Tag Archives: labor

A Pretense of Ethics: Slavery in Cocoa and Sugar Production

While slavery has technically been abolished in much of the world since the end of the 19th century, that does not prevent it from still occurring. Specifically, the chocolate and sugar production industries are notorious for slavery and poor labor conditions in the production of their products. Tactics were used by various chocolate and sugar producers to distance themselves from slavery while still supporting the system. The companies and its leadership would appear to be anti-slavery and pro-livable working conditions, however, those same companies used slaves in their production chains or ignored the use of slavery elsewhere. This allowed the companies to continue to use free and cheap labor to increase their profit while maintaining a positive public image.

The major concerns of all companies are profit and public image. Profit keeps the business afloat and successful. Public image ensures that consumers will continue to buy the company’s product, further helping their profit. These aspects take precedence over ethical dilemmas that companies may face even if the leadership of that company might strongly believe in resolving the ethical dilemma. A prime example of this is how the Cadbury company handled allegations that slavery existed in São Tomé and Príncipe, where they purchased over 45% of their cocoa for chocolate production (Satre 18).

The Cadbury family was known not only for being liberal and progressive but also decidedly anti-slavery. George Cadbury, the chairman, was a Quaker with many humanitarian and abolitionist friends, a member of the Anti-Slavery Society and the owner of the Daily News (London), which he used as a platform for the Liberal Party to advance its agenda that included abolition (Satre 16, 21). Cadbury even has a blue plaque publicly displayed in the United Kingdom professing his dedication to philanthropy, suggesting that he had an ethical and moral compass.

Blue Plaque to George Cadbury in England (Wikipedia Commons)

William Cadbury, another member of the company, when dealing with the issue of slavery in São Tomé and Príncipe constantly expressed interest in stopping it. In June 1902, he wrote, in reference to the Angola slave trade “I am willing to help any organised plan that your Society may suggest for the definite purpose of putting a stop to the slave trade of this district,” (Satre 22) clearly showing his support for ending the slave trade. However, all this talk of support was met with very little action that benefited the enslaved community in São Tomé and Príncipe that produced nearly a majority of the cacao purchased by the Cadbury company. It was not until seven years after Cadbury received the initial reports of slavery that their own commissioned report on the problem was hesitantly released (Satre 32).

The image of morality extended to the company itself. Scholar Charles Dellheim discusses the company culture of Cadbury and throughout the beginning, he attests to the ethical values held by Cadbury. The first things he says about Cadbury is “The Quaker beliefs of the Cadbury family shaped the ethic of the firm” and “The Cadburys practiced benevolence” (Dellheim 14). The fact that he opened with this praise of Cadbury ethics shows that the public image of Cadbury as an ethical company was strong and prominent. And they still had yet to actually stop purchasing cacao from plantations in São Tomé and Príncipe where slavery was present.

This disconnect between their talk and action was largely driven by Cadbury’s desire to increase profits and maintain a positive public image. William Cadbury, who was known to be liberal and anti-slavery, explained that the slavery he faced with his company now appeared different to him. He “admitted that one ‘looks at these matters in a different light when it affects one’s own interests’” (Satre 19) and he displayed this inability to see the issue of slavery as the same because it affected his own interests when he explained that Cadbury “should all like to clear our hands of any responsibility for slave traffic in any form” (qtd in Satre 19). This approach to slavery is very different from what he portrayed before about putting an end to the slave trade. Here, he wants to dissolve any responsibility that he or the company has with the existence of slavery, but it does not necessarily follow that slavery must be abolished for this to happen. In fact, when they eventually boycotted cacao from São Tomé and Príncipe, slavery was not eradicated, instead, they were no longer responsible and another chocolate company took their spot in purchasing cacao from São Tomé and Príncipe.

Despite the Cadbury’s professed commitment to abolition, they still allowed slavery to continue in São Tomé and Príncipe because ending it would “affect [their] own interests,” meaning the profit of their country. It would be costly to try to move production elsewhere and additionally pay more to purchase the new cacao because the laborers would actually be paid wages. Even Cadbury said, as paraphrased by Sir Martin Gosselin, that “this might mean paying a somewhat higher price at first; but they were ready to make this sacrifice, if by so doing they could put a stop to a disguised slave Trade” (Satre 24). Unfortunately, if this were truly the case, Cadbury would have worked to end the slave trade in São Tomé and Príncipe rather than just leave the region, still open to slavery, because they started to get pressure from their consumers.

Through all of this, Cadbury was additionally protecting their public image. While publicly they seemed to be anti-slavery, it is clear that their actions did not reflect that. However, they continued to push the image that they were moral, ethical and fair. Cadbury had several ads claiming that they chocolate was “pure”. Once such ad is shown below. While pure probably literally meant that there were physically no additives that might contaminate the chocolate, the word choice connotes a sort of innocence. Purity is associated with something clean, moral and without scandal.

