Category Archives: Extension

The Chocolate Supply Chain: Strive for Conscious Cravings

Picture this: it’s Friday night, and after a long week of work, you are finally preparing for a nice, relaxing movie night with your family. You sit down, put your feet up, and start unwrapping a luxurious chocolate bar in the comfort of your own home. At this point, most of you are probably not thinking about the thousands of hands that went into harvesting, preparing, and producing the chocolate you’re now cuddled up with on the couch. Additionally, many people are completely unaware of the harsh reality and inhumane conditions that the cacao farmers face on a daily basis. This is partially due to the lack of knowledge regarding the chocolate supply chains, as well as the lack of conversation around hardships and unethical labor standards the farmers have to endure. Many of the farmers producing this delicious, luxury product are actually living on less than $2 per day (Granit 2017). Not only does it seem impossible for one person to survive on a mere $2 per day, but these farmers are also trying to support their families and the surrounding community. With these wages, “they earn just enough money from cocoa sales to pay for rice and cooking oil. There’s usually nothing left over” (Off 5). Clearly, this is unsustainable, unethical, and unfair. Eventually, if changes are not made, more and more of these poor farmers will be forced to turn away from harvesting cacao and move towards other crops. If that happens, the industrial, environmentally harmful, production will continue to take over.

When we walk into a store to purchase a chocolate bar we are greeted with a plethora of attractive, colorful, interesting labels riddled with buzz words such as “natural” or “raw” and enticing brand names. However, what seems to be constantly left out is transparency –-basic transparency regarding how much money the farmers are actually earning, what farming methods were used, where and how the chocolate was produced, etc. If that information was highlighted in the advertising of each chocolate bar, it would be almost impossible to avoid, and it would most likely influence the consumers’ purchasing habits. The history and stories of enslaved cocoa farmers are horrific, and many times, unbearable to read. To paint a picture of what many laborers have endured in Angola, the western coast of Southern Africa, “Human bones littered the sides of the trail, so many that it ‘would take an army of sextons to bury all of the poor bones which consecrate that path.’ The bones in the dust were those of slaves who could no longer march, who were too weak to walk. Some captives were simply left to die; many others were killed by a blow to the head” (Satre 1). This is the kind of information that isn’t advertised, the information that many large chocolate companies and manufacturers don’t want the general public to consider when purchasing their product.

I believe it all starts with education – increasing the awareness regarding the injustice within the industry is the first, extremely important, step. This post aims to educate and encourage chocolate consumers to ask questions about the chocolate they are consuming: Where is it coming from? Who produced it? How much are the farmers getting paid? What are their living conditions like? And if we really knew all of the answers to the questions listed above, would we still be able to indulge in chocolate luxury knowing that so many farmers and their families are suffering in order to produce the chocolate bar we are consuming? The answer is not to completely eliminate chocolate consumption, but rather to encourage conscious consumerism through education and brand transparency.

Many misconceptions have formed around this issue of unethical labor standards, and many of those misconceptions formed false biases. For example, the image below shows a young boy struggling to carry a sack of cacao pods. He is unnamed, it wasn’t clear who took the picture, but clearly, the situation appears to represent unethical labor standards. This image has somehow given consumers the incorrect idea that if they just avoid chocolate manufactured with cacao from Africa, the majority of the problem will be solved. Clearly, this idea comes from a lack of education regarding the cacao supply chain as a whole. I think this bias can be improved through education about The Global Slavery Index, research conducted in different parts of the world, and increased transparency across all brand labels.

As stated above, it is unclear who took the picture, but it clearly portrays a young boy carrying an extremely heavy bag of cacao pods under unethical labor standards.

When I first saw the image above, I was absolutely shocked. Many questions came to mind; one of them being, why wouldn’t the parents protect their children against such harsh labor conditions? Well, as it turns out, “children in cocoa households can fall victim to micro-level pressures (such as family breakdown) which undermine their ability not to enter the workforce and thus make them ‘unfree’. Because this ‘unfreedom’ is part of much wider processes of societal change, it is often undetected in policy circles and is extremely difficult to address” (Berlan 1088). On top of that, arguments have been made that the reason why the attempts to address this issue haven’t been effective is due to the fact that children have different rights in cocoa-producing communities that make it difficult to take action and solve the problem altogether (Berlan 1088).

When striving to satisfy chocolate cravings in a conscious way, there are already a handful of companies on their way to helping us on this journey: Theo Chocolate, Taza Chocolate, eatingEVOLVED, Alter Eco, and Sweetriot to name a few. However, I would like to discuss two companies in depth: Taza Chocolate and Alter Eco.

Taza Chocolate

Not only is Taza Chocolate produced right next door in Somerville, MA, but the company is really diving in and striving to solve the ethical issues around child labor, workers’ rights, and transparency throughout their bean-to-bar process. They created the chocolate industry’s “first third-party certified Direct Trade cacao sourcing program, to ensure quality and transparency for all. We have real, face-to-face relationships with partners who respect the environment and fair labor practices. They provide us with the best organic cacao, and we pay them prices significantly higher than Fair Trade. In fact, you can see exactly what we pay them, right here in our 2018 Annual Cacao Sourcing Transparency Report” (Taza Transparency Report 2018). This is the information that every chocolate company should be required to produce and deliver to the public.

Photo from Taza Wesbite — 2018 Taza Transparency Report — delivering data to the public regarding the exact amount they pay their “partners.”

On the website, they explicitly explain their commitment to quality, Fair Trade prices, and openness to address issues throughout the supply chain. “Our commitment to cacao quality and ethical trade is matched only by our belief in transparency. In 2012, Taza published the industry’s first Transparency Report and reported the higher-than-Fair Trade prices we pay our partners as part of our Direct Trade program. We do the same every year, and in 2016, we upped the ante again when we published farm level pricing and tackled tough issues of value and fairness in the supply chain. We don’t claim to have all the answers, but we aren’t afraid to ask hard questions around what it takes to be seriously good and fair for all and to share what we learn with others” (Taza 2019).  It’s so important to increase awareness about companies such as Taza because they truly lead by example by showcasing their strong values and great mission statement. Their transparency is incredible, and the best part is that they are ready and willing to share their information with others and inspire them to take action.

This video from YouTube describes Taza’s values and Stone Ground Organic Chocolate production

By practicing Direct and Fair Trade, developing real relationships with the human beings behind the harvesting, and sourcing from Middle and Latin America, Taza not only ensures high-quality ingredients but also shortens the supply chain, and therefore eliminates slave-labor from their production process. Taza is a company I am proud to support.

Alter Eco

Alter Eco is more than just another delicious chocolate company, it’s a company on a mission to promote “activism through food” (Alter Eco 2019), by producing Fair Trade, organic chocolate, while also improving the lives of the cocoa farmers and using environmentally friendly packaging. And, it’s free of preservatives, palm kernel oil, and soy. Talk about the perfect opportunity for conscious consuming! By creating and sustaining this full-circle approach, Alter Eco is changing the chocolate game as we know it. “Our products and packaging have evolved over time, but our values continue to guide every step forward. Together with our farmers, employees, investors, and customers, we’re taking an adventure through food, and creating a vision of the future that’s fair, prosperous, healthy and mouth-watering. Though we can’t all break bread at the same table, we like to think that every time we crack open a bag or bar of Alter Eco here in the States, we’re sharing a nourishing moment with Maria in Peru, Gustavo in Bolivia, Grover in Ecuador – and you” (Alter Eco 2019). I love the sense of community, equality, and inclusivity that Alter Eco embodies.

Photo from Taza Website — This is co-founder Ed, digging into a cacao pod during a meeting with cacao farmers in Peru in 2009

Medical Care — Alter Eco strives to create a healthy, and enjoyable, environment for their employees which includes providing the benefits and resources they deserve. For example, Alter Eco’s Fair Trade Funding goes towards member training, improved facilities (new kitchen stoves, etc.), medical exams, education advancement, financial loans, and reforestation. Because most of the farming communities are located in remote areas that can be difficult to access, medical funding is provided to ensure that farmers and their families are receiving the care they need and deserve. The medical funding includes Cholesterol, Triglycerides, and blood pressure analysis, as well as female wellness exams to prevent cervical cancer (Taza 2019).

Photo from Taza Website — One of the members of the farming community receiving medical care

Education and Training — Having the opportunity to receive an education is so important, and not having that opportunity is absolutely unacceptable. In one of the required readings this semester, I read about a lot of instances in which children were unable to receive a formal education. For example, “One man, who was kept out of school to work for his father, told me: ‘Being illiterate, people wouldn’t give me a chance; I feel like I am missing a lot’” (Ryan 46). Improving education through member training is also a priority at Alter Eco, so Fair Trade funding also offers workshops and training sessions that cover subjects such as agricultural practices, biodiverse crop formations, organic compost and agricultural practices, quality control, and even talking to parents about the importance of providing their kids with the proper education. Entrepreneurial ideas are supported and encouraged as well.

Photo from Taza Wesbite — Training provided by Fair Trade Funding

There is still a long way to go when it comes to solving the inequality, unethical labor standards, and inhumane working conditions in the chocolate industry today. Although, as demonstrated by the examples above, there are already a few companies striving to make a positive difference by shortening the supply chain, implementing Fair Trade and Direct Trade practices, and using that funding to better the lives of the farmers and their families. From now on, I will do my best to do my research before purchasing chocolate as well as food in general, so that I can be sure my money is being used to fight for a cause I believe in. I hope you will consider doing the same. R


  1. Berlan, Amanda. “Social Sustainability in Agriculture: An Anthropological Perspective on Child Labour in Cocoa Production in Ghana.” 2013.
  2. Granit, Maya. “Opinion: Getting to Know the Chocolate Supply Chain.” Devex, 6 Oct. 2017, Retrieved May 3, 2019
  3. Off, Carol. Bitter Chocolate: The Dark Side of the World’s Most Seductive Sweet. The New Press, 2008.
  4. Ryan, Órla. Chocolate Nations: Living and Dying for Cocoa in West Africa. Zed Books, 2011.
  5. Satre, Lowell. Chocolate on Trial: Slavery, Politics, and the Ethics of Business. Athens: Ohio University Press. (2005).
  6. Taza Website: Taza Chocolate. (2018). 2018 Annual Cacao Sourcing Transparency Report. Taza Chocolate Website. [Online image]. Retrieved May 3, 2019 from

Media Sources:

  1. Grommet, The. “TAZA – Stone Ground Organic Chocolate.” YouTube, YouTube, 2 Nov. 2012,
  2. Image from: “Jérôme Powers Blog.” Jérôme Powers Blog | Jérôme Powers,
  3. “Our Story.” Alter Eco,
  4. Posts, Blog. “You’re Not Only Buying Chocolate, You’re Supporting Communities around the World.” Alter Eco, Alter Eco, 10 Oct. 2017,
  5. Taza chocolate transparency report photo: Taza Chocolate. (2018). 2018 Annual Cacao Sourcing Transparency Report. Taza Chocolate Website. [Online image]. Retrieved May 3, 2019 from

The Little Chocolate Company That Could

On day one of attending the Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food class at Harvard University, I did not know what to expect. At the beginning of the course, it was hard to conceptualize the correlation between cacao (raw chocolate) and slavery (just one of the topics outlined in the class catalog description). However, this class has been extremely enlightening regarding the history of commodities, such as cacao and sugar, and how these goods fueled the transatlantic slave trade for centuries. Moreover, the class presents many of the modern-day challenges that current cacao cultivating societies face in today’s competitive global chocolate market. For example, equal pay (or lack thereof) for cacao farmers in developing countries (mainly in Africa), illegal child labor practices, and the exploitation of cacao growing countries’ natural resources and ecosystems. While some large Western and European chocolate companies only purchase cacao beans from developing (poverty stricken) countries at pennies on the dollar to increase their profits, an innovative chocolate making company called Madécasse (located in Madagascar) is looking to “redefine chocolate production so that ‘bean to bar to wrapper’ takes place near the point of origin” (Madécasse – Milk Chocolate) and Madécasse looks to thwart poverty in Madagascar by reinvesting its company’s profits back into the island nation’s cacao cultivating communities.

(“Madécasse Chocolate,” 00:00:00 – 00:01:24)

The Problems in the Chocolate Industry

Cacao and chocolate are considered commodities and are subject to tentative price fluctuations in the global trade market. However, chocolate (cacao’s finished product) is inaccessible to the majority of farmers in developing countries that grow it. According to Harvard Professor, Dr. Carla M. Martin, “Africans…are producing 72% of raw cacao while only consuming 4%…” (Martin, 00:12:16) (compared to 73% of Europe’s, the U.S.’s, and Canada’s consumption of global chocolate). She also continues with, “…this is another big divide between who is doing the low-value work of producing a commodity for export and who has access to the higher value finished product” (Martin, 00:12:37 ). Also, many farmers are at the mercy of a consortium of buyers on the international level who control pricing for cacao globally. Furthermore, these small (in numbers) but powerful oligopolistic groups even control pricing at the farm level which results in price instability (Marshall, et al).

Consequently, cacao bean price instability and volatility affect farm owners’ efforts to reinvest earnings back into their farms. If farmers do not have enough capital from bean sales to pay workers adequately or obtain the proper farming equipment, cacao trees, cacao fruit, and cacao bean quality/quantity can be negatively affected by inadequate cultivation. In effect, fetching low prices for cacao beans at market leads to underinvestment in farming, and in some case, does not even cover the cost of production which perpetuates the cycle of poverty for cacao growers. Being that much of West Africa in impoverished, approximately two million farmers (in Africa alone) depend on cacao as a vital source of income (Marshall, et al).

