Model Firms and Firm Models: Fashion, Africa, and Chocolate.

Africa sells, there is not any doubt. It would be hard to estimate the time lag between Livingstone hacking his way through the jungle and the first pretty blonde in a pith helmet, posed in the swath of jungle immediately behind him, selling some consumable product; selling the very idea of Africa. Real life in Africa, offline and out of camera range, is still more than a little bit of a mystery. We consider here the exploitation of Africa and the simultaneous advertisement of the exploitation of Africa: what it means for a model to be authentic, what it means for a product to be modern, the moral responsibilities of a corporation, and how the modern chocolate bar fits into the grand scheme of all these things.

The First Chocolate Advertising.

The chocolate business is an old business, as in thirty-five centuries old. Because of the limited suitability of the cocoa tree to anywhere but the most humid and hottest part of the tropics, cocoa was a trade product from the very beginning. In Central America and the south of Mexico elaborate trade routes sprung up and cocoa was also acquired by theft and by warfare; these cocoa proto-businesses and their ethics make for an interesting comparison or even parallel to what came later. The Princeton Vase (Mayan, 8th century AD) and other antiquities depict fashionably attired and accessorized young women caught in various poses of making chocolate, and while not advertisements, they are a related form; they are examples or models connecting the food product chocolate with its various meanings. The illustrations on these early ceramic vessels can exemplify class aspirations, luxury, conspicuous consumption, and ritual. In any case, the total meaning of chocolate is not yet separated from its act of production.

Privatization and Modernization in the New World.

It was not long after conquest of the New World that the existing cocoa businesses “merged” with the Spanish enterprises, and not long after that the cocoa trade was privatized and duly licensed by the Viceroyalty. Through forced labor, warfare, European diseases, and lack of foresight the Spanish began to lose their cocoa producers and consumers at an ever increasing rate; within a century 90% of the Preconquest indigenous population was gone. Meanwhile the Spanish modernized and in their view improved the indigenous chocolate recipes, primarily through the substitution of their own spices and the addition of more and more sugar. Chocolate at this time began to lose the religious and ritual meanings it carried for the native peoples. Likewise, since here we will be interested in clothing and fashion, we note how the Spanish began a simultaneous modernization of the clothing of the indigenous peoples, for example imposing their ideas of Christian modesty, etc. on clothing that already carried religious or cultural meanings for the natives. An odd example is the banishing of a transparent huipil (blouse) worn by women in southern Mexico; for the indigenas this look had only the connotation of formality, but thanks to the Spanish, the outlawed blouse became a headdress with sleeves intact (Covarrubias, 1954).

As time went by the New World was carved out into Spanish, English, Dutch, and Portuguese colonies and the (now mostly inferior) cocoa stock was greatly expanded. With eyes cast back across the Atlantic, new markets and uses for chocolate were developed in Europe. Already at this time the necessary connection of the idea of “modernity” with evolution and civilization is called into question. At the level of the chocolate recipe, the indigenous recipes with their greater palette of spices and flavors had more in common with today’s artisanal chocolate than the Spanish recipes (Presilla, 2009).

While entire cultures were erased in the New World, it is important to note that the indigenous peoples also willingly adopted some materials and aspects of European culture, and not every effect of colonization was automatically negative and for the worse. For example, the native peoples incorporated many foods brought from Europe into their own kitchens; likewise Spanish sheep and wool, the backstrap loom, and European techniques of construction enabled new heights of creative expression in the native clothing (Schevill, 1986). Most importantly, modernized indigenous food and clothing often became the “traditional” food and clothing in a natural and inevitable process one author has called “cultural authentification” (Rabine, 2002).

The Rise of the Model.

From the 16th century onwards, as New World products began to pour back to the European markets, the chocolate drink began its infiltration of the upper class parlor and likewise the representational painting of the age. Once again, pre the age of advertising, the beautiful young woman fair of skin and fair of French or French-inspired fashion, is caught in the act of drinking or preparing chocolate; no longer nameless she is now the Artist’s Model; hardly mute, her clothing and her chocolate consumption signal her social status, her economic status, and her taste for the good life. If we enquire into her “authenticity,” she is a real young woman in a studio, possibly British or Italian or Spanish, possibly a professional model or a countess or a maid. She is also an organic synthesis of the woman who posed and the artist who posed her. With an expressively arched hand placed here, a thumb hidden there, the dress draped just so, weight placed on this leg and not that one, in a “pantomimic gesture” (Mortensen, 1956, p. 104), she is more real than a real woman in a real room. Like the chocolate that is pressed, beaten and heated into a pleasing form that is beyond the natural, the model is an improvement on nature and engenders the aspirational aspect of the painting. The viewer that wears the same dress and drinks the same chocolate becomes the particular woman in the painting; the artist’s model is the viewer’s “future self” (reference needed).

And on to Africa.

From the 16th century onwards the cocoa trade blossomed: Guns, liquor, shackles, and all manner of manufactured goods flowed to African ports, labor in the form of Africans flowed to the New World cocoa fields, and cocoa flowed back to Europe to complete the vicious circle. African slaves now substituted for the indigenous labor force mostly exterminated in the colonization. Producers and consumers were now widely separated in geography and conscience; black hands cut cocoa pods from trees in sweltering heat while porcelain white hands rested on sterling cups of chocolate in the drawing rooms of Europe. In time with great blights of disease in the New World cocoa fields, occasional slave rebellions against greatly outnumbered plantation masters, and continually increasing world-wide competition, the forced export of so much African labor became so economically unviable it was abolished in late 19th century resignation. At this time ships were pointed to the new colonies in Africa. In one sense, this was following a natural trail along an equator that provided the necessary growing conditions for cocoa; in another sense since Africans could no longer be brought to the plantations by force, the plantations would now be brought to the Africans. Direct management of slave or slave-like labor was eventually outsourced when planters became “buyers”.

The Rise of the Model Firm.

Good business or bad business? Before the 19th century the question could scarcely be asked, as any business enterprise in cocoa necessarily involved human slavery in one form or another. The moral fragility of such a long supply chain stretching back across an ocean that had barely just been crossed in the 16th century should be obvious; by the 19th century tarnishing of the chain at both ends was clearly visible. On the one end were the graves of 10-15 million Africans hauled to the New World to work in the cocoa and other plantations, on the other end of the chain was ever increasing adulteration of factory-made chocolate to increase profits. In the midst of all this, as modern society became increasingly more concerned with labor and the other conditions of production, and companies being reflections of the society at large, the chocolate trade (which by now was concentrated into a small number of very large companies) set out to improve the safety of their products and the conditions of their labor force. British companies like Rowntree and Cadbury and their counterparts in other countries sought to become “model firms” (Robertson, 2009, p. 7).

The earliest model firms, the companies of William Cadbury and Rowntree in particular, had their work cut out for them, but the literature on these two companies shows leaders with genuine empathy for their producers/laborers in Africa (Higgs, 2012; Satre, 2005). By the 19th century the cocoa business was predicated on modern advertising, and the 20th century spirit of reform which sought to unite, in a way, the production and consumption of chocolate was balanced by the nature of advertising to conceal the conditions of production. Again it was often up to the female model (freed at last from the canvas, and readily relocatable to a magazine photo or a tin of cocoa), to articulate new meanings for chocolate. In early Rowntree advertisements pretty native girls in neatly pressed exotic garb carried baskets on their heads through cocoa fields (Robertson, 2009). This model was a type from the early 20th century: in America she dressed as a Hawaiian maiden, in Mexico she wore the Tehuana skirt and roses in her hair, and in South America the basket of cocoa became a basket of fruit. She danced her way across the first glossy magazines and the first dim cinema screens, associating products like chocolate with the hard-to-get and the exotic. Not since the Mayan chocolate vessels described above had the model represented the actual producer of the chocolate (for better or worse); because she was fashionably dressed, she represented also the fashionable young woman consumer, bringing the two a little closer than they were before. This kind of advertisement, however, can never represent the actual conditions of production because of the very nature of the fashion system: fashion never refers to any reality and only refers to itself (Barthes, 1983).

 

We recall that chocolate was a luxury and a status drink that eventually trickled down through the classes, acquiring new meanings along the way. Models in chocolate advertising changed their clothes accordingly. Later, beautiful and healthy young female models on bicycles or on the way to tennis matches consumed chocolate, the health food (Kit Kat bar); as chocolate by this time was mostly sugar, and sugar at this time was still considered a healthy source of calories, the authenticity of the advertisements was not automatically a problem. Chocolate advertisements in this vein continued on through the golden age of women’s magazines and into the 1970s. Again, the model in a woman’s magazine represented the consumer’s better and future self: a better mother, a better wife, or a healthier and more alluring woman.

Ghana Today.

Above we have made only the roughest sketch of the idea of the model in the history of chocolate advertising; we conclude with a 2005 advertising campaign of the Divine Chocolate company (Britain), which appeared in magazines such as Elle, Cosmopolitan, etc. The models used are described as owners of their own cocoa farms and part owners of the Divine Chocolate company (www.divinechocolate.com).

In the first advertisement a woman poses in a Ghana cocoa field in the noon day sun in a Western manner: her weight shifts to one leg as her hip slides out to the side, as her head tilts to the same side in a curve associated with the 18th century painter Hogarth (and used ever since in modeling). We note that Western magazines like Elle and Cosmopolitan are well known in the cities of West Africa and are frequent sources for custom dress making, while larger cities sponsor European-style fashion shows (Rabine, 2002). The off-the-shoulder dress in a yellow and green floral print is tailored in a European style, and described as a Holland print (i.e. literally from Holland) brought over from England by the advertising agency.

West Africa sets the fashion, i.e. the traditional fashion, for much of Africa, even though use of the word “traditional” is problematic. Most of what is considered traditional today by historians of dress, or better yet Africans themselves, are materials and styles that have been brought from one place to another. World-wide, the familiar cuts are long squares and rectangles with dignified straight cuts. Most traditional clothing, however, is made in one-offs by small tailoring shops who use curvilinear Western cuts; by now this is considered to be traditional. Traditional prints are dyed by hand using stitch resist (tie dye), flour resist, or wax resist methods. From the beginning of the 19th century to the present, the most sought-after materials are the wax resist dyed fabrics brought in immense quantities from Holland, and the Holland print is considered to be the most traditional and most African one can get (Rabine, 2002). Thus the model in the advertisement is actually traditionally dressed.

The Divine Chocolate ad is such a great contrast with the history of labor conditions in the cocoa trade that it gives one pause, and maybe some hope for the future. The advertising campaign at long last connects chocolate buyers with the actual producers in the field, and that cannot be but a good thing. The women may be artificially lighted and a stylist may be standing just outside of the frame, but the advertisement still manages to capture a small part of their real lives. The women seem healthy and happy, and they are beautiful by any standard. The world will only get smaller as time passes, and contacts get closer and closer, and through this West African cocoa farmers stand a chance to gain in real power and improve the conditions of their lives.

References.

Barthes, R. (1983). The fashion system. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
Coe, M. (2013). The true history of chocolate. London, England: Thames & Hudson, Ltd.
Covarrubias, M. (1954). Mexico South: the Isthmus of Tehauntepec. New York, NY: Knopf.
Higgs, C. (2012). Chocolate Islands. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press.
Leissle, K. (2012). Cosmopolitan cocoa farmers: refashioning Africa in Divine Chocolate advertisements. Journal of African Cultural Studies, 24(2), 121-139.
Mintz, S. (1985). Sweetness and power. New York, NY: Penguin.
Mortensen, W. (1956). How to pose the model. New York, NY: Ziff-Davis.
Powis, T. (2008). The origins of cacao use in Mesoamerica. Mexicon [sic], 30, 35-38.
Presilla, M. (2009). The new taste of chocolate. Berkeley, CA: Ten Speed Press.
Rabine, L. (2002). The global circulation of African fashion. Oxford, England: Berg.
Robertson, E. (2009). Chocolate, women and empire: A social and cultural history. Manchester, England: Manchester University Press.
Satre, L. (2005). Chocolate on trial: slavery, politics, and the ethics of business. Athens, OH: Ohio University
Shevill, M. (1986). Costume as communication. Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press.

** Ava Gardner in Helen Rose dress (C) 1953 by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, “The cup of chocolate” by Pierre-August Renoir (1878) is in the public domain, dark-skinned beauty ad and bicycle model ad are in the public domain, “Women with attitude” ad (C) 2005 by Divine Chocolate.

From Gene to Bean to Bar: A Tour from USDA Research to Castronovo Chocolate

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Photo of Display at Castronovo Chocolate literally from beans to bars.

I spent a day and a half visiting both the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in Miami and Castronovo Chocolate, a 700 square foot chocolate factory, 2 hours north of Miami located in Stuart Florida. This posting tells the story of the morning with Mike Winterstein, an agricultural research technician at the USDA and of the afternoon and following morning, spent with Denise Castronovo, an artisan chocolate maker and the owner of Castronovo Chocolate.

It is my opinion that both the USDA and Castronovo are part of solution to problems we have studied in the cacao-chocolate supply chain.

First Stop: USDA Agricultural Research Subtropical Station

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Photo: Mike Winterstein is the Agricultural Research Technician at the USDA Agricultural Sub Tropical Research Service,  He is from Long Island New York, moved to Florida in 1974, as a farmer, and joined the USDA in 1990.

