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Where to buy chocolate ?: A Comparative Analysis of Chocolate Markets in Harvard Square

Chocolate uniquely embodies a number of contradictions. It’s almost universal, yet very personal. Consistent, yet incredibly diverse. Sweet, yet bitter. Luxurious and expensive, yet cheap and ubiquitous. Valentine’s day for adults, halloween for children—there is a chocolate for everyone. Considering all the different profiles and qualities that chocolate has taken on in its millennia-long history, it follows that there are a number of establishments consumers can go to in order to enjoy this versatile treat. Walking through Harvard Square, one can find themselves at any of the three main purveyors of chocolate—each of which carries its own unique implications, connotations, and ‘personality.’

The first such setting is perhaps best characterized by convenience, and in the context of Harvard Square, there is no store more convenient than CVS (so convenient that, not long ago, there were three within a one block radius of each other). Though technically a pharmacy, most CVS locations are better known for their general merchandise, including everything from toiletries to convenience foods. With its vast and diverse offerings, and over 9,800 stores across the United States, CVS is the epitome of a chocolate purveyor to the masses. That is, similar to grocery stores or large chain supermarkets such as Walmart, Stop & Shop, or Kroger, which is where the majority turn to for confectionary purchases (IBISWorld). That being said, chocolate is far from the focal point of these stores.

Figure 1

Just across the street from CVS, one may find themselves at Cardullo’s Gourmet Shoppe, which is representative of a different type of setting for buying chocolate, perhaps best described as ‘specialty stores.’ Cardullo’s in particular offers an array of fresh foods and gourmet delicacies from around the world, including wine, cheese and, of course, chocolate. There are a number of other stores nearby (and across the country) with a similar premise as Formaggio Kitchen or Bacco Wine & Cheese, where chocolate is not necessarily the focus or the sole product featured, but the food categories offered are still limited. Consequently, each such category is theoretically given more ‘weight’ in how important it is to the store. This specialization also carries the implication that the products offered are carefully/deliberately curated, and are of high quality.

The last stop on this chocolate journey through Harvard Square brings us to L.A. Burdick, which takes specialization to the next level. At L.A. Burdick, one can find themselves in a chocolate heaven of Larry Burdick’s creations, which is the clear and primary focus of the establishment. Other such stores in the greater Boston area may include the Teuscher Chocolates of Switzerland, Beacon Hill Chocolates, and EHChocolatier, representing the most niche of the three main ‘purchasing settings’ as they all primarily sell gourmet chocolate goods of their own creation.

The differences between these purveyors could not be more stark and yet they are all places consumers go to buy chocolate. Their various focal points and priorities are reflected in their respective selections, pricing, sourcing, and messaging.

Variety

Walking through the ‘Candy’ and ‘Chocolate’ aisle at CVS, one is immediately struck by the bold, bright colored packaging that marks almost all of their chocolate products. As displayed below, many of these are variations of the big name chocolate candy bars/treats that pervade the US such as Kit Kat, M&M’s and Reese’s Cups. But perhaps the first thing to note about the CVS chocolate section is how the overwhelming majority are more candy bar than actual chocolate. That is, there is a limited selection of primarily chocolate-based products (those with few additional ingredients such as caramel or ‘fruit & nut’), even fewer options for plain milk chocolate (four to be exact, of which three are owned by the same parent company), and only three options for dark chocolate. In a separate aisle, however, there is a stand for what CVS labels “Premium Chocolates,” where they have three additional labels with a ‘pure’ chocolate option—Ghirardelli, Lindt, and Endangered Species. Ghirardelli and Lindt both have multiple choices for cacao percentage (they are also owned by the same parent company).

