Tag Archives: mintz

Why Hasn’t Chocolate Taken Off in China?

This video is a Chinese advertisement of Dove chocolates, focusing on the smooth and sweet taste of chocolate.  Among the Big Five, Dove has been one of the leading chocolate products in China. Since the 1980s, the Big Five have invested massive resources into trying to sell chocolate, with hopes of a lucrative return as China’s consumer class grows. Although some companies such as Ferrero and Mars have had some success, the dream of reaching all Chinese consumers has yet to be fully realized. Why these companies have struggled to successfully penetrate the Chinese market is a question worthy of exploration. Although some literature sources address this puzzle, none of them offer fully convincing arguments for why this might be. Building on Mintz’s consideration of how “sweetness” fits into the cuisine of different cultures, I argue that we must understand how people understand flavors and food in China to fully understand why chocolate may not be as popular.

The Big Five have made concerted efforts to market chocolate to Chinese people, using different concepts to attract the attention of consumers. For example, some have focused on the cultural practice of “gift-giving”–finding that more people may choose to give chocolate rather than buy it for the sake of self-indulgence. To some extent, these efforts seem to be working. This next video is a news report that reports how chocolate in China is becoming more popular. However, as the video points out, the consumption of chocolate in China remains extremely low, and a person in China only eats about 100 grams of chocolate annually.

Interestingly, one of the points made in this video and other news reports also comment on the short history of chocolate in China. Many point to China’s recent industrialization as the start of the country’s interaction with chocolate. As Allen writes in the opening paragraph of his book “Chocolate Fortunes : The Battle for the Hearts, Minds, and Wallets of China’s Consumers,”

Until twenty-five years ago, almost none of them had ever eaten a piece of chocolate. They were, to coin a phrase, ‘‘chocolate virgins,’’ their taste for chocolate ready to be shaped by whichever chocolate company came roaring into the country with a winning combination of quality, marketing savvy, and manufacturing and distribution acumen.

Here, Allen’s analyzes China through a highly orientalist and capitalist lens, describing Chinese people as “chocolate virgins” to be “conquered in a war” between chocolate corporations. Allen’s description is highly problematic in the way that it views Chinese people as simply “consumers” who can fulfill the wild dreams of one of the big five chocolate companies. By saying that before 25 years ago, “none of them had ever eaten a piece of chocolate” is a gross exaggeration, and would suggest that chocolate has had a very recent entry into China.  On the contrary, there is evidence that shows chocolate has long been in China, and some sources say its presence dates as far back as the 1600s (Grivetti and Shapiro 2011; Gordon, 2011).  These scholars point to several opportunities in which chocolate could have been introduced into China, including its close proximity to European countries (like Turkey) where chocolate and coffee were extremely popular; England’s colonization of Hong Kong in the mid 1800s, and the outsourcing of Chinese laborers to the Philippines where both cane sugar and chocolate were popular (Clarence-Smith 2003; Grivetti and Shapiro 2011). In searching through a database of Chinese trade and business documents, I also found a journal entry from 1883 where missionaries documented their consumption of chocolate, suggesting that it was not a foreign substance or food to the Chinese (See Picture 1 & 2).

Given that the data suggests chocolate has had a much longer history in China, this makes the puzzle of why chocolate has not been fully taken off even more interesting. Allen posits that many of the challenges that explain why chocolate has not taken off in China are logistical barriers that have gotten in the way. For example, he cites the difficulty in finding places that can keep chocolate at an appropriate temperature to avoid melting. Additionally, Allen even talks about how China is not as developed as the west, therefore their stores simply do not fully expose consumers to chocolate. Although Allen talks briefly about the importance of understanding how food is understood in China (citing the yin and yang concept), he ultimately criticizes China for being too close-minded to chocolate. He writes,

Ironically, in spite of such a wide variety of tastes and textures, chocolate was so foreign to the Chinese palate that the only culinary gateway into the diets of Chinese consumers was as a foreign and exotic curiosity. Therefore, to make their chocolates appealing to Chinese consumers, the Big Five’s marketing approaches and products had to be consistent with this prevailing view.

Despite acknowledging China’s diverse and rich culinary culture, Allen still believes that through thoughtful marketing, the Big Five can make chocolate popular in China. I argue that this is a problematic and limiting understanding of chocolate in the Chinese context. Even if companies face no logistical supply-chain barriers or have perfect marketing campaigns, there are cultural factors to account for that explain why chocolate has not, in its history, been fully accepted into Chinese culture.  In order to understand this, I believe we need to take a more nuanced look at the food system in China. Although there are certain regions, such as eastern China, that may prefer sweet foods, most of the country is not accustomed to eating solely sweets; there is a cultural system in China that dictates what what foods are better than others dependent on the season, weather, or condition of one’s body. To indulge in a sweet confectionary, or many pounds of it, is fundamentally oppositional to the balance of foods that one should consume.

In discussing the minimal role of sugar in French cuisine, Mintz’ cultural explanation provides a compelling framework that can help us understand why something sweet like chocolate may not be as popular in places like China. He writes,  

Sweetness does not seem to ever have been enshrined as a taste to be contrasted with all others in the French taste spectrum–bitter, sour, salt, hot–as it has in England and America.  Though dessert has a firm place in french meals, the position of cheese is even sturdier, often as if it were a spice. This is rather like the Chinese usage, where sweetness occurs somewhat unexpectedly, and also not always as the climax to the meal.

As Mintz points out, both French and Chinese cuisine are different from American and English cuisines in that they do not necessarily treat sweetness as a main or core component of dishes.  Given sweetness’ smaller role in the cuisine of China, confections such as chocolates may therefore not be as attractive to consumers. Acknowledging the way that food is understood culturally is essential to understanding why chocolate companies may find resistance in China; if the Big Five truly want to take a stab at China, then they need to understand that the cuisine and cultural food systems are more important than consumers’ purchasing power or logistical barriers.

Works Cited

Allen, Lawrence. 2010. Chocolate Fortunes: the Battle for the Hearts, Minds, and

Wallets of China’s Consumers. pp. 1-39, 201-224

Clarence-Smith, William Gervase. 2003. Cocoa and Chocolate.

Gordon, Bertram M. 2011. Chapter 44: Chinese Chocolate in the book Chocolate: history, culture, and heritage edited by Grivetti and Shapiro.

Mintz, Sidney. 1986[1985]. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern

History. New York: Penguin Books

Multimedia Sources:

Picture 1&2:

The Chinese Recorder: Missionary Journal. 1883. Volume 14, Issue 1. China: Trade, Politics & Culture.

Video 1: Dove Chocolate Advertisement. Extracted from Youtube.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EhwYbH5n15c

Video 2: Chinese news report on chocolate. Extracted from Youtube.


Mahalo: The End of Sugar in Hawaii


Maui sugar cane fields

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Dorothy Pyle looks out over the last cane harvest.

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

Works Cited:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Media Cited:

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

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

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

Sugar: How it Begot a New Order of Diet, Colonialism and Economic Mobility for the English

“The story can be summed up in a few sentences. In 1000 A.D., few Europeans knew of the existence of sucrose, or cane sugar. But soon afterward they learned about it; by 1650, in England the nobility and the wealthy had become inveterate sugar eaters, and sugar figured in their medicine, literary imagery, and displays of rank. By no later than 1800, sugar had become a necessity—albeit a costly and a rare one—in the diet of every English person; by 1900, it was supplying nearly one-fifth of the calories in the English diet.” (Mintz, Sidney. 1986[1985]. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York: Penguin Books. Page 5)

Cultural anthropologist Sidney Mintz, prominent for linking English’s insatiable sweet tooth with the transformation of Britain from a hierarchical society to a democratic industrial society, succinctly summarizes the multi-century narrative of sugar in less than one hundred words. The introduction of sugar in the mid-17th century and the subsequent craving for sweetness catalyzed radical cultural and commercial changes within British society which evolved over the course of two hundred years an ultimately shaped British culture into its modern day social order.

