Tag Archives: production

Commodifying Chocolate

Today, chocolate is a common food item that you can buy at basically any convenience store. But, today’s Hershey’s kiss, Reese’s Pieces, and Kit-Kat have taken a long journey to find themselves at the front of every cashier window. Originally introduced into Western society as a delicacy only consumed by society’s elite, chocolate has gone through various transformations and innovations before its current manifestation as a treat enjoyed by people of all ages and walks of life. 

The most influential factors that led to chocolate’s commodification from a luxury item occurred broadly due to advances in technology that were happening simultaneously as chocolate was entering the market during the 19th century. Specifically, developments in the chocolate-making process itself made the product more interesting and complex, innovations in production & transport made chocolate cheaper for the consumer, and advancements in branding and advertising allowed chocolatiers to become household names for consumers and build loyal followings. These emerging technologies following the Industrial Revolution made chocolate a more viable commodity, fundamentally changing the chocolate industry by making chocolate more appealing and more accessible to the general public. 

Many innovations in the commercial development of chocolate as a mass product occurred in Switzerland during the late 1800s. The leading Swiss innovators of the chocolate industry used their inventions to make chocolate tastier and more interesting to the market. For example, Daniel Peter invented the first milk chocolate bar, which was extremely popular and introduced a different flavor of chocolate to the public . In addition, Rudolf Lindt developed the conching process in 1879, which allowed for the equal distribution of ingredients across a chocolate recipe. His conche, pictured below, mechanized the technique “by which [Lindt] could manufacture chocolate which was superior to all others of that period in aroma and melting characteristics”, and was the machine by which he perfected the classic Lindt truffles (History, n.d.)

History-Geschichte-Conche-Lindt & Sprüngli
Figure 1: Lindt’s conche, which significantly contributed to the rise of Swiss chocolate.

Finally, Jean Tobler came up with Toblerone bars, which were the first chocolate products to shape chocolate into a non-bar shape and insert a filling, such as nougat. The development of intricate molds for chocolate also elevated the eating experience (Coe & Coe, 2013). As a whole, these new developments allowed for more varied flavors, shapes, and sizes of chocolate to enter the market and widen the scope of the industry.

Not only did these innovations push the chocolate industry forward with their novel conceptions of what a chocolate product could look like, but also matured the industry in an economic sense. Another huge factor that played into chocolate’s successful infiltration into the popular market was print marketing. The first newspaper ad was printed in 1625, but advertisements became more common in the 18th century and were a critical component in the rise in popularity of various chocolate products. As chocolatiers became renowned nationally and products were being sold large-scale, producers needed a form of communication that closed the gap between them and the consumers and created a market for their products (Goody, 2013). For example, companies began to push chocolate products to children. One can see from the Cadbury advertisement below that it is not royalty that are consuming chocolate, but everyday kids. This change in media representation shifted the public’s perception away from chocolate as an elite food item and portrayed the commodity as more approachable. 

Figure 5. Example of an early Cadbury Chocolate Advertisement
Figure 2: An advertisement for Cadbury’s chocolates.

As these developments were occurring in the chocolate industry, major movements in the industrial food industry as a whole also precipitated major shifts in the public perception of food as a wholesale commodity. These advances in the general food industry had positive spillover effects into the chocolate world. For example, canning, developed by Nicolas Appert in the early 1800s, started becoming a more common practice throughout the century, along with other methods of preserving food (Goody, 2013). Out of this movement towards preserved foodstuffs arose the invention of powdered milk, which also began to be incorporated in chocolate recipes. 

Figure 3: Powdered milk, patented by Borden in 1853 (Goody, 2013).

In addition, preserved foods initially did not sell too well in shops due to their high price, which resulted from labor costs. The introduction of machines to take over various steps in the food preparation process lowered producers’ variable costs and made these foods cheaper on the market. Distribution also slowly became more mechanized as the development of large cargo ships and the railway boom during the late 1800s made the transport of raw materials and finished products more efficient (Goody, 2013). These advancements also served to help chocolate become a more viable product in stores as well, as chocolate moved towards large-scale national manufacturing.   

In sum, the technological developments surrounding chocolate during its maturation in the Western market cemented its success. The innovations in the chocolate production, advertisement, and distribution processes served not only to make the product more accessible and diverse for its target market, but also to distinguish certain brands as household, national names and appeal to a greater audience than ever before. 

Works Cited

Coe, S. D., & Coe, M. D. (2013). The True History of Chocolate. 

Goody, Jack (2013). Industrial Food: Towards the Development of a World Cuisine. 

HISTORY. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.lindt-spruengli.com/about-us/history/

Images Cited

Figure 1: Retrieved from https://www.lindt-spruengli.com/about-us/history/

Figure 2: Retrieved from https://www.chocolandia.es/blogdelchocolate/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/cadbury-vintage1.jpg

Figure 3: Retrieved from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:MODOBordens.jpg

Changing Consumer Preferences in Chocolate During the Industrial Revolution

Chocolate, the bittersweet delicious treat that most everyone in the western world grew up eating, has taken on various different roles in society throughout its surprisingly significant lifespan. From 1900 BC to our modern day existence, chocolate has been everything from a form of sustenance, to a currency, to a ritualistic decoration, and now a sugary treat that we give to children and loved ones. Of particular interest and significance, though, is the period from 1600-1800, when European consumption preferences caused chocolate to go from an exotic snack to a full fledged industrialized foodstuff that powered economies and increased the slave trade. That period marks a permanent change in the history of chocolate, one best described as a case study in rising capitalism meeting changing consumer preferences to create an entirely new industry. 

The earliest evidence of the existence of chocolate is found in research of the Olmec Civilization (Dakin and Wichmann, 2000:66). The Olmec Civilization flourished in Mesoamerica prior to the Maya or Aztec civilizations arising, and like their predecessors the Olmec used chocolate for both consumption and in ritual (Dakin and Wichmann, 2000:66). For centuries, chocolate, and the cacao from which it is made, was consumed in relatively small portions. No plantations existed for the sole purpose of farming cacao, nor did it ever occur to create one. Sophie and Michael Coe, authors of The True History of Chocolate, detailed how the Aztecs “considered chocolate a far more desirable beverage [than octli their native drink], especially for warriors and nobility” (Coe and Coe, 2013:154). Today we romanticize the Aztec chocolate habits with false pictures and recipes like the one displayed here. The Aztecs, who ruled proudly until 1521 when they were all but wiped out, were one of the civilizations to introduce chocolate to Europeans.

Europeans, specifically the Spanish, encountered chocolate for the first time in 1502 when Christopher Columbus ‘discovered’ what would become a continental obsession (Coe and Coe, 2013:217). It wasn’t until 1544, though, when “Dominican friars took a delegation of Maya nobles to visit Prince Phillip in Spain” that chocolate truly entered the European consciousness (Coe and Coe, 2013:262). By the early 1600s Spaniards had begun manufacturing chocolate for public consumption. By the mid 1600s, recipes including cinnamon and sugar had popped up (Coe and Coe, 2013:269). By the 1800s chocolate was a full-blown obsession. Chocolate was becoming more and more popular in Europe, and in order to keep up with demand Europeans began doing to chocolate what they did to so many other things during the same time period: industrialized. 

In 1828 Coenraad Johannes Van Houten developed a hydraulic press capable of industrializing the labor intensive and inefficient process of separating chocolate liquor into cocoa butter and cocoa powder. He also added salts to the cocoa around the same time period, darkening the colour and changing the flavor of the end product (Coe and Coe, 2013:483-484). This invention marked a change in the production of chocolate that would never go back to the largely small scale, artisanal industry it was before. The inventions, combined with a Pennsylvanian named Joseph Fry’s use of a steam engine to grind cacao beans, allowed chocolate production to become much easier, faster, and more efficient (Coe and Coe, 2013:485-486). Here is a picture of Van Houten’s original hydraulic press used for chocolate.

Another factor that contributed to the boom in chocolate production was the increased demand from working class Europeans. During the 19th century the industrial revolution was in full swing all across Europe. While that meant great progress, both socially and economically, it also brought about many issues including large-scale poverty. With the new ability to mass-manufacture chocolate prices came down dramatically. Chocolate was no longer a food for only the select elite to enjoy. On the meager wages of a factory worker one could enjoy a uniformly produced, sweet chocolate bar. Industrial workers caused a massive boost in popularity of chocolate in the mid-to-late 19th century (Poelmans and Swinnen, 2019:13). Chocolate was fueling the industrial revolution, and the industrial revolution was in turn fueling chocolate in a period of absolutely enormous growth. Between 1870 and 1940 production of chocolate and imports for cacao beans in Europe and North America grew by over 90x (Poelmans and Swinnen, 2019:13). It is truly one of the most stunning and lucrative periods of growth in economic history. 

The explosion of chocolate production caused a dip in ‘quality.’ No longer was chocolate a frothy beverage used for energy. Instead, chocolate was barely even cacao anymore, diluted as it was with alkalized salts, sugars, spices, and other ingredients to create a sweet treat suitable for all members of society. Millions of people consumed chocolate annually, but now primarily from larger companies that had cropped up like Hershey’s, Cadbury, and Nestlé and not smaller chocolate makers. By the middle of the 20th century the chocolate revolution was complete. The product was now unrecognizable from where it started in Mesoamerica, and so too was the world. 

A modern day Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bar (courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Today we rarely remember or know much about the original recipes and consumption habits surrounding chocolate. All we know is the sugary, delicious but bastardized version of the snack that surrounds us in every grocery store and local corner deli. This change was caused for both social consumption preferences, as well as underlying economic tailwinds. Today, the chocolate industry is strong as ever and shows no signs of slowing down, continuing to perpetuate the European recipes which have taken over the world.

Works Cited

  1. Dakin, Karen and Soren Wichmann. 2000. Cacao and Chocolate: An Uto-Aztecan Perspective. Ancient Mesoamerica vol. 11. Cambridge University Press.
  2. Coe, Sophie and Michael Coe. 2013. The True History of Chocolate. Thames and Hudson. London, UK.
  3. Poelmans, Eline and Johan F. M. Swinnen. 2019. A Brief Economic History of Chocolate. LICOS Centre for Institutions and Economic Performance. Mannheim, Ger.
  4. Fiegl, Amanda. 2008. “A Brief History of Chocolate.” Smithsonianmag. Accessed March 24 10:53PM <https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/a-brief-history-of-chocolate-21860917/>
  5. SPAGnVOLA Chocolatier. Accessed March 24, 11:02PM <https://www.pinterest.com/pin/547117054703050487/>
  6. Wikimedia Commons. Accessed March 24, 11:48PM <https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hershey-bar-open.JPG>

Cacao in Soconusco: Native Mesoamerican Agency Under Spanish Rule

Spanish colonialism undoubtedly played a huge role in the decline of indigenous Mesoamerican populations and ultimately the expansion of cacao production outside its birthplace. We often read about how the brutal systems under Spanish rule and new diseases decimated natives, eventually leading to the use of African slaves as replacement labor for valuable cacao production (Coe & Coe, 2019). This tragic narrative applies not only to Mesoamericans and Spanish colonialists, but many societies across the world that were devasted by colonialism. What these narratives have in common are their declensionism, a term coined by renowned environmental historian William Cronon (Cronon, 1992). As the name implies, declensionist narratives tend toward decline rather than progress. Cronon (1992) argues that a narrative is deemed declensionist based on the stories we tell, which are shaped by the characters, their agency, setting, tone, and more. The same narrative can be read as declensionist or progressivist depending on which stories are told.

