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CVS: Chocolate Products, Display, and Consumers

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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:Screen Shot 2019-05-03 at 2.47.23 PM

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:

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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.

References

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.

 

 

 

Chocolate Consumption and Societal Divides

Chocolate in Europe, brought to Spain originally from Mesoamerica in the 1500s, has amassed into a staple of almost everyone’s diet today. However, the history of chocolate consumption and its social constructs have expanded and changed over the centuries since chocolate’s first venture into Europe. Chocolate began as a drink, medicine, and eventually a snack “among the white-skinned, perfumed, bewigged, overdressed royalty and nobility of Europe” (Coe and Coe, 125). However, as time went on, and the price and availability of chocolate began to expand to beyond the upper circles of Europe, the elitism that surrounded chocolate still existed. Even today, when majority of people consume chocolate—often times in similar forms, for example as a bar or hot beverage—there still is a separation between chocolate for commoners and chocolate for the wealthy. How come even though there have been drastic consumption changes over the centuries, in quantity and form, there is still a strong social tension amongst different types of chocolate? By looking at the history of chocolate, it will become clearer that chocolate has always had societal divisions and it is merely impossible to fully break away from those constructs that are inherent to chocolate.

Chocolate for European Elites

In order to understand how consumption in Europe has and has not changed over the centuries, it is important to start at the beginning of chocolate in Europe. Once chocolate was brought over to Europe through Spain during the Renaissance, it was immediately viewed as for elites only— “it was in Baroque palaces and mansions of the wealthy and powerful that it was elaborated and consumed” (Coe and Coe, 125). While Spaniards more or less “stripped [the chocolate beverage] of the spiritual meaning” attached to it by the Aztec and Maya, they did start by consuming the beverage as a drug or medicine for healing (Coe and Coe, 126). This consumption was often matched with mix-ins custom to Spain and Europe, such as “atole and sugar” for a colder drink or “honey and hot water” for a more soothing hot beverage (Coe and Coe, 134).

However, this beverage was still strictly for the elites of Europe even once it started to spread throughout the continent. As time progressed, the royals started to create more recipes of chocolate beverages to be served to special guest, with a princess in 1679 recalling: “There was iced chocolate, another hot, and another with Milk and Eggs; one took it with a biscuit…besides this, they take it with so much pepper and so many spices” (Coe and Coe, 136). With the spread of popularity amongst chocolate beverages, there also were technical advances to enhance the experience. For example, the Spanish royals invented mancerina, a decorative saucer and small plate that helped avoid spills on fancy clothing (Coe and Coe, 134-5).

Spanish porcelain mancerina used by royalty to avoid spilling their chocolate beverages. The cocoa drink would be placed in the middle ring of the mancerina.

Sugar Becomes a Chocolate Equalizer

Skipping ahead, with the addition of sugar mass production, chocolate became a consumable good for almost everyone around Europe and the world, breaking down many original societal barriers. During the early 1800s, the British “national consumption [of sugar] was about 300 million pounds per year,” rising to over a billion pounds in 1852 as prices continued to drop (Mintz, 143). The addition of sugar allowed for chocolate to more easily become mass produced, creating more affordability and accessibility throughout Europe. By 1856, “sugar consumption was forty times higher than it had been only 150 years earlier,” allowing for everyone—wealthy and poor alike—to enjoy such treats in different forms (Mintz, 143).

1885 Cadbury advertisement markets towards the “public,” claiming their cocoa is “exhilarating, comforting, and sustaining” as well as “guaranteed absolutely pure.”

