The purpose of my chocolate tasting was to see whether the attendees could discern between the four various categories for the sourcing and materialization of chocolate as discussed in class and the readings: (1) Direct Trade, (2) Fair Trade, (3) Organic, and (4) Industrialized. Because much of Chocolate class was about the social, anthropological, and economic impacts of and differences between each of these chocolate types, I thought this would be an excellent theme to my tasting that brings historical, socioeconomic, and taste-related views.
Figure 1. The fancy invitations I used to invite 7 participants to my tasting.
Figure 2. The participants of my chocolate tasting.
Types of Chocolate in the Tasting
(1) Direct Trade There are four general types of chocolate (based on its production processes) that we have learned in Chocolate class. The first is Direct Trade, also known as bean-to-bar chocolate, as these companies have control of its manufacturing process from growing and harvesting of the cacao bean all the way to its packaging and selling into a bar. Direct Trade chocolate is usually a chocolate company that directly deals with farmers. There’s a bit of variation in its manufacturing processes, but this leaves more room for negotiation from the different chocolate companies. Direct Trade companies may place environmental and labor factors into consideration, but not to as far of an extent as other chocolate types such as Fair Trade. In Direct Trade, there is less regulation because it is assumed that there is maximum control between the cacao harvesters, manufacturers, and packagers of the chocolate product. However, the very direct control of these Direct Trade chocolate companies costs a high premium, making their products quite expensive. Because of the rarity of a chocolate company having complete control of an entire chocolate farm, which is usually located outside of the U.S., solely for their company, the quantity of Direct Trade producers which exists is very low.
(2) Fair Trade The second category of chocolates presented was the Fair Trade chocolate type. These mass-produced confections are intended to guarantee a consistent smell and taste, achieved through rigorous oversight and a careful blending of cacao. According to Michael D’Antonio of Hershey: Milton S. Hershey’s Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams, using liquid condensed milk instead of the powdered milk that the Swiss favored, Schmalbach’s mixture was easier to move through various processes: “…it could be pumped, channeled, and poured — and it required less time for smoothing and grinding. Hershey would be able to make milk chocolate faster, and therefore cheaper, than the Europeans” (D’Antonio 2006: 108). With techniques like these that were melded again and again by Hershey a century ago, efficiency of methods for the mass-production and -distribution of chocolate was possible. However, these efficient industrialized methods definitely compromise the ethics of labor, environmentalism, and health-focuses of these chocolates.
(3) Organic The third type of chocolate that is explored in this tasting is Organic chocolate. Organic chocolates place an emphasis on health and the environment. They do not use pesticides, and because it places such a large, conscious emphasis on these issues, there is a loss of yield that occurs in terms of its production and consumption. These chocolate products also tend to be extremely expensive, for there is usually a rearrangement premium placed on their price tag. Additionally, although organic chocolate products focus on health-related and environmental issues, there is no standard for the laborers of its production. Organic chocolate products must also all undergo certification, and usually the bars themselves are sold in small proportions.
(4) Industrialized The final category of chocolates which were presented during the tasting was Industrialized chocolate. Fair Trade chocolates emphasize the moral ethics of the chocolate production. They prioritize producing ethical, labor-regulated goods, and for this reason they also weigh between ingredient and product. These products also require a certification by one or more of the various Fair Trade certification companies. These groups usually require a type of price threshold, which makes this type of chocolate a little bit more expensive. Fair Trade chocolates also take the environment into account, although oftentimes not as much as Organic chocolates do. Fair Trade chocolates also focus on community development.
Figure 3. The advertising and packaging used for each of the four chocolates used in my tasting.
(1) Direct Trade:
Taza Chocolate, Seriously Dark, 87% Cacao, Organic Dark Chocolate
Observations of Packaging:
Easy-to-read font that pops out
(2) Fair Trade:
Seattle Chocolate, Pike Place Espresso, Dark Chocolate Truffle Bar with Decaf Espresso
Observations of Packaging:
“Rainy coffeehouse hipster”
Cloudy color scheme (not as bright)
Lake Champlain Chocolates, Cacao Nibs & Dark Chocolate, 80% Cocoa
Observations of Packaging:
“Typical coffee colors”
Compromise between adult- and kid-themed packaging (could theoretically work for either audience)
Cadbury, Royal Dark, Dark Chocolate
Observations of Packaging:
“Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”
“Here There Will Be No Unhappiness.” Hershey Milton S. Hershey’s Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams, by Michael D D’Antonio, Simon & Schuster, 2006, pp. 106–126.
I grew up in a very traditional Chinese
household, where my mother and father took care in buying foods from Chinese
markets back in my small suburban Midwest hometown. The dishes I had growing up were the same
dishes that my mom and dad grew up eating in China, nutritionally balanced both
in terms of the U.S. government’s MyPlate standards and the Yin-Yang balance
that is rooted deep in Chinese culture and tradition. However, chocolate was never an element of
these meals. That is not to say that
I’ve never had chocolate before (whether it be in the sense of chocolates
handed out at school during a Valentine’s Day event or the occasional chocolate
gift from friends); nevertheless, our family has never had the habit of buying
chocolate. Our family’s traditions give
a peek at how China’s isolationist culture has created a barrier to
cacao-chocolate industries due to both traditional food tastes as well as an
ethnocentric pride against foreign products.
These long-standing traditions that tie back thousands of years into
China’s past provide insight into how some of the Big Five Companies— specifically
Ferrero Rocher, Cadbury, and Nestle—struggled to market chocolate to a Chinese
populace with virtually no exposure to the sweet treat.
A few years ago, I travelled back to China with my father and lived in Hangzhou, Zhejiang for two months. During this time, I was able to understand a lot of the atmosphere and culture surrounding one of China’s most popular cities. One of my biggest understandings in terms of food culture in Hangzhou was a very significant bias towards salty and umami foods. The supermarket shelves were lined with a large assortment of salty snacks; fish tofu snacks decorate the central aisle and classic sweet potato chips stand beckoningly one the cashier shelves. In the middle of the supermarket, small vendor-like counters offer mountains of steamed buns filled with a variety of meats, curries, and vegetable mixed filling. Every direction one looks gives sign after sign of foods that satisfy salty and umami tastes. On the other hand, a stark contrast between American and Chinese supermarkets is the distinct lack of assorted chocolate bars and snacks that are seen lining the cashier counters of stores in the U.S.; instead, these chocolate products are replaced by more traditional Chinese snacks such as bags of salted or seasoned sunflower seeds, an essential welcoming snack that is almost always offered to guests of the house in addition to fruit. This lack of presence in chocolate in China again ties into China’s traditional tastes. Because of the distinct food tastes among China’s population, chocolate has a hard time of showing up on supermarket shelves.
This struggle of incorporating chocolate into Chinese markets began in the 1980s and 1990s, when the Big Five companies all tried their hand at assimilating China’s near one billion population into the chocolate-loving consumerism, with each company bringing its own strategy and experience into China’s budding and diversifying market (Allen 15). Perhaps one of the biggest challenges facing these companies was trying to make chocolate desirable. From the beginning of China’s history, China has mostly isolated itself from the rest of the world. It wasn’t until the late 1900s when China marked the beginning of its transition from communism to market socialism (Allen 14). This transition came with consequences, as not all of China’s one billion citizens could catch up to the upcoming sweep of technological and social changes over the next few decades. In fact, less than 50 million people are living in the twenty-first century, while the rest of China’s population are in living conditions alike to that of the twentieth century or even from the late 19th century. This disconnect of most of China’s population to changes from modern day society probably was the main cause in the struggle that surrounded big cacao-chocolate companies. When chocolate first arrived in China in the 1980s, the isolated people of China perceived chocolate as a foreign good, something that they’d never interacted with in the past (Allen 11). Many families in China struggle to feed their families even today, so people prioritize more well-rounded nutrition over the luxurious delicacy that is chocolate. Knowing this, the Big Five chocolate companies all set foot into China’s emerging global market with the same amount of inexperience with Chinese consumers, all trying their hand at winning over one billion Chinese mouths whose tongues had never touched chocolate in any shape or form.
With its delicately wrapped chocolates in a golden-colored box, Ferrero Rocher was a brand that portrayed the good life. Despite the company being relatively new to the global confectionery scene (introduced in 1982 in comparison to 1907 for Hershey and 1923 for Mars), Ferrero Rocher has been the most successful in establishing a large presence in the global market, and it became one of the first companies to enter China and depict the ideal image of chocolate in the minds of Chinese consumers (Allen 42-43). Ferrero’s success in marketing chocolate to Chinese consumers originated from its intensely aggressive strategy of portraying its chocolate as the perfect gift. One of the integral parts of Chinese social etiquette is the concept of giving gifts. Regardless if the occasion is a wedding, a means to say thank you, or even just welcoming visiting guests into one’s home, gifts are deemed as a necessary and polite gesture towards each other. It’s not uncommon to see families offer baskets of fruit or home-cooked dishes as gifts to strengthen social connections and express good tidings. Ferrero Rocher saw this is a prime opportunity to take advantage of, targeting major festivals such as the Mid-Autumn Festival and Chinese New Year (Allen 62). The company mass produced its finely wrapped chocolates just before these holidays and placed them on shelves in popular shopping districts. The look of Ferrero Rocher’s chocolate satisfied the criteria that Chinese citizens look for in a gift: its lucky round shape and golden color combined with its status as a high-quality brand with fancy packaging strike a luxurious image in consumers’ hearts (Hermesauto). Ferrero Rocher’s mission was to ensure the quality of its chocolate, giving Chinese consumers something that they could enjoy by guaranteeing its high quality and elevating it to a social status worthy of gift giving.
Cadbury followed a similar initial path of chocolate distribution to Ferrero Rocher, but later the company took a new direction. Cadbury believed that the key to achieving success with chocolate in China would be to build infrastructure to mass produce chocolate within China itself. And so, in 1993, Cadbury established the first chocolate producing factory in the suburbs of Beijing (Coe & Coe 173). This marketing move came with drawbacks; Cadbury took many gambles on the ingredients it used, including using China’s fresh milk production system for its milk chocolate instead of the safer, albeit lesser quality powdered milk (Allen 75-76). Cadbury and Ferrero Rocher both show a willingness to adapt to the customs and traditions of the foreign land that they were trying to sell their chocolate to. In Ferrero’s case, it was adapting to the culture of gift-giving, while Cadbury took a stand at using China’s natural ingredients. On the other hand, Cadbury’s mission was different from Ferrero Rocher’s; instead of marketing their chocolate as a high-end luxury product that acted as a superior gift, Cadbury intended to make their chocolate a form of self-conception, to win over the pockets of Chinese consumers on the daily. However, the previously established image of chocolate as a luxury good would prove a painful stake in trying to incorporate chocolate into Chinese customers’ daily consumption (Zhou). Furthermore, the production of chocolate on mainland China came with many high costs: the risk that Cadbury took with using fresh milk from Chinese farm of questionable quality resulted in a cheesy smell and taste in their milk chocolate, a result of pasteurized milk. As a result, Cadbury’s reputation sank to a low point, and the company would continue to struggle in regaining the hearts of Chinese consumers. Another problem with Cadbury’s production came with its portioning; Chinese consumers favored food products that came in smaller portions, as that would present a smaller investment risk when purchasing the product for the first time (Allen 81). These problems would haunt Cadbury up to this day as it still has been unable to place a strong, cohesive foot onto the chocolate market in China.