Another major social issue that is plaguing 21st Century cacao cultivation and chocolate making is illegal child labor practices. Moreover, the transatlantic slave trade was fueled by low-cost labor from the 15th to the 19th century, and now, that business model continues to this day with the use of forced and child labor to keep costs associated with cacao production low. In parts of Western Africa, some farmers are not considering the negative social implications of using child labor but use child labor as a means of survival. For Example, Côte D’Ivoire is host to some of the worst child labor practices in the world. In this part of Africa, slave trading still existence and under inhumane conditions, boys from ages 12 through 16 are kidnapped from neighboring countries by slave traders and sold to cacao farmers. Additionally, these forced workers are oppressed, beaten, exposed to dangerously high levels of climate-related heat, made to travel long distances daily, made to work long hours (starting early in the morning and ending well into the evening) and are exposed to dangerous levels of pesticides (Marshall, et al).

As pressure from international human rights organizations increased, many chocolate companies were compelled to sign an international accord to stop inhumane child labor practices around the world. This accord is called the Harkin – Engel protocol. Harkin – Engel brings the chocolate industry, Non-Governmental Organizations and Governmental entities (Western governments and West African Governments) together to stop child and slave labor practices. Furthermore, it established a “child-free certification system” (Marshall, et al) that calls for the monitoring of labor practices and looks for areas of improvement regarding working condition. A deadline of July 1, 2005, was agreed upon by the chocolate industry, NGOs and governments to adhere to Harkin – Engel (Harkin Engel Protocol). However, this deadline was missed, but by 2011 all chocolate manufacturers and processors agreed to work together with NGOs and governmental entities to battle the worst cases of forced labor regarding cacao farming (child and adult labor). Because of these groups working together to combat labor abuses in the chocolate industry, a non-profit organization named the “International Cocoa Initiative” (Marshall, et al) was created. Nevertheless, many individuals continued to be victimized by modern-day slavery and faced the risks of being harm or even killed by exhaustion, pesticides, and machetes (Marshall, et al).

Regarding the environmental impact, impoverished cacao farmers’ need to make a living outweighs the need to preserve the surrounding ecosystem. Moreover, environmentally harmful activities such as overharvesting, over-clearing of surround vegetation and intensive use of hazardous pesticides and fertilizer may provide short-term (negligible) economic gains but have a lasting negative impact on the environment. The surrounding forest areas mixed with cacao trees and other vegetation are cleared, making the farm areas more efficient to produce cacao, but leaves the area unshaded and allows cacao trees to become more susceptible to pests and disease. For example, in Ghana, the government began a pest and disease control initiative with insecticides and fungicides to protect cacao cultivation. Even though cacao production increased, the harsh pesticides and fungicides chemical used to protect the cacao trees contaminated the soil and surrounding vegetation. Additionally, the contamination negatively affected the wildlife which fed on the vegetation surrounding the cacao farms (Marshall, et al).

In the cacao supply chain, there are eight bean-to-bar participants: “growers, buyers, processors, manufacturers, importers, distributors, retailers, and consumers” (Marshall, et al).  However, as organizations in the chocolate industry collaborate, consolidate and merge, supply chain participants roles can become nebulous. Nevertheless, all participants’ roles and progressions are needed to get chocolate to the mass market. What sets the mass market price for chocolate are two commodity exchanges, the New York Board of Trade and the London International Financial Futures Options Exchange (Marshall, et al). With any lucrative industry, companies, conglomerates, governments and NGOs, who team-up to set guidelines and standards are considered insiders . So, a company trying to break into the multibillion-dollar chocolate industry from scratch would have some difficulty (to say the least).

Enter Brett Beach and Tim McCollum. Bret and Tim met in Madagascar while server as Peace Corps Volunteers. While Serving there, “they fell in love with the country and its people” (Marshall, et al). When they completed their Peace Corps tours, Tim went back to the U.S. and Brett stayed for another four years in Madagascar to work on various developmental projects. Once Brett returned to the U.S., he reunited with Tim who had been working in sales and marketing for American Express. As both friends were reminiscing about their time in Madagascar, they realized that there was a correlation between economic instability (poverty) and environmental destruction. With this in mind, they discussed possible opportunities that would financially and socially benefit the people of Madagascar (called the Malagasy) with meaningful work while supporting the environment (Marshall, et al). As Tim recalled,

“I left with a feeling that this [Peace Corps] is a long-lasting experience that taught me a lot, but I think my impact locally in Madagascar was not that great.  I went from there and worked at the American Express Company for six years in sales and marketing.  I got much better experience in the private sector and started to understand fundamentals of marketing and sales.   As I developed that experience, I never stopped thinking about my Peace Corps experience in Madagascar and thinking ‘Wouldn’t it be great if I can combine these two experiences?  One being grassroots rural development in Madagascar, the other being commercial enterprise that’s a market-driven, market-based, for-profit sort of thing?’  There’s tremendous value in both of those approaches but the ideal job didn’t exist, meaning that there wasn’t any company out there that had such an employment offer.  We had to create it for ourselves…” (Marshall, et al).  

Before agreeing to create a chocolate company, Brett and Tim considered numerous opportunities for a Madagascar based business. They considered three essential aspects of the business before starting.  The first aspect was that some of the best cacao beans in the world are produced in Madagascar. Equally important, the superior cacao, could be used to make high-quality chocolate that would be sold on the global market. Second, Bret and Tim also knew, “while over 65% of the worlds cocoa comes from Africa less than 1% of chocolate is made in Africa” (Marshall, et al). Brett and Tim believed that creating a chocolate business in Madagascar would fight poverty by encouraging positive economic change in the Malagasy people’s lives.  As Brett’s states, “We provide jobs and fair wages.  We help stabilize the cocoa price by partnering with the cocoa farmers.  This way we keep more economic benefits within the island and create a win-win situation” (Marshall, et al).  The third reason was to rebuild the Malagasy people’s confidence. The country was ruled by the French for more than 60 years. Under those circumstances, the governmental behavior of the French colonial system remained, even after Madagascar obtained its independence in 1960. Since gaining its independence from France, the Malagasy people have continued to experience political disorder.

The Solution

So, Brett and Tim hoped to build a business that would produce a high-quality product in Madagascar, bring national pride back to the Malagasy people and preserve Madagascar’s natural resources (Marshall, et al). As a result of their hard work and planning, the small but ambitious chocolate making company named Madécasse was born in 2006.

(“We are Madécasse”, 00:00:00 – 00:02:29)

Brett started working full-time immediately while Tim worked nights and weekends, but in 2008, Tim joined the business full-time. Their business model included building strong and lasting relationships with the cocoa farmers, connecting with a chocolate factory in the capital city of Antananarivo, sourcing environmentally sustainable ingredients for their chocolate recipes and local packaging for the finished chocolate bars, all within Madagascar. Finally, the packaged bars are shipped to overseas gourmet markets to be sold. Notably, through this comprehensive approach, Brett and Tim have created a bean-to-bar-to-wrapper business model for chocolate “that offers more than four times the social and economic benefit to Madagascar when compared to the standard FairTrade model” (Marshall, et al)

In building long-term relationships with cacao cultivators in Madagascar, Madécasse partners with four different cooperatives made-up of 70 cocoa farmers. This holistic collaboration requires a significant amount of time and money. Nevertheless, through these partnerships, Madécasse provides education to farmers regarding the fermentation process and drying of cacao beans. They also provide equipment and cocoa curing facilities. All of which, fetches “20% higher than the market price for the cured cocoa beans” (Marshall, et al), according to Brett. Additionally, Brett claims that “10% of this premium is a reward for working together with Madécasse and the other 10% is for the high quality of the crop” (Marshall, et al).

Courtesy of

However, The Madécasse partnership does not prevent farmers from selling to other channels. Despite being free to pursue other opportunities, Malagasy farmers, by in large, choose to sell exclusively to Madécasse versus cacao middlemen in Madagascar because farmers felt that they were cheated by middlemen in the past (Marshall, et al). As a result of fair and equitable trade practices between Madécasse and Malagasy cacao farmers, a stable market for cacao crops was created.

Not only does Madécasse want to exemplify a profitable and socially responsible business model, but it believes in preserving Madagascar’s natural resources, which has one of the most complex and diverse ecosystems in the world. Under a shade tree, cacao in Madagascar grows alongside a bio-diverse group of fruit trees and other comestible plants such as apple, banana, papaya, pepper, and vanilla. Many (chocolate) industry experts believe that this environment is what gives Madagascar’s cacao its terroir which is unique and highly sought after in the global chocolate market. In regions were middlemen exploited cacao markets, (which caused cacao crop price instability) farmers cleared (destroyed) these diverse ecosystems to grow more lucrative (compared to cacao at the time) crops, such as rice. By partnering with Madécasse farmers are now preserving the natural environment and forests surrounding cacao crop. 

The Accomplishments

When founders Brett Beach and Tim McCollum of Madécasse decided to take a gamble and disrupt the chocolate industry’s supply chain system in 2006, they were faced with multiple uphill battles. Such as, how to make the business profitable, how to address poverty, how to cultivate lasting relationships with indigenous farmers and how to successfully reinvest profits back into Madagascar’s economy, all while protecting the environment. Well, their gamble paid off. Moreover, as a result of their innovation and hard work, they have been bestowed with positive press from publications like the New York Times and Food & Wine. Additionally, Madécasse has been bestowed with prestigious culinary and international awards like the “Good Food Award” (Madécasse – Milk Chocolate), and labeled “Leader of Change by the United Nations Office of Partnerships and the Foundation for Social Change” (Made At The Source). With millions of chocolate bars sold to date around the world, Madécasse has taken a more holistic approach to sustain an economically viable business.

(“Madécasse Chocolates and Founder Tim McCollum”, 00:00:00 – 00:02:07)

Additionally, the business helps foster the country’s pride regarding their labor practices and protects the beautiful and diverse environment of Madagascar. These actions have changed the way Malagasy cacao farmers support their families and have improved the overall lives of citizens in the beautiful and unique nation of Madagascar. Other companies need to take note from Madécasse on how to economically, socially and environmentally operate responsibly in the 21st Century and beyond.


“Categories.” Good Food Foundation,

“Ethical Chocolate Companies.” Slave Free Chocolate,

Guide, Staff. “10 Fair Trade Chocolate Companies For Your Conscious Cravings.” The Good Trade, The Good Trade, 6 Feb. 2019,

“Harkin Engel Protocol.” Slave Free Chocolate,

Hiller, Mike. “Madécasse Chocolates and Founder Tim McCollum.” YouTube, Madécasse, 11 Feb. 2012,

 “Made At The Source.” Madécasse,

“Madécasse Chocolate.” YouTube, Moo-Lolly-Bar, 17 Mar. 2016,

“Madécasse – Milk Chocolate.” Good Food Awards Madécasse Milk Chocolate Comments,

Marshall, R. Scott, et al. “Case 3. Madécasse: Competing with a ‘4x Fair Trade’ Business Model.” Case Studies in Social Entrepreneurship: The Oikos Collection Vol. 4, pp. 54–86., doi:10.9774/gleaf.978-1-78353-049-6_5.

Martin, Carla M. “Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food.” AAAS E-119 Publication Listing. Introduction, 30 Jan. 2019, Cambridge, Harvard Art Museums, Deknatel Hall,

 “Producer Profile: Tim McCollum, Madécasse Chocolate: Bringing Sweetness from Madagascar.” Specialty Food Association,

“We Are Madécasse.” YouTube, Madécasse Chocolate & Vanilla, 30 Oct. 2013,

The Quest for Asian Markets

Can Japanese confectionery companies surpass the Chocolate Giants?

Meiji Chocolate Products.

I love Pocky. I grew up eating Pocky, chocolate Koala March, and chocolate covered almonds. When you walk into a Japanese or Taiwanese convenience store, there are American and British chocolate products, but they are also overwhelmed by the plethora of choices offered by Japanese brands like Glico and Meiji. Even in the United States, people in more urban areas are becoming increasingly familiar with Meiji and Glico products, enthusiastically buying their products when available. However, their products do not have close to the name brand recognition here as in Asian markets. While some companies like Hershey’s sales are slowing down in China, Japanese companies have slowly increased its sales all over Asia. Although many of the top companies such as Mars, Mondelez and Nestlé still dominate the Chinese market, will Japanese companies soon dominate the rest of Asia and join the mix in China? Have they figured out the secret to succeeding in this unique market?

Chocolate confectionery giants have long identified Asia as a potential market to boost sales and increase brand recognition. However, it has proven difficult to penetrate with the traditional flavors and offerings of the West (Martin, lecture, March 13, 2019). What many western chocolate companies such as Hershey’s, Cadbury, Nestle and Mars have realized is that the Asia’s cultural differences and attitudes towards chocolate demands not just different marketing, but different products as well.

Just some of the many snack products offered by Ezaki Glico.

Japan’s chocolate confectionery companies seem to have tapped into these consumption patterns, targeting countries in distinct ways to cater to the domestic market. They use these cultural tastes and differences to target Asian consumers, such as creating commercials portraying people presenting chocolate as a perfect gift, not just for significant others but for friends as well. They use celebrities’ star power to market their goods, using “idols” in many marketing campaigns.  Companies like Glico and Meiji also have a diversity of offerings, much of which caters more to Asian taste buds as shown in the plethora of products above. Moreover, these companies strive to create more localized relationships with sellers of products in emerging markets and tweak their products to make them more budget-friendly, catering to each localities’ needs and wants. These Japanese companies’ endeavors serve to give a more local feel to the products and facilitate increased consumption of their goods. They have also been able to take advantage of the expansion of convenience stores in Southeast Asia to stock their own products. That, combined with Japan’s reputation for selling products of consistently quality, has facilitated increased sales as well as their entry into gourmet chocolate. Furthermore, these companies have tapped into creating fads around their goods common within Asian markets, popularizing trying different flavors of products such as pocky and instagramming their limited edition products. Simultaneously, like many other confectionery companies around the world, these marketing strategies employed by Meiji and Glico also contribute to reinforcing racial and gender stereotypes by utilizing idealized versions of Asian women in advertisements in order to increase sales.

