Can sourcing chocolate be sustainable, ethical, fair trade AND cool? Well, it can if you market it properly and Green and Black’s seems to have a captured this paradigm well. But has the organic chocolate company, known for its ethical standards and grass roots approach to sourcing chocolate, outgrown its ‘bean to bar’ co-op roots? As the chocolate market continues to grow, even companies producing fair trade quality products face the same industrial challenges as leading global chocolate corporations, as well as facing larger ethical dilemmas.
Green and Black’s was first launched in 1991 when Craig and Josephine Sams, owners of Whole Earth, an organic food company, discovered the wonders of a 70% chocolate bar made from organic cocoa beans they had acquired. Their fascination with dark, intense chocolate led them to Belize, where they purchased a small cocoa farm which had been cultivated by Mayan farmers. There are 3 major types of cocoa beans grown around the world: Trinitario (which makes up about 5% of the world’s beans), Criollo (which makes up about 1%) and Forestero (which makes up over 80%) (Celeste 2015). These Mayan farmers had planted Trinitario beans, which were grown organically to ensure the sustainability of the product, and farmed by hand (in the Mayan tradition) and with the utmost care. In 1994 this sustainable, organic bean produced a quality chocolate and Green and Black’s launched Maya Gold, the company’s flagship product. What’s more, this Mayan inspired chocolate bar became the United Kingdom’s first fair trade bar certified by the Fairtrade Foundation, which means the third world producers growing these types of cocoa beans are getting paid a living wage rather than being exploited. And this single bar was about to change the industry.
Green and Black’s believes in ethical sourcing standards, to the extent that the company expects suppliers, co-manufacturers and partners they work with to as well. It should come as no surprise, then, that human rights, ethical trading and the environment are key business factors for the company, and they believe that ethical and responsible actions are expected, an attitude not prevalent among most chocolate companies. Green and Black’s believes in a bean to bar practice; knowing the source of the beans with as little human involvement and outside production as possible. But in such a booming global market, is this feasible for chocolate production?
Green and Black’s promotes itself on being a company founded on ethical beginnings. Even their marketing efforts are considered ‘grass roots’ in the sense that they were primarily promoted through social media and word of mouth. While most companies are sexualizing chocolate, Green and Black’s was personalizing chocolate through humorous advertisements with particular focus on the quality of the chocolate and the flavor of ingredients.
One brilliant distinction to how Green and Black’s markets its chocolate bars is in the use of color. Each bar is packaged simply and classified by distinct colored wrappers (color coded, if you will), making each bar flavor easily associated by its color.
Whether you see these bars in a local chocolate shop or on the shelves of a large supermarket, you are immediately able to associate the bar flavor, and as if intentionally your mind forgets about the brand. Brilliant? “Color can often be the sole reason someone purchases a product, where 93% of buyers focus on visual appearance and almost 85% claim color to be their primary reason for purchase” (Dashburst 2014). The simple use of color behind Green and Black’s bars cleverly focuses on which flavor you might prefer, rather than on the company itself. Pretty genius when you consider the aim of most companies is to sell more chocolate associated with the brand, and not necessarily the quality and flavor of the overall product. Add a fair trade distinction, score!
Green and Black’s reputation has always been one of the elusive recluse. You see glimpses of the bars in every major market where quality chocolate is found, yet you never seem to hear of Green and Black’s in the news, or see them as a company growing by adding large plants or acquiring chocolate manufacturers. In fact, even employment opportunities at the company are treated as specialty events. The most recent position the company had come available wasn’t advertised to the public through any career website, or even on its own website. No, it was held publicly, in the news, as a contest. That’s right – the last position open at Green and Black’s in 2010 was that of a chocolate taster, and was filled by way of a contest. Applicants underwent a blind taste-test in which they had to successfully identify the ingredients of specially created chocolate bars. “Flavor is made up of a complex combination of taste, smell, touch, temperature” with sensation to smell being the most important aspect (Taylor 2013). According to experts women tend to have better sense of taste and smell than men, with women under 35 being more likely to have sharper senses since sensitivities to taste tend to decline with age. But the winner of Green and Black’s job contest wasn’t female. Brandt Maybury, a former chef, now earns more than £35,000 a year just to taste chocolate. Lucky devil.
Green and Black’s is no stranger to quality chocolate. In fact, its flagship bar is still an industry favorite. Even now, Green and Black’s is attempting to make history with its chocolate by showcasing their newest bar – THIN.
While this might appear to be a curious attempt to offer a more delicate, refined quality chocolate, it does beg the question of how this new product is timed with the acquisition of Green and Black’s by food giant Kraft, which now owns Cadbury. More and more, chocolate manufacturers, in an attempt to sell more chocolate, think of ways to lengthen the life of chocolate, by adding preservatives through increasing levels of sugar and emulsifiers. But Green and Black’s is an organic chocolate company, focused on fair trade and ethical practices, so how can this be if they are part of a chocolate giant known for creme eggs? Could the introduction of THIN be merely an attempt to address the growing shortage of cocoa beans by producing smaller chocolate bars, getting consumers used to eating less with a thin bar and making it cool? Or could this be simply an elaborate marketing effort by big corporate to charge the same as the usual Green and Black’s bar while using less chocolate? Pesky profits.
