As a massive international corporation, CVS offers numerous products and services to their customers around the globe. Traditionally, they have acted as a pharmacy and drug store. Yet, within recent decades, CVS has become more of a convenience store in that it still offers pharmaceutical services and drugs, but it also now offers everything from cleaning supplies to ice cream. Furthermore, considering the fact that many Americans live relatively close to a CVS, it could be argued that many of the smaller consumables, such as chocolate, are purchased there. Thus, in analyzing the modern-day chocolate market for the majority of the public, CVS is an excellent case study to examine how chocolate is being sold to the masses. Thus, this multimedia essay will utilize the chocolate selection from CVS as a case study to determine how chocolate is being marketed to the public.
Race, Gender, Luxury
and How Chocolate is Advertised
The history of chocolate advertisement is one that is extremely rich with influence from countless external forces and cultures. Since its conception, chocolate, and the advertisement for its consumption, have been heavily influenced by both race and gender. The relationship between chocolate and race is strong and the two have related to one another since the Europeans found out about chocolate. Chocolate and chocolate production have historically been related to slavery, particularly African slavery, which continues to this day. The enslavement of African men and boys does still continue to this day and, “in a 2000 report on human rights in Côte d’Ivoire, the U.S. State Department estimated, with startling candour, ‘that 15,000 Malian children work on Ivoiran cocoa and coffee plantations… Many are under 12 years of age, sold into indentured servitude for US$140 and work 12-hour days for $135 to $189 a year’” (Off 133). Along with gender, race’s long connection with chocolate and chocolate production can still be seen to this day within the form of chocolate advertisement. That is, many of the ways in which chocolate is advertised play on these relationships between gender and race and chocolate. This can be seen in the fact that, “contemporary chocolate advertisements as well as wrappings feature black bodies or distorted images of blackness in order to promote chocolate products” (Hackenesh 98). Within the context of gender, “the consumption of chocolate in the west became feminized early in its history” (Robertson 20). That is, “women were charged with providing wholesome cocoa for respectable consumption within the family” (Robertson 20). Along with race and gender, the idea of chocolate as a luxury item is yet another aspect of its history that can be seen to this day. This early western idea of chocolate as a luxury good can best be seen within the coffee and chocolate houses of the seventeenth century. That is, “from the male-dominated coffee and chocolate houses of the seventeenth century, chocolate became associated with luxury and leisure in the domestic sphere from the eighteenth century” (Robertson 20). The influence of this idea of chocolate as a luxury item cannot be overstated and its influence can be seen to this day. This influence has been so powerful that it remains one of the most utilized tropes within modern chocolate advertisement. Thus, although race and gender have influenced chocolate throughout its history, and can be seen within many forms of multimedia chocolate advertisements, this idea of chocolate as a luxury good remains one of the strongest advertising tropes and one that can be seen throughout the selection of chocolate available at stores such as CVS. So, because of this, the luxury aspect of chocolate advertising will be the main focus of the remainder of this case study of the chocolate selection available at CVS.
Selection at CVS
As CVS has expanded its selection of items, particularly its selection of consumables, its chocolate so too has expanded. When you search for chocolate on the CVS website or you enter a physical CVS location, you are immediately confronted with the classic brands that you would expect. This includes brands such as: Dove, Hershey, Cadbury, Toblerone, Mars, Lindt etc. These brands have remained staples throughout America, and the world, for decades and thus they have garnered loyal support from many customers. That is, “the main reason for this longevity [of the major chocolate producers] is consumers’ usually strong loyalty to the taste of their chocolate; many consumers make a lifetime commitment to thei favorite chocolate brands” (Allen 21). Seeing these brands immediately made me feel comfortable. I felt that because I knew these brands, I could make an informed decision based on the brand name. At no point was I concerned with how the chocolate was produced, or even the ingredients of the chocolate, my decisions were based solely on brand name and packaging. Furthermore, as I view chocolate as a luxury and not something that should be eaten all the time or in large quantities, I was not concerned with the calorie content of any of the items. I knew that I was buying this luxury good to splurge and thus, calories were of no concern to me. Many of the large brands utilized images and colors on their packages so that they seemed luxurious and special. Dark purple and blue are often used on the packaging, as well as gold, in order to exude a certain type of luxury and exclusivity. Although much of the selection from the larger brands, such as Mars and Hershey, revolved around their classic treats, there was also a number of chocolates that were a darker chocolate with more cocoa. These chocolates were attempting to be more luxurious and exclusive even though they come from a well-known and inexpensive brand like Mars, Hershey, or Cadbury. An example of this can be seen in the Hershey’s Kisses Special Dark. Hershey’s kisses are a classic product from Hershey, and arguably one of the most famous chocolate treats in America. They are inexpensive and not considered to be the highest-end or most luxurious chocolate treat. Yet, by changing the packaging by adding a dark purple color and wrapping the Kisses in purple tinfoil rather than the classic silver foil the treats seem much more luxurious and high-end. The addition of ‘Special Dark’ on the label speaks to a certain level of prestige and luxury, and it also hints at the ingredient content of the treats which seem to be of better and higher quality. This attempt of a large brand that is not necessarily known for extremely high-quality and luxurious chocolate, like Hershey, attempting to advertise a luxurious and high-end product differs from a large brand that is more synonymous with high-end chocolate. This can be seen in the packaging of the Lindt Lindor chocolates. Lindt is more synonymous with a higher-end and more luxurious chocolate than is Hershey, thus all of their products immediately have that luxury cachet simply because of the brand name. The Lindt Lindor packaging is simple and elegant and includes colors such as dark blue and gold.
The Dangers of
One aspect of these attempts at
utilizing luxury as a selling-point for chocolate is that these companies use
this idea of luxury without backing it up through an explanation how the chocolate
is produced and why it is of better quality than other treats. The containers focus
on textures and mouthfeels of the various products, yet do not speak about what
makes the particular chocolate more expensive and of better quality than other products.
The Lindt Lindor packaging, for example, says “Irresistibly Smooth” on the
front, yet does not speak to the actual quality of the chocolate and the
ingredients of the product. This is an ingenious ploy by the chocolate companies
because they need not drastically increase their cost of production, but rather
just adjust the advertising and increase the price to create the lure of luxury
and exclusivity. Thus, consumers must become aware of these ploys by the
chocolate manufacturers and ensure that they are paying for quality of
production and ingredients, not luxurious advertising.
Lawrence L. Chocolate Fortunes :the Battle for the Hearts, Minds, and
Wallets of China’s
Consumers. AMACOM, American Management
Silke. “Advertising Chocolate, Consuming Race? On the Peculiar Relationship of
Chocolate Advertising, German
Colonialism, and Blackness.” Vol. 12, no. 1, 2014, pp.
Carol. 2008. Bitter Chocolate: The Dark Side of the World’s Most Seductive
Emma. 2010. Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History.
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.” 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.
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.” 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. 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.” 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. 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.” 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. 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.
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.
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..”  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.
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
This indicates a reversal of what luxury has meant over time.
Redefining Luxury as Immaterial
In the video above produced by
the Bon Appetite Test Kitchen,
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.”
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.”
These seemingly banal points bear great significance that can be next understood
with McNeil and Riello’s work Luxury: A
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.
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.”
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.”
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.”
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
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.” 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.
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.
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.
Rachel. “A Plea for Culinar Modernism: Why We Should Love New, Fast, Processed
Food.” Gastronomica 1, no. Feb 2001 (February 2001).
On this year’s Valentine’s day, my best friend and I, being the single women we are, decided to celebrate our the night by buying ourselves chocolate and wine while watching a movie. In all honesty, none of us particularly likes chocolate but it seemed like the appropriate movie snack for Valentine’s day. This type of thinking is not unique to us. It echoes the actions of million other people from all over the world flooding retail shops to buy their significant others flowers and chocolate. It also shows the strong association that our society believes to exist between chocolate and love with or without a heterosexual romance. In other words, while most foods are marketed for their nutritional, aesthetic or dainty value, chocolates have also been sold as symbols of love and sexuality. I would like to explore the various social and historical factors that have led to this phenomenon, and the gendered lens through which Valentine’s day has been tied to Chocolate.
Firstly, the history of cacao in Mesoamerica is essential to understand the symbolic role chocolate has played in portraying romantic love on occasions such as Valentine’s day. In her essay, on “The Conquests of Chocolate”, Norton notes that “chocolate was ritually consumed at betrothal and wedding ceremonies, and presented to visiting dignitaries” (Norton, 2004). It was presented as an offering to the bride’s father by the groom as a testament of his love for his(the bride’s father) daughter and of respect. While most people do not know this history, chocolate companies have capitalized on this knowledge to lure consumers looking for symbols to express their love to one another. Norton argues that “the association between chocolate and romantic love continues to hold sway in our collective imagination, as evidenced by the box-of-chocolate’s status as the quintessential Valentine’s Day gift and its mythical status as an aphrodisiac”(Norton, 2004). Chocolate becomes instrumental for those men who would like to show their feelings to their women and, in a similar fashion as the Mesoamericans, chocolate also symbolizes respect between the two lovers.
Secondly, chocolate was historically, and still is to an extent, marketed as a luxury item. It was consumed by those who belonged in the wealthier class. As observed by Norton, chocolate then “played an important role in Mesoamerican society as a drink that denoted status…” (Norton, 2004). This was also true when chocolate first spread through Europe where Spaniards not only “learned to replicate the taste, fragrance, look, and texture of Mesoamerican chocolate,…” but also “internalized the association between chocolate and noble distinction” (Norton, 2004). Another author, Jamal Fahim, in his work on, “Beyond Cravings: Gender and Class Desires in Chocolate Marketing”, claims “chocolate advertising…arouses appetites of a social nature by promising to satisfy viewers’ deep-seated desires for sexual fulfillment and higher class status”(Fahim, 2010). This is why men tend to buy this item to make their women feel special because it is an item that has been historically tied to status and luxury- especially on a day meant to represent passion and love.