Sugar was a major success in creating access to chocolate throughout history, giving way for major chocolate companies such as Lindt and Cadbury to become the “producers of majority of the world’s chocolate” (Martin and Sampeck, 49). For the first time in history, chocolate was being consumed in similar forms at similar price points by both the wealthy and poor because of these large manufactures—arguably stripping away many societal differences inherent to chocolate by creating a consistent form of chocolate everyone could enjoy. However, as the prices decreased, the quality of chocolate also decreased, with many large manufacturers “even cutting out…the substance that gives quality to superior chocolates: cacao butter” (Coe and Coe, 257). As lower quality chocolate created by major companies became a staple of poorer and working-class citizens, the elites often would opt to fly to specific regions of Europe—such as Switzerland or Belgium—to indulge in their high-quality chocolate from chocolatiers (Coe and Coe, 258). Therefore, even though sugar allowed for some narrowing of the social constructs surrounding chocolate, there was still a market for superior forms that are only accessible for a wealthier audience.

Still a Divide with Chocolate Today

Today, chocolate still holds of great importance to many peoples’ lives, with chocolate consumptions estimates for 2018/2019 at 7.7 million tons globally (“Consumption of Chocolate Worldwide,” Statista). However, even with the advances in chocolate consumption over the many centuries, there are still similar societal constraints around chocolate. While the different forms of chocolate are often times similar amongst upper and lower classes—ranging from hot beverages or bars to baked goods—the quality and price ranges can heavily vary, instilling a separation and exclusivity in societal groups that existed even in the 1500s when chocolate was introduced to Europe. For example, the range in quality of chocolate products is vast: there exist fair trade chocolate sourced in more humane manners, specific species of cacao pods with better characteristics and richer flavors, granulated texture differences, and even different percentages of cacao in chocolate mixtures. One can go to a deluxe chocolatier shop somewhere in Switzerland or Belgium and purchase extreme, rare examples of certain types of chocolate—frequently at higher prices. However, these levels of chocolate are often inaccessible to others of not a higher social class because they require having more money and the ability to reach the areas where superior-quality chocolate is created—such as expensive regions in Switzerland. For these other social groups, the desire for chocolate could still be just as strong, but the more realistic options are to purchase mass-produced chocolate, such as Hershey’s chocolate bars or M&Ms, that are often associated with quick, convenient snacks that are affordable.

This social distinction around chocolate exists even in Harvard Square today, where one could purchase a quality, single source hot chocolate at L.A. Burdick from specific locations such as Ecuador (with an “earthy finish”) or Madagascar (with “fruity notes”) at a starting price of $5.50 (“Single Source Drinking Chocolate.” L.A. Burdick). On the other hand, one could instead go to CVS in Harvard Square and purchase a 10 pack of Swiss Miss Hot Cocoa Mix for $2.79, averaging $0.28 per serving (“Swiss Miss Milk Chocolate Flavor Hot Cocoa Mix.” CVS). There is clearly an audience for both choices, but the more accessible version is at CVS because it is drastically more affordable and easily accessible at any CVS around the world, while L.A. Burdick is a specialty chocolate shop with a much higher price point and only a few locations. So even though there have been major advances in chocolate and the levels of consumption over the last few centuries—including the expansion of different forms of consumptions and the spread of accessibility beyond the upper-class nobilities—there still persists a divide when it comes to chocolate today.

Based on the history of chocolate, it seems unlikely that societal constructs around chocolate will ever completely disappear because there will always be a market for better quality, more elaborate chocolate consumption as well as affordable, accessible chocolate. However, as the interest in “fine flavor” chocolate continues to grow in more recent decades, then more “small-batch chocolate companies” will begin to come around “with a heavy focus on batch production, flavor, quality, and perceived ethical sourcing of raw ingredients,” creating more access and maybe eventually lower prices of higher quality product for everyone to enjoy (Martin and Sampeck, 54). While the future is uncertain, one steadfast is that chocolate will still be present in most peoples’ lives because of its unifying, joyous, cherished qualities that impact people on a daily basis—no matter one’s social rank.

Works Cited

Coe, Sophie D. and Coe, Michael D. The True History of Chocolate. Thames & Hudson, 2013.

“Consumption of Chocolate Worldwide, 2012/13-2018/19 | Statistic.” Statista, Statista, Nov. 2015, http://www.statista.com/statistics/238849/global-chocolate-consumption/.

