Bean-to-bar: Blue Bandana Chocolates

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Figure 1. Blue Bandana Chocolate Maker part of Lake Champlain Chocolates. (2014). Little Brown. Image available from https://vimeo.com/85700650

The company that I chose to learn more about for our final multimedia presentation is Lake Champlain Chocolates (LCC). It is in my home state of Vermont, at the far extreme end of the state from where I live. Though the company has been in operation since 1983, my personal reference is family friends who proudly lived near the company, would purchase gorgeous LCC gourmet signature truffles, onsite, and present them to my chocolate loving grandmother as a very special gift. While I see the company’s label on an expanded product line and in many stores now, only after this bit of research did I realize that Lake Champlain Chocolates had expanded so much—as their website states, they have180 employees and their chocolate products can be purchased in some 2,000 stores– I was also thrilled that an LCC representative agreed to make an appointment with me to answer questions regarding where and how they source their cacao, and the company’s certifications, specifically Fair Trade and Fair for Life: third-party certification for social accountability and fair trade (Figure 2).

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Figure 2. What Fair Trade Means. “In March 2013, our chocolate company earned Fair for Life–Social & Fair TradeCertification. Fair for Life is a rigorous third-party certification for social accountability and fair trade. Above and beyond Fair Trade certification, it looks at a company’s practices as a whole, including the ingredients used in its products.” Retrieved from http://www.lakechamplainchocolates.com/about-us/fair-trade-chocolate

Between my phone interview and the company’s online presence, I learned a great deal including that in 2012, they began creating bean-to-bar in their new Blue Bandana Chocolate division http://www.lakechamplainchocolates.com/about-us/bean-to-bar-chocolate/  that won them a national Good Food award in 2014 (Figure 3).

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Figure 3. Blue Bandana Chocolate is Lake Champlain Chocolates’ bean-to-bar division started in 2012 and winner of the Good Food award in 2014. Cacao nibs shown here being poured into grinder in preparation for making cocoa liquor. Retrieved from http://www.lakechamplainchocolates.com/about-us/bean-to-bar-chocolate/

So, this was a great opportunity to get to better understand a company within my own state, hear first hand some of what this most recent bean-to–bar division is all about and within the ethnographic context covered in class and course readings. As Blue Bandana Chocolate builds off of the success of their highly regarded parent company LCC, they strive for transparency in the supply chain, create direct relationships with their sources, and support sustainable practices while supporting local communities.

Their product descriptions are as mouthwatering as they are educational: location/sourcing and sustainable ventures are a significant part of this story.

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Attention to quality that impacts flavor is referenced throughout, including terroir, a link in the quality chain that can be loosely translated as a “sense of place” but that include characteristics and qualities whose sum effects influence the product, such as the geography and climate of an area and the plant’s genetics. Their advertisements state that,

“Blue Bandana Chocolate Maker is a micro-batch branded product line of Lake

Champlain Chocolates (LCC) founded on the principles of quality, transparency,

taste of place, and the craft of making chocolate. Inspired by his first trip to a cocoa

farm in 2009, founder Eric Lampman delved into the chocolate process and began

experimenting with test batches to perfect the basics. After experimenting with

cocoa beans from six different countries, Lampman settled on three exceptional

chocolates: Madagascar 70%, Guatemala 70% and Madagascar Wild Pepper. They

are made from scratch using only cocoa beans, organic cocoa butter and organic

cane sugar. Each 2.3oz bar is a representation of Lampman’s personal mission to

craft the finest chocolates while celebrating the unique taste of the earth native to

each cacao’s landscape” (Blue Bandana Chocolate Maker, 2016).

Sense of place as discussed in class and course readings (Martin, April 20, 2016) are well represented here, and it was enjoyable to get a deeper sense of this company’s values and commitments.

Some of what comes through quite clearly in Blue Bandana Chocolate’s mission is the desire to learn and innovate, the inspiration from the regions where their cacao is grown, the appreciation for not only the craft of making a quality product, but also to do so within the context of community, both at home in Northern Vermont and in the farming communities where their cacao is sourced. These motivating forces are evident in their product development and certifications; it was clear in my interview with the company representative, and illustrated nicely on the company website, onsite videos and other online interviews. Eric captures so much about the world of chocolate, in his quote,

“American chocolate has for years been presented as consistent and predictable. As a

new craft chocolate maker, we see the beauty in the process of displaying unique

characteristics. We are part of a renaissance of bean-to-bar chocolate makers that are

taking new approaches to things like process, scale, flavor, relationships, and

transparency” (Meet Blue Bandana Chocolate Maker, 2015).