Thirdly, and perhaps the assumption we need to address, is that while both men and women have been historically associated with love, women have been, almost exclusively, associated with chocolate cravings. According to Bruinsma et.al, chocolate cravings appear to exist in 40% of women and only 15% of men” (Bruinsma and Taren 1999). These cravings go beyond the socialization of women as being sweeter and therefore liking sweet things. According to Anthony Auger, an assistant professor at UW-Madison, women are more affected by chocolate than men. He references a study conducted that shows the hypothalamus, a part of the brain that regulates food intake, was less active in women when they consumed chocolate which is why they were more likely to eat it more compared to me. This is an interesting take that changes the way we view Valentine’s day and the view that women only like chocolate because they have socialized to love it.
Yet, we do not have conclusive evidence that this is entirely biological. There are various factors that may have led to this evolutionary phenomenon in which women are more likely to like chocolate than men. One of the many explanations is that women prefer sugary foods when they are lactating- an evolutionary mechanism to protect the baby- and this might have advanced the idea that women generally prefer chocolates (McQuillan, 2014). That being said, this paper does not explore other potential explanations for women’s love of chocolate. However, this paper seeks to highlight that women’s cravings for chocolate are perhaps more than just reactions to sensualized advertisements. They might also stem from evolutionary desires that tie certain foods to the female reproduction process and thus set in motion the reaction to advertisements beckoning women to consume more chocolate.
Ultimately, Valentine’s day remains an important day across the world. It’s meaning transcends the boundaries of language and culture in the face of globalization and brings people from all corners together in celebration of romantic love. Expectedly, capitalism also remains at the forefront with companies devising new ways to sell their products. This essay is part of a large conversation on how the culture of consumerism that rises within capitalist states influences the way we understand and limit ourselves within certain gendered norms. It uses a lens of chocolate to highlight the central issue of capitalist initiatives to exploit women’s love for chocolate by branding it as a symbol of love. Yet, it does not seek to place on a moral judgement on whether this is good or bad but simply raises the question of how even food can be instrumental in shaping gender dynamics.
“Why Chocolate For Valentine’s Day? | The Stories | ~GIVEAWAY~ | G.Y’s Food Talk |.” YouTube. N. p., 2019. Web
Martinez, Duran. “Stores Stock Shelves For Valentines Day.” 94.9 WMMQ. N. p., 2019.
Fahim, Jamal. Beyond Cravings: Gender and Class Desires in Chocolate …Occidental College, scholar.oxy.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1002&context=sociology_student.
Bruinsma, Kristen, and Douglas L. Taren. 1999. “Chocolate: Food or drug?” Journal of the American Dietetic Association 10: 1249-1256.
From its origins, chocolate has been linked to notions of class, and, in particular, chocolate has been associated with upper class culture. Elites, from Mesoamerica to Baroque Europe, have been principal consumers of chocolate, devoted to perfecting the preparation and consumption of the commodity. For example, the European nobility built a complex material and social culture around chocolate, crafting specialized objects and recipes to enhance the quality and presentation of chocolate. (Coe and Coe, 125) However, as the historiography contends, from the late nineteenth to early twentieth century, with mass production technologies and the rise of companies such as Hershey’s and Mars, chocolate was transformed from an elite privilege to a cheap commodity consumed widely throughout society, and sold at every corner store in America and throughout much of the world.
In my project, I seek to examine the extent to which chocolate remains linked to class, and re-evaluate the narrative that chocolate was transformed from an elite privilege into a universally consumed staple food, and today exists simply as a symbol of our universal sweet tooth. While the industrialization of food enabled chocolate to be consumed by the whole of society, I contend that recent trends in the chocolate industry, specifically the growth in fine chocolate producers and the increasing differentiations between different brands and products, particularly the new emphasis on Fair Trade, organic, single origin, and artisan, have cemented distinctions in food consumption as indicators of class and identity. By further analyzing the contemporary link between chocolate and class, we can learn more about food as a social differentiator, and individual consumption preferences.
The industrialization of food, and particularly the developments of preservation, mechanization, retailing and transportation, were central to democratizing access to food (Goody). Indeed, these innovations and “culinary modernism” generally “has provided…the food of the elite at a price everyone could afford” (Laudan, 40). However, the growing distinctions between different chocolate producers and types of chocolate, as I explored with a tasting and interviews with Harvard students, indicate the extent to which chocolate functions as a differentiator of class and consumers’ preferences for particular chocolates, show social identity.
“Taste has come to play a role in defining social ranking and identity… Taste as an aesthetic has become a sign of privilege” – Julie Guthman, Fast Food/Organic Food: Reflexive Tastes and the Making of “Yuppie Chow,” p. 497
Pierre Bordieu, French sociologist, anthropologist and author of Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste, contended that “cultural consumption are predisposed, consciously and deliberately or not, to fulfill a social function of legitimating social differences” (Bordieu, 7). In this vein of thought, Julie Guthman argues that the growth of the organic industry was driven by “gentrification and the class differentiation that necessarily entailed” (Guthman, 497). The growth of the artisan chocolate industry, including organic chocolate, has been driven by similar factors, as producers recognize the opportunity to earn a devoted customer base by catering to an upper-class clientele who are inclined to consume distinctly “high-end” foods that separate them from, as one survey/tasting participant put it, “the Hershey’s consuming public.” For American producers, the craft business can be lucrative and satisfying, and allow them to compete in the international economy as they turn to gourmet shops, specialty stores, and community gatherings to target the bourgeois market and capitalize on the eagerness of more affluent Americans to buy specialized food (Eber, 155).
As Jim Eber notes in Raising the Bar: the Future of Fine Chocolate, there has been a recent explosion in the number of small manufacturers and chocolatiers (Eber, 144) and at the time of the book’s publication (2012), nearly fifty American fine flavor chocolate brands had been established in the past seven years (Eber, 155). Consumers are buying more fine cacao; premium chocolate accounted for $2.9 billion of the $20 billion in US chocolate sales in 2013, with an expected annual growth of 10% (Eber, 167). Author and philosopher Carolyn Korsmeyer argues in Making Sense of Taste: Food and Philosophy that“the pursuit of taste for pleasure alone…seems a frivolous pursuit permitted only to a leisured few” (Korsmeyer, 1). Bordieu, too, argues that it is uniquely the “upper classes, who are more interested in treating food as an art form” (Korsmeyer, 89). The fine chocolate market is driven by the keenness of the wealthiest consumers to “indulge” in a distinctly gourmet treat, and one that is healthier from its mass-market, chemical-filled alternatives.
“Food has become the premier marker of social distinctions, that is to say — social class” – Adam Drewnowski, What Food Says About Class in America
To look further into this issue of chocolate preferences as related to social class and lifestyle, I conducted individual sampling/tastings with twenty Harvard College students. I selected six chocolate bars, and presented all six to each person that I spoke to, carefully explaining the details of each bar, before asking each student to answer a few questions. I asked the students to consider: 1) Are all of these chocolates appealing to you? 2) Which of these chocolates is most appealing to you and why? 3) Which of these chocolates is least appealing to you and why? 4) When choosing a chocolate to consume, what factors determine your preference? before sampling. Students were given the option to sample all six chocolate, but many declined to taste all. Here is a list of the chocolates I used, and the elements about each that I pointed out or read:
Hershey’s Milk Chocolate
Divine Dark Chocolate with Mint
Mast Goat Milk Chocolate
Dove Dark Chocolate
Taza 70% Dark Stone Ground
Dolfin 38% Cacao
Hershey’s Milk Chocolate: Purchased at CVS, note the large company logo emblazoned across the front.
Divine Dark Chocolate with Mint: Fair Trade label, Purchased at Cardullo’s,“Cocoa, vanilla, and sugar in chocolate: traded in compliance with Fairtrade Standards, total 94% of the product’s ingredients,” “Divine chocolate is made with the finest quality Fairtrade cocoa beans from Kuapa Kokoo, a co-operative of small-holder farmers in Ghana. The cocoa is grown in the shade of the tropical rainforest, and slowly fermented and dried in the sun by the farmers, who take great pride in the chocolate company they co-own.”
Mast Goat Milk Chocolate: Purchased at Cardullo’s,“Goat Milk Chocolate: Made in New York,” “60% Cacao, Cane Sugar, Cocoa Butter, Goat Milk Powder”
Taza 70% Dark Stone Ground Organic Chocolate: Purchased at Cardullo’s,USDA Organic label, Taza Direct Trade Certified Cacao label, Non GMO Project Verified label, Certified Gluten-Free label, Dairy Free, Soy Free, Vegan Label, “Dominican Republic Single Origin,” “Organic,” “We keep the bean in the bar. We make stone ground, organic chocolate, Cacao is so complex in flavor that we want to let it shout loud and proud. That is why we do less to bring you more. We stone grind cacao beans into perfectly unrefined, minimally processed chocolate with bold flavor and texture, unlike anything you have ever tasted.”
Dolfin 38% Cacao: Purchased at Cardullo’s, “Made in Belgium,” “The Art of Blending, Natural & Tasty, Tradition & Quality,”
Dove Dark Chocolate: Purchased at CVS, Rainforest Alliance Certified Cocoa label, “Our special patented and proprietary Cocoapro process helps retain much of the naturally occurring cocoa flavanols.”
Fast food and organic/slow food are posed as class binaries (Guthman, 506). Likewise, as articulated through readings and demonstrated by my tastings and conversations with Harvard students, mass-market chocolates, such as Hershey’s and Dove, are perceived in opposition to “fine chocolate.” While the Harvard students I spoke with were not necessarily clear about the specific differences between different types of chocolate, they unanimously preferred the more expensive Mast, Divine, Dolfin, and Taza bars — I did not disclose exact price to my student subjects, although the different presentations of the bars serve as an indication of price — to the CVS-distributed Hershey’s and Dove varieties. When discussing the difference between these two groups, in relation to the chocolates we tasted, students used descriptors like “organic,” “better quality,” “artisanal,” “healthier,” “better for the environment and the world,” and “fair trade” to articulate why they preferred the above. “I prefer chocolate with a high quality reputation, whatever that means,” one student remarked when asked about his consumption preferences. “If someone offered me Hershey’s for free, like you are doing right now, I would never take it,” another added.
