CVS is a very large convenience store that is all over the United States. Not only does CVS have convenient food, it also has photo printing, beauty products, cleaning products, and health products. They also provide a consistent pharmacy to many of its customers. Needless to say, CVS is a hub for a lot of people’s late-night snacks, especially the 24-hour branch in Harvard Square. Since it is such a hub for Harvard students, CVS is definitely providing a defining narrative of what American snack life is like. CVS provides snacks for people who love chips, cookies, cereal, and most importantly chocolate.
The consumers of CVS chocolate definitely are different depending on the area. Back in my hometown of Detroit, CVS customers are mostly African-American people who are picking up prescriptions or picking up a small thing. Furthermore, the CVS in Harvard square mostly has customers that are college students that do all of their grocery shopping there, or tourists who are visiting Harvard. Personally, I have experienced both of these consumer experiences multiple times. Here are two recollections of my different experiences with CVS:
Back home in Detroit, I can remember many times of going to CVS with my mother. She would pick me up from school, and then we would get on the freeway back home. We would get off the freeway at an earlier exit to go to CVS. My mom would park the car and ask me if I wanted to come in the store or stay in the car. I usually would say yes at the hope that I can get a snack before dinner was ready. We would enter the store and my mother would go to the pharmacy to pick up a prescription, and I would walk towards the snacks and was always welcomed by the sight of a lot of chocolate. I fell in love with dark chocolate pretty early, and I always gravitated towards dark chocolate covered pretzels along with a bag of salt and vinegar chips. Every time I went with my mother I would ask if she could buy me these snacks, and she always said yes when realizing how cheap they were.
Here at Harvard, I go to CVS many times for anything that I need. Whenever I run out of my favorite snacks I always go to CVS. I tend to hover near the dark chocolate in this store as well. If I want fancier chocolate I have to go to the back of the store, and the cheaper and more accessible chocolate is in a wide aisle with all of the other candy. When picking up my dark chocolate almond Dove chocolates, I head to the cashier. When waiting in line, I always see a lot of fancy snacks with chocolate near the checkout, and very few cheaper chocolates near the checkout. This sometimes tempts me to indulge myself with a fancier chocolate snack as well.
The difference between these two locations is that the one in Harvard Square is open 24 hours and the one in my hometown is not. The Harvard Square store also places more expensive chocolate snacks near the checkout, while the one in Detroit does not. These two stores are structured different because of the difference in their customers and what CVS believes to be the best way to profit off of each group.
CVS is known to have a lot of cheap everything, but especially cheap snacks. Even with inflation, snacks still remain cheap in stores like CVS. This store has a lot of cheap chocolates like Snickers, Kit-Kats, M&Ms, and Hershey bars. All of these companies’ producers, from Mars, to Nestle, to Hershey’s, all have a large customer base, and they also have dominated the candy industry for decades. Hershey’s is a prominent and historical brand that specializes in many things but especially chocolate over the years. Hershey is especially good at making cheap and accessible chocolate that is essentially everywhere in the world. In Hershey: Milton S. Hershey’s Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams,the author highlights that Milton Hershey hired a chemist in order to make the Hershey bar that we all know and love. Because of this perfected version of a chocolate bar, “Hershey would be able to make milk chocolate faster, and therefore cheaper, than the Europeans (D’Antonio 108).” This perfected mixture is the one that we enjoy and love today. It is interesting to think that the Hershey legacy is so built on family and being made by family, yet, Hershey had to hire a chemist outside of his family in order to create the backbone of their legacy. That part of the legacy is not talked about in the mainstream, and it leaves the question of what else are they not telling us? CVS displays these cheaper chocolates frequently and in the most accessible aisle to maximize profit on the societal desire for sweet and junk foods. Furthermore, “it happens that the sugars, fats, and salts that are so central to junk food, are not only the foods that humans most crave, but also are among the cheapest food inputs (Albritton 344).” CVS is a hub for all things cheap, and even more of a hub for people who will be the most likely to buy cheap food, like college students and low-income people of color. CVS displays cheap candy and junk food, like chocolate, almost all over the store, so that no matter where a customer turns they have to continuously decide whether or not to pick up some chocolate. This marketing seems unjust because it does not help consumers in leading a healthy diet and can make them crave the treats even more.
