How Taza Chocolate Addresses Supply Chain Concerns

Harsh working conditions of sugar cane harvesters and child- and slave-labor involved in harvesting cacao pods stand in stark contrast to the delicious enjoyment of chocolate in our Western societies. To rectify this juxtaposition, B corporations have the built-in mission to benefit society by meeting rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency (BCorp, n.d.). The chocolate industry, an industry particularly riddled with ethical dilemmas, is only represented by five certified B Corps. Another fitting addition is Taza Chocolate from Somerville, Massachusetts!

Tracing chocolate-maker’s value chain steps, which are interwoven with old-mindset problems, Taza Chocolate’s business practices pose solutions to real-life business challenges. The following is an ethnographic analysis of Taza Chocolate, an ethical and transparent bean-to-bar chocolate maker that sources organic raw cocoa beans and turns them into minimally-processed chocolate products. To ensure continued success and growth, Taza Chocolate may get B Corp certified to grow and enlarge its mission, customer base and the movement itself, sending a strong signal particularly in such an ethical-dilemma ridden industry as chocolate production.

Chocolate History and Supply Chains are Riddled with Ethical Concerns

Labor Practices

One of the biggest concerns with chocolate-maker’s supply chains is the supply of labor needed in the farming and harvesting of its main ingredient cacao. During colonialist times, the Spanish crown granted colonists through the Encomienda system control over people and nature to extract cacao, replaced by chattel slavery as the indigenous population collapsed and disappeared. Post-abolition, non-compensated familial and child labor particularly in West Africa replaced slavery and made the Gold Coast the least expensive region world-wide for cacao as response to ever-decreasing prices paid for cacao with companies, such as Cadbury, being implicated by having chocolate produced by slave labor (Satre, 2005). Still to this day, as cacao’s commodity price changes, so does farmers’ income, making it extremely volatile (Ryan, 2011).

Fairtrade certification ensures just compensation in addition to teaching communities how they can take advantage of the free market with the ideological undermining of paying famers fairer prices and raising consumers’ awareness. “Every purchase matters. Every dollar spent does economic development or destruction.” (Fairtrade, 2017) But cost of certification is shouldered by farmer and harms non-certified farmers. Also, farmers whet through all steps for FT certification but not enough companies buy FT chocolate with the expected income boost premium, they had to sell the rest of their cacao at bulk prices. Doubts arose as to whom FT really benefits, maybe only the US luxury consumers who can afford to pay the premium when presented with less-costly alternatives in stores. Taza goes one step further in doing Direct Trade which of course hinges on complete transparency (and Taza does publish a yearly transparency report) but also hinges on consumers trusting and being willing to pay for this extra on-top certification.

Health and nutrition

Adulteration scandals involving ground red brick led the British to pass food safety laws as people worried about what might be put into their food choices. Worries about adulteration persist as we further globalize our food. One way to mitigate this is through a transparent and self-owned supply chain to ensure good practices and not having to rely on so many suppliers. Big Chocolate, i.e. Hershey and Mars have been notoriously secretive about chocolate ingredients especially about containing and mentioning any hidden sugars or thinly coating chocolate to cover up cheaper ingredients. Taza on the other hand discloses the few ingredients of its chocolate prominently on its website. With regards to sugar: While myths persisted as to the presumably contaminated brown sugar crystals, to this day white sugar is perceived as the purer alternative. Another visible trend is the move back from processed Big Food companies to smaller-scale production of Whole Foods. (Martin, 2017)

In the 17th century, access to chocolate reflected the socioeconomic class leading to “snobbification” of chocolate. In a way, this still rings true today if pure organic chocolate sells for above-average selling price and therefore is only affordable for the upper middle class while the rest has to make do with the unhealthier, more implicated chocolate. Is buying ethical and the feelings associated with this superior purchase only open to richer segments of society? How can we as consumers and companies weaponize our power? According to the saying the consumers decide with each dollar spent which industries to support. B Corps offer consumers a certified and transparent way of supporting business that is socially-conscious.

Fundamental structural inequality in chocolate industry with solutions treating symptoms not underlying pressures. What does work though: multi-stakeholder collaboration, transparency, grassroots approaches, sustainability on social, economic and environmental factors, shared value and responsibility, profit kept in-country as rural vibrancy contributes to national stability (Martin, 2017). Taza Chocolate’s mission is to make more transparent its chocolate-making process and therefore has solved many of the previously inherent ethical dilemmas found in the value chain.

