The Sticky and Complicated Future of Chocolate

the modern mocha is a bittersweet concoction of imperialism, genocide, invention, and consumerism served with whipped cream on top.”[1] ― Sarah Vowell

Humorist Sarah Vowell captures much of the history of chocolate (and coffee) in this little quip. However, the history of chocolate is long and its social, economic, and political implications are vast. Putting the positive impacts of invention aside, the negative impacts of imperialism and consumerism more than linger. They have resulted in gross economic inequities and lasting environmental and social damage, particularly in the production end of the cocoa supply chain. It’s going to take the force of consumerism and capitalism to right these inequalities and bring about sustainability.

Approximately 70% of the world’s cocoa is produced in West Africa by small farms spread out across the area. In the 1980s cocoa farmers received approximately 16% of the chocolate profits, today this percentage has been greatly reduced to 3%.[2] Cocoa farmers are not organized and have little bargaining power against more organized buyers.

Profit shared on cocoa supply chain
Figure 1: Farmers share of chocolate profits is small and has been in decline since the 1980s when global cacao prices were regulated. In the 1980s farmers were receiving around 16% of the chocolate profits. Martin, Carla D. “Introduction.’” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard Extension School: Cambridge, MA. 24 Jan. 2018. Class Lecture. [3]
The 2018 Cocoa Barometer highlights the many challenges for cacao farmers, including volatile pricing. From September 2016 – February 2017, farmers experienced a 30%-40% decline in income (Ghana farmers were protected by this price drop through government subsidies). Although prices are on the rise again, the overall trend the past 60 years is a decline in prices (see figure 2). With farmers having little, to no, protection from their governments they are hardest hit by market fluctuations, while others on the value chain will see an increase of their profit margins, even if only temporary.[4]

2018 Cocoa Barometer Long-term cocoa price trends
Figure 2: The average production of Ivorian cocoa in the seasons 2010/11, 2011/12, 2012/13, 2013/14, 2014/15 and 2015/16 was around 1,600,000 metric tonnes (mt). Cocoa production in 2016/17 and 1017/18 is around 2,000,000 mt, an increase of about 400,000 mt. (ICCO Quarterly Bulletins) The overproduction in 2016/17 was around 300,000 metric tonnes, according to the ICCO Quarterly Bulletin, Volume XLIV no 1, page 50, table 1.[5] Fountain, A.C. and Hutz-Adams, F. Cocao Barometer Report. 2018.
Farmers in West Africa make well below a living wage of $2.51 per day, averaging $0.78 per day (FairTrade).[6] The Cocoa Barometer asserts that the price drops are directly related to improved production due to new farming areas created from deforestation. More than 90% of West Africa’s original forests are gone.

An estimated 2.1 million children work in West African cocoa fields. Structural issues such as poverty, lack of schools, and infrastructure also contribute to the high levels of child labor.[7] Efforts in the past few decades to end child labor, preserve the environment, and to balance these inequities have been challenging and difficult to measure. Currently, third party certification bodies have been the only levers toward implementing and measuring sustainability efforts as well as signals to consumers as to where, and how, their chocolate products are sourced.

Major Certification Bodies
Three major certification bodies associated with cocoa. Note Utz and Rainforest Alliance has merged and will announce new standards in late 2019 for the New Rainforest Alliance.

The three main certification entities are Fairtrade, Utz and the Rainforest Alliance. Fairtrade Standards are designed to support the sustainable development of small producer organizations and agricultural workers in the poorest countries in the world.[8] Similarly, Utz certification was created to show consumers that products were sustainably sourced. Rainforest Alliance certification meant farmers met rigorous environmental and social standards.[9] In January 2018, Utz merged with the Rainforest Alliance. The New Rainforest Alliance plans to publish a singular program at the end of 2019.[10]

Certification and bean-to-bar efforts in the specialty chocolate market have many success stories, but compared to the global consumption of chocolate, these efforts have only made a dent.[11] The Fine Cacao and Chocolate Institute (FCCI) reports, with caveats intended to illustrated the challenges of obtaining this data, that there are 481 specialty chocolate makers and manufacturers worldwide that represent approximately 6% of the annual global production of cacao.

International Cocoa Organization, ICCO, ultrapremium cacao, fine cacao, bulk, certified
Figure 3: Ultrapremium fine and Fine cacao comprises 246,000 tonnes (6%) of the 4,031,200 tonnes of cacao produced annually (ICCO 2015). [12]
The FCCI defines this market segment as those chocolate makers and manufacturers that choose to purchase specialty cacao at a premium price for purposes of taste quality and/or sustainability reasons.[13] Within this small group, sustainability is but a factor in paying the price premium, but not necessarily a primary factor. In order for sustainability initiatives to have any meaningful impact to cocoa farmers the major chocolate manufacturers need to take the lead and invest in best practices throughout their supply chain that address the environmental, social, and economic challenges their farmers face.

Cocoa Barometer, Certified Cocoa, 2017, Mondelez International, Nestle, Mars, Hersheys, Ferrero, Lindt und Sprungli
Figure 4. Data kindly provided by the companies. Fountain, A.C. and Hutz-Adams, F. Cocao Barometer Report. 2018.

Recent Commitments by the Majors / Certifications & Goals

Mondelēz International (a subsidiary of Kraft)
Chocolate Brands: Cadbury, Alpen Gold, Côte d’Or, Toblerone, etc.
Certification provided by FLOCERT through a private labeling partnership.

In 2012 Mondelēz International invested $400 million to create its Cocoa Life program. The program plans to empower 200,000 cocoa farmers and one million community members by 2022. In April 2018 Mondelēz International reported that they have reached 120,500 cocoa farmers, in a variety of programs and they reached 35% certified cocoa.[14]

Mondelēz  International, Cocoa for Life, 2017 Progress
Figure 5: Cocoa Life infographic showing Mondelēz 2017 Progress in Numbers. Includes increases in sustainably sourced cocoa and reach to farmers and communities from previous year.[15]
Cocoa Life is tied to the UN Sustainability Development Goals (SDGs), with an emphasis on Goals 1 (no poverty), among others. Cocoa Life has partnered with local governments and NGOs to build community-centric Child Labor Monitoring and Remediation Systems (CLMRS), which educate farming communities on the dangers of child labor, identify children at risk, and remediate cases with its local partners. Cocoa Life CLMRS programs have started in Ghana and continue to increase. Roll out of CLMRS in Côte d’Ivoire will begin in 2018. Nestlé has also implemented CLMRS program into its sustainability programs.[16]

Mondelēz, CLMRS, 2017
Figure 6: Child Labor Monitoring and Remediation Systems (CLMRS) deployed by Mondelēz International in 2017 with plans to ramp up in 2018.[17] Mondelēz International. Cocoa Life 2017 Progress Report: From Cocoa Farmers to Consumers Connection Both Ends of the Supply Chain. P. 21. April 2018. Web. April 2018.

