Industrialization greatly improved the quantity, quality, and variety of food of the working urban populations of the Western World. This development was due to reasons which were two-fold: first, historical developments such as colonialism and overseas trade were structures which inspired this process, and second, specific technologies such as preserving, mechanization, retailing, transport, and the growth of the commercial catering business allowed for the distribution and access of chocolate to flourish. Technologies which were developed from the Industrial Revolution greatly changed the worldwide consumption of chocolate, greatly increasing the quantity and ease of its production and distribution and subsequently increasing the ease and diversity of consumers’ access to chocolate products.
The Industrial Revolution began in England in the early 19th century, and stemmed from factors such as a smaller population and thus a need for a more efficient workforce. Prior to industrialization, the majority of people in Europe subsisted on peasant farming and leasing land from the elite (Dimitri et al. 2). In the latter half of the second millennium A.D., voyages of discovery around the globe sparked colonialism in foreign lands soon thereafter. There were various philosophies in justification of colonialism; one was that of social evolutionism and intervention philosophies, or the idea that natives were incapable of governing themselves and in need of outside intervention. According to research published by M. Shahid Alam of Northeastern University, industrialization of countries across the world was unequal; some countries underwent industrialization centuries prior to others (Alam 5). The reason for this was partially due to the fact that some countries colonized other countries for their own imperial or industrial benefit, so the colonized countries themselves could not go undergo industrialization at that time. Great Britain, Spain (and subsequently Portugal), and France were a few imperial superpowers which underwent industrialization first and each dominated many colonies.
Image Source: Dimitri C, Effland A, Conklin N. “The 20th Century Transformation of U.S. Agriculture and Farm Policy.” USDA ERS. 2006.
Because of the far-reaching, global geography of these mother countries’ colonies, the colonial economy depended on international trade. For example, the British empire depended on the American colonies’ production of goods, as did the colonies on the goods of the British Empire. Merchants sent out ships to trade with North America and the West Indies; in 1686 alone, over 1 million euros of goods were shipped to London (“Trade and Commerce”). While wool textiles from England’s manufacturers that spurred from the Industrial Revolution were shipped to the Americas, the colonies shipped goods such as sugar, tobacco, and other tropical groceries from its plantations back across the pond. Due to Europe’s incredibly high demand for some of these American goods, the slave trade developed to meet Industrialization’s hefty needs for cheap labor (“Trade and Commerce”).
A few hundred years later, significant agricultural technologies spurred from industrialization. By the early 1900s, most American farms were diversified, meaning that various animals and crops were produced on the same cropland in complementary ways. However, specialization was a method which developed in farms at around this same time, used to increase efficiency by narrowing the range of tasks and roles involved in production. This way, specialized farmers could focus all their knowledge, skills, and equipment on one or two enterprises. Furthermore, mechanization allowed for the tremendous gains in efficiency with getting rid of the need for human labor with routine jobs such as sowing seeds, harvesting crops, milking cows, and feeding and slaughtering animals. Within the 20th century only, the percentage of the U.S. workforce involved in agriculture declined from 41 percent to 2 percent (Dimitri et al. 2). This greatly increased the efficiency of the production of ingredients which go into chocolate such as milk, cacao, sugar, salt, and vanilla from their respective farms.
In addition to farming technologies such as specialization, methods such as preserving, mechanization, retailing (and wholesaling), transport, and the growth of the commercial catering business improved the quality of the chocolate product itself and lessened the amount of time many large chocolate companies produced these chocolates drastically (Goody 74).
The mechanism of preserving was spearheaded by Nicolas Appert, who developed a process called canning (“bottling” in English) in response to conditions in France during the Napoleonic Wars, when the preservation of meat was important for feeding on-the-road soldiers (Goody 75). Glass containers were also developed around the same time to preserve wine and medicine. Methods such as artificial freezing as well as salt — which became such a popular form of preservation that a “salt tax” was eventually implemented — also developed to preserve foods. Pickling inside vinegar, as well as sugar, which was used to preserve fruits and jams, were also methods which advanced. This, in turn, also caused the imports of sugar to rapidly increase during the 18th century (Goody 75). With preservation mechanisms highly developed compared to before, chocolate products could finally be distributed from manufacturers and remain on shelves for quite some time — it did not necessarily need to be fresh to be sold and readily available to consumers.
Additionally, the process of mechanization was the manufacture of many processed and packaged foods, and this process was furthered by Ford’s assembly line and interchangeable parts. Through these technologies, packaged foods and products could be produced much more quickly and efficiently at greater quantities. This greatly increased the production efficiency and quantity with which packaged chocolate could be distributed, allowing for the proliferation of the some of the biggest mass-brands in chocolate production, such as Hershey’s and Nestle (Goody 81).
Furthermore, the process of retailing was marked by the shift from open market to closed shop; this process began as early as Elizabethan times. Back in the Elizabethan era, great efforts were made to ensure that there were no middle men in terms of sales and that there was no resale at higher prices. Eventually, however, grocers overtook the import of foreign goods. Just as imported goods became cheaper with the new developments in transport, so too did manufactured goods and items packaged before sale came to dominate the market (Goody 82-3). This allowed many various chocolate products from manufacturers all across the world to hit the shelves of grocers, readily available to consumers of any city in the United States. These products were generally branded goods, “sold” before sale by national advertising. Advertising itself, additionally, led to the homogenization of chocolate consumption, allowing similar brands of chocolate products to be distributed across the U.S. This even led to the eventual homogenization of American taste preferences for chocolate; because the Hershey’s chocolate bar was so heavily distributed and popularized, eventually, Americans were unaccustomed to anything that did not have Hershey’s uniquely sweet and salty taste (“Here There Will Be…” 108).
The final large component of industrialization which greatly increased chocolate production and distribution was the revolution of transportation. Rail transport provided the masses with cheap and wholesome food; in fact, there were certain periods of time during the Industrial Revolution in which U.S. railways were transporting goods more than people (Goody 82). Last but not least, the growth of the commercial catering business led to the decline of the domestic servant. This decline of the domestic servant also allowed English families to explore quick, sweet recipes incorporating chocolate such as brownies, cookies, and cakes.
Bigger-picture progressions in history such as colonization and international trade connected the world economy and allowed for technologies such as preserving, mechanization, retailing, and new transport to grow and flourish. These methods, in turn, caused global companies such as Hershey’s and Nestle to revolutionize the production and distribution of chocolate into a massive, global business. What was once enjoyed by the few and wealthy was now easily accessible by the masses, homogenizing the tastes of Americans to a few specific chocolate brands. None of this impact on chocolate products’ consumers and producers alike would have been possible without the historical and technological developments of the Industrial Revolution.
Alam, M. Shahid. “Colonialism and Industrialization: Empirical Results.” Review of Radical Political Economics, 1998, pp. 217–240., doi:10.2139/ssrn.2031131.
JH Bloomberg School of Public Health. “Industrialization of Agriculture.” Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins University, 5 Aug. 2016, foodsystemprimer.org/food-production/industrialization-of-agriculture/index.html.“To the Milky Way and Beyond; Breaking the Mold.” The Emperors of Chocolate: inside the Secret World of Hershey and Mars, by Brenner Joël Glenn., Broadway Books, 2000, pp. 49–194.
Hershey’s chocolate has become a fixture in American culture as a symbol of enjoyment. Hershey’s bars, Hershey’s kisses, and even Hersheypark have immortalized Milton S. Hershey’s pursuit of a chocolate empire. The chocolate that many people know and love today is the result of a century-old process, which emerged in the wake of various industrialized food production methods. Developments in preservation, mechanization, retailing/wholesaling, and transport had immense impact on Hershey’s business, and on the food industry more broadly (Goody 72). Though the history behind a Hershey’s bar is not the first thought that comes to mind while enjoying it, it is important to understand the candy’s journey to widespread prominence. Hershey’s is only one manifestation of an entire shift in both production and consumption due to industrialization in the United States. The Hershey Company, in conjunction with industrialization, heavily influenced consumer habits while innovating in production (Martin). Hershey would not be the company it is today, nor would it have such extensive influence in America, if it not had timely access to various mass production methods.
When thinking of industrialization in the United States, the textile and automobile industries often come to mind before food does. In “Industrial Food: Towards the Development of a World Cuisine,” Jack Goody categorically outlines many of the effects industrialization had on food, and he begins by explaining the importance of the biscuit (74). Goody notes that the biscuit “long pre-dated the Industrial Revolution, though its production and distribution were radically transformed by the course of those changes” and thus the biscuit became an “important element in the development of the industrial cuisine” (74). Though an unlikely suspect, biscuits played a part in establishing how food could be preserved and distributed to people near and far, therefore indirectly impacting chocolate’s eventual popularization on mass markets.
The preservation and use of milk in chocolate development became key in the production of chocolate. Condensed milk, for example, benefitted from the rise in canning (Goody 77). Milk played an important part in Hershey’s mass production strategy. John Schmalbach assisted Milton Hershey in the quest to perfect the milk evaporation process, and eventually they achieved a “warm, smooth, sweetened condensed milk that accepted cocoa powder, cocoa butter, and other ingredients without getting lumpy” (D’Antonio 107). Achieving the perfect chemistry of the chocolate’s ingredients was instrumental in producing chocolate for the masses, and Hershey could make chocolate quickly and cheaply as a result (D’Antonio 108).
Mass production allowed Hershey to produce chocolate to sell to consumers far and wide, and it also gave them the ability to reach consumers indirectly. Frank Mars and Milton Hershey developed a business relationship, and Mars’ flagship product, Snickers, used Hershey’s chocolate as a coating (Brenner 58). Hershey’s omnipresence and popularity in the realm of candy showed how American preferences were evolving. “It would also come to define the taste of chocolate for Americans, who would find harmony in the sweet but slightly sour flavor” (D’Antonio 108). Today, Hershey is a standard for the flavor of milk chocolate in the United States.
