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.
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.
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 advocate.com, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Lotte is a huge conglomerate based in Japan/South Korea that has easily dominated the East Asian market for mass produced chocolate (Yonhap news). They are equivalent to Hershey’s in the states and recently solidified their global standing in the chocolate market by partnering with Hershey’s to dominate the chocolate market in China (Reuters). They are not only a company that produces chocolates, but many other chocolate related products in Asia along with being a conglomerate that has ventures in hospitality, technology and e-commerce.
Initially they began their marketing of chocolate in Japan, with what is called Ghana Chocolate.
The name was derived from the source of their chocolate manufactures, they were marketed with “extra cacao for the extra rich taste” and with an “authentic” twist, as they were sourced directly from Africa. But much like their global competitor Hershey’s, they do not follow the recent model of “fair source” or “fair trade” chocolate. Unlike many of the local chocolatiers, they are anything but transparent in how their chocolate is sourced and conceived. Because they are a huge conglomerate, and because of lack of competition through artisanal and locally sourced chocolate in Asia, they feel no pressure to publicly release their sources and the treatment of the workers of their chocolate sources.
So why is this such a big deal? We’re familiar with the idea of bigger corporations buying out and hiding such information from us. When companies hide information from us in this day and age, more and more, we instead choose to make more educated choices when it comes to our purchasing of chocolate and spreading awareness. However, to understand why Lotte feels no pressure despite the spread of awareness and information to change, we have to go back a bit to understand the backstory of Lotte Corporation and a bit of Asian culture and history.
White Day, Black Day & Pepero Day
November 11 is just another day here in America. So is March 14 and April 14th. The only real “holiday” that America associates with chocolate is Valentine’s Day (February 14th). So why is it that the chocolate markets in Asia see such a huge increase in consumption and sales of chocolate during these seemingly random days?
In East Asia, particularly China, Japan and South Korea, being a “couple” is the trendy state to be. Rather than embrace your independence, many things in East Asia are catered towards couples and pairs. So, why is this important? This is because Lotte Confectionary has monopolized this mindset and effectively marketed various “holidays” and traditions that cater to this.
Aside from Valentines Day, East Asian cultures also celebrate what has been marketed to be “White Day” (March 14th) ,“Black Day” (April 14th) and Pepero Day (November 11th). In their culture, Valentines Day isn’t just a day for couples to exchange chocolate, but it is a day for women to gift different types of chocolate to various men in their life. There are 3 different types of chocolate that are sold and catered just for this day: Friendly Chocolate, Premium Chocolate and Hand-Made Chocolate. Friendly Chocolate is chocolate given to friends of the opposite sex that you are grateful to have in your life. Premium Chocolate are for the people in your life you are very grateful for but do not fit in a Friend or Lover category (ie. family members or best friends). The “Hand-Made” chocolate are the ones you carefully craft on your own after buying all the necessary ingredients and they are to be given to one person only – the person you love or would like to start a relationship with. This is important because on White Day, March 14, the men who have received these chocolates from women are expected to reciprocate and gift them with chocolate of their own. Of course, the same rules apply. And in April 14th, the lonely people who were unable to receive any Hand-Made Chocolate are expected to gather together and eat dark colored food (Smithsonian.com). Lotte has obviously used this to their advantage to market “bitter” dark chocolate and wallow in their sorrows until next year’s Valentines/White Day. Of course, Lotte has different types of chocolate at various price points to market and cater to all these buyers.
Pepero day (November 11) is yet another chocolate related holiday in where people give their significant others and people in their life Pepero. Pepero (or Pocky, as it is more commonly known here in the states) is a thin unsalted pretzel stick dipped in various flavored chocolate and different types of nuts for extra texture and flavor. Lotte Confectionary, a subsidiary of Lotte Corporation, is credited with the creation and marketing of this easy to chocolate dipped stick. Using clever marketing and visual cues, they have successfully branded this day as Pepero Day and the purchases of pepero on these days skyrocket. The day comes from looking like a Pepero Chocolate (11/11) and is also smart marketing on Lotte’s end.
All of the chocolate that is produced my Lotte plays up on this cultural aspect of Asia where being single is considered “lonely” and “unsatisfying. As you can see in this Commercial for Ghana Chocolate, they prey on the couple aspect and the happiness that one would receive from being gifted these chocolates. Of course, it is no secret that they have their hands on non-chocolate related couple items as well.
Sex Sells – Celebrities
Now, this still doesn’t full explain why Lotte is one of the the biggest producer of chocolate related products in Asia. Yes, they’ve used their marketing tools to play up the couple oriented culture in Asia and used words like “Real Cacao” to get the unsuspecting consumer to believe that the product they are purchasing are of the highest quality.
(It may also help that Asian Countries aren’t as stringent like the US FDA to release all their ingredient info)
But it is their usage of sexualization and celebrity endorsements when it comes to these Chocolate related products. As you have seen in the above commercial, almost all chocolate advertisements in Asia are like that. While this is also a common tactic in the US, the celebrities in Asia are idolized (they are actually called Idols) and children from the age of 8 to adults well over 25, follow and almost worship these celebrities. By using them and showing that this is their preferred brand of chocolate, the consumers do not ask questions of the source of these products, but instead buy them in bulk hoping to be more like them.
However, through clever marketing platforms and excessive usage of monetary funds (They are the 5th biggest conglomerate in Asia), they have made it that being the face of a Lotte Chocolate brand is the biggest achievement a celebrity can receive. This is why the previous faces of their brand have been celebrities like Mao Asada, Lee Hye-ri and Park Bo-gum. To understand the power of these celebrities, all three of them have been featured on Korea/Japan’s Top 100 power celebrity lists year after year.
Purchase of Guylian – Belgian Chocolatiers
Now, with all these pseudo-holidays that pop up consecutively over the months, along with the traditional holidays of Valentines Day, Christmas, Anniversaries and Birthdays, Lotte has created a market where they can offer anything from cheap go-to chocolate bars to high end European designer chocolate. Their chocolate markets continue to boom through the usage of celebrity endorsements, and ongoing advertisements for the necessity of their chocolate.
And now, with the purchase of Guylian, a high end designer chocolate maker based in Belgium, Lotte has been able to set a landmark and a path into Europe to even further their holding in the chocolate industry (Justfood.com, forbes.com). The most interesting part of this acquisition is that Guylian, on their website, claim that all their chocolate is humanely sourced from West Africa with their manufacturer guaranteeing the safety of the food (Guylian.com). Their website goes on to display their numerous awards and their guarantee of authentic and 100% cacao bean usage in all their chocolates.
Guylian is a company with origins in the art of haute-couture chocolate, with renowned chocolatiers within their starting ranks that have received certifications from famed confectionary and chocolatier schools. Through this purchase, Lotte has also been able to rebrand themselves into an even more sought after and cultured variation of chocolate. Rather than being just a consumer friendly chocolate company with “higher end” products, they have been able to include a Belgian based chocolatier that is famed and well known around Europe with their Guiness Record (Guiness) in chocolate making and patented praline chocolates.
Now, why is it that their parent company, Lotte Confectionary/Corporation, is not held to the same standard? Nowhere on Lotte’s website is there a link to the source or the location of their chocolate, nor how it is manufactured. The closest we can get to is that their chocolate is in majority sourced from West Africa (Ghana) and that they use “real cacao beans” to make their chocolates.
Why Should We Care?
Fair trade law, one that we are so familiar with in America and thanks to our class, is something that is still in its infancy in Asia (koreanherald.com). Despite Lotte being such a huge conglomerate that holds stake in almost everything you can think of (Technology, Hospitality, Food, Wine, etc.), because the Fair Trade Act isn’t a widespread knowledge and notion in Asia, ultimately the consumers do not care.
They do not check the sources of their products, they only care to purchase the “prettiest packaged products” to give to their significant others. The Fair Trade Certifications we discussed in class do not apply to the Asian Market, despite the chocolate being consumed in these areas have consistently risen (Financial Times). With Asia looking to be the next big market in chocolate that these conglomerates can get their hands on, shouldn’t Fair Trade be a priority?
However, through the usage of fancy terminology like “Real 100% Cacao” and “Chocolatiers”, Lotte manages to bypass all the Fair Trade knowledge that we have learned through class. The most important thing we should demand from this corporation is what we demand from every company these days – transparency. Yet, because the economic and trade laws that encompass Asia are mostly focused towards fair trade within their borders, how their products are received in Asia do not really matter, it only matters how we treat our workers and crops within the continent of Asia itself.
As of right now, Lotte chocolates aren’t a major player in the United States. Other than a handful of Asian Markets that carry their brands, their reach to the United States is limited by global competitors like Hershey’s. However, with their recent joint-venture with Hershey’s in China and their merger with Guylian chocolates in Belgium, it is only a matter of time before they take over the global market, just like how they did in Asia. Because the idea of fair trade is still in its infancy in Asia, this can be a major issue to the chocolate markets and cacao farms across the world.
Because they are headquartered in South Korea and Japan, they do not feel the pressure that a lot of US companies do when it comes to Fair Trade in Chocolates. The labor laws directed at South Korean citizens state that the minimum wage to work a full time job (40 hours a week) in South Korea as of now is 15 and they may work a part time job (20 hours a week) at the age of 13 (DOL). If this is the law that they have on their own citizens, why should they really consider the dangers of child labor laws when it comes to foreign countries?
This isn’t to cast a bad light in Asian working culture, but to show the vast difference in culture and the importance of a global policy when it comes to these matters. When Lotte tries to break their way into the US market, we should be more aware of what they are offering and put the same amount of pressure on them as we are to Hershey’s and other global chocolate corporations. Because ultimately, fair trade chocolate is the best tasting chocolate we can have.