Defying Uniformity

When marketing research company Kadence International conducted a consumer survey in Asian markets, they realized that rather than seeing Asia as a uniform market, chocolate companies should sell different chocolate goods based on their taste preferences. Patrick Young, a director at Kadence, posits that this variety of taste preferences is indicative of the lack of dominance of any one chocolate brand in Asia (Nieburg and Young, 2016). For example, consumers in Taiwan, Singapore, India and Malaysia all prefer a crunchy texture while Japan stresses a more health-conscious product (Nieburg and Young, 2016). Rather than forcing sales of creamy textured chocolate bars popular in the U.S., Japanese confectionery companies started with cookie or biscuit based chocolate products that better align with consumer preferences. Many popular products such as Meiji’s chocolate almonds or Glico’s Pocky cater to a large population that prefer crunchiness over smooth, silky textures.

Chart of the results found in the consumer survey conducted by Kadence. Posted in Confectionery News.

In Singapore, Meiji’s Hello Panda (a chocolate-filled cookie snack pack) and Yan Yans (biscuit sticks with a chocolate dipping sauce) are now offered in every major supermarket (Miyazumi, 2014). These crunchy, bite-sized snacks are extremely popular and have become staples in Singapore and other parts of Asia. The fact that Japanese brands have a reputation for quality products have facilitated the growth in their popularity not just in Singapore but all over Asia (Miyazumi, 2014).

Hello Pandas are one of the signature products for Meiji in Singapore and are one of the first Meiji products sold in India.

While Meiji has a strong foothold in Singapore, they are expanding to new Asian markets such as India. Rather than starting to send the same products that cater to east Asian and southeast Asian tastes, Meiji has set up preliminary testing of certain products in the emerging market. The company has been sending representatives every month for weeks at a time to establish personal relationships with individual vendors (Miyazumi, 2014). Meiji is also experimenting with prices and product sizes as the cost of living in India is significantly different to the buying power of Japanese and Singaporean consumers (Miyazumi, 2014). Glico has done something similar in Thailand where Pocky (chocolate coated biscuit sticks) are sold in smaller packets for the equivalent of 15 cents (Sese, 2014). The majority of their Pocky sales in both Thailand and Indonesia are a result of smaller sales in small shops in rural areas.

In Japan, Meiji, Glico and other companies have shifted their products as consumers have become increasingly health-conscious as reflected in the consumer survey (Nieburg and Young, 2016). Since 2016, the chocolate market in Japan has been growing about 4-5% per year, exceeding the growth rate of the global market (Boyd, 2018). Both Glico and Meiji have introduced chocolate products with supposed health benefits such as lowering blood pressure and reduce stress (Boyd, 2018). Touting the supposed health benefits of chocolate is an age-old tradition as evidenced in the medicinal practices used in Mesoamerica and in Europe (Coe and Coe, 2013, 120-129). Japanese confectioners also took advantage of the supposed health benefits of chocolate and advertised it at the turn of the 20th Century (Mitsuda, 2014, 189). These new chocolate products go further by not just promoting the health benefits of chocolate itself, but to incorporate new elements into the chocolate that have health benefits as well (Boyd, 2018). The reintroduction of chocolate as a healthy indulgence in a society whose population is skewing towards the older generations has boosted sales for these companies. In Thailand, also growing increasingly health conscious, Glico also introduced sugar-free chocolate products to cater to the growing consumer base (Nikkei Asian Review, 2017).

One of Japanese companies’ strengths is refusing to assume that products will work and sell uniformly in the whole of the Asian market. Companies such as Hershey have been largely criticized for their inability to adapt to Chinese tastes, opting to stay with flavorings popular in North America and Europe (Reuters, 2017). Japanese companies are trying to ingrain themselves in specific domestic markets that reflect the consumers’ preferences and tastes.

Playing to the Culture- Both Good and Bad

One advantage of Japanese companies is an innate understanding of the culture surrounding chocolate of gift giving as Japanese consumers fall into this category as well. Commercials such as the one shown below are typical, targeting younger females with both star power and message. The female students are giving each other chocolates, trying to reinforce the idea that chocolates gifts are not just for significant others, but also for friends. A pivotal moment in the commercial is the comparison in the size of the gifts, encouraging consumers to buy bigger chocolate products.

Meiji Chocolate commercial for Valentine’s Day.

Women as targets for Valentine’s Day ads also reveal a cultural difference between Western and Asian practices. While it is typically the men that gift chocolate in western countries, it is the opposite in Asia. Women are expected to gift chocolate on Valentine’s Day to significant others, potential significant others, and/or friends and coworkers. In return, men are expected to respond by returning the favor on White Day, exactly a month after Valentine’s Day (Adelstein,”How Japan Created White Day,” 2018). This new holiday created in Japan in the 1970s has spread to other parts of Asia and played into gender norms and expectations.

These commercials also serve to perpetuate female gender stereotypes of how Asian girls should look and act. Emma Robertson in Chocolate, Women and Empire identified many of the gendered marketing techniques utilized in the chocolate industry in the West such as women in maternal roles or slaves to chocolate (2010, 20, 33). Japanese companies have followed in that tradition in similar yet different ways. The idealized “cute” Japanese girl in the uniform is a typical, one-dimensional archetype that dominates portrayals of women in the media. Commercials like the one above are typical representations that caters to that image. The chocolate gift is also neatly packaged in a cute, girly manner that reinforces the stereotype.

These types of commercials propagating gender stereotypes have also aired in other Asian countries. In Indonesia, Glico used the stars of Indonesia’s JKT48, a spin-off girl group from the highly popular Japanese group AKB48, to market Pocky. Some of these girls portray mannequins that come to life after seeing Pocky, a message similar to the slaves of chocolate narrative identified by Robertson (33).

These commercials are part of an overarching marketing strategy that buys into and bolsters the feminization of chocolate. Due to the success of these marketing campaigns, stereotyping does not seem to be going away anytime soon. The use of celebrity star power serves in much of the Asian market to increase brand recognition and using national as well as international celebrities provides endorsement and increases sales. Thus, while companies like Meiji and Glico have managed considerable insight in recognizing the different tastes and needs of difference consumer bases, they have fallen into the trap of exploiting gender stereotypes to market their goods.

Jumping on the Gourmet Chocolate Bandwagon

THE Chocolate, a new gourmet chocolate line that went viral on Instagram, won both the Gold and Silver the International Chocolate Awards and Superior Taste Awards from the International Taste and Quality Institute (Adelstein, “The Meteoric Rise of Meiji,” 2018). Sold for 220 yen, Meiji sold 30 million bars in its first year.
Source: Meiji

THE Chocolate signaled Meiji’s entry into the gourmet chocolate world. Buoyed by Japan’s overall reputation of high quality products and the company’s history of fostering direct relationships with cacao farmers, THE Chocolate was a hit for both consumers and Instagram (Adelstein, “The Meteoric Rise of Meiji,” 2018). Similar to western gourmet chocolate brands, THE Chocolate includes a flavor profile and has a distinct take on the chocolate bar. Despite the overall quality and thought placed into THE Chocolate, it was sold for just ¥220, equalling less than $2.00 USD. It became so popular that the wrapping was replicated on phone cases.

Inside THE Chocolate bar.
Source: Meiji

Meiji’s foray into gourmet chocolate reflects the changing landscape of Japanese consumers as well as other portions of the east Asian middle class. With its emphasis on understanding the origins of the cacao bean, health benefits of dark chocolate, and complexity of taste, it caters to an increasingly sophisticated palate indicative of the growing number of chocolate connoisseurs. Whether it be regarding wine, fine dining, or chocolate, Meiji tapped into a bourgeoning base of chocolate fanatics present among the middle and upper class. Thus, while it caters to a smaller niche of individuals, the affordability of the bar also makes it the perfect gift: it offers fancy, high quality goods for an affordable price. It also echoes the diversity of the Asian market, even within the domestic sphere. The popularity of THE Chocolate proves the varied, transforming tastes of consumers in Asia.

The Future of Asian Markets?

Though companies such as Mars, Nestlé and Mondelez still dominate China’s chocolate market, Japanese companies are slowly carving a space in the broader Asian market. For example, Meiji is looking to expand their presence in China and in Southeast Asia by 2020 (2010, 21). Whether you are in a convenience store in urban Taipei or a rural store in Cambodia and you will find delicious, chocolatey snacks from Glico or Meiji for sale. In Japan, tourists flood convenience stores to stock up on the assortment of Pocky and snacks to take home (“Japanese Snack Makers Expanding in SE Asia,” 2017). These companies aim to capitalize on the obsession with Japanese snacks by expanding their foreign markets. Moreover, the expansion of these convenience stores into much of Southeast Asia holds a wealth of potential as Glico, Meiji, other major snack providers such as Lotte and Calbee as well as smaller companies like Yuraku gain easier access to distribute their goods (Iguchi, 2018).

Whether Japanese confectionery companies will actually surpass the chocolate giants is yet to be determined, but their plans for expansion into the Asian market seem to be chugging along. However, they have fallen into the same trap of utilizing gender stereotypes in their marketing strategy that serve to reinforce gender norms in societies like Japan where gender expectations are stifling its population and actually limiting its economic growth (Goto, 2016, 443). Nonetheless, Japanese companies’ knack for providing a wide array of products for a varied and increasingly sophisticated consumer base as well as providing Instagram-worthy goods may give Mars, Nestlé and Mondelez a run for their money.


Adelstein, Jake. “How Japan Created White Day, East Asia’s Alternate Valentine’s Day.” Forbes Magazine, March 13, 2018.

Adelstein, Jake. “The Meteoric Rise Of Meiji: How A Japanese Chocolate Bar Took Over Instagram And Sold 30M Bars In 1 Year.” Forbes Magazine, January 18, 2018.

Boyd, Chris. “Japan’s chocolate market: Sweet spot for investors.” Investment Europe, July 4, 2018.

Coe, Sophie D. The True History of Chocolate. 3rd ed. London: Thames & Hudson, 2013.

“Chocolate Confectionery in Japan.” 2004. Chocolate Confectionery Industry Profile: Japan. MarketLine, a Progressive Digital Media business.

“Glico- What you Need to Know about this Japanese Product.” Image.JapanWalker. Accessed April 25, 2019.

Goto, Hiroko. “Will Prime Minister Abe’s “Womenomics” Break Glass Ceilings in Japan?” Hastings International and Comparative Law Review 39, no. 2 (2016): 457.

“ICCO: Asian Demand for Chocolate Products to Grow Over 10% in 2012.” Dow Jones Institutional News, Feb 02, 2012.

Iguchi, Kosuke. “Japanese candy makers ride Southeast Asia convenience store wave.” Nikkei Asian Review, February 26, 2018.

Oyatsu Cafe. “Japanese Commercial for Meiji Chocolate.” Youtube. Accessed April 30, 2019.

“Japanese snack makers expanding in Asia.” Nikkei Asian Review, January 17, 2017.

DiaryJKT48. “JKT48, Pocky CM.” Youtube. Accessed May 1, 2019.

Martin, Carla. Chocolate, Culture and the Politics of Food. Lecture. March 13, 2019.

Meiji Co., Ltd. “Meiji THE Chocolate STORY.” Accessed April 30, 2019.

Meiji Holdings Co., Ltd. “Meiji Group 2020 Vision.” Meiji, September 14, 2010.

“Meiji Photos.” Accessed April 25, 2019.

Mitsuda, Tatsuya. “From Reception to Acceptance: Chocolate in Japan, C. 1870–1935.” Food and History 12, no. 1 (2014): 175-200.

Miyazumi, Tatsuro. “Meiji trying to hit Asia’s sweet spots.” Nikkei Asian Review, October 20, 2014.

Nieburg, Oliver. “Restacking BRICs: Chocolate makers to rethink future growth markets, says Euromonitor.” Confectionery News, July 24, 2016.

Nieburg, Oliver and Young, Patrick. “APAC not a ‘Universal Market’: Asia’s Multifaceted Taste and Texture Preferences for Chocolate.” Confectionery News, September 18, 2016.

Reuters. “Hershey results disappoint as demand hurt by China.” South China Morning Post, February 4, 2017.

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

Sese, Shuichiro. “Glico looks to SE Asia to build Pocky’s popularity.” Nikkei Asian Review, February 4, 2014.

