Buying Chocolate at Cardullo’s: An Experiment in Social Conscience

 

Cardullo’s Gourmet Shoppe of Harvard Square has sold quality foodstuffs since 1950, offering both local and imported niche food items. Along with many other dessert foods, Cardullo’s has a significant chocolate inventory. Their chocolate bars range from ultra local Taza and Somerville chocolate, to imported European brands like Neuhaus and Milkboy. According to the owner, the chocolates are organized by brand location—America or Europe—and then largely by type of chocolate and cacao percentage, along with the organics being clustered together. Although the spread does not emphasize any particular brand, or contain much information about the bars other than what is on the wrappers, the owner stated that her customers generally know what they are looking for. As Cardullo’s has a boutique selection, this makes sense. Finally, when questioned on popularity of various brands, the owner concluded that the best sellers were Neuhaus, Godiva, and Taza. The chocolate selection at Cardullo’s captures a dichotomy in the consumption of chocolates—at a given price level, consumers seem to have to choose between haute patisserie and equitably sourced chocolate. In examining the differences between these chocolates, the factors underlying their price emerge from the mission of the brand and the intended audience.

I will spend the discussion on the most expensive chocolate brands, as this is where the most distinct differences between brands reveal themselves. At one of the highest price points of fifteen to twenty dollars, three choice categories emerge, providing a slight wrinkle on the dichotomy previously suggested but not invalidating it. First, there is the option of a small Taza chocolate assortment; second, a bar of Chocolate Bonnat; and third, a box of Godiva assorted chocolates. The Taza chocolate is visibly advertised as “Made in Massachusetts,” organic, and practicing direct trade. The Bonnat chocolate bars are more minimalist—their brand name occupies most of the bar’s cover, along with the silhouette of a cathedral in the background and the origin of the chocolate in smaller letters. The Godiva stands out gold and shimmery, with an oversized ribbon draped across. Thus, at this price point I would distinguish Taza as occupying the role of equitably sourced chocolate whereas Bonnat and Godiva share the spot of haute patisserie. What separates them, however, proves largely to be volume of product, but underlying that—and not immediately visible to the consumer—lies the truth that Chocolate Bonnat truly embodies the role of haute patisserie whereas Godiva does so mainly in appearance.

 

Taza chocolate commands a high price point because of the extreme care it takes in crafting its product with ethical concerns in mind, paired with a consumer base willing to pay a premium to support fair relationships with farmers and suppliers and to support organic agriculture.

Taza Transparency Report

Taza’s flagship program is the Direct Trade Certification. Taza Direct Trade, as outlined in the first page of the above Transparency Report, eliminates middlemen that would even be found in supposedly equitable programs such as Fair Trade. Taza directly purchases from select Certified USDA Organic and non-GMO cacao farmers, who “ensure fair and humane work practices.” Additionally, Taza pays at least $500 above market price for cacao, which equates to a 15-20% premium—much higher than the around 4% premiums given to Fair Trade farmers (Sylla, 2014). It is for this reason, along with Taza’s traditional methods of chocolate production at their Somerville factory, that Taza chocolate bars sell at a high price point. On the other side, however, are the consumers willing to pay for an equitable product. Some argue that companies touting fair trade are benefitting from consumers’ desire to feel good about themselves, and that, as Professor Martin notes, feel that “food as material culture can be consumed as a way to reflect one’s knowledge, worldliness and morality” (Sampeck & Martin, 2015, p.55). This can be problematic: for example, researcher Ndongo Sylla has stated, “Fair Trade is but the most recent example of another sophisticated ‘scam’ by the ‘invisible hand’ of the free market” (Sylla, 2014, p. 18). What Sylla argues is that the ‘invisible hand’ of the market indicated to suppliers that demand for equitably sourced product existed. So, certifications such as Fair Trade cropped up and companies changed their marketing strategies. But, Sylla thinks, these certifications and companies have not actually made a tangible change in shifting profit to farmers or bettering the living situations of impoverished suppliers; rather, they simply increase profit to companies. Taza’s Transparency Report proves an exception to this claim.

