Bean-To-Bar: Solving the Unethical Practices in the Cacao Industry

The popularity of chocolate has vastly grown in the United States. It has been perceived under many lights over time and not necessarily in ways that are good. Often due to the large chocolate corporations means of obtaining cacao not considered Fair-Trade (For Example the use of slave and child labor), the over sexualization of the product as well as the objectification of women, men and different races. However, this day and age many companies are able to avoid these issues by what is called a Bean-To-Bar Chocolate Company. These Bean-To-Bar companies are not aiming to improve for economic reasons but for the quality of their product, working conditions for both employees and the farmers producing the cacao and the effects they could possible have on the environment. Small Bean-To-Bar companies are more concerned with the honest process of chocolatiering and not solely the economic benefits in regards to their own monetary achievement. I made it a priority to find Bean-To-Bar companies across the country that seem to help alleviate the ethical criteria we have studied in class and how they are successful in comparison to the larger corporations who seem to always fall into some grey area in order to obtain maximum profit. I was successful at finding companies in all major regions of the U.S. (from the far West to the far East). These Bean-To-Bar companies breaking down poor ethical barriers are Frolic Chocolate from the East Coast (Central Virginia), Maverick Chocolate Co. out of Cincinnati, Ohio and Manoa Chocolate a Hawaiian based company.

The most important aspect of any chocolate company is the means by which they obtain cacao beans. “Fair Trade certification ensures that farmers receive a fair price, allows farmers to invest in techniques that bring out the flavors of the region, and strictly prohibits slave and child labor.” (fairtradeusa.org) Taking Fair Trade practices into account with the utmost importance helps alleviate the most unethical practices in the cacao industry. By adhering to these practices companies more specifically help farmers avoid the mishandling of their product to the middleman who they are often forcibly made to hand their product over and ultimately losing much of the profit they would have potentially made. Also, Fair Trade Certification works at eliminating the harsh conditions of child slavery. It has been made perfectly clear as Fair Trade assists in showing the dark side of child labor and the people who produce cacao with the sweet treat individual’s love so much.

Stationed in Virginia, Frolic Chocolate is a small Bean-To-Bar Company owned and operated by a young husband and wife. Logan and Renee Byrd (owners) take pride in their confectionary masterpieces, as “every batch is carefully developed to draw out the best in each lot of single origin cacao”. (Frolic Chocolate) What is meant by the use of a single origin cacao is that the chocolate the couple makes is produced from a single variety of cacao harvested from a single region as to not blend different cacao beans. The chocolate is produced from the best ingredients. Logan and Renee Byrd inspect and choose cacao beans with great care (their site says nothing about Fair-Trade Cacao), organic American grown sugar, local produce, organic dairy, Rainforest Alliance coconut cream and other ingredients. One of which is Fair Trade African Vanilla. While it is unclear whether or not the Byrd’s use Fair Trade Cacao they use many other products that are in support of an ethical chocolate making process. The use of Fair Trade Vanilla helps to alleviate the same injustices that are seen on Cacao Plantations but on Vanilla Plantations. As well as the use of products certified by the Rainforest Alliance, which aims:

“To conserve biodiversity and improve livelihoods by promoting and evaluating the implementation of the most globally respected sustainability standards in a variety of fields. Through RA-Cert, the Rainforest Alliance’s auditing division, we provide our forestry, agriculture and carbon/climate clients with independent and transparent verification, validation and certification services based on these standards, which are designed to generate ecological, social and economic benefits.” (rainforest-alliance.org)

Husband and Wife Team/Owners (Logan & Renee Byrd)

This amazing couple is self-taught. Chocolate confectioners and graduates of the Ecole Chocolat who focus on the cacao bean much like winemaker’s focus on a grape. Logan and Renee Byrd believe that the cacao beans they choose with such precision have “unique terrior – a flavor that comes from the land, the environment, the season. Bringing out those luscious, fascinating flavors is our greatest challenge and joy.” (Frolic Chocolate) The Byrd couple focus on their challenge of bringing out the most special flavors of the cacao bean that is in line with many of the correct ethical decisions in which a Bean-To-Bar Company can be proud of.