Martin, Carla D., and Sampeck, Kathryn E. “The Bitter and Sweet of Chocolate in Europe.” Socio.hu, no. special issue 3, 2016, pp. 37–60., doi:10.18030/socio.hu.2015en.37.

Mintz, Sidney. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. Penguin Books, 1986.

“Single Source Drinking Chocolate.” L.A. Burdick Handmade Chocolate, http://www.burdickchocolate.com/DrinkingChocolate/single-source-drinking-chocolate.aspx.

“Swiss Miss Milk Chocolate Flavor Hot Cocoa Mix.” CVS, http://www.cvs.com/shop/swiss-miss-milk-chocolate-flavor-hot-cocoa-mix-prodid-828715?skuid=828715.

Multimedia Sources

Anonymous, Cadbury’s Cocoa advert with rower 1885. Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cadbury%27s_Cocoa_advert_with_rower_1885.jpg. Accessed 11 March 2019.

Anonymous, Interior of a London Coffee-house, 17th century. Wikimedia Commons, 6 August 2013, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Interior_of_a_London_Coffee-house,_17th_century.JPG. Accessed 11 March 2019.

Daderot. Talavera mancerina (chocolate cup holder), ceramic – Museo Nacional de Artes Decorativas – Madrid, Spain. Wikimedia Commons, 10 October 2014, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Talavera_mancerina_(chocolate_cup_holder),ceramicMuseo_Nacional_de_Artes_DecorativasMadrid,_Spain-_DSC08143.JPG. Accessed 11 March 2019.

Lam, Willis. Swiss Miss Simply Cocoa. Flickr, 2 December 2014, https://www.flickr.com/photos/85567416@N03/15826425118/in/photolist-q7wyNA-4Vi3xj-2c1quQF-bAR6UB-5KXJTX-4uvVPN-e14Lxw-8Wa8AZ-nLpJvi-Cbm1VF-dqASpX-2ampJbb-Rd9TCh-2bZA3Mz-2bZ2eHi-RetAk7-7jSCz3-8h4wTf-bAqsAk-LuMes-2dotp4v-oRr31-axSjhw-98qkXu-ihJDzj-227rKBA-i2LSJm-iupoqe-5ro6Ux-HxgKn6-7qkecG-8WYapy-2ch8p7d-PkuWzx-hjPRMw-4m3SWK-2dfdft2-2cggZSf-PzRfGR-2chxsFj-2cg2pA7-Rft18y-PBbapT-PASK2P-3k8YWU-CDyBre-2dhZJb5-2diX3ZC-ReRqrL-9Sp3i. Accessed 11 March 2019.

Phelan, John. L A Burdick Chocolate, Walpole NH. Wikimedia Commons, 26 April 2014, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:L_A_Burdick_Chocolate,_Walpole_NH.jpg. Accessed 11 March 2019.

Good Chocolate / Bad Chocolate: A Gradient of Chocolate Qualities in Harvard Square

The history of chocolate and its relation to society is long and full of dichotomies, some true, and some false: the use of chocolate by Aztec male soldiers and nobility as an energizing, strengthening elixir in preparing for battles, while women grinded and prepared the cacao (Coe); the consumption of chocolate drinks by European aristocrats, while those of lower classes were could not really afford indulging in tea, coffee, and cacao beverages (Coe); advertisements where women do the chocolate-indulging and men are the providers who gift it; chocolate as a healthy superfood or chocolate as an evil, sugary cavity-causing agent (Martin, Lecture 7, Slide 28). These are just some of the instances in the history of chocolate where there are binary instances in who is eating chocolates and what kinds of chocolate consumers can eat.

With my new background surrounding the culture, history, and food politics of chocolate products from class, I went into Harvard Square to examine what the stores there had to offer. Two of the shops that I explored sold a wide variety of products. I noticed the stores seemed to offer two very different sorts of chocolate- a dichotomy in chocolate price, quality, and social-consciousness. This observation is based on just a glance at the labels and the price tags at the chocolates sold at the two different stores: CVS and Cardullo’s Gourmet Shoppe. Considering the labels and inconsistencies between them, however, I found that there was no binary in chocolate quality between the two stores, but that each offered an array of production process differences to consider.

