Tag Archives: m&m’s

Cheap Sugar and Expensive Cacao: the democratization of the “food of the gods.”

Chocolate means many things to many people, invoking feelings of romance, decadence, comfort, celebration, and memories of childhood. And despite its ubiquity across most of the globe, chocolate has maintained an aura of lavishness, mystery, and prestige. Once a food item strictly for the elites, chocolate has kept its image as a luxury item even though it has been cheaply available for over a century. How and why did chocolate go from an exclusive luxury item for the privileged to a staple everyday treat for the masses? The history of chocolate, or cacao, the treated fruit-seeds from which chocolate is produced, and how it became commonplace is inseparable from the history of colonialism, the trans-Atlantic slave trade, and the industrial revolution. And the same is true of the history of sugar. Ultimately it was the evolution and combining of these two once-exclusive products that changed chocolate from an expensive, rare commodity for a small elite class to an affordable, mass-producible snack for the everyday citizen of the industrialised world.

Chocolate finds its origin in the cacao tree, or theobroma cacao, literally “food of the gods, cacao,” as it was named by Swedish naturalist Carolus Linnaeus.1 However, the word cacao had been used, as had the fruits and the seeds within, since long before Linnaeus encountered the species. Traces of cacao have been discovered on pottery dating as far back as 3,300 B.C. in Zamora Chinchipe, Ecuador,2 almost five thousand years before contact between Europe and Mesoamerica began. When Europeans first encountered cacao at the beginning of the sixteenth century, cacao was used as currency and consumed as a beverage by the ruling class of the Aztec empire. The drinking chocolate travelled first to the royal courts of Spain and then spread to the other major powers in Europe including, Italy, France, and England.  Drinking chocolate prevailed until the middle of the nineteenth century when solid chocolate was first produced for widespread sale.


Sugar has been known in Europe since long before cacao. Cultivated into its crystallized form in India as far back as 500 A.D.,3 and spread through the Arabic conquests of the eighth century, it was and remained “a luxury, a medicine, and a spice”4 until the seventeenth century. With the discovery and conquering of the West Indies, Europeans colonialists began to cultivate and mass-produce the luxury items – cacao, tobacco, coffee, rum, tea, and sugar – that would dramatically change the economies of the world forever.

By the nineteenth century sugar had a become a necessity of British daily life. And it was during this century that Dutch chemist Coenraad Johannes Van Houten invented a machine that would lead to the ability to produce chocolate in its solid form. Van Houten’s hydraulic press separated the fat, cacao butter, from the cacao beans, leaving behind a powder we call cocoa.5 The British Fry family, who had been producing and selling drinking chocolate since the eighteenth century, discovered that by remixing this cocoa with the butter and adding sugar, a liquid that would harden could be made, and the first real chocolate bar was born.6


It should be stated that none of the major producers of solid chocolate who would come to dominate the market were the first to think to sweeten cacao for consumption. Adding honey to sweeten drinking chocolate had been commonplace in Mesoamerica before the arrival of the Spanish, and drinking chocolate recipes enjoyed by the aristocracy in Europe pervasively contained sugar. The change that took place that would significantly spread the consumption of chocolate was the pronounced increased, first, in the consumption of sugar. According to Sidney W. Mintz’s estimates, between 1800 and 1890 world production shot from approximately two-hundred and forty-five thousand tonnes of sugar to over six million, and he writes, “there is no doubt that the sucrose consumption of the poorer classes in the United Kingdom came to exceed that of the wealthier classes after 1850.”7 This transformative period in sugar production and consumption paired with Van Houten’s machine, which meant for easier and cheaper production of higher quality cacao powder and butter, set the stage for the mass-production and consumption of chocolate.


The public’s insatiable appetite for sugar has meant that chocolate production can be much cheaper, as the most expensive ingredient, cacao, can be used in less quantity. A good example of this is the enormously successful Hershey’s kiss that is just eleven percent cocoa and over fifty percent sugar.8 And the mass-production ideology that came with the industrial revolution led to astonishing manufacturing achievements. A good example of this is the lettering machine at the M&M factory that is able to print the M’s on M&M’s at, “200,000 M&M’s a minute, or 100 million M&M’s every eight hours:”9 needless to say, a far cry from the time-consuming procedure to make the drinking chocolate that was enjoyed by Mayans, Aztecs, and European “nobility” for the centuries and millennia prior. That milk chocolate can be legally called as such with just 10% cacao content has meant a form of chocolate can be made, and therefore bought and eaten, cheaply and regularly across class lines. So while there is debate as to the health effects of cheap chocolate and ethical concerns of cheaply sourced cacao, the “food of the gods” is now available to all mortals. And thank god for that.


