The cocoa bean has been consumed in some form for 5000 years; it’s scientific name, theobroma cacao, translates to “food of the gods”. But how did a non-descript bean from South America become a household, sugary confectionary, and what PR and marketing strategies can we learn from its rise to the top?


Know your audience and find your niche

When the beans initially landed on British shores in the 16th century, chocolate was only consumed as a drink. Spanish explorer Hernan Cortes promoted chocolate as nutritional and medicinal and it was drunk only by the elite. They explored mixing it with wine and pepper before discovering the mix of milk and sugar, resembling the hot chocolate we know today.

Chocolate grew in popularity for those in the know. The elite would congregate in coffee houses to drink chocolate and coffee; it became a place where intellectuals gathered to gossip and debate. In fact, it got so popular, in 1660 Charles II tried to close down the coffee houses, as well as banning the selling of coffee and chocolate drinks, as he considered it to promote rebellions and radicalisation.

As Hernan Cortes learnt, it’s vital to know your target audience and what angle will make your product more appealing, use this to find your niche in the market. Never underestimate the power of word of mouth, although try not to start too many rebellions in the local café.


Move with the times

Solid chocolate, as we know it today, was finally invented in 1847 and during the industrial revolution chocolate production became more commercial. The new chocolate companies got their names out there by sponsoring events and attending exhibitions to showcase their offerings.  The elite were still the target audience, with a box of chocolates costing up to 10 weeks’ rent for the lower class.

Chocolate embraced the industrial revolution, adapted to what was possible and launched itself into the stratosphere. In the current age of the technological revolution and Artificial Intelligence (AI) it’s more important than ever to move with the times to stay relevant to your customers. Brand awareness and getting your name out can be the first step to building familiarity and trust.


Be adaptable and think outside the box

White chocolate was invented in Switzerland to give to ill children, they didn’t want milk alone as it was seen as babyish, so they added cocoa butter and fortified it with vitamins to make it more appealing. It became so popular that it was made into chocolate bars for the masses, despite not technically being chocolate as it doesn’t contain cocoa solids.

Across the water in America, money was tight and chocolate nonessential. Some brands changed tacked and marketed their bars as cheap meal replacement options for quick energy and calories.

You never know where thinking outside of the box could take you.


How does it make your customer feel?

The current chocolate industry is worth just under £100 billion. Brand messages still speak of the quality and indulgence of their chocolate products but now they’re affordable and accessible to all. Chocolate companies have successfully used PR to navigate sugar taxes, ethical and fair-trade quandaries to keep its top spot as a beloved confectionery.

Cadbury focuses on kindness and generosity in a market saturated with sugary options, carefully creating emotional responses to make the customer feel like part of the Cadbury family.

After all of this talk of chocolate I’m off to have a break, probably have a KitKat.

By Jasmin Staveley


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