Tag Archives: luxury chocolate

Analyzing the CVS Chocolate Selection: The Need for Ethical Options

The contemporary chocolate industry allows consumers to enjoy a wide array of chocolate products that appeal to diverse palates and varying budgets. This chocolate has gone through many steps, being exchanged by multiple parties, in order to be transformed from the seeds of a fruit into the smooth, sweet, finished product that consumers expect. Although most consumers are largely unaware of this complicated supply chain, their decision to consume chocolate and their decisions about what type of chocolate to consume can have important impacts on all individuals involved in the production of the good. By looking at a store that is very familiar to all Harvard students, CVS, and comparing it to a more gourmet store, Cardullo’s, we can consider how the products CVS chooses to stock and how our purchasing decisions at this store tie into the global chocolate trade. Unlike Cardullo’s, which caters to a demographic of consumers who are shopping with the intent to purchase first-rate products and can therefore be more critical about the quality and even the potential consequences of their purchases, grabbing a chocolate bar before checking out at a CVS convenience store is likely devoid of consideration regarding the impact of the purchase. It is therefore necessary to work to educate consumers and change their behavior so that even casual consumers can make informed decisions when purchasing chocolate.

As CVS was originally named “Consumer Value Store,” it is not surprising that they aim to provide customers with relatively inexpensive products, which is reflected in their chocolate selection, much of which is made by members of the Big Five chocolate companies (Leissle 73), specifically companies like Hershey’s, Mars, and Nestle. Some of the offerings at CVS are much in keeping with the original vision of early chocolate producers, such as the Hershey family, who aimed to create a simple chocolate bar that could be mass produced and would be affordable for the general population. These chocolate-only products include Hershey’s chocolate bars, Hershey’s kisses, M&Ms, and the slightly higher priced Dove chocolate, among other options. Even these slightly more expensive options, which have sleeker packaging in an attempt to appeal to a more quality conscious demographic, are still quite cheap compared to the options at Cardullo’s. The image below shows Dove Chocolates and M&Ms and demonstrates how companies at a similar price point try to differentiate themselves with sleek packaging and ornate lettering versus playful, colorful packaging in order to appeal to different consumers.

CVS also offers a number of other Hershey candy products that include chocolate as one of several ingredients. We see how large chocolate companies employ this strategy just as they did nearly one-hundred years ago in order to decrease the costs of producing their chocolate products, thereby increasing profits. This strategy was employed by Frank and Forrest Mars when they first developed the Milky Way bar in 1924 (Brenner 54). The Milky Way had malt-flavored nougat as the main ingredient, which allowed Mars to produce a much larger chocolate bar that would be sold at the same price as the small chocolate bars produced by their competitors like Hershey. When consumers saw these two products next to each other on the shelf, they would therefore be attracted to the larger chocolate bar. This strategy is not unique to Mars, as it was employed even earlier in Europe by Toblerone, which also uses nougat, among other ingredients, in order to decrease costs and create a unique product (“Toblerone”).

Today, these types of chocolate products that have other ingredients that constitute the majority of the candy are quite common, likely both because of companies’ desires to decrease costs and because of consumer’s constant demand for new, innovative chocolate products. These types of products include Milky Way and Toblerone, which are still produced, as well as a number of candies that have a variety of other types of fillers. For example, Kit Kat has wafers, while Rollo has caramel, and many new types of M&Ms have various fillers including caramel and pretzels. All of these fillers are likely to be less expensive than chocolate. Combining this strategy with increasingly low cacao content, to which Americans have largely grown accustomed, allows large chocolate companies to be very profitable.

It is also important to note the lack of international chocolate brands that are offered at CVS. Among the few options in the small international section, the very popular British chocolate, Cadbury, is relegated to a tiny shelf that is largely in shadow due to the other shelf directly above it. (The Cadbury Chocolate is in the right side of picture below, four shelves up from the bottom, in the purple, yellow, and red packaging.) The reason for this lack of diversity in terms of national origin of chocolate products can probably be attributed largely to Hershey, which set the standard for what Americans came to identify as the usual chocolate taste. Hershey developed one of the earliest mass-produced chocolate bars in the United States, and their particular method of production resulted in a distinct taste. Unlike most European produced chocolate, which uses powdered milk, Hershey used condensed milk, which results in fermentation of the milk fat, leaving a sour taste (D’Antonio 107). As Americans are often exposed to Hershey chocolate as children, they grow used to this taste and it is therefore not surprising that there is little demand for international chocolate products.

A final point of particular importance regarding the selection of chocolate at CVS is the lack of brands that aim to address social and environmental issues. As mentioned above, this may be partially due to consumer’s preferences, as they are not accustomed to darker chocolate, which is often produced by socially and environmentally conscious companies that want to emphasize the quality of their cacao. Customers shopping at CVS are also likely from a demographic that is generally looking for cheap prices and may not be willing to pay the premium associated with these brands. This issue speaks to the need to further educate customers about the potential ethical issues with the chocolate that they are consuming, which could then change preferences.

The extensive chocolate selection at Cardullo’s demonstrates quite a contrast to that seen at CVS. One of the most immediately obvious differences is the price point at which they sell their chocolate. Whereas CVS sells the vast majority of their chocolate, including large bags, for under five dollars, Cardullo’s has a number of chocolate bars, relatively small in size, which cost over ten dollars. Most of these chocolate products are higher in cacao content and many of them aim to address specific social or environmental issues that are common within the chocolate industry, demonstrating an increased customer concern towards these important issues.