In considering the narrative of Spanish colonialism and the production of cacao in Mesoamerica, the most common accounts inevitably tend toward the decline of Mesoamerican peoples (Coe & Coe, 2019; Martin & Sampeck, 2015). Of course, this overall trend is supported by the brutality of colonial rulers and the devastating and inescapable effects of disease on local populations. While Mesoamerican peoples undoubtedly suffered under Spanish colonial rule, I argue that the overall declensionist narrative obscures the agency that some groups enacted to protect their civil rights and traditional cacao farming practices. To support this point, I will focus on a case study of the Soconusco region, still famous for its high quality cacao today (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Chocolate bar made with cacao produced in Soconusco, the region of focus in my analysis. Soconusco is well-known for its production of the criollo cacao bean, considered superior to the more common forastero variety, and I argue that its history under Spanish rule is more complicated than the colonial narrative implies. Image Source: Creative Commons

Colonial Labor and the Encomienda System

To contextualize how indigenous peoples in Soconusco were able to take agency under Spanish rule, we first must understand the form that cacao-based colonialism took in most of Mesoamerica. Mesoamericans had long been paying cacao tribute to the Aztecs: indeed, when the Spanish arrived in Soconusco in 1524, they found a thriving cacao industry because the Aztecs had finished their conquest just 25 years before (Gasco, 1997). Across Mesoamerica, the Spanish mirrored the Aztec tribute duty through the encomienda system, by which the Spanish crown rewarded colonists of merit, such as conquistadors, with labor and land in the region (Martin & Sampeck, 2015). However, the Spanish changed several aspects of cacao production, distribution, and consumption. For example, they lifted existing restrictions that limited consumption to the elites. As a result, even though local populations were being decimated by the introduction of new diseases to which they had no immunity, demand for cacao increased and prices sky-rocketed. Even the Spanish began to consume cacao with a recipe that sweetened it with sugar, vanilla, and cinnamon rather than the local maize, chile, and achiote (Gasco, 1997). Demand for cacao, especially the high quality criollo cacao of Central America, grew substantially.

The success of cacao commercialization caused the Spanish to adopt coercive measures in an attempt to gain control over every last farm. They enacted violent policies and illegal abuse, holding indigenous cacao producers hostage from buying or producing everyday products (Martin & Sampeck, 2015). Encomenderos had monopolies on basic foods, and were even accused of sending slaves into houses and orchards to take cacao by torturing and imprisoning local producers. Considering the Izalcos region, Martin and Sampeck note that colonial cacao labor was “a mix of chattel slavery (in that indigenous residents were held hostage) and wage labour, paid by the native families” (2015, p. 45). Even though Pope Paul III excommunicated any Christian who enslaved an Indian in 1537, conditions continued to worsen through the following decades. By the late sixteenth century, only 10-20% of indigenous populations remained in some towns (Coe & Coe, 2019). In summary, this is the declensionist narrative of the Mesoamerican people under Spanish rule.

Case Study: Soconusco and Independent Cacao Production

This section slightly complicates the declensionist narrative by focusing on at Soconusco (Figure 2), which was also integrated into the colonial system through the cacao industry. Farmers in Soconusco produced high quality criollo that was considered superior to the forastero cacao produced in South America, such as modern day Ecuador, Venezuela, and Costa Rica. But like other regions in Mesoamerica, Soconusco’s population of 80,000-90,000 decreased to a mere 5,000 by 1575 (Gasco, 1997). Despite these similarities, the evidence indicates that cacao production was still controlled by natives undeterred by Spanish rule.

Figure 2: Map of Soconusco (1853), which lies on border of modern day Mexico and Guatemala. Due to its hot and humid climate, fewer Spanish colonialists settled in Sococusco, contributing to increased native agency. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons with annotation by author.

How were native people in Soconusco able to take agency under Spanish rule? Based on the archaeological research of anthropologist Janine Gasco in the region (Gasco, 1997, 2005), I point to the structure of the Spanish enterprise in the area: unlike other Mesoamerican regions, it was limited to just trade rather than all aspects of production. Because the area was hot and humid, fewer Spaniards actually moved to Soconusco, and production of cacao was predominantly left to indigenous populations. By 1530, the Crown took control of the region, administering it as a crown encomienda without encomenderos (Gasco, 1997). The lack of encomenderos meant that farmers in Soconusco retained control of their orchards. Indeed, some evidence suggests that cacao producers in Soconusco purposefully retained smaller orchards, contributing to less social stratification (Gasco, 2005).

Additionally, religious activities in Soconusco were carried out by a secular rather than regular clergy. While the regular clergy sometimes protected natives in other regions, they exercised a great deal of community control; the secular clergy focused on their own wealth. Thus, religious and governmental rule were limited to the trade of cacao. Three Spanish factions formed: the trading merchants, colonial officials, and clergy, who competed over access to valuable cacao from indigenous producers. Based on documents of lawsuit charges and countercharges between these three factions, Gasco explains that native farmers may have taken advantage of these divisions to maintain their own rights (2005). As a result, producers in Soconusco enjoyed a greater range of imported goods than other groups in Mesoamerica, such as the relatively expensive majolica (lead-glazed earthenware, Figure 3). In this way, colonial-era documents suggest some agency of Soconuscan cacao producers despite Spanish rule.

Figure 3: Modern version of Mexican majolica, or lead-glazed earthenware, a relatively expensive imported good enjoyed by Soconusco cacao producers under Spanish rule. In her research during the 1980s, anthropologist Janine Gasco finds archaeological evidence of majolica in Soconusco in the sixteenth century (Gasco, 2005). Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

Taken together, Spanish colonialism undoubtedly devastated local Mesoamerican populations, especially in concert with Old World diseases. But the declensionist narrative surrounding indigenous populations in Mesoamerica under colonial rule obscures the stories of agency, such as that of the high quality producers in Soconusco. Indeed, by 1820, the population of Soconusco had bounced back 10-fold with a much more equitable cacao-production system in place (Gasco, 1997). We can only hope that brutal encomienda systems will continue to be a thing of the past.

Works Cited

Bonnat Xoconuzco (2009). Creative Commons. https://search.creativecommons.org/photos/77d0eb69-a4e6-4b25-847e-48f20c8f6a0f

Coe, S. D., & Coe, M. D. (2019). The True History of Chocolate (4th edition). London: Thames and Hudson Ltd.

Cronon, W. (1992). A Place for Stories: Nature, History, and Narrative. The Journal of American History, 78(4), 1347–1376.

Gasco, J. (1997). The Social and Economic History of Cacao Cultivation in Colonial Soconusco, New Spain. In A. Szogyi (Ed.), Chocolate: Food of the Gods. Westport: Greenwood Publishing Group.

Gasco, J. (2005). Spanish Colonialism and Processes of Social Change in Mesoamerica. In G. Stein (Ed.), The Archaeology of Colonial Encounters: Comparative Perspectives (p. 40). Santa Fe: School of American Research Press.

Majolica Mexico (2006). Wikimedia Commons. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Majolica_mexico.jpg

Martin, C. D., & Sampeck, K. E. (2015). The bitter and sweet of chocolate in Europe. Socio.Hu, 3, 37–60.

Soconusco in 1853 Map of Mexico Gaspar y Roig with annotation by author (1853). Wikimedia Commons. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Soconusco_in_1853_Map_of_Mexico_Gaspar_y_Roig.jpg

The Transformation of Cocoa’s Production and Continued Reliance on Child Labor

Geographic Transition of Cocoa Production:

For few centuries of Cocoa’s introduction and use of Cocoa, the entire supply came from the Americas, where Cocoa originated. However, at the turn of the twentieth century, Cocoa production began in Africa. By 1920, Africa accounted for around 50% of the world’s supply of Cocoa and, today, it accounts for over 70% of the world’s supply. These changes can be seen in the image below.

Cutting Costs via Labor:

Labor costs primarily underpinned this geographic transition of Cocoa Production, as producers, realizing they could grow Cocoa in West Africa, saw the opportunity to no longer transport African slaves across the Atlantic Ocean to the Americas. Furthermore, the transportation costs to their processing plants in Europe, also one of the largest consumption areas of chocolate, were reduced due to the shorter shipping routes. As slavery was completely phased out, the costs of labor remain the cheapest in West Africa. One unfortunate reason for this is the presence and wide usage of child labor.

Prevalence of Child Labor:

It has been reported that over two million children are working in hazardous conditions involved with the production and collection of cocoa in Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana. (Tulane University) The job of these children includes using chainsaws to cut down trees, dealing with hazardous pesticides, using machetes to hack open the cocoa bean pods, and carrying sacks of pods that weigh over one hundred pounds. These children come from multiple countries and through many avenues. Many child laborers come from Burkina Faso and Mali with hopes of earning decent wages and returning home to their families. (Robson) These hopes are usually dashed and replaced by the realities of working for years in harsh conditions with little to no payment and motivated by false promises. Other children are forced into work after being sold by family members desperate for money or after being abducted. Regardless of the path to working on a plantation, a unifying theme among all of these paths is poverty.

Poverty is widespread throughout these West African countries with poverty rates ranging from 30% to 50%. (Wernau) The extreme poverty rates lead to the question of why cocoa farmers resort to child labor instead of hiring adult laborers. The motivation for using child labor is also the result of monetary factors. Cocoa farmers earn an income of $0.78/day, which is one third of the $2.51/day living income standard. (Fountain, Huetz-Adams) These low prices lead farmers to rely on child laborers to maximize profits, as child laborers are much more vulnerable and more easily manipulated than adult laborers. Many times, farmers can get away with paying child laborers nothing by driving them onward with false promises that they will be paid.

Ineffectiveness of Child Labor Efforts:

The issue of child labor has received widespread attention since the early 2000s, prompting the major chocolate manufacturers to be signatories on the 2001 Harkin-Engle Protocol, which aimed to eliminate the worst forms of child labor. However, by 2011, little had been accomplished in combatting the issues of child labor. In fact, reports have shown that the number of child laborers in Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana increased by 21% from 2008-09 to 2013-14. (Wernau, Tulane University) The ineffectiveness of the Harkin-Engle Protocol led twelve major corporations to join CocoaAction, an organization that aims to support select plantations and significantly reduce child labor by 2020. The 2018 Cocoa Barometer Report states, “Not a single company or government is anywhere near reaching the sector-wide objective of the elimination of child labor, and not even near their commitments of a 70% reduction of child labor by 2020.”