From Drink for Humanity to Drink for Pigs: The Colonization of Mesoamerican Cacao by European Powers

For ancient Mesoamericans, cacao was used as in cultural practices, as currency, and as beverage.[1] Cacao would be used by Maya nobles to demonstrate wealth and power and to signify political and economic agreements, and throughout the Maya people for rituals, such as holidays, life celebrations, and death ceremonies.[2] For these early Mesoamerican peoples, it was also cash, used as a payment to workers and as a unit of wealth for the elite, “money [that] literally grew on trees,” as writes Sampeck and Thayn. [3],[4] As a beverage, cacao was combined with many different indigenous ingredients—honey, flowers, herbs, vanilla, achiote—to satisfy the Mesoamerican tongue.[5] However, through 17th century colonialism, cacao as a beverage would undergo significant changes in taste as it was violently reconstructed for the European palette. In fact, using the words of Kathryn Sampeck and Jonathan Thayn, “Taste offered a way to create distinction between colonizers and colonized and between colonial powers.”[6]

In the Yucatan, Spanish colonizers were initially intrigued by cacao for its economic purpose as currency, but as for its taste, felt that it was “more a drink for pigs, than a drink for humanity,” in the words of conquistador Girolamo Benzoni in 1575.[7] When wine ran low, Benzoni turned to drinking the Natives’ chocolate beverage as an additional source of liquid nourishment besides water, developing an affinity for its bitter flavor and “refesh[ing]” effect on the body.[8] However, such an enticing flavor could not square with colonizers’ preconception of Native culture as savage and inferior. Therefore, through Spanish colonization of Native Mesoamericans, Aztec cacao recipes were made warmer, sweeter, and spicier through imposed European tastes.[9] Europeans preferred their chocolate beverages heated (as appropriated from Maya chocolate preparation), sweetened with cane sugar (supplied by slave labor), and flavored with European spices such as cinnamon and Black Pepper as opposed to the Natives’ achiote, honey, and agave.[10],[11] Furthermore, to make more efficient the commodification of creolized cacao, Europeans also appropriated a Native Mesoamerican production technique of making ground cacao into tablets that could be stored and simply added to water and sweetened with sugar when

a beverage was instantly needed, such as was employed during Aztec wartime.[12]



Pilipino tableya, tablets made from 100% cacao nibs with no additives which can be added to hot water in order to create a chocolate beverage, may be a similar product to the tablets that Spaniards appropriated from Aztec war practices.[13] The Philippines were also historically colonized by Spaniards, resulting in the introduction of cacao from Mesoamerica.[14]

Even the word chocolate itself is a creole product of the colonizing process; while there is an incommensurable number of theories around the production of the word chocolate, Mexican language expert Ignacio Dávila Garibi makes a compelling argument that Spaniards combined the Mayan chocol (meaning “hot”) with Aztec atl (meaning “water”) to create the word chocolatl for their creolized cacao beverage.[15] Before colonization, Mayans described their chocolate beverage as chacau haa (meaning “hot water”) and Aztecs described theirs as cacahuatl (meaning “cacao water”).[16] Over time, in the context of adapting to globalized communication, Spaniards’ chocolatl has become chocolate.[17] In discussing this colonization of cacao foods’ indigenous naming, Sampeck and Thayn poignantly write:

The utterance of a word, a symbol—in this case, the word “chocolate”—rarely correlates with the thing it refers to because words (symbols) in any language are vastly more complex and sophisticated than icons…Europeans created concoctions, recipes that had a pattern that referred to the pre-Columbian preparation but were not that thing itself exactly.[18]

While extracting Native cacao and its cultural practices for the production of chocolate as a food, colonizers also appropriated the medical dimensions of cacao. Coe and Coe write that while Europeans believed in the humoral system—defined by the bodies expression of hotness, coldness, wetness, and dryness—Natives had an expansive knowledge of healing property of plant life, including cacao, consuming it as an energizing supplement before entering war or engaging in heavy labor, for example.[19] The ignorant humoral system of the Europeans could not compare to the effective plant-based practices innovated by the Natives.

Nonetheless, the Spaniard’s creolized chocolate beverage gained popularity among elites in their home country in the early 17th century as more and more cacao was imported by clergy, traveling colonizers, and later commerce.[20] Insofar, this new demand for cacao by the Spanish included forcing Mesoamerican farmers to harvest it.[21] Thus, as the taste of indigenous cacao beverage was itself being perverted through colonization, Leissle writes that “now its trade supplanted [cacao]’s Mesoamerican sociocultural embeddedness, and [cacao] took the first steps toward becoming a global commodity. This shift destabilized and, in some cases, severed cocoa’s links to its Mesoamerican roots.”[22] Originally taking the chocolate beverage from Mesoamerican jícaras made from gourd or clay, Spanish elites eventually replaced the Native devices with their own mancerina, described by Coe and Coe as a porcelain “plate or saucer with a collarlike ring in the middle, into which a small cup would sit without being able to slip” so that it would appeal more to European aesthetics and pose less of a risk of spilling on their fancy apparel.[23] Eventually chocolate made its way throughout European nobility in the 17th century—into Italy, France, and England, for example—where it continued to be transformed by colonizing cultures and tastes.[24]



Painting by Felix Lorente Valencia (1712-1787) of a European woman pouring a chocolate beverage into a mancerina.

Chocolate, along with coffee and tea, became a key component of English life in the 17th century, amidst religious and political tensions, and significant advancement in arts and sciences from the likes of Isaac Newton.[25] After taking over the Spanish colony of Jamaica from Spain in 1655, the island became England’s main provider of cacao, which was described in a newspaper two years later as “cur[ing] and preserv[ing] the body of many diseases.” (165) Unlike France wherein chocolate was only available to nobles, England began commodifying chocolate as a product available for purchase to those who could afford to do so, particularly middle-class Englishmen (described by Leissle as “intelligentsia”) who frequented coffee shops where the chocolate beverages were sold, for business dealings and political discourse.[26], [27]



Englishmen in a 17th century coffee house.

As demand for sweet taste grew, England and France sought and competed for access to sugar markets in the Global South at this time to sweeten their chocolate beverages, made possible by chattel slavery and coerced labor.[28] Ironically, as writes Mintz, while the British homogenized coffee, tea, and chocolate to taste sweet through the addition of sugar supplied by enslaved people, all of these products had distinct, bitter flavors in their native forms.[29] According to Sampeck and Thayn, sugar was “the most important colonial addition to cacao beverages on both sides of the Atlantic” towards perverting cacao’s original Mesoamerican taste.[30] As part of the colonizing process, sugar assisted in turning indigenous cacao into European chocolate which, unlike the original ritualized, wealthy bean, was “intimately familiar but incompletely known”— characteristic of the alienating effect of colonization needed to sustain that project itself.[31] Mesoamericans and Africans meanwhile suffered the brute of enslavement, the spread of European diseases, cultural erasure and perversion, rape, economic denigration, and other forms of violence to meet their colonizers’ newly developed taste for sweetened cacao.[32] Thus, one might reiterate Sampeck and Thayn’s question: “How was it possible to subsume others (their lives, their labor, their substances, their objects) while at the same time hold them apart, as separate entities and tastes?”[33] In this context, it may be fair to co-opt and apply Benzoni’s view that Europe’s chocolate beverage became “more a drink for pigs [the colonizers], than a drink for humanity [the colonized].”[34]



Enslaved persons harvesting sugarcane, overseen by European managers of the colonial project.



[1] Sophie D. Coe and Michael D. Coe, The True History of Chocolate, 3rd ed. (New York City, NY: Thames & Hudson, 2013), 30

[2] Coe and Coe, The True History, 30-31.

[3] Kathryn E. Sampeck and Jonathan Thayn, “Translating Tastes: A Cartography of Chocolate Colonialism” from Substance and Seduction: Ingested Commodities in Early Modern Mesoamerica, first ed. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2017), 76

[4] Coe and Coe, The True History, 32.

[5] Sampeck and Thayn, “Translating Tastes,” 81-82.

[6] Sampeck and Thayn, “Translating Tastes,” 73.

[7] Coe and Coe, The True History, 110.

[8] Coe and Coe, The True History, 110.

[9] Coe and Coe, The True History, 114-115.

[10] Sampeck and Thayn, “Translating Tastes,” 81-82.

[11] Coe and Coe, The True History, 112-115.

[12] Coe and Coe, The True History, 115.

[13] “Tablea,” About Filipino Food: Get to Know the Cuisine of the Philippines, January 08, 2018, accessed April 22, 2019,

[14] Leissle, Cocoa, 37.

[15] Coe and Coe, The True History, 117-119.

[16] Coe and Coe, The True History, 117-118.

[17] Coe and Coe, The True History, 119.

[18] Sampeck and Thayn, “Translating Tastes,” 91.

[19] Coe and Coe, The True History, 121-123.

[20] Coe and Coe, The True History, 130-131, 135.

[21] Kristy Leissle, Cocoa (Medford, MA: Polity Press, 2018), 34.

[22] Leissle, Cocoa, 34.

[23] Coe and Coe, The True History, 134-135.

[24] Coe and Coe, The True History, 147, 150-157, 161.

[25] Coe and Coe, The True History, 161-162.

[26] Leissle, Cocoa, 36.

[27] Coe and Coe, The True History, 164-168.

[28] Sidney W. Mintz, Sweetness and Power (New York, NY: Viking, 1985), 39, 44.

[29] Mintz, Sweetness and Power, 109.

[30] Sampeck and Thayn, “Translating Tastes,” 84.

[31] Sampeck and Thayn, “Translating Tastes,” 92-94.

[32] Leissle, Cocoa, 36.

[33] Sampeck and Thayn, “Translating Tastes,” 93.

[34] Coe and Coe, The True History, 110.


“Tablea.” About Filipino Food: Get to Know the Cuisine of the Philippines. January 08, 2018. Accessed April 22, 2019.

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. 3rd ed. New York City, NY: Thames & Hudson, 2013.

Leissle, Kristy. Cocoa. Medford, MA: Polity Press, 2018.

Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power. New York, NY: Viking, 1985.

Sampeck, Kathryn E. and Jonathan Thayn. “Translating Tastes: A Cartography of Chocolate Colonialism” from Substance and Seduction: Ingested Commodities in Early Modern Mesoamerica. First ed. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2017.


Equal Potential, Unequal Opportunity

A Historical Analysis of Gender Imbalances in Ghanaian Cocoa Production

Women in cocoa.
Photo by K. Keukelaar in the village Mantukwa, Ghana.

West Africa is the greatest regional producer of cocoa in the world (Leissle 2018, p. 4). In Ghana alone, there are 720,000 farmers growing cocoa, 25 percent of which are women (Barrientos 2014, p. 796). Despite exhibiting both quality and productivity levels equal to if not greater than men, women’s income and farm ownership are severely disproportionate to men. Women sell a mean of 8 bags of cocoa per year, equalling ~$980 in annual income. Men, meanwhile, sell a mean of 23 bags of cocoa per year for an annual income of ~$2,817.50 (Leissle 2018, p. 23). Through an analysis of Ghana’s cocoa farming history, there are several sociopolitical factors that have led to the development of gender inequality in the sector. The combination of exogenous changes in the agricultural market and women’s social roles in farming and the household have shifted cocoa production power to men and constrained how women participate in the cocoa market. Traditional land inheritance laws have constrained women’s access to farming plots. Finally, the gendering of work in the cocoa sector has perpetuated the gender gap and prevented women from becoming independent cocoa farm owners. While the historical development of cocoa farming has led to these gender imbalances, the success of female cocoa farmers despite these adversities has spurred new initiatives to eliminate gender inequality in the cocoa sector.

Cocoa arrived in the Portuguese colonies of Sao Tome and Principe in the early 1800’s and expanded throughout mainland Africa by the end of the century. Before, most cocoa had been produced in South America and the Caribbean. During the nineteenth century, the abolishment of slavery throughout the region and disease such as witch’s broom severely limited the amount of cocoa South America and the Caribbean could provide. This supply restriction coincided with an acute increase in demand for cocoa. More successful marketing strategies and new innovations such as the Dutching process and the Swiss conche made smoother, creamier milk chocolate products that attracted more consumers. Since South America and the Caribbean could no longer support rising production demands, chocolate manufacturers turned their eyes to Africa, where cocoa trees had been found to flourish (Leissle 2018, p. 1–47).

West Africa saw a phenomenal rise in cocoa production first in Sao Tome and Principe. The cruel labor practices being encouraged on the islands were exposed in the early 1900’s, and British chocolate manufacturing giant Cadbury was forced to boycott cocoa from these islands as protests against these labor abuses rose. Major cocoa production moved to colonized regions of mainland West Africa as production subsequently declined in Sao Tome and Principe, particularly in Nigeria, the Ivory Coast, and Cameroon (Leissle 2018, p. 40–42). Nigeria’s rise as a prominent cocoa producer was not solely the result of imperial pressure but also of farmer’s own enthusiasm to begin growing cocoa. Around the turn of the twentieth century, coffee and rubber prices were low while cocoa prices were steadily rising with Europe’s voracious demand for chocolate. Gold Coast farmers jumped on the opportunity, and cocoa became the most important export of any category by 1910 (Allman and Tashjian 2000, p. 3).

Agricultural goods in Ghana have historically been gendered such that either men or women are solely responsible for their respective crops and their proceeds. How these crops were gendered resulted from household roles. Women were responsible for childcare, food processing, cleaning, and other household chores. This gave men much more time for cultivating crops other than subsistence goods, and men indeed devoted this extra time women spent on household labor devoted to commodity production and trading. Women became increasingly involved in trading subsistence goods in local markets while men pursued more lucrative occupations in cocoa farming or waged work (Allman and Tashjian 2000, p. 13–14). This genderization of crops and general markets became culturally cemented over time, and cocoa farming became a male–dominated sector while subsistence farming and local market trading became a feminized domain. As cocoa farming became more valuable and generated a more substantive part of a household’s income, women and children became increasingly involved as informal laborers on the household cocoa farm, with the husband/father acting as the central, mediating figure through whom the value of wives’ and children’s labor was realized (Allman and Tashjian 2000, p. 106).

Women cocoa farmers lack equal land right access.
Photo by K. Keukelaar in the village Mantukwa, Ghana.