Cadbury Advertisement in 1900 (The Advertising Archives)

Even in the report, they had commissioned on the working conditions in São Tomé and Príncipe, they sugar-coated the issue. There was an initial report that was revised to be less offensive to the Portuguese government and Higgs describes the difference in Chocolate Islands saying “The most striking difference between the two reports was the careful language in the 1907 version. As Burtt acknowledged, great care was taken to avoid ‘referring to the serviçaes as slaves or to the serviçal system as slavery, because, approaching the matter as I did with an open mind, I have wished to avoid question-begging epithets”(Higgs 136). Intuitively it would follow that Cadbury would look to end slavery in order to preserve their public image. However, their public image did not depend on whether slavery exists, it depended on whether they were tied to the slavery that exists, or as Cadbury put it, they were responsible for the slavery. Instead of actually working to end slavery, Cadbury looked to distance itself from the slavery that existed in their supply chain. This meant that they moved their production elsewhere, but did not ensure that slavery actually ended. As a result, the slavery continued even after they stopped purchasing from São Tomé and Príncipe.

In the following podcast, the story of William Cooper is explored. William Cooper was similarly anti-slavery and even started his own sugar production company that did not use slave labor. However, he owned slaves himself. Again, there is a contradiction between what is ultimately done versus the principles he held.

Ultimately, the motivations of profit and public image drive companies to do things that may not seem to fit with what they believe ethically. This creates a huge gap in justice and equality in production. It also allows the companies to feign ethics and morality without actually acting in defense of those things.


Works Cited

Cadbury. Cadbury magazine advertisement. The Advertising Archives. 1900,



Catherine Higgs. Chocolate Islands: Cocoa, Slavery, Colonial Africa. Ohio University Press,

2012, Athens, Ohio. 136.

Charles Dellheim. “The Creation of a Company Culture: Cadburys, 1861-1931.” The

             American Historical Review, vol. 92, no. 1, February 1997, pp. 13-44.

Lowell J. Satre. Chocolate on Trial: Slavery, Politics, and the Ethics of Business.

University Press, 2005, Athens, Ohio. 16-32.

Oosoom. Blue plaque to George Cadbury at 32 George Road, Edgbaston, Birmingham,

England. Wikimedia Commons. April 7, 2007,

2007, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Blue_plaque_George_Cadbury.jpg.

“Sweet Talk: A History of Sugar.” From BackStory, 7 February

2014, http://backstoryradio.org/shows/sweet-talk.



Mahalo: The End of Sugar in Hawaii


Maui sugar cane fields

As I sit in Beat Brasserie, watching Maui sugar crystals disappear into my coffee, I realize that I’m consuming one of the last batches of Hawaiian sugar. The Hawaii Commercial & Sugar Company (HC&S) closed the last sugar plantation in Hawaii this past December and laid off nearly 700 workers(Solomon). This marks the end of the sugar industry in Hawaii, a place that Mark Twain once described as “the king of the sugar world”(Downes). Sugar wasn’t just a profitable enterprise, it became a way of life because it shaped Hawaii’s culture through land use, employment and ethnic diversity.

The sugar industry grew in Hawaii in the 1860’s because the Civil War cut off sugar supplies from the south(Flynn 302). Then, in 1876, plantations owners struck a deal with the Kingdom of Hawaii that removed tariffs on sugar exported to the U.S(Solomon). Sugar production increased exponentially and American planters couldn’t get enough. Sugar brought in immense wealth to Hawaii and powered politics on the islands. Plantation owners capitalized on this power and helped to overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy in 1893(Downes).

Plantation owners rushed to fill the demand for sugar with cheap labor. American consumption of sugar nearly doubled between 1880 and 1890 from 38 pounds of sucrose per person per year to over 70 pounds per person per year(Mintz 188). Plantation owners needed laborers and with the promise of a decent wage, workers from China, Japan, Brazil, and the Philippines immigrated in waves. These contract laborers were mostly young males who agreed to work for 5 years. At its peak in the 1930’s, 50,000 people were employed by sugar in Hawaii(Downes). Some returned home after their contracts expired, but many settled down and married into the community(“Hawaii’s First”). These immigrants shaped the unique ethnic makeup of Hawaii. This history is a source of pride for many residents of Hawaii and they carry on the legacy of their ancestors today. Teri Freitas Gorman, President of the Maui Native Hawaiian Chamber of Commerce stated:

“My ethnic heritage is what I call plantation pedigree. I’m almost in the order that they came: I’m Chinese, Portuguese, Japanese. And I’m Native Hawaiian as well”(Solomon).

This heritage is also important because as Dan Boylan from the University of Hawaii notes, “somehow Hawaii has realized a degree of racial harmony unknown in most parts of the world”(Kent xii). For example, interracial marriage was “unremarkable” long before Loving v. Virginia(Downes).


Due to this heritage, jobs on sugar plantations run generations deep. Mark Lopes, the harvest manager at HC&S, remembers, “I used to ride on the tractor with [my father] and that was pretty cool. And then my son, when he was young, I used to bring him out on the weekends. My granddaughter is not going to be able to experience that”(Solomon). These concerns are echoed by many in the community. The Hawaiian Homes Commissioner, Pua Canto, grew up in the plantation camps in Pu‘unēnē(Solomon). She fondly remembers her father tinkering with the intricate tools in the mill. Jobs were highly specialized and many worry about where the 675 laid off workers will go(Wood 2). For these workers and those like Pua, Gorman, and Lopes, who consider sugar as an integral part of their identity and the only skill set they have, the new era is daunting.

