Cambridge, Massachusetts presents consumers with a number of different retailers from whom to buy chocolate. And within and across these retailers, consumers are presented with a number of different options of flavors and brands of chocolate. I visited four stores in the Cambridge area that sell chocolate: CVS, Cardullos, Cambridge Naturals, and Formaggio Kitchen. After my visit to each of these stores, as well as spending time on each one’s respective website, I noticed an interesting dynamic surrounding the implied social class of each expected consumer base created through the selection of chocolate within each store. Helping to situate these findings are a number of academic sources that aided my discovery of this dynamic. By looking at the varying role of chocolate across markets, as evidenced by price and quantity, packaging and marketing, and surrounding retail items, one is able to use chocolate to determine the underlying social dynamics that connect contemporary ideas of nutrition and consumer class.
Price and Quantity
The price of food has an important impact on the quantity and quality of consumption for the global population. As Robert Albritton points out in his book “Between Obesity and Hunger: The Capitalist Food Industry”, price and quantity inextricably link nutrition and class. One quarter of the population suffers from a price point on food that is too high and are malnourished as a result of insufficient quantity (Albritton 342). A second quarter suffers at the hands of the price point in relation to quantity being too low, driving up their consumption and causing high levels of obesity (342). While the first example seems intuitive, the second deserves more exploration.
It seems counterintuitive that a corporation, created to profit from its sold goods, would provide a surplus of food to consumers at a low price. Why would these corporations not either reduce the amount of food they sell or raise prices? Why would consumers pay for more food than they need, and not spend the equivalent amount of money on appropriate portion sizes? The answer to the first question is that these corporations, often denoted as fast food companies, compete with each other for business, so it is in their interest to provide consumers with the most food at the lowest price, so as to win business. This works because of the incredibly low costs of production of this kind of food (344). The profit margin of cheap food is barely lowered by the addition of one more patty on a burger or a few more chicken nuggets in a meal. Therefore, the competition among fast food corporations results in lower prices and larger quantities of food, in a way that is not present in other types of restaurants that have the higher costs of production associated with a higher (and often times healthier) quality of food. As for consumers, the psychology of taste reveals that this type of food leads to over consumption as a result of its better taste and lack of the kinds of nutrients needed for a person to feel full (Benton 211). Lower classes that may be priced out of consistently eating healthy must turn to alternatives that are not only unhealthy but psychologically addicting. This means income not only affects material possessions, but health as well, which is much more concerning. While the example used above was fast food restaurants, a similar problem is visible today in the industry of chocolate consumerism.
An important example is the comparison of the chocolate selections in two stores in the Cambridge area, CVS and Cardullos. When comparing the average prices of similar quantities (as measured in ounces) of chocolate between the two stores, CVS appears to average .58 cents per ounce, while Cardullo averages .75 cents per ounce. Additionally, while the costs of CVS bars were lower on average, the average number of calories from each CVS bar was higher than Cardullos’ bars, with the majority of the caloric difference coming from a higher sugar content in CVS chocolate. While these are rough estimates I calculated by hand, the significant difference between them, along with what we know about the price and quantity relationship for cheap goods, is in line with what is to be expected from a store like CVS, known for its everyday items, and Cardullos, which prides itself on its “Gourmet international and local chocolates” suitable for the “chocolate connoisseurs” of Cambridge (Cardullos Web).
A second example of nutrition and class and how its relationship is demonstrated through the economic factors of price and quantity is found in chocolate’s role as a gift. Cambridge Naturals, a health and wellness store just outside of Porter Square, displays chocolate in a manner that provides evidence of the problematics of this relationship. The store sells chocolate mostly in small quantities meant for individual consumption. The chocolate is marketed alongside self-care products such as cbd oils, moisturizers and lotions.