Big 5, Small Prices:

I first browsed the chocolate offerings at the Harvard Square CVS on the corner of Brattle Street. CVS arranged their chocolates in two different sections. Through the aisles of the store, on a shelf facing the back wall was a small shelf labeled “Premium Chocolate.” On this shelf, there were a dozen or so types of chocolates, composed of fewer brands than the other “non-Premium” chocolate shelves of the store contain. About six feet away, in the direction of the register, is a second panel of chocolate bars, not labeled “Premium.”

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CVS’s “Premium” assortment of chocolates.

CVS does not spell out what Premium actually means, and how the chocolates on the “Premium” shelf differ from the others. To me, the difference seems to be defined by the brands of chocolate: Ghiradelli, Lindt, and Ferrero Rochers, which all have more decadent images on their gold and metallic-hued wrappers than the loud and bibrant wrappers in CVS’s second chocolate section. The bars in the “Premium Chocolate” section are pricier, also, but only by a few dollars.

The CVS chocolates, made up of inexpensive impulse buys and the more expensive “Premium” Chocolates, which I found were still not as costly as the chocolate products in Cardullo’s, were not always the cheap, industrialized foods they are on these shelves. Once a luxury reserved for drinking in elite chocolate houses in Europe, the price of chocolate was driven down by industrialization of the chocolate production process. Chocolate making began as a laborious process, the ability to mechanically winnow, mill, and conch in chocolate making made cacao products a more easy-to-make and available foodstuff, driving down the price (Martin, Lecture 5, Slide 66).

Moreover, the less expensive chocolate products of CVS were mostly products of the “Big 5.” The Big 5 are mainly composed of enormous food companies that have dominated in the chocolate industry for centuries. They include Ferrero, Nestlé, Cadbury, Hershey, and Mars (Allen, 7). Each company has its own unique historic roots that make it a well-established and sought-out brand. The five complete with one another for power in the chocolate market, driving down the cost of their products. These corporations do not label where their chocolate comes from, and bulk cacao can come from many sources, often through middle men who make an unfair share of the pay coming from bigger chocolate producers (Martin, Lecture 10, Slide 42). As a result, those who shop for Ferrero, Nestlé, Cadbury, Hershey, and Mars get these outstandingly low prices, like those I found at CVS, but sacrifice the knowing social consciousness of smaller chocolate producers, who often pinpoint on wrappers where their cacao is from. Because the cacao is sourced from many different places and obtained using these “middle men,” it is less likely that these bigger companies have long-term relationships with the cacao farmers they are using, and there is no way the “Big 5” can make sure the farmers themselves are being fairly paid for their work in the cocoa supply chain (Martin, Lecture 10).

Furthermore, child labor has been accounted as an issue in parts of West Africa where farmers depend on cacao as a livelihood (Off, 130). In some instances, young boys help of farms as a way to assist the family, but when labor is physically injurious and keeps children from school or a normal childhood, these farming sources are problematic and unethical (Martin, Lecture 8, Slide 49). By not properly and informatively labeling chocolates or certifying them in some way to warn customers, there is no way of knowing who farmed the cacao in the bar or how those people were paid, even if evidence of child labor on cacao farms is varied (Ryan, 47). Still, even in the 21st century it is a consideration for chocolate consumers to think about.

The chocolates at CVS are all ones that I recognized by name. As is the nature of chain stores, the CVS candy selection was not different at all from that of other CVS stores I had been to. Moreover, the products are ones I have been exposed to at cash registers, on TV, in magazines, and all around my in advertising from a very young age. An important part of the business of these major chocolate companies is a cradle-to-grave loyalty established with consumers of chocolate from a very young age (Martin, Lecture 7, Slide 20). By going into CVS, customers are guaranteed to find brands that they know well and most likely have been exposed to over time.