The mills created skills training programs that produced welders, electricians, mechanics, and more. These workers took their skills all over the islands. A former millright stated that, “Other than Pearl Harbor, the state has no other training facility for these skills”(Wood). This is a great loss to the island because the mills invested in the residents.

The impact of the end of the industry is also felt by businesses that supplied the mill with equipment, fertilizer, and irrigation supplies. Some companies had partnerships with HC&S for over 100 years(Solomon). Maui’s small farmers have also been affected because they can no longer benefit from the bulk orders of supplies from HC&S.

The absence of sugarcane also changes the landscape and experience of the islands. Dorothy Pyle used to be able to see the thousands of acres of sugar cane from her house. Now, she states:

“It’s changing us forever because I will never see 35,000 acres of agriculture there again. And so the whole feel of the island, that flying in over these fields and driving through them. It’s never going to be again”(Solomon).

Not only will the fields be missed, but the smell of molasses and the crackling from burning cane have been lost as well.

Dorothy Pyle looks out over the last cane harvest.

As the sugar industry becomes a part of the past, it is important to remember its sweeping impact on the Hawaiian economy, people and culture. For me, it is a reminder to think about the immense history bundled in a small packet of Maui sugar or whatever food I happen to be eating.

Works Cited:

Downes, Lawrence. “The Sun Finally Sets on Sugar Cane in Hawaii.” The New York Times [New York City], 16 Jan. 2017, Editorial Observer sec., http://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/16/opinion/the-sun-finally-sets-on-sugar-cane-in-hawaii.html. Accessed 8 Mar. 2017.

“Hawaii’s First Chinese.” Hawaii History, http://www.hawaiihistory.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=ig.page&PageID=544. Accessed 4 Mar. 2017.

Kent, Noel J. Hawaii, Islands under the Influence. Honolulu, U of Hawaii P, 1993.

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

Siler, Julia Flynn. Lost Kingdom: Hawaii’s Last Queen, the Sugar Kings and America’s First Imperial Adventure. Grove/Atlantic, 2012.

Solomon, Molly. “The Final Days Of Hawaiian Sugar.” NPR: The Salt, 17 Dec. 2016. NPR, http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2016/12/17/505861855/the-final-days-of-hawaiian-sugar. Accessed 5 Mar. 2017.

—. “Maui Workers, Residents Say Goodbye To Sugar.” Hawaii Public Radio [Honolulu], 18 Nov. 2016. Hawaii Public Radio, hpr2.org/post/maui-workers-residents-say-goodbye-sugar. Accessed 8 Mar. 2017.

—. “Sugar plantation closure marks end of a way of life in Hawaii.” Marketplace [Los Angeles, CA], 9 Dec. 2016, Sugar plantation closure marks end of a way of life in Hawaii. Accessed 7 Mar. 2017.

Wood, Paul. “The End of Maui Sugarcane.” Maui No Ka Oi Magazine, Jan.-Feb. 2017, mauimagazine.net/maui-sugarcane/. Accessed 6 Mar. 2017.

Media Cited:

Thayer, Matt. “Maui.” 16 Nov. 2105, hpr2.org/post/future-maui-sugar-plantation-unclear.

—. Former HC&S employees Teddy Espeleta (right) and Frank Nakoa greet each other before Monday’s ceremony marking the last haul of sugar cane from the fields. 13 Dec. 2106, http://www.mauinews.com/news/local-news/2016/12/end-of-an-era/.

Solomon, Molly. “Sugar plantation closure marks end of a way of life in Hawaii.” Marketplace [Los Angeles, CA], 9 Dec. 2016, Sugar plantation closure marks end of a way of life in Hawaii. Accessed 7 Mar. 2017.

Cocoa and Corruption: The Darker Side of Cadbury’s Business Practices

By the late 19th century, Cadbury had become a renowned chocolate manufacturer and humanitarian enterprise with a model factory in Bournville providing accommodating working conditions (Coe and Coe 242). However, Cadbury was soon swept into a controversy surrounding claims of slavery on São Tomé and Principe, one of the firm’s major suppliers of cacao. The documentation of Joseph Burtt, who was appointed by Cadbury to visit São Tomé, was not published until almost a decade after William Cadbury first learned of slave labor in the islands. This delay as well as the firm’s deferment of boycotting São Toméan cocoa brings to question the company’s business ethics. Ethical scrutiny should extend not only to the Cadbury corporation but also to the Portuguese and British political bodies; however, a principal cause of the delayed and arduous path to reform stemmed from Cadbury’s prioritization of business incentives over moral practices.

Cadbury’s model factory in Bournville provided adequate housing and hospitable facilities (Cadbury). The idealistic working conditions of Cadbury workers in Britain were a stark contrast to the brutal labor practices on cacao plantations in São Tomé, where enslaved people provided cacao for major British chocolate firms.

