All posts by aaas119x261

Askinosie Chocolate: Fair and Direct without Labels

With the growing international popularity of chocolate, the number of chocolate companies has increased dramatically and the competition between each has become more and more fierce. Along with the growth in chocolate companies, the number of chocolate certification organizations has also increased, to a point where the numerous labels are confusing to the normal American consumer. Today, chocolate companies can choose from a wide array of certifications to apply for, including Fair Trade USA, Fairtrade UK, Fair for Life, Rainforest Alliance, Direct Trade, USDA Organic and more. A question we should consider is: are these fair trade certifications actually creating the social impact they say they are in the chocolate industry and around the world? In considering this question, we will take a look at the history and business of one craft chocolate company without any certifications – Askinosie Chocolate. Askinosie Chocolate, through their direct relationship with farmers, is able to have a sustainable impact on the chocolate growing community and their own local community while maintaining the high quality of its products, without the distraction of any third-party certifications or labels.

The term “fair trade” was defined by the international Fair Trade Federation in 2003 and is as follows: “Fair Trade is a movement promoting trading partnerships based on dialogue, transparency and respect, and that seeks greater equity in international trade. It contributes to sustainable development by offering better trading condition to, and securing the rights of, marginalized producers and workers.” (Witkowski) In order to achieve its goals, the Fair Trade movement relies on secondary organizations, such as the International Fair Trade Association, Fair Trade Federation, or Ten Thousand Villages, to implement an auditing system for supply chains to ensure they meet the standards. However, the goals of Fair Trade are broad and vague, and the standards of each Fair Trade organization can vary widely. For example, Rainforest Alliance, a non-profit, claims to certify fair trade products, but does not include standards for compensating producers above market price and in actuality has worked closely with Kraft and Chiquita, big food corporations, which may lead to competing interests (Witkowski).

According to a 2009 study, fair trade consumers tended to value universalism, for example unity with nature and protecting the environment, as well as self-direction, or freedom and control over their own individual decisions, more than non-consumers of fair trade products (Doran). This study demonstrated that the values the fair trade movement promotes are important to a sizeable number of consumers. However, whether or not purchasing all products certified by a certain “fair trade” label is productively achieving those values is a question for further research.

A sample of different fair trade certifying organizations

As the market for fair trade products has grown, it seems the way in which the original values have been manifested have changed, and not necessarily for the better. Because of the numerous fair trade certifications and the incongruent nature of their standards and information provided to consumers, consumers should question the true value of any fair trade certified product they choose to purchase (Ballet). The case of Askinosie Chocolate is an exemplary model for transparency and social impact in the chocolate industry today.

Askinosie Chocolate was founded in 2006 by Shawn Askinosie, originally as a new hobby to replace his stressful criminal defense lawyer day job. Like some of the big chocolate companies today, for example, Hershey’s, Askinosie Chocolate started out as a family business. Shawn began by making chocolate in his office kitchen, perfecting recipes with his wife, and then managing the business side with his high school aged daughter. As the company grew, it made a noticeable effort to maintain the personal touch in their products, as evidenced through the personal stories of Shawn’s family members who are involved in the business as well as their business practices.

One major practice that sets Askinosie Chocolate apart from its bean-to-bar competitors is their commitment to direct trade with farmers. Unlike its competitors, Askinosie Chocolate has not sought fair trade certification or established a third party organization to certify its direct trade practices. In fact, Askinosie Chocolate doesn’t use any type of certification for its cocoa or chocolate at all (their sugar, however, is certified organic). Shawn himself travels to the farm sites and establishes partnerships with farmers through acquaintances and business partners, and then evaluates the beans and the cacao farming process himself in person. By avoiding a broker/middleman, Askinosie Chocolate is able to incorporate their value of cooperation and transparency throughout their supply chain.