The concern for labor and environmental abuses has been mounting, driving customers to stores like Cardullo’s where they can make informed, ethical purchases. The issue of labor abuses has been a concern since large scale chocolate production began, as demonstrated by Cadbury’s concern with slavery on Sao Tome, Principe, and Angola at the end of the nineteenth century and beginning of the twentieth century (Higgs, Satre). Despite the passage of over one hundred years, there have still been numerous recently documented cases of coerced labor, specifically child labor, in chocolate production. For example, Carol Off’s book, Bitter Chocolate: The Dark Side of the World’s Most Seductive Sweet sheds light on the issue of child trafficking in the Cote d’Ivoire, as children are brought from Mali and other surrounding countries under the false pretense of paid labor and are then often not allowed to leave once they arrive (Off). There have been attempts to address labor abuses such as these through measures such as the Harkin-Engel Protocol, which called upon large chocolate companies to devote resources to eliminating child slavery (Ryan, 47). Unfortunately, there is little evidence that the Harkin-Engel has been successful at limiting labor abuses.

In light of the inability for the Harkin-Engel Protocol and similar measures to initiate change, many organizations and chocolate companies themselves have taken it upon themselves to affect change, as demonstrated by many of the chocolate options at gourmet stores like Cardullo’s. One example of an ethically concerned chocolate company that is stocked at Cardullo’s is Goodnow Farms Chocolate, which is a single origin chocolate maker that aims to monitor both the working conditions and environmental impact of the farms from which they source their cacao (“Goodnow Farms Chocolate”). Another example of an ethically concerned chocolatier is Castronovo Chocolate, who work to create a sustainable supply chain and ensure fair wages for all workers (“Castronovo Chocolate”). Castronovo even had a limited time deal where they sent fifty-percent of the purchase price of their chocolate to the Amazon Conservation team, which is a nonprofit organization that works with indigenous communities to protect tropical forests. Chocolatiers such as these must be commended for taking the initiative to tackle these serious issues, while stores such as Cardullo’s should also be recognized for their role in educating the consumer and making these products more widely available.

Another point of differentiation for Cardullo’s is the variety of locations in which the chocolate that they stock is made. Within North America, there are chocolatiers as close as Somerville, where Taza Chocolate operates, and as far away as Canada, where Jelina Chocolatier is run. There are a number of other US chocolate companies represented, including Akinosie Chocolate from Springfield, Missouri, and Raaka Chocolate from Brooklyn, New York. Cardullo’s has a good selection of international chocolates as well. Much of this chocolate is from Europe, such as Belgian chocolate companies like Neuhaus and Jelina Chocolatier, and French companies like Valrhona. Yet they also stock chocolate from countries that are not as often associated with chocolate production, such as Fossa Chocolate, which is made in Singapore. By providing chocolate options from a wide variety of places, Cardullo’s can both appeal to the interests of their customers and inspire curiosity about chocolate. As customers look into these companies, they can then make informed decisions about their purchases and have a better understanding of their impact within the chocolate supply chain. The pictures below show just some of the chocolates offered in Cardullo’s wide selection.

Although the chocolate selection in Cardullo’s is largely dedicated to one specific area of the store, it is important to consider how decisions regarding location in the store, particularly within CVS, can impact consumer behavior, and how chocolate could be better organized to induce informed, ethical purchases. At CVS, the location of chocolate products, both in terms of which shelf they are on and their level on the shelf, demonstrates clear strategic decisions to maximize sales. There are two primary locations for chocolate within the store. The first location, which holds the majority of the chocolate, is the candy aisle. Although labeled as a “candy” aisle, the vast majority of the products include some type of chocolate, demonstrating the overwhelming popularity of chocolate relative to other sweets. Most of the chocolate products in this aisle are large bags, which hold many chocolate pieces, some of which are individually wrapped. It is clear that this aisle appeals to customers who have entered the store with the intention of buying chocolate products. The second primary location where chocolate is sold in CVS is at the checkout counter. These chocolate products are smaller, individually-wrapped items that are meant to appeal to impulse buyers who will grab a chocolate bar as they are checking out. The picture below shows some of these options.

The other important location decision within the store is at what level to place the products. It has been shown in a number of studies that shelf height is very important in driving consumer decisions. Some evidence of this importance comes from the British marketing company 4imprint, which aggregates a number of studies on the topic and shows that consumers start looking at the shelf at eye level and typically take fewer than eight seconds to make their purchasing decision (“Eye level is buy level”). The decision to place well known types of chocolate at eye level is therefore clearly intentional, as CVS wants consumers to immediately recognize the name and impulsively decide to buy the product. The decision to dedicate significant space in CVS to chocolate products and trust consumers to give in to their impulses and buy chocolate at check-out also demonstrates the effectiveness of advertising in the chocolate industry, which has worked for decades to depict chocolate as a product which can instantly satisfy cravings.

 Although CVS may never exclusively stock chocolate that aims to address ethical concerns, as this would not be in keeping with their goal to provide accessible, low prices, it is clear that there is much room for improvement. Ideally, CVS would give the consumer more options, adding some ethically produced products like those seen at Cardullo’s. This change would allow consumers to decide for themselves whether they sufficiently value these ethical concerns to warrant paying a premium. If CVS was willing to place these ethical chocolate products in the prime eye-level shelf real estate, that could also help to encourage consumers to purchase these types of chocolate products. Even if the consumer did not purchase these bars, they would still be forced to engage with them, making them aware of other options and encouraging them to learn more about the chocolate that they currently consume. Therefore, as more attention is increasingly paid towards environmental and social issues, hopefully CVS and other value-focused chains will increasingly learn from more premium stores and provide the consumer with a more balanced experience.

Works Cited

“About Castronovo Chocolate – Single Origin, Small Batch, Bean to Bar Craft Chocolate.” Castronovo Chocolate, http://www.castronovochocolate.com/. 

“About Us.” Goodnow Farms Chocolate, goodnowfarms.com/about-us/. 

Brenner, Joël Glenn. The Emperors of Chocolate: inside the Secret World on Hershey & Mars. Broadway Books, 2000. 