The variety of chocolates at CVS is relatively new phenomenon that reflects the evolving tastes of American consumers. Indeed, “American consumers are expanding their consumption beyond traditional mass market chocolate such as Hershey”s” (Squicciarini & Swinnen). That being said, this notion of variety can be misleading considering that around 80% of the 45+ chocolate products found in these sections at CVS are owned/distributed by just 4 corporations, half of which are Hershey products and the other half of which are Mars, Lindt, and Ferrero products (Ferrero acquired Nestlé’s U.S. chocolate business in 2018). The selection at CVS mirrors U.S. overall market share, with these four companies controlling just about 80% of the market (Wilmot & Back). Indeed, large scale deals between retail chains like CVS and chocolate conglomerates likely perpetuate the dominance of these companies’ products in the chocolate market. Thus while the amalgam of packaging colors, shapes, and sizes may give the impression of diversity, it becomes clear that most of the chocolate and brand variety is superficial with the only differentiator being the flavoring.

Figure 3: Just four companies control about 80% of the overall chocolate market share, which mirrors the selection variety at CVS.

Compare this to Cardullo’s Gourmet Shoppe—a family-owned, local specialty store that’s been at the heart of Harvard Square for nearly 70 years and it’s a completely different story. While they still have their fair share of ‘industrial chocolate’ varieties, i.e. “mass-produced confections [that] are intended to guarantee a consistent smell and taste, achieved through rigorous oversight and a careful blending of cacaos” (Sethi), it’s the relative variety of craft chocolate brands that leaves the greatest impression upon arriving at their designated chocolate and dessert sections. With their selection including around 15 companies producing craft chocolate who specialize solely in chocolate production, it’s easy to get a hint of the diversity in the market—as well as in taste.

Figure 4: Portion of industrial chocolate available at Cardullo’s

Moreover, within their rather vast chocolate selection, there are two columns that, at first glance, may be reminiscent of CVS’s offerings in terms of its colorful packaging and familiar brands (see Figure 4). Upon further inspection however, their place at Cardullo’s becomes evident. While chocolates in this section are indeed of the ‘industrial’ variety, they are included at Cardullo’s because the brands or country of origin are uncommon for the U.S. For example, Figure 5 illustrates that the Kit Kat at Cardullo’s has an origin and branding difference—the Cardullo’s version is manufactured by Nestlé, as is the case for all Kit Kats outside the US, while the U.S. version is made under license by a division of The Hershey Company.

Figure 5: Left side is Kit Kat sold at CVS, right side is that sold at Cardullo’s

Such differences have notable implications for the chocolate itself, which trace back to around the 1930s when the “process of manufacturing chocolate was gradually shifting from improvisation to exact science as manufacturers experimented with various ways to render the essence from roasted cocoa beans. No two companies employed the same practices […] Each process produced its own unique flavor, and over time, these differences translated into distinct national tastes” (Brenner 63). In the case of a Kit Kat for instance, the European version contains less sugar and a higher cocoa and fat content than its American counterpart. This national preference has even gone as far as affecting legislation such that in the UK a product is required to be at least 25% cocoa solids in order to be called milk chocolate, whereas in the US such a designation requires only that it contain a minimum of 10% chocolate liquor (Spector).

Unlike Cardullo’s and CVS, L.A. Burdick sells all its chocolate under its own brand name. It is a charming store that specializes in chocolate creations of all forms. Here, one finds a very different kind of variety wherein all of the chocolate is made from, and branded as, the same source (i.e. L.A. Burdick), but there are numerous varieties with different shapes, sizes, types, flavorings, consistencies, etc. Specifically, they offer a number of regular and themed “collections” or assortments featuring different combinations of their 36+ truffle and bonbon varieties. While some of these, usually those that are on the smaller side such as their “Chocolate Bee Collection” are displayed for purchase in the shop, the majority are available to order online as customizable gifts or for a range of special events. In the physical store, however, there is also the option to purchase several of their bonbons and truffles on an individual basis. Alongside these delicacies, they also sell chocolate-covered nuts and dried fruits, an impressive collection of more conventional chocolate bars, as well as an array of (mostly) chocolate pastries and confections. Considering these products are all made under the same name, the extent of their chocolate bar collection is particularly noteworthy: they offer 18 varieties covering a range of cacao percentages, flavorings/added ingredients, and cacao bean origin. Throughout the store there are also a handful of artfully crafted, intricate chocolate creations (e.g. Rocher nest), with one even explicitly labeled as ‘display only,’ further emphasizing the blurry line between these artisanal chocolates and art. Lastly, and perhaps most popular, is their variety of drinking chocolate options. This includes three standard drink preparations in addition to a ‘single source dark chocolate’ option, whose source rotates every month among seven different locations, each with a specific and unique flavor profile that they detail on their menu.

