All posts by msje1192019

Chocolats Halba – Analysis of a Swiss Chocolate Company

This text investigates Chocolats Halba, a Swiss producer of chocolate, and its contributions to solving the various problems in the cacao industry. Founded by two chocolatiers working from their living room, this company is now a part of Coop, which is one of Switzerland’s largest retail companies. Chocolats Halba delivers its products both to Coop and to companies worldwide and also operates its own factory stores, the Schoggihüsli. The company is a rather large producer of bean-to-bar chocolate, making over twelve-thousand tons of chocolate per year and generating 135 million swiss francs in revenue from these efforts. It is thus a remarkable example of an essentially industrial producer of chocolate that nevertheless conforms to at least a reasonable moral standard. The company’s English website, containing further information and an introductory video, may be found at this address: http://chocolatshalba.ch/en/company.html (Chocolats Halba – Facts and Figures).

Chocolats Halba describes itself as a company that aims to provide benefit to both its customers, employees and also to the environment. More specifically, the company aims to both address the common human issues of cacao production in addition to, and to produce in an environmentally sustainable manner. To achieve this, the company is closely involved with all parts of its supply chain, performing extensive supervision. The stated benefits which the company seeks to obtain from this policy is to ensure that its products be morally responsible and superior in quality. As might be expected from a Swiss chocolate producer, quality in particular is a major part of the company’s brand image. Notably, to ensure quality, the company’s entire production capacity, and with it most of its employees, is based in Switzerland. To the same end, the company also maintains close relations with its associated cacao growers. The company’s position is also prominent on the packaging of its products, which notably bear information not only on the source of the cacao, but also on the origin of most other ingredients. The packaging also prominently displays information on the sustainability practices pursued in its production. Furthermore, the company’s chocolate also includes detailed information on the terroir and history of the specific cacao varieties it incorporates. The near profusion of labels and other information on the image below illustrates this point. In a similar effort to market its closeness to cacao growers, the company generally prominently incorporates imagery of these people in its packaging and marketing. (Chocolats Halba, Partners & Quality (http://chocolatshalba.ch (Retrieved 19-04-19)))

Information found on the back of a chocolate bar made by Chocolats Halba. It provides a detailed breakdown of the various ingredients and their origins and displays several labels. Also note how it emphasizes the “Swissness” of the product. Image Credit: Own Work

The policy of Chocolats Halba is to exclusively source its cacao from certified cooperatives, with which it cooperates closely, a list of which it also makes publicly available. Both to inform its own policies, and to inform its customers of the quality of its products, the company has also obtained nearly a dozen certifications, including UTZ, Fairtrade and Bio labels. Two of these, the Fairtrade and the Swiss Bio label, also directly feature on the packaging of many of the company’s products, as may be seen in the image above. The company applies these principles as well as the associated labels not only to its cacao, but to each of the ingredients it uses. The company’s strict adherence to these principles has also allowed it to feature prominently and positively in several recent rankings and has allowed it to win various Swiss and international awards. (Chocolats Halba, Certificates & Partners & Quality & News (http://chocolatshalba.ch (Retrieved 19-04-19)))

The main certifications used by this company remarkably closely echo some of the main ethical criteria for morally acceptable chocolate production. The main categories of such criteria might be said to be those of cacao farmers’ situation and that of sustainability. Both of these are complex issues, that cannot easily be addressed. As for workers’ rights, some of the main problems with cacao production are unfree labour, including that by children, and the low prices paid to cacao producers. The low prices paid for cacao by the world market, which are to no small degree an inheritance of colonialism underlie many of these issues. With low cacao prices, benefits accrue mainly to the consumers and retailers of chocolate; while troubles accrue to those who actually produce the cacao itself. Such troubles include the need to deploy cheap labour, which may be underpaid or even unfree: this is also a reason for child labour. However, simply paying more for chocolate, should one be willing to do so would not necessarily contribute to solving this problem. It would do so only if a significant part of the additional revenue thus generated would end up with the farmers. (Leissle, Cocoa, p. 128 – 131)