Corporate Responsibility:

The CocoaAction foundation has pledged to spend $500 million over ten years to combat child labor. (Harrison-Dunn) This may seem like a significant amount, but it pales in comparison to the profits of these corporations. Mars, the largest of them, is the 4th largest private company in the United States with over 76,000 employees and revenues exceeding $32 billion a year. Their profits easily exceed $1 billion a year. (Kaplan) Nestle netted a profit of $15 billion in 2014 alone and around $8 billion the year before that, and Hershey’s profits are around $800 million a year. (AFP) The profits of these three companies completely dwarf the $50 million a year commitment made by over a hundred chocolate companies to reduce child labor in cocoa production. Even as these companies claim they are making efforts to ensure the fair production of their goods, it falls upon the public to pressure these companies. The public needs to hold these large, profitable companies accountable for their hypocrisy and empty-handed words of improvement.

References:

AFP. “Nestle Net Profit Soars 45% despite Slipping Sales.” Business Insider. N.p., 19 Feb.  2015. Web. 05 Apr. 2016

Fountain, Antonie & Huetz-Adams, Friedel. (2018). 2018 Cocoa Barometer. Retrieved March 16, 2019, from http://www.cocoabarometer.org/cocoa_barometer/Download_files/2018%20Cocoa%20Barometer%20180420.pdf

Harrison-Dunn, Annie-Rose. “Joining the Cocoa Dots: 12 Confectionery Titans Join            CocoaAction Strategy.” Confectionery News. N.p., 10 June 2014. Web. 05 Apr. 2016.         

Kaplan, David A. “Mars Incorporated: A Pretty Sweet Place to Work.” Fortune. N.p., 17 Jan. 2013. Web. 05 Apr. 2016

Robson, Paul. “Ending Child Trafficking in West Africa.” Anti-Slavery International (2010):   1-37. Print.

Tulane University, School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine. “Survey Research on    Child Labor in West African Cocoa Growing Areas.” (July 2015): n. pag. United States Department of Labor. Web.

Wernau, Julie. “Child Labor on The Rise in West Africa as Demand for Cocoa Grows.” WSJ. N.p., 30 July 2015. Web. 06 Apr. 2016.

An Analysis on the Significant Increase of Sugar Consumption in England

Before the discovery of sugar, many Western societies had meals that were centered around common carbohydrates. Sidney Mintz, one of the founders of the Anthropology Department at Johns Hopkins University, stated, “The most striking [aspect of the] English diet at that time was its complete ordinariness and meagerness…. Most Europeans produced their own food locally” (74). The majority of families in Britain did not eat rare foods, or even meat, dairy, or fruit. The most common foods in British households stemmed from grains and starches. Members of the nobility and wealthy families were able to obtain and dine with more extravagant foods, since they could afford to purchase them from distant locations. Accordingly, when sugar was discovered and brought to European civilization in the mid-1600s, only this wealthy class of people had access to it. There was a sense of power and high social status that coincided with the ability to consume such a product. After over a hundred years, there was a large shift in the British appetite for sugar. British consumption of sugar accelerated at almost an exponential level from the mid-1800s to the end of the 20th century, which was caused by newly discovered uses of sugar, increased access to sugar by the working and lower classes, and the plantation system that was implemented in the Caribbean, allowing for the mass production of sugar.

Sugar consumption increased at almost an exponential rate after the mid-1800s in England. The two major dips in sugar consumption were due to World War I and World War II.

Source: Johnson, Richard J. et al, Sugar Intake per Capita in the United Kingdom

When sugar reached the families of Western society, several uses were discovered that made sugar a vertaile product. Mintz stated, “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, and sugar figured in their medicine, literary imagery, and displays of rank” (5). Members of the nobility deemed sugar to be much more than a food with a new, distinct taste. Sugar had medicinal value and was used for a variety of ailments. This medical association was derived from Greek medical practices that were embraced by many British physicians. Discussing the history of sugar, The Guardian published, “[Sugar’s]  consumption rose rapidly among European populations from the 17th century. Like tea, coffee, tobacco, chocolate and rum, it had physiological, consoling effects, particularly in children.” The consumers of sugar had many positive associations with the product and believed that it played a pivotal role in the healing process. This association of sugar and healing continued for centuries. In addition to the medicinal value placed on sugar, there were several other important uses that the British realized. Mintz stated, “Sucrose can be described initially in terms of five principal uses or ‘functions’: as medicine, spice-condiment, decorative material, sweetener, and preservative” (78). Even though in today’s era sugar as a sweetener seems to be a given, in the 1800s, sugar was even more useful as a spice. Sugar was presented to Europeans along with the other spices that were seen as rare at that time. The modern association of sugar being a main determinant of taste was a construct developed many years after sugar had been ingrained in European cultural and dietary habits. The various uses of sugar that the British explored made it extremely popular. Vincent Mahler stated, “With the turn of the nineteenth century the sugar boom seemed likely to continue indefinitely: colonial sugar was England’s single most important import in every year from 1703 until 1814” (473). The British were infatuated with the idea of sugar, and they began to associate it with all realms of life: religion, nutrition, politics, gender, and sexuality.

The British elite and wealthy were the first individuals in England to be introduced to sugar. They believed that the consumption of sugar was a representation of their high social status. Sugar was served with several foods and beverages, including tea.

Source: Tenre, Henry, Five O’Clock Tea

The largest growth in sugar consumption occurred when the working and lower classes gained access it. Access to sugar was expanded due to the mass production of sugar, which made each serving cheaper, the production of lower quality, less refined sugar, and the increase in wages of the working class. David Richardson stated, “Contemporary writers referred also to the wider use of meat, tea, and sugar in northern working-class diets. Such dietary changes were made possible by relative improvements in real wages after 1750 in industrializing counties” (752). These areas focused on industrialization gave the working class the ability to pay for sugar and utilize many of the aspects of sugar enjoyed by the wealthy. One of those aspects of sugar that was used heavily by the working class once the use of sugar became more widespread was its function as a preservative. Mintz stated, “Sweetened preserves, which could be left standing indefinitely without spoiling and without refrigeration, which were cheap and appealing to children, and which tasted better than more costly butter with store-purchased bread, outstripped or replaced porridge” (130). It saved time for wives in working and lower class families that had jobs outside of the home. This use of sugar as a preservative made the product even more appealing to families who already were drawn to the taste itself. Tea, which was also considered a luxury in Europe when it was first introduced, had trickled down to the realm of the working class and had been used in conjunction with sugar. Richardson stated, “Explanations for the growth of British sugar consumption and its divergence from continental levels have largely focused upon changes in taste and diet, particularly the growth of tea and coffee drinking in Britain” (748). This phenomenon led to the increased use of sugar as well.

The growing domestic demand of sugar in Britain was met because of the foothold the British established in the slave trade and the plantation system in the Caribbean. Slaves worked in unbearable conditions and were essential to mass production.

Source: Clark, William, Slaves Cutting the Sugar Cane

With the growing interest and consumption of sugar, production needed to be expanded in order to meet the demand. The British used the slave trade as an avenue to meet their economic goals, and they were viewed as being at the forefront of capitalizing off of the institution of slavery. Mintz stated, “England fought the most, conquered the most colonies, imported the most slaves, and went furthest and fastest in creating a plantation system. The most important product of that system was sugar” (38). The British recognized the opportunity to not only meet the increasing demand of the country, but also profit off of the use of free labor. They established plantations throughout the Caribbean, beginning in Barbados and expanding into Jamaica, transporting millions and millions of slaves to produce sugar in mass quantities. Richardson stated, “Published estimates have suggested that British traders may have carried between 2.5 and 3.7 million slaves from African between 1701 and 1807” (741). The production of the large amounts of sugar that was dependent upon slave labor allowed the British to meet the growing demand for sugar domestically, while also allowing them to export the product past the country’s borders. Mahler stated, “Britain’s possessions in the Caribbean had entered the nineteenth century as perhaps her most valuable foreign economic interest” (474). The British dominance in the Caribbean boosted England’s economy and expanded its reach as an economic and political world power.

Sugar served as a very powerful and influential tool in Britain, especially after the beginning of the 19th century. Even though the wealthy families of England were the first to be introduced to sugar, it quickly garnered traction throughout the country and was popularized as a food that many individuals in Western society wanted access to. With its versatile functionality as a medicine, spice, sweetener, preservative, and decorative material and its associations with religion, politics, and wealth, sugar became one of England’s most popular commodities. As demand increased and the working and lower classes had access to the product, Britain established a strong foothold in the slave trade and the plantation system in order to meet their domestic demands and profit off of the increased international consumption of sugar.

Works Cited:

“Britain Is Built on Sugar: Our National Sweet Tooth Defines Us.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 12 Oct. 2007.

Clark, William. Slaves Cutting the Sugar Cane. Antigua, 1823.

Johnson, Richard J, et al. “Potential Role of Sugar (Fructose) in the Epidemic of Hypertension, Obesity and the Metabolic Syndrome, Diabetes, Kidney Disease, and Cardiovascular Disease.” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, vol. 86, no. 4, 1 Oct. 2007, pp. 899–906.

Mahler, Vincent A. “Britain, the European Community, and the Developing Commonwealth: Dependence, Interdependence, and the Political Economy of Sugar.” International Organization, vol. 35, no. 3, 1981, pp. 467–492.

Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power. Viking, 1985.

Richardson, David. “The Slave Trade, Sugar, and British Economic Growth, 1748-1776.” Journal of Interdisciplinary History, vol. 17, no. 4, 1987, pp. 739–769.

Tenre, Henry. Five O’Clock Tea. Paris, 1906.


From Kitchen to Culture

A sociohistorical analysis of ancient Mayan chocolate recipes

Food and recipes are a glimpse into the intimate cultural customs and beliefs of a civilization. Chocolate, the ever-popular sweet treat, beverage, and flavor, has a culinary history that is as rich and complex as the food itself. The ancient Maya and their Olmec ancestors introduced drinking chocolate to Mesoamerica, and later to the entire Old World (Coe Kindle loc. 914). Historians have deduced recipes of these original beverages, which enhanced cacao with indigenous flavorings, additives, and techniques. These ingredients, methods of preparation, and contexts of consumption reflect not only Mayan culinary tastes, but also the cultural and social customs and beliefs of the time. Through the analysis of two particular recipes from the Lacandón Maya, this work will examine the connections between the culinary, cultural, and historical aspects of cacao in Mesoamerica.

