Imagining a childhood without the sweet taste of a Hershey’s bar proves unfathomable: Chocolate lines the shelves of every convenience store while entire holidays have become synonymous with the consumption of chocolate products. In other words, chocolate is everywhere and loved by everyone. However, chocolate did not always represent a cherished staple found in every household. From the advent of chocolate beverages in Mesoamerica to the sophisticated chocolate houses of seventeenth-century Europe, chocolate constituted an experience only afforded by the very rich, powerful, and influential. As much a status symbol as a food to be enjoyed, chocolate remained a bastion of society’s elite until the inception of cost-reducing machinery of the Industrial Revolution. During the Industrial Revolution, breakthroughs in the manufacture of chocolate transformed cocoa from a beverage consumed exclusively by the upper class to a mass-produced commodity of every socioeconomic status.
To fully appreciate chocolate’s rise to widespread popularity, its exclusive origins amongst society’s elite cannot be overlooked. As described by anthropologists Sophie and Michael Coe, “for at least 28 centuries, chocolate had been a drink of the elite and the very rich” (Coe 232). Indeed, the Maya – who mostly consumed chocolate in its liquid form – served cocoa during feasts for the political and economic elite as a display of power and wealth. Viewed as a food of the gods, the Olmecs, Mayans, and Aztecs regarded chocolate, and particularly chocolate foam, as a status symbol amongst wealthy merchants and nobility (Leissle 30–31). Moreover, once trade introduced cocoa to European society, chocolate remained a staple among the elite as a “validation of social position” due to its high production costs and laborious manufacturing process (Mintz 90). Spanish royalty craved chocolate, even crafting ornate dishware such as the mancerina solely for the consumption of liquid chocolate (Coe 137). By the late seventeenth century, chocolate houses became well-established all throughout European cities, serving aristocrats, upper class individuals, and eventually, those seeking to discuss society’s most contentious political issues (Coe 210). Thus, chocolate became cemented amongst Europe’s elite as the only social class able to afford the new commodity.
Van Houten’s invention of the hydraulic press in 1828 revolutionized the manufacturing process of chocolate, driving consumption across socioeconomic levels. Prior to Houten’s hydraulic press, manufacturers manually boiled and skimmed cacao butter from chocolate in a time-consuming and expensive process. In response, Houten invented a powerful hydraulic press that pulverized cacao butter out of chocolate, leaving a solid cake of grindable cocoa powder. This much more efficient process, known as defatting, reduced production costs and made the solid consumption of chocolate easier in cakes, ice creams, and biscuits (Coe 242). Additionally, Houten introduced the process of “Dutching,” which utilized alkaline salts to improve cocoa powder’s miscibility in water. Dutching also made the powder darker in color, leading many consumers to believe it possessed a stronger chocolate flavor (Leissle 55). This defatting and alkalizing method simplified cocoa production and led to the “large-scale manufacture of cheap chocolate for the masses, in both powdered and solid form” (Coe 242). Overall, Houten’s innovative production reduced manufacturing costs, which in turn allowed more widespread consumption of chocolate outside the upper class.
The firm of J.S. Fry & Sons’ breakthrough discovery in 1847 introduced the first solid chocolate fully intended for eating, rather than drinking. Following Van Houten’s invention of the hydraulic press, much more cacao butter could be separated from cocoa than ever before. Francis Fry and Joseph Storrs Fry capitalized on this increased production of cacao butter in their invention of the Chocolat Délicieux à Manger, or more commonly, the “chocolate bar.” To create chocolate bars, the Fry firm invented a way to mix cocoa powder and sugar with cacao butter from Houten’s defatting process. By mixing cocoa powder with cacao butter as opposed to warm water, Fry could produce a thinner paste capable of being molded into chocolate bars (Coe 243). While a short-term high demand for cacao butter concentrated solid chocolate bar consumption amongst the wealthy, the price of cocoa powder plummeted, placing chocolate well “within the reach of the masses” (Coe 242). Nonetheless, Houten’s hydraulic press and Fry’s mixing techniques allowed for the mass-production of chocolate, causing a substantial reduction in price that dramatically increased chocolate consumption (Alberts and Cidell 123). Consequently, chocolate no longer constituted a bastion of European elites to symbolize their wealth, but rather, progressed towards becoming a household staple.
Revelations in Switzerland revamped chocolate from a bitter and gritty product into a smooth and varied decadence. Although the Englishman Nicholas Sanders first combined milk with chocolate in 1727, his product did not constitute “milk chocolate” per se, but rather, a beverage mixing chocolate liquor with hot milk (Coe 249). The chocolate industry could not produce true milk chocolate as they lacked a design that prevented dairy from spoiling (Alberts and Cidell 124). In 1867, however, Swiss chemist Henri Nestlé discovered how to create milk powder via evaporation. In collaboration with the Swiss chocolate manufacturer Daniel Peter, the two men combined Nestlé’s powder with cacao butter to produce the first true milk chocolate bar. Perhaps, more importantly, Rudolph Lindt significantly improved the quality of chocolate with his invention of “conching” in 1879 (Alberts and Cidell 124). A traditional conche used heavy granite rollers to grind cocoa and sugar mixtures into small particles that produced smoother chocolate with intensified flavor. As a result, the conching process induced a boom in worldwide chocolate popularity and soon became a standard procedure in the industry (Coe 250–51). Therefore, Swiss inventions of the late nineteenth-century heightened chocolate popularity (and consumption) through the emergence of milk chocolate and a final product with smoother texture.