The CVS selection overall was quite different from that of Cardullo’s Gourmet Shoppe. Its selection offered familiar, inexpensive chocolate bars produced by major well-established food corporations was a trade off for the possible unethical qualities along the chocolate production line, which could not really be indicated to the uneducated chocolate consumer buying at CVS. I did, however find one instance of more “ethical” chocolate at CVS. Among the shelves of non-”Premium” chocolate, there was a brand of chocolate called “Endangered Species Chocolate.” This bar was a stark contrast from all others at CVS, which had no ethical chocolate certifications, and instead advertised that its contents are “Fairtrade,” “Non-GMO Verified,” “Certified Gluten Free,” and “Certified Vegan.” This stood out to me as an indication that not all of the chocolate at CVS is evil and corporate (in fact, chocolate being affordable and accessible is a great thing about the CVS candy selection, it just comes with supply chain trade offs to consider). CVS offered the majority of certification-free, big corporation candy bars, but definitely had something to offer for customers looking for another, perhaps more informative option.

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Endangered Species Chocolate was an enormous contrast the the other chocolate bars I found at CVS. It had lots of informational certifications on the wrapper, and was still much less expensive than most of the Cardullo’s options.

A “Gourmet” Selection:

Across the street, at Cardullo’s Gourmet Shoppe, there is a very different selection of chocolate offerings. Cardullo’s is not a chain store like CVS. The store sells all sorts of specialty gourmet foods, including candy, syrup, tea, coffee, seasonings, and wine. On the store’s left wall, is their panel labeled “Chocolate.” The shelves are taller than me by a few feet, and it seems that the chocolate selection is wider than CVS’s selection. The wrappings and brands enveloping the candies are all less loudly colorful than the candies I saw in CVS. Overall, the chocolates are less familiar to my eyes- not the brands I find at my supermarket in my home town. None of these candies are produced by any of the “Big 5” corporations represented in CVS. Anyone shopping for chocolates at Cardullo’s has to be willing to spend more than they might at CVS. The prices here are higher, between seven and thirty dollars. Part of this is because not many of the chocolates sold at Cardullo’s are from the “Big 5” corporate chocolate manufacturers. Many are instead from smaller chocolate companies that emphasize an assortment of certifications on their labels, which indicate the chocolates are “Fairtrade,” “Non GMO Project Verified,” “Certified Gluten Free,” and “USDA Organic” among other things.

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A picture of just some of the diverse selection of chocolates Cardullo’s had to offer.

These are what separate the chocolates at Cardullo’s from the chocolates at CVS. I could conclude two things a customer might be looking in chocolate here: more “ethical” chocolates, and chocolates that have some “health benefits.” Many of the products emphasized, right on the wrappers, where the cacao came from, empowering Cardullo’s customers with the ability to decide about single-source chocolate and the kind of relationship the chocolate company has the the cacao farmers. Often times, these smaller chocolate companies have more direct relationships with the farmers and offer long-term business to them, as well as fair working wages. Still, chocolate with higher prices can mean that the middle man is being paid more also, and that the farmer’s wages are not being increased as much as a customer thinks (Martin, Lecture 10, Slide 9). So while there is this ethical choice customers at Cardullo’s are able to make, unclarity and inconsistency in the way the chocolate is labeled obfuscates this decision.

Fairtrade-logo

A fair trade certification on food labels, like this, lets customers know that the workers in the farming and production process of the food they are purchasing were paid fair wages, still there are other similar certifications and sorting out their meaning in relation to each other can be a lot for customers to consider.

Of course, just like at CVS, there were exceptions to the surface idea that one store has better or more ethical chocolate than the other. Cardullo’s had an enormous selection of Cadbury chocolates. Cadbury is included in the Big 5 so prominently marketed at CVS. The Cadbury chocolates, unlike many of the chocolates from smaller companies at Cardullo’s, did not have any fair trade certifications or special health labels. A customer at Cardullo’s buying the Cadbury chocolates there would be less sure of the origins and contents of the chocolate than if he or she were buying and of the Taza chocolate or Chuao chocolate. Just like CVS had options outside of the Big 5 majority on its shelves, Cardullo’s offered Cadbury chocolates free of labels indicating any superfood or healthy benefits to the candy or socially conscious certifications, so neither store sold exclusively chocolate from either sort of company, and even within these companies are more differences in food content and social responsibility.