Geographic region of Lacandón civilization in Chiapas and Petén

The Lacandón Maya lived in the cacao-cultivating regions of Chiapas, Mexico and Petén, Guatemala. The Lacandón were not direct descendants of the Classic Maya; but rather, developed from inter-indigenous interactions between Classic Maya and other cultures (Cecil 261). Despite their dwindling numbers, the Lacandón have maintained many traditions, particularly culinary practices, from their original Classic Mayan roots. This is especially significant considering the lack of written documentation of Classic Maya chocolate recipes. Any references to cacao preparation were typically illustrations and scenes of cacao consumption or social use. Despite their artistic value, these hieroglyphs lacked culinary detail, as they translated simply to “cacao,” only indicating the purpose of the vessel (Coe Kindle loc. 608). The subsequent work of anthropologists and historians have uncovered two Lacandón recipes for chocolate beverages, demonstrating the various uses, additives, and social contexts of chocolate.

Classic Mayan glyph for “cacao”
Cacao vessel, as indicated by the hieroglyphs around the rim

Secular cacao recipes and uses

One of the most significant aspects of chocolate in Maya culture was its versatility and ubiquity in a variety of different social contexts. Cacao-based beverages were enjoyed regularly as an everyday drink, in secular settings or for practical purposes. The Maya termed this chacau haa, meaning “hot water” or “hot chocolate.” Another type of common beverage was saca, which evolved from the traditional sak ha drink made of corn gruel (Coe Kindle loc. 875). Saca incorporated cacao with the traditional cooked maize and water, providing body and substance to the otherwise watery chocolate drink. Combined with cacao’s caffeine, this chocolate maize drink served as an excellent source of fuel and calories. Mayan warriors were also depicted with cacao pods, referencing the invigorating, sustaining properties of such cacao beverages (Martin slide 52).

The first Lacandón recipe presented by Sophie and Michael Coe was claimed to be for “ordinary consumption” (Kindle loc. 885). The basic ingredients and techniques of this secular recipe were the foundation from which more culinarily complex and socially meaningful recipes were developed. The main components were cacao beans, maize, and suqir. The preparation involved first grinding the cacao beans with a metate, mixing the grounds with water to form a paste, straining the mixture, and finally adding more water while heating and beating to produce foam (Coe Kindle loc. 896). The addition of maize mirrors the basic saca recipe, using corn to increase the beverage’s value as caloric fuel. Despite the practical aspects of chocolate consumption, the Maya most highly valued the delicious taste and sensation of the foam. This was created with the addition of suqir, a vine that acted as a foaming agent, and the technique of beating the hot chocolate (Cook 257). This preparation would have taken a significant amount of time and effort, especially in comparison to the modern-day electric tools developed for the same purpose of foaming beverages. Thus, it is evident that the Maya valued even their ordinary chocolate drinking enough to put forth the effort in its foaming and preparation.

72% Ecuador Hot Chocolate - Monsieur Truffe AUD5
The prized foam atop hot chocolate beverages

Sacred cacao recipes and rituals

Despite its widespread consumption among the Maya and their descendants, cacao was also a culturally sacred, ritualistic comestible. The second Lacandón recipe was intended for sacred purposes, as seen in the additives and special techniques that carried religious significance. The ritual sponsor’s wife prepared the drink “in a special cooking hut next to the ‘god house’ where the clay effigy ‘god pots’ are kept” (Coe Kindle loc. 896). These god pots were essential in Lacandón spiritual practices. They were called ol, translating to “center” or “heart of,” presumably because they served as otherworldly portals (Dreiss 57). This corresponds to the Mayan belief that the cacao tree was the center of the universe and source of all life, connecting the Sky, Earth, and Underworld (Martin slide 44). These god pots were sculpted with the likenesses of cacao gods and were used as vessels to transmit the Lacandón spiritual offerings.

Vessels for cocoa / Съдове за какао
Cacao vessels and god pots

Before the ceremonial offering and “feeding” of the cacao to the god pots, there were several other critical components distinguishing the sacred cacao from the secular. Aak’, a soft grass, was added to enhance the frothing process while beating the liquid. Additionally, to ensure that the beverage had sufficient foam to please the gods, the women preparers would simultaneously sing a special frothing song (Dreiss 58). The frothed cacao would then be poured into the god pots, which contained either sak ha, the aforementioned corn gruel, or balché, another ceremonial drink. In a ritualistic context, the Maya offered sak ha to the gods of various crops, to protect them from plagues and ensure a substantial harvest. Balché was made from water fermented with the bark of the balché tree, which was supposed to impart sanctity and protection against evil, as well as provide hallucinogenic effects to the drinkers (Cano 4). The addition of these two beverages for ritual offerings reflects the Classic Maya belief in cacao’s role in fertility. As another example, the Madrid Codex depicts the Mayan moon goddess and rain god exchanging cacao to maintain the earth’s fertility (Martin slide 38). This combination of sacred beverages highlights the importance of cacao in Maya rituals and the inherent assumption that gods too, love chocolate.

The juxtaposition of the secular and sacred Maya chocolate recipes reveals the stark differences in cacao consumption based on social context. The addition of corn as maize may be interpreted as a caloric enhancement when cacao was consumed as fuel. In a sacred preparation, this maize could also serve as a godly offering to protect the cacao crops. The consistent practice of beating the liquid and adding frothing agents was also a vital technique to please both human imbibers and gods. These recipes demonstrate the versatility of cacao and its ability to embody different cultural meanings through its preparation, method of serving or consuming, and its spiritual synergy with additional ingredients. Cacao was a delicious foundation that could be adapted to fulfill both humans’ gastronomic and spiritual appetites, contributing to its persistent popularity throughout history.

Works Cited: Scholarly Sources

  1. Cano, Mirtha. Sacred Food and Drinks. FLAAR Network, 2008.
  2. Cecil, Leslie G., and Timothy W. Pugh. Maya Worldviews at Conquest. University Press of Colorado, 2009.
  3. Coe, Sophie D and Michael D., Coe. The True History of Chocolate. Thames & Hudson. Kindle Edition.
  4. Cook, Suzanne. The Forest of the Lacandon Maya: An Ethnobotanical Guide. Springer US, 2016.
  5. Dreiss, Meredith L., and Greenhill, Sharon. Chocolate: Pathway to the Gods. University of Arizona Press, 2008.
  6. Martin, Carla D. “Mesoamerica and the ‘Food of the Gods.’” AAAS 119X, Cambridge, MA, Harvard University. 6 Feb. 2019.

Works Cited: Multimedia Sources

  1. Alpha. 72% Ecuador Hot Chocolate – Monsieur Truffe AUD5. 5 Mar 2011. Flickr. https://flic.kr/p/9prH1J. Accessed 10 Mar 2019.
  2. Burchell, Simon. Maya civilization location map. Wikimedia Commons, 26 May 2015, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Maya_civilization_location_map_-_geography.svg. Accessed 10 Mar 2019.
  3. Maya. Vessel with Battle Scene. 600. John L. Severance Fund, Cleveland Museum of Art. Wikimedia Commons. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Clevelandart_2012.32.jpg. Accessed 10 Mar 2019.
  4. Mitko_denev. Vessels for cocoa. 6 Jan 2008. Flickr. https://flic.kr/p/4nzkzY. Accessed 10 Mar 2019.
  5. Soparamens. Cacao-glyph. Wikimedia Commons, 29 Mar 2017, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cacao-glyph_vectorized.png. Accessed 10 Mar 2019.

Interview With A Chocolate Lover

 This interview is being conducted for the purpose of chocolate research, and to gain a deeper understanding of how chocolate affects people’s lives.  Many people enjoy the delicious, sweet substance, yet not all are aware of the history.  The interviewee will be asked a series of questions about how chocolate affects her life.  She enjoys chocolate on a daily basis, and so this interview will be beneficial to everyone. First, she will be asked about her favorite kind of chocolate, and why she chose it.  Secondly, how chocolate has affected her life, either health wise, or pleasure.  Lastly, we will discuss how chocolate has progressed, or stayed the same over the years. For example, does chocolate taste the same now, as it did hundreds of years ago?  Is chocolate as healthy now as it was in the time of the Mayans or Aztecs? The interview will give everyone a new perspective on almost every aspect of chocolate.  Without further ado, let’s begin our interview with a chocolate lover.

The interviewee was born and bred in Southeast Michigan, and is now twenty-one years old.  Her obsession with chocolate began when she was very young.  She recalls, “eating chocolate as young as two years old when my father would feed me spoonful’s of chocolate ice cream.” I laughed, responding, “Yes, chocolate ice cream is very good.  Do you still enjoy chocolate ice cream?” She replied, “Of course! Only, now I eat organic, dairy free chocolate ice cream.” At this point, it was a perfect time to move the interview toward our first question.  Obviously the interviewee has enjoyed chocolate her whole life, and it would be interesting to know what is her favorite kind of chocolate.

She replied, “My favorite chocolate comes the Endangered Speciesbrand, and my favorite flavor is Dark Chocolate, With Forest Mint.” It sounded delicious. I asked, “Why is that your favorite brand of chocolate?” Interviewee: “Well, the ingredients are healthier than something you would find in a Nestle brand for example.  This brand is a NON GMO product, Kosher, certified gluten free, and certified vegan. It also contains around 70% cocoa.”  It was refreshing to know that the interviewee had a respect for healthy, organic chocolate.  I was able to research the product, and gathered the ingredient information.  It contains, “BITTERSWEET CHOCOLATE (CHOCOLATE LIQUOR, CANE SUGAR, COCOA BUTTER, SOY LECITHIN, VANILLA), NATURAL MINT FLAVOR” (Chocolatebar.com).  It also contains 5g’s of fiber, 12 g’s of sugar, and 3 g’s of protein.  The total calories per bar is 210.  The fact that the interviewee was aware of the health benefits of cacao surprised me.  Cacao is the purest form of chocolate, and to give the reader some perspective, we will explore its origins.

The following information has been qouted from my last blog post, Eat More Organic Chocolate!: “Christopher Columbus was said to have brought some back with him, after his fourth trip to the New World, but Europe was not quite ready to acknowledge its significance.  Actually, “It was his fellow explorer, the Spanish Conquistador Don Hernán Cortés, who first realized their commercial value. He brought cocoa beans back to Spain in 1528 and very gradually, the custom of drinking the chocolate spread across Europe, reaching England in the 1650s” (Cadbury).  Cacao, the ancient chocolate of the world, had just started its long journey to modern popularity.” (Wydo)

In fact, “By 1682, a British report detailed cocoa exports from Jamaica to Boston. By inference, cocoa exports into the colonies can be assumed to be used for local chocolate production, marking the beginning of chocolate production in the American colonies” (History of Chocolate: Chocolate in the American ColoniesSnyder).  It became so popular in North America, that even John Adams and his wife would have some with their morning breakfast.  Snyder records, ‘“John and Abigail Adams were very fond of chocolate. In 1779, John Adams, while in Spain, wrote, “Ladies drink chocolate in the Spanish fashion. Each lady took a cup of hot chocolate and drank it, and then cakes and bread and butter were served; then each lady took another cup of cold water, and here ended the repast.” Abigail Adams, writing to John Quincy Adams in 1785, described drinking chocolate for breakfast while in London.””