Askinosie Chocolate’s direct trade model is especially beneficial for the producers of cacao because producers are paid a higher price than the set fair trade commodity price as well as 10% of the company’s profits every year (Attoun). Because the beans are routinely tested before providing the bonus profits, the producers have an incentive to produce the highest quality cacao beans for Askinosie Chocolate. Instead of relying on a middleman to inspect quality, Askinosie Chocolate sends a company representative, often Shawn himself, to visit the sites and to meet the farmers while drawing up a contract and developing a partnership with them (“Askinosie Chocolate”).

Although fair trade programs originally set out to shorten the supply chain that causes brands profit disproportionately compared to farmers, in reality, fair trade itself has become a cumbersome instrument like those it has tried to change.

Cacao producing farmers often only get 3% of the profit from a chocolate bar

In contrast with fair trade certification programs, which often require the farmers and cooperatives to front a cost of anywhere between $2,500 – $10,000 for annual inspection and certification fees, the Askinosie Chocolate model doesn’t cost the farmers money because it is a business partnership (Tellman). The combination of these yearly fees as well as the fixed commodity price for fair trade chocolate inhibit small farmers from participating in the system and limit the impact of fair trade overall. Askinosie Chocolate on the other hand plays a role in each step of the supply chain, ensuring that the business runs smoothly and that the partnership with farmers is fair at every single step. From finding the beans, building partnerships, shipping the beans, and actually making the chocolate, Askinosie Chocolate personally touches each part of their production process.

Since the founding of the company, Askinosie Chocolate asserts that they have been “weaving social responsibility into everything we do” (“Askinosie Chocolate”), and that company value is evidenced by their numerous philanthropic ventures and careful business endeavors.

Beginning in 2009, Askinosie Chocolate started Chocolate University, an18-month program for local high school students to learn about the bean-to-bar company, beginning from the bar that is completed in their town and ending with a visit to Tanzania – a site of one farm where Askinosie gets their beans (“Askinosie Chocolate: Bringing”).

This program is a way for the company to empower the youth in the community to become global citizens while teaching them about the ethics of the chocolate business and experience first-hand the types of decisions chocolate companies may face, for example, choosing a farm at which to source cacao beans. Before the trip to a cacao source, students in the program research the needs of the community and raise funds in order to address those needs and create a social impact during their visit.

In addition to their community impact, Askinosie weaves their value of transparency into every part of their business. By creating personal connections with the farmers, Shawn is able to put a face to the product, and the company literally uses farmer’s faces as images on some of their products.

Askinosie Chocolate bars featuring images of actual farmers

The personal touch on the marketing of the chocolate bars indicates to consumers that there are real people behind the products they are buying, and tempt the already socially-minded consumer to purchase even more. In addition, Askinosie Chocolate claims that their products are “100% traceable”, and their website has a tool for consumers to input the identification code of their product to track where individual ingredients actually come from (“Askinosie Chocolate”).

Besides enriching the lives of consumers, Askinosie Chocolate takes care to also educate their farmers on their products. When Shawn visits farms to do yearly inspections, he will bring with him official sales numbers and even samples of the finished chocolate to allow the farmers to actually taste what their raw food product can create. By being transparent in their partnership with farmers and their relationship with consumers, Askinosie Chocolate is solving the problem fair trade certifications face today of unclear communication/information.

In conclusion, Askinosie Chocolate is able to have a sustainable impact on the cacao growing community through their equitable direct-trade relationship with farmers, and company value of transparency by foregoing cumbersome fair trade certification programs. In addition, Askinosie Chocolate empowers its own local community through its social initiatives, such as Chocolate University. However, the question of how to scale their impact remains. As we have seen with fair trade certification, although it began with ethical values and goals, as the programs expanded, the desire for profit and larger impact outweighed the earlier ideals and distracted the movement from its origins. The direct trade movement and the family owned craft chocolate business should also be aware of the potential dangers of scaling while still maintaining its product quality.

Multimedia Sources

Fair Trade Organizations:

Shawn Askinosie:

Chocolate Bar Infographic:

Chocolate University:

Askinosie Chocolate Bars:×400.jpg

Works Cited

“Askinosie Chocolate: Bringing The World Together One Bean At A Time.” Markets of New York City. N.p., 18 June 2014. Web. 05 May 2015. <;.

