By: Darius Thornton
The Hershey Company is easily one of the most recognizable brands in America and, perhaps, the world. Its flagship product, the iconic Hershey’s chocolate bar, has dazzled taste buds since 1900–over 120 years. Described by company founder, Milton S. Hershey, as “The Great American Chocolate Bar”, pretty much nothing has changed since, as the company elected only to expand by making different flavors and variations rather than change the original in any significant way. The taste of milk chocolate was something only really available to the wealthy in the early 20th century, but by bringing it into the mainstream, Hershey’s became an icon and inspiration for other chocolate products for years to come. However, a surprising announcement earlier today suggests that the classic chocolate bar is undergoing a very big change.
Earlier this morning, Hershey Company CEO, Michele Buck, made an announcement in a press release that all future Hershey products will no longer include dairy in any capacity. She had this to say specifically in the press release, “Due to our growing concerns about the ethical and moral status of the dairy industry, we collectively at Hershey’s have made the difficult, yet necessary decision that all of our products will be dairy-free going forward, effective immediately. This means that our milk chocolate bars products will be discontinued, replaced by a coconut cream substitute. We speak sincerely when we say that this movement is not one based out of a desire for financial gain or a marketing strategy, but out of the moral integrity of this company.” Essentially, this means that Hershey’s will no longer add milk to their products, due to the many environmental issues that some scientists and environmentalists have attributed to the trickle-down effects of dairy farming, as well as reported poor treatment of the livestock. For years, organizations such as PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) have advocated against the dairy industry, arguing that their rapid collection of milk was actually harmful to cows, resulting in farmers neglecting, exploiting and abusing the livestock. It is speculated that Hershey’s may have discovered such issues on its own farms of Pennsylvania, and rather than outsourcing production, elected to remove dairy from their product altogether. Hershey’s is no stranger to controversy, having previously been sued by law firms on multiple occasions in 2012 and 2018, for using cocoa harvested by impoverished West African children. This could be seen as an attempt to preemptively save face before details about the happenings at the dairy farm were revealed to the public and the company faced pressure. It can be reasonably inferred that whatever issues arose at the dairy farms had to be quite large to warrant such drastic action from Hershey’s.
For an iconic product like the Hershey’s bar, there will, of course, be resistance to such a large and unexpected change. It has essentially been the same for more than a century with only slight cosmetic changes. There is also a popular opinion that vegan substitutes for milk chocolate–like chocolate with coconut cream and dark chocolate do not taste as good as milk chocolate. Buck also addressed this in the press release, doing her best to deflect the backlash likely to come to the company. “ I understand that this may seem alarming to fans of our brand, but we assure you that the quality of our product will remain the same and will not decline. We have focus tested our substitute locally, here in Hershey to a group of 150 with 145 favorable results. We are also constantly working to improve our formula to ensure that we meet the high standards our storied company and outstanding product were founded upon.” Hershey’s has evidently been planning to do this for some time if Michele Buck is correct and they had time to set up confidential focus tests. It seems they want to do their best to emulate the taste of milk chocolate to appease their base, not having to force dark chocolate upon those who find it undesirable. Whatever the case, the response to the shift from dairy will certainly be interesting and there will be divided feelings.
Hershey’s ended the press release by providing another reason for them going forward without dairy. Buck went on to say, “By going forward with this decision, we at Hershey’s hope to lead the industry into a new, dairy-free era, to promote the safety of livestock and our environment as a whole.” Hershey’s looks to be seeking to send a trend here, hoping some of their competitors do the same in turn. Whether that ends up happening remains to be seen, but if not, it could backfire spectacularly as consumers would look elsewhere to get their chocolate fix. It was their innovation that sparked the mainstream milk chocolate bar’s existence in the first place, so it’s almost poetic that it would be the leader in its end.