’57 Chocolate: An Ethnographic Study

“Revolutionary artisanal chocolate made from bean to bar by a dynamic duo of Pan-African sisters. ’57 is a chocolate business pioneered in Accra, Ghana, and it is on a mission to revive Ghana’s 1957 ‘can do spirit.’”

Meet the Maker:

’57 Chocolate

Pithy, punchy, and powerful, these two sentences greet every visitor to ’57 Chocolate’s website, a sleek, black-and-white affair that serves as the brand’s online point of contact for customers, brand collaborators, and global enthusiasts of fine chocolate.

Though these sentences are crafted to introduce visitors to the company briefly, they efficiently allude to a number of ways in which this chocolate company grapples with key issues that plague the contemporary chocolate industry. Their reference to “artisanal chocolate made from bean to bar” in tandem with the site’s carefully curated aesthetic might simply seem like an attempt to establish ’57 chocolate as a luxury brand, but it also implies certain small-scale production practices that are more ethical and sustainable than those of the conglomerates producing the bulk of the world’s finished chocolate products. Their insistence on the “dynamic duo” of sisters behind the brand serves as a fruitful entry point to a discussion about marketing in the chocolate industry, because it departs from the norm in a few meaningful ways. And finally, the positioning of the brand as “revolutionary” is far from an arbitrary marketing decision, though the uninformed consumer might assume as much. In fact, it is a strategic move to grapple with issues of income imbalance across the chocolate supply chain that perpetuates centuries-old power dynamics by disadvantaging the so-called global south—namely South America, Africa, and South Asia—and pushing profits to North American and European chocolate retailers.

This essay will use secondary literature to explicate the magnitude and implications of each of these three issues, and then it will turn to primary sources—emphasizing ’57 chocolate’s very own marketing material as well as contemporary reporting on the company—to explore how ’57 Chocolate performs meaningful work to right the wrongs that plague the contemporary chocolate industry.

 

Craft Chocolate:

How Bean-to-Bar Businesses Can Better a Broken System

As a bean-to-bar chocolate company, ’57 Chocolate is part of a growing movement to promote increased literacy about the origins of the cacao in a given chocolate bar.[1] By tracing the trajectory of the cacao from its beginning as beans all the way to its final product, these companies attempt not only to give due credit to the countries providing the raw material that goes into a chocolate bar but also, so the theory goes, hold more members of the chocolate supply chain accountable for ethical business practices.[2] There are a few key ways in which Big Chocolate creates issues in the supply chain, and ’57 Chocolate addresses virtually each of these problems.

First, by nature of being a small-scale producer, ’57 Chocolate aids farmers by buying cacao in smaller batches directly from farmers and thus pushing profits to those at the very beginning of the chocolate supply chain.’57 Chocolate explains on its website that the company aims to “add value…to the cocoa farmer—on a local scale.” To the uninitiated, the weight of these words may not be apparent, but they actually imply an important attempt to invert the flow of revenue in the chocolate supply chain to the most time- and labor-intensive jobs.

One of the most upsetting injustices of the cacao supply chain is that profit margins are highest at the end of it and lowest for those who perform the physical labor that initiates the process. While farmers in the global south earn only a 3% margin on their cacao, retail boutiques and supermarkets in the global north earn a 43% margin on their chocolate products.[3] This is because the cacao supply chain is especially elongated in order to benefit large-scale chocolate producers like Nestlé, Hershey, and Mars. These companies buy chocolate from Africa in such bulk that they require sourcing from small cacao farms across the country in order to meet their demands. The trajectory of a cacao pod from its farm to a large batch in an African port is a long one made up of many middlemen; each time it exchanges hands, its price rises. Meanwhile, Big Chocolate companies negotiate reduced prices for cacao, because they buy it in bulk. As a result, cacao farmers in Africa are routinely forced to sell their product for as low a price as possible so that everyone downstream of them in the supply chain can still make a profit.[4] Not to mention, as an agricultural commodity, cacao’s price is volatile. In short, cacao farmers cannot count on a stable income from their jobs.

Given this contextual information, it becomes clear how ’57 Chocolate’s focus on small-batch, locally sourced cacao aids the farmers with whom they work. Though artisanal chocolate producers cannot single-handedly right the wrongs of Big Chocolate, the rise of small-scale producers who focus on bean-to-bar production is a net positive for African cacao farmers. ’57 Chocolate’s focus on creating bean-to-bar products means that they are not interested in buying cacao that has been sourced from farms all over Africa. Instead, they form direct relationships with individual farmers to ensure that they know the origins of the beans in their chocolate bars. By cutting out the middlemen, they push profits directly to those at the beginning of the supply chain. As well, by purchasing small batches, ’57 Chocolate does not negotiate discounted, bulk rates for their cacao. Instead, they pay a premium and thus provide farmers a livable wage.