When the company was originally sold to Cadbury in 2005, the owners of Green and Black’s were concerned with maintaining the company’s ethical image. But in 2010, Kraft bought out Cadbury and things began to turn slightly sour for Green and Black’s ethical approach. The company struggled to maintain its ‘entrepreneurial spirit’ under Kraft. While Kraft insists that a company like Green and Black’s still has a place in the world of ethical products, Kraft’s head of individual country businesses in Europe was quoted as saying, “Green & Black’s is £40m out of a £1bn chocolate business [in the UK]. I would sell more Creme Eggs” (Milmo 2011). I guess when it comes down to it, eggs are eggs.
It should come as no surprise then that recent issues have begun to arise around Green and Black’s reputation for being organic, and have the company in the middle of questionable ethical practices. Historically, Green and Black’s has always considered itself an organic company, which in general consumers understand, and there is certainly a level of expectation behind the knowledge of what is considered to be organic when purchasing a product classified as such. However, one recent chocolate sized stain on the otherwise pristine organic brand occurred with their hot chocolate product.
Green and Black’s Hot Chocolate is labeled, in the United States, as USDA certified organic. But upon closer inspection of the ingredient label you will find soy lecithin, an emulsifier. Now, much like their famous chocolate bars their hot chocolate is also certified Fairtrade. This is good news for the third world farmers producing the beans used to produce the product. But being an organic product also means that any ingredients in it are also GMO-free, and grown according to organic principles without pesticides, herbicides or other synthetic chemicals. And soy lecithin is not certified organic. In fact, 94% of the soybeans planted and grown in the United States are genetically modified (USDA 2014). So the chances that the soy lecithin used in this ‘organic’ product is genetically modified is more than likely.
This gives rise to another ethical dilemma. USDA regulations allow some wiggle room for genetically modified ingredients, which means that a product labeled as organic must contain at least 95% organic ingredients. If a product is labeled ‘made with organic ingredients,’ it must contain 70% organic ingredients. That means having an organic label on a package can easily mean that there are genetically modified ingredients contained in that product, as long as they do not add up to more than 5% of the final product (Michaelis 2015). Not the kind of wiggle room one might expect from an organic company like Green and Black’s, but is this really much of a surprise given larger corporations interests in cheaper products and profits?
And the questionable practices do not end there. In 2009 Cadbury added the Fairtrade logo to their Dairy Milk bars, which was pretty huge for the company. However, Cadbury declined to state what percentage of beans used in their chocolate were actually considered fair trade. What does this mean? Well, simply put, not all the ingredients in a fair trade chocolate bar have to be fairly traded. Yep, it’s true. The Fairtrade Foundation defines a fair trade product as having “an ingredient that can be sourced on Fairtrade.” Fairtrade.org To be more specific, the Fairtrade Foundation uses what is called a mass balance system for certifying chocolate, which means that for a chocolate bar to be certified the manufacturer must purchase a specific mass of cocoa beans under fair trade terms, however those beans do not actually have to end up in the bar. And since cocoa beans are often mixed up before they reach a chocolate maker, it is quite possible that any one bar of Fairtrade Dairy Milk contains no fair trade beans. Conversely, though, a non-certified bar of Cadbury chocolate might just end up using 100% fair trade beans. You see, the use of the Fairtrade logo is an attempt to entice customers into buying a product under the assumption that a consumer is contributing to an ethical organization. However that manufacturer has the right to use ingredients that are not ethically sourced. Sneaky.
While this might be true, there is still an issue of transparency. One would think that if a company is going to promote itself in an ethical manner that there would be safeguards in place which would ensure that, without question, that company could, and would, answer to any question against that ethical practice. Instead, it would seem that fair trade is just another buzz word in the world of fine chocolate, used only to sell more bars. That is not to say that companies like Green and Black’s do not start out with the best if intentions. But it is becoming clearer to most consumers that, as a company grows, it becomes less sustainable to invest in, or adhere to, a sustainable product. Shame, especially when such companies rely on the sale of products that consumers purchase for the specific purposes of supporting sustainable and ethical practices.
Green and Black’s has indeed revolutionized the chocolate world. Being on of the first companies to produce a fully backed fairtrade product, with specific emphasis on ethical practices, it could be argued that the company was strategically involved in bringing the issues of sustainability and fair trade practices to the world of fine chocolate. But as with any big business – or at least one that grows and gets bought out by a food superpower – that focus on bean to bar, fair trade ethics is short lived, and while may still be used to promote its product might, upon closer inspection, not quite live up to the same standard. But can we blame the company entirely? Let’s face it, people love chocolate. Bars, beans, eggs, bunnies, cups, bites. And our consumption of chocolate is not subsiding. It is up to us to demand that our chocolate, no matter where we purchase it, comes from fairtrade sources and is completely organic. Perhaps then we can demand a better, ethically sourced product because, much like Green and Black’s of its suppliers and partners, we expect it.
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