Hershey’s impact on consumers has transcended flavor. Hershey’s bars, kisses, and other products have come to symbolize sweetness in every capacity. Two main factors continue to drive Hershey’s popularity: effective marketing and longstanding history. First, Hershey’s has employed a number of marketing strategies to communicate different stories that will resonate with consumers. Commercials, like the one below, integrate Hershey’s products into a story that aims to bring people together with the common love for the chocolate.
Second, Hershey’s touts a well-established position in the market historically. Though competitors, like Cadbury and Nestle, have become increasingly popular, Hershey has the ability to evoke nostalgia in consumers. Their position in the market historically allows them to run such successful marketing campaigns. Without its history, Hershey’s could not leverage its position in the market to reach consumers on an emotional level.
Industry has, of course, evolved exponentially since the advent of the Hershey Company. Now, the emphasis is on efficiency and innovation rather than using technology to establish a product’s foundation. Though Hershey has expanded its breadth by experimenting with different flavors and brands, its core products still contribute to driving the company. As displayed in the video below, Hershey’s Kisses still remain the small and enjoyable candies they always have been, but they are now produced more efficiently.
One of the most important parts of the Hershey business model, in the case of Kisses, is accessibility. Michael D’Antonio describes the success of the small candy, noting that the high quantities and low cost “meant that every grocer, druggist, and candy store owner in America could stock Hershey products—and most of them did” (121). The production displayed in the video above carries on the legacy of ensuring retailers and consumers can access Hershey’s Kisses.
Hershey has remained one of the most iconic American businesses and using its deeply embedded connections to markets and consumers has served the company well over time. Milton S. Hershey’s dedication to expanding chocolate in the United States has withstood changes in politics, culture, and trends. This would not have been possible without mass production and key developments in ingredients, business, and marketing.
Brenner, Joël Glenn. The Emperors of Chocolate: inside the Secret World of Hershey and Mars. Broadway Books, 2000.
D’Antonio, Michael. Hershey: Milton’s S. Hershey’s Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams. Simon & Schuster Paperback, 2006.
Goody, Jack. “Industrial Food: Towards the Development of a World Cuisine.” Food and Culture: a Reader, by Carole Counihan and Penny Van Esterik, Routledge, 2013, pp. 72–90.
Martin, Carla. “The Rise of Big Chocolate and Race for the Global Market.” 13 Mar. 2018.
“There is not, of necessity, any such thing as the free hired laborer being fixed to that condition for life. . . Many independent men, . . . doubtless a few years ago were hired laborers. And their case is almost if not quite the general rule. The prudent, penniless beginner in the world, labors for wages awhile, saves a surplus with which to buy tools or land, for himself; then labors on his own account another while, and at length hires another new beginner to help him. This . . . is free labor — the just and generous, and prosperous system, which opens the way for all.” – Abraham Lincoln, Before the Wisconsin State Agricultural Society (9/30/1859)[i]
The Free Labor Ideal is based in the idea that a worker, properly compensated for their efforts, can advance himself, ultimately becoming a full-blown venture capitalist, should he set his mind to it. This ideal is often contrasted with pro-slavery ideologies, which focused on the advancement of one class of people through the enslavement of another.[ii] Interestingly, while these two economic ideologies have radically different proposals for the lives of the underclass, their portrayal of the rich is mutually consistent.
Eric Williams, in his book Capitalism and Slavery, even described slave plantations as the precursor to modern industrial processes.[iii] Slave laborers were forced to work in assembly line-like structures, to strip, boil, and process sugar cane. Their plantations often had windmills for power generation, advanced packaging facilities, and even ports for product shipment. Indeed, to the sugar baron, plantation life was identical to the tycoon lifestyle. The wealthiest plantation owners were locally powerful, well respected, and lived in fine mansion homes. In this sense, their experience was little different from the entrepreneurs of the gilded age.[iv]
To the slaves, however, the sugar business was radically oppressive. They were forced to work without wages, living in whatever communal shacks their masters provided them, often lacking basic necessities, while constantly at risk of violent assault. The ultimate aspiration of most slaves was simply to win the right to leave, and many were willing to resort to violence if need be. Slave rebellions were common throughout the Caribbean and American South, and some, like Haiti in 1791, and Jamaica in 1795, proved successful in destroying plantations and emancipating large numbers of people.[v]
In the United States, government-sanctioned slavery didn’t end until 1865, with the ratification of the 13th amendment. Once the system was officially ended, entrepreneurs were forced to search out new forms of labor management. In the North, several wealthy tycoons had been experimenting with the concept of utopian communes. Building off European “Phalanstery” concepts, and emulating older entrepreneurs, like Henry Cabot Lowell, some businessmen decided to charter their own industrial hamlets.[vi] This eventually resulted in the establishment of company towns.
In the 1880s, George Pullman established the company town of Pullman, Illinois, on the outskirts of Chicago.[vii] There, he housed the workers employed in his railroad car manufacturing plant. Pullman carefully designed the community to be luxurious, providing his employees with sewage, gas, and internal plumbing. He then made sure to charge a reasonable rent to each worker, based on the average salary at the plant. Pullman strictly enforced social rules regarding life in his town, ever willing to fire and evict those that strayed out of line.
Unfortunately for Pullman, the railcar business took a turn for the worst, following a global recession in 1893. As demand dropped, he was forced to cut shifts, cut costs, and cut pay. This infuriated workers, who quickly noted that Pullman had not cut their rent. In short order, the citizens of Pullman Illinois organized into the American Railway Union, headed by famous socialist Eugene Debs. The ARU represented rail workers across the United States, and Debs mobilized the Union to reject all trains with Pullman brand railway cars. This crippled the country, essentially halting all rail travel and disrupting mail delivery. The standoff ended only when President Grover Cleveland sent in the army to break the railway strikes.
Ten years later, Milton Hershey began construction of his own company town near Derry Township, in Pennsylvania.[viii] Hershey learned from the likes of Pullman, understanding that direct control of his town’s housing stock was unnecessary. Rather, allowing his laborers to make wages, own their homes, and invest in the local community was an effective way of maintaining their content. The fact that Hershey was the dominant employer in the area, the source of all dollars flowing into the town, and the provider of all local services, from the streetcar to the zoo, was enough.
Hershey, like Pullman, had strict rules about how the town was meant to run. He allowed for over “a hundred lots that would be sold to people who would be permitted to build their own homes,” but those “houses would have to be two stories tall, with pitched roofs. Owners couldn’t use their property for any ‘offensive purpose or occupation’ – piggeries, saloons, and blacksmiths were expressly forbidden – and they could not build a fence without M.S. Hershey’s approval.[ix]” In this way, Hershey was able to tightly control how his company town would look and feel, while simultaneously granting workers the ability to own their own homes.
The Company Towns of Pullman and Hershey are closer to a slave plantation than some may care to recognize. The means of production, the housing stock, the local services, the food, medicine, and transportation infrastructure, were all owned by one central authority figure. Each was based in the utopian ideal of their sole creator, and each existed primarily to enrich their founders off the labor of their inhabitants.
The primary variable that differentiated Hershey from Pullman, and Pullman from the sugar plantations of yore, was worker freedom. Pullman paid his workers and didn’t coerce them through physical violence in the way the slave drivers did. Hershey went even further, allowing his workers to own property. Over time, Hershey would continuously concede even more rights to his workers, shortening their work days and raising their wages. This allowed them to get closer to the ultimate Free Labor Ideal and minimized the kind of dramatic backlash that previous company towns had faced.
Hershey still exists today, in a way that Pullman does not, specifically because it didn’t collapse in on itself. The workers didn’t tear it down the way that slaves tore down their plantations in Jamaica, Cuba, and Haiti. In a sense, Hershey discovered that the most critical aspect of utopia is buy-in; ultimately, that means individual applicability, which proved easiest to achieve by maximizing the Free Labor Ideal.
[i] Lincoln, Abraham. 1859. Speech Before the Wisconsin State Agricultural Society.
[ii] VanderVelde, Lea S. “The Labor Vision of the Thirteenth Amendment.” University of Pennsylvania Law Review 138, no. 2 (1989): 437-504. doi:10.2307/3312315.
[iii] Williams, Eric. 1994. Capitalism and Slavery
[iv] Mintz, Sidney. 1986. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York: Penguin Books.r
[v] Julia Gaffield. “Haiti and Jamaica in the Remaking of the Early Nineteenth-Century Atlantic World.” The William and Mary Quarterly 69, no. 3 (2012): 583-614. doi:10.5309/willmaryquar.69.3.0583.
[vi] MacDonald, Allan. “Lowell: A Commercial Utopia.” The New England Quarterly 10, no. 1 (1937): 37-62. doi:10.2307/360145.
[vii] Buder, Stanley. 1967. Pullman: An Experiment in Industrial Order and Community Planning 1880-1930.
[viii] D’Antonio, Michael D. 2006. Hershey: Milton S. Hershey’s Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams. pp. 106-126
Referring to chocolate, the
Italian conquistador Girolamo Benzoni wrote that it “seemed more a drink for
pigs, than a drink for humanity” (Coe and Coe 110). Given this statement, it
seems incredible that today in much of the world, we have come to know chocolate
as a sweet, decadent luxury food. Much of chocolate’s transformation – from a
bitter drink reserved for elites to a sweet, inexpensive candy – has to do with
changes that occurred in Europe beginning in the sixteenth century and
continuing through the Industrial Revolution. Colonialism, along with the
advent of plantation agriculture and industrial technology, all functioned to alter
the perceptions and attitudes surrounding chocolate in Europe and the New World,
democratizing it, until it eventually became the mass-produced food that so
many people know and love today.
