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Healthy Chocolate: The Rise of Marketing Chocolate as a Healthy Food

         Chocolate is an intriguing treat, junk food, energy snack, medicinal food, etc. This sentence itself is interesting in and of itself since chocolate is a type of food that can be labeled in so many different ways. This is not necessarily the case because there are an endless number of versions of chocolates, but it has instead been the result of the myriad of different ways in which chocolate has been marketed to different demographics throughout the years. As we have seen in our course, “Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food,” the way in which chocolate has been viewed has changed in many ways since it has been demonized by religious groups in the first half of the 20th century 1, it has also been “sanctified as a thoroughly American food” in the 1920’s 2, and if you go back to the 18th and 19th century, then you see that chocolate was marketed as a food that you could ingest as medicine to improve health 3. However, the contemporary state of the cacao-chocolate industry has led chocolate as a food to be seen and marketed in new ways that have been a response to the societal changes that have influenced the role that chocolate has in our society. The chocolate industry has started to market chocolate towards adults in recent years and they have started to put less focus on marketing to children. This shift in marketing has largely been the result of the fact that the market for children’s candies is so mercurial and is largely dependent on the current trend in candy, which makes it very difficult to remain profitable as a candy company that focuses on the children’s market 4. The chocolate industry is largely dependent on sugar and the way that it is perceived by society and there has currently been a shift to no longer seeing chocolate as an unhealthy food that was meant to be for kids. An interesting example of this shift is the fact that the National Confectionary Assn. has hired Olympic medalist Bob Matthias to promote “the nutritional benefits of chocolate.”5 The promotion of chocolate as a candy that is healthy and meant for adults largely stems from a trend of chocolate products moving up and offering better quality through sophistication.6 Gary Foote, who is the marketing manager for Ferrero USA, claims that this is largely the result of the “Europeanization, or the gourmetization of America.” 7 It is possible to see the cause of this shift because there are many examples of the perception that American adults have of European chocolate when compared to American chocolate.


As you can see in the video below, these Americans who are doing a study abroad program in Belgium, have this idea that European chocolate is a lot more sophisticated than American chocolate.8


Studies show that one of the reasons why these American exchange students feel that European chocolate is superior partially has to do with how “a brand and a country-of-origin have a positive correlation, as they influence consumer’s brand evaluation, perceptions, purchasing behavior and brand equity.” 9 European chocolate has the advantage that it is being made in European countries that are seen as first world countries which has a certain allure and elegance in the eyes of American consumers. On the other hand, you have chocolate that is being made in South America and Africa where most countries are seen as third world countries by most American consumers, which can be attributed to many social factors and racism is one of these factors. It becomes obvious that the reason why these Americans feel that European chocolate is superior to American chocolate is because the marketing and packaging is more professional and sophisticated—it is marketing that is clearly targeting an older demographic. The article “A review of marketing strategies from the European chocolate industry” by Nur Suhaili Ramli mentions that European chocolate typically stands out for the most part when it comes to their marketing, but it is also unique in the use of “quality ingredients, supply chains, marketplace, and product attribute information.”10 It is fascinating to notice how effective this type of marketing is with adults since the people in this video never mention anything about the chocolate itself. The women never mention that the taste of European chocolate is superior to American chocolate and instead they largely focus on the superiority of the look, the presentation, and the aesthetic of European chocolate. There have been many studies done around this topic of how marketing of chocolate affects the way that people perceive the differences between chocolate that is labeled as “organic” and chocolate that is not labeled that way. The study “The Effect of ‘Organic’ Labels On Consumer Perception of Chocolates” by Kiss, Kontor, and Kun makes a conclusion that the label of “organic” on chocolate packaging increased the “perceived gap between organic and regular chocolates according to fragrance, healthiness, calories content and price.”11


This is a rising trend in the chocolate industry that can clearly be seen in advertisements, as the one listed in the video below for the product Choconature, where you have a doctor appearing in this advertisement in order to assure audiences that this product will improve your health.12

The doctor in the video mentions that the chocolate is 100% organic, decrease inflammation in the body, decrease the free radicals in the body, help improve your skin, and decrease your blood pressure. 13 It is evident from this ad that there is a viable adult market in the chocolate industry and they are trying to find a way to rebrand the image that people have of chocolate, as a sugary treat that is bad for your health, and turn it into a product that can actually help fix many ailments that affect older demographics.

