In the world of chocolate consumption today, there are more and more parallels between chocolate and other fine foods, like wine. This shift is part of a growing trend in the chocolate world toward a more ethical and transparent process of chocolate making. Undoubtedly, a crucial force in this movement is the producer, in this case being small batch chocolate producers who are also called bean to bar chocolate companies. These producers often stress the importance of the cocoa bean itself, often only adding one or a few other ingredients in their chocolate bar. Two of the leading pioneers in this bean to bar industry in San Francisco are Dandelion Chocolate and TCHO Chocolate companies. These companies have a long list of similarities, from their focus on where their beans come from to how they process their beans. However a comparison between these two small scale chocolate makers reveals that while the number of bean to bar companies are increasing, even in an industry as small as this, there are fundamental differences between how ethical and transparent these companies and their chocolate truly are; these differences in labor practices, ingredients, sourcing and process are often reflected in how they position themselves within the bean to bar world in their advertising and marketing efforts a reveal systematic issues in the regulation of food and raw materials.
When talking about chocolate as a food, we must contextualize it in how food is seen by our society today. This movement in the commercial chocolate world from industrial chocolate from big corporations like Hershey, Nestle and Cadbury to these bean to bar “fine chocolate” companies is a microcosm of the wider movement that has been dubbed the “slow food” movement. This movement is one that involves both the quality of food and thus, the production of food as well. The founder of this movement, Carlo Petrini sees the detriments of what he calls “fast life” and “fast food,” arguing that both have played a role in the unethical production of food and the loss of true historical flavors of food. This is very applicable to how chocolate is seen today. Fine chocolate and chocolate that is produced from beans that are said to have “fine flavor” should be seen as a “turning back” of the clock to a time when the flavor and origins of food meant something. Terroir is as term that is now used with regards to chocolate flavor because of the differences in flavor geographically. This connection between the production, flavor and ethics that is so pertinent in the slow food movement is what I will explore in this paper by examining these two “fine chocolate” producers.
In the examination of these two companies’ marketing practice ideas of fair trade and organic certifications will be a vital aspect of how they market themselves; therefore I am obliged to elaborate on what these certifications actually mean. While Fair Trade USA claims to ensure ethically upstanding labor practices as well as environmental sustainability, it is clear that the failure to monitor standards of products that have been “Fair Trade Certified” undermines the legitimacy of the certification as a whole. Furthermore, an issue that offers a degree of confusion for the consumer is the fact that there are different fair trade certifying bodies that hold different standards for their certifications. Organic certifications have their own degree of confusion for the consumer. A product is legally allowed to be labelled as organic if it has 70% organic products being used. This is often confused with the 100% Organic USDA certification that ensures that all of the materials used are grown without pesticides of any sort. As we will see, the use or lack thereof of these certifications reveal a lot about what these bean to bar chocolate companies attempt to show in their advertising.
The first aspect of these companies that I will explore is the labor practices and how they market them. Historically, the chocolate industry has had enormous problems with the types of labor that are utilized on their farms, including slavery and child labor. With the Cadbury-slavery case toward the beginning of the 20th century, it seems that questionable labor practices is ubiquitous to industrial chocolate making. Bean to bar manufacturers are a direct response to these ethical problems with industrial chocolate. They often label their chocolates as “fair trade” to promote ethical wage practices and the movement against any types of questionable labor. Now let us look at how Dandelion Chocolate and TCHO Chocolate compare on this issue.
Often in an attempt to dissociate themselves with questionable labor practices, small scale chocolate producers will not buy beans from West Africa, namely the countries of Ghana or the Ivory Coast. That is why it is quite surprising that both Dandelion and TCHO cite a West African country as one of their sources. However, they still attempt to dissociate themselves from ethical concerns in different ways. TCHO states that “In the last few years, important changes in the government-run cacao sector in Ghana allow for “traceable” cacao and new certifications, opening up new possibilities for partnering with farmers and making a difference.” The first thing to note here is that TCHO does at no point describe what these “changes” are, simply declaring that there are recent developments. Furthermore, there is no mention of the nature of how cacao is farmed in Ghana, often on very small family farms that produce very small amounts of cocoa. This makes the traceability claim quite difficult to substantiate, however, for the average chocolate consumer this type of marketing still would be appealing. The last issue with this quote is that cacao from Ghana is often classified as “bulk” cacao, meaning that there is a lack of depth in the flavor of their bean. This contradicts the later claim that the Ghanaian chocolate they are making now can be used to “develop that deep ‘chocolatey’ flavor.”