Fullscreen capture 3122011 92239 PM
Catherine of Braganza Enjoying Tea

Although prior to the mid 17th century, sugar, limited by supply and expense, was primarily used as a spice, a medicinal supplement, and for both decorative and preservative purposes, sugar’s use as a sweetener ultimately prevailed.  In 1662, Queen Catherine, King Charles II’s Portuguese wife, introduced  drinking tea, a habit of the Portuguese nobility, to the British courts. An easily adulterated and ingestible beverage, the upper echelons of society quickly adopted the daily ritual of tea and soon began to add the newly available sweetener to the otherwise bitter beverage. (Mintz, 110) Tea quickly become symbolic of the wealthier and sugar embodied a social status of wealth and power.

Working Women Enjoying Tea

Like most trends associated with the elite, aspirational lower-classes began to imitate tea-drinking. For the wealthy, tea became emblematic of social events and sugar a novel treat, a sumptuous additive served in their tea and desserts, For the middle and lower classes, however, sweetened tea presented itself as the first “work break.”   Taken mid-afternoon, tea and sugar served as a relief from labor. Soon, “the tea,” became an event accompanied by a light lunch, to sate the lower classes’ hunger after working a full morning. The lower classes’ adoption and adaptation of the upper-class tradition of tea, not only caused an adjustment of their entire meal pattern, but also introduced sugar into their greater diet.  (Mintz, 142) This introduction of sugar to the British occurred at a most opportune time. When sugar first began to gain recognition, English people of all social strata, regularly susceptible to famine, struggled to maintain a satisfying diet. Centered predominately around a single starch and supplemented by various other foods, the English people’s diet relied almost exclusively on the availability of wheat, and did not contain robust nutritional value. For the lower classes, particularly, sugar offered an easy method of meeting daily caloric needs. (Mintz, 133)

British Buying Sugary Treats

As the lower classes began to develop a preference for sugar through sweetened tea, a marked increase in sugar production in the mid-seventeenth century resulted in a 70% reduction in the prices of sugar. Consequently, cheap sugar became readily available to even the poorest within Britain. Perhaps the most crucial supplement to the working class diet, cheap sugar redefined the lower-class diet. Sweet pastries, porridges, and treacle—a type of spreadable molasses—became dietary staples for the poor and provided a large allocation of their daily carbohydrates, and thus calories.

“The English people came to view sugar as essential; supplying them with it became as much a political as an economic obligation.” (Mintz, 157)

As a consequence of Britain’s cross-class taste for sugar, the market for the product burgeoned, critically driving changes in Britain’s social structure. Demand for sugar consistently pushed the limits of supply.  Economic and political forces “supported the seizure of colonies where cane could be grown and raw sugar manufactured, as well as the slave trade that supplied the needed labor.” (Mintz, 167) Thus, investment opportunities in slave trade, shipping, plantations, credit against which plantations and stocks of slaves and sugar could be collateral, and retailing and refining proliferated. (Mintz, 168) By the mid-17th century, the sugar trade was a critical factor in cementing the power and the wealth of the British empire.  Further, because  the nascent sugar industry in England did not exclusively reward the rich—it provided opportunity to anyone ready to bear the risk, the craving for sugar quite literally fostered democracy, as it transformed England from a status based medieval society to a capitalist and industrial society. (Mintz, 186).

“Britain’s annual per capita consumption of sugar was 4lbs in 1704, 18lbs in 1800, 90lbs in 1901 – a 22-fold increase to the point where Britons had the highest sugar intake in Europe”  (The Guardian)

British Port Receiving Sugar

“…there is no doubt that the quantities imported and retained during that two century period when sucrose changed from rarity to daily ingestible rose steadily; that the increase was comparatively larger than the population increase; and that by the mid-nineteenth century the British were eating more sugar than ever before, and were as sugar-hungry as ever.” (Mintz, 161)

Sugar, a now ubiquitous additive, changed the fortunes of many in Britain over a two hundred plus year span.  Culturally, at its nascent usage beginning in the 17th century its association with tea begot a new category of meal for the working class; it supplemented a precariously unstable dietary situation; and ultimately, it provided a not inconsequential catalyst to the development of the British economy via the colonial growth and trading required to sate the country’s desire for sugar.  The craving for sugar also fostered an emerging democracy in Britain, and helped lift British society from a social structure grounded in medieval hierarchies to a capitalist and industrial society. (Mintz, 186) Predicated on a deep gluttony for sugar and the capitalistic requirements to provide product, British social norms also changed as the country moved away from a cultural, feudalistic, structure which prevented opportunities for economic mobility to one driven by capitalism, and ultimately meritocracy and democracy. Sugar, in British history, represents more than an innovation in nourishment. The proliferation of sugar as a core food item characterizes the development of the British economy via colonial growth and trading, and the growing power and changing societal norms of the British empire.

Continue reading Sugar: How it Begot a New Order of Diet, Colonialism and Economic Mobility for the English

I, Chocolate

The following essay is fashioned on the classic 1958 Leonard E. Read economic treatise, I, Pencil: My Family Tree, as applied to the early 20th-century cacao trade of England. In his essay, Read details a global trade system from the point of view of a playfully personified pencil, detailing the “millions of hands” who contributed to its “edification” (Read). While its confectionary predecessor reflects several elements of the modern pencil manufacturing process, components of the former system, especially the cornerstone input of forced labor, undermine the credibility of capitalist admirations of the trade and ultimately serve as an expose of the malice of the chocolate production system.

I, Chocolate

I am a piece of chocolate – the ordinary delicious chocolate familiar to all boys, girls and adults throughout England (Mintz 187).

You may wonder why I should write a genealogy. Well, to begin with, my story is interesting. And, next, I am a mystery taken for granted by those who enjoy me, as if I came from the Cadbury plant by accident, with no background. As if I always existed as this square treat, waiting in Birmingham for a chance to meet you (Satre 15).

I, Chocolate, simple though I appear to be, merit your wonder, awe, and concern – a claim I shall attempt to prove. In fact, if you can understand me, become aware of the miraculousness which I symbolize, you can help save the freedoms upon which mankind is so unhappily trampling. I have a profound lesson to teach, precisely because I am so “simple.”

sao tome

My story begins deep in the forests on the island of Sao Tome (Satre 32). Here, in this pristine panorama off the west coast of Africa (pictured right), the tree of my primary ingredient, theobroma cacao, takes root. A fickle specimen, my cacao tree requires meticulous care, attention, and skill to bear her fruit (Coe and Coe 19). Once tended to correctly, I am born of her warty-edged pod, plucked from her branches, separated from my kin, and left in the sun to transform and become more suitable to your tastes (Coe and Coe 17-30). But my seeds are not the only input so callously cultivated.

Of the hundreds of hands who play a role in my fruition, no story is more tragic than that of the man who toils at my roots. This man, like the seeds he nurtures, has been forced from his home in Angola, separated from his kin, and exposed to the scorching tropical sun – to meet your tastes (Martin 55). He receives no wages, inadequate food and no possibility of freedom (Higgs 141). Instead, he is afforded a lifespan of “3½ to 4 years” and, ultimately, “skeletons and shackles” (Satre 22). Unsurprisingly, the name Sao Tome has become “synonymous with okalunga – hell” (Satre 9).

Leaving hell, I travel to England aboard a trading galley to meet sugar from the Caribbean and others from across the globe. Most of these ingredients harbor similar tragic geneses, but together we will combine our dreadful beginnings to resemble the shape you hold so sweet (Mintz 55).