Various efforts to achieve this exist, including initiatives such as Fairtrade. Fairtrade offers benefits including price floors and communal funds for farmers’ communities. However, the Fairtrade label may be diluted in efficacy by the common practice of certifying only some ingredients, or only part of a whole. (Leissle, Cocoa, P. 144 – 146) As aforementioned, Chocolats Halba subscribes to the Fairtrade label, among others. It also does not in any way dilute the significance of this label; which applies to all ingredients it uses. Notably, the company also engages extensively in direct trade; a solution thus far engaged in by a limited number of chocolate manufacturers. Direct trade offers various unique benefits, with one of the most important being that it allows for a larger share of profit to be received by cacao growers instead of by middlemen. In case of this company, it also allows the possibility of informing consumers of a product’s terroir. The company makes extensive use of the opportunities this allows, as demonstrated by the information provided by the packaging material depicted below. (Leissle, Cocoa, P. 153 – 157) (Chocolats Halba, 2016 Report, Purchasing)

Information on the terroir of a chocolate’s cacao component provided on the packaging of a bar made by Chocolats Halba. This text also refers to the company’s environmental efforts, while emphasizing quality throughout. Image Credit: Own Work

As for sustainability, the main issues with chocolate production is that many of the crops involved in it are commonly produced in manners that are not particularly sustainable. Notably, the cultivation of many of these crops involves the sue of herbicides and pesticides and artificial fertilizers as well as extensive transportation before being processed in more energy-intensive processes. The production of sugar from sugarcane is an example, sugar being a ubiquitous ingredient in chocolate. The production of cane sugar is particularly onerous, being exhausting upon the soil and thus commonly leading to extensive deforestation. It is also energy-intensive to produce, requiring a long growing season and heavy irrigation along with extensive processing to finally produce sugar. (Mintz, Sweetness and Power, P. 19 – 21, 25)

While the production of cacao itself is somewhat less energy intensive, it too presents the issue of having to transport raw materials over often considerable distances to factories and from there to consumers. Likewise, though cacao is generally cultivated amongst other trees rather than in monoculture plantations, its production likewise often includes the use of various poisonous substances. Indeed, in many regions, extensive use of such substances is common, despite the environmental and medical hazards. (Coe, The True history of Chocolate, P. 263) In this field as well, Chocolats Halba pursues rather desirable goals, as demonstrated by its adherence to several standards for organic production, including the Canadian, American and Swiss standards of organic production. Adhering to these standards means to pursue methods of production that are in harmony with nature, which, translated into practice, means not using artificial fertilizers, herbicides and similar substances in production. Similarly, the company also makes all its packaging materials from FSC-certified or recycled paper.  (Chocolats Halba, Labels (http://chocolatshalba.ch (Retrieved 23-04-19)))

 In addition, the company also pursues carbon neutral methods of production. This involves actively keeping a tally of the emission involved in making a given product and avoiding these wherever possible, or if that cannot be done, to offset them instead. In the case of Chocolats Halba, offsetting emissions generally means the planting of hardwood trees, which is done in collaboration with he same cooperatives from which the company procures its raw materials. Apart from somewhat reducing environmental impact, an additional benefit of this approach is to improve the local environments of these cooperatives by increasing biodiversity and even offering a long-term source of income. This particular approach is a part of a unique project by the company which involves cultivating cacao as one of many crops on the same plot of land. These other crops include manioc, maize, bananas, sweet potatoes and hardwood trees. This “dynamic agroforestry” is supposed to increase both the local biodiversity and the variety of income sources, and hence financial security, available to the cultivator. This method is also supposed to be particularly compatible with the rather small land plots held by the majority of the members in the cooperatives that deal with the company. This method of cultivation also has the benefit of decreasing the proportion of the cacao crop that fails due to disease or other causes each year. This benefit mainly derives from how the more diverse environment provides superior conditions for cacao trees, including more shade and less likelihood of pest attacks due to the lower density of cacao trees. Hence, this method provides the dual benefits of an environmentally responsible mode of production combined with more security for workers. Chocolats Halba and its parent company have been promoting this method of production as an alternative to monoculture cultivation of work-intensive and environmentally depleting high-yield varieties. Further information on this method, as featured in one of the company’s reports may be found here: https://sustainability.chocolatshalba.ch/en/nhb2016/report.html. (Chocolats Halba, 2016 Report, Sustainability (https://sustainability.chocolatshalba.ch (Retrieved 25-04-19)))

