Tag Archives: japan

Lotte Confectionary – Creation of Chocolate based holidays in East Asian Markets


Lotte is a huge conglomerate based in Japan/South Korea that has easily dominated the East Asian market for mass produced chocolate (Yonhap news). They are equivalent to Hershey’s in the states and recently solidified their global standing in the chocolate market by partnering with Hershey’s to dominate the chocolate market in China (Reuters). They are not only a company that produces chocolates, but many other chocolate related products in Asia along with being a conglomerate that has ventures in hospitality, technology and e-commerce.

Initially they began their marketing of chocolate in Japan, with what is called Ghana Chocolate.


The name was derived from the source of their chocolate manufactures, they were marketed with “extra cacao for the extra rich taste” and with an “authentic” twist, as they were sourced directly from Africa. But much like their global competitor Hershey’s, they do not follow the recent model of “fair source” or “fair trade” chocolate. Unlike many of the local chocolatiers, they are anything but transparent in how their chocolate is sourced and conceived. Because they are a huge conglomerate, and because of lack of competition through artisanal and locally sourced chocolate in Asia, they feel no pressure to publicly release their sources and the treatment of the workers of their chocolate sources.

So why is this such a big deal? We’re familiar with the idea of bigger corporations buying out and hiding such information from us. When companies hide information from us in this day and age, more and more, we instead choose to make more educated choices when it comes to our purchasing of chocolate and spreading awareness. However, to understand why Lotte feels no pressure despite the spread of awareness and information to change, we have to go back a bit to understand the backstory of Lotte Corporation and a bit of Asian culture and history.

White Day, Black Day & Pepero Day

November 11 is just another day here in America. So is March 14 and April 14th. The only real “holiday” that America associates with chocolate is Valentine’s Day (February 14th). So why is it that the chocolate markets in Asia see such a huge increase in consumption and sales of chocolate during these seemingly random days?

In East Asia, particularly China, Japan and South Korea, being a “couple” is the trendy state to be. Rather than embrace your independence, many things in East Asia are catered towards couples and pairs. So, why is this important? This is because Lotte Confectionary has monopolized this mindset and effectively marketed various “holidays” and traditions that cater to this.

Aside from Valentines Day, East Asian cultures also celebrate what has been marketed to be “White Day” (March 14th) ,“Black Day” (April 14th) and Pepero Day (November 11th). In their culture, Valentines Day isn’t just a day for couples to exchange chocolate, but it is a day for women to gift different types of chocolate to various men in their life. There are 3 different types of chocolate that are sold and catered just for this day: Friendly Chocolate, Premium Chocolate and Hand-Made Chocolate. Friendly Chocolate is chocolate given to friends of the opposite sex that you are grateful to have in your life. Premium Chocolate are for the people in your life you are very grateful for but do not fit in a Friend or Lover category (ie. family members or best friends). The “Hand-Made” chocolate are the ones you carefully craft on your own after buying all the necessary ingredients and they are to be given to one person only – the person you love or would like to start a relationship with. This is important because on White Day, March 14, the men who have received these chocolates from women are expected to reciprocate and gift them with chocolate of their own. Of course, the same rules apply. And in April 14th, the lonely people who were unable to receive any Hand-Made Chocolate are expected to gather together and eat dark colored food (Smithsonian.com). Lotte has obviously used this to their advantage to market “bitter” dark chocolate and wallow in their sorrows until next year’s Valentines/White Day. Of course, Lotte has different types of chocolate at various price points to market and cater to all these buyers.

Pepero day (November 11) is yet another chocolate related holiday in where people give their significant others and people in their life Pepero. Pepero (or Pocky, as it is more commonly known here in the states) is a thin unsalted pretzel stick dipped in various flavored chocolate and different types of nuts for extra texture and flavor. Lotte Confectionary, a subsidiary of Lotte Corporation, is credited with the creation and marketing of this easy to chocolate dipped stick. Using clever marketing and visual cues, they have successfully branded this day as Pepero Day and the purchases of pepero on these days skyrocket. The day comes from looking like a Pepero Chocolate (11/11) and is also smart marketing on Lotte’s end.


All of the chocolate that is produced my Lotte plays up on this cultural aspect of Asia where being single is considered “lonely” and “unsatisfying. As you can see in this Commercial for Ghana Chocolate, they prey on the couple aspect and the happiness that one would receive from being gifted these chocolates. Of course, it is no secret that they have their hands on non-chocolate related couple items as well.

Sex Sells – Celebrities

Now, this still doesn’t full explain why Lotte is one of the the biggest producer of chocolate related products in Asia. Yes, they’ve used their marketing tools to play up the couple oriented culture in Asia and used words like “Real Cacao” to get the unsuspecting consumer to believe that the product they are purchasing are of the highest quality.

(It may also help that Asian Countries aren’t as stringent like the US FDA to release all their ingredient info)

But it is their usage of sexualization and celebrity endorsements when it comes to these Chocolate related products. As you have seen in the above commercial, almost all chocolate advertisements in Asia are like that. While this is also a common tactic in the US, the celebrities in Asia are idolized (they are actually called Idols) and children from the age of 8 to adults well over 25, follow and almost worship these celebrities. By using them and showing that this is their preferred brand of chocolate, the consumers do not ask questions of the source of these products, but instead buy them in bulk hoping to be more like them.

However, through clever marketing platforms and excessive usage of monetary funds (They are the 5th biggest conglomerate in Asia), they have made it that being the face of a Lotte Chocolate brand is the biggest achievement a celebrity can receive. This is why the previous faces of their brand have been celebrities like Mao Asada, Lee Hye-ri and Park Bo-gum. To understand the power of these celebrities, all three of them have been featured on Korea/Japan’s Top 100 power celebrity lists year after year.