Outside of that statement, there are other problems with how TCHO markets their labor practices. While they declare that they are dedicated to going “beyond fair trade (which we also support) to partner directly with growers,” only a few of their bars are Fair Trade USA certified. This begs the question of where the Ghana seems to be only one of four main sources of cocoa for TCHO implying an effort to diversify their chocolate flavor and practices, their bars are not labeled as single origin bars, meaning that they could very well mix beans from different origins thus combining the terroir that would be indicative of a certain part of the world. That would explain why only a few of their bars are Free Trade Certified and Organic. As you can see, while efforts in the bean to bar world are made to ensure the ethical sourcing of chocolate, often companies find that is difficult to hold the high standard they have set.
Dandelion Chocolate also falls short on their effort to be seen as an ethical chocolate maker. In their marketing, they focus on the quality of the chocolate bean, making it clear to the reader or viewer that they do not mask the flavor of the bean at all by only adding cane sugar as the other ingredient. That said, when taking a closer look at their sourcing and certifications, other issues arise. Their sourcing language is as follows: “ We travel to origin as frequently as possible to learn about our producers’ best practices, exchange feedback, and make sure that high standards of quality and sustainability are met. We pay a premium far above the world market price and work to strengthen our relationships year after year in order to maintain our collective commitment to sharing the best and most distinctive cacao.” The interesting fact here is that even though they state that “they pay a premium far above” the world price and that they believe in “quality and sustainability” their bars are neither Fair Trade Certified nor Organic Certified. This undermines the illusion that bean to bar companies all believe in fair trade and feed quality standards. In addition, one of their sources in Liberia which is not one of the top producing cacao countries in the world, but still is part of West Africa, where the dominant type of cacao is considered to be of “bulk” quality. As you can see, while these two companies approach the marketing of labor practices from different perspectives, issues arise from the close analysis of claims from both of these companies and consumers should thus be conscious of general claims and certifications.
These differences in how Dandelion and TCHO market themselves are indicative of how they want to be seen as part of the bean to bar world. Dandelion, as can be seen in the video below, want to market the process that they use to create chocolate. Even though they are a bean to bar manufacturer, it is how they have innovated in the process of chocolate making that they want the consumer to grasp on to. Obviously sourcing of cacao and ingredients play a vital role in this distinction, but as we have seen they lack any legitimate certifications to back up their labor and pricing claims. TCHO on the other hand takes a different approach in the marketing of their bean to bar chocolate. Ethical sourcing is the prime maxim of their marketing campaign and they succeed in many aspects of this goal. (i have included the link below). They even set up tasting centers so that their farmers can taste the chocolate that their beans create. Yet TCHO falls short where Dandelion succeeds, in the marketing of their process. While they claim to source all their bars from ethical practices, they also source from Ghana, a country that is known to have child labor currently. Moreover, they do not specify single-origin bars, leaving the combination of different origin cacao as a concern for the consumer. This is mirrored in the possible masking of the true flavor and texture of their beans when you look at ingredients with the adding of soy lecithin and vanilla.
While this comparison has, for the most part, been revealing as to the questionable marketing of these bean to bar chocolate makers, the general movement toward small batch chocolate is an overwhelmingly positive movement. It advocates for the transparency of labor practices, the sustainability of farming, and the movement toward a more educated consumer. In the analysis of these companies’ marketing shortcomings, it should be noted that often these are the result of structural problems with how cacao is regulated today. Often these bean to bar companies want to be able to both source and process cacao in an ethical way but are impeded by high prices and labor costs. This is important because while it is a step in the right direction for food, there is more to be done. It can be said that the modern “slow food” movement is just beginning.
Counihan, Carole. Food and Culture: A Reader. New York: Routledge, 1997. Print.
Mikell, Gwendolyn. Cocoa and Chaos in Ghana. New York: Paragon House, 1989. Print.
Nesto, Bill. “Discoveringin the World of Chocolate.” Gastronomica: 131-35. Print.
Ryan, Orla. Chocolate Nations: Living and Dying for Cocoa in West Africa. London: Zed ;, 2011. Print.