Although Taza chocolate is undoubtedly high quality, it does not (yet) occupy a niche filled primarily by European chocolatiers, confectioners, and chocolate makers. Though the word “haute patisserie” generally translates to a bakery that sells fancy products, when applied to chocolate, it refers to a product crafted with perfectionist attention to detail, extremely controlled ingredients and process, generally small batches, and a well defined desired effect, such as the notes of taste and smell and visual appeal (Eber & Williams, 2012). One could also instead use the more general designation, “haute cuisine.” Chocolate Bonnat epitomizes these qualities, with a price per bar to reflect it (Sampeck & Martin, 2015).

Chocolate Bonnat History

In fact, Bonnat has been at the forefront of a movement towards high quality, artisanal chocolates—in 1983, Bonnat pioneered the single-origin bar, with bars made from beans from one location only–see above multimedia link. Bonnat’s emphasis on taste provides results: for the past three years, Bonnat has won upwards of 5 gold and silver medals at the International Chocolate Awards (see below multimedia link for specific categories).

Bonnat Awards

What jumps out in comparison between the Bonnat and Taza bars themselves, however, is that Bonnat displays no information about the nature of its cacao sourcing, other than the location. One might find it surprising not to see “USDA Certified Organic” or “Fair Trade Certified” emblazoned upon such an expensive product. This, however, emphasizes the difference between haute patisserie product and an equitably sourced one: Bonnat seeks to sell to a consumer focused on the prime gustatory experience, whereas Taza markets to a consumer who values supporting equitable trade. In investigating Bonnat’s sourcing practices, it appears that they practice some sort of direct trade, sourcing cacao beans from meticulously researched farming outfits. This makes sense, because Bonnat looks expressly for the highest quality product and for specific varieties of cacao bean, and as such is intimately involved in the purchase of their cacao. As Professor Martin notes in a paper on chocolate in Europe, actions of “haute cuisine” artisans “reflected a return to interest in terroir, or the sense of a place, in chocolate” (Sampeck & Martin, 2015, p.53). According to Bonnat’s mission statements in the above multimedia link, Bonnat spends five months a year exploring the world for just the right beans, and seeing as they move their sourcing frequently, perhaps a Fair Trade or Organic certification would not be the right fit. As such, Bonnat avoids to a degree the fetishization of fairly sourced goods talked about in the Taza case, where consumers want to make a statement about their own morality instead of actively caring about societal problems (Sampeck & Martin, 2015). Even though the cacao beans that Bonnat selects are probably farmed with organic techniques, it is important to note that Bonnat does not advertise as such, rather placing their strategy in the consumer’s desire for an intricate and curated product. Such demand has not existed long, however: anthropologist Susan Terrio writes, “In 1988 it would have been difficult to predict that French chocolatiers and their products would become, in the words of one well-informed Parisian observer, ‘un phenomene de societe,’ a societal phenomenon” (Terrio, 2000, p. 3). Since then, chocolate has become one of the high staples of gastronomic art and artisanal exposition, and Bonnat remains one of the paragons of this trend.

 

Though the artisanal chocolate wave began more recently, Europe—especially Belgium and Switzerland—have long been associated with the best chocolate and confectionary production (Terrio, 2000). As such, older and larger European chocolate companies have benefited from the elevation of chocolate in the international gastronomic stage, even if they do not practice the same meticulous craft as smaller producers. An example of such a company carried by Cardullo’s is Godiva Chocolatier, a Belgian company that has been operating since 1926 that makes both chocolate and confections. Godiva dwarfs both Taza and Bonnat in size, and its revenue numbers in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

Godiva’s “Belgian Heritage”

