Another prevalent problem is the poverty that many cocoa farmers face, particularly in Ghana and Cote D’Ivoire, due to the economics of cocoa farming. Unlike many northern countries where jobs are salaried, wages for day laborers on farms are “neither guaranteed nor generally regulated” (Leissle, 106). Farm owners only receive cash when they sell their crop; thus, they earn 80% of their annual income in the six months of the main growing season, making budgeting for the rest of the year extremely difficult, especially because many inputs are needed at the start of the growing season when farmers are the lowest on cash. This can result in farmers having to take loans or credit, which often have incredibly high interest rates and can be impossible to pay back. The price fluctuations of chocolate also make it difficult to budget, as anything from bad weather to political turmoil can drastically affect chocolate’s price. Lastly, the prices farmers receive are often too low to support their costs. Farmers rarely sell their product directly to the big chocolate companies, instead selling to middlemen who have more negotiating power and can mislead them. Therefore, even if the price paid for chocolate goes up, there is no guarantee that the farmers actually receive this increase. As a result of all of these factors, many farmers struggle to make a living.
Finally, gender inequality is an important problem that is often disregarded, in part because literature has minimized the role of women in chocolate production. Women are thought of as having only light and non-essential tasks, when in reality “female labor play[s] a central role in almost every aspect of cocoa production and sale… statistics undoubtedly underestimate the role of women” (Robertson, 100/104). But the industry is male-dominant, which has negative effects on women. For example, social norms dictate that even if women grow the cocoa, men are the ones that actually sell the crop and receive the cash (Leissle, 122). This means not only that women have no proof they are getting the right amount of money, but also that men of the household have control of the cash, which they often use to pay for needs they find most important before distributing the rest, if any, to women and children. Consequently, even though women contribute greatly to chocolate production, they have very little power.
Taza’s Solution: Direct Trade Model
In order to combat some of these issues, according to Taza it developed, “The first third-party certified direct trade cacao sourcing program, to ensure quality and transparency for all.” (Taza Website: Direct Trade). Because it is the first of its kind, Taza published five guidelines and commitments for its direct trade system that it holds itself accountable to.
Develop direct relationships with cacao farmers: Taza began by purchasing cocoa from La Red Guaconejo cooperative in the Dominican Republic and shipping it directly to Boston so that there were no middlemen involved. This direct method shrinks, “a commodity chain that is often far-flung, [so that] no step of the trade exchange, from farm to factory, was unknown or untraceable to Taza’s founders” (Leissle, 154). They later expanded their sources to include other producers in the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Ghana, all of which they have personal relationships with. Their single origin bars reflect and appreciate the uniqueness of each location.
Pay a price premium to cacao producers: Taza commits to paying at least $500 per MT above market price for its beans
Source the highest quality cacao beans: Taza emphasizes fine flavor beans rather than bulk beans, and directs resources over the long term to assist producers in maintaining high quality output
Require USDA certified organic cacao: As part of its commitment to source only the best cocoa, Taza requires its producers to be organic certified.
Publish an annual transparency report: Taza was the first chocolate company ever to publish such a report. It includes the quantity of beans bought from each individual producer, the price Taza pays for these beans, and an intimate look at the individual producers they partner with.
Pros of Taza’s Direct Trade Model
Taza’s direct trade model has improved the economics of farmers while simultaneously promoting transparency in the industry. In paying a large premium (15-20%), Taza ensures that the farmers do not have to worry about not being able to earn enough to survive fluctuations in cocoa price that are entirely outside of their control. This gives farmers much-needed predictability and visibility into future income and improves their standard of living. Furthermore, by publishing the exact prices they buy the seeds at and having all of their numbers and reports independently verified each year by the Quality Certification Services, Taza guarantees integrity and transparency. This is a stark contrast to the rest of the industry; many companies in recent years have introduced “even more ambiguity into the landscapes of its practice” by relying on internal certification and accountability schemes (Leissle, 147). For example, Cadbury recently stopped fair trade certification and instead initiated an in-house sustainability guarantee, which has decreased transparency because, “when a certification scheme is internal to a company, it is more difficult to assess whether they are rigorous and consistently applied. The only option is to take the company’s words that they are” (Leissle, 147-148). The same can be said for craft chocolate companies, who claim to pay several times the world market price for cocoa, yet there is no way for the consumer to verify. In publishing its prices, Taza has set a new standard for the industry, and others, such as Dandelion Chocolate, are following suit.
Taza’s production process also allows for stronger relationships with producers and greater visibility into the company’s supply chain, ensuring no child labor is used to produce its products. In interacting directly with each of their producers, and visiting at least once a year, Taza can guarantee the use of fair labor. Furthermore, in Ghana, where, as discussed earlier, child labor is especially prevalent, Taza has invested in education programs for children and their family. For example, the local producers Taza partners with coordinate workshops in local schools for students and parents to “educate around age-appropriate farm activities… versus dangerous ones” (2018 transparency report). Additionally, Taza has patterned with the non-profit International Cocoa Initiative and its buyer Tony’s Chocolonely, to “proactively address any instances of unsafe work through a combination of family resources and training that rewards transparency and addresses core issues of poverty and lack of education” (2018 transparency report).
Finally, Taza’s single origin bars promote consumer awareness about the countries where it sources its chocolate. Each bar, according to the website, “is minimally processed to let the bold flavors and unique terroir of our Direct Trade Certified beans shout loud and proud” (Taza website: Origin Bars).
By indicating where the chocolate is grown, these single origin bars can help consumers learn that the taste of chocolate differs from place to place, and “invite shoppers to consider the politics and economics of exporting cocoa… By offering a range of chocolate experiences that can change even day by day, single origin chocolate reminds us that there are real people, institutions, and power structures behind every bar” (Leissle, 170). A more informed consumer is likely to make more informed decisions in the future, which can help promote sustainable, ethical chocolate production by creating demand for such products.