 

Marketing Matters:

Race, Gender, and ’57 Chocolate

 Yet another issue that plagues the chocolate industry is that of toxic marketing—in the form of brand positioning, chocolate bar packaging, and advertisements—that either obscures or completely fails to confront the political, social, and economic issues in the chocolate supply chain as delineated above.[5] As Emma Robertson argues, “chocolate marketing often encourages us to indulge in a depoliticized moment, to ‘Have a Break’; [but] this moment…is and has always been deeply political.”[6] Indeed, even after the brief discussion of supply chain imbalances above, it is clear that eating chocolate is a politically loaded activity. Knowing this, lighthearted ads concerned with self-care and indulgence seem surprisingly myopic.

Moreover, chocolate marketing often tends to make use of debilitating sexist and racist imagery that either erases the people of color from the narrative about the chocolate’s production or perpetuates negative stereotypes about femininity. Robertson puts it elegantly when she writes, “the cultural construction of chocolate in marketing has …relied on and produced hegemonic narratives of gender, class, race, and empire.”[7] In short, chocolate marketing has routinely perpetuated racist and sexist narratives.

Indeed, there is a long history of minimizing the importance of manual labor in the supply chain, which is often performed by people of color. Robertson points out as much when she demonstrates that “despite encouragement from modernists in the 1930s to include representation so production on chocolate packaging, [she] found no evidence of either packaging or advertising which depicted chocolate workers.”[8] In addition to this erasure of labor, advertisements also cast black bodies as peripheral to the consumption of chocolate, as they only ever afforded white people the privilege of purchasing and eating it. She writes, “both Rowntree and Cadbury adverts created a world of white consumers in which the black producers of cocoa beans and the black consumers of chocolate were at best pushed to the margins, if not excluded completely.”[9] Finally, advertisements routinely minimized the work of female laborers in the production chain, only to fetishize motherhood and white female sexuality in their ads.[10] Certainly, elitism in the form of racism and sexism permeate all types of chocolate marketing.

Happily, ’57 Chocolate combats this issue in a variety of ways. The first and most noticeable is by means of their brand statement. ’57 Chocolate identifies its brand most prominently by its co-founders, “a dynamic duo of Pan-African sisters.” This is powerful because it emphasizes that not only two women but also two people of color are the brilliant business minds behind ’57 Chocolate. By providing the precise location of their offices—in Accra, Ghana—the sisters encourage readers to imagine corporate offices in a Ghanaian city, creating rich imagery of industrious, clever, and successful female businesswomen working out of a city in Africa. In fact, the sisters’ strategic marketing by way of this brand statement has been effective by all accounts, as every news source to report on ’57 Chocolate identifies the brand by way of its two female cofounders in the very title of their articles. To reinforce this, the sisters devote an entire page of their website to mini biographies of themselves. In so doing, they firmly establish their authority and clout and thus cast women of color in a more positive manner than they have historically been shown in chocolate marketing.

Secondly, ’57 Chocolate’s logo makes use of the image of a cacao plant and references the year 1957, two decisions that reference Ghana, the co-founders’ home country. By utilizing the image of cacao pods in their logo, the sisters draw consumers’ focus to the very beginnings of the cacao supply chain and pay homage to the laborers who grow and harvest the cacao. This type of respect for and appreciation of cacao farmers is distinct. As well, the reference to the year 1957 is crucial because it is the year that Ghana gained independence. By referencing this year in the very name of their company, the sisters hope to “revive the 1957 ‘can do spirit’” of the country in that year and prove that Ghana is more than simply a provider of raw material but also the home of developed, finished chocolate products on par with those created in Europe and North America.[11] In so doing, it “challenges the status quo that premium chocolate can only be made in Europe.”[12]

Finally, ’57 Chocolate rectifies the issue of erasure that has plagued much chocolate marketing. Each bar is “engraved with visual symbols originally created by the Ashanti of Ghana,” who play a large role in growing and harvesting the cacao that is ultimately made into these chocolate bars.[13] By exhibiting Ashanti art on perhaps the most prized real estate in the world of chocolate marketing—on the bar itself—Priscilla and Kimberly Addison afford African men and women the opportunity to engage with chocolate as more than simply manual laborers but also brand-creators and artists. This, like everything else about the brand’s marketing tactics, enacts a powerful restructuring of historically detrimental paradigms.

 

Revolutionary Retailer:

Reintroducing Africa as a Refined Producer

Yet a third issue in the cacao industry today is the inexplicable and unwarranted derision aimed at African cacao. This is unfortunate, especially considered that Africa is the primary provider of cacao to the global market.

Though the biological origin of cacao lies in Mexico and Central America,[14] the Portuguese transported the so-called “forastero” variety of cacao to Africa in 1824[15] to avoid scrutiny of their labor practice son plantations in South America.[16] Today, African cacao farms produce 72% of the world’s total cacao, though the country only consumes about 4% of the world’s chocolate.[17] Profs. Sophie and Michael Coe point out that it is “supremely ironic that West Africa, from which so many hundreds of thousand shad been torn against their will to work as slaves in the white man’s cacao plantations, should now be by far the world’s leading producer of cacao.”[18] Indeed, it is a travesty that the same country whose population was decimated in the seventeenth century in order to perform coerced labor on plantations in South America should now find itself hosting those very same systems on its own soil without enjoying any of the benefits of this labor.