Quality

Quality is perhaps one of the most cited traits in chocolate, but it is also one of the most ambiguous. Depending on who you ask, quality in chocolate can refer to any number of traits–be it the cacao plant variety or origin, the maker, the consistency, the taste, the process, or even the brand. Indeed, perceptions of quality vary country by country and are often reflective of the level of a country’s economic development. Cidell and Alberts found that “quality is based on material characteristic whose relative importance in determining quality depends on the country in which different stages of economic innovation took place.” Different producers catering to different audiences tend emphasize different things with the mass market producers we tend to find at CVS emphasizing taste, consistency and lifestyle elements (think “Have a break. Have a Kit Kat”). The smaller capacity chocolate makers we find at Cardullo’s (and potentially L.A. Burdick), on the other hand, emphasize the handmade nature, small production runs, ‘pure’ ingredients and natural tastes.

There are real differences between brands of chocolate, though the effect of those differences on the esoteric notion of quality is up for debate. For example, soy lecithin is used in the majority of chocolate products as a surfactant, meaning it lowers the viscosity of the chocolate during the production process, thereby making it easier to work with for tempering and molding. While the same can be achieved by adding more cocoa butter, this is a lot more expensive as well as more time consuming as it requires a longer period of conching (Terenzi, Chess). As a result, many of the mass produced chocolates—including all of those sold at CVS employ the former process and ingredients. The chocolates at Cardullo’s tend to communicate their quality through a varied selection of single-origin bars, thereby suggesting the use of high-quality beans and/or specialty cacao which subscribes to “a notion of quality that is linked to lack of defects and the presence of fine flavor and aroma(s)” (Martin). Similarly, they imply that an “artisanal” approach to chocolate-making leads to a higher quality product—though this is not necessarily as straightforward as it may seem since the term has no standardized implication for their cacao bean sourcing or production practices. Rather, it can be more a marketing effort to increase perceived quality. On the other hand, Cardullo’s does carry some mass produced well-branded chocolates as well with dubious quality relative to their price. For example, Valrhona, Neuhaus and Godiva, all carried by Cardullo’s, have extremely strong reputations and consumer perceptions of quality, yet all contain soy lecithin and other additives in their dark chocolate products (on the other hand, Cardullo’s was the only store visited to carry some chocolate bars with just cocoa constituents and cane sugar—all of L.A. Burdick’s bars contain the ingredient). One area where consumers can gain real insight into the chocolates at Cardullo’s are the bean to bar varieties—while these chocolates are not guaranteed to be good, this increases the likelihood that the cacao is deliberately sourced as opposed to using bulk commodity cacao.

I would be remiss if, in a discussion of quality, I ignored the significant role that marketing and branding have on perceived quality, regardless of the actual ingredients, tastes, origins, etc. of the chocolate. Indeed, consumer information is imperfect and, as with wines, the majority of consumers tend to rely on factors like brand reputation, package appearance, cacao percentage, and, of course, price. Many of L.A. Burdick’s chocolates, though sold at a specialty store under a specialty brand, lack complete transparency as to their origins and are, in fact, private labeled chocolates made by other companies (potentially some of the same companies that make lower cost chocolate for stores like CVS). There are infinite ways to define quality in chocolates and most would agree the chocolates at Cardullo’s are of “higher quality” than those at CVS, but that is not universally true and the processes and ingredients used to deride more mass market chocolates can still find themselves in the ‘higher end’ line up of specialty shops like Cardullo’s. Unsurprisingly, CVS’s selection doesn’t stand out on the quality front—the majority of their chocolate options are in the form of candy bars, which were historically designed with the express purpose of using cheaper ingredients under the guise of a chocolate product, which in pn packaging would appear comparable in size to a plain chocolate bar (Lecture, The Rise of Big Chocolate).