Today, Nestlé’s brand is “Good Food, Good Life” (Nestle.com). This message embodied Nestlé’s results and efforts in the global market. Out of the Big Five companies, Nestlé is unique in its diverse line of products that offer not only rich chocolates but also included other offerings that would improve the health and nutrition of its consumers. Nestlé’s products earned the company a reputation for healthy products that would flood Chinese pantries and incorporate itself into the lives of millions of Chinese citizens, a feat that the other four big companies continue to struggle to achieve (Allen 145). This emphasis on health and nutrition ties in closely with Chinese traditions for maintaining health. One of the challenging aspects of selling chocolate in China is the product’s innate nature as a sugary food. These simple carbohydrates are often stigmatized by news and entertainment as a source of unhealthy calories, depicting chocolate as an indulgence rather than a staple food. On the other hand, branding is an essential part of China’s consumer culture; as Jason Cieslak from Forbes Councils notes, a brand is “a purpose that attracts and unites employees who bring the product and customer experience to life; a purpose that connects different market segments and product offerings into a broader story and an emotional connection to customers who see a brand as an extension of their own value system” (Cieslak). In other words, building up the brand of a company is important to establish a positive reputation with the consumer audience, thus leading to trust and connection between the brand and the consumer. Nestlé built its brand first through non-chocolate products such as developing milk hydrating and processing technology, which ultimately improved the health and nutrition of Chinese citizens (Allen 147-148). With this trust in place, Nestlé began exporting its chocolate, Kit-Kat, into Hong Kong, in the same way Cadbury and Ferrero Rocher began their chocolate expansion into China. Nestlé also ran into a similar problem as Cadbury in terms of the portioning of its chocolate. However, Nestlé decided that Kit-Kat’s seventy percent chocolate to thirty percent wafer composition possessed the light chocolate taste that would appeal to Chinese consumers, which preferred smaller proportions in food. This proved successful for Nestlé, and Kit-Kat became the most popular of Nestlé’s chocolates in China’s global confectionary market (Allen 150).
These three of the Big Five companies—Ferrero Rocher, Cadbury, and Nestlé—all had to adapt to the traditions and cultural habits of Chinese consumers. Ferrero Rocher conformed chocolate into a symbol of gift-giving. Cadbury utilized domestic practices and incorporated local fresh ingredients for their domestic chocolate production in China. And finally, Nestlé built its brand as a nutritious, healthy choice and formed a trustworthy partnership with Chinese consumers that gave its chocolate bar a solid reputation. Overall, all the cacao/chocolate companies that try to capitalize on China’s emerging market face the same problems of adjusting to the vastly different customs of Chinese customers by understanding the needs and wants of people that have virtually never laid eyes on a bar of chocolate.
Allen, Lawrence. “Chocolate Fortunes: The Battle for the
Hearts, Minds, and Wallets of China’s Consumers.” Thunderbird
International Business Review, vol. 52, no. 1, 2010, pp. 13–20.
Given the long and complex history
that the role of chocolate has been able to have in each and every one of our
lives, it is certainly surprising to see that, even in contemporary times,
chocolate continues to be a driving and compelling force in individual’s lives.
Given this significant impact, it is important to consider the manner(s) in
which some individual’s lives are changed and altered by a single food. For
this particular research study, I decided to meet with a friend whom I knew for
a fact has chocolate ranked as her favorite food item. Not only that, but the
majority of times that I have been able to meet with my friend in the past, she
has invariably either wanted grab a quick hot chocolate or has been eating a
chocolate bar herself. While this may seem as too much for some individuals,
for my friend, eating chocolate in the variety of different forms that the
product takes is a favorite pastime for her. Therefore, the premise of this
study will be analyzing an interview I was able to have with my friend and
being able to critique the manner in which there might have been certain
societal constructs that may or may have not contributed to the manner in which
she thinks about chocolate within her everyday life. More specifically, the aim
of this study was to figure out what impact, if any, the chocolate advertising
industry was able to shape the way my friend thought about chocolate as well as
to see if she felt that the chocolate industry could be doing something better
in terms of advertising its chocolate. For the purposes of this study, it
should be duly noted that my friend has requested to remain entirely anonymous
for this interview and, as such, the pseudonym, Angelica, has been assigned to
When starting the interview, my aim was to be able to keep the questions as unbiased as possible so as to make for a constructive use of our time and to keep the verbal data that was provided as clear from marginal error as possible. The first question that was asked of Angelica was regarding how she felt about chocolate and the way they advertise their products. Almost immediately, Angelica pointed out how the chocolate industry has been doing better than previous years in terms of being able to keep their advertisements out of the gender identity spectrum. To elaborate on this, Angelica was able to point to a particular advertisement that she saw a few years ago that she claims may have had a part in shaping the manner in which she thought about the chocolate industry as a whole. In the advertisement, the company, Dove, produced a commercial that seems to be hyper-sexualizing a woman eating chocolate whilst saying “The feeling of chocolate slowly melting on my tongue. The ultimate enjoyment should be as silky smooth as this.”V
seeing this, it is not difficult to see the manner in which the advertising
industry has aimed at shifting women’s role in chocolate, whom Emma Robertson,
author of Chocolate, Women and Empire: A
Social and Cultural History, states was pivotal in the success of the
chocolate industry as a whole (Cleall). In fact, upon mentioning this,
Angelica immediately showed me a different advertisement, this time displaying
men as the sexual objects of the chocolate industry.
be seen from these two sets of advertisements is that the chocolate industry
has been able to effectively incorporate what seem to be individual’s wants and
desires into the advertisements themselves. In a way, the advertisements serve
as indicators that if and when individuals decide to purchase the products that
are being sold to them, they will ultimately be able to feel very similar to
the way that the individuals in the commercials feel.
Having said this, it can then be
assumed that the chocolate advertising industry is comparable to a double-edged
sword. On one hand, advertising is that which allows different individuals to
become aware about a variety of products that they might not know about otherwise.
However, on the same token, it is equally important to acknowledge the fact
that the advertising industry is also able to have a degenerative effect on society
as a whole, especially when the intentions behind the advertising are malicious
in their very nature. For instance, a study conducted by the American Academy of Pediatrics focused
on the effect of marketing on younger individuals. In particular, the study was
able to come to the conclusion that there are, in fact, an influx of benefits
that could be extracted from advertising. At the same time, however, the study
was also able to find that advertising companies can very often have a distinctly
negative effect on children if and when the advertising is done with the wrong
intentions in mind (Lapierre). Such an example of this
would be if and when a chocolate company might be directing their marketing
efforts towards children in an attempt to be able to draw them out to purchase
their products at quite a young age. Given the fact that advertisers have an
in-depth understanding regarding how one’s psychological systems function, they
are able to understand that if and when a habit is formed at an early age, it
then becomes much more difficult to break such a habit later in one’s life.
What this means for the chocolate industry is the fact that a variety of these
chocolate companies might often times be directing their marketing efforts
towards children for the sole purpose of being able to draw them in, without keeping
their health in mind. Of course, these companies are well aware of the fact
that inducing a chocolate eating habit in a child’s life is certainly not the
healthiest option for a child, but for the sake of profit, these companies do
not seem to mind much.
In following with the interview,
when Angelica was specifically asked about what she thought about the manner in
which a high number of these chocolate companies would focus on drawing these children
in, her response was one of anger. Despite the fact that Angelica has been a
chocolate lover for as long as she can remember, it was quite evident that she
was upset about the manner in which these companies would spend such vast
amount of resources in order to be able to capture a child’s attention. At the premise
of this anger was her response, “Children do not know any better than to eat whatever
they deem delicious, yet companies certainly know much better.” Upon saying
this, Angelica pointed my attention to a 2013 advertisement that was produced
by Kit Kat, a well-recognized brand known for its production of chocolate bar
snacks. In the advertisement, it can be seen how children are in what appears
to be a hospital and these young individuals begin to dance and be overjoyed
the moment they notice that a doctor has a Kit Kat bar. V
being analyzed from an objective point of view, it could be clearly seen that
the advertisement should not be taken literally, as a simple chocolate bar
would most probably not be able to cause an influx of happiness for such a
large amount of people. However, the problem that should be of main concern
here is the fact that it is the children themselves who might be the ones who
watch an advertisement such as this one. Due to the manner in which children
would certainly not know any better but to accept the advertisement at face
value, this then goes to prove that the advertisement would be entirely
misleading. From a children’s perspective, a chocolate bar would indeed be able
to have the exact effect on a large number of other children, so a logical
train of thought for them would indicate that the children watching these advertisements
would condition themselves to believe that, they too, should be big advocates
for chocolate. By making use of this type of group mentality, big chocolate companies
are easily able to draw the attention of unsuspecting children who might not know
any better but to believe and therefore desire everything that they might see
on the Internet or any other form of media outlet for that matter.
Towards the end of the interview,
Angelica was then asked how she believed the overall candy industry could improve
their efforts in terms of who they market and how they go about doing this type
of marketing. With a prompt response, Angelica pointed out that the reason as
to why such a vast amount of companies are so willing to pursue these type of
advertising tactics is because it is often times what is easiest to do in order
to make profits. Given just how repeatable and easily replicated these types of
advertising tactics are, she pointed out that these companies have and will
continue to target young demographics in order to make their companies relevant
and to be able to sustain healthy revenues throughout the course of their existence.
In fact, in an article published by the United States National Library of
Medicine, the research found that “foods
marketed to children are predominantly high in sugar and fat, and as such are
inconsistent with national dietary recommendations” (Story).
Further, it discovered that food advertising brands will integrate themselves
into the lives of the average child in terms of being able to associate
themselves into the child’s mind at school, at home, or elsewhere. The impact of
this is that since these children are continually exposed to the clever
marketing tactics being employed by a variety of these companies, they fall
victims to their products, ultimately resulting as a negative externality on
Moving forward, one of the final questions that Angelica was asked was whether she believed that the chocolate industry targeted men or women equally. Here, Angelica pointed out that while not all chocolate advertisements objectify men and women, they go far lengths in order to draw out emotion from individuals. What is meant by this is the fact that an increasing amount of these chocolate advertisements focus more on the emotion that they might be able to draw from their audience instead of focusing on the product itself. One good example of this is pictured below, in which a woman portrayed running away from what appears to be a wave of chocolate.V
Whilst running away, the advertisement
is quite indicative of the fact that the woman is gladly running away and
appears to be in a state of bliss doing so. What can be seen here is that a lot
of these companies are well aware that since it is difficult to differentiate oneself
via the product of chocolate, they must therefore innovate and find other means
by which they might able to reach their target audience. This is evidenced by a
study conducted by the American Marketing Association, in which researchers
were interested in the correlation between emotional advertisements and engagement
on Internet advertisements (Teixeira). Having concluded in a positive correlation, it
can be clearly seen why so many of these companies opt to follow this course of
action as opposed to simply focusing on the product that they are intending to
Upon the conclusion of my interview with Angelica, she
pointed out that while a large portion of her life revolves around chocolate
and how much happiness it is ultimately able to bring her, she is saddened by
the manner in which a lot of the industry itself is run. In order to fix things,
she says companies should start to be entirely transparent about their true intentions
when running advertisements. Further, she stated that these very same companies
should stop their efforts in trying to “recruit” children into their brands at
such a young age. This change should not be expected anytime soon, however, given
the amount of money that these brands made from advertising to children. As
such, it is up to one’s own responsibility to continually question the things
that they see either online or offline when it comes to advertisements.