“Chaebol Rankings Seesaw over 2 Decades.” Yonhap News Agency, english.yonhapnews.co.kr/news/2017/11/01/0200000000AEN20171101003000320.html.
Transparency has become one of the leading factors in consumer priority within the consumer-packaged food market over the last decade. “The “why” and “how” behind a product have become as important as the product itself, according to new research from the Nielsen Co. Nearly 4 in 10 U.S. consumers say they would switch from the food and beverage brands they currently buy to others that provide clearer, more accurate product information, Nielsen said.” (Food Business News)
The chocolate market-place has subtlety started to bloom thousands of small, artisanal companies that are focusing on specific sourcing practices to create a healthy and sustainable way of producing high quality chocolate. Unfortunately, the big five chocolate companies still reign strong because of customer loyalty and branding but we need to expose their lack of sustainability and support the smaller, high-quality entrepreneurs in the chocolate space. WKND Chocolate Company out of Denver, Colorado is a completely transparent bean to bar chocolate company that not only sources responsibly but empowers women in the entrepreneurial space.
WKND was founded by Lauren Heineck in 2017 while she was living in Spain. Lauren worked for a company called Feastly prior to starting her chocolate company. Feastly is an online platform for chefs to create menus and host private dinners. Through Feastly, Lauren met many great chefs and diners that were interested in innovative dining experiences and this encouraged her to follow her path to telling the stories of various socio-cultural entrepreneurs involved with her favorite food, chocolate.
Lauren states on her website, “We all have chocolate memories — they are ingrained within us and unique to our personal experiences and relationships; much the same as the cacao bean is unique in its own tale of where it comes from, how it got to us the chocolate makers, and what fable or allegory it will live on to tell with its final owner…in chocolate form.
Lovingly crafting future stories and moments of celebration via my favorite medium: cacao. I have infinite adoration and respect for this finite resource, and thus each taste, sniff, sip, and decadent square is riddled with sublime intention. John Muir said it best “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.”
In addition to making sustainable and delicious chocolate Lauren also has a podcast where she features companies (mostly women) that are moving the artisanal chocolate industry into the future by building relationships with sustainable practices at their core. Most of the entrepreneurs started their companies because they wanted to feel good about the chocolate treats they consume on a regular basis. One the podcasts on her website is, Episode 22: Cocoa Innovation with Kim Wilson of Good King Snacking Cocao features Kim Wilson, Co-founder of Good King Snacking:
“From Mrs. Field’s cookie-fame dreams to social corporate responsibility and on-the-ground commodity disruption, Kim Wilson has found her place in the innovative space of CPG food products utilizing cocoa beans with the new product Good King Snacking Cacao. Coming off of a 2017 Good Food Award for their ‘Harmony’ creation, Kim shares with us in this Well Tempered podcast episode her journey towards considering how to turn back the supply & value chain, and trail-blaze a new category. She is based in Seattle, Washington and travels often to meet and train her sourcing partners in Indonesia and Honduras.
Kim Wilson Co-founder of Good King Snacking Cacao, photo credit: Kim Wilson
Themes discussed in this episode:
– Moving from wine sales/marketing to cocoa
– Kim’s path to understanding where cocoa farming was at the time, and where the gaps were
– Good King launched on realization ‘we have to move the supply chain back’
– How snacking cacao differs from cocoa nibs
– Roasting cocoa beans after the shell has been removed
– Why it’s difficult for many origin regions to compete in chocolate making; lack of infrastructure, burden of weather patterns unfit for production, and missing market related to population or geography (competitive quadrant from her MBA)
– Struggles of this new category; FDA processing and licensing, customers thinking cocoa beans are coffee beans
– What else can be done with cacao, where will innovation go?
– Finding affinity with cheese, the “savory version of milk chocolate”
Good King’s pieces of innovation:
Move supply chain back
Make use for the smaller beans usually not requested by other chocolate makers
Target certain clones
Let women lead; skills/dexterity of their hands, interest in the work, taking them out of potentially harmful scenarios, planting the seed for other entrepreneurial ventures
Agricultural processor vs. Food processor and pioneering the groundwork for entry into the US
Save time, invest locally; keep more of the manufacturing elements in country without decreasing nutrients of the raw bean or using up energy sources for processing
Lauren gives a full spectrum background on the company and its founders so that consumers know exactly who they’re supporting and why their items cost what they do. WKND chocolate understands that innovation is not just product based. Cultural shifts are a major way that companies can shift the weight of an industry. If we’ve learned anything from 2017, it is that women should be empowered in every aspect of every industry as equals and they deserve every opportunity that is available to them. Our country, like chocolate, has been controlled by wealthy and powerful white men and Lauren is helping to bring balance to this part of the chocolate world.
Every grocery store checkout has multiple shelves stocked full of candy. More than half of those candies contain and/or are predominantly chocolate. When I learned in class that a Hershey’s Kiss is only 11% chocolate I was curious how much chocolate was in the other candy bars. In addition to the lack of chocolate in each candy bar there is no clear communication of where the chocolate is coming from or how it was sourced. The advertisements built around the big five is based on luring children into eating sweets. In “The True History of Chocolate” by Coe and Coe, there are graphics from the early 1900’s produced by Cadbury and it is a picture of a man drinking a cup of hot cocoa. The headline reads “Cadbury’s Cocoa – Makes Strong Men Stronger” With the intention of empowering women and creating an equal market via advertising, communication and quality practices Lauren has captured a solid platform to showcase all of the great work that her peers are creating.
Contrary to popular belief, Marcy Norton informed us that the Spanish developed a taste for Mesoamerican chocolate and did not improve much on it, in fact, they came to love this infatuating indigenous product (C. Martin, Health, Nutrition and The Politics of food, 2018).There has been no time more significant for authenticating this historic hypothesis than now. Quality chocolate manufacturers in the US are currently proliferating in their pursuit of bringing more value, new market, and high quality to the contemporary coca-chocolate market through the back to origins chocolate differentiation movement. This movement began focusing on purity of origin, single origin, and maximizing quality throughout the supply chain from the 1980s and 1990s (C. Martin, Haute Patisserie, Artisan Chocolate, and Food Justice: the future? 2018). What started with a number of small companies that could be counted by hand, and filled a shelf or two at a niche market store like Wholefoods, are now counted in the tens of differentiated chocolate brands that occupies an entire beautifully set sectionals of the Wholefoods Market with tens of options of bars and many certifications visible atop of their high quality, differentiated, certified, and indeed, confusing packages.
Photos by me,C.2018
This confusion might be due to the lack of knowledge of the meaning of those certifications, lack of information about Cocoa sourcing, and disconnect between the supply chain’s workers and farmers on one end and consumers on the other end. At a world distinguished by connectivity, in this particular chain, no one is connecting. My simple chocolate selection visit to Wholefoods took me through a complex analysis of this contemporary Cocoa-Chocolate market’s social and historic issues relating to differentiation, certification, and confusion. The Wholefoods Market research journey started with research, and then analysis that I conducted linking the chocolate’s origins to the future. I began to reason the philosophy motivating these companies to go back to the origins of chocolate through differentiation, certification, and what is causing consumers like me an unpleasant confusion. I chose three major brands, Theo, Divine, and Taza Chocolates. My curiosity towards these brands was triggered based on a unique characteristic distinguishing each of them, Theo’s unique manufacturing transparency, Divine’s unique Ghana based premium production, and Taza’s unique certification.
Photos by me,C.2018
The minute I set my eyes on Theo’s chocolate bars displayed,thoughts rushed flowing in my brain, linking the packages to chocolate origins, certifications, and their impact on cocoa’s workers and farmers. On Every Theo Chocolate Bar package, and for any flavor, the “O” in the word Theo is drawn as a Cocoa pod hanging down, the way oranges would off trees’ tops. While the Orange dripping chocolate is placed on the middle body of a tree the way cocoa pods grow on a cocoa tree; being a member of the cauliflory trees (C. Martin, Sugar and Cacao, 2018). I interpreted this creative swap of forming the Cocoa Pod logo as the upper part hanging on the top of Cocoa Tree’s body, and centered with fruits as divine design, because it took me back to Mesoamerican beliefs of Theobroma cocoa tree as the tree where gods were born, and that together with other tree, fruits’ gods are born from earth as fruits; this took me straight into history and tempted me to taste the flavors(C. Martin, Mesoamerica-and-the-Food-of-the-gods, 2018). Upon seeing the mixing of the melting chocolates with peppers, fruits, and colors, my mouth was watering with positive expectation. Once I tasted the melting-with-ease-chocolate mixed with the spicy pepper, another journey to origins took me to the traveling recipes that were adopted and transferred by Europeans and North Americans in the post Colombian Era.(C. Martin, Chocolate-Expansion, 2018).