This historical context, and the founder’s perspective on their company is encouraging and expands upon their marketer’s [beautiful] alluring depictions of bird sanctuaries. As a member of the bean-to-bar movement, Blue Bandana Chocolate can be considered to be part of the solution to problems that we have studied in the cacao-chocolate supply chain in our course (Off, 2006; Ryan, 2011; Sylla, 2014; Martin, March 8, 2016; Martin, March 30, 2016; Martin, April 6, 2016). The following expert from the LCC website explains, for instance, their involvement in improving lives within the cacao communities in Cote d’Ivoire through The Family Support Scholarship Program, detailed below, but that includes addressing issues like expanding business opportunities for women, increasing education and school retention rates, reducing the amount of child labor, and impacting longer term benefits/opportunities, directly and indirectly, in these cacao communities.

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As the LCC representative explained to me on the phone, bean-to-bar was a very natural progression for the three decades old company. Their product line expanded to include organic cocoa and Kosher chocolate products which were wildly popular. Locally, LCC and Blue Bandana have a strong community connection as Figure 7 indicates. This includes many affiliations within the state including membership within the Vermont Business for Social Responsibility.

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In addition, however, it has a broader connection and base of support with the locavore movement across the nation, innovation in creating quality craft products, The following video, filmed onsite at the Burlington, Vermont food festival helps illustrate. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a0n9n7HQ3_A

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This innovation might not succeed without a groundswell of support by customers, and a customer base that is desirous of responsibly sourced products not just in Vermont but across the country. In the following quote, the founder explains the company’s goals and the alignment of all these that lead to the innovation of Blue Bandana chocolate:

“As a family-owned company, we decided that we wanted to directly support a cacao

growing community – whether or not we purchased cacao from them. The chance to

engage with passionate cacao farmers searching for new market opportunities and

farming methods fell right into place with our own goals. We were hoping to build

new relationships that both educated us on post-harvest practices and enabled a win-

win partnership for future growth focused on quality. Today, we continue to use our

interactions with the farmers to educate visitors at our factory about cacao farming

and the full process of making chocolate” (Meet Blue Bandana Chocolate Maker,

2015).

In addition to community affiliations identified above, Figure 9 offers a snapshot of what LCC means by “Local to Global” in their chocolate company. For instance, developing their own source of honey from their own beekeeping near their business in Northern Vermont, to purchasing third party certified Fair Trade chocolate that has resulted in Fair for Life-Social and Fair Trade Certifications. Furthermore, LLC continues to develop direct partnerships with cacao growers and supports a fund, previously mentioned, in Cote d’Ivoire to educate youth and empower women with a World Cocoa Foundation scholarship.

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This is a compelling image and message that LLC is promoting. Through coursework, we have been encouraged to look deeper and not just get carried away by a company’s projected image and storyline or even blithely accept the certifications they may have achieved to assuage our consumer guilt; this course has encouraged/demanded that we be more aware and accountable consumers. So, while issues within the cacao supply chain are complex, I appreciate all the concrete examples LCC provides to show what/how this company is living up to its ideals.

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The telephone interview offered details that both helped explain LLC sourcing as well as illuminate the many complexities of growing and sourcing cacao. When I asked the representative where Lake Champlain Chocolates sources their cacao, he replied that that was a big question; he followed up by saying that they source from many places and offered specifics including from his first hand experience and having just returned from the Dominican Republic. He said that they basically have three different supply chains. They source cacao beans directly from an estate in Madagascar, an estate in the Dominican Republic, a social enterprise group in Guatemala and from a similar type group in Tanzania and then make bean-to-bar back home in Burlington, Vermont. He said that LCC also sources from large multinationals that does a match balance Fair Trade sourced from West Africa. He stated that they also source a Fair Trade organic fully traceable from cooperative in the Dominican Republic, as well as two cooperatives in Peru; these three co-ops all supply organic chocolates.

I asked him to tell me more about the cooperatives and the farms. He offered examples, including from his most recent trip to the Dominican Republic; this cooperative was organized with its own farmer union essentially, their own farmer fund, where the Fair Trade premium goes. They are then able to have elected officials vote on how to utilize Fair Trade premiums. He explained that they are also made up of an agro industrial arm, basically their sales arm internationally, and a tech arm too, working on many aspects like field assistance, agronomics, composting, rehabilitation of farms, helping with fermentation and drying of cacao beans, etc. His interest in these diverse geographic areas shown through as did his direct trade experience. He stated that in the Dominican Republic, Belize, Haiti, Guatemala, nearly all of those are mainly cacao but then inter-planted with anything from bananas, plantains, avocados, to other hardwoods such as mahogany, high shade structures/long term hardwoods, and short term cash crops planted among cacao to help for instance with local cash that can be obtained throughout the year, and/or even just for their own more immediate consumption. He said that he hadn’t seen any mono crops and didn’t think that LCC sourced from any.