Purchase of Guylian – Belgian Chocolatiers

Now, with all these pseudo-holidays that pop up consecutively over the months, along with the traditional holidays of Valentines Day, Christmas, Anniversaries and Birthdays, Lotte has created a market where they can offer anything from cheap go-to chocolate bars to high end European designer chocolate. Their chocolate markets continue to boom through the usage of celebrity endorsements, and ongoing advertisements for the necessity of their chocolate.

And now, with the purchase of Guylian, a high end designer chocolate maker based in Belgium, Lotte has been able to set a landmark and a path into Europe to even further their holding in the chocolate industry (Justfood.com, forbes.com). The most interesting part of this acquisition is that Guylian, on their website, claim that all their chocolate is humanely sourced from West Africa with their manufacturer guaranteeing the safety of the food (Guylian.com). Their website goes on to display their numerous awards and their guarantee of authentic and 100% cacao bean usage in all their chocolates.

Guylian is a company with origins in the art of haute-couture chocolate, with renowned chocolatiers within their starting ranks that have received certifications from famed confectionary and chocolatier schools. Through this purchase, Lotte has also been able to rebrand themselves into an even more sought after and cultured variation of chocolate. Rather than being just a consumer friendly chocolate company with “higher end” products, they have been able to include a Belgian based chocolatier that is famed and well known around Europe with their Guiness Record (Guiness) in chocolate making and patented praline chocolates.

Now, why is it that their parent company, Lotte Confectionary/Corporation, is not held to the same standard? Nowhere on Lotte’s website is there a link to the source or the location of their chocolate, nor how it is manufactured. The closest we can get to is that their chocolate is in majority sourced from West Africa (Ghana) and that they use “real cacao beans” to make their chocolates.

Why Should We Care?

Fair trade law, one that we are so familiar with in America and thanks to our class, is something that is still in its infancy in Asia (koreanherald.com). Despite Lotte being such a huge conglomerate that holds stake in almost everything you can think of (Technology, Hospitality, Food, Wine, etc.), because the Fair Trade Act isn’t a widespread knowledge and notion in Asia, ultimately the consumers do not care.

They do not check the sources of their products, they only care to purchase the “prettiest packaged products” to give to their significant others. The Fair Trade Certifications we discussed in class do not apply to the Asian Market, despite the chocolate being consumed in these areas have consistently risen (Financial Times). With Asia looking to be the next big market in chocolate that these conglomerates can get their hands on, shouldn’t Fair Trade be a priority?

However, through the usage of fancy terminology like “Real 100% Cacao” and “Chocolatiers”, Lotte manages to bypass all the Fair Trade knowledge that we have learned through class. The most important thing we should demand from this corporation is what we demand from every company these days – transparency.  Yet, because the economic and trade laws that encompass Asia are mostly focused towards fair trade within their borders, how their products are received in Asia do not really matter, it only matters how we treat our workers and crops within the continent of Asia itself.

As of right now, Lotte chocolates aren’t a major player in the United States. Other than a handful of Asian Markets that carry their brands, their reach to the United States is limited by global competitors like Hershey’s. However, with their recent joint-venture with Hershey’s in China and their merger with Guylian chocolates in Belgium, it is only a matter of time before they take over the global market, just like how they did in Asia. Because the idea of fair trade is still in its infancy in Asia, this can be a major issue to the chocolate markets and cacao farms across the world.

Because they are headquartered in South Korea and Japan, they do not feel the pressure that a lot of US companies do when it comes to Fair Trade in Chocolates. The labor laws directed at South Korean citizens state that the minimum wage to work a full time job (40 hours a week) in South Korea as of now is 15 and they may work a part time job (20 hours a week) at the age of 13 (DOL). If this is the law that they have on their own citizens, why should they really consider the dangers of child labor laws when it comes to foreign countries?

This isn’t to cast a bad light in Asian working culture, but to show the vast difference in culture and the importance of a global policy when it comes to these matters. When Lotte tries to break their way into the US market, we should be more aware of what they are offering and put the same amount of pressure on them as we are to Hershey’s and other global chocolate corporations. Because ultimately, fair trade chocolate is the best tasting chocolate we can have.

Works Cited:

“Chaebol Rankings Seesaw over 2 Decades.” Yonhap News Agency, english.yonhapnews.co.kr/news/2017/11/01/0200000000AEN20171101003000320.html.

Department of Labor. “Laws Governing Exploitative Child Labor.” http://www.dol.gov/sites/default/files/research/southkorea_CL.pdf.

“History.” Guylian Belgian Chocolates, http://www.guylian.com/us/history/#history.

Just-food.com. “SOUTH KOREA: Lotte to Buy Chocolate Firm Guylian.(Reprint).” Just-
Food.com, 2008, pp. just-food.com, June 25, 2008.

Kim, So-Hyun. “Fair Trade Finds Feet in Korea.” Korean Herald, 10 May 2013, http://www.koreaherald.com/view.php?ud=20130510000757.

Kwok, Vivian Wai-yin. “Korean Confectioner Takes A Bite Of Europe.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 19 June 2013, http://www.forbes.com/2008/06/23/guylian-lotte-confectionery-markets-equity-cx_vk_0623markets03.html#47c47be64320.

Martin, Carla.“Alternative trade and virtuous localization/globalization”, Harvard University, (2018).

Martin, Carla.“Haute patisserie, artisan chocolate, and food justice: the future?”, Harvard University, (2018).

Smith, K. Annabelle. “Korea’s Black Day: When Sad, Single People Get Together And Eat Black Food.” Smithsonian.com, Smithsonian Institution, 13 Feb. 2013, http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/koreas-black-day-when-sad-single-people-get-together-and-eat-black-food-16537918/?no-ist.