British journalist Henry Nevinson traveled to Africa in 1904 and helped expose the unethical practices of cacao labor. The servicais, or “contracted laborers,” in São Tomé were actually slaves brought from Angola; although a Portuguese decree of 1903 required the option of repatriation after a five year labor contract, none of them actually returned to Angola (Satre 8-9). Plantation owners paid their laborers less than what was required by the decree and renewed their contracts without consulting the servicais; the Portuguese government, unconcerned by these breaches of law, were often encouraging Angolan natives to commit crimes so they could be enslaved, furthering the government’s economic self-interest through the money-making benefits of the slave trade (Satre 8, 11). Not only did the Portuguese deny slavery, British authorities also seemed to refrain from thorough investigations, perhaps because Britain depended on labor in the islands (Off 60). Both Portuguese and British authority figures were driven by the economical benefits of facilitating, rather than obstructing, slave labor practices.

Henry Nevinson actively reported on the slave labor he had witnessed in Portuguese West Africa (Wikimedia Commons). His outspokenness was often unfavored by the Cadburys, who believed explicit coverage of slavery would complicate the chocolate company’s business incentives or the Foreign Office’s diplomatic approaches to Portugal.


slaves to sao tome
Though called “indentured servants,” enslaved Angolans were forcibly brought to São Tomé to work on cacao plantations under dire conditions, for the benefit of companies like Cadbury (Nevinson).

In contrast to Nevinson, who published reports on slavery immediately after returning to Britain, the Cadburys took considerably more time in taking action (Satre 12). When William Cadbury visited Trinidad in early 1901, he heard claims of slave labor in São Tomé and traveled to Lisbon in 1903 to investigate. Despite hearing from some Portuguese plantation owners that the decree of 1903 would end labor abuses, missionaries to Africa and British authorities strongly doubted the new decree would mediate any genuine reform (Satre 23-24). Despite testimony confirming brutal labor, William provided an optimistic report to his firm: “I cannot but feel that things are going to mend a little … the onus of this will lie on the British” (Satre 24). When appointing an agent to investigate the situation in Portuguese West Africa, the Cadburys chose the rather incompetent Joseph Burtt over more experienced yet more outspoken researchers such as Nevinson (Satre 32). The fact that Burtt was encouraged to approach plantation owners amicably and spent almost two years traveling in Africa imply that the ordeal was not perceived as a significantly pressing issue (Satre 32).

slave quarters
Slave Quarters in São Tomé – English chocolate manufacturers like Cadbury were indirectly employing one-third of the slaves on São Tomé (Nevinson, Satre 82).


Cadbury may have stalled for time to secure an alternative cocoa supplier through the help of their cocoa buyer Edward Thackray, who began his research shortly after William heard of the slave labor in 1901 (Higgs 135). This may explain why the Cadburys agreed to the British Foreign Office’s suggestion to delay the publication of Joseph Burtt’s documentation (Satre 92-93). During this delay, the Foreign Office tried to amicably push the Portuguese towards reform, and Thackray escalated his search (Higgs 135). This delay may have also benefited the British government, which was wary about aggravating the Portuguese, key trading partners who could provide cheap labour forces for their holdings in Africa (e.g. diamond mines in Transvaal) (Off 65-66). For Cadbury and the British Foreign Office, a cautionary approach would help preserve their standings as business or economic powerhouses.

William Cadbury persistently rejected suggestions by Nevinson and others to boycott São Toméan cocoa, placing economic reasons at the fore of his argument; boycotting would ruin Cadbury’s buying influence and the valuable cocoa would be “very readily absorbed by other nations” (Higgs 137). Newspapers criticized Cadbury, and the company chose to sue the Standard for libel. Before their trial in 1909, William traveled to São Tomé, though the primary reason for this voyage may have been to confirm cocoa export possibilities in the Gold Coast. In his 1910 diary entry, Nevinson recorded a conversation between cocoa traders implying Cadbury had to verify Gold Coast production capacities before cutting ties with São Tomé (Off 71). Only after William’s trip did Cadbury decide to stop buying São Toméan cocoa, for an alternative source had been secured (Off 69). Almost a decade had passed since William first learned about the slave labor, and the business implications of this could only be magnified during the prosecution of the Standard trial; Cadbury had imported £1.3 million ($6.3 million) worth of São Toméan cocoa between 1901 and 1908 (Higgs 151). Cadbury had partaken in the investigation of slave labor on São Tomé but profit and quality of cocoa came first and foremost.

burtt documentation
Burtt’s documentation was not published for the British public until 1910, almost a decade after William Cadbury first learned of São Toméan slavery (Internet Archive). This adds to the controversy of whether Cadbury was truly proactive in mediating reform in cacao labor practices.