Cadbury’s Bournville, the “model village”

Most remarkably, we enter the luxurious “model village” Cadbury plant at Bournville. The irony in this juxtaposition is palpable: Bournville, complete with “shops, recreation facilities, garden allotments, a school, and a lecture hall,” could not be further removed from bleak Sao Tome (Satre 15). In this factory utopia, dozens of specialized workers ensure that I am properly ground, pressed, milled, sieved, mixed, kneaded, refined and conched (Martin). And finally, I emerge the bite-sized square of bittersweet joy in your hand.

As you can see, hundreds of hands willingly participate in my great journey across the globe. But my story is not one of free market triumph. Instead, it is a tale of corruption and exploitation. The forced labor underpinning my production negates the very system you ascribed to as you purchased me this afternoon. As Mintz argues, “a human being is not an object, even when treated as one.” We should, therefore, return to that “absolutely essential ingredient for freedom: a faith in free people” (Read).

I, Chocolate, am a complex combination of miracles.

I merit your wonder, awe, and concern.

Works Cited

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

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

Martin, Carla. “AAAS E-119 Lecture 5: Popular Sweet Tooths and Scandal.” Cambridge, MA: Harvard University. 2016. Lecture.

Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York, NY: Viking, 1985. Print.

Read, Leonard. “I, Pencil: My Family Tree.” Irvington-on-Hudson, NY: The Foundation for Economic Education, Inc, 1958. Pamphlet.

Satre, Lowell J. “Chocolate on Trial: Slavery, Politics, and the Ethics of Business.” Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2005. Print.

Spicy to Sweet: The Transition of Sugar’s Use and Its Effects on Society

Fields of sugar cane

The introduction of sugar into England dating back to the twelfth century marks the conception of a rapidly expanding market in England. Beginning from its immediate introduction into Europe and continuing on into the present day, sugar has been marked by its  broad spectrum of uses. Sidney Mintz classifies the many applications of sugar into five main categories: medicinal uses, uses as a spice-condiment, uses as a sweetener, decorative uses and preservative uses (Mintz 78). Although these five purposes demonstrate a lot of overlap (for example, sugar used in jams both preserves the fruit and sweetens the substance), the transition between sugar being used a spice to sugar being used a sweetener exhibits an important turning point in its history. This transition, seen between the seventeenth and the eighteenth century, marks the beginning of sugar’s central role in modern society and the point at which sugar became widely available to members of lower classes.

From the fourteenth to the seventeenth century, sugar was prominently used as a spice to add to foods without making the food necessarily sweet (Mintz 80). It could be added to plates such as pastas, sauces, meats, fish, and soups to increase the flavor content of the dish. The dependency on spices in these centuries is a result of overall monotony of the average Englishman’s diet and the lack of high quality food preparatory practices. Some meats were excessively cured or smoked and others were rotten; sugar would be added to these meats to improve the flavor quality and increase nutrition. Sugar as a spice would often be used to allay off-putting strong spice flavors already apparent in the meal.

In the eighteenth century, sugar consumers began focusing less on using sugar as a spice and more as using sugar as a sweetener for their foods. There is evidence that sugar was initially noticed for its ability to sweeten when it was added to the popular bitter beverages of the time: chocolate, coffee and tea (Mintz 109). Drinkers noticed that sugar complimented and masked the bitterness of these beverages and began adding it into their daily drinks. Aside from the connection with these bitter beverages, sugar became the focal ingredient of both commonplace desserts and festive feasts. It became a show of rank and status at festivities held by the elite classes and a well known luxury for those of the lower classes.

This transition from sugar as a spice-condiment to a sweetener is the beginning of a massive sugar explosion in the global economy and culinary culture. In the twenty-first century, sugar is an essential, constant aspect of everyday life. It is now available to be bought in cheap, bulk quantities, it is present in almost every meal ranging from sweet soups to snack bars to chocolate candies, and it is the focal point (both economically and socially) of many Western holidays such as Easter, Halloween, and Christmas. Sugar is so widely known that it has synonyms on ingredient lists, such as “corn syrup,” “fructose,” “cane sugar,” and “high fructose corn syrup,” to disguise its presence. When compared to the commonplace characteristic of sugar in the twenty-first century it is shocking that sugar was reserved for use by the elite and the nobility prior to the seventeenth century. It was not until this transition into a sweetener that sugar became more widely available to members of the working and poor classes.

Consumers who belonged to the working class adopted and desired the taste for sweetness rapidly. As demand grew, prices declined (albeit marginally and slowly), and sugar became a more widely available commodity. From 1750 to 1850, sugar evolved from a luxury to a massively consumed commodity. As sugar became more widely desired, it became more widely available. Sugar’s market has the most remarkable upward production curve of any major food market (Martin).

“Only the privileged few could enjoy these luxurious even in the sixteenth century in England. Int the subsequent centuries, however, the combination of sugars and fruit became more common, and the cost of jams, jellies, marmalades, and preserved fruits declined.” (Mintz 99)



An overarching result of the transition from a spice to a sweetener and the resultant increase of availability was the emergence of two cultural processes known as “intensification,” and  “extensification.” Mintz explains that intensification refers to the replication and imitation of existing rituals whereas extensification refers to the replacement of old significances with new meanings (Mintz 152). In short, through rapid commercialization and availability, sugar lost its ancient ties to sacredness, human life, and divinity. It gained a new meaning of success and wealth among the European elite which was later replaced by the idea that sugar represented a forced equalization among the social classes- the working class refused to allow the higher classes to dominate the sugar industry and became active consumers in its market. Additionally, sugar’s spike in popularity after its eighteenth century emergence as a sweetener caused a higher need for larger labor forces; manufacturers found this labor in the form of slavery and indentured servitude.

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The transition from a spice used by the elite to flavor dishes into a sweetener desired by members of all English social classes made sugar more popular and, thus, more available. Consumers were interested in the taste of sweetness that sugar could bring to food and beverages and they caused a rapid increase in sugar consumption in England. In turn, this demand caused sugar to adapt a new cultural significance and perpetuated the system of enslaved labor.

Works Cited:

“Australia’s ‘Sugar Slaves’ Remembered.” Radio National. Web. 9 Mar. 2016.
“Increasing Population on Plantations.” Sugar Cane. Web. 9 Mar. 2016.

“Lakshmi Sugar Mill, Iquabal Pur, Roorkee.” Lakshmi Sugar Mill RSS. Web. 9 Mar. 2016.

“Louisiana Archaeology Ashland Belle Helene Plantation: Introduction.” Louisiana Archaeology Ashland Belle Helene Plantation: Introduction. Web. 9 Mar. 2016.

Martin, Carla. “Sugar and Cacao.” Chocolate Culture and the Politics of Food, Cambridge. 17 February 2016. Lecture.

Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York: Penguin, 1985. Print.

—. “Time, Sugar and Sweetness.” Food and Culture: A Reader. Counihan, Carole, and Penny Van Esterik. New York: Routledge, 1997. Pp 91-103. Print.

“Normal Eating® Blog.” Normal Eating Blog RSS. Web. 9 Mar. 2016.



A Growing Taste for Chocolate: An Analysis of Chocolate Displays in CVS and FamilyMart

Globalization has created incredible challenges for modern marketing, as companies must win over new markets that feature the unique tastes and desires of a different society. When we take a look at how chocolate is marketed and sold in both American and Chinese drugstores, we can analyze how the stores display the chocolate products. Through this analysis, we can also realize how those reflect the social perception of chocolate in each country, in turn directing how those changing perceptions turn around and drive the marketing, thus creating one large feedback loop. In this analysis, we will examine the displays that sell chocolate in one Harvard Square branch of CVS and compare that with chocolate displays in a parallel store in Shanghai, China called FamilyMart.