Cacao has a deep and rich history.  The interviewee was read the information to give a better perspective.  In response, she said, “Wow, I thought I knew a lot about Cacao, but apparently not.  I did not know that Abigail Adams drank chocolate for breakfast in London. That is very interesting.  It seems like chocolate was a delicacy in those days.  People of high class consumed it.  They made it popular.”  Next, I wanted to move the interview towards my next question. I asked, “How has chocolate affected your life in all areas? Do you consume it for health, pleasure, or perhaps both?

The interviewee replied, “I love chocolate for many different reasons. Chocolate is not just something I eat or drink for pleasure, but something I consume for my health as well. There are many ways to consume chocolate.  You can eat it from a chocolate bar, drink it hot chocolate, enjoy some chocolate ice cream, sprinkle it on desserts, and so much more.  Chocolate is just fun to prepare. You can enjoy it so many different ways.  As I mentioned before, I only eat organic chocolate that has a high percentage of Cacao in it.  The reason for that is because cacao has numerous health benefits.  Raw cacao contains, magnesium, Iron, Flavonoids, and PEA.”

Luke: “Where did you get this information from?” Interviewee: “From a Women’s Health article. I’ll go ahead and read you some of the article now. The article reads, ‘“Raw cacao is one of the best food sources of magnesium – a mineral that many of you lack from your diet. Magnesium is essential for energy production, for a healthy brain and nervous system, for our muscles and for strong bones and teeth. Magnesium may also support a healthy blood pressure. Cacao is a source of iron, which builds the blood and helps to transport oxygen around our body, as well as potassium, copper, zinc, manganese and selenium. Cacao can also be high in flavonoids, which have antioxidant activity. Raw cacao and flavonoid-rich chocolate have been linked with heart health benefits including increasing the good form of cholesterol (HDL) in our blood, lowering blood pressure and even improving vascular function in patients with congestive heart failure. These effects are thought to be primarily due to the antioxidants contained in the cacao.In addition, cacao contains a compound called phenylethylamine (PEA for short!). PEA is thought to elevate mood and support energy, and is said to be one of the reasons that many people love chocolate! Raw cacao is also very low in sugar, and of course does not contain any milk, so is suitable for those who are milk-sensitive or following a low-sugar diet”’ (Menato).  Luke: “Yes, chocolate is very good for you! I did not know all of that information.  I actually wrote a blog post for this class, and I quoted an article written by James Howe.  I’ll read you part of the article. It reads, ‘In the mid-1990s, with funding from the Mars Company, Hollenberg set out to prove that what protected the Kuna from heart disease was chocolate. As the research has progressed since then, he and other researchers have zeroed in on a “flavanol” in chocolate called epicatechin, which, he says, may protect against diabetes and cancer as well as high blood pressure, strokes, and heart attacks.”’ Interviewee: “I’m glad I eat and drink plenty of chocolate! That research really makes me grateful for Cacao.  It truly does impact your health in a positive way.”

At his point in the interview, it was my intention to steer the conversation towards social issues surrounding chocolate, and it’s production.  The interviewee has a history of being very passionate about human rights, so this topic was perfect for our conversation.  First, I wanted to gauge her familiarity with the subject.  After doing research, I was astounded from what I found.

In America chocolate isn’t given a second thought. Everywhere you turn there is chocolate. From candy to desserts there is no shortage. Most often, Americans do not give a second thought to were products we use and eat come from and the effects those products have on other societies in order to produce it for our enjoyment.  Luke:“Do you mind if at this point in the interview, we discuss the effects chocolate has on society?” Interviewee: “Of course not! I love being able to talk about these things because it brings awareness to the subject.” Luke: “Let me start off by reading from an interesting news posting from the BBC. It quotes, ‘African cocoa farms are still employing hundreds of thousands of children, the BBC has discovered, 10 years after the world’s leading chocolate companies promised to tackle child labor. Ivory Coast is the world’s biggest cocoa producer with as many as 800,000 children working in the industry, often in dangerous jobs’ Humphrey Hawksley reports from Ivory Coast. Most Americans today do not know this. It’s so important that people today are educated’” (BBC News).

Luke: “Another interesting article I found from Fortune.com reads, “Child labor in West African cocoa farming first became a cause célèbre around the turn of the century when a number of pieces of investigative journalism focused the world’s attention on the plight of children who had been trafficked to Ivory Coast to farm cocoa, often from other former French colonies such as Mali and Burkina Faso, and held as slave laborers. In a documentary that aired on the BBC, filmmakers interviewed young boys in Ivory Coast who said they’d been beaten and forced to work long hours without pay. One who said he’d been working on a cocoa farm for five years was asked what he thought about people enjoying chocolate in other parts of the world. “They are enjoying something that I suffered to make,” the boy answered. “They are eating my flesh.”” (Fortune.com).”

Interviewee: “Wow.  I knew that chocolate production has posed these kinds of risk’s to kids in Africa, but I was not aware of all these facts.  It honestly breaks my heart.” Luke: “It breaks my heart too because there’s not much we can do except boycott these companies who buy their chocolate from West Africa.  However, almost everyone buys their chocolate from there.  According to the same article, around 70 percent of the worlds cacao is grown there.  This means that they produce around 60 percent of the global market in chocolate.”

Luke: “Another source reports, “Holding a single large pod in one hand, each child has to strike the pod with a machete and pry it open with the tip of the blade to expose the cocoa beans. Every strike of the machete has the potential to slice a child’s flesh. The majority of children have scars on their hands, arms, legs or shoulders from the machetes. In addition to the hazards of using machetes, children are also exposed to agricultural chemicals on cocoa farms in Western Africa. Tropical regions such as Ghana and the Ivory Coast consistently deal with prolific insect populations and choose to spray the pods with large amounts of industrial chemicals. In Ghana, children as young as 10 spray the pods with these toxins without wearing protective clothing (foodispower).” Interviewee: “That is devastating.  It really makes me rethink who I will be buying my chocolate from!”

Luke: “I hope I haven’t turned you off from chocolate altogether! The reason I bring up these issues is because we as Americans need to be more aware.  It is all about bringing awareness to the issues at hand, and doing everything we can do to help.  For example, when you go to buy your chocolate, buy brands that are committed to eco-friendly production.  This way, you know that no child is suffering in an effort to produce it.  Another thing you can do is not buy from brands that are known for importing from West Africa.  Choose another brand.  It’s all about taking small steps toward a better tomorrow.  Anyway, I was so glad you accepted my invitation for this interview. You have really brought a fun atmosphere.  I have enjoyed getting to know you and your favorite chocolate better!” Interviewee: “Thank you so much Luke.  I had fun as well. Let’s raise our chocolate bars to a great interview!”

 

Works Cited

 

  1. http://www.chocolatebar.com/products/dark-chocolate-with-forest-mint/
  2. History of Chocolate: Chocolate in the American Colonies.” History of Chocolate: Chocolate in the American Colonies: The Colonial Williamsburg Official History & Citizenship Site,
  3. Menato, Francesca. “Cacao Powder Benefits | Why It’s Better Than Chocolate.” Women’s Health UK, womenshealthmag.co.uk/weight-loss/healthy-eating/2736/health-benefits-of-raw-cacao-over-chocolate/.
  4. “Chocolate and Cardiovascular Health: The Kuna Case Reconsidered.” Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture, vol. 12, no. 1, 2012, pp. 43–52., doi:10.1525/gfc.2012.12.1.43.
  5. “Inside Big Chocolate’s Child Labor Problem.” Fortune, Fortune, fortune.com/big-chocolate-child-labor/.
  6. “Ivory Coast Cacao Farms Child Labour: Little Change.” Http://Www.bbc.com/News/World-Africa-15681986.

An In-depth Look Into Dandelion Chocolate: How a Unique Bean-to-Bar Craft Chocolate Company Positively Transforms the Way to Supply, Manufacture, and Retail Chocolate

Dandelion Chocolate, a small-batch chocolatier cafe, sits in San Francisco’s oldest neighborhood, The Mission. Founded in 2010 by Todd Masonis as a cafe, Dandelion Chocolate has expanded to retailers across U.S and Japan, designed tours and classes, and diversified its menu offerings with several new recipes in addition to the company’s handmade candy bars (2). Masonis, CEO of Dandelion Chocolate and previously a software developer, started the company with a vision to scale, to transform the chocolate industry, and to challenge people’s customary view of chocolate. This paper will conduct an in-depth analysis of the company’s supply chain, chocolate manufacturing process, and retail strategy. Throughout I will highlight how Dandelion’s innovative techniques are challenging the Big Five chocolate makers and redefining how chocolate is produced and sold. By the end, it will be clear how Dandelion continues to be a part of the solution to the problems in the cacao-chocolate market.

BeanTo-Bar: The Supply Chain from Cacao Trees to the Dandelion Factory

Three words sum up Dandelion’s supply chain — precise, sustainable, and global. As a bean-to-bar chocolatier, Dandelion emphasizes the quality of the beans it uses in its chocolate bars and menu recipes. The company focuses on simplicity. Since Dandelion “uses only two ingredients to make [their] chocolate — cocoa beans and organic cane sugar”, the company has to be particular of the sourced beans’ flavor profiles (2). This directly contrasts the origin, sourcing, and flavor profile of the Big Five chocolate makers. Early in Hershey’s development, Milton S. Hershey hired a chemist before firing him and hiring John Schmalbach who helped create Hershey’s taste profile that we still see today (4). When Schmalbach was done experimenting, he arrived at “a mild-tasting milk chocolate that had the perfect bite — like al dente pasta — that melted smoothly in the mouth” (4). This product utilized swiss condensed milk which helped Hershey easily pump, channel, and pour the chocolate through mass production. Unlike Dandelion’s simple single ingredient taste profile, Hershey confuses consumers with its chocolate nutritional profile. On Hershey’s site, the company states their chocolate bars are made with “simple ingredients — and never any artificial flavors, preservatives or sweeteners” (5). These ingredients include “farm fresh whole milk, cocoa 100% certified, almonds, sugar from the finest sugar plantations, and vanilla” (14). How can we believe Hershey’s promises? To begin to answer this question, consumers can look at the back of Hershey’s chocolate bar.

The iconic Hershey’s Milk Chocolate bar wrapper from 1973-1976. Clearly, consumers can see contradictions from the website today in the ingredients section. Artifical flavoring is added (6).

The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act require food companies to show nutrition labeling (1). Fortunately, this gives consumers the honest answer to the question stated above. Under the ingredients tab, Hershey lists that an artificial flavoring is added in addition to other ingredients that are not common to the average consumer (5). This is the first evidence of how Dandelion is redefining the chocolate market and supply chain process for the better. Dandelion is so precise with its sourcing and ingredients that it can give consumers the transparency and trust they desire. On their site, Dandelion gives a distinct background of the supply chain process, the origin of each of the beans, and the Chef’s preparation technique for each of the products that it retails. These details get as precise as the cacao percentage, the single origin location, ingredients, and when the cacao beans were harvested.