Lapierre, Matthew A., et al. “The Effect of Advertising on
Children and Adolescents.” Pediatrics, American Academy of
Pediatrics, 1 Nov. 2017,
Story, Mary, and Simone French. “Food Advertising and Marketing
Directed at Children and Adolescents in the US.” The International
Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, BioMed Central, 10
Feb. 2004, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC416565/.
Teixeira, Thales, et al. “Emotion-Induced Engagement in Internet
Video Advertisements – Thales Teixeira, Michel Wedel, Rik Pieters, 2012.” SAGE
Companies use Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) policies, where they publicly make an effort to behave ethically or give back to some cause, not only to improve the ethics of their operations but also as a marketing ploy. A related phenomenon, Cause-Related Marketing (CRM), capitalizes on consumers’ desires to feel like they are supporting an ethical business with ethical practices.
Marketing and strategy experts have written papers about how CSR and CRM campaigns work best when the campaign aligns with the corporation’s history and existing strategy, and cannot work if there is conflict (Porter and Kramer, 2006). For example, McDonald’s has been criticized for publicizing its support for children’s charities while also promoting unhealthy eating habits among children, and a tobacco company would not be able to believably promote a group that aims to prevent smoking amongst minors. Other campaigns fail simply because they are too broad in scope or jostling with other companies to be the one company that consumers understand are working in that problem space. But some companies are able to pull it off by selecting a specific area related to their brand: ConAgra Foods decided to promote its food brands by starting a campaign called Feeding Children Better, and Avon promoted breast cancer awareness as a woman-focused cosmetics company (Cone, Feldman, and DaSilva, 2003). Environmental sustainability practices have been called out as a particularly good way for companies to incorporate CSR because they are usually able to see financial savings as well as build consumer goodwill (Porter and Kramer, 2006).
The chocolate industry has been leading the field in terms of corporate social responsibility and cause marketing for generations. Chocolate companies such as Cadbury and Hershey have fostered reputations for caring work environments from the start, and Mars has been an early leader in operational effectiveness. With their multi-million dollar marketing budgets, each firm is definitely investing in doing CSR and CRM right, and their current CSR and CRM emphases can be traced back to their namesake founders’ values and priorities. Each firm has had its own unique journey from founding to current marketing strategy, and each strategy highlights the unique properties of that company.
Cadbury, now owned by Kraft, is extremely explicit that the latest Cadbury marketing campaign is designed explicitly to remind consumers about Cadbury’s history as a Quaker company with Quaker morals (Roderick, 2018). However, the path back to its Quaker roots after its acquisition by Kraft has been circuitous.
“Our founder John Cadbury was a philanthropist, and there are so many examples of acts of kindness that he did. The best example is the creation of Bournville, where he provided homes for factory workers, there was a doctor’s surgery and cricket and football pitches. That was a real example of his generosity, and we want our new global brand platform to shine a light on our roots, but also shine a light on acts of kindness existing today.”
Benazir Barlet-Batada, Cadbury brand equity lead
When Cadbury was initially founded during the height of the Industrial Revolution, factories were considered awful places; Cadbury built Bournville to be a “garden city” where workers could live happy lives as well as work productively in the chocolate factory. This was a moral imperative for Cadbury as a Quaker, and although critics pointed out that Cadbury’s paternalistic policies were not exactly perfect and rent in Bournville was too expensive for many Cadbury employees, the British government lauded Cadbury’s “model village” as an exemplar for other companies to follow (Satre, 2005). This glowing reputation survived the Sao Tome slavery scandal, and the public stance that the company took about caring about its sourcing may have inspired it to make Dairy Milk the first Fairtrade certified mass-produced chocolate bar generations later (Freedman, 2009).
Cadbury used its ethical reputation as an argument when fighting a hostile takeover bid from Kraft (Freedman, 2009). The hostile takeover succeeded in 2010, much to the chagrin of many Brits who were proud of Cadbury and the ideals it stood for and were worried that the acquisition would cause it to prioritize profits over social good. Kraft’s acquisition of Cadbury became an example of greedy American-style capitalism crushing the wholesome British chocolate company, with one reporter subtitling her article “How one of Britain’s best-loved brands went from a force for social good to the worst example of brutal corporate capitalism” (Fearn, 2016).
Their fears have been warranted: Kraft almost immediately broke (admittedly unrealistic from a business standpoint) promises to keep production in the UK, outsourcing production to Poland, as well as announcing that they would move away from Fairtrade and towards their own, in-house label called Cocoa Life (Martin, 2017). While Fairtrade UK published a defense of Cadbury, stating that “Fairtrade is going to be working even more closely with Cadbury from now on” to help them develop Cocoa Life standards, some critics are concerned that the lack of transparency if all companies begin constructing in-house policies will damage efforts for international fair trade standards (Crowther, 2016; Ionova, 2017).
Some marketing analysts imply that marketing campaigns after the takeover also lost touch with the British consumer base, and Cadbury cut short its planned 10-year campaign centered around Joy in the product (which began in 2012) to transition to the current one centered around Kindness (Roderick, 2018). Despite now being owned by a multinational giant, Cadbury hopes to remind people about its roots as an ethical company. Whether this new marketing campaign is effective at removing the shadow cast by Kraft’s ownership still remains to be seen, but you can watch one of their first ads of the campaign below:
To look beyond marketing campaigns at Cadbury’s stated Corporate Social Responsibility goals, we can look at Cadbury’s site, cadbury.co.uk, which has a section titled “Our Community” which lists their CSR projects: the Cadbury Foundation (donations to a diverse portfolio of initiatives), Cocoa Life (their Fairtrade replacement), and 30% less sugar (“helping chocolate-lovers manage their sugar intake better”). I would argue that the last example isn’t a great example of Corporate Social Responsibility, since it is more of a marketing point and not paired with any initiatives to proactively encourage healthier chocolate consumption, such as nutrition education. However, Cadbury does make it clear that its priority is communities like Bournville, emphasizing projects that its employees are passionate about, pointing back to the founders and their “investment in the welfare of their employees”, and writing about Cocoa Life’s impact on “cocoa communities”.
Cadbury interprets John Cadbury’s mission as one of community-building and philanthropy, and due to issues of brand perception after the Kraft takeover it is focusing its entire current marketing strategy on emphasizing that to consumers.
Like John Cadbury, Milton Hershey held strong moral views. As Michael D’Antonio describes in his 2006 book Hershey, he was very personally involved in every aspect of the development of his factory town down to the details of house construction. His policies of treating his workers fairly and with respect earned him great loyalty, and although it was tempered with the times when he overreacted, firing people for trivial offenses, the external world saw him as a kindly, paternalistic industrialist (D’Antonio, 2006). From the start, the Hershey Company focused on ethics as a marketing strategy.
People who purchased Hershey Chocolate weren’t buying a treat, they were contributing to a grand experiment that was going to prove that big business, often feared and resented, could do remarkable good
Michael d’antonio, author of hershey
Hershey has consistently maintained that image through the generations. However, it is difficult to maintain a Corporate Social Responsibility campaign on a general broad ideal, especially when the focal point of the ideals is one mortal man. Therefore, since Milton S. Hershey cannot live forever, and some of the factory town utopia ideals did not age extremely well, the Hershey Company had to narrow down its Corporate Social Responsibility focus.
The Hershey Company decided to focus on children as its unique differentiator to help its cause marketing initiatives stand up. Although Hershey’s work establishing his factory town was ground-breaking in the US, Cadbury had done the same work in the UK, and others had done similar work with less publicity around the world. But Milton and his wife Catherine’s pet philanthropic project, the Milton Hershey School, is unique to Hershey’s, and Hershey marketers seized on the theme of helping children.
Hershey’s website lists its CSR initiatives under a tab called “Shared Goodness“, which also lauds its history as “one of America’s first companies built with a purpose”. In addition to sponsoring the school, Hershey’s other CSR initiatives include “Shared Futures: The Heartwarming Project” for encouraging teens and their communities to make meaningful connections in the US and “Shared Business: Cocoa for Good” to work with the UN to improve conditions for children in cocoa-producing regions in addition to general policies for ethical operations. In the case of Cocoa for Good in particular, Hershey’s understands that the problem of improving conditions in cocoa-producing regions is a complex problem, so it doesn’t claim to solve any of the issues outright. Instead, it explains how its initiatives align with UN Sustainable Development Goals (The Hershey Company, 2018)
On its website, the Milton Hershey School proudly proclaims that it has been “providing life-changing opportunities for 110 years and counting”. In its Cocoa for Good press release, Hershey’s relates its goal to “nourish one million minds by 2020” back to the Hershey School, pointing out that both share the overall goal of “giving children the chance at a better future” (The Hershey Company, 2018).
Hershey has always been consistent with its value propositions and execution of CSR initiatives. Hershey’s proudly publishes an annual Corporate Social Responsibility report, signaling the importance that it places on those initiatives by elevating CSR to the same level of importance as annual financial reports. It also produces videos, one of which you can watch below:
Because it has been more consistent than Kraft-owned Cadbury in recent years, Hershey’s has room to explore with its marketing strategy, and its most recent ad campaign “heartwarming the world” is not as explicitly connected to Hershey’s progressive ideals (Wohl, 2018). However, it does share the basic theme of generosity and spreading the pleasure of Hershey’s, just as the company wants consumers to remember Hershey would have wanted.
Ever since the initial glowing reviews of Milton Hershey in the press, Hershey’s has been able to successfully position itself as an ethical chocolate producer that gives back. Regardless of whether the reputation is deserved, it has certainly been earned by 125 years of consistent marketing.
Like Hershey, Forrest Mars was very personally involved in the development of his business. Unlike Hershey and Cadbury, he did not have any pretensions of philanthropy. Instead, Forrest Mars made it very clear that he was in the chocolate business for the challenge of succeeding in the market. He was an early pioneer of Total Quality Management techniques, enforcing in the 1930s policies that it would take other American manufacturers until the 1980s to even begin to recognize the importance of. He could be compared to Steve Jobs in terms of personality, standards, and treatment of his employees, but his area of expertise makes him more of a Tim Cook. He built an emphasis on operations and quality into the backbone of his company (Brenner, 1999).
Forrest ran his businesses strictly by the numbers, but not in an accounting sense.
Joel Glenn Brenner, author of Emperors of chocolate
The concept that excellence in operations can be a corporate strategy in and of itself is a relatively new one, but it is a philosophy that Forrest Mars clearly supported. It requires an emphasis on quality and efficiency throughout the organization to ensure that the company can produce a better quality product faster and cheaper than any of their competitors. In order to succeed at this strategy, the reputation of the product should be able to stand for itself, and it should be relatively affordable, especially for such a high-quality product. Such an organization aligns extremely well with sustainability initiatives.