D’Antonio, Michael. Hershey. Simon and Schuster, 2006. 

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

Krishna, Manu. “Eye Level Is Buy Level: The Importance of in-Store Product Placement.” Trax Retail, Nov. 2017, traxretail.com/2017/11/22/eye-level-buy-level-importance-store-product-placement/.

Leissle, Kristy. Cocoa. Polity Press, 2018. 

Off, Carol. Bitter Chocolate: the Dark Side of the Worlds Most Seductive Sweet. The New Press, 2006. 

Ryan, Órla. Chocolate Nations Living and Dying for Cocoa in West Africa. Zed Books, 2011. 

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

“Toblerone – Our History.” Toblerone, http://www.toblerone.co.uk/history. 

Media Cited

All photographs were taken by me.

Chocolate’s Modern Tendencies to Incoherent Luxury

The ubiquity of cheap chocolate is no longer enough to capture the gaze of today’s consumer. We are now being lured away from Hershey kisses and Snickers candy bars towards a more exotic temptations—things like raw cacao powder. In fact, as represented by the two products below, the market is willing to pay almost three times more.”[1] We want to pay more for less product, and this phenomenon doesn’t just stop at cocoa powder. Something is pushing the door wider for cacao nibs, bean-to-bar craft chocolate, and artisan confections to emerge. I argue that chocolate is once again diversifying to a new state of nonsensical luxury, relying on contradictions within the organics movement, slow food movement, and the idea of decadence itself.

This familiar Hershey’s 100% Natural Unsweetened Cacao is worth 1/3rd the price of this organic raw cacao powder above. Both are from Amazon.com.

Historical Background

For most of its history, chocolate has for the elites. The Olmecs (1500-400 B.C.) are attributed with the first domestication of Theobroma cacao. This is supported by research reconstructing their ancient word kakawa for what we today call “cacao.”[1] While little is still known about this people, we know that they passed on “the plant, the process, and the word kakawa” to the Maya. For the Maya, this food had high significance in important cultural narratives, burial rituals of the upper-class, and associations with the gods. While we are unsure if the lower class could consume it, the Mayan elite certainly did at ornate feasts. Cacao was also highly held by the Aztecs, who used it for religious rituals, nutrition during travel, and currency.  For these reasons, their royalty and aristocrats ate cacao in the form of frothy drinks as a show of power.

During the conquest of the Aztecs in the early 16th century, conquistadors, missionaries, and merchants sent cacao beans and chocolate drink recipes back to the royalty in Europe.[1] As Coe and Coe describes, “At first, the only people in Europe who drank cocoa were Spanish royalty and their courts. Thanks to intermarriages between royal families and the circulation of fashionable trends among them, a taste for the drinks spread, first to southern Europe, then northward.” [2]To clarify, this spread across Europe was still confined to the royalty in those respective countries. By the 1600s, it trickled down to British aristocracy and intelligentsia, who talked politics in chocolate and coffee houses. It was only by the Industrial Revolution of the 1800s that cacao became truly democratized and accessible to everyone.[3] This was caused by technological advancement and product development, leading to the rise of chocolate company giants. In sum, this food has only been a household product for a short 200 years.

The Organics Movement

However, recent diversification of products for multiple audiences has caused us to reinforce the association between cacao and class that had been relaxed by the Industrial Revolution. One clear example is the company barkTHINS, founded in 2013. Taking on the mid to upper-middle class market, barkTHINS are explicitly sold as a “snacking chocolate.” The back of a package of their dark chocolate, almond, and sea salt bark reads: “barkTHINS are snackable slivers of dark chocolate paired with real, simple ingredients for a completely original take on snacking. Fair Trade Ingredient Certified and Non-GMO Project Verified, barkTHINS are a mindful and sophisticated way to snack. It’s Snacking. Elevated.” This also introduces how organic food and higher price-points together have facilitated an intangible link between non-GMO food and luxury.

In her article “Fast Food/Organic Food: Reflexive Tastes and the Making of ‘Yuppie Chow,’” Guthman uses the case study of organic salad mix in California to look at the greater social movement. The original motivations for organic farming were the “public health, environmental and moral risks involved with chemical-based crop production and intensified livestock management.”[1] San Francisco was a particularly conducive environment of post-counter culture combined, haute cuisine culture, and people with expendable income. When Alice Waters spearheaded the idea of cooking with local ingredients, she marketed and sold organic salad mix in what was soon to become an upscale dining establishment. The ties between  organic and the upper class became a trend as more elite restaurants copied the idea of selling organic salad mix. However, as this caught on, the dynamics began to change. Restaurants were willing to pay more for greens that were fresher and aesthetically pleasing.[2] In return, growers could make more money with a small batch yield. Eventually, this incentivized the scaling-up and streamlining of processes to produce a greater bounty of beautiful vegetables. The growth and adoption of the organic food into mainstream culture ultimately moved it further away from its core ideals. 

A video showing a more natural, less industrialized way of producing chocolate. However, it is limited to a very small batch.

Just like salad mixes, non-GMO and virgin/raw chocolate are examples of cacao products emerging as luxury goods. However, it has also inherited the pitfalls of the overall organics movement. To reiterate, the point is to eat food as natural as possible. In the video above, we can see that process. However, it is important to note his low yield at he end. To ensure supply for the increasing demand of virgin chocolate, companies will inevitably need to turn to extensive industrialization. Moreover, virgin cacao is advertised to boost mood, clean out toxins by increasing blood flow, and aid better digestion.[1] The fresher seems to be the better! However, the video shows how natural processes might enable unregulated bacterial growth. Working bare-handed, it seems that raw chocolate would be more dangerous than regular chocolate because of the bacteria on the shell covering the nib. To keep it food-safe, raw chocolate likely requires stringent processing if sold mass-scale.