Soyoung, Kim. “Lotte, Hershey Launch China Candy Venture.” Reuters, Thomson Reuters, 29 Jan. 2007, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-lotte-hershey-china-idUSSEO22724620070129.

Terazono, Emiko. “Asian Chocolate Demand Set to Outstrip Global Growth.” Financial Times, Financial Times, 4 Oct. 2017, http://www.ft.com/content/3cb2e488-a8f8-11e7-ab55-27219df83c97.

“Valentine’s Day.(Chocolate Purchases)(Brief Article).” Journal of Property Management, vol. 71, no. 1, 2006, p. 9.


*thank you again for the extension on my paper regarding personal matters. I really really appreciated the extra time. Thank you!


“Is Chocolate Good for your Health?” – A Historical Study of Chocolate in Japan


Image 1: A photo of Aztec Chocolate
Source: Photo by Brian Hagiwara Studio, Inc. posted on Smithsonian Museum (2008), “A Brief History of Chocolate”. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/a-brief-history-of-chocolate-21860917/ .[Accessed: March 18th, 2018].
Chocolate was once medicine. This is a great way to justify your love for this indulging sweet.  However, you need to know the whole history behind this mysterious product in order to use this as your argument. We will do this by exploring the historical trajectory of chocolate products as healthy food in Japan.

First of all, what is chocolate?  As it could be seen from the origin of the word- “chacau haa” meaning hot water or hot chocolate, chocolate that was born in Mesoamerica around 1500 BC in a form of liquid (Coe & Coe 2013, 180). In other words, chocolate was not candy to begin with, rather more like cacao juice.

According to Coe & Coe (2013, 108), in Ancient Maya civilization, the drink was considered as a stimulant, almost like an energy drink for warriors. After the Spanish colonized Mesoamerica, they brought back the product to their homeland. While there were heated debates over whether chocolate was good for people’s health or not, in general, the positive view persisted and spread amongst Europe. For example, in 1704, a French food writer Louis Lemery wrote that chocolate was strengthening, restorative, good for digestion, and enhances venery (Coe & Coe 2013, 208).

Such view in favor of chocolate as “healthy” is still alive today. However, the main focus is on the benefits of cacao, in particular that of the substances such as Theobromine and Catechin- an antioxidant (Benton et al., 1998; Arts et al., 2001 cited in Storrs 2017). So, the question here is, is the candy chocolate that we commonly know of, good for our health or not?

Image 2: “Morinaga Miruku Chokorēto” (Morinaga Milk Chocolate)
(Source: Morinaga Seika Kabushiki Kaisha 1918, December 18th, Tokyo Asahi Shinbun, 6)
Introducing chocolate as kami no kate (god’s food), the nutritional benefits of coco beans are explained in detail, such as improving digestion, and therefore contributing to longer lifespan.

The history of solid chocolate is quite recent. Around mid-20th century, the energy drink was turned into a bar to take it for hiking. Concurrently, the sugar content of chocolate rose up, making it into a sweet. Following the Industrial Revolution, chocolate became a cheap product, available to everyone. However, people’s understanding of health also changed around the same time and the belief in chocolate as panacea gradually diminished (Coe & Coe 2013, 241).

Now let’s take a look at Japan. In contrast to Europe where chocolate as a beverage spread amongst the elite class and then to the mass in the form of solid sweet, chocolate was welcomed in Japan after it had established its form as candy. Morinaga Confectionary corporation was the first company to produce chocolate bars from cacao beans in 1910. Around this time, advertisements were filled with health benefits (Image 2).


Particularly interesting about the advertisements in the pre-war era is the notion of calories. Concerned with diseases such as diabetes, we often refrain from eating things with high energy content these days. However, the advertisement published on a mainstream Japanese newspaper called Asahi Shinbun on February 8th, 1920 states that the main reason why chocolate consumption is encouraged is because of its “heat giving power”, in short- calories. The small chart also shows the comparison of calories in food products ranging from white radish, bread, and beef to that of Morinaga’s chocolate products written in bold, emphasizing the high calories of chocolate. Based on the assumption that cacao was the main product that was thought to be nutritious in Mesoamerica and Europe, it is possible that such was also the case with Japan. Yet, we should not overlook the power of sugar. Kushner (2012, 138) notes that sugar, at that time when staple food prices were increasing, was seen as an affordable way of acquiring calories.

This was inextricably linked to war. Triggered by the threat of Western nations, Japan, since the Meiji restoration in 1868, expanded its territory in East Asia, colonizing places such as Taiwan, Korea, and Manchuria. In such context, gaining calories was seen as the way to form strong bodies, thus contribution to the nation. In this sense, chocolate was for everyone- men, women, and children (Image 4).


From the Left, Image 3“Morinaga Miruku Chokorēto” (Morinaga Milk Chocolate) (Source: Morinaga Seika Kabushiki Kaisha 1920, February 8th, Tokyo Asahi Shinbun, 6);  Image 4: “Tatakau katsuryoku, Morinaga Miruku Chokorēto” (Power to Fight, Morinaga Milk Chocolate) (Source: Morinaga Seika Kabushiki Kaisha 1920, February 8th, Tokyo Asahi Shinbun, 6); Image 5: Morinaga Chocolate Advertisements in the 1980s targeting women (Source: P-interest (n.d.)  https://www.pinterest.co.uk/pin/745768019518428795/ [Accessed: March 18th, 2018].