Industrial Revolution developments in chocolate production culminated in the application of the assembly line. Perhaps, Milton S. Hershey’s chocolate empire represents the most sophisticated implementation of the chocolate assembly line. Described as “the Henry Ford of Chocolate Makers,” Milton Hershey established a chocolate factory in Pennsylvania calibrated for mass-production (Coe 253). Without the hydraulic press, conche, powdered milk, and other mechanistic breakthroughs of the Industrial Revolution, Hershey would not have been able to adopt machinery for the widespread production of standardized chocolate recipes. The efficiency of the assembly line – made possible by the Industrial Revolution – dramatically increased production of chocolate, helping offset manufacturing costs and boost consumption across socioeconomic levels. For instance, by the late 1920s, Hershey’s factory produced about 50,000 pounds of cocoa every day (Coe 256). As such, the adoption of a mechanized assembly line increased efficiency and production while creating chocolates of identical taste, texture, and quality for all of society.
Chocolate, as it is known today, would have never been possible without the manufacturing breakthroughs of the Industrial Revolution. Lindt’s conche introduced the smooth texture of chocolate loved throughout the world while Houten’s alkalization process paved the way for Oreo to become “milk’s favorite cookie.” More importantly, Houten’s hydraulic press, Fry’s mixing techniques, and Hershey’s assembly line have allowed chocolate to become adored by all of society regardless of socioeconomic status. Thanks to these major breakthroughs, chocolate has transcended social disparities, making the world just a tad sweeter.
Molded by years of exposure to masterfully crafted marketing campaigns, average consumer knowledge of cacao [or cocoa] is limited to its function as an ingredient and source from which their beloved chocolate is derived. There is much more to the birth, rise, and spread of Theobroma cacao.
The following seeks to explain how a culturally significant crop among early civilizations dating back to 1500 BCE (Coe and Coe, 2013) transformed from a highly treasured ingredient and social currency cultivated within a fairly limited zone to a globally produced and traded commodity: a highly reformulated, mass-produced, and readily available confectionery product.
This journey traces cacao back to its genetic and cultural beginnings where it was religious and cultural fixture among early civilizations; how exploration and migration played into the geographical expansion of its cultivation and rise in popularity as a food; role in accelerating industrialization; and transformation from a social currency and treasured ingredient to a heavily traded commodity and mass manufactured consumer product.
Genetic and Cultural Beginnings
From births and burials, recipes and rituals, cacao’s cultural origins are linked to Mesoamerica (present day Mexico through Central America), where its social and religious significance among the Olmec dates back to 1500 to 400 BCE (Coe and Coe, 2013). The rise of Maya and Aztec civilizations gave way for cacao’s evolution utility and proliferation as a consumable.
Cacao’s Role in Society and Religion
Evidenced by archeologic discoveries, translated texts, and scientific testing, several vessels and writings have been unearthed, clarifying and validating cacao’s significance, religious ties, and early application as a currency.
Mayan and Aztec civilization associated cacao with the gods. As such, they were believed to enrich and afford protections during and after life, playing a central role in offerings and rituals (Coe and Coe, 2013).
Ceramic vessels similar to those pictured here which date back to 455 to 465 CE were found in burial tombs at Río Azul (Martin, 2019). Further testing confirmed positive traces of caffeine and theobromine—two of cacao’s alkaloid signatures (Martin, 2019).
Dating back to 455 to 465 CE, “funerary vessels” similar to those pictured here were discovered in tombs at Río Azul. As testing revealed traces of caffeine and theobromine, two of cacao’s signature alkaloids, this further supported evidence of cacao’s religious significance (Martin, 2019).
As a food or drink, cacao took many forms. Popular among the Maya and Aztec, “cacahuatl” was a frothy preparation often transferred from one vessel to another and served cold (Coe and Coe, 2013).
Exploration and Migration: Changes in Cultivation and Consumption
By definition, explorers were bound to make new discoveries and learn from their experience. Capturing the innocent confusion and eye-opening experience (only to be realized years later), the following briefly details just how one explorer mistakenly thought that cacao beans were almonds.”
Mistaken for Almonds: When recounting observations from his 1502 landing at Guanaja, one of many landmasses that make up the Bay Islands archipelago, Ferdinand Columbus, one of Christopher Columbus’ sons wrote about cherished “almonds” that traded hands similarly to how currency would pass between customers and merchants (Coe and Coe, 2013). It was not until years later after multiple interpretations and sources concluded that what he presumed to be almonds were in fact cacao beans.
As it came to be more widely known, not far from where Ferdidnad landed, throughout the Rio Ceniza Valley (present day coast of El Salvador), cacao was an increasingly popular form of currency being produced and traded in record volume—something . In time, this led to further learnings about the “Nahua counting system” and subsequent adoption of cacao as payment for “protection” by Spanish conquistadors.
Generally relegated to tropical climates falling 10-15 degrees north and south of equator, is was inevitable that cacao would make its way around the world. So as people moved, and culture spread, so too did the cacao, as a crop, currency, and curiosity, ultimately leading to its introduction to new geographies, and paving the way for new industries and traditions around the world (Martin, 2019).
New Formulations and Complementary Ingredients
As ingredients such as vanilla, chili, and many others traveled around the world, pairings and formulations rapidly evolved. Marking a major development and informing direction for the confectionery side as we know it today, sugar was introduced to Europe around 1100 CE and chocolate followed shortly thereafter in 1500 CE (Martin, 2019).
Cacao’s Role in Accelerating Industrialization and Expanding its Place in Society
While cacao consumption continued to be reserved for certain classes during its journey around the world, increasingly sophisticated processing methods streamlined productions, regulation eventually brought its price down, and despite medical and religious challenges to its place in society, cacao products were increasingly available to a grander population.