How Taza can Improve
Although the Taza model has many strengths, there are areas where it is still lacking. For example, the prices listed in the transparency reports indicate the amount paid per metric ton to producer organizations, but they do not indicate the farm gate price, or how much the individual farmer receives. The farm gate price is distinctive from the price paid to the producers, but by not including both, the reports can mislead the consumer into thinking the listed price is entirely received by the farmers. In only one year, 2016, Taza reported the price that was actually received by farmers, which ranged from 51-76% of the price that was received by producer organizations (2016 transparency report). However, no other transparency report published these numbers, and this percentage could have changed substantially in the years since, especially because a few of the producer organizations they work with have changed. While Taza is exemplary in its transparency, there is room to be even more transparent by consistently publishing the farm gate price in its reports.
Additionally, even though gender inequality is an important problem in cocoa production, Taza does not explicitly address it in its transparency reports. Photos of women farmers have been featured in some of the past reports, and the number of women farmers is included in each report (ranging from 15% to 45% of each producer organization). These inclusions are important in disproving the misconception that women are not involved in cocoa production. However, there is no reference to the struggles women face due to the power dynamics of the industry. Taza had the opportunity to do so in its 2018 report, when it mentions that its partner in El Majagual, Dominican Republic donated his chocolate factory to an association of local women. However, they do not even name the women’s association or delve into what it does, and it seems as though the sale was a decision made independently by the producer with no help or influence from Taza. This is an area where Taza can really improve and learn from organizations such as Kuapa Kokoo, a Ghana based company that sets gender quotas for elected representation at the community and district levels of governance and organizes conscious-raising women’s groups and women’s literacy programs (Leissle, 149). An essential next step for Taza is to acknowledge the unequal distribution of power and wealth due to gender, because according to field work and research by Kristy Leissle and Stephanie Barrientos , “Apart from explicit, well-directed efforts to empower women, most assistance…[goes] directly or indirectly to men” (Leissle, 173).
In summary, Taza Chocolate is changing the way chocolate is sourced, produced and consumed. In addressing the economic problems farmers face, ensuring its producers do not use forced labor, and investing in programs that combat child labor, Taza is making a positive impact on cocoa production. However, there are many areas where Taza can still learn and grow— the transparency reports would be greatly improved if they included farm gate prices, and just as the company has invested in programs to fight against child labor, it should invest in programs that are actively looking to support women. That being said, Taza’s direct trade program is truly innovative, and its transparency reports are challenging other companies to improve their own practices. Although the direct trade model is not feasible for the larger scale companies that dominate the industry, consumers must demand the same level of commitment to ethical production that Taza demonstrates.
Berlan, Amanda. “Social Sustainability in Agriculture: An Anthropological Perspective on Child Labour in Cocoa Production in Ghana.” Journal of Development Studies, vol. 49, no. 8, 2013, pp. 1088–1100.
Leissle, Kristy. Cocoa. Polity Press, 2018.
Off, Carol. Bitter Chocolate: The Dark Side of The World’s Most Seductive Sweet. The New Press, 2006.
Robertson, Emma. Chocolate, Women and Empire: a Social and Cultural History. Manchester University Press, 2013.
Chocolate caramels are far from a monolith in the confectionery world. Whether caramel filled chocolates or chewy candies made by melting chocolate and caramel together, chocolate caramels become further diverse with different flavorings such as salt, orange, elderflower, cherry, cinnamon, and more. But do caramel and chocolate have a more significant relationship beyond being culinary soulmates? To answer this question requires first exploring what caramel is and then analyzing the artistic representations of caramel using modern understandings of chocolate. This blog post will discuss caramel as a literary symbol in two creative pieces – one fictional and one nonfictional – to argue that caramel, like chocolate, is a paradoxical figure of both familiarity and exoticism.
Caramel refers both to a chemical manipulation of sugar – the results of which are featured in many sweets such as toffee, caramel hard candies, dulce de leche, and creme brûlée to name a few – and a soft, gooey or chewy golden-brown sweet substance popular as a candy itself, a filling or mixer for chocolate, or a thick sauce.
Caramel is named after Count Albufage Caramel of Nismes, who is credited with discovering caramel as the final stage of boiling sugar in the 17th century (The Complete Confectioner 1883), though this perspective does not take into account traditional caramelized goods, candies, and recipes in non-Western contexts. Thanks to the trade network among the Americas, Africa, and Europe, the upper echelons of European and American society were familiar with sugar, the crucial ingredient in caramel. The difficulty of properly boiling and manipulating sugar soon made caramel in high demand (Confectioner).
In an American context specifically, the history of chocolate and caramel are inextricable. Milton Hershey, for example, is a name almost synonymous with chocolate. The truth is, Hershey was a repeatedly failed businessman until he perfected his recipe for caramel and created the Lancaster Caramel Company (Koonar 2018:341). It was only after the company’s success that Hershey became interested in chocolate, and his ability to fund his new hobby was largely due to selling the caramel company for $1 million, an unprecedented price for the beginning of the 20th century (341).
The influence of Hershey and other American confectioners quickly established caramel as an American treat among European audiences (Olver 2000). Industrialization made mass-producing chocolate and caramel possible, yet the continued thought of these foods as American belies their dependence on chief ingredients cacao and sugar, both of whom came from exploitation of non-Western workers and goods.
Most of a century later, the familiar-yet-exotic connotations of both chocolate and caramel stay strong. In the 2000 film Chocolat, for example, chocolate is rendered both instinctual and foreign, as an outsider opens a chocolate store in a sleepy French town and demonstrates her knack for guessing everyone’s favorite chocolate, even if they do not know it themselves.