Chocolate, the solid food that it is most commonly known today, comes from the fruit of the cacao tree. In ancient Mesoamerica, the cacao tree was sacred; images of cacao trees are linked to gods and the afterlife in Aztec and Maya religions (Leissle). This religious association is what led Linnaeus to give cacao the genus name Theobroma, which translates to “food of the gods” (Leissle). Archeological evidence also suggests that cacao was made as a drink primarily for Aztec and Maya elites. After Spanish conquistadors arrived in Central America and became accustomed to cacao, the association between cacao consumption and elites was transferred to Europe. The Spanish were the first to introduce cacao to Europe in 1544, when Dominican friars brought a Kekchi Maya delegation to meet Prince Philip of Spain, and they brought cacao with them (Coe and Coe). Soon after, consumption of chocolate drinks, inspired by Mesoamerican recipes, became popular in European royal courts. As chocolate’s popularity grew in Europe, its association with aristocracy was solidified. For example, it became a potent status symbol for French nobility to own a silver chocolatière, or chocolate pot, as seen in the image below. In Baroque France, distinctive silver pieces such as this one signified that the owner was of a high enough social class to be able to purchase cacao and enjoy chocolate drinks on a regular basis.
As European nations colonized the
Caribbean and Central and South America, the resulting increase in agricultural
production through slave labor allowed chocolate’s popularity to grow even
further as it became increasingly accessible to working-class people. The
establishment of New World cacao plantations and using the labor of African slaves
allowed European powers to control the production of cacao and import it at lower
costs (Martin and Sampeck). Additionally, transatlantic
triangular trade allowed cacao to be transported to West Africa and Indonesia,
where it was also cultivated for European consumption, with West Africa,
specifically Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, becoming the primary production center of
cacao after the abolition of slavery (Martin and Sampeck; Leissle). Thus, under colonial influence,
cacao production was able to expand to meet the growing demand for chocolate
among the upper classes.
This increasing desire for
chocolate was reinforced by the massive growth of the sugar industry at the
same time and by the same means of production (Mintz). However, it was not until
the rise of capitalistic economies and increasing industrialization that sugar
and chocolate consumption really increased dramatically in Europe (Coe and Coe). Until the Industrial Revolution,
chocolate was primarily consumed as a drink; a number of industrial processes
were important for transforming chocolate into solid food. For example, the process
for manufacturing Dutch process cocoa powder involved a more efficient method
of separating cocoa butter from cocoa powder, which allowed the powder to mix
more easily with water (Coe and Coe). Using this technology, the
Fry company was able to create a recipe for the first true chocolate bars,
involving cocoa powder, sugar, and melted cocoa butter. From then on, chocolate
was on its way to being considered primarily as a relatively inexpensive food,
especially as the number and size of chocolate companies grew and other
technological innovations emerged for creating desirable and marketable chocolate
Demand for eating chocolate and cultivation of cacao in West Africa mutually reinforced each other’s growth, which incentivized large chocolate companies to create more efficient and cost-effective manufacturing techniques. One such company is Hershey’s, an American-based enterprise which is responsible for creating a recipe for milk chocolate that could be mass produced faster and cheaper by using liquid condensed milk rather than powdered milk as European companies did (D’Antonio). The image below, from a booklet produced by Hershey’s, showcases an additional aspect that contributed to their manufacturing success: their factory. The photos of the interior of the factory underscore the massive scale of their operations, and this indicates that chocolate production had become fully mechanized at this point in time – a far cry from the small-scale production of chocolate by hand in ancient Mesoamerica.
The printing of this pamphlet also highlights not only that Hershey’s was committed to utilizing the most current manufacturing technology, but also that large companies’ success depended a large part upon public opinion of their operations. As chocolate became increasingly affordable and available to people in Europe and America, companies needed to compete for customer loyalty within the capitalist market. Advertising was and remains crucial for companies to target specific consumers and persuade them to buy their product instead of a similar product from another company. Ads such as the one for Fry’s chocolate below often associated chocolate with images of innocence and the desire for sweetness. The customer buying the chocolate is a young girl, which associates childhood, innocence, and femininity with chocolate and sweetness. The children outside are all gazing longingly at the chocolate, too, which suggests that Fry’s chocolate is something that everyone wants to enjoy. Most importantly, the Fry name is written all over the ad, so that everyone who views the ad remembers the name.
Advertising helped chocolate companies become household names, and led to chocolate brands developing recognizable, signature tastes. Thus, chocolate was completely transformed into a commodity for all people to enjoy. None of chocolate’s evolution to this status as an industrialized, highly processed, and popular food would have been possible without the increases in production of cacao and sugar as a result of colonialism and plantation slavery, as well as technological improvements during the Industrial Revolution. All of these changes allowed chocolate’s price to drop significantly, and it also led to chocolate’s shift from drink to solid food. So, when we eat a chocolate bar, we can credit its existence to the changes in production and consumption that corresponded to industrialization and globalization in the past few hundred years.
Coe, Sophie D., and Michael
D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. 3rd Edition, Thames & Hudson,
D’Antonio, Michael D.
“Here There Will Be No Unhappiness.” Hershey: Milton S. Hershey’s
Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams, Simon &
Schuster, 2006, pp. 106–26.
Leissle, Kristy. Cocoa.
Polity Press, 2018.
Martin, Carla D., and
Kathryn E. Sampeck. “The Bitter and Sweet of Chocolate in Europe.” Socio.Hu,
vol. 3, 2015, pp. 37–60.
Mintz, Sidney. Sweetness
and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. Penguin Books, 1986.
Hershey Chocolate Corporation. The Story of Chocolate and Cocoa Booklet. 1926. National Archives at Philadelphia (RE-PA), US National Archives Research Catalog, https://catalog.archives.gov/id/18558585. Accessed 14 Mar. 2019.
Dating back to the Olmec civilization
starting around 1500 BCE, cacao has taken on uses in religious, cultural, and
medicinal contexts (Coe & Coe, 2013). It was featured in early colonial
documents alleviating fevers and treating fatigue. Global consumption of sugar
and chocolate skyrocketed so that it contributed to the obesity epidemic in
America. Americans now question the “healthy” snack that used to “food of the
gods” (Lippi, 2009). As our society becomes more health conscious, chocolate
consumption declines. Brands like Hershey’s and Mars are adjusting their
products, and snackers opt for vitamin-rich dark chocolate, smoothies, and
salads. For years to come in the United States, chocolate most likely will
remain integral to social events but be consumed in smaller amounts and
different contexts, such as protein shakes and bars, more frequently than
caloric snacks off the shelves at the cash register.
Although chocolate was consumed in religious rituals, social settings, and used for decorations, it was also applied to cure illnesses. The ancient Maya believed it had many benefits, including aphrodisiac qualities, which is why we gift it on Valentine’s day (Martin, Feb. 13 Lecture). Manuscripts featured chocolate in medical applications, such as the Badianus Codex of 1552 using cacao flowers to treat fatigue, the Florentine Codex of 1590 using cacao beans to treat hearts, and the Badianus Manuscript of 1552 applying cacao flowers to energize men in public office (Dillinger et al., 2000). The books of Chilam Balamand and The Ritual of the Bacabs are copies of codices and also feature cacao being used as medicine (Dreiss & Greenhill, 2008). The Maya used it during ceremonies to alleviate fevers, seizures, and skin abnormalities. Their botanical remedies typically featured cacao as the main ingredient to cure such ailments.
Alphonse de Richeliu introduced the treatment to France, and it was taken on for energy, digestion, breast milk production, kidney stones, poor appetite, and other purposes (Coe & Coe). The Spanish even believed it improved conception probability and breast milk quality (Dillinger et al., 2000). Chocolate was thought to have many nutrients, so the Church banned consuming it during religious fasts unless for medicinal purposes. Chocolate was considered a cure for almost any ailment.
Chocolate consumption grew exponentially throughout the 1900s due to several innovations that allowed mass production of cheaper chocolate and enabled it to spread beyond the elite. Incomes rose and production costs fell after the Industrial Revolution. Coenraad Johannes Van Houton invented the hydraulic press, which separated cocoa solids from cocoa butter (Coe & Coe, 2013).
As shown above, the press is comprised of cylinders,
pistons, and hydraulic pipes. A piston is inserted into the small cylinder to
create pressure so liquid cocoa can move through the pipes (Coe & Coe, 2013).
As it goes through the press, the fat is squeezed out and the result is fat
free cocoa powder. Another development was conchin, a stirring process to make
chocolate smooth. These inventions allowed chocolate to change from a foamy
drink only consumed by the elite to a cheap and delicious option for all
classes. Fry & Nestle even created a solid form of chocolate, which further
increased accessibility (Coe & Coe, 2013). Mintz noted that sugar
production increased so much that it became integral to the English diet
(Mintz, 1986). By 1900, sugar constituted 20% of English calories consumed and
chocolate was a major part of their diets.
There are positive effects to chocolate. Dark chocolate has a high cocoa content and antioxidants. Harvard Health notes that dark chocolate can help athletes’ oxygen availability during competition (Tello, 2018). Americans adopted chocolate as a delicious treat but had difficulty consuming it in moderation. Today, chocolate mostly is seen as a contributor to obesity. Many favorite snacks are loaded with sugar and fat. Cacao butter is filled with saturated fat and harmful for cholesterol (Mintz, 1986). With America wrestling with an obesity epidemic, chocolate and sugar are identified as culprits.
Rather than focusing on the medicinal qualities of chocolate, society now raises concerns about high sugar content (Twitter). Low prices of huge sharing size bags lead to some consuming excessive amounts of sugar in one sitting. A bag of Hershey’s individually wrapped chocolate bars contains up to 81 grams of sugar (Google Images). The negative health effects commercial chocolate contains are gaining media attention, and people are adjusting their eating habits accordingly.