Cadbury had also attempted to discourage Nevinson from publishing another report on slavery, and The Daily News, owned by George Cadbury, remained quite reticent on the subject of São Tomé (Satre 82). This further implies that Cadbury was concerned with the effects on chocolate sales if more explicit coverage of São Tomé was released to the public (Higgs 151). The years Cadbury spent on silence or reliance on the British government cannot excuse the abuse or death of thousands of laborers while the company continued to profit from the cocoa sourced from São Tomé. Had it not been for individuals such as Nevinson, who favored “publicity, not silence,” the public’s awareness of cacao slave labor would have been limited (Satre 85). Had Cadbury provided an example by boycotting sooner and working with British authorities to press the Portuguese in a more threatening rather than cautious manner, reforms may have come sooner. In actuality, nearly a decade passed and Cadbury’s cautionary approach did not lead to substantial reform, as slavery persisted and the Portuguese continued to abuse their power to operate unfair labor practices (Higgs 153). The slow path to reform surely stems in part from corruptive flaws within the Portuguese and British political systems; however, Cadbury also shared a significant responsibility through their inclination to place their business before all else. For Cadbury, divided between jeopardizing their economic prospects and tainting their philanthropic reputation, securing other sources of cocoa was pivotal for their business success. This case study of Cadbury offers perspective into pressing labor problems even today, such as child labor and human trafficking; when political, economic, and moral issues become intertwined, it is critical that we ethically prioritize and preserve the welfare of human beings.

Works Cited

An LMS Railways Advertisement – Bournville. Cadbury. Cadbury. https://www.cadbury.co.uk/the-storyAccessed 4 March 2017.

Coe, Sophie, and Michael Coe. The True History of Chocolate. 3rd ed., Thames & Hudson, 2013.

Henry Wood Nevinson. Library of Congress. Wikimedia Commons. https://commons .wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Henry_Woodd_Nevinson_(1856-1941)_circa_1915.jpg. Accessed 5 March 2017.

Higgs, Catherine. Chocolate Islands: Cocoa, Slavery, and Colonial Africa. Ohio University Press, 2012.

Labour in Portuguese West Africa. Claire T. Carney Library. Internet Archive. https://archive.org /details/labourinportugue00cadbAccessed 5 March 2017.

Martin, Carla. “Lecture 6: Slavery, Abolition, and Forced Labor.” Chocolate, Culture and the Politics of Food. Harvard University: Cambridge, MA. 1 March 2017. Lecture.

Nevinson, Henry. Slaves on Ship, Wearing Tin Disk and Cylinder. Photograph. “The Slave-Trade of To-day: Part VI.” Harper’s Monthly Magazine, Jan. 1906, pp. 237-246.

Nevinson, Henry. Slave-Quarters on a Plantation. Photograph. “The Slave-Trade of To-day: Conclusion.” Harper’s Monthly Magazine, Feb. 1906, pp. 327-337.

Off, Carol. Bitter Chocolate: Anatomy of an Industry. The New Press, 2006.

Satre, Lowell. Chocolate on Trial: Slavery, Politics, and the Ethics of Business. Ohio University Press, 2005.

What Happens when Hipsters Make Chocolate?

In 2010, Mark Grief wrote an article for the New York Times investigating the contemporary hipster[1]. He questioned the rationale behind the lack of self-identifying hipsters, and the origin of the term hipster as an insult. Ultimately, he made two important discoveries. First that the word hipster does not necessarily refer to the “couch-surfing, old-clothes-wearing” youths who appear most authentically hipster. Instead, the term often refers to a collective group of young, trendy, hypercritical people. Second, that hipsters are dependent on their knowledge. According to Grief, “hipster knowledge compensates for economic immobility”, implying that outlandish knowledge of a specific craft is one of the hipster’s most valuable tools[2].

So why is this relevant to Chocolate? Well, in the past decade, a few hipsters have entered into the world of chocolate making. However, in two cases, these hipsters are using their knowledge to churn out incredibly defensible small batch bars. Ladies and gentlemen, I introduce to you The Mast Brothers and the Dick and Taylor chocolate companies. Since their conception, both have become incredibly popular as a result of marketing and motive, not necessarily taste. Ultimately, however, the impact of their popularity has been positive. The companies have pioneered and motivated a new subculture within chocolate producers—attracting a new demographic to artisan chocolate makers— as well as continue to promote fair trade practices, localized processing, and ethical labor standards.

Subculture is a complicated topic to define among chocolate makers. It is inextricably linked to style, yet it is more complicated than pure aesthetics. According to Dick Hebdige, subculture is made up of “expressive forms and rituals of subordinate groups”[3]. For the purpose of this piece, subculture is the stylistic expressions and rituals of the chocolate maker. More simply, it is how the chocolate maker processes, markets, and sells their chocolate. In order to evaluate how these two chocolate makers have developed and pioneered a new subculture, it is pertinent to evaluate the chocolate makers themselves.