Similarly, caramel appeals to the basest biological senses of taste and consumption yet is rich and rare enough to be foreign – or recognizable but uncommon at most – to many people’s diets. For example, a study in Israel on consumer behaviors toward unfamiliar foods used imported caramel and peanut candies to examine how consumers may use unfamiliar goods’ prices as a proxy for their perceived quality (Heffetz and Shayo 2009:174).
This sweet paradox of familiar foreignness, of exotic familiarity, manifests in artistic representations of caramel as well. In particular, this blog post examines a short story and a nonfiction essay for two modern ways of rendering caramel at once familiar and foreign beyond its history as a colonial food.
Reeni Fischer’s humorously disturbing ode to caramel takes the form of a short story about an unnamed narrator who cannot resist her husband Sammy’s favorite junk food: a mess of popcorn, butter, nuts, and caramel known as Poppycock (Fischer 2007:40). Usually she disagrees with her husband’s tastes, denouncing his proclivity for all things fatty (39). Her one exception is Poppycock, which Sammy keeps locked in the closet along with his other favorite snacks. (40)
It quickly becomes apparent that Sammy keeps Poppycock under lock and key at the request and for the benefit of the narrator, who instructs him not to open the closet unless she begs (40). Her desperation for the food eventually grows so great that she tears at Sammy’s clothes and threatens to dissect him, after which he unlocks the closet and she devours the whole industrial-sized tin of Poppycock in a haze (40).
The narrator’s craving for Poppycock is shocking, especially against the backdrop of her usually healthy diet and her evident affection for her husband. In this story Poppycock practically takes on a mythical air, transforming the narrator into a golem-like creature who loses even the ability to form complete sentences or thoughts in her one-minded mission for the food (40). At the same time, this unearthly substance resides not in some faraway kingdom but in her husband’s closet, locked by her own command. Fischer’s story, therefore, epitomizes the familiar yet exotic nature of caramel, to the point of near absurdity.
Jenny McKeel’s essay, on the other hand, approaches the caramel paradox from a perspective based in memory. She writes about growing up with her siblings on a strict macrobiotic diet, with exceptions for holidays thanks to her father’s advocacy (McKeel 2013:102). While the essay’s focus is on how McKeel’s relationship with her father is transformed by the latter’s eventual battle with Alzheimer’s disease, she tells the reader about their relationship by recounting the times they cheated on their strict diet together, sneaking into the kitchen at night or eating particularly fatty foods when her mother was out of town (103, 106).
As a result, despite being a vegan and health nut McKeel describes a positive impression of decadent foods, over which she and her father bond throughout the years. But most striking is her describing a childhood visit to her paternal grandmother’s house and eating her grandmother’s caramel pie. Although she has listed several contraband foods that she and her father enjoy together by this point in the essay, the caramel pie is the first where she describes the experience of eating a contraband food with him.
The importance imbued on the caramel pie by this artistic choice is furthered by McKeel’s and her father’s contrasting reactions to the pie. She eats the dessert with joy and is disturbed by her father’s lack of enthusiasm (102), which the reader realizes later is uncharacteristic for a man so enthusiastic about cooking and food.
McKeel’s confusion, namely, “How can you still be sad with caramel pie?,” points to an alternate understanding of caramel as both commonplace and special (102). While McKeel and her family did not eat caramel pie at home, they had it every summer when they visited her paternal grandmother, thereby associating the pie with comfort and routine (102). On the other hand, McKeel’s question lends almost a medicinal quality to caramel pie, as if all emotional ailments are curable with caramel pie and therefore her father’s sorrow is confounding. For a mere pie to have such qualities is certainly unusual, thereby bestowing a strange or exotic air upon this otherwise homely food.
While Fischer’s and McKeel’s writings are only two examples of caramel as a literary or artistic symbol, the striking parallels between their use of this confectionery demonstrate caramel’s function as both exotic and familiar, not unlike Chocolat‘s use of chocolate. In addition to complementing each other perfectly in the kitchen, caramel and chocolate can both evoke contradictory feelings of home and the unfamiliar as well. Perhaps caramel’s role as both familiar and unfamiliar is thanks to its affinity for chocolate and therefore gains this role by association. Whatever the reason, worldwide enjoyment of chocolate, caramel, and chocolate caramels has influenced creative and academic endeavors in addition to culinary adventures and will likely continue to do so.
Author Unknown. The Complete Confectioner, Pastry-Cook, and Baker. Philadelphia: J. P. Lippincott & Co., 1864.
Heffetz, Ori, and Moses Shayo. “How Large Are Non-Budget-Constraint Effects of Prices on Demand?” American Economic Journal: Applied Economics 1, no. 4 (2009): 170-199. https://www.jstor.org/stable/25760186.
Koonar, Catherine. “Making Chocolate American: Labor, Tourism, and American Empire in the Hershey Company, 1903–85.” The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 142, no. 3 (2018): 339-364. https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5215/ pennmaghistbio.142.3.0339.
The relationship between commercial cacao production in Brazil and compelled or forced labor is one of extreme historical importance, yet it takes up little to no space in the history books. In his 2007 work, Slave Labor and Chocolate in Brazil: The Culture of Cacao Plantations in Amazonia and Bahia (17th to 19th Centuries), Timothy Walker analyzes this relationship, and believes that his research fills a gap in current academic literature. He argues that while popular published works explicate the importance of sugar, they do little to understand cacao plantations. For example, Walker explains that in Sweetness and Power, Sidney Mintz “argu[es] that sugar production was the primary reason for the institution of African slavery in the western hemisphere,” but what is not as well explained in his book is “the initial dependence on forced native American labor in the Brazilian cacao industry…and later heavy reliance of African slaves” (Walker, 78). What Walker’s work does not pay as much attention to, is the interconnectedness of the sugar and cacao industries in Brazil. In his concern over the unrepresented literature on cacao, he seems to discount (or at least does not sufficiently address) the importance of Brazil’s sugar production and its relationship to the cacao industry. Despite this, when put in conversation with other literatures such Herbert Klein and Francisco Vidal Luna’s Slavery in Brazil (2010), a much more comprehensive understanding of the economics of slavery and its relationship to the sugar and cacao industries can be drawn out.