Taza Chocolate’s Transparent Value Chain

Taza Chocolate’s Mission

Founded in 2005 by Alex Whitmore and Kathleen Fulton, Taza Chocolate produces “stone ground chocolate that is seriously good and fair for all” (Taza, 2017) in its Somerville, Massachusetts factory. An all-around ethical, socially-conscious and purpose-driven business, history is in its name: Taza, meaning cup in Spanish, is reminiscent of the way Aztecs ritualistically consumed chocolate in liquid form using specially designed cups or vessels for this purpose (Coe, 1996). History is also found in its design and packaging displaying a cacao pod and its signature mold in the form of the Mexican millstone stone that ground the chocolate itself.

Taza Chocolate’s company culture is driven by founder and anthropology-major in college Alex Whitmore who is very much standing in his purpose in building his company as he “apprenticed with Mexican molineros, learning their ancient chocolate-making secrets.” (Hofherr, 2016) and brought these to Somerville, Massachusetts. Taza Chocolate has a lean start-up-like organizational structure headed by a 8-member Leadership Team. Taza offers an easy application process opening up more opportunities in making an effort to get natives from the countries that it sources its cacao from involved in its business processes.

Procurement

Taza Chocolate revamped the usually long supply chain that often involved slave-labor and many parties that wanted a share of the price paid for raw cacao, and instead instituted ethical quality-ensuring Direct Trading relationships and disclosing transparency reports on each country of origin: “Our pioneering Direct Trade Certified Cacao sourcing program guarantees direct relationships with growers, fair wages and work practices on the farm, and the highest quality ingredients.” (Taza, 2017). Taza directly sources cacao from Middle and Latin America (Dominican Republic, Haiti, Belize, Bolivia) but does not source from any West African cacao-producing country. While not a native plant to Africa and riddled with history involving child slavery, foregoing sourcing from these countries and not having to ship across the Atlantic presumably keeps emission and transportation costs lower. Taza Chocolate’s commitment to high quality origin cacao is symbolized in a designated “Cacao Sourcing Manager” whose job involves managing Taza Chocolate’s ownership stakes in cocoa bean export companies such as Alto Beni Cacao Co., Cacao Verapaz, Maya Mountain Cacao and Uncommon Cacao (Taza, 2017).

On the related issue of nutrition, seeing as there has been a history of contaminated chocolate, and contrary to long and illegible ingredients lists, Taza Chocolate uses few ingredients and organic sugar contrasting conventional chocolate products and discloses all ingredients on its website: “We use organic turbinado sugar (also known as sugar in the raw). Taza Chocolate is proud to partner with the Native Green Cane Project for our sugar sourcing.” (Taza, 2017).

Wordcloud made from Taza Chocolate’s Transparency Report highlights the importance of farmers and fairly-compensated cacao

Operations

Taza’s cacao beans are harvested, fermented and dried at their farm of origin, then undergo the subsequent steps of roasting, winnowing, and shelling, grinding at the factory in Somerville. On the issue of minimal processing, Taza follows artisanal manufacturing and back-to-the-roots traditional Mexican stone grinding techniques: “We stone grind cacao beans into minimally processed chocolate with bold flavor and texture. We use authentic Oaxacan stone mills instead of steel refiners to grind our cacao.” (Taza, 2017). The video below follows Taza’s entire chocolate-making process from bean to bar: 

Marketing & Sales

Being a socially-conscious business and revered local employer, community engagement is high on its list of priorities, also being part of the Sustainable Business Network of Massachusetts: “We have very loyal customers. We work really hard at winning them over not only with delicious chocolate but also by being a great citizen in the community, making sure we pay the producers really well and are a good employer here in Somerville. We’re trying to have a net positive impact in our community.” (Hofherr, 2016).

In furthering transparency of its operations, Taza Chocolate offers Factory Store Tours: “We also practice open book management; we’re very transparent and allow people to walk through our manufacturing factory.”  (Hofherr, 2016). Additionally, Taza’s stand at Boston Public Market has a traditional chocolate grinding stone on display.

Transparency and Certifications

Taza chocolate products carry five certifications to ensure safe labor practices as well as organic ingredients: USDA Organic, Taza chocolate Direct Trade certified Cacao (own certification), Non-GMO project, Certified Gluten-Free and Vegan, whose integrity is guaranteed by having their “five Direct Trade claims independently verified each year by Quality Certification Services, a USDA-accredited organic certifier based in Gainesville, Florida.” (Taza, 2017). “Taza is big on ethical cacao sourcing, and is the first U.S. chocolate maker to establish a third-party certified Direct Trade Cacao Certification program, meaning, you maintain direct relationships with your cacao farmers and pay a premium above the Fair Trade price for their cacao.” (Hofherr, 2016). Taking the transparency one step further, in its Transparency report displayed below, Taza Chocolate discloses what it pays for its cacao beans. 