Price

The difference in cost between these three distinct chocolate purveyors is a little more straightforward in that, unsurprisingly, there is a linear, upward trajectory of sale price as the stores become more specialized. As the stores became more expensive, their range of prices also grew significantly, with L.A. Burdick’s, the most expensive store, having the largest gulf between its lowest cost and highest cost products. In discussing pricing however, it is important to consider the fact that it’s not only a function of the cost of the product—though that is an important consideration—but also a deliberate marketing and brand positioning decision. That being said, in the stores considered here, there is a difference in the underlying cost of producing the chocolate products that correlates with their final price. The chocolates sold at CVS, made in large manufacturing facilities targeted at the mass market, and often with bulk commodity cacao, are cheaper because such processes and resources cost less per product. On the other hand, some of the options at Cardullo’s were largely higher priced because they were made in smaller batches, used more manual or time-consuming processes and/or employed more expensive (and fewer) ingredients—as an example, Dick Taylor’s single-origin dark chocolates only have two ingredients (i.e. cacao and cane sugar) (Abesamis). Such craft chocolates often exist at “a disadvantage to the bulk, industrial market, as they often operate along lines less traditional to capitalist production” (Martin), but make up for this disadvantage by positioning their brands as premium products deserving of a higher price point.

Perception and branding is another extremely powerful driver of pricing (Lybeck, et al.). Consumers often associate specialty shops with artisan-like quality and higher prices, just as they might believe a dedicated butcher shop has higher quality meats than the butcher at a supermarket. The same phenomenon plays out in the stores that I visited, with the most specialized store, L.A. Burdick, having higher priced chocolates than Cardullo’s even though it is unclear if the underlying cost or quality of the chocolates each sells is as different. The premium at L.A. Burdick is placed on the perceived additional care a specialty shop would put into their product because, after all, it’s the only product they sell. L.A. Burdick’s website emphasizes this care (and the associated costs) when they emphasize the “hand-made” elements, even though there is likely no discernible difference between a hand-packed and machine-packed high quality chocolate: “each artisan bonbon is hand-cut or shaped, hand-garnished, hand-finished, and hand-packed” (“Chocolate Assortments”).

Takeaway: Intended Audience

Much of the reasoning behind the decisions described above, from product selection to pricing strategy, boil down to their respective target audience/consumer. As such, there is no ‘better’ place to buy chocolate (as far as chocolate for chocolate’s sake goes, this can be a different story with respect to ethical considerations), but rather the right place to suit your specific wants and needs. This is indeed reflected in the variety, quality, and cost of their respective selections. That is, at CVS, nearly everything from their chocolate options and placement in store to their pricing strategy screams convenience, accessibility, and a focus on impulse purchases (the majority of their chocolate selection is scattered by the registers and self-checkout stations) making it no secret that their chocolate selection is not a priority—nor should it be. Rather, open 24/7 in a college town with busy students and professionals, CVS is appealing to the average consumer. Specifically, it relies on those who go there for convenience because in addition to its uninterrupted hours, it’s an established, nationwide brand where people know they can go to find a little bit of everything. In this vein, it wouldn’t even make sense for CVS to offer more exclusive (and by extension, more expensive) options as they’re not targeting consumers with the deliberate intention of buying chocolate, but rather as an add-on to toothpaste at the register, a last minute ‘get well soon’ gift, or a quick snack. The other shops, however, can be destinations where consumers often come in with strong chocolate purchasing intent.