Chocolate Brands: Smarties, Nestlé Crunch, Butterfinger, KitKat, etc.
Certifications: Utz and Fairtrade

In their detailed, first report (2017), co-authored with the International Cocoa Initiative (ICI), Nestlé asserts that certification is not enough and that additional support for the farmer is needed. In fact, Nestlé asserts that certification drove the issue of child labor “underground” as farmers would hide any child laborers when inspectors came around.[18] While Mondelēz set up CLMRS in Ghana, Nestlé set up its CLMRS in Côte d’Ivoire and report a 51% reduction of child labor in a recent sample of 1,056 children over a two-year period. [19]

Nestle, Child Labour, Child Labor, 2017 Corporate Responsibility Report
Figure 7: Nestlé targets child labor by its Child Labor and Monitor Remediation Systems (CLMRS) in Côte d’Ivoire. Nestlé hopes to scale the successful parts of the program to meet the goals of its Cocoa Plan.[20]
Nestlé is also investing in Community Liaison People (CLPs) to educate the community of the dangers of child labor. They are targeting women and mothers as they are more likely to invest their income and education into their family. The CLPs are local young people who are paid to train and the cost of the CLPs are split between Nestlé and the farmer. Remediation is highly individualized, but these activities are ones Nestlé continues to invest.[21] Nestlé hopes to scale their more successful initiatives to meet the goals of its Cocoa Plan, which is set to reach 57% cocoa certification by the end of 2020.

Nestle, CLMRS, Child Labour Monitoring and Remediation System, ICI, International Cocoa Initiative
Figure 8: An overview of how Nestlé’s Childe Labour Monitoring and Remediation System (CLMRS) works by engaging the community, assigning monitors, monitoring, reporting, validation, analysis, recommends remediation, remediation carried out by partners, monitoring continues ensure remediation is carried out.[22]  Nestlé. Nestlé Cocoa Plan Tackling Child Labour 2017 Report. Web. P.23 April 2018.
Nestle, Cocoa Plan, CLMRS, Certified Cocoa
Figure 9: Infographic on Nestlé Cocoa Plan Challenges and Ambitions in CLMRS program reach and tonnes of certified cocoa.[23] Nestlé. Nestlé Cocoa Plan Tackling Child Labour 2017 Report. Web. P.49 April 2018.

Chocolate Brands: Ferrero Pralines, Nutella, Kinder Chocolate
Certification is conducted by Utz, Fairtrade, and Rainforest Alliance.[24]

According to its 2016 Social Responsibility Report Ferrero has made a commitment to 100% certified cacao by 2020 and 75% by the end of 2018.[25]

Ferrero, Sustainability Report, Certified Cocoa
Figure 10: Ferrero touts its success toward reaching its certification goals.[26] Ferrero. Sharing Values to Create Value Corporate Social Responsibilty Report 2016. Ferrero. Web. P. 170
In its April 2018 Cocoa Barometer reports Ferrero is 70% certified (figure 4), and by its own reporting, on track to meet its goal of 75% cocoa certification (figure 10).

Ferrero reports partnerships with cacao cooperative ECOOKIM, the largest in Côte d’Ivoire, which takes part in the Fairtrade Africa program “It Takes a Village to Protect a Child.” Similar to CLMRS, the program establishes a Child Labor Committee to raise awareness about child labor, create child protection policy, and monitor activity at the community level. Ferrero reports that 9,413 children benefitted from this program. [27]

Ferrero also works with Save the Children to work toward ending child labor. It reports 1.2 million children are forced to work in hazardous conditions, however, Ferrero has set relatively modest goals of reaching 500 children, 7,500 members of 10 communities, and 100 representatives of local institutions.[28]

Ferrero, Save the Children, Cocoa, Sustainability, Community Development
Figure 11: Ferrero reports modest results on in their efforts to address child labor.[29]   Source: Save the Children, December 2016 – Protection des enfants vulnérables dans les communautés productrices de cacao dans le département de Soubré en Côte d’Ivoire – Ajournement pour Ferrero. Ferrero. Sharing Values to Create Value Corporate Social Responsibilty Report 2016. Ferrero. Web. P. 182
In January Ferrero announced it planned to acquire Nestlé’s U.S. confectionary business for $2.8 billion in cash making Ferrero the third largest confectionary company in the U.S.[30] It is anticipated that Ferrero will realign their sustainability goals after the acquisition of Nestlé, but their goals are currently similar.

The Hershey Company
Popular Chocolate Brands: Hershey’s Chocolate Bar, Cocoa, Kisses, and Baking chocolates, Kit Kat, Almond Joy, Mounds, Reese’s, York.
Certification is conducted by Utz, Fairtrade, and Rainforest Alliance.[31]

Hershey, Open source map, cocoa farms, sustainability, transparency
Figure 12: Hershey Source Map for Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. Pictured above is a zoomed in version of W. Africa. Users can zoom in and view the name of Cocoa Coop, educational location, or an area they obtain cocoa. The map also shows locations around the world for ingredients such as milk and sugar, plus other sources of chocolate in South American. Hershey also has a source map for its Hershey’s Milk Chocolate with Almond Bars. [32]
Hershey, Sustainablity Goal
Figure 13: Hershey reports its on track to reach its goal of 100% certified cocoa by 2020.[37]   The Hershey Company. 2016 Corporate Social Responsibility Report. 2017. Web. April 30, 2018. p. 27.
In its 2016 Corporate Social Responsibility Report, The Hershey Company highlights progress in their Learn to Grow agriculture and empowerment program, serving 48,300 farmers in West Africa.[33] The report also highlights its Energize Learning program, which provides Vivi energy bars to students improving overall nutrition. The program is a partnership with the Ghana School Feeding Program and Project Peanut Butter and 50,000 kids in Ghana receive 50,000 Vivi bars every day.[34] Hershey also partnered with The World Cocoa Foundation’s (WCF) Climate Smart Cocoa Program to address climate change impacts to cocoa growing regions. The partnership will pilot a series of programs to develop “climate-smart” best practices to inform the Learn to Grow curriculum and through Hershey’s CocoaLink program knowledge sharing between farmers will be allowed via low-cost mobile technology.[35] Hershey’s report indicates that it is on schedule to reach its 100% certified goal by 2020.[36] In April 2018 the Cocoa Baramoter reports Hershey reached 75% (see figure 4). Also in April 2018, Hershey announced the creation of its Cocoa for Good sustainability programs

Beyond certification, Cocoa for Good seeks to address the most pressing issues facing cocoa-growing communities. The strategy is to target four key areas: increase family access to good nutrition, elimination of child labor and increase youth access to education opportunities, increase household incomes for women and men, zero deforestation and increased agroforestry. The announcement came with a $500 million commitment by 2030 and like Mondelēz International and Mars, aligns its strategy to contribute to the goals of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.[38]

Chocolate Brands include: M&M, Snickers, Twix, Dove, Milky Way, etc.
Certification is conducted by Utz, Fairtrade, and Rainforest Alliance.