Sustainability initiatives have the dual benefit of being good ethically, and therefore building goodwill among potential consumers, as well as being good for the company’s profits as they are able to produce more efficiently when they produce less waste or use less raw material (Porter and Kramer, 2006). Forrest Mars’s hatred for waste and encouragement of rework very naturally evolves into a CSR initiative for sustainability.
Mars very recently rebranded to bring the focus away from candy, hinting that it would like to explore possibilities of conquering new markets, exactly as Forrest Mars would have wanted (Dworski, 2019). In fact, it is extremely difficult to tell from its website exactly what it is that the company sells. However, it is clear that sustainability is a major priority.
Mars has a very broad definition of “sustainability”, counting pretty much anything that could have a positive impact on the future, from analyzing its supply chain to find room for improvement to assisting veterinarians with student loan debts. While supply chain analysis makes perfect sense given Forrest Mars’s penchant for operations research, some of the more philanthropic examples might seem like a bit too much of a financial drain with no payoff for such a pragmatic company. However, investing in meeting high quality standards can also seem like a financial drain initially. Eventually, though, the investment pays out dividends, and it seems clear that Mars is continuing to follow that strategy.
Cadbury’s work with Fairtrade and its current owner Kraft’s return to the philosophy of kindness, Hershey’s work with children, and Mars’s work on sustainability are easily derived from their founding goals and priorities.
Porter, Michael E. and Kramer, Mark R. “The Link between Competitive Advantage and Corporate Social Responsibility”. Harvard Business Review, December 2006, pp. 78-93.
Upon entering Boston’s Italian market, Eataly, one can immediately feel the pervading sense of luxury. Starting with quality wines, cheeses, meats, and small bites, customers begin their mini Italian journey. After passing through sections of delicious selections of appetizer-like foods, customers move through the center of the marketplace where restaurants and food stands create a complete sensory experience analogous to the main meal in a gustatory journey. Throughout the entire experience, the Italian market presents itself in a very raw and natural form, turning away from luxury in the form of material wealth and focusing the customer on what people commonly associate with Italy to be a certain luxury of life. In fact, although one could easily see how expensive all of the products were in the market, the wealth required to lead this sort of “Italian” lifestyle is hidden behind the fact that it does not present many directly obvious or glaring forms of material luxury. However, the one place where it failed with this consistency in the representation of Italian luxury was, surprisingly, in the chocolate section.
The first important aspect to note about the section of the market that sold chocolate was that it came at the very end. A customer would have to travel through the rest of the store in order to reach this final area. This works for Eataly in the sense that it is logical to structure the market in the same way that a typical meal is structured. Chocolate and desserts come at the very end, clearly serving as an indulgence to finish off a gustatory experience in a perfect way. It is one last peek into paradise.
Throughout the journey up to this point, the experience and the luxurious ambiance has stayed fairly consistent. The customer is reminded of a simple, farmer’s market style of Italian life, and the luxury is communicated through quality of life rather than quality of material ownership. This is a crucial strategy that appeals widely to consumers given the new, developing concept of luxury, as Peter McNeil and Giorgio Riello describe in Luxury: a rich history:
“… ‘luxury is today more a condition than an object’. In other words, luxury is not just about acquiring an object, but is rather a way of living, of thinking, and of aspiring. Luxury aims to recover its uniqueness … by providing an experience that is unique in the acquisition and enjoyment of such goods … that might not necessarily be exceptional per se,” (McNeil and Riello 235).
However, there is a sudden shift from that environment when approaching the chocolate section. In fact, the brands and types of chocolate displayed convey two different messages to the customer, both of which distinguish themselves from the marketplace as a whole.
The first of the two atmospheres is one of material luxury, appealing to the artisanal quality of a product. These chocolates exhibited common packaging themes of shiny gold and silver labels, dark backgrounds, and text like “premium chocolate”, “product of Italy”, or “classic”. Many included obscure and unreadable Italian words in an attempt to appeal to consumers through use of smooth, sophisticated sounding words. Additionally, on signs that describe the brands, the customer can read various quotes that generally embody this appeal to Italian artisanry:
“Since 1826, Caffarel has been making chocolate in the traditional Piemontese way.”
“Baratti & Milano is part of the history and tradition of Italian confectionery.”
“Novi’s passion for chocolate stems from the ancient confectionery traditions of Piemonte.”
These bars and products were almost entirely pure dark chocolate products and the most commonly added ingredients (if any) were “Italian” additions like whole hazelnuts, coffee, or lemon. Price points were incredibly high, with products costing, for example, $55/lb, $44/lb, $36/lb, or $77/lb, to name a few.
An important aspect to note is that these brands that appealed to the artisanal and “pure Italian” quality of chocolates often failed to connect their story to the rest of the chocolate supply chain. As elaborated upon by McNeil and Riello: “A great deal of the national appeal of brands is created by cultural associations cemented through the clever use of advertising at a global level. Globalization, however, creates at the same time a sense of brand displacement. The ‘country of production’ of a product is often different from the ‘country of origin’ of the brand …, ” (McNeil and Riello 283). These companies are clearly seeking to appeal to a national identity in advertising their products, but consequently end up obscuring the entire supply chain and ignoring the regions and people that play a crucial role in the farming of cacao.
Unsurprisingly, these brands thus did not often cite any sort of certification or effort to integrate their chocolate production story with the rest of the supply chain. The focus was restricted to chocolate’s journey in Italy. This seems to be a characteristic that plagues smaller and more specialized chocolate producers in general:
“In the small, specialty chocolate maker category, there is some transparent trade, but in general the information about amount of specialty cacao purchased and price paid for that cacao provided by individual companies is minimal, and the burden thus falls to producers, consumers, or researchers to seek it out for themselves, an often impossible task,” (Martin).
The entire journey of cacao before reaching the hands of Italian chocolate manufacturers is nonexistent. This phenomenon is most often characteristic of nations that have been able to establish an international chocolate reputation. As Kristy Leissle states in Invisible West Africa: The Politics of Single Origin Chocolate:
“… somewhere along the way, the place of manufacturebecame more important to appreciating chocolate than the place of origin of the beans. ‘Belgian chocolate’ has more purchase than ‘Ghanaian cocoa,’ because chocolate eaters have become accustomed to the particular styles preferred by a handful of national palates…,” (Leissle 22).
So, clearly, while the rest of the market exudes a raw form of lifestyle luxury, these bars communicate a very different message. They create an association with material wealth – that of an elite and distinguishing sense.
However, this is not the only theme established in the chocolate market in Eataly. There exists another subset of chocolates that seem almost completely removed from the Italian artisanal quality of chocolate. These brands instead focus all of their energy in promoting an exotic image. The packaging is smaller, squarer, and rarely employs dark, luxurious colors. Packages are white or colorful, made with plastic or thin cardboard. They do not frequently employ gold text or luxurious images. Yet, almost all of the chocolate sold remained dark, with few products dipping below 60% dark chocolate.
These brands add various unique ingredients like Sichuan pepper, matcha, passionfruit, goji berries, ginseng, and more into their products. The choice of ingredient addition tends to go along with what is commonly associated with Western perception of health or medicine in foreign (particularly Eastern) countries. Western culture has adopted exactly these ingredients (tropical fruits, Asian spices, and more) as a part of a new, hipster health fad. The fact that these “healthy” ingredients were chosen to be added to chocolate makes it clear that these brands are trying to appeal to chocolate’s exotic, fantastical quality: that is has “magical” health benefits. Other brands on the shelves made an even more obvious appeal to this common conception of chocolate, associating specific bars with arbitrary qualities such as “health”, “beauty”, or “leisure”.
This is an interesting characteristic of these brands, since they seem to advertise more strongly the idea of “quality of life/condition” as described by McNeil and Riello: “[f]ood, but also wine, spirits, and confectionery, are appreciated not just because of their price or intrinsic taste but because of their lifestyle association,” (McNeil and Riello 240). This would seem to be consistent with the ambience of the rest of the market. However, the aggressive attempt to mash together the rest of the world under the single label of “exotic” in order to distinguish their chocolate makes it difficult to see how it connects to the apparent Italian authenticity of the rest of the store or even to the regions of world that it is trying to represent.
Maybe because of this appeal, these chocolates also have very high price points. Prices included $40/lb, $60/lb, $74/lb, and even reached $180/lb at times. Yet, we can see that none of these brands have truly succeeded in representing the world for what it is through chocolate; thus, they justify their price points through an incomplete image of the world and the consumer’s role in the supply chain. Evidently, the mixing of ingredients from various nations that are known to have an exotic appeal to western customers is a testament to the fact that these chocolate brands may be choosing to oversimplify the gastronomical complexity and value of other cultures and nations, choosing instead to group it under a single category meant to entertain western customers more than educate them.
As an example of this, the brand “Domori” focuses very seriously on the origin of the cacao bean used to produce each bar, making that the focus of the packaging on their chocolate products. However, taking a closer look at this “origin conscious packaging” reveals a slightly different story. For example, for chocolate from Venezuela, one can see that the center of the image on the packaging is that of a sloth on a tropical tree. However, sloths have absolutely nothing to do with cacao besides the fact that are both present in Venezuelan ecosystems.
On another packaging, the focus is on criollo cacao, with the central image being a cacao tree and a single pod broken open to reveal the inside. Yet, the cacao pod is represented poorly, with seeds looking more like dry nuts loosely packed in the pod than the real, dense, fruit covered seeds.
From all of this information, it appears that the brand appeal to the Italian craft of chocolate provides a more accurate and consistent story than the exotic brands. Although they may not present a complete representation of Italy through their chocolate products either, the other exotic brands fall more easily into traps of misrepresentation. As Leissle states, “Packaging aesthetics range from whimsical … to sober … but the primary lure is nearly always an exotic representation of chocolate’s origins,” (Leissle 25), and this is exactly what can be seen in the products presented at Eataly.
As another example, the brand donna Elvira’s chocolate packaging includes winding and twisting tree branches, with cacao pods growing not from the trunks of these trees, but from the ends of flimsy, almost twig-like branches, which is known to be inaccurate. Cacao grows on the trunks of the tree as well as on the lower, thicker, and sturdier branches. Additionally, climbing through these branches are figures that appear to be half monkey, half human, with facial features reminding one of blackface. As Robertson says,
“The use of black people in advertising has a long history. As Jan Pieterse demonstrates, products made available through the use of slave labour, such as coffee and cocoa, often used, and many still use, images of black people to enhance their luxury status,” (Robertson 36).
So it is not surprising, given this information, that we find a brand that egregiously and unacceptably exploits this same advertising scheme that has been used since the times of colonialism. Moreover,
“… images of Africa in U.S. media fall generally into one or two categories – Africa as ‘trouble,’ which includes poverty, conflict, debt, and HIV/AIDS, and Africa as ‘curiosity,’ which involved tribal people wearing colorful clothes and beads, hunting, gathering, and living close to nature,” (Leissle 26). From this, it is evident that the brand donna Elvira has appealed strongly to the second stereotype, depicting black people as wild, silly monkeys in a natural environment gathering cacao pods. Not only does this packaging serve as a misrepresentation of cacao farming, but of an entire race and region of the world.
