Mindo Chocolate Makers: A Leader in the Ethical Bean to Bar Supply Chain

Mindo Chocolate Makers (2018) is a bean to bar chocolate company based in Mindo, Ecuador and Dexter, Michigan.  Their company values not only have the potential to change the chocolate supply chain for the better, but to change chocolate itself.  In order for bean to bar chocolate companies to pay fair wages throughout, not use forced labor, and be environmentally friendly, the company has to be willing to worry about the quality of product they are producing opposed to the amount of product they are producing.  This is exactly what Mindo Chocolate does and if other companies begin to follow their business model, it could drastically impact the chocolate industry for the better.

Mindo prides itself on being “a small business, and no matter how big we grow, we’ll always have a small business mentality that relies on great people coming together –  our growers, our employees, our customers –  to create the most delicious chocolate experience possible” (Mindo, 2018, para. 8).  By creating a sense of community from the moment the beans are harvested, all the way through the time chocolate is served to consumers, this already differs greatly from vast companies such as Hershey.  Mindo also has a goal of putting “more money into the hands of cocoa farmers and their farms, while providing our customers with superior quality, direct-trade, organic cocoa products” (Mindo, 2018, para. 1).  They do this by being a community supported chocolate company, in which their farmers are presented with upfront capital so they can harvest the maximum amount of product during peak season instead of losing income and product due to a lack of funding during harvest season.  One of the main ways Mindo has the potential to change the chocolate industry is by “paying two to three times the fair trade price for cocoa beans” (para. 6).  Doing this “encourage[s] the farmers to resist the hybrid and deforestation trend” (para. 6).  All of Mindo’s beans are from Nacional varieties of cocoa, which is an heirloom variety of cocoa bean, and they will, under no circumstances, accept diseased or hybridized beans (para. 6).

One of the main points that Mindo makes abundantly clear is their focus on community.  When consumers feel a connection to a product and its maker, they are more likely to actually consider the origins and production of the product, in contrast to faceless companies that mass produce chocolate in less than tasteful ways.  For “nine tenths of its long history, chocolate was drunk, not eaten” (Coe & Coe, 2013, p. 12).  The act of drinking is often a communal activity (e.g., tea, alcohol, coffee, etc.).

Ecuadorian Drinking ChocolateEcuadorian drinking chocolate (Mindo, 2018).  Description: A creamy intensely flavorful chocolate. Natural cocoa, single origin, organic, shade grown, ethically sourced, made from Nacional cocoa beans.  Ingredients: 77% dark chocolate (organic cocoa beans, organic cane sugar) , natural cocoa powder, organic cane sugar.

 In that, for most of its history, chocolate was actually consumed as a beverage, Mindo is committed to preserving the integrity of chocolate, though it is now more often consumed in solid forms; they are maintaining a sense of community even without it being in liquid form.  While companies like Hershey produce vast quantities of chocolate, they are a brand whose main goal is to make money.  They do not strive to be the highest quality and most community involved chocolate company.  By interacting with the community, Mindo is promoting an inquisitory attitude towards the bean to bar process, thus bringing ethics into play.

The question of ethical practices in the food industry is of utmost importance.  With the rising world population, more food is needed, and with this increase in food production, a rise in unfair labor practices is a major risk.  Fair trade is one of the combatants for the practice of unfair production in the food industry:

When you see a product with the Fair Trade Certified™ seal, you can be sure it was made according to rigorous social, environmental, and economic standards. We work closely on the ground with producers and certify transactions between companies and their suppliers to ensure that the people making Fair Trade Certified goods work in safe conditions, protect the environment, build sustainable livelihoods, and earn additional money to empower and uplift their communities. (Fair Trade Certified, 2018, para. 2)

Unfortunately, their claims of a seemingly impeccable system do not exactly hold up.  Some of their critiques include “Little money reaches developing world; [l]ess money reaches farmers; [l]ack of evidence of impact; [c]ost of Fair Trade certification, shouldered by farmers, is quite high; [i]nefficient marketing system (corruption); [q]uality concerns (no incentive); [f]air Trade never meant to be a one-stop shop for solving all social problems” (Martin, 2018a, slide 11).  While on the surface, Fair Trade seems to be an ideal system for bean to bar chocolate production, these issues prevent it from being so.