“Askinosie Chocolate.” Home Page. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 May 2015. <;.

Attoun, Marti. “A Chocolate Factory with a Higher Purpose.” The Christian Science Monitor. The Christian Science Monitor, 6 Nov. 2014. Web. 05 May 2015. <;.

Ballet, Jèrôme. “Fair Trade and the Depersonalization of Ethics.” Journal of Business Ethics 92.Supplement 2: FAIR TRADE IN DIFFERENT NATIONAL CONTEXT (2010): 317-30. JSTOR. Web. 05 May 2015.

Doran, Caroline Josephine. “The Role of Personal Values in Fair Trade Consumption.” Journal of Business Ethics 84.4 (2009): 549-63. JSTOR. Web. 05 May 2015.

Tellman, Beth. “Not Fair Enough: Historic and Institutional Barriers to Fair Trade Coffee in El Salvador.” Journal of Latin American Geography 10.2 (2011): 107-27. JSTOR. Web. 05 May 2015.

Witkowski, Terrence H. “Fair Trade Marketing: An Alternative System for Globalization and Development.” Journal of Marketing Theory and Practice 13.4, Globalization and Its Marketing Challenges (2005): 22-33. JSTOR. Web. 05 May 2015.

Chocolate’s Roots, according to Modern Day Advertisements

Today, African nations collectively produce around 71% of the world’s cocoa (Martin). Given the roots of cacao, it is interesting to see how modern companies choose to portray these roots or ignore them completely in their marketing of chocolate products. Chocolate companies have had varying degrees of success incorporating these roots, and it seems that more often than not, been faced with criticisms and controversy when doing so. The decisions companies make have far reaching consequences – they can shape the population’s perception of chocolate, socializing them to certain views or they can raise awareness for certain issues, purposely or not. We will look at the depiction of chocolate’s roots in two advertisements, one that perpetuates the stereotype and one that we created in order to defy it. Present day chocolate advertisements invoke historically-weighted, caricatured depictions of the relationship between chocolate’s roots and chocolate’s present consumer.

Conguitos is a Spanish chocolate product similar to M&M’s from the Lacasa compay, chocolate covered peanut ball shaped confections. According to the Lacasa website, their description is:

“We are the Conguitos. And we are very good, dressed in chocolate with a body made of nuts. Roasted peanuts with black chocolate! Very super delicious!” (translated from Spanish)

This sense that the Conguitos are animate, almost human-like creatures is perpetuated through their video advertisements as well.


The cartoon figures of the Conguitos seem to be a stereotypical representation of a Native/Indigenous culture. The Conguitos are primitive creatures, and as they march onto the scene carrying spears, drums and tribal music play in the background, adding to the Native mystique. The brown color of the Conguitos and the exaggerated mouths portray people of African descent, similar to how blackface was used by minstrels to the same effect in America. In contrast, the light-skinned hand that picks off the Conguitos is the white consumer, and as evidenced by the final scene of the light-skinned woman, the typical Spanish consumer that this ad is targeting. Given these differences, it is natural to question the starkly different roles each race plays, and the power dynamic between the two. The African, who is the largest producer of chocolate, is the primitive subservient to the civilized Western consumer, who is literally picking the scared chocolate peoples straight from the jungles of Africa.

In response to that advertisement, we created an advertisement to address the use of chocolate as a human and the relationship between chocolate and the consumer.

An example advertisement we created for Conguitos
An example advertisement we created for Conguitos

Like the authentic Conguitos advertisement, our advertisement utilizes cartooning as a way to express more pronounced caricatures. However, we do so in a very different way. Our advertisement focuses on the round shape of the chocolate confection and recasts the candy as a soccer ball, instead of as a human. Instead of depicting only two different races, this advertisement shows many distinct skin tones and even species, emphasizing the inclusivity that the soccer ball is bringing to the community.

