A new study shows what those paying attention in the industry have already known for years — millennials say they want socially conscious chocolate, but they don’t actually buy it at the store.
The study, Millennials and chocolate product ethics: Saying one thing and doing another, was authored by Michael E. Young and Anthony W. McCoy at Kansas State University and was funded by a research grant from The Hershey Co.
It looked at millennials — roughly those in their early 20s to early 30s — and what they actually took into consideration when buying chocolate.
This study was different than many other research projects out there though, because it didn’t just rely on information from a focus group — where millennials might feel pressure to say that certain things are important to them in front of their peers. No, this study also included a second part where the millennials were asked to actually pick which chocolates they would buy based on various factors.
And unsurprisingly — to me, a millennial — it found that, most of the participants didn’t really care about factors like organic, certified ethical sources and rainforest friendly. However, they did seem to show a preference for products with clean labels and they were more concerned with high levels of fat than sugar in their chocolates.
In short, “For most participants, their choice behavior reflected minimal concern for ethical factors whereas their public declarations in a focus group suggested otherwise.”
In other words, just because a millennial says they want something when all their peers are watching, doesn’t mean they actually want it.
The study’s conclusion was that, “In sum, older [millennials] do espouse concern for Rainforest Alliance certification, organic ingredients, and certified ethical sourcing. But, given the weak translation of these concerns into product choices in a limited information environment, confections companies should not be in a rush to change their entire manufacturing enterprise.”
Basically, changing all your products to Rainforest Alliance Certified isn’t likely to increase sales, at least not among millennials.
The conclusion went on to state, that, “An emphasis on corporate responsibility by protecting the rainforest and ensuring certified ethical sourcing is certainly a laudable goal, and companies need to lay the groundwork for a possible change in consumer preference. It remains unclear, however, whether the emerging social sensitivity of the [millennials] is a fad, a fundamental shift in consumer preferences that will be passed on to subsequent generations, or a cohort effect that will age along with the [millennials]. It is too early to tell.”
So while it’s not really a bad thing for companies to focus on things like protecting the rainforest, or ethical sourcing, they shouldn’t do it hoping that it will help the bottom line, at least not right away. Maybe, when millennials get past this Great Recession and start making actual money, they will be willing to pay extra for socially conscious chocolate. It’s just too soon to say for sure.
As a millennial — albeit, an ancient one these days at the ripe old age of 32 — I have to confess I totally bear out these findings. While I don’t buy much candy, seeing as how I literally get a shipment of samples at least twice a week to my home, when I do pick something up I never pay extra for things like rainforest certified. My preferences are typically based on price, and sometimes pretty packaging. (Those Chocolove XOXOX bars are gorgeous!)
And for that matter, anecdotally, I can tell you that most of my friends have no idea where chocolate even comes from, much less that there are ethical concerns about how it’s sourced. So they are very unlikely to pay more for something that touts its sustainable practices.
In the end, candy companies should be making changes to sourcing because it’s the right thing to do anyway. And as long as it doesn’t increase the cost, my friends and I will be more than happy to buy it.