The Slow Food Movement

Related, but distinct from the organics movement, analyzing the push for slow food will help us more deeply analyze the issue of food safety introduced in the section above. Rachel Laudan remarks that Culinary Luddism runs rampant, such that we scorn all industrialized food. It is a trend to yearn for food that is somehow more real, fresh, and natural for the health benefits. However, one shouldn’t wish for food that grandma had growing up. Laudan clarifies that “natural was something quite nasty. Natural often tasted bad. Fresh meat was rank and tough, fresh milk warm and unmistakably a bodily excretion: fresh fruits (dates and grapes being rare exceptions outside the tropics) were inediblely sour, fresh vegetables bitter..” [1] In addition to this, food would often quickly go bad and be difficult to digest. Advancements in regulated industrialization allows our food to be flash-frozen or our milk pasteurized before bacteria colonies grow. In these respects, fast foods have allowed safe food to be more accessible. Yet, it is a fair point that such foods are not always nutritionally balanced.

Because the organics and slow food movements are so intertwined, by looking at both we better understand how the popularity of raw chocolate for its alleged health benefits might be premature. Industrialized food protects against many food-safety issues. Slow food introduces risk. This is the case for raw milk, raw water, and raw cacao. Finally, from the salad mix case study, we know that freshness has been associated with the elite. However, Laudan states, “Eating fresh, natural food was regarded with suspicion verging on horror, something to which only the uncivilized, the poor, and the starving resorted.”[1] This indicates a reversal of what luxury has meant over time.

Redefining Luxury as Immaterial

A video produced by Bon Appetite where a pastry chef attempts to make Ferrero Roche more gourmet.

            In the video above produced by the Bon Appetite Test Kitchen,[1] pastry chef Claire Saffitz is tasked with the goal of making gourmet Ferrero Rocher chocolates. As part of a series where she had previously recreated Kit Kats and Snickers, this one particularly stands out; Saffitz remarks this candy is already considered fancy. She says, “Yeah, I think hazelnut is like a sophisticated flavor. Whether or not its actually fancy, it’s marketed to be thought of as a fancy treat.”[2] So, how does she make it even more luxurious? She decides, “I just want to use really nice chocolate, toast some hazelnuts. And then I think overall, the improvement will just be in those details.”[3] These seemingly banal points bear great significance that can be next understood with McNeil and Riello’s work Luxury: A Rich History.

The attempt to make something currently sold as a luxury more gourmet indicates a hierarchy in what we define as high goods. When we imagine what luxury must have meant to past kings and queens, we would have said consumption and accumulation of fine things. What matters is exclusivity and scope, and consumption would have certainly stood out in a world where some people were struggling to survive from famine. However, the video below spotlights a nuance.

A video featuring and example of extremely extravagant chocolate (hint: gold is involved).

This video portrays a more extreme kind of luxury closer to extravagance. It showcases chocolate created to look like a gold ingot, called the Louis XIII Grand Gold Bar. It alludes to a French king with namesake cognac caramel filling and liberal spraying of 23-karat edible gold. With an elaborate, custom-made box for a single chocolate eaten at the restaurant, the key quality here is that it is “so over the top.”[1] McNeil and Riello terms this uber luxury. They state the “top end of the luxury market now needs to be extravagant (or elitist) beyond belief, because basic luxury is within the reach of too many today.”[2] This fits well with a point Saffitz made. She joked, “If you’re, like, trying to buy a gift for someone at the [laughs] drug store, this is your best option to look fancy.”[3] This suggests that finding the chocolate at the drug store runs counter to the idea of uber luxury because of Ferrero Roche’s ubiquity. However, it remains to be what McNeil and Riello would call life’s smaller luxuries. In chocolate, this might be what craft chocolate bars are, priced at about $5-6 compared to a Hershey’s bar.

Additionally,both videos indicate luxury has moved from a consumption of things to a consumption of another’s labor. McNiel and Riello write: “In this new vision of luxury, more than simple money is required from its consumer. Time and knowledge are key concepts in the very notion of twenty-first century luxury…‘distinction,’ the need to appear different from others, was not just achieved through the purchase and use of luxurious and expensive objects. It was also performed through the conspicuous expenditure of time in what we might call useless activities.”[1] In Saffitz’s case, if the ingredients stayed more or less the same, the thing that made her chocolates gourmet was that it was handmade. To recreate them took an abundance of her time and her knowledge from culinary school. Another, similar example would be the chocolate art below. Therefore, a person who eats them does not waste time doing a useless activity. Rather, they are imbibing the time spent by another person, who could have spent it doing something else. Therefore, artisan or gourmet chocolate is built on an incoherence embedded within the definition of high luxury. The good does not have to contribute to creating tangible improvements to one’s life. Productivity does not matter, and it is the irrationality that makes it valuable. It cannot be understood by outside people. Insiders would consider the good as extraordinary, and outsiders would think it wasteful. The separation between classes is what is underscored.

A very detailed and artfully done chocolate sculpture. If someone were to buy this, it would be an example of buying not just the piece, but the artist’s time and expertise.

Conclusion

In sum, chocolate is moving in a direction of decadence with multiple levels of contradiction embedded within it. It benefits from the organics movement, but moves further and further away from the idea of non-industrialized food. The idea of craft and gourmet chocolate parallels the slow food movement, but disregards the values of food safety previously held by the old upper class. At least in part, modern elitism in food is changing from material consumption to the consumption of experience and time. An implication of these trends is that chocolate is re-positioning itself as a crossroads of class. High-end chocolate is considered more delicious and healthier, as a higher price point pays for its quality and non-GMO status. Philanthropy also tends to be incorporated, like how people will agree to pay more for the humanitarianism of the Fair Trade Certification. But, not everyone can afford to be charitable. In contrast, the chocolate affordable by the people financially unstable is framed as lower-end food. It is less expensive, but more meaning than that is being infused into the idea of “cheap.” By “cheap,” we are insinuating accessible chocolate is not delicious and not “real” chocolate. The dimensions of taste, health attitudes, and philanthropy contribute to how cacao is becoming increasingly more socially charged.


