Friday, February 12, 2010

Valentine Edition: How Dark Chocolate is like Soccer


Mort Rosenblum's book Chocolate studies the history, politics, production, and digestion of one of the world's most popular indulgences. At one point he discusses the popularity of bad chocolate in the U.S. (a.k.a. Hershey's) and suggests that it remains popular largely because people tend to be very nostalgic when it comes to candy. In other words, what consumers ate as children they seek out as adults. And since Hershey's began making cheap "chocolate" in the early 20th-century that was gobbled up by so many Americans, a penchant for its flavor has been passed down from parents to children ever since.

In a similar manner, affinities for specific sports are typically determined as a child. I watched baseball with my father who played it with his father, who learned it from his father (who learned to play it instead of soccer so he wouldn't get beat up or be called a "stinkin' Dane" on the playground).

It is difficult for a new candy or new sport to catch on because it must displace one for which a nostalgic craving already exists.

Hershey's is clearly awful chocolate. Rosenblum quotes one expert who claims it tastes something like vomit. But most Americans prefer it to high quality dark chocolate. Football and baseball are far superior to Hershey's "chocolate." But the reasons cycling and soccer struggle to catch on in the U.S. are similar to the reasons dark chocolate remains a niche/snob product.

That said, if you plan to send me a Valentine's day gift this year, make it Michel Cluizel dark (Mangaro)... or, if you prefer, send me a new Pinarello Prince carbon bicycle (59.5 cms) with SRAM Red drivetrain. I'm not picky, I'll take either. Nostalgia be damned.

4 comments:

Jeremy said...

Wait. Did Sprenger get *you* into cycling now?

Do you want to meet up for the Tour de Donut at AF's steel days next summer?

SM Sprenger said...

"But most Americans prefer it to high quality dark chocolate. Football and baseball are far superior to Hershey's "chocolate." But the reasons cycling and soccer struggle to catch on in the U.S. are similar to the reasons dark chocolate remains a niche/snob product."

The assumption in this is that European soccer and cycling fans prefer dark chocolate to milk, but they might be more like Americans on this point than you think. Most European grocery stores or gas stations (and even in France or Belgium) have shelves filled with Cadbury, Suchard, Kinder, or better, Kit Kat, Mr. Goodbar and M&Ms. Most kids I've seen in European streets are eating sweet milk chocolate, and for many Kit Kat seems to be the "chocolate" of choice.

According to one study, the author says: "Le chocolat au lait reste le plus populaire (58% des consommateurs européens déclarent manger du chocolat au lait". And the Brits, by far the largest consumers of chocolate in Europe, prefer American candy bars: "The most popular type of chocolate confectionery in the UK is countlines such as Kit Kat, Snickers or Crunchie, which account for 45 per cent of total volume sales."

From: http://www.foodanddrinkeurope.com/Products-Marketing/Brits-top-European-chocolate-rankings

Sven Wilson said...

I've always been puzzled why America, the consumerism capitol of the world, has such lousy chocolate and candy (compared to almost any country in Western Europe). Why don't we demand better? The only thing Hersheys is good at is melting.

And the reason cycling and soccer haven't caught on as spectator sports, even though a gazillion American kids grew up playing soccer, is that they are, um, BORING, (in case you haven't noticed).

Maybe the reason that Americans eat horrible chocolate is the same reason that Europeans watch boring sports!

SM Sprenger said...

Correction:
Kit Kat is Swiss, a product of Nestlé.
Today's NYT says that Nestlé is taking Jenny Craig to Europe to help combat rising rates of obesity--obesity no doubt facilitated at some level by the mass marketing of candy bars like Kit Kat.
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/08/business/global/08diet.html?hpw