By the 1600 and 1700s, advances in processing continued to align with rising and more diverse consumption habits. Of course, by this time, the separation between “producing” and “processing” countries (read: colonies vs. industrialized nations) was increasingly clear.
So while cultivation and production spread across Central and South America, Southeast Asia, and Africa to meet demand, industry began to take shape on the consumer side as well with the emergence of social gathering halls or “Chocolate Houses” in Britain, France, Spain, the United States, and other “industrialized” nations who had transitioned to managing the cacao’s trade as a commodity and processing for various food and beverage applications. It was not until Rudolphe Lindt’s invention of the conche in 1879, an advancement that bolstered flavor and feel (among other things), and set the stage for quality, processing, and mass production to take off (Coe and Coe, 2013).
Illustrated above, the matete, grinder, and conche are examples of what cacao processing tools were used by early civilizations (and are still used in the same or similar forms today) and evolved or industrialized processing equipment employed today (Martin, 2019).
From early civilizations to present day, cacao’s role in society, cultural significance, availability and consumption have evolved tremendously. However, its mystique and association as something special are still true to this day—just as they were in different and more elaborate forms among early civilizations. Perhaps this condensed history will give pause and reason for the average consumer to think beyond commercialization of cacao, cocoa, or chocolate, and value and validate its history and claims made by brands to improve global understanding, perception, and consumer habits.
Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. 3rd Edition, Thames & Hudson, 2013.
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.
Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies. “Map of Mesoamerica.” Accessed February 17, 2019. http://www.famsi.org/maps/.
Río Azul [Electronic Image]. Retrieved from Lecture. Martin, Carla D. “Chocolate Politics: How History, Multinational Corporations, Governments, NGOs, and Critics Influence the Chocolate We Eat”. Harvard University: Cambridge, MA. January 30, 2019. Lecture.
Matete [Electronic Image]. Retrieved from Lecture. Martin, Carla D. “Chocolate Politics: How History, Multinational Corporations, Governments, NGOs, and Critics Influence the Chocolate We Eat”. Harvard University: Cambridge, MA. January 30, 2019. Lecture.
Grinder [Electronic Image]. Retrieved from Lecture. Martin, Carla D. “Chocolate Politics: How History, Multinational Corporations, Governments, NGOs, and Critics Influence the Chocolate We Eat”. Harvard University: Cambridge, MA. January 30, 2019. Lecture.
Conche [Electronic Image]. Retrieved from Lecture. Martin, Carla D. “Chocolate Politics: How History, Multinational Corporations, Governments, NGOs, and Critics Influence the Chocolate We Eat”. Harvard University: Cambridge, MA. January 30, 2019. Lecture.
Martin, Carla D. “Chocolate Expansion”. Harvard University: Cambridge, MA. February 13, 2019. Lecture.
Martin, Carla D. “Sugar and Cacao”. Harvard University: Cambridge, MA. February 20, 2019. Lecture.
Martin, Carla D. “Chocolate Politics: How History, Multinational Corporations, Governments, NGOs, and Critics Influence the Chocolate We Eat”. Harvard University: Cambridge, MA. January 30, 2019. Lecture.
If one stands near the Chicago River fork, just by the world famous Merchandise Mart, they are struck by a familiar and enticing smell. On a good day, a large portion of downtown Chicago smells distinctly of chocolate. Following the railway lines just west of the river will lead you to the Blommer chocolate factory. Blommer currently processes almost 45% of the cacao beans in the U.S. and the Chicago headquarters stands as their largest processing plant. The smell is so strong and distinct, you can actually discern the difference between when they are making milk chocolate versus cocoa powder or dark chocolate. Traveling further down the river to the North is a strip of land that use to hold a coffee roasting plant. On a perfect day, these smells would intermingle as the roasting released their warm bitter notes on the air, reminding us of coffee and chocolate’s shared past.
(A former tumbler post allowed Chicagoans to track the chocolate scent daily)
Standing there, it begs the question about where their paths diverged. How did chocolate make the transformation from the beverage of revolutionaries and royalty to a confectionary treat to appease the masses?
By the time cacao became the darling of beverage establishments, the Old World had abandoned the Humors system of medicine. No longer were there debates as to whether chocolate was warm or cold or how to best balance it with spices. At the same time, drug crops such as tea, coffee and chocolate, which had long been associated with wealth and status, were becoming more accessible. Daily rituals were created around these beverages, often with the addition of sugar, which was growing in popularity. However, both chocolate and coffee fell out of favor as a beverage when the British East India Company increased the tea supply, causing tea prices to drop dramatically. The lower prices made it more accessible, transforming it to a national compulsion for the British. Coffee would eventually become more accessible and regain some lost ground, but rather than look to rebound as a beverage choice, chocolate evolved in the food space as a confection and flavoring.
Several different innovations helped chocolate with this evolution. Going back to its heyday as a beverage, drinking chocolate was growing in popularity in the new world. At the time, cacao was still being ground and processed by hand on matates. It was an arduous process, that took time and manpower, keeping chocolate in the hands of those who could afford it. In 1765, Dr. James Baker partnered with John Hannon to simplify the process and reduce labor. The pair rented a grist mill in Milton Lower Falls, MA, using water power to grind the chocolate. This was chocolate’s first step in to the industrial age, liberating it from the labor of hand grinding and creating a more consistent product. The company they formed, Baker chocolates, still exists today under the Kraft Heinz company.