Most students selected their preferred chocolate on the basis of packaging, labeling, and/or percentage of cacao. Commentary included: “Either the Dolfin or Mast chocolate. Cute wrappers,” “I definitely prefer the pink one because it looks the best from the packaging,” and “I think I will like the Mast chocolate because the design is simplistic and modern.”
Angelo Agostoni, President of Italian chocolate producer ICAM, notes a recent “purist trend,” in which consumers have a preference for a “single origin, a bean type or a percentage of cacao” (Eber, 161). Many participants that I spoke to claimed that the main, or only, factor they considered when purchasing or consuming chocolate was the percentage of cacao. “I like to buy dark chocolate, at least 60 percent cacao,” one remarked. Participants did not seem as concerned with the origin of the cacao. “Other than the percentage, I don’t care about specific factors of the chocolate, like what country it comes from,” said another.
Curtis Vreeland of Vreeland & Associates, confectionary industry leader in market research and analysis, notes that premium chocolate is considered to be “chocolate selling for greater than $8.00 a pound… qualitative factors: better quality ingredients, better execution, upscale packaging etc” (Eber, 168). Are these distinctions significant beyond the price differential and their appeal to the high-end consumer? While fine cacao or fine chocolate is indeed sold at a higher price based on perceived quality (Martin, “Popular sweet tooths or scandal”), as we discussed in lecture, Fairtrade, Direct Trade, and organic certifications do not necessarily indicate a higher quality product. During my chocolate tasting, a participant recognized that her partiality for so-called natural or healthier products was likely grounded in rhetorical appeal, rather than objective quality distinction. After expressing her preference for the Taza bar, she noted the effectiveness of the slogan “Stone ground chocolate.” “Stone ground chocolate makes me think that the Taza chocolate is natural and artisanal, even though for all I know, all chocolate could be stone ground, or the stone grinding could have absolutely no effect on the taste of the chocolate,” she admitted.
As the commentary of my sample population of the Harvard student body indicates, the presentation of chocolate, including the retail channel, brand name, package design, information included on the packaging, phrasing of the information, and any included labels signal to the consumer whether or not the chocolate bar is one that they would want to consume, without any awareness of the taste of the actual product, or, in fact, perhaps despite the taste. A participant, who initially expressed her preference for the Divine bar, remarked that although she had not tried the brand before, “I like the Fair Trade aspect and not all the processed junk in it.” Upon sampling the Divine chocolate, she did not like the taste of the mint as much as she expected. However, she still asserted that she would prefer to eat the Divine bar over the Hershey’s bar, despite the fact that she preferred the taste of the Hershey’s. “I don’t want to eat a chocolate that I can’t imagine being sold at Whole Foods, such as Hershey’s. And even if I prefer the taste, I also assume that there are a ton of unhealthy chemicals that I don’t want to put in my body.” One student cited the relative difficulty of reading the list of ingredients in a Hershey’s bar as a concern: “You have to really fold back the flap and open the wrapper to read the list.”
For higher-income, highly educated consumers concerned with the consumption of socially conscious, healthy, or natural products, of which I will classify the population of Harvard students that I sampled as generally falling under, presentation and labeling are paramount. However, according to fine flavor industry experts, “up to 90% of what you read on the average chocolate package is “marketing” (or “lies” or “propaganda”)” (Eber, 169). Additionally, there are several major issues with certification labels specifically: certification is very costly for many farmers (who must bear a significant portion of the costs themselves) to obtain, and furthermore, there is little evidence of impact or higher quality associated with certification (Martin, “Alternative trade and virtuous localization/globalization”).
Looking to the future, it is important that we recognize the extent to which chocolate preferences, as representative of a larger trend in consumer behavior, are dictated by personal identity, social class, and lifestyle motivations, and the degree to which chocolate, like many other foods, is, often falsely, perceived as existing in dichotomy (e.g. mass market vs. fine). For the consumer who can afford to spend over $8 on a chocolate bar, likely in search of a product that is delicious, high quality, natural, healthier, and artisanal, as supported by research and personal inquiry, the presentation of the good is significant. Producers and consumers alike should evaluate the factors that draw an individual to a particular chocolate product to reflect on the influence of social milieu and the realities of the commodity.
Bourdieu, Pierre. Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1984. Print.
Coe, Sophie D. and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. London: Thames & Hudson, 1996. Print.
Goody, Jack. Fast Food/Organic Food: Industrial Food: Towards the Development of a World Cuisine. Ed. Carole Counihan and Penny Van Esterik. New York: Routledge, 1997. 72-88. Print.
Guthman, Julie. Fast Food/Organic Food: Reflexive Tastes and the Making of “Yuppie Chow”Food and Culture: A Reader. Ed. Carole Counihan and Penny Van Esterik. New York: Routledge, 1997. 496-509. Print.
Korsmeyer, Carolyn. Making Sense of Taste: Food and Philosophy. Cornell UP, 2014. Print.
Laudan, Rachel. “A Plea for Culinary Modernism: Why We Should Love New, Fast, Processed Food.” Gastroeconomics: the Journal of Food and Culture 1.1 (2001): 36-44. Web.
There’s a certain kind of charm in “craft foods”. Not “Kraft” with a K, big industrial foods, but products created by small businesses in basements, backyards, and family kitchens by people that are so passionate about their craft that they make small batches, perfecting each one before selling them at extraordinary prices. There’s a very healthy craft beer industry in the US, craft cheese as well, but in the last few decades, the American-made craft chocolate bar has appeared. With the American history of chocolate being a cheap indulgence sold at check-out counters across the country, it’s hard to imagine the place that an $8 “craft” chocolate bar with 76% Malagasy cacao beans has in the American consumer’s lexicon. That very high price point, as well as the increased scrutiny customers willing to hit that price level give to their products, may mean that the American craft chocolate industry isn’t wholly sustainable. Looking at the trajectories of three different craft chocolate makers, Patric, Potomac, and Mast Brothers, serve as examples of the fine line that craft chocolate makers must walk to maintain their already precarious position in the American food economy.
Before discussing the specifics of these brands, it is important to lay out first why exactly these bars are so expensive. There are two prongs of this problem that need to be addressed: the cost of production and the inevitable mark-up by retailers that will carry craft chocolate bars. The cost of production for small batch chocolate bars is fundamentally different from “Big Chocolate” in the very first step of chocolate making: sourcing the cacao. These 3 chocolate makers, like many in the craft chocolate realm, are “bean-to-bar” chocolate makers, simply meaning that the chocolate makers themselves do all of the processing of the cacao in-house. These makers pride themselves on this fact in addition to using often only ethically sourced, fair-trade cacao beans. The cost to do this is significant, as fair-trade products carry with them a hefty price, and the price of buying fair trade certified bean added on to the cost of processing those beans in the same facility must be passed on to consumers. The second prong of the craft chocolate price tag being so high is that the stores that would carry said chocolate bars, the Whole Foods and luxury wine and cheese shops of metropolitan areas, know that they can make their profit with a large markup on items that they may buy for $2-3 wholesale and, as such, the price jumps from $3 to $8 (Martin “Haute Patisserie, Artisan Chocolate, and Food Justice”) . The combination of these two factors leads to the average American consumer getting sticker shock when picking up a fine bar of Potomac chocolate — the average consumer will only spend up to $3.99 on a chocolate bar (Martin “Haute Patisserie, Artisan Chocolate, and Food Justice”). So why then, have the following brands been able to become successful? Let’s investigate.
The first of these brands is arguably one of the most successful, having won national acclaim every year since 2011 (http://patric-chocolate.com/about/). Patric Chocolate is a bean-to-bar chocolate making outfit out of Columbia, Missouri run by a man named Alan McClure. McClure spent years tasting European chocolate in his 20s only to return to the US determined to make a better American chocolate bar in the style of the gourmet chocolate industry in France. The American chocolate industry really gained steam about 20 years after the revolutionization of the French haute chocolate industry (Terrio 14), and McClure began investigating chocolate just as the US was in the process of gaining the industrial and culinary knowledge necessary start a craft chocolate making industry in the style of Valhrona and Bernachon. The beginning of every Patric chocolate bar is the beans; Patric first sourced all of their cacao beans from Madagascar, launching the high percentage Malagasy cacao chocolate bars in 2007, and later moved on to blended bars with beans from the Caribbean and Central America. Patric chocolate boasts Fair Trade (or higher) prices paid for cacao in addition to all organic and non-GMO certified ingredients to flavor their unique bars like “PBJ OMG” and “MINT Crunch” with the very best fruit, nuts and peppermint essential oil. The fantastic ingredients of Patric chocolate bars shine through in the rich and creative tastes that melt perfectly on the tongue. Those ingredients shine through in the price tag as well: one 2.3 ounce bar of the 75% Madagascar chocolate is $14.00.
Where Patric succeeds more than many craft chocolate brands is its exclusivity. Patric only makes it to a few very pricey specialty stores and is sold online in monthly “batches” of creative flavors on the Patric website. This helps to maintain Patric’s profit margins without compromising their ingredients or hands on production process. This is key to sustaining its business and continuing to bolster both cacao and organic farmers by paying above market prices for what they deem the very best.
Potomac Chocolate, like Patric, is a small bean-to-bar chocolate maker in Woodbridge, Virginia. Founded after Patric, in 2010, Potomac has a very similar business model as that of Patric but where Potomac really excels is their single origin bars. These bars are high-percentage cacao dark chocolate bars where all of the beans are sourced from one location, estate, country. This gives each of these bars a beautiful and distinctive flavor based on the terroir of the region; for example, the Duarte Bar, with beans sourced from an estate in the Dominican Republic, has hints of tropical and citrus fruit reflecting the tropical location the beans were grown in. These nuances, however, are really something only a consumer with a deep interest in chocolate or a very refined palate would notice. With that in mind, it make sense that these bars are sold in expensive groceries like Whole Foods and specialty shops.
