Is Fair Trade Faux? The Overvaluation of the Fairtrade Label in Chocolate Sales

As modes of communication have improved, the world community has become more aware of the circumstances of the people around us. Few situations prove more compelling to action than the plight of cacao farmers in West Africa and South America, for cacao farmers live in incredible poverty, completing long hours of backbreaking work for little pay in fields which typically lack access to bathroom facilities and clean water and which also expose the farmers to a host of dangerous tropical diseases (Martin).

In learning more about the conditions under which cacao farmers work, there has been a marked increase in the world community’s support for “fair trade” practices, in which the chocolate companies have been certified to split profits equally with the cacao farmers who supply the cocoa to be used in manufacturing the chocolate. There has also been an increase in support for ethical sourcing practices in which the cacao farm is certified to have satisfied a high level of “social, environmental, and economic standards”, ensuring that each cacao farmer can not only survive, but thrive by selling cocoa beans (Fair). Click below to view a video which explains Fair Trade Practices in more detail (Fair):

http://fairtradeusa.org/what-is-fair-trade

A wealth of modern scholarship exists which touts the important role of the consumer in incentivizing chocolate sellers to change their current buying practices and to offer a wider selection of Fairtrade Certified options in their stores. However, evidence exists which contradicts the conclusions of this body of scholarship. A comparison of the chocolate selections at CVS Convenience Store and Cardullo’s Gourmet Shop suggests that there is not as strong a desire among consumers to buy responsibly sourced chocolate as scholarship might conclude; in fact, this comparison suggests that the Fairtrade label and similar certifications are only important selling points to a small, niche group of customers.

Scholars are generally in agreement that the concept of “social responsibility” has become a more significant component within the business model of modern chocolate retailers such as grocery and convenience stores. Susie Khamis describes the mechanics of this phenomenon in her paper, A Case Study in Compromise: The Green & Black’s Brand of Ethical Chocolate:

The discourse of [social responsibility and] ethical consumption is predicated on      consumers’ interest in such matters, which are often of a humanitarian or environmentalist nature. In turn, consumers can either reward brands and businesses that are similarly inclined, or punish those that are not (Khamis 19).

Other works document the growth in sales of Fairtrade Certified chocolate. More Chocolate Manufacturers Moving to Ethical Sourcing describes the role of the British public’s support for Fairtrade Certified chocolate as having driven an expanding the market for Fairtrade Certified bars in Britain and Europe. David Pierson, a writer for The Los Angeles Times, identified the same phenomenon in the United States as he described the Fairtrade, bean-to-bar process as practiced by the Los Angeles based chocolatier, Ryan Berk (Pierson). These works prove useful in explaining and illustrating the principles in effect when consumers incentivize chocolate suppliers to provide a wider array of responsibly sourced goods, yet they fall short in that they over attribute widespread support for Fair Trade and responsibly sourced chocolate.

So if, according to modern scholarship, customers are so anxious to purchase Fair Trade certified chocolates, chocolate bars, and chocolate products, why is it that the CVS convenience store in Harvard Square fails to provide responsibly sourced chocolates for their customers to enjoy? Picture #1 indicates the types of chocolate available at CVS.

Picture 1:

image2.JPG

The varieties of chocolate available for purchase are endless. The store offers: Reese’s Cups, M&M’s, Cadbury Cremes, Dum Dum Lollipops, Dove chocolate bites…etc. Furthermore, the checkout counter offers additional choices of chocolate from which customers may choose (Spear CVS Chocolate). The chocolates available for purchase at CVS have been produced at high volume; the chocolate bars on display are all packaged in cheap, brightly colored plastic wrapping meant to catch the eye and convince the customer to buy the candy. Furthermore, the chocolates on display were produced by the largest chocolate conglomerates in the world such as Hershey’s, Nestle, and Cadbury, none of which are Fair Trade certified. None of the available chocolates are Fair Trade Certified or responsibly sourced certified. Recently, Hershey’s was certified as having 30% of their cocoa responsibly sourced, Nestle only recently made the Kit Kat bar certified fair trade, while Cadbury recently did away with their Fair Trade Certification altogether (Gunther, Brownsell, Rodionova).

In addition to the “regular” chocolate available in the main aisle, CVS provided one small stand towards the back of the store (shown in image #2), not connected to the rest of the chocolate shown in image #1.

image3.JPG

This display, labeled “Premium Chocolate”, provided a variety of chocolate bars which were packaged with paper and foil, rather than plastic, and were presented as a higher quality alternative to the other chocolates offered in the store. However, despite the nicer packaging, and “premium” description, nearly none of the chocolate bars in the display were Fair Trade Certified. Of the entire offering, only two of the bars were certified as Fair Trade, the “Endangered Species” brand found hidden towards the bottom of the shelf (Endangered).