Maverick Chocolate, of Cincinnati, Ohio, is a family owned and operated Bean-To-Bar chocolate company. Much like Frolic Chocolate, Maverick focuses on small batches of chocolate confections. They have stated, “We use only ethically sourced cacao beans—bought directly from farmers and co-ops at sustainable prices.” (maverickchocolate.com) This suggests that the married Paul and Marlene (owners of Maverick Chocolate) use Fair Trade products that help protect sustainable practices ecologically and economically for the cacao farmers. The Maverick Chocolate “mission is to create the best tasting chocolate possible, educate our community about chocolate, and give back to the cacao farmers and our local neighbors.” (Maverick Chocolate) When asked whether or not they are fair-trade and the means by which Maverick sources their beans they responded that the purchase of beans is direct from the farms and/or co-ops at a fair-trade value or above. They go on to state, “by working directly with the farmers we know they are receiving the full price and we are receiving the highest quality beans.” (Maverick) Working off of a Direct-Trade model allows Maverick to practice ethical chocolate making, as they know exactly where their products come from. This practice aims to only   with individual companies and no middleman that can potentially exploit the farmers as well as avoid slave/child labor practices that are very real in the cacao industry.

The third Bean-To-Bar chocolate company is Manoa Chocolate. It may be regarded as one of the most important companies out of the three I chose because they are able to use local cacao beans. Grown locally on the island, Hawaii is the only state in the United States that is capable of growing cacao. Manoa is able to produce all the necessary ingredients for themselves. Which completely eliminates the middleman and any trade for instance. However, being a new industry cacao beans are limited in quantity. So until more farmers start to take part in this emerging market Manoa believes it is essential to responsibly source “chocolate from other cacao producing origins such as the Dominican Republic, Peru, Ecuador, Costa Rica, Madagascar, and Liberia… As chocolate makers, it behooves us to work with cacao from all over the world as we help Hawaii emerge as a world renowned origin that stands apart from the rest.” (ManoaChocolate.com)

Manoa Chocolate is making positive impacts through its confectionary masterpieces. In Hawaiian, Manoa means “thick; solid; vast; depth” which the company believes adequately describes not only their product but chocolate as a whole and its ability to show its numerous depths of flavor being reflected by the geographical locations different beans of grown. 

Manoa aims to protect the environment with minimal waste (using bio-degradable packing) and help cacao grow as a premium commodity. Ultimately, expand profits for the local farmers as well as providing employment for countless others. This expands far beyond Cacao because Manoa also strives to source all ingredients for their bars locally. Goes as far as combining resources with other local chocolate companies in order to purchase 100% can sugar grown right on the Hawaiian Island of Maui by the Hawaiian Commercial and Sugar Company. Manoa goes above and beyond focusing on locally produced cacao and ingredients to make their bars which completely cuts out the unethical practices that the larger chocolate manufactures are not so easily in avoidance of.

Bean-To-Bar companies really are breaking down poor ethical barriers. These Bean-To-Bar companies are truly dedicated to their art and the love they have for it. They do not aim to improve for economic gains but for the quality of their product, the working conditions for both employees and the farmers producing the cacao. As well as the the effects they could possible have on the environment. Small Bean-To-Bar companies as identified through my research (there are many others that could have been mentioned) are more concerned with the honest process of chocolatiering and not solely the economic benefits in regards to their own monetary achievement. Frolic Chocolate, Maverick Chocolate Co., and Manoa Chocolate are companies who have taken it upon themselves to create a product that avoids the use of unethical practices in their chocolate making process. Unlike large corporations Bean-To-Bar is almost a guarantee for an ethically correct chocolate product. These small companies and the love they have for the cacao and the beautiful confections they create with it is truly a breath of fresh air. In comparison to the massive corporations we see every day that create a product with much lowers standards in terms of quality and consistency.

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