Wanted Ad: Single white female seeks chocolate company that pays fair wages, uses organic ingredients and shares bliss. Willing to buy candy bar if needs are met.

By Crystal Lindell
Associate Editor

Wanted Ad: Single white female seeks chocolate company that pays fair wages, uses organic ingredients and shares bliss. Willing to buy candy bar if needs are met.

Gone are the days when great taste was enough to sell a candy bar. More and more everyone with Google or Wikipedia is learning to get to know the personalities behind their favorite brands, and shop accordingly.

Instead of quality and price, consumers are concerning themselves with the story of their purchases. They’re worried about whether or not their bank gave out obscene bonuses to executives, whether their vegetables were grown locally, and whether their candy is organic and Fair Trade.

But don’t take my word for it. A recent study overseen by London-based The Communications Agency claims that consumers, especially those in their 20s, “are looking to purchase from sustainable businesses that are open and honest in their communication; offer value for money and do not make undue profits or pay huge bonuses.”

Specifically, the data shows that 89% of young people claim they want companies to prove they’ve become ethically, socially and environmentally responsible as a result of the recession.

"The findings are a wake-up call for many branded-goods firms,” says Robert Prevezer of The Communications Agency says. “Marketers will have to find ways of associating their brands with a bigger cause to help build better relations with these powerful 20-somethings if they wish to succeed. Rebuilding trust is paramount."

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. After all, who’s not in favor of friendly corporations? Anyone hoping to buy something from a total jerk?

The problem comes when companies miss the mark on getting their story out. It’s a lesson Hershey seems to be learning the hard way these days.

The candy company has come under attack as of late for supposedly failing to halt child labor. Green America, Global Exchange and the International Labor Rights Forum recently published a report claiming “Hershey is falling further behind its competitors in removing child labor from its products.”

“It is increasingly clear that consumers care where the products they buy are from and how they are made,” says Elizabeth O’Connell, Fair Trade campaigns director at Green America, in a media release. “Every day that Hershey delays in instituting Fair Trade certification to prevent forced labor in its products is a day that tarnishes Hershey’s image as ‘America’s Chocolate Company.’”

This attack comes despite the fact that Hershey is participating in a new $17-million partnership with the Department of Labor and the global chocolate industry to significantly reduce child labor in West Africa; is a founding member of the World Cocoa Foundation, the International Cocoa Initiative and ECHOES; and also partners with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in an initiative to improve the livelihoods of approximately 200,000 cocoa farmers in Cote d'Ivoire, Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon and Liberia.

And regardless of all that, the main sticking point of the protest groups is that Hershey has failed to get complete Fair Trade Certification - but even getting Fair Trade certification doesn’t automatically wipe out child labor, although it does theoretically provide more income and community support to farmers.

Hershey also came under fire after some J-1 visa students working at a Hershey warehouse in Palmyra, Lebanon County said they had been misled about the work they would be doing. The Philadelphia Enquirer reports that the workers were backed by the National Guestworker Alliance and union leaders as part of an exchange program. However, instead of a cultural exchange, the workers said they were doing manual labor for eight hours a day.

In a New York Times article shortly after the incident, Hershey pointed the finger at Exel, a logistics company that oversees day-to-day operations at the facility.

“The Hershey Co. expects all its vendors, including Exel, to treat employees fairly and equitably,” Kirk Saville, a Hershey spokesman, told the New York Times.

That’s probably true, but it was still a Hershey operation, so that explanation likely got lost on many consumers.

Unfortunately for Hershey, it seems the company is having a really hard time explaining all the good stuff about its brand personality to consumers these days.

It might behoove Hershey to take a more proactive stance with such publicity, because as long as Hershey struggles with that, it won’t matter how awesome its chocolate bars are - a bad back story will have a much stronger pull at the wallet.