Graph 1.jpg
Graph1: Graph showing the growth of healthy chocolate market from 2014 to 2017 (unit: one hundred million yen)
Source: Meiji Con., (n.d.) “Chokoreto koka”.
https://www.meiji.co.jp/sweets/chocolate/chocokoka/ [Accessed: March 18th, 2018].
What awaited the burst of the bubble economy in the 1991, was the so-called the Lost Decades. Japan faced prolonged economic stagnation and serious social issues such as stress-society. After the economy recovered, with the phenomenon of ageing-population and declining birth rate, people started to become more aware of seikatsu shukan-byo (life-style related diseases), namely diabetes, high blood-pressure, and obesity. In other words, people came to view their life in the long-term, desiring a healthy life. According to a survey on people’s attitude towards food conducted by the Japan Finance Corporation in 2017, the main trend in people’s choice of food was healthy food with 44.6%, showing a steady rise for the past seven years. In the contrary, the second prominent factor money (31.4%) has been showing continuous decline, possibly indicating that people are prioritizing health over cost. This reflects the “health boom” which could be seen from the exponential growth of “healthy chocolate” market (Graph 1) (Meiji Co., n.d.).

Chocolates in this genre could be categorized into two groups: one, marketing special nutrients in cacao, and two, adding particular substances to chocolate. An example of group one chocolate is GABA, manufactured by Glico confectionary corporation (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w9bmMwvUelA ). As the name says, containing high amounts of a substance called Gamma-Amino Butyric Acid (GABA) understood to be useful in controlling stress, the chocolate targets working people, men in particular, calling itself a “mental balance chocolate” (Glico Co., n.d.). Chocolate Koka (Chocolate Effect) by Meiji Co., – the best seller in the healthy chocolate market is known for high content of cacao ranging from 72% to 95% (Image 6). The packaging even indicates the amount of cocoa polyphenol content and claims to be beneficial for people’s health and beauty (Meiji Co., n.d.)

Image 5.jpg
Image 6: Chocolate Koka Product Series with the Amount of Cacao content and Polyphenol per piece
Source: Meiji Con., (n.d.) “Chokoreto koka”. https://www.meiji.co.jp/sweets/chocolate/chocokoka/ [Accessed: March 18th, 2018].
Moving onto the second group of chocolate. For those who are concerned about the calories of chocolate there is Libera. Glico confectionary corporation created this product which contains Indigestible dextrin- a type of fiber that prevents the intake of fat and glucose (Glico Co., n.d.). It is assigned as a “Function Claim”- “foods submitted to the Secretary-General of the Consumer Affairs Agency as products whose labels bear function claims based on scientific evidence, under the responsibility of food business operators”. Lotte corporation has also produced “Lactobacillus Chocolate” (Nyusankin shokora). Coating Lactobacillus brevis NTT001, a plant derived lactic acid bacterium, this product helps improve the condition of people’s intestines (Lotte Co., n.d.). These two are more targeted towards women.

These trends show how chocolate in Japan has reemerged as a magical health food. Although chocolate has been receiving a similar kind of attention in US and possibly in other parts of the worlds, it is mainly the high content of cocoa that is the primary focus of attention. Japan’s follows a similar trend but with a different strategy. It is by specializing in specific nutritional benefits of chocolate that they do so. Furthermore, it also contains nutrients foreign from cacao to provide a different type of benefit that chocolate previous did not have or could not have achieved. From this, we may be able to say that the Japanese consumers are wanting to health benefits from chocolate and perhaps food in general. Taste is not enough and chocolate is not just candy.


Works Cited:

Arts, I. C., Hollman, P. C., Bueno de Mesquita, H. B., Feskens, E. J., & Kromhout, D. (2001). Dietary catechins and epithelial cancer incidence: the Zutphen elderly study. International journal of cancer, 92(2), 298-302. Cited in Storrs, C. (May 25, 2017).

Benton, D., Greenfield, K., & Morgan, M. (1998). The development of the attitudes to chocolate questionnaire. Personality and Individual Differences24(4), 513-520. Cited in Storrs, C. (May 25, 2017).

Coe, S. D., & Coe, M. D. (2013). The true history of chocolate. Thames & Hudson.

Consumer Affairs Agenecy, Government of Japan (2015). “What are Food with ‘Function Claims’?” https://www.e-expo.net/pdf/news2015/20151228_caa01.pdf [Accessed: March 17th, 2018].

Glico Co., (n.d.). “Gaba”. http://cp.glico.jp/gaba/index.html. [Accessed: March 17th, 2018].

“Libera”. https://www.glico.com/jp/product/chocolate/libera/. [Accessed:                                                   March 17th, 2018].

Kushner, B. (2012). Sweetness and empire: sugar consumption in imperial Japan. In The Historical Consumer (pp. 127-150). Palgrave Macmillan, London, 138.

Lotte Co., (n.d.). “Nyusankin shokora”. https://www.lotte.co.jp/products/brand/nyusankin-chocolat/ . [Accessed: March 17th, 2018].

Storrs, C. (May 25, 2017).  “Is chocolate good or bad for health?” CNN. https://www.cnn.com/2016/02/10/health/chocolate-health-benefits/index.html [Accessed: March 17th, 2018].

Japan Finance Corporation (2017). “Survey on Consumer’s Attitude on Food”. https://www.jfc.go.jp/n/findings/pdf/topics_170915a.pdf [Accessed: March 17th, 2018].

Meiji Co., (n.d.). “Chokoreto koka”. https://www.meiji.co.jp/sweets/chocolate/chocokoka/ [Accessed: March 18th, 2018].

Morinaga Seika Kabushiki Kaisha (ed.) (2000) Morinaga hyakunenshi (100 years of History of Morinaga Confectionary Company), Tokyo: Morinaga Co..



