Askinosie Chocolate: Fair and Direct without Labels

With the growing international popularity of chocolate, the number of chocolate companies has increased dramatically and the competition between each has become more and more fierce. Along with the growth in chocolate companies, the number of chocolate certification organizations has also increased, to a point where the numerous labels are confusing to the normal American consumer. Today, chocolate companies can choose from a wide array of certifications to apply for, including Fair Trade USA, Fairtrade UK, Fair for Life, Rainforest Alliance, Direct Trade, USDA Organic and more. A question we should consider is: are these fair trade certifications actually creating the social impact they say they are in the chocolate industry and around the world? In considering this question, we will take a look at the history and business of one craft chocolate company without any certifications – Askinosie Chocolate. Askinosie Chocolate, through their direct relationship with farmers, is able to have a sustainable impact on the chocolate growing community and their own local community while maintaining the high quality of its products, without the distraction of any third-party certifications or labels.

The term “fair trade” was defined by the international Fair Trade Federation in 2003 and is as follows: “Fair Trade is a movement promoting trading partnerships based on dialogue, transparency and respect, and that seeks greater equity in international trade. It contributes to sustainable development by offering better trading condition to, and securing the rights of, marginalized producers and workers.” (Witkowski) In order to achieve its goals, the Fair Trade movement relies on secondary organizations, such as the International Fair Trade Association, Fair Trade Federation, or Ten Thousand Villages, to implement an auditing system for supply chains to ensure they meet the standards. However, the goals of Fair Trade are broad and vague, and the standards of each Fair Trade organization can vary widely. For example, Rainforest Alliance, a non-profit, claims to certify fair trade products, but does not include standards for compensating producers above market price and in actuality has worked closely with Kraft and Chiquita, big food corporations, which may lead to competing interests (Witkowski).

According to a 2009 study, fair trade consumers tended to value universalism, for example unity with nature and protecting the environment, as well as self-direction, or freedom and control over their own individual decisions, more than non-consumers of fair trade products (Doran). This study demonstrated that the values the fair trade movement promotes are important to a sizeable number of consumers. However, whether or not purchasing all products certified by a certain “fair trade” label is productively achieving those values is a question for further research.

A sample of different fair trade certifying organizations

As the market for fair trade products has grown, it seems the way in which the original values have been manifested have changed, and not necessarily for the better. Because of the numerous fair trade certifications and the incongruent nature of their standards and information provided to consumers, consumers should question the true value of any fair trade certified product they choose to purchase (Ballet). The case of Askinosie Chocolate is an exemplary model for transparency and social impact in the chocolate industry today.

Askinosie Chocolate was founded in 2006 by Shawn Askinosie, originally as a new hobby to replace his stressful criminal defense lawyer day job. Like some of the big chocolate companies today, for example, Hershey’s, Askinosie Chocolate started out as a family business. Shawn began by making chocolate in his office kitchen, perfecting recipes with his wife, and then managing the business side with his high school aged daughter. As the company grew, it made a noticeable effort to maintain the personal touch in their products, as evidenced through the personal stories of Shawn’s family members who are involved in the business as well as their business practices.

One major practice that sets Askinosie Chocolate apart from its bean-to-bar competitors is their commitment to direct trade with farmers. Unlike its competitors, Askinosie Chocolate has not sought fair trade certification or established a third party organization to certify its direct trade practices. In fact, Askinosie Chocolate doesn’t use any type of certification for its cocoa or chocolate at all (their sugar, however, is certified organic). Shawn himself travels to the farm sites and establishes partnerships with farmers through acquaintances and business partners, and then evaluates the beans and the cacao farming process himself in person. By avoiding a broker/middleman, Askinosie Chocolate is able to incorporate their value of cooperation and transparency throughout their supply chain.

Askinosie Chocolate’s direct trade model is especially beneficial for the producers of cacao because producers are paid a higher price than the set fair trade commodity price as well as 10% of the company’s profits every year (Attoun). Because the beans are routinely tested before providing the bonus profits, the producers have an incentive to produce the highest quality cacao beans for Askinosie Chocolate. Instead of relying on a middleman to inspect quality, Askinosie Chocolate sends a company representative, often Shawn himself, to visit the sites and to meet the farmers while drawing up a contract and developing a partnership with them (“Askinosie Chocolate”).

Although fair trade programs originally set out to shorten the supply chain that causes brands profit disproportionately compared to farmers, in reality, fair trade itself has become a cumbersome instrument like those it has tried to change.

Cacao producing farmers often only get 3% of the profit from a chocolate bar

In contrast with fair trade certification programs, which often require the farmers and cooperatives to front a cost of anywhere between $2,500 – $10,000 for annual inspection and certification fees, the Askinosie Chocolate model doesn’t cost the farmers money because it is a business partnership (Tellman). The combination of these yearly fees as well as the fixed commodity price for fair trade chocolate inhibit small farmers from participating in the system and limit the impact of fair trade overall. Askinosie Chocolate on the other hand plays a role in each step of the supply chain, ensuring that the business runs smoothly and that the partnership with farmers is fair at every single step. From finding the beans, building partnerships, shipping the beans, and actually making the chocolate, Askinosie Chocolate personally touches each part of their production process.