(Baker Chocolates still stands today in Milton Falls, MA)
The next leap forward for chocolate came in 1824 from the Swiss. Coenraad Van Houten, a Swiss chemist, developed a new processing method using a hydraulic press. The press removed more than 70% of the cacao butter from the cacao nibs, leaving a cake, which could be easily turned in to powder. The cacao was then treated with alkaline, which reduced the bitterness, making for a milder, more palatable chocolate. This not only made it cheaper and easier to make in to a beverage, but the resulting powder could be used as a flavoring for cakes, and other confections, helping chocolate easily expand it’s usage beyond beverages in to foodstuffs.
(Van Houten’s Press had a multi-stage process to remove fats from the cacao nibs)
The next innovation came from the Quakers in England. In 1847, as sugar consumption was taking a drastic turn up, Joseph Fry mixed cocoa powder and sugar with melted cacao butter. The resulting mixture was malleable enough to be cast in to a mold, making the world’s first eating chocolate, and transforming chocolate from flavor to stand alone item.
The Swiss continued to innovate and in 1867 Henri Nestle, a Swiss chemist devised a way to make powder milk through a process of evaporation. This would become the first ready to mix infant formula. (which would eventually lead to a rather sorted history among the Nestle company.) This innovation proved to be useful when in 1879 Daniel Peter used it to make the first milk chocolate bar by mixing with chocolate liquor, drying the moisture out of the mix and adding cacao butter. The resulting chocolate was sweeter, smoother, and more palatable.
Not to be outdone, that same year Rudolphe Lindt invented the conching machine. The machine consisted of a flat granite base and granite roller. Cacao nibs were ground by the roller and the resulting liquor was splashed over it at the end of each roll, allowing more air to come in contact during the process. The conching process had several major advantages. First, the continual motion caused the cacao to be more finely ground, which would eventually produce a smoother chocolate. Second, the contact with the air made it easier for moisture and volatile oils to evaporate, removing some of the acidity and making for a milder, more enjoyable flavor. Lastly, and importantly, the friction in the conching process created heat, this allowed chocolate makers to reduce roasting time (as some could be done in during the conching process), which sped up chocolate production dramatically.
The last leap forward toward mass produced chocolate takes us back to the United States with Milton Hershey. In 1903, Hershey was just starting to build his chocolate empire in the center of Pennsylvania. The one process that he struggled with was processing the milk for his milk chocolate with attempts often leading to scorched or burnt milk. He finally called in John Schmalbach, who mixed skim milk with a high ratio of sugar. Using low heat evaporation, he was able to create sweetened condensed milk. The resulting product mixed beautifully with cocoa powder and cacao butter. Not only did it produce eating chocolate, but the process made the chocolate more shelf stable and able to be stored for several months. It also created a smoother mixture overall, which was easier to move through equipment and molds, allowing them to make chocolate faster and cheaper. We now had a chocolate that was cheap and fast to produce, and could stay fresh for months, allowing it to be shipped further and stocked longer. With Hershey’s the once beverage of royalty was forever transformed into an indulgence for the masses.
Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. 2007 (1996) The True History of Chocolate.
Brenner, Joel. 2000. The Emperors of Chocolate: Inside the Secret World of Hershey and Mars.
D’Antonio, Michael D. 2006. Milton S. Hershey’s Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams.
MacCarther, Kate. “Blommer Chocolate to Back Cocoa Sustainability Program.” Crain’s Chicago Business. May 9, 2012. (online version)
Mintz, Sidney W. 1986 (1985) Sweetness and Power.
Murray, Sarah. 2007. Moveable Feasts: From Ancient Rome to the 21st Century, the Incredible Journeys of the Food We Eat.
Walking through Whole Foods one Sunday afternoon in Nashville, TN, two years ago, a small crowd caught my eye near the front of the store. The reason turned out to be peanut butter cups, halved and waiting on parchment paper for the avid samplers to consume. Organic and fair trade, these chocolates lacked any artificial preservatives or coloring, boasted higher protein and fiber content than any of their peers, and featured dark chocolate almond butter and coconut quinoa crunch. I recently rediscovered the Unreal brand on Facebook, thanks to an aggressive social media campaign. Additional research has confirmed that Unreal’s latest project offers a quality product that tastes as good, or better, than its competitors. The product is well worth purchasing for the taste and healthier ingredients alone, and corporate values do enhance the value of the product. However, when analyzing the founders’ claims to operate as small company in order to combat unethical sourcing and, more importantly, nutritional deficiency, it becomes clear that the lofty mission proclaimed on the website falls a bit short in practice.
First, it is important to understand the background of the company. Viewers who open the Unreal website find a barrage of fluorescent colors and pithy slogans. One of the last pages on the website tells the well-publicized story of Unreal’s founding. In a TEDx Teen talk delivered in 2013, a few months after the first iteration of Unreal products hit stores, 18-year-old Nicky Bronner delivered a 15-minute presentation about his company’s story, mission, and products. Calling his parents “junk food pirates,” Nicky shared the very marketable story of the moment that led him and his brother to set out to change the candy industry. Three years before, the 12-year-old Nicky and his 15-year-old brother, Kris, returned from trick-or-treating to have their candy confiscated from their health conscious parents. After conducting some online research to attempt to prove them wrong, the brothers found that the ingredients in their favorite candies were, in fact, damaging to health for their chemical additives and contribution to obesity. After 1,000 recipes by acclaimed Spanish chef Adam Melonas, Unreal bars launched to 25,000 stores nationwide and featured unpaid endorsements by Bill Gates, Matt Damon, Gisele Bundchen, Tom Brady, and Jack Dorsey. In a very direct fashion, Nicky proclaimed that his mission is “not to sell candy, but to sell you on an idea, which is that you can change the world, because the world needs change.” Coming from a gangly, nervous 18-year-old, this seems a bit heavy-handed, but his passion and enthusiasm for his product are clearly genuine.