At Cardullo’s one can by a box of eight Godiva chocolates for the equivalent of one bar of Chocolate Bonnat or a grouping of Taza disks. Whereas with Taza and Bonnat one can see the reasons underlying high prices—equitable sourcing and artisanal product, respectively, along with the use of fine grade chocolate—determining the pricing for Godiva presents a few more intricacies. As a large company, Godiva likely uses bulk grade chocolate, and while in the above multimedia link the company makes allusion to direct trade practices, without any certifications such claims do not mean much. Most of Godiva’s cost probably comes from the perceived notion of Belgian chocolate as superior and chique, even though its high-volume product does not reflect the values of “haute cuisine” products like Chocolate Bonnat. Godiva does not have any organic or fair trade certifications, which tend to contribute to a higher cost product. Rather, much of Godiva’s product is in the delivery and visuals: the fancy boxes and presentation make Godiva chocolate a good gift. While one cannot be sure as to how Godiva’s actions support unfair labor in cacao producing countries without some sort of transparency report like Taza provides, Godiva does claim to donate money to certain charities. In this way, Godiva indirectly supports sustainable practices, though the extent to which they donate is not shown.

Godiva Sustainable Practices

The charities of note in the above multimedia link are the World Cocoa Foundation and the Cocoa Horizons Foundation. Though neither are certifying organizations, they appear to donate towards more sustainable cocoa growing practices and the building of infrastructure in impoverished agricultural areas. What worries me, however, is the fact that the World Cocoa Foundation claims to represent over 80% of cocoa production—as discussed in class, such large organizations are problematic for several reasons (see below link for WCF facts).

http://www.worldcocoafoundation.org/our-work/our-approach/

First of all, they promote inefficiency in being so large, and siphon significant proportions of the money meant towards charity as middle men operating costs. Second, such large organizations promote unionized or centrally organized farming operations, which hurt single growers. Third, in representing such a significant proportion of the industry, the WCF may end up catering to the wills of its donors, and end up helping large chocolate companies more than the farmers it is intended to aid. Finally, such a broadly defined charity may have trouble targeting the very individual problems affecting cocoa production, namely forced labor in smaller outfits, which a more direct company-producer relationship like Taza has would do more to prevent (Leissle, 2013).

Although price is often thought of an indicator of quality, in the search for the perfect chocolate product at Cardullo’s we see that price reflects a compilation of unique and diverse factors. These factors, in delving deeper into the companies represented, seem to sift out into two categories. In one category, high price results from a product that is equitably sourced, certified organic, supports locals, and is generally socially conscious, like Taza. In the other category, high price results from a status of haute cuisine, either real or implied. In the case of Bonnat, the haute cuisine designation results from an artisanal and small batch product with high production costs and time, verified by awards and pedigree. In the case of Godiva, the haute cuisine designation comes from reputation and mental image of Belgian chocolate being high quality, along with physical presentation of the product.

In exploring the price distinctions further, one could surmise that an element of social conscience is present in both cases. In the first, by purchasing Taza, one is socially conscious regarding the company and producers. In the second, by purchasing Bonnat or Godiva, one is more socially conscious regarding oneself—i.e. desiring the best tasting product or a product that designates oneself as conscious of haute cuisine. Thus, the simple proposition of purchasing a bar of chocolate at Cardullo’s metamorphoses into an introspection on the underlying motive for ones purchase, both individual and social.

 

 

Sources

Healy, K. (2001). Llamas, weavings, and organic chocolate: Multicultural grassroots development in the Andes and Amazon of Bolivia. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press.

Leissle, K. (2013). Invisible West Africa. Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture, 13(3), 22-31.

Martin, C. D., & Sampeck, K. E. (2015). The bitter and sweet of chocolate in Europe. Socio.hu, (Special issue 3), 37-60. doi:10.18030/socio.hu.2015en.37

Sylla, N. S., & Leye, D. C. (2014). The fair trade scandal: Marketing poverty to benefit the rich. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press.

Terrio, S. J. (2000). Crafting the culture and history of French chocolate. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Whitmore, Alex, et al. (2015). “Taza Transparency Report.”

Williams, P., & Eber, J. (2012). Raising the bar: The future of fine chocolate. Vancouver: Wilmor Pub.

 

 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s