On the other hand, Cardullo’s offers a far wider range of options for consumers hoping to purchase Fair Trade chocolate. As seen in picture #3, Cardullo’s not only offers a large quantity of “higher quality” chocolates, which contained higher cocoa content, and lower amounts of sugar than the chocolate available at CVS, but the majority of the chocolate bars offered by Cardullo’s display a Fair Trade certification, or some other sort of “ethically sourced” branding.

image1 (1)

The most obvious difference between the selections available at CVS and Cardullo’s is that the chocolates which Cardullo’s offers seem to have been produced by smaller chocolatiers, rather than by the large chocolate producers. Every one of the bars are individually wrapped in paper and foil. The chocolates bars’ wrapping is presented in such a way as to make the chocolate bar seem to be very high quality; the wrappers also emphasize themes such as being organic, responsibly sourced, or single source origin. Notably, most of the chocolate producers represented in Cardullo’s (found in picture #3) are craft chocolatiers, or chocolatiers based outside of the United States: Dolfin Chocolates (Belgium), Cote D’Or Chocolates (Belgium), Drost Chocolatiers (the Netherlands).

Cardullo’s and CVS target different consumers, which affects the type of chocolate that they offer. CVS, as a convenience store, is meant to serve as a one-stop-shop which offers any good which a customer might need. The CVS business model caters to consumers who value affordability and speed in their buying habits; as such, the chocolate offered at CVS costs anywhere from $1 for a generic candy bar to $4 for the bars stocked in the “premium” section. Average chocolate bar prices at Cardullo’s however, rarely dip below $6 for a single bar and the typical price approaches $8. This is because Cardullo’s markets itself as an establishment which specializes in high-quality, gourmet, foods- as is clear from their website:

http://www.cardullos.com/ (Cardullo’s)

From Cardullo’s website, one might assume that the typical customer expects higher quality goods (“the finest meats and cheeses, the freshest vegetables, and locally made rolls and baguettes” (Cardullo’s)). Because consumers shopping at Cardullo’s value higher quality goods, they are willing to pay more for the items they purchase because the customer understands that they are purchasing quality goods.

Understanding the basic differences between the quality, price, and ethical background of the chocolate bars that are offered for sale by CVS and Cardullo’s, several conclusions can be drawn about the desires of the typical shopper at Cardullo’s and CVS. Because Cardullo’s offers such a wide variety of high-quality, though highly priced, chocolate bars, it’s obvious that Cardullo’s customers value high quality goods. The many certifications which have been awarded to chocolate makers for Fair Trade, organic, or ethical business practices certainly figure into the consumers’ approximation of the value and quality of the chocolate bar when they are considering making their purchase. Specifically in the case of Cardullo’s, consumers appreciate the responsible sourcing practices of the chocolate bars that Cardullo’s sells, and they reward Cardullo’s with their business, although the prices of chocolate bars at Cardullo’s are a higher price than in other places, like CVS.

While Cardullo’s business model and consumer practices provide some evidence to support the conclusions of writers and researchers like Susie Khamis and David Pierson, the selection of chocolate bars available in CVS suggest that Khamis’ and Pierson’s conclusions cannot be assumed to apply to the population as a whole. Although customers are clearly happy to pay higher prices for higher quality chocolate in shops like Cardullo’s, CVS customers most likely appreciate CVS for its convenience and affordability and would be less likely to pay $8 for a chocolate bar. That CVS offers essentially no ethically sourced or Fair Trade chocolate bars in their stores implies that CVS customers either care little about purchasing ethically sourced chocolate bars or that the typical CVS customer does not care enough to take their business across Harvard Square to shop at Cardullo’s. Because CVS is the largest pharmacy chain in the United States (with over 9,600 locations nationwide), the company has an incredibly large client base and must remain responsive to the desires of the general public, or risk losing the business of large amounts of people (CVS). It follows that CVS must research the desires of their customers, monitoring how their consumers’ preferences change over time so that they can anticipate and respond to changing market conditions. Because CVS does not currently sell ethically sourced chocolate bars in their stores, one can conclude that ethical sourcing is important only within a small portion of the population.