Thus while these three purveyors differ significantly in their stocking, quality and pricing strategy when it comes to chocolate, they each fill a large desire for their respective products. Indeed, their coexistence and success in different parts of the market is emblematic of the versatile role chocolate plays in our society—one that can be a low-cost treat, a delicacy, a consolation gift or an expression of love.

Works Cited

Abesamis, Abigail. “What’s Fancy Chocolate Made Of That Makes It So Expensive?” HuffPost Life, HuffPost News, 28 Aug. 2018, http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/entry/fancy-chocolate-expensive_n_5b7d8c4de4b07295150f25c6.

Amir, Anna. “Industry Report 31135: Chocolate Production in the US.” IBISWorld, IBISWorld, Feb. 2019, clients1.ibisworld.com/reports/us/industry/default.aspx?entid=230.

Berger, Jonah, et al. “The Influence of Product Variety on Brand Perception and Choice.” Marketing Science, vol. 26, no. 4, 1 July 2007, pp. 460–472., doi:10.1287/mksc.1060.0253.

Brenner, Joel Glenn. “Chapter Five: To the Milky Way and Beyond.” The Emperors of Chocolate: Inside the Secret World of Hershey and Mars, Broadway Books, 2000, pp. 49–69.

Chess, Kate. “Soy-Free Chocolate.” The Equal Exchange Blog, Equal Exchange, 28 Sept. 2018, blog.equalexchange.coop/soy-free-chocolate/.

“Chocolate Assortments.” L.A. Burdick Handmade Chocolate, L.A. Burdick Chocolate, http://www.burdickchocolate.com/chocolate-assortments.aspx.

Chocolate Industry Analysis 2018 – Cost & Trends, FranchiseHelp, 2018, http://www.franchisehelp.com/industry-reports/chocolate-industry-analysis-2018-cost-trends/.

Cidell, Julie L., and Heike C. Alberts. “Constructing Quality: The Multinational Histories of Chocolate.” Geoforum, vol. 37, no. 6, 2006, pp. 999–1007., doi:10.1016/j.geoforum.2006.02.006.

Lybeck, Annika, et al. “Store Brands vs. Manufacturer Brands: Consumer Perceptions and Buying of Chocolate Bars in Finland.” The International Review of Retail, Distribution and Consumer Research, vol. 16, no. 4, 2006, pp. 471–492., doi:10.1080/09593960600844343.

Martin, Carla D. “Sizing the Craft Chocolate Market.” Fine Cacao and Chocolate Institute (Blog), 31 Aug. 2017, chocolateinstitute.org/blog/sizing-the-craft-chocolate-market/.

Martin, Carla D. “The Rise of Big Chocolate and Race for the Global Market.” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. 13 Mar. 2019, Harvard University: Cambridge, MA, Harvard University: Cambridge, MA.

Sethi, Simran. “What Separates ‘Craft’ from Industrial Chocolate? It’s about Diversity.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 8 Feb. 2017, http://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/food/the-elusive-qualities-that-separate-craft-from-industrial-chocolate/2017/02/07/1e5452a8-ecb8-11e6-b4ff-ac2cf509efe5_story.html?utm_term=.0c7775ef6e2c.

Spector, Dina. “Why British And American Chocolate Taste Different.” Business Insider, Business Insider, 27 Jan. 2015, http://www.businessinsider.com/why-british-and-american-chocolate-taste-different-2015-1.

Squicciarini, Mara, and Johan Swinnen. Economics of Chocolate. Oxford Univ Press, 2016.

Terenzi, Sharon. “Soy Lecithin in Chocolate: Why Is It So Controversial?” The Chocolate Journalist, 9 Oct. 2018, thechocolatejournalist.com/soy-lecithin-chocolate/.