The creatures in this ad are all smiling and showing happy emotions, as well as their desire for the chocolate soccer ball, as seen from the hearts in their eyes. The unequal power dynamic between light and dark is no longer evident in this advertisement because the soccer ball is an objective inanimate object and the diverse group of people are now working together to catch the chocolate soccer ball. This advertisement challenges the assumptions of Africans and the unequal dualism often used to portray the relationship between Africa and the Western world (Leissle 133).

Through the universality of soccer (or football) as a sport, this image appeals to consumers from all backgrounds. This advertisement depicts chocolate’s roots not as the African jungle, but instead of the multicultural world we live in today. Chocolate too is no longer a local commodity, but instead a global one, as its supply chain and production involves people and firms from Africa, and South America to America and Europe (Robertson 9). This advertisement reflects the global roots of cocoa with its use of multicultural people.

Although the first Conguitos ad is no longer running on TV, the problems with the marketing are still present. As seen on the company website, Lacasa is still trying to give the inanimate candies life. Current advertisements feature the Conguitos with faces that have exaggerated mouths, not too altered from when the original.

1 Kg bag of original Conguitos
1Kg bag of multi-colored conguitos

As consumers, we should be aware of the subliminal messages these advertisements send, and question them, especially, as in this case, when they represent power dynamics that perpetuate inequality.

Multimedia Sources

Conguitos Advertisement:

Soccer ball image (edited):

Soccer game image (edited):

Conguitos 1Kg Bag:

Color Conguitos:

Works Cited

Martin, Carla. AAAS 119x Lecture 15: Modern Day Slavery. March 25, 2015.

“Conguitos Negros – 1 Kg.” Lacasa. Lacasa, n.d. Web. 8 Apr. 2015. <;.

Leissle, Kristy. “Cosmopolitan Cocoa Farmers: Refashioning Africa in Divine Chocolate Advertisements.” Journal of African Cultural Studies 24.2 (2012): 121-39. Web.

Robertson, Emma. Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History. Manchester: Manchester UP, 2009. 1-131. Print.

Chocolate: from Beverage to Haute Cuisine

Chocolate, as we know it today, has drifted far from its Mesoamerican roots and transformed in many different ways since the original Maya/Aztec preparation of the food as a drink. The Late Maya, around the 9th century, prepared a hot chocolate beverage, sometimes adding local flavorings such as vanilla and “ear flower” (Coe and Coe 62). After the collapse of the Classic Maya, the mode of chocolate preparation changed dramatically, as evidenced by the 16th century Spanish accounts of the cold frothy chocolate beverage prepared by the Aztecs. The Aztecs also introduced new flavor combinations to their chocolate beverage, often mixing maize, chilis, a variety of flowers and seeds, and even allspice (Coe and Coe 86-94). However, it was not until cacao traveled to Europe that chocolate became experienced as more than just a drink. As chocolate was being introduced to the masses upon the dawn of the industrial revolution, technological advances and increased access to chocolate spurred individual creativity which led to chocolate permeating cuisine as a primary ingredient, no longer as just an unadulterated frothy drink.

The first recorded evidence of chocolate as a primary ingredient comes from late 17th century Italian recipe books, where it is used in pastries, cakes and even pasta and meat dishes (Coe and Coe 217). Once published, these recipes gained popularity in other parts of Italy throughout the 18th century, though mainly in upper class homes and royal kitchens. Outside of Italy, another savory chocolate dish was developed in Mexico – the mole poblano sauce, which is often paired with pavo (turkey), pollo (chicken)¸ and even enchiladas. Although the stories of its origin are contradictory, some describing the addition of chocolate into the sauce an accident, it seems to have been created sometime in the 17th or 18th century by nuns in the region of Puebla (Coe and Coe 215). This dish is popular even today, and the following cooking tutorial describes the process of making pollo con mole poblano:


            Today, the preparation of this dish includes “sweet” ingredients, such as sugar, and chocolate, which we know associate with sweet, as well as savory pieces, like Mexican rice, and chicken (Cadena). Even now, the dish calls for traditionally Old World ingredients, such as a variety of chilis and plantains, a reflection on the hybridization that allowed this dish to come to fruition. Back when this dish was created, chocolate was not yet mass produced, but the fact that the recipe has survived the test of time demonstrates that it was well received enough for cooks to acquire the chocolate and pass down the recipe over generations. Now, this video recommends the use of Ibarra Mexican chocolate, manufactured by Mexican company Ibarra, which is easily purchased throughout the Americas (Chocolate De Jalisco).