In September of 2017, Mars announced its Sustainable in a Generation Plan, with a pledge to invest $1 billion over the next few years to address threats such as climate change, poverty in its value chain, and scarcity of resources.[39] This is across all their raw products, not just cocoa. Oxfam will serve as an advisor to their Farmer Income Lab, which aligns with the United Nations Sustainability Development Goal 1 (no poverty). The Farmer Income Lab will seek to create solutions through research for farmers working in Mars’ supply chain in developing countries.[40] Other actions include improving cocoa farming methods, pests and disease prevention, and unlocking the cocoa genome.[41] Engagement with others actors in the cocoa industry is also key, such as the World Cocoa Foundation and CocoaAction. Mars’ Chief Sustainability & Health and Wellbeing Officer, Barry Parkin, also serves as Chairman of World Cocoa Foundation.

Mars, Cocoa Sustainability
Figure 14: Mars identifies that 5 million cocoa farmers are impacted, but focuses mainly on addressing technology issues in farmer in a belief it will fix the social challenges that farmers face, such as a extreme poverty, child labor, and infrastructure concerns included in other sustainability plans.[47]
Mars may lay claim as the first major chocolate company to commit to 100% certified chocolate by 2020, but its progress has lagged, reporting 50% of their cocoa being certified in 2016[42] and the same percentage being reported by the cocoa barometer in 2018 (figure 4). During this same time frame Ferrero and Hershey have demonstrated increases in certification of cocoa reporting 70% and 75% certificated cocoa, respectively (figure 4).[43] Their website lacks a corporate social responsibility report and the information available on their site appears to be written in 2016, except for recent press releases and Income Position Statement.[44] For example Mars’ claim to be the only major manufacturer to work with all three major certification organizations Utz, Rainforest Alliance, and Fairtrade International is outdated.[45] Hershey and Ferrero include these bodies in their 2016 sustainability reports.

Until the recent announcement of Sustainable in a Generation Plan, Mars’ approach, as described on their website, leans more toward improving farmer yield through technology (fertilizer, farming techniques, mapping the cacao genome) than increasing living wages and address child labor. A press release by Frank Mars in April 2018 urges collaborative scientific approach and extolls their work on breeding higher yield cocoa plants for improving farmer incomes.[46] However, higher yields do not always improve farmer incomes. As previously mentioned, the recent Cocoa Barometer report suggests that higher production results in driving down price, thus less income for farmers. Perhaps Mars’ real progress is tied to the progress of the World Cocoa Foundation.

World Cocoa Foundation (WCF) and CocoaAction

CocoaAction is a voluntary industry-wide organization that aligns the world’s leading cocoa and chocolate companies, cocoa producing governments, and key stakeholders on regional priority issues in cocoa sustainability run by the World Cocoa Foundation (WCF). The WCF member companies committed to CocoaAction include Mondelēz International, Nestlé, Ferrero, The Hershey Company, Mars, Incorporated, among others.[48] In November of 2017 a Framework of Action was announced by the WCF with the governments of Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana and major chocolate and cocoa companies to end deforestation, restore forest areas, and accelerate investment in long-term sustainable production of cocoa, and the development and capacity-building of farmers’ organizations and farmer’s income. Commitments also include participation of policy creation by farmers and extensive monitoring and reporting. The Framework of Action involves governments and companies that represent 80% of the global cocoa production and usage.[49] If implemented correctly, these commitments should go a long way in repairing the deforestation in West Africa. 

The Future of Chocolate

These efforts are welcome and it is promising that the majors can successfully  collaborate with governments, NGOs, and each other in the important effort to secure the future of chocolate and those that produce it. It is also encouraging to see the major manufacturers release sustainability reports, however, as reports, many of their commitments fall well short compared to the actual scope of the problem. The commitment to reach 400,000 children by 2020 would only impact 18% of children in need (figure 15). Similarly meeting commitments to help farmers in CocoaAction would only reach 15% of farmers in need (figure 15). Regarding living income, farmers are only making $0.78 per day, 31% of the living wage of $2.51 per day (figure 15). The Cocoa Barometer report stresses that a living wage, among other factors, is a major component that these initiatives must include in their sustainability initiatives. From available data, all reports aspire to improve farmer income, either by improving productivity or identifying additional income generating activities. However, these plans do not set a living wage as a goal. As mentioned earlier in this article more production doesn’t always result in more income.

Cocoa Barometer, Scale of solutions vs problem, Cocoa Sustainability, CLMRS, CocoaAction, Cocoa Farmer
Figure 15: Scale of solutions vs. scope of the problem. The data for this infographic was publicly available in the case of CocoaAction and Fairtrade. The International Cocoa Initiative graciously provided their data. The authors of the Barometer do not wish to imply that these organisations are doing an insufficient job, but simply that the scale of the interventions chosen by the sector as a whole are dwarfed by the size of the challenges.[50]   Fountain, A.C. and Hutz-Adams, F. Cocao Barometer Report. 2018.
The future of chocolate depends on the fate of cocoa farmers and their fate relies on untangling a mess of social and economic issues caused by imperialism, and exacerbated by free market capitalism and consumerism. The goals set forth in these reports are generally headed in the right direction, but their success is dependent on their ability to make their initiatives successful, then scale up on that success. Accountability and transparency among the industry and at the government level is also paramount to measure the effects of these initiatives. Consumers also have a role in making responsible purchases and applying pressure on corporations and governments to minimize inequality in the supply chain and certification plays an important role. If farmers continue to be marginalized, then there will be little incentive for a younger generation of farmers to take up the trade and chocolate may become a rare treat indeed.


Works Cited:

[1] Vowell, Sarah. The Partly Cloudy Patriot. Simon & Schuster. New York, New York. October 2002. p. 42

[2] Martin, Carla D. “Introduction.” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard Extension School: Cambridge, MA. 24 Jan. 2018. Class Lecture.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Fountain, A.C. and Hutz-Adams, F. Cocao Barometer Report. 2018. Web. p. 11. April 2018.

[5] Ibid. p. 52.

[6] Ibid. p. 6.

[7] Ibid. p. 3.

[8] Fairtrade. Aims of Fairtrade Standards. Web. May 8, 2018.

[9] The Rainforest Alliance. What Our Seal Means. Web. May 8, 2018.

[10] Utz. Joining Forces: Utz and the Rainforest Alliance. April 24, 2018. Web. May 9, 2018.

[11] Fountain, A.C. and Hutz-Adams, F. Cocao Barometer Report. 2018. p. 6.

[12] Martin, Carla. “Sizing the craft chocolate market.” Fine Cacao and Chocolate Institute (blog). August 31. 2017. Web. April 25, 2018.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Mondelēz International. Cocoa Life 2017 Progress Report: From Cocoa Farmers to Consumers Connection Both Ends of the Supply Chain. P. 2. April 2018. Web. April 2018.