Consumption of chocolate is now falling in America because of trends toward being healthier and losing weight. Diet brands are raking in dollars as consumers opt for more nutritious options with less sugar. Salad chains, Weight Watchers, and workout classes such as Barry’s Boot Camp and Soul Cycle have become popular. Chocolate consumption drops. The average American ate 12.6 lbs of chocolate in 2007 but only 9.5 lbs in 2015 (Wong, 2016). Healthier brands like Atkins and Kind are selling better than Hershey’s and forcing companies to adjust to their audiences. A recent Skinny Pop commercial depicts the new trend:
The commercial ends with a child remarking, “It’s all real, that’s pretty cool” regarding the three ingredients in Skinny Pop (popcorn, sunflower oil, salt). The next generation is being raised to be more health conscious and to consume natural ingredients rather than sugar and saturated fat.
The consumption decline is shown by dominant brands diversifying as they lose market share. More than 50% of confectionary market share was controlled by only five brands: Hershey’s, Mars, Nestle, Craft, and Ferrero (Coe & Coe, 2013). Hershey’s recently acquired amplify snack brands, which owns Skinny Pop, in a $1.6 billion deal (Global News Wire, 2017). Hershey’s is even beginning to produce meat bars, as their former best sellers are no longer sailing off shelves. Hershey’s isn’t the only old dominant brand struggling. Mars invested in Kind Bars, which features health conscious mottos on their labels (Global news Wire, 2017). Chocolate brands adjust their products and tailor to a changing audience, which will alter how chocolate is consumed.
Not only are Americans consuming less chocolate, but when they do it is in different contexts. Fitness spots such as Equinox still sell chocolate but offer bars that are gluten, dairy, sugar alcohol, and trans fat free.
Chocolate is featured in low sugar bars and protein shakes more frequently than in caloric foamy drinks. The turn in society towards healthier lifestyles, less sugar consumption, and increased fitness has caused vendor diversification and is changing the way chocolate is consumed.
Despite chocolate and cacao’s widespread medicinal uses in the past, it has been demoted to a sugary dessert in America. As people fight the obesity crisis, consumers practice self-control and grab alternative foods off the shelves. Brands with “skinny” in the name have grown in number: skinny pop, skinny cow, and halo top with the number of calories in huge print. Advertisements featuring natural ingredients, such as the Skinny Pop commercial, are successful. The chocolate market may never be the same—Hershey’s with the famous brown sealed chocolate bar now is selling popcorn and even meat bars (yuck). Not only has chocolate consumption declined, but the way the population consume it has changed because it is being revamped into healthier foods and not just sweet desserts.
Coe, Sophie D. and Michael
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Chocolate. 3rd edition. London:
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Dillinger, Teresa, et al. “Food of the
Gods: Cure for Humanity? A Cultural History of the Medicinal and Ritual Use of
Chocolate.” Oxford Academic The Journal of Nutrition, Oxford
University Press, 1 Aug. 2000, academic.oup.com/jn/article/130/8/2057S/4686320.
Dreiss, Meredith L., and Sharon Edgar
Greenhill. Chocolate: Pathway to the Gods. University of Arizona
Martin, Carla D. “Mesoamerica and the ‘Food of the Gods.’” Chocolate, Culture and the Politics of Food. Harvard University: Cambridge, MA. 13 Feb. 2017. Lecture.
Mintz, Sidney. 1986. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York: Penguin Books.Popcorn, SkinnyPop. “SkinnyPop | Simple Tastes Better.” YouTube, YouTube, 10 Aug. 2016, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_iCta8t7BmU.
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 history of chocolate illustrates the dilemma of good intentions and the moral ambiguity of efforts by one culture — in this case that of the wealthy white Christianity-dominated West — to re-form and re-create another culture in their own image. This ambiguity shows itself in the early history of American Christian missionaries bringing their faith — faith in God, and in the sort of education and vocational training they saw as inseparable from the preaching of the gospel — to Ghana in the late 19th and early 20 century, and it shows itself throughout the history of complex cultural interactions around the cultivation of chocolate. It shows itself, too, in the current conditions of the economy of chocolate, and, maybe most poignantly, in the ideological and humanistic battles around the billion-dollar trust created by the vast chocolate wealth of the Hershey family and the extraordinary school it funds. Like chocolate, religious and moral proselytizing often comes in with a sugar coating that can’t be refused, but underneath that sweetness lies something bitter.
Missionaries promise better lives for the people they preach to, while often completely devaluing and invalidating their existing cultures and lives. In the article “MISSIONARY SPOTLIGHT – Ghana’s Christian legacy” on Evangelical Times, it is claimed that Christianity has “contributed in no small way to the development of Ghanaian society and the well-being of its people.” This article claims that while part of this improvement was due to development of education and medical services, Presbyterian Basel missionaries also helped the people of Ghana by introducing cacao to the region and providing training on how to grow it. The author notes that spreading Christianity in Ghana was not always an easy task. Missionaries were sometimes not welcomed, and “faced the hostility of the priests of traditional African religion, particularly when the latter’s shrines were forsaken by Christian converts” (Dapaah). This article reflects no self-awareness of why the religious reformation of Ghana may not have delighted all, or of the possibility that the traditional religion held value to the people. It is also fascinating that, taking credit for the introduction of cacao in Ghana, Evangelical Times assumes this as a positive influence. In other contexts, the cacao industry in Ghana has been under much moral scrutiny by the Western world.
Consumers of chocolate want to feel good about what they are buying. Chocolate is, after all, the quintessential feel-good product, often connected in buyers’ minds with cozy notions of love and warm indulgence. It is upsetting to consider that we may be causing harm in buying it, and consumers are quick to squelch their guilt by opting for choices that advertise ethical production.
Problems of ethics in chocolate production are often portrayed in the West by stressing the dismal conditions of cacao farmers’ lives, highlighting their poverty, lack of education, or abuses propagated on or by them. We depict them as people who need our help to have any quality of life or morals. Orla Ryan’s Chocolate Nations chapter Child Labor shows that people in the West greatly exaggerate and misinterpret child labor on cacao farms in Africa. It is portrayed as a moral crisis that children are forced to work, and an often-suggested solution is the boycott of any chocolate produced with child labor. However, the children and families themselves view the situation differently. While some children are trafficked or forced to work against their will, it is most common for children to work along with the rest of their family on the family cacao farm. This can be dangerous, but it is not caused by sadism on the part of the perpetrating family members— there is simply such a problem with poverty that everybody has to work to survive. For this reason, boycotting chocolate from these farms would do little good and possibly have disastrous effects by further increasing poverty. Addressing child labor from a place of classist, racist moral superiority is not what the world needs (Ryan).
In the article “Spend & Save: The Narrative of Fair Trade and White Saviorism,” Bani Amor explains that fair-trade companies often are founded by white people seeking to portray themselves as heroic “fixers” of world issues, while suggesting erroneously that the problems of capitalism can be solved through capitalism means. She believes that this “saviorism through consumerism” actually relies on rather than dismantle oppressive structures.
“Saviorism employs a time-honored colonial narrative: The sad state of the savage Other necessitates civilizing via white/Western intervention, which maintains dominion over resources that sometimes trickle down to the needy via acts of charity. In his landmark 2012 essay, ‘The White-Savior Industrial Complex,’ Teju Cole reminds us that saviorism ‘is not about justice. It is about having a big emotional experience that validates privilege.’ …[I]t validates supremacy more than anything, because assuming the role of the savior is also a show of power” (Amor).
Saviorism validates supremacy— the supremacy of the white Western elite, their religion and morals, and what they have to offer. Allowing saviorism to continue is a roadblock to growing as a culture to celebrate diversity and embrace equality.
The Milton Hershey School
Saviorism is often about race, but it is also about class. The Milton Hershey School is an example of class saviorism within the chocolate culture and industry in America. Milton S. Hershey and his wife Catherine had big dreams when they set up the utopian chocolate town of Hershey, Pennsylvania. They wanted to make a place where people were productive but also happy and well provided for. This was reflected in how Milton Hershey organized his company and town and also in the creation of what was then known as the “industrial school,” a school for orphaned boys established in the town of Hershey in 1909. The school was meant to provide opportunities for the many boys left orphaned in that time period, but also to morally shape these boys so that they would not become “shiftless and criminal men who would spawn another generation of undesirables” as was a great concern of society at the time (D’Antonio 197). In addition to Milton and Catherine’s philanthropic predilections, they found joy in inviting orphans into their lives because they themselves were unable to have children. However, there was a problem with this utopian conception. The program was designed with the purpose of shaping boys to become a certain type of upstanding, honest citizens who had to meet strict standards of behavior, performance, and character. Though the school did not require every pupil to be religious, it did teach Christian morals and expel anyone “incorrigible” or “undesirable”— boys were required to be “healthy” in every way to attend and many boys were sent away when they did not uphold these standards (D’Antonio 199).
The school is now known as the Milton Hershey School. Still funded by a trust made by Hershey, offers more than free tuition— it offers free medical and dental care and will even buy clothes for its students and house them year round if needed. It is no longer a school only for orphaned boys, and the website appeals to parents by offering extraordinary care for children at no cost. Though this may offer a wonderful opportunity for some, it imposes upon parents the idea that if they are poor, their children would be better off removed from their care and transplanted into idyllic Christian wealth with strangers. It is a problematic design to, instead of addressing poverty and education inequality in disadvantaged areas, select a few promising children to remove from their lives and reshape through privilege. Though it is illegal to discriminate against students based on health, the school website still states that children must “be free of serious behavioral problems that are likely to disrupt life in the classroom or student home life” (Admissions Considerations). Children at the Milton Hershey School are also required to attend church regularly, and the website states that “The school encourages students to learn to love God and others, to give service to their community, and to live a morally upright life. Devotions are woven into their daily routine” (Student Activities).