A Magnificent Chocolate Culture: Unpacking Desserts at H Mart

It’s just starting to get dark, and the bright red sign over H Mart on Massachusetts Ave seems to give off its own glow. Patrons bustle in and out of the low-slung building, hoisting bags of groceries and pastries from the store’s in-house Korean-owned Parisian style bakery-cafe.

H Mart is an inviting spot to check out the chocolate of Korea and Japan. All photos in this post taken by the author.

H Mart is a South Korean-owned grocery chain that boasts a number of lofty aims on its website. Its mission includes the cultivation of healthy, affordable, and high-quality foods, as well as providing shoppers with the means and inspiration to create “magical” meals. It’s also distinctly aware of its status as an international grocery store, and the potential for community-building that status can provide:

“[F]or over 30 years, Hmart has worked its best to provide quality Korean food and service to communities throughout the U.S.,” writes founder Yeon Kwon on the chain’s website. “We believe the excellence of our products, encourage our fellow Koreans to have profound pride and dignity in the magnificent culture of our motherland, South Korea.”

The products at H Mart, then, serve as a bridge to home for Korean shoppers as well as an introduction to foreign food for locals. And thanks to its position in Central square, the H Mart audience is diverse. According to 2010 US Census data, Cambridge is home to the second largest Korean and Japanese populations in the state. The store is located between MIT and Harvard, and caters to students with special deals and accommodations for meal plan money, drawing another population to the busy market. Their colorful shelves are stocked with an incredibly rich variety of packaged and fresh products primarily from Korea and Japan, with other offerings from Thailand, Malaysia, and beyond. From speciality fish products and traditional desserts to myriad noodle varieties and a generous snack selection, H Mart gives Cantabrigians an opportunity to immerse themselves in Asian cuisine.

Wit this history and demography in mind, H Mart provides a perfect opportunity for exploration into the world of Japanese and Korean chocolate and confectionary. The many colorful offerings on display raise their own questions about the unique role and perception of chocolate products in Korean (and more broadly Asian) culture. Analysis of the selection and presentation of chocolate at the mart reveals a distinct Korean sensibility around chocolate, and insight into what is gained and lost when that sensibility is transplanted into Cambridge.

At H mart, chocolate is framed according to Asian contexts and tastes, which gives it a distinct identity from commercial American chocolate. That identity centers around an alternative framing of chocolate products as social, aesthetic snack foods rather than luxurious dessert indulgences. The reflections of this identity become apparent in a number of ways, from how the chocolate is packaged and arranged on the shelf to its taste and history.


Placement of any food, but especially non-essential items like chocolate, within a grocery store is critical to that product’s success or failure; it can also change the way that food is perceived. The location of chocolate products among H Mart’s colorful shelves is a first clue to the way that chocolate is framed in Korean culture.

Chocolate can be found in a number of locations in the market: the checkout aisles are lined with a combination of familiar American candy bars and less familiar Japanese and Korean products, mostly in the form of bars and small chocolate-flavored candies (One intriguing option there are tubes of Japanese Gummy Choco, which come in muscat and apple flavors). A lonely island of Lindt chocolate easter bunnies stand sentry by the shopping baskets. Chocolate also makes its way into more traditionally Asian deserts throughout the store, making appearances as a flavor option for mochi ice cream or stuffing variety for packaged doryaki.

Placement of the chocolate products in the “snack” aisle is an important element of their framing.

But the majority of H Mart’s chocolate confections—many of which take the form of specialized cookies, cakes, and other snacks—are located in aisle 3, under the heading “Korean Snack” and “Japanese Snack.” In contrast to an American framing of chocolate, the chocolate products aren’t segregated into a dessert section. Instead, they rub shoulders with seaweed snacks and salty chips and crackers. Many of those offerings, as well, blur the line between snack and dessert, savory and sweet. Some soy or rice crackers are dusted with sugar, placing them into much the same ambiguously sweet-salty categories as chocolate-covered pretzels and the like. In contrast, traditional deserts like mochi and Japanese roll cakes are located several aisles away, in their own concentrated section.

Traditional Japanese and Korean snacks, many of which include ingredients such as rice flour and bean paste, at home in a separate section of H Mart.

The blending of sweet and savory flavors in Korean snacks, and classification of chocolate products as a snack, reflects a distinct desert culture in which chocolate understandably has a unique and unusual role. According to the Korea Tourism Organization, traditional  Korean sweets are typically consumed as a supplementary snack to tea. They are often “healthy snacks made with nutritious ingredients like beans, rice flour, varied nuts and seeds,” in other words; a shifted flavor profile from the American conception of dessert and candy (Korean Tourism Organization). Traditional desserts like Gangjeong or Tteok utilize rice flour and rice paste, while other common ingredients include bean paste, ginger, sesame, honey, and fruit. Many deserts are intentionally only mildly sweet, allowing them to be consumed in larger quantities as a snack or compliment to tea. More contemporary versions may also incorporate chocolate while still retaining traditional aesthetics and flavors (Korean Tourism Organization).

The snack aisle at H Mart offers plenty of chocolates, cookies, crackers, chips, and a great deal in between.

Traditional Korean focus on more savory flavors, social aspects of desserting, and aesthetic considerations all help to explain the chocolate offerings on display at H Mart. Instead of marketing chocolate as a highly concentrated, luxurious dessert in much the way an American company might, Korean confectionary brands use chocolate in more snack-like configurations to reflect the role of dessert in Korean culture. A prime example is Pepero, a long, thin biscuit-like cookie dipped in milk chocolate. Though the thin chocolate coating provides a note of sweetness, the biscuit itself is unsweetened, producing an overall more subdued effect. The packaging itself invites snacking: with a handy re-openable flap at one end and an inner package that holds the Pepero sticks in place, uncoated end-up and ready for snacking.