Conclusion

While certainly confusing and perhaps in need of some sort of standardization to help customers decide what chocolate they would like to buy, the selection at Cardullo’s does offer more information for customers to consider according to their values in a way the Reese’s, Snickers, and 3 Musketeer’s of the CVS shelves do not. In this way, the Cardullo’s customer is seemingly more empowered and aware of the social consequences of the chocolate they buy. Still, there are chocolate options at Cardullo’s that are from Big 5 chocolate companies and chocolate that does not include fair trade certifications or informations about the cacao’s origins. Moreover, while CVS was filled with familiar big brand chocolate bars, customers looking for more “ethical” chocolate there will not be at a complete loss.

Additionally, besides considering the stores themselves based on their offerings, the companies cannot be properly compared using any kind of binary. Bigger chocolate companies are often placed into this role with their cacao sources where the corporation is the exploiter and the farmers are being exploited. However, there are many parts to the problems in unethical chocolate. Its continuation on shelves can be attributed to consumer action, government regulations, the cultures in the communities the cacao comes from, and relationships between countries that trade cacao (Martin, Lecture 8, Slide 22). It is a complex and important problem which cannot be blamed solely on the Big 5 or CVS. Customers of Cardullo’s and CVS can help chocolate move in the ethical direction by educating themselves in social problems surrounding cacao and using that to their power in buying.

In considering the manifold options while buying chocolate bars and candies, there are a lot of factors to take into consideration. For many, price is one of the most important considerations, and companies that purchase bulk cacao like Hershey and Mars are the sought out options. Beyond price, chocolate buyers can be provided with information about the ingredient origins, the company’s relationships with farmers, and nutritional details to consider. This is a lot to think about, and until there is some standardized certifications or rating across all chocolate labels for customers to read and compare, it makes buying “better chocolate” pretty tricky. Because of these inconsistencies in labeling and certification, as well as evidence of chocolate from both major chocolate producers and smaller companies in both stores, the binary “good chocolate/bad chocolate” that I had first considered upon glancing over the stores’ selection was rejected. Instead, Harvard Square’s chocolate destinations offer an assortment of options that customers who know about chocolate quality and food politics must consider for themselves and their own values.

 

Sources:

Allen, Lawrence L. “Chocolate Fortunes.” New York: AMACOM, 2009. Print.

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson, 2000. Print.

Martin, Carla. Lecture 5.

Martin, Carla. Lecture 7.

Martin, Carla. Lecture 8.

Martin, Carla. Lecture 10.

Off, Carol. “Bitter Chocolate The Dark Side of the World’s Most Seductive Sweet.” New York: The New Press, 2008. Print.

Ryan, Orla. “Chocolate Nations: Living and Dying for Cocoa in West Africa.” New York: Zed Books, 2011. Print.

Image:
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Fairtrade-logo.jpg (Fair Trade logo)

(All other images taken by the author)

Specialty versus Convenience: An Analysis of Chocolate Experiences in Harvard Square

Harvard Square is a historical cultural and commercial center, serving as home to more than 90 restaurants and a variety of shops. Among these shops are two staples that are located only within a few hundred feet of each other: Cardullo’s Gourmet Shoppe and CVS. Cardullo’s advertises itself as a specialty food store featuring the Square’s oldest delicatessen and “gourmet delicacies from around the world,” whereas CVS is a popular pharmacy chain that sells a variety of general merchandise including beauty products and convenience foods. In examining the chocolate selections at both, it became clear that while the products offered were similar, each store was trying to create an immensely different experience for the consumer. Cardullo’s focused on creating one of specialty where the customer was likely to intentionally purchase chocolate, whereas CVS was focused creating an experience of convenience where chocolate was more likely to be purchased on impulse. At the same time, both locations sold chocolate brands that were for the most part mass-produced, which speaks to the pervasiveness of “Big Chocolate” in consumer society.