From 2013 to today, the story and the products have changed somewhat, but the mission has stood fast. Today, interviews for the company feature the CEO and CMO, who discuss product alignment and core messaging to target consumers alongside merchandizing strategies and bring-to-market plans. The initial plan targeted all stores and matched the price point of Mars and Hershey products, but the black packaging and numbered, QR-code inspired naming system deterred consumers. Simply renaming the products did not boost sales sufficiently. The company scaled back. Unreal created new recipes based on the peanut butter cups and M&M’s with trendy ingredients (ie. quinoa, coconut, almond butter), re-designed colorful packaging with a quirky style, and re-launched in 1,000 health foods stores. 
The chocolate itself might be tasty, but Unreal has always marketed itself as more than just another candy bar. How, then, does the corporate structure of the company compare to Hershey and Mars, two direct competitors that Unreal seeks to unseat in the marketplace? Initially, in 2012, Unreal planned to move into non-processed snacks, breakfast foods, and soda. The initial CEO John Burns, managing partner at the VC investors Raptor Consumer Partners, promoted their selection of the candy sector not due to a teenage whim but in response to a lack of innovation in the marketplace, which focused instead on product line extensions and new packaging. Raptor provided $8 million in Series A funding, and many of the stars who promoted the product have, rather than receiving compensation for their endorsement, actually invested in the company. However, far from two inquisitive, motivated teenagers creating a company from nothing, Forbes revealed that their father, Michael Bronner, was a multi-millionaire entrepreneur who funded Unreal’s first steps. Moreover, he was a family friend of the Boston-based celebrities who highlighted the brand, especially Bundchen, Brady, and Damon.
Another early backer, Bill Gates, invested in Sun Microsystems founder Vinod Khosla’s VC firm that provided the next wave of funding for Unreal. Gates wrote on his website:
Let’s be honest. Even with better ingredients, candy is still candy. But this candy may be an example of how innovation can be successful when it creates a better product, and proves that all of the junk and high amounts of sugar in many of our most popular foods (also exported around the world) may not need to be there in the first place.
Far from Nicky’s seemingly innocent comment at his TEDx Talk, “it turned out we needed money to start a company, and investors loved our mission and saw the potential to create change,” the Bronners were able to leverage their family connections to get their company off the ground. For someone who shared that he was “up for adventures of all kinds,” a teenager proud that he climbed Kilimanjaro, played tennis in Antarctica, and went skydiving in New Zealand, Nicky clearly had a rather advantageous platform for launching his company as a homeschooled boy in Boston. As Bon Appetit wrote in October 2012,
But hey, slightly more healthy candy bars made by a vastly wealthy 15-year-old are still slightly more healthy candy bars—let’s just hope that his love for candy matures into a well-funded grown up passion for actually changing the world for the better. 
So how does Unreal compare to Hershey and Mars, two notoriously secret companies? Industry specialists have speculated that one or both of these companies may bid to buy Unreal, or copy its marketing techniques, if the brand picks up steam. One Business Insider writer who grew up in Hershey, PA boasted a close personal connection to the Hershey Company. She loved the products after Unreal sent them to her for a tasting, the first in a series of promotional efforts after an additional $18.7M in funding helped the company roll out the new line of products in 2015. Like Bronner, Milton Hershey founded a company at the turn of the twentieth century that always sought to go beyond providing a product for consumers. “The Hershey idea,” biographer Michael D’Antonio wrote, was “a business that would create something nobler than profit…at the very height of the progressive movement’s power.” Hershey founded a utopian community in 1904 with ready built homes and an ordered town park, which tied in his company to the local community’s economy, and Hershey bequeathed his fortune to found a philanthropic school.
Mars, on the other hand, has earned renown for its intense privacy. Despite earning $33 billion in global revenue each year and 200 million consumer transactions per day, Mars maintains a nondescript world headquarters in McLean for 80 employees. Still 100% family owned without any debt, Mars boasts incredible employee loyalty, as seen through unparalleled retention rates, and ranks among the best companies to work for in the United States. Both Hershey and Mars control a disproportionate share of the chocolate, and snack foods more broadly, industry. In the United States, Hershey held on to 44.1% and Mars to 29.3%, together accounting for 73.4% of the domestic market. In this context, despite the significant advantages that the Bronner brothers received from their father and the funding accessible to them through his connections, Unreal is clearly trying to shake-up the industry from a weaker financial position. They deserve significant credit for this courageous move.
This very structure, as an industry disruptor, has allowed Unreal to challenge the status quo for ingredients and recipes in the candy industry. First, Unreal’s pledges to be organic, fair trade, and sustainably harvested, certified gluten free and vegan. The company associates its product with “good,” opening with “good is back,” then “good never tasted better,” and finally “doing good isn’t so hard.” Declaring themselves “people people and planet people,” the company proceeds to discuss how it creates color in the M&M-like candy through vegetable dyes, uses 93% Fair Trade ingredients, and engages in sustainable sourcing of palm oil—for every hectare harvested, the supplier plants two more. Organic and Fair Trade have become important trends in sustainable chocolate, in particular, over the last decade. The Fair Trade platform pledges to build:
A trading partnership, based on dialogue, transparency, and respect, that seeks greater equity in international trade. It contributes to sustainable development by offering better trading conditions to, and securing the rights of, marginalized producers and workers—especially in the South. Fair trade organizations, backed by consumers, are engaged actively in supporting producers, awareness raising and in campaigning for changes in the rules and practice of conventional international trade.