Mass-produced chocolate in CVS "Premium Chocolate" display in CVS

To set the scene for our argument, we will begin with a basic overview of the two stores and their respective displays. CVS is the second largest pharmacy chain the USA, after Walgreens; in Harvard Square alone, there are two branches opened. Taking a look at the display of chocolate in newly opened branch on JFK Street, we can see that chocolate is sold throughout the store, with one primary area for most of the chocolate being sold. The standard bulk chocolate is sold clumped together in one aisle, with various other candies and sweets, while the “Premium Chocolate” display is placed at the end of that aisle.

Bulk chocolate bins in FamilyMart FamilyMart logo Chocolate on shelves in FamilyMart

Most readers will be familiar with CVS, but not so much FamilyMart. FamilyMart is in fact a Japanese convenience store that has flourished in China, where there are currently 1,235 stores in operation, and it can be considered a Chinese equivalent to CVS. In this Shanghai franchise of FamilyMart, we can see that chocolate is also being sold in two sections, but with significant differences in strategy. Instead of choosing bags of prepackaged chocolates, customers can instead choose their desired amount of snack-sized mass-produced chocolates (like Snickers, M&Ms, or Chinese brands) and buy that amount for a price based on the weight of chocolate. These bins stretch down the entire aisle; the shelves on either side hold the prepackaged gift-type chocolates, bars, and even displays devoted to entire brands.

With the scene set for the two drugstores in the United States and in China, we can begin to examine the specific strategies used to create those displays and how they reflect each country’s habits and perceptions of chocolate. There are two important aspects of these displays that we can focus on: the chocolate and its packaging, as well as the context of the displays themselves.

The assortment available in the regular chocolate aisle of CVS is what one would expect of any American retailer, with all the “big chocolate” players trying to assert their presence. Often, there will be yellow stickers to indicate special deals resulting in astoundingly low prices associated with a huge variety of products. This can only speak to the power of multinational corporations, which is reflected in their ability to produce and distribute millions of pounds of chocolate worldwide. This ability, as detailed by anthropologist Jack Goody in Industrial Food, is mainly due to improvements in mechanization and transportation in the Industrial Revolution of the 1800s. Coupled with this technical revolution of mass production was the increased volume of trade, and as a result, retailers are able to provide many of the same products worldwide. As a result, in the Chinese counterpart to CVS, we can see many of the same goods: M&Ms, Hershey Kisses, Ferrero Rocher. In that sense, the variety of goods that companies are trying to market do not vary much, and so they do not have to create entirely new marketing strategies for a completely different set of products.

However, in the clash of cultures that is “East Meets West”, companies must tackle the task that comes with marketing to Chinese consumers. China is one of the most famous cases of growing globalization and capitalism: reforms in the 1980s shifted the Chinese economic structure from communalism to a market-based economy, and according to the World Bank, over 500 million people have been pulled above the poverty line with GDP growth rate averaging around 10% yearly. With this quickly growing economy and a population of 1.3 billion, China became the popular target for the big chocolate companies. Access to this market has not been easy for many of the companies, and these companies have had to come up with new strategies from those used in the United States to break into the Chinese market.

Thus, when we take a look at the packaging, we can see obvious differences that show that these companies are reacting towards the different perceptions that Chinese people hold about chocolate. The first main difference is that in CVS, the bulk chocolate is already packaged in bags of about ten to twelve ounces for consumers to buy. As mass production become increasingly easier for companies to use, the West saw that “choices to be made about eating…are made…by what are perceived as time constraints” (Mintz 202). Americans began prioritizing the convenience of food and snacks, and so these packs are ready-made with a variety of products for customers to grab and go.

Hersheys Spring Assortment Mars Halloween Assortment

In American society, the “experience of time…is often one of an insoluble shortage, and this perception may be essential to…the principle of ever-expanded consumption”(Mintz 202). As people in America feel increasingly pressed for time due to the pressure to do more and be more successful, these conveniently packages have unconsciously driven the mass consumption of chocolates, which in turns fuels the support for selling chocolate in such method. In other words, the packaging in CVS showcases the American impulse of buying chocolate on a whim, often to self-indulge themselves with large quantities of chocolate, which only reinforces that particular marketing strategy.

Contrast this to the packaging in FamilyMart, which reflects the more careful and thoughtful selection of Chinese consumers. Customers instead get to scoop their own bags and combinations of chocolates. This Chinese strategy of selling snack-sized chocolates has a much more practical air, in that customers can pick exactly how much of what they want to eat without the trouble of having to buy at least ten or so ounces of it. This process of selecting their chocolate and having it weighed, similar to how one would buy chocolate or candy from a specialty store in the United States, requires more upfront investment in the purchase, perhaps due to an underlying purpose of gift giving.

Gift giving itself is an act that requires much more thought and preparation, and the importance of gifts is a Chinese cultural code that successful companies have recognized while marketing in China. While the bulk chocolate can be catered towards someone’s particular tastes for chocolate, other products on the FamilyMart shelves can be seen packaged very ornately to leave a positive impression upon receipt. The M&Ms are packaged in the fun shape of the M&M mascot and even with a gift inside, while the Dove chocolate has been placed in a respectable tin. In fact, Mars has adopted this tactic of appropriate packaging rather well, and the commercial below is just one example that reflects Mars’ overall strategy of emphasizing the appropriateness of Dove chocolate for a gift.

[Chinese Kinder ad]

This commercial is the second of a two-part series of ads that focuses on the same actor and actress. The smitten man brings chocolate to the door of the woman he pursued in the first installment, and gives it as a gift of his season’s greetings. She shares the chocolate with her friends and then coyly asks him to bring another box just for her, and so the commercial ends on a promising note. We could also examine this ad for the way it plays into stereotypical gender roles and associations with chocolate, but will instead keep the focus on the action of gift giving. This ad targets the gift giving aspect of Chinese culture incredibly well, giving the audience positive images of love and associating that with Dove chocolate. As Professor Martin discussed in lecture, Mars has been able to win over the hearts of Chinese consumers more successfully than the other companies, simply by showing a distinguished knowledge of and dedication to Chinese consumers.

After analyzing the product availability and packaging in each of the stores, we can also look at the particular placement of the displays themselves within the store. As described earlier, CVS has most of its chocolate in one main aisle with the “Premium Chocolate” display labeled as such, and at the end of that aisle. This has several effects, the first of which is the mere placement of more chocolate at the end of one aisle. Because customers only pick an aisle if they know the product is in that aisle, they are more likely to walk past all the ends of the aisles. Having chocolate on the end of the aisle thus promotes its visibility in the store and entices people to pick up some “premium” chocolate, in this case various bars and packages of Ghiradelli, Lindt, and Ferrero Rocher. In the case where they prefer other kinds of chocolate, they have still been distracted by the mere image of chocolate and are then pulled into the aisle in search of the chocolate they want instead. In this particular CVS, and most American stores in general, there chocolate and candy even at the counter, which has the same effect of distracting the customer and relies again on the impulse and self-indulgence snacking tendencies that Americans tend to display.

Counter of CVS selling chocolate snacks

This snacking tendency actually has been seen as a historical trend away from full and separate meals, to smaller snacks in between main mealtimes. The French anthropologist Fischler, “appalled by the way “snacking” has supplanted meal taking…raises questions about the trend toward desocialized, aperiodic eating” (Mintz 212). This tendency is so common and has become so ingrained in our diets that it aligned perfectly with Western packaging of chocolate in convenient grab-and-go sizes. Mintz further goes on to say that today one might sense the “quickening of such diffusion, a speeding up, even in large, ancient societies that were apparently once resistant to such processes, such as China and Japan”.