These moral and religious standards have led to problems in recent years at the Milton Hershey School. There have been complaints of discrimination and abuse. In a 2017 article on advocate.com, an incident is detailed in which a teenage student claims to have been forced to watch an hour-long gay conversion therapy video by his house-parents at the Milton Hershey School. The student said that he was also forced to pray with his house-parents to have God help him away from gayness, and was told stories of other gay people who had terrible things happen to them. In 2013, this student was expelled from the school following a suicidal gesture. This is an example of the great harm that can come about from imposing moral and religious values, and it also illustrates the school’s problematic readiness to expell students who displayed signs of mental illness. The school admitted that this incident occurred but denied any official involvement in the showing of the video, though conversion therapy is in line with the original vision of the founder.
“A spokeswoman for the school, Lisa Scullin, who responded to Dobson’s suit against the school by saying conversion therapy is a ‘practice the administration would never allow or condone,’ doubled down on denying official involvement in response to the revelation that conversion therapy had indeed been promoted at Hershey.
‘Unequivocally, the school does not promote or endorse any program that could be remotely characterized as gay conversion therapy,’ Scullin said. ‘Any suggestion otherwise is a gross mischaracterization of our values and the environment on our campus.'”
This was not an isolated incident. Last year, a second former student of the Milton Hershey School claimed that he was forced to watch the same video, and states that he was humiliated in front of others and made to feel “like the scum of the earth” by the incident. Human Rights Campaign states that gay conversion therapy techniques “have been rejected by every mainstream medical and mental health organization for decades, but due to continuing discrimination and societal bias against LGBTQ people, some practitioners continue to conduct conversion therapy. Minors are especially vulnerable, and conversion therapy can lead to depression, anxiety, drug use, homelessness, and suicide.” Because these methods are so injurious, a number of states and municipalities have put laws in place to protect minors from them. It is deeply troubling that an orginization meant to protect children would in fact use their position to attempt to abusively mold them to fit a moral ideal, and these incidents reveal a need for radically increased scrutiny of any such “savior” programs for youth.
Imposition of Culture is Dehumanizing
The world’s privileged white elite often act as though by helping others they gain the right to impose their own “superior” moral values, but fail to recognize that imposition of culture is dehumanizing. This saviorism takes away people’s autonomy and inherent right to self-determination. Although nobody wants to be trapped in poverty or treated unfairly, that does not mean that the Western white Christian capitalist life is the model of supremacy. It is important to improve fairness in the chocolate industry and in education, but in this endeavor it is vital to integrate respect for those we are helping and listen to their values and needs rather than imposing our own—to work with rather than for them.
Ryan Órla. Chocolate Nations Living and Dying for Cocoa in West Africa. Zed Books, 2011.
D’Antonio, Michael. Hershey Milton S. Hersheys Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams. Paw Prints, 2008.
“the modern mocha is a bittersweet concoction of imperialism, genocide, invention, and consumerism served with whipped cream on top.” ― Sarah Vowell
Humorist Sarah Vowell captures much of the history of chocolate (and coffee) in this little quip. However, the history of chocolate is long and its social, economic, and political implications are vast. Putting the positive impacts of invention aside, the negative impacts of imperialism and consumerism more than linger. They have resulted in gross economic inequities and lasting environmental and social damage, particularly in the production end of the cocoa supply chain. It’s going to take the force of consumerism and capitalism to right these inequalities and bring about sustainability.
Approximately 70% of the world’s cocoa is produced in West Africa by small farms spread out across the area. In the 1980s cocoa farmers received approximately 16% of the chocolate profits, today this percentage has been greatly reduced to 3%. Cocoa farmers are not organized and have little bargaining power against more organized buyers.
The 2018 Cocoa Barometer highlights the many challenges for cacao farmers, including volatile pricing. From September 2016 – February 2017, farmers experienced a 30%-40% decline in income (Ghana farmers were protected by this price drop through government subsidies). Although prices are on the rise again, the overall trend the past 60 years is a decline in prices (see figure 2). With farmers having little, to no, protection from their governments they are hardest hit by market fluctuations, while others on the value chain will see an increase of their profit margins, even if only temporary.
Farmers in West Africa make well below a living wage of $2.51 per day, averaging $0.78 per day (FairTrade). The Cocoa Barometer asserts that the price drops are directly related to improved production due to new farming areas created from deforestation. More than 90% of West Africa’s original forests are gone.
An estimated 2.1 million children work in West African cocoa fields. Structural issues such as poverty, lack of schools, and infrastructure also contribute to the high levels of child labor. Efforts in the past few decades to end child labor, preserve the environment, and to balance these inequities have been challenging and difficult to measure. Currently, third party certification bodies have been the only levers toward implementing and measuring sustainability efforts as well as signals to consumers as to where, and how, their chocolate products are sourced.
The three main certification entities are Fairtrade, Utz and the Rainforest Alliance. Fairtrade Standards are designed to support the sustainable development of small producer organizations and agricultural workers in the poorest countries in the world. Similarly, Utz certification was created to show consumers that products were sustainably sourced. Rainforest Alliance certification meant farmers met rigorous environmental and social standards. In January 2018, Utz merged with the Rainforest Alliance. The New Rainforest Alliance plans to publish a singular program at the end of 2019.
Certification and bean-to-bar efforts in the specialty chocolate market have many success stories, but compared to the global consumption of chocolate, these efforts have only made a dent. The Fine Cacao and Chocolate Institute (FCCI) reports, with caveats intended to illustrated the challenges of obtaining this data, that there are 481 specialty chocolate makers and manufacturers worldwide that represent approximately 6% of the annual global production of cacao.
The FCCI defines this market segment as those chocolate makers and manufacturers that choose to purchase specialty cacao at a premium price for purposes of taste quality and/or sustainability reasons. Within this small group, sustainability is but a factor in paying the price premium, but not necessarily a primary factor. In order for sustainability initiatives to have any meaningful impact to cocoa farmers the major chocolate manufacturers need to take the lead and invest in best practices throughout their supply chain that address the environmental, social, and economic challenges their farmers face.
Recent Commitments by the Majors / Certifications & Goals
Mondelēz International (a subsidiary of Kraft) Chocolate Brands: Cadbury, Alpen Gold, Côte d’Or, Toblerone, etc. Certification provided by FLOCERT through a private labeling partnership.
In 2012 Mondelēz International invested $400 million to create its Cocoa Life program. The program plans to empower 200,000 cocoa farmers and one million community members by 2022. In April 2018 Mondelēz International reported that they have reached 120,500 cocoa farmers, in a variety of programs and they reached 35% certified cocoa.
Cocoa Life is tied to the UN Sustainability Development Goals (SDGs), with an emphasis on Goals 1 (no poverty), among others. Cocoa Life has partnered with local governments and NGOs to build community-centric Child Labor Monitoring and Remediation Systems (CLMRS), which educate farming communities on the dangers of child labor, identify children at risk, and remediate cases with its local partners. Cocoa Life CLMRS programs have started in Ghana and continue to increase. Roll out of CLMRS in Côte d’Ivoire will begin in 2018. Nestlé has also implemented CLMRS program into its sustainability programs.
Nestlé Chocolate Brands: Smarties, Nestlé Crunch, Butterfinger, KitKat, etc.
Certifications: Utz and Fairtrade
In their detailed, first report (2017), co-authored with the International Cocoa Initiative (ICI), Nestlé asserts that certification is not enough and that additional support for the farmer is needed. In fact, Nestlé asserts that certification drove the issue of child labor “underground” as farmers would hide any child laborers when inspectors came around. While Mondelēz set up CLMRS in Ghana, Nestlé set up its CLMRS in Côte d’Ivoire and report a 51% reduction of child labor in a recent sample of 1,056 children over a two-year period. 
Nestlé is also investing in Community Liaison People (CLPs) to educate the community of the dangers of child labor. They are targeting women and mothers as they are more likely to invest their income and education into their family. The CLPs are local young people who are paid to train and the cost of the CLPs are split between Nestlé and the farmer. Remediation is highly individualized, but these activities are ones Nestlé continues to invest. Nestlé hopes to scale their more successful initiatives to meet the goals of its Cocoa Plan, which is set to reach 57% cocoa certification by the end of 2020.
Ferrero Chocolate Brands: Ferrero Pralines, Nutella, Kinder Chocolate Certification is conducted by Utz, Fairtrade, and Rainforest Alliance.
According to its 2016 Social Responsibility Report Ferrero has made a commitment to 100% certified cacao by 2020 and 75% by the end of 2018.
In its April 2018 Cocoa Barometer reports Ferrero is 70% certified (figure 4), and by its own reporting, on track to meet its goal of 75% cocoa certification (figure 10).
Ferrero reports partnerships with cacao cooperative ECOOKIM, the largest in Côte d’Ivoire, which takes part in the Fairtrade Africa program “It Takes a Village to Protect a Child.” Similar to CLMRS, the program establishes a Child Labor Committee to raise awareness about child labor, create child protection policy, and monitor activity at the community level. Ferrero reports that 9,413 children benefitted from this program. 
Ferrero also works with Save the Children to work toward ending child labor. It reports 1.2 million children are forced to work in hazardous conditions, however, Ferrero has set relatively modest goals of reaching 500 children, 7,500 members of 10 communities, and 100 representatives of local institutions.
In January Ferrero announced it planned to acquire Nestlé’s U.S. confectionary business for $2.8 billion in cash making Ferrero the third largest confectionary company in the U.S. It is anticipated that Ferrero will realign their sustainability goals after the acquisition of Nestlé, but their goals are currently similar.
The Hershey Company Popular Chocolate Brands: Hershey’s Chocolate Bar, Cocoa, Kisses, and Baking chocolates, Kit Kat, Almond Joy, Mounds, Reese’s, York. Certification is conducted by Utz, Fairtrade, and Rainforest Alliance.
