What We Want When We Want Chocolate

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The most important part of the experience of obtaining chocolate is eating it. This much is obvious to anybody of discerning taste. When it comes to all the trimmings of chocolate, though, we make tons of decisions before we ever choose which craft bar or bag of foil-wrapped candies to bring home.

Food scientists at Penn State University have just released a study looking into what it is, precisely, we're buying when we buy premium chocolate. Taste remains key, but that's not to say that other aspects of the chocolate's presentation don't carry weight for consumers. The researchers looked into everything from type of packaging to sustainability labels to themes used in marketing; one group of chocolates were found to be "guilt-free" because of the manufacturer's commitment to supporting wildlife conservation.

Ultimately, we tend to spend more on chocolate when we think it tells an interesting story — about the product and about us. Previous research into how we shop for chocolate has found that we care about spending in a meaningful way as we indulge our sweet tooth. And while, as one researcher put it, "[i]t's hard to make chocolate undesirable," flavor isn't all that matters to us. We seem to want even our treats to say something positive about ourselves.

If this sounds like a reach, consider how much consumers care about craft beer and artisanal coffee roasts. Small-batch chocolates are becoming more and more common in stores and pantries — assuming, of course, that they last long enough after we've paid for the pleasure.