Of note though, is the larger quantities of chocolate, which come packaged in a mock gift wrap, as if to say that while the buyer of the gift would never purchase such a quantity of chocolate for himself or herself, he or she would if it were to be given as a gift. It shows the consumers personal commitment to health, while also demonstrating their ability to pay more for a larger quantity of chocolate that will be given as a gift. The individual chocolate only exists in unornamented wrap, while the larger exists, with few exceptions, in decorative packaging. From this, the store seems to imply negative social connotations around both the giving of a single bar of chocolate as a gift as well as the purchase of a large quantity of chocolate for oneself. One could also make the argument that Cambridge Naturals is trying to balance the image of health it hopes to be associated with, with the higher profit margins that come from selling a larger amount of chocolate at a more expensive price. The store offers the consumer the ability to purchase the larger box of chocolate under the pretense that it is a gift, as the consumer would be remiss to indulge in such a quantity of chocolate by himself or herself.
Marketing and Packaging
This point segues nicely into what the packaging and marketing of chocolate say about the connection between class and nutrition. As discussed by Gary Taubes and Cristin Kearns Couzens in their blog “Big Sugar’s Sweet Little Lies,” many corporations, especially those selling goods with potentially detrimental effects to consumes’ health, have an incentive to put profits above human well-being. The most effective way they have done this in the past is through targeted marketing campaigns that address the controversial aspects of their business. The Sugar Association, which faced potential regulation from the FDA in the 1960s, spent millions on convoluting the idea that sugar was unhealthy. The crux of their argument was that “there was no conclusive evidence” sugar had negative effects to a person’s health (Taubes par. 3). Of course, no study is infallible, and the exercise of picking independent details off as inaccurate in order to invalidate an entire study feels like a reprehensible strategy. The Sugar Association shifted the burden of proof off of themselves and onto other agents, meaning they did not have to prove sugar was healthy, rather, until it was proved definitively by these outside agents that it was categorically unhealthy, no judgment could be made (par. 8).
While Taubes and Couzens focused on how marketing fought against the idea their products were not nutritious, Emma Robertson’s analysis of marketing in “Chocolate Women and Empires” shows how companies would reinforce social stereotypes through their ads depicting idealized consumption. There has been a long standing class separation between industrialized chocolate as that of the working class and craft as that of the sophisticated intellectuals (Robertson 3). Robertson focuses on the example of Rowntree’s attempt to associate their various chocolates with different social classes based on price and quality. For example, Rowntree depicted a sophisticated woman consuming one of their more expensive bars of chocolate (26). This not only targeted people within a certain class, but also those of a specific gender. Rowntree attempted to idealize all the classes in their activities. By doing so, they maintained an appeal to all markets across price points. Those in the lower class saw an idealized version of themselves eating a Rowntree chocolate bar. This type of advertising would have been more realistic, and therefore more appealing, than if they saw a wealthy person consuming chocolate. The message of Rowntree was not that if a person ate this chocolate they would elevate their social status, this would have been difficult to be convincing for obvious reasons. Instead the message was that if one eats this chocolate they become a better version of themselves. When the only difference between a person and the idealized version of that person was a bar of chocolate, that idealized version became more attainable. With this type of marketing, Rowntree bucketed people by social class and reinforced social inequity through expectations of the type of chocolate that person was consuming.
Coupled with Taubus’s and Couzens’s argument on nutrition, Emma Robertson’s analysis of marketing in “Chocolate Women and Empires” evidences how advertisers have pushed narratives in nutrition and class for the benefit of their own sales. These narratives have continued into contemporary society. Returning to the four chocolate stores, there are again two prime examples that can be explored. The first compares the packaging and marketing of CVS products with that of Formaggio Kitchen. These two stores share the largest discrepancy in price point of the four, which makes for a good comparison around how each advertises and packages their respective chocolates. CVS sections all of their chocolate under one category, arranged by increasing quantities, not by brands. In doing so they focus more on quantity than quality. The below image shows the increase sizes in quantity. The movement from right to left in the store is reflected in the below image moving top to bottom, with the right corresponding to top and far left corresponding to the bottom.