In its 2016 Corporate Social Responsibility Report, The Hershey Company highlights progress in their Learn to Grow agriculture and empowerment program, serving 48,300 farmers in West Africa. The report also highlights its Energize Learning program, which provides Vivi energy bars to students improving overall nutrition. The program is a partnership with the Ghana School Feeding Program and Project Peanut Butter and 50,000 kids in Ghana receive 50,000 Vivi bars every day. Hershey also partnered with The World Cocoa Foundation’s (WCF) Climate Smart Cocoa Program to address climate change impacts to cocoa growing regions. The partnership will pilot a series of programs to develop “climate-smart” best practices to inform the Learn to Grow curriculum and through Hershey’s CocoaLink program knowledge sharing between farmers will be allowed via low-cost mobile technology. Hershey’s report indicates that it is on schedule to reach its 100% certified goal by 2020. In April 2018 the Cocoa Baramoter reports Hershey reached 75% (see figure 4). Also in April 2018, Hershey announced the creation of its Cocoa for Good sustainability programs
Beyond certification, Cocoa for Good seeks to address the most pressing issues facing cocoa-growing communities. The strategy is to target four key areas: increase family access to good nutrition, elimination of child labor and increase youth access to education opportunities, increase household incomes for women and men, zero deforestation and increased agroforestry. The announcement came with a $500 million commitment by 2030 and like Mondelēz International and Mars, aligns its strategy to contribute to the goals of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
Mars Chocolate Brands include: M&M, Snickers, Twix, Dove, Milky Way, etc. Certification is conducted by Utz, Fairtrade, and Rainforest Alliance.
In September of 2017, Mars announced its Sustainable in a Generation Plan, with a pledge to invest $1 billion over the next few years to address threats such as climate change, poverty in its value chain, and scarcity of resources. This is across all their raw products, not just cocoa. Oxfam will serve as an advisor to their Farmer Income Lab, which aligns with the United Nations Sustainability Development Goal 1 (no poverty). The Farmer Income Lab will seek to create solutions through research for farmers working in Mars’ supply chain in developing countries. Other actions include improving cocoa farming methods, pests and disease prevention, and unlocking the cocoa genome. Engagement with others actors in the cocoa industry is also key, such as the World Cocoa Foundation and CocoaAction. Mars’ Chief Sustainability & Health and Wellbeing Officer, Barry Parkin, also serves as Chairman of World Cocoa Foundation.
Mars may lay claim as the first major chocolate company to commit to 100% certified chocolate by 2020, but its progress has lagged, reporting 50% of their cocoa being certified in 2016 and the same percentage being reported by the cocoa barometer in 2018 (figure 4). During this same time frame Ferrero and Hershey have demonstrated increases in certification of cocoa reporting 70% and 75% certificated cocoa, respectively (figure 4). Their website lacks a corporate social responsibility report and the information available on their site appears to be written in 2016, except for recent press releases and Income Position Statement. For example Mars’ claim to be the only major manufacturer to work with all three major certification organizations Utz, Rainforest Alliance, and Fairtrade International is outdated. Hershey and Ferrero include these bodies in their 2016 sustainability reports.
Until the recent announcement of Sustainable in a Generation Plan, Mars’ approach, as described on their website, leans more toward improving farmer yield through technology (fertilizer, farming techniques, mapping the cacao genome) than increasing living wages and address child labor. A press release by Frank Mars in April 2018 urges collaborative scientific approach and extolls their work on breeding higher yield cocoa plants for improving farmer incomes. However, higher yields do not always improve farmer incomes. As previously mentioned, the recent Cocoa Barometer report suggests that higher production results in driving down price, thus less income for farmers. Perhaps Mars’ real progress is tied to the progress of the World Cocoa Foundation.
World Cocoa Foundation (WCF) and CocoaAction
CocoaAction is a voluntary industry-wide organization that aligns the world’s leading cocoa and chocolate companies, cocoa producing governments, and key stakeholders on regional priority issues in cocoa sustainability run by the World Cocoa Foundation (WCF). The WCF member companies committed to CocoaAction include Mondelēz International, Nestlé, Ferrero, The Hershey Company, Mars, Incorporated, among others. In November of 2017 a Framework of Action was announced by the WCF with the governments of Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana and major chocolate and cocoa companies to end deforestation, restore forest areas, and accelerate investment in long-term sustainable production of cocoa, and the development and capacity-building of farmers’ organizations and farmer’s income. Commitments also include participation of policy creation by farmers and extensive monitoring and reporting. The Framework of Action involves governments and companies that represent 80% of the global cocoa production and usage. If implemented correctly, these commitments should go a long way in repairing the deforestation in West Africa.
The Future of Chocolate
These efforts are welcome and it is promising that the majors can successfully collaborate with governments, NGOs, and each other in the important effort to secure the future of chocolate and those that produce it. It is also encouraging to see the major manufacturers release sustainability reports, however, as barometer.org reports, many of their commitments fall well short compared to the actual scope of the problem. The commitment to reach 400,000 children by 2020 would only impact 18% of children in need (figure 15). Similarly meeting commitments to help farmers in CocoaAction would only reach 15% of farmers in need (figure 15). Regarding living income, farmers are only making $0.78 per day, 31% of the living wage of $2.51 per day (figure 15). The Cocoa Barometer report stresses that a living wage, among other factors, is a major component that these initiatives must include in their sustainability initiatives. From available data, all reports aspire to improve farmer income, either by improving productivity or identifying additional income generating activities. However, these plans do not set a living wage as a goal. As mentioned earlier in this article more production doesn’t always result in more income.
The future of chocolate depends on the fate of cocoa farmers and their fate relies on untangling a mess of social and economic issues caused by imperialism, and exacerbated by free market capitalism and consumerism. The goals set forth in these reports are generally headed in the right direction, but their success is dependent on their ability to make their initiatives successful, then scale up on that success. Accountability and transparency among the industry and at the government level is also paramount to measure the effects of these initiatives. Consumers also have a role in making responsible purchases and applying pressure on corporations and governments to minimize inequality in the supply chain and certification plays an important role. If farmers continue to be marginalized, then there will be little incentive for a younger generation of farmers to take up the trade and chocolate may become a rare treat indeed.
 Vowell, Sarah. The Partly Cloudy Patriot. Simon & Schuster. New York, New York. October 2002. p. 42
 Martin, Carla D. “Introduction.” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard Extension School: Cambridge, MA. 24 Jan. 2018. Class Lecture.
There is a revolution going on in America. It exists as almost a counter to the industrial revolution that drove this country forward a hundred years before it. Craft artisans are taking over in the wake of a society that has been built by mass production. As this revolution moves across foodstuffs, it is of no surprise that craft chocolate is currently on the rise. However, it is important to understand why this revolution is taking place now, and some of the hurdles it must overcome to continue its success.
The Lay of the Land
Currently two chocolate companies, Hershey’s and Mars, account for over 50% of chocolate sales in the U.S. (Euromonitor, 2017). It should be of no surprise that these two particular companies own so much of the market share. They were both founded on the idea of bringing chocolate, which was previously a luxury treat, to the masses. Milton Hershey was a pioneer in mass production, revolutionizing and streamlining much of the industrial process. Hershey’s team discovered that by using condensed sweetened skim milk they could create a product with longer shelf life and that blended easily with cocoa powder. This meant that not only could he ship his chocolate bars further, but lasting longer on the shelf meant less profit losses due to spoilage. Hershey also looked at supply chain optimizations, investing in his own dairy farms and even building a sugar mill operation in Cuba, complete with its own railroad. This allowed Hershey to control both the costs of commodities for his chocolate bar and the quality. Mars, on the other hand, was more successful due to marketing than anything else. His Milky Way bar (which originally sourced chocolate from Hershey) was more nougat than chocolate, making it larger on shelf and seem a comparatively good value to the Hershey bar. That said, both had the same result, taking an indulgence that was once almost exclusive to the wealthy and middle classes and democratizing it for every day enjoyment.
Mass production allowed for chocolate to be produced cheaper, allowing those savings to be passed on to the consumer – or more importantly, from a marketing sense, for them to outprice their competitors. But while price is important, so are the products themselves. While it may have taken a while for consumers to acclimate to the flavor of Hershey’s and Mars bars when they first came on the market, the particular blend of milk, sugar and other ingredients insured that they were universally palatable and they now exist as the template for what we expect chocolate to taste like. Similarly, both companies have hero products that are specifically designed for easy consumption. Both Hershey’s Kisses and M&Ms were made for portability (individually wrapped/ melts in your mouth, not in your hand) and their small, poppable size makes it easy for consumers to lose track of mindfulness and eat large quantities in one sitting. These products have other advantages, as they are easily adaptable to innovation. As consumers are desiring more variety and novelty across the board, these products have proven to be the most flexible in introducing new flavors – and easily acceptable to consumers who are familiar with their form and have built brand trust. These companies have leveraged seasonality, larger cultural trends, and limited time offers to drive new product news and sales.
(wait. Is she wearing an infinity scarf and hipster glasses?)
So, if big chocolate is designed for palatability and companies are responding to consumers desires for more interesting, topical flavors, why are we seeing a proliferation of craft chocolate providers? When we look at the numbers, the story becomes more telling. When looking at sales growth, mass chocolate has remained flat year over year (CSP daily news, 2016). This despite their innovation and the fact that chocolate consumption overall is growing. Instead, the growth seems to be predominantly driven by premium and craft chocolates, suggesting not just changing tastes, but a changing attitude about where our food is actually coming from.
Big Food Backlash
There is growing negativity towards giant corporations and conglomerates, particularly when it comes to food. From an economic standpoint, consumers have watched as these corporations get massive tax breaks which have translated into bonuses for the executive suite, while the working class continues to struggle. While this issue impacts most major corporations, it is of particular concern when it comes to the chocolate industry and growing awareness around fair labor practices, forced labor, child labor and the ethical price people pay for their chocolate. There is a lot of skepticism that these companies will make ethical choices when given the opportunity, particularly when people see so many examples in the news of them pursuing profits over people, such as Nestle bottling drinkable water in the middle of the Flint, Michigan water crisis (the guardian, 2017). More and more often, buying in to big brands feels like an investment against your own interests.