Photo by me, C.2018
From Theo’s two major certifications the Certified Organic was the least confusing to me in an organic niche-market-store of the relatively informed customer. However, the Fair-for-Life Certification is not as recognized as the Certified organic. Researching their website literature added to my confusion as it mentions its “respect to human rights and fair working conditions” at the top of its mission statement, however it does not mention any evidence of its impact’s further details about what its reality, structure, and policy of “fair working conditions”(Fair-for-Life, 2018). This may induce a comfortable feeling within a consumers that they are contributing to the livelihoods of workers and farmers who are giving them the joy of chocolate. However, this may be an inflated, vague, and confused comfort. Citing directly from Theo’s company’s literature atop packaging covers is what even adds to it:” we pay farmers quality premiums that far exceeds fair trade premiums.” (Theo Chocolate, 2018). Despite the fact Theo chocolate mentions that 70% of its cocoa beans come from the Republic of Congo, there is no connection or information provided about workers or the Terroir of place and community that distinguishes this specific cocoa characteristics. The connect lacking between the up and down stream far ends of Theo’s consumers on one end, and workers and farmers on the other end, is not lacking when it comes to the connection Theo uniquely established between consumers and manufacturers as it provides a theochocolate.com link to its website on the back of its bar’s cover. The Theo chocolate’s website includes a scheduling of a tour to its factory in a rare display of transparency that is unconventional in the chocolate industry in general, nevertheless, these tours are not free. (Theo Chocolate, 2018). To view details about scheduling a tour of the Theo’s Chocolate Factory, please visit the following link: https://www.theochocolate.com/factory-tours/
Photo by me,C 2018
The second brand that tempted me to research was the Divine chocolate. The Louis Vuitton-Like luxurious packaging distinguished with patterns displaying what is perhaps ancient Ghanaian Drawings and patterns depicting turtles, birds, and objects, took me back to the origins of Mesoamerican luxurious artifacts and vases used to contain liquid chocolate the way this gold-lined-packet is containing this modern version of molded chocolate reminiscent of Rio Azul’s Mayan-patterned Vessel (C. Martin, Introduction, 2018). The texture of the chocolate is supper rich, smooth, and takes longer to melt. Citing directly from Divine literature on the bar cover, there is a seal that says: “ Owned by Farmers, Made for Chocolate Lovers”( Divine chocolate, 2018)”, while the “V” in the word Divine is shaped as a heart for logo, which displays an association between love celebrations and the Divine bar in a display of commercialization. Nevertheless, what struck me in this brand is the level of contrast between its luxurious packaging and its uniqueness being located in a Ghana producing region and the lack of depiction of farmers and workers, especially working women in Ghana.
Photos by me, C 2018
The back of the package mentions the Co-operative farmers owned coca farms in Ghana, Kuapa Kokoobusy, and the Fairtrade Certification was visible on top of the front-cover; however, nothing explains what Fairtrade Certification means. Nothing explains the way Fairtrade distributes money premiums that is supposed to go to farmers. The glamorous look of the package does not inform me as a consumer about the responsible sourcing. This is not an issue of Divine chocolate as much as it is a Fairtrade issue due to two major reasons. First, there is a lack of evidence about the impact of Fairtrade due to absence of any studies that prove it, in the Fair Trade Scandal, page 181, Ndongo S. Sylla expresses this fundamental problem at the hardcore of Fairtrade operations: “…they do not conduct baseline studies, do away with the use of reference groups and do not take into account the possible selection bias involved in participation in the FT system” ( Sylla, 2014). Second, the association of Fairtrade, Farmers, and Co-operatives, because the Cooperatives system within Fairtrade ensures that the money premium consumers pay does not go directly to farmers. Rather instead, it goes to the Co-operatives who will allocate resources based on priorities they set without taking into consideration the individual workers and farmers’ priorities who are already overburdened with the additional pay for the Fairtrade Certification(C. Martin, Alternative Trade and Virtuous Localization/Globalization, 2018). From my analysis, Co-operatives as an agricultural phenomenon that grew in the 19th century in the US through the “Rochadel Cooperativism”, only to expand into Latin America and other parts of the world, is not necessarily the answer to current cocoa farmers’ problems (Healy, 2001). Perhaps the Fairtrade Bureaucracy needs to empower the source of this market’s wealth, the workers, and provide the opportunity for them to share the abundant industry’s wealth by listening to their priorities. One thing Divine is associating with Fairtrade and I found confusing, and can be defined as the responsibility of Divine, is the association of quality and fair trade in the first sentence on the back of the Divine package,as it says: “the Divine chocolate is made with the finest quality Fairtrade Cocoa Beans” (Divine chocolate, 2018), however, the Fairtrade Certification does not guarantee quality (C. Martin, Alternative Trade and Virtuous Localization/Globalization, 2018).
Photos by me, C 2018
The third brand I chose is Taza chocolate for three specific reasons: First, its Mesoamerican back to the Mexican-Mayan origins of chocolate and the application of differentiation and terroir. Second, its unique Taza Direct Trade Certification. Third, its unique application of the term “minimally processed” in their market positioning. From Taza Chocolate’s paper use for packaging we can sense the back to authenticity upon touching the baking-sheet-like type of paper. The unique disk shaped bar reminds us of the Cocoa Powder pressed cakes (C. Martin, iNtroduction,2018). To me it is also an artistic expression for sustainability and cradle to cradle product life cycle. The taste of their 70% Cacao Puro is dryer than other 70% chocolates, yet it is delicious and intense. The differentiation in Taza goes back to the Mesoamerican Mayan Origins in many manifestations on the small disk’s front and back, it is especially reminiscent of Rio Azul Rounded and Mayan-patterned Vessels (C. Martin, Introduction, 2018). In my perspective, citing Taza’s packaging literature, the front is manifestation of differentiation through their comprehensive phrase: “Mexican-Style Stone Ground Chocolate”, and manifestation of certification through “Organic-Direct Trade” (Taza chocolate, 2018). While the back also manifests differentiation through both the “minimally processed” and the “stone ground” simultaneously ( Taza chocolate, 2018). Taza’s manifestation of certifications comes through its certified organic and Taza Direct Trade Certification. Taza Direct Trade Certification has its pros and cons, on one hand it ensures farmers are directly paid their increased premiums, and it incentivizes quality, Nevertheless, it is distinguished by its fragile relationships, and is limited in reach, as it only represents a small amount of 200 Mt/Y from 4800 Mt/Y of Cocoa Yields.(C. Martin, Alternative Trade and Virtuous Localization/Globalization, 2018). The pros of the quality chocolate, real relationships, and more money to farmers are highlighted in Taza’s literature on their website, however the cons are not. (Taza Chocolate, 2018).
Photos by me, C. 2018
In applying my own analysis, I find the Taza Chcolate emphasized phrase of “minimally processed chocolate” to be the most confusing on top of the confusion caused by the vast unknowability of Taza Direct Trade Certified. My interpretation as a health conscious consumer of the word “Processed” in food is associated with many negativities of general processed foods like preservatives, artificial coloring, high fructose corn syrup, and artificial falvors, etc. However, in the high quality certified chocolate differentiated market, the word “processed” is often associated with the process of making chocolate including all of its natural stages of processing chocolate, and to me this is a confusing employment of the concept.Perhaps it is intended to drive the niche Wholefoods health conscious consumer to perceive Taza Chcolate as different from other quality chocolate brands. Nevertheless, Taza might not necessarily be that different in quality, and in my perspective this is a point of confusion. The processing of quality chocolate is often natural, while the processed massively produced chocolate is what is usually only adding 11% chocolate to a bunch of saturated fats, sugar, milk, and other artificial ingredients and calling it chocolate, because in the US it is legal to add 11% chocolate to these ingredients and call it chocolate (Martin, C. Introduction, 2018). Moreover, that is the massively produced chocolate of the big top five managerial corporations, but this is a different topic to a different set of research that is not applicable to quality chocolate definition of “Processed chocolate”. Honesty, transparency, and explicit goal-driven intentions are more important in the long run for Taza chocolate so that it can strategically grow, prosper, and expand its market.
The word fair means allot to human beings and triggers our passions for treating others the way we like to be treated, and this should be the reality of Fairtrade Certification not just the Title. The word fair induces a good feeling for the customer that is thinking I am acting responsibly and purchasing things that would help the farmer communities in building school, eliminate child labor, abolish inequality, provide health services, and better living conditions. Consumers have no idea that there is no guarantee that the premiums go directly to the farmers in Fairtrade and rather it goes towards the cooperatives. Additionally, there are fees for certification that are very costly throughout the chain costing millions of dollars,however Fairtrade yields are selling in very low numbers(C. Martin, Alternative Trade and Virtuous Localization/Globalization, 2018).
I believe fair trade can enhance its message, international presence, and success through reforms to its cooperative policy that enables change in its structure in the following three main areas: 1. Reform structure to deliver money straight to farmers and works, 2. Emphasize dispatching promotion and marketing campaigns directed towards governments, corporations, manufacturers, and inform consumers and retailers to purchase certified cocoa. This insures that cocoa farmers and workers that have been enduring the costs associated with fair trade certification and committing their limited resources to it are not left alone to face their economic hardships. 3. The word fair inhibits the value of fairness that touches hearts, especially the warm hearts of chocolate lovers, therefore fair trade certification has to implement a reform strategy that would put the consumer and the worker/farmer in the central respectful place they deserve by being transparent, and by connecting the consumers and farmers together through informing consumers about farmers and workers conditions, issues, and aspirations. This strategy would eliminate the confusion that has been a chronic characteristic and a residue of the chocolate differentiation certification. Moreover, it will illuminate the truth around fair trade chocolate certification due to the international recognition of fair trade. This in turn will have a positive impact upon other certifications like Taza Direct Trade, UTZ, and Rain Forest Alliance, in terms of democratizing awareness around workers and farmers conditions, improving the workers and farmers conditions, and connecting consumers at the end market to workers and farmers at the beginning, where it all starts.
“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. Ritter 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. Business 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.
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 atMarktstrasse 61 in 1910. 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 Clara 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.
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”:
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.
“the modern mocha is a bittersweet concoction of imperialism, genocide, invention, and consumerism served with whipped cream on top.” ― Sarah Vowell
Humorist Sarah Vowell captures much of the history of chocolate (and coffee) in this little quip. However, the history of chocolate is long and its social, economic, and political implications are vast. Putting the positive impacts of invention aside, the negative impacts of imperialism and consumerism more than linger. They have resulted in gross economic inequities and lasting environmental and social damage, particularly in the production end of the cocoa supply chain. It’s going to take the force of consumerism and capitalism to right these inequalities and bring about sustainability.