The increasingly valuable role of women and children in cultivating the household cocoa farm upset traditional land inheritance practices. Prior to colonization, Ghanaian land inheritance was typically matrilineal in which a husband’s family land would be bequeathed to his sister’s sons and rarely to his own wife and children. A husband’s self–acquired land, however, could be bequeathed to his children and wife if “he had been well–served by the child” (Allman and Tashjian 2000, p. 107). Self–acquired land became much more popular with the cocoa boom, as women cultivated family land for subsistence farming and men cultivated new additional land for the cocoa farms. By 1920–1930, the value of a deceased man’s self–acquired property rivalled and even surpassed family land, causing tension between potential matrilineal inheritors and the husband’s wife and children. This tension remained throughout the twentieth century, although a few laws were instituted to make bequeathing nonfamily land to a man’s wife and children easier. In the mid–1980’s, revisions to land inheritance laws were implemented to facilitate family land inheritance to female spouses, but few Ghanaians have actually appealed to this law (Allman and Tashjian 2000, p. 107–109). Due to this system of land inheritance, and because women rarely acquired land for themselves due to their responsibility to other household duties and expectations, land ownership laws and land acquisition processes in Ghana have inhibited women from pursuing farm ownership. More than 90 percent of cocoa comes from smallholder farmers who cultivate a few hectares of land or less, and women have faced more limited access to the already restricted allocation of land than men (Leissle 2018, p. 3).

The cultural gendering of important work in the cocoa sector has also limited women’s growth in the cocoa sector. Cocoa farming involves many steps, and as new agricultural innovations have been introduced into the sector, women’s work has been devalued. As more technological advancements such as the use of fertilizers and pesticides have been produced, women were delegated to planting and harvesting. The male–dominated mechanical application of pesticides and herbicides became more highly valued because these activities more noticeably increase yields in the short run (Barrientos 2014, p. 797). The most gender–restricted activity is the point of sale. Since men have come to control the market for cash crops as women have come to predominate the markets for subsistence goods, social norms usually demand that only men are involved at the point of cash exchange. As female cocoa farmers must enlist men to sell their cocoa, they may not realize their full earnings potential, especially when wives combine their cocoa output with their husbands, as these women cannot tell who earned how much (Leissle 2018, p. 121–122). Women’s cultural exclusion from the most lucrative activities and important positions of agency have continued to perpetuate gender inequality in cocoa farming.

Kuapa Kokoo seeks to empower female cocoa farmers.

Several historical socioeconomic forces led to the development of gender inequality in the cocoa sector, including exogenous changes to the agricultural market, land access, and the perpetuation of cultural and social conditions disadvantageous to female cocoa farmers. Today, however, many initiatives are taking place to close this gap. Chocolate manufacturing and processing giants Cadbury and Cargill, working with NGO Care, have supported female farmers’ cooperative groups since 2006 (Barrientos 2014, p. 6). Land in Ghana’s western region is being transferred significantly more often from husbands to wives and daughters instead of sons and matrilineal inheritors. Two LBCs in Ghana, Kuapa Kokoo and Akuafo Adamfo, encourage women’s participation at the point of sale (Leissle 2018, p. 122). While women’s advancement in the cocoa sector has been limited by socioeconomic factors, women’s increasing involvement and success in cocoa farming despite these challenges has instead begun to contest this inequality and inspire change in the sector.


Allman, Jean Marie., and Victoria B. Tashjian. I Will Not Eat Stone : A Women’s History of Colonial Asante. Social History of Africa. Portsmouth, NH : Oxford [England] : Cape Town: Heinemann ; J. Currey ; D. Philip, 2000.

Barrientos, Stephanie. “Gendered Global Production Networks: Analysis of Cocoa–Chocolate Sourcing.” Regional Studies 48, no. 5 (May 4, 2014): 791–803.

Keuklaar, K. Many more women may work in cocoa than official statistics suggest. In “‘A long way to go’ to equality for women cocoa farmers.” Mantukwa: Confectionary News, 2017,

Keuklaar, K. Women cocoa farmers lack equal land right access, but could significantly boost yields, improve child nutrition and help reserve global warming.In “‘A long way to go’ to equality for women cocoa farmers.” Mantukwa: Confectionary News, 2017,

Leissle, Kristy. Cocoa. Newark, UNITED KINGDOM: Polity Press, 2018.

Quisumbing, Agnes R, Ellen M Payongayong, and Keijiro Otsuka. “Are Wealth Transfers Biased Against Girls? Gender Differences in Land Inheritance and Schooling Investment in Ghana’s Western Region,” n.d., 43.

Vigneri, Marcella, and Rebecca Holmes. 2009. “When being more productive still doesn’t pay: gender inequality and socio-economic constraints in Ghana’s cocoa sector.” Paper presented at the FAO-IFAD-ILO Workshop on Gaps, trends and current research in gender dimensions of agricultural and rural employment : differentiated pathways out of poverty, Rome, (31 March – 2 April 2009). Rome: FAO-IFAD-ILO.

MILO, the Chocolate-Malt Drink: Tonic Food or ‘Poison’?

Comparatively little has been written about the role of chocolate in foodways throughout Asia, much less within the region of Southeast Asia. Except for Philippines, a former Spanish colony, where a drink of hot, dark chocolate is still consumed as part of breakfast on Christmas morning, chocolate never ‘took off’ in India, Southeast Asia, or the Far East (Coe & Coe, 1996: 173-174), the same way it did across Europe in the 17th to 19th centuries.

The Chocolate-Malt ‘Tonic Food Drink’

However, chocolate did eventually make its way into Southeast Asian cuisine, albeit through a very different product and under tremendously different circumstances at a much later time. Chocolate became a popular ingredient in Singapore (and neighboring countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia) by way of Nestle’s MILO drink. Claiming its namesake after the great Greek athlete Milo of Croton, who won 6 Olympic events in the 6th century BC, Nestle’s MILO is marketed as a health-sustaining “Tonic Food Drink” since its creation in 1934, which has been attributed to Australian food scientist, Thomas Mayne. Mayne had apparently concocted the drink to feed the malnourished children of Depression-era Australia, where the economic crisis had undoubtedly spread. Nestle claims that Mayne had “developed a powdered chocolate malt drink that people could mix with water or milk, and drink hot or cold”. Indeed, advertisements from that time show MILO marketed as a “fortified” health drink, with an obvious ‘chocolate-y’ brown appearance:

milo 1

MILO was apparently introduced to Singapore in 1936 and has had a production facility on the small island nation since 1984. Print advertisements throughout the years have attested to the staying power of MILO in the Singaporean market:

milo 2.jpgA MILO advertisement painted on the side of a building in Singapore, 1949, above a similar advertisement for Milkmaid Milk. (Source: The Long and Winding Road)

milo 3A Nestle stall selling MILO drinks at the Great World Amusement Park, 1951. The park was considered a trendy entertainment spot for young Singaporeans at that time. (Source: The Long and Winding Road)

Interestingly, several of the print ads I’ve found of MILO in Singapore at that time depict the chocolate malt drink as an energy-giving sports beverage:

milo 4A MILO ad in Singapore from 1966 advertising it as an energy beverage for sportsmen and sportswomen. (Source: The Long and Winding Road)

milo 5Undated Singapore print advertisement of MILO in Chinese. (Source: Taking Up the Challenge blog)

Espousing the nutritional and energy-giving properties of MILO, the messages in these ads echo those of chocolate as a health food in Europe in the 19th century, when it was first introduced as a mass commodity and marketed to the working and middle-classes as affordable luxuries by chocolate manufacturers:

A Cadbury poster (left) and Hershey’s poster (right) from the 19th century, also found in Coe & Coe (1996: 239)

The Sugar Controversy of MILO

Chocolate “occupies an uneasy place in European diets today” (Martin & Sampeck, 2016), and the rise of sugar production and consumption throughout the centuries have caused health issues, such as obesity, over the increase in their consumption (Mintz, 1985). As a food product containing both sugar and cocoa, MILO consumption in Singapore and Malaysia have not been spared from similar discourse. In fact, precisely because MILO has been marketed as a health beverage, its ingredient list and the way that it is advertised, has been in recent years, scrutinized in Malaysia:

Sugar has been highlighted as one of the main ingredients of MILO, ‘proving’ the hypocrisy of food titans of the industry and sparking conspiracy theories of great ‘cover-ups’ by Nestle in the marketing of their food products:

“Big food companies are not incentivised to make you feel healthier. They’re incentivised to make you feel sick and keep you pumping your body with sugar because sugar makes you hungrier, so you buy more of their poisonous sh*t.”

Because of these allegations, Nestle launched ‘sugarless’ and low-sugar MILO products in Singapore, such as the MILO Gao Kosong* (sugarless) and the MILO Gao Siew Dai**(less sugar) and marketed them as healthier alternatives to regular versions of the drink:

Less-sugar MILO (left) and No sugar-added MILO (right)

Incidentally, both these ‘healthier’ versions of the drink emphasised a thicker (“gao”) flavour in their tastes, mirroring moves in chocolate consumers’ tastes towards “better”, “quality” chocolate containing higher proportions of cocoa solids (Coe & Coe, 1996: 257-261), perhaps drawing a closer but unconscious relation in consumers’ minds to “fine chocolate in the market sold as high in anti-oxidants and otherwise of potential benefit to consumer health” (Martin & Sampeck, 2016: 52). MILO Gao Kosong is even endorsed by government-sanctioned health authorities in Singapore as a “Healthier Choice”, with the President of Singapore appearing at the official launch for the beverage.

(*“Gao” means “thick” in the Chinese dialect of Hokkien and Teochew, where most Chinese diaspora in Singapore and Malaysia hailed from generations ago. “Kosong” means “empty” or “zero” in the Malay language. “Siew Dai” is a term for “little brother” in the Hainan dialect spoken by Chinese diaspora in Malaysia and Singapore, many of whom owned coffee stalls or coffee shops. It has become a term used to denote “less sugar” when ordering coffee or tea at local coffeeshops. )

milo 10The ‘no added sugar’ version of the popular chocolate malt drink MILO was launched in Singapore by President Halimah Yacob on 19 June 2018, attesting to the drink’s ability to evolve with consumption preferences across time.

From Healthy to Decadent – Staying Power

Like its ‘purer’ counterpart cocoa powder, MILO is has also proven to be a versatile ingredient for other food creations and its popularity in place of cocoa powder may be attributed to the relative affordability. A 400g tin of MILO costs just SGD4.14 (USD3.06) whereas a 225g tub of Hershey’s Cocoa costs SGD6.60 (USD4.88), with the latter being a foreign import and subject to import taxes.

milo 11The MILO Dinosaur, a MILO shake drink served in coffeeshops all over Singapore and Malaysia.

The affordability has meant that, like cocoa, MILO has been used as an ingredient in many confections in Singapore and Malaysia, such as shakes, ice creams, cakes, candy bars and even fried chicken, all of which diverge far from its intended ‘healthy’ image so carefully assembled by its marketeers.

MILO’s affordability and versatility has meant that it has established itself as a popular, though sometimes controversial ingredient in Singaporean and Malaysian diets. The chocolate-malt drink, like many of its cocoa counterparts, has had an unstable relationship with its consumers over the years. It is at once healthy yet decadent, nourishing yet ‘poisonous’ (as some have claimed), and energy-giving yet full of ‘empty’ calories (sugar) –  larger testament of the shifting, dichotomous and sometimes contradicting meanings societies imbibe in food.



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


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


Mintz, Sidney. 1986[1985]. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York: Penguin Books.



The Industrial Revolution: Chocolate for All!

Take a moment to Imagine not having access to the luxury of indulging in chocolate. It’s hard to believe that prior to the Industrial Revolution, chocolate was considered more of an elite privilege that was practically out of the common man’s reach. This was partially due to the fact that the cost of growing and producing chocolate was extremely high –  it was a laborious and time-consuming task, and only the earnings of the elite could support consumption on a regular basis. The Industrial Revolution birthed the modernization and development of chocolate production through mechanization, completely changing the effects around consumption. The Industrial Revolution lowered the production cost, increased efficiency, and improved taste, texture, and appearance of the product as a whole. Today, chocolate is everywhere! From well-known candy bars such as Hershey’s, and Mars (currently known as the Milky Way bar), to chocolate syrup mixed into mocha’s that is available at almost every coffee shop. For the purpose of this blog post, I would like to touch on a few of the incredible advances in the chocolate making industry made possible by the Industrial Revolution: the conche, winnowing machine, hydraulic press, and the marriage of chocolate and sugar.

Often referred to as the “food of the gods,” cacao was used by the Maya, Aztec, and Spanish to create a chocolatey drink that would most likely taste pretty bitter and unappealing compared to the endless forms, tastes, and textures available to us today. However, by the time the Industrial Revolution occurred, a man by the name of Rudolf Lindt was also craving something different – an indulgence that was far less coarse and gritty. He craved a chocolate that was smooth, offering that irreplaceable melt-in-your-mouth texture. Thanks to Lindt, his dream became a reality using a machine called the conche. The conche was developed in 1879 and radically changed the texture, taste, and appearance of chocolate. Instead of grinding the chocolate using a metate (just like the Maya, Aztec, and Spanish), the conche continuously stirred the chocolate while using heat to create a creamy, melty, heavenly texture. Rumor has it that Lindt discovered this technique by accidentally leaving the conche running for a few days at a time. In my opinion, what started out as an accident actually turned in to one of the tastiest chocolate making discoveries.

This youtube video, “Production of Dark Chocolate Bean to Bar”, demonstrates the use a conche. As you can see, the chocolate is being stirred and particles are being polished in order to achieve that flawlessly smooth texture we experience when eating a Lindt truffle.

Another important improvement in the quality and texture of chocolate came about by the development the winnowing machine. As Kristy Leissle explains, “Prior to the Industrial Revolution, cocoa beans had to be broken and winnowed by hand” (Leissle 50). The process of winnowing by hand was extremely tedious and oftentimes excruciating, due to the fibrous husks that could easily cut the laborers’ hands and slip underneath their fingernails. Leissle goes on to explain the modern process as much more forgiving and user friendly. “Today, a machine usually cracks the beans, loosening or removing parts of the shell and breaking the seed into smaller pieces, which are then called nibs. A winnower sorts the nibs into piles of similar size, most often by vibrating them through screens with varying mesh” (Leissle 50). The winnowing process is crucial because when shells are not properly removed the taste and texture is compromised. The process is further explained and demonstrated in the video below.