Though it is debatable whether the proceeds of fair trade benefit farmers as much as its proponents claim, both Fair Trade and Organic certifications are important steps toward improving wage and labor conditions for cacao farmers in the Third World. Although these labels features prominently on the Unreal website, the company focuses less on its ethical considerations than its nutritional mission for health.
Second, and most importantly for Unreal’s corporate success, the Bronner’s recognized that candy companies have not changed their recipes to reflect the medical consensus linking processed foods to obesity over the last century. The Sugar Association of lobbyists disregarded scientific evidence that sugar was poisonous and slowly killing millions of Americans. Private documents show how this turn recalls that of Big Tobacco decades earlier. Government regulations accordingly speak of sugar in vague generalities in response to industry pressure, funded by companies like Hershey and Mars through the Sugar Association. Those who testified to Congress about the wholesome nature of sugar earned millions from the very companies whose business they defended. In an industry still “facing the inexorable exposure of its product as a killer,” companies like Hershey and Mars, whose mass production model is based inherently on the addictive properties of sugar, are trying desperately to forestall such public knowledge of sugar’s true properties. Scientists have conducted studies to confirm that sugar is addictive, in addition to impairing liver performance and inhibiting digestive capacity. Among ancient cultures, chocolate was used in more pure forms, ground up as cacao and added to beverages intended to provide stimulation or serve ritual importance among the elite. It did not have the sugar and preservatives added to candies today.
The documentary Fed Up! explored the damage that processed foods wrought on the health of Americans and, to an increasing extent, the rest of the world that consumes our exported foods. Exposes like this provided the basic information for the Bronner’s as they created their mission. Though the McGovern Report, issued in 1979, warned that obesity would soon be the #1 form of malnutrition in the United States, the industry pegged fat as the culprit, rather than sugar. Companies replaced fat with chemicals, so raw sugar and high fructose corn syrup increased psychoanalytical tendencies toward behaviors associated with obesity. Commercials targeted children to solidify the social constructs surrounding processed foods, especially chocolate candy. When individual senators, President Bush, and First Lady Michelle Obama attempted to combat the obesity crisis in schools and in grocery stores, lobbyists paid off doctors, politicians, and companies to suppress their efforts. Even the Clinton Foundation, which claimed to fight child obesity and large corporations, takes donations from The Coca-Cola Company ($5M-$10M) and The Coca-Cola Foundation ($1M-$5M). This conflict of interest undermines the forcefulness of President Clinton’s message in the documentary.
Given this complicated reality, by which the close intersection between business and politics prevents concerted public health efforts to combat the obesity epidemic, how can Unreal, such a small company, despite its funding, make a difference? One of the statistics that Unreal used in its early promotional materials emphasized the troubling fact that, by 2020, 40% of Americans will be clinically obese and 50% will be diabetic. As a result, its first candy bars averaged the following, as compared to their traditional equivalents: 45% less sugar, 13% less fat, 23% less calories, 149% more protein, 250% more fiber. In addition, they registered as low Glycemic Index and avoided hydrogenated oils or synthetic colors. Unreal tried to promote its status as a healthy food with initially absurd comparisons to fruit, which analysts and food bloggers aptly criticized. Later efforts used Gisele Bundchen and Tom Brady’s reputations as exceptionally health conscious to bolster their brand. Some blogs even misinterpreted the basic nutritional facts around the candy. Vegan bloggers, for example, claimed that Unreal’s mission was “about veganizing popular candy bars” to remove “animal products and additives,” a claim far beyond what the founders intended.
This reputation, however, is largely unfounded. Unreal’s nutrition comparisons are complicated by the fact that the packages were, on average, 19.4% smaller. This amplifies the value of the increased protein and fiber, but it reduces the significance of the caloric, sugar, and fat adjustments. However, the primary issue at stake is that, as even Bill Gates acknowledged, Unreal is, at its core, a candy, not a health food. An early Huffington Post article that took issue with Unreal argued, “Candy is candy, not fruit, not food, not the stuff of everyday sustenance…Americans don’t need more obfuscation when it comes to food.” As discussed in Fed Up!, a key issue with the obesity epidemic is that companies offer too many products and alternatives, adding more rather than taking options off the shelf.
Unreal’s strong mission undercuts the corporate conglomerates like Hershey and Mars, whose reliance on the sugar industry has hampered any significant progress toward recipe change. However, replacing one dessert with a healthier version cannot rectify economic inequality or solve the magnitude of the obesity epidemic, for a candy is still a candy. For consumers seeking a treat with a little less guilt, Unreal offers a great alternative to traditional candies. For those seeking to address series ethical and medical issues, however, the solution must aim much higher and reach much further than the Unreal brand is currently capable of doing.
 Nicole M. Avena, Pedro Rada, and Bartley G. Hoebel, “Evidence for Sugar Addiction: Behavioral and Neurochemical Effects of Intermittent, Excessive Sugar Intake,” Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews 32, no. 1 (2008): 20–39, doi:10.1016/j.neubiorev.2007.04.019; for a detailed overview of additional studies, refer to “Chocolate in Health and Nutrition,” Nutrition and Health (New York: Humana Press, 2013).
 For a detailed history of the origins of cacoa, see Sophie D. Coe and Michael D. Coe, The True History of Chocolate, 3rd ed. (London: Thames & Hudson, 2013).