[15] Ibid. p. 5

[16] Ibid. p. 21

[17] Ibid. p. 21

[18] Nestlé. Nestlé Cocoa Plan Tackling Child Labour 2017 Report. Web. P.24 April 2018.

[19] Ibid. p. 22

[20] Nestlé. Introducing our first report on tackling child labour in cocoa. Web. April 2018.

[21] Ibid. 37

[22] Ibid. p. 23

[23] Ibid. p. 49

[24] Ferrero. Sharing Values to Create Value Corporate Social Responsibilty Report 2016. Ferrero. Web. P. 171

[25] Ibid. p. 170

[26] Ibid. p. 170

[27] Ibid. 175

[28] Ibid. p. 181

[29] Ibid. 182

[30] Ferrero. Ferrero to Acquire Nestlé’s U.S. Confectionary Business. January 16, 2018. Web. May 9, 2018.

[31] The Hershey Company. Our Certified Ingredients. Web. April 30, 2018.

[32] Hershey. Hershey’s Milk Chocolate with Almonds Open Source Map. Zoom View. Web. April 2018.

[33] The Hershey Company. 2016 Corporate Social Responsibility Report. 2017. Web. April 30, 2018. p. 11.

[34] Ibid. p. 23

[35] Ibid. p. 12

[36] Ibid. p. 27

[37] Ibid. p. 27

[38] Hershey. Hershey Announces Cocoa For Good, the Company’s Half-billion Dollar Sustainable Cocoa Strategy. April 4, 2018. Web. April 30, 2018.

[39] Mars. Unveiling Our Sustainble in a Generation Plan. Sept. 5, 2017. Web. May 9, 2018.

[40] Farmers Income Lab. Challenges. Web. May 9, 2018.

[41] Mars. Income Position Statement: The Current Situation. Web. May 9, 2018.

[42] Mars. Caring for the Future of Cocoa Out Approach. 2016. Web. April 2018.

[43] Fountain, A.C. and Hutz-Adams, F. Cocao Barometer Report. 2018.

[44] Mars. Caring for the Future of Cocoa Out Approach. 2016. Web. April 2018.

[45] Ibid.

[46] Mars. Frank Mars Calls for the Cocoa Industry to Take a Collaborative Scientific Approach to Cocoa. April 26, 2018. Web. May 9, 2018.

[47] Mars. Cocoa: Caring for the Future of Cocoa, Our Approach. Web. April 2018.

[48] CocoaAction. World Cocoa Foundation. Web. April 2018.

[49] World Cocoa Foundation. Two-thirds of Global Cocoa Supply Agree on Actions to Eliminate Deforestation and Restore Forest Areas. Nov. 2017. Web. April 2018.

[50] Fountain, A.C. and Hutz-Adams, F. Cocao Barometer Report. 2018.


Cacao Labour Accountability and its Interaction with Fairtrade Dynamics Between Producers and Consumers



         This paper examines part of the history behind slavery, specifically child slavery, how it has been impacted by activism, government policy, and corporate social responsibility, and what this means for cacao farmers moving forward. By illuminating courageous accounts like ones from Malian diplomat Macko, along with accounts from the children themselves, the paper aims to bridge the psychological disconnect that often occurs when thinking about those who are struggling around the globe. Keeping these stories and concepts in mind, the paper progresses to examine the Fairtrade movement and its impact on similarly disenfranchised cacao farmers, as well as examine aspects of the demand and consumption side of the marketplace, and how consumer’s preferences will affect future Fairtrade growth, and in turn the well-being of cacao farmers. Furthermore, it goes on to examine the shortcomings of the Fairtrade movement, and details some of the inherent faults in the nature of the system. By delving into the history and specific accounts of child slavery and labor abuse in the cacao industry, and pivoting into an important movement that aims to improve the lives of cacao farmers—that of the Fairtrade movement—this paper explores the supply and demand sides of the marketplace and how each interacts in affecting the future of Fairtrade and the livelihoods of cacao farmers.


Labour Accountability and the History of Child Slavery

          Historically speaking, cacao has, like many other cash related crops important to colonizing Europeans, relied heavily on slavery for its production. According to Martin and Sampeck, “from roughly 1500 to 1900, between 10 and 15 million enslaved Africans survived forced transport across the Atlantic and began working under chattel slavery, treated as property or what Mintz (1985) has called “false commodities.” Approximately 60% of enslaved Africans arrived in the Caribbean, 30% in Brazil, and less than 10% in British North America (Gomez 2005).” (Martin, 2015) This type of forced labor and servitude doesn’t exist on the same scale as it once did prior to the abolition of slavery, yet in many cases, the working environments and the resulting living wages and conditions that cacao farmers endure ends up being only marginally better than the conditions experienced hundreds of years ago. Images like this one from The New Taste of Chocalate show the potential for cacao farming to produce happy and productive families. However this is not always the case, and through her own ethnographic research in Côte d’Ivoire, Carol Off has often found that “the farmers eke out an existence here in the hills, in a land infested by volatile gunmen. Yet they seem satisfied. Even in the midst of all the trouble around them, they say they are better-off than they would be in their drought-stricken home country, where people are chronically hungry” (2006). The resulting situation in this case is one where these communities become entrenched in maintaining cacao their only known source of economic income, but as Off goes on to add is “a long way from paradise. None of the children here go to school, and there are no services—no electricity, no phones, no clinics or hospitals” (2006). Off’s account of this community is similar to others—it shows the level of pride and attentiveness to cultural history that these people have, and because of this fact, how they are seemingly able to endure hardships and sub-par working conditions that may otherwise be too hard to endure if the object of production did not have such a history within their culture.

          While temporary comfort is provided by the farmer’s admittance that they enjoy their work and take pride in it, the ultimate reality remains that this environment is not one that hard-working farmers who are seeking to make an honest living should have to endure—especially when they are an integral part of the supply-chain for these multi-billion dollar chocolate companies. As her stay in Côte d’Ivoire went on, Off tells a story of when cacao industry reporter Ange Aboa was surprised by how little these workers knew about the future supply chain of the product they were helping harvest (2006). He goes on to explain that “these bars costs about 500 West African francs (roughly equivalent to a Canadian dollar). Their eyes widen in disbelief. The sum strikes them as staggering for such a small treat—almost enough to buy a good-sized chicken or an entire bag of rice. It represents more than the value of one boy’s work for three days, if they are being paid at all”(2006). What this illustrates is that these boys are living in not only a different reality from kids who are consuming confectionery chocolates around the globe, but are also living in a reality which has been unjustly imposed upon them given the information and resources available to the companies who source their cacao. This is a brutal fact to have to face, especially when these kids are working in grueling conditions, and in addition, have little to no access to education, technology, or other outlets that would help them grow as individuals and perhaps spread awareness to develop solutions to these problems.