This video from Craft Chocolate Tv explains/demonstrates modern day cracking and winnowing with the help of a winnowing machine.

One of the most impactful inventions in the chocolate industry was developed during the 18th century – The Hydraulic Press. Coenraad Johannes Van Houten’s hydraulic press completely transformed chocolate by pressing the chocolate liquor with immense force until two products appeared: cocoa butter and a solid cake. This process came about in 1828 when Van Houten decided that he wanted to create a powdered chocolate with a much lower fat content than what was already available. So, “For this, he eventually developed a very efficient hydraulic press; untreated chocolate ‘liquor’ –  the end result of the grinding process – contains about 53 percent cacao butter, but Van Houten’s machine managed to reduce this to 27-28 percent, leaving a ‘cake’ that could be pulverized into fine powder” (Coe & Coe 234). Applying this type of pressure with the hydraulic press made the production of chocolate much faster and more cost effective. Additionally, the Dutch chemist used alkaline salts to improve the flavor and prevent bitterness, which was well received by the masses.

Photo from world standards images — hydraulic press invented by Coenraad Johannes Van Houten

Lastly, I would like to discuss the important concept of wedding of chocolate and sugar. This marriage of these two products played a huge part in the development and appeal of chocolate. Sugar was so important that “During the period 1750-1850 every English person, no matter how isolated or how poor, and without regard to age or sex, learned about sugar… A rarity in 1650, a luxury in 1750, sugar had been transformed into a virtual necessity by 1850” (Mintz 148). Manufacturer’s such as Cadbury and Fry began to flourish. As a result of utilizing sugar instead of other more expensive ingredients (such as vanilla), chocolate became available to the different classes due to the significant cost reduction. It also boosted chocolate’s appeal to children through advertisements using images of smiling kids like the boy featured in the picture below.

Fry’s chocolate advertisement is trying to demonstrate how their chocolate can please everyone — even an unhappy child previously throwing a tantrum. This advertisement appeals to both parents and children.

Because of the Industrial Revolution, chocolate went from being an expensive drink that appealed to an elite group of wealthy individuals, to a treat that men, women, and children could enjoy regardless of the social class they belonged to. As mentioned above, the conche, winnowing machine, hydraulic press, and the marriage of chocolate and sugar all played a role in making chocolate appealing and readily available to a much broader audience.

Works cited:

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

Leissle, Kristy. Cocoa. Polity Press, 2018.

Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York: Penguin Books, 1985.


Cracking & Winnowing Cacao – Episode 3 – Craft Chocolate Tv CraftChocolateTV –

Fry’s Chocolate advertisement.JPG.” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository. 28 Nov 2016, 03:40 UTC. 15 Mar 2019, 19:52 <>.

Van Houten’s Hydraulic Press,

KADZAMA. “Production of Dark Chocolate Bean to Bar / Melangeur 50 Kg | KADZAMA.” YouTube, YouTube, 24 Apr. 2017,

Saviorism in Chocolate Culture


The history of chocolate illustrates the dilemma of good intentions and the moral ambiguity of efforts by one culture — in this case that of the wealthy white Christianity-dominated West — to re-form and re-create another culture in their own image. This ambiguity shows itself in the early history of American Christian missionaries bringing their faith — faith in God, and in the sort of education and vocational training they saw as inseparable from the preaching of the gospel — to Ghana in the late 19th and early 20 century, and it shows itself throughout the history of complex cultural interactions around the cultivation of chocolate. It shows itself, too, in the current conditions of the economy of chocolate, and, maybe most poignantly, in the ideological and humanistic battles around the billion-dollar trust created by the vast chocolate wealth of the Hershey family and the extraordinary school it funds. Like chocolate, religious and moral proselytizing often comes in with a sugar coating that can’t be refused, but underneath that sweetness lies something bitter.

White Saviorism

Missionaries promise better lives for the people they preach to, while often completely devaluing and invalidating their existing cultures and lives. In the article “MISSIONARY SPOTLIGHT – Ghana’s Christian legacy” on Evangelical Times, it is claimed that Christianity has “contributed in no small way to the development of Ghanaian society and the well-being of its people.” This article claims that while part of this improvement was due to development of education and medical services, Presbyterian Basel missionaries also helped the people of Ghana by introducing cacao to the region and providing training on how to grow it. The author notes that spreading Christianity in Ghana was not always an easy task. Missionaries were sometimes not welcomed, and “faced the hostility of the priests of traditional African religion, particularly when the latter’s shrines were forsaken by Christian converts” (Dapaah). This article reflects no self-awareness of why the religious reformation of Ghana may not have delighted all, or of the possibility that the traditional religion held value to the people. It is also fascinating that, taking credit for the introduction of cacao in Ghana, Evangelical Times assumes this as a positive influence. In other contexts, the cacao industry in Ghana has been under much moral scrutiny by the Western world.

Ethical Consumption

Consumers of chocolate want to feel good about what they are buying. Chocolate is, after all, the quintessential feel-good product, often connected in buyers’ minds with cozy notions of love and warm indulgence. It is upsetting to consider that we may be causing harm in buying it, and consumers are quick to squelch their guilt by opting for choices that advertise ethical production.

Problems of ethics in chocolate production are often portrayed in the West by stressing the dismal conditions of cacao farmers’ lives, highlighting their poverty, lack of education, or abuses propagated on or by them. We depict them as people who need our help to have any quality of life or morals. Orla Ryan’s Chocolate Nations chapter Child Labor shows that people in the West greatly exaggerate and misinterpret child labor on cacao farms in Africa. It is portrayed as a moral crisis that children are forced to work, and an often-suggested solution is the boycott of any chocolate produced with child labor. However, the children and families themselves view the situation differently. While some children are trafficked or forced to work against their will, it is most common for children to work along with the rest of their family on the family cacao farm. This can be dangerous, but it is not caused by sadism on the part of the perpetrating family members— there is simply such a problem with poverty that everybody has to work to survive. For this reason, boycotting chocolate from these farms would do little good and possibly have disastrous effects by further increasing poverty. Addressing child labor from a place of classist, racist moral superiority is not what the world needs (Ryan).

In the article “Spend & Save: The Narrative of Fair Trade and White Saviorism,” Bani Amor explains that fair-trade companies often are founded by white people seeking to portray themselves as heroic “fixers” of world issues, while suggesting erroneously that the problems of capitalism can be solved through capitalism means. She believes that this “saviorism through consumerism” actually relies on rather than dismantle oppressive structures.

“Saviorism employs a time-honored colonial narrative: The sad state of the savage Other necessitates civilizing via white/Western intervention, which maintains dominion over resources that sometimes trickle down to the needy via acts of charity. In his landmark 2012 essay, ‘The White-Savior Industrial Complex,’ Teju Cole reminds us that saviorism ‘is not about justice. It is about having a big emotional experience that validates privilege.’ …[I]t validates supremacy more than anything, because assuming the role of the savior is also a show of power” (Amor).

Saviorism validates supremacy— the supremacy of the white Western elite, their religion and morals, and what they have to offer. Allowing saviorism to continue is a roadblock to growing as a culture to celebrate diversity and embrace equality.

The Milton Hershey School


Saviorism is often about race, but it is also about class. The Milton Hershey School is an example of class saviorism within the chocolate culture and industry in America. Milton S. Hershey and his wife Catherine had big dreams when they set up the utopian chocolate town of Hershey, Pennsylvania. They wanted to make a place where people were productive but also happy and well provided for. This was reflected in how Milton Hershey organized his company and town and also in the creation of what was then known as the “industrial school,” a school for orphaned boys established in the town of Hershey in 1909. The school was meant to provide opportunities for the many boys left orphaned in that time period, but also to morally shape these boys so that they would not become “shiftless and criminal men who would spawn another generation of undesirables” as was a great concern of society at the time (D’Antonio 197). In addition to Milton and Catherine’s philanthropic predilections, they found joy in inviting orphans into their lives because they themselves were unable to have children. However, there was a problem with this utopian conception. The program was designed with the purpose of shaping boys to become a certain type of upstanding, honest citizens who had to meet strict standards of behavior, performance, and character. Though the school did not require every pupil to be religious, it did teach Christian morals and expel anyone “incorrigible” or “undesirable”— boys were required to be “healthy” in every way to attend and many boys were sent away when they did not uphold these standards (D’Antonio 199).

The school is now known as the Milton Hershey School. Still funded by a trust made by Hershey, offers more than free tuition— it offers free medical and dental care and will even buy clothes for its students and house them year round if needed. It is no longer a school only for orphaned boys, and the website appeals to parents by offering extraordinary care for children at no cost. Though this may offer a wonderful opportunity for some, it imposes upon parents the idea that if they are poor, their children would be better off removed from their care and transplanted into idyllic Christian wealth with strangers. It is a problematic design to, instead of addressing poverty and education inequality in disadvantaged areas, select a few promising children to remove from their lives and reshape through privilege. Though it is illegal to discriminate against students based on health, the school website still states that children must “be free of serious behavioral problems that are likely to disrupt life in the classroom or student home life” (Admissions Considerations). Children at the Milton Hershey School are also required to attend church regularly, and the website states that “The school encourages students to learn to love God and others, to give service to their community, and to live a morally upright life. Devotions are woven into their daily routine” (Student Activities).

These moral and religious standards have led to problems in recent years at the Milton Hershey School. There have been complaints of discrimination and abuse. In a 2017 article on, an incident is detailed in which a teenage student claims to have been forced to watch an hour-long gay conversion therapy video by his house-parents at the Milton Hershey School. The student said that he was also forced to pray with his house-parents to have God help him away from gayness, and was told stories of other gay people who had terrible things happen to them. In 2013, this student was expelled from the school following a suicidal gesture. This is an example of the great harm that can come about from imposing moral and religious values, and it also illustrates the school’s problematic readiness to expell students who displayed signs of mental illness. The school admitted that this incident occurred but denied any official involvement in the showing of the video, though conversion therapy is in line with the original vision of the founder.

“A spokeswoman for the school, Lisa Scullin, who responded to Dobson’s suit against the school by saying conversion therapy is a ‘practice the administration would never allow or condone,’ doubled down on denying official involvement in response to the revelation that conversion therapy had indeed been promoted at Hershey.

‘Unequivocally, the school does not promote or endorse any program that could be remotely characterized as gay conversion therapy,’ Scullin said. ‘Any suggestion otherwise is a gross mischaracterization of our values and the environment on our campus.'”

This was not an isolated incident. Last year, a second former student of the Milton Hershey School claimed that he was forced to watch the same video, and states that he was humiliated in front of others and made to feel “like the scum of the earth” by the incident. Human Rights Campaign states that gay conversion therapy techniques “have been rejected by every mainstream medical and mental health organization for decades, but due to continuing discrimination and societal bias against LGBTQ people, some practitioners continue to conduct conversion therapy. Minors are especially vulnerable, and conversion therapy can lead to depression, anxiety, drug use, homelessness, and suicide.” Because these methods are so injurious, a number of states and municipalities have put laws in place to protect minors from them. It is deeply troubling that an orginization meant to protect children would in fact use their position to attempt to abusively mold them to fit a moral ideal, and these incidents reveal a need for radically increased scrutiny of any such “savior” programs for youth.

Imposition of Culture is Dehumanizing

The world’s privileged white elite often act as though by helping others they gain the right to impose their own “superior” moral values, but fail to recognize that imposition of culture is dehumanizing. This saviorism takes away people’s autonomy and inherent right to self-determination. Although nobody wants to be trapped in poverty or treated unfairly, that does not mean that the Western white Christian capitalist life is the model of supremacy. It is important to improve fairness in the chocolate industry and in education, but in this endeavor it is vital to integrate respect for those we are helping and listen to their values and needs rather than imposing our own—to work with rather than for them.


Works Cited

Ryan Órla. Chocolate Nations Living and Dying for Cocoa in West Africa. Zed Books, 2011.

D’Antonio, Michael. Hershey Milton S. Hersheys Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams. Paw Prints, 2008.

Amor, Bani. “Spend & Save: The Narrative of Fair Trade and White Saviorism.” Bitch Media,

Depaah, George.”MISSIONARY SPOTLIGHT – Ghana’s Christian legacy.” Evangelical Times,

“Milton Hershey School.” Milton Hershey School,

Fernandez, Bob. “A 2nd former Hershey School student says he was forced to watch gay conversion film” The Enquirer,

“The Lies and Dangers of Efforts to Change Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity.” Human Rights Campaign,


Reaching hand image from CC0 Creative Commons

Milton S. Hershey portrait is from wikimedia commons and is in the public domain

A Complicated History of Chocolate and Sugar in the Caribbean (and Abroad)

My Childhood Experience: 

I love chocolate and I love sugar even more. I have loved both since I was a child and will continue to love them well into my old age. The first time I tasted a Snickers chocolate bar on a small Caribbean island where almost all chocolate is imported, I was hooked- no other candy bar could compare. The Snickers bar became my cradle to grave candy bar and even today when I have one decades later, I tend to flash back to the nostalgic time when getting that chocolate (or any chocolate really) for me was a rare and expensive sugar-rush to be savored. In Barbados, the nation’s relationship with chocolate in general and sugar more specifically tends to be complicated by its history of slave labor production and British colonization (Beckles, 2017). Even in present day, conversations around the health of locals and sugar consumption are often linked back to the repercussions of this history.