Origins and Scope of Slavery and Crop Production in Brazil
In the American education system, slavery is taught to us from a quite slanted perspective that barely makes mention of slave trades in other parts of the world. We learn about the great extent to which slavery affected the United States and its enduring legacy in our institutions, so it can be incredibly difficult to wrap our minds around the idea that it could have occurred on an much larger scale. Figure 1 below illustrates the major regions where slaves arrived from Africa, and the size of the circle corresponds with the number of slaves brought to that area. Brazil received almost ten times as many slaves as the United States did (accounting for approximately 40% ), and was thus in higher demand by European powers to produce sugar and cacao commodities.
Fig. 1. Major regions where captives disembarked, all years.
In Brazil, “[e]nterprising colonists had begun to plant sugar as early as the 1510s,” but by the 1580s, two major areas in the Northeast (Pernambuco and Bahia) became the largest production centers for sugar (Klein and Luna, 25). What we also learn from Walker, is that these same areas (mainly Bahia in addition to the Amazonian region) played the most important role in Brazil’s cacao production economy. With these products being grown in the country’s most fertile regions and close to major slave ports, a special production symmetry arose. As they were grown in close proximity, they “developed a strong commercial co-relationship in American and European markets” and “[e]lite consumers learned to combine bitter natural cacao with a sweetening agent to make the food more palatable” (Walker, 84). Sugar plantations later made their way down to southeastern Brazil in the Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo regions in the late eighteenth century, which drove the slave ports in the South to receive even more slaves in total than in the North (Klein and Luna, 69).
Fig. 2. Clearing agricultural land in Bahia, early 19th century.
Changes in Demand and Supply
The increasing or decreasing rate of production of sugar and cacao in Brazil was almost always a direct response to changing demand from Europeans. The demand for slaves also directly coincided with the plantation labor demands, so these factors went hand in hand. However, an increase in demand from Brazil specifically was not only because more Europeans wanted the commodity. One of the biggest hikes in demand for Brazilian sugar (and thus slaves as well) was due to the “collapse of Haitian slave production and the mid nineteenth century decline of British West Indian sugar production” (Klein and Luna, 78). This strengthened the plantation system in the Northeast of Brazil and allowed for even more expansion in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. Ultimately, through the historical shifts in demand and supply from all regions involved in the production of these commodities, we can understand the intricate interconnectedness between the cacao, sugar, and slave markets. It is crucial to consider their overlapping histories, and not view them in a vacuum in order to arrive at a comprehensive image of how they influenced each other throughout history.
Fig. 3. Relative share of Brazil in world sugar production.
Klein, Herbert S., and Luna, Francisco Vidal. Slavery in Brazil. Cambridge University Press, 2010.
Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power: the Place of Sugar in Modern History. Viking, 1985.
Walker, Timothy. “Slave Labor and Chocolate in Brazil: The Culture of Cacao Plantations in Amazonia and Bahia (17th–19th Centuries).” Food and Foodways, vol. 15, no. 1-2, 2007, pp. 75–106.
Eltis, David, and Richardson, David. Atlas of the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Yale University Press, 2010.
Walker, Timothy. “Slave Labor and Chocolate in Brazil: The Culture of Cacao Plantations in Amazonia and Bahia (17th–19th Centuries).” Food and Foodways, vol. 15, no. 1-2, 2007, pp. 79.
Fraginals, El Ingenio, I, pp. 40-2; II: 173. ***Found in Slavery in Brazil on page 80.***
The Cacao Market was established on the backs’ of slaves, and to this day, the injustices from its origins have continued to haunt the Cacao-Chocolate Supply Chain. With the abolishment of legal slavery in the Cacao Trade, there was indeed hope that the “Free” Market would correct some of the rampant inequalities that existed between cacao producers (farmers) and chocolate suppliers (companies). Unfortunately, economics has allowed an oligopoly to form: Big Chocolate Companies control the majority of the cacao market. These companies have the power to collude and have outsourced the production of cacao almost entirely away from South America, where cacao originated, to West Africa, where labor is much cheaper and the use of modern day slaves is not uncommon. Fortunately, there is a small group of chocolate companies that are working towards correcting the market inequalities that have become the norm in the last century, and this small group is composed is the collection of bean-to-bar chocolate companies that use Direct Trade practices. Bean-to-bar chocolate companies, and specifically, Taza Chocolate, employ unconventional business operations, in what is known as Direct Trade, in order to benefit cacao producers (the supply side of the market), by paying a premium for cacao beans and ensuring that ethical standards in production are met (e.g. no slave labor), while also benefitting chocolate consumers (the demand side of the market), by providing the public with a more rich kind of chocolate.
What is the Problem?
The issues in the cacao market are twofold: an issue of economic inequality, and as a derivative of the economic problem, the issue of unsanctioned slavery. The economic issue has developed due to the oligopoly in the cacao market, and this oligopoly has resulted in Chocolate suppliers having the ability to unfairly set prices below the market equilibrium. Slavery occurs due to the need for uncompensated labor since most cacao producers cannot make a predictable living income. For example, cacao farmers in Ghana typically receive less than $1 per day, and sometimes, these farmers receive as little as $0.50 per day. (Martin, 2017). Since the issue of unsanctioned slavery is a derivative of the economic problem, the economic problem must be solved before slavery is addressed.