Approximately 70% of the world’s cocoa is produced in West Africa by small farms spread out across the area. In the 1980s cocoa farmers received approximately 16% of the chocolate profits, today this percentage has been greatly reduced to 3%. Cocoa farmers are not organized and have little bargaining power against more organized buyers.
The 2018 Cocoa Barometer highlights the many challenges for cacao farmers, including volatile pricing. From September 2016 – February 2017, farmers experienced a 30%-40% decline in income (Ghana farmers were protected by this price drop through government subsidies). Although prices are on the rise again, the overall trend the past 60 years is a decline in prices (see figure 2). With farmers having little, to no, protection from their governments they are hardest hit by market fluctuations, while others on the value chain will see an increase of their profit margins, even if only temporary.
Farmers in West Africa make well below a living wage of $2.51 per day, averaging $0.78 per day (FairTrade). The Cocoa Barometer asserts that the price drops are directly related to improved production due to new farming areas created from deforestation. More than 90% of West Africa’s original forests are gone.
An estimated 2.1 million children work in West African cocoa fields. Structural issues such as poverty, lack of schools, and infrastructure also contribute to the high levels of child labor. Efforts in the past few decades to end child labor, preserve the environment, and to balance these inequities have been challenging and difficult to measure. Currently, third party certification bodies have been the only levers toward implementing and measuring sustainability efforts as well as signals to consumers as to where, and how, their chocolate products are sourced.
The three main certification entities are Fairtrade, Utz and the Rainforest Alliance. Fairtrade Standards are designed to support the sustainable development of small producer organizations and agricultural workers in the poorest countries in the world. Similarly, Utz certification was created to show consumers that products were sustainably sourced. Rainforest Alliance certification meant farmers met rigorous environmental and social standards. In January 2018, Utz merged with the Rainforest Alliance. The New Rainforest Alliance plans to publish a singular program at the end of 2019.
Certification and bean-to-bar efforts in the specialty chocolate market have many success stories, but compared to the global consumption of chocolate, these efforts have only made a dent. The Fine Cacao and Chocolate Institute (FCCI) reports, with caveats intended to illustrated the challenges of obtaining this data, that there are 481 specialty chocolate makers and manufacturers worldwide that represent approximately 6% of the annual global production of cacao.
The FCCI defines this market segment as those chocolate makers and manufacturers that choose to purchase specialty cacao at a premium price for purposes of taste quality and/or sustainability reasons. Within this small group, sustainability is but a factor in paying the price premium, but not necessarily a primary factor. In order for sustainability initiatives to have any meaningful impact to cocoa farmers the major chocolate manufacturers need to take the lead and invest in best practices throughout their supply chain that address the environmental, social, and economic challenges their farmers face.
Recent Commitments by the Majors / Certifications & Goals
Mondelēz International (a subsidiary of Kraft) Chocolate Brands: Cadbury, Alpen Gold, Côte d’Or, Toblerone, etc. Certification provided by FLOCERT through a private labeling partnership.
In 2012 Mondelēz International invested $400 million to create its Cocoa Life program. The program plans to empower 200,000 cocoa farmers and one million community members by 2022. In April 2018 Mondelēz International reported that they have reached 120,500 cocoa farmers, in a variety of programs and they reached 35% certified cocoa.
Cocoa Life is tied to the UN Sustainability Development Goals (SDGs), with an emphasis on Goals 1 (no poverty), among others. Cocoa Life has partnered with local governments and NGOs to build community-centric Child Labor Monitoring and Remediation Systems (CLMRS), which educate farming communities on the dangers of child labor, identify children at risk, and remediate cases with its local partners. Cocoa Life CLMRS programs have started in Ghana and continue to increase. Roll out of CLMRS in Côte d’Ivoire will begin in 2018. Nestlé has also implemented CLMRS program into its sustainability programs.
Nestlé Chocolate Brands: Smarties, Nestlé Crunch, Butterfinger, KitKat, etc.
Certifications: Utz and Fairtrade
In their detailed, first report (2017), co-authored with the International Cocoa Initiative (ICI), Nestlé asserts that certification is not enough and that additional support for the farmer is needed. In fact, Nestlé asserts that certification drove the issue of child labor “underground” as farmers would hide any child laborers when inspectors came around. While Mondelēz set up CLMRS in Ghana, Nestlé set up its CLMRS in Côte d’Ivoire and report a 51% reduction of child labor in a recent sample of 1,056 children over a two-year period. 
Nestlé is also investing in Community Liaison People (CLPs) to educate the community of the dangers of child labor. They are targeting women and mothers as they are more likely to invest their income and education into their family. The CLPs are local young people who are paid to train and the cost of the CLPs are split between Nestlé and the farmer. Remediation is highly individualized, but these activities are ones Nestlé continues to invest. Nestlé hopes to scale their more successful initiatives to meet the goals of its Cocoa Plan, which is set to reach 57% cocoa certification by the end of 2020.
Ferrero Chocolate Brands: Ferrero Pralines, Nutella, Kinder Chocolate Certification is conducted by Utz, Fairtrade, and Rainforest Alliance.
According to its 2016 Social Responsibility Report Ferrero has made a commitment to 100% certified cacao by 2020 and 75% by the end of 2018.
In its April 2018 Cocoa Barometer reports Ferrero is 70% certified (figure 4), and by its own reporting, on track to meet its goal of 75% cocoa certification (figure 10).
Ferrero reports partnerships with cacao cooperative ECOOKIM, the largest in Côte d’Ivoire, which takes part in the Fairtrade Africa program “It Takes a Village to Protect a Child.” Similar to CLMRS, the program establishes a Child Labor Committee to raise awareness about child labor, create child protection policy, and monitor activity at the community level. Ferrero reports that 9,413 children benefitted from this program. 
Ferrero also works with Save the Children to work toward ending child labor. It reports 1.2 million children are forced to work in hazardous conditions, however, Ferrero has set relatively modest goals of reaching 500 children, 7,500 members of 10 communities, and 100 representatives of local institutions.
In January Ferrero announced it planned to acquire Nestlé’s U.S. confectionary business for $2.8 billion in cash making Ferrero the third largest confectionary company in the U.S. It is anticipated that Ferrero will realign their sustainability goals after the acquisition of Nestlé, but their goals are currently similar.
The Hershey Company Popular Chocolate Brands: Hershey’s Chocolate Bar, Cocoa, Kisses, and Baking chocolates, Kit Kat, Almond Joy, Mounds, Reese’s, York. Certification is conducted by Utz, Fairtrade, and Rainforest Alliance.
In its 2016 Corporate Social Responsibility Report, The Hershey Company highlights progress in their Learn to Grow agriculture and empowerment program, serving 48,300 farmers in West Africa. The report also highlights its Energize Learning program, which provides Vivi energy bars to students improving overall nutrition. The program is a partnership with the Ghana School Feeding Program and Project Peanut Butter and 50,000 kids in Ghana receive 50,000 Vivi bars every day. Hershey also partnered with The World Cocoa Foundation’s (WCF) Climate Smart Cocoa Program to address climate change impacts to cocoa growing regions. The partnership will pilot a series of programs to develop “climate-smart” best practices to inform the Learn to Grow curriculum and through Hershey’s CocoaLink program knowledge sharing between farmers will be allowed via low-cost mobile technology. Hershey’s report indicates that it is on schedule to reach its 100% certified goal by 2020. In April 2018 the Cocoa Baramoter reports Hershey reached 75% (see figure 4). Also in April 2018, Hershey announced the creation of its Cocoa for Good sustainability programs
Beyond certification, Cocoa for Good seeks to address the most pressing issues facing cocoa-growing communities. The strategy is to target four key areas: increase family access to good nutrition, elimination of child labor and increase youth access to education opportunities, increase household incomes for women and men, zero deforestation and increased agroforestry. The announcement came with a $500 million commitment by 2030 and like Mondelēz International and Mars, aligns its strategy to contribute to the goals of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
Mars Chocolate Brands include: M&M, Snickers, Twix, Dove, Milky Way, etc. Certification is conducted by Utz, Fairtrade, and Rainforest Alliance.
In September of 2017, Mars announced its Sustainable in a Generation Plan, with a pledge to invest $1 billion over the next few years to address threats such as climate change, poverty in its value chain, and scarcity of resources. This is across all their raw products, not just cocoa. Oxfam will serve as an advisor to their Farmer Income Lab, which aligns with the United Nations Sustainability Development Goal 1 (no poverty). The Farmer Income Lab will seek to create solutions through research for farmers working in Mars’ supply chain in developing countries. Other actions include improving cocoa farming methods, pests and disease prevention, and unlocking the cocoa genome. Engagement with others actors in the cocoa industry is also key, such as the World Cocoa Foundation and CocoaAction. Mars’ Chief Sustainability & Health and Wellbeing Officer, Barry Parkin, also serves as Chairman of World Cocoa Foundation.
Mars may lay claim as the first major chocolate company to commit to 100% certified chocolate by 2020, but its progress has lagged, reporting 50% of their cocoa being certified in 2016 and the same percentage being reported by the cocoa barometer in 2018 (figure 4). During this same time frame Ferrero and Hershey have demonstrated increases in certification of cocoa reporting 70% and 75% certificated cocoa, respectively (figure 4). Their website lacks a corporate social responsibility report and the information available on their site appears to be written in 2016, except for recent press releases and Income Position Statement. For example Mars’ claim to be the only major manufacturer to work with all three major certification organizations Utz, Rainforest Alliance, and Fairtrade International is outdated. Hershey and Ferrero include these bodies in their 2016 sustainability reports.