This is the MAYA MOUNTAIN, BELIZE 70% chocolate bar. It is one of the many single origin chocolate bars sold on Dandelions retail site and in stores. The bar’s flavor profile and the cocoa beans terror serve up beautiful “hints of honey and caramel with notes of strawberries and cream.” Finally, the bars are made with just cocoa beans and sugar, no added cocoa butter, lecithin or vanilla (10). 

 

 

 

Consumers can be confident they are getting fine cacao and that the ingredients in their chocolate are not unhealthy with too much sugar or saturated fats. This last point is critical as chocolate makers such as Ferrara, Lindt, and Nestle are making real commitment to increase health awareness surrounding chocolate products, provide better labeling and packaging, and partner with Healthier America.

Each year Dandelion publishes a sourcing report that is easily accessible on their site. The 2016 sourcing report, 48 pages long, provides consumers with information on the executives core philosophy, the geographic location where beans sourced, the fermentation and drying style, cultivation notes, farmer’s certifications, cacao beans’ exporter, tasting notes, company’s relationship/history with each farmer, price they paid per tonne in each region, and date of the company’s last visit to the farm to do a checkup (3).

Screen Shot 2018-05-05 at 3.04.18 AM.png

An example of all the information from the sourcing report for Bertil Akesson’s organic estate in Ambanja, Madagascar, the place Dandelion purchased their first full bag of beans, is shown above (3).

Dandelion’s control of the entire supply chain as a bean-to-bar chocolatier gives them the flexibility to synthesize and present all this information. 

In addition to providing precise transparency to consumers of every detail in the supply chain process, the Dandelion executives discuss the importance of sustainability in their core philosophy. Dandelion “pays a premium price for their cacao far above the world market price (that is fixed rather than dependent on an arbitrary market)” (3). This information is presented in the sourcing report. The average market price for cacao in 2016 was $2,892.16 per tonne. The least Dandelion paid for cacao $5,100.00 per tonne, the most $7,500.00 per tonne, and $6,599.00 per tonne on average.  This increase in income solves many of the cacao industry’s problems. With prices at the average market price or less than half Dandelion’s price, cacao farmers earn less than $2 per day in Western Africa (9).

In the two pictures, we see the ethical problem in the chocolate industry. In the picture on the left, a young boy is performing hard labor with a machete to chop cacao pods from high up in a cacao tree (16). The child faces physical and developmental risks from this kind of labor. Further, the highlight the systematic effects of child labor, the lack of education, the lack of enforcement of child labor laws, and the effects of you consuming chocolate from companies who exploit these problems (17). 

The problem is most prevalent in Western Africa where stories like of 16-year-old Alhassan Ali, who took the opportunity to work on a cocoa farm in western Ghana and left his home. Quickly, Alhassan felt “cheated as life was hard” and the conditions unbearable for a teenager who had no choice after his father died.

Children are thrown into these jobs to help their families, although less than one-quarter of cacao farmers would recommend that their children go into farming and the fact that this violates international labor laws (12, 18, 8 ). The work is dangerous and the risks include fatigue, mosquito-borne diseases, and agrochemical poisoning.

Since cacao is a commodity and harvested seasonally, cacao farmers struggle with volatile income. Dandelion executives recognized this problem as they “used to buy beans as needed but sometimes that led to chaos and stress both on the part of their team as well as on the part of our suppliers” (3). In 2016, the company constructed a 5-year plan in which they would buy beans one year in advance in order to help alleviate the stress on their producers. Employees from Dandelion visit their producers each year to ensure the quality of the cacao, environmentally friendly farming practices, and sustainable conditions for the workers. If you don’t believe their mission and core philosophy, then you can ask their producers themselves, since the company provides names, locations, and pictures to earn consumers’ trust.

Screen Shot 2018-05-05 at 3.11.22 AM.png

Vincente Norero, the manager of Camino Verde Cacao farm in Ecuador, sits on top of one of his machines as he explains the genetics of cacao in his region to visiting employees from Dandelion (3).  

Additionally, a major component of Dandelion’s long-term planning strategy is a rigorous quality assessment beyond fine cacao or bulk cacao, which the Big Five use. This evaluation starts out “breaking down cacao producers based on physical quality, sensory evaluation, and hedonic preference” (3). Dandelion gives the producers enough feedback so that the farmers know what is the flavor profile and the terroir that the company wants.

Finally, Dandelion has created a global network of producers that provide the company with a diverse set of high-quality cacao. Dandelion strengthens relationships between the community of producers by emphasizing information sharing. Producers in different regions visit each other and share their techniques and experiences. For instance, the heads of the farm estate “Brian and Sim from Kokoa Kimili visited Zorzal in the Dominican Republic” (3). This is unlike any craft chocolate or large chocolate make and this may be the CEO Todd Masonis’ secret weapon to scale the craft chocolatier business. The company has two factories across the globe in San Francisco and Japan. They both support the company’s global sourcing of cacao in 7 different regions: Madagascar, Ecuador, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Tanzania, Venezuela, and Belize. This degree of diversity is uncommon for one company. In fact, “70% of the world’s cocoa is grown in the region and the vast majority of that supply comes from two countries: Ivory Coast and Ghana” (7). Dandelion not only ensures to source diverse cacao but also does not mix cacao from different regions or farms. This is powerful in the cacao in the cacao industry. Not even regulation or certifications can effectively track that companies keep to this promise like Dandelion does. 

Bean-ToBar: The Exquisite Manufacturing and Chocolate Production Process and Ingenious Retail Strategy

Once the factory receives the diverse, high-quality cocoa beans which have been fermented and dried in their regions, the company undergoes another precise taste tests on each batch. Surprisingly, each testing of a batch may take “as many as eight to sixteen tastings before they are happy with the taste profile” (2). Next, the batch is sorted and dirt, rocks, and defected beans are removed.

3 winnower
Here, the chocolatiers use a machine they built in-house to winnow and remove the shells. However, the company says that your household hair dryer would work the same (15).

about13

A melanger is used to stir and crush beans creating small particles and more fluid chocolate state (11).

After these steps, the chocolate is packaged until it is ready to be tempered and transformed into chocolate bars.

This highly technical process ensures that each chocolate bar holds up to the company standard that no added ingredients or artificial flavoring are included in the end products. The company even offers tours and classes to teach chocolatiers their craft chocolate secrets. The whole production process is transparent. This eliminates any need for certification from organizations like Fair Trade, USDA Organic, or Rainforest Alliance. Instead, consumers are educated on the labor conditions, ingredients, quality, and health information from researching online on Dandelion’s site. Dandelion utilizes this transparency and network of information to scale their consumer base and challenge the chocolate industry to have the same care for all parts of the process.

Finally, Dandelion is redefining the retail strategy for chocolate. Most people are accustomed to purchasing chocolate bars from large retail and convenience stores like CVS, Walmart, and Target. The large chocolate manufacturers spend millions on advertisements in commercials, billboards, and magazines. However, Dandelion’s executives have taken a different approach. The company’s first establishment, the Dandelion Chocolate Cafe, is the model for how Dandelion will transform the chocolate industry and how consumers expect to consume chocolate. Music blasts from the speakers playing a hip playlist that caters to the diverse crowd in the cafe. Children, young teens, and chocolate connoisseurs from Mission District crowd the shop on Valencia street for the chocolate wrapped in gold foil and custom wrappers, the blowtorched s’mores, or for a bag of locally roasted, single origin cocoa beans.  Adopting the executives’ Silicon Valley marketing and trendy style, Dandelion Cafe consumer and sales skyrockets in its first years. The company reached “$1 million in early 2013 after opening its factory/cafe in the Mission” (19). Shortly after a year, more outposts were built in Tokoya and across California. All the while, the company has elevated its online presence with a vibrant website which hosts a blog, instructional videos, and information about each of their products and locations. What was once an antiquated industry ruled by roughly 5 chocolate manufactures is being transformed by two software engineering executives and their ambitious company to scale handmade, craft chocolate globally. No longer can the chocolate industry exploit poor working conditions in their supply chain, obscure nutritional information, or produce low quality chocolate because Dandelion Chocolate and many other craft chocolate companies businesses are transforming the industry and the consumers are recognizing this transformation.


Works cited

  1. Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. “Labeling & Nutrition – Small Business Nutrition Labeling Exemption.” U S Food and Drug Administration Home Page, Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/GuidanceDocumentsRegulatoryInformation/LabelingNutrition/ucm2006867.htm.
  2. “Dandelion Chocolate.” Dandelion Chocolate, http://www.dandelionchocolate.com/.
  3. “Dandelion Chocolate.” Dandelion Chocolate, http://dande.li/2016SourcingReport
  4. D’Antonio, Michael D. 2006. Hershey: Milton S. Hershey’s Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams. pp. 106-126
  5. “Fooducate.” Lose Weight & Improve Your Health with a Real Food Diet, www.fooducate.com/app#!page=product&id=530B67CE-E108-11DF-A102-FEFD45A4D471.
  6. Hershey Community Archives | Hershey’s Milk Chocolate: Bar Wrappers over the Years, www.hersheyarchives.org/exhibits/default.aspx?ExhibitId=20&ExhibitSectionId=44.
  7. “Inside Big Chocolate’s Child Labor Problem.” Fortune, fortune.com/big chocolate child-labor. O’Keefe, Brian. “Inside Big Chocolate’s Child Labor Problem.” Fortune, @2018 Time Inc., fortune.com/big-chocolate-child-labor.
  8. International Labour Organization. January 26, 2000. “Convention 182.” http://www.ilo.org/public/english/standards/relm/ilc/ilc87/com-chic.htm. (3/01/14)
  9. Kramer, Anna. March 6, 2013. “Women and the big business of chocolate.” Oxfam America. https://www.oxfamamerica.org/static/media/files/oxfam-fact-sheet-women-and-cocoa-screen.pdf (9/4/17)
  10. “MAYA MOUNTAIN, BELIZE 70%.” Products, http://www.dandelionchocolate.com/store/products/maya-mountain-belize-70/#anchor.
  11. “Melanger.” Process, http://www.dandelionchocolate.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/about13.png.
  12. Price, Larry C. July 10, 2013. “One Million Children Labor in Africa’s Goldmines.” PBS. http://www.pbs.org/newshour/updates/world-july-dec13-burkinafaso_07-10/. (3/03/14)
  13. Ryan Órla. Chocolate Nations Living and Dying for Cocoa in West Africa. Zed Books, 2012.
  14. “Take a Look inside Our Factory.” Our Brands, http://www.hersheys.com/en_us/our-story/our-ingredients.html.
  15. “Winnow Machine.” LE GRANDE EXPERIMENT, http://www.dandelionchocolate.com/2015/05/12/le-grande-experiment-part-2-making-chocolate-steve-devries-style-in-denver/.
  16. “Child Labor: The Dark Side of Chocolate.” WilderUtopia.com, 3 Mar. 2018, http://www.wilderutopia.com/international/earth/child-labor-the-dark-side-of-chocolate/.
  17. USA, Fair Trade. “Is There Child Labor In Your Chocolate?” The Huffington Post, TheHuffingtonPost.com, 7 Dec. 2017, www.huffingtonpost.com/fair-trade-usa/is-there-child-labor-in-y_b_9169898.html.
  18. Martin, Carla D. “Lecture: Modern Slavery”
  19. Shanker, Deena. “The Rise of Craft Chocolate.” Bloomberg.com, Bloomberg, 7 Feb. 2017, http://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2017-02-07/the-rise-of-craft-chocolate.