There is a significant question that is posed by videos like the one above: is chocolate, or at least some version of chocolate, capable of not only being a healthy food, but also a food that could have medicinal properties? Chocolate, as it is typically created for products like Snickers and M&M’s—in particular dark chocolate of high cocoa varieties—has natural antioxidant benefits. 14 These benefits have long been known by the general public and companies selling dark chocolate, which has lead these companies to market their dark chocolate as a healthy version of chocolate for many years. However, there has recently been a huge surge in the fortification of chocolate in order to artificially add properties to chocolate that, according to these chocolate manufacturers, could help improve your health and solve other body ailments. 15 Some of the ingredients that companies fortify chocolate with are vitamins, minerals, superfruits, lavender, and goji berries. 16 On the surface the addition of these nutritious ingredients may seem like a win-win situation since customers will be able to eat a tasty snack, like chocolate, and also be able to consume ingredients that would improve their health. Yet, the chocolate manufacturers who are creating these healthy versions of chocolate are deliberately misinforming consumers on how healthy these snacks truly are by abusing how ambiguously defined  “organic” products and “all-natural” products are in the United States market and the international market. Chocolate manufacturers have taken note of the growing popularity of “organic products and ingredients in the U.S.” In order to take advantage of this trend, chocolate manufacturers have begun to market their products as “all-natural” products as an alternative to the “organic” products that consumers typically associate with healthy foods. On the surface, they both seem like they are equally healthy, however, it becomes apparent that they are some major differences between the two products once you start looking at the specific requirements needed for a product to be considered either “all-natural” or “organic.” When it comes to “organic” products, they are typically priced at a higher price since the ingredients required are more expensive. 17 Additionally, it is expensive for manufacturers of organic products to go through the certification process required to have their product labeled as “organic.” Therefore, chocolate manufacturers are leaning towards creating products that can be marketed as “all-natural” since it is easier and cheaper to make because of the lack of regulation and the affordability of the cheaper ingredients that are accepted as “all-natural.” More and more manufacturers are leaning towards creating “all-natural” products in order to satisfy the burgeoning demand for natural products in the adult demographic of chocolate consumers.

The lack of regulation that exists in the “all-natural” sub-industry of chocolate is an issue because it allows companies to use marketing in order to take advantage of the fact that the majority of chocolate consumers do not know the tactics that companies can use to falsify legitimacy as a healthy food product. A prime example of how chocolate companies manufacture artificial legitimacy is by paying independent researchers to conduct studies on the health benefits of eating chocolate—mainly the niche “all-natural” products that chocolate companies make. The chocolate brand CocoaVia, which is a subsidiary company of Mars Inc.—focuses on creating supplements and bars that are marketed as a healthy food option. 18 Brands like CocoaVia rely on scientific studies done on cocoa flavanol that claim that their products contain properties which allow them to “promote healthy blood flow from head to toe.” 19 There is a major issue with these studies that purportedly claim that these chocolate supplements are nutritious and beneficial to the health of consumers: the majority of these studies are funded by the same companies that are being examined by the independent researchers. 20 The main problem with the aforementioned power dynamics between employer and employee is that these companies are more inclined to “fund researchers with favorable views about their products, and researchers may consciously or unconsciously tweak the design of their studies or their interpretation of results to arrive at more positive conclusions.” 21

These claims are not unfounded since the Advertising Self-Regulatory Council has filed claims against CocoaVia as a result of a lack of substantial evidence to support claims in their marketing, such as “CocoaVia daily cocoa extract supplement delivers the highest concentration of cocoa flavanols, which are scientifically proven to promote a healthy heart by supporting healthy blood flow (as can be seen in the image below).” 22 23


It is dangerous to allow companies to make claims such as the aforementioned one because according to the Natural Marketing Institute found that “43% of US shoppers consulted nutritional information on product packaging when buying a product for the first time.” 24 Therefore, the fact that chocolate companies are putting unsubstantiated claims on their nutritional information marketing is dangerous since customers are easily susceptible to marketing, especially if it is marketing that promotes “healthy” chocolate that targets an adult demographic.


The chocolate industry has been maturing and it has made a conscious shift from focusing on kids as a market to focusing on adults as a more viable and profitable market. This has led to a change in the marketing used by chocolate companies in order to attract an older demographic to purchase their healthy chocolate. Chocolate marketing for kids has typically focused on making chocolate appear to be as fun and as tasty as possible, but marketing has started to focus more on “scientific studies” and “health facts” ever since the chocolate industry started to direct the majority of its industry to an adult demographic—this is evident in ads like the one below. 25

The marketing done for healthy chocolate is an example of the dangers that exist with the marketing of chocolate since it has become clear that there is a lack of regulations in place when it comes to the integration of science into the ads in this industry. The perception of chocolate, and the way that it is marketed by companies and by society, has changed throughout history as reactions to the ebbs and flows of societal values. Currently, this trend of healthy chocolate has been a reaction to a societal trend that has leaned toward valuing a healthy lifestyle and reducing the intake of food that is deemed to be junk food—and chocolate has long been a member of this group of foods.


Endnotes



1 Carla Martin, “The rise of big chocolate and race for the global market,” Class lecture, Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food from Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, March 13, 2019.

2 Ibid.

3 Carla Martin, “Sugar and cacao,” Class lecture, Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food from Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, February 20, 2019.

4 Chocolate marketing no longer kid’s stuff, pg 2

5 Patricia Winters, Chocolate marketing no longer kid’s stuff, Advertising Age, May 19, 1986, 2.

6 Ibid, 1.

7 Ibid, 1.

8 “Marketing Chocolate,” YouTube video, 4:54, “Clemson Study Abroad,” July 7, 2010, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5DZfsWQk-Zo.