Mast brothers pictureLet’s first observe the Mast Brothers. The most obvious of the brother’s appearance is their beards. Grouped with the newsboy cap, large eyeglasses, and a brick backdrop in their workshop in Brooklyn—these stylistic choices categorize the Mast Brothers as being part of hipster culture. Pictured right is the second image on Google when you search for “hipster”. See the resemblance?hipsters

Next, we have Adam Dick and Richard Taylor. Similarly to the Mast Brothers, they both have a noticeable amount of facial hair, and big eyeglasses. Adam wears a stocking cap, but instead of a white double-breasted chef jacket or casual button down, they both are wearing plaid flannel shirts. Interestingly, both the Mast Brothers and Dick and Taylor look quite similar in outward appearance. Not to mention they both share a similar interest in chocolate.

dickandtaylor1Chocolate is their craft. However, while outward appearances and interest in the craft of chocolate making do not put their chocolate on par with chocolate makers like Scharffen Berger and Rogue Chocolate, their participation in hipster culture has made them wildly successful within the media. To heavy media users like the population of hipster subculture, social media is a channel in which to promote foods—and in many cases, fair trade, agriculturally sustainable foods. I mentioned earlier that the emergence of hipster artisans is playing a positive role in the chocolate industry. Well, here is where things get interesting.

Cacao beans are a very similar commodity to coffee beans. Both are often grouped with buzzwords like “sourcing”, “fair trade”, and “labor standards” as a result of raised awareness of low agricultural labor standards in West Africa and other high cacao production areas. Increased globalization has disconnected consumers from their food by hiding the process that leads to the final product. Large coffee companies such as Kraft do not source their beans through fair trade purchases[4]. Instead, the largest coffee company in the world continues to exploit farmers and agricultural laborers[5]. However, the hipster culture began to promote the fair-trade label in the early 2000s. Since then, support for fair-trade coffee has increased substantially[6].

The chocolate industry has seen similar results. The small batch companies like Mast Brothers and Dick and Taylor initially appeal to a niche audience, but with growing social media, their impact on fair-trade and labor standards of cacao farmers is substantial. Cacao will soon catch up to coffee with regard to popularity of fair-trade products.

In an article by Cronin, McCarthy, and Collins, they analyze the hipster food-based resistance strategies against large-scale production by companies like Tyson, Kraft, and Hershey’s[7]. Within their research, they note that the two of the most prominent resistance strategies among hipsters is brand awareness and avoidances, as well as the decommodification of mass-produced goods. In other words, they avoid well-known big company brands, and substitute away from products that have been mass-produced and super-processed to “reject corporate-capitalist ‘junk food’”[8]. They look for smaller brand names and marketing that appeals not just to the brand, but to the artisanal qualities of the food product itself[9].

mast brothers chocolateThe Mast Brothers and Dick and Taylor Chocolate are aiding in bringing to chocolate a brand that is not mass-produced. In the United States, there are really only a handful of small-batch producers of chocolate, and these select few often do not market their products to a subculture or demographic that will openly discuss the product’s social and economic significance. As we look at the packaging for the Mast Brothers, it is immediately apparent that their branding isn’t all about the brand itself. The bars are marketed as pieces of art. Each hand wrapped with a different piece of paper. The paper itself, while not apparent though a photo, has the feel of old parchment from before the 20th century. The Dick and Taylor bars, while less flashy, also appear as though they are crafted as a work of art. They boast an old time sketch of a shipyard where a boat is being build. A nod to their past lives as sailboat craftsmen.Dickandtaylor chocolate

When contrasted with a large, mass-produced bar like Hershey’s, it is simple to see the difference in brand management. The localized, bean-to-bar, fair-trade bars of the two hipster companies concentrate much less on the brand, and more on the artisanal qualities of the bar. This is important when you consider the aforementioned qualities that hipsters look for when substituting away from big brands. Furthermore, the Hershey’s bar itself is almost exclusively about the brand. HersheysThe design around the bar has no artful qualities, aside from the brand there is only a dark brown background and a small caption of “milk chocolate”. Cadbury has a similar design on their candy bar. On the bar’s front, a solid color with the mega-brand’s name plastered across it. Again, the concentration is on the brand, not the craft. However, on the Cadbury bar, they print a fair trade label on the front in an attempt to hide any traces of exploitation in the companies past, present, or future. Yet, on cadburythe hipster bars, there is no stamp. The reasoning for this is that the small-batch chocolate makers work so closely with the source of their beans that they don’t need the reaffirmation on the bar itself. Both of the companies directly source their chocolate from small farms. In the case of the Mast Brothers, the two bearded chocolate makers travelled to the Dominican Republic to meet their cacao farming partners, and give them a taste of the final product. The hipster chocolate scene is far from needing a stamp that notifies chocolate enthusiasts about the source of their cacao. It is inherently recognized as a result trust built through thousands of completely hand-crafted chocolate bars.

I had mentioned toward the beginning of this piece that the taste was not the key component of their chocolate. This is for good reason. The chocolate that these hipster companies are producing are not the best in the world. Critics have reviewed the Mast Brothers and deemed their chocolate inconsistent, defective, and just plain bad[10]. Yet, their chocolate is used in restaurants like French Laundry, and other top tier establishments. What is most important with regard to these two trendy companies is their moral and ethical practices. The results may not be of the same consistent quality as Rogue Chocolate, or Amadei in Italy, but what they produce is a result of fair labor practices and a strong knowledge of cacao’s origins. Their gift to the chocolate industry is not only their product, but the messages, the new target demographic, and raised awareness. The Mast Brothers and Dick and Taylor Chocolate act as domestic beacons, hidden in hipster clothing and facial hair that help— if just a little — guide the way to a better chocolate industry.