Potomac sells their bars to these retailers at a price of only $2-3, leaving the additional $6 markup to the seller themselves. This obviously proves a challenge to Ben Rasmussen, proprietor of Potomac, to source good beans and make so little profit. Without the exclusivity and “limited edition” specialty releases of Patric, Potomac relies on these sellers to market their products to demographics that are interested or might be; where I can find Potomac at Whole Foods and a handful of other specialty shops in the Boston area, I have never seen a Patric bar for sale next to it. The cost of selling at these stores, however, means that Rasmussen must keep a day job and craft his chocolate at night. Even though Rasmussen and the company are young, it seems clear that the market for Potomac won’t sustain a chocolate maker like Potomac indefinitely. And that’s assuming that they can keep their already small consumer base intact!
Our final case study in the American craft chocolate industry is Mast Brothers. Founded in 2006 and incorporated in 2007, Mast Brothers was a rising star in the craft chocolate making industry. In one weekend in 2008, their brick and mortar store in Brooklyn made $28,000 (Person). Instead of taking a look at their business principles and sustainability, Mast Brothers is presented here as an example of what a misstep can mean for a company that works in a realm of consumers with discriminating tastes and standards. In December 2015, a food blog called Dallas Food published a 4 part expose, with it’s final piece effectively accusing the Mast Brothers of defrauding consumers since their inception by buying chocolate, not cacao, to make their chocolate bars. The distinction here is, unlike our previous two chocolate makers, the Mast Brothers were not in fact bean-to bar makers. The aftermath of the fiasco is still playing out but it’s undeniable that this, coupled with the fact that even early in 2015 the chocolate community at large was skeptical of quality and taste of Mast Brothers (Giller), has hurt the company’s credibility and limited their reach — being unable to sell in the specialty shops that cater to the finest chocolate consumers means that the average customer seeing their $10 bar is certainly less inclined to pull the trigger and purchase. Their evasiveness in answering questions on top of their fundamental lack of creativity sets the Mast Brothers apart from chocolate makers like Patric and Potomac, whose creative flavors and dedication to sourcing the best beans and ingredients make their small consumer base very loyal. The Mast Brothers should serve as a cautionary tale and poignant anecdote representing the fragility and importance of brand in an industry as small as American craft chocolate making.
As these three case studies show, the American luxury chocolate industry is unsustainable from a pure market point of view. While there will likely always be a small sector of the population, the true chocolate connoisseurs, that’s willing to pay up for their bean-to-bar indulgence, the growth outlook for a company that boasts the finest and most expensive chocolate ingredients is not very positive. Considering that the industry hinges on these very expensive ingredients and the assurance the a consumer is getting all the chocolate for their dollar, there is also not a great way to pivot to market to a broader US audience without losing their loyal customer base. Ben Rasmussen, of Potomac chocolate, is doing what he loves at night, but it seems unlikely that he’ll be able to quit his day job any time soon; the craft chocolate industry is simply not sustainable for Rasmussen and many makers like him.
Giller, Megan. “The High-End Chocolate World Hates Mast Brothers .” Slate Magazine. 2015. Web. 04 May 2016.
Across time and space, from the Aztec Empire to Baroque Europe, chocolate has been associated with upper class culture. While chocolate was first introduced to Europe in the sixteenth century as a medicine with strong curative powers, it evolved into an elite drink during the grandiose Baroque Age. Chocolate was popularized throughout Europe and came to occupy a distinctive place within upper class society because of the complex material and social culture that the aristocracy and nobility created around it.
“It was during the Baroque Age that the beverage [chocolate] made its major journeys, and it was in the Baroque palaces and mansions of the wealthy and powerful that it was elaborated and consumed.” – The True History of Chocolate (Coe and Coe 125)
Europeans crafted specialized objects to enhance the quality and presentation of chocolate. By creating intricate paraphernalia and drinking processes, they elevated the consumption of chocolate to elite ritual ceremony. The development of objects including chocolate pots, cups, and saucers for the preparation and serving of chocolate in Baroque Europe indicate the extent to which the consumption of chocolate was a show of extravagance. The Spanish, Italians, and French developed their own varieties of specialty chocolate-pots in copper, gold, and silver, such as the one in the image below, (Coe and Coe 156) for the stirring, frothing, and serving of chocolate.
Chocolatiére (1774), made of silver and amarath wood
Particularly in France, these chocolatièreswere prized by the nobility, and the Dauphin Louis XIV himself received chocolatières as gifts from foreign guests, such as the King Narai of Siam in 1686. A body of literature surrounding the correct usage of chocolatières and other objects involved in the chocolate consumption process emerged, and the French debated chocolatière design in cookbooks and culinary treatises. For example, an issue of contention was whether there should be a hole in the chocolatière lid, to allow for the passing of the handle of the moulinet, used to stir the liquid chocolate, or if the lid should not be pierced, as with a caffetière, to avoid the “cumbersome” opening and closing of the pot with a moulinet passing through it (Grivetti and Shapiro 91).
With an elaborate material culture surrounding it, chocolate emerged as a fundamental element of royal and high society across countries including Italy, France, England, and Spain. Chocolate was served at public functions and levees at royal courts across Europe, such as Versailles (Coe and Coe 156).
Social gatherings offered individuals the opportunity to display their collection of objects relating to chocolate as well as their innovative methods of chocolate preparation. Esteemed recipes came to be associated with particular places, such as Francesco Redi’s jasmine chocolate at the Tuscan Court (Coe and Coe 143). These recipes were time-consuming and complex, requiring ingredients unavailable to most individuals. Redi’s chocolate, for example, required ten days to prepare and 250 jasmine flowers per kilogram of cocoa nibs a day for each of these ten days.
The Family of the Duke of Penthievre or The Cup of Chocolate (1768) shows a noble family drinking chocolate in a salon, illustrating the type of individuals who consumed chocolate in Baroque Europe.
The upper bourgeoisie class also consumed chocolate in increasing amounts. In England, chocolate was served in traditional coffee-houses, which functioned as important social institutions within English society, by the mid seventeenth century (Coe and Coe, 167).
Chocolate consumption flourished in Baroque Europe because of the extensive material and social culture that developed around it. The luxury item grew in popularity not simply because of its taste or perceived medicinal qualities, but because it offered the European upper class an opportunity to construct a set of customs and social practices around its consumption. Indeed, chocolate became a symbol of wealth, and a vehicle by which one could exhibit his or her privilege. Chocolate was expensive to begin with, and the construction of an extravagant world around chocolate made it even more inaccessible to the lower classes.
Ultimately, mass production technologies transformed chocolate from an elite privilege into a European staple food. However, even today, chocolate remains linked to notions of opulence and luxury.
Charpentier, Jean Baptiste. The Penthievre Family or The Cup of Chocolate, 1768. Digital image. PBS Learning Media. Web.
Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1996. Print.
Grivetti, Louis, and Howard-Yana Shapiro. Chocolate: History, Culture, and Heritage. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2009. Print.
Presilla, Maricel E. The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural and Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. Berkeley: Ten Speed, 2009. Print.
Van Cauwenbergh, Joseph-Théodore. Chocolate Pot. Digital image. Wikimedia Commons. Mar. 2012. Web.
The chocolate in our house is typically mass-produced chocolate purchased from Trader Joe’s, our usual grocery store stomping grounds. Frequent fliers include the mini milk chocolate peanut butter cups, sea salt and turbinado sugar dark chocolate almonds, Belgian milk chocolate bars 3-packs, and more recently, a selection influenced by this course, mini Valrhona 56% dark chocolate bars, as well as their more formidable 71% cousins. All of these chocolates are milk and/or high in sugar and cacao butter, with the exception of the 71% bar, making these products extremely palatable to the average American consumer. Also, with the possible exception of both Valrhona bars, all of these products are most likely produced with bulk cacao, the term used to describe over 90 percent of the world’s cacao, which is grown with the intent of producing “a solid core of satisfactory—or better—chocolate flavor” (Presilla 123-124; Presilla 118). Uniformity is key for bulk cacao, since the Big Five chocolate manufacturers prize consistency of taste above all else to cater to their customers’ strong brand (and flavor) loyalty (Allen 21).1 Although I have long been familiar with dark chocolate and some bean-to-bar chocolate, particularly the Somerville-based Taza Chocolate, taking this class has exposed me to the world of craft and fine chocolate. The obvious end result was a trip to the gourmet food store, Formaggio Kitchen, to purchase four bars of craft and fine dark chocolate to share with my husband, and, as a counterpoint, with some of my coworkers. As the title suggests, sharing these new flavors with my husband was a spectacular failure, but my journey revealed the elitist side of craft and fine chocolate, as well as the hold that the flavors of milk and sugar have on (an admittedly very small sample of) American chocolate consumers.
My trip to Formaggio Kitchen was an experience in privilege in and of itself—my ability to access these chocolates, let alone pay for them, would not be true of many Americans. Formaggio Kitchen is an excellent gourmet food shop with locations in Cambridge, Boston, and New York City, as well as an online store. It focuses on cheese, but its list of products from the website includes, “Artisan Cheese, Chocolate, Cheese Clubs & Samplers, Specialty Seafood, Olives & Antipasti, Olive Oils & Specialty Oils, Candy & Confections” (formaggiokitchen.com), and others, with language that advertises products from an expensive, high quality store. Two levels of remove put this establishment at a distance from most Americans—first, there are only three physical locations, so if you do not live in the greater Boston or NYC area, you are out of luck. The second level of remove is the placement of the two Formaggio Kitchen locations within Cambridge and Boston. The Cambridge location is located on 244 Huron Avenue, about a 20-25 minute walk from Harvard Square, in what feels more like a residential neighborhood than a commercial district. While the Boston location is slightly more accessible, both stores are pretty out of the way for anyone who is reliant on public transportation and/or the commercial hubs of the city that spring up around major transit centers. Certainly, the internet, theoretically the world’s great equalizer, could partially remedy this situation, but the delicate nature of Formaggio Kitchen’s perishable products requires expensive shipping, which is a deterrent for many consumers in this age of free shipping and even free returns from many large online retailers. In short, Formaggio Kitchen is designed to be accessible to those with the resources to afford its products.