9 Nur Suhaili Ramil, “A review of marketing strategies from the European chocolate industry,” Journal of Global Entrepreneurship 7, no. 10 (2017): 1.

10 Ibid, 6.

11 Marietta Kiss, Eniko Kontor, Andras Istvan Kun, “The Effect Of ‘Organic’ Labels On Consumer Perception Of Chocolates,” The Annals of the University of Oradea Economic Sciences XXIV, (2015): 448.

12 “Dr Steven Warren About the best #1 Organic chocolate on the market recommended By Doctors,” YouTube video, 0:51, “Peter Langelaar,” May 21, 2012, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GmUYUmV5_Ec.

13 Ibid.

14 Prepared Foods, “Natural Alternatives,” PreparedFoods.com, Accessed April 20, 2019.

15 Ibid.

16 Ibid.

17 Ibid.

18 Julia Belluz, “Dark chocolate is now a health food. Here’s how that happened,” vox.com, https://www.vox.com/science-and-health/2017/10/18/15995478/chocolate-health-benefits-heart-disease (accessed April 20, 2019).

19 Ibid.

20 Ibid.

21 Ibid.

22 Advertising Self-Regulatory Council, 2016, “NAD Recommends Mars Modify Certain Claims for CocoaVia Cocoa Extract,” News Release, http://www.asrcreviews.org/nad-recommends-mars-modify-certain-claims-for-cocoavia-cocoa-extract/, (accessed April 20, 2019).

23 https://www.cocoavia.com/.

24 Datamonitor, CocoaVia case study: Marketing healthy chocolate, New York City: Datamonitor, 2005, Accessed April, 2019, 6.

25 https://www.cocoavia.com/.





Sweet Medicine: The science of chocolate and health

 

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Chocolate had used as medicine since its inception. The Aztec king Montezuma is said to have consume anywhere from 20 to 50 glasses in order to remain virile. In more recent times, scientists have been looking into whether there are some medical treasures hidden in this scrumptious treat. Naturally, scientists have been zooming in on what it is in chocolate that gives it its health benefits. Scientists now believe these compounds in chocolate, called flavanols, have antioxidant properties and could help treat a variety of conditions and fight a variety of diseases. This has led to a lot of good research being done. There have been studies done that look at chocolate’s impact in fighting heart disease, diabetes, and cancer[1]. There have been studies looking at chocolate’s effect on cognitive function, memory, and blood pressure.  However, before you run to the pantry to self-medicate with chocolate be forewarned; this research, like all medical research, in fact like all science, has caveats. This particular group of research has a good deal of caveats, though not every study has the exact same caveats. Those depend on the strengths and failings of each individual study.

There is one caveat though that applies to this entire group of research; all the chocolate in these studies is all dark chocolate, that is to say to that it is at least sixty percent cacao solids. Milk chocolate is not included and for good reason. US law states that chocolate only needs to contain ten percent cacao in order to legally qualify as chocolate, the rest is mainly sugar, fat, and a few other things such as milk. According to professor Carla Martin, lecturer at Harvard University and director of the Fine Cacao and Chocolate Institute, “A Hershey’s Kiss typically contains about, I think, 11 percent cacao content”. To put that in perspective, if you had a bar of typical milk chocolate that weighed one hundred grams (about the weight of an iPhone 5S[2]), then the actual amount of chocolate in the bar would be only about ten grams, or the weight of two nickels. The fact that milk chocolate has barely any actual chocolate means that milk chocolate has barely any of those cacao flavanols that are thought to provide the health benefits. Thus, anyone, scientist or otherwise, looking towards chocolate for health benefits has to look towards chocolate with a high cacao content.

Chocolate flavanols table
Figure 1

 

There are many pitfalls a research study can fall into. One of these is having a limited and/or small sample size.  Multiple studies on the effect of chocolate on health have had sample sizes of less than a couple hundred people. One such study, the Cocoa, Cognition, and Aging (CoCoA) Study had only ninety participants. The study found that regular cocoa flavanol consumption can reduce some measures of age-related cognitive dysfunction, but given such small sample size it is difficult to draw any large generalized conclusions for the general population, since there is a wide variety of differences across populations. Moreover, the CoCoA study limited their sample size in an attempt at prove clearer causation; because this was a study on aging all the participant were elderly, and the study also excluded Current smokers, habitual users of antioxidant supplements (including vitamins C and E), habitual consumers of chocolate or other cocoa products (daily consumption of any amount), or individuals prescribed medications known to have antioxidant properties (including statins and glitazones) or to interfere with cognitive functions (including benzodiazepines and antidepressants). This means for populations outside the participant group, the research has limited application, since the researcher did not look at how cocoa flavanol intake affects people with these additional variables. It has to be remembered that studies like this are jumping off point, they prove that there is something there that needs to be looked into, but further research is required in order to the proper applications and implications of the initial research.

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