Mindo is not Fair Trade certified, and is taking fair practices into their own hands.  By paying farmers three times the fair trade value directly, they are ensuring that funds actually reach the farmers themselves and do not get lost in a system instead.  By not being Fair Trade certified and, instead, being independently, extremely dedicated to fair conditions throughout their bean to bar practice, they are able to avoid the hefty fee for Fair Trade certification and invest in fair practices themselves.  Their involvement in Community Supported Chocolate (CSC) (Mindo, 2018) is one of the main components of their upstanding practices.  As a customer you can “[make] a one-time payment that covers three months of a CSC share.  This one-time payment provides [their] farmers with the upfront capital required in cocoa production” (Mindo, 2018, para. 3).  Not only does this benefit the farmers themselves, but those that help fund the farmer’s harvest receive chocolate for being a CSC member.  This reinforces the feeling of community that Mindo strives to accomplish.  Members get the opportunity to actually taste their ethical practices.

By putting the CSC program into action, Mindo has the potential to change the bean to bar supply chain.  The Spaniards viewed “Emperor Moctezuma II drinking frothed chocolate with a degree of ceremony clearly marking it as an exalted food” (Presilla,2009, p. 18).  Chocolate being viewed as an exalted food has become a notion of the past.  Today, chocolate is an everyday commodity and is not viewed as a food for the wealthy.  According to the Hershey Company (2017), in the fourth quarter of 2017 alone, they sold $1,939.6 million worth of products.  The industrialization of the chocolate industry is borderline nullifying the beauty of cocoa.  By having people fund cocoa farmers and then experience chocolate made with cocoa beans they helped to harvest, it promotes an appreciation of the product.  Promoting an appreciation of the cocoa could then lead consumers to shy away from commercialized products such as Hershey bars and Kisses, which are more sugar than cocoa.

Sadly, the sugar industry is a profoundly unethical world.  Throughout history, sugar plantations utilized slave labor as commonplace; now it is still utilized, but since condemned by modern standards, is hidden from the public eye.  Sugar became popularized as a result of “underlying forces in British society and of the exercise of power” (Mintz, 1986, p. 150).  Sugar was for the rich and powerful, which, in turn, made the masses want it.  In order to reach the masses, “England fought the most, conquered the most colonies, imported the most slaves, and went furthest and fastest in creating a plantation system.  The most important product of the system was sugar” (Mintz, 1986, as cited in Martin, 2018b, slide 10).  Sugar production today still often utilizes slave labor and exploits farmers in order to produce cheap products, and lots of them.  Mindo’s refusal to exploit workers in any stage of their bean to bar process is a step against this system.

Some of the main challenges with companies such as Mindo are price point and notoriety.  Mindo is at the higher end of price points for chocolate products because they refuse to use hybridized or unhealthy beans, and pay their workers fair wages.  They are also a small company lost in the sea of media attention for big name companies.  Hershey is able to spend hundreds of millions a year on advertising, enabling them to reach everyone, anywhere.  Smaller companies like Mindo are unlikely to make as much money in five years as Hershey spends solely on advertising in a year long period.  They have a high rate of face to face communication in their company, but not the level of product to consumer communication as Hershey.  A pure 77% chocolate bar from Mindo

Pure 77% Chocolate Bar Description: Pure 77% chocolate, stone-ground to optimal flavor. This is our “flagship” flavor and cacao percentage as it reflects what we do best: dark chocolate made from organic Nacional cocoa beans. Heirloom variety and only fine flavor beans. No milk, no soy, nothing added. Ingredients: organic cocoa beans, organic evaporated cane juice (vegan), Made with cacao (Mindo, 2018).

is seven dollars, whereas a Hershey chocolate bar (usually) is under two dollars.  To consumers, Hershey seems to be the obvious choice because it is far cheaper and more recognizable.  Consumers equate notoriety with trust. What they are unaware of, however, is that Hershey’s chocolate contains roughly the minimum amount of cocoa that can be in a product while still being called chocolate: 10%.  It is at a lower price point because it is mainly sugar and other additives instead of what consumers think they are actually paying for – chocolate.