The Ibarra Mexican Chocolate tablets take the form of the early Spanish wafers, which the Spanish had originally developed in order to transport chocolate across the ocean while retaining the rich taste.

Experimentation in the 17th and early 18th centuries was limited, however, due to the limited supply of affordable chocolate that could easily be used in cooking. When chocolate began to be produced using machines, in mid-18th century America, the culture of chocolate completely shifted from being consumed as a luxury drink by high class patrons to being affordable to everyone, of all classes (Bostonian Society). One of the first instances of machine-produced chocolate was a factory in Dorchester, MA, started by John Hannon and Dr. James Baker in 1765. This small water-powered mill would grow to become the Walter Baker Company, a popular provider of baking chocolate in the markets today (Coe and Coe 228).

In the beginning, the Baker Company focused on grinding chocolate to sell to other businesses as well as unsweetened chocolate mainly for the sole purpose of preparing the chocolate beverage. However, as they began to look for new avenues to market their product, they began to experiment. From 1880-1885, the Baker Company distributed 1 million recipe books featuring their chocolate as an ingredient to the American public. The cookbook cover, and a chocolate recipe from this cookbook follows.

Walter Baker Company Recipe Book, 1880.
Excerpt from Walter Baker Company Recipe Book, 1880.

These recipes with chocolate as a primary ingredient are reminiscent of cake recipes today, and may very well still taste as good. Besides just guiding the reader through recipes, this book and Baker’s chocolate itself put the power of experimentation in the hands of the everyday consumer. Because chocolate was now widely produced and sold, wives and homemakers, the target audience of this book, were encouraged to try out any of its pre-tested recipes as well as their own, spurring on the chocolate creativity in each individual kitchen.

The development of the chocolate manufacturing industry enabled more people from all social backgrounds to access chocolate, leading to more creativity in the kitchens and was a large factor in the shift from chocolate’s perceived role as a standalone beverage to the primary ingredient it plays in cuisine today.

Works Cited

The Bostonian Society. “Sweet History: Dorchester and the Chocolate Factory.” Boston History. The Bostonian Society, n.d. Web. 12 Mar. 2015. < >.

Cadena3VidayHogar. “Cómo Preparar Pollo Con Mole.” YouTube. Youtube, 16 Sept. 2014. Web. 11 Mar. 2015. <;.

Chocolate And Cocoa Recipes and Hand Made Candy Recipes. Digital image. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Mar. 2015. <;.

Chocolate And Cocoa Recipes and Hand Made Candy Recipes. Digital image. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Mar. 2015. <;.

Chocolate De Jalisco. “Chocolatera Ibarra.” Chocolatera Ibarra. Ibarra Chocolate Group, n.d. Web. 12 Mar. 2015. <;.

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1996. Print.

Digital image. Lifestyle Direct, n.d. Web. 12 Mar. 2015.

Michigan State University, Feeding America: The Historic American Cookbook Project, February 23 2003. Web. 12 Mar. 2015. <;.

The Mystery of the Molinillo

The introduction of chocolate to the New World in the 16-17th century led to multiple transformations and transmutations of the original Old World cacao. When chocolate became commonplace in the Spanish court in the first half of the 1600s, it had changed in name, taste, preparation, believed health properties and even type. However, this hybridization was not restricted to just chocolate, but in fact applied to many objects journeying from one world to the next. Nor was this hybridization a one-sided phenomenon. The molinillo, a whisk-like tool used to froth drinks, is an important artifact in the history of chocolate because it shows that the encounter between the New World and the Old World was mutually influential and, at the time, also mutually beneficial.