Additionally, these brands appealed to exoticism through modes of production, truly extending their attempts to distinguish themselves in every manner possible. Chocolate brands advertised modica chocolate, cold pressed chocolate, or handmade chocolate. In fact, as Leissle writes, “ … images are powerful, because they generate an escapist fantasy, inviting the shopper to experience a place more wonderful and tropical than wherever they are (probably) standing when buying the bar … Unusual, seductive words – Sambirano, Dos Rios, Esmeraldas – localize the chocolate in a mysterious place, always far distant,” (Leissle 25).
Therefore, when one looks close enough, it is quite obvious that these brands are looking for an exotic appeal, trusting that their customers will not pay too much attention to the details (or overlooking them themselves). This basic exotic appeal avoids a truly in-depth connection between the customer and the journey of the cacao bean to the chocolate bar. The goal is to create a fantastical world for the customer, not to represent the reality of the regions and cultures that it is taking advantage of.
On the other hand, those brands appealing to luxury and quality fell into another trap with these exotic brands of associating quality with perfection, sustainability, and success. “Even more, it is not uncommon to encounter the dangerous idea that quality of chocolate is directly linked with quality of life of cacao producer. That a cacao sample is of superior quality does not imply that those who produced it have better lives. Flavor is insufficient evidence,” (Martin). It seems like this is the mistake that many customers of Eataly could potentially be making, thinking that quality of chocolate is directly associated with a perfect brand engagement with all aspects of the supply chain.
It is clear that the chocolate section of Eataly presents an inconsistent image with regards to the rest of the marketplace, and the various messages that it attempts to communicate obscure many aspects of the cacao supply chain. It attracts people with claims of luxury and exoticism that end up creating a false sense of “chocolate consciousness”. This is not to say that the chocolates are of poor quality. In fact, they are very likely to be delicious. However, this is to say that whether or not these brands are aware of it, they appear to still fall victim to common stereotypes and marketing strategies, overlooking the complete impact of their products on the way they represent the chocolate supply chain and their actions to consumers.
Martin, Carla D. “Sizing the Craft Chocolate Market.” Fine Cacao and Chocolate Institute, Fine Cacao and Chocolate Institute, 31 Aug. 2017, chocolateinstitute.org/blog/sizing-the-craft-chocolate-market/.
McNeil, Peter, and Giorgio Riello. Luxury: a Rich History. Oxford University Press, 2015.
Robertson, Emma. Chocolate, Women, and Empire: A Social and Cultural History. Manchester University Press, 2009.
Chocolate is an intriguing treat, junk food, energy snack, medicinal food, etc. This sentence itself is interesting in and of itself since chocolate is a type of food that can be labeled in so many different ways. This is not necessarily the case because there are an endless number of versions of chocolates, but it has instead been the result of the myriad of different ways in which chocolate has been marketed to different demographics throughout the years. As we have seen in our course, “Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food,” the way in which chocolate has been viewed has changed in many ways since it has been demonized by religious groups in the first half of the 20th century 1, it has also been “sanctified as a thoroughly American food” in the 1920’s 2, and if you go back to the 18th and 19th century, then you see that chocolate was marketed as a food that you could ingest as medicine to improve health 3. However, the contemporary state of the cacao-chocolate industry has led chocolate as a food to be seen and marketed in new ways that have been a response to the societal changes that have influenced the role that chocolate has in our society. The chocolate industry has started to market chocolate towards adults in recent years and they have started to put less focus on marketing to children. This shift in marketing has largely been the result of the fact that the market for children’s candies is so mercurial and is largely dependent on the current trend in candy, which makes it very difficult to remain profitable as a candy company that focuses on the children’s market 4. The chocolate industry is largely dependent on sugar and the way that it is perceived by society and there has currently been a shift to no longer seeing chocolate as an unhealthy food that was meant to be for kids. An interesting example of this shift is the fact that the National Confectionary Assn. has hired Olympic medalist Bob Matthias to promote “the nutritional benefits of chocolate.”5 The promotion of chocolate as a candy that is healthy and meant for adults largely stems from a trend of chocolate products moving up and offering better quality through sophistication.6 Gary Foote, who is the marketing manager for Ferrero USA, claims that this is largely the result of the “Europeanization, or the gourmetization of America.” 7 It is possible to see the cause of this shift because there are many examples of the perception that American adults have of European chocolate when compared to American chocolate.
As you can see in the video below, these Americans who are doing a study abroad program in Belgium, have this idea that European chocolate is a lot more sophisticated than American chocolate.8
Studies show that one of the reasons why these American exchange students feel that European chocolate is superior partially has to do with how “a brand and a country-of-origin have a positive correlation, as they influence consumer’s brand evaluation, perceptions, purchasing behavior and brand equity.” 9 European chocolate has the advantage that it is being made in European countries that are seen as first world countries which has a certain allure and elegance in the eyes of American consumers. On the other hand, you have chocolate that is being made in South America and Africa where most countries are seen as third world countries by most American consumers, which can be attributed to many social factors and racism is one of these factors. It becomes obvious that the reason why these Americans feel that European chocolate is superior to American chocolate is because the marketing and packaging is more professional and sophisticated—it is marketing that is clearly targeting an older demographic. The article “A review of marketing strategies from the European chocolate industry” by Nur Suhaili Ramli mentions that European chocolate typically stands out for the most part when it comes to their marketing, but it is also unique in the use of “quality ingredients, supply chains, marketplace, and product attribute information.”10 It is fascinating to notice how effective this type of marketing is with adults since the people in this video never mention anything about the chocolate itself. The women never mention that the taste of European chocolate is superior to American chocolate and instead they largely focus on the superiority of the look, the presentation, and the aesthetic of European chocolate. There have been many studies done around this topic of how marketing of chocolate affects the way that people perceive the differences between chocolate that is labeled as “organic” and chocolate that is not labeled that way. The study “The Effect of ‘Organic’ Labels On Consumer Perception of Chocolates” by Kiss, Kontor, and Kun makes a conclusion that the label of “organic” on chocolate packaging increased the “perceived gap between organic and regular chocolates according to fragrance, healthiness, calories content and price.”11
This is a rising trend in the chocolate industry that can clearly be seen in advertisements, as the one listed in the video below for the product Choconature, where you have a doctor appearing in this advertisement in order to assure audiences that this product will improve your health.12
The doctor in the video mentions that the chocolate is 100% organic, decrease inflammation in the body, decrease the free radicals in the body, help improve your skin, and decrease your blood pressure. 13 It is evident from this ad that there is a viable adult market in the chocolate industry and they are trying to find a way to rebrand the image that people have of chocolate, as a sugary treat that is bad for your health, and turn it into a product that can actually help fix many ailments that affect older demographics.
There is a significant question that is posed by videos like the one above: is chocolate, or at least some version of chocolate, capable of not only being a healthy food, but also a food that could have medicinal properties? Chocolate, as it is typically created for products like Snickers and M&M’s—in particular dark chocolate of high cocoa varieties—has natural antioxidant benefits. 14 These benefits have long been known by the general public and companies selling dark chocolate, which has lead these companies to market their dark chocolate as a healthy version of chocolate for many years. However, there has recently been a huge surge in the fortification of chocolate in order to artificially add properties to chocolate that, according to these chocolate manufacturers, could help improve your health and solve other body ailments. 15 Some of the ingredients that companies fortify chocolate with are vitamins, minerals, superfruits, lavender, and goji berries. 16 On the surface the addition of these nutritious ingredients may seem like a win-win situation since customers will be able to eat a tasty snack, like chocolate, and also be able to consume ingredients that would improve their health. Yet, the chocolate manufacturers who are creating these healthy versions of chocolate are deliberately misinforming consumers on how healthy these snacks truly are by abusing how ambiguously defined “organic” products and “all-natural” products are in the United States market and the international market. Chocolate manufacturers have taken note of the growing popularity of “organic products and ingredients in the U.S.” In order to take advantage of this trend, chocolate manufacturers have begun to market their products as “all-natural” products as an alternative to the “organic” products that consumers typically associate with healthy foods. On the surface, they both seem like they are equally healthy, however, it becomes apparent that they are some major differences between the two products once you start looking at the specific requirements needed for a product to be considered either “all-natural” or “organic.” When it comes to “organic” products, they are typically priced at a higher price since the ingredients required are more expensive. 17 Additionally, it is expensive for manufacturers of organic products to go through the certification process required to have their product labeled as “organic.” Therefore, chocolate manufacturers are leaning towards creating products that can be marketed as “all-natural” since it is easier and cheaper to make because of the lack of regulation and the affordability of the cheaper ingredients that are accepted as “all-natural.” More and more manufacturers are leaning towards creating “all-natural” products in order to satisfy the burgeoning demand for natural products in the adult demographic of chocolate consumers.
The lack of regulation that exists in the “all-natural” sub-industry of chocolate is an issue because it allows companies to use marketing in order to take advantage of the fact that the majority of chocolate consumers do not know the tactics that companies can use to falsify legitimacy as a healthy food product. A prime example of how chocolate companies manufacture artificial legitimacy is by paying independent researchers to conduct studies on the health benefits of eating chocolate—mainly the niche “all-natural” products that chocolate companies make. The chocolate brand CocoaVia, which is a subsidiary company of Mars Inc.—focuses on creating supplements and bars that are marketed as a healthy food option. 18 Brands like CocoaVia rely on scientific studies done on cocoa flavanol that claim that their products contain properties which allow them to “promote healthy blood flow from head to toe.” 19 There is a major issue with these studies that purportedly claim that these chocolate supplements are nutritious and beneficial to the health of consumers: the majority of these studies are funded by the same companies that are being examined by the independent researchers. 20 The main problem with the aforementioned power dynamics between employer and employee is that these companies are more inclined to “fund researchers with favorable views about their products, and researchers may consciously or unconsciously tweak the design of their studies or their interpretation of results to arrive at more positive conclusions.” 21
These claims are not unfounded since the Advertising Self-Regulatory Council has filed claims against CocoaVia as a result of a lack of substantial evidence to support claims in their marketing, such as “CocoaVia daily cocoa extract supplement delivers the highest concentration of cocoa flavanols, which are scientifically proven to promote a healthy heart by supporting healthy blood flow (as can be seen in the image below).” 2223
It is dangerous to allow companies to make claims such as the aforementioned one because according to the Natural Marketing Institute found that “43% of US shoppers consulted nutritional information on product packaging when buying a product for the first time.” 24 Therefore, the fact that chocolate companies are putting unsubstantiated claims on their nutritional information marketing is dangerous since customers are easily susceptible to marketing, especially if it is marketing that promotes “healthy” chocolate that targets an adult demographic.
The chocolate industry has been maturing and it
has made a conscious shift from focusing on kids as a market to focusing on
adults as a more viable and profitable market. This has led to a change in the
marketing used by chocolate companies in order to attract an older demographic
to purchase their healthy chocolate. Chocolate marketing for kids has typically
focused on making chocolate appear to be as fun and as tasty as possible, but
marketing has started to focus more on “scientific studies” and “health facts” ever
since the chocolate industry started to direct the majority of its industry to
an adult demographic—this is evident in ads like the one below. 25
The marketing done
for healthy chocolate is an example of the dangers that exist with the
marketing of chocolate since it has become clear that there is a lack of
regulations in place when it comes to the integration of science into the ads
in this industry. The perception of chocolate, and the way that it is marketed
by companies and by society, has changed throughout history as reactions to the
ebbs and flows of societal values. Currently, this trend of healthy chocolate
has been a reaction to a societal trend that has leaned toward valuing a
healthy lifestyle and reducing the intake of food that is deemed to be junk
food—and chocolate has long been a member of this group of foods.