Mindo pays a premium for their cocoa in order to maintain the integrity of the bean and preserve its true flavor profile.  One of the main reasons that they use the Nacional variety of cocoa is because it “grows intermixed with other plants and trees that promote habitats for midge pollinators, birds, and other animals” (Mindo, 2018, para. 5).  This illustrates their dedication to helping preserve the environment instead of participating in harmful practices of deforestation and hybridization that other companies use.  They are also concerned about consumer safety:  “[a]ll of our beans are dried on long beds at the farmers’ cooperative – a fact that you take for granted until you realize that much of the cacao in the world is dried on the ground or on the side of the road where gasoline and other pollutants can easily seep into the beans” (para. 8).  As a whole, Mindo seems to be doing everything right.  The problem that arises, however, is how do they spread their practices and make their product know to the masses?

In today’s technology driven society, big name companies such as Hershey dominate the advertising industry.  Luckily, of late, social media has been able to bring smaller name brands to the forefront of the sales industry.  There is beginning to be a shift in the consumer trend; people want to feel good about what they are purchasing.  For example, the company Sand Cloud (2018) donates 10% of all of its proceeds to saving marine life and makes ocean-safe sunscreen as well as clothing out of old plastic bottles.  Consumers are willing to pay a higher amount for these products because they feel like they are being socially conscious and actually see, via social media, how their purchase is helping the environment.  Mindo is in a special place in which not only can they take advantage of this new wave of marketing, but their business is founded on it.  Even their inside and outside packaging is made from recycled, compostable material from the bean to bar process – sugar cane pulp.

Pure 77% Chocolate Bar

Pure 77% Mindo (2018) Chocolate Bar – See text at bottom of wrapper.

When buying Mindo Chocolate, not only are consumers helping the environment, but they are helping real people.

The less people buy from commercialized companies and the more they buy from companies such as Mindo, cocoa will become a beacon of change.  Cocoa was originally “ranked with gold and gems in records of solemn offerings to the dead, and [the Spaniards] gathered that its use was restricted to certain prestigious classes” (Presilla, 2009, p. 18).  Thus, cocoa went from being viewed as something reserved for the wealthy to something you can buy for a couple dollars at a convenient store.  Though the masses should be able to enjoy cocoa, it deserves to be respected, and everyone involved in the bean to bar process deserves to be as well.  Mindo is respecting the beans, the people growing them, creating a high quality product, and is inviting consumers to enjoy their community of respect for cocoa in the process.

Mindo is a brand not focused on sales, but on ethics.  It is a passionate company that not only takes pride in their product every step of the way, but is improving the chocolate industry while doing so.  This seemingly small company is utilizing methods that are drastically improving farmers’ lives, helping to preserve the environment, not utilizing slave labor, and still managing to please taste buds in the process.  If quality comes into question, it cannot be disputed that Mindo follows extremely rigorous standards to insure that their cocoa products are of the highest quality and are not diluted with sugar and additives in order to mass produce.  They treat every aspect of cocoa processing with respect and if able to spread their methods and message, can bring the respect cocoa deserves back to the masses.

References

Coe, S.D., & Coe, M.D. (2013). The true history of chocolate.  London: Thames and Hudson  LTD.

Fair Trade Certified. (2018). Our global model. Retrieved from https://www.fairtradecertified.org/why-fair-trade/our-global-model

Hershey. (2017). Hershey announces fourth-quarter and full-year 2017 results; Provides 2018 outlook. Retrieved from https://www.thehersheycompany.com/content/dam/corporate-us/documents/past-presentations/2017/Q4_2017_Press_Release.pdf

Martin, C. (2018a). 20180404 Alternative trade and virtuous localization/globalization [PowerPoint presentation].

Martin, C. (2018b). 20180228 Slavery, abolition, and forced labor [PowerPoint presentation].

Mindo Chocolate Makers. (2018). Mindo chocolate makers. Retrieved from https://mindochocolate.com/pages/our-process

Mintz, S. W. (1986). Sweetness and power: The place of sugar in modern history.  New York, NY: The Penguin Group.

Presilla, M. E. (2009). The new taste of chocolate revised: A cultural and natural history of cacao with recipes. New York, NY: Crown Publishing.

Sand Cloud. (2018). Our mission. Retrieved from https://www.sandcloud.com/pages/our-mission

 

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