During the age of the Aztecs, chocolate, known as cacahuatl in their native Nahuatl language, was primarily served cold (Coe and Coe 114-115), and one Mesoamerican method used to froth the drink was to pour it “back and forth between two vessels” (Presilla 26), like in the image from the Aztec Codex Tedula below.

Aztec woman frothing chocolate by pouring drink from one vessel to another

However, in the mid-16th century, Creole Spaniards introduced the molinillo in Mesoamerica, an innovation in the field of foaming drinks (Coe and Coe, 120). The molinillo, as pictured below, is a wooden instrument, with rings around the center stick that would shake and rattle and also create air bubbles in the chocolate liquid when spun between the hands.

Molinillo from the Hearst Museum

Beyond just acting as a frothing instrument, the molinillo, called molinet in some early English texts (Gage), seemed to also be once used to grind chocolate tablets (or wafers), which may explain the origin of its name, meaning “little mill” (Ledesma). Another potential explanation for the name is that it may have undergone a transmutation in the other direction, deriving itself from the Nahuatl verb molinia, meaning “to shake, waggle, or move” (Coe and Coe 120).

Once introduced, the molinillo quickly became adopted by the native Mesoamericans, as evidenced in this image of an American Indian with a chocolate pot and molinillo next to his feet from 1693. Based on just this drawing, the origin of each of the objects, especially the molinillo seems ambiguous, as the man pictured here may be a Native Aztec or a Creole Spaniard. Thus, this shows the complicated nature of the exchange between the two worlds.

OLD DRAWING OF AN AMERICAN INDIAN; AT HIS FEET A CHOCOLATE-CUP, CHOCOLATE-POT, AND CHOCOLATE WHISK OR “MOLINET.” (From Traitez Nouveaux et Curieux du Café, du Thé, et du Chocolate. Dufour, 1693).

Another highly disputed topic, even today, is the linguistic origin of our word “chocolate”. According to Thomas Gage, an Englishman who travelled the New World, the word chocolate (chocolatte in his text) originated as a hybrid of the Nahuatl word atl, meaning water, and the sound from which the water mixed with chocolate makes when it is stirred to frothing with a molinet (an English word for the molinillo at the time), “choco, choco, choco” (Gage). Because the molinillo was a New World innovation around the 16th century, we can hypothesize that Gage’s retelling doesn’t represent the whole story of how chocolate received its name. Modern scholars in fact tend to agree that the world chocolate was more likely a hybrid between the Maya word “chocol”, cacao and the Aztec word “atl”, water, a hybrid that first occurred in print around 1570 (Coe and Coe 117-119). In this theory, the molinillo may have been just a bystander.

Today, the molinillo is used widely in Mexico and around the world – more evidence that the innovation has crossed cultural borders many times over and has been adopted by many different peoples. The innovation itself, though originally a Creole Spanish creation, was shaped through Aztec linguistic influences and itself shaped Aztec culture and even possibly the linguistic origins of our own “chocolate” word today. By studying artifacts such as this, we can see how complicated the New World – Old World hybridizations can become, and how they can produce mutually influential outcomes.

Multimedia Sources

Works Cited

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1996. Print.

Gage, Thomas. The English-American, His Travail by Sea and Land, Or, A New Survey of the West-India’s. London: R. Cotes, 1648. Early English Books Online. Web. 15 Feb. 2015.

Ledesma, Antonio Colmenero De. A Curious Treatise of the Nature and Quality of Chocolate. Written in Spanish by Antonio Colmenero, Doctor in Physicke and Chirurgery. And Put into English by Don Diego De Vades-forte. London: By I. Okes, Dwelling in Little St. Bartholomewes, 1640. Early English Books Online. Web. 15 Feb. 2015.

Presilla, Maricel E. The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural and Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. Berkeley: Ten Speed, 2001. Print.