Mayan Chief with Chocolate

The Secret Life of a Chocolate Bar

Chocolate has not always come in the sweet creamy consistency we know and love today. Originally, chocolate was used as a beverage and had a bitter taste. It took hundreds of years before people created the chocolate bar.

The ancient Olmecs of southern Mexico first used chocolate as a drink for the wealthy. The Mayans considered it a gift from the gods and used it in their celebrations.

Centuries later, people introduced it to Europe, and a Dutch chemist invented a cocoa press that led to the first versions of the chocolate bar.

The chocolatiers in Switzerland then added powdered milk to the chocolate, which made it less bitter and far tastier. The result was a creamy milk chocolate bar.

The Swiss recipe was closely guarded, so American confectioner Milton Hershey decided to create his own recipe for blending milk with chocolate. After years of testing, he found the right combination of milk, sugar, chocolate, and cacao butter. Hershey’s chocolate factory in Hershey, Pennsylvania produced large quantities of chocolate bars with lower production costs, which made them affordable for the average income family.

The founder even sold chocolate to his competitors. The Mars Candy Company, based in Chicago, became known for offering candy bars with combinations of caramel, nougat, and nuts, like the Milky Way and Snickers. The chocolate coating around the filling was originally Hershey’s chocolate. Even the famous candy-coated M&M’s were originally made with Hershey’s chocolate.

If Hershey’s chocolate was used in other products not made by the Hershey company, why couldn’t Hershey claim the profits from candy made with his chocolate?

The answer is in copyright and trademark law. Copyright laws protect written text. Trademark laws protect artwork, names, and phrases.

The recipe for a product can not be copyrighted and protected from infringement. It is the name, design, and coloring on the package that is copyrighted and trademarked.

Hershey controlled the market for chocolate in the early 20th century because it was economical for competitors to use his chocolate recipe rather than make their own. As the supply and demand of ingredients changed, Hershey’s share of the market loosened. Today, Hershey’s is no longer the sole supplier of milk chocolate.


Copyright: the legal right to reproduce, publish, sell, or distribute a product

Trademark: a word or symbol that identifies a product’s ownership and is exclusively used by the owner

Notes for Teacher

This lesson is about copyright and trademark protection through the government. By introducing this lesson through The Secret Life of Chocolate, students can see how chocolate is an ingredient and not protected by law.

You can illustrate this by showing that once a chocolate product is unpackaged, it is difficult to determine the name of the product. (That is why most chocolate companies stamp their name into the chocolate).

Because recipes are not protected by law, they can be copied and produced by anyone. Only the label of the product is protected by law.

Think Deeply

Explain the difference between a brand name food product and a generic food product.

Let’s Write

Create an advertisement for a food product.

Lesson Plan

  1. Read the story of chocolate from the Teacher Background section.
  2. Show two or more different chocolate candy bars unwrapped on display trays.
  3. Ask students if they can identify each candy’s brand name without the wrappers.
  4. Explain that what makes each product identifiable by law is the wrapper. The trademark, colors, and designs are what give a candy bar its name and are protected. The ingredients are not.
  5. Explain how recipes are not protected. Anyone who wants to create a candy bar for sale can use the same ingredients. The same goes for many food products.
  6. Discuss how generic food labels often have the same ingredients as “brand name” products. It is the label, and the brand-name company’s production costs and profit margins that establish the cost.
  7. Have students design a label/packaging for a food product of their choice.
  8. Ask students to share their creations.

Materials Used

  • Variety of food products
  • Paper
  • Drawing implements

Related Media

Video “Chocolate Intro” found at Studies Weekly Online or on YouTube at:

Video “Hershey: A Sweet Place to Live” found at Studies Weekly Online or on YouTube at:

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