Consumers are expected to search by consumption and price. Formaggio Kitchen on the other hand, arranges their chocolates by brand, reflecting a consumer base that knows the kind of chocolate they want to purchase, with the quantity being of secondary consideration. CVS retails producers who package their chocolate in wrappers with larger amounts being encased by plastic bags. Formaggio Kitchen also uses wrappers for individual bars, but a comparison of the touch of the wrappers of those bars retailed by Formaggio Kitchen and those retailed by CVS exhibit’s a noticeable different in quality of wrapping. Many of the chocolates in Formaggio Kitchen contain thicker, smoother wrappers than those in CVS. While small, it is noticeable and enhances the experience of the consumer as he thumbs through the potential chocolate for purchase. Finally, nearly all of CVS advertises the price of their chocolate as being on sale, be it buy one–get one free, or a markdown from the original price. Formaggio Kitchen,on the other hand, is not as concerned with letting their consumer know the price, subtly displaying it below the bar. The differences in presentation of chocolate in these retail stores affirms who each store is trying to market to. Consumers who buy their chocolate at CVS are expected to be concerned with how much they want, and where they can get the best deal. Formaggio Kitchen consumers need to come in with more knowledge of the chocolates they are presented with, as traditional name brands are absent from the selection. Consumers are also expected to be less concerned with the price, a quality of those with higher incomes. The contrast between these two retail stores highlights contemporary class distinctions that markets, such as chocolate, attempt to capitalize on.
A second comparison is the online presence of these chocolate companies. Most notably is the prevalence of Cambridge Naturals Instagram page.
It is full of pictures of healthy, largely white, millennials holding Cambridge Natural products. The Instagram feed is linked at the bottom of every page one could visit within the Cambridge Naturals website, often with their most recent posts displayed. For context, all three other stores in this comparison do have Instagram’s, but the link is confined to the home page and only appears as a small icon at the bottom. And each Instagram appears to cater to a consumer base that is much more diverse than the one Cambridge Naturals hopes to attract. Through a handful of posts, Cambridge Naturals reinforces stereotypes that those who enjoy its craft chocolates are wealthy, white, healthy millennials. This depiction of the ideal consumer is dangerous. It shows a disregard for thoughtful advertising that can appeal to a consumer base without excluding a social class or body type. Again through these examples, as situated by scholarly articles, the link between nutrition and class becomes increasingly problematized through the chocolate industry.
Surrounding Retail Items
Finally, the last example I would like to present here is the importance of the experience for consumers, and the role it plays in connecting nutrition and class. Julie Guthman provides a good example of this with the consumption of organic salad mix by the noveau riche of San Francisco in her book, “Fast food/organic food: reflexive tastes and the making of ‘yuppie chow.’” Organic salad was first introduced as an organic food in restaurants that provided its consumers with the experience of dining with other sophisticated members of society who could also appreciate the importance of organic food (Guthman 503). The markups in restaurants made the salad mix inaccessible to the common people, and the idea of organic food as healthy caused body weight to be used as a measure of separation between social classes. Peter McNeil and Giorgio Riello also write about the importance of consumer experience and the role it played for members of various classes in “Luxury a Rich History.” Those who can afford to do so, have shifted their preferences away from brands as a measure of luxury and focused more on achieving the extraordinary through paid experience (McNeil 235). For retailers, the challenge is to create an environment that convinces the consumer of the value of their product. They can no longer rely on brand name and recognition, so the selection of the various kinds of products the retailer includes in the store is what creates the environment.
For CVS, their store has everyday items, ranging from school supplies and cleaning products to other snack foods. They aim to capture the everyday consumer who stops by to grab supplies in small amounts, such as laundry detergent, a snack, or shampoo. In many ways it is a better stocked, convenient store. The surrounding environment to the chocolate situates it as a low cost, everyday item that fits in with the overall consumer environment created by CVS. They hope to move product in large quantities, and their chocolate selection reflects this. The environment does its best to cater across classes by being accessible to the lowest one. Its food selection captures this approach, and as a result, explains why much of that food is not fruit or vegetables, but highly processed foods, including chocolate made by companies with an eye toward profits.
Cardullos, on the other hand, advertises a quintessential New England experience. The store contains a deli restaurant, wine selection and even “New England” goods. Their chocolate selection is meant to both benefit and enhance this environment for the consumer. Catered to those looking to experience New England, the store appears to appeal to tourists visiting Cambridge. It provides a place to get lunch, as well as purchase souvenirs in the form of wine or chocolate.