The Big Middle creates more space for differentiation
The sheer nature of big brands as they fold in to one another may be working against them. “When you have increasing concentration of producers in the center, you leave room on the periphery for specialization,” says Elizabeth G. Pontikes, associate professor at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business. (Shanker, 2017) In other words, these multinational conglomerates are creating their own sea of sameness. In a society that is increasingly valuing individuality, particularly when it comes to the millennial and younger generations, brands and products that lack differentiation also lack appeal. We can see this even in the most famous of branding cases, Coke vs. Pepsi with beverage drinkers now migrating to new choices like LaCroix and energy drinks.
The obvious choice might be for these mass chocolate brands to create verticals that touch these periphery spaces, but they have struggled breaking in. Hershey’s introduced their Cacao Reserve premium line in 2006. The brand lasted three years, suffered several price drops and the need for mass market advertising support, before they dropped it from store shelves. (Thompson, 2007) Their next move was to build their premium line using borrowed equity. At the same time they launched Cacao Reserve, they purchased Scharfeen Berger, a premium line of chocolates out of California. As they pushed to mass market the brand, they switched suppliers, using cheaper beans from West Africa. The result was severed relationships with brands like Whole Foods, who were concerned that Hershey’s could not guarantee that the beans weren’t sourced through child labor (Bloomberg, 2017). The brand has somewhat rebounded, but the initial loss is still being recovered, and leaves the question as to whether or not big brands can ever play credibly in the premium/ craft space.
A wake up call for food
The obesity crisis in America was a wake up call about the food we consume and how it is being produced. A series of films, articles and exposes, while at times misleading and ignores the true labor of food, caused people to rethink what they are getting out of processed food. The consumer take-away was that mass produced food lacks quality and nutritional value, is predominantly artificial fillers, and is potentially detrimental to your overall health. Quality, whole ingredients, and care has become increasingly synonymous with healthfulness, regardless of traditional markers like fat and calories.
While all of these things make craft chocolate more appealing, it still has hurdles to overcome to convince people to pay the enormous price tag that comes along with it.
As noted, industrial chocolate is the baseline for people’s orientation to what chocolate should look and taste like, as well as what it should cost. For Craft chocolate to succeed, they don’t just need to overcome the shift to premium pricing, they need to overcome expectations set by mass market chocolate. There is a need to educate people on to the true value of the chocolate they are consuming and the difference that craft chocolate provides. There are four key ways in which craft offers a point of difference that both provides a difference that supports craft’s value proposition and requires consumer education: process, taste, ingredients and sourcing and ethics.
Understanding the process
Over time, manufactures have swapped out real ingredients for cheaper artificial substitutes such as vanillin instead of vanilla. (Martin-Sampeck, 2016). This has impact on the flavor, consistency and mouthfeel of the chocolate itself. Craft chocolate’s smaller production model in of itself creates a different end product, but some companies have gone further, focusing on minimizing the process.
Taza chocolate, a bean to bar company located in Somerville, MA, takes great pains to educate consumers as to their process. They describe their bars as “chocolate with true grit.” Their mission is to return chocolate to its pre-industrial roots. They believe that less processing allows for more complexity in flavors. Their chocolate is stone ground on hand carved molinos (mill stones) with little refinement between that and the end product. The result is, to their description, a chocolate bar that lacks the smoothness that consumers have come to expect, but with a stronger chocolate flavor and more complexity in experience overall.
Expanding your palate
“When most people eat a piece of chocolate we want that pleasure immediately: boom! That’s the music of mass-market chocolate.” (Williams, 2012)
Historians have theorized (incorrectly) that when chocolate came to the old world, that it was appropriated to suit Europeans’ tastes (Norton, 2016). In fact, chocolate’s evolution from its new world form to the substance we know today was a process that took over a century of innovation. The chocolate that Europeans first enjoyed was a fairly close recreation of how it was consumed in Mesoamerica. The Europeans had just acquired a taste for it. That said, they had a lot of motivation to do so – chocolate was seen as exotic, a luxury (due to both its scarcity and use as currency), and had potential new health benefits. Additionally, unlike today, there was no basis for comparison. For today’s consumers, their palates have been educated in the world of mass produced chocolate – and what they have come to expect is a very sweet, creamy, almost single note experience. Craft chocolate, on the other hand, leans in to chocolate’s bitter notes, and offers way more complexity. Not only do consumers need to adjust to the new flavor profile, but they need help recognizing the flavor notes to truly appreciate the difference they are getting from craft.
Dick Taylor chocolates started in a small factory in Eureka, California by Adam Dick and Dustin Taylor. They started their factory out of a love of craftsmanship and making things with their hands (both worked in woodworking and boat building). In addition to educating consumers on the sourcing of their beans, they seek to educate consumers on how craft processing changes the flavor and experience of their chocolate. From their website “by not cutting corners or taking shortcuts in our process we are able to leave out vanilla, additional cocoa butter or other emulsifiers, in hopes of capturing and highlighting the subtle flavor nuances in the cacao we source from around the world.”
In this they set expectations that their chocolate will be less sweet and have more complexity of flavors. To further support that, their packaging calls out the specific flavor notes that the chocolate bar offers, much in the way that wine and craft beers call out tasting notes.
XOCOLATL, a “micro-factory” chocolatier out of Atlanta similarly looks to highlight chocolate’s natural flavors. Their bars are blended with spices and other elements that call out chocolate’s flavor components. For example, their Americana bar contains no apples, but uses familiar pie spices to highlight that quality within the chocolate.
While mass chocolate uses the blending of not only several different types of beans, but beans from multiple locations, there is a rising trend in single origin chocolate. This has arisen both out of an increased interest in food provenance and small chocolate purveyors interest in highlighting the different unique flavor profiles of the beans. (Norton, 2013) By doing so, they are able to not only show off the different flavor varietals, but capitalize on the exotic locales to add a sense of rarity and uniqueness to their product lines.
Amedei Chocolates, a craft company out of Tuscany, Italy, builds their sourcing education in to their product offerings. Each of their bar product lines serves as an exploration in the difference that cacao content, origin and the beans themselves can make. Their Toscano Black line offers three different (though relatively close) percentages of dark chocolate – 63%, 66%, and 70%. Their cru product line is all single origin dark chocolate – allowing consumers to taste the subtle differences between each region. But where they go one step further than many bars is to focus and educate consumers on the strains of cacao available. They offer both a Blanco de Criollo and a Porcelana bar. The external packaging on each features a botanical drawing of the bean. The inside explains the history, origin and flavor notes. For the Porcelana bar, it notes the Venuzuela plantation, it’s small production of only 3,000 kilos of beans, and the rarity of this particular strain. Tasting notes are described as “toasted almonds that alternates with pressed olives.” This reinforces the specialness of the bar and the unique experience that it offers, while simultaneously pushing the consumer’s palate to recognize more subtleties in flavor.
One of the major challenges in the chocolate industry overall is the issue of labor practices and sourcing. Even setting aside the more dire problems of forced and child labor, very little of the profits made from chocolate sales actually makes its way back to the farmers that grow it. While there are a variety of certification schemes (i.e. Fair Trade, UTZ Certified, IMO Fair for Life), the cost of participating is high, and consumer demand has yet to drive a higher price in goods that can be translated back to the farmer. (Martin-Sampeck, 2016) Additionally, there are those who don’t think that programs like Fair Trade go far enough, and result in a minimal profit increase for the farmer.
Companies like Taza and Askinosie chocolates instead have focused on direct trade, which cuts out middlemen and insures that more profits go back to the hands of the farmers. Askinosie notes on their website “we hold the craft and quality of our chocolate in almost equal balance with doing as much good as we can in the world.” As part of educating consumers at to the importance of direct trade, their bars feature the actual farmers that they work with on the front. The back label tells that person’s story, how they became acquainted with Askinosie chocolate, and how their contribution insured the quality of the product you are holding. It also features the following guarantee: A stake in the Outcome. We guarantee to our farmers more than fair prices, open books and a share in our success. In the way that they tell the story of their trade relationships, Askinosie doesn’t just insure the consumer of the ethics of their bar, they humanize it and translate that in to a real value to the consumer in the quality and craft of the final product itself.
The future of craft
Craft still has some educational and orientation challenges to overcome, but as more and more people migrate away from big food and big chocolate, the opportunity to create a wider variety of chocolates leveraging ethical sourcing and quality ingredients remains as promising and sweet as the product itself.
Brenner, Joel. 2000. The Emperors of Chocolate: Inside the Secret World of Hershey and Mars.
Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. 2007 (1996) The True History of Chocolate.
Dandelion Chocolate, a small-batch chocolatier cafe, sits in San Francisco’s oldest neighborhood, The Mission. Founded in 2010 by Todd Masonis as a cafe, Dandelion Chocolate has expanded to retailers across U.S and Japan, designed tours and classes, and diversified its menu offerings with several new recipes in addition to the company’s handmade candy bars (2). Masonis, CEO of Dandelion Chocolate and previously a software developer, started the company with a vision to scale, to transform the chocolate industry, and to challenge people’s customary view of chocolate. This paper will conduct an in-depth analysis of the company’s supply chain, chocolate manufacturing process, and retail strategy. Throughout I will highlight how Dandelion’s innovative techniques are challenging the Big Five chocolate makers and redefining how chocolate is produced and sold. By the end, it will be clear how Dandelion continues to be a part of the solution to the problems in the cacao-chocolate market.