In addition to their ambiguous status as both sweets and snacks exemplified by their presentation in the store, the Korean chocolate product on display are part of a broader culture that frames such snacks as social.

Where an American chocolate campaign might frame the desert in question as a solitary indulgence or a seductive romantic offering, the framing of Korean chocolate as a social snack allows it to be presented as a gift for friends. In Korea, a number of gift-oriented holidays, including Valentine’s Day and White day, when couples may give each other gifts of chocolate, spur the production and purchasing of specialty chocolate (Yoon). Those holidays encourage the giving of specialty foods including chocolates to friends and coworkers.

A prime example of this is Pepero Day, a genius stroke of marketing that emphasizes the chocolate snack’s shareable qualities. On 11/11 each year, boxes of the long, thin biscuit are given away as gifts in a celebration of love, friendship, and luck. The Wall street journal reports that nearly two thirds of annual Pepero sales (which account for 38 % of parent company Lotte’s annual $2.5 billion revenue) occur in the the two months preceding Pepero Day. The popularity holiday has also inspired the company to produce more specialty varieties of Pepero, evident today in the range of flavors on H Mart’s shelves (Yoon). In Korea, gift giving practices drive the production of chocolate confections centered around cute packaging and presentation.

The Pepero Day phenomenon may also be a reflection of chocolate’s origins in Asia. As Lawrence Allen writes in Chocolate Fortunes, chocolate as a higher-quality, novel, imported good was originally perceived by many Chinese consumers as an ideal product for gift-giving (25). Combined with the wider culture of gift giving prevalent in China (and other Asian countries like Japan), these perceptions of chocolate provided a canvas for the development of chocolate products centered around giving and sharing. In contrast, in other chocolate markets around the world, writes Allen, gift-giving accounts for less than 10 percent of sales (26). As chocolate moved from being an imported luxury good to an ingredient of Asian-manufactured sweets, its versatility and aesthetic value as a gift remained important elements of its design and use.


Like its Korean offerings, the Japanese confectionary and chocolate products available at H Mart also emphasize shareability and snacking over sensibilities of chocolate quality, luxury, or purity. Instead, the products center around specific design and combinations of flavors to produce a fun chocolate experience for target audiences to collect and share with friends.

Meiji’s specialized bars share space with European and American chocolate by the checkout aisle.

Meiji chocolate, based in Japan, has oriented their product design and advertisement around the creation of novel, shareable snacks and innovative combinations of flavors. (Much like Lotte’s Pepero, which comes in a variety of flavors from cookies and cream to less internationally transplantable durian.)  According to a swathe of food industry press briefs released by the company from the 1990s-2000s, innovative, highly affordable chocolate snacks were a priority: in 2003, the company released Kurogama Pucca, “a lovely bite-sized chocolate snack made by filling chocolate kneaded with black sesame paste in a fragrant pretzel.” In 2003, the company released Meiji Hyotenka, a “new type of chocolate” that was meant to be dissolved slowly on the tongue after being frozen. Flavors included strawberry and banana. Earlier that year, the company re-launched “Chocolate Koka [Effect],” branded as a “healthy yet delicious chocolate product for adults.” The product claimed to help “prevent arteriosclerosis and the occurrence of cancer.” All of these products were priced at 100-150 yen and came in shareable packages, which would have made them accessible and appealing to children, teens, and anyone hoping to give or share the inexpensive product. The press releases emphasize how new and different each new combination of flavors and designs is, creating a food landscape in which consumers are encouraged to collect and try new Meiji products.

These launches reveal a few key elements of Meiji strategy, reflected in the products available at H Mart. A focus on hyper-targeted marketing results in the creation of highly innovative and unique products (like 1999’s “Fooa,” a white chocolate and strawberry product aimed at “female consumers in general and those of high school age in particular;” which was created as a foil to the more austere Chocolate Koka [Effect] product) that touted the benefits of different kinds of chocolate products for different people and different settings.

This also results in a detailed focus on aesthetics, for both packaging and the products themselves. These concerns are critical, given that, as Allen notes, some 70 percent of chocolate purchases are on impulse, and so “packaging must make an immediate and distinctive impression” (31). Sometimes, those aesthetic concerns can seem to outweigh the chocolate content itself. One such example is Meiji’s Black Chocolate, a sleekly packaged bar that boldly stands out from Meji’s other, more brightly colored offerings. Online, the chocolate is advertised as “irresistible dark chocolate with a sharp, high quality bitterness and an extravagant cacao aroma.” The dark colors of the package seem to reflect Meiji’s association of higher cacao content chocolate with seriousness, adulthood, and quality. However, the chocolate within is sweet and milky, and seems to be only slightly darker than Meiji’s classic milk bar. If anything, the most pervasive scent and taste is of sweetness, rather than bitter cacao.


The diverse and fascinating chocolate products on display at H Mart reflect the ways in which chocolate has been adapted to Korean and Japanese dessert traditions and tastes, and in turn transformed into a component of a diverse world of carefully designed snack products. They are unique and intentional in their framing of chocolate, generating a distinct ethos of chocolate creation and consumption entirely separate from the American sensibility; namely, promoting a dessert culture formed around snacking and sociability. These products also challenge some of the more radical assertions made by Allen in Chocolate Fortunes. Allen paints China as a “xenophobic land of austerity and deprivation,” ripe for exploitation by big chocolate companies. In that view, it is difficult to reconcile the hyper-designed and fun-oriented products of Korea and Japan with an Asian market resistant to change. There is no room in Allen’s interpretation for innovative, hybridized sweets arising from Asian companies like Lotte and Meiji; products which celebrate chocolate’s mutability and the innovative possibilities of sweet snackery.