Bibliography

Multimedia

“Amazon.Com: Hershey’s Chocolate Powder.” Accessed May 3, 2019. https://www.amazon.com/s?k=hershey%27s+chocolate+powder&ref=nb_sb_noss_2.

“Amazon.Com: KOS Organic Cacao Powder | Raw Unsweetened Cacao Powder.” Accessed May 3, 2019. https://www.amazon.com/s?k=KOS+Organic+Cacao+Powder+%7C+Raw+Unsweetened+Cacao+Powder&ref=nb_sb_noss.

Bon Appétit. “Pastry Chef Attempts to Make Gourmet Ferrero Rocher.” YouTube, February 12, 2019. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XY-hOqcPGCY&t=38s.

“We Tried A Boozy Golden Chocolate Bar – YouTube.” Accessed May 3, 2019. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=05jOGEmriqo.

Lane, Jim. “Art Now and Then: Chocolate Art.” Art Now and Then (blog), February 29, 2016. http://art-now-and-then.blogspot.com/2016/02/chocolate-art.html.

Other Sources

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. 3rd edition. London: Thames & Hudson, 2013.

Guthman, Julie. “Fast Food/Organic Food: Reflexive Tastes and the Making of ‘Yuppie Chow.’” In Food and Culture: A Reader, edited by Carole Counihan and Penny van Esterik, 496–509. New York and London: Routledge: Taylor and Francis Group, 2012.

Laudan, Rachel. “A Plea for Culinar Modernism: Why We Should Love New, Fast, Processed Food.” Gastronomica 1, no. Feb 2001 (February 2001).

Leissle, Kristy. Cocoa. Newark, UNITED KINGDOM: Polity Press, 2018. http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/harvard-ebooks/detail.action?docID=5294996.

McNeil, Peter, and Giorgio Riello. Luxury: A Rich History. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016.

Citations

[1] McNeil and Riello, Luxury, 239.


[1] “We Tried A Boozy Golden Chocolate Bar – YouTube,” pt. 0:44.

[2] McNeil and Riello, Luxury, 231.

[3] Bon Appétit, “Pastry Chef Attempts to Make Gourmet Ferrero Rocher,” pt. 1:05.


[1] Bon Appétit, “Pastry Chef Attempts to Make Gourmet Ferrero Rocher.”

[2] Bon Appétit, pt. 0:55.

[3] Bon Appétit, pt. 4:09.


[1] Laudan, 38.


[1] Laudan, “A Plea for Culinar Modernism: Why We Should Love New, Fast, Processed Food,” 36.


[1] “Amazon.Com: KOS Organic Cacao Powder | Raw Unsweetened Cacao Powder.”


[1] Guthman, “Fast Food/Organic Food: Reflexive Tastes and the Making of ‘Yuppie Chow,’” 497.

[2] Guthman, “Fast Food/Organic Food: Reflexive Tastes and the Making of ‘Yuppie Chow,’” 499-500.



[1] Leissle, Cocoa, 38.

[2] Leissle, 38.

[3] Leissle, 38–39.



[1] Coe and Coe, The True History of Chocolate, 35.


[1] “Amazon.Com: KOS Organic Cacao Powder | Raw Unsweetened Cacao Powder.”

Lost in the Candy Aisle: Observing Chocolate in its “Natural” Habitat

My Experience with chocolate at Walgreen’s

Where are most people first introduced to chocolate? Perhaps through advertisements, through their families, through popular culture with movies such as Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, or maybe even cultural events such as Halloween. One might wager, however, that many of us first encountered the delight that is chocolate in the candy aisle of a retail store. Indeed, advertisements aimed at mothers often involved a child’s wide eyes upon the sight of chocolate in the candy aisle of a grocery store and their insistence that their mother purchase this chocolate. Thus, one finds it interesting to flesh out chocolate’s existence in a retail setting, given its prominence in the way that we purchase and experience chocolate. Chocolate is a product with global ties to a variety of issues including racial and economic inequality, illegitimate labor practices, and issues with the distribution across the supply chain. I contend that the retail setting in which chocolate is sold contributes to these issues, for better or for worse, and will detail these relationships in today’s blog post.

The picture I’m painting in this post is inevitably anecdotal – it’s based of my experience at one store – but nevertheless I feel it is representative of a typical, non-specialty marketplace where many people purchase chocolate. I conducted my field research at a Walgreen’s in Central Square. Of course, this was a bit ironic, given that a pharmacy/health store was selling chocolate and many other (perhaps less healthy) sweets, but I digress. As we all know, chocolate is an incredibly popular treat, and it is often the base for many other sweets such as Reese’s, Snickers, or M&M’s for example. However, for the sake of this paper, I intend to focus more on “pure” chocolate – or rather sweets that are presented as chocolate first and not those in which chocolate is simply an ingredient. For example, a Hershey’s bar may count (even with almonds!) but a Snicker’s bar or a Butterfingers would not. I choose to do this to minimize and focus the scope of my analysis, but also to ensure a fairer comparison between products and the various analyses that come from these comparisons.

High Class Chocolate

After entering the candy/snacks aisle of the store, it became exceedingly obvious that intentional thought had been put into the arrangement of the various delicacies. Let’s begin with the sexiest section, or the section of the aisle that was dedicated to the fanciest chocolates that the store had to offer. This section was clearly demarcated from the rest of the confectioneries, suggesting a fundamental difference in quality between these offerings and the others. This suggestion was further entrenched when one looks at the prices of these products. By my quick estimation, these products ranged from 33% to 50% more expensive than similar offerings in the aisle that weren’t presented as luxury. Additionally, these chocolates were encased in packaging with connotations of luxury and elegance.