Until the recent announcement of Sustainable in a Generation Plan, Mars’ approach, as described on their website, leans more toward improving farmer yield through technology (fertilizer, farming techniques, mapping the cacao genome) than increasing living wages and address child labor. A press release by Frank Mars in April 2018 urges collaborative scientific approach and extolls their work on breeding higher yield cocoa plants for improving farmer incomes. However, higher yields do not always improve farmer incomes. As previously mentioned, the recent Cocoa Barometer report suggests that higher production results in driving down price, thus less income for farmers. Perhaps Mars’ real progress is tied to the progress of the World Cocoa Foundation.
World Cocoa Foundation (WCF) and CocoaAction
CocoaAction is a voluntary industry-wide organization that aligns the world’s leading cocoa and chocolate companies, cocoa producing governments, and key stakeholders on regional priority issues in cocoa sustainability run by the World Cocoa Foundation (WCF). The WCF member companies committed to CocoaAction include Mondelēz International, Nestlé, Ferrero, The Hershey Company, Mars, Incorporated, among others. In November of 2017 a Framework of Action was announced by the WCF with the governments of Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana and major chocolate and cocoa companies to end deforestation, restore forest areas, and accelerate investment in long-term sustainable production of cocoa, and the development and capacity-building of farmers’ organizations and farmer’s income. Commitments also include participation of policy creation by farmers and extensive monitoring and reporting. The Framework of Action involves governments and companies that represent 80% of the global cocoa production and usage. If implemented correctly, these commitments should go a long way in repairing the deforestation in West Africa.
The Future of Chocolate
These efforts are welcome and it is promising that the majors can successfully collaborate with governments, NGOs, and each other in the important effort to secure the future of chocolate and those that produce it. It is also encouraging to see the major manufacturers release sustainability reports, however, as barometer.org reports, many of their commitments fall well short compared to the actual scope of the problem. The commitment to reach 400,000 children by 2020 would only impact 18% of children in need (figure 15). Similarly meeting commitments to help farmers in CocoaAction would only reach 15% of farmers in need (figure 15). Regarding living income, farmers are only making $0.78 per day, 31% of the living wage of $2.51 per day (figure 15). The Cocoa Barometer report stresses that a living wage, among other factors, is a major component that these initiatives must include in their sustainability initiatives. From available data, all reports aspire to improve farmer income, either by improving productivity or identifying additional income generating activities. However, these plans do not set a living wage as a goal. As mentioned earlier in this article more production doesn’t always result in more income.
The future of chocolate depends on the fate of cocoa farmers and their fate relies on untangling a mess of social and economic issues caused by imperialism, and exacerbated by free market capitalism and consumerism. The goals set forth in these reports are generally headed in the right direction, but their success is dependent on their ability to make their initiatives successful, then scale up on that success. Accountability and transparency among the industry and at the government level is also paramount to measure the effects of these initiatives. Consumers also have a role in making responsible purchases and applying pressure on corporations and governments to minimize inequality in the supply chain and certification plays an important role. If farmers continue to be marginalized, then there will be little incentive for a younger generation of farmers to take up the trade and chocolate may become a rare treat indeed.
 Vowell, Sarah. The Partly Cloudy Patriot. Simon & Schuster. New York, New York. October 2002. p. 42
 Martin, Carla D. “Introduction.” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard Extension School: Cambridge, MA. 24 Jan. 2018. Class Lecture.
This paper examines part of the history behind slavery, specifically child slavery, how it has been impacted by activism, government policy, and corporate social responsibility, and what this means for cacao farmers moving forward. By illuminating courageous accounts like ones from Malian diplomat Macko, along with accounts from the children themselves, the paper aims to bridge the psychological disconnect that often occurs when thinking about those who are struggling around the globe. Keeping these stories and concepts in mind, the paper progresses to examine the Fairtrade movement and its impact on similarly disenfranchised cacao farmers, as well as examine aspects of the demand and consumption side of the marketplace, and how consumer’s preferences will affect future Fairtrade growth, and in turn the well-being of cacao farmers. Furthermore, it goes on to examine the shortcomings of the Fairtrade movement, and details some of the inherent faults in the nature of the system. By delving into the history and specific accounts of child slavery and labor abuse in the cacao industry, and pivoting into an important movement that aims to improve the lives of cacao farmers—that of the Fairtrade movement—this paper explores the supply and demand sides of the marketplace and how each interacts in affecting the future of Fairtrade and the livelihoods of cacao farmers.
Labour Accountability and the History of Child Slavery
Historically speaking, cacao has, like many other cash related crops important to colonizing Europeans, relied heavily on slavery for its production. According to Martin and Sampeck, “from roughly 1500 to 1900, between 10 and 15 million enslaved Africans survived forced transport across the Atlantic and began working under chattel slavery, treated as property or what Mintz (1985) has called “false commodities.” Approximately 60% of enslaved Africans arrived in the Caribbean, 30% in Brazil, and less than 10% in British North America (Gomez 2005).” (Martin, 2015) This type of forced labor and servitude doesn’t exist on the same scale as it once did prior to the abolition of slavery, yet in many cases, the working environments and the resulting living wages and conditions that cacao farmers endure ends up being only marginally better than the conditions experienced hundreds of years ago. Images like this one from The New Taste of Chocalate show the potential for cacao farming to produce happy and productive families. However this is not always the case, and through her own ethnographic research in Côte d’Ivoire, Carol Off has often found that “the farmers eke out an existence here in the hills, in a land infested by volatile gunmen. Yet they seem satisfied. Even in the midst of all the trouble around them, they say they are better-off than they would be in their drought-stricken home country, where people are chronically hungry” (2006). The resulting situation in this case is one where these communities become entrenched in maintaining cacao their only known source of economic income, but as Off goes on to add is “a long way from paradise. None of the children here go to school, and there are no services—no electricity, no phones, no clinics or hospitals” (2006). Off’s account of this community is similar to others—it shows the level of pride and attentiveness to cultural history that these people have, and because of this fact, how they are seemingly able to endure hardships and sub-par working conditions that may otherwise be too hard to endure if the object of production did not have such a history within their culture.
While temporary comfort is provided by the farmer’s admittance that they enjoy their work and take pride in it, the ultimate reality remains that this environment is not one that hard-working farmers who are seeking to make an honest living should have to endure—especially when they are an integral part of the supply-chain for these multi-billion dollar chocolate companies. As her stay in Côte d’Ivoire went on, Off tells a story of when cacao industry reporter Ange Aboa was surprised by how little these workers knew about the future supply chain of the product they were helping harvest (2006). He goes on to explain that “these bars costs about 500 West African francs (roughly equivalent to a Canadian dollar). Their eyes widen in disbelief. The sum strikes them as staggering for such a small treat—almost enough to buy a good-sized chicken or an entire bag of rice. It represents more than the value of one boy’s work for three days, if they are being paid at all”(2006). What this illustrates is that these boys are living in not only a different reality from kids who are consuming confectionery chocolates around the globe, but are also living in a reality which has been unjustly imposed upon them given the information and resources available to the companies who source their cacao. This is a brutal fact to have to face, especially when these kids are working in grueling conditions, and in addition, have little to no access to education, technology, or other outlets that would help them grow as individuals and perhaps spread awareness to develop solutions to these problems.
The unfortunate reality for children trapped in this situation is that they are often left helpless to escape their situation. As Off later goes on to tell in her “The Disposables” chapter, some of these children have no choice but to have to run away due their working conditions being so unpleasant, in doing so risking their lives. When the boys asked for pay, they were beaten and never asked again. One boy, Malick, was able to escape on his own, returning home with diseases his parents were burdened to pay to be treated (Off, 2006). Such tales are harrowing, showing that slavery is still in existence around the world, and that it has crept into particularly devastating manifestations involving children who in many ways are left helpless. According to a 2007 pilot survey on labour practices in cocoa production in Ghana (commissioned by the Ghanaian government’s National Programme for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour in Cocoa) found that “in the 2005–2006 cocoa season, children aged between 5 and 12 were involved in tasks such as the spraying of insecticides, application of fertiliser, bush burning, clearing land and felling trees” (Berlan, 2013). Like Malick, there are others who face these painful realities, yet it is often difficult to pin down where such labor malpractice
is taking place. Reports from the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture research on the subject state that “90% of cocoa farms in Côte d’Ivoire used forced child labour have been revised down to less than 2%” (qtd. in Berlan, 2013). Such a shift can be explained largely by efforts on behalf activists whether they are politically connected or the children themselves, governments being pro-active, and companies becoming more involved in corporate social responsibility. At the same time however, such a shift may also suggest that the number is unreliable and that closer attention needs to be paid to what the real figures are. In the image to the right, a Malian police chief is reported as saying he has records of many missing children (BBC News, 2001).