In an increasingly global food culture, where access to global chocolate products is increasingly easy and prevalent, it is both exciting and important to consider the different orientations of chocolate products within different food cultures. A short trip to H Mart provides a brief glimpse into one such context.

Chocolate sweets at H Mart defy easy categorization, but their analysis provides a window into Korean dessert culture.

Works Cited

A Bite of Sweetness! Korean Desserts | Official Korea Tourism Organization. Korea Tourism Organization, 15 Dec. 2015. Web. 05 May 2017.

Allen, Lawrence L. Chocolate Fortunes the Battle for the Hearts, Minds, and Wallets of China’s Consumers. New York, American Management Association, 2010.

Current topics: Meiji goes on white chocolate offensive. (1999). New Food Products in Japan, , 1.

“Home Page NJ.” Magento Commerce. HMart, 2016. Web. 05 May 2017.

Institute for Asian American Studies at the University of Massachusetts Boston. “Institute for Asian American Studies.” University of Massachusetts Boston. University of Massachusetts Boston, 2017. Web. 05 May 2017.

Pacific, R. C. (2003). New chocolate snack from meiji seika. New Food Products in Japan, 28(6), 1.

Pacific, R. C. (2003). New freezing chocolate from meiji seika. New Food Products in Japan, 28(6), 1. R

Yoon, L. (2006, Nov 10). ‘My funny pepero?’ long, thin cookies turn 11/11 into a South Korean holiday. Wall Street Journal.

Chocolate’s Missing History

The literature on chocolate is rich with history on the growth of chocolate prevalence in Mesoamerica and Europe. Cacao was discovered thousands of years ago, and was often combined with other ingredients to be prepared as a chocolate drink. Chocolate made the trek from Mesoamerica to Europe, where initially Spain took the reigns on making chocolate a popular and exotic beverage for European royalty. Over time, the drink became not as limited to just the upper-class, as chocolate became more commonplace in European chocolate houses (Allen 20). However, chocolate seems to have been stopped in its course to the East. Why is it that chocolate traveled from Mesoamerica to Europe, but not from Europe to Asia? While the chocolate industry exists in the East today, the introduction of chocolate in the East was severely delayed due to cultural conservatism and culinary disparities.

Maya-lord-chocolateChocolate Beginnings

Cultural Conservatism

Until very recently, chocolate never made its way into Asian culture in the same way that it significantly permeated European culture. One argument as to why chocolate was never really recognized and accepted in the East is cultural conservatism (Coe, 316). Charles Perry, an expert on cuisines of East and Central Asia, was always puzzled as to why chocolate was unable to penetrate Asian food culture, but he suggests that cultural conservatism might be the main reason (316). Cultural conservatism for Asia is likely a suggestion that Asia has strong roots in strict rules, uniform ideologies among large regions, and a reluctance for indulgence. As chocolate was often enjoyed as a delicacy among Europeans, a conservative Asian response to chocolate in the 16th century and beyond was likely to reject it. Dr. Henry Stubbes, a widely quoted and respected authority on chocolate, believed chocolate to be an aphrodisiac (312). If this perception of chocolate was carried to Asia, then it likely only made the introduction to the conservative East more difficult. Sophie Coe, author of The True History of Chocolate, agrees with Perry’s suggestion of cultural conservatism as a roadblock for the acceptance of chocolate in Asia, but believes the subject to still be somewhat of a mystery (316). While the rejection of chocolate might have been more indirect for many Asian consumers, one account of rejection almost caused disaster for one Italian Merchant (Coe, 315). Giovanni Francesco Gemelli Carreri was traveling through the city of Smyrna, on the coast of Turkey, and writes the following about his encounter:

“Thursday the Aga of Seyde came to see me. I gave him some chocolate, but this savage had never tasted it, or perhaps he was drunk, or the tobacco smoke produced the effect; he became very angry with me, saying I had made him drink a liquid to disturb him and take away his judgement. In short, had his anger lasted it would assuredly have gone badly with me, and it would have served me right, to have regaled such a coarse person with chocolate.” (Coe, 315).

Culinary Disparities

Cuisine also likely played a large role in Asia’s rejection of chocolate. Perhaps this was a reason chocolate was not ever able to permeate areas like India, Southeast Asia, or the Far East (316). For example, Jesuit missionaries and Portuguese merchants brought chocolate with them on their journeys east, but the natives had “little interest in the substance” (316). Charles Perry speculated that the bitter-sweetness of chocolate might appeal to a region of the world where nut-filled pastries are often consumed (Coe, 315). On the contrary, it seems there is nearly no correlation to be made on this front. Perry also suggested that possibly the coffee-crazed culture of the East and the way of life found around coffee houses contributed to the obstacle of establishing chocolate as a popular taste for Asian consumers (315). It appears that there was not necessarily a void that chocolate would have filled for Asian food culture, so it was easy for them to reject it.

In China, even up until the 1980s, only the most determined chocolate addict would go through the trouble of buying a chocolate bar (Allen, 33). The chocolate market was nearly nonexistent for Chinese consumers at this time, so the reward of chocolate did not usual meet the hassle of obtaining it. One news article in the early 1990s found that the Chinese eat only one bar of chocolate for every 1,000 consumed by the British (Coe, 316). Ultimately, chocolate was so foreign that the only way it was able to become a part of the average consumer’s diet was curiosity (Allen, 23). In hope of exploiting this curiosity, the Big Five chocolate companies began the difficult task of developing a presence in the East in the late 20th century. Today, the chocolate industry in many parts of Asia is growing rapidly. Advertisements in countries like Japan and India attempt to capture chocolate’s irresistible nature in order to appeal to consumers (Martin, 41). Moreover, China has recently built a Chocolate Wonderland (below) that appeals to young children in hopes of introducing the goodness of chocolate at a young age (Martin, 39). One final avenue for which chocolate is permeating Asian culture is through using it as a ritual for gift-giving (Allen, 25). Through studying the history of chocolate in Asia, it is becoming clear that the story is really just beginning.