As a grower, Mike maintains plants, going out into the fields and taking care of them from planting to germinating etc.  Indoors, he also formats and stores data, maintaining data on the USDA websites.  Mike verifies collections.  The USDA genome research is publically available.  You can order a species, 13,000 are available, from the USDA for the cost of shipping and the FIDO sanitary certificate saying the plant is free of all pathogens ($50 ) The big five crops for the USDA are wheat, rice, soybean, corn and cotton.  However at the station in Miami the primary crops being studied are avocado, mango and cacao,  and interestingly also sugar cane.  To paraphrase, Mike, “Even though cacao is not really grown in the US,  yes some is in Puerto Rico (Mayqquez has the main cacao collection) and Hawaii, the research and the storing of the genome and plants are important because lots and lots of jobs in the US are tied into chocolate from the manufacture, to the infrastructure, to the advertising/marketing to the consumption.”

The research at the USDA is funded primarily by the US Government.  CRIS the Current Resource Information System https://reeis.usda.gov/reports-and-documents/cris-reports/cris-overview. Is the “documentation and reporting system for ongoing agricultural, food and nutrition, and forestry research.”

The research is funded through farm bills, approved by Congress and thus is really funded by the US taxpayer.  The USDA is a government agency, funding for research changes (due to changing taste and politics), research is at the mercy of the government.  In the new farm bill you can look up the research being done on specialty crops. Here is the link for 2017 http://www.obpa.usda.gov/budsum/fy17budsum.pdf  and a link for programs possible being dropped in 2018 http://sustainableagriculture.net/blog/path-to-the-2018-farmbill-stranded-programs/  and another link  from the Council of State Governments for 2018 as proposed by President Trump:  http://www.csg-erc.org/blog/2017/04/10/first-look-president-trumps-usda-budget-2018/

The History

The USDA in Miami started with “The Boys”. (See photo) Walter Tennyson Swingle , (1871-1952)  who graduated from Kansas State at age 16 and had an obsession with chasing citrus (there was no citrus industry yet in Florida, but there was a potential for the crop. http://merrick.library.miami.edu/specialCollections/wtswingle/ Swingle taught himself Mandarin Chinese and German and went looking for crops that could be successful in the US.  He persuaded Henry Flagler, the man who brought his railroad to South Florida, thus opening Florida for development, to give the USDA an acre of land along Biscayne Bay for a lab to study plant disease.  Swingle also persuaded Mary Brickell to give 6 acres to use as a plant introduction site.  The donation was not accepted, but a lease was negotiated.  Plant Explorer, David Fairchild, the same David Fairchild who brought the cherry trees to Washington, D.C.’s tidal basin, is another major player in the history. He sought a piece of land for its climate not just for the land.

Where the USDA sits today is not shielded by barrier islands.  It receives the warm gulf stream, and because there are no barrier island, the Atlantic Ocean retains the warmth of the gulf stream, creating a climate fit for cacao.  The land, it is believed,  has always been frost free (important for all subtropical fruits and vegetation).

Viktor Emmanuel Chapman was the first aviator to be killed in France in WWI on November 15, 1918. He trained on this same sight, what is now known as Chapman field with America’s first “Fly Boys” who flew, before the US entered WWI, for the French Foreign Legion in the American Escadrille.  The history of the USDA station at Chapman field in Miami and the breadth of agricultural research currently being done at the USDA subtropical agricultural research center is fascinating and complex.

For more detail of the history see: https://www.ars.usda.gov/southeast-area/miami-fl/subtropical-horticulture-research/docs/a-century-of-research-with-usda-in-miami/

1 The Boys

The USDA Mission in Miami is to:

1. Introduce a broad genetic base for tropical and subtropical horticultural crops believed to have economic potential in warm humid regions of the United States or its territories.

2. Evaluate the introduced populations for their genetic structure, horticultural variation, and botanical characteristics.
3. Preserve a diverse sub-set representing a broad genetic base for each crop.
4. Distribute the material to research scientist, botanical gardens, nurserymen and parks as is appropriate.

The National Germplasm Repository (NGR) is one of eighteen such repositories in the NPGS. The NGR-Miami shares responsibility with Mayaguez – Puerto Rico, for maintaining the U.S. clonal collections of mango, avocado, banana and plantain, tropical citrus, annonas, sugarcane and related grasses, palms, Tripsacum, and a few other relatively minor tropical crops.

Germplasm Holdings: 

The NGR-Miami maintains approximately 6000 accessions. Most the holdings (3500) are in the major fruit and grass collections. The remaining 2500 accessions are ornamental, chemurgic, and spice introductions from tropical and subtropical areas of the world. These plants are a unique collection and requests for material come from many scientific disciplines. Small quantities of germplasm are distributed to bona fide scientists for research purposes.” Not true anymore:  the germ plasm is available to landscapers, botanists, landscape architects, nurseries, as well as bona fide researchers.

Cacao is held at the NGR Miami and has been important both to deal with diseases:  witches broom, frost pod, bitofera, pests, parasites, fungus, etc.  benefitting cacao producers worldwide, but also because “significant quantities of milk, sugar, peanuts, almonds, and other materials produced in the U.S. go into the making of chocolate products. The station is one of two quarantine facilities for cacao in the western hemisphere that serve to keep diseases from moving into the area”.  The station also does research for Mars with Mars scientists.  They have sensors monitoring trees for nitrogen, sunlight, humidity etc. monitoring conditions to be able to help cacao farmers in Indonesia.  The cacao is grown in an area that was built by the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corp -think the Depression and the New Deal) cement walls that look like Mayan ruins absorb the heat keeping the area warmer.

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Mike will hand pollinate a cacao tree, by collecting pollen at the beginning of the day., The next morning he takes the anther’s off, so the tree can not self pollinate, and he brings the pollen, using a Q-tip or tiny paint brush from another tree.  He said  that when he brings the pollen he sees a little spurt.  Wire mesh to keep rats and mice away are around the trees.

Kathleen Martinez, a researcher at the USDA doing Mars research, took me inside the lab.  I was not allowed to photograph inside.  I was shown how leaf material is organized for genome sequencing.  Kathleen explained pipeters, fill tips, DNA samples, working in small quantities, then working on a plate, sequencing 96 samples on 32 plates , PCR amplifying samples, like 96 little needles into a capillary system, with florescent probes, Single nucleotyde polymorphism genotyping, looking for one single change in the genotyping, 96 samples and 96 markers ,fluidigm EPT.  She talked about raw data, XX meaning homozygous, XY meaning heterozygous, allele.  Basically, taking a physical trait linking that trait to a genotype associating it to a phenotype to predict the physotype.  I was shown how the researchers use the centrifuge to remove the cell wall to get clear DNA, some scientists use the plate method and do 40 samples in a day.  Extractions are done all day long.  I was shown the lypholizer, how the water is removed from the fresh leaf keeping the leaf material for long term storage minus 80 degrees C.  Leaves being worked with regularly are stored at minus 20 degrees C.  The autoclave sterilizes all equipment with heat.  Everything is reused.  Tips are cleaned in bleach.  UV cross linker sterilization washed with ethanol then the UV cross linker sterilizer microwave.

Cacao bred to be resistant to disease that tastes well, horrid, CCN51, is now being bred again,  for flavor. I do not know how much research is being done on flavor at this site.

 “The next time you drive by Chapman Field or enjoy a fine bar of chocolate, ponder the centuries of work that have gone into the making. Agriculture is always a struggle and it never ends.  The climate will change, diseases ravage, breeding lines narrow and humans crave something new.  Behind that fence along Old Cutler [road] is a battleground on which the survival of one of mankind’s most iconic crops depends”

Richard Campbell in Edible South Florida Magasine, Winter 2017, Number 1, Volume

Plant_Science_HD2Photo from USDA website

From Gene to Bean to Bar: Visiting Castronova Chocolate

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The timing of my 2nd visit to Castronovo Chocolate was serendipitous:  I got to see the cacao beans arrive. The driver who delivers them brings them inside and is thanked by Denise with one of her chocolate frozen drinks.

Denise Castronovo is a fine chocolate maker.  Originally from Massachusetts, she went to Lehigh University for her Bachelors and Masters in Environmental Science and Economics, then for 2 years she did her PH.d coursework in Ecology in the Botany Department at the University of Georgia. During her undergraduate years she had visited Costa Rica to study the rainforest. In Florida, she started her own mapping technology consulting business.   She has always been interested in sustainable development and conservation.  At the time she was in Costa Rica, eco-tourism was beginning to grow.  Her studies in Economics linked conservation and the environment.  She was interested in monitoring reforestation using aerial satellite imagery.

In her home life, Denise wanted healthy eating for herself and  for her family, (husband and two young children).  She became interested in superfoods, foods high in anti- oxidants, acai, goji berries.  When she went to Whole Foods and bought cocoa nibs she  became amazed by the flavor notes and chocolate and decided to learn all about chocolate.   All her life was excellent preparation for the opening 5 years ago of her chocolate factory and store.

What Denise is successfully creating and growing parallels the societal changes reflected in the American Artisan and Craft Chocolate time line by Carla Martin, Ph.d Chocolate, The Politics of Culture and Food, Harvard Extension. And just as in France, in American society  today it appears that the food movement is valuing artisan craft makers, (perhaps the consumers are of a certain economic level)  turning to slow, small batch chocolate, that we too are part of a changing culture of chocolate consumption. (See Carla D. Martin-Kathryn E. Sampeck)

Denise’s mission is to raise awareness of chocolate by offering unique varietals of chocolate and flavors, heirloom varieties that are endangered,  to create a market that will preserve the diversity of cacao.  see http://hcpcacao.org    On her website she has written: “Reclaiming the craft of bean to bar chocolate making. At a glance, all chocolate-making looks the same: beans are cultivated and fermented, roasted and ground, sweetened and sold. Large-scale chocolate manufacturers have optimized this process for mass production. The unfortunate result: flat, uninspired, expressionless chocolate – the taste has been engineered out of the bar!
We salute the few, craft chocolate makers that are taking time and care with each part of the chocolate making process, releasing the full potential of the bean; those who are supporting careful farming and fermentation, the ones who ensure farmers are paid a fair wage through an ethical and sustainable supply chain, and those who skillfully grind, roast, and sweeten without diluting the bean’s essence.

We at Castronovo Chocolate are in relentless pursuit of discovering the absolute depths of the chocolate experience knowing full well we may never get there. But along the way, we can all enjoy a bar of the most flavorful chocolate you can find.

Denise receives positive feedback from her customers.  She loves to watch them try a truffle at the store, because most have never had anything quite like the ones she makes. One customer has told her that her truffles are better than any he ever had in Brussels.

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She is succeeding as shown by the numerous  international awards she has already won. As she said modestly “I am winning awards with Bonnat, how incredible!”

International Award-winning Chocolate

Sierra Nevada Dark Milk 63%

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Dominican Republic Dark Milk 50%

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Academy of Chocolate Silver Winner Castronovo Sierra Nevada 72%

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Academy of Chocolate Gold Winner Castronovo Chocolate Maya Mountain Belize 72%

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Academy of Chocolate Silver Winner Castronovo Chocolate Lemon White with Lemon Salt

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Academy of Chcocolate Bronze Winner Castronovo Chocolate Amazonas 72%

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 The Process

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photo of Jean-Marie Auboine Chocolatier Chocolate Map with Descriptions copyright 2012-2015

For a complete description of the chocolate making process see http://expertenough.com/973/chocolate  Both are much like Denise’s process.

Denise with her two employees, wearing gloves, sorts the beans, the beans go on trays.   She roasts them in a convection oven (not in a coffee roaster). A roast of 15 trays is approx. 5 1/2 pounds.  She has a loss (shrinkage) of about 30%. Next she winnows the beans which crack and separate the nibs and shell.  The vacuum suction takes the lighter weight nibs to the bottom.  Again she handsets, making sure there is no shell.  Shell is dirty, having bacteria.  The beans roast at 250 to 270 degrees Fahrenheit for 20 minutes.  killing the bacteria.  She does her grinding and mixing in a melanger.  For milk chocolate sugar is added and milk powder.  Her melanger has 2 big granite wheels and a granite bottom.  She does about 90 pounds of chocolate in 3 -4 days.  10,00 in a year.  Refining, Conching and TemperingIMG_0200

Tempering – creating stable crystals.  Denise uses the seeding method.

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an example of a badly tempered bar.

Denise mentioned how clean the beans are from Honduras.  Obviously leaves, twigs, rocks especially are not good for the juicer.  One can hear the rock in the juicer and must pull it out!

Everything in the shop smells so good, the aroma hits you as soon as you enter the door. All the volatile compounds come out mellowing the chocolate.   Denise has a chocolate library, pours the chocolate into hotel pans, pours it into blocks and then uses air conditioned cooling.

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Sample Packaging.

Castronovo chocolates may do more flavored bars in the future, she does 2 right now with coffee.  But the focus will remain on single origin bars.

BEANS

Some of her beans are sourced from the wild.  Her beans from the Sierra Nevada and Honduras are wild.  Beans in her Patenemo, Venezuelan bar are not quite as wild, as they are grown by subsistence farmers.  She sees herself as a small fish in a big pond, but by joining with other craft makers there will be an impact. source: http://www.castronovochocolate.com

If you take the time to look at each Castronovo chocolate bar, read the label: you will see the % of cacao, the type, where it is sourced, a story about the cacao and its origin and flavor notes, and a batch number.