Wilmot, Stephen, and Aaron Back. “Are Americans Falling Out of Love With Chocolate?” The Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones & Company, 5 Feb. 2018, http://www.wsj.com/articles/are-americans-falling-out-of-love-with-chocolate-1517832874.

A Crafty Future

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.

chocolate sizingMass 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.

pumpkin(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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Origin/ localization

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.

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Ethical Sourcing

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.

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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.

Sources used:

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.

CPS News (September 15, 2016) Premium Chocolate Driving US Sales Growth.  CPS Daily News. Retrieved from:http://www.cspdailynews.com/category-news/snacks-candy/articles/premium-chocolate-driving-us-sales-growth

D’Antonio, Michael D. 2006. Milton S. Hershey’s Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams.

Glenza, Jessica. (September 29, 2017) Nestle Pays $200 a Year to Bottle Water Near Flint Michigan.  The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/sep/29/nestle-pays-200-a-year-to-bottle-water-near-flint-where-water-is-undrinkable

Laudan, Rachel (May 5, 2015) A Plea for Culinary Modernism. Jacobin Magazine Retrieved from https://www.jacobinmag.com/2015/05/slow-food-artisanal-natural-preservatives/

Leissle, Kristy. (2013) Invisible West Africa: the Politics of Single Origin Chocolate. Gastronmics: The Journal of Food and Culture, Vol. 13. No. 3 (Fall 2013)pp.22-31

Martin, Carla and Sampeck, Kathryn. 2016. “The Bitter and Sweet of Chocolate in Europe.” pp. 37-60.

Norton, Marcy. 2006. “Tasting Empire: Chocolate and the European Internalization of Mesoamerican Aesthetics.”The American Historical Review 111 (3): 660-691

Shanker, Deena (February 7, 2017) The Rise of Craft Chocolate. Bloomberg News. Retrieved from https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2017-02-07/the-rise-of-craft-chocolate

Terrio, Susan J. 2000. Crafting the Culture and History of French Chocolate. pp. 1-65

Thompson, Stephanie. (March 6, 2007) Reservations about Reserve Haunt Hershey. Adage Magazine. Retrieved from: http://adage.com/article/news/reservations-reserve-haunt-hershey/115326/

Trout, Jack. Differientate or Die: Survival in our Era of Killer Competition. New York. Wiley, Second Edition 2008

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

Yu, Douglas. (March 29, 2018) Lindt Will Most Certainly Come Back to Growth in US. Confectionary News. Retrieved from https://www.confectionerynews.com/Article/2018/03/29/Lindt-will-most-certainly-come-back-to-growth-in-US-says-Vontobel

 

From Bean to Boom: The Development of Chocolate as an Industrialized Food 


From its journey to Europe from the New World at the beginning of the sixteenth century all the way to its modern-day iteration, chocolate has become an important staple for people all over the world. Provided here is a brief history of its long and fruitful evolution through time – from Europeans first encounter with the substance through its development into an industrialized food. 

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“Olmec Heartland”

The Olmecs (1500-400 BC) were almost certainly the first humans to consume chocolate. They would crush the cocoa beans, mix them with water and add spices, chillies and herbs – thus first creating, “the nectar of the Gods!”

Over time, the Mayans (600 BC) and Aztecs (400 AD) developed their own successful methods for cultivating cocoa. For these civilizations, cocoa was a symbol of privilege and abundance. It was used in religious rituals dedicated to Quetzalcoatl (the Aztec god responsible for bringing the cocoa tree to man) to Chak ek Chuah (the Mayan patron saint of cocoa) and as an offering at the funerals of noblemen. 

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Discovery and Commercialization of Cocoa (16th century) In 1528 Hernando Cortez drank cacao with the Aztec emperor Montezuma and brought it back to Spain.

The Spanish court soon fell in love with this exotic elixir and adapted it to their tastes, adding cane sugar, vanilla, cinnamon and pepper. 