In FamilyMart too, there were small packets of chocolate at the register for people to glance at and perhaps buy to snack on. However, the mass of the chocolate in FamilyMart was deep within the aisles of the store. The pictures have shown the large self-scoops of mass-produced chocolate, as well as the shelf displays of more nicely packaged chocolate. These displays were on either side of the bulk chocolate, and although it makes sense at first to group all the chocolate together, seems to have other effects. In order to look at those chocolates, customers must literally turn their backs on the bins in order to look at the shelves. This causes a literal separation between the two types of packaged chocolate, which directly contrasts with the placement in the American display. The chocolate in CVS at the end of the aisle drew the customer in, whereas the bins are what will catch the Chinese consumer’s eyes and potentially keep them there and cause them to be completely distracted from the contents of the shelves.

How then, can chocolate companies be so successful with the ornate packaging in FamilyMart that is actually rarely seen in generic drugstores like CVS? This apparent contradiction can be explained through the perception of chocolate in China and the nature of the consumers’ purchases. We have also explained the impulse buys that mark American purchases, and contrasted that with the gift-oriented purchases of the Chinese. The separation of the shelves and the bins push this explanation even further, in that Chinese consumers must truly have given genuine thought to the idea of purchasing chocolate as a gift rather than whimsically deciding to buy it for someone after seeing it. After all, the likelihood that they look at the shelves is very low when the large bins of chocolate capture their eyes first. Even when consumers buy chocolate as gifts in CVS, it still may be marked by impulsive tendencies merely because their thoughts have been primed by the image of chocolate. The placement of certain chocolate on the shelves was further emphasized by flashy displays. Of particular mention were the following two displays for Ferrero Rocher and Kinder.

Ferrero Rocher display in FamilyMart Kinder display in FamilyMart

These displays were of particular interest due to the fact that Mars has been so successful relative to the other chocolate companies in China. Ferrero, another of the big five companies, owns these two brands. As a matter of fact, Ferrero has carved out its own “niche in China by taking the path of least resistance” and successfully employing tactics aimed at the Chinese culture of gift giving. In Chocolate Fortunes, Lawrence Allen tells of how Ferrero “successfully sold the Chinese people on its delicate, foil-wrapped hazelnut treats”, using its foreign and exclusive image to promote the value of its chocolate as a luxury gift (Wharton article). Thus, placed in this historical context, the display in FamilyMart of Ferrero with its predominantly gift-oriented goods and personalized spotlights makes complete sense.

With this explanation, the other display of Kinder chocolate then seems somewhat of an anomaly, since the packaging looks too simple to mark the goods as gifts. We often do not see Kinder chocolate in the United States; the CVS in this comparison certainly did not sell Kinder products. The reason for its presence and marketing is in fact driven by another aspect of Chinese culture – that of the value placed in children. The marketing of this product was likely developed through the social valuation of children in Chinese culture, and the parental desire to raise successful children. In the following ad, the mother has prepared Kinder chocolate for the children when they say that they want to eat something tasty. The chocolate is further described as having the nutritional value of a large glass of milk within the bar, and the children are shown playing outside happy and healthy. These images really draw on the parents’ desires to have similarly happy and healthy children, and so Ferrero demonstrates truly effective marketing that plays on aspects of Chinese culture that Mars does not.

Following the examination of chocolate displays in an American CVS and a Chinese FamilyMart, we can see that both the variety of goods, their packaging, as well as the environment of their displays all reflect the societal perceptions of chocolate. These in turn show how each culture has particular values that are played upon by chocolate companies in order for them to successfully sell their product; and in doing so, these chocolate companies further reinforce the same habits that then continue to draw sales of chocolate. Yet in the Chinese market, we can see two divisive approaches that sell chocolate: one approach sells chocolate in customized bulk purchases of snack-sized chocolate, while the other approach leads to elaborate packaging the name of gift giving. These approaches, although both effective thus far, are signs that Mars has perhaps a slippery hold on the Chinese market for chocolate. There remains still an enormous amount of potential in a market of this size, and through the continued, careful analysis of Chinese culture, any company can emerge successful in the years to come.

Works Cited

A Song of Chocolate and Sugar: Mutual Causality in the Growth of Chocolate and Sugar in England

The degree of ubiquity of sugar in the modern American diet would have been staggering to any European citizen in centuries past. One need only look to Candy Crush, an incredibly popular mobile game thematically designed around solving puzzles with sugary candy in a sweet-based kingdom, to understand just how prevalent sugar has become in diets and even pop culture. How did sugar transition from a luxury good to an omnipresent culinary additive across the span of a few centuries? Sidney Mintz describes how “in 1000 AD, few Europeans knew of the existence of sucrose, or cane sugar. But soon after they learned about it; by 1650, in England the nobility and the wealthy had become inveterate sugar eaters […] by no  later than 1800, sugar had become a necessity – albeit a costly and rare one – in the diet of every English person; by 1900, it was supplying nearly one-fifth of the calories of the English diet” (Mintz 5-6). While this summarizes the transition nicely, immeasurable context is omitted by considering this statement alone. Due to low production costs stemming from the overseas plantation system, supplying sugar to the British public became an increasingly easy task. As a result, a relationship of mutual causality emerged, with the explosive popularity of both sugar and chocolate from the 17th century onwards being nontrivially linked to sugar’s use as a common additive in imported luxuries like cacao.

English sugar intake per capita from 1700-2000 increased tremendously over time, contributing to growing obesity today

To contextualize sugar’s rise in England, it is important to first understand how it came to arrive there. The most notable production method for sugar was its export from cane sugar plantations in British colonies in the Americas. While other nations followed suit, the British were uniquely effective at this – as Mintz writes, “England fought the most, conquered the most colonies, imported the most slaves, and went further and fastest in creating a plantation system. The most important product of that system was sugar” (Mintz 38). Due to low labor costs resulting from the mass employ of slaves on these plantations, production cost was relatively low for a good that was a relative luxury. From 1655, when sugar was originally introduced in England, to 1753, consumption of sugar rose from around 1,000 hogsheads to 104,000 hogsheads (Mintz 39). This implies that price had been driven down as a result of plantations becoming more efficient and widespread, and the resulting effect was that sugar became more common in English diets.

A sprawling English sugar plantation in Richmond, Jamaica c. 1800

While plummeting sugar costs certainly helped enhance sugar’s popularity in England, they cannot be held solely accountable for the magnitude of its rise. Rather, luxury imports such as chocolate (as well as tea and coffee) served to amplify the effects of lowering sugar prices in the 17th century, providing a new vessel for the introduction of sugar into the English diet. Mintz speculates that this connection makes sense due to the inherently bitter nature of these imports; adding sugar tempers the bitter flavor with sweetness, which tends to be appreciated by everyone whereas bitter tastes often need to be acquired (Mintz 109-110). This is the first half of the link of mutual causality between chocolate and sugar – without the prevalence and availability of sugar, the rise of chocolate in England would not have been possible.

Here, the other half of the link of mutual causality between chocolate and sugar becomes more apparent. Sugar’s rise in popularity is partially attributable to the availability of new, uniquely bitter products like chocolate to which it could be added during the production process. Additionally, the spread of these products was timed extremely conveniently with the onset of the Industrial Revolution. The availability of new manufacturing processes opened doors for combining sugar and chocolate in ways that proved exciting for consumers. For instance, in 1828 Coenraad Johannes Van Houten patented a proprietary means of alkalizing and pressing cocoa to create cocoa powder, which could be easily combined with sugar in production of chocolate. This “made possible the large-scale manufacture of cheap chocolate for the masses, in both powdered and solid form” (Coe and Coe, 242). Consumer chocolate production followed, with Joseph Fry manufacturing individually packaged chocolate bars in 1847, and John Cadbury founding his company in 1824 in Birmingham to introduce variety in the types of available confections. Later innovations such as Rudolphe Lindt’s conche near the end of the 19th century helped streamline the addition of sugar even further, with the conche being used to distribute mixed ingredients better, to remove granularity, and to reduce particle size (which may have been important when adding something that begins as granular as sugar) (Coe and Coe 251).