CVS also has a large selection of more luxury chocolates, or chocolates that are little pricier than the average chocolates that can be bought at the movie theater. These chocolates are Ferrero Rocher, Ghirardelli, Godiva, Russel Stover, and Turtle chocolates. These chocolates are more expensive than the average chocolate bar, but not too expensive that they cannot be picked up sometimes when going to the store. Their prices range from four dollars to seven dollars per bar, and if a whole box of turtles is bought, one can expect to pay about ten dollars per box. These chocolates are located at the back of the store near where all the more expensive nuts are. They are displayed in a fancier and more elegant way and are organized very neatly by brand. The labels have an elegance and shine to it that automatically indicates to the consumer that they are of higher quality than the candy bars of a lower price. The shine and pictures of the chocolate convey to the consumer that they are getting luxury and elegance within their chocolate. This idea of luxury “it plays on our inner feeling of wanting ‘something better’ and nurtures the rampant individualism of self-fashioning that has come so much to shape our societies since the 1980s (Mc Neil & Riello 229).” It’s the same feeling that is experienced when consumers desire to buy a fancy shirt simply because it is expensive, even though they can buy a similar shirt for a cheaper price at a different store. Consumers feel the same way when buying chocolate, and that is probably why CVS displays these two chocolates separately. This is so consumers do not have the chance to compare the cheaper chocolates to the more expensive ones. So, consumers who only see the expensive chocolate buy it and are not swayed by a cheaper and similarly enjoyable chocolate option. This also can go the other way by limiting consumers choices to only cheaper and more sugar filled chocolate snacks. For example, if a customer only passes by the cheaper options of chocolate they are not offered the same opportunity to indulge in less sugary and higher cacao content chocolate. CVS sets up their store in an unfair way for their consumers, so they are not able to make an educated and deliberate choice about the chocolate they choose.
Some of the chocolates in CVS have various certifications to prove that they are ethically made. These certifications give consumers peace of mind when buying products, especially chocolate, even when the certifications are very vague in what they mean. The way certifications are portrayed to consumers is in a way that makes it seem like all people involved are getting equally fair changes; however, with the Fairtrade certification, benefits are not so fair. “Fairtrade selects the most capable producer organisations locally. This is actually its ‘in-house policy’, as it boosts the rapid growth of the movement” (Sylla 208). This is not only unfair to the consumers, but it is also extremely unfair to the poorest countries that produce is grown in. The Fairtrade act betters the conditions for countries who already produce so much and make so much money from the market. It is the easiest way to ensure that customers are getting an ethically made product. The countries that need this act the most in order to keep up their presence and value in the major markets are not getting the benefits of the many certifications used on products. The certifications on the products we love are supposed to improve production conditions for all, and not just for the countries where it is most convenient. From this, we can infer that certifications on products may not be so ethical after all.
The ethicality of our sweetest treats has been addressed countless times throughout history. Whether it be from the Cadbury scandal or a lack of transparency with Mars, there have been many ethical concerns surrounding chocolate, ever since the advancement of widespread media. The point that interests me most is that a lot of these ethical concerns arise from the practices of really large companies, like Hershey’s, yet, they make the least amount of change within their product production. These are major companies that can make the most institutional change by altering their production ways, yet, they make the smallest amounts of change or they wait until the news dies down, so they do not have to address it. This is an unethical way to run a business, especially ones like Hershey’s where the brand is so centered on wholesomeness and family bonding. Companies like Hershey’s show very little about what they are trying to do regarding the ethical concerns of their products, and theymostly focus on the wonder associated with Hershey chocolate. There are some large companies that are actively addressing and being very transparent about the ethical concerns of their products. My favorite company that does this is Nestle. They have a very detailed website that includes making sure that workers and children are protected, and they also want to ensure that they are growing their cacao very sustainably. Here is a capture of their page dedicated to protecting children and workers:
This detailed page really works towards the issues of not bein transparent with consumers about a companies practices. I think that big companies should follow in Nestle’s footsteps because they have a good balance of environment sustainability and working conditions as well. I usually see companies, like Ghiradelli, that solely focus on environmental sustainability, but even with that they provide very vague information generally about the steps they are taking to ensure that. Here is a capture of the vagueness in Ghirardelli’s sustainability page:
In conclusion, transparency and fair and equal advertising is the right of the consumer, and the duty of the producers to provide. This can overall provide a better experience for customers in choosing the brands they want, which can alter how large companies function within the market. The consumers have the power to make companies more accountable and want to change. If customers are given all information fairly when buying things, we may be able to see more change in the future. Consumers engaging in more conscious consumption of goods can definitely influence large corporations to make change, and I believe that we can strive for that.
Albritton, Robert. “Between Obesity and Hunger: The Capitalist Food Industry.” Food and Culture. Routledge. Print.
D’Antonio, Michael. Hershey: Milton S. Hershey’s Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams. Simon & Schuster. Print,
McNeil, P., Riello, G. Luxury: A Rich History. Oxford Univeristy Press. Print.
Sylla, Ndongo S. The Fairtrade Scandal: Marketing Poverty to Benefit the Rich. Ohio Univeristy Press. Print.
Photo Credits (in order)
CVS, 13580 Grand River Ave, Detroit, MI. Detroit. Date accessed: May 3, 2019.
Harvard Crimson. New 24-Hour CVS Opens At 6 JFK Street. Cambridge, MA.
WordPress. CVS Chocolate Value Store. Cambridge, MA.
CVS Luxury Chocolate Display. 2 May 2019.
Ghirardelli. Sustainability And Corporate Social Responsibility. Date accessed: May 3, 2019.
Nestle. Protecting children and workers. Date accessed: May 3, 2019.