Avena, Nicole M., Pedro Rada, and Bartley G. Hoebel. “Evidence for Sugar Addiction: Behavioral and Neurochemical Effects of Intermittent, Excessive Sugar Intake.” Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews 32, no. 1 (2008): 20–39. doi:10.1016/j.neubiorev.2007.04.019.
You may be surprised to find out that the chocolate that we know today is a relatively new, tasty discovery- one that came about from the Industrial Age.
When the Industrial Revolution took place, the world revolutionized with it, and industries of all kinds were forever altered. The chocolate industry, still in the Mayan age, sprouted into a new field and its effects can still be traced today. The technology in the Industrial Revolution provided the tools to advance the field of chocolate, which allowed for mass consumption and commercialization, giving way to the “Chocolate Age.”
Chocolate’s “God-Like” Beginnings
Cacao was considered the “food of the gods,” and was treated as such: before the Industrial Age, chocolate was made the traditional way that the Mayans made it with a long, drawn-out process of cracking shells and traditional grinding to create a bitter chocolate drink (unlike the chocolate of today) (Szogyi, 1997).
Modern Mayan woman demonstrating how her ancestors
would grind cacao (Smithsonian)
This treat was considered to be a drink that was both a commodity and spiritual experience; although it was available to the masses, the wealthy certainly had more access to the treat because they could afford it. Cacao was taken as such a serious product that the Mayans used its seeds as currency; further, it was used to promote fertility and life, and cacao pods are found all over elite and ancient artifacts, temples, and palaces. Clearly, these uses and techniques demonstrate how luxurious chocolate was to them; these processes stayed this way even during the era of the Aztec empire and many centuries later (Horn, 2016 & Szogyi).
The Industrial Difference
This process of chocolate was so revered that it essentially did not change until the Industrial Age with a ground-breaking invention for grinding that used the newly-innovated steam and hydraulic process; in 1778, Doret, a Frenchman, invented a hydraulic machine that grinds cocoa beans into a paste (Beckett, Horn). Before then, the process of grinding was long and tedious and this machine allowed the process to become easier to create for the masses. Soon after, more inventions came along for grinding that further made consumption more popular. For instance, Dubuisson invented a steam chocolate grinder in France because it was even cheaper to replicate than Doret’s product, which allowed for an even higher level of mass consumption of chocolate. The Industrial Age created the environment to allow for this change – without steam and hydraulics, and the friendly and booming business atmosphere for support, Doret and Dubuisson would certainly not have been able to create these inventions. Where would be chocolate be today? One could reasonably predict that we could have eventually have had these technologies, but it is safe to assume that it would have taken the chocolate industry much longer to reach its glory.
The steam engine and hydraulic system are considered staples of this Industrial Age with new technologies across the boards for trains, factories, and buildings, but we can also appreciate how these technologies allowed for the advancement of chocolate technology. The value of chocolate significantly decreased because it was accessible to everyone; from here on, it was no longer an “elite” product or just a “food of the gods,” but, rather, a food for everyone. Thus, the Industrial Age that changed the world on so many fronts quickly churned into the “Chocolate Age” as well.
The idea of the mass consumption of chocolate from the Industrial Age can be traced along the later part of the history of chocolate. Quickly after the revelation with the cocoa beans came a new way to make chocolate an even more accessible product with commercialization – via “dutching” (Squiciarinni & Swinnen, 2016). In 1828, Van Houten, a Dutch chemist, invented a method to press cocoa by separating the cocoa butter by pressing it with alkali, making the matter soften up enough to produce cocoa powder, which was light and fluffy; unlike the current chocolate of that time, dutching made chocolate highly digestible, which would attract new consumers and open up a whole new market for chocolate – just like these technologies helped do so in other industries such as the construction field (i.e. making materials more affordable and attractive for building).
Van Houten’s cocoa press (World Standards)
Additionally, cocoa powder was the secret ingredient needed for the chocolate industry and companies to seamlessly make solid chocolate bars and coat them as well as bring in new flavors such as white chocolate. From there, a second wave of the Chocolate Age had been set and was about to take place.
A Second Wave of the Age – Mass Commercialization and the Chocolate Bar
With the mass consumption of chocolate from these new Industrial technologies came mass commercialization. Quite simply, we can see that chocolate companies would not be what they are today without this commercial influence; specifically, the dutching process sparked a spread of commercialization across Europe, which allowed for the worldwide chocolate industry we have come to know and love. For example, Cadbury, one of the largest chocolate companies today, and Joseph Fry (founder of what is known as Mondolez International today) bought the dutching press; these two companies are credited to be the first companies to create and sell the chocolate bar. They also made the chocolate bar a highly accessible treat with aggressive advertising; this marketing scheme raked in millions of dollars for these companies (Beckett, Horn). It was the catalyst behind the beginning of giant factories built to keep up with this demand.
Thus, the chocolate bar became (and still is) a symbol for a quick, delicious treat for everyone and anyone.
Fry’s chocolate bar packaging (Foods of England)
Moreover, the dutching system then inspired the chocolate exportation business that brought chocolate on to an international stage – a few decades after the start of the chocolate bar, the Van Houten presses became powered by steam engines, and, just like with the Dubuisson’s steam engine, came with another Chocolate Revolution. The mass consumption and commercialization of chocolate began in European countries such as Germany and France, which eventually led its way to the United States (Beckett, Szogyi). These countries then started their own chocolate giants such as Hershey’s and Nestlé, which embody the same mass consumption and commercialization ideals that have advanced the history of chocolate along and allowed it to further churn.