Even worse, misunderstandings about the differences between cacao varieties has led to an unwarranted lack of respect for the forastero ilk of cacao beans that are cultivated in Africa. The term was initially developed alongside two others—criollo and trinitario—to describe what many believed to be the least tasty type of cacao bean.[19] However, it has since been proven that these designations do not mean much, and that forastero beans feature flavors just as complex as the other two types of beans. Sadly, the stigma has remained, and very few bean-to-bar companies have cared to source their cacao from Africa under the impression that it will not taste good.[20]

’57 Chocolate thus acts as a leader in the artisanal chocolate space by sourcing its cacao from Ghana and celebrating the complexity of the flavor of the beans. By producing, marketing, and selling a line of craft chocolate bars made entirely from Ghanaian beans, the Addison sisters are helping to redefine people’s perceptions of African cacao as simply a low-grade product to be bought in bulk.[21]

In addition to this, the sisters perform the important work of establishing Africa as a tastemaker in haute patisserie just as France has done. In her exploration of the development of a culture surrounding high-end cacao in France, Susan Terrio incisively points out that it is the craft chocolate makers and retailers who hold the most power and cultural capital in the cacao supply chain. She writes, “in contemporary economies, cultural tastemakers determine fashion and shape taste for prestige commodities. They collaborate and negotiate with producers to establish the principles that govern expert knowledge and refined taste.”[22] In other words, those who operate at the end of the chocolate supply chain do not only make the largest profit margin but also enjoy the privilege of dictating global tastes.

The Addison sisters seem to know this intuitively, as they explicitly state that the main goal of their company is to “inspire the people of Ghana, especially the youth to not be satisfied at merely selling and trading the country’s natural resources or other items in their “natural” state, but to use their minds and creative geniuses to transform these resources and items by creating and developing made in Ghana products of premium value.”[23] In this light, the Addison sisters’ company is not simply one that brings justice to the forastero variety of cacao bean cultivated in Africa nor simply raises awareness about ethical sourcing and production in chocolate. Though it does both of these things, their company also establishes Africa as a global competitor with Europe and North America in the arena of determining tastes and shaping culture.

 

Works Cited

Addison, Kimberly and Priscilla. 57ChocolateGH.com, “Our Products.”

Addison, Kimberly and Priscilla. 57ChocolateGH.com, “Our Story.”

Coe, Sophie D. and Michael D. Coe. 2013[1996]. The True History of Chocolate. 3nd ed. London: Thames & Hudson.

Martin, Carla D. Lecture. Harvard University, Cambridge, MA. Jan. 24, 2017.

– – -. Lecture. Harvard University, Cambridge, MA. Feb. 14, 2017.

– – -. Lecture. Harvard University, Cambridge, MA. Mar. 21, 2017.

– – -. Lecture. Harvard University, Cambridge, MA. Mar. 28, 2017.

– – -. Lecture. Harvard University, Cambridge, MA. Apr. 18, 2017.

Martin, Carla and Sampeck, Kathryn. 2016. “The Bitter and Sweet of Chocolate in Europe.” pp. 37-60.

Robertson, Emma. 2010. Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History. pp. 1-131.

Terrio, Susan J. 2000. Crafting the Culture and History of French Chocolate, pgs. 1-65.

Footnotes

[1] Martin, Carla and Sampeck, Kathryn, 2016, “The Bitter and Sweet of Chocolate in Europe,” 54.

[2] Lecture, Apr. 18, 2018.

[3] Lecture, Jan. 24, 2018.

[4] Lecture, Mar. 21, 2018.

[5] Lecture, Mar. 28, 2018.

[6] Robertson, Emma, 2010, Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History, 13.

[7] Robertson, 55.

[8] Robertson, 23.

[9] Robertson, 54.

[10] Robertson, 55.

[11] Addison, Kimberly and Priscilla, 57ChocolateGH.com, “Our Story.”

[12] Ibid.

[13] Addison, Kimberly and Priscilla, 57ChocolateGH.com, “Our Products.”

[14] Coe, Sophie D. and Michael D. Coe. 2013 [1996], The True History of Chocolate. 3nd ed. London: Thames & Hudson, 17.

[15] Coe and Coe, 196-7.

[16] Lecture, Mar. 21, 2018.

[17] Lecture, Jan. 24, 2019 and Lecture, Mar. 21, 2018.

[18] Coe and Coe, 196.

[19] Lecture, Feb. 14, 2018.

[20] Lecture, Feb. 14, 2018.

[21] Lecture, Apr. 18, 2018.

[22] Terrio, Susan J, 2000, Crafting the Culture and History of French Chocolate, pg. 41.

[23] Addison, Kimberly and Priscilla, 57ChocolateGH.com, “Our Story.”

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