How did this Economic Problem happen?
An oligopoly in the chocolate market was able to come about due to the high barriers of entry for chocolate makers. Depicted below is a graph which outlines the original chocolate making process that was used in the early 20th century:
(Coe & Coe, 2013)
As it can be interpreted from the graph, chocolate making is a very complicated process and involves expensive machinery. Since only a handful of firms were able to afford this machinery, those companies quickly rose to dominate the market. These Big Chocolate Companies that quickly rose to the top (Callebaut, Cargill, Blommer, and Cemoi), have come to control over 50% of the industrial chocolate market share, as outlined in the pie chart below.
Industrial Chocolate Market Share
To have an understanding of the size of the companies: Cargill is the largest privately held company in America and had over $120 Billion in revenue for the year 2016 (Forbes). If Cargill was a publicly traded company, it would rank as Number 15 on the Fortune 500 list (Fortune).
In emerging industries, such as the chocolate industry in the late 19th Century, it is not uncommon for a monopoly or oligopoly to arise. The problem, from an economic standpoint, only occurs when a monopoly or oligopoly persists over time.
Why has the Oligopoly Persisted?
Most modern oligopolies form during the infant years of a new market that possesses high barriers of entry. Unless the oligopoly has a unique limited resource or is protected by the government, the oligopoly will usually be broken apart as technological advancements allow new firms to enter with lower barriers. However, in the market for chocolate, Big Chocolate has been able to maintain their power through the purchases bulk beans, which “account for more than 90 percent of the world’s cacao production” (Presilla 123). “Bulk cacao” refers to the practice of aggregating cheap, low-quality cacao beans from various farmers, which Big Chocolate companies use in order to produce more chocolate at once. Africa produces 75% of the world’s cacao, and almost all of this cacao is in the form of bulk beans (Martin, 2017). Bulk cacao has become the most common form of cacao because it is what almost every major chocolate company chooses to purchase, and the sale of bulk cacao has allowed various middlemen and governments to unjustly benefit from the labor of the cacao farmers.
What can YOU do?
Removing these middlemen would allow cacao producers to sell more pure, high-quality beans, make it easier to increase the wages of cacao farmers, and eliminate slavery from the market. The best way to remove these middlemen is by increasing public awareness of the ethical issues that are supported by Big Chocolate Companies, and also increasing public awareness to the bean-to-bar chocolate companies that have started to emerge. By increasing public awareness, more consumers will make the switch from big brand chocolate to the smaller, bean-to-bar companies. If enough people switch to supporting bean-to-bar over Big Chocolate (including whoever is reading this post), then the companies that support ethical practices will become more profitable, and expand through the marketplace, and the companies that directly or indirectly support unethical practices will become unprofitable, and thus be removed from the marketplace.
Bean-to-bar chocolate companies are those that make chocolate completely in-house, as opposed to the Big Chocolate Companies which buy bulk cacao. Bean-to-bar companies are more likely to use high-quality cacao beans since it is common for bulk cacao to be composed of overly roasted and even rotten beans (Presilla, 2009). The best bean-to-bar companies are those that engage in a form of Direct Trade with cacao farmers, and although a Fair Trade Certification is better than no certification at all, Fair Trade is somewhat a misnomer as the non-profit does little to increase the welfare of farmers.
Fair Trade vs. Direct Trade
Here is a video that quickly overviews the differences between Fair Trade and Direct Trade:
The video paints Fair Trade in a very decent manner, especially considering the high amounts of criticism that Fair Trade has received in recent years. An entire book has even been written on the issues with Fair Trade (The Fair Trade Scandal: Marketing Poverty to Benefit the Rich by Ndongo Sylla). Overall, the consensus is that companies with Direct Trade practices can be more beneficial to cacao farmers than companies with Fair Trade certifications. Taza Chocolate’s Direct Trade practices have become so transparent that consumers can actually see how cacao farmers benefit by working with Taza Chocolate. For this reason, Taza Chocolate should either expand to work with even more farmers or other bean-to-bar companies should aim to achieve Taza Chocolate Direct Trade Certification in their own practices. Both of these options are viable possibilities if more consumers make the switch from big chocolate to bean-to-bar.
Taza Chocolate, located in Somerville, MA, is a bean-to-bar company that employs crazy transparency regarding their Direct Trade practices. These direct trade practices center around one simple belief: “We (Taza Chocolate) believe that both farmer and chocolate maker should share the reward of making a great product” (Taza). Each year, Taza publishes a Direct Trade Transparency Report, which details how their practices have benefited cacao farmers. A summary of the report can be found in the infographic below:
Taza has “said no to predatory middlemen and abusive labor practices” (Taza) by following Direct Trade practices. It is clear that Taza does not support the unethical practices that are normal in the cacao industry, but what is amazing is how all of the economic and ethical problems of the cacao industry could be solved if all companies had a Taza Direct Trade Certification.
Removing Middlemen; Increasing Wages (Solving the Economic Problem)
There are many different types of middlemen in the cacao industry, some of these go by the name of “cacao brokers”, but another kind of middlemen is the governments themselves. Some governments have prevented the oligopoly, and thus the issue of slavery, to be solved by economic markets. For example, Ghana’s government requires all cacao to be sold to the Cocoa Marketing Board, which acts a monopoly in the marketplace. By removing these middlemen, the price of cacao beans, and thus the income of cacao farmers, can increase substantially. Taza Chocolate’s Direct Trade initiative purchases cacao beans directly from farmers. Working directly with farmers allows for farmers to focus on the quality of their beans instead of the quantity that is required to make a living in a market that favors the use of bulk beans. If all companies had Taza Direct Trade Certifications, then all middlemen would be removed and cacao farmers would make more money.