I asked generally, how fair labor practices are generally created and insured? He replied that it is done at the farm level; operations of cooperatives are such that they pool people together, e.g. people helping one another throughout the harvest, sharing resources, and/or through advisement of each others farms, supporting a lifestyle…He added that the cooperative model is such that there’s social community support and that obviously the farmer union is a testament to that, where elected officials are help make decisions with and for the people that they live amongst. He added that some other organization may be less cooperative, more like a local farmers’ association, working with neighbors, something they have to do almost out of necessity related to economy of scale to improve the size and scale of the harvest to work with potential buyers. For instance, depending on the size of the harvest, a farmer may not be able to dry in a quality manner, or may not have economy of scale, and/or if they are looking to sell on the specialty market, may not even have the logistics to get product out. So these farmers’ groups might help with economy of scale which can also build recognition, e.g. to say, ‘hey, we’ve got a quantity, amount worth selling,’ instead of relying on a coyote who comes through offering a low price at an opportune time for themselves to buy, sell or trade off. His answers revealed the preference for local organized control, not “top down,” not one-size-fits-all, and sensitive to distinctions that a broad national approach might miss regarding how cacao is produced and sold (Martin, April 6, 2016).

Furthermore, I appreciated his reflecting upon what Fair Trade and Fair for Life meant for his company allowing them to obtain certified raw materials like sugar and where Fair Trade certifications don’t always have the traceabilty, Fair for Life offers a nice balance, and more traceability within the supply chain such as interactions with premiums. As discussed in class, Fair trade has great aspects, has made positive gains, was never meant to address/solve all supply chain problems, though promises a lot and can’t always deliver on those promises (Martin, April 6, 2016; Sylla, 2014; Ten principles of Fair Trade, 2012). I so appreciated the opportunity to learn more from the company in this way. It was encouraging to hear about the company’s culturally sensitive engagement within diverse communities where they source cacao, and their commitment to continue to work toward transparency in the cacao supply chain while supporting cacao communities. Blue Bandana can be considered to be part of the solution to problems that we have studied in the cacao-chocolate supply chain.

Issues of social justice and sustainability are complex, more research is needed, and solutions will vary according to countries and communities, as LCC seems aware of. However, what really resonated this semester is that places that have been identified as having problems may also be where real solutions can occur. As pointed out in lecture, I believe that we need to advocate for a holistic approach to solving these complex problems, recognizing that we are all implicated, simple solutions like increasing commodity pricing or certifications do not always deliver in the way that we assume and are not adequate unto themselves. Nevertheless, as consumers we do need to interrogate what is behind these solutions and consider them in context. Additionally, we need to avoid a binary perspective and recognize the complexities, doing what LCC is advocating–not rely in top down approach to solving problems while routing out prejudices and culturally inappropriate/nonwestern ideals (Martin, 2016).

References

Blue Bandana Chocolate Maker. (2012). Video available from

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a0n9n7HQ3_A

Blue Bandana Chocolate Maker. Image (barn) (2014). Little Brown. Image available from

https://vimeo.com/85700650

Blue Bandana Chocolate Maker in Guatemala. (2015). Available from

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aBDVeelXUxs

Blue Bandana teaches the taste of chocolate. (2012). Retrieved from

http://www.worldcocoafoundation.org/blue-bandana-teaches-the-taste-of-

chocolate/

Lake Champlain Chocolate Introduces New Approach to Making Chocolate. (2013).

Retrieved from

https://www.specialtyfood.com/news/article/lake-champlain-chocolates-

introduces-new-approach-to-making-chocolate-122571/

Lake Champlain Launches new Chocolate. (October 20, 2012). Retrieved from

http://www.wptz.com/news/vermont-new-york/burlington/Lake-Champlain-           Chocolates-launches-Blue-Bandana/17070252

Lake Champlain’s New Blue Bandana Chocolate Bars. Retrieved from

http://www.wildrosemarketing.com/whats-new/lake-champlains-new-blue-      bandana-chocolate-bars/

Martin, C. (March 8, 2016). Lecture 8: Modern day slavery. AAAS E-119. Chocolate,

Culture, and the Politics of Food. Retrieved from Harvard University Extension

School Canvas site.

Martin, C. (March 30, 2016). Lecture 9: Race, ethnicity, gender, and class in chocolate

advertisements. AAAS E-119. Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food.

Retrieved from Harvard University Extension School Canvas site.

Martin, C. (April 6, 2016). Lecture 10: Alternative trade and virtuous

localization/globalization. AAAS E-119. Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of

Food. Retrieved from Harvard University Extension School Canvas site.

Martin, C. (April 20, 2016). Lecture 12: Psychology, Terroir, and Taste. AAAS E-119.

Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Retrieved from Harvard University

Extension School Canvas site.