With a new set of manufacturing techniques and an exciting array of more affordable chocolate confections, sugar was solidified as a staple of the British diet by the dawn of the 20th century. Of course, experimentation and implementation at scale have only expanded in the years since, with massive corporations such as Nestle, The Hershey Company, Lindt, Mars, and others dominating commercial markets. Nevertheless, the current state of the industry never could have been possible had sugar and chocolate both not arrived in the fashion that they did. Each depended on the other to grow its own popularity, laying out a relationship of mutual causality that harmonized to the tune of rapid growth across a few centuries.

Works Cited:

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1996. Print.

Mintz, Sidney. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York: Viking, 1985. Print.


Schroeter, John Henry. “Our Richmond Heritage.” Richmond Jamaica. Web. 13 Mar. 2015. <http://www.richmondjamaica.com/heritage.html&gt;.

(USER) Spencer Chocolate. “Chocolate Conche.” YouTube. YouTube, 3 Sept. 2014. Web. 13 Mar. 2015. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EKQiaKrh1_o&gt;.

“Obesity, Type 2 Diabetes, and Fructose.” Office of Science Outreach. Indiana University. Web. 13 Mar. 2015. <http://www.indiana.edu/~oso/Fructose/Fructose.html&gt;.

Just Ad Water: Positive and Negative Advertising and the Case of Swiss Miss

Advertisement is one of the ugliest and most alienating features of modern life. Karl Marx describes the phenomenon of advertisement perfectly in his polemic essay “On The Human Requirements:”

…every person speculates on creating a new need in another, so as to drive him to a fresh sacrifice, to place him in a new dependence and to seduce him into a new mode of gratification and therefore economic ruin. Each tries to establish over the other an alien power, so as thereby to find satisfaction of his own selfish need… [the producer] puts himself at the service of the other’s most depraved fancies, plays the pimp between him and his need, excites in him morbid appetites, lies in wait for each of his weaknesses—all so that he can then demand the cash for this service of love.

(Marx, 93-94, emphasis sic)

Advertisement works by creating need or desire in its target audience (the potential consumer). But how does it do this?

A classical, simplistic, naïve description of what advertisement does might be that it relates the merits of the product accurately and, by informing the consumer, allows them either to choose that product or one of its competitors. This is the conception of advertisement embedded in the classical economics concept of homo economicus: the self-interested, knowledgeable consumer.

It is obvious to any thinking person that this conception of advertisement’s function is grossly incomplete—in fact, most advertisement today does not function by informing, it functions by persuading the consumer, and it does this not usually by accurately depicting the advertised product’s literal qualities, but by investing it in the consumer’s mind with more abstract attributes. This has much to do with what historian and anthropologist Sidney Mintz called “the complex idea that one [can] become different by consuming differently,” (Mintz 185, emphasis sic). For example, the below ad for Diet Coke comments not at all on any of the visceral, material qualities of the soda—its taste or texture in the mouth, the effects from its caloric or caffeine content, or even the more debatable and abstract quality of being “refreshing”—and focuses instead on implying that, somehow, consuming Diet Coke will increase your social appeal, your sex appeal, and will empower you to glamorously have fun.

By depicting the experience of drinking Diet Coke this way, Coca-Cola is promising something that in some way resembles that experience to those who drink the soda in reality. Advertisement promises something to the consumer—an experience, a sensation, an improvement, a change.

The Diet Coke ad above is what I will dub “positive” advertising—not positive in the sense of a value judgement, but positive in the sense that it promises an addition to the consumer’s life, and preys on the consumer’s desire. What I will call “negative” advertisement, therefore, does not so much promise to add something good to the consumer’s life as to take something bad out of it—negative advertisement preys on the consumer’s fear. An example of negative advertisement:

Now, there’s at least 30 pages’ worth to be written on everything that is royally f**ked up about that advertisement, but leaving all that aside, it illustrates negative advertisement perfectly. The ad tells us that Veet will keep from the consumer something they fear (“dudeness,” apparently); it will stave off something bad from their life, rather than add something good.

Obviously, the boundary between positive and negative advertisement is extremely nebulous—there is a sides-of-a-coin sort of relationship between desire and fear in that we desire to keep away those things we fear and we fear not having our desires satisfied. Nonetheless, the lack of a clear boundary doesn’t mean we don’t know it when we see it. The Diet Coke ad above is clearly positive advertisement—but it could easily be changed into negative advertisement if the young woman drinking the soda were to be displayed as disastrously lacking in social and sex appeal or in her sense of fun before the can is cracked. Negative advertisement, to put it another way, promises to compensate for some glaring deficit in the consumer’s life or self.

I should note that these categories and this essay are only concerned with advertisements for consumable goods. Lyndon B. Johnson’s famous “Daisy” campaign ad, for example, does not advertise something that can be consumed, and is therefore not an example of negative advertising despite the fact that it is perhaps the ur-example of advertisement that panders to fear:

I mean… damn. It doesn’t get much more fear-based than “vote for me cause Barry Goldwater is gonna get your kids nuked.”

One’s children being incinerated in a nuclear explosion is a fear of a very primal and uncomplicated kind, but not all negative advertisement is so basic. In fact, deconstructing the fears and cultural complexes on which a piece of advertisement plays can yield fascinating insights into the product being advertised, its relations to its own consumers, and the culture in which these relations operate and find their basis. As an example of this deconstruction, a classmate and I examined and parodically altered the following advertisements from Swiss Miss hot chocolate.



(Image Source: Kaitlyn Boudah)

This image is taken from a sachet of Swiss Miss hot cocoa mix, and


this blurb and photo are taken from the Swiss Miss brand page of the Keurig coffee product site (url: https://www.keurig.com/swissmiss-k-cup) describing a little Keurig mini-cup-pack of Swiss Miss mix. Clearly Swiss Miss has a consistent and coherent narrative running through much of their advertising—one that represents a complex and involved example of negative advertisement.

The image on the sachet is of a youngish, attractive, white woman—who can only be presumed to be the mother—and the prepubescent, adorable, white little girl smiling at her—clearly meant to be her daughter—enjoying a cup of hot cocoa together, with the slogan “Create the Moment” repeated alongside it in elaborate cursive script. The text of the blurb speaks for itself. Let us examine them and see what we can deduce. If we follow the obvious principle that the consumer is meant to be able to identify with the models in the advertisement, we can safely say that the target audience of this advertising narrative is mothers (or at least parents, since little kids do not make purchasing decisions). With a little less safety we could generalize that the target audience is, on the whole, white and of middle-class socioeconomic standing. So, with both sides of the producer-consumer relation established in mind, let us proceed.

I have stated that this is negative advertisement, but I acknowledge that it could be argued to be positive. I will defend my claim below, but first let us examine what fears, desires, and cultural ideas this advertisement makes use of. As with the advertisements discussed above, it is not the product itself that is being sold, it is those things with which the advertisement invests the product in the consumer’s eye. In this case, what is primarily being sold is family togetherness. The slogan “Create the Moment” informs us what may be accomplished by the purchase and consumption of Swiss Miss—a moment of sharing, of connection, of togetherness, of bonding and love between family members, especially between mothers and daughters such as are depicted on both the sachet and the image that accompanies the blurb on the Keurig site. The emphasis on mothers reflects gendered assumptions on the part of Swiss Miss: that the mother is the primary purchaser of groceries, that the mother is the parent more responsible for emotional fostering, or that the mother is the parent who would prepare a consumable drink for their child.