Works Cited

[1] Greif, Mark. “The Hipster in the Mirror.” New York Times 3 (2010): 2014.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Hebdige, Dick. “Subculture: The meaning of style.” Critical Quarterly 37.2 (1995): 120-124.

[4] Howard, Philip H. “Visualizing Fair Trade Coffee.” Michigan State University. 2011.

[5] Martin, C. 2015. “African and African American Studies 119x: Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food”. Emerson Hall, Harvard University. Lecture.

[6] Featherstone, Liza. “In Brooklyn, Hipsters Sip ‘Fair Trade’ Brews.” New York Times. 2007.

[7] Cronin, James M., Mary B. McCarthy, and Alan M. Collins. “Covert distinction: how hipsters practice food-based resistance strategies in the production of identity.” Consumption Markets & Culture 17.1 (2014): 2-28.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Giller, Megan. “Chocolate Experts Hate Mast Brothers: Why do specialty shops refuse to carry one of the best-known craft chocolate brands in the country?” Slate. March 2015.


Figure 1. http://behindthescenes.nyhistory.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/brothers.jpg

Figure 2. http://thesocietypages.org/feminist/files/2014/07/about3.jpg

Figure 3. https://whatshotinchocolate.files.wordpress.com/2013/01/dickandtaylor1.jpg

Figure 4. http://lovelypackage.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/03/mast1.jpg

Figure 5. http://www.centralmarket.com/getattachment/74bf0659-bf7d-48fd-83fc-99295fc46002/Dick-Taylor-Takes-Chocolate-Back-to-Its-Roots.aspx

Figure 6. https://www.hersheys.com/images/products/3480/hershey-bars-milk-chocolate_md.png

Figure 7. http://www.homeduuka.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/cadbury-dairy-milk-v2-1.jpg

Cutting Chocolate, Cutting Corners: The Hershey Company’s Quest for Cheap Success

In American consciousness, a “chocolate bar” generally means a Hershey’s milk chocolate bar. Modern Hershey’s advertising is fueled by nostalgic, family- or community-oriented, and classic imagery, reasserting the company’s position as the chocolate. The Hershey Company has its own theme park in Pennsylvania, factory store in Times Square, and somewhat of a monopoly over traditions including chocolate, such as s’more making. But are the origins of Hershey milk chocolate as warm and wholesome as advertised? Through an examination of the Hershey Company’s early history, including production choices and marketing techniques, this paper seeks to explore ways in which the company rose in wealth and power by calculatedly cutting corners — that is, by focusing less on business ethics and more on cost reduction.

Milton Hershey grew up with plenty of exposure to the business of sweets, working with a confectioner in Lancaster, Pennsylvania as a teenager and later making several attempts to start his own candy company around 1876. His first success in candy was not with chocolate but with caramel; in 1886 Hershey opened the Lancaster Caramel Company, specializing in Hershey’s “Crystal A” caramels, to which he added milk, an uncommon practice at the time. After watching a German manufacturer making the equipment necessary to produce chocolate, Hershey purchased the same materials immediately, bent on giving his caramels a chocolate coating. Then he started making chocolate products, then adding the Hershey Chocolate Company to Lancaster Caramel Company. Hershey was creative with his approach — he produced not only bars, but chocolate molded into whimsical shapes, such as bicycles, cigars, etc. By 1900, he abandoned caramel-making altogether to focus on chocolate (“Hershey Foods…”).

First, when English companies began to boycott the cheap cacao produced on the islands of Sao Tome and Principe in 1909-1910 following a slavery scandal involving the Cadbury company, Hershey, among other American companies, took the opportunity to take the cheap cacao Cadbury was missing. In the decades prior, investigators on the islands discovered that the workers there were actually being essentially forced into slavery, working in horrible conditions with little to no pay that they couldn’t do anything with. The Hershey Company ignored these atrocities and, instead of participating in the boycott, capitalized on the exploitation of the West African cacao cultivators (Martin, “What is…”). Cut corner #1, and perhaps the most detestable of them all. Hershey sacrificed human rights to save money.

Something else important to note is Hershey’s special interest in producing milk chocolate, a type of chocolate that, while popular for its unique, creamy flavor, is and was cheaper to produce than other kinds of chocolate, because less cacao content is necessary to create the same quantity of chocolate. In other words, by focusing on milk chocolate, Hershey could produce a product that had been “cut” by something, or filled out, without having to sacrifice the label of “pure”. This required combining a regular recipe for chocolate (cocoa butter, cocoa powder, sugar, mixed and conched) with powdered milk, invented by Henri Nestle in 1867, and first used in the creation of milk chocolate by Daniel Peter in 1887 (Stradley; Martin, “Popular…”). The video clip below shows how a modern factory makes milk chocolate:

Hershey wanted to make large quantities of this cheap chocolate to market to the American masses, but struggled with even powdered milk’s limited keeping time on the shelves – milk chocolate was inexpensive, but not inexpensive enough, if the milk couldn’t hold up with the standards of mass production. He began by switching from Jersey cows to Holsteins, whose milk has a lower fat content, in an attempt to fix this, but that wasn’t enough (Martin, “Industrialization…”).