Packaging Matters!

As I mentioned previously, the packaging of the various chocolates had major implications. In order to unpackage (pun intended) these implications, I feel it appropriate to examine a few case studies found in Walgreen’s.

Lindt 90% Cocoa Supreme Dark Chocolate

The first chocolate we will examine is The Lindt Excellence 90% Cocoa Supreme Dark chocolate (pictured above). Off the bat, we notice several intended effects of this packaging and branding. To begin with, Lindt is an established brand of chocolate from Switzerland. This indicates to a consumer that this product is high-quality (a point hammered home by the subsequent “Excellence” on the label) and that the product is from perhaps the most reputable country in chocolate production: Switzerland. With an academic background in chocolate, we understand that the cocoa beans that went into the production of the bar are likely from South America or West Africa, a notable omission from the packaging. Next, in large font, the package indicates it is 90% cocoa. This is important for a myriad of reasons, some of which we have covered in class. One, it indicates to a consumer that this product is literally 90% pure cocoa, a fact that should differentiate it from other chocolates with more additives. In a larger sense, however, this percentage is included to suggest to the consumer that this product is in a different class than other chocolate offerings due to its adherence to strong cocoa content in light of a confectionery market largely dependent on sugar-infused products. Interestingly, the label states “90% cocoa” instead of “90% cacao.” We’ve discussed in class how the term “cacao” is often used by marketers to instill a sense of higher quality or to connect the consumer more directly to the source product, suggesting that their product is more “real” or “pure” than other competitors. There are elements of classist dialogue in play here, mirroring historical realities of chocolate consumption, where chocolate was a delicacy enjoyed by only those of a high class.

Ghirardelli Intense Dark 86% Cacao Midnight Reverie Chocolate

Another case worth looking at is the Ghirardelli Intense Dark 86% Cacao Midnight Reverie chocolate. Right away, we notice some similarities between this product and our first case. The producer is a well-known, reputable chocolate brand. Although Ghirardelli is an American brand, it’s name suggests the quality of its European competitors. It includes a reference to its high cacao content (notably utilizing the term cacao as opposed to cocoa). The similarities end here though, as we are able to determine a different means by which Ghirardelli intended to reach their potential customers: portraying chocolate as an aphrodisiac. This is expressed in multiple ways. First, they refer to the chocolate as an “intense” dark. While I’m sure the chocolate is quite dark (86% cacao), the use of the adjective intense is a loaded move meant to add a level of sensuality to the name of the chocolate. This point is hammered by home by the last part of the name:”midnight reverie.” Midnight suggests the darkness of the chocolate, but also has sexual connotations, while reverie means a state of bliss or pleasure, again with obvious sexual connotations. Candy is often thought of as a treat that children enjoy, but evidently Ghirardelli is attempting to influence an adult market with this product.

Top Shelf Status

In addition to the various messages put forth by the packaging on the chocolates I researched, the arrangement of the items on the shelves indicated the importance of the various products on the shelves. The first (and perhaps most intuitive observation) is that the most expensive chocolate products in this section resided on the top shelf, with prices decreasing as one looked down. For context, the top shelf in this store would be about eye level for the average woman. Additionally, one noticed that the packaging became less fancy as one’s eyes followed down the shelves, which is consistent with the falling prices.

The “Luxury” Chocolate section at the Central Square Walgreen’s

The existing literature has much to say about the way that shelves are arranged in retail settings and consumers’ interpretations of these arrangements. Consumers believe that expensive products exist on the top shelf, while the middle shelves contain the most popular products (Valenzuela et al. 2012). We also know that consumers take advantage of “visual saliency” in their decision making, meaning that they utilize their knowledge of products’ appearance or placement in a retail setting to help determine their purchasing decisions (Gidlof et al. 2017). Additionally, simply looking at a product longer results in a higher chance of a consumer buying the product. Thus, a consumer is definitely impacted by both the placement of a product and the ability of its packaging to catch their eye. These facts are consistent with my experience at Walgreen’s despite the fact that I was at the store for observation purposes, and not to actually purchase anything.

What about health and spirituality?

Notably absent from my field research at Walgreen’s were two archetypes of chocolate that we have discussed in class: products promoting health benefits (whether in an absolute or relative sense) or those attempting to connect a consumer with the products historical and spiritual roots of cacao by using aztec or mayan imagery to promote the product. Perhaps this absence was tied with the similar absence of any craft or local chocolate products. Intuitively, it makes sense that a national chain like Walgreen’s would only carry the standard fare of chocolates that one might find anywhere else, but considering that they did have a surprising variety of chocolates in general, one might’ve expected some craft chocolates as well.

Products for the health-conscious are a particularly interesting omission considering the setting: a pharmacy. Many people consider chocolate as an unhealthy snack, while others espouse its supposed health benefits such as fighting hypertension and minimizes cardiovascular disease (Howe 2012). Of course this point is debated, although it is often the other products found in chocolate (sugar being the main culprit) that contribute to negative health effects of chocolate. Nevertheless, one might’ve expected to see some products advertised as healthy (or heart-healthy). Only one product was noticeably labeled as organic. Perhaps, this suggests that even in a pharmacy setting, chocolate companies don’t feel that marketing explicitly to the health-conscious is the most effective means of marketing. Instead, they prefer promoting ideas of luxury, sensuality and quality.

The Other Guy(s?) – Hershey’s and …?