Since the founding of the company, Askinosie Chocolate asserts that they have been “weaving social responsibility into everything we do” (“Askinosie Chocolate”), and that company value is evidenced by their numerous philanthropic ventures and careful business endeavors.

Beginning in 2009, Askinosie Chocolate started Chocolate University, an18-month program for local high school students to learn about the bean-to-bar company, beginning from the bar that is completed in their town and ending with a visit to Tanzania – a site of one farm where Askinosie gets their beans (“Askinosie Chocolate: Bringing”).

This program is a way for the company to empower the youth in the community to become global citizens while teaching them about the ethics of the chocolate business and experience first-hand the types of decisions chocolate companies may face, for example, choosing a farm at which to source cacao beans. Before the trip to a cacao source, students in the program research the needs of the community and raise funds in order to address those needs and create a social impact during their visit.

In addition to their community impact, Askinosie weaves their value of transparency into every part of their business. By creating personal connections with the farmers, Shawn is able to put a face to the product, and the company literally uses farmer’s faces as images on some of their products.

Askinosie Chocolate bars featuring images of actual farmers

The personal touch on the marketing of the chocolate bars indicates to consumers that there are real people behind the products they are buying, and tempt the already socially-minded consumer to purchase even more. In addition, Askinosie Chocolate claims that their products are “100% traceable”, and their website has a tool for consumers to input the identification code of their product to track where individual ingredients actually come from (“Askinosie Chocolate”).

Besides enriching the lives of consumers, Askinosie Chocolate takes care to also educate their farmers on their products. When Shawn visits farms to do yearly inspections, he will bring with him official sales numbers and even samples of the finished chocolate to allow the farmers to actually taste what their raw food product can create. By being transparent in their partnership with farmers and their relationship with consumers, Askinosie Chocolate is solving the problem fair trade certifications face today of unclear communication/information.

In conclusion, Askinosie Chocolate is able to have a sustainable impact on the cacao growing community through their equitable direct-trade relationship with farmers, and company value of transparency by foregoing cumbersome fair trade certification programs. In addition, Askinosie Chocolate empowers its own local community through its social initiatives, such as Chocolate University. However, the question of how to scale their impact remains. As we have seen with fair trade certification, although it began with ethical values and goals, as the programs expanded, the desire for profit and larger impact outweighed the earlier ideals and distracted the movement from its origins. The direct trade movement and the family owned craft chocolate business should also be aware of the potential dangers of scaling while still maintaining its product quality.

Multimedia Sources

Fair Trade Organizations: https://chocolateclass.files.wordpress.com/2015/05/ebc26-1411662799381.jpg

Shawn Askinosie: https://youtu.be/utic2PaXjwE

Chocolate Bar Infographic: https://nancydrew4613.files.wordpress.com/2014/10/screen-shot-2014-05-08-at-2-04-31-am.png

Chocolate University: https://youtu.be/zAbbzvrIKTk

Askinosie Chocolate Bars: http://www.marketsofnewyork.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/EJL-140219-1007-Askinosie-Chocolates-2014-02-19-at-00-00-00-600×400.jpg

Works Cited

“Askinosie Chocolate: Bringing The World Together One Bean At A Time.” Markets of New York City. N.p., 18 June 2014. Web. 05 May 2015. <http://www.marketsofnewyork.com/2014/06/askinosie-chocolate-bringing-the-world-together-one-bean-at-a-time/&gt;.

“Askinosie Chocolate.” Home Page. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 May 2015. <http://www.askinosie.com/&gt;.

Attoun, Marti. “A Chocolate Factory with a Higher Purpose.” The Christian Science Monitor. The Christian Science Monitor, 6 Nov. 2014. Web. 05 May 2015. <http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Making-a-difference/Change-Agent/2014/1106/A-chocolate-factory-with-a-higher-purpose&gt;.

Ballet, Jèrôme. “Fair Trade and the Depersonalization of Ethics.” Journal of Business Ethics 92.Supplement 2: FAIR TRADE IN DIFFERENT NATIONAL CONTEXT (2010): 317-30. JSTOR. Web. 05 May 2015.

Doran, Caroline Josephine. “The Role of Personal Values in Fair Trade Consumption.” Journal of Business Ethics 84.4 (2009): 549-63. JSTOR. Web. 05 May 2015.

Tellman, Beth. “Not Fair Enough: Historic and Institutional Barriers to Fair Trade Coffee in El Salvador.” Journal of Latin American Geography 10.2 (2011): 107-27. JSTOR. Web. 05 May 2015.

Witkowski, Terrence H. “Fair Trade Marketing: An Alternative System for Globalization and Development.” Journal of Marketing Theory and Practice 13.4, Globalization and Its Marketing Challenges (2005): 22-33. JSTOR. Web. 05 May 2015.

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