In 1585, the first cargo of cocoa beans arrived on the Iberian Peninsula from New Spain, launching the trade in cocoa, resulting in the establishment of the first chocolate shops and a rapidly growing demand for this mysterious nectar from the new world.  

The expansion of cocoa in Europe (17th – 19th centuries)
During the 17th century, cocoa began arriving in other ports throughout Europe, effortlessly conquering every region’s palate. Chocolate beverages were first embraced by the French court following the royal marriage of King Louis XIII to the Spanish Princess Anne of Austria in 1615.

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Hot Chocolate in Versailles

In 1650 chocolate beverages first appeared in England coinciding with the arrival of tea from China and coffee from the Middle East. For many years it remained a treat reserved for the upper classes.

In 1659 the first chocolate-confection maker opened in Paris.

In 1720, Italian chocolate-makers received prizes in recognition of the quality of their products. Then in 1765, North America finally discovered the virtues of cocoa. 

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Cocoa During the Industrial Era
Industrialization has had a marked democratizing effect on chocolate, transforming it from a rare delicacy reserved for royals, to a widely available and readily affordable treat for the masses. 

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In 1828, Dutch Chemist Coenraad van Houten invented a process for extracting cocoa butter, allowing for the extraction of cocoa powder. This made chocolate more homogenous and less costly to produce. From this moment on, the history of cacao changed drastically.

 

 

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In 1847, English chocolate maker J.S. Fry & Sons produced the first chocolate bar. The use of cocoa powder not only made creating chocolate drinks easier, but also made it possible to combine chocolate with sugar to create a solid bar.

In 1830-1879 Switzerland, chocolate flavored with hazelnuts was developed by Daniel Peteris followed by milk chocolate developed by Henri Nestlé. 

In 1879, the texture and taste of chocolate was further improved when Rodolphe Lindt invented the conching machine. This new machine made the process of making chocolate a lot faster, and also helped make chocolate smoother and creamier.

imagesWithin the United States in 1893, confectionist Milton Hershey found chocolate making equipment at the Worlds Fair in Chicago and began production at a factory in Pennsylvania. 

Chocolate followed the French and American infantry into the trenches of the First World War, and effectively all US chocolate production was requisitioned for the military during the Second World War. In France, chocolate sweets appeared between the wars, and French pralines were considered the most fashionable. This further inspired chocolate producers to experiment with new and exciting flavors.

Converting cacao seeds into chocolate has now evolved into a complex, mechanized process. At the factory the cacao blended, roasted, cracked, winnowed, ground, pressed, mixed, conched, refined and tempered into candy bars. A few icons of the early 1900s still survive today, like Hershey, Cadbury and Nestlé. Either hand-made or as a fast food, it is now an established part of the world’s vocabulary and diet. Famous French gastronome Anthelme Brillat-Savarin poetically summed up our universal love affair with chocolate, “What is health? It is chocolate!”

 

In these videos from Bon Apetit! you can see cocoa’s long and laborious journey from bean to bar. 

 

 

 

Works Cited

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1996. Print.

Presilla, Maricel. 2009. The New Taste of Chocolate, Revised: A Cultural & Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press.

 

Goody, Jack. Industrial Food: Towards the Development of a World Cuisine. In Counihan, Carole. Food and Culture: A Reader. New York: Routledge, 1997. Print.

Media

“Olmec Heartland”
http://www.vampiresaragossa.com/02_anubis_mexico.html

Hernando Cortez with Montezuma II
https://www.biografiasyvidas.com/biografia/m/moctezuma_ii.htm

Hot Chocolate in Versailles
http://en.chateauversailles.fr/discover/history/hot-chocolate-versailles

Chocolate Maid, Jean-Etienne Liotard, 1744
https://janeaustensworld.wordpress.com/2008/08/09/hot-chocolate-18th-19th-century-style/

Van Houten “Chocolats”
http://lapassionauboutdesdoigts.fr/recettesdessertschocolat/moelleux-chocolat-mascarpone-aux-poires/