 

From Producers and Consumers to Producing Consumers: Nestlé and the Weaponization of Brazilian Women

In a dense Rio favela or small Amazonian village at current day, you might meet someone much like Celene da Silva, who at 29 manages her own small business. This is no small feat for a woman from one of the most impoverished areas in the world. Armed with only a pushcart, da Silva travels door to door, selling infant milk products, candy bars, puddings, and cereals to her many clients.[i]

In the small town of Vevey, Germany (now Switzerland) at the turn of the 20th century, you might have stumbled upon Henri Nestlé, also a small business owner. Using his pharmaceutical background, Nestlé invented a milk alternative known as infant formula by combining cow’s milk, flour, and sugar.[ii] What, then, links a modern-day Brazilian entrepreneur to small-town German pharmacist? What if I told you they worked for the same company?

Da Silva, along with thousands of other Brazilian women, has been recruited and trained as a door-to-door vendor for Nestlé–the world’s largest food conglomerate with some of the most aggressive marketing practices in history. Vendors are dispatched throughout Brazilian cities and countrysides, offering “nutrient-rich” processed foods from a selection of over 800 products.[iii] Even in hard to reach areas, where geography or social stigma prevent women from vending, Nestlé has found a strategy. Pictured below is a Nestlé-sponsored boat, which travels remote Amazonian tributaries as a floating supermarket offering products to “isolated” consumers.[iv] Clients are often only interested in a handful of these products, however, with foods like Kit Kat bars, Nescau 2.0 (a sugary chocolate powder), chocolate pudding, and cookies being ordered the most.[v]

59c12a9538d20d7f378b76e8-480-320.jpg

What complicates matters is Brazil’s tortured history with chocolate–once one of the top producers of cacao, the country has faced severe drought in recent years.[vi] Look at the country’s historic disconnect between production and consumption, namely due to slavery, and Nestlé’s door-to-door program appears particularly menacing. The anthropologist Sidney Mintz most accurately encapsulates this divide in his 1985 seminal work Sweetness and Power, writing of 20th century “It is not ironical to point out that the white migrants would soon be eating more sugar, produced by the nonwhite migrants at lower wages, and producing finished goods at higher wages to be consumed by the nonwhite migrants.”[vii] Many of these “finished goods” are now sold by Nestlé, who while relying on the labor of cacao farmers in countries like Brazil then dilutes products with sugar and milk to sell them at a profit. While Nestle’s door-to-door vendor program has disrupted the feminization of poverty, its attempt to turn sites of production into sites of consumption has come with devastating health effects.

Nestlé’s strict hiring quotas have allowed it to conceal its aggressive marketing efforts under the guise of gender equity. By employing over 7,000 saleswomen and 200 microdistributors,[viii] all women with little to no previous job experience, Nestlé has established a strong relationship with the Brazilian government and managed relatively little international oversight. In fact, in 2014 alone food companies donated a total of $158 million to Brazil’s National Congress.[ix] For women on the ground like Celene da Silva, the program has also brought much-needed economic empowerment. As the New York Times details, “With an expanding roster of customers, Mrs. da Silva has set her sights on a new goal, one she says will increase business even more…’I want to buy a bigger refrigerator.’”[x] Da Silva’s strong relationship with the women in her neighborhood, coupled with Nestlé’s one-month layaway plan timed to match the government-funded food stipend program, has stabilized her income.[xi] Despite the fact that she herself is 200 overweight with high blood pressure, da Silva, like many vendors, believes in her employer’s commitment to health. The question then becomes, however, the limit to employing women whose life spans will be shortened by their own products.

Nestlé’s marketing practices rely on notions of their products as healthy in order to attract the support of governments and consumers alike. Along with lobbying and employing women as door-to-door vendors, the company aligns its brand with nutrition and exercise to garner attention. As consumers in the U.S. have given up sugary chocolate products in favor of healthier foods, Nestlé has moved to introduce these same products to even the most remote parts of the Amazon by adding commonly deficient vitamins and minerals. The chocolate powder Nescau 2.0, for example, claims to be “packed with calcium and niacin.”[xii] As Professor Susan George writes in “The Limits to Public Relations,” Nestle is one of the only companies to so publically document these efforts. She says, “Very rarely do multinational corporations provide details of their activities in underdeveloped countries. Nestle is an exception.”[xiii] This distinct tactic is what has strengthened the trust between vendors and their company. As da Silva explains, “Everyone here knows that Nestlé products are good for you.”

Brazil serves as a case study in the transformation of a country from cacao producer to chocolate product consumer. The public health effects of Nestlé’s aggressive marketing campaigns are only beginning to be studied, as are alternatives. As one Nestlé consultant points out, “If I ask 100 Brazilian families to stop eating processed food, I have to ask myself: What will they eat? Who will feed them? How much will it cost?”[xiv] Processed foods have undoubtedly provided a solution to the issue of overpopulation, but have failed to nutritionally benefit consumers. The story of Nestlé and Brazil has often been one of deceit, in which sugar-laden chocolate products are billed as nutritional through women’s empowerment programs in an effort to target communities with poor records on gender equity and public health. The question then becomes how to balance demand with accessibility, affordability, and nutrition–without exploiting vulnerable populations.

 

 

 

 

 

[i] Jacobs, Andrew. “How Big Business Got Brazil Hooked on Junk Food.” The New York Times, September 16, 2017, sec. Health. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/09/16/health/brazil-obesity-nestle.html.

[ii] Owles, Eric. “How Nestlé Expanded Beyond the Kitchen.” The New York Times, June 27, 2017, sec. DealBook. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/27/business/dealbook/nestle-chocolate-milk-coffee-history.html.

[iii] Jacobs, Andrew. “How Big Business Got Brazil Hooked on Junk Food.” The New York Times, September 16, 2017, sec. Health. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/09/16/health/brazil-obesity-nestle.html.

[iv] Garfield, Leanna. “Nestlé Sponsored a River Barge to Create a ‘floating Supermarket’ That Sold Candy and Chocolate Pudding to the Backwoods of Brazil.” Business Insider. Accessed March 20, 2018. http://www.businessinsider.com/nestl-expands-brazil-river-barge-2017-9.

[v] Ibid.

[vi] “Chocolate Has New Latin King as Ecuador Overtakes Brazil.” Bloomberg.Com, January 21, 2014. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2014-01-20/cocoa-has-new-latin-america-king-as-ecuador-beats-brazil.

[vii] Mintz, Sidney Wilfred. Sweetness and power: The place of sugar in modern history. Penguin, 1986.

[viii] “Door-to-Door Sales of Fortified Products.” https://www.nestle.com. Accessed March 19, 2018. https://www.nestle.com/csv/case-studies/allcasestudies/door-to-doorsalesoffortifiedproducts,brazil.

[ix] Jacobs, Andrew. “How Big Business Got Brazil Hooked on Junk Food.” The New York Times, September 16, 2017, sec. Health. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/09/16/health/brazil-obesity-nestle.html.

[x] Ibid.

[xi] Ibid.

[xii] Ibid.

[xiii] George, Susan. “Nestle Alimentana SA: the limits to public relations.” Economic and Political Weekly (1978): 1591-1602.

[xiv] Jacobs, Andrew. “How Big Business Got Brazil Hooked on Junk Food.” The New York Times, September 16, 2017, sec. Health. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/09/16/health/brazil-obesity-nestle.html.

Walgreens: My Unlikely Source Of Chocolates*

About The Taster

It is not a secret to those who know me well that I love chocolate. I specially enjoy super dark, extremely bitter (70-90%) Cacao bars. I also like—the unfortunately less nutritious—white chocolate products. I regularly buy white chocolate bars or bon bons from local grocery stores. Yet, my finest inclinations—as a chocolate taster—are always in favor of the darkest, unsweetened, highly concentrated cacao bars. 
 
According to content learned in Harvard University professor Carla D. Martin’s class Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food, I am a hypertaster or someone who has “more papillae that are very closely arranged and smaller” (Martin, 13). This can make me an unreliable taster, and it probably explains my experience with tasting food—I always sound either very excited or really disgusted about flavors in contrast to most of my friends, who seem balanced in their perception of taste. Regardless of the odds, I continue to be their main “adviser” on good local restaurants. This is probably due to my “passionate” approach, which grabs their interest. 

Why Walgreens? 

I regularly walk to a nearby Walgreens drugstore to get my prescriptions (see fig. 1 and fig. 2). It was not until joining professor Martin’s class that I paid attention to their chocolate section. It actually happened around Valentine’s, when most of us (particularly females) are targeted with advertisements and offers of candy and chocolates. Very curious—recalling our class’ discussions—I explored these isles at the store and I found—not surprisingly—an “avalanche” of well known chocolate brands (like Lindt, Cadbury, Nestle) lying next to the candy section (see fig. 4).
Fig. 1. Walgreens drugstore at Vermont Avenue and 6th Street, Los Angeles, California.

Fig. 2. Pinned location of Walgreens at Vermont Avenue and 6th Street, Los Angeles, California. 

Walgreens was founded in 1901 by Charles R. Walgreens in Dixon, Illinois. He started Walgreens as a “50 feet by 20 feet” (“Our Story”) drugstore, which later developed into a giant chain of pharmacies, and successfully expanded across the United States. In the Walgreens website, its motto reads, “A history of our company: How a neighborhood drugstore became America’s most trusted pharmacy… and changed the shopping habits of a nation” (“Our Story”) That seems consistent with the Walgreens of today, which steadily renovates its inventory to offer beauty, household and even grocery products (see fig. 3).
Fig. 3. Walgreens’ online shopping portal.

The Walgreens Experience

So, who goes to Walgreens for chocolates? Is it just me? Highly doubtful! I visit the store at least once per month. Since last Valentine’s their chocolate supply was re-stocked. I was shocked to see some of the brands that professor Martin reviewed in class (i.e. Endangered Species Chocolate) at my local Walgreens. Their wide list of product categories, makes Walgreens a good candidate for casual grocery and retail shopping. And when it comes to chocolate and candies, I am not alone. The day that I chose to take pictures for this assignment, I had to move aside several times to let other shoppers shop, and to let their children run wild over the candy section. 
 