Startling imagery of a child struggling to reach a cacao pod while wielding a sharp machete. Photo Credit: Make Chocolate Fair UK

          The unfortunate reality for children trapped in this situation is that they are often left helpless to escape their situation. As Off later goes on to tell in her “The Disposables” chapter, some of these children have no choice but to have to run away due their working conditions being so unpleasant, in doing so risking their lives. When the boys asked for pay, they were beaten and never asked again. One boy, Malick, was able to escape on his own, returning home with diseases his parents were burdened to pay to be treated (Off, 2006). Such tales are harrowing, showing that slavery is still in existence around the world, and that it has crept into particularly devastating manifestations involving children who in many ways are left helpless. According to a 2007 pilot survey on labour practices in cocoa production in Ghana (commissioned by the Ghanaian government’s National Programme for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour in Cocoa) found that “in the 2005–2006 cocoa season, children aged between 5 and 12 were involved in tasks such as the spraying of insecticides, application of fertiliser, bush burning, clearing land and felling trees” (Berlan, 2013). Like Malick, there are others who face these painful realities, yet it is often difficult to pin down where such labor malpractice


 is taking place. Reports from the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture research on the subject state that “90% of cocoa farms in Côte d’Ivoire used forced child labour have been revised down to less than 2%” (qtd. in Berlan, 2013). Such a shift can be explained largely by efforts on behalf activists whether they are politically connected or the children themselves, governments being pro-active, and companies becoming more involved in corporate social responsibility. At the same time however, such a shift may also suggest that the number is unreliable and that closer attention needs to be paid to what the real figures are. In the image to the right, a Malian police chief is reported as saying he has records of many missing children (BBC News, 2001).

          Creating avenues and initiatives that attempt to solve these issues of wage equality and working conditions are paramount, and one solution that has arisen is that companies have begun paying closer attention to the ethical side of their supply chain. A combination of factors have contributed to this growing pressure and willingness of companies to begin tackling this long-standing problem, and arguably one of the more compelling tales of activism comes from a Malian diplomat by the name of Macko. Off tells of how Macko, who became incensed upon hearing from witnesses that children were being held at gunpoint and forced to work, took it upon himself to investigate these rumored conditions, having to take a police escort and fight suspicion that the police themselves may be complicit in the operation (2006). Ultimately following his courageous discoveries Macko was able to free hundreds of children from slavery, as well as raise awareness to the government and to the world that this was happening, and it efforts like these, ones that are carried out by people who have the capacity to create change, that are needed to chip away and eradicate the issue of child labor and slavery. Government officials like Macko, who have the ability to investigate and check-in on these types of labor abuses, would be remiss not to take similar action if there is any suspicion of this type of activity. Philosopher and global activist Peter Singer would advise in such a situation for each of us to treat children suffering at a distance around the globe, to think about them, in a way no different than you would the children who went to your son or daughter’s school, and that there is simply much more that we could be doing to help those less-fortunate around the world if we were only able to shift the perceptions of how we think. While Singer’s ideas may be extreme at one end of the spectrum, they are useful when applied to the context of issues that are truly abhorrent such as child slavery. A major factor in ultimately eradicating this issue is being able to create transparency among cacao growing farms and cooperatives, and where that transparency has not yet been achieved, courageous and persistent exploration of them should be pursued.

The Fairtrade Initiative and its Effects on Producers and Consumers 

         One initiative that aims to address these aforementioned issues is the Fairtrade movement. Factors such as rising ethical concerns among consumers, and the resulting pressure that companies have felt from this change in consumption have led the Fairtrade movement to help improve the livelihoods of cacao farmers. According to the Fairtrade Foundation, the “primary purpose is to tackle poverty and empower producers in developing countries” (qtd. in Poelmans, Rousseau, 2015). While in a general sense these goals have begun to see results, there is a deeper layer of complexity to how Fairtrade ends up affecting both producers and consumers on the supply and demand sides of the supply chains.

        A variety of studies have been done surrounding consumer’s preference to Fairtrade products and their presence in the marketplace, and recently statistics show that worldwide Fairtrade sales have increased by 15 percent between 2012 and 2013 (Poelmans, Rousseau, 2015). More recent data from the Fairtrade International website suggests that “Sales of Fairtrade certified cocoa grew by 27 percent in 2015 driven in part by the Fairtrade Sourcing Program (FSP) and increased productivity by Fairtrade cocoa farmers” (2015). Such increases in Fairtrade sales sound promising for farmers, and in many respects the Fairtrade movement has improved the lives of cacao farmers; however, the movement is not without its faults and shortcomings, and faces and uphill battle if it wants to significantly expand its consumer base past its current numbers. A 2016 study found that “only a small segment (14% of Millennials) showed a strong endorsement of ethical products” (McCoy, Young, 2016). Most interesting about this study was that it used two different focus groups to look at how millennials may endorse Fairtrade and other ethical products in one focus group among their peers, but upon actually choosing what chocolate they wanted to eat, the answer was not always the same. Many participants showed that they based their choices on minimal concern with ethical factors, while their declarations in the focus group suggested a different propensity to favor ethical chocolate products (Lindell, 20). Such data shows the obstacles Fairtrade chocolate faces in attracting a genuine consumer base that is interested in ponying up the extra cost, conscious of the supply-chain backing their purchases, and arguably most importantly that enjoy the actual taste of the chocolate. An extensive study on the general effectiveness of Fairtrade labeling found that “overall…consumers value ethical labeling as an important product attribute in the absence of any price differential relative to similar unlabeled products. However, in the presence of a price premium, we observe significant heterogeneity in the weight different consumers place on ethical sourcing when making their purchasing decisions” (Hainmueller, Hiscox, Sequeira, 2014). These findings are important because they show how consumers to hold the desire to make more ethically conscious purchases; however, that in order to combat the added elasticity of Fairtrade product prices, that it will be important to focus on factors such as taste, marketing, and continuing to raise awareness behind ethically sourced products.

          Moving forward, examining the supply chain and the nature of how farmers with Fairtrade certification get their products into the market place yields discoveries that should raise concerns over the long-term effectiveness of such practices. Examining the the nature of the supply-side agreement for cacao is detailed as follows: “A price floor is a determined price that Fairtrade certified farmers receive from Fairtrade certified buyers or traders of their products. The price floor is set above the world market prices and is not based on the physical quality of the product but rather strictly on the nature of the Fairtrade relationship. The price floor for any given Fair Trade product is determined by “cost of production plus cost of living plus cost of complying with Fair Trade standards” (Crooks, 2010). Such claims show that while in the short-run the increased profitability that Fairtrade may offer farmers, that in the long-run, this type of supply-side economic philosophy that focuses on being one of scale rather than one of scope, could potentially prevent Fairtrade chocolate from reaching the wider-spread appeal that it needs due to the conglomerated quality of the cacao.

A Promotional Image from Fair Trade USA covers many of the positive aspects of Fairtrade, important to realize however is that many of these talking points do no tell the whole story, with many nuances left out that affect both producers and consumers. 