The blurb is selling “one-on-one time” and “those precious moments with the kids.” My argument for this as negative rather than positive advertisement lies primarily in the rhetoric of the slogan and blurb. Swiss Miss is not selling anything additional; it does not take the positive advertisement’s view that your life may be well and good and sufficient but by buying product X you can make it better, you can add something to it which takes it beyond sufficient to great. Swiss Miss is selling you something to fill in a hole and bring your life something that it is lacking. The slogan is not “Create A Moment,” it is “Create THE Moment:” the Moment is something understood, something that requires no explanation, something that the consumer apparently already thinks should be in their life—but perhaps isn’t. “Those precious moments” operates in the same way—the “those” designates a concept already understood. Even if the consumer has never felt that they have experienced such a moment, they at least know what the moment is supposed to be, and Swiss Miss is selling them a chance at it.

This advertising narrative plays off of parental (especially maternal) fears that parents are not having enough of “those precious moments” with their kids—preciousness connotes rarity, and it hardly needs proving that there is a widespread anxiety in our culture today about lack of understanding or sympathy between parents and their children, about children’s moving “too fast” to stop and really connect. The invocation of “tradition” in the blurb adds a nostalgic note that obliquely taps into this modernity-angst zeitgeist. Add to this the ahistorical anxiety parents have about their children growing up and moving away from them—either in the sense of drifting away from them in values, beliefs, etc., drifting out of their parental influence and out from under their protection, or in the sense of merely becoming an adult who is no longer dependent and therefore no longer bound to the parent by that dependency—and we’ve got quite a lot of potential fear, guilt, anxiety, and sadness. The advertisement is effective because it promises to stave these bad feelings off, to solve these problems: it seems to promise that by sharing a cup of Swiss Miss brand hot cocoa, parents and children can share a special moment of emotional connection, can forge a bond that will last through aging, can stop and appreciate the current moment, always so fleeting, of the child’s development. And since the root of all these fears is the same—the root of all fears that are based in regret, in not having lived right, in being left behind by your loved ones and by the relentless march of history—what Swiss Miss is selling, on some level, is a cure for the fear of death. Just add water and stir.

To highlight and parody these fears and the way the advertisement exploits them, we have altered the blurb taken from the Keurig site and its associated picture:


Behind the girl is a specter of a young woman in risqué “punk” attire and makeup, representing the parent’s fear of a child’s growing up, rejecting the parent’s influence, and going “wrong” somehow. Behind the mother is the Grim Reaper, who rather heavy-handedly represents the aforementioned fear of death. The blurb has been altered to highlight the commodification of family togetherness and exploitation of parental fears (with a jab at the real blurb’s glossing over the “imported” chocolate’s origins thrown in for good measure). The slogan has been changed to, again, show how family bonds are being commodified.


Works Cited

Marx, Karl, and Engels, Friederich. The Marx-Engels Reader. Ed. Robert C. Tucker.    W.W. Norton & Company, New York N.Y. 1978.

Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power. Viking Penguin Inc., 1985. London, England.

1000 Years of Sweetness: Sugar Consumption in Britain From Its Introduction to Today

Living in America, it is nearly impossible to escape the ongoing national conversation(s) about food—from the “obesity epidemic” to the rise of antioxidant “superfoods” to various fad diets to government bans on supersize sodas, the headlines seem to universally declare what Michael Pollan asserted in the introduction to his brilliant, landmark The Omnivore’s Dilemma: America has a “national eating disorder.” But we are not alone in this—our former mother country of Great Britain has just as feverish a menagerie of national dietary anxieties. By far chiefest among the food issues weighing on the British collective consciousness, however, is their peoples’ intake of sugar. A cursory search of the word “sugar” in the leading British newspaper The Guardian’s archives turns up over 40,000 results. A few sample headlines from the last few months alone:

Sugar ‘could be addictive’

Chief medical officer Sally Davies says government should introduce tax on sugar to combat growing menace of obesity

< http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/mar/04/sugar-addictive-tax>

We must end this sweet madness of excess sugar consumption

Eating too much sugar is damaging our health, but the food, drink and farming industries are blocking change

< http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jan/09/end-excess-sugar-consumption>

Sugar is now enemy number one in the western diet

Action on Sugar is keen to make the public aware of the dangers and for manufacturers to face regulation

< http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jan/11/sugar-is-enemy-number-one-now>

Obesity experts campaign to cut sugar in food by up to 30%

Doctors say marketing ploys to cut calories are ineffective, now industry must slowly lower sugar content of processed foods

< http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/jan/09/obesity-campaign-cut-sugar-processed-foods>

Adults should cut sugar intake to less than a can of Coke a day, says WHO

World Health Organisation’s director of nutrition says adults should get only 5% of daily calories from sugar

< http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/mar/05/adults-sugar-calories-coke-can-who>

Clearly, there is a great deal of anxiety in modern Britain about overconsumption of sugar. But 1000 years ago, sugar was entirely foreign to Britain, and just 500 years ago it was an obscure luxury of extraordinary rarity. How did British consumers get from there to here? The story of British sugar consumption’s change over time is both fascinating and rich with connections to a great many other important historical phenomena.

Sugar had appeared in Britain in tiny quantities by 1100, and continued to trickle in intermittently and irregularly for the next several centuries (Mintz, xxix). A Guardian article profiling the British national relationship to sugar summarized the slow increase of sugar’s presence strikingly: “Mentions of sugar are hard to find in Chaucer but common enough in Shakespeare” (“Britain”). The significant history of sugar in Britain does indeed seem to begin in the Elizabethan era, whose namesake queen, tellingly, had blackened teeth by the end of her life from overconsumption of sugar (Mintz, 134).


Queen Elizabeth the First
(Image Source: http://www.britroyals.com/kings.asp?id=elizabeth1)


Tooth Decay. Quite a juxtaposition, isn’t it?
(Image Source: http://www.iapdworld.org/parents/super_pages.php?ID=parents2)

In this time, the queen was one of very few people privileged enough to destroy their teeth in this way: when it first began to be consumed in any quantity at all in Britain, sugar was a conspicuous luxury of the very rich (Mintz, 84). The rich who consumed (very small) quantities of sugar in this time categorized it as a spice alongside other exotic flavorful plant products such as cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg (Mintz, 84). This usage fell out of fashion after the 16th century, which sugar expert Sidney Mintz says marked the peak of sugar-as-spice, just before the “prices, supplies, and customary uses [of sugar] began changing rapidly and radically,” (Mintz, 86). He notes, however, that modern consumers are still familiar with this “condimental” use of sugar, however strange it may seem at first consideration: holiday foods, Mintz tells us, “often preserve what the everyday loses,” and such traditional holiday foods as gingerbread and brown-sugar glazed hams hearken back to very old uses of sugar in Europe (Mintz, 87). In addition to its use as a spice, sugar was displayed by the rich as a decoration: beautiful and edible sculptures were presented with great fanfare at the feasts of the nobility (Mintz 88). The practice of sugar sculpting, too, continues to this day.


Sugar Sculpture. (Image Source: http://theparisletter.blogspot.com/2012/05/kings-of-pastry-be-man-this-is-mof.html)

In the 16th century, Mintz points out, merchants also began to participate in the conspicuous display and consumption of sugar in this same way—evidence of changing sugar consumption patterns that also reveal the slowly shifting balance of power from a feudal to a merchant political economy (Mintz 90). One last archaic use of sugar which also has vestiges in the modern day is as a miraculous medicine: sugar was both the “active ingredient” and a facilitative additive in an untold host of medicines (Mintz 98-99). It is interesting to note that medicinal sugar faced the same questioning as medicinal chocolate did when it confronted the Galenic medical paradigm of Europe—namely, what its humoric properties might be, and whether it was “food” enough that eating it broke the fast (Mintz 99) (c.f. my first response paper). The ghost of sugar’s medicinal past still haunts us today in the form of supposed hiccup cures and, of course, songs from Mary Poppins. Sugar does, of course, have physiological properties exceeding those of most foods, just not those that were supposed by the theorists of European medicine. We will return to a discussion of sugar’s psychoactive properties below.