Having extensively examined Walgreen’s “luxury section,” I continued down to the aisle to examine the store’s other offerings (which I’ve already used as a comparison point for the initial group significantly). To my initial surprise, this section consisted nearly entirely of Hershey’s Bars and its variants including bars with almonds and Hershey’s dark chocolate offerings. I thought to myself: this is odd – why is there only one brand here? This was particularly interesting given the relatively large selection of brands of the luxury chocolates. Then it struck me: Hershey’s IS the standard for the average chocolate consumer in America. The Hershey’s bar is nearly archetypical of chocolate bars in the US. For bite sized pleasures, the Hershey’s Kiss comes to mind first for many. I had to think for a good while trying to name any other US chocolate bars not promoted in a luxury or craft manner but failed to do so.

The Pride of America: A typical Hershey’s Chocolate Bar

It’s well documented that the chocolate and confectionery market is concentrated, with Hershey and Mars dominating over 60% of the 2015 US confectionery market share (Statista 2018). As we have encountered in class, Hershey’s recipe for chocolate is largely responsible for shaping Americans’ taste for chocolate (D’Antonio 2007). In practice, Hershey more or less represents the standard chocolate bar in the United States, and the way Walgreen’s presented Hershey’s bars in their aisle seems to follow the research. The separation of these chocolates from the luxury chocolates (across the aisle from each other) depicts a dichotomy in decision that a consumer must face. Will you choose the tried and true product that everyone is familiar with? Or will you venture into the exotic, the unknown, or the luxurious temptations of the products across the aisle (while paying more to do so)?

This dichotomy brings to light thoughts about classism in food, a topic we have touched on briefly before. Unlike its luxury peers, Hershey’s chocolate bars do not offer a perceived sense of higher-class consumption. Of course, this is truly a “perceived” sense of class, considering that by and large one’s social class is not determined by the chocolate that one eats. Additionally, given the previously discussed omission of craft or local products from the chocolate section, one can’t necessarily argue that their purchasing of luxury chocolate from multinational corporations provides any sort of access to the inner circles of the chocolate aficionado world. Indeed, those searching a more intimate experience with the finer and more exclusive side of chocolate perhaps would be better served to visit a chocolatier instead of a nationally-branded pharmacy such as Walgreen’s.

Final Thoughts

Evidently, something as seemingly simple and standard as the candy aisle at a pharmacy can tell us a great deal about the chocolate industry, and even a bit about ourselves. Chocolate is a treat that we experience in a variety of contexts, and often these contexts can affect the way we think about chocolate and the way that chocolate affects us. Retailers make conscious decisions about the way they market and present chocolate products, which in turn influence the way that we experience and enjoy chocolate. Next time you are at a retail food store, take a stroll through the candy aisle with a new perspective on how chocolate exits in its “natural habitat.”

Sources

Academic Sources

D’Antonio, Michael. Herhsey: Milton S. Hershey’s Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams. Simon & Schuster, 2007.

Gidlöf, Kerstin, et al. “Looking Is Buying. How Visual Attention and Choice Are Affected by Consumer Preferences and Properties of the Supermarket Shelf.” Appetite, vol. 116, 2 Mar. 2017, pp. 29–38., doi:10.1016/j.appet.2017.04.020.

Howe, James. “Chocolate and Cardiovascular Health: The Kuna Case Reconsidered.” Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture, vol. 12, no. 1, 2012, pp. 43–52., doi:10.1525/gfc.2012.12.1.43.

“U.S. Confectionery Market Share 2017, by Company.” Statista, Sept. 2018, http://www.statista.com/statistics/294497/us-confectionery-market-share-by-company/.

Valenzuela, Ana, et al. “Shelf Space Schemas: Myth or Reality?” Journal of Business Research, vol. 66, no. 7, 12 Jan. 2012, pp. 881–888., doi:10.1016/j.jbusres.2011.12.006.

Multimedia Sources

“90% Cocoa Chocolate Bar.” Lindt, Lindt, www.lindt.ca/en/shop/our-brands/excellence-ca/excellence-cocoa-90-ca.

Bddgang404. “Luxury Chocolate Section in Walgreens.”

“Ghirardelli Chocolate Intense Dark Bar, Midnight Reverie.” Amazon, www.amazon.com/Ghirardelli-Chocolate-Intense-Midnight-3-17-Ounce/dp/B001G0MG2I.

“Milk Chocolate Bar.” Hershey’s. https://www.hersheys.com/en_us/products/hersheys-milk-chocolate-bar.html

Early European Chocolate Customs

From frothy Mesoamerican ceremonial beverage to widespread currency system to sugary candy bars consumed by millions daily, chocolate has taken many forms since its discovery thousands of years ago. Its current uses and perception by Western society have been largely influenced by the first Europeans to encounter chocolate in the late 16th century. The use of chocolate as a medicinal and luxury item by the early Europeans is largely the reason why chocolate is still viewed as an insubstantial food item linked with holidays and romance in Western society today.

Europeans were first introduced to cacao sometime in the decade following Christopher Columbus’s arrival in the New World, and began paying attention to it after noticing how highly the native Mesoamericans regarded the beans. Explorer Ferdinand Columbus says of the Mayans, “They seemed to hold those almonds [cacao beans] at a great price; for when they were brought on board ship with their goods, I observed that whenever any of these almonds fell, they all stooped to pick it up, as if an eye had fallen” (Coe 109). Explorer Hernán Cortez planted a vast plantation of twenty thousand cacao trees, recognizing their value as currency (Presilla 23-24). The colonizing Spanish who settled in the New World first scoffed at the odd, bitter-tasting beverage that the natives held so dear, but soon grew fonder of the substance. They altered the traditional Mesoamerican recipe of cold, frothy chocolate powder mixed with water and spices by adding sugar and drinking it hot rather than cold (Coe 114-115).  This Europeanized form of the beverage was introduced to the Spanish court, where it became a fashionable drink among nobility. Due to cacao’s exoticness and to the high labor intensity required to prepare the cacao for consumption, chocolate remained a beverage for the upper classes only. Intricate porcelain teacups and saucers were specifically designed for the consumption of chocolate so that ladies of the Spanish court would be able to drink the beverage without spilling on themselves (Coe 131). A new cooking utensil, the molinillo, was invented for the sole purpose of frothing chocolate beverages, and special chocolate pots were crafted (Presilla 26). An aura of luxury and exclusivity was built up around the consumption of chocolate among the first Europeans to experience it (Presilla 25). This exclusivity was in stark contrast to chocolate consumption among several Mesoamerican cultures that came before them, or to the South Americans of the same time period, who often mixed chocolate with ground maize, water, and spices, and drank it as a nutrient-providing meal (Presilla 28-30). The Europeans largely ignored this use of chocolate and regarded it only as a sweet treat. Thus, when chocolate was finally introduced to the European working class, it did not occur to European chocolate companies to serve it as anything other than a sugary beverage.