Cardullo's
Cardullo’s at 6 Brattle Street in Harvard Square

Cardullo’s prides itself on its history and selection, boasting on its website that since 1950, “gastronomes have delighted in getting lost” in the store’s extensive selection of coffees, wines, specialty gift baskets, and of course, chocolate. This statement certainly rang true for me– as soon as I entered the store, I was overwhelmed by the variety of products offered and spent the next hour scouring the aisles, examining delicious treats that I had never seen before. While I originally thought that most of these “gourmet” products were going to be quite expensive, I found that the majority of the brands were simply just foreign and that prices were quite reasonable (ranging from $5-10 for a bar of chocolate).

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Francois Pralus and Cote D'Or are two foreign brands that are sold in large quantities worldwide.
Francois Pralus and Cote D’Or are two foreign brands that are sold in large quantities worldwide.

I also found the majority of these exotic chocolates seemed to mass-produced. For instance, one of the most expensive chocolate brands I saw in the selection was François Pralus. Across each bar was stamped the phrase “Maitre Chocolatier,” which means Master Chocolatier in French, and these “pure origin bars” included Trinitario chocolate from Venezuela and Criollo chocolate from Madagascar. I immediately assumed from the beautiful packaging and focus on quality that François Pralus was an artisan brand that only distributed its chocolate in small quantities. However, upon further investigation of its website, I found that almost 100 tons of Pralus chocolate are manufactured and sold each year. Another brand that I assumed was a foreign brand of fine chocolate was Cote D’Or, which ended up being owned by Mondelez International, the distributor of Toblerone and Cadbury Dairy Milk in the United States. Additionally, I was intrigued by the fine packaging of neuhaus chocolate, only to find that the brand has over “1000 sales outlets in 50 countries.”

Raising the Bar: The Future of Fine Chocolate speaks to the issue of chocolate that is marketed to convey an image of gourmet quality but is actually sold in quantities reaching the millions. The authors explain that the problem with “premium chocolate” is that universal standard for the term does not exist. This blurs the line between what is considered premium, which is sold typically sold for upwards of $8 per pound, and what is considered fine chocolate, which is  sold for upwards of $24 per pound. Because “premium chocolate is whatever someone says it is,” the term ends up speaking not to the price point but rather a premium experience driven by packaging, consumer perception, and retail positioning.

chuao chocolate, available in "firecracker" and "potato chip," was one of the only artisan brands that I found.
chuao chocolate, available in “firecracker” and “potato chip,” was one of the only artisan brands that I found.

Given that the majority of its chocolate selection is comprised of bulk chocolate, Cardullo’s aims to create a “specialty” experience rather than a “fine” chocolate experience such as that of Formaggio’s. For instance, Cardullo’s carried not the Cadbury Dairy Milk found in supermarket chains across America, but rather a “specialized” version that is carried in the United Kingdom. Additionally, it carried Nestle Yorkie Bars, which are mass-produced chocolate, but primarily only sold in the UK. Even the one truly “artisan” brand I found, chuao chocolate, sold highly unusual flavors such as firecracker, popcorn, and potato chip. Thus, Cardullo’s aims to carry a specialty assortment of chocolate that is not necessarily expensive, but rather difficult to find or interesting in flavor. Those who happen to wander into Cardullo’s are committing to a pleasurable purchasing experience where they are exposed to a wide variety of foreign chocolates and must make an active, intentional decision to purchase this chocolate.