Finally, he found a way. While Hershey keeps their recipes, past and present, a company secret, it’s clear that Hershey’s chocolate has undergone a process, whose byproduct is butyric acid, that further stabilizes the milk so that it can last vastly longer on the shelves. It’s speculated that Hershey put his milk through some kind of lipolysis, breaking down fatty acids and protecting it from fermentation (Moskin). The butyric acid byproduct makes for Hershey’s unique tangy flavor, which Hershey was able to sell especially to Americans because they were less accustomed to chocolate in their diets than Europeans at the time. In other words, Hershey was able to cut this particular corner, and did, precisely because his market didn’t know what chocolate bars were supposed to taste like (Martin, “Industrialization…”). In fact, Americans today are so accustomed to Hershey’s chocolate’s specific sour flavor that many American companies now add butyric acid to imitate it (Moskin).

Then, Hershey was interested right away in making his company an industrialized one, able to produce candy in enormous quantities — again, to get the most bang out of his buck (Martin, “Industrialization…”). He opened an enormous factory in Hershey, Pennsylvania, in 1905, which is still the largest of its kind today (“Hershey Foods…”). One of the rooms, in an undated photo, appears here:


[Image credit:http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2013/10/11/a-visual-historyofhersheychocolate.html, Culture Club/Getty Images]

Although Hershey didn’t use media advertising for about 75 years after the company was born, that doesn’t mean he didn’t know how to market his product. His milk chocolate already had its perks — it tasted great and was cheap — but he began to push his products on shops and grocery stores across the country, utilizing a great deal of window-marketing to get buyers’ attention (“Hershey Chocolate…”; “A Visual…”). By the late 1910s to the 1920s, Hershey had learned to market well. Consider the following images:


[Image credit: http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2013/10/11/a-visual-historyofhersheychocolate.html, Advertising Archive/Everett collection]


[image credit: http://blog.hersheyarchives.org/category/hershey-chocolate/marketing/]

The first image is from an early window display, marketing Hershey’s chocolate as “vanilla sweet” and cheap — 5 cents per bar. The second image is of a chocolate bar wrapper ca. 1912-1926. You’ll see that Hershey kept the price, and something reminiscent of the original claim of sweetness, “a sweet to eat”. But what accompanies this text is not only an advertisement on the back of the bar for Hershey’s cocoa, but also the text “more sustaining than meat”. Hershey didn’t bother consumers with cumbersome advertisements about his chocolate’s quality, but instead brilliantly used window displays in multiplying grocery stores and advertisement-laden packaging to draw and hook people on his product (“Hershey Chocolate…”). With this, he didn’t have to pay loads for advertising like other companies, applying the finishing touch to make his chocolate into the ultimate cheap, easy-to-make, easy-to-market product.

Through sly marketing, industrialization, a focus on cheap milk chocolate and the buying of cheap cacao for a great cost, the Hershey company spent its early years thriving, and eventually rose to power as the most iconic and well-known bar in the U.S. So next time you think of that “classic” chocolate, consider what factors allowed it to take its place there in the American imagination.

Works Cited

“A Visual History of Hershey’s Chocolate”. Al Jazeera America. Al Jazeera, 11 October 2013. Web. 13 March 2014. <http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2013/10/11/a-visual-historyofhersheychocolate.html&gt;

“Hershey Chocolate Company: on the Road”. Hershey Community Archives, 13 February 2013. Web. 13 March 2014. <http://blog.hersheyarchives.org/category/hershey-chocolate/marketing/>

“Hershey Foods Corporation”. Encyclopedia of Business, 2nd ed. Advameg, 2014. Reference for Business. Web. 13 March 2014. <http://www.referenceforbusiness.com/businesses/G-L/Hershey-Foods-Corporation.html>

Martin, Carla. “Industrialization of Food.” Harvard University, Sever Hall, Cambrige, MA. 10 March 2014. Lecture.

Martin, Carla. “Popular Sweet Tooths and Scandal.” Harvard University, Sever Hall, Cambridge, MA. 24 February 2014. Lecture.

Martin, Carla. “What is Slavery?” Harvard University, Sever Hall, Cambridge, MA. 5 March 2014. Lecture.

Moskin, Julia. “Dark May Be King, but Milk Chocolate Makes a Move”. The New York Times: Dining & Wine. The New York Times, 13 February 2008.  Web. 13 March 2014. <http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/13/dining/13chocolate.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0>

Stradley, Linda. “Milk Chocolate – History of Milk Chocolate”. What’s Cooking America, 2004. Web. 13 March 2014. <http://whatscookingamerica.net/History/MilkChocolate.htm&gt;