The flavors of chocolate begin with the farming, with the soil, the climate, the elevation, the tree, perhaps the spacing, and then with the process: the harvesting, the fermenting the addition of sugar (or not) or milk (or not) and all the steps leading to the bar . Certain beans, the varietal of chocolate will grow better in one place than another. The difference between a single origin chocolate maker and large companies, is the same as the difference between agriculture and viticulture for wine.  Agriculture seeks standardization, uniformity, high yield and consistency on as large a scale as possible.  With single bar origin done well, the taste brings a sense of connection to the place from which the bean came.  It is “perhaps the most elusive of these concepts and the most difficult to ascertain.  It is the sense you get from …aroma and flavor that could not have come from just anywhere but rather the embodiment of a single piece of earth.  Connectedness makes a thing different and therefore worthy of appreciation. ”

Acknowledgement:

Both Mike and Denise are incredibly knowledgeable, enthusiastic, passionate and generous.  Thank you both for the time you spent with me, guiding me through your factory and your fields and for the information and  the chocolate Denise fed me!  I am enormously grateful.

Disclosure:  Next blog post, I would like to make a comparison between wine and chocolate as my husband is a 30 year wine industry consultant, specializing in artesan vintners.  participating in this course through learning about chocolate, and now enthralled with the history, politics, culture, and taste of chocolate (and other foods) has heightened for me the parallels between wine and chocolate.

Sources:

Campbell, R.  Edible South Florida Magasine, Winter 2017, Number 1, Volume 8.

Castronovo, D. , Castronovo Chocolate Factory, Stuart, Florida, conversations and texts May 2017. and website: http://www.castronovochocolate.com

Kiel, K. & Ornelas, K.,200, “North America from 1492 to the Present- Recent Developments in Foodways” The Cambridge World History of Food, Cambridge University Press, New York, NY, p. 1320.

Leissle, K, Invisible West Africa: The Politics of Single Origin Chocolate, Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture, Vol. 13, No. 3 (Fall 2013), pp. 22-31 Published by: University of California Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/gfc.2013.13.3.22 .

Martin, Carla D. and  Sampek, Kathryn E , The Bitter and Sweet of Chocolate in Europe. DOI: 10.18030/SOCIO.HU.2015EN.37.

MacNeil, K. , The Wine Bible,  2001, Workman Publishing, New York.

Sethi, S. 2017, “Origin Made Chocolate: The Bars to Beat”, Wall Street Journal, web Feb 9, 2017.

Williams, P. & Eber, J., 2012,”To Market to Market: Craftsmanship,Customer Education, and Flavor Raising the Bar The Future of Fine Chocolate, pp 143- 209, Vancouver, BC Wilmor Publishing.

Winterstein, M. USDA ARS, Miami,  Florida, conversations and emails, May 2017

Websites:

Council of State Governments, http://www.csg-erc.org/blog/2017/04/10/first-look-president-trumps-usda-budget-2018/

Expert Enough Blog http://expertenough.com/973/chocolate

Heirloom Cacao Preservation Fund http://finechocolateindustry.org/hcp

Jean Marie Auboine Handcrafted Chocolate Map https://www.jmauboinechocolates.com//

UM Walter Swingle information http://merrick.library.miami.edu/specialCollections/wtswingle/

USDA Agricultural Research website https://www.ars.usda.gov

USDA GRIN System: http://www.ars-grin.gov/npgs/

USDA Station History:https://www.ars.usda.gov/southeast-area/miami-fl/subtropical-horticulture-research/docs/history-of-chapman-field/

USDA https://reeis.usda.gov/reports-and-documents/cris-reports/cris-overview.

The Devolution of My Favorite Chocolate

Chocolate is the extraordinary and laborious product from cacao, processed into a gem for indulgence to all who enjoy eating it! As I reminisced about the early years of my life living in my beloved Venezuela, I thought fondly about the piece of chocolate that every Venezuelan loves to have: the medium-sized, lustrous ball of rich milk chocolate with a hazelnut inside that is an icon to Venezuela’s history of chocolate and culture – Toronto, made by Savoy. Sadly, the Toronto is no longer as exquisite as it used to be; its quality started decreasing in the 90s.  Savoy is an established chocolate company in Venezuela. In this country, the quality of the chocolate industry has gradually declined when the political and economic faces of the country started to change more notoriously and up to this day, they are still carrying severe consequences. How is it possible that for Venezuela, a country that produces the best cacao in the world, the quality of manufacturing chocolate is decreasing?

I believe that this is a political issue and to understand it, it is important to refer to the political history of Venezuela in the last twenty years. There has always been corruption in the Venezuelan government. However, Venezuelans have endured very radical challenges in the political, social and economic areas since the late president Hugo Chavez took office in 1998 who was followed by his successor Nicolas Maduro. It has been with this duo and their political and economic policies that have broken the foundation, the base, the pillars and the structure that sustain the country and its citizens. Many of the main issues that are seen today are caused by the dramatic massive inflation rates that soar every day, aggravated by the devaluation of the Venezuelan currency, el bolivar (1B). The threat of a steadily devaluating currency brought fears of massive capital fight and flight to quality (BBC2013).  In theory, the government offered businesses the purchase of the “preferential dollar”, which in other words is American dollars at a much lower and fixed rate than what is sold in the black market. However, when businesses submitted the requirements to obtain the currency to import materials and goods, the actual truth came out: there is no such preferential dollar. This policy was built on lies so that business owners were forced to purchase dollars in the black market so that they could supposedly import the goods as well as purchase materials and ingredients for production.

Although Venezuela’s oil revenue was so lucrative during the Chavez administration and his predecessor’s administration, Carlos Andres Perez, Chavez proclaimed cacao as a very strategic national product in 2010 (Sputnick 2010). Yet, the economies of these two products are incomparable because of their quantity production, time and revenues.  Venezuela is known as the country with the best cacao of the world and owning the most precious and the most sought of all: the criollo. Maricel Prescilla, author of The New Taste of Chocolate, states “it is one of the most harmonious and symphonic cacaos. Even the lowliest cacao in Venezuela is fine cacao” (2015). The criollo cacao is cultivated mainly in the town of Chuao which is comprised of a small village of fishermen and it is reachable only by boat from the coastal shores of Choroni. In the class Chocolate, Culture and the Politics of Food at Harvard Extension School, Dr. Carla Martin lectures students about the unique experience of this farm where the process of criollo cacao is still processed as it was done in the 1500s and 1600s, all through manual work. It is important to know that Venezuela has various regions of cacao farms and not all these farms are equally the same. They vary in climate, geography, care, irrigation, geology and soil conditions that interact with the plant’s genetics. This concept is called Terroir; different terroir, different flavors in chocolate (spring 2017).

I recently spoke with Mr. Victor Guama, a cocoa worker in one of Chuao’s cacao farms. During the phone conversation, he informed me about the process used on this cacao, which is mainly done by women. It is also very important to note that Chuao has many cacao farms where the employees have been and continue to be comprised of generations of families. It seems that they are born to carry on the tradition! He happily says that his mother worked in the cacao fields for forty-four years and his aunt has been working there for thirty-three years. I can sense the pride in his voice when he said that they “are so proud to work for the best and finest cacao in the world, especially when it is produced in our hometown of Chuao, Venezuela. It is very hard work, and we care about it.” In the farm, there are approximately 124 women who harvest the cacao pods, extract the seeds and pulp, begin the fermentation cycle, put them to dry in the sun, and sort and bag the beans so that they can be transported by the 10 men who do the heavy lifting in the farm. Sophie and Michael Coe, authors of The True History of Chocolate write “through fermentation and drying , the cacao’s pulp-surrounded seeds are converted into nibs ready for roasting and grinding into chocolate liquor (105)” Interestingly, Victor also informed me that 75% of the cacao production is sold by contracts to Europe, especially in France and 25% stays in Chuao to make artisanal chocolate. Victor proudly talks about the excellent quality of the criollo cacao harvested in this area, pointing out that the key of its fine quality and distinctive flavor is due to the irrigation system done with the water coming down from the river. Surprisingly, he also said that as cacao workers, the previous administrations before president Chavez never provided job security and benefits to the workers, but Chavez did. Sadly, Chavez’s successor, president Nicolas Maduro eliminated them. These cacao workers are uncared for and underprivileged because the income they receive does not compensate the amount of work and hours they put into the process of the best cacao in the world, especially during the current regimen and difficult time that Venezuela is going through.

Whether or not Savoy produces its own cacao is unknown, however, since 2012 they offer Plan-Cacao Nestle as an integral support program to cacao producers that encircles the producer, family and community as it is shown in its website. Although it presents a list of objectives, it projects vague information. Savoy claims in its website that they make their chocolates with the best cacao in the world, but this claim leads to unanswered questions such as where the cacao comes from.

I would look at Savoy’s history. Savoy opened its doors in Caracas, Venezuela in 1941 by three Swiss brothers.  In 1988, Nestlé, a transnational corporation, acquired Savoy and substituted the original crown logo above the name of Savoy for the Nestlé logo on all the packaging. The Savoy company is considered a Venezuelan patrimony and is the primary chocolate company.  Even with the decline in quality in recent decades, Savoy chocolates continue to be loved by consumers. Although there is a significant difference between the chocolates that were manufactured more than twenty years ago versus those that are manufactured today, I believe that the problem is not the cacao itself, but more so the quality of the manufacturing process of the various products. It is here where the politics of food plays a very important role in the production and quality control of Savoy manufacturing because the true ingredients are not available. Regardless, there are very noticeable characteristics in the chocolate that a fine Venezuelan chocolate bar should not have which are shown in the image below such as white marks and a bland brown color.

savoy
Image One

           Through the years of the industrialization of chocolate, Savoy is well known for the following products: Cri-Cri, made of crispy rice covered with chocolate, Bolero, a crunchy corn covered with chocolate, and Ping-Pong, the classic crunchy peanut covered in chocolate. Yet, the most popular of all the products is Toronto. It is the one that most Venezuelans, especially those living out of the country, remember with excitement and nostalgia.  It is the one that brings memories of relationships between family, friends, school and communities to our lives. It is the one that is always well-received as a gift from relatives and friends coming from Venezuela. I clearly remember the original Toronto as a very rich, fine milk chocolate bombón with a very smooth texture and an impressive satin look that had a deep brown colored hazelnut inside. It melted in my mouth as I ate it, leaving a very pleasant and savoring flavor in my mouth. It was my favorite chocolate! Sadly, this was then. The new Toronto made today from the 90s is tasteless, dry on the outside, and greasy on the inside. It has a boring, bland brown color, breaks into pieces when in my mouth, and its size continues to shrink. Again, a fine piece of Venezuelan chocolate should not have traces of white marks inside as shown in the image below- it almost seems as if the chocolate is old.

Toronto
Image Two

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OugG5n6jC9g

          There is a large difference between the two eras of Savoy’s chocolate making. My daughter’s generation enjoy and love the new Toronto! When I narrate to them the Toronto of my time, which I used to eat with so much pleasure, they cannot make a connection because they have never tried it and most likely never will. A Savoy retail store located in what used to be a very popular commercial and residential area of Caracas called Boulevard Sabana Grande, used to sell bags of “recortes de chocolate” or “chunks of chocolate.” They were sold by the kilo in clear cellophane bags wrapped in a bow at the top. My job’s office was on the same street side where this Savoy store was and I never failed to buy several bags every quincena or 15 days. Savoy has a long-lived trajectory of a great market and loyal customers who are very proud of these chocolates. Savoy’s trademark, “Con Sabor Venezolano” or “With Venezuelan Flavor” still lays under the oversized Savoy billboard above a building that overlooks the main highway in Caracas, Venezuela. This Savoy sign is equivalent to what the Citgo sign means to Boston!

savoy highway   savoy billboard

                                 (a)                                                                            (b)

    Image Three

Savoy remains the chocolate choice of the Venezuelans. They are proud to have an industry that has continuously worked for 75 years, especially since Hugo Chavez expropriated thousands of international investments and production companies in the country, including our own oil companies.

The journalist Ileana Magual from El Universal newspaper writes “One of the icons and jewel in the crown of Venezuelan gastronomy is the cacao, known to be the best in the world. Talking about Venezuela is talking about our unbeatable cacao, our gold vegetable. It used to be shipped, turned into a beverage, and used as an offering and currency by our first settlers who called it ‘the money that grows on trees’” (2015). I hope that the future of the Venezuelan cacao will never vanish because it is a heritage of the land with fertile soil and infinite roots in the trees.  As Marisel Presilla writes “where there is cacao, there is life. No tree has more to teach us than cacao, when we take the trouble to see it in its own environmental and biological context (7).” Cacao is the gross domestic product that makes the economy of cacao communities and their generations work for the love of cacao. Based on my research, I do not believe that Savoy uses Venezuelan cacao made in places such as Chuao, however, it could be possible that their chocolates would improve in quality if they did. I wish that my daughter’s generation and the generations to come will someday experience the delightful pleasure of eating the real Toronto just as I dream of Venezuela returning back to the versatile and stable country it once was. Until then, I will continue searching for the chocolate that reminds me of all the fond memories from my childhood in Venezuela!