Creating avenues and initiatives that attempt to solve these issues of wage equality and working conditions are paramount, and one solution that has arisen is that companies have begun paying closer attention to the ethical side of their supply chain. A combination of factors have contributed to this growing pressure and willingness of companies to begin tackling this long-standing problem, and arguably one of the more compelling tales of activism comes from a Malian diplomat by the name of Macko. Off tells of how Macko, who became incensed upon hearing from witnesses that children were being held at gunpoint and forced to work, took it upon himself to investigate these rumored conditions, having to take a police escort and fight suspicion that the police themselves may be complicit in the operation (2006). Ultimately following his courageous discoveries Macko was able to free hundreds of children from slavery, as well as raise awareness to the government and to the world that this was happening, and it efforts like these, ones that are carried out by people who have the capacity to create change, that are needed to chip away and eradicate the issue of child labor and slavery. Government officials like Macko, who have the ability to investigate and check-in on these types of labor abuses, would be remiss not to take similar action if there is any suspicion of this type of activity. Philosopher and global activist Peter Singer would advise in such a situation for each of us to treat children suffering at a distance around the globe, to think about them, in a way no different than you would the children who went to your son or daughter’s school, and that there is simply much more that we could be doing to help those less-fortunate around the world if we were only able to shift the perceptions of how we think. While Singer’s ideas may be extreme at one end of the spectrum, they are useful when applied to the context of issues that are truly abhorrent such as child slavery. A major factor in ultimately eradicating this issue is being able to create transparency among cacao growing farms and cooperatives, and where that transparency has not yet been achieved, courageous and persistent exploration of them should be pursued.
The Fairtrade Initiative and its Effects on Producers and Consumers
One initiative that aims to address these aforementioned issues is the Fairtrade movement. Factors such as rising ethical concerns among consumers, and the resulting pressure that companies have felt from this change in consumption have led the Fairtrade movement to help improve the livelihoods of cacao farmers. According to the Fairtrade Foundation, the “primary purpose is to tackle poverty and empower producers in developing countries” (qtd. in Poelmans, Rousseau, 2015). While in a general sense these goals have begun to see results, there is a deeper layer of complexity to how Fairtrade ends up affecting both producers and consumers on the supply and demand sides of the supply chains.
A variety of studies have been done surrounding consumer’s preference to Fairtrade products and their presence in the marketplace, and recently statistics show that worldwide Fairtrade sales have increased by 15 percent between 2012 and 2013 (Poelmans, Rousseau, 2015). More recent data from the Fairtrade International website suggests that “Sales of Fairtrade certified cocoa grew by 27 percent in 2015 driven in part by the Fairtrade Sourcing Program (FSP) and increased productivity by Fairtrade cocoa farmers” (2015). Such increases in Fairtrade sales sound promising for farmers, and in many respects the Fairtrade movement has improved the lives of cacao farmers; however, the movement is not without its faults and shortcomings, and faces and uphill battle if it wants to significantly expand its consumer base past its current numbers. A 2016 study found that “only a small segment (14% of Millennials) showed a strong endorsement of ethical products” (McCoy, Young, 2016). Most interesting about this study was that it used two different focus groups to look at how millennials may endorse Fairtrade and other ethical products in one focus group among their peers, but upon actually choosing what chocolate they wanted to eat, the answer was not always the same. Many participants showed that they based their choices on minimal concern with ethical factors, while their declarations in the focus group suggested a different propensity to favor ethical chocolate products (Lindell, 20). Such data shows the obstacles Fairtrade chocolate faces in attracting a genuine consumer base that is interested in ponying up the extra cost, conscious of the supply-chain backing their purchases, and arguably most importantly that enjoy the actual taste of the chocolate. An extensive study on the general effectiveness of Fairtrade labeling found that “overall…consumers value ethical labeling as an important product attribute in the absence of any price differential relative to similar unlabeled products. However, in the presence of a price premium, we observe significant heterogeneity in the weight different consumers place on ethical sourcing when making their purchasing decisions” (Hainmueller, Hiscox, Sequeira, 2014). These findings are important because they show how consumers to hold the desire to make more ethically conscious purchases; however, that in order to combat the added elasticity of Fairtrade product prices, that it will be important to focus on factors such as taste, marketing, and continuing to raise awareness behind ethically sourced products.
Moving forward, examining the supply chain and the nature of how farmers with Fairtrade certification get their products into the market place yields discoveries that should raise concerns over the long-term effectiveness of such practices. Examining the the nature of the supply-side agreement for cacao is detailed as follows: “A price floor is a determined price that Fairtrade certified farmers receive from Fairtrade certified buyers or traders of their products. The price floor is set above the world market prices and is not based on the physical quality of the product but rather strictly on the nature of the Fairtrade relationship. The price floor for any given Fair Trade product is determined by “cost of production plus cost of living plus cost of complying with Fair Trade standards” (Crooks, 2010). Such claims show that while in the short-run the increased profitability that Fairtrade may offer farmers, that in the long-run, this type of supply-side economic philosophy that focuses on being one of scale rather than one of scope, could potentially prevent Fairtrade chocolate from reaching the wider-spread appeal that it needs due to the conglomerated quality of the cacao.
While the price floors have been instrumental in increasing wages for cacao farmers in many respects, it will remain important to track the effect these price floors, along with how price is set relative to quality, have on the future efficient market outcomes for both cacao producers and consumers. Crooks details this issue further stating that “because 95% of world cocoa production is done on an average of two to five hectacres of forest per farmer, also known as a “smallholder farm,” the blending of beans is essential in order for farmers to collect sufficient enough amounts to sell. If farmers are aware that their products will be mixed with others, there is then no incentive to invest time, money, and energy in cultivating a product of distinct taste and excellence.” (2010) With a system such as this one in place, you can see how what often drives capitalistic markets to succeed such economic motivation to create a superior product to generate future sales, has effectively been removed. Even worse, you are seeing a dis-incentive to produce quality cacao knowing that it will be blended with other cacao. Poelmans and Rousseau embellish further on concerns surrounding Fairtrade policies saying that “Fairtrade alone does not work and that it has to be complemented by other changes in coordination and development policies; that the individual producer knowledge of Fairtrade is still very limited; that the premiums paid by consumers are not going directly to farmers, and that the success or failure of Fairtrade can often be linked to certain types of products” (Poelmans, Rousseau, 2015). In the image below, one can see an example of issue being taken up with how Fairtrade has sourced its cacao.
These concerns among others are important to be aware of when moving forward with the Fairtrade movement, and carefully gauging how to best set policies and requirements that will benefit cacao producers will ensure that the Fairtrade movement’s consumer base doesn’t remain stagnant. While the preliminary introduction of Fairtrade has shown positive outcomes for cacao farmers, there remains a number of different dynamics within the Fairtrade marketplace affecting producers and consumers that need to sorted out and analyzed more in-depth if the movement is to succeed and gain momentum in the long-term.
Berlan, A. (2013). Social Sustainability in Agriculture: An Anthropological Perspective on Child Labour in Cocoa Production in Ghana. Journal of Development Studies, 49(8), 1088-1100. DOI: 10.1080/00220388.2013.780041
“Chocolate wasted” was not a hashtag when it first presented itself. As a matter of fact, it was blurted out by a six-year-old actress named Alexys Nycole Sanchez (playing Becky Feder) in Adam Sandler’s Grown-Ups. Per the movie’s storyline, “I wanna get chocolate wasted!” was an appropriate phrase for childlike overindulgence that caught every movie-goer’s attention in 2010 (IMDb). The legendary line even helped Alexys win the “Best Line” category at MTV Movie Awards the following year (IMDb). Soon after, headlines like Los Angeles (LA) Times, celebrities and random college students, like myself, were using the term rather frequently. Still today, there are establishments and products named after the infamous idiom such as a Houston-based ice cream truck and a lipstick shade made by Doses of Color, respectively (Chocolate; Dose of Colors). Amazingly, the power of the Internet allows us to revisit its cinematic origination and locate namesake innovations. But truthfully speaking, the denotation of chocolate wasted is not leading in headlines like its figurative interpretation nor being quantifiable in scholarly publications. Prior to diving into a serious topic, I have several questions that will hopefully heighten your interest to want to learn more.
What is food waste (including chocolate waste)? What are the associated impacts?
What are direct implications from chocolate waste throughout the supply chain?
What qualities does a sustainably certified product uphold? Is waste not included in the sustainability assessment? Does waste not contribute to the overexertion of resources and labor?
How do I avoid chocolate waste in my home? Does chocolate have an expiration date? Is chocolate (or cocoa) mulch safe for pets?
Läderach Chocolate Factory, a Switzerland-based manufacturer, displays a collection of “cocoa waste” in their in-house museum for tourists’ enjoyment. From right to left there: cocoa with waste materials, extracted waste (like stones, dust, metal or wood), and cleaned cocoa.
Food Waste: A Global Problem
On a global scale, 1.3 billion tons of food production meant for human consumption gets lost or wasted annually (FAO). Regarding economic losses, food waste is equivalent to $310 billion in developing countries and $680 billion in industrialized countries with the U.S. leading in food waste and overall wastage than any other country in the world (FAO). Specifically, in the U.S., about 40 percent of food goes uneaten annually which equates to 133 billion pounds with an USD value $161 billion (USDA, n.d.). Conversely, 42 million Americans including 13 million children are facing food insecurity and hunger daily (FAO). Hypothetically speaking, the diversion of 93,000 tons of wasted food could create 322 million meals for people in need and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 714,000 tons (ReFED). This alarming amount of wasted food is not only associated with socioeconomic implications but it also depletes natural resources significantly.
According to Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC), U.S. food production utilizes the following: 50% of land, 30% of all energy resources, and 80% of all freshwater (Gunders). Resources consisting of land, water, labor, energy and agricultural inputs (fertilizers, pesticides and fungicides) to produce wasted food are squandered as well, unwillingly inviting resource scarcity and negative environmental externalities. Activating ozone pollution, the misuse of agricultural inputs including irrigated water, pesticides and common fertilizers like nitrogen & phosphorus can cause further damage to ecosystems. Irrigation practices promotes water pollution affecting quality, groundwater accessibility, and potable water accessibility (Moss). Moreover, pesticides are common culprits to human health effects, resistance in pests, crop losses, bird mortality and groundwater degradation (Moss). Other inputs, such as nitrogen and phosphorus fertilizers, wreak havoc to human health, air quality and aquatic ecosystems (Moss).