Works Cited

Allen, Lawrence L.  Chocolate Fortunes: The Battle for the Hearts, Minds, and Wallets of China’s Consumers. New York, NY, 2010.  Print.

Coe, Sophie D. and Michael D. Coe.  The True History of Chocolate.  Third Edition.  London: Thames & Hudson, 2013. E-book.

Martin, Carla. The Rise of Big Chocolate and Race for the Global Market. Cambridge, MA. 2017. Lecture.

Chocolate’s Expansion Beyond Europe

Despite chocolate’s wide availability in Mayan culture, the European chocolate experience was much like that of the Aztecs: chocolate was mostly a drink restricted to the elite. Eventually, however, chocolate would spread to every strata of society and even to countries that previously rejected the chocolate tradition. How did chocolate win over the economies and hearts of cultures worldwide? Chocolate’s expansion beyond Europe was made possible by two factors–mechanization and culturally-relevant marketing strategies.

In the Baroque era, chocolate failed to become a popular drink outside of Europe (Clarence-Smith). Even inside Europe, chocolate had to fight for attention with tea and coffee, two other foods that were held in higher esteem. In fact, while chocolate was associated with aristocratic excess, tea and coffee were seen as drinks that represented “sobriety, serious purpose, trustworthiness, and respectability” (Clarence-Smith). Art depicting chocolate during this era reflects how chocolate was seen as part of a ritual reserved for higher-class persons, especially women (see media below). However, in areas under Spanish influence (such as the Phillipines), chocolate enjoyed a strong favoritism among the population. Yet chocolate would fail to take root as a popular food in the rest of Asia, perhaps due to the overwhelming Confucian tea tradition prevalent in East Asia.

Woman pouring chocolate from a 18th-century painting. Wikimedia Commons license.

But the mid-1800’s would see the beginnings of a revolution that would allow chocolate to be made cheaper, to be molded into unique forms, and expand beyond the higher and middle classes. The invention of conching, powdered forms of cocoa, and chocolate in bar form allowed chocolate to be made more rapidly and at a price point that was friendlier to the lower classes. At the same time, chocolate began being revered as a source of protein. “British workman cocoa houses were” being built to cater to the common laborer (Clarence-Smith) and militaries began providing chocolate bars as part of soldiers’ rations. As a result of falling prices and more diversification of chocolate forms, lower classes could afford more of the substance in chocolate’s various incarnations. Advances in transportation and a move towards closed storefronts allowed chocolate to travel intact across countries and into the hands of consumers (Goody).

Despite the lower prices for chocolate and its increasing ubiquity thanks to mechanization, markets in East Asia remained closed to chocolate companies until well into the 20th century. By this time, America was thoroughly hooked on chocolate, with even the National Confectioners’ Association running ads encouraging the daily partaking of chocolate (Martin). Mars was the first to attempt to bring this type of campaign to East Asia. Mars’ executives knew that China held an untapped chocolate market, and they decided to make a splash by using big marketing tactics. Mars’ first move was establishing a representative office in Beijing during the Asian games and sponsoring sports—which led to M&M’s becoming the official snack food of the 1990 Games.

Other chocolate companies were also eager to move into China and East Asia, and they incorporated several clever marketing strategies to fuel Asian consumers’ taste for chocolate. In the 1950’s confectioners hit upon a marketing nerve that resonated with Japanese consumers: they marketed Valentine’s Day as a chance for women to show affection towards men. For a woman to reveal her feelings towards a man was considered radical in Japanese culture at that time. Confectioners cleverly created a day where it was “acceptable” for women to express their feelings (Just Hungry). This type of marketing tapped into cultural traditions and expectations, showcasing how confectioners adapted to the culture of East Asian countries in order to make sales. Confectioners also used unique marketing strategies such as sponsoring an artist who went viral with his design for a heart-shaped carriage (Martin). By tapping into cultural mindsets and encouraging grassroots expansion, chocolatiers were able to edge into the Asian market.

Today, chocolate is finally hitting the sweet spot in Asia. Confectioners have expanded on the practice of “obligation” gift-giving in certain cultures and heavily marketed occasions where chocolate gifts are an obligatory treat. For instance, on Valentine’s Day, women in Japan are expected to give “giri chocolate” to males to whom they have no romantic feelings whatsoever, such as their bosses or mentors (Just Hungry). Marketers have gone even further and created a “White Day” where men could return the favor and gift women with chocolates and candy.

Here is a photo of giri choco, which is Japanese for “obligation chocolate”—the kind of chocolate women must give to men whom they have no romantic interest in. Flickr attribution/non-commercial license.

Far from being an elite food today, chocolate has crossed from the drawing rooms of Spanish and French nobility and emerged as a global product. Its entrance into East Asia was facilitated by 19th century advances in production and enabled through the use of marketing tactics that created a cultural fever for the sweet treat.


Clarence-Smith, William Gervase. Cocoa and Chocolate, 1765-1914. 2000. Print.

Goody, Jack. “Industrial Food: Towards the Development of a World Cuisine.” 2013 (1982). Print.

Just Hungry. “The Japanese Valentine’s Day tradition of compartmentalized chocolate giving.” 8 Feb. 2016. http://justhungry.com/uniquely-japanese-valentines-day-tradition-compartmentalized-chocolate-giving. Online.

Martin, Carla. “Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food Lecture Slides 2016.” 2016. Online.