Fry’s Chocolate
http://www.oakhamtreasures.co.uk/treasure-of-the-week/?year_week=2016_46

Hershey’s
http://www.artworkoriginals.com/EB5SB8XJ.htm

 

 

 

How Hershey’s Assembly Line Changed Chocolate

For much of the 19th century, chocolate was considered a food for the elite class.  The wealthiest Europeans and Americans could afford expensive confections, bars, and chocolate drinks.  This association of chocolate with the upper class had been unchanged in European society since it was introduced into the culture two centuries prior.  Milton Hershey catalyzed the evolution of chocolate from a food for the elite to a food for the masses with his founding of the Hershey Company in the late 19th century.  Hershey applied new techniques of mass production and his background in making caramel confections to create massive amounts of low cost milk chocolate.  This low cost milk chocolate production chain shifted the perception of chocolate from a pure elitist product to a sweet and sustaining food for any socioeconomic class to enjoy in America and beyond.

The above picture is an advertisement for Cadbury Cocoa prior to the success of Milton Hershey.  The major headline in this ad states “Cadbury’s Cocoa is absolutely pure.”  The fact that this phrase is placed in bold at the center of the poster shows how important the concept of purity was to chocolate sales at this time period.  Elite consumers are very concerned with the quality of the product they are purchasing.  Modern chocolate companies operating during this pre-Hershey period catered to these traditional elite chocolate consumers with high cost, high quality methods of chocolate productions and marketing.

Hershey started his career holding a similar ideology of chocolate sales as Cadbury and other competitors.  Hershey’s first candy company specialized in “mainly caramel confections” that were finely crafted and marketing towards elites (Coe 250).  After some success with his confection company, Hershey began to produce milk chocolate bars, wafers, and eventually the famed Hershey Kiss (Hershey’s History).  The key to success came from Hershey’s mass production techniques.  A modern version of these techniques are depicted in Hershey’s Chocolate World Tour shown in the youtube video above.  The entirety of the tour is very mechanical and shows the dedication to machine automation for fast production.  The focus on fast industrial production that Hershey implemented severely undercut the cost that chocolatiers and high quality chocolate providers faced.  This allowed the company to gain tremendous scale and popularity selling cheap chocolate to the American masses.

Hershey’s assembly line method for chocolate began to catch on, and the new world of low cost chocolate production allowed for chocolate consumption by all classes.  The above Cadbury’s advertisement, which was released after Hershey had revolutionized chocolate production showcases the effect that Hershey had on the industry as a whole.  Rather than emphasizing purity and picturing what appear to be upper class adults in advertising, Cadbury is now catering to the masses with an image of lower class children eating chocolate from the ground.  The major difference between the ads is the shift from a focus on elegance, purity, and class to taste and ability to satisfy hunger.

Milton Hershey undeniably changed the global chocolate industry.  Whether this change is better or worse for chocolate and the world is up for debate.  Creation of these massive publicly traded chocolate companies has led for greater incentive to cut cost.  This trend of cost cutting led to the rise of bulk cacao over fine cacao as the most common cacao in the world today and is one of the reasons slave labor continues to exist.  Catering to the masses also provides incentive for the companies to create addictive sugary products and scale back on the purer and healthier products of the pre-industrial age.  Hershey opened the door of chocolate for the masses, but changed what we view as chocolate in the process.

Works Cited

1.  The Cadbury Family. Digital image. The History Channel, n.d. http://www.history.co.uk/biographies/the-cadbury-family

2.  Hershey Chocolate World Factory Tour Full Ride – It’s the Milk Chocolate!Inside the Magic, n.d. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BLUEptVYHN4

3.  Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1996. Print.

4.  “Hershey’s.” The Hershey Company. N.p., n.d. http://www.thehersheycompany.com/about-hershey/our-story/hersheys-history.aspx

5.  Vingtage Chocolate Ads. Digital image. https://www.pinterest.com/pin/303007881150014651/