Genius marketing, chocolate and Easter

By Spencer Hyman  ·  21st March 2021  ·  Weekly Blog

‘Easter’ and ‘chocolate’ evoke contrasting associations.

  • On the one hand are Easter eggs, chocolate bunnies, chicks and other chocolate concoctions.
  • …On the other hand is the idea of giving up, fasting, and abstaining from the likes of chocolate, wine, and other indulgences.

The two are obviously tied together with the idea of ‘breaking your fast’ with the Easter egg, bunny, chicken, etc.

But the idea of giving up chocolate for Lent is in some ways ironic and even anachronistic. From a historical perspective, it was some marketing genius, product placement, and the Catholic Church’s promotion of drinking chocolate on ‘fasting days’ in the 16th and 17th centuries that caused chocolate’s initial popularity in Europe (see below, and in our previous blog post).

Any which way, if you are indeed abstaining from chocolate (or wine or gin etc.), and/or if you’d like some great chocolate inspired gifts, please see here and below. And also we’d LOVE to invite you to join Simon Rimmer, Steve Tapril and Spencer at a Gin and Chocolate Tasting Class on April 1st (see here) or to a Fine Wine and Chocolate Pairing on March (see here and below for details).

Chocolate and Fasting in Catholic Europe

When the conquistadors first brought chocolate back to Europe it was, to put it mildly, NOT a smash hit. Indeed the first record of any Pope trying it, Pius V, had him less than enthused and wondering what all the fuss was about (see below).

However the combination of adding sugar and spices to drinking chocolate, and some inspired marketing by the Jesuits, changed this in the last quarter of the 16th century. The Jesuits’ genius was twofold: Firstly, they marketed drinking chocolate as a nutritious drink that was great for fasting days; and secondly, they secured Papal endorsement of this new habit and product. A great example of 16th-century influencer marketing.

This proved to be inspired. In 16th and 17th-century Europe, Catholics were ‘advised’ (required) to fast for over 100 days per year (and often over three days a week). The rules of fasting were complex and often changed, but animal products (e.g. beef, lamb, chicken, duck, milk, eggs, etc.) were clearly banned on these fast days. This gave rise to the tradition of “fish on Friday” and some more intriguing theological arguments around the likes of dolphin sausages and beaver’s tail stew (you can out more in previous blog posts).

From their work in South America, the Jesuits were well aware of chocolate’s nutritional benefits. So realising that people were literally starving for nutrition on these fasting days, the Jesuits promoted the solution of drinking chocolate to stave off hunger on fasting days.

Although the Dominicans argued against drinking chocolate (citing its propensity to overly excite drinkers, and its pagan history), the Jesuits played a trump card. They argued first that in 1569 Pope Pius V had said “this drink doesn’t break the fast” (neglecting to mention that Pius said this because he thought it tasted awful and that no one would want to drink it). But they found a far more powerful advocate in Pope Gregory XIII, who was a firm fan. And then in 1666 they secured the magic words in an official Papal declaration by Pope Alexander VII that “Liquidum non frangit jejunum” which basically translates as: “It’s fine. It’s only a drink. It doesn’t break the fast”.

The rest, to coin a phrase, is history. Drinking chocolate took off first in churches, then in special drinking houses (which to be fair also served coffee).

Note: if you want to discover how chocolate jumped from being a drink to a bar (or Easter egg), please come to a Virtual Tasting, where we’ll explain the link between Dutch concerns over their beards, Swiss innovations, and the ‘Bliss Point’.

Chocolate, Easter and Lent Today

Today the practice of regular fasting among Catholics (and many other Christians) is largely confined to Lent. It’s no longer an all year round regular occurrence which happens week in, week out. And during Lent many people choose to abstain from the likes of chocolate or alcohol.

If you have been abstaining, we’d like to invite you to celebrate breaking your fast with some great craft chocolate treats below and here. And please come to our Wine and Chocolate second tasting on the 8th April (safely after Lent is over).

And if you aren’t fasting during Lent, please come to our Gin and Chocolate tasting on April 1st (and no this is NOT an April Fool’s!) to join our Sunday Brunch style tasting, in person and at home, of Gin, Chocolate and Tiramisu.

Take care, and as ever, thank you for your support.


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