Martin, C. (April 27, 2016). Lecture 13: Haut patisserie, artisan chocolate, and food

justice: the future? AAAS E-119. Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food.

Retrieved from Harvard University Extension School Canvas site.

Meet Blue Bandana Chocolate Maker. (2015). Mood of Living. Retrieved from

http://moodofliving.com/portfolio/blue-bandana-chocolate-maker/

Off, C. (2006). Bitter Chocolate: the dark side of the world’s most seductive sweet.

Retrieved from AAAS E-119. Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food.

Retrieved from Harvard University Extension School Canvas site. PDF.

Ryan, O. (2011). Chocolate Nations. Living and dying for cocoa in West Africa.

Retrieved from AAAS E-119. Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food.

Retrieved from Harvard University Extension School Canvas site. PDF.

Sylla, N. (2014). The Fair Trade Scandal: marketing poverty to benefit the rich.

Retrieved from AAAS E-119. Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food.

Retrieved from Harvard University Extension School Canvas site. PDF.

Ten principles of Fair Trade. (2012). Retrieved from http://wfto.com/fair-trade/10-principles-fair-trade

Zwirn, L. (December 2014). New England Chocolatiers set the bar high. Boston Globe.

Retrieved from https://www.bostonglobe.com/lifestyle/fooddining/2014/12/02/choc-                   and-awe/8hCzJTclu66ziBA2D1VBnJ/story.html

 

Appendix

Table 1.

Ten Principles of Fair Trade

Principle One: Creating Opportunities for Economically Disadvantaged Producers
Principle Two: Transparency and Accountability

Principle Three: Fair Trading Practices

Principle Four:  Payment of a Fair Price

Principle Five:  Ensuring no Child Labour and Forced Labour
Principle Six:  Commitment to Non Discrimination, Gender Equity and Women’s Economic Empowerment, and Freedom of Association

Principle Seven:  Ensuring Good Working Conditions

Principle Eight:  Providing Capacity Building

Principle Nine:  Promoting Fair Trade

Principle Ten: Respect for the Environment

Ten principles of Fair Trade. (2012). Retrieved from http://wfto.com/fair-trade/10-principles-fair-trade

Table 2. 

“Jim Lampman declared he would create upscale American chocolates that would “rival the Belgians.”  His son has kept the goals high: “Blue Bandana Chocolate Maker is a new dimension for Lake Champlain Chocolates,” says founder and President Jim Lampman. “It’s a priority for my children, Eric and Ellen, to have greater transparency in our supply chain.  And to be directly invested in an origin community is a testament to their commitment to having an impact on the global community.  Blue Bandana Chocolate Maker has the advantage of the history and support of the Lake Champlain Chocolates’ brand, with the fresh perspective, energy and innovation that comes with the younger generation.

Historically LCC has always focused on local — using Vermont ingredients, supporting our local communities.  And we still do,” says Eric Lampman, Director of Innovation and Quality at LCC and creator of Blue Bandana Chocolate Maker. “But now, after thirty-one successful years of being in business, we have the tools and resources to engage with our global supply network in a more substantial way that allows us to have an impact on our supply chain.”

“LCC introduces new approach to making chocolate” Retrievcd from https://www.specialtyfood.com/news/article/lake-champlain-chocolates-introduces-new-approach-to-making-chocolate-122571/

Table 3.

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When I called the company to inquire if they had organic cacao nibs for sale, they informed me that LCC does have nibs, that they are not certified organic, that they do not believe that chemicals are used in growing cacao but without the certification couldn’t guarantee that. I appreciated that they went on to explain that certifications can be expensive for farmers and that LCC has committed to helping their farmers become certified within the next couple of years. I think that LCC and Blue Bandana Chocolate are doing a marvelous job of educating consumers, being a responsible partner in the farming community to make sure that a quality cacao can achieve recognition and an appropriate market.

 

As Eric explained in an interview, “…our goal is to visit the farms we buy from and to have direct communications with each farmer or producer group with which we work….we strive to develop long-term partnerships with producers that grow premium cacao around the world. Our partnership with indigenous Maya producer groups in the eco-region surrounding Laguna Lachua National Park in Alta Verapaz, Guatemala, began in 2012 as a way to work collaboratively at developing new opportunities for both producers and chocolate makers. Small capacity building investments have been made each year to support the planting and post-harvest production of cacao in the region…

       “With each visit to Guatemala, new ideas for incorporating aspects of the Maya

culture return with us. One project we are hoping to develop is up-cycling burlap

sacks into fashionable bags with leather strapping…. Proceeds from the bag sales go

to Food4Farmers, an organization that promotes diversified livelihoods with coffee

farmers – a program we want to connect to the cacao producers in Alta Verapaz”

(Meet Blue Bandana Chocolate Maker, 2015).

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