Indeed, these craft and fine chocolate bars are not cheap. I purchased four bars, two of the Rogue Tranquilidad variety, each for $16.95 for 2.12 ounces or 60 grams, one bar of Amedei 70% Chocolate for $9.95 for 1.75 ounces or 50 grams, and one bar of Aynouse L’Artesa for $6.95 for 5.3 ounces or 150 grams, coming to a total of $50.80 spent on 11.29 ounces of chocolate. This kind of cost is intentionally contrary to the trend that Coe and Coe describe as “the near-disappearance of the connoisseurship that had typified the aristocratic and clerical chocolate drinkers of a bygone era [such that] [inexpensive] mass-produced chocolates seem to have conquered all” (257). Presilla notes similarly that “even excellent chocolate had become faceless and anonymous, for the great majority of customers had no way of seeing and judging the cacao from which it was made” (41). Formaggio Kitchen’s shelves, while fairly inaccessible to many, are working to counteract the trend of chocolate as a cheap, mass-produced, faceless indulgence. According to their online webpage dedicated to “Artisan Chocolate,” “Ahhh, the power of chocolate. Touted for its health benefits and enjoyed by just about everyone, this is certainly one of our favorite food categories. We focus on bean-to-bar producers who eschew emulsifiers and create their wondrous chocolates with nothing more than sugar and cacao” (formaggiokitchen.com). Although problematic in several places—most notably, Castell, Pérez-Cano, and Bisson’s article makes it clear that further studies are need for conclusive connections between chocolate consumption and health, as well as at what doses (271)—this statement sums up one of the newer trends in conscientious chocolate consumption, one that has given rise to these fine and craft chocolate bars.
Accordingly, Formaggio Kitchen curates its selection to include chocolate makers doing relatively small batch chocolate production, which sometimes, but not always, indicates greater ethical standards in cacao production and sourcing. Also, the in-store labels describe individual bars’ flavor profiles, identifying nutty, floral, or earthy notes in the chocolate, as well as (in most cases) the company, source of the beans, percentage of cocoa solids, and type of chocolate. While the labels do not explicitly name the individual people who grow cacao or who make chocolate, restoring connoisseur vocabulary and culture to the chocolate industry may begin to put a human face and intrinsic value on the production of fine chocolate similar to the cachet of excellent wine, craft beer, or artisan cheese. That being said, Colin Gasko of Rogue Chocolatier is concerned about the viability of the future of craft and fine chocolate (Gasko), let alone the reality that any shifts in consumer culture defined by such a large conglomerate of the Big Five chocolate companies, as well as larger mid-size companies, is an uphill battle.
Sharing these craft and fine dark chocolate bars with my husband, Donal (name changed), was not a success based on his taste preferences but was more successful than the tasting with my coworkers in terms of flavor analysis. I selected three different chocolate bars that I hoped would appeal to his taste buds, which I knew to have a strong preference for milk chocolate and a dislike for even the mildest dark chocolate. Based on these criteria, the Rogue Tranquilidad bar was a stretch at best, but I hoped that he might try it after getting through the Amedei 70%, chosen for its sweeter flavor profile, and the Aynouse L’Artesa 65%, chosen for its high sugar content and similarity to Taza chocolate, with which Donal is familiar. We also began with a Trader Joe’s Belgian milk chocolate bar and a Valrhona 56% dark chocolate bar, again to try to ease into the tasting. I went over the steps of tasting with him, using methods modified from class tastings, Presilla’s The New Taste of Chocolate, and Stuckey’s Taste What You’re Missing. We began by looking at the chocolate and evaluating its color and gloss, then smelling it for any underlying flavor notes. Next, we broke the piece of chocolate to determine the sharpness of its “snap,” and smelled it again to see what other scents we could determine. Finally, we tasted it for texture, letting it melt on the tongue, and then for flavor.
Donal enjoyed tasting the milk chocolate, which he is used to eating, and learning about the influence that cocoa butter and cocoa solids have on the snap of a piece of a chocolate bar. Given that milk chocolate has a high fat content from the added milk and cocoa butter, the break in the first chocolate sample was not smooth, like a bar high in cocoa solids would have. Having taken a Science of Wine class for his science requirement in college, Donal is familiar with the steps in a wine tasting, which are quite similar to those for chocolate tasting. He identified a slight citrus flavor in the milk chocolate that I was unable to detect, but that was overwhelmed by caramel when I told him that was the main note that I could sense. When we moved to the Valrhona chocolate and I asked him what he smelled, he said with a pronounced frown, “dark chocolate.” He did not finish the sample. After that, he chose not to taste the Amedei or the Rogue bars, but he was willing to smell each one for the flavor notes. He did give the Aynouse L’Artesa bar a brief nibble, being familiar with Taza’s roughly finished dark chocolate, but the rest of that piece was also returned to me. He did note that the chocolate bar wrappers all gave the impression of imitating high-end wine labels, with frequently minimalist or otherwise elegant design and layout. While we enjoyed seeking out the different notes in the smells and tastes of the bars, we concluded that I need to bring back dark milk chocolate from Formaggio Kitchen, although I am unconvinced that anything darker than traditional milk chocolate will be a success in this (hopeless? helpless?) case.
The tasting I conducted with two colleagues, Sarah and Adam (names changed), was better received in terms of taste but less nuanced in terms of flavor than the tasting with Donal. It was also a much more informal and quick tasting due to the nature of the workplace setting. I talked a little about smelling, snapping, and tasting the chocolate, as well as the difference between chocolate made with pure cacao solids and sugar versus that with added cocoa butter and/or other additives or flavorings, but I was not able to do so in as much detail as I was with Donal. Adam, who has similar tastes to Donal, actually enjoyed the Rogue chocolate quite a bit, which surprised me. He did not have any significant flavor feedback, but he did enjoy the “snap” too. Clearly, the physical engagement with the “snap” can be a satisfying “in” for people who have not done much or any intentional chocolate or food tasting. Sarah sampled both the Rogue and the Aynouse L’Artesa bars, and while she enjoyed the Rogue sample, she seemed to like the second sample better. Her immediate reaction to the Aynouse L’Artesa was to say that the flavor profile was more complex, but upon further consideration, she asserted that perhaps it had more to do with what seemed to be a greater amount of sugar in that bar when compared to the Rogue bar.
Combining the feedback from these two tastings leads to some interesting commentary on the types of tasters and an affirmation of the common flavor preferences for some, if not many, American chocolate consumers. While it was somewhat disappointing for me that Donal was not able to enjoy the craft and fine dark chocolate in the tasting, Barb Stuckey’s article suggests one possible reason why. Her husband, who cannot stomach many bitter flavors like red wine, green vegetables, or dark chocolate, is what is known as a supertaster, or as Stuckey prefers to say, a hypertaster. Both labels describe a member of the population with the highest number of taste buds on the tongue, which renders that person extra sensitive to strong or bitter flavors (20-21). It is possible that Donal is a supertaster, but it is also possible that he is a taster or tolerant taster (nontaster) who simply does not enjoy bitter flavors—Stuckey’s article makes it clear that the breakdown between hypertasters, tasters, and tolerant tasters cannot account for all food preferences, just as one way to understand some of them (29). Donal was familiar with these categories of tasters from his Science of Wine course, and we were able to have a conversation about taste and flavor preferences in the context of Linda Bartoshuk’s system.2
Another outcome from this wider chocolate tasting experiment was anecdotal evidence that supports the theory that many Americans prefer sweeter, milkier chocolate as a general rule. In “Big Sugar’s Little Lies,” Taubes and Couzens have documented the aggressive tactics of the American sugar industry to resist regulation of sugar consumption guidelines, to the detriment of Americans’ health. Unsurprisingly, thanks to these efforts, as well as other trends in food production and marketing, most Americans now have a strong taste for sugar and other sweet foods. I would argue that these marketing efforts have been so influential that they may have led Sarah to think initially that the more sugary chocolate was more flavorful, when in fact it simply had more sugar and cocoa butter in the recipe. Donal’s reactions also reflect the widespread preference for milk chocolate over dark chocolate in our society. While these preferences themselves are not “good” or “bad,” per se, they do have a strong influence on what types of foods we choose to consume, and they may be something for the craft and fine chocolate industry to consider as it evolves.3
My next steps, following this expedition? In short, to try more fine chocolate and share it with more people. While I have identified some of the issues with high end gourmet foods, and fine and craft chocolate in particular, Formaggio Kitchen is an excellent place to start for trying bean-to-bar chocolate if you are interested and live in the Boston or Cambridge area. I am curious to see what some of my other family and friends, particularly those who already have an affinity for dark chocolate, think of brands like Rogue and others. I also look forward to trying some dark milk chocolate with Donal, if he will consent to being a guinea pig one more time. While I acknowledge the problematic elitism of fine and craft chocolate, I also believe these products are providing a much needed perspective in an industry so otherwise dominated by only five companies. I look forward to supporting these small bean-to-bar companies, particularly the ethically sourced ones, now and in the future.
The Big Five chocolate companies—Hershey, Mars, Cadbury, Ferrero Rocher, and Nestlé (Allen 21)—do not include Trader Joe’s, of course, but they do dominate the market with incredible control over what kind of cacao is most commonly grown and therefore available to other chocolate manufacturers.
Donal has in fact taken one of the tests that assesses taster type, as a requirement for his Science of Wine class, and he is unsurprisingly either a taster or a hypertaster (supertaster).
Indeed, a growing number of small batch chocolate makers are offering “dark milk” chocolate bars, which are intended to appeal to consumers who prefer their fine chocolate with larger amounts of milk and sugar (Martin “Haute Patisserie”).
Thanks to Formaggio Kitchen for permission to take the pictures included in this blog post. The thoughts and opinions expressed here are my own.
Allen, Lawrence L. Chocolate Fortunes: The Battle for the Hearts, Minds, and Wallets of China’s Consumers. New York: AMACOM, 2010. Print.