Following Khamis’ model describing how a consumer punishes or rewards a company based on that company’s alignment with the consumer’s principles, if a significant portion of the population actually cared about ethically sourced chocolate, then those people would have found other, more ethically aligned stores such as Target and Walmart (or Cardullo’s!) and stopped buying chocolate bars from CVS. In response, CVS would be forced to adapt to the demands of the market and sell chocolate bars which satisfy the consumer’s ethical sourcing requirements.

Patterns within CVS’s selection of chocolate are significant in that a study of one CVS store provides a reliable approximation of the chocolate offerings at all other CVS stores nationwide. Because CVS stores nationwide serve more than 5 million customers daily, one can conclude that a very large portion of the United States’ population is satisfied with CVS’ chocolate bar options, and that a non-significant portion of the population cares about ethically sourced chocolate (CVS). Watch this documentary on ethically sourced chocolate, in which respondents tell that the taste of the chocolate is more important than the ethically sourced background (watch from 11:00 to 11:30) (Fair Trade and Chocolate):

http://harvard.kanopystreaming.com.ezp-prod1.hul.harvard.edu/video/fair-trade-chocolate-divine-story

Modern scholarship contends that a large portion of the population feels that Fair Trade and ethical sourcing practices are important aspects that factor into a consumer’s decision when purchasing a chocolate bar. Yet, data exists which suggests that scholars’ conclusions about the importance of fair trade practices to the consumer are not as widely applicable as scholars have concluded. Although the chocolate selection at Cardullo’s suggests that there is a portion of the population which is willing to pay premium prices for higher quality, responsibly sourced chocolate, the chocolate selection at CVS implies that there is also an incredibly large portion of the American population which does not see ethical sourcing practices as being important enough to “punish” or “reward” the retail chain over their selection of chocolates. In the future, interest groups should work to educate and persuade consumers of the merits of Fair Trade and responsibly sourced chocolate so that a larger portion of the population can become responsible consumers and can begin to effect positive change in the world through their purchasing habits.

Works Cited

Works Cited

Brownsell, Alex. “Nestle’s Kit Kat Secures Fair Trade Certification.” Campaign Live. 7

December 2009. Web.

Cardullo’s Gourmet Shoppe Website. http://www.cardullos.com/. Web.

CVS. “CVS Health At A Glance.” https://www.cvshealth.com/about/facts-and-company-

information. Web.

Endangered Species Chocolate. “Promise.” Accessed 4 May 2017.

http://www.chocolatebar.com/?page_id=18. Web.

“Fair Trade and Chocolate: The Divine Story.” Part of the Series: Essential Marketing

Collection. On Kanopy.com. http://harvard.kanopystreaming.com.ezp-prod1.hul.harvard.edu/video/fair-trade-chocolate-divine-story. Web.

Fair Trade USA. “What is Fair Trade?: Quality Products. Improving Lives. Protecting the

Planet.” Accessed 4 May 2017. http://fairtradeusa.org/what-is-fair-trade. Web.

Gunther, Mark. “Hershey’s Might Be Using More Sustainable Cocoa, But Farmers May Not Be

Seeing the Benefits.” The Guardian. 6 July 2015. https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2015/jul/06/hersheys-mars-ferrero-cocoa-farming-fair-trade-global-exchange. Web.

Khamis, Susie. “A Case Study in Compromise: The Green & Black’s Brand of Ethical

Chocolate.” Macquarie University. Australasian Journal of Popular Culture, Volume 1, Number 1. March 2012. Print.

Martin, Carla. “Modern Day Slavery.” African American Studies 119X, 22 March 2017, Harvard

College, Cambridge MA. Lecture.

“More Chocolate Manufacturers Moving to Ethical Sourcing.” http://www.candyindustry.com. April

  1. Accessed 4 May 2017. http://search.proquest.com.ezp-prod1.hul.harvard.edu/docview/218773659/fulltextPDF/51D1AC8E34A645CFPQ/1?accountid=11311. Web.

Pierson, David. “Artisanal, hand-crafted chocolate is a growing niche.” The Los Angeles Times.

28 February 2017. Web.

Rodionova, Zlata. “Cadbury Withdraws from Fairtrade Chocolate Scheme But Keeps Logo on

Packaging.” The Independent. 28 November 2016. Web.

Spear, Tyler. “Cardullo’s Gourmet Shop Chocolate Selection.” 4 May 2017.

Spear, Tyler. “CVS Chocolate Selection.” 4 May 2017.

Spear, Tyler. “CVS Premium Chocolate Selection.” 4 May 2017.

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