The post-16th-century “rapid and radical” change in British sugar consumption to which Mintz refers has an unsurprising origin: the Americas. Sugar and slaves arrived simultaneously in the British colonial settlement of Jamestown in 1619, and though Jamestown never grew sugar in any quantity, this fact is indicative of the close relationship between sugar, slavery, and European colonization of the Americas (Mintz, 37). (The point is illustrated below by a contemporaneous newspaper cartoon.)
In this cartoon, the planter is speaking; the caption translates to “Say what you like, but you can’t make sugar without the cane!”
(Image Source: The Sugar Museum, http://www.sdtb.de/Colonial-trade-and-slavery.1297.0.html)

European nations were interested primarily in extracting wealth from their colonies, and at the same time that the American south began to cultivate such profitable cash crops as rice, indigo, and tobacco, the colonies in the West Indies were turned into island-sized sugar plantations. Beginning with the island of Barbados in 1640, Britain’s empire rapidly began to produce unprecedented amounts of sugar (Mintz 38). As Mintz says, “sugar steadily changed from being a specialized—medicinal, condimental, ritual, or display—commodity into an ever more common food,” becoming primarily a sweetener and preservative used by the common people (Mintz, 37, 121). This paper will not concern itself with the specific changes in the production side of the sugar supply chain, vital though they are to a comprehensive understanding of sugar’s history, and will concern itself instead solely with British consumption practices. Suffice it to say that massive movements of imperial power and capital—as well as human lives in the form of enslaved Africans—were undertaken to produce ever-more sugar for the hungry markets of the mother countries. A glance at the statistics illustrates the point: England went from importing 1000 hogsheads of sugar in 1660 to importing 110,000 in 1753, and the proportion that she re-exported fell dramatically in the same time. No matter how much the West Indian colonies produced, however, British demand kept up and exceeded it at every point—sugar came, during this time, to “define English ‘character,’” (Mintz 39). By 1750, even the poorest English people took sugar in their tea (Mintz 45). The importance of sugar as a daily commodity is perfectly illustrated by the fact that the conventional sign for a grocer’s shop was a sugar loaf.


A sugar loaf, pictured with the tongs used to scrape off small portions. (Image Source: https://britishfoodhistory.wordpress.com/tag/preserves/)

Examples of grocer’s signs featuring sugar loaves (and tea canisters):


(Image Source: http://www.dobynsandmartin.com/)


(Image Source: http://www.cluesheet.com/All-About-Coffee-XIII.htm)


(Image Source: http://savoringthepast.net/2012/09/27/grocer-advertisement-from-boston-1732/)

Tea was taken with sugar, bread had treacle and jam spread on it, porridge was sweetened with sugar, sweet cakes and breads and puddings became a normal part of the English diet (Mintz 120). In the 19th century, sugar consumption once again tracked a change in the balance of power just as significant as that from the feudal paradigm to the merchant economy—as the merchants lost power to the industrial capitalists, sugar became a staple of the proletariat as both food and drug (Mintz 46, 183). Not only was it a normalized additive to many food items, sugar’s energy-boosting properties as a psychoactive helped people to adjust to the new work schedules demanded by industrial labor (Mintz 181).

As it has remained an unwitting ally of the reigning mode of production since then, we should be unsurprised that sugar consumption has only continued to steadily rise worldwide. Sugar remained cheap and ubiquitous (excepting the economically anomalous world wars) through the 20th century, and today much of the “first world” (for want of a better term) finds itself in a crisis of sugar overconsumption. Bittersweet indeed.

Works Cited

“Britain is Built on Sugar: Our National Sweet Tooth Defines Us.” The Guardian. Published 10/12/07, accessed 3/14/14. <http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2007/oct/13/lifeandhealth.britishidentity&gt;

Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power. Viking Penguin Inc., 1985. London, England.

The M&M: Chocolate as a Sweet Treat, Decoration, and Self Preservation Method


    In his book, Sweetness and Power, Sidney Mintz outlines the five roles sugar has assumed in its history: sugar as a sweetener, spice, medicine, preservative, and decoration.   In the modern day chocolate industry, sugar has become a key ingredient that has shaped the flavor profile of chocolate vastly.  Modern day chocolate does not necessarily assume the characteristics of all five of these roles, however throughout the years; chocolate has demonstrated traits from three of these roles: a sweetener, a preservative, and a decoration.  One chocolate product in particular that demonstrates qualities of sweetness, preservation and decoration is the Mars M&M.

M&M trademarked slogan highlighting its preservative methods.
M&M trademarked slogan highlighting its preservative methods.

The M&M was born in the 1930s during the Spanish Civil War.  Forrest Mars, son of the founder of the Mars chocolate company and influential driving force in the history of Mars himself, witnessed soldiers eating tiny chocolate pellets surrounded by a sugar shell and became inspired to create his own version of the self-preservative chocolate.  On March 3rd, 1941, Forrest Mars received a patent for his manufacturing process (which can be seen in the following video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xVJTIz7Z3Ds ) of creating the chocolate covered with the hard sugar coating substance.  The product was first available for purchase in 1941 and was originally packaged in cardboard tubes.   In 1954, the famous slogan of “The milk chocolate melts in your mouth, not in your hand” was trademarked.   The following video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4gtM_mmvDww) showcases the ability of M&M’s to keep their shape meanwhile, the competitor’s product does melt in the hand of the demonstrator.  The preservative elements of the chocolate product were heavily celebrated and ultimately led to the market success of the incredibly popular chocolate item, encouraging competitors to also feature chocolate as a preservative.

Customize your M&M's!
Customize your M&M’s!

The M&M grew to prominence through its use of decoration and is now recognized by the iconic “M” imprinted on the surface of the sugar shell.  The original reason behind printing the “M” on each candy piece was to ensure customers that they were purchasing and consuming the original product, which in turn began to affect national advertising.  (Lemelson-MIT)  Although chocolate products similar to M&Ms have gained a presence in the chocolate world, such as Reese’s Pieces, M&M’s have maintained their strong market hold, perhaps due to the novelty of the decorative elements of the candy product.  The ploy to prevent counterfeiting the chocolate product led to one of the more recognizable chocolates in American culture.  More recently, M&Ms have allowed for the customization of the design on the chocolate hard shell.  Sites such as the following, http://www.mymms.com/utility.aspx, support customizing the color of the M&M as well as the logo or image imprinted on the candy piece itself.  The new role of chocolate as a decoration has led to a new way to consume and appreciate chocolate as well as a new method to personalize the chocolate consumption experience.

The M&M can be viewed as an innovative approach to chocolate-making through its combination of chocolate and sugar, which is used as a unique self-preservation solution and a canvas for the decoration of the candy piece, with the taste of All-American milk chocolate.  The M&M has become pervasive in American culture, reflecting changes in taste preferences and sugar usage.  The inclusion of sugar in chocolate not only greatly impacted current chocolate tastes preferences, but increased the versatility of chocolate allowing it to assume the roles of a sweet product, a method for preserving the quality of chocolate, and an outlet for creative expression through customization.

Works Cited:

Brenner, Joël Glenn. The Emperors of Chocolate: Inside the Secret World of Hershey and         Mars. New York: Random House, 1999. Print.

Glass, Don. “The Secret of M&Ms.” A Moment of Science RSS. Indiana Public Media, 29                 Aug. 2007. Web. 12 Mar. 2014. <http://indianapublicmedia.org/amomentofscience/the-      secret-of-mms/>.

“Inventor of the Week: Archive.” Inventor of the Week: Archive. Lemelson-MIT Program,              Jan. 2007. Web. 12 Mar. 2014. <http://web.mit.edu/invent/iow/mars.html/&gt;.