The utilization of resources is not the only emitter of greenhouse gas emissions, pertaining to food waste, but also the decomposition of it makes substantial damage to the environment. Postharvest, food waste is the single largest component of municipal solid waste making landfills the third largest source of methane in the country (Gunders). Anthropogenic methane accounts for 10 percent of total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions contributing to a rise in global average temperatures, better known as global warming (EPA, n.d.b). Particularly, landfill methane generates 16 percent of total methane releases compared to carbon dioxide which emits 81% annually (EPA). Although carbon dioxide is the main contributor of global warming, methane carries significant weigh as a pollutant due to its ability to absorb more energy per unit mass than any other greenhouse gas (EPA).
Pinpointing on ecological footprint, the most recent “Earth Overshoot Day” occurred on August 2, 2017 in which the extraction of natural resources exceeded the Earth’s capacity to regenerate in the given year (Earth Overshoot Day). By partnering with Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition, Global Footprint Network also reported that a 50% reduction in food waste could push the date of “Overshoot Day” by 11 Days (Earth Overshoot Day).
Chocolate Waste Feeds the Food Waste Problem
The classification of food waste is distinguished by each level of the supply chain including agricultural production, post-harvest handling & storage, processing, distribution and consumption. From a global supply chain perspective, food waste is very difficult to define across countries. The conflicting views of edible versus inedible food waste is one example of cultural variation which impedes the approval of a standardized definition that will cater to all diverse parties and accurately measure waste at the macro level. For instance, the U.S. chocolate market classifies the pulp of a cocoa pod along with the shell of the cocoa bean as inedible products. Thus, cocoa pulp is left at the farmgate level, and at the processing level, cocoa shells are removed and most commonly converted into biofuel or mulch. Unlike the US, the Brazilian chocolate market produces chocolate with cocoa solids but also makes shell and pulp into sellable products such as loose leaf tea or juice, respectively. Moreover, these value-added practices are present-day testaments of indigenous traditions. The myriad indigenous uses of cacao and chocolate products are analogous to the circular economy that we are yearning for today.
During the Mesoamerican period, chocolate was classified as an esteemed delicacy, a form of payment, ceremonial gift, everyday cooking agent, natural remedy for human health & the environment and so forth. However, during European colonization, the rise of industrialization came with added ingredients, mainly refined sugar, that devalued the quality aspect as well as created a negative image of chocolate over time (Martin, “Sugar”). The health risks of added sugars began to overshadow the medicinal properties of cacao. Even the perception of cacao changed from a specialty crop into a cash crop. From a socioenvironmental view, terroir of cash crops rose in volatility at the extent of mass enslavement and corruption (Martin, “Health”). At the same time, these characteristic flaws did not stop consumption. Even today, popular chocolate products are sugary, highly processed and in conjunction with unethical sourcing backgrounds. For instance, laborers endure labor-intensive work on a daily basis in top cocoa producing countries, such as West Africa. The average laborer is paid below the global poverty line, uses dangerous tools such as a machete to manually cut down cacao pods, applies fungicides & pesticides typically without the proper protective equipment (PPE) and oftentimes exposed to insects and other dangerous animals. In turn, these hazards can result in serious health complications both physically and mentally.
By ICCFO – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0
West African laborers removing beans from the cacao pod. It is a labor-intensive process.
Nonetheless, the chocolate market has expanded its portfolio over the years, containing commercial chocolate and craft chocolate, in which consumers can be selective among the two categories. Commercial chocolate is what we usually see in supermarkets in which the supply chain depends on multiple stakeholders (across countries) to meet global demand. Whereas, craft chocolate consists of a relatively small team who produces chocolate in small batches from cocoa bean to bar (Martin, “Haute”). Compared to commercial chocolate, these manufacturers seek to provide quality rather than quantity which typically comes with a higher retail price (Martin, “Haute”).
Once it hits retail, consumers, like myself, are in awe of the multiple offerings, appealing packaging and even sustainability labels that lures us in to help “save the world” and eliminate any guilt from buying chocolate. It’s like a race to find the one with the most honorable mentions comprising of Organic Certified (USDA, Non-GMO and an overlap of third-party ethical standards (Rainforest Alliance, Fairtrade, etc.) However, after investigating various sustainability standards, retail chocolate waste is not attributable to certifiable requirements nor is it recognized as a concern overall. Based on logical reasoning and what I stated earlier, the primary ingredients of chocolate consisting of refined sugar, cocoa derivatives (cocoa powder and butter), palm oil and/or milk powder that were extracted from its origination to be processed, transported and packaged as a single product. In addition, these ingredients are combined and further processed into chocolate which is then packaged and transported to retail as a finished good. Just imagine the man hours, natural resources and other inputs used within this supply chain. Broaden that imagination to consider the following: consumers discarding “safe-to-eat” chocolate confections due to fat or sugar bloom, retailers not knowing what to do with an overstock of unsold seasonal products, improper storage temperatures ruining a truckload full of chocolate candies, outdated farming techniques producing more waste than yield and slightly related, the packaging of sustainably certified chocolate causing more harm to the environment than conventional chocolate. The latter, wasteful packaging, is another topic that needs assessment and corrective actions. Unfortunately, these scenarios are real-life examples that are being overlooked and emitting an indefinite amount of greenhouse gases.
In actuality, retailers have the potential to be the main change agents for food waste reduction including chocolate waste. However, edible food is commonly thrown away in these spaces due to excess inventory, imperfections, or damaged packaging. A recent study conducted by the Center for Biological Diversity’s Population & Sustainability and Ugly Fruit & Veg Campaign, reported a grade C or below to most of the top ten grocers in the country including Kroger, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Publix and Costco (Center for Biological Diversity). The relatively low grades were based on their poor efforts to address and combat food waste in eight focus areas: corporate transparency, company commitments, and supply chain initiatives, produce initiatives, shopping support, donation programs, animal feed programs and recycling programs (Center for Biological Diversity). Both sustainability driven organizations have pronounced a goal for all U.S. grocery stores to eliminate food waste by 2025 (Center for Biological Diversity). Grocers were also pushed to change their current marketing models into sustainable ones by promoting safer handling and lesser stock levels, leveraging new technologies to strengthen inventory management and creating policies on retail spoilage reduction (Center for Biological Diversity).
By Kgbo – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,
A grocer aisle full of chocolate candies wrapped with seasonal packaging.
The Rise of Chocolate Production and Waste
Informatively, consumers worldwide indulge in approximately 7.3 million tons of chocolate every year (Sethi). Developing countries, such as India, Brazil and China, are adopting chocolate products that were once inaccessible or unaffordable for their respective populations (Sethi). Since 2008, disposable incomes for each these emerging markets are increasing exponentially due to economic boost from industrialization (Sethi). The rising market of chocolate products equates to a growing demand for global cocoa and sugar production. Industry experts forecasts a 30% growth in demand, from 3.5million tons of cocoa annually to more than 4.5 million in 2020 (Sethi). In consideration, the amount of chocolate squandered throughout the supply chain is currently undetermined or not shared publicly. Based on noticeable discrepancies in definitions and measurements, chocolate waste and even food waste for that matter will continue to intensify and be discussed loosely unless it’s highly prioritized and welcomes a new branch of international cooperation and mutual accountability. A stride that’s executable if all stakeholders collectively build upon a new systematic approach to carbon neutrality, waste diversion and socioenvironmental benefits.
In the meantime, I’ve provided a list of suggestions below that can help you, as a consumer, avoid chocolate waste or divert it to greener waste streams.
Purchase in moderation.
Don’t be alarmed by “Sell By Date”. Depending on care and the type of chocolate (milk, dark or white), chocolate is still safe to consume for longer periods of time.
Chocolate bloom, (whether sugar or fat bloom) which gives off a whitish or light coating on the chocolate’s surface, is still safe for consumption.
To retain freshness and structure, cool and dark environments are ideal storage locations for chocolate.
Have an excessive amount of unopened chocolate? Donate to participating charities like Ronald McDonald House Charities and Operation Gratitude.
ONLY FOR CONSUMERS WITHOUT PETS: Add leftover chocolate or raw cocoa shells, particularly organic certified, in compost for home gardening. *Fyi to pet owners, chocolate is poisonous to dogs and cats due to its theobromine content. If you have pets, you can distribute waste to a composting facility.
Advocate for chocolate waste (and food waste) assessments from involved stakeholders (including local and national governments, non-governmental organizations [Rainforest Alliance, Fairtrade, etc.] retailers, distributors and manufacturers)
By Leslie Seaton from Seattle, WA, USA – Cocoa Mulch, CC BY 2.0.
Cocoa mulch is made out of cocoa shells (most times organic) which are beneficial to soil health. Organic cocoa mulch contains nitrogen, phosphate and potash and has a pH of 5.8 (Patterson). There is also a noticable warning sign to keep dogs away due to theobromine content, which is scientifically proven to be very harmful to pets.
Martin, Carla D. “Sugar and Cacao”. Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food, 14 Feb 2018, Harvard Extension School, Cambridge, MA. Class Lecture.
Martin, Carla D. “Health, Nutrition, and the Politics of Food + Psychology, Terroir, and Taste”. Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food, 11 April 2018, Harvard Extension School, Cambridge, MA. Class Lecture.
Martin, Carla D. “Haute patisserie, artisan chocolate, and food justice: the future?”. Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food, 18 April 2018, Harvard Extension School, Cambridge, MA. Class Lecture.