 

 

 

Works Cited

S.D., Coe, 2013; M. D., Coe,  2013.  The True History of Chocolate. London, Thames   & Hudson, Ltd

Presilla, Maricel E. The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural and Natural History of      Cacao with Recipes. New York: Teen Speed Press, 2009. pg., 7

 

Prof. Carla Martin.  Chocolate, Culture and the Politics of Food. Personal Communication.  Harvard Extension School. Spring 2017.

 

Victor Guama. Telephone interview.  May 6, 2017.

 

 

 

Multimedia Sources

Bulmer-Thomas, Victor. 2013, March 6. Analysis: How Hugo Chavez changed Venezuela. Retrieved from

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-15240081

“Chávez Proclama Cacao “Producto Estratégico” Para Venezuela” 1-11-2010. Retrieved from

https://mundo.sputniknews.com/economia/20101101147829658/

Dreier H., and Marquez V. 2015, April 29. Venezuela produces some of the world’s best chocolate. But profiting from it is another story. Retrieving from

https://www.usnews.com/news/business/articles/2015/04/29/export-freeze-sows-bitterness-in-venezuela-chocolate-trade

Magual, Ileana. 2015, May 19. Venezuelan cocoa, the best in the world. Retrieved from

http://www.eluniversal.com/aniversario/anniversary/150519/venezuelan-cocoa-the-best-in-the-world

Image # 1  Carré Savoy. Retrieved from https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/originals/9d/13/4a/9d134af30b854da562d9ba74314b3802.jpg

Image # 2   Toronto Savoy. Retrieved from http://www.cuandoerachamo.com/wp-content/uploads/historia-del-toronto.jpg

 

Image # 3  Savoy billboard

http://vignette4.wikia.nocookie.net/logopedia/images/3/3e/Sede-caracas-2000s.jpg/revision/latest?cb=20160213204241

Interview with EH Chocolatier

It was early February and Catharine Sweeney and Elaine Hsieh, co-owners of EH Chocolatier, were busy working on their Valentine’s Day orders. Sheet trays and whisks clanked against the steel countertops at a steady rhythm. February is one of the busiest time of the year for a chocolatier. Catharine and Elaine anticipated forty to fifty orders for Valentine’s Day; a modest amount for their three-year-old business, but enough to keep EH Chocolatier very busy. Catharine and Elaine make all of their chocolates by hand, as well as overseeing the packaging and shipping. As Valentine’s Day approached, they were hit with a New England curveball: winter storm Nemo, which would become the fifth largest snowfall in Boston history, was forecast to hit the weekend before Valentine’s Day. All around Boston the news warned of shutting down roads, airports, and subways. Authorities urged residents to prepare for a heavy downfall and warned of potential power outages. Nemo could wreck their biggest sale day and reputation.

However, EH Chocolatier had no idea of the real storm coming. On Tuesday, February 12th, Elaine was surprised to see EH Chocolatier featured in The New York Times  day’s “Best in the Box” article. Their salted caramels had been recognized as a top ten best chocolate caramel just in time for Valentine’s Day. Catharine and Elaine said that they did not get their hopes up initially, since  EH Chocolatier had previous exposure in major publications like Food and Wine. But at 9:05 AM Elaine’s email sounded off like an alarm, “bing, bing, bing, bing, bing”–the sound of hundreds of online chocolate orders pouring into her inbox. “It was kind of like an Oprah moment,” Elaine says recalling the experience. “We literally got five hundred orders in thirty-six hours.”

Most entrepreneurs could only dream of the success EH Chocolatier experienced with their first New York Times feature. However, waking up in the morning with five hundred orders of handmade chocolates is a daunting task. The article said chocolates could be ordered by Valentine’s Day–giving the team at EH Chocolatier merely four days to accomplish ten times their expected workload.  And then there was Nemo. “Oh my God, I don’t think we can handle this,” recalls Elaine of the experience. “But we did it.” With the help of friends and family, EH Chocolatier was able to successfully mail their chocolate orders in time for Valentine’s Day. Since The New York Times feature, Elaine and Catharine say that business has picked up at a steady pace.

Despite the publicity, the economic odds were against two mothers starting a business at the tail-end of a recession. “Micro-Chocolatiers” face tough competition from large manufacturers like Godiva or Lindt, who have extensive shipping networks and long shelf-life products. While EH Chocolatier still has room to grow as a business, there are benefits to staying small. “I think where we stand out is that its fresh,” Catharine says in our interview. “We make very small batches. . . . [T]he flavors [in chocolate] dissipate over time and will dry out a little bit. When you eat them and they’ve been made that week, theres no comparison to eating something that you’ve purchased from a large chocolate manufacturer who has [a shelf life of] maybe six months.”

Not only are EH Chocolatier’s confections fresh, but they offer creative flavor combinations. Inspiration for new chocolate flavors is not limited by the world of dessert. “A lot of it comes from our joy of savory eating,” Catharine says. “I have a friend that’s Thai and she cooks for me all the time. . . . [Y]ou start thinking; I wonder if I can pair these flavors with chocolate? [T]hats where our lemongrass Thai chili bonbon came from.” Beyond chocolate, EH Chocolatier also offers a passion fruit caramel  made with passion fruit puree combined with white chocolate.

The heart of EH Chocolatier that keeps the core of the business strong is the bond between Catharine and Elaine. “We knew of and heard of all those horror stories of friends starting businesses together,” says Elaine in the interview. “Catharine and I realized that it wouldn’t really be worth doing business together if we wouldn’t be friends afterwards.” “Because our strengths are very different it really is a match made in heaven,” Catharine says looking to Elaine as they share the kind of unrestrained belly-laugh that can only be had between close friends.

“We’re very ying yang,” says Elaine, who is dressed in a white linen shirt and brushed silver jewelry, with her straight black hair neatly parted down the side. Catharine sits by her side wearing a cherry red sweater with matching red rectangular glasses and red dangle bead earrings. “We are both equal in terms of developing new recipes and creating new ideas and we each sort of come at it from different bends and different palates. We’re equal in terms of strengths,” says Elaine.

Perhaps this strength is ultimately what enables a entrepreneurs to persevere through the difficult initial phases of a new business. After all, a business is fundamentally about relationships between people, whether it’s buyer or seller.  The challenges of winter storm Nemo and an unexpected bump in orders due to the Times article showed the EH Chocolatier has the right business model–and people for success.

Catharine and Elaine are helping to define what it means to be a female entrepreneur. In businesses highly dominated by men, women often forced to repress their femininity in order to be taken seriously. Desirable leadership traits are usually associated with male stereotypes of being aggressive, dominant, and individualistic. Women often feel pressure to be a “woman in a man’s world” and are not given the freedom to be a “woman in a woman’s” world because society has often categorized female-dominated industries as being less important, less deserving of respect, less difficult, and less desireable. As two mothers and entrepreneurs in the chocolate industry, an industry that has long been the domain of women, Catharine and Elaine reflect what it means to be a strong, female leader who fully leans into being a “woman in a woman’s” world.

It is important to see female leadership in the chocolate industry for a few reasons. The story of how chocolate rose to global prominence has largely taken place in the unwritten history of women. For example, many believe European colonists were responsible for innovating on cacao recipes taken from the Mesoamericans and transformed to fit European tastes. For example, Spanish Doctor and Military surgeon Antonio Lavedan wrote in 1796 in Tratado de los usos, abusos, propiedades y virtudes del tabaco, cafe, te y chocolate:

“When the Spanish and Portuguese arrived in the Americas, the inhabitants there made a cacao liquor which was diluted in hot water seasoned with pepper and other spices . . . all these ingredients gave this mixture a brutish quality and a very savage taste . . . The Spanish, more industrious than the Savages, procured to correct the bad flavor of this liquor, adding to this cacao paste different fragrances of the East and many spices of this country [Spain]. Of all these ingredients we have maintained only the sugar, vanilla, and cinnamon” (Lavedan, Antonio).

 

This Eurocentric view is fundamentally flawed but has persisted because historians have routinely overlooked the history of people of color and women. When the Spanish and Portuguese arrived in Mesoamerica, they employed the encomienda system and forced women to perform housework and prepare food. As a result, Mesoamerican women introduced European settlers to the different ways of preparing cacao and rather than the Europeans modifying chocolate to fit their different cultural tastes, Europeans developed a cultural taste for Indian chocolate (Marcy Norton, 2006). Historians have often ignored the role of gender in shaping history and as a result, many people fail to realize that Mesoamerican women are largely responsible for introducing chocolate to the world out of obscurity.

For example, many people believe Europeans were the first to sweeten chocolate, however Mesoamericans had been sweetening chocolate for a while.

meso

Martin, Carla. “Colonial Mesoamerican Cacao Beverage Recipe Ingredients,” Chocolate Expansion, Chocolate, Culture and the Politics of Food. Lecture. Spring Academic Year, 2017.

euro

Source: Martin, Carla. “Colonial European Chocolate Recipe Ingredients,” Chocolate Expansion, Chocolate, Culture and the Politics of Food. Lecture. Spring Academic Year, 2017.

As chocolate made its way through Spain, Italy, France, and Britain, recipes were passed down between women from kitchen to kitchen. This played a formative role in discovering new uses for chocolate but scholars and historians have traditionally ignored studying and documenting this because chocolate has long been considered a “women’s” domain. As a result, the early evolution of chocolate throughout Europe is poorly documented and relatively unknown.

As the industry surrounding chocolate developed in the early 1900s, women were excluded participation in the development of chocolate as a business and it wasn’t until  1970s that Mar’s Chocolate hired a woman named Lone Clark to Vice President of HR, an unprecedented move at the time but still a testament to the newness of welcoming women into ownership of an industry that they by and large laid the foundations to.

Furthermore, chocolate has long been a tool for those in power to set the agenda on the wants and desires of women. Advertising is largely dominated by men and has historically had a lack of diversity of women in senior level positions. As a result, the messages connecting women to chocolate have focused on reinforcing highly gendered, heteronormative stereotypes of femininity. It is yet another way men have defined what constitutes women’s spaces and what it means to be a woman.

Catharine and Elaine’s success as chocolatiers represents women taking ownership of “women’s” domains, and paying homage to the unacknowledged labor of women who introduced the world to chocolate.

 

Bibliography

Dishman, Lydia. “The Gender Divide and the Traits of Effective Leadership: Who Comes Out on Top?” Fast Company, 05/20/2014. Retrieved online: https://www.fastcompany.com/3030754/the-gender-divide-and-the-traits-of-effective-leadership-who-comes-out-on

Hsieh, Elaine, Catharine, Sweeney. Personal Interview about EH Chocolatiers. Conducted March, 2015.

Lavedan, Antonio. “Tratado de los usos, abusos, propiedades y virtudes del tabaco, café, té y chocolate : extractado de los mejores autores que han tratado de esta materia, á fin de que su uso no perjudique á la salud, antes bien pueda servir de alivio y curación de muchos males.” Madrid : En la Imprenta Real, 1796.

Retrieved online: https://archive.org/details/tratadodelosuso00lavegoog

Mars Inc. “At Mars, the Evolution of Female Leaders Started Early,” Mars News. Mars.com, 03/23/2017. Retrieved online: http://www.mars.com/global/press-center/newsroom/womens-history-month-ione-clark

Martin, Carla. “Colonial European Chocolate Recipe Ingredients,” Chocolate Expansion, Chocolate, Culture and the Politics of Food. Lecture. Spring Academic Year, 2017.

Martin, Carla. “Colonial Mesoamerican Cacao Beverage Recipe Ingredients,” Chocolate Expansion, Chocolate, Culture and the Politics of Food. Lecture. Spring Academic Year, 2017.














 

Against the March of Time: Challenges Facing Chocolate Makers Attempting to Return Chocolate to its Roots

That path of the development of American chocolate has been at its core, a circular one. Initially introduced before the United States was an independent country, its form has shifted many times over the years. Initially sold in the colonies as blocks of processed cocoa to be grated, melted down, and consumed as a liquid, the formulation changed as chocolate morphed from drink to edible bar, and again as it became a mass-produced product. In the past 50 years, however, there has been an effort to return chocolate to its roots- starting with increased research on the history of chocolate in the 1960’s and 1970’s, continuing with the emergence of single origin chocolate and ideals of purity in the 1980’s and 1990’s, and continuing into the 2000’s and 2010’s with an explosion craft “bean to bar” chocolate manufacturers. However, while the modern artisanal chocolate movement is attempting to bring traditional chocolate to to the masses, chocolatiers face two major challenges on this path- the reliance on European primary sources in chocolate scholarship, and the inherited taste preferences of the chocolate-consuming public.

To understand the reasons for this, one first has to know a bit about the history of chocolate. Residue on ancient pottery suggests that Cacao was consumed as a drink in what is now Mexico as early as 1900 BCE, predating the arrival of Europeans in the Americas by thousands of years. During the entirety of that time, the civilizations that consumed it, from the Olmecs to the Mayans and Aztecs, drank chocolate rather than ate it. This was the most ancient form of chocolate- a frothy drink, served either hot or cold. If sweetened, it was sweetened with honey, and was often seasoned using chili peppers. Unfortunately for us, most firsthand accounts of how these civilizations lived has been lost to time- destroyed by conditions under which paper records decompose or by invading forces. What is known is that pre-Columbian civilizations in the Americas were large and complex- to the point it is suspected that exchange of ideas (and possibly trade) occurred between the Aztec of Mexico and the Incas of Peru. (Chard, pg 13) This is an important fact, as it has a direct bearing on what ingredients may have been used to flavor chocolate at the time of Columbus’ arrival in South America.