Eliminating Slavery (The Derivate of Economic Problems)
Slavery in the cacao market is sometimes simplified to one or two primary beliefs: either adult cacao farmers are exploiting children by the use of slave labor or adult cacao farmers are using slave labor because they are being exploited by the low market prices and their governments. Unfortunately, the problem is not that simple: a hybrid of both beliefs is correct. At the community level, some cultures view child labor as acceptable. In Ghana specifically, scholars write, “child labour is very much imbedded (sic) in the socio-local dynamics of Ghanaian society” (Berlan 1098). This may be true, and the belief that “it is hard to implement a slavery-free label for cocoa” (Ryan 52) may have also been true at a point in time, but this could all be changed with Direct Trade practices. If all companies had a Taza Chocolate Direct Trade Certification, then all companies would be working directly with farmers, and thus, companies could educate farmers as to why child and slave labor is unethical. In the interim, a “slavery-free label for cocao” can now exist, and with enough training at the microeconomic level, cacao farmers in Western Africa could eliminate the use of all child and slave labor. This would also now be a very realistic option since the increase in prices (by cutting out the middlemen) would allow for slave labor to no longer be a necessity in the industry.
In Conclusion– Direct Trade as the Solution
In summary, the cacao industry has been plagued by inequalities ever since the Western World found chocolate. The inequalities started with legal slave labor, and slave labor, albeit illegal, is still seen throughout some parts of the cacao industry. The reason as to why these inequalities are still prevalent is the economic market has failed to provide a competitive environment. Through public education, the market can be corrected with consumers choosing their chocolates more carefully so that Direct Trade practices become the norm for chocolate companies. Taza Chocolate has created a Direct Trade Certification which increases the wages of cacao farmers and eliminates slavery, and every chocolate company should have this certification.
Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson, 2013. Print.
In a city square home to L.A. Burdick Chocolates and Cardullo’s Gourmet Shoppe, one would not necessarily first select CVS for the purpose of purchasing chocolate products. However, as I commenced my chocolate crawl of Cambridge to analyze chocolate displays around Harvard Square, I realized I did not need to venture any further than CVS to encounter a chocolate emporium. Although CVS exhibits a vast variety of chocolate products, ranging from mass-produced, “Big 5” chocolate brands to more premium, craft chocolate brands, to appeal to consumers’ differing taste preferences and criteria for selecting and purchasing chocolate, I would contend that CVS more adeptly encourages consumers to purchase chocolate products through an economically-based methodology. In particular, by targeting consumers’ economic sensibilities through the prominent display and advertisement of sale prices and ExtraBucks reward promotions, CVS draws upon consumers’ desire to mitigate indulgent, “impulse buys” of chocolate products by emphasizing the sound economic advantages that result from purchasing their store’s chocolate products.
Before analyzing CVS’ economic methodology, it is productive to first provide a report of my field study’s findings on the CVS store located at 6 JFK Street. After entering CVS, I discovered that two of the four aisles on the store’s first floor are replete with chocolate. Aisle 3, which is labeled as “Bagged Candy” and “Candy,” contains shelf after shelf of chocolate products, most of which hail from the Big 5 chocolate companies. Colloquially known at the “Big Five,” Nestle, Mars, Cadbury, Hershey’s and Ferrero represent the largest chocolate companies in the world today (Martin and Sampeck 2016: 50). Along the shelves of Aisle 3 were products manufactured by Hershey’s, Nestle, Cadbury, and Mars in all varieties and size combinations, which ranged from multipacks of individually wrapped fun size bars to resealable snack packs to individual bars. The varying quantities of these packages indicate that consumers desire different size combinations, according to their particular needs and interests. For example, one consumer might be seeking a personal snack while another consumer might be interested in buying a multipack to share with other people.
In addition to the plethora of chocolate products available to consumers, the shelves of Aisle 3 also provide evidence of CVS’ economically-based marketing strategy: emphasis on sales and future monetary rewards. As part of its company, CVS promotes a customer rewards program, the ExtraCare program (https://www.cvs.com/extracare/home). Based upon their purchases at any CVS location, members of the ExtraCare program will receive ExtraBucks, a coupon with a monetary amount that can be applied to a future purchase. In the case of Aisle 3, certain chocolate products were eligible for both a sales promotion and ExtraBucks rewards. Bright yellow tags, which dangled from the aisle’s shelves, advertised that one could purchase 2 chocolate products at the reduced price of $6 and that such a purchase would generate $1 in ExtraBucks.
After this close observation of Aisle 3, I rounded the corner to Aisle 4 and encountered a continuation of chocolate displays. In particular, Aisle 4, the “Seasonal” aisle, featured displays of chocolate products and other candy items, mostly from the Big 5 brands, that were packaged and labeled for Easter, a holiday that occurred the weekend prior to this field study. These seasonal products disclose the marketing tactics of the Big 5 chocolate companies, which rebrand their products with special shapes (e.g. eggs), pastel packaging, and images synonymous with Easter (e.g. chicks and bunnies). The contents of Aisle 4 also underscored the vast quantity of chocolate on the market: even after the celebration of Easter, a holiday culturally-associated with the purchasing of candy and chocolate to fill Easter baskets, CVS still possessed a glut of Easter-specific chocolate products.
For the purposes of this field study, I also noticed the continuation of sales prices and economic incentives in Aisle 4. Larger, bright yellow tags placed perpendicular to the aisle’s shelves announced that the entirety of Aisle 4’s items were on clearance and 50% off. Although many of the chocolate products in Aisle 4 were exactly identical in taste and quality to those of Aisle 3—a Reese’s seasonal, egg-shaped candy has the exact same taste as a Reese’s peanut butter cup—the store granted the Easter products a special sale price because their packaging was no longer relevant and, more importantly, was no longer a compelling factor to make consumers purchase those particularized, Easter-appropriate items. Therefore, the economical advantage, rather than the packaging or seasonality, of purchasing these Easter chocolate products emerged as the chief marketing tool utilized by CVS to encourage consumer purchase.
