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Steak. Yogurt. Beer. Chocolate. Many products have gender associations, for one reason or another. Entire industries have exploited these gender-based links, making them even more distinct and notable. But when it comes time to expand their target markets, companies need to overcome these traditional preferences, such as by developing new flavors to help men enjoy “women’s” products, without worrying about their masculinity.

Consider the U.S. chocolate market: Worth $17.5 billion, it attracts everyone, such that 90 percent of U.S. women and 82 percent of men buy chocolate. Yet even when men buy, it often is for the women in their lives, so market research shows that women are the main chocolate consumers. Many candy companies, including Hershey’s and Mars, thus target women with Bliss and Dove product lines that position the candy as a luxurious treat.

In contrast, there’s nothing that seems very blissful about the stark, salty flavors in the “Smoke and Stout Caramel bar,” a high-end chocolate by Vosges that mixes in a dark-roasted malt beer. Vosges’s Chocolate Bacon Bar has been a popular seller for years, with applewood bacon and alderwood smoked salt. Not to be outdone, the Dean & Deluca grocery chain sells India Pale Ale Caramels; Annette’s Chocolate Factory promises a fiery Beer Brittle with cayenne pepper. Lillie Belle Farms taunts consumers with its name, “Do Not Eat This Chocolate,” because it contains hot chili, arbol, and ghost peppers.

Of course, gender-based assumptions often are not quite accurate. There are men who enjoy a smooth, subtle milk chocolate like Dove. And there are plenty of women whose endorphins rush when they bite down on a spicy chocolate bar. The goal for companies is to find ways to appeal to them both!

Discussion Questions:

  1. Is it beneficial for chocolate companies to market to men to encourage them to consume more chocolate?
  2. What other traditionally gender-linked foods might benefit from a similar strategy?

Source: Katy McLaughlin, “Hoppy Holidays: Sweet Makers Try to Tap Market for Beer Candy,” The Wall Street Journal, December 16, 2011.