It is important to note that the accounts of the consumption of chocolate at the time of its discovery by the Spanish discovery are not unbiased accounts. While often presented as being firsthand accounts, these accounts are from the perspective of outsiders, new to both the culture, and the land.  A quote found in Sophie D. Coe and Michael D. Coe’s A True History of Chocolate from Jose de Acosta in 1590 captures the significance of this well –

 

The main benefit of this cacao is a beverage which the make called Chocolate, which is a crazy thing valued in that country. It disgusts those who are not used to it, for it has a foam on top, or a scum-like bubbling…”.

 

Coe and Coe go on to explain that

 

To cross the ethnocentric taste barrier and be accepted as a normal beverage by the Spanish-born and the Creoles, the cold, bitter, usually unsweetened drink had to undergo its own process of hybridization.”(Coe and Coe, pg. 114)

 

but fail to mention that as a result of this hybridization it is quite possible that many of the subtleties around the creation and consumption of chocolate may have been lost to them.

Let us look at a specific example- the type of pepper used to flavor the chocolate drink consumed by the Aztec at the time of European arrival in the Americas. Many texts write of this flavor pairing being common among the Maya and Aztec, and speak of recipes being adapted to European tastes by substituting black pepper for chillis. But what do these “firsthand” accounts mean when they mention chili peppers? There are many species of Capsicum commonly called “chili peppers”. Many scholars including Coe and Coe, refer to the spice used to flavor chocolate at the time of Spanish arrival specifically as Capsicum Annuum, without going into any detail as to why they suspect this- perplexing, given the dizzying array of pepper plants in the world. The characteristics of these plants vary greatly from variety to variety, and even more greatly from species to species. Capsicum Annuum contains everything from sweet bell peppers to jalapenos. Hot peppers belonging to the species Capsicum Annuum are rarely sweet, and are often said to have a bitter flavor that accompanies their heat. But other species, most notably Capsicum Chinense and Capsicum Baccatum are described as being sweet and fruity, while still ranging from mild to blazingly hot.

Furthermore, without a keen eye for botany and extensive study of the plant while it is producing fruit, it is next to impossible to determine which species a particular pepper belongs to. Mesoamerican civilizations are likely to have had exposure to all of these types of peppers, yet we have no indication of which types were used to flavor their traditional chocolate drinks. Since it is established the Inca and the Maya likely had contact shortly before the arrival Columbus, it is entirely possible Capsicum Baccatum may have been one of the types of pepper used to flavor chocolate when the Spanish first encountered it. Without context-specific firsthand accounts, this sort of specific information is difficult to establish.

Similarly, it is important to note that another type of Theobroma commonly known as Pataxte (Theobroma Bicolor) was traditionally cultivated alongside Cacao (Theobroma Cacao), and that a third species, Theobroma Angustifolium, grows in Costa Rica, which is thought to have been on Olmec trade routes. Many organizations which compile information about the Maya people indicate that these uncommon species may have also been used in the production of chocolate, including FLAAR, who have associated articles on both their site for Maya Ethnobotany and their site for Maya Archeology.   However, neither Pataxte or Theobroma Angustifolium are commonly mentioned in texts about the history of chocolate. This is partly due to the European bias in what we consider primary sources- early Spaniards declared that Pataxte was an inferior grade of cacao, and thus it was both phased out of common cultivation and of literature. This significantly underplays the role that Pataxte had in Mayan society, where it was used as a form of tribute and is mentioned many times in the Popol Vuh, often in the same context Cacao was mentioned.

In the half-century since chocolate was discovered by Europeans, it has been through changes- from personal drink to a mass marketed commodity.

But a recent trend in the market has been a shift back towards hand-crafted, small batch artisanal products. With this return to its roots, chocolate has also seen a resurgence of chili peppers, a notable nod to the original recipes practiced by the Mayan and the Aztec.

Chocolate and chili bar taste-off – a round up of 11 Chili Chocolate bars- http://cocoa-heaven.com/chocolate-chili-bar-taste-off/

A survey of chocolate bars containing Chili peppers available on Amazon reveals a few interesting facts. Notably, the vast majority of the packaging for these bars feature peppers that have the characteristics of Capsicum Annuum – with the only other pepper commonly pictured is mentioned by name as a Habanero (Capsicum Chinense).

Another interesting thing to note is that most of these chocolates hover around 70% Cacao- with the remaining part generally comprising mostly of pure cane sugar. Many of these also have additional dried fruits pressed into the bars in order to further sweeten and provide flavoring.

Nowhere among this multitude does there appear to be a chili-chocolate bar incorporating Aji type peppers(Capsicum Baccatum)– a particularly surprising fact for a few reasons, first being the modern popularity of these peppers throughout the South and Central Americas. Aji peppers can be used fresh, or powdered. While they are more expensive than some of the more commonly used peppers (about 30% more expensive than Ancho or Chipotle chilis on spicesinc.com), they are significantly less expensive than the next most common- the habanero. The flavor profile of Aji peppers seems to match many of the desires of chocolate consumers- as well as being spicy, they are extremely sweet to the point of being compared to candy and have a strong fruity pungency to them that varies in flavor from lemon to mango and passion flower.

Aji Dulce review in which a man describes the sweetness of a Capsicum Baccatum specimen- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b0Hqe1qVufY

 

Even as some of the spices traditionally associated with chocolate make a comeback in the modern chocolate market, it seems that one main adulterant not found in the original recipe is nearly ubiquitous – sugar.

 

“A rarity in 1650, a luxury in 1750, sugar had been transformed into a virtual necessity by 1850” (Mintz, 148)

This change in status was mirrored by a massive increase in its consumption as well.  Today, the amount of sugar consumed by the average American is staggering, comprising over 20% of annual calories consumed, in part because sugar found its way into a myriad of other products- including chocolate.

“…the per-capita ‘disappearance’ figure for all nondietary sugars (i.e. sugars not occurring naturally, as in fruits) is nearly 130 pounds per year. If disappearance is the same as consumption, then the daily total nondietary consumption of sugars is nearly six ounces per day.” (Mintz,207)

 

Though the Mayans and Aztecs often drank their chocolate completely unsweetened, they also sometimes sweetened their chocolate using honey. Surprisingly, this is a technique a few luxury chocolate manufacturers have adopted, choosing instead to rely on refined sugar in place of the natural product traditionally used to make chocolate more palatable.

Further drastically changing chocolate’s flavor profile was the invention of milk chocolate, which helped increase widespread consumption of chocolate and capitalized on an overproduced resource. By adding milk to chocolate, enterprising entrepreneurs were able to make it more palatable to European consumers, as well as to decrease the cost of it’s production significantly.

This milk chocolate is the most commonly consumed type of chocolate in the American marketplace- which remains by far the largest consumer of chocolate in the world. By using at little as 7-10% cocoa, large corporations are able to mass produce tons of chocolate at a fraction of the cost of . These mass produced chocolate bars are also packed full of sugar- in fact, the sugar and milk in bars such as Hershey’s or Nestle far surpass the amount of cocoa. The ubiquity of these bars at every supermarket, every pharmacy, and every gas station has had a significant effect on the perception of chocolate by the American public. As you can see in this video on Bon Appetit, even American children associate chocolate with sweet taste, and barely at all with the bitter flavor of the chocolate of centuries prior. According to Thamke, Dürrschmid, and Rohm, “Product with the highest Cocoa content was characterized as ‘dry, mealy, and sticky’… ”  not the most pleasant of associations.

 

Here in the 2010’s, the face of chocolate is changing once again. There is a quickly growing market for chocolate sold as a luxury good, often at exorbitant prices. Artisanal, small batch chocolate bars can cost more than $3 per ounce. To compare, a large size Hershey’s milk chocolate bar is $0.36 per ounce- roughly one tenth of the price of chocolate from companies that currently sell it as a luxury good.

 

LA Times news article on the recent explosion of Artisanal Chocolate Producers – http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-artisan-chocolate-20150228-story.html

The marketing for many of these luxury chocolate companies tends to highlight the idea that the chocolate is closer to that made by the Aztec and the Maya. Many of these brands use the imagery of Aztec and Mayan writing, or have names which reference Mesoamerica. Though it is true these companies tend not to produce milk chocolate, they remain a far cry from the original form of chocolate consumed by the Aztec and Mayan peoples- it is a difficult find the balance between commercial appeal and traditional ingredients and practices.

Interesting to note is that while there are many dark chocolates that contain chili peppers available on the internet, there appears to be only one bar that combines both Chili and the use of Honey as a sweetener.

 


Works referenced:

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

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

Chard, Chester S., Pre-Columbian Trade Between North and South America, Berkley, <http://digitalassets.lib.berkeley.edu/anthpubs/ucb/text/kas001-006.pdf&gt;

Ines ThamkeKlaus Dürrschmid, and Harald Rohm , Sensory Description of Dark Chocolate by Consumers, LWT- Food Science and Technology, Volume 42, Issue 2, March 2009, Pages 534–539

 

 

 

 

 

 

Parliament Chocolate: Bean-to-Bar and the Future of Craft Chocolate

Parliament Chocolate is a small Southern California chocolate company that epitomizes the bean-to-bar craft chocolate movement. With a focus on artisanship and direct trade single origin beans, Parliament makes it known that their goal is to produce great quality, ethical chocolate. Although not a perfect solution to all the problems of inequality in the cacao supply chain, bean-to-bar companies such as Parliament are making a positive impact through educating consumers and providing an alternative to big chocolate.

The Parliament Chocolate shop is nestled in the charming historic district of the small city of Redlands, California. Set amid a background of mountains and palm trees, Redlands is known by area residents for its bustling farmers market and trendy downtown businesses. Parliament can be found a block from the center of downtown, in an understated white washed one story building. Once the location of the White Owl Café, now the tiny space has been re-appropriated as Parliament’s kitchen and retail shop.

Front of Parliament Chocolate Shop
Figure 1. Parliament Chocolate Building

Ryan Berk established Parliament chocolate four years ago with his wife, Cassi. According to Berk in a Life and Thyme Magazine’s Letter to the editor (2015) “Our main principle behind the company is to have a relationship with the farmers and vendors behind the products we present to you.” He continues on in his story to discuss going to remote locations in Belize and Guatemala to visit the farmers he is sourcing his cacao beans from, and to express his appreciation for the hard work required to make good quality chocolate. His letter is filled with his personal photos of lush tropical landscapes and indigenous people. The photos depict an idealized notion of going back to chocolate’s origins. In an L.A. Times article Bark’s direct sourcing has been further romanticized. “Ryan Berk makes his chocolate from scratch. That means flying to Central America four times a year, hiking over Maya ruins to remote jungle villages and meeting face-to-face with the farmers who supply his cocoa beans” (Pierson, 2015).

Although lacking some of the passion and colorful imagery found in Berk’s writing, the Parliament Chocolate website explains direct trade, the bean-to-bar concept and their pride in making craft chocolate. On the About Us page, in three short paragraphs, Parliament conveys their mission in a simple, straightforward manner. Their website, store and product packaging all are representative of this simple, open and sincere brand. The grand opening video below also shows their commitment to being ethical and creating a unique product.

Large chocolate companies are not known for revealing detailed information about their processes or supply chain. In direct opposition to this, transparency is clearly important to Parliament Chocolate. Not only in the origin of their beans, but also in their daily operations. Large street facing windows provide views of the retail space and the kitchen. From inside the tiny retail area another window offers a full view of the equipment, ingredients and workers.  The photo below shows the kitchen space as seen from the retail space.

View of Chocolate Kitchen
Figure 2. View of Parliament Chocolate Kitchen

 

For those interested in seeing the areas not clearly visible from the window, Parliament also provides twice weekly tours of the facility. Factory tours are common for small craft chocolate companies. “Whether it is Theo Chocolate in Seattle or TCHO in San Francisco, small manufacturers are opening their doors to packed tours of people eager to learn about flavor, how chocolate is made, and where it comes from” (Williams & Eber, 2012, p. 157).

Parliament produces just four types of chocolate bars, each of which is made with only two ingredients; seventy percent cacao and thirty percent cane sugar. Each bar is made with single origin beans. This year they have Bolivia, Dominican Republic, Guatemala and Tanzania bars. All the bars are packaged in white textured craft paper and adorned with a drawing of an owl. The owl drawings are made by a local artist, four different owls representing the four different countries. The name of the company, Parliament, came from this parliament of owls.

Additionally, they also make chocolate syrup and an array of freshly prepared confections. On the day I visited their caramel and toffee truffles were the most popular treats. Samples of the chocolate bars are displayed for every guest to try, and they are happy to discuss the qualities and tasting notes of each with customers.

