Wacky World of Choc Wednesdays: Chocolate Scent Marketing

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve struggled to ward off the last of a dreaded summer cold. Fighting a fever while Boston matched its highest temperature ever (!) wasn’t exactly fun, but my main complaint stems from the cold’s interference with my sense of smell. For several days, food lost all its appeal and the thought of eating normally beloved chocolate actually made me cringe. It’s only temporary, I told myself over and over, hopeless with despair. As is so often the case when I face times of strife, I begged the internet for distraction.

Image courtesy of Enokson

Turns out, marketers have long understood the importance of scent to triggering the desires of smellers. That’s why, when I read this article in my sinus pressure induced haze, all I could think was “I wish I could go smell that right now!”

From the article:

A supermarket chain thinks the fastest way to its customers’ pockets is through their noses, so it’s filling up the aisles with intoxicating, artificial food aromas to entice customers to buy.

A Net Cost supermarket in Brooklyn, N.Y., has specialized scent machines mounted on its walls that fill the air with a never-ending scent of decadent milk chocolate or fresh-baked bread, among other scents.

The Brooklyn supermarket has five of the machines, including a grapefruit smell in the produce section, chocolate in the candy aisle and rosemary focaccia by the bakery.

These scent machines are pricey, costing the supermarket $99/month. The store’s merchandise coordinator, however, states that she has already seen a 7% rise in produce sales, which she attributes to use of the machines. Not too shabby!

Learn more in this video from CBS News:

There are a number of other notable chocolate scent marketing cases. For example, when Verizon launched its LG Chocolate phone back in 2006, it used small plastic strips that emitted chocolate scent in its stores to lure customers in and excite their interest. And, according to an in-depth article from the Los Angeles Times, chocolate scent marketing has proven efficacy: “In 2006, when ScentAndrea, a scent marketing company in Santa Barbara, put chocolate scent strips on 33 vending machines in factory break rooms in Ventura (plus a sign that said it was Hershey’s candy people were smelling) the brand’s sales tripled.”

The product lines for scent marketing are really fun to learn about – there are scent cannons to remove odors, scent lights to project images and release scents, scented digital signage for use in store displays… There’s even a whole bunch of so called scent science in process. And just when I was thinking it’s too bad we can’t yet smell scents through our web browsers, I ran across this Scent Mouse, which can be customized to release up to four scents during the exploration of a website, and the ScentScape which claims to deliver “the NEXT Dimension of Digital Media” by releasing scents during gaming.

The scent marketing industry brings in hundreds of millions of dollars a year and is still expanding. Get a whiff of that chocolate.

For a basic intro to the field, check out this video, “What is Scent Marketing”:

Also check out the following companies and institutions to get a better sense for the industry:
Scent Marketing Institute

Sniff, sniff!


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    Bittersweet Notes is an open source research project on chocolate, culture, and the politics of food. I invite you to join me as I explore the story of chocolate and the life stories of those involved with chocolate at its many stages of production and consumption.

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