1 Carla Martin, “The rise of big chocolate and race for the global market,” Class lecture, Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food from Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, March 13, 2019.
3 Carla Martin, “Sugar and cacao,” Class lecture, Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food from Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, February 20, 2019.
4 Chocolate marketing no longer kid’s stuff, pg 2
5 Patricia Winters, Chocolate marketing no longer kid’s stuff, Advertising Age, May 19, 1986, 2.
Dating back to the earliest known origins of chocolate—or rather its characteristic ingredient, cacao—this extraordinary substance has consistently been associated with socially intimate and aphrodisiacal properties. The particular manifestation of these aphrodisiacal properties, however, and how they have taken shape over time tells an interesting story of the power of media and advertising. Much of this early knowledge is situated around the ritual practices and mythology of the Maya civilization in the pre-Columbian period, during which cacao was heavily featured and revered in the context of fertility and marriage rites. In the Popol Vuh, the sacred book of the Quiché Maya documenting Mayan mythology, “when the gods were creating humans in their final form,” cacao was among the “foods which were to form their bodies” (Coe & Coe 39). This notion of cacao playing a role in the creation of human life is a recurring theme in surviving remnants of Mayan society, bringing to mind a clear connection with procreation and fertility. In much the same way, archeological/anthropological research has indicated the “widespread, perhaps even pan-Maya, use of chocolate in betrothal and marriage ceremonies” (Coe & Coe 60). Similar beliefs and rituals held true for Mixtec and Aztec societies, as we can see in this detail from the Codex Nuttall (Mixtec book) displayed below, or in the Aztec poem that refers to “‘flowering chocolate’ [as] a metaphor for luxuriousness and sensuality” (Coe & Coe 104).
Even more explicit, is the account of Spanish conquistador, Bernal Díaz de Castillo, upon attending a lavish Aztec banquet in which he writes about the emperor, including that “ they brought him some cups of fine gold, with a certain drink made of cacao, which they said was for success with women” (Coe & Coe 96). While this certainly speaks to the Spanish conquistadors’ beliefs and interpretations of cacao, whether there is any actual truth to this testimony is unsubstantiated. However this did not stop the notion of cacao as a sexual stimulant from spreading throughout Europe after it was first introduced in Spain. Almost a century after for instance, Dr. Henry Stubbes (1632-72), a prominent English authority on chocolate, was “convinced, as were most of his contemporaries in England and on the Continent, that chocolate was an aphrodisiac” (Coe & Coe 171).
If we fast forward to the 19th and early 20th centuries, these themes associated with chocolate seem to not only persist, but become ever-more present. This is likely the consequence of two key changes in the chocolate industry, the first being Dutch chemist Coenraad Johannes van Houten’s 1828 invention of the hydraulic press, which allowed for the production of chocolate in solid form. The second shift lies in the industrialization of food, which gave way to mass production and, by extension, lower food costs, resulting in the democratization of chocolate (Coe & Coe 234-235). Considering its history as a substance once only available to the elite and wealthy upper echelons of society, this new potential for chocolate to be available and affordable to the masses meant immense economic opportunity—cue mass marketing. Chocolate advertising in its earlier days often featured women providing chocolate to their families, as the ideal wife and mother—roles which were both, at the time, at the forefront of any socially accepted notion of female identity. Kids were also considerably featured in these ads, thus by placing chocolate at the nucleus of the family bond, we are reminded of the original role cacao played in marriage and fertility for the Maya.
In a similar vein, ads in which chocolate is the embodiment of romance soon seem to take center stage—at least for those ads targeted toward males (which speaks to a whole other dimension on the gendering of foods, but I’ll leave that for another discussion). While this notion of chocolate is clearly linked to aphrodisia, it is also convenient for business when it comes to special occasions centered around love and affection, such as Valentine’s Day and anniversaries.
As is hinted at in the ads above, this idea of chocolate as the perfect gift for a girlfriend or wife goes beyond its supposed inherent powers of attraction, to suggest that it’s so irresistible that it could win over any woman. The implication here being that simply a box of chocolates can render a woman so feeble-minded and lacking control over her desires that it removes any sexual resistance. This, again, plays into sexist stereotypes of women as mindless, emotional, pretty, sweet objects, lacking any intelligence, authority, or confidence.
While it would be nice to think this sort of messaging has subsided in recent years, the truth of the matter is that this pattern of perpetuating socially prescribed feminine ideals and stereotypes, particularly in relation to romance and desire is still common practice, only less overtly sexist. A prime example of this is for an Axe commercial in which women uncontrollably lust over a man who, upon spraying Axe Dark Temptation, turns into a walking, talking piece of chocolate. Despite being cloaked in a veil of humor, this message here is no different from that found in earlier advertising.
In a similar vein, while society has changed over time to embrace more progressive values, namely freedom of sexual expression and independence, it’s interesting to see how chocolate advertising has used this to make even more explicit the connection between chocolate, desire, and pleasure—all the while often maintaining their use of female stereotypes and ideals, which only works to delay or set back feminist efforts. That is, women are sexualized, objectified, and interlaced with sexual innuendo in such ads where there is an apparent attempt to blur the lines between chocolate and sex. Oftentimes these advertisements are targeted towards women as a way of “encouraging self indulgence for a food that provides feelings equated to sex and love” (Fahim 7).
It’s quite interesting, or perhaps more than that, it’s rather informative of the power that lies in the hands of media and marketing to perpetuate a notion with little to no basis in fact, as evidenced by numerous studies debunking any real effect of chocolate on libido or as an aphrodisiac (Shamloul 2010, Brent 2018), yet remains at the core—in some way, shape, or form, of chocolate marketing strategy.
In analyzing the way these advertisements have marketed chocolate, we can see the progress of the way society views the female role. In the earlier times, we see how the importance of women in society is closely intertwined with reproduction as well as the simple-minded housewife trope, which was quite clearly reflected in the messaging of chocolate at the time. And, subsequently, as women’s expression of sexuality in media becomes more commonplace, the importance and relevance of chocolate in society comes in large part from overt and subtle references to its purported (yet unsubstantiated) supernatural or aphrodisiacs properties. Specifically, it aims to encourage “ self indulgence for a food that provides feelings equated to sex and love.
All that being said, while this current theme of hypersexuality, desire, and indulgence is unlikely to subside any time soon (especially considering it’s persisted over thousands of years), it will be interesting to see how and if the portrayal of women in ads related to chocolate will change in this new wave of female empowerment as a marketing strategy (e.g. the new Nike and Gillette ads), which still have their issues but show an overall positive progression towards gender equality.
Health and The Dutch Cocoa Process: Van Houten’s Legacy and Modern Analyses
Throughout history, chocolate and cacao has been purported to have medicinal properties, and especially in the modern age, there is increased emphasis on the health benefits associated with these ingredients. In the processing of cacao, there are numerous points where the chemical composition is changed in some manner, which in part contributes to the unique flavor profile of chocolate. Generally, the process encompasses the same set of operations such as fermentation, drying, and winnowing, but a significant point of distinction occurs during the creation of cocoa powder. With the two conventional forms of cocoa powder, natural and Dutch process, there is a significant variation in terms of the product. The Van Houten family is generally attributed with the process necessary for creating cocoa powder as well as the techniques for making cocoa more palatable through the Dutch process. As the Dutch process is noted to affect flavonoid and antioxidant levels, there are limitations in terms of health benefits as a result of this processing that are removed from natural cocoa powder, despite historical arguments for similar benefits. To contextualize the distinctions between the two types of cocoa powder, it is important to understand their historical development as well as modern examinations.
The Van Houten Hydraulic Press Process
In the early 19th century, chocolate had become relatively ubiquitous, but there were many issues with the ease of consumption and the quality of the taste. Coenraad van Houten and his father, Casparus van Houten, are attributed with the development of a technique that utilizes a hydraulic press to remove over half of the cocoa butter from the beans (Robbins and Coe 2006). The additional byproduct of this process was a brick of cocoa solids, which could be turned into natural cocoa powder. As this cocoa powder retained the chemical compounds naturally found in cacao, many of the potential health benefits arguably are retained after this process (Minifie 1970).
“Dutching” the Cocoa
Perhaps the more significant contribution of Coenraad van Houten is the process known as “Dutching,” which involved treating the natural cocoa powder with alkaline salts with the goal of making the powder more dissolvable (Robbins and Coe 2006). This process proved transcendental as it not only improved the creation of chocolate drinks, but it also alleviated some of the bitterness associated with cacao and created a more intense color for the cocoa powder. However, this “Dutching” process indeed alters the chemical composition of the cocoa powder, and thus potentially affects the medicinal benefits of chocolate (Minifie 1970). Alongside the significantly improved solubility of cocoa powder, this new product also opened the door to produce chocolate bars and other varieties of chocolate products.
Marketing Overcomes Reality
Regardless of the changes caused by the alkalization of cocoa powder, the Van Houten company that initially manufactured Dutch process cocoa, as it become commonly known as, had aggressive campaigns that emphasized the health benefits associated with cocoa powder consumption. To overcome the stronghold on drinks that tea and coffee seemed to have, this variety of cocoa was seminal in the rise of chocolate as a consumed good throughout the world (Van Houten’s Cocoa). Additionally, given the new-found ability to create chocolate bars, the Dutch process cocoa occupied a substantive sector of the market without a proper grasp of what was truly healthy about it. With little to no actual understanding of why chocolate and cocoa were healthy, companies were able to leverage these supposed health benefits for immense capital gain.
Alongside these marketing ventures, it is also essential to consider the official classification for what constitutes chocolate. With the introduction of these new processing techniques, chocolate was essentially bastardized to a point beyond traditional recognition. Therefore, as large manufacturer’s like Cadbury and Nestle introduction new products like milk chocolate, these products began to deviate immensely from the chocolate drinks that Van Houten aimed to modernized (Leissle 2018). Furthermore, as other additives became increasingly prominent within cocoa powder and subsequently chocolate, it became difficult to classify what truly could be considered authentic chocolate.
The Fall of Chocolate’s Medicinal Value
With the creation of the first chocolate bar by Joseph Fry in 1847, sugar and cocoa butter were added to the Dutch process cocoa to make it more palatable (Leissle 2018). In the mid-20th century, the health benefits associated with chocolate had largely subsided as the sugar and fat levels continued to increase dramatically. As sugar and fat became villainized in terms of their detrimental health effects, chocolate suffered a similar fate, so the purported medical benefits were put on the back burner (Rasmussen 2012). Given the shifted emphasis of what constitutes health, chocolate at some point during this span transitioned from being a food with purported health benefits into an unhealthy product.
In the modern era, chocolate had been essentially demonized for its hedonistic and unhealthy nature, but there are trends that also aim to counteract these movements. Through historical and scientific approaches, chocolate is essentially at the intersection of healthy and unhealthy foods. Given the high amounts of sugar and fat found within common varieties of chocolate, chocolate is partly responsible for the obesity crisis within the United States (Rasmussen 2012). On the other hand, modern longitudinal studies have suggested potential long-term health benefits associated with moderate chocolate consumption. However, it is important to contextualize these results given the amount of money within the modern chocolate lobby. To counteract the negative publicity surrounding chocolate, many positive studies are funded by chocolate and cocoa interest groups, which skew the results to favor the health benefits of chocolate (Fleming 2018).