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CVS at 1426 Massachusetts Ave in Harvard Square

While customers who enter Cardullo’s intentionally step into an immersive experience browsing specialty chocolates, customers shopping in CVS may not be as intent on buying only chocolate. As Lawrence Allen explains in his novel Chocolate Fortunes, approximately 70 percent of chocolate is purchased by consumers on impulse. Thus, the majority of consumers walking into CVS are not entering specifically to buy chocolate – rather, they may be looking for a toothbrush and happen to pick up a bar of chocolate on the way out. Instead of selling an experience of specialty, CVS is selling one of convenience as a one-stop shop for a person’s basic needs. As Allen goes on to explain, industry studies have shown that only 22% of shoppers who enter a supermarket ever walk down the chocolate aisle. Because of this, chocolate companies make enormous efforts to get their products placed throughout the store, especially at the ends of retail shelves facing main traffic aisles.

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A large proportion of the premium chocolates at CVS were on special sale.

A perfect example of these two concepts of convenience and impulse can be found from an analysis of CVS’s “premium chocolate” selection. These “premium chocolates” were not placed in the regular chocolate aisle, but rather strategically at the end of the soda aisle so that people who were buying soda would be inclined to throw a pack into their baskets. The emphasis on convenience and affordability is evidenced by the fact that even the “high-end” chocolates at CVS were marked very clearly with bright yellow signs to signify that there was a special deal going on. Lindt chocolates were all marked down to 2 for $5.00, indicating that this deal was a steal to passersby to pick up two, four, or six packs. These premium chocolates were similar to the bulk premium chocolates found in Cardullo’s, as Godiva and Lindt are very well-known and regarded brands in the United States. As explained in Chocolate Science and Technology, these mass premium products are priced to attract customers as an affordable luxury for those wanting a reward without the need for a special occasion. The Lindt chocolates are meant to be fancy without being too fancy, and elegant but reasonably priced in order to entice customers to pick up a package on impulse. They would be drawn in by these flashy sale signs and the convenient placement along the end of the aisle, and ultimately make a purchase.

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The enormous chocolate selection at CVS

The Hershey Factory is the largest chocolate factory in the world, and through mass mechanization makes treats that are available in convenience stores such as CVS.

Aside from this special premium chocolate selection, the assortment available in the regular chocolate aisle was what would be expected of a CVS, with all the “Big Chocolate” players – including Hershey, Nestle, and Mars – asserting their dominant presence. Once again, yellow stickers indicating special deals were tacked all along the shelves, and prices were astoundingly low while the variety of products offered was astoundingly high. This speaks to the power of multinational corporations and their ability to produce and distribute millions of pounds of chocolate. As detailed in Industrial Food: Towards the Development of a World, this ability is mainly due to improvements in mechanization and transport of food in the Industrial Revolution of the 1800’s. Coupled with this technical revolution of mass-producing food was the increased volume of trade in tea and sugar, which eventually led to the explosion of grocer retailers as the providers of the convenience food that we have today. As a result, a bulk retailer like CVS focuses more on providing affordability and convenience to its customers over everything else.

Chocolate should not be interpreted as simply just a caloric substance that humans choose to digest – rather, the process of purchase tells a story behind the intentions of the retailer selling the product. In this case, it became clear that Cardullo’s and CVS intended to create different experiences for the consumer of specialty versus convenience. However, it is also important to recognize that none of these experiences exist as polarities or are mutually exclusive. This is evidenced by the fact that in both stores, there were a range of products offered, in which artisan and bulk chocolates, and “premium” and discounted chocolates were sold side by side. Thus, analyzing the chocolate selections at different stores speaks volumes to the consumer experience, and, thanks to this course, is something I will pay particular attention to from now on.

Works Cited

 Afoakwa, Emmanuel Ohene. 2010. “Chocolate Science and Technology.” pp. 13-20.

Allen, Lawrence. 2010. Chocolate Fortunes: the Battle for the Hearts, Minds, and Wallets of China’s Consumers. pp. 1-39, 201-224

Goody, Jack. 2013[1982]. “Industrial Food: Towards the Development of a World Cuisine.” pp. 72-88

Williams, Pam and Jim Beer. 2012. Raising the Bar: The Future of Fine Chocolate. pp. 141-209