On the whole, my field study sensitized me to the pervasiveness of CVS’ sales tactics with regard to chocolate purchases. Indeed, the sales, discounts, and monetary rewards associated with the purchase of chocolate products extended well beyond the chocolate-specific aisles, Aisle 3 and Aisle 4. In meandering around the first floor, I also discovered two chocolate display cases that were distinct and separate from the aisles: a Brookside chocolate display and a “Premium Chocolates” display. Both displays consisted of a pop-up cardboard structure placed at opposite ends of Aisle 2, a strategic juncture that could, in turn, attract a consumer’s attention as he or she moved between or along aisles. The Brookside display seemed to align well with the contents of Aisle 2, the “Grocery” aisle, since it featured snack-type chocolate products, such as “Crunchy Clusters,” chocolate-covered almonds, and chocolate-covered dried fruits. In addition to these items, the Brookside display also featured bright yellow tags that announced the special rate of 2 chocolate products for $6.
In contrast to the snack-packaging of the Brookside display, the Premium Chocolate display included mostly individually-packaged bars from Lindt, Ghiradelli, Ferrero Roche, and Chuao, among other premium brands. Even those these brands were specially labeled as “premium” and therefore associated with luxury and higher cost, the “Premium Chocolate” display also featured the same bright yellow sales tags, which advertised the special rate of 2 chocolate bars for $5. Therefore, just as ubiquitous as the presence of chocolate products on the first floor of CVS was the presence of sales tags and special rates for chocolate products—the sales pricing did not discriminate based on chocolate quality but rather applied to Big 5 brands and premium brands alike.
Even if I had somehow managed to avoid the two aisles or two prominent displays of chocolate on the first floor, this CVS store ensured that I, along with every consumer, would encounter chocolate while waiting in line to make a purchase. On both the first floor and second floor, this CVS store possesses checkout lines, each of which is replete with shelves lined with individual candies and chocolate bars. The presence of chocolate in the CVS store is inextricably bound with the promise of savings: the individual chocolate bars at the checkout areas also benefited from sales promotions: 2 individual chocolate bars or candies for $3.
After completing my observational field study of this particular CVS location, I conducted research into CVS as a company. CVS, which stands for Consumer Value Stores, opened its first store in Lowell, Massachusetts in 1963; this first store exclusively sold health and beauty products (https://www.cvshealth.com/about/company-history). Although CVS brands itself as a pharmaceutical store, it has developed far beyond its origins as purely a purveyor of health and beauty products. Inherent to the company’s expansive, national growth has been its acquisition of other competing stores throughout the United States. As part of this nationalization of CVS as a franchise, CVS has also worked to secure consumer loyalty, especially through its emphasis on providing value to customers. In fact, CVS was the first national pharmacy retailer to launch a loyalty card program, the ExtraCare Card, which it established in 2001(https://www.cvshealth.com/about/company-history). Therefore, an understanding of CVS’ company history demonstrates its focus and commitment to consumer value, which it achieves through the employment of sales prices, special discounts, and ExtraCare membership rewards.
Based upon my field study of the Harvard Square CVS store and a fuller understanding of the CVS company history and programming, I derived a few salient impressions about CVS in relation to its marketing and selling of chocolate products.
CVS possesses a keen understanding of the current landscape of the chocolate market with regard to consumer taste, interests, and needs. According to Heike C. Alberts and Julie Cidell, the United States has been experiencing a “chocolate revolution” during the last few decades: American consumers have expanded their chocolate consumption “beyond traditional mass-market chocolate such as Hershey’s” and the other Big 5 companies to include “more premium chocolates…and more dark varieties” (Alberts and Cidell 2016). Stores like CVS have responded to meet this shift in taste among American consumers by stocking more premium chocolate brands, including European brands. Although European chocolates were “largely limited to specialty food stores and import stores” a few decades ago, European brands like Milka, Ritter Sport, and Lindt are now “available in many grocery stores, department stores such as Target and Walmart, and drugstores such as Walgreens and CVS” (Alberts and Cidell 2016). Although much of the CVS chocolate selection in Aisles 3 and 4 belongs to traditional mass-market chocolate brands, such as the Big 5 companies, the inclusion of brands like Lindt in the Premium Chocolate display at the Harvard Square CVS attests to the entrance of European brands into American markets and its increasing availability among these markets to include pharmacy stores like CVS.
In addition to Americans’ burgeoning interest in European chocolates and premium brands, American consumers have also begun to consider the social and ethical components of chocolate products. In response to the various ethical facets of cacao production, such as labor conditions, compensation, etcetera, many American consumers have been drawn to the fine chocolate market, which exhibits a “resistance” characterized by “a group force or momentum to link sensual enjoyment with ethical concern” (Martin and Sampeck 2016: 52). The fine chocolate market has been utilizing strategies, such as certification programs like Direct Trade and FairTrade, to demonstrate their companies’ commitment to rectifying social injustices. Such campaigns and endorsements speak to consumers’ desires to enjoy chocolate in an ethically and socially-conscious manner. For example, Endangered Species Chocolate, one of the brands available in the “Premium Chocolates” display of the Harvard Square CVS store, promises to donate 10% of net profits to its GiveBack Partners that help wildlife and endangered species (http://www.chocolatebar.com/?page_id=18). Thus, as observed at the Harvard Square CVS, CVS recognizes the differing tastes of chocolate consumers—brand name, perceived quality of products, and socially-conscious choices—and seeks to cater to their customers by selling a varied selection of products that will meet these consumer preferences.