Castell, Margarida, Francisco Jose Pérez-Cano, and Jean-François Bisson. “Clinical Benefits of Cocoa: An Overview.” Chocolate in Health and Nutrition. Ed. R.R. Watson et al. Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, 2013. 265-275. Print.
Coe, Sophie D. and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. Third Edition. London: Thames & Hudson, Ltd., 2013. Print.
formaggiokitchen.com. Formaggio Kitchen. Web. 10 May 2015.
Gasko, Colin. “Film Viewing and Rogue Chocolatier Tasting and Interview.” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard Extension School: Cambridge, MA. 6 May 2015. Class Lecture.
Martin, Carla D. “Film Viewing and Rogue Chocolatier Tasting and Interview.” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard Extension School: Cambridge, MA. 6 May 2015. Class Lecture.
Martin, Carla D. “Haute Patisserie, Artisan Chocolate, and Food Justice: The Future?” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard Extension School: Cambridge, MA. 29 Apr. 2015. Class Lecture.
Chocolate is a delicious commodity enjoyed throughout the world. However, chocolate tastes and consumption patterns vary from region to region. For example, chocolate produced for Americans is often made very sweet, contains less cacao and cocoa butter, and many times becomes an impulse buy or guilty pleasure. Chocolate is also heavily marketed towards children in the United States, and most of the chocolate consumed by Americans is from Big Chocolate companies such as Hershey. However, in many European countries, chocolate is often more luxurious and rich, is complemented with a variety of fruity and spicy flavors, and is marketed more towards the adult population. In addition, European chocolate is often more expensive given its target audience and higher cacao content. It is important to note that each country within Europe makes chocolate slightly different and has its own unique consumption trends, but in general, most European chocolate is made with more sophistication and higher quality ingredients when compared to American chocolate which is often heavily corporatized and mass-produced. The differences between American and European chocolate are so stark that we can even witness them when comparing the chocolate found in international stores in the United States to the chocolate sold in American grocery stores. For the purposes of this paper, the chocolate sold in Cardullo’s and CVS will be compared and contrasted in order to demonstrate the differences between European and American chocolate. It will be argued that variations in ingredients, target audiences, and packaging are what influence and distinguish European and American chocolate tastes, advertising, and consumption trends.
Cardullo’s is a gourmet shop in Harvard Square that sells food ranging from fresh deli meats to jams to dried pasta. Many people, including myself, believe that the store is meant to be reflective of a European shop or cafe because the store sells mainly imported brands and gives off an international vibe with its rustic and crowded interior. What is interesting is that the only thing I have ever purchased from Cardullo’s has been chocolate, and when I revisited the store this past week I realized why: their chocolate selection is outstanding! Moreover, four out of the five times I bought chocolate from Cardullo’s, the chocolate wasn’t even for me, it was meant to be a gift for someone else.
When I think about why I chose Cardullo’s for the chocolate gifts, it was because I wanted my present to feel unique, luxurious, and thoughtful. I was not about to buy someone special a plain Hershey’s bar or a bag of Reese’s. I knew that Cardullo’s sold European chocolate brands and felt that European chocolate was high quality. I feel that this is a common perception, that European chocolate is more luxurious and better than American chocolate. This bias may be based on the idea that European chocolate often contains more cacao and cocoa butter than American chocolate, which is considered a sign of quality. This is because the United States only requires its chocolate to contain 10% cacao, while in Europe to be considered “chocolate”, a bar must be at least 20% cacao (Gourmet Boutique). Many argue that American chocolate producers care more about cost than quality when it comes to their chocolate which is why they use lower quality ingredients and mass-produce their chocolate unlike many European companies (Alberts and Cidell, 224). American chocolate companies using less cacao in their bars dates back to the beginnings of the Mars Company. Frank Mars tried several times to create a popular chocolate bar and eventually ran himself into debt (Brenner, 53). However, once he and his son invented the Milky Way in 1923 (which is chocolate nugget covered in a thin layer of chocolate) the company’s costs of production fell drastically because the bars contained less cacao (Brenner, 54-55). The bars immediately became popular because they were larger and cheaper than the other current chocolate bar at the time, Hershey’s (Brenner, 55). It was partially Mar’s usage of a cheaply made filled bar that led other American chocolate producers to try to use less cacao in their bars. The fact that the Hershey company mass-manufactured and got people habituated to milk chocolate with less cacao may be another reason why Americans accept chocolate with a lower cacao content today.
Getting back to the matter at hand, the imported chocolate at Cardullo’s did contain a significant amount of cacao, the lowest cacao content I saw being 23% in a standard chocolate bar. Most of the imported European chocolate also highlighted the cacao percentage on the front of their packaging, which is something I do not recall being included on most American-produced chocolate wrappers (see Figure 1 below). This marketing tactic enables European chocolate producers to tout the high levels of cacao they are using (Wolke).
I remember that selecting the chocolate gifts at Cardullo’s was extremely difficult because of the wide variety of chocolate brands and flavors they sold. On one occasion, I had trouble deciding and ended up buying five bars each with a different flavor: chili with cherry, dark milk, 88% dark, orange, and sea salt caramel. Upon revisiting the shop, I re-discovered some of these specific chocolate bars whose brands were Chocolat Bonnat (France), Valrhona (France), and Dolfin (Belgium). What enticed me about these particular bars were their intriguing flavors, some of which I had never seen before. Most of the flavors in Cardullo’s chocolate include nuts, spices, or fruits, which is actually common for European chocolate and contrasts with American chocolate which is usually complemented with caramel, nugget, and other sugary fillings. These more savory flavors used in European chocolate tie back to the Mesoamerican origins of chocolate. In fact, several scholars believe that “Europeans developed a taste for Indian chocolate, and they sought to recreate the indigenous chocolate experience” (Norton). These scholars also claim that this “cross-culturalization of taste” led Europeans to develop an appetite for spices and vanilla (Norton).
I also chose the bars because they had intricate and fancy wrappers that made the chocolate look expensive. These fancy wrappers are probably a marketing ploy, again to promote the perception that European chocolate is higher in quality and more glamorous. This perceived quality is also probably factored into the price of the chocolate because the chocolate bars were not the cheapest. The price of chocolate sold at Cardullo’s ranges from $5-$65 with the pricier chocolate items being gift baskets and large boxes of chocolates. To me, the prices are justified by the fact that the chocolate is imported and because of the customer base of the shop. Whether Cardullo’s intends to attract older people or not, their clientele is mainly working men and women and arguably international students. It is understandable that middle aged and older people visit this store: they can afford the food and have more singular tastes. It is also interesting to note that chocolate is mainly marketed towards adults in Europe which may be why it is more expensive and takes on a more sophisticated look (Graham).
European chocolate has not always been luxurious or marketed in this way, especially in France. Today, France creates some of the most artistic, romanticized, and well-known chocolate in the world, but this was not always the case (Terrio, 10). Until the 1970s, French confections were very traditional and quite plain. But towards the 1980s, French chocolatiers wanted to re-brand their chocolate and make it more of a specialty item. In order to do this, they began distinguishing themselves from pastry makers and confectioners, created a new taste standard for bitter dark chocolate, worked with the government and local authorities to establish themselves, and looked to the past to make sure their chocolate had cultural authenticity and didn’t appear mass-produced (Terrio, 12-15). Finally by 1990, French chocolatiers were being recognized as craftsmen and artisans for their authentic and creative work. The French chocolatiers were ultimately able to establish themselves because they placed a tremendous amount of time and effort into making small-batch chocolate which contrasted the mass-production and lower quality work conducted at larger chocolate factories and companies at the time (Terrio, 30-35). Nowadays, there are several fine French chocolate makers such as Valrhona and Bonnat.
Some of my concluding observations about Cardullo’s were that the store mainly sells its chocolates in single bar form as compared to in bulk, but also sells several chocolate confections such as bonbons and truffles. During my revisit, I also made sure to check the sugar content, fat content, and cacao content of many of the bars in the shop in order to compare them to the chocolate bars in CVS. Finally, on my way out, I asked an employee what chocolate he preferred, European or American. He quickly replied, “European of course! It is much more creamy and rich, and I am pretty sure it doesn’t contain weird ingredients like those used in Hershey’s”. Another employee chimed in saying, “It is definitely the smoothness that distinguishes the two”. This smoothness probably derives from the European’s use of extra cocoa butter, or can be attributed to the fact that Europeans (especially the Swiss) prefer smoother chocolate so they conche their chocolate for longer (Presilla, 126). Studies have found that American chocolate companies typically conche their chocolate for 18-20 hours, whereas Western European chocolate companies conche for 72 hours (Alberts and Cidell, 222).
Now onto CVS. CVS is a large drug store chain that offers everyday use items from beauty supplies to medications to snacks. When it comes to chocolate, American CVSs have a surprisingly decent selection. However, most of the chocolate sold is from Big Chocolate brands such as Mars, Nestle, and Hershey, which can be found in most convenience stores. CVS also carries some semi-luxurious brands such as Lindt and Godiva (both European brands), but on a small scale. Walking down the candy aisle at CVS was a much different experience than at Cardullo’s. For one, I actually felt quite overwhelmed by the bright packaging of the chocolate (a common color theme was using yellow or red). I also noticed that most of the chocolate brands used animated lettering on their wrappers. This eye-catching color scheme and lettering clearly contrasted Cardullo’s calm and intricate chocolate packaging and is most likely to attract children (see Figure 2 below). To reiterate, in the United States, chocolate companies often target children in their advertisements. As a side note, chocolate marketing towards children is actually a highly controversial topic, as it takes advantage of children’s developmental vulnerabilities and may be contributing to the childhood obesity epidemic (Martin).