Parliament Samples
Figure 3. Parliament Samples

 

Pictured above are the Parliament Chocolate bars, each cut into sample cubes. The bars are 1.7 ounces, and thicker than most bars on the market. One might think that thinner, wider bars with larger packaging would give consumers the impression that they were getting more value for their money. Parliament does not seem to be worried about standing out against other craft bars. Currently, not being supplied in any

ParliamentChocolate-Bar Size
Figure 4. Parliament Bar Size

large markets, there would be little concern to be noticed and chosen among the masses. Pictured on the right is a Parliament Chocolate bar next to a Dick Taylor Craft Chocolate bar. A 1.7 ounce bar versus a 2.0 ounce bar.

 

Parliament’s bars sell for six dollars a bar, or twenty dollars for the pack of all four varieties. This price does not seem particularly outlandish, considering the price of most craft chocolate bars. The question becomes, with this type of product being still relatively new, is the average consumer willing to pay a premium price for a single origin dark chocolate bar?

We know that there is a market for ethically conscious consumers that enjoy fine dark chocolate. We have yet to see how quickly that market could potentially grow. It seems likely to consider that the explosion of craft chocolatiers into this arena is happening faster than the growth of consumers. Research by Torres-Moreno, Tarrega, Torrescasana, and Blanch (2011) indicates that consumers prefer a familiar brand with a known quality, and that consumers of dark chocolate like products based on taste with little importance given to information on packaging.  Labeling information claiming single origin beans did not cause consumers to presume it would be better quality nor did they find it to be a feature that improved the product (p. 670).

Claims on product labels about the geographical origin of chocolates have been shown to be a distinctive characteristic of high quality products. However, the results presented here indicate that consumers in this study did not perceive the claim about geographical origins as a positive feature for dark chocolate (Torres-Moreno et al., 2011, p. 670).

Although the data from their research seems to hint at a barrier for craft chocolate expansion, in time the results could change. Currently, in the Unites States, many people still associate the excessively sweet, almost sour, quality of a Hershey’s bar with the taste of chocolate. Learning to appreciate dark chocolate, and the nuanced flavors of beans, takes exposure and education. “The spectacular growth of quality chocolate during recent decades has led to a vocabulary of connoisseurship previously seen only in the wine industry. (Coe & Coe, 2013, p. 260) Chocolate connoisseurs will grow in numbers with increased experience. It will be up to the craft chocolate maker to provide excellent tasting products. Single origin still might not be a driving factor behind consumer purchases, but a great tasting product will be.

With a market already saturated with cheap, well known chocolate brands, craft companies have a difficult road ahead.  Community engagement could help keep many of these craft companies in business. Parliament Chocolate sells their chocolate syrup to a local Redlands coffee company for their mocha lattes. This has caught on, and now Parliament sells to multiple coffee shops in several cities.  A day spa in the downtown area even offers a chocolate body scrub treatment using Parliament Chocolate.

This type of local exposure helps make the company, and their mission, more widely known. Not only is there a market for ethical food, there is also one for locally produced goods. Being well known in a small community drives business because many people feel a strong desire to help their neighbor, the little guy, succeed. Consumers wish to feel good about their purchases. Yes, thinking that they have paid a higher price to help a poor farmer is incentive for many, but so is seeing a small local community store flourish. Having set up shop in Redlands, a community that prides entrepreneurship and local artisanship, Parliament chocolate is a good place to continue doing well.

Regardless of whether or not some of these types of small companies thrive, the more craft chocolatiers entering the market, the more people will see this type of chocolate and become aware of its existence. Even by perhaps failing as a business, craft companies can succeed at making positive change by educating people and increasing appreciation for artisanal chocolate.

As much as bean-to-bar companies tout about being ethical and fair to their famers, paying higher prices for presumably better beans, artisanal chocolate is not fully explained without a discussion of West African cacao. The Ivory Coast and Ghana produce most of the world’s cacao supply, and yet these two countries are nearly nonexistent in the fine cacao market. There are many reasons for this. In the industry, the quality of the beans from West Africa are seen as subpar. Bean flavors from Central America, most notably the criollo variety, are seen as more desirable and sought after. There is also a nostalgia for cacao from its original source. To make matters worse, Africa is globally stigmatized for child labor abuses.

Coe and Coe (2013) express the concern that “The gravest and most troubling issue confronting practically all of the major players in the chocolate business concerns child labor-usually unpaid-on the great West African cacao plantations.” (p. 264) Of course we need to acknowledge the truth of the situation, but we also need to look at these societies without the lens of western cultural thinking. West African cacao farmers are trying to survive on meager incomes. Villainizing the farmers does not solve the problem, nor does thinking of them as a charity case. If farmers in this area were making a livable wage, if adults in a family were better able to provide for their dependents, then children would not need to work so much. Incidences of child slavery and abuse would diminish greatly.

Could direct trade be the answer to help this area? It might take a long time to find out. “U.S. artisans are, on the whole, stout in their commitment to both ethics and quality. While they purchase costly flavor beans and can thus improve the livelihoods of poor farmers, they are also unlikely to buy from a place with a negative image – such as West Africa” (Leissle, 2013, p.29). West Africa’s global image is not likely to change soon.

To be fair to U.S. craft chocolate companies, it would be a much bigger expense and logistics project to source their beans from West Africa, especially the Ivory Coast, than someplace closer to the U.S. such as the Dominican Republic. Many small craft chocolate makers are doing so as a side hobby. Berk owns three popular ice cream shops in addition to Parliament Chocolate. Working with such small profit margins does not allow a large amount of capital for such an endeavor. If a company was capable of doing so, I think they would see that the West African stigma is not as big of an issue as it might seem. As we have learned, consumers care more about taste than origin.

Craft chocolate companies promoting a bean-to-bar artisanal chocolate product, such as Parliament Chocolate, will not make much of a dent in the overall volume of chocolate produced. Realistically, not every chocolate bar produced could come from a single, direct traded source. This is not to discredit these types of newly emerging companies. They are having a positive impact. “Many of these US manufacturers may be small, but they have been driving recent changes for the better in the industry; change the world-make better chocolate” (Williams & Eber, 2012, p. 156). Even with narrow profit margins and the likelihood of many startups to fail, these companies are providing public awareness. Through enthusiastically engaging those in their communities, overtime a shift in thinking and taste preferences will occur.

 

References

Berk, R. (2015). Cacao Sourcing: A First Hand Account. Life & Thyme: Reflections. Retrieved from https://lifeandthyme.com/reflections/cacao-sourcing-first-hand-account/

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

Leissle, K. (2013). Invisible West Africa: The Politics of Single Origin Chocolate. Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture. 13(3), 22-31

Pierson, D. (2015) Artisanal, hand-crafted chocolate is a growing niche. L.A. Times. Retrieved from http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-artisan-chocolate-20150228-story.html

Parliament Chocolate website, http://www.parliamentchocolate.com/

Torres-Moreno, M. , Tarrega, A. , Torrescasana, E. , & Blanch, C. (2012). Influence of label information on dark chocolate acceptability. Appetite, 58(2), 665-771

Williams, P. & Eber, J. (2012). Raising the Bar: The Future of Fine Chocolate. Vancouver: Wilmor Publishing.

Figures 1-4. Personal Photos taken at Parliament Chocolate, Redlands, CA. March 7, 2017.

Parliament Chocolate Grand Opening Video, retrieved from https://vimeo.com/user23796783

Chocolate Lessons: Knowledge Gleaned from Chocolate Bars Sold in the Natural Foods Aisle

On average, Americans consume 12 pounds of chocolate per person each year or a little less than a quarter pound of chocolate per week. A typical chocolate bar ranges from 1.5-3.5 ounces. Therefore, 12 pounds of chocolate equates to enjoying 55-128 chocolate bars (depending on its size) per year! It is safe to say, for better or for worse, chocolate has become an integral part of the American diet.

Historically, chocolate was consumed for medicinal purposes, primarily as a source of nourishment and energy. Today, the developed world struggles with being simultaneously over nourished and malnourished from an imbalanced diet. Nevertheless, chocolate health claims persist, usually in reference to darker chocolates. Beneficial properties of cocoa include antioxidant, cardiovascular, and psychological enhancement, which are linked to its polyphenol, flavanol, and caffeine content (Castell, Pérez-Cano, and Bisson, 2013). These health claims are not present on chocolate bar labels, though.

In the last couple of decades, food packaging has actually become quite informationally dense. How can you sift through all of the information on chocolate labels to know what’s really important? Additionally, what can we learn from a chocolate bar’s packaging, besides its nutritional content? The goal of this blog post is to help decipher the various symbols, certification meanings, and key words that appear on chocolate wrappers.

Ultimately, you, as the consumer, have to decide what is important to you and what you are looking for in your chocolate purchases, not only in terms of taste but also social responsibility. Equipping yourself with the knowledge to know what to look for, and what symbols, certifications, and other words on chocolate packages mean, makes informed chocolate purchases a much smoother process and ensures you have the best chocolate buying experience possible. Before chocolate tasting can become embodied knowledge, it requires repetition in order to pick up on flavor nuances of single origin chocolate or to be able to tell if a chocolate bar was made with over-roasted cacao beans. In the same way, learning the stories and processes behind the chocolate you are eating requires some research, occasionally beyond the label itself.

I studied the chocolate bars in the natural foods aisle of a Stop & Shop grocery store in the greater Boston area to see what information could be gleaned from the chocolate labels within this section. I did not include enrobed chocolate candies within this aisle, “regular” chocolate bars (i.e., Hershey’s) in the main candy aisle or those present in the checkout lanes. I chose to focus on the chocolate bars within the natural foods aisle because, typically, these brands offer more information and stories about cacao procurement, processing, and its impact on people or the environment, whereas chocolate produced by most Big Five brands only provide nutritional information on the back of the wrapper. The Big Five chocolate brands include well-known companies: Hershey, Mars, Cadbury, Nestle, and Ferrero (Allen, 2010).

The type of consumer who shops for chocolate in the natural foods aisle is most likely not just looking for a sugar fix because there are cheaper ways to meet that need. The intended audience includes individuals who may be interested in supporting social or environmental causes, and who are probably health conscious, even though it is still chocolate. Additionally, he or she may have a sophisticated or informed palate, and prefer quality chocolate with nuanced flavors. The natural foods aisle typically offers products that are slightly more expensive than its conventional counterparts, so the consumer is not making his or her choice of chocolate based solely on price point. Rather, the consumer possibly has a higher disposable income and is able to spend two or three times as much money on a chocolate bar from this section than on chocolate from one of the large chocolate corporations previously mentioned.

The natural foods aisle in Stop & Shop offers eight different brands of chocolate bars: Chocolove XOXOX, Green & Black’s, Divine, Theo, TCHO, LILY’s, Endangered Species Chocolate, and Alter Eco. These bars are being sold for $2.50-$3.99, with Chocolove XOXOX being the cheapest because it was on sale. Divine, LILY’s, and Alter Eco lands at the upper end of the options. The TCHO 70% dark chocolate bar usually retails for $4.29, but happened to be on sale. Still, these are moderately priced “good” chocolate bars compared to other specialty chocolate companies and retailers who sell their bars for about double the price. The juxtaposition of these brands, with a $1.00 (or less) Hershey’s chocolate bar, provides an interesting comparison in both price and taste.

The eight brands offer bars in a variety of flavors ranging from 34% milk chocolate to 85% dark chocolate with the option of added fruit or nut pieces. The white chocolate selection was nonexistent in this section at this particular grocery store. However, just for informational purposes, one brand (outside of the eight focused on here) does contribute a white chocolate peanut butter cup.

Just a few of the brands provide chocolate bars made from single origin cacao, which might be a more common provision at specialty retail stores. Both TCHO and Divine use Ghanaian cacao, and Alter Eco sources its cacao beans from Ecuador. Chocolove XOXOX states on the back of the wrapper that their Belgian chocolate bars are crafted with African cocoa beans. This somewhat vague statement only alludes to the fact that their beans do not come from Central or South America, or Southeast Asia but could be sourced from one or more of the cacao producing countries within the large continent of Africa. Additionally, Green & Black’s credits Trinitario cacao beans for giving their chocolate a rich and unique flavor profile. Trinitario cacao beans are thought to embody the best qualities of its genetic parents, the Criollo and Forastero varieties, with the hybrid cacao being both hardy and possessing a nice flavor profile (Prisilla, 2009). Likewise, the purpose of brands specifying single origin or the use of a single cacao variety suggests an increase in quality or flavor characteristics that add value to the end product. Thus, the price of these types of bars is usually slightly higher compared to mixed bean origin or variety, and especially compared to bulk cacao.

There are a few things that stand out upon taking a closer look at the packages. First, Alter Eco is the only brand that uses a cardboard packaging to house its chocolate. All of the other brands wrap their bars in a glossy paper. In both cases, the chocolate is likely sealed in foil before receiving either the glossy paper or cardboard outer wrapper. While the outer cardboard layer looks visually appealing and feels nice to the touch, it also makes the bar appear larger than it actually is. The 2.8 ounce Alter Eco chocolate bar looks bigger than the 3 ounce LILY’S bar sitting next to it on the shelf, as the image shows below. Thus, most consumers probably believe they are purchasing a larger chocolate bar if they do not read the front of the package and realize the chocolate bar is smaller by weight than some other options.