Dutch Process Chemical Modifications
While it is difficult to truly assess the health benefits of chocolate, there are methods of measuring absolute levels of certain chemical compounds that are known to have beneficial health effects. The composition of cacao itself is noted to have caffeine, flavonoids, antioxidants, and a variety of minerals (Li 2012). However, the process of “Dutching” has been shown to decrease the relative levels of these healthy compounds through the reaction with alkaline salts (Miller 2008). Furthermore, the stereochemistry of common flavins was shown to be altered, which means that “healthier” flavins are lost through the “Dutching” process (Hurst 2011). Therefore, despite the struggle to understand the exact health benefits associated with cocoa and chocolate, the ubiquitous usage of the Dutch process does lower the health value of cocoa and chocolate.
Overall, the perception of chocolate as a health food has varied throughout history and remains enigmatic. Chocolate used to have an elite status of providing exceptional nourishment, so the Dutch process was pivotal as it increased accessibility to such a sought-after food. However, the repercussions of the Dutch process were also immensely influential as the production of chocolate bars and variations of chocolate began to arise. As this processing became ubiquitous, the purity of chocolate was diluted with significant increases in the proportion of sugar and fat that comprised the food. With the strength of the modern chocolate lobby, the reputation of chocolate has been widely restored, but the purported health benefits are up for further discussion. The single innovation of the Dutch process snowballed into the modern chocolate industry and is responsible for shifting the paradigm of whether cacao was healthy to if the bastardized version of chocolate has nutritional value.
Even after all this analysis, it brings us back to the question that plagues us all. Is chocolate healthy?
Hurst, W Jeffrey, et al. “Impact of Fermentation, Drying, Roasting and Dutch Processing on Flavan-3-Ol Stereochemistry in Cacao Beans and Cocoa Ingredients.” Chemistry Central Journal, vol. 5, no. 1, 2011, p. 53., doi:10.1186/1752-153x-5-53.
Leissle, Kristy. Cocoa. Polity Press, 2018.
Li, Yue, et al. “The Effect of Alkalization on the Bioactive and Flavor Related Components in Commercial Cocoa Powder.” Journal of Food Composition and Analysis, vol. 25, no. 1, 2012, pp. 17–23., doi:10.1016/j.jfca.2011.04.010.
Miller, Kenneth B., et al. “Impact of Alkalization on the Antioxidant and Flavanol Content of Commercial Cocoa Powders.” Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, vol. 56, no. 18, 2008, pp. 8527–8533., doi:10.1021/jf801670p.
Minifie, Bernard W. Chocolate, Cocoa and Confectionary: Science and Technology. Avi Publ., 1970.
Rasmussen, Nicolas. “Weight Stigma, Addiction, Science, and the Medication of Fatness in Mid-Twentieth Century America.” Sociology of Health & Illness, vol. 34, no. 6, 2012, pp. 880–895., doi:10.1111/j.1467-9566.2011.01444.x.
Van Houten’s Cocoa. “There Is No Nourishment In Tea or Coffee, but Plenty in Cocoa Especially in Van Houten’s.” Dutch Innovation, 29 May 2013, d1oww3ejuoh8m6.cloudfront.net/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/vanhouten-542×385.jpg.
“Van Houten’s Cocoa.” Alchetron, 4 Mar. 2018, alchetron.com/cdn/coenraad-johannes-van-houten-32ec3165-8809-4b1b-aeb7-63893a18afd-resize-750.jpeg.
Cacao played a large role in the ancient civilizations of the Mayans and Aztecs, becoming an increasingly integral part of each one’s respective cultures overtime. It has continued to play an equally important, although different role in modern society. One can assert that the importance of cacao across civilizations can be seen through its recurring presence in iconography. The types of icons associated with cacao in Ancient civilizations were ones of documentation and reverence (Garthwaite). The images reflected their belief in the diversity of the powers of cacao stemming from its religious significance (Coe 48). With the development of capitalism, modern civilizations increased the commodification of chocolate and used cacao iconography as a means of advertisement to sell the refined product for a profit. These differences in cultural use of cacao are reflected in the differences of iconography in each civilizations culture, but when the modern begins to draw from the ancient, the mixing of modern incentives for cacao use and their representation of Mesoamerican societies’ value of the substance appears ethically immiscible.
CACAO IN MESOAMERICAN ARTIFACTS
Cacao was important to both the Mayan and Aztec civilizations because of its presence in both of these societies’ artifacts and images, which took the form of iconographical symbols. For example, the Mayans had a hieroglyph of the word Kakau that was found in scripted on a jar used for chocolate making (Fig. 1) (Martin).
The Aztecs depicted scenes crediting cacao with religious significance that would help it gain prominence in other facets of life (Fig. 2) (Coe 50).
Both the Aztecs and the Mayans used iconography as a way of expressing and documenting what was important to them at the present time, and the inclusion of cacao evidences its important role in ancient culture.
The prevalence of Cacao in each of these societies led to cacao being used for numerous functions, such as medicine, currency, and a source of energy (Coe 31). But at the root of the popularity of cacao was its religious significance. For both the Aztecs and the Mayans, there was a direct link between cacao and deities. For the Mayans this came in the form of a specific “Cacao God” and for the Aztecs Cacao was associated with their Tree God, that was emblematic of life, “emerging from the jaws of the Underworld serpent” (Martin). Through iconography, historians were able to determine why Cacao became so pervasive culturally and better understand its roles and uses in ancient civilization.
Some of those roles came in the form of ceremonies or celebratory feasts. For the Aztecs, chocolate became synonymous with nobility (Fig. 3). It was a luxury good that enhanced the various experiences of the elite, like dinner celebrations or festivals (Coe 60).
The Mayans also extolled Cacao as a celebratory food, given its religious significance. Often, the prospective groom would present a gift of Cacao pods to the father of the bride as a kind of preemptive thank you or symbolic gesture of goodwill (Martin). The depiction below demonstrates such an occurrence and further cements the role of Cacao in society (Fig. 4).
The use of iconography in ancient civilizations is at once a recording of important events and cultural traditions, while at the same time a creation of culture itself. This dual nature of iconography reveals a significance about cacao in both of these cultures given its strong presence in various types of artifacts depicting various types of scenes.
CACAO IN WESTERN ADVERTISEMENT
However, the choice to use images and symbols in ancient civilizations was very different from why contemporary societies might choose to use cacao inspired iconography today. The blog has discussed how and why visual depictions were important in ancient civilization, and what they did to signify the value of Cacao during this time. The same cannot be said about cacao iconography in modern society. With the shift of uses in chocolate that began with the Spanish inquisition and carried through to the modern times, chocolate plays a different, although not less popular, role in society (Leissle 18). With the advent of sugar, chocolate has positioned itself more in the realm of a desert or sweet snack, than a food with medicinal powers or religious significance, at least in the mainstream Western society (Leissle 24). As a result, we have seen a coinciding shift in the images of chocolate. The power five chocolate corporations of Cadbury, Nestle, Ferrero, Hersheys, and Mars all engage in marketing strategies in order to sell chocolate, accounting for thirty-four percent of market share (Leissle 74). These companies are not promoting it as a result of its cultural significance or medicinal powers like the Aztecs or the Mayans did, they are promoting it to make money.
So holding constant adaptations in technology, and thinking only about what chocolate meant to each society, it is clear from just the cacao iconography that the ancient civilizations placed a much different kind of value on chocolate. Ancient civilization saw cacao transcend commodification and become a religiously backed medium for a number of various practices, many of which are evidenced in illustration. Cacao in ancient civilization did not need to be promoted, it needed to be documented and appreciated. Given the change in the function of cacao from ancient civilization to modern society a coinciding change in the application and design of cacao’s iconography also makes sense.
CULTURAL APPROPRIATION THROUGH ADVERTISEMENT
But what has been less justifiable, and potentially even damaging to ancient civilizations is their renewed presence in the branding of chocolate by the west. The west has long been entranced by what it regards as the primitive or ancient. In academia, this has been a positive for ancient cultures, as it has led to the continued study of those cultures. But in the market, it has often led to the appropriation of those cultures through branding. Private corporations are not necessarily concerned with the historical accuracy of how they depict ancient civilizations. They are concerned with advertising a product so it will sell. As a result, images are created in the likeness of indigenous people but modified so it may be more appealing to their target audience. A good example of this is the “Make your Own Chocolate Kit” set that presents the viewer with an “Aztec” holding a cup of what one assumes is hot chocolate (Fig. 5).
This turns out to be problematic for a number of reasons. The first is the skin tone of the Aztec. He is given white skin as it if was a European dressed in Native American clothes. The presence of the Reese’s cup shaped chocolate in the right corner of the box is also problematic given that chocolate did not look like this in the time of the Aztecs. And the idea of presenting the consumer with the ability to make their own chocolate indicates they would undergo a similar process of chocolate making as the Aztecs. This is wholly untrue, as the most difficult parts of the chocolate making process would have been industrially carried out by the chocolate company, leaving the consumer with the easiest parts of the process and likely a dangerously false sense of satisfaction.
While the rebranding of cacao iconography is acceptable because of the changing role chocolate has fulfilled since its use in Mesoamerica, it does raise certain questions about how far this branding should be allowed to go. There is an ethical issue at hand when the appropriation of a culture leads to the misrepresentation of ancient civilizations for the purposes of marketability. Hopefully this blog has helped to explain the history of Cacao iconography and its modern uses, both positive and negative, as well as presented readers with questions regarding the ethics of advertisement.
Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. Thames and Hudson, 2019.
Garthwaite, Josie. “What We Know About the Earliest History of Chocolate.” Smithsonian.com, Smithsonian Institution, 12 Feb. 2015.
Leissle, Kristy. Cocoa. Polity Press, 2018.
Martin, Carla. “Chocolate Expansion.” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard University, Cambridge. 6 Feb. 2019. Lecture.
Martin, Carla. “Chocolate Expansion.” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard University, Cambridge. 6 Feb. 2019. Lecture.
There is a revolution going on in America. It exists as almost a counter to the industrial revolution that drove this country forward a hundred years before it. Craft artisans are taking over in the wake of a society that has been built by mass production. As this revolution moves across foodstuffs, it is of no surprise that craft chocolate is currently on the rise. However, it is important to understand why this revolution is taking place now, and some of the hurdles it must overcome to continue its success.
The Lay of the Land
Currently two chocolate companies, Hershey’s and Mars, account for over 50% of chocolate sales in the U.S. (Euromonitor, 2017). It should be of no surprise that these two particular companies own so much of the market share. They were both founded on the idea of bringing chocolate, which was previously a luxury treat, to the masses. Milton Hershey was a pioneer in mass production, revolutionizing and streamlining much of the industrial process. Hershey’s team discovered that by using condensed sweetened skim milk they could create a product with longer shelf life and that blended easily with cocoa powder. This meant that not only could he ship his chocolate bars further, but lasting longer on the shelf meant less profit losses due to spoilage. Hershey also looked at supply chain optimizations, investing in his own dairy farms and even building a sugar mill operation in Cuba, complete with its own railroad. This allowed Hershey to control both the costs of commodities for his chocolate bar and the quality. Mars, on the other hand, was more successful due to marketing than anything else. His Milky Way bar (which originally sourced chocolate from Hershey) was more nougat than chocolate, making it larger on shelf and seem a comparatively good value to the Hershey bar. That said, both had the same result, taking an indulgence that was once almost exclusive to the wealthy and middle classes and democratizing it for every day enjoyment.
