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May 31, 2007


Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

I've just now awakened to the fact that Big Chocolate -- Hershey, Nestle, and Archer Daniels Midland -- is petitioning the FDA to let them market candy as chocolate even when the candy contains little or no cocoa butter. Lordy, what's the world coming to?

This campaign is obviously a disgrace and an outrage, and perhaps even something these firms should never be allowed to live down.

What the event really has me thinking about, though, is something more general, namely: Why do American companies seem so prone to making these trashing-their-own-reputation blunders? Don't they realize that respect and trust play an important role in consumers' feelings about their products -- especially where luxury and pleasure goods are concerned? Hey, CEOs: People want a nice experience, from the marketing to the buying to the consuming.

Let's hear it for the chocolate makers See's and Guittard, who have taken a stand against their competitors in the chocolate biz. Here's a "Don't Mess With Our Chocolate" website sponsored by Guittard.



posted by Michael at May 31, 2007


It seems that the fake chocolates in question contain trans fats as major ingredients. Which means that not only are they fake, but they contain a substance that is (or should be) wholly unsuitable for human consumption.

It would be nice if Warren Buffet, who own's See's, could use some of his megafortune in a lobbying effort against this proposal.

Posted by: Peter on May 31, 2007 1:39 PM

Ah, See's, the greatest candy maker on any of the inner planets! (Okay, I may be exaggerating slightly, but as a displaced Californian, there is a certain amount of nostalgia involved here.) That they are standing up for quality does not surprise me.

Posted by: Lester Hunt on May 31, 2007 2:01 PM

To your general question, here's an even more insane example of big business tarnishing its own reputation, this time with the help of the government. A small meat processing company wants to test all its cattle for Mad Cow disease. The big processers are afraid it might make them look bad for only testing 1% of their stock, so they've sued to stop it, and the USDA is backing them, using the flimsiest and most transparent of excuses. You have to marvel at the sheer gall on display here.

Posted by: Steve on May 31, 2007 2:20 PM

If I were a quality chocolatier, I would hold my tongue hoping these big goofballs would go right ahead and buy off their congressman. Then, after their chocolate suicide act passed, I'd run ads guaranteeing the integrity of my product...over and over and over and over. Can you just see the hay some of these ad campagns could make out of this transparently greedy move?

Posted by: Charlton Griffin on May 31, 2007 7:27 PM

I suspect that many people in Yurp suspect that almost all Murrkin chocolate is Non-Chocolate.

Posted by: dearieme on June 1, 2007 6:42 AM

Now here's a chocolate-meltingly heart-warming story.

Posted by: dearieme on June 1, 2007 9:26 AM

Gon't ever, ever, ever mess with chocolate. Godiva, Pepperidge Farm, Whitman's, See's---Gosh, even Ben and Jerry's...God bless you. Hershey and Nestle should go out of business. Wraths and plagues should descend upon them. But Nestle's bars stopped tasting much like real chocolate a long time ago--it's like Nestle's bars hit the shelves already stale.

Posted by: annette on June 1, 2007 9:44 AM

Yeah, Yurpeans aren't big into mass product consumption anyway (cigarettes and alchohol excepted). Murrkins are much better consumers of inexpensive artificial food products and Big corps know that. Although, it looks like they finally crossed a line that even Murrkins won't accept.

Posted by: mr. closets on June 1, 2007 10:28 AM

Godiva chocolates are a testimony to clever packaging and marketing. While never quite coming out and saying so, Godiva certainly does a good job making it seem as if the chocolates are handcrafted in Europe.

In fact, they're produced on a factory assembly line in Reading, Pennsylvania, and Godiva itself is part of the Campbell Soup company.

Posted by: Peter on June 1, 2007 11:55 AM

The only solution is to buy the chocolate you're sure is real -f.ex., from this guy.

Posted by: Tatyana on June 1, 2007 12:27 PM

This is yet another example of Global Corporate Capitalism at work. GCC now has almost no connection whatsoever with "pure" or "theoretical" capitalism except for the capitalist rhetoric GCC adopts for whatever political or market advantages they can achieve by doing so.

I'm reminded of a lawsuit by Monsanto against a regional family owned business, Oakhurst Dairy (three generations and counting) that advertised how all of their suppliers (modest scale, regional, mostly family farms) maintained herds without the use of artificial growth hormones. After a number of years of defending these ads in court Oakhurst, not having the deep pockets that Monsanto does for endless legal maneuvering, reached a settlement. They are allowed to mention using only growth hormone free cows, but must now have a disclaimer on each carton of milk stating that the USDA finds no difference in the milk from cows that do get artificial growth hormones. Having reached this settlement with Oakhurst, Monsanto is now suing a number of other dairy distributors in the Northeast for the same thing. They'll presumably be leveraging the Oakhurst agreement to expand the muzzle ... truth in advertising, indeed.

The rhetoric of capitalism as used by GCC is all about "let the market decide" and "tort reform" and "deregulation." When a small local business gains market share by providing a product people prefer, companies like Monsanto are all about muzzling the discourse of the market (i.e. giving consumers information that they can use to decide among various competing products), suing and using the government to tip the scales in their favor. Regardless of what one's take may be on the science, ethics or economic impact on farmers who use or don't use AGHs or the cocoa content of "chocolate" bars, this kind of distortion of capitalism is now pervasive.

Here it is again, writ small as a battle over chocolate. Hersey recently absorbed Dogoba, Green & Black's is a Cadbury Schweppes subsidiary. Give me Sirius 70% from Iceland or any of the local artisan micro chocolatiers. Once again the answer is "Buy Local."

Posted by: Chris White on June 1, 2007 3:29 PM

Peter -- But trans fats are a major American food group!

Lester -- My California-bred wife glows with pride whenever See's Candies is mentioned too.

Steve -- That really is appalling, tks for letting us know about it.

Charlton -- You've got a knack for snazzy p-r ideas!

Dearieme -- We live, eat, and breathe synthetics. That story you link to really is awfully perfect, isn't it?

Annette-- "But Nestle's bars stopped tasting much like real chocolate a long time ago--it's like Nestle's bars hit the shelves already stale." That's a great line!

Mr. Closets -- It'll be interesting to see if Big Chocolate can get away with this. Gotta wonder why they're even bothering trying. On the other hand, it seems inevitable ...

Peter -- Godiva's part of Campbell's? I had no idea.

Tatyana -- And maybe this guy too. Good stuff!

Chris -- That Monsanto/Oakhurst story is amazing, appalling, etc., tks. I certainly have no quarrel with your more general case either.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on June 1, 2007 4:43 PM

Monsanto tried to pull that same stunt in Canada, pressuring the government to stop dairies from advertising their products as BGH-free. They didn't get their way that time, but it galled me to hear Monsanto spokesman complaining, a couple of years later, about how the (ignorant, superstitious) public didn't trust them on GM food. Oh, would that be because you've shown yourself to be a snake in the grass?

Posted by: intellectual pariah on June 1, 2007 5:12 PM

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