In addition to recognizing the need to meet consumers’ broad spectrum of tastes, CVS also utilizes psychology to attract customers and promote chocolate purchases. In primarily pharmaceutical stores like CVS, the average customer does not necessarily visit with the express purpose of purchasing chocolate. Instead, chocolate purchases at CVS can be classified as “impulse buying,” which may be described as a spontaneous purchase bought “without thoughtful consideration why and for what reason a person should have the product” (Fennis and Stroebe 2010: 274). For example, CVS’ placement of its chocolate products at the checkout areas on both the first and second levels capitalizes upon this psychological understanding of consumer behavior because “chocolate bars and other tempting sweets are often displayed near the checkout counter when customers are distracted by thoughts about paying for their purchases” (Fennis and Stroebe 2010: 275).
In addition to encouraging a psychological response of impulse buying, CVS strategically situates chocolate displays to capitalize upon knowledge of the scientific, neurological basis of consumer behavior. In other words, CVS utilizes its displays as visual stimuli that can activate the neurological systems that motivate customers to purchase chocolate products. A 2014 scientific study entitled “Neural predictors of chocolate intake following chocolate exposure” utilized neuroimaging technology to verify how exposure to chocolate stimuli can predict the subsequent intake of chocolate (Frankort et al. 2014). In this study, participants were exposed to the smell of chocolate over the period of an hour and then shown images of chocolate (Frankort et al. 2014). Neuroimage results of this exposed group revealed that the brain regions involved in food reward, including the amygdala, striatum, hippocampus, insula, ventral tegmental area and substantia nigra, were activated by these external stimuli of chocolate and directly correlated with the later consumption of chocolate (Frankort et al. 2014). In essence, “neural correlates predict subsequent behavior (i.e. chocolate intake)” (Frankort et al. 2014). Based on such scientific evidence, there is a demonstrated neurological basis for chocolate consumption, which can be stimulated by external cues like the time of day and place (Benton 2004: 215). Therefore, customers at CVS who are stimulated by visual stimuli like chocolate displays have a greater likelihood of subsequently purchasing and consuming chocolate.
While these scientific and psychological aspects underlying consumers’ chocolate purchases are certainly important factors acknowledged and employed by CVS in its marketing strategy, I would contend that CVS utilizes economic incentives as the primary means of convincing customers to purchase chocolate.
This economic component complements and augments the psychology of chocolate purchasing. In particular, scientists and psychologists have determined that the phenomenon of impulse buying is “more likely for low priced products” (Fennis and Stroebe 275). Many of CVS’ chocolate products could be considered “low priced products” because they were part of a special sales promotions (2 for $6) and/or associated with the acquisition of future money-off coupons ($1 in ExtraBucks). As a result of transforming their chocolate products into low priced products through the use of economic marketing strategies, CVS increases the motivation of customers to act upon their psychological response of impulse buying. CVS’ use of economical savings as a marketing strategy to increase chocolate purchases proves a psychologically-astute method. Scientists have demonstrated that the “control motivation” consumers might attempt to exercise to prevent impulse buying is lowered when “the desirable items are not very expensive” (Fennis and Stroebe 2010: 275). In other words, consumer satisfaction resulting from saving money and making economically-sound purchases overpowers their control motivation and mitigates feelings of guilt that consumers might experience in buying chocolate products, which are often classified as luxurious, indulgent items. CVS makes luxury chocolate products, especially “premium” chocolate brands from Europe or brands with socially-conscious values, affordable to the masses.
In the broader historical context, chocolate has been inextricably bound with economics and social class. After its introduction to Europe, chocolate was primarily enjoyed by European elites; however, changes in the 1800s resulted in a broadening of the availability of chocolate. Due to the industrialization of food, including massive mechanization, retailing, and transportation changes, chocolate transformed from “an elite, expensive product” to “an inexpensive…low-cacao-content chocolate bar to be consumed as a food by elite and non-elite alike” (Martin and Sampeck 2016: 50). Given this democratization of chocolate, chocolate producers had to meet this new, increased demand, and, as a result, “large chocolate manufacturers became the producers of the majority of the world’s chocolate” (Martin and Sampeck 2016: 50). Chocolate became an industry that needed to market to different social sectors. Due to chocolate’s historical and intrinsic connection with socioeconomic class, CVS’ economically-based approach of sales prices, discounts, and other monetary incentives emerges as a very efficacious method for appealing to the different social statuses of customers.
In summary, this field study of the Harvard Square CVS store reveals the varying tactics and approaches a retail store may employ to encourage the purchase of chocolate products. While visual stimuli, such as chocolate displays, store layout, variety of products, and other tools may be utilized to promote chocolate purchasing, CVS employs an efficacious economic model to increase its chocolate sales. Truly hearkening to its roots as a Consumer Value Store, CVS convinces its customers that they can have their chocolate at a cost-effective price and eat it, too!
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Benton, David. 2004. “The Biology and Psychology of Chocolate Craving.” In Coffee, Tea, Chocolate, and the Brain, edited by Astrid Nehlig, 205-216.
Fennis, Bob M. and Wolfgang Stroebe. 2010. The Psychology of Advertising.
Frankort, A. et al. 2015. “Neural predictors of chocolate intake following chocolate exposure.” Appetite 87: 98-107.
Martin, Carla and Kathryn Sampeck. 2016. “The Bitter and Sweet of Chocolate in Europe.” Presented at The Social Meaning of Food Workshop, The Institute for Sociology, Centre for Social Sciences, Hungarian Academy of Sciences, June 16-17, 2015, Budapest, Hungary.