It is perhaps its versatility—as business scholar Katy Mullis suggests in her paper A SWOT Analysis of Walgreens in the Competitive Pharmacy Marketplace—what keeps the retailer thriving. Mullis describes the advantage of their extensive product selection, “The company strives to offer a merchandise mix in line with this focus, providing customers with one-stop stopping for not only prescription drugs, 6 but also over-the-counter-drugs, health care products, grocery selections, gifts, holiday and seasonal items, and one-hour photo developing” (Mullis, 5-6). Walgreens—based on Mullis’ work—holds strongly as a convenience market. People go there to order prescriptions, and spend no less than fifteen minutes waiting for them to be ready. This gives the company a tremendous advantage to sell more than just pharmaceutical goods. I personally buy candles and incense at Walgreens since 2015—and now, I additionally buy their chocolates and wine. 

Judging The Book By Its Cover 

Although Walgreens sells a great variety of chocolates, it is not a specialty shop for cacao products. It conveniently stocks brands that are popular and generally available in other food markets. Therefore, I was not expecting to find fancy delicacies there—and none else should. It would be an exception from their purchasing habits if it ever happened. Nevertheless, their chocolate selection is sufficiently versatile—considering that Walgreens is primarily a pharmacy, and not a grocery chain like Ralphs or Gelson’s.

 Fig. 4. Walgreens’ “Chocolate-Candy” section at a Walgreens store in Los Angeles, California.

The chocolate bars sold at Walgreens range from low to very good quality—as far as branding and taste. Some of their prevalent brands were mentioned at professor Martin’s class: Hershey’s, Cadbury’s, Nestle, Lindt, etc. It is uncommon to see organic products there (I did not find any at all), or certified products in general. But sometimes random supplies make it to their shelves and one stumbles upon a deliciously crafted chocolate bar.
 
With this research in mind, I selected and purchased a few items that attracted me. Recalling the chocolate tasting activities performed by professor Martin, I bought two of the Endangered Species Chocolate brand. I also picked the Chili and White Coconut—of course—bars from Lindt and a few others, nicely appealing (presentation-wise and content-wise). Notwithstanding, I avoid Hershey’s and Cadbury’s almost all the time. I feel that they make products that are so sweet and “distressed” that I am unable to taste any real chocolate in them. 

Tasting And Researching Chocolate 

My “repertoire” consisted of the items shown below (see fig. 5). Fig. 5. Chocolate Tasting Selection.

The description of the products in the picture is the following (in random order):
  • 1 Damak Fine Chocolate with Pistachios bar by Nestle, $2.89 / 2.80 oz.
  • 1 Damak Dark Chocolate with Pistachios bar by Nestle, $2.89 / 2.80 oz.
  • 1 Dark Chocolate Cranberry Almond with Blood Orange Flavor bar by Brookside, $3.89 / 3.17 oz.
  • 1 Dark Chocolate With Sea Salt & Almonds bar by Endangered Species Chocolate, $4.29 / 3 oz.
  • 1 Dark Chocolate With Cranberries & Almonds bar by Endangered Species Chocolate, $4.29 / 3 oz.
  • 1 Excellence Chili Dark Chocolate bar by Lindt, $2.50 / 3.50 oz.
  • 1 Excellence White Coconut White Chocolate bar by Lindt, $2.50 / 3.50 oz.
The results of the experiment produced the following graph, showing percentages (fig. 6):
 
Fig. 6. Measuring Chocolate Tasting Results.
  • The tastiest bar: Endangered Species Chocolate’s Dark Chocolate With Sea Salt & Almonds.
  • The best deal: Lindt’s Chili Dark Chocolate.
  • The worst product: Nestle’s Damak Dark Chocolate with Pistachios.
The worst tasting experience corresponds to Nestle’s Damak series. Professor Martin remarked during her lectures about processing chocolate, that over-conching can result in a “flat, lifeless” (Martin, 56) and dull product—which was evident when tasting the Damak series. In regards to Brookside’s Cranberry Almond Dark Chocolate with Blood Orange Flavor, I was dazzled by its fancy name and its presentation. Beautifully enclosed in a delicate foil envelope, it featured sketches of almonds, cranberries and an orange tree etched in silver color over a dark red background (see fig. 7). Whereas its base cacao mix did not feel over-conched or poorly processed, the presence of so many strong flavors (orange, almonds, cranberries) created an ambiguous taste that did not impress my palate, so I classified it as too busy. 
 
Decidedly, my preferred choice became the Endangered Species’ Dark Chocolate With Sea Salt & Almonds. It has a sharp, lively, delicious chocolate presence along with salty, crispy notes of sea salt and almond chunks. The only downside of this brand is that it is pricey—looking at the cost and its net weight. However, all of its certifications and its quality make it seem worth the investment. Regardless, certifications should be interpreted with caution—according to professor Martin’s research titled The Bitter and Sweet of Chocolate in Europe, co-authored with Kathryn E. Sampeck—because often they result in misguided efforts that do not really support cacao farmers as they claim to, and that benefit primarily “wealthy consumers” (Martin and Sampeck, 52) frequently halting “innovation by prioritizing consensus among participating companies and incentivizing only baseline standards adherence, ultimately becoming part of the problem” (Martin and Sampeck, 52). The problem—in this case—refers to the ever-growing poverty in many cacao-producing nations, and in the difficulties experienced by cacao farmers to sell their raw materials and to collect their earnings afterwards, whether they participate or not in certification programs.
Fig. 7. Brookside’s Refined Cranberry Almond With Blood Orange Bar.
 
In the next section are the details about the ratings from the chocolate tasting experiment. 

Observations From The Experiment

Nestle’s Damak Fine Chocolate with Pistachios:
  • Milk Chocolate
  • Mild taste, almost like candy
  • Burnt garlic after taste
  • Cacao: regular (non specified)
  • Certifications / Program: SadeOfset
  • Caloric Information: Yes
  • Rating: 3/10
  • Presentation: 2/5
  • Price: 2/5
Nestle’s Damak Dark Chocolate with Pistachios:
  • Dark Chocolate (55%)
  • Soil-like taste, almost like dirt
  • Bitter after taste
  • Cacao: regular (non specified)
  • Certifications / Program: SadeOfset
  • Caloric Information: Yes
  • Rating: 3/10
  • Presentation: 2/5
  • Price: 2/5
Brookside’s Cranberry Almond Dark Chocolate with Blood Orange Flavor:
  • Dark Chocolate
  • Fruity flavor, citric
  • Mildly bitter
  • Cacao: regular (non specified)
  • Certifications / Program: Smartlabel
  • Caloric Information: Yes
  • Rating: 7/10
  • Presentation: 5/5
  • Price: 4/5
Lindt’s Excellence White Coconut:
  • White Chocolate
  • Fruity, coconut
  • Sweet
  • Cacao: regular (non specified)
  • Certifications / Program: N/A
  • Caloric Information: Yes
  • Rating: 8/10
  • Presentation: 5/5
  • Price: 5/5
Lindt’s Excellence Chili Dark Chocolate:
  • Dark Chocolate (47%)
  • Spicy, chili
  • Sweet
  • Cacao: regular (non specified)
  • Certifications / Program: N/A
  • Caloric Information: Yes
  • Rating: 9/10
  • Presentation: 5/5
  • Price: 5/5
Endangered Species’ Dark Chocolate with Sea Salt & Almonds:
  • Dark Chocolate (72%)
  • Sharp, salty and crunchy
  • Just perfect
  • Cacao: Fair Trade, Non-GMO
  • Certifications / Program: Fair Trade, NON GMO Verified, Certified Gluten-Free, Certified Vegan
  • Caloric Information: Yes
  • Rating: 10/10
  • Presentation: 4/5
  • Price: 3/5
Endangered Species’ Dark Chocolate with Cranberries & Almonds:
  • Dark Chocolate (72%)
  • Fruity, spicy and crunchy
  • Just perfect
  • Cacao: Fair Trade, Non-GMO
  • Certifications / Program: Fair Trade, NON GMO Verified, Certified Gluten-Free, Certified Vegan 
  • Caloric Information: Yes
  • Rating: 9/10
  • Presentation: 4/5
  • Price: 3/5
These are certifications reported by the products:
Contents (fig. 8):
  • Kosher, Dairy
  • Fair Trade
  • NON GMO Verified
  • Certified Gluten Free
  • Certified Vegan
Fig. 8. Product Certifications. 
Packaging (fig. 9):
  • SadeOfset
  • Smartlabel
  • PCW Certification

Fig. 9. Packaging Certifications.
 
A curious detail revealed by the experiment, was the ubiquity of packaging certifications. Almost every chocolate product at Walgreen’s shelves displayed one or more packaging certification logos—even when the product itself was not certified. This proves that consumers are not only interested in eating well: they are also concerned about the impact that the products they consume have in the environment. Hopefully, consumers will succeed in voicing their interest to chocolate manufactures and cause them to buy more certified raw materials, and to support standardized certification programs. 

Putting It All Together 

Shopping at Walgreens for chocolates was quite an experience. If it was not because of taking professor Martin’s class, it would have likely skipped it. Yet, her class succeeded in making me a more conscious food shopper. I feel now compelled to read food labels and to check for certifications, which—other than USDA Organic—sounded irrelevant to me before enrolling in Chocolate, Culture and the Politics of Food. Understanding the difference between Fair Trade, USDA Organic and other classifications does make a difference in the “wholesomeness” and perception of a product. I am specially keen about the complex chain of connections that begins at a chocolate farm and ends on the hands of the consumer. I “pledge” to use more discernment in my future purchases by supporting transparent, environmentally and socially conscious chocolatiers.
 
An additional takeaway from professor Martin’s class—which becomes obvious while shopping for groceries—is that sugar and chocolate are quasi inseparable. Often, they are displayed in contiguous shelves, so that it is hard to define where the candy ends and the chocolate begins—this was the case at Walgreens (and many other stores). Perhaps, the subliminal reason for this is that most chocolate products nowadays are so overwhelmingly processed that—as author Samira Kawash puts it in her Candy: A Century of Panic and Pleasure book—there is an “ancestral” link between them: 

“The ancestral relation between candy and today’s ultraprocessed foods is a compelling reason to look a little more closely at the rise of the candy industry and the controversies and worries that accompanied it. The story of candy in America is a story of how the processed, the artificial, and the fake came to be embraced as real food. And it’s also the story of how it happened that so much of what we call food today is really candy.(Kawash, 26)

What Kawash suggests has been historically documented and marked by the evolution of the advertisement and media. Today’s most renown chocolate brands in America (i.e. Hershey’s) produce hyper-processed, hyper-sweetened chocolate goods. There is almost no difference between eating these chocolates and eating pure candy. But there is new is hope for a positive change that arises from consumer awareness. We—as consumers—can and are transforming the current food market. The dangers of sugar addiction and chemical processing are being exposed, and food shoppers are turning to natural alternatives. We are all hopeful about the rise of healthier and tastier food (and chocolate) that—most definitely—will lay in the hands of our millennials! 
*Disclaimer: This essay is drawn from a personal experience. Therefore, it is written in First-Person.

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