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What chocolate can teach us about changing consumer behavior

Chocolate

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Consumers change behavior when their minds are directed, their hearts motivated and the path to change is clear and easy to follow. Behavior change experts find that all three conditions must be met for difficult changes, such as changing habitual shopping patterns and switching brand loyalty.

Chocolate makes an interesting case study because it has emotional appeal, growing consumer demand and it’s a huge global business. Chocolate resonates with consumers because it is associated with romance, holidays, rewards for good behavior and stress-eating. The global chocolate market is forecast to reach over $139 billion by 2024, with a compound annual growth rate of 4.5 percent from 2019 to 2024. Market trends show that the antioxidant properties of dark chocolate drive demand. Benefits to cardiovascular health associated with milk chocolate are expected to strengthen that demand.

Consumers needs clear directions. The heart may be motivated but if the head is confused, consumers will not change.

But chocolate has a dirty underbelly. Chocolate supply chains are often riddled with labor and environmental abuse. An estimated 1.5 million children work in cocoa production, up 14 percent in some countries over the last 10 years. Slave labor is also on the rise, but good data is difficult to find. Consumers are increasingly aware of the issue, largely because of the current court cases against Mars, Nestlé and Hershey for child-slave labor in the Ivory Coast. Cocoa production has the potential to do no environmental harm if properly managed, but best practices are not widespread, and significant soil erosion and deforestation for new plantations are common.

Behavior change for chocolate lovers

Many confectionary companies label their products with trade certifications such as Fair Life, Responsible Labor, Fair Trade, Direct Trade, Cocoa Life, Organic and Green Frog. Even for the informed consumer, the options can be confusing. Some labels are third-party certified, others represent the company’s own internal standards.

Consumers need clear directions! The heart may be motivated but if the head is confused, consumers will not change.

Five international nonprofits — Be Slavery Free, Green America, INKOTA, Mighty Earth and National Wildlife Federation — addressed this need with the 2021 Chocolate Scorecard. It’s an effective behavior change tool for consumers who are aware of the risks of deforestation and child and slave labor in cocoa production but are confused by the myriad of labels and certifications. It provides consumers with clear directions from a known and trusted source.

The scorecard is effective because it addresses the consumer’s rational side, has strong fundamentals and gets the strategy right. Its target consumer wants to avoid the pain of supporting abusive labor or deforestation and is looking for direction. The scorecard covers a range of chocolate manufacturers around the world, so consumers in most regions of the world are able to apply its findings locally.

Let’s consider the three elements of behavior change — heart, head and path — as ways to nudge consumers to buy more sustainable chocolate. Once a consumer becomes aware of the risks of child labor and environmental damage, it’s hard to forget the dark side of the sweet treat. Once there is basic awareness, the heart is easy to convince. Who wants their chocolate to cause misery to anyone? The path is clear: sustainably produced chocolate is a fairly low-cost, easily accessed product. The scorecard addresses the missing element: crisp, clear and clean directions for the rational mind.

Breadth, trust, transparency

Consumers can trust the scorecard because each of the five nonprofits provides depth of expertise and authority for its part of the scorecard. For example, Be Slavery Free focuses on ending slavery around the world, with decades of experience in addressing labor abuse in commodity crops such as tea and cacao. Together, the five NGOs represent an outstanding effort in the breadth of issues covered, transparency and their willingness to engage with companies.

The process is transparent and actively encourages engagement. Companies were invited to an introductory meeting and appointed a liaison from the scorecard team. At the end of the process, companies were ranked on six topics: due diligence; transparency and traceability; living income; child labor; deforestation and climate; and agroforestry. The ranking methodology and full results are available on the partner organizations’ websites — such as this one.

Behavior change strategy

The Chocolate Scorecard performs well in promoting behavior change for the rational part of consumer decision-making. Not only is it clear and easy to use, the scorecard deploys the three strategies for behavior change recommended by the Switch model.

Strategy

Description

Scorecard Implementation

Follow bright spots

Show what’s working well already. Provide not only hope but a roadmap for improvement.

Identifies bright spots of the four top-ranking chocolate companies.

Gives hope and map for consumers to buy chocolate that’s good for people and the planet.

Companies can improve their performance over time.

Script critical moves

Provide small and specific behavior changes. Don’t focus on the big picture, such as changing all shopping behaviors. Think in terms of specifics.

Swapping chocolate brands to one that scores better is a small, manageable and specific action. Price differences are not forbidding, and alternatives are easily found.

Point to the destination

Where will this change take us and why?

The destination is products made by companies that are transparent, provide a living wage, ensure the rights of children, address deforestation and climate change and promote agroforestry.

Few consumers will care about all six topics covered by the scorecard. Consumers can choose which they care about most and select brands that rank highly in that area.

For example, if your top concern is climate change, you can choose from the eight companies that scored top marks for efforts to combat deforestation and climate change. If you want to ensure your spending support companies that are leaders in ending child labor and addressing climate change, you can choose from the three companies that scored top marks for both. The scorecard provides you the information so you can select chocolate that aligns with your priorities.

Does it work?

It’s too early to tell. Carolyn Kitto, national co-director of Be Slavery Free in Australia, says that there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that the scorecard is impactful. However, they don’t yet have data to back up what they’ve informally observed since it launched in March. "Chocolate companies are responsive to the asks, even though not necessarily as fast or deep as we would prefer, and people who respond on social media tell us they use our resources to preference brands who are doing well on people and planet," she said.

Time, and good data, will tell.

In case you’re curious, here, in alphabetical order, are the top-ranking chocolate companies, according to the Easter Choco Scorecard 2021 (automatic PDF download):

  • Alter Eco, a U.S.-based company with distribution in the U.S. and Europe, received its first Good Egg, with acknowledgment going to its partner Chocolats Halba / Sunray for helping Alter Eco achieve sustainability goals. 
  • Tony’s Chocolonely, a Netherlands–based company, received the Good Egg for the second time in a row. 
  • Whittaker’s, from New Zealand with products available primarily in Australia and New Zealand, also received the Good Egg for the second year in a row. 

This article is one of a series on the need for increasing consumer demand for sustainability products. Join the dialogue below or at [email protected].

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