Planting the sugar cane

Growing up in the Caribbean, there was no Halloween, no teachers that would give out candy to their students as rewards for good work in the classroom, no goodie bags filled with a delightful assortment at parties for me. Chocolate was a coveted treat and one that I was taught to respect as a child as something of value for having done good or been good in order to “deserve” it. While other kids would spend their lunch money on snacks, sweets, and chocolate during break, I was under strict rules not to spend money on such frivolities. Back then I was raised with the idea that chocolate and other sugary food was not money well spent and that the over consumption of sugar was a result of a still colonized mind. Although chocolate was not at the time as much of a staple as it is now, especially compared to the developed West, sugar was everywhere and in almost everything, like America and the UK. Bajans consumed large amounts of sugar regularly and have been since the mid 1600s when Britain relied on the colony for crops and began manufacturing sugar cane for their own consumption (Martin, 2018, slides 2-9).

Moreover, my mother- a professional cook and very health conscious- believed there were more potential health risks to eating chocolate and sugary treats and thought the health benefits were minimal. My grandfather had many theories on sugar’s use for the demise of the black population by the British crown.


He would say that the sugar industry used invasive propaganda and historically colonized slave mentality to keep locals pacified in order to maintain control of the island and keep its people unhealthy- like a drug. I had no idea what he meant by that back then, I was barely 7-8 years old when we would have these talks about the aftermath of sugar plantations in Barbados. Not until I was older did I reflect on these conversations and revisit them again in a class on chocolate culture.

My grandfather’s words resurfaced again when I read Sweetness and Power by Sidney Mintz. He wrote, “the upward climb of both production and consumption within the British Empire must be seen as part of an even larger general movement…We know that sugar consumption in the old sugar colonies…was part always very substantial- indeed, that slaves were given sugar, molasses, and even rum during slavery period as part of their rations” (Mintz, 1985, p. 72). When my grandfather would lecture on the perils of sugar- the cause of painful and expensive cavities, my diabetic relatives (one of which had the bottom part of her leg amputated from too my sugar in her diet), or the root of making people sluggish and less intelligent- did I start to develop a profound fear and wonder about the power of confectionaries. How could something so delicious be so dangerous? It took me many years to realize it was not just chocolate that was the primary concern for him. It was the production of sugar in Barbados by the enslavement of black people under British colonization and the exploitation of the island. The impact in which continues to have adverse risks to its citizens still.

Sugar cane harvest post card

There is a long tradition in Barbados to produce sugar in addition to an impulse to consume large amounts as well, which started with Britain’s obsession with the commodity. In fact, the turning point of British sugar production was the settlement of Barbados and thus both nations were transformed. One nation with the need to consume, the other forced to produce for consumption. Mintz aptly writes:

“England fought the most, conquered the most colonies, imported the most slaves, and went furthest and fasted in creating a plantation system. The most important product of that system was sugar. Coffee, chocolate (cacao), nutmeg, and coconut were among the other products, but the amount of sugar produced, the numbers of its users, and the range of its uses exceeded the others; and it remained the principal product for centuries” (Mintz p. 38).

Thus, my relationship with chocolate in my formative years was neither abundant nor overindulgent and my view of sugar was entwined with stories of the colonized bodies of my ancestors. Still I was a child and I had a sweet tooth- like many others from the island-, which made my mother wearier of permitting me to have it out of fear I would become gluttonous, overweight, and doltish. With diabetes prevalent on both sides of the family there were lectures on the perils of sugar and my ultimate demise if I consumed too often. This was ingrained into my childhood. However, kids will be kids and I found ways to get chocolate whenever I could and hide it craftily. My morning tea was mostly sugar. This complicated relationship with chocolate and sugar during my childhood in the Caribbean continued into adulthood abroad.

Barbados is not like other islands in Caribbean for many reasons. First, it is a very small island, one of the smallest. Second, it is the most outside of the Caribbean strip of islands and more isolated with a population of less than 300,000 people. What it does have in common with places such as St. Lucia, Tobago, Dominica, Grenada, St. Vincent, and Jamaica is that they were also ensnared in European and British colonization of their bodies and land for crop production. Now while many of these islands have transformed this into strong chocolate tourism foundation that has begun to flourish in the recent decades along with traditional crops of the past, Barbados struggles to join this cash crop sector. On other islands everything from haute and terroir chocolate to cheap chocolate are being produced. They were able to embrace the agricultural aftermath of slavery to make cacao and sugar into a moneymaking industry that appeals strongly to Western conception of sophistication and acceptability. In contrast, Barbados in the aftermath as a sugar producing island, chose to set up shop as a strong island tourism base and minimize the sugar industry production along with the dark history that came with it. In addition, the island is simply too small to produce many of its own crops, cacao being one of them. This caused many confectionery and snack factories in Barbados to be purchased and moved to Trinidad and Tobago as demand grew.

Looking back, it seems ironic that I thought cheap chocolate was more of an iconic delicacy than it really was. For instance, a $1 Snickers bar in America cost ~$4 USD in Barbados so its value felt more significant. Hence, it is understandable to me now why such chocolate was considered a special treat, especially in a family that thought it a wasteful. Growing up in Barbados, I had literally never eaten chocolate made on the island or any of the surrounding islands. Some factories used our sugar but that was about it, so it seemed like chocolate was a foreign substance from far off lands.

The only exposure to “fine” chocolate I had in the Caribbean was Cadbury Chocolate, a British multinational confectionery company that dominates the island almost single-handedly. Among locals, it is either loved or hated and can oftentimes be highly political because of its connection to the UK. Many believe that Britain as a nation continues to claw its way into the island’s industry via companies such as Cadbury, thus control by the British crown continues invisibility and from afar. Cadbury Chocolate in an island once dominated by a hugely profitable sugar industry that exploited African slaves is a contentious past still being unpacked.

Cadbury can be found everywhere on the island. Although the price is significantly higher than other candy bars, locals love it and consider it more “high end”. Although in the past 5-10 years more variety and quality chocolate is coming into the island and locals are getting a real taste of what good chocolate can be. It can be more than milk chocolate and chocolate covered candy. It has been a slow process because in Barbados dark chocolate is uncommon and unpopular. That is why one of the calls to action by local Bajans (and already promoted by other surrounding islands) is taking advantage of the blooming interest by tourists to try locally made chocolate and and for locals to reclaim untold histories.

In that respect, the island is now revisiting the history of cacao and sugar and getting more involved with the booming industry. In 2010, Agapey Chocolate was founded in Barbados conveniently located at the capital of Bridgetown. It is the only chocolate company on the island and is the only bean to bar chocolate company in Barbados.


Although the company was not very well known at first, it has grown in popularity among tourist and locals are now also taking advantage of their delicacies. The company has won multiple international awards and went through the process of Fair Trade certification (Agapey 2018). They offer in-depth tours of the factory that explain how their chocolate is made and also the history of chocolate and the role of cacao and sugar in the Caribbean. It is a good example of changing attitudes towards dark chocolate and progress in using local ingredients like rum and coconut to stimulate the economy.


An International Cultural Exploration of Chocolate and Sugar

When I journeyed across the North Atlantic Ocean and set up a new home in Somerville, Ma. I soon learned about the abundance of chocolate and its widespread availability for any and every occasion, or no occasion at all. My mind was blown. Now in this wondrous place, chocolate could be found in almost every store, market, gas station, etc. It is not rare or expensive. It can be very expensive with places like L.A Burdick’s or it can be cheap like a Snickers from CVS. With my mother back in Barbados, I had no restrictions on my chocolate or sugar intake and I swiftly sought to make up for lost time, eating whatever I wanted whenever I wanted. It was liberating; this was America. I ate so much candy my first months of arrival, I could not get enough. Sugar consumption was even more rampant and readily available in almost everything people consumed.

Retrospectively, Somerville turned out to be one of the best places in the U.S to get a real taste of a multicultural experience, including its cuisine, which made for a great exploration of the candied goods of other lands. There has been a long tradition of community building at the foundation of local revitalization and urban development in Somerville that took a great amount of pride in exposing neighbors to “food from back home”. For many longtime residents, organizing community-building initiatives at the neighborhood and local government level has been a strategic way to promote the city’s rich cultural diversity and mixed-income environment. It also created bridges to parts of the population that might otherwise face isolation from resources aimed to empower them to take agency in improving their own socio-economic condition, particularly immigrants and people of color. Food was used to bridge the divide.

One of the first events I attended to increase exposure to different cultures was an annual international food fair held at Somerville High School where all the food was made by students, staff, or donated by local businesses. My recollection of walking through the school’s gymnasium and sampling different foods from over 100+ countries and cultures represented was a lasting experience. My Brazilian friend took me over to a table where I had my first bon-bon, a chocolate covered wafer with more chocolate inside that is widely popular in Brazil and now internationally. Another friend showed me her homemade milky coconut cardamon treats of India. There was table after table with food that I had never tried before, a whole candy world outside of Snickers and Cadbury.

For my first Halloween, my friends who had been trained in this occasion advised me to ditch the Halloween bucket and grab an old pillowcase. A pillowcase I thought, how much candy could we possibly get? The answer to that was a lot, a pillowcase half way full equating to more than four of the buckets I was going to bring. Every holiday and special occasion involved candy and chocolate. In addition, because of Somerville’s immense international population, there was not just the typical American candy, but treats coming from all over the world. I became seasoned quickly on how, where, and when to get candy and what chocolate came from which country. Chocolate became a constant and a source of comfort as I adjusted to life in America. Chocolate was for sharing between friends, indulging with cousins, and for no occasion at all.

Not until college did I learn the meaning behind fair trade, direct trade, or bean to bar- thus my ignorance of chocolate started to unfold. As Maricel Presilla writes, “to know chocolate, you must know that the candy in the box or the chef’s creation on the plate begins with the bean, the complex genetic profile of different cacao strains” (Presilla, 2009, p. 4). So began my segway into learning about chocolate production and saying goodbye to Snickers for a bit. I wanted to know about chocolate beyond what popular culture had taught me and beyond what my childhood experiences had ingrained.

I became engrossed with learning about the history of chocolate. I went to Madrid, Spain where I drank chocolate for the first time. Discovered theobroma cacao comes from Greek and means “food of the gods”.  I learned that Spanish invaders took the word cacao and their first real knowledge of cacao came from the Maya people of the Yucatan Peninsula. They used the word chokola’j, or ‘to drink together’. (Presilla, 2009, p. 10-12) and chocolate is amount one of the bastardized words created because it was easier for Europeans to pronounce. There I saw that even from the naming of cacao that history of chocolate was written and known mostly from a western-centric point of view and that influence continues today. I needed a different more authentic understanding of chocolate and kept traveling. I visited Tlaxcala, a sovereign state in Mexico with a strong connection to its complex history with cacao. There I used a molinillo for the first time- a whisking device to make cacao frothy- and drank a cup of chocolate that I helped prepare using traditional Mexican tools like the metate.

The story of how cacao developed from a sacred drink to the industrialized food that it is today is a complex history that dates back thousands of years. The story of how sugar production exploded in the Caribbean is also connected to the history of cacao. The bodies of black and brown people were used for European gain as was the land. Today, this history can be very complicated for the generations that followed. My relationship with chocolate and sugar has evolved overtime from a child in Barbados to a teen in America, to a traveler of the world. As my own understanding of these topics continues to expand, I will continue to enjoy these goods the best I can and keep educating myself on the topic.

Work Cited:

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

Martin, Carla D. “Slavery, abolition, and forced labor’” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard Extension School: Cambridge, MA. 28 Feb. 2018. Class Lecture.

Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. Penguin, 1985. Print.

Presilla, Maricel E. The New Taste of Chocolate Revised. Ten Speed Press: Berkeley, CA, 2009. Print.

“On Barbados, the First Black Slave Society” via AAIHS. Here is the website link:

Images (in order):

“Planting the sugar-cane” (Credit: Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Photographs and Prints Division, The New York Public Library).

“Slaves Wanted” Advertisement for the Island of Barbados (Credit: Lascelles Slavery Archive)

“Sugar Plantation Barbados, Carting Sugar Canes To The Mill”  W. L. Johnson & Co. Ltd., Barbados. No. 15

Agapey Chocolate Factory Website Photos (Credit:

A century of breaking molds: the women of (Göttle u.) Ritter Sport

“Research from Harvard University, the World Bank, McKinsey, Solidaridad and Oxfam, to name but a few, shows that adding more women to any process results in improved innovation, teamwork, profits and overall positive impact.”

Unfortunately, it seems that the people organizing the Women in Cocoa and Chocolate Forum at last month’s World Cocoa Conference held in Berlin, Germany forgot to share this tidbit of information with the folks inviting speakers to the conference. Not a single woman made the list of keynote speakers, but interestingly, one of the first presentations on sustainability was made by the CEO of the German company, Ritter Sport. IMG_20180509_212657054_LL - Edited.jpgRitter Sport Chocolate has played the capitalist game successfully for over 100 years, repeatedly ending up ahead of the curve of trends in the volatile chocolate industry, most notably now in innovations made on its cacao farm in Nicaragua. The company has been shaped by the contributions of two women, founder Clara Göttle Ritter, a businesswoman at a time when that was quite unusual, and granddaughter Marli Hoppe-Ritter whose longterm vision of environmental and social justice warrants a close look when the consequences of centuries of profit-taking threaten to take an irreversible toll on the very environment that sustains us.