Those who can afford to travel are often in the upper echelons of society, and those who eat fresh deli food are at least somewhat health conscious, especially given the other food options they would have passed over in the square, such as Flat Patties and Felipe’s. By marketing the deli as quintessentially New England, an identity appealing to those who do not spend extended amounts of time in New England regularly, the chocolate is selected to reflect healthier and wealthier consumers. This deduction on its own may seem contrived, but given the large amount of evidence of such connection existing between nutrition and class, this assertion is well founded.
As mentioned previously, Cambridge Naturals selects products and brands that will collectively create an experience to appeal to their target demographic. Outside of chocolate, there are no other food products sold at Cambridge Naturals. The majority of the store is focused on self-care products, arranged cleanly in rows of the store. Given mainstream knowledge of chocolate is that it is generally unhealthy, seeing it in the store might seem somewhat out of place. Yet it is one of the three FCCI retailers that sells fine cacao, which minimizes additional ingredients to chocolate outside of cacao and sugar (Martin 4). As a healthier version of non-mainstream chocolate, the target consumer base of wealthier millennials can rely on the qualities of craft chocolate as an explanation for why it is marketed along health products. The variety of chocolate offered also indicates this approach has worked. Craft chocolate now comprises a significant part of the store and the brands have carved out a place among the consumerism of healthy, wealthy millennials.
Finally, the environment of Formaggio Kitchen is the most upscale. They market cheese, wine, and chocolate. The pairing of fine cheese and wine is known to be a practice engaged by the upper echelons of society. Formaggio Kitchen must feel then that their selection of chocolate would correspond to the type of luxurious environment those searching for wine and cheese would like to experience. In addition to food, Formaggio Kitchen also offers tasting classes that range from $40 to $100. Access to these classes being restricted to those with the desire and ability to pay for a class focused on learning about finer foods. The dynamics surrounding these types of classes are important, unlike cooking classes, Formaggio Kitchen does not teach you a skill but rather a knowledge. This knowledge can only be further utilized through the continual purchase of these more expensive foods one has learned about. So while the price of the class can be between $40 and $100, there are undoubtedly continued expenses to allow the student to utilize this knowledge.
This upper tier and what it says about nutrition and class are important. Unlike CVS, consumers are not purchasing chocolate based on cost, and unlike Cardullos and Cambridge Naturals, consumers are not even consuming healthier chocolate for the purposes of better nutrition. Formaggio Kitchen situates itself in a class of people that consume its product solely for the experience. Cheese, wine, and craft chocolate do not contain many of the essential calories needed for a complete meal. They are not consumed for their nutrition but rather for their taste, demonstrating how in the most elite parts of society, consumption of food may transcend nutritional value if it presents the consumer with an experience of luxury.
In conclusion, the versatility of chocolate makes it a very interesting food that is consumed across classes for a number of different reasons. As a result, an analysis of how it is retailed gives insights into the connected role class plays with nutrition. Those most worried about nutrition often seek to maximize their caloric intake with minimum price. Those seeking healthier chocolate often do so because they are able, and willing to pay more. And then those simply searching for the modern luxury of experience do so through chocolate, which has found a place alongside wine and cheese as a fine food that can provide such an experience.
Albritton, Robert. 2012. “Between Obesity and Hunger: The Capitalist Food Industry.” pp. 342-354
Benton, David. 2004. “The Biology and Psychology of Chocolate Craving.” pp. 205-218
“Cardullo’s Gift Baskets and Fine Wines.” Cardullo’s Gourmet Shoppe, cardullos.com/.
Guthman, Julie. 2012. “Fast food/organic food: reflexive tastes and the making of‘yuppie chow.’” pp. 496-509
McNeil, Peter and Giorgio Riello. 2015. Luxury: A Rich History. pp. 1-10, 225-293
Martin, Carla, “Sizing the craft chocolate market,” Fine Cacao and Chocolate Institute (blog),
August 31, 2017, https://chocolateinstitute.org/blog/sizing-the-craft-chocolate-market/.
Taubes, Gary and Christin Kearns Couzens. “Big Sugar’s Sweet Little Lies.”
“Cambridge Naturals” https://www.cambridgenaturals.com/
“Cardullo’s Gift Baskets and Fine Wines.” Cardullo’s Gourmet Shoppe, cardullos.com/.
“Formaggio Kitchen.” https://www.formaggiokitchen.com/