Moreover, just like at Cardullo’s, the price of the chocolate at CVS is probably influenced by its targeted population and the type of people who visit the store. Since American chocolate is mainly marketed to children in the US, and CVS seems to be a weekly stop for the average person, it makes sense that their chocolate prices are extremely reasonable, ranging from $1-$15. This affordability allows the chocolate to be an impulse or everyday purchase. Another thing that somewhat differed between Cardullo’s and CVS chocolate was its placement in the store. The Cardullo’s chocolate was on the wall sort of close to the register as was the CVS chocolate, but CVS also had a row of chocolate bars right under the register to entice impulse buyers. Chocolate is considered to be more of a guilty pleasure or impulse purchase in America versus in Europe where people eat chocolate more regularly. This is because in Europe chocolate is viewed as a food rather than an indulgence (Alberts and Cidell, 224). This is also revealed in reports showing that Europeans consume about half of the world’s chocolate whereas the United States only consumes about 20% (CNN’s “Who consumes the most chocolate?”). This trend is possible because many European countries consume more chocolate per capita than the US (see Figure 3 below). Furthermore, in CVS the chocolate treats were mainly in bar form, were often sold in bulk, and did not come in luxury forms such as bonbons or truffles, again speaking to the target audience’s tastes and trends. This yet again reveals that American chocolate producers value cost over quality.
Finally, when examining the nutrition labels, it was evident that the chocolate in CVS contained more sugar, less fat from cocoa butter, and less cacao altogether. For example, a Cadbury Milk Bar from Cardullo’s contained 23% cacao, while a Hershey’s Bar from CVS only contained 11%. What was even more striking was when comparing the same Cadbury Milk Bars, an imported one from Cardullo’s and one from CVS, the nutrition facts and packaging were not equal (see Figure 4 below for a video of a family comparing the British Cadbury bar to the American one). It is also interesting to point out that the chocolate sold at Cardullo’s was mainly dark chocolate while CVS was capitalized by milk chocolate. This may be because children prefer sweeter milk chocolate to bitter dark chocolate which is a more acquired taste, or that dark chocolate is truer to the origin of chocolate which is why it is produced more often for European audiences. Regardless, this finding is not a coincidence in that Americans prefer lighter milk chocolate and Europeans prefer darker chocolate (Presilla, 119).
Figure 4: Video of a Family Trying a Cadbury Milk Bar from the UK vs. the US
In summary, I found Cardullo’s European chocolate and CVS’s American-produced chocolate to be radically different. What I discovered was that European chocolate contains more cacao, is occasionally complemented with unique spices and flavors, has more sophisticated packaging, and targets a more mature population. Moreover Europeans tend to prefer dark chocolate and consume chocolate more regularly than Americans. On the other hand, American-produced chocolate is sweeter with less cacao and more sugary fillings, utilizes bright and animated wrappers, is often mass-produced, and is marketed more towards children. With these differences in ingredients, packaging, and target audience, it is no wonder that European and American chocolate tastes, consumption trends, and advertising differ.
Celebrating its 89th year as one of the world’s most popular premium chocolate confectionaries, Godiva has expanded its reach far beyond Belgium, where it was first founded, and now operates more than 600 of its own chocolate boutiques and shops globally. The chocolatier has secured a specialized niche spot in the sweets and chocolate industry. While distinct from large chocolate-manufacturing corporations, like Mars and Hershey’s, which sell their products for general casual mass consumption, Godiva also does not have the localized focus of haute craft chocolatiers, which heavily emphasize quality over quantity when it comes to what they sell. With arguably only a few similar direct competitors in this market, such as Lindt and Ghirardelli, Godiva balances the high-end appeal of its products with their accessibility – selling the chocolate as an “affordable luxury”. As measured in terms of profitability and brand recognition, Godiva’s success as a business can be largely attributed to the chocolatier’s understanding of the fine chocolate market and the particular methods it uses to capitalize on that understanding of how the consumers relate to the product. Specifically, Godiva displays the knowledge that for the consumer, chocolate consumption is not purely rooted in taste, but rather encapsulates various other components of the consumption experience, including how it speaks to their identity and relation to society. Chocolate cannot be successfully sold on the basis of the quality and nature of the product itself; rather, the entire context surrounding the product – what it symbolizes, how it’s presented, what purpose it serves, how it relates to other goods – all have to be taken into consideration. Since these social components can vary among different cultures and groups of people, all this contributes to the formation of a personalized chocolate experience that will effectively appeal to consumers.
In contrast to the perspective that taste is a universal and natural quality that people can experience objectively, there are many arguments that explain that taste is actually a social experience – one that is constructed in and affected by the context of the surrounding cultural and social environment (Norton, 2006). There is no pure and ideal form and understanding of “good” and “bad” taste; rather, such values are influenced by the way society is structured and who or what ranks at the top and bottom of the hierarchy. When it comes to consumption, people do not just consume for the sake of consuming. They are constantly thinking about what that consumption says about their identity and about their positioning and status in reference to others. They are thinking about how consuming other alternatives and substitutes may affect those statements they are making about themselves. As Mintz articulated in his 1985 book, Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History, sugar was once used as a symbol of rank and social prestige that distinguished the superior from the inferior when it was viewed as a luxury good. Over time, as sugar changed from being a good consumed only by the wealthy to one that was for the mass population, the implications of the product and the act of eating it also altered. The same goes for chocolate. Especially as a good that is not an absolute necessity for survival, the connotations of eating it are sometimes even more important for consumers than the actual product itself. Thus, great care has to be taken into shaping those implications surrounding chocolate, which is reflected specifically in how it is produced and sold.
Artisanal chocolatiers frequently elaborate on how specialized and unique their chocolate is in terms of the care that goes into recipe creation, ingredient selection, actual production, and ultimate presentation. These chocolate craftsman also express outrage at large chocolate mass-producing corporations entering the market and selling their products as substitutes to the chocolate works of art concocted by these specialized confectionaries (Terrio, 2000). Furthermore, they express even greater frustration for how most consumers are not even able to distinguish between these mass-produced sweets, which are often formulated with cheap and artificial ingredients and flavoring, and the authentic and high-quality chocolate they make. This simply demonstrates how unless an individual is a thoroughly educated and informed consumer who specifically seeks out fine chocolate because of an understanding of the production and implications of the product, there is a limit to how much consumers know and care, and how much money and effort they are willing to spend on the eating experience of chocolate (Williams & Eber, 2012). Of course, that is not to say that all consumers don’t see a difference between a cheap candy bar they pick up at a local convenience store and an intricately designed truffle they select from a chocolate boutique. What is most significant about this pattern of behavior is that in a sense, for the general consumer, the consumption of chocolate is not solely about the pure quality of the product itself and its taste, but is also highly dependent on external factors, like its packaging, reputation, and purpose.
Godiva appeals to this specific type of consumer – the average person who doesn’t have extensive knowledge (nor really wants to obtain it) about fine chocolate, so relies heavily on the image and story that is marketed to him/her about the product, who at the same time still wants to elevate his/her status and demonstrate an appreciation for goods of higher quality. Recent trends in chocolate sales indicate specifically an increase in the popularity of premium chocolate. Back between 2002 and 2006, the overall chocolate market grew at a rate of about 17%, while the premium chocolate sector grew at a rate of nearly 70% in that same five-year period (Rupani, 2007). Vreeland & Associates, a confectionary industry market research firm, reported that in the United States, the chocolate market grew to $19.29 billion in 2011 and that premium chocolate accounted for $2.7 billion of those sales, with an expected continual growth of 10% annually (Williams & Eber, 2012). People figure that if they are going to indulge, they might as well treat themselves with a product that tastes better, looks better, and feels better than convenience store candy bars, especially if it’s not unreasonably more expensive or effortful to consume. However, what exactly constitutes “premium chocolate” is subjective to the consumer. The standards could consist of the quality of the cocoa beans and other ingredients, the intricacy of the manufacturing process, whether the chocolate is organic or certified, how distinctly different it tastes from other chocolate, whether it’s artfully packaged – some of these characteristics being valued more than others by different people. Chocolatiers play a significant role in defining the standards of what constitutes refined taste and gourmet chocolate and educating the consumers in that regard (Terrio, 2000). After these standards are set, consumers then buy into the system and internalize and reinforce the evaluations by buying, eating, and gifting particular chocolates with specific social agendas in mind. Godiva is able to consistently hold a unique place in consumers’ lives by continually reinforcing the idea that its brand and products do indeed define and embody what consumers want from “premium chocolate”.
One of the greatest strengths of the company that also contribute to it being automatically grouped with higher-end chocolate brands is the longstanding image and recognizable product packaging associated with the chocolatier – people instantly recognize when the chocolate is Godiva.
From the embossed trademark of the courageous Lady Godiva who rode naked through Coventry in efforts to repeal unfair taxation on the citizens to the shimmering gold ballotin down to the satin ribbon tying the whole box together, Godiva’s packaging has been making an eye-catching and impressive statement of class, boldness, and timelessness for decades. When consumers think about Godiva, it is not necessarily the chocolate itself that comes to mind, but the entire wrapped package. In fact, the popularity of buying Godiva as gifts, particularly around special occasions like holidays and birthdays, can most likely be attributed to the brand’s exceptionally alluring appearance. Godiva representatives even agrees that their chocolate is specifically packaged in a way that doesn’t require the consumer to gift-wrap, making it the perfect present.
However, in recent years, especially with some of the setbacks in the economy, Godiva has made a move to change the focus of its business to encompass more than the gifting capability of its products. It has slightly rebranded to allow customers to view the chocolatier in a new way – a brand that they can rely on not only for seasonal gifting, but also for personal indulgence and casual sharing any time of the year. In this sense, the company is differentiating itself from the artisanal craft chocolatiers. Godiva recognizes that its customer reach is global and much less niche than these gourmet shops and subsequently, needs to capitalize on the affordability and accessibility of its chocolate to appeal to its wider and more diverse market share. Thus, the chocolatier has now balanced out the boxes of three dozen assorted chocolates that retail for $50 and lines of fancily designed truffles with new $6 soft serve, frozen Trufflelata drinks (that resemble and are priced similarly to Starbucks Frappuccinos), and individually-wrapped chocolate treats called Godiva Gems (Historic Change, 2014). They’ve started putting their chocolate in grocery stores to appeal to consumers who are looking for treats with more casual and everyday purposes in mind. However, at the same time, the chocolatier is still maintaining its high-quality, premium placement in the chocolate market. This new branding strategy has been doing well for the company, with Godiva sales growing at 10% every year since 2008 and putting its worth at $765 million in 2013 (Historic Change, 2014).