Since modern Western culture is largely influenced by early Europe, chocolate has continued to be regarded as a dessert and not as something of nutritional value. An example of this is in Dove chocolate advertising.

The inside of the chocolate wrappers contain often contain messages telling consumers to indulge in the delicious chocolate and give themselves a treat, such as in this image. This chocolate wrapper conveys the message to consumers that Dove recognizes the frivolousness of chocolate consumption, but endorses it anyway because it brings joy. Dove does not even try to make chocolate sound healthy, but instead capitalizes on its deliciousness. This current perception of chocolate is very close to and stems from the early European perception of chocolate as a tempting luxury item that should be eaten sparingly.

Chocolate had a second purpose in its early days of discovery by the Europeans. Not only was it viewed as an elite product, but it was also praised for its medicinal properties. The Spanish colonists noticed the stimulant properties of chocolate and believed it to be an aphrodisiac (Coe 29). The Spanish physician Francisco Hernandez was sent to the New World by the Spanish king Phillip II to study undiscovered plants in Mesoamerica and document them. He classified chocolate according to the traditional Galenic medicinal method and called it “cold and dry,” thus making chocolate suitable for treating illnesses such as fevers, stomachaches, dysentery, and constipation (Dillinger et al). The medicinal properties of chocolate were touted across Europe, and in the 16th and 17th centuries, “medical complaints treated with chocolate/cacao have included anemia, poor appetite, mental fatigue, poor breast milk production, consumption/ tuberculosis, fever, gout, kidney stones, reduced longevity and poor sexual appetite/ low virility” (Dillinger et al). As such, chocolate was carefully consumed in small quantities; one seventeenth-century noblewoman remarks, “I observe my chocolate diet, to which I believe I owe my health. I do not use it crazily or without precaution” (Coe 136). Physicians often recommended that chocolate be drunk in small quantities with precaution (Coe 123-172). Chocolate was treated almost like a miracle drug in early Europe.

The early European view that chocolate has medicinal properties has also continued to have influence on Western perception of chocolate. Coe points out that it is fairly common for products to start out as medicinal items and then eventually be used recreationally. The most famous example of this is Coca-Cola, which was initially used medicinally but became a wildly popular beverage (Coe 126). Chocolate underwent a similar transformation.  It was believed to be healthy in small doses, as we can see from this 1935 Hershey’s advertisement.

Here, Hershey is telling us that eating chocolate makes one healthy.  Although chocolate started to be consumed more for its taste than for its health benefits, the rumor that chocolate was an aphrodisiac stuck around and furthered its recreational usage. This has caused Western society to link certain types of chocolate with romance and sex. Valentine’s Day and wedding anniversaries are often celebrated with a box of chocolates. The message that chocolate is sexually stimulating still makes its way into our advertising. For example, the advertisement below for Aero chocolate features an attractive half-dressed man who talks about chocolate in terms of sexual puns, such as when he remarks, “And that, ladies, makes the pleasure even more intense.”

Another advertisement for 1848 chocolate features a woman closing her eyes and making excited noises interspersed with footage of cacao being processed into chocolate.

In both advertisements, the companies are pushing the idea that eating chocolate is linked with sexual arousal and that making chocolate can make one sexier. Clearly, chocolate and sex are still linked in popular culture, and this stems from early European optimism that chocolate was a medicine and aphrodisiac.

In conclusion, chocolate has had many roles in many different cultures, but its current usage in Western society is largely influenced by early European chocolate customs. These customs will continue to influence Western chocolate consumption for years to come.

Works Cited

Coe, Sophie D. and Michael D. Coe. 2013[1996]. The True History of Chocolate. 3nd edition. London: Thames & Hudson.

Digital Image. More of the Chocolate, Less of the Sexuality. Accessed March 10, 2017. https://chocolateclass.files.wordpress.com/2015/04/dove-wrapper.jpg.

Dillinger, Teresa L., Patricia Barriga, Sylvia Escarcega, Martha Jimenez, Diana Salazar Lowe, and Louis E. Grivetti. “Food of the gods: cure for humanity? A cultural history of the medicinal and ritual use of chocolate.” Journal of Nutrition 130, no. 8 (August 2000): 057S-2072S. Accessed March 10, 2017. http://jn.nutrition.org/content/130/8/2057S.long.

Hershey Company. Digital Image. The History of Hershey Advertising. Accessed March 10, 2017. http://imgc.allpostersimages.com/images/P-488-488-90/17/1721/HP13D00Z/posters/hershey-s-syrup.jpg.

Kmclan80. “Jason Lewis Looking HOT in new Aero Bubbles ad”. Filmed [April 2007]. YouTube video, 00:31. Posted [April 2007]. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Brz8jjXuKyg.

Models TV Commercials 3. “SEXY CHOCOLATE Commercial”. Filmed [April 2009]. YouTube video, 00:48. Posted [April 2009]. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yzOchsY4RhQ.

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