Taza Chocolate’s 2016 Transparency Indicators disclose price paid for cacao

The Next Step: B Corp Certification

Especially in a time when operations seem to be running smoothly, a new goal towards which the company can focus its purpose would lead to continuous innovation with a new tangible goal in sight. While becoming certified would involve additional documentation as well as slightly new impact measurements, Taza is already in a position where much of its own certification criteria overlap with those of B Corp requirements. Most importantly, the B Corp community would provide a network for growth and sharing best practices, further perpetuating and mainstreaming the idea of B Corps as a viable alternative to how business is done. Especially seeing that CEO and founder Alex Whitmore hopes to grow the company in the near future, many of his quotes ring true to B Corp: “We have a very holistic approach to the business. Some people call it “capitalism with a conscience. We like to think that a rising tide lifts all ships. Transparency is a key value for us.” (Hofherr, 2016). Even though incorporating as B Corp is not currently on the agenda (in a phone call to Taza Chocolate Customer Service on May 3, 2017), there are several advantages in considering this next move:

B Corps use the power of business to solve social and environmental problems

As self-proclaimed social enterprise company, Taza Chocolate would join the “fast-growing global network of certified businesses that have made a commitment to managing, measuring and reporting their social and environmental impact while driving sound profitability” (Bcorp, 2017). The prestigious designation of Certified B Corp certifies that the company meets a range of social and environmental business standards, as well as accountability and transparency, with a commitment to ongoing development and improvement in all these aspects of its business. Taza would join the existing 2,000+ B Corps, but would join only five chocolate-manufacturing companies (the most famous and widely available one being Tony’s Chocolonely). The scarce number of chocolate companies is probably a testament to how difficult the usual value chain of a chocolate company is to get certified and really change the status quo. Does Taza not have an obligation to grow and in so doing both mainstream this ethical offer and ensure famers have a market big enough to continue this better way of farming? Or does the mere existence and carving out bigger companies’ market shares lead to a paradigm shift in other firms too? Either way, B Corps’ network of consciously-minded business is aligned with, and can propel forward, Taza Chocolate’s mission of organic and sustainable bean-to-bar chocolate.

 

References

B Corporation. (2017). Why B Corps Matter. B Corporation Website. Retrieved May 1, 2017 from https://www.bcorporation.net/what-are-b-corps/why-b-corps-matter

Coe, S. D., Coe, M. D., & Huxtable, R. J. (1996). The True History of Chocolate. London: Thames and Hudson.

Fairtrade. (2017). What is Fairtrade? Fairtrade Website. Retrieved May 2, 2017 from http://fairtradeusa.org/what-is-fair-trade

Hofherr, J. (2016, February 23). CEO Desk: How Taza Chocolate’s founder brought a taste of Mexico to Somerville. Boston.com. Retrieved May 3, 2017 from https://www.boston.com/jobs/jobs-news/2016/02/23/ceo-desk-how-taza-chocolates-founder-brought-a-taste-of-mexico-to-the-east-coast

Martin, Carla D. (2017, March 22). Class Lecture. Modern Day Slavery. Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University.

Ryan, O. (2011). Chocolate nations: Living and dying for cocoa in West Africa. London: Zed book.

Satre, L. (2005). Chocolate on Trial: Slavery, Politics, and the Ethics of Business. Athens: Ohio University Press.

Taza Chocolate. (October 2016). 2016 Transparency Report. Taza Chocolate Website. Retrieved May 1, 2017 from https://www.tazachocolate.com/pages/2016-transparency-report

Taza Chocolate. (2017). Taza Chocolate Website. Retrieved May 1, 2017 from https://www.tazachocolate.com/pages/about-taza

Media Sources

B Corporation. (n.d.). B Corporation website. [Online image]. Retrieved May 4, 2017 from https://www.bcorporation.net/sites/default/files/styles/blog-slideshow/public/home-slide-what-are-b-corps2.jpg?itok=JGRhPYa7

Taza Chocolate. (2017). Chocolate Mission. Taza Chocolate Website. [Online image]. Retrieved May 3, 2017 from https://cdn.shopify.com/s/files/1/0974/7668/files/taza_chocolate_mission_large.jpg?2629624273496668752

Spices of life. (2010, May 18). Spices of Life – Bean to Bar: Taza Chocolate. Youtube. [Video file]. Retrieved May 4, 2017 from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VJKCb4xqvSk

Taza Chocolate. (2016). 2016 Annual Cacao Sourcing Transparency Report. Taza Chocolate Website. [Online image]. Retrieved May 4, 2017 from https://cdn.shopify.com/s/files/1/0974/7668/files/Taza_DT_WebGraphics_v10_2_1024x1024.jpg?v=1490215640

Wordcloud Taza 2016 Transparency Report. (2017). [Online image Wordcloud].  Retrieved May 1, 2017 from https://www.tazachocolate.com/pages/2016-transparency-report. Created with www.wordclouds.com

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