The Science of Buying a Better Box of Chocolates

The Science of Buying a Better Box of Chocolates
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Since, like, the beginning of time, human beings have been searching for the science of love — a full-proof, 1,000-percent way into the heart of anyone anywhere, Cupid-like.

We're there.

A box of chocolates is a complicated thing. Will she care what brand it is, or how much it costs, or where it’s made, or where the chocolate’s grown? Dark or milk chocolate, fillings or none, and what about the percentage of cocoa — more is better, right? Are fair trade or organic or all-natural ingredients important? It’s stressful just thinking about it.

But we data nerds sorted it all out for you.

ES Partners ran 78 attributes of a chocolate gift box through what we call the “Thinker Machine,” to see what single women really want in a box of chocolates. Our Thinker Machine performs a new kind of product testing that combines forced-choice and conjoint decision making tasks with the precision of clinical trials. It’s a better method of sorting out what matters and how much.

You can explore all the results here in our data app. But let’s get to the highlights.

Single women don’t really care about brand; they’re looking for a chocolate “experience.”

They’d like you to spend a bit to get a nice box of chocolates — preferably one from France (+16 points) or Switzerland (+14 points). And above all else, women want something delicious. Chocolate fillings and additions have the biggest impact of all. If you don’t know exactly what she likes already, you can’t go wrong choosing caramel, toffee, or hazelnut — those three tested off the charts (+26 points for the first two, +27 points for hazelnut).

Unfortunately, when we tested single men on what a girlfriend would want in a box of chocolates, the guys screwed it up. While women focus on the chocolate’s flavor and origin, guys focus on things like brand (+12 points for Godiva), ingredients that are organic or natural or “fair trade” (+12 points), having a high cocoa percentage (+18 points if it’s in the 70s), and keeping the price down.

But it’s not the fault of single men that they get things so wrong. True, lots of animals perform what are called “courtship displays.” Birds are the masters. Male bowerbirds build intricate structures decorated with eye-catching objects to impress lady birds. In other species, the male feeds tasty little morsels to his love, demonstrating his ability to support a fine-feathered family.

And of course in the human world men do something similar — flowers, for display and chocolate, the classic culinary compliment to flowers. Sadly, unlike birds, humans don’t have hard and fast rules on what’s expected. They can’t simply rely on instinct. This makes Valentine’s Day especially problematic for men.

But humankind has science to turn to where instinct fails us. And science advances, one small step at a time. We are here to help the world make sense. Not just for men, but for all people.

You’re welcome.

Adam B. Schaeffer, PhD, and Alexander J. Oliver, PhD, are co-founders of ES Partners, a clinical data science firm. 

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