Without the Industrial age, chocolate would just not be the same. It is literally unrecognizable from its Olmec and Mayan roots. From the Industrial Age, the Chocolate Age churned on and on – all starting with the advancements in steam and hydraulics.
Beckett, S.T, et al. Industrial Chocolate – Manufacture and Use. Wiley Publishers: Hoboken.
Horn, Jeff. The Industrial Revolution: History, Documents, and Key Questions. (2016). ABC-CLIO: Santa Barbara.
Squicciarini, Mara P & Swinnen, Johan. (2016). The Economics of Chocolate. Oxford University Press: Oxford.
Smithsonian. Retrieved from http://newsdesk.si.edu/releases/power-chocolate-reveals-true-roots-celebrated-food
Szogyi, Alex. (1997). Chocolate: Food of the Gods. Greenwood Publishing Group: Westport.
The Foods of England. Retrieved from http://www.foodsofengland.co.uk/chocolate.htm
World Standards. Retrieved from http://www.worldstandards.eu/chocolate%20-%20history.html
Periods of industrialization oftentimes have profound effects on all facets of society, from politics to personal lives. Industrialization has the power of shifting patterns on massive scales, creating shifts that move the economy and help, or hurt, people. But besides the usual effects on politics and economy, industrialization has the capacity to change patterns of production and consumption in ways that we do not normally consider. We often discuss the ethical dilemmas of machines taking jobs from humans, and the corporate greed of industrial-era capitalist moguls. But an interesting point to consider is how it changed gender norms in the processes of production and consumption of commodities, particularly in the realm of food. A particularly interesting case can be found in the industrial powers that began to dominate the world of chocolate. I believe that industrialization changed the gendering of both the production and consumption of chocolate, leading to the masculinization of the production of chocolate and the feminization of the consumption of chocolate. This was a gradual process that spanned centuries, but there was a marked shift, perhaps starting with transformations in chocolate-making technology.
Before the large, shiny machines began pumping out candy bars by the thousands, the ritualized process of making chocolate were in the hands of women, who were predominantly responsible for food preparation.
Here we see the preparation of a traditional Mayan chocolate drink by a woman in Belize. This is part of the Toledo Ecotourism Association, which probably understood that it would be more authentic for a woman to be making this drink.
Ancient Mayan and Aztec depictions show chocolate and chocolate drinks being made by a woman. However, as the knowledge of cacao spread across the globe, the consumption of chocolate started to increase. Soon we see the production of chocolate being passed on to men. For example, Francesco Redi developed what he called “jasmine chocolate” for the Grand Duke of Tuscany (Coe & Coe 146). While this change happened gradually, the onslaught of the innovation of the 19th century shoved this slow change forward. Perhaps the turning point was when Dutch chemist Coenraad Johannes Van Houten invented the hydraulic press in 1828, producing a new kind of powdered chocolate with a very low fat content (Coe & Coe 234). Following Van Houten were Quaker capitalists Joseph Fry and John Cadbury, who produced common eating chocolate (Coe & Coe 241). Then Henri Nestle discovered a way to make powdered milk and Daniel Peter used this powder to create the first milk chocolate bar (Coe & Coe 247). By 1879, Rudolphe Lindt invented “conching,” (Coe & Coe 247) making smooth and creamy chocolate accessible to millions. And of course, we see the rise of big businesses like that of Milton Hershey who created an entire town dedicated to chocolate (Coe & Coe 249). Innovation after innovation came along throughout the 20th century, and we begin to see a trend. All of these advancements were created and propagated by men. At this point, the production has gone from women in homes to the machines of men. It did not matter that women were working in these machine-led factories. The age of industrialization, and in turn the industrialization of chocolate, was driven by men, who became the faces of production.
On the flip side of the coin is the consumption of chocolate. One would expect an inherent change in consumption with the process of industrialization. Industrialization aids production, therefore providing more goods for the consumers to buy and consume. However, this also led to an effect in the gendering of chocolate. Throughout history, chocolate has frequently been tied to men; it was an energizer for Aztec warriors and a luxury reserved for European kings and lords. While chocolate continued to be marketed to men even throughout the industrialization process, the widespread availability of chocolate meant that women now became frequent consumers of chocolate. As men started to take over the process, women became dependent on the men for these products. In the 19th century, women were still very much dependent on men in many ways, and men were expected to provide for women. “Women’s dependence meant that although men might be the buyers of candy, it was often women who were the real consumers. The distinction between who spent the money and who ate the sweets is most easily seen in courting couples” (Horowitz & Mohun 79).
And as men continued to buy women chocolate, the process of the feminization of chocolate began. Chocolate was still marketed to men and used in the military, but the sweetness of chocolate became associated with women. After it all, it was a great food for women and children while their husbands and fathers only concerned themselves with more expensive and heartier foods like proteins and carbohydrates.
These shifts in how we understand the relationship between gender and chocolate translate into our current understandings of the world of chocolate, from “big business” chocolate companies to common advertising practices. We frequently associate chocolate with shiny factories being run by men with mustaches, and we expect chocolate ads to portray women indulging in sweet, creamy chocolate. Understanding how this change occurred over time helps us put our modern concepts of chocolate into perspective, and shows how something as simple as chocolate can have immense influence over social standards and the development of stereotypes.
A Dove chocolate tv advertisement that shows the inherent commercial relationship between women and chocolate. In this commercial, the women are portrayed as having an emotional tie to Dove chocolate.
References: Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. London: Thames & Hudson, 2013. Print.
Horowitz, Roger, and Arwen Mohun. His and Hers: Gender, Consumption, and Technology. Charlottesville: University of Virginia, 1998. Print.