Bean–To-Bar: The Supply Chain from Cacao Trees to the Dandelion Factory
Three words sum up Dandelion’s supply chain — precise, sustainable, and global. As a bean-to-bar chocolatier, Dandelion emphasizes the quality of the beans it uses in its chocolate bars and menu recipes. The company focuses on simplicity. Since Dandelion “uses only two ingredients to make [their] chocolate — cocoa beans and organic cane sugar”, the company has to be particular of the sourced beans’ flavor profiles (2). This directly contrasts the origin, sourcing, and flavor profile of the Big Five chocolate makers. Early in Hershey’s development, Milton S. Hershey hired a chemist before firing him and hiring John Schmalbach who helped create Hershey’s taste profile that we still see today (4). When Schmalbach was done experimenting, he arrived at “a mild-tasting milk chocolate that had the perfect bite — like al dente pasta — that melted smoothly in the mouth” (4). This product utilized swiss condensed milk which helped Hershey easily pump, channel, and pour the chocolate through mass production. Unlike Dandelion’s simple single ingredient taste profile, Hershey confuses consumers with its chocolate nutritional profile. On Hershey’s site, the company states their chocolate bars are made with “simple ingredients — and never any artificial flavors, preservatives or sweeteners” (5). These ingredients include “farm fresh whole milk, cocoa 100% certified, almonds, sugar from the finest sugar plantations, and vanilla” (14). How can we believe Hershey’s promises? To begin to answer this question, consumers can look at the back of Hershey’s chocolate bar.
The iconic Hershey’s Milk Chocolate bar wrapper from 1973-1976. Clearly, consumers can see contradictions from the website today in the ingredients section. Artifical flavoring is added (6).
The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act require food companies to show nutrition labeling (1). Fortunately, this gives consumers the honest answer to the question stated above. Under the ingredients tab, Hershey lists that an artificial flavoring is added in addition to other ingredients that are not common to the average consumer (5). This is the first evidence of how Dandelion is redefining the chocolate market and supply chain process for the better. Dandelion is so precise with its sourcing and ingredients that it can give consumers the transparency and trust they desire. On their site, Dandelion gives a distinct background of the supply chain process, the origin of each of the beans, and the Chef’s preparation technique for each of the products that it retails. These details get as precise as the cacao percentage, the single origin location, ingredients, and when the cacao beans were harvested.
This is the MAYA MOUNTAIN, BELIZE 70% chocolate bar. It is one of the many single origin chocolate bars sold on Dandelions retail site and in stores. The bar’s flavor profile and the cocoa beans terror serve up beautiful “hints of honey and caramel with notes of strawberries and cream.” Finally, the bars are made with just cocoa beans and sugar, no added cocoa butter, lecithin or vanilla (10).
Consumers can be confident they are getting fine cacao and that the ingredients in their chocolate are not unhealthy with too much sugar or saturated fats. This last point is critical as chocolate makers such as Ferrara, Lindt, and Nestle are making real commitment to increase health awareness surrounding chocolate products, provide better labeling and packaging, and partner with Healthier America.
Each year Dandelion publishes a sourcing report that is easily accessible on their site. The 2016 sourcing report, 48 pages long, provides consumers with information on the executives core philosophy, the geographic location where beans sourced, the fermentation and drying style, cultivation notes, farmer’s certifications, cacao beans’ exporter, tasting notes, company’s relationship/history with each farmer, price they paid per tonne in each region, and date of the company’s last visit to the farm to do a checkup (3).
An example of all the information from the sourcing report for Bertil Akesson’s organic estate in Ambanja, Madagascar, the place Dandelion purchased their first full bag of beans, is shown above (3).
Dandelion’s control of the entire supply chain as a bean-to-bar chocolatier gives them the flexibility to synthesize and present all this information.
In addition to providing precise transparency to consumers of every detail in the supply chain process, the Dandelion executives discuss the importance of sustainability in their core philosophy. Dandelion “pays a premium price for their cacao far above the world market price (that is fixed rather than dependent on an arbitrary market)” (3). This information is presented in the sourcing report. The average market price for cacao in 2016 was $2,892.16 per tonne. The least Dandelion paid for cacao $5,100.00 per tonne, the most $7,500.00 per tonne, and $6,599.00 per tonne on average. This increase in income solves many of the cacao industry’s problems. With prices at the average market price or less than half Dandelion’s price, cacao farmers earn less than $2 per day in Western Africa (9).
In the two pictures, we see the ethical problem in the chocolate industry. In the picture on the left, a young boy is performing hard labor with a machete to chop cacao pods from high up in a cacao tree (16). The child faces physical and developmental risks from this kind of labor. Further, the highlight the systematic effects of child labor, the lack of education, the lack of enforcement of child labor laws, and the effects of you consuming chocolate from companies who exploit these problems (17).
The problem is most prevalent in Western Africa where stories like of 16-year-old Alhassan Ali, who took the opportunity to work on a cocoa farm in western Ghana and left his home. Quickly, Alhassan felt “cheated as life was hard” and the conditions unbearable for a teenager who had no choice after his father died.
Children are thrown into these jobs to help their families, although less than one-quarter of cacao farmers would recommend that their children go into farming and the fact that this violates international labor laws (12, 18, 8 ). The work is dangerous and the risks include fatigue, mosquito-borne diseases, and agrochemical poisoning.
Since cacao is a commodity and harvested seasonally, cacao farmers struggle with volatile income. Dandelion executives recognized this problem as they “used to buy beans as needed but sometimes that led to chaos and stress both on the part of their team as well as on the part of our suppliers” (3). In 2016, the company constructed a 5-year plan in which they would buy beans one year in advance in order to help alleviate the stress on their producers. Employees from Dandelion visit their producers each year to ensure the quality of the cacao, environmentally friendly farming practices, and sustainable conditions for the workers. If you don’t believe their mission and core philosophy, then you can ask their producers themselves, since the company provides names, locations, and pictures to earn consumers’ trust.
Vincente Norero, the manager of Camino Verde Cacao farm in Ecuador, sits on top of one of his machines as he explains the genetics of cacao in his region to visiting employees from Dandelion (3).
Additionally, a major component of Dandelion’s long-term planning strategy is a rigorous quality assessment beyond fine cacao or bulk cacao, which the Big Five use. This evaluation starts out “breaking down cacao producers based on physical quality, sensory evaluation, and hedonic preference” (3). Dandelion gives the producers enough feedback so that the farmers know what is the flavor profile and the terroir that the company wants.
Finally, Dandelion has created a global network of producers that provide the company with a diverse set of high-quality cacao. Dandelion strengthens relationships between the community of producers by emphasizing information sharing. Producers in different regions visit each other and share their techniques and experiences. For instance, the heads of the farm estate “Brian and Sim from Kokoa Kimili visited Zorzal in the Dominican Republic” (3). This is unlike any craft chocolate or large chocolate make and this may be the CEO Todd Masonis’ secret weapon to scale the craft chocolatier business. The company has two factories across the globe in San Francisco and Japan. They both support the company’s global sourcing of cacao in 7 different regions: Madagascar, Ecuador, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Tanzania, Venezuela, and Belize. This degree of diversity is uncommon for one company. In fact, “70% of the world’s cocoa is grown in the region and the vast majority of that supply comes from two countries: Ivory Coast and Ghana” (7). Dandelion not only ensures to source diverse cacao but also does not mix cacao from different regions or farms. This is powerful in the cacao in the cacao industry. Not even regulation or certifications can effectively track that companies keep to this promise like Dandelion does.
Bean-To–Bar: The Exquisite Manufacturing and Chocolate Production Process and Ingenious Retail Strategy
Once the factory receives the diverse, high-quality cocoa beans which have been fermented and dried in their regions, the company undergoes another precise taste tests on each batch. Surprisingly, each testing of a batch may take “as many as eight to sixteen tastings before they are happy with the taste profile” (2). Next, the batch is sorted and dirt, rocks, and defected beans are removed.
Here, the chocolatiers use a machine they built in-house to winnow and remove the shells. However, the company says that your household hair dryer would work the same (15).
A melanger is used to stir and crush beans creating small particles and more fluid chocolate state (11).
After these steps, the chocolate is packaged until it is ready to be tempered and transformed into chocolate bars.
This highly technical process ensures that each chocolate bar holds up to the company standard that no added ingredients or artificial flavoring are included in the end products. The company even offers tours and classes to teach chocolatiers their craft chocolate secrets. The whole production process is transparent. This eliminates any need for certification from organizations like Fair Trade, USDA Organic, or Rainforest Alliance. Instead, consumers are educated on the labor conditions, ingredients, quality, and health information from researching online on Dandelion’s site. Dandelion utilizes this transparency and network of information to scale their consumer base and challenge the chocolate industry to have the same care for all parts of the process.
Finally, Dandelion is redefining the retail strategy for chocolate. Most people are accustomed to purchasing chocolate bars from large retail and convenience stores like CVS, Walmart, and Target. The large chocolate manufacturers spend millions on advertisements in commercials, billboards, and magazines. However, Dandelion’s executives have taken a different approach. The company’s first establishment, the Dandelion Chocolate Cafe, is the model for how Dandelion will transform the chocolate industry and how consumers expect to consume chocolate. Music blasts from the speakers playing a hip playlist that caters to the diverse crowd in the cafe. Children, young teens, and chocolate connoisseurs from Mission District crowd the shop on Valencia street for the chocolate wrapped in gold foil and custom wrappers, the blowtorched s’mores, or for a bag of locally roasted, single origin cocoa beans. Adopting the executives’ Silicon Valley marketing and trendy style, Dandelion Cafe consumer and sales skyrockets in its first years. The company reached “$1 million in early 2013 after opening its factory/cafe in the Mission” (19). Shortly after a year, more outposts were built in Tokoya and across California. All the while, the company has elevated its online presence with a vibrant website which hosts a blog, instructional videos, and information about each of their products and locations. What was once an antiquated industry ruled by roughly 5 chocolate manufactures is being transformed by two software engineering executives and their ambitious company to scale handmade, craft chocolate globally. No longer can the chocolate industry exploit poor working conditions in their supply chain, obscure nutritional information, or produce low quality chocolate because Dandelion Chocolate and many other craft chocolate companies businesses are transforming the industry and the consumers are recognizing this transformation.