The company also aims to keep its Switzerland-based chocolate production carbon neutral; and has generally succeeded decently at these efforts. For example, the company sources most of the energy it uses from natural gas and district heating. Meanwhile, the company’s new factory in Pratteln is notable for being equipped with a considerable surface worth of solar panels as well as the capability to reuse waste heat. These facilities also make almost exclusive use of less undesirable refrigerants such as ammonia and carbon dioxide. Similarly, the company also receives and makes most of its deliveries by rail to reduce transport-related emissions. As with the production of its raw materials, this company also aims to offset the emissions generated by its facilities in Switzerland. To this end, the company also engages in emissions trading, and has overseen the planting of a few hundred thousand trees. The result of these efforts is that the company has been operating climate-neutrally since 2011, according to some definitions. (Chocolats Halba, 2016 Report, Energy & Climate (https://sustainability.chocolatshalba.ch (Retrieved 25-04-19)))

To conclude, Chocolats Halba offers a remarkable example of a larger chocolate producer contributing positively both to improving workers’ situation and at making its products in a decently sustainable manner. Furthermore, the company not only provides one positive example, it also demonstrates that such positive effects may be achieved in relatively little time: this company’s practices were not particularly noteworthy in these regards until recently. In the last decade however, the company has made remarkable progress towards the goal of conforming to higher ethical standards, thus setting an example of how great progress may be made quickly by those willing to invest the effort. The company’s labelling efforts also demonstrate how producing chocolate in a sustainable and responsible manner may further serve as a successful marketing strategy . Thus, Chocolats Halba provides an example of how such practices can benefit both the company, the consumer and the producer in how they allow for superior products that come with greater transparency, at less cost.

Works Cited:

Multimedia Sources:

MJ, Image of the Rear of Chocolate Packaging of Chocolats Halba

MJ, Image of the Interior of Chocolate Packaging of Chocolats Halba


Cacao and its Varieties

Cacao products come in many varieties, some of which begin with the beans themselves. While not always immediately distinct, the seeds and the trees from which they are obtained both display considerable diversity. This diversity is of considerable importance both in study of the tree and to the industry surrounding its products. Generally, a few major variants of cacao are commercially recognized. This text aims to provide an overview of the major varieties of Theobroma cacao, of their significance to the groups involved in their utilization, and on how these groups are themselves important in defining these varieties. The different varieties of cacao are often presented as definite categories, even as specific cultivars to consumers. However, the definitions of these varieties tend to be rather inexact, and often do not correspond closely if at all to botanical knowledge. Indeed, much of the categorization of cacao instead has historical, geographical and recently, economical origins. Nevertheless, differences between trees and trends in these do exist even if their naming may be inaccurate. Further, genetic diversity; whether displayed by varieties or otherwise, of cacao trees is of particular importance to cacao producers, since the diversity in a given cacao population may greatly affect the productivity and health of that population.

The cacao tree, or Theobroma cacao is an undergrowth tree which requires rather specific conditions for successful cultivation. The tree requires locations that provide it with moisture and an environment with what might be describes as rich, or messy environment, the better to accommodate the midges which pollinate the tree. Of particular note is that the cacao tree is susceptible to many afflictions, such as blights, fungi, pod rots and other pests and diseases. Thus, the cacao tree is a remarkably fickle plant, the cultivation of which presents many difficulties. As shall be further investigated below, different varieties of the plant may exhibit different degrees of resistance however; while genetic variety, more specifically, is of special importance. (Coe, The True History of Chocolate, p. 19 – 21)

Cacao cultivars and terroir in marketing. Image credit: Own work.

According to recent analysis, the genus Theobroma may be subdivided into 22 distinct species, most of which grow mainly in the Amazon basin. Theobroma cacao also seems to have originated in this area, but has, at least in part due to human activity migrated north into Mesoamerica. (S & M Coe, The True History of Chocolate, p. 24 – 25). Theobroma cacao is commonly divided into three or four main varieties, each with various subdivisions. Many of these varieties are contentious however, subject both to varying definitions and levels of recognition. Many varieties are defined by historic usage and location rather than strictly botanically, and perhaps their most important utility is as a marketing tool. (Leissle, Kristy, Cocoa, p.163)