Godiva’s consumer-driven strategy and thorough understanding of the aspects of its products that are most marketable are evident in the way it segments its consumer base and how that’s reflected in the chocolatier’s product advertising. There can be distinct comparisons drawn between Godiva’s promotional tactics in the different countries where its chocolate is sold. In the United States, for example, the accessibility, easy-sharing, and delightful self-indulgence appeal of Godiva chocolate is emphasized.
This commercial campaign targeting American consumers sold Godiva as something that people can fill all aspects of their lives with.
Meanwhile, in Asia, other methods are used. The gift-giving functionality of the chocolate for special occasions, like Valentine’s Day, and the unique addition they contribute to extraordinary celebrations, like weddings, are highlighted in the promotional efforts in countries like Japan and China.
In this Japanese commercial, the chocolate is specially wrapped in pink for Valentine’s Day and given between lovers in celebration of romance. Another noteworthy component of both this and the U.S. commercial is that they both emphasize the foreign nature of Godiva – the former one choosing to have the commercial star a Caucasian couple rather than an Asian one, and the latter including a narrator with what is presumably a Belgian accent. The European exoticism of the company contributes to the overall special quality and luxury image of the chocolatier.
This next promotional video that introduces the new Godiva wedding collection that will be sold in China includes a famous Chinese actress to market the new product line.
China has traditionally been a more difficult market for chocolate companies to break into, because the Chinese have a cultural taste for treats that aren’t sweetened with cream-based fillings, which are quite widespread among European desserts (William & Eber, 2012). However, it’s extremely popular for the Chinese to buy chocolates as gifts or as tangible celebration symbols, and when they do so, they want the chocolate to have the appearance and taste of rareness and high quality. The knowledge of the consumer preference in this region of the world shapes Godiva’s marketing strategy here. Instead of following an advertising campaign similar to the one in the U.S., the confectionary went in a different direction to appeal to this particular market. Moreover, Godiva even created a new chocolate collection just this year for Chinese New Year, a holiday that involves plenty of gift giving and celebrations.
The collection was promoted on Godiva’s popular Facebook page in February. The posts and pictures indicate a clear knowledge of the cultural traditions involved with the holiday – placing the plate of Godiva chocolates on a table with other foods that are eaten for Lunar New Year and Chinese decorations that resemble prosperity and luck. The collection’s popularity is evident with the immediate release of the design for next year’s Chinese New Year (Year of the Monkey), which boasts the same recognizable gold and red Godiva holiday packaging, but features an embossed picture of a monkey alongside the Godiva trademark.
Chocolate consumption in the Asia-Pacific region is predicted to grow at almost twice the global chocolate consumption rate over the next four years and is predicted to reach $16.3 billion in 2018 (Chanjaroen, 2014). Godiva takes advantage of the unique market placement of its chocolate – which contrasts with mass-production companies like Hershey’s, which more directly face Chinese domestic competitors – and expands its product lines for these Asian countries based on what it knows the consumers there favor most about the brand.
Godiva’s success as an internationally recognized premium chocolatier has less to do with the actual taste of its chocolate, especially when compared to other high-end gourmet chocolate brands, than with the way it sells the chocolate consumption experience to its consumers. Of course, this is not to say that Godiva chocolate is no better, in terms of ingredients and manufacturing quality, than chocolate mass-producing companies like Nestle and Mars; the luxury and premium quality of the brand indeed comes from somewhere. However, Godiva is not quite categorized in the same group as true artisan and fine chocolate shops that are really focused on the craft of chocolate making and tasting. What the global confectioner’s success and popularity is rooted in is its unique take on the experience of eating chocolate. Godiva expertly addresses every part of this entire consumption experience from beginning to end, from the way the chocolate looks aesthetically to the purpose for which it’s purchased to what it’s like to eat and taste it to what it says about the consumer who buys it, in terms of both individual and social identity. All of these different components are carefully analyzed and personalized for each individual consumer segment in the market that Godiva operates in. Even so, at the end of the day, in all these various regions around the world, the combination of that gold ballotin and satin ribbon conjures up similar overarching notions of decadence, luxury, tradition, and timelessness.
Since the 19th century, African American women have been the victims of many harsh and untrue stereotypes surrounding their appearance and behavior. Unfortunately this still holds true even for today. In May 2011, Cadbury, a well known and successful United Kingdom (UK) chocolate manufacturer, decided to launch its campaign for its chocolate bar, Dairy Milk Bliss. This campaign proved a wrong move for Cadbury as it displayed overtly racist undertones, inciting anger from Naomi Campbell, the model who was targeted by the ad, and the international African American community. Cadbury’s Dairy Milk Bliss not only directly likened Campbell to chocolate but also perpetuated a negative Diva stereotype about African American women, unnecessarily adding to a long history of African American women being wrongly characterized and portrayed at their own expense for the profits of others. By promoting such hurtful stereotypes Cadbury not only further damaged the image of African American women across the globe, but also contributed to the psychological trauma of African American girls of today.
To understand the Diva stereotype, one must first understand the Jezebel, the stereotype from which Diva evolved. The Jezebel was the “young, exotic, promiscuous and over-sexed woman (Stephens, 2003).” She was primitive, attention seeking, and could not control her own sexual appetite (Stephens, 2003). The Jezebel only thrives on the attention of men, using her sexuality to gain her access to her material goods and needs. Light skin, long straight hair, curvaceous, and loose, the Jezebel was used to justify the rape of enslaved women by their masters due to their “insatiable appetites” and continuous “seduction of white men”; in reality these women were continuously abused by their masters, used to satisfy their sexual desires and economic need for more “slave babies (Stephens, 2003).”
However, around the late 20th century the Diva stereotype broke out. Similar to the Jezebel, the Diva is light skin, long straight hair, and is traditionally pretty in a Eurocentric way (Stephens, 2003). She is considered a high maintenance woman with an attitude. She needs to be at the center of attention, and is incredibly appearance driven, spending tons of dollars and hours to keep up her clean, polished look (Stephens, 2003). Sexually, the Diva diverges from the Jezebel because although she is seductive, sultry, and at times immodest, she is never explicit or overt; she cultivates the image of being attractive yet unattainable through her smoldering looks, tight fitting clothing, and sassy walk (Stephen, 2003). Materialistically driven, the Diva is considered a woman who has made it and can afford to purchase her own goods. On the other hand, the Diva is also looking for a man who can “enhance what she already has” bringing a rise in income and status to her name (Stephens, 2003).
This is why with such a history behind the word Diva, Cadbury’s ad is 100% inappropriate. First, directly likening Naomi Campbell to chocolate is an insult as chocolate has many negative connotations such as dirty, impure, sinful, and exotic (Martin; Rosenthel et Vanderbeke, 2015). Cadbury cannot argue against this fact because out of thousands of models they chose to single out Campbell because of her race and because of her ability to fit the Diva stereotype. Light skin, long straight hair, and slim, Naomi physically fits the Diva mold. Because of her successful career as a model, she is seen as an African American woman who has “made it.” As a model, she is regarded as seductive and sultry, and is always put together. The materialist needs of the Diva (and essentially Naomi) are exaggerated by Cadbury as the Dairy Milk Bliss Bar is sitting in a sea of gems with a purple backdrop, suggesting luxury. The lines “Move over Naomi” and “I’m the world’s most pampered bar” adds insult to the wound as it continues the idea of Divas, specifically African American women, being rude, spoiled, and high maintenance.
The implication of Cadbury’s ad on young African American girls is also frightening. Currently, African American girls are one of the fastest growing groups contracting HIV and other STDs due to unsafe sexual practices (Davis et Tucker-Brown, 2013). In an attempt to understand the cause of this, researchers Dr. Davis and Dr. Tucker-Brown went about questioning African American female adolescents about potential causes for such sexual decisions. One topic was mainstream media’s affect. The adolescents felt that status for African Americans was tied into involvement in pop culture, specifically rap videos, where the women depicted were extremely sexualized and degraded. Because status for these girls is tied to luxury items and attention, many desire such status and are willing to do whatever it takes to get it, even if it requires degrading one’s body and self, promoting unsafe sexual practices, and having inaccurate portraits painted of one’s self. One of the girls, Peace, reported, “You get the bling [diamonds] when you are a video girl” noting “Everybody wants to wear Gucci or Prada and at our age how else are you going to have that kind of money? (Davis et Tucker-Brown, 2013)” Sabrina, another study participant, elaborated further stating “that girls her age just want to be known and have stuff (Davis et Tucker-Brown, 2013).” By perpetuating the Diva stereotype and the need for status and a sexual identity, Cadbury is further harming African American girls who already encounter such negative stereotypes in current mainstream media.
Thus, in an attempt to fix Cadbury’s ad our group created a new ad, removing all race analogies and Diva stereotypes from the article, changing it to reference Mr. Sandman and Dairy Milk Bliss’ superior dream inducing qualities. While we could make those changes, sadly some things could not be changed. For example, by using the color for royalty and fancy, elegant, cursive font, Cadbury is making a divisive statement about its company as a luxury brand, one that can only be afforded and should only be dreamt of by the upper classes. Therefore for future reference and success, our group recommends that Cadbury stop trying to create a divide between the classes and instead employ marketing techniques that attract people from all backgrounds, without it being at the expense of any marginalized community.
Davis, Sarita, and Aisha Tucker-Brown. “Effects of Black Sexual Stereotypes on Sexual Decision Making Among African American Women.” Journal of Pan African Studies 5.9 (2013): 111-28. Www.jpanaafrican.com. JPAS (Journal of Pan African Studies). Web. 10 Apr. 2015. <http://www.jpanafrican.com/docs/vol5no9/5.9Effects.pdf>.