          While the price floors have been instrumental in increasing wages for cacao farmers in many respects, it will remain important to track the effect these price floors, along with how price is set relative to quality, have on the future efficient market outcomes for both cacao producers and consumers. Crooks details this issue further stating that “because 95% of world cocoa production is done on an average of two to five hectacres of forest per farmer, also known as a “smallholder farm,” the blending of beans is essential in order for farmers to collect sufficient enough amounts to sell. If farmers are aware that their products will be mixed with others, there is then no incentive to invest time, money, and energy in cultivating a product of distinct taste and excellence.” (2010) With a system such as this one in place, you can see how what often drives capitalistic markets to succeed such economic motivation to create a superior product to generate future sales, has effectively been removed. Even worse, you are seeing a dis-incentive to produce quality cacao knowing that it will be blended with other cacao. Poelmans and Rousseau embellish further on concerns surrounding Fairtrade policies saying that “Fairtrade alone does not work and that it has to be complemented by other changes in coordination and development policies; that the individual producer knowledge of Fairtrade is still very limited; that the premiums paid by consumers are not going directly to farmers, and that the success or failure of Fairtrade can often be linked to certain types of products” (Poelmans, Rousseau, 2015). In the image below, one can see an example of issue being taken up with how Fairtrade has sourced its cacao.

“Divine Chocolate says multinationals are escaping fuller Fairtrade commitments under the certification body’s new rules. But Fairtrade says its sourcing program is the only way to reach cocoa farmers at scale” (Nieburg, 2015). 

These concerns among others are important to be aware of when moving forward with the Fairtrade movement, and carefully gauging how to best set policies and requirements that will benefit cacao producers will ensure that the Fairtrade movement’s consumer base doesn’t remain stagnant. While the preliminary introduction of Fairtrade has shown positive outcomes for cacao farmers, there remains a number of different dynamics within the Fairtrade marketplace affecting producers and consumers that need to sorted out and analyzed more in-depth if the movement is to succeed and gain momentum in the long-term. 

Works Cited

BBC News Corp. (2001, April 12). AFRICA | Mali’s children in chocolate slavery. Retrieved May 5, 2018, from

Berlan, A. (2013). Social Sustainability in Agriculture: An Anthropological Perspective on Child Labour in Cocoa Production in Ghana. Journal of Development Studies, 49(8), 1088-1100. DOI: 10.1080/00220388.2013.780041

Crooks, Erin. (2010). “Chocolate: An Analysis of Cost Versus Quality in the Fair Trade Movement.” Order No. 10305777, The American University of Paris (France), 2010, (accessed May 2, 2018).

Eline Poelmans, Sandra Rousseau, (2016) “How do chocolate lovers balance taste and ethical considerations?”, British Food Journal, Vol. 118 Issue: 2, pp.343-361,

Fairtrade International. (2015). Fairtrade Production and Sales. Retrieved May 5, 2018, from

Hainmueller, J., Hiscox, M., & Sequeira, S. (2014). Consumer Demand for the Fair Trade Label: Evidence from a Multi-Store Field Experiment. Retrieved May 2, 2018, from

Isern, Jennifer. “Bittersweet Chocolate: The Legality and Ethics of Child Labor in Cocoa Production in Côte d’Ivoire.”Journal of Applied Management and Entrepreneurship11, no. 1 (01, 2006): 115-132, (accessed May 1, 2018).

Lindell, Crystal. (2016). “Millennials don’t want to pay for certification.”Candy Industry 181, no. 2. EbscoHost (accessed May 6, 2018).

Presilla, Maricel E.. (2009) The New Taste of Chocolate, Revised. Ten Speed Press: Berkley, CA.

Nieburg, O. (2015, March 05). Divine Chocolate questions Fairtrade cocoa sourcing program. Retrieved May 7, 2018, from

Tulley, Stephen Edward. (2007). “A Culture of Chocolate: Commercial Cacao Processing in Oaxaca, Mexico.” Order No. 3301752, The University of Iowa. (accessed May 6, 2018).

Cacoa, Chocolate, Confections, Cravings, and Confusion: What’s in a Label? A too short view at Fair Trade, Direct Trade, and Other Labels.

Pareve, USDA Organic, Rainforest Certified, Fair Trade, Direct Trade, Equal Exchange, GF, Peanut/Tree Nut Free?! What is in a label? How do you decipher the myriad of symbols on your chocolate bar or confection? What do they mean? Are they important? Is one symbol more important than others? How can you tell? And where do you find the answers? How can a consumer find the answers?

Equal Exchange Chocoalate Orange.jpg


Equal Exchange Mint.jpg

When you purchase a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup the label (if you look very closely) will tell you that it is Gluten Free. You won’t find the myriad of symbols that you find on Newman’s Own Peanut Butter Cups. The symbols there state that it is a Gluten Free, Fair Trade product amongst other things. An Equal Exchange chocolate bar label tells you that it’s USDA Organic, Worker Owned Cooperative, Kosher Pareve Certified in Switzerland and Equal Exchange Fairly Traded. The inside of the label goes on to tell you that not only is its cacao sourced from small farmers, but its sugar and vanilla are as well. It also introduces you to one of the farmers that they trade with. It also asks you, the consumer to “JOIN OUR MOVEMENT”.

Equal Exchange Clara Huaman Santa Cruz.jpg

 The inside of this label also gets to the crux of the labelling issue:

“With your support over the last 30 years, Equal Exchange has become one of the leading alternative trade organizations in the world. Together, we have enabled small farmers to gain market share and influence never believed possible.

And yet our mission is more threatened than it was 10 years ago.

Corporate control of Fair Trade-and in fact the entire food system-has reduced the power of small farmers and left consumers confused and demoralized. At the same time climate change is wreaking havoc on farmer communities.”

Equal Exchange-Luis Diaz Aylas.jpg

What and who defines Fair Trade?

 This video by Equal Exchange makes Fair Trade cacao farming seem almost idyllic. These are happy, well dressed cocoa farmers who are bettering their lives and their communities.


Ndongo Sylla in his book, The Fair Trade Scandal, states, “Fair Trade is but the most recent example of another sophisticated ‘scam’ by the ‘invisible hand’ of the free market. This noble endeavour for the salvation of the free market was tamed and domesticated by the very forces it wanted to fight. With its usual efficiency, the free market triggered the implosion of the Fair Trade universe and hijacked its mission, without Fair Trade supporters and stakeholders even realising it.” (Sylla, pp. 18.)

Sylla credits “Frans van der Hoff, a Dutch priest and economist living in
Mexico, and his fellow countryman Nico Roozen, Director of the
Solidaridad non-governmental organisation (NGO)” (Sylla, pp. 19.)with starting the first Fair Trade label, Max Havelaar in 1988. The foundation put out this video in 2013 to celebrate it twenty-fifth anniversary. (Sorry, I was unable to create a direct link.)

Another Viewpoint on Fair Trade. There are no happy farmers in this video.

Professor Don Boudreaux in this video from MRUniverity  actually argues that Fair Trade   actually hurts the poorest producers and workers of agricultural goods by diverting money and resources from them to areas where there is the infrastructure to support Fair Trade.

The Fairtrade Foundation in the UK argues that, “Twenty years after the first Fairtrade chocolate bar was launched in the UK, Fairtrade chocolate is becoming increasingly popular and now makes up 12% of all British chocolate sales – providing vital economic benefits to cocoa growers.

Last year, UK sales of Fairtrade chocolate reached £542 million, and as a result Fairtrade cocoa producer organisations earned £4 million in Fairtrade Premium, on top of the price they earned for their beans, to invest in business, social and environmental projects in their communities; this represented a 30% increase on the previous year.

Stephen Lord, Product Officer (Cocoa) at the Fairtrade Foundation, said: “Fairtrade currently works with 167,000 cocoa farmers in countries including Cote D’Ivoire, Ghana and the Dominican Republic. Most are small-scale farmers who live on very low incomes, and Fairtrade enables them to trade their way out of poverty, by helping to ensure they have stable incomes and long-term contracts with companies.” (Fair Trade News-10.13.2014.)


Andy Harner, the global cocoa director of Mars Chocolate, said this in an article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, “The demand for cocoa to make chocolate and related products is projected to exceed supply. If current trends continue, we anticipate that the world will need at least 1 million additional metric tons by 2020—more than Ghana, which is the second largest supplier of cocoa in the world and nearly as much as the current total annual production of the Ivory Coast, the world’s largest cocoa producer. Despite this increasing desire for cocoa, farmers in the West African and Southeast Asian countries that produce more than 85 percent of the world’s supply are often not able to invest in their farms to benefit. In the last 10 years, yields for many farmers have stagnated or decreased and income has remained flat, which has affected the long-term competitiveness of the industry and challenges the willingness of farmers and their families to continue growing cocoa.

Mars guides its business strategy according to five principles, one of which is mutuality, the belief that all actors in the supply chain should share in the benefits. With many cocoa farmers living on less than $2 a day, we launched our Sustainable Cocoa Initiative to enhance and promote mutuality for the farmers we depend on for our chocolate business. We believe that our business should benefit farmers today and tomorrow, which is why our guiding principle is Farmers First. For the cocoa industry to be truly sustainable, the world’s 5 to 6 million smallholder farmers must be put first so that they can have the opportunity to professionalize their farms, increase their incomes, diversify their crops, and support their families.

Increasing growers’ productivity dramatically is the most effective way to raise farmer income, and increasing farmer income is the most important way to empower farmers and their communities to create lasting change.” (Andy Harner, Stanford Social Innovation Review.April 25, 2012.)

Does anyone from any side of the debate have any common ground?

Direct Exchange is a panacea in the debate in the cocoa-Fair Trade- Mega-Corporation triangle. While the video below indicates the perhaps ideal relationship between grower and cacao artisan, as we discussed in class, this exchange is so limited in scope that it affects such a tiny percentage of the farmers trying to eek out an existence for themselves and their families that it is impractical to view this as a realistic solution for the majority of farmers who aren’t one of the lucky “few”. (“Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food”. Carla D. Martin, PHD. April 28, 2018.)

When we look at  our labels we can see that Fair Trade, Direct Trade, farmers, corporations and consumers all have a stake in the mix. Fair Trade and Direct Trade products such as Taza, Equal Exchange and others vie for a market share of an affluent market, but can our shelves and displays of specialty chocolate and confections change the tide of our aisles with bags or Mars Bars, Hershey Kisses, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, etcetera.

“While perhaps this is not surprising – modern capitalist business production relies on size and quantity metrics and notions of continuous growth and aggregation to determine value – it stands opposite to many of the values expressed by those involved in craft production.” (Martin, PHD, Carla D.. Sizing the Craft Chocolate Market. Fine Cocoa and Chocolate Institute. August 31, 2017.)


Sylla states that, “in spite of their ever greater ambitions, Fairtrade protagonists still have not come to realise theextent to which recent developments have rendered their movementanachronistic. First, agricultural products have been experiencing a
trending decline for many decades now. They now account for
only 9 per cent of the international merchandise trade, while
processed agricultural products represent two-thirds of exchanged
goods. In the case of LDCs, however, they merely accounted for
0.3 per cent of this latter market in the period 1991–2000 (FAO,
2004: 26). By focusing on primary agricultural products, Fairtrade
is pulling developing countries back. Besides, it does not allow
them to envisage local industrial processing, which creates more
value added and is more profitable in the long term.” (Sylla, pp. 235.)
This is an exceedingly complex issue that will not be solved in a blogpost or even a few books. It is an issue that needs a comprehensive approach with an eye toward the individual farmer and consumer, but also a reckoning that profit, mass market, and mass production aren’t ever going to be eliminated from the supply chain that brings us our bean to bar cacao, as well as, our most decadent chocolate confections.



Fair Trade News. Choose Fairtrade to Make a Positive Impact for Cocoa Growers. October 13, 2014.

Harner, Andy.  Stanford Social Innovation Review. April 25, 2012.

Martin, PHD, Carla D.. Sizing the Craft Chocolate Market. Fine Cocoa and Chocolate Institute. August 31, 2017.)

Sylla, Ndaongo. 2014. The Fair Trade Scandal.


CHOCOLATE WASTED: When Overindulgence Goes Wrong

#ChocolateWasted As We Know It

“Chocolate wasted” was not a hashtag when it first presented itself. As a matter of fact, it was blurted out by a six-year-old actress named Alexys Nycole Sanchez (playing Becky Feder) in Adam Sandler’s Grown-Ups. Per the movie’s storyline, “I wanna get chocolate wasted!” was an appropriate phrase for childlike overindulgence that caught every movie-goer’s attention in 2010 (IMDb). The legendary line even helped Alexys win the “Best Line” category at MTV Movie Awards the following year (IMDb). Soon after, headlines like Los Angeles (LA) Times, celebrities and random college students, like myself, were using the term rather frequently. Still today, there are establishments and products named after the infamous idiom such as a Houston-based ice cream truck and a lipstick shade made by Doses of Color, respectively (Chocolate; Dose of Colors). Amazingly, the power of the Internet allows us to revisit its cinematic origination and locate namesake innovations. But truthfully speaking, the denotation of chocolate wasted is not leading in headlines like its figurative interpretation nor being quantifiable in scholarly publications. Prior to diving into a serious topic, I have several questions that will hopefully heighten your interest to want to learn more.

  • What is food waste (including chocolate waste)? What are the associated impacts?
  • What are direct implications from chocolate waste throughout the supply chain?
  • What qualities does a sustainably certified product uphold? Is waste not included in the sustainability assessment? Does waste not contribute to the overexertion of resources and labor? 
  • How do I avoid chocolate waste in my home? Does chocolate have an expiration date? Is chocolate (or cocoa) mulch safe for pets?



By Pakeha [CC BY-SA 4.0 (, from Wikimedia Commons

Läderach Chocolate Factory, a Switzerland-based manufacturer, displays a collection of “cocoa waste” in their in-house museum for tourists’ enjoyment. From right to left there: cocoa with waste materials, extracted waste (like stones, dust, metal or wood), and cleaned cocoa.


Food Waste: A Global Problem

On a global scale, 1.3 billion tons of food production meant for human consumption gets lost or wasted annually (FAO). Regarding economic losses, food waste is equivalent to $310 billion in developing countries and $680 billion in industrialized countries with the U.S. leading in food waste and overall wastage than any other country in the world (FAO). Specifically, in the U.S., about 40 percent of food goes uneaten annually which equates to 133 billion pounds with an USD value $161 billion (USDA, n.d.). Conversely, 42 million Americans including 13 million children are facing food insecurity and hunger daily (FAO). Hypothetically speaking, the diversion of 93,000 tons of wasted food could create 322 million meals for people in need and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 714,000 tons (ReFED). This alarming amount of wasted food is not only associated with socioeconomic implications but it also depletes natural resources significantly.

According to Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC), U.S. food production utilizes the following: 50% of land, 30% of all energy resources, and 80% of all freshwater (Gunders). Resources consisting of land, water, labor, energy and agricultural inputs (fertilizers, pesticides and fungicides) to produce wasted food are squandered as well, unwillingly inviting resource scarcity and negative environmental externalities. Activating ozone pollution, the misuse of agricultural inputs including irrigated water, pesticides and common fertilizers like nitrogen & phosphorus can cause further damage to ecosystems. Irrigation practices promotes water pollution affecting quality, groundwater accessibility, and potable water accessibility (Moss). Moreover, pesticides are common culprits to human health effects, resistance in pests, crop losses, bird mortality and groundwater degradation (Moss). Other inputs, such as nitrogen and phosphorus fertilizers, wreak havoc to human health, air quality and aquatic ecosystems (Moss).

The utilization of resources is not the only emitter of greenhouse gas emissions, pertaining to food waste, but also the decomposition of it makes substantial damage to the environment. Postharvest, food waste is the single largest component of municipal solid waste making landfills the third largest source of methane in the country (Gunders). Anthropogenic methane accounts for 10 percent of total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions contributing to a rise in global average temperatures, better known as global warming (EPA, n.d.b). Particularly, landfill methane generates 16 percent of total methane releases compared to carbon dioxide which emits 81% annually (EPA). Although carbon dioxide is the main contributor of global warming, methane carries significant weigh as a pollutant due to its ability to absorb more energy per unit mass than any other greenhouse gas (EPA).

Pinpointing on ecological footprint, the most recent “Earth Overshoot Day” occurred on August 2, 2017 in which the extraction of natural resources exceeded the Earth’s capacity to regenerate in the given year (Earth Overshoot Day). By partnering with Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition, Global Footprint Network also reported that a 50% reduction in food waste could push the date of “Overshoot Day” by 11 Days (Earth Overshoot Day).

Chocolate Waste Feeds the Food Waste Problem

The classification of food waste is distinguished by each level of the supply chain including agricultural production, post-harvest handling & storage, processing, distribution and consumption. From a global supply chain perspective, food waste is very difficult to define across countries. The conflicting views of edible versus inedible food waste is one example of cultural variation which impedes the approval of a standardized definition that will cater to all diverse parties and accurately measure waste at the macro level. For instance, the U.S. chocolate market classifies the pulp of a cocoa pod along with the shell of the cocoa bean as inedible products. Thus, cocoa pulp is left at the farmgate level, and at the processing level, cocoa shells are removed and most commonly converted into biofuel or mulch.  Unlike the US, the Brazilian chocolate market produces chocolate with cocoa solids but also makes shell and pulp into sellable products such as loose leaf tea or juice, respectively. Moreover, these value-added practices are present-day testaments of indigenous traditions. The myriad indigenous uses of cacao and chocolate products are analogous to the circular economy that we are yearning for today.

During the Mesoamerican period, chocolate was classified as an esteemed delicacy, a form of payment, ceremonial gift, everyday cooking agent, natural remedy for human health & the environment and so forth. However, during European colonization, the rise of industrialization came with added ingredients, mainly refined sugar, that devalued the quality aspect as well as created a negative image of chocolate over time (Martin, “Sugar”). The health risks of added sugars began to overshadow the medicinal properties of cacao. Even the perception of cacao changed from a specialty crop into a cash crop.  From a socioenvironmental view, terroir of cash crops rose in volatility at the extent of mass enslavement and corruption (Martin, “Health”). At the same time, these characteristic flaws did not stop consumption. Even today, popular chocolate products are sugary, highly processed and in conjunction with unethical sourcing backgrounds. For instance, laborers endure labor-intensive work on a daily basis in top cocoa producing countries, such as West Africa. The average laborer is paid below the global poverty line, uses dangerous tools such as a machete to manually cut down cacao pods, applies fungicides & pesticides typically without the proper protective equipment (PPE) and oftentimes exposed to insects and other dangerous animals. In turn, these hazards can result in serious health complications both physically and mentally.


By ICCFO – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

West African laborers removing beans from the cacao pod. It is a labor-intensive process. 

Nonetheless, the chocolate market has expanded its portfolio over the years, containing commercial chocolate and craft chocolate, in which consumers can be selective among the two categories.  Commercial chocolate is what we usually see in supermarkets in which the supply chain depends on multiple stakeholders (across countries) to meet global demand. Whereas, craft chocolate consists of a relatively small team who produces chocolate in small batches from cocoa bean to bar (Martin, “Haute”). Compared to commercial chocolate, these manufacturers seek to provide quality rather than quantity which typically comes with a higher retail price (Martin, “Haute”).

Once it hits retail, consumers, like myself, are in awe of the multiple offerings, appealing packaging and even sustainability labels that lures us in to help  “save the world” and eliminate any guilt from buying chocolate.  It’s like a race to find the one with the most honorable mentions comprising of Organic Certified (USDA, Non-GMO and an overlap of third-party ethical standards (Rainforest Alliance, Fairtrade, etc.) However,  after investigating various sustainability standards, retail chocolate waste is not attributable to certifiable requirements nor is it recognized as a concern overall. Based on logical reasoning and what I stated earlier, the primary ingredients of chocolate consisting of refined sugar, cocoa derivatives (cocoa powder and butter), palm oil and/or milk powder that were extracted from its origination to be processed, transported and packaged as a single product. In addition, these ingredients are combined and further processed into chocolate which is then packaged and transported to retail as a finished good. Just imagine the man hours, natural resources and other inputs used within this supply chain. Broaden that imagination to consider the following: consumers discarding “safe-to-eat” chocolate confections due to fat or sugar bloom, retailers not knowing what to do with an overstock of unsold seasonal products, improper storage temperatures ruining a truckload full of chocolate candies, outdated farming techniques producing more waste than yield and slightly related, the packaging of sustainably certified chocolate causing more