FullSizeRender-2 2
Alter Eco 2.8 ounce chocolate bar

Like several other brands, Theo includes a brief description about the company and their procurement and processing practices on the back of the package. Here, Theo shares it is a bean to bar chocolate company, which means the company purchases the fermented and dried cacao beans, and then carries out each of the remaining processing steps (about 10) from roasting to packaging, according to their unique preferences. Thus, the company oversees the entire chocolate making process and can tweak each batch according to its needs and the desired outcome, making it a true craft.

Green & Black’s label does not readily offer information about the company’s processing practices other than it uses fair trade and organic ingredients. Interestingly, the backside of the label does say Mondelez Global LLC distributes Green & Black’s chocolate bars. Mondelez is one of the largest global snack food companies and now owns Cadbury, one of the Big Five chocolate companies. Last year, Mondelez even attempted to acquire the Hershey Company, but Hershey declined the offer (Bukhari, 2017). Thus, Mondelez is a significant player within the global food system. This association alone may deter some consumers from purchasing Green & Black’s chocolate.

Another unexpected but perhaps pioneering find is LILY’s, whose chocolate bars are sweetened with the natural sweetener, Stevia, and erythritol, a sugar alcohol. Additionally, LILY’s adds inulin, a fiber commonly used as a bulking agent. These are not traditional chocolate bar ingredients, but perhaps the fewer calories and grams of sugar allow individuals with specific dietary restrictions to still purchase fair trade chocolate. The bar also boasts that it is still “100% indulgent.”

Before dissecting the chocolate bars’ various certifications, I want to look at Divine’s commitment to its producers. In the West, chocolate consumption has long been feminized, associated with temptation and indulgence (Robertson, 2009). Women are important as both chocolate consumers and producers, something Divine has recognized. The two images above depict Divine’s pledge to support the female cacao farmers within Kuapa Kokoo (cocoa co-operative) in Ghana and make sure their voices are heard. In doing so, these female business owners are positioned as powerful actors within the cacao and chocolate industries, rather than being viewed as exploited workers in an underdeveloped country (Leissle, 2012). This has significant implications not only for the female producers, but also culturally, and for future standards within the chocolate industry.

This final section includes a brief discussion on food certifications. Fair trade certification is the most popular certification that the eight brands feature. Other certifications that appear on the chocolate wrappers include USDA Organic, Non-GMO Verified, Certified Gluten-Free, Certified Vegan, Kosher (dairy), Fair for Life, and rBST free. I was surprised I did not find the UTZ Certified symbol on any of the chocolate bars, since UTZ is the most common cacao certification related to sustainable farming practices.

Fair trade certifications can be represented in a variety of ways depending on the party providing the certification. The images above show several different certifications present on the different brands’ packaging that symbolize the employment of fair trade practices. In order for a product to be labeled “fair trade,” all members of the processing chain (including producers) must pay into the fair trade system. As a result, producers are promised better trading conditions including long term relationships with buyers, garner presumably higher wages, have better working conditions, and live overall improved lives. However, many question whether this system is as transformative as it claims to be. The terms “fair trade” and “sustainable” have become ubiquitous, and the commodification of the terms also threatens their legitimacy (Sylla, 2014).

When thinking about food certifications, it is important to remember these certifications are neither all encompassing nor meant to solve all social or environmental issues with one label. Companies are now starting to launch their own certifications rather than going through a third party certification. It will be up to the individual company to define the criteria for “fair” or “sustainable,” or any new term it deems important. Whole Foods already uses its “Whole Trade Certified” label. Consequently, continuing to be an educated consumer will be extremely imperative in order to know what the certifications represent and what the companies stand for. It is unclear whether these self-certifications will be viewed as legitimate certifications or just add to the confusion many consumers feel when reading food labels.

While the objective of self-certification is to offer more affordable fair trade items to consumers, it raises the question of whether that should be the ultimate goal of selling fair trade products, and what the tradeoffs are for making fair trade more affordable and part of the mainstream? If large food conglomerates begin to self-regulate certifications, rather than paying third party companies, who is to say the consumer will actual benefit from the money saved? Historically, when the price of goods has dropped, large corporations scoop up the difference and pocket the extra profits, rather than decreasing the cost for the consumer (Albrittion, 2013). However, consumers still have the power to vote with their dollars.

The next time you peruse the chocolate selection within a store, feel empowered to study the information provided on the packaging (and conduct further research if needed) rather than being overwhelmed by various symbols and industry jargon.

 

**All images were taken by the author

 

Works Cited

Albritton, Robert. 2013. “Between Obesity And Hunger: The Capitalist Food Industry”. In Food And Culture: A Reader, 3rd ed., 342-352. New York: Routledge.

Allen, Lawrence L. 2010. Chocolate Fortunes: The Battle For The Hearts, Minds, And Wallets Of China’s Consumers. New York: American Management Association.

Bukhari, Jeff. 2017. “Why Investors Are Bingeing On Snack-Maker Mondelez”. Fortune.Com. http://fortune.com/2017/02/22/why-investors-are-bingeing-on-snack-maker-mondelez/.

Castell, Margarida, Francisco Jose Pérez-Cano, and Jean-François Bisson. 2013. “Clinical Benefits Of Cocoa: A Review”. In Chocolate In Health And Nutrition, 1st ed., 265-276. Humana Press.

Leissle, Kristy. 2012. “Cosmopolitan Cocoa Farmers: Refashioning Africa in Divine Chocolate Advertisements.” Journal of African Cultural Studies 24 (2): 121-139. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13696815.2012.736194

Prisilla, Maricel E. 2009. The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural and Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. 1st ed. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press.

Robertson, Emma. 2009. Chocolate, Women, and Empire: A Social and Cultural History. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Sylla, Ndongo Samba. 2014. The Fair Trade Scandal: Marketing Poverty To Benefit The Rich. 1st ed. Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press.

Chocolove: Premium or not?

chocolove 2

My chocolate obsession is a life-long craving I have had since I was very little and one that was definitely encouraged by my chocolate-loving father. I remember as a small child going to seven-eleven with my dad on a regular basis to indulge in the five cent candy bins. Contributing to my chocolate craze is that my birthday falls just before Halloween and therefore I always had Halloween/costume themed birthday parties that never were without a piñata filled with candy and chocolate. My favorite chocolate as a kid was Reese’s peanut butter cups, created in 1928. As a child of the 1980s and 1990s, bulk chocolate was what I indulged in and the only chocolate I knew. Now, in my thirties I continue to crave chocolate but my taste for it has evolved over the last 20 years, as has the market for chocolate. Nowadays, I tend to purchase my chocolate at higher end grocers and specialty stores. Until taking this chocolate class, I knew very little about the history, culture and politics of chocolate and knew nothing about the supply chain. Gaining valuable insight from the Harvard Extension School chocolate course, I now have some tools to analyze chocolate in terms of its quality. For this project I will analyze the ‘Chocolove’ chocolate company and my go-to chocolate bar in recent years, the Almonds and Sea Salt Dark Chocolate bar, which contains 55% cocoa content and claim’s to be of premium quality. I will examine this particular bar according to ingredients, bean quality and certifications to determine if this bar warrants the ‘premium’ label and meets the ethical standards being disseminated by the industry.

chocolove 1

In the U.S. for a product to be called “chocolate”, it must contain a minimum of fifteen percent liquor (Williams and Eber p170). Chocolate liquor, also called cocoa mass, is both the cocoa powder and the cocoa butter combined after the bean is harvested, fermented, dried, roasted, and grinded. Many times, additional cocoa butter will be added to the liquor in making chocolate. In evaluating the ingredients of the Almonds and Sea Salt Dark Chocolate bar made by Chocolove, let us first look at the ingredients section on the wrapper. In this particular bar, the ingredients are broken down into three key components: Dark chocolate (cocoa liquor, sugar, cocoa butter, soy lecithin, vanilla) almonds, sea salt. Dark chocolate is a product of the prepared cacao beans that come from the cacao pods, a large colorful fruit found on the cacao tree (Theobroma Cacao).  One point of confusion for me prior to taking this course was the difference between Cacao and Cocoa? Many premium chocolate bars list their cacao percentage on their labels, but Chocolove lists its cocoa content. To clarify, cacao refers to the raw material that comes from the cacao tree while cocoa is the Anglicization of the word cacao and refers to the commodity once it is processed, as learned in our lecture by Carla Martin. In recent years, the use of the word cacao has increased as a way to connect the product to its historical links and to differentiate it from bulk commodity cocoa.

Cocoa-pod-on-a-dark-wooden-table-Stock-Photo-cocoa-cacao-bean

The Chocolove Almonds and Sea Salt Dark Chocolate bar is 55% cocoa and therefore well above the minimum standard to be considered chocolate. It is also located in the “fine” and “premium” chocolate section of the store, suggesting to me that they must be of higher quality than the bulk chocolate made by the largest chocolate companies, namely Hershey, Mars, Ferrero and Nestle. When determining whether a chocolate is of premium quality, a definition for premium is needed. According to Williams and Eber there is no universal standard for premium chocolate and it can be whatever one claims it to be but it is widely understood that premium chocolate is linked with its cacao origin and percentage (p 168), as I have suggested above. In researching the source of Chocolove’s cacao, I discovered that the company is a chocolatier, rather than a chocolate maker. As a chocolatier, they buy finished Belgian chocolate and then melt it, re-temper it, add inclusions (nuts, fruit, etc.), pour it into molds, pop it out and wrap it in fine paper. In comparison, a chocolate maker makes their own chocolate from dried cacao beans and then proceeds to add other ingredients, etc.

Chocolove purchases its chocolate from Callabaut, a century old Belgian chocolate company that supplies premium quality chocolate to chefs and chocolatiers around the world and whose website says its chocolate is made with the best, sustainable beans of West Africa.  For much of the 20th century, “the place of manufacture became more important to appreciating chocolate than the place of origin” and thus (Leissle, p22) Belgian chocolate, where this product is made, stood out as desirable quality to consumer’s rather than the place of origin, say Ghana. In other words, chocolate’s flavor/style was organized by its place of manufacture which can be described as follows: “French (dark, heavy roast), Swiss (extra cocoa-butter creamy), Belgian (soft milk), British (caramel milk), and American (milky, slightly sour Hershey flavor)” (Leissle, 22-23). During the height of this period, other notions of  chocolate quality developed as well, such as Emma Robertson’s finding that it was believed that “the best qualities of cocoa come from the West Indies, South American and the East Indies” (p 74) rather than Africa which may be linked to racial discrimination due to the African ownership of these cacao farms vs. the white owners of the non-African cacao producing areas. Toward the end of the 20th century and into the 21st century, single-origin chocolate has emerged as the leading quality in a craft chocolate market. Craft chocolate is a whole new dimension, whereby small-scale bean to bar chocolate production using vintage equipment is the newest and greatest thing (Martin and Sampeck, p53). While Chocolove is housed on the same shelves as craft chocolate companies, craft chocolate is in different class, entirely, and at a much higher price point.

The other factor to consider in quality, are the other ingredients in the bar. In this case, sugar, soy lecithin and vanilla are added. The type of sugar used in this bar is non-GMO beet sugar from Europe as claimed on Chocolove’s FAQs (https://www.chocolove.com/faq/). Chocolove uses this information as part of a marketing tool that appeals to individuals who are health conscience about the ways in which foods are grown.  In evaluating the amount of sugar added to this bar, the nutrition panel is very helpful, as it states the number of grams per serving size. As a caveat, one should be aware that there are no guidelines or rules for how companies determine a serving size. In this case, there are three servings in this 3.2 ounce bar. Each serving contains 11 grams of sugar. One must do a bit of math to determine the amount of sugar in the entire bar, which happens to be 33 grams or eight teaspoons. Recent Food and Drug Administration guidelines suggest limiting added sugar to less than 50 grams a day and less than 10% of your daily caloric intake (http://www.motherjones.com/blue-marble/2015/11/sugar-is-the-devil). Upon realizing that this bar contains 30 grams of sugar, more than half of the FDA suggested daily limit, I am displeased with this finding as I tend to consume the entire bar in one sitting. I would guess that other chocolate bars with higher cocoa content would contain a lot less sugar, but in comparing other Chocolove bars with 65% and 70% cocoa content, this is not the case. They also contain high amounts of sugar.

I will also examine Chocolove’s sustainability and socially responsibility. They showcase an entire page of their website on this subject and have an additional “Chocolove social website” where one can go to more thoroughly engage in their programs and certifications. Chocolove works with several organizations and is engaged with a number of ways, but it is important to point out that these engagements do not affect the taste of Chocolove’s chocolate bars.

Fair trade, “a trading partnership, based on dialogue, transparency, and respect, that seeks greater equity in international trade. It contributes to sustainable development by offering better trading conditions to, and securing the rights of, marginalized producers and workers – especially in the South. Fair trade organizations, backed by consumers, are engaged actively in supporting producers, awareness raising and in campaigning for changes in the rules and practice of conventional international trade” (Sylla, p64-65). This certification is highly sought after by ethically conscience high-end chocolate connoisseurs. Chocolove offers three of its 30 distinct bars as Fair trade chocolate and do so because of the demand for it. At the same time, they decisively educate their consumer that manufacturer’s of fair trade chocolate can legally mix non-fair trade chocolate into their bars as long as there is a ‘mass balance’ system in place. This is just one of many of the issues with the fair trade certification. Other findings shared by Carla Martin in Lecture suggest that little money reaches the developing world, there is a failure to monitor systems and that the burden lies on the consumer among other troubles.

for life image

IMO for Life is another certification held by Chocolove, and their bars are labeled with this certification, which states, “This bar is made with cocoa certified by IMO as for Life which means it was farmed in a socially responsible and ethical manner. All of the cocoa bean derived ingredients are certified for Life”. The Sea Salt and Almond Dark Chocolate bar is 45% for Life certified content. This labeling can be traced directly to the farming coop in the producing country. Chocolove’s factory has also been inspected and certified. Chocolove is a contributor to the World Cocoa Foundation, funds projects at the USDA and belongs to the GGC program, all of which are working toward educating farmer’s, improving working conditions, and preserving cacao. They are transparent in their work and seek to engage in layers of sustainability and socially responsible practices. Additionally, Chocolove states their commitment to the consumer and to their employees, whom they offer competitive wages and health care benefits fully paid.