The ancient spatial separation between South American and Mesoamerican cacao trees itself defines the main, perhaps most definite cacao varieties: the criollo variety (Theobroma cacao ssp. cacao), defined by long, heavily ridged pods is native to Mesoamerica. Criollo, or “local” variety commonly counts as the most prized and was commonly grown by the Aztecs and Mayans. While this variety is often considered to be of superior quality, it is also particularly vulnerable to disease and pests. Remarkably, this cultivar is also perhaps the only one supported by actual genetic evidence (Leissle, Kristy, Cocoa, p.165)

Forastero cacao (Theobroma cacao ssp. sphaerocarpum), defined by its round pods is native to South America. The forastero, or “foreign” variety is, though less prized, the most widely produced cacao; making for most of world production. Though its taste may be considered inferior, this variety is considered sturdier and more resistant than Criollo. Though the distinction between these varieties is one of the most common and arguably most definite, it already demonstrates how cacao is commonly labelled for political, economic or geographical, rather than botanical purposes. As hinted at by their very names, the distinction between the two originated after the conquest of Mesoamerica, when the Criollo, or local populations, which had declined along with the native inhabitants were supplemented with forastero, that is, foreign stock brought in from south America. (Leissle, Kristy, Cocoa, p.163)

Three varieties of cacao. From the left: Forastero, Trinitario, Criollo. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Insofar as they may be considered useful botanical categories, the closeness of these particular varieties is demonstrated by their having retained the ability to produce fertile hybrids: they are also commonly considered ancestral to most other varieties. A third major variety is Trinitario, which is already somewhat poorly defined as any hybrid between criollo and forastero. (S & M Coe, The True History of Chocolate, p. 26). These major varieties of cacao together make for most worldwide cacao production, with the forastero being most prominent, providing around 80 % of all cacao. In addition to these three, various other varieties of cacao may be identified, notably the nacional variety. Each of these major varieties also contains various more or less obscure sub-varieties, such as (West African) Amelonado, which are often defined mainly, even exclusively by growing locality.

Global distribution of the main cacao varieties. Blue: Criollos, Green: Forasteros, Red: Trinitarios. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Despite their limited utility for biological purposes, the actual variety in cacao is of considerable importance to the cacao industry. To the consumer, these varieties provide some insight into the origins and terroir of cacao.  Meanwhile, to the grower, these varieties are of material significance, since diversity, or lack thereof, may greatly affect the profitability of a cacao plantation. This fact is especially obvious in places where the cacao tree is not native but introduced. The cacao tree, as aforementioned, is rather susceptible to various diseases, and the lack of genetic variety commonly found in introduced populations may exacerbate such issues. This may be observed, for example, in Amelonado cacao in Ghana, introduced there from Brazil. These trees necessarily have rather less genetic variety than traditional cultivars due to the loss of genetic diversity that occurs when a new population is established from a limited selection of a parent population. The difference in genetic diversity may be readily established through comparison with older, traditional populations. This issue is particularly prominent in some parts of Ghana due to poor infrastructure and the repeated use of seeds from the same plantations. The result is unhealthy and hence unproductive trees with low yields: undesirable to any grower. (Motamayor, p. 83 – 84)

Thus, the designations of most cacao varieties are less useful as botanical categories than one might expect based on how these names tend to be used. However, while the relevance of these categories to the biologist may be limited, their wider utility as cultural and economical concepts is considerable. while the designations of cacao varieties are not generally reliable indicators of botanical properties, they are still important both as more general indicators of diversity and as a cultural and economic phenomenon.

Works Cited:

Leissle, Kristy, Cocoa, Polity Press, Cambridge, 2018

Coe, Sophie & Michael, The True History of Chocolate, Thames & Hudson, London, 2013

Motamayor, Lanaud: Molecular Analysis of the Origin and Domestication of Theobroma cacao L. Managing Plant Genetic Diversity. IPGRI 2002, https://pubag.nal.usda.gov/download/14003/PDF (Retrieved 07-03-19)

Multimedia Sources:

Tamorlan, Tres variedades de cacao; Creative Commons 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Tres_variedades_de_cacao.jpg

Sémhur, Main cacao species – World distribution map – blank, Creative Commons 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Main_cacao_species_-World_distribution_map-_blank.svg