Source: The Times
Date: 13 March 2004

Women and chocolate:
Simply made for each other

chocolate: health benefits

by Glenda Cooper

Women and chocolate are a dream team and advertisers
have cleverly ensured they stay that way

You can bet that when the first Aztec tentatively crushed a cacao bean, right behind him was an ad executive excitedly branding the muddy brown discovery “the food of the gods”. Or if there wasn’t, there certainly should have been — because chocolate hasn’t looked back since. Mars’s new “Mars Delight”, expected out this spring, is just the latest attempt to beguile us into seeing that a mixture of hydrogenated fat, sugar and theobromine (a type of caffeine) is an essential part of our life.

The secret of chocolate’s particular appeal lies in the cocoa butter — it melts just below body temperature — which gives it that delicious dissolve-in-the-mouth feeling. Add to that the sudden charge of energy you get from the sugar, the kick of the caffeine and another chemical called phenylethylamine, which acts as a mood enhancer — and you can understand why the Aztecs originally decreed that only nobles, priests and warriors were allowed to eat it.Then it was seen as the cure for all ills. And it’s true — as the confectionery industry is keen to point out — that cocoa beans contain flavonoids which help high blood pressure. And chocolate doesn’t have the teeth-rotting propensities of other sweets.

But that’s more than counterbalanced by the fact that it’s still crammed full of fats and sugar. “We are looking at 9 to 10 calories per gram,” says Professor Tom Sanders, the head of nutritional sciences at Kings College London. “And while people admit to eating 18g of chocolate a day, the manufacturers think it’s nearer 35g, about the size of a Crunchie bar. What’s also worrying is the trend to “super-size” that we also see in the fast food industry that means that people end up consuming more.” Of particular concern is that chocolate bars contain hydrogenated vegetable fats — also known as trans fatty acids (TFAs) — which have been linked to coronary heart disease. Last summer both Nestlé and Cadbury said they were thinking of removing TFAs from their products.

“The Government recommends that less than 2 per cent of dietary energy comes from trans fats,” says Hannah Theobald, nutrition scientist at the British Nutrition Foundation. “It is good news that the food industry is looking at ways to reduce them in food products.”

Ironically, these concerns are far removed from chocolate’s beginnings — when it was originally promoted here as a healthy alternative to alcohol. Made by teetotal Quakers, one of the first recorded adverts was a couple of lines in the Birmingham Gazette of March 1, 1824, placed by a John Cadbury. It read: “John Cadbury is desirous of introducing to particular notice ‘Cocoa Nibs’ prepared by himself, an article affording a most nutritious beverage for breakfast”.

The nutritious link was one that early chocolate marketing followed. During the Second World War, manufacturers Caley’s urged that female air raid wardens should be bought a box of their Fortune chocolates not just because they’d enjoy them but because it would supply the “extra nutrition to keep them going”. Early Mars advertising informed women that there was a “whole meal” in a bar to “nourish, energise and sustain”.

“Women are the key to chocolate advertising,” says Rita Clifton, the chair of the leading branding agency Interbrand. “They are not only important consumers in their own right but they also act as gatekeepers to the rest of the family. So it’s important to get the approach right.” So as women’s role in society changed so did the chocolate bars and advertising. Out went the stoic “meal on the run” idea, in came the post-Sixties “Me ” sense of indulgence — running through fields or sitting in a bath eating a flaky chocolate bar in a way that Cadbury insists is not phallic but “harmless fun”.

“One of the most iconic ‘indulgent’ adverts is the Flake one,” Clifton says. “This is the ultimate example of taking time out for yourself. OK, I could never quite see the point of eating a Flake in the bath — not very practical, but then fantasies aren’t meant to be.”

But experts say that in recent years the style has changed again. The Milk Tray man was kicked out of bed in favour of the slogan “love with a lighter touch”. Even the Ferrero Rocher advert (“Ambassador, wiz zese chocolates you are really spoiling us”) got dumped. The fashion, according to Yusuf Chuku, a communications analyst at Naked Communications, is very much towards a lighter, more sophisticated approach. “Because of concerns about advertising to children, I think there’s been even more of a move towards targeting women,” Chuku says. “With health advice constantly changing, I think advertising is now less about the guilty secret idea, but saying it’s OK to eat some chocolate as long as you balance it with other things.”

That’s reflected in the different types of chocolate being developed — low calorie bars like Flyte, “lighter” bars than the monolithic-looking Mars or Snickers, or developments like Kit Kat Kubes, which can be shared among friends. It also explains the increased demand for organic or more exotic chocolates: if women are going to indulge, they want to make sure it is with a high quality brand. Chuku says that in a competitive market worth £5 billion a year in the UK, no manufacturer can afford to miss which way the wind is blowing: “I think the next trend will be turning back to comforting chocolates you remember from your childhood. Watch out for the Wagon Wheel.”

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