In using the knowledge learned in class, I have analyzed the Chocolove Almonds and Sea Salt Dark Chocolate bar in terms of quality, ingredients and ethical practices to discover that Chocolove is a Chocolatier rather than a chocolate maker and therefore does not fit in the craft chocolate category, but can still fall under premium chocolate, depending on how one defines it. Additionally, Chocolove may not know exactly how its cacao is sourced but does claim to use quality beans and practice sustainable practices. More research will have to determine if the company is truly socially responsible or is just claiming to be, as so many companies do. Lastly, I learned how much sugar this bar and that alone may deter me from purchasing it on a regular basis. Instead, I may open my wallet and my mouth to finer, darker, less sweet options in the future.

Chocolove.com

Leissle, Kristy. 2013. “Invisible West Africa: The Politics of Single Origin Chocolate.” Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture.

Mother Jones. http://www.motherjones.com/blue-marble/2015/11/sugar-is-the-devil

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

Sylla, Ndongo. 2014. The Fair Trade Scandal.

Williams, Pam and Jim Eber. 2012. Raising the Bar: The Future of Fine Chocolate.

Sweet Medicine: The science of chocolate and health

 

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Chocolate had used as medicine since its inception. The Aztec king Montezuma is said to have consume anywhere from 20 to 50 glasses in order to remain virile. In more recent times, scientists have been looking into whether there are some medical treasures hidden in this scrumptious treat. Naturally, scientists have been zooming in on what it is in chocolate that gives it its health benefits. Scientists now believe these compounds in chocolate, called flavanols, have antioxidant properties and could help treat a variety of conditions and fight a variety of diseases. This has led to a lot of good research being done. There have been studies done that look at chocolate’s impact in fighting heart disease, diabetes, and cancer[1]. There have been studies looking at chocolate’s effect on cognitive function, memory, and blood pressure.  However, before you run to the pantry to self-medicate with chocolate be forewarned; this research, like all medical research, in fact like all science, has caveats. This particular group of research has a good deal of caveats, though not every study has the exact same caveats. Those depend on the strengths and failings of each individual study.

There is one caveat though that applies to this entire group of research; all the chocolate in these studies is all dark chocolate, that is to say to that it is at least sixty percent cacao solids. Milk chocolate is not included and for good reason. US law states that chocolate only needs to contain ten percent cacao in order to legally qualify as chocolate, the rest is mainly sugar, fat, and a few other things such as milk. According to professor Carla Martin, lecturer at Harvard University and director of the Fine Cacao and Chocolate Institute, “A Hershey’s Kiss typically contains about, I think, 11 percent cacao content”. To put that in perspective, if you had a bar of typical milk chocolate that weighed one hundred grams (about the weight of an iPhone 5S[2]), then the actual amount of chocolate in the bar would be only about ten grams, or the weight of two nickels. The fact that milk chocolate has barely any actual chocolate means that milk chocolate has barely any of those cacao flavanols that are thought to provide the health benefits. Thus, anyone, scientist or otherwise, looking towards chocolate for health benefits has to look towards chocolate with a high cacao content.

Chocolate flavanols table
Figure 1

 

There are many pitfalls a research study can fall into. One of these is having a limited and/or small sample size.  Multiple studies on the effect of chocolate on health have had sample sizes of less than a couple hundred people. One such study, the Cocoa, Cognition, and Aging (CoCoA) Study had only ninety participants. The study found that regular cocoa flavanol consumption can reduce some measures of age-related cognitive dysfunction, but given such small sample size it is difficult to draw any large generalized conclusions for the general population, since there is a wide variety of differences across populations. Moreover, the CoCoA study limited their sample size in an attempt at prove clearer causation; because this was a study on aging all the participant were elderly, and the study also excluded Current smokers, habitual users of antioxidant supplements (including vitamins C and E), habitual consumers of chocolate or other cocoa products (daily consumption of any amount), or individuals prescribed medications known to have antioxidant properties (including statins and glitazones) or to interfere with cognitive functions (including benzodiazepines and antidepressants). This means for populations outside the participant group, the research has limited application, since the researcher did not look at how cocoa flavanol intake affects people with these additional variables. It has to be remembered that studies like this are jumping off point, they prove that there is something there that needs to be looked into, but further research is required in order to the proper applications and implications of the initial research.

Continue reading Sweet Medicine: The science of chocolate and health

Value vs. Values: Whole Foods Chocolate

Whole Foods: America’s Healthiest Grocery Store™

WHO THEY ARE

Whole Foods is a national grocery retailer known for their wide array of natural, organic and locally-sourced products. The basis for Whole Foods’s business is to “seek out the finest natural and organic foods available, maintain the strictest quality standards in the industry, and have an unshakeable commitment to sustainable agriculture.” (Whole Foods, “Company Info”)

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Whole Foods’s quality standards. (Whole Foods, “Quality Standards”)

The company has both responded to and continues to drive the increased “demand for sustainable food and natural food products.”  In any store, a consumer can find exotic products from every corner of the world as well as favorite foods from the local community.  Whole Foods works to balance their product mix, while also generating significantly higher profit margins than most other grocery stores.  While commonly referred to as “Whole Paycheck” because of the higher prices as compared to competitors, the company remains committed to delivering products supported by their quality standards and core values (Martin, Alternative trade and virtuous localization/globalization, Slide 39).

Core Values:

  • Selling the highest quality natural and organic products available
  • Satisfying, delighting and nourishing our customers
  • Supporting Team Member happiness and excellence
  • Creating wealth through profits and growth
  • Serving and supporting our local and global communities
  • Practicing and advancing our environmental stewardship
  • Creating ongoing win-win partnerships with our suppliers
  • Promoting the health of our stakeholders through healthy eating education

WHO THEY SERVE

Given the quality, variety, and price of the products that Whole Foods offers in their stores, it’s not surprising that there is a niche audience that the company targets. The below illustration shows the demographic breakdown of the average Whole Foods consumer.  Affluent urban dwellers are commonly found making purchases at Whole Foods for some of the reasons in the psychographic breakdown provided by YouGov Profiles.

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Demographic breakdown of an average Whole Foods consumer (YouGov Profiles, “Demographics”)

This consumer values ethical sourcing and quality products because of their personal values.  The variety of products that Whole Foods carries appeals to their desire to experience new cultures and ideas through the foods that they eat. Overall, the company’s values match well with those of their target audience. To connect these values, Whole Foods created their own proprietary guarantee for the foods they produce.

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Psychographic breakdown of an average Whole Foods consumer. (YouGov Profiles, “Psychographics”)

THE WHOLE TRADE GUARANTEE

Many of the products, including the chocolate that they produce, includes the Whole Trade Guarantee (Whole Foods, “What is the Whole Trade Guarantee?”), which ensures the following:

  • Meet our strict product Quality Standards
  • Provide more money to producers
  • Ensure better wages and working conditions for workers
  • Care for the environment
  • Donate 1% of sales to Whole Planet Foundation®

This guarantee works on the same level psychologically as other labels like Fair Trade, Certified Organic and others.

TYPES OF CHOCOLATE

FROM LOCAL BUSINESSES TO INTERNATIONAL COOPS

Whole Foods offers a gourmet and specialty selection of chocolate in a national retail setting, allowing people to try flavors and products that they may never discover otherwise. Similar to the rest of the products that the retailer offers, the chocolate options range from local businesses in the communities in which Whole Foods markets inhabit to products from international coops. Their vendors reinforce the core values of the brand and their consumers.

Theo Chocolate is an example of a local producer from the Massachusetts chocolate community.  All of their products “meet the highest standards for organic, Fair Trade and Fair for Life.” (Theo Chocolate, “Mission”)  This vendor appeals to the local roots that Whole Foods works to honor in their communities but also appeals to the demand for accessible, high-quality product.

Divine Chocolate is an example of a vendor from the international community that Whole Foods represents in their product selection. The only 100% Fairtrade chocolate company co-owned by cocoa farmers is prominently displayed on Whole Foods shelves, this exotic and ethical product appeals to consumers who want to explore tastes from around the world in a sustainable way.

WHAT’S ON THE SHELF?

Even the smallest display in a Whole Foods store will still offer products like those mentioned earlier in addition to those that they produce themselves. According to a Whole Food press release, “Offering fairly traded chocolate is especially important to us because cocoa comes from some of the poorest and most remote areas of the world,” said Errol Schweizer, executive global grocery coordinator for Whole Foods Market. “The fair trade chocolate category in our grocery departments has grown by more than 350 percent over the past five years. That’s a true indicator that our shoppers are really making a positive impact on the lives of cocoa growers in developing countries.” (Martin, Alternative trade and virtuous localization/globalization, Slide 40)

In one Whole Foods store, it seemed that the display was almost split down the middle with all products priced between $2 and $4 per unit placed on the right side of the display.  The products on the left side were more expensive bars (upwards of $7 per unit) and expensive single serving offerings (about $2 per unit).  

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A chocolate display in Whole Foods. (Original Photo)

The Whole Foods brand products were mixed in with the brand name offerings. In this case, each bar was priced between $2 and $2.50 per unit. The products were on the two shelves between two shelves of Lake Champlain chocolate which are much more expensive (usually about $5 per bar, but on sale this week for $3.50 per bar). The Whole Foods offerings were also on the shelves closest to eye-level which is arguably prime placement in a grocery store. While not the only brand at this price point, Whole Foods offerings did have the lowest price per bar.

 

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Whole Foods brand chocolate with various certifications noted. (Original photo)

 

In this store,  Theo Chocolate was placed four shelves below the Whole Foods brand chocolate. Usually $3.69 per bar, the chocolate was on sale this week for $2.50 per bar, coincidentally similar in price to the Whole Foods products. Divine Chocolate, which is usually priced the same as Theo Chocolate, was located on the left side of the display.  This week it was on sale for $3 per unit.

PRICE IMPLICATIONS

At first glance, each of the highlighted brands has similar prices, therefore putting them all in the same consideration set when making a decision with price as a factor.  In situations like that, what is the motivator when choosing the product to purchase?  If the price is the same and perceived quality varies, is the natural choice to go with the highest quality for the “lowest” price?  It seems like a safe assumption unless a consumer is particularly brand loyal.

However, the Theo and Divine brands were both on sale for pretty significant price reductions this week.  In a regular week, when choosing between a store brand bar priced at $2.50 or a specialty bar for $3.69 how is the choice made?  While the approximate $1 difference in price doesn’t seem like much, in this case, the $1 is actually about a 67% difference in price. Does a Whole Foods consumer overlook the difference in price because of their emphasis on quality and exoticism? Or does that not matter because Whole Foods has a certification that visually cues their commitment to their own core values?  A price sensitive consumer would go with the cheapest option. One focused on quality would go with the Theo or Divine. A hybrid consumer–focused on both price and quality–may compare the cost per ounce and see which of the high-quality offerings also offers the best value.

The average prices for comparable offerings across the world will impact the consumer’s choice on some level.  If the cost is chocolate is high due to high demand and low supply, the consumer may be less price sensitive.  Interestingly, Bloomberg reported this year that the price of chocolate will fall as we see the biggest surplus of raw materials in the last 6 years. Interestingly, it may take a while for the consumer to notice a difference in price.

VALUE vs. VALUES

When it comes down to it, what is the most important factor for a Whole Foods customer at the point of purchase–perceived value or remaining true to their personal values? Whole Foods looks to connect these two factors in many ways, most notably through their variety of products and tools like their Whole Trade Guarantee.  When value and values are connected, the purchase comes down to a matter of taste and not conscience.

Works Cited

“About Us.” Divine Chocolate. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 May 2017.

“Company Info.” Whole Foods Market. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 May 2017.

Hsia, Winnie. “What Is the Whole Trade Guarantee?” Whole Foods Market. N.p., 02 Oct. 2012. Web. 10 May 2017.

Martin, Carla D. “Alternative Trade and Virtuous Localization/globalization.” 5 Apr. 2017. Lecture.

“Mission.” Theo. Theo Chocolate, 14 Sept. 2015. Web. 10 May 2017.

Perez, Marvin G. “Chocolate Prices to Fall as Cocoa Surplus Seen at Six-Year High.” Bloomberg.com. Bloomberg, 28 Feb. 2017. Web. 10 May 2017.

YouGov Profiles. Whole Foods Demographics. Digital image. N.p., n.d. Web. 9 May 2017.

YouGov Profiles. Whole Foods Psychographics. Digital image. N.p., n.d. Web. 9 May 2017.