My first experience trying Taza was unintentionally divined to bridge my paths of academic study and personal love for chocolate. While paying for my coffee and bagel, I was intrigued by a chocolate product displayed at the cash register of 7ate9 Bakery in Somerville, Massachusetts. The product had a unique display, packaging, and shape. Picking up the round flat product for closer inspection; I had no clue what exactly I was holding or how I would eat it. My best guess was it might be a round cookie that was neatly wrapped in white paper. Printed with a black logo and lettering, it read “Dark Chocolate Mexicano” across the top and the word “Vanilla” printed on the bottom. Upon unraveling it, I was surprised to find out it was actually some kind of circular chocolate bar. Whilst familiar with the more commonly known rectangular chocolate bar styles, I had never seen a round chocolate like this before.
Considering this meal was before my first day of a chocolate studies class, I seized the moment to try something unique and 4x the price of what I would normally pay. Excited to try it, I opened the wrapper and shared a broken triangular piece with my girlfriend. Initially taken aback by the texture, my immediate opinion of it was unsatisfying. The first bite was shockingly different than the texture and mouthfeel of the regular mass produced chocolate I was accustomed to. As it was comparably gritty and sandy, I was very disappointed in the taste and the subsequent price for such an unpleasant experience. In stark contrast to my unhappiness, my girlfriend did not mind the texture at all and was delighted with the vanilla flavor. She remarked that she had eaten chocolate similar to this style and texture in Latin America before. And in fact, this style of chocolate was more commonly utilized for various forms of consumption and preparation. It was at this moment that I realized my awareness and knowledge of chocolate was more limited than I had assumed. Although that first piece of Taza chocolate may have left me feeling duped out of my money, it ignited a curiosity of questions around what chocolate was and how different cultures consumed it. The chocolate class, I soon found out had all the answers to the questions I had and ones I hadn’t even thought of yet. The journey of chocolate studies not only found me reading books about cacao production but even witnessing it firsthand. As a bean to bar chocolate company based in Somerville, Taza’s processing and production is open to the public on guided tours of their factory. Sampling a vast array of flavors and textures, I soon discovered an appreciation for Taza’s chocolate. Learning more about Taza as a company and its practices made me realize that my initial dissatisfaction with their gritty chocolate was misguided. No longer feeling duped, I realized it was well worth the price and a good value for a product that was ethically and sustainably produced.
According to the 1987 Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development, sustainability is defined as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs and should become a central guiding principle of the United Nations, Governments and private institutions, organizations and enterprises” (UN General Assembly). With years of inquisitive research and personal sustainability practices, my pursuit of a degree in sustainability was imminent. The topic of sustainability has become somewhat of a marketing buzzword in recent years but most people are unaware of what it exactly implies. As climate change looms and pollution threatens our natural resources, there has been a growing need for more involvement in sustainable practice. However, as a result of diverse scientific and corporate opinions amongst skeptics of sustainability, corporate practices and programs can have contrasting guidelines. Sometimes this can result in greenwashing, a term used to describe “the misleading of consumers about the environmental benefits of a product or policy through specious advertising, public relations and unsubstantiated claims” (Investopedia).
Like most people, my predilections for chocolate stemmed from being just a consumer. But as my academic journey into sustainability began to shed light onto my own personal consumerism, I found myself wanting to learn how the industry would attempt to manage the chocolate market in a more sustainable fashion. Could chocolate be sustainably produced, ethically manufactured and marketed whilst still maintaining a profit? My goal for the class was to learn chocolates rich history and current sustainable practices for my own references as to compare its similarities to other crops and foods in other industries. I was particularly interested in small scale farming, specifically farms that require intense labor; chocolate and other similar commodities are commonly farmed this way.
As I came to understand chocolate has had its own unique journey on its road to a sustainable future. Many companies big and small, have made efforts to establish better practices, but it has had a few bumps on the road.
The Mast Brothers caused a scandal in the market when they were allegedly caught using another company’s chocolate in their craft bars (Nir). This really undermines trust amongst consumers especially since they had been marketing themselves as an artisanal, rare, and authentic premium product. In an earlier marketing campaign, Michael and Rick Mast highlighted their sailing trips to the Dominican Republic to source and obtain beans themselves and bring them back to New York City to make their bars. This form of aggressive marketing raise brand awareness and brought attention to the craft chocolate industry; leading to substantial increase in the amount of sales. Unfortunately, word got out that some of those bars were fraudulently manufactured. Blogs and then news outlets had soon reported the bars were manufactured with Valrhona chocolate; just remelted, poured into molds and packaged as Mast Brothers bars. This was a major scandal for the burgeoning craft chocolate industry and without physical proof, the accusation remained as such.
One crucial lesson, was that this kind of marketing works and the demand for high end, carefully crafted, well packaged, chocolate bars is increasing; with many customers willing to pay upwards of ten dollars per bar. However, it’s excruciatingly difficult to verify such claims as bean to bar because there are no current testing methods. Which in turn places vulnerable consumers in the hands of marketing charlatans posing as sustainable companies with stellar business practice.
Consumers are willing to pay more for a product that is advertised as being produced and manufactured with ethical and sustainable practices (Miremadi et al.). Marketing these products with certifications that protect against child labour, offers fair trade prices, protects the environment, made with ingredients without the use of pesticides and herbicides can increase sales substantially. Consumers make these purchases because they want to directly vote with their dollar and are willing to pay a premium if they can do their part to support better practices (Poelmans and Rousseau, 351). In a market inundated with too many certificates, it is difficult for consumers to discern what they actually mean. They just hope; they can trust the company is doing the right thing and conducting fair business (Rousseau, 94).
Taza in my opinion, stands as shining example of a sustainably produced, ethically manufactured and marketed chocolate company. They only engage in direct trade with a select few organic farmers in very specific regions (Taza Chocolate). Unlike other large corporations that buy bulk cocoa, wich has no way of ensuring ethical farming techniques or even the use of forced child labor (Bhavnani and Schneider, Section 13). Once a bulk purchase is picked up from various farms across vast regions, they mix in all their beans in commodity packaging. This common practice makes it impossible to know where the ingredients in most of your chocolate bar are sourced from.
As a means to set their own high standards and better educate consumers, Taza has opted to create their own certification: Taza Direct Trade Certified Cacao. Their direct trade certification stands on the foundation of five verifiable claims. The first, is to establish and nurture business relationships directly with cacao farmers; cutting out any middle men that might take advantage of them. Second, to pay over commodity prices to their farming relationships, which helps the farmer get a fairer price and hopefully incentivizes them to give Taza their best beans from the current harvest. Third, Taza has promised to work only with USDA organic cacao beans. The fourth direct trade claim is to only source high quality cacao and to verify this with independent testing of every container of cacao they receive. Lastly, Taza Chocolate publishes an annual transparency report made available to the public on their website. Within this report you can see just how much each farmer was compensated for their beans and the quality of their beans that were harvested. This in conjunction with open public tours of their facilities is a staggering level of transparency from any kind company.
The emphasis of bean to bar is carried across the company credo and is translated on the facility tour provided when you visit.The tour starts out with a video about the origins of the company and how the founder Alex Whitmore fell in love with an authentic chocolate drink while backpacking in Mexico. He loved the grittiness of the hand made, stone ground hot chocolate drink and wanted to find a way to bring it to the states. However his wife Kathleen Fulton, thought it would be a tough business stateside as it would be especially hard to sell hot chocolate during the warmer months. As great compromises result in great discoveries, they opted to create a stone ground chocolate bar instead. The chocolate bar could even be ground up with a cheese grater and made into a hot chocolate if you wanted to enjoy it that way.
Kathleen went to work on a business model and marketing campaign, while Alex got into the art of making chocolate. To get that hand made gritty texture he loved so much he knew he had to keep his chocolate stone ground; so he went to study the almost extinct art of hand chiseling, stone grinding mills. The grinding mills leave the chocolate with a similar texture as if the beans where hand ground. Though primitively used in a hand crank, Taza’s grinding stones are attached to a commercial motorized equipment. Looking for a sustainable alternative to purchasing new machinery, Taza opted for recycling second-hand machinery. Requiring a little maintenance and some difficult to find foreign parts, their roaster, winnower, and grinders are all Italian made from the sixties. Purchased from a closing chocolate factory in the Dominican Republic, great care was taken to have them shipped to Somerville, Mass. A few larger pieces even had to be dismantled just to fit them through the door.
As the french word for soil, the term terroir is used as a culinary reference to describe the different nuances or characteristics that an ingredient gets from the unique environment it is grown in (Parker, 7). In well produced single origin chocolate bars, one could experience the distinct flavors of a particular region. Taza has its own line of single origin bars made from cacao beans, grown on several organic farms from different regions.
Most people have consumed chocolate from big industry brands without any awareness of how chocolate is made, where it comes from, what practices surround its creation and all the resources involved in its delivery to the consumers. Chocolate companies, along with others have begun adapting better business models to improve products that are appealing to producers, consumers and the environment they’re sourced from. These form of business practices are known as corporate social responsibility. Embarking on a profitable business model while implementing these types of practices is not an easy task. It is especially difficult in competitive markets where other companies offer cheaper products without adhering to the same corporate social responsibility. Developing a business model that can adhere to those protocols and stay profitable is known as creating shared value.
Figure 1 Creating Shared Value Explained. The Role of Business in Society, Harvard Business School. (Institute for Strategy and Competitiveness, s.f.)
Taza, I believe has been ahead of the game in these aspects and the rest of the industry could learn significantly from their business model. Their full transparency approach of their direct trade certification coupled with the marketing and novelty of stone ground authentic chocolate, has proven successful. Their ability to turn a profit whilst making a difference in communities at home and abroad makes them an exemplary model of sustainability.