The chocolate industry has always been dependent on a supply chain fraught with iniquity.  Chocolate does not carry this dubious distinction alone but does provide a rather stark example of the pattern of the global north enjoying the literal fruits of the labor of the global south, undercompensated at best, or outright coerced. While the seeds of the fruit of the cacao tree, the raw material required for the manufacture of the chocolate products that the global north enjoys, are by necessity produced in a narrow band on either side of the equator, it is the unexamined traditions of our capitalist system which has allowed the industry to perpetuate a pattern of inequities. But even Big Chocolate recognizes the need for change. “Business as usual in the cocoa sector is no longer an option,” declared the Executive Director of the ICCO, Dr. Jean-Marc Anga, at the opening of the conference in Berlin. “We have to break the mould,” he asserted. Screenshot 2018-05-09 at 11.34.58 PM - EditedBusiness as usual, as practiced by the companies that produce the vast majority of mass market chocolate products, is finally being recognized by the industry as a whole as morally untenable now that environmental and social conditions threaten the supply of cheap cacao.

The last two decades have seen a growing number of consumers and entrepreneurs demand a kind of transparency that Big Chocolate traditional has not been interested in providing. In the US, craft chocolate makers, starting with Scharffen Berger in 1996, have been (re-)introducing American chocolate consumers to the idea that chocolate does not have to be a mass-produced commodity, but rather can be an artisanal product appreciated for the qualities the origin of the beans brings to its flavor and the skill of all the craftspeople involved in its production.  At the same time, awareness of and demand for fair trade practices increased among consumers, leading many craft chocolate makers (like Taza Chocolate and more recently Goodnow Farms) to seek out direct trade relationships with growers and use those relationships not only as a source of quality beans and a marketing tool but also as a sincere attempt at making the world a better place.

But despite the growth of the craft chocolate sector and the impact individual efforts can make on individual farmers (and farming cooperatives), that impact has barely affected the system as a whole, dominated as it is by Big Chocolate. Following Hershey’s acquisition of the Scharffen Berger brand in 2005, many lamented the seeming inevitability of the “swallowing” up of craft quality and personal accountability in the world of chocolate. Mergers between companies and acquisitions of successful competitors are an inherent part of late capitalism as practiced today.  But is there another model – a model that allows for the efficiencies of scale of a large company while still retaining the personality and values of a small one? Is it possible to be a capitalist, to build a global company, and yet function in a way that prioritizes values other than quarterly profits, that isn’t “business as usual”?  

This is the question that journalist Hannes Koch asks in his 2008 expose about Marli Hoppe-Ritter in taz, 1970’s Berlin’s version of (or answer to) The Village Voice.  His answer seems to be yes, if “social capitalism” is possible, Hoppe-Ritter might be the one to lead the way.  But she is the heir, not only to the Ritter fortune, but to ideas hatched much earlier.

Today, Ritter Sport’s square bars are ubiquitous all over Germany, with estimates of market share of sales of 100 g. bars hovering just above 20%, tied for first with or a close second to Milka’s bars. Estimated by Candy Industry as making $536 million in net sales annually, Ritter registers as a mere blip in chocolate sales statistics in a world dominated by huge conglomerates but the company makes no pretensions about being a niche producer. Ritter wants to be a global player and is expanding its marketing reach. Until just a few years ago, you were most likely to find Ritter Sport bars in the US in “ethnic” grocers or vaguely gourmet corner stores. Now there is evidence of Ritter’s international growth in almost every grocery store and many pharmacies. For a glimpse into the variety that Ritter makes available in Germany, you still have to go to a specialty store here in the US, but it is clear that Ritter unapologetically makes a mass market product, distinguishing itself by creating a flavor for every taste, packaged in a rainbow of colors, and sold at an accessible price.

IMG_20180419_143256214 (1) - EditedThe panoramic array of Ritter Sport bars at Karl’s Sausage Kitchen and European Market in Peabody, Massachusetts

The founder

The Ritter company did not always aspire to mass production and global sales.  The history given on the company’s website is short and sweet, indicating that the first Ritter-made chocolates were made after Clara and Alfred Ritter married in 1912. Technically, that may have been true – or not – , but what is clear is that Clara’s experience as a business woman, and as a seller of chocolate predates their marriage.  According to historian Karin de la Roi-Frey, Clara Göttle already had over a decade of experience selling chocolate to the well-heeled spa clientele in the Swabian town of Cannstatt when she married master pastry chef, Alfred Eugen Ritter. Stuttgart-Cannstatt, like a number of other German cities, was a Schokoladenmetropole – a “chocolate metropolis” – with (at least) three solidly established chocolate factories that were founded in the mid-nineteenth century and were locally and nationally famous.  De la Roi-Frey describes Clara’s unusual apprenticeship in the grocery business (at a time when women did not generally train for a trade) and her determination to set up shop on her own, selling luxurious chocolate, luxuriously wrapped to spa-goers. The first evidence I found of Clara’s professional activities was at Marktstrasse 61 in 1910.Göttle 1910 Marktstrasse 61 - Edited At the time of their marriage, Clara was already 35, Alfred her junior by eight years. In 1912, her last name changes to “Ritter” on the listing in the address book, and in 1913 “Klara” disappears from the written record, replaced on paper by her husband’s name. Clara’s name may have disappeared but her business acumen and successful chocolate and candy shop on Marktstrasse were essential to the success of the partnership that would grow into Ritter Sport Chocolate. In 1914, another store was added, near the train station, presumably capitalizing on rested, departing spa visitors who needed gifts to bring home to their family and friends.

Sister of mystery: Another Göttle woman, Clara’s sister, Josephine, is mentioned once in de la Roi-Frey’s book, as having also taken the business-apprentice route, unusual for a woman. Josephine appears for two years (’11 and ’12) as the proprietor of a chocolate shop at the same Bahnhofstrasse address where Alfred opens the second store in 1914.  I wonder what happened to Josephine.  Who occupied the space in 1913?  Did she have to sell her business?  Did she get married and stop working?  Was she around to help out her sister during the war years?


De la Roi-Frey describes that with the outbreak of WWI in July of 1914, Alfred was conscripted into the army, but she neglects to note that Clara not only held down the fort at both the old and new stores while her husband was away, but also managed the care of the couple’s first (and only surviving) child, who was born the same year, when she was 37. The story goes that Alfred, after serving for two years in the army in WWI, was conscripted to work in one of the chocolate factories in the area, Stänger u. Ziller, to make the chocolate bars that were included as fortification in care packages sent to soldiers at the front. It was during what was essentially a second apprenticeship that Alfred learned to work with the chocolate that his wife’s business was based upon. So, again, I’d like to point out that Clara was the one who kept the family businesses running until the end of the war! 

The products of 3 of the 4 Stuttgart-area chocolate factories one can imagine Clara Göttle sold in her store in 1910 still exist today although they have been “swallowed” by other companies. Waldbaur Katzenzungen only recently lost the Waldbaur name, now made by Sarotti, which is a division of Stollwerck, which was in turn bought by Baronie in 2011. Stängel u. Ziller’s Eszet chocolate wafers (the  breakfast alternative ?!) are similarly made by Stollwerck/Baronie while Moser-Roth brand chocolates are now made by Storck.


After the war, Alfred experimented with his pastry expertise and his new chocolate skills at home, to the delight of neighborhood children and the rest, as they say, is history.  Their first product seems to have been three flavors of filled bars under the brand name “Alrika” (from Alfred Ritter, Cannstatt). Alfred and ClaraScreenshot 2018-05-06 at 12.40.34 PM - Edited were not alone in dabbling in chocolate after WWI. There was a huge boom in chocolate manufacturers in Germany in the 1920’s, with the number almost doubling from 180 to 350. The Stuttgart-Cannstatt area outdid the national average by tripling its number of chocolate manufacturers from the four established chocolate factories in Stuttgart-Cannstatt multiplied to at least twelve in 1925

Whether or not the headstart Alfred and Clara had from Clara’s experience from before the war helped them weather the hyperinflation and the depression of the late 1920’s, I don’t know, but at any rate, their business not only survived but thrived to the point of needing a bigger workspace. In 1930, they moved their factory to the small town of Waldenbuch but the big marketing inspiration that has sustained the company ever since didn’t come until 1932 when Clara supposedly realized that a square chocolate bar in a sports jacket was less likely to break.  Ritter Sportschokolade was born.

De la Roi-Frey reports that Clara and Alfred’s granddaughter, Marli, remembered her grandfather as a gourmet who relished the creative activities of developing (and eating) new products.  Her grandmother, on the other hand, lived for the business and the people who worked there. She instituted a profit-sharing program and benefits for the company’s workers in the early 1950’s. The company became “family” but her largess extended to myriad others who, both during the Nazi regime and in the post-war period did not fair as well as she.

The heir

Unlike her grandmother, Marli Hoppe-Ritter did not have to fight the social norms of her youth to sell chocolate. She was born into the selling of chocolate. Neither she nor her younger brother were particularly enthused about the prospect of entering the family business. Coming of age in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, issues of social and environmental justice were closer to their hearts.  Their father, Alfred Otto is credited with getting the company over the 1970’s “merger hump” (that we have seen the other Stuttgart chocolate companies succumb to), at least partially by the introduction of the brightly colored flavor-coded packaging Ritter Sport is recognized by today.  But upon his passing in 1974, outside leadership was hired that threatened at least somewhat socially responsible mission of the company and, according to Koch’s article, that was when the sibling staged a management coup and took over control.

The circumstances of why Hoppe-Ritter made her first trip to the village of Waslala in the mountains north of Matagalpa in Nicaragua are not obvious, but thus began Ritter Sport’s 30-year attempt to source Nicaraguan chocolate equitably.  Ritter Sport is not shy about publicizing the effort of organizing the Cacaonica cooperative in Waslala and then later building a fermenting and drying station outside of Matagalpa. But it doesn’t take much to read between the PR lines and see that the project did not have either the social benefits nor the sourcing results that Hoppe-Ritter was hoping for.  In the 2008 article, Koch writes that in a year the Waslala-Matagalpa project supplied Ritter Sport with a “homeopathic dose” of cacao beans, and that 99% of Ritter Sports cacao was still bought as a bulk commodity on the world market.

In 2011, the company took another tack and bought 2500 hectares of deforested land on the Kama river in the RAAS, the other autonomous, sparsely populated, state on the eastern side of Nicaragua.  This incarnation of the company’s efforts at what they are now calling “sustainability”, direct sourcing of cacao Ritter’s own farm in Nicaragua, was featured in a presentation by current Ritter CEO, Andreas Ronken, at the conference in Berlin last week and is expected to supply around 30% of the company’s cacao needs. “Purchasing land and becoming involved in the sustainable cultivation of cocoa is the most effective way for a medium-sized company like RITTER SPORT to have maximum influence over the ecological and social conditions in cocoa cultivation.”

As described in various articles on Ritter Sport’s German-language blog, having complete control over the conditions on the farm, really is allowing them to bring some of the positive aspects of a successful capitalist enterprise to the business of sourcing cacao: they are providing stable employment to, at least, a cadre of full-time workers; they are able to control quality by training those workers; they are building infrastructure in an area that has up to now been accessible only by boat or plane; they are reforesting in a region that has been plagued by clearcutting for grazing (and possibly laundering of drug cartel money); and they are able to experiment, both with agricultural practices and processing technology, bringing efficiencies of scale and ideas of industrial safety, that heretofore were not a feature of cacao growing. The “fruitcutter” below is one such innovation, eliminating the need for hand-wielded machetes out of at least one part of cacao processing.


Interestingly, unlike on Ritter’s website where the idea of “sustainability” is linked exclusively to social and environmental responsibility, at the Berlin conference, the title of Ronken’s presentation is unabashedly “Sustainable Consumption: The Ritter Sport Model (from Nicaragua) for Improving Cocoa and Chocolate Sales”. On the website, consumers are assured that they can eat Ritter Sport chocolate bars “with a clear conscience”:Screenshot 2018-05-09 at 7.06.23 PM - Edited

But among their peers (and admittedly with the Nicaraguan press), typical concerns of the capitalist system come to the fore: it is possible to appease the “conscious consumer” while also controlling both quality and production costs.

It is easy to be cynical about the fanfare with which Ritter Sport announced this past January that the company had achieved it “100% sustainable” sourcing goals two years ahead of time, given the nebulous definition of “sustainable”, as it is easy to be cynical when connecting the dots between the language used on their consumer-oriented website and that used at an industry conference, but I think there is a core to the mission at Ritter Sport that other companies would do well to emulate.  Nicko Debenham, head of sustainability at Barry Callebaut talks about “[overcoming] the cultural problem in the company”, the problem being the need to make a commitment to “think very long-term”. Ritter Sport does not have this “cultural problem”; the ability to think long-term has been an integral part of the company’s DNA from the beginning and the two women, Clara Göttle and Marli Hoppe-Ritter have been instrumental in making this a reality.

We are all heirs to a system that was built on iniquity.  It is right and necessary that as consumers we demand transparency from the companies that sell us both our necessities and our luxuries, as it is right and necessary for us as producers to expect and demand just compensation for our labor. These responsibilities are the burden of our inheritance, and they fall most heavily on the shoulders of those of us who benefit the most from the system as it exists today. Perhaps if we bear it conscientiously, all of our children and grandchildren will be heirs to a system in which north and south are afforded equitably distributed opportunities for life, education, liberty, art, happiness . . . and chocolate.

Works referenced:

____. Geschichte Übersicht: von 1918 bis heute. Retrieved from

____. various articles from the German language Ritter Sport blog.  Retrieved from

de la Roi-Frey, Karin. Mutig, erfolgreich und gut: Vier schwäbische Unternehmerinnen. Mühlacker: Stieglitz Verlag 2012.

Koch, H. (2008, Feb. 22) Portrait der Ritter Sport-Chefin: Quadratisch. Practisch. Fair. Retrieved from!5186217/

Lubow, A (2009, Nov. 21) My Chocolate Meltdown. Retrieved from

Shankar, D (2017, Feb. 7) Little Chocolate’s Big Moment. Retrieved from