Mass production allowed for chocolate to be produced cheaper, allowing those savings to be passed on to the consumer – or more importantly, from a marketing sense, for them to outprice their competitors. But while price is important, so are the products themselves. While it may have taken a while for consumers to acclimate to the flavor of Hershey’s and Mars bars when they first came on the market, the particular blend of milk, sugar and other ingredients insured that they were universally palatable and they now exist as the template for what we expect chocolate to taste like. Similarly, both companies have hero products that are specifically designed for easy consumption. Both Hershey’s Kisses and M&Ms were made for portability (individually wrapped/ melts in your mouth, not in your hand) and their small, poppable size makes it easy for consumers to lose track of mindfulness and eat large quantities in one sitting. These products have other advantages, as they are easily adaptable to innovation. As consumers are desiring more variety and novelty across the board, these products have proven to be the most flexible in introducing new flavors – and easily acceptable to consumers who are familiar with their form and have built brand trust. These companies have leveraged seasonality, larger cultural trends, and limited time offers to drive new product news and sales.
(wait. Is she wearing an infinity scarf and hipster glasses?)
So, if big chocolate is designed for palatability and companies are responding to consumers desires for more interesting, topical flavors, why are we seeing a proliferation of craft chocolate providers? When we look at the numbers, the story becomes more telling. When looking at sales growth, mass chocolate has remained flat year over year (CSP daily news, 2016). This despite their innovation and the fact that chocolate consumption overall is growing. Instead, the growth seems to be predominantly driven by premium and craft chocolates, suggesting not just changing tastes, but a changing attitude about where our food is actually coming from.
Big Food Backlash
There is growing negativity towards giant corporations and conglomerates, particularly when it comes to food. From an economic standpoint, consumers have watched as these corporations get massive tax breaks which have translated into bonuses for the executive suite, while the working class continues to struggle. While this issue impacts most major corporations, it is of particular concern when it comes to the chocolate industry and growing awareness around fair labor practices, forced labor, child labor and the ethical price people pay for their chocolate. There is a lot of skepticism that these companies will make ethical choices when given the opportunity, particularly when people see so many examples in the news of them pursuing profits over people, such as Nestle bottling drinkable water in the middle of the Flint, Michigan water crisis (the guardian, 2017). More and more often, buying in to big brands feels like an investment against your own interests.
The Big Middle creates more space for differentiation
The sheer nature of big brands as they fold in to one another may be working against them. “When you have increasing concentration of producers in the center, you leave room on the periphery for specialization,” says Elizabeth G. Pontikes, associate professor at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business. (Shanker, 2017) In other words, these multinational conglomerates are creating their own sea of sameness. In a society that is increasingly valuing individuality, particularly when it comes to the millennial and younger generations, brands and products that lack differentiation also lack appeal. We can see this even in the most famous of branding cases, Coke vs. Pepsi with beverage drinkers now migrating to new choices like LaCroix and energy drinks.
The obvious choice might be for these mass chocolate brands to create verticals that touch these periphery spaces, but they have struggled breaking in. Hershey’s introduced their Cacao Reserve premium line in 2006. The brand lasted three years, suffered several price drops and the need for mass market advertising support, before they dropped it from store shelves. (Thompson, 2007) Their next move was to build their premium line using borrowed equity. At the same time they launched Cacao Reserve, they purchased Scharfeen Berger, a premium line of chocolates out of California. As they pushed to mass market the brand, they switched suppliers, using cheaper beans from West Africa. The result was severed relationships with brands like Whole Foods, who were concerned that Hershey’s could not guarantee that the beans weren’t sourced through child labor (Bloomberg, 2017). The brand has somewhat rebounded, but the initial loss is still being recovered, and leaves the question as to whether or not big brands can ever play credibly in the premium/ craft space.
A wake up call for food
The obesity crisis in America was a wake up call about the food we consume and how it is being produced. A series of films, articles and exposes, while at times misleading and ignores the true labor of food, caused people to rethink what they are getting out of processed food. The consumer take-away was that mass produced food lacks quality and nutritional value, is predominantly artificial fillers, and is potentially detrimental to your overall health. Quality, whole ingredients, and care has become increasingly synonymous with healthfulness, regardless of traditional markers like fat and calories.
While all of these things make craft chocolate more appealing, it still has hurdles to overcome to convince people to pay the enormous price tag that comes along with it.
As noted, industrial chocolate is the baseline for people’s orientation to what chocolate should look and taste like, as well as what it should cost. For Craft chocolate to succeed, they don’t just need to overcome the shift to premium pricing, they need to overcome expectations set by mass market chocolate. There is a need to educate people on to the true value of the chocolate they are consuming and the difference that craft chocolate provides. There are four key ways in which craft offers a point of difference that both provides a difference that supports craft’s value proposition and requires consumer education: process, taste, ingredients and sourcing and ethics.
Understanding the process
Over time, manufactures have swapped out real ingredients for cheaper artificial substitutes such as vanillin instead of vanilla. (Martin-Sampeck, 2016). This has impact on the flavor, consistency and mouthfeel of the chocolate itself. Craft chocolate’s smaller production model in of itself creates a different end product, but some companies have gone further, focusing on minimizing the process.
Taza chocolate, a bean to bar company located in Somerville, MA, takes great pains to educate consumers as to their process. They describe their bars as “chocolate with true grit.” Their mission is to return chocolate to its pre-industrial roots. They believe that less processing allows for more complexity in flavors. Their chocolate is stone ground on hand carved molinos (mill stones) with little refinement between that and the end product. The result is, to their description, a chocolate bar that lacks the smoothness that consumers have come to expect, but with a stronger chocolate flavor and more complexity in experience overall.
Expanding your palate
“When most people eat a piece of chocolate we want that pleasure immediately: boom! That’s the music of mass-market chocolate.” (Williams, 2012)
Historians have theorized (incorrectly) that when chocolate came to the old world, that it was appropriated to suit Europeans’ tastes (Norton, 2016). In fact, chocolate’s evolution from its new world form to the substance we know today was a process that took over a century of innovation. The chocolate that Europeans first enjoyed was a fairly close recreation of how it was consumed in Mesoamerica. The Europeans had just acquired a taste for it. That said, they had a lot of motivation to do so – chocolate was seen as exotic, a luxury (due to both its scarcity and use as currency), and had potential new health benefits. Additionally, unlike today, there was no basis for comparison. For today’s consumers, their palates have been educated in the world of mass produced chocolate – and what they have come to expect is a very sweet, creamy, almost single note experience. Craft chocolate, on the other hand, leans in to chocolate’s bitter notes, and offers way more complexity. Not only do consumers need to adjust to the new flavor profile, but they need help recognizing the flavor notes to truly appreciate the difference they are getting from craft.
Dick Taylor chocolates started in a small factory in Eureka, California by Adam Dick and Dustin Taylor. They started their factory out of a love of craftsmanship and making things with their hands (both worked in woodworking and boat building). In addition to educating consumers on the sourcing of their beans, they seek to educate consumers on how craft processing changes the flavor and experience of their chocolate. From their website “by not cutting corners or taking shortcuts in our process we are able to leave out vanilla, additional cocoa butter or other emulsifiers, in hopes of capturing and highlighting the subtle flavor nuances in the cacao we source from around the world.”
In this they set expectations that their chocolate will be less sweet and have more complexity of flavors. To further support that, their packaging calls out the specific flavor notes that the chocolate bar offers, much in the way that wine and craft beers call out tasting notes.
XOCOLATL, a “micro-factory” chocolatier out of Atlanta similarly looks to highlight chocolate’s natural flavors. Their bars are blended with spices and other elements that call out chocolate’s flavor components. For example, their Americana bar contains no apples, but uses familiar pie spices to highlight that quality within the chocolate.
While mass chocolate uses the blending of not only several different types of beans, but beans from multiple locations, there is a rising trend in single origin chocolate. This has arisen both out of an increased interest in food provenance and small chocolate purveyors interest in highlighting the different unique flavor profiles of the beans. (Norton, 2013) By doing so, they are able to not only show off the different flavor varietals, but capitalize on the exotic locales to add a sense of rarity and uniqueness to their product lines.
Amedei Chocolates, a craft company out of Tuscany, Italy, builds their sourcing education in to their product offerings. Each of their bar product lines serves as an exploration in the difference that cacao content, origin and the beans themselves can make. Their Toscano Black line offers three different (though relatively close) percentages of dark chocolate – 63%, 66%, and 70%. Their cru product line is all single origin dark chocolate – allowing consumers to taste the subtle differences between each region. But where they go one step further than many bars is to focus and educate consumers on the strains of cacao available. They offer both a Blanco de Criollo and a Porcelana bar. The external packaging on each features a botanical drawing of the bean. The inside explains the history, origin and flavor notes. For the Porcelana bar, it notes the Venuzuela plantation, it’s small production of only 3,000 kilos of beans, and the rarity of this particular strain. Tasting notes are described as “toasted almonds that alternates with pressed olives.” This reinforces the specialness of the bar and the unique experience that it offers, while simultaneously pushing the consumer’s palate to recognize more subtleties in flavor.
One of the major challenges in the chocolate industry overall is the issue of labor practices and sourcing. Even setting aside the more dire problems of forced and child labor, very little of the profits made from chocolate sales actually makes its way back to the farmers that grow it. While there are a variety of certification schemes (i.e. Fair Trade, UTZ Certified, IMO Fair for Life), the cost of participating is high, and consumer demand has yet to drive a higher price in goods that can be translated back to the farmer. (Martin-Sampeck, 2016) Additionally, there are those who don’t think that programs like Fair Trade go far enough, and result in a minimal profit increase for the farmer.
Companies like Taza and Askinosie chocolates instead have focused on direct trade, which cuts out middlemen and insures that more profits go back to the hands of the farmers. Askinosie notes on their website “we hold the craft and quality of our chocolate in almost equal balance with doing as much good as we can in the world.” As part of educating consumers at to the importance of direct trade, their bars feature the actual farmers that they work with on the front. The back label tells that person’s story, how they became acquainted with Askinosie chocolate, and how their contribution insured the quality of the product you are holding. It also features the following guarantee: A stake in the Outcome. We guarantee to our farmers more than fair prices, open books and a share in our success. In the way that they tell the story of their trade relationships, Askinosie doesn’t just insure the consumer of the ethics of their bar, they humanize it and translate that in to a real value to the consumer in the quality and craft of the final product itself.
The future of craft
Craft still has some educational and orientation challenges to overcome, but as more and more people migrate away from big food and big chocolate, the opportunity to create a wider variety of chocolates leveraging ethical sourcing and quality ingredients remains as promising and sweet as the product itself.
Brenner, Joel. 2000. The Emperors of Chocolate: Inside the Secret World of Hershey and Mars.
Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. 2007 (1996) The True History of Chocolate.