Works Cited


  1. Presilla, Maricel. 2009. The New Taste of Chocolate, Revised: A Cultural & Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press. Page 5
  2. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-22733002
  3. Mintz, Sidney W. 1985. Sweetness and Power: the Place of Sugar in Modern History. Penguin. Page 23
  4. Page 30
  5. Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. 1996. The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson. Page 234
  6. Page 241
  7. Page 143
  8. Martin, Carla D. “The rise of big chocolate and race for the global market.’” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard Extension School: Cambridge, MA. 3/7/18, Class Lecture
  9. Brenner, Joel. 2000. The Emperors of Chocolate: Inside the Secret World of Hershey and Mars. Page 185

Eye Candy: Gender and Sexuality in M&Ms Advertisements

The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue is known for featuring beautiful, scantily clad women draped across its cover. But do you know about the woman who was featured on the back cover for six years in a row, from 2009-2014? If you guessed a seductively posed green M&M, you’re right!

(Listen to Green talk about her experience “modeling” for the back covers here.)

When Mars Inc. decided to create characters for the different colored M&Ms featured in their ads they made the bold choice to feature four male personalities and one female. Each M&M is named after their color, and their personalities are as follows: Red is a self-confident leader, Yellow is an oblivious goofball, Orange is neurotic, Blue is cool and smooth, and Green (the female M&M) is a purring seductress (“Characters”). This blatantly sexist gender imbalance was partly corrected in 2012 when Mars Inc. launched the character Ms. Brown, a savvy businesswoman (Newcomb), but most of Green’s Sports Illustrated back covers were published before Ms. Brown was created, so I’m not going to take her character into account when assessing the female image M&Ms was promoting in these advertisements.

So, without further ado, here are the covers:

green mm 2009
green mm 2010
green mm 2011 real
green mm 2012 (2)
green mm 2013
green mm 2014


Six pictures of a piece of chocolate posed like a bikini model, that’s a lot to take in! We can begin to process what is happening here by thinking about the history of gender and sexuality in chocolate advertising.

There are a few groups chocolate ads have historically targeted. 1) The housewife looking to provide wholesome food for her family 2) Men looking to win over a woman in a heterosexual romance and 3) a woman looking to indulge a guilty pleasure (Robertson 22-35). These pictures of Green fit into categories 2 and 3. Because the chocolate here has come to life as a woman, which isn’t typical in chocolate ads, the implicit message is a little less straightforward than it usually is. Green sits as the embodiment of the stereotypical female obsession with chocolate. But, with her steady gaze and placement on the back of a magazine geared towards men, she also exists as a male-directed suggestion that M&Ms will improve your chances of seducing a woman.

I tried to create an ad that would avoid falling into these stereotypical categorizations. The most egregious problem I have with these covers is that they play into a trend in chocolate advertising of women being seduced by the treat. (This trend was pointed out by Professor Carla Martin in a funny blog post you can reach if you click right here.) These ads make the statement that an M&M without its shell is nude, and that the chocolate underneath is a sensual temptation. In these M&M ads this seduction is being performed more overtly than in most advertisements. Chocolate, here, is not a passive temptation. These back covers show Green stripping down to her chocolate inner while making eye contact with the camera, aware that the viewer finds her chocolate alluring. The unabashed way Mars Inc. in these ads correlates chocolate with sex appeal, and the way they put the burden of sexual appeal on their female character is alarming.

So the ad I created seeks to change the way the viewer perceives the character Green, while being an effective and persuasive advertisement that falls into the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit theme.2016-04-08 19.06.42 (1)

  1. I kept Green recognizably female. I want to show that representations of gender can be made effectively without stepping into a sexist mode of portrayal. Green gets to keep her high heel boots (despite their impracticality as beach shoes), and I gave her a hot pink beach towel to relax on. I want to show that women can be traditionally feminine without their gender performance relating to their sexual availability.
  2. I used a classic M&Ms advertising phrase “Melts in in your mouth, not in your hand” to tie the product into the Sports Illustrated beach theme. Green has a handful of M&Ms and is giving a thumbs up to show that they are holding up under the hot sun. She is selling the product here, not a sensual experience.


Works Cited

“Characters.” M&M’S® Official Website | Home. Web. 08 Apr. 2016.

Newcomb, Tim. “M&Ms to Introduce New Character, ‘Ms. Brown,’ at Super Bowl | TIME.com.” Time. 18 Jan. 2012. Web. 08 Apr. 2016.

Robertson, Emma. Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History. Manchester: Manchester UP, 2009. Print.

Images from “Ms. Green Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue Appearances.” M&M’s U.S.A. Facebook Page. Web. 08 Apr. 2016.

It’s Not About the Chocolate: Portrayal of Women in Chocolate Advertisements

m&m’s ad featuring “Miss Green”

The image above originates in an Australian campaign for the Mars m&m’s candy, in which each of the m&m’s “characters” (cartoon versions of each color m&m) supported a different political party (Schiller). This ad intends to sell chocolate, pretends to sell a political party, and actually sells the female body. By using indirect methods of advertising to trade on cultural stereotypes rather than actual products, images like this, especially prevalent in chocolate advertising, promote entrenchment of these stereotypes. In her book Chocolate, Women and Empire, Emma Robertson explains how “the consumption of chocolate in the west became feminised early in its history” (Robertson, 20). Chocolate and women have been associated closely throughout the western history of the product. Often advertising equates not only chocolate and femininity but also the concepts of sin and indulgence. The way that m&m’s uses the “Miss Green” character (notably the only female m&m character in their lineup until quite recently) portrays an edible candy as obviously female and almost always sexualized. “Miss Green’s” alluring gaze, the presence of handcuffs, and the double meaning of the phrase “working the polls” make obvious what the image suggests: We as consumers should vote for her because she’s sexy, and then we should buy chocolate. This image advertises the particularly harmful idea that a woman could only exert political or environmental power through pole dancing or other sexual displays.

Not every advertisement is as problematic as the one above, of course. This essay aims to explore and critique alternative portrayals of women and chocolate in advertising. One reaction to problematic chocolate marketing comes from Divine Chocolate, a UK company which buys cocoa from Ghanaian farmers, including the Kuapa Kokoo Cooperative. Divine presented a series of advertisements in Women’s fashion magazines in the UK, which featured female cocoa farmers, dressed fashionably and elegantly, holding a piece of Divine chocolate.

Divine Chocolate advertisement featuring a cocoa farmer

In an article printed in the Journal of African Cultural Studies, scholar Kristy Leissle pointed out how these advertisements were particularly effective in undermining the Western image of Africa as a “primitive” society in a dichotomy with the “cultured” West. She explains, “The images reflect the fact that women in Ghana also live multi-faceted lives – indeed they do farm, but they are also businesswomen, wear attractive clothes, beautify their bodies with industrial accessories, and assert their roles in transnational (or local) market exchanges” (Leissle, 136).  In contrast to the m&ms ad, Divine chocolate’s ad campaign features a variety of women without reducing women to a single cartoon image, and also presents a more complex picture of chocolate. The ad uses the image of a woman to explore the origins of the product rather than distract from them. Leissle analyzes how “Divine Chocolate expends considerable effort to make Kuapa Kokoo farmers – and Ghana as a cocoa origin site – visible to Britain’s chocolate shoppers” (Leissle, 124). The m&m’s add distracts from the origins of the chocolate, focusing instead on the wants of the consumer, whereas Divine chocolate focuses on the origins of the product being sold, and how the product is thus better than other chocolate, which comes from companies that do not treat their cocoa producers fairly.

While I agree that Divine’s advertisements are very effective at shedding a new, positive light on African producers, I think there are still problematic elements to these ads, especially in their depiction of women and their misplacement of what is being sold. The woman’s pose and revealing clothing, as well as her somewhat sultry gaze (Leissa refers to a “seductive gaze” and “just pursed lips”) still sell the idea that this beautiful woman serves as a sexual object, not an active producer and businesswoman (Leissle, 134). Keep in mind that these advertisements were primary aimed at woman readers of fashion magazines and probably inspired by designer fashion advertisements. However, Even though the ads were aimed at women rather than heterosexual men, and did not have the goal of arousing the audience, they are still able to objectify women. All consumers are conditioned by images around them (images like the m&ms ad) to view female bodies as objects. In a study, social scientist Beth Eck evaluated women’s reactions to images of sexualized female nudes. She concluded that “women may resent these images, they may uneasily identify with them, but they are also accustomed to the mundane practice of viewing them and accepting them” (Eck, 706). The same can be said for sexualized advertisements. As well as to some extent selling the woman pictured in the image, the ads also sell a sense of consumer morality. Rather than selling the chocolate product itself, these ads focus on selling a feeling of moral accomplishment to consumers.

Our group has constructed a third advertisement in the same vein as Divine Chocolate, but that we feel better represents the Kuapa Kokoo farmers and the relationship between women and chocolate as both producers and consumers.


The women selected and posed for Divine’s original advertisements were chosen as “women with attitude.” Leissle also uses the word “sassy” (Leissle, 134). For our ad, we chose to depict a woman who served a very important role in the Kuapa Kokoo Cooperative and was also an experienced farmer and ambassador, Comfort Kumeah. Kumeah’s image appears confident and in control, despite a lack of “attitude” or sexual allure. Our advertisement places a greater emphasis on the production of cocoa and cacao farming, stepping away a bit from the focus on Africa as a producer of the finished good, chocolate. If it had been available, we would have chosen an image of Kumeah holding a finished Divine chocolate bar as well as the beans. However, I think that focusing on the beans themselves as a finished product emphasizes these women farmers as competent producers. Furthermore, the emphasis on the quality of the beans in our ad centers the attention on selling the product itself, presenting Divine and Kuapa as businesses without connotations of charity or aid relief organizations. Our intention with this ad was to provide an image of possibly advertising systems that could combat the sexist imagery presented overtly by Mars and more subtly by Divine.


Works Cited

Eck, Beth A. “Men Are Much Harder: Gendered Viewing of Nude Images.” Gender & Society 17.5 (2003): 691-710. Print.

Leissle, Kristy. “Cosmopolitan Cocoa Farmers: Refashioning Africa in Divine Chocolate Advertisements.” Journal of African Cultural Studies 24.2 (2012): 121-39. Print.

Robertson, Emma. Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History. Manchester: Manchester UP, 2009. Print.

Schiller, Nikolas R. “The M&M’s of Australia Say Vote Green.” The Daily Render. N.p., 12 Feb. 2008. Web. 11 Apr. 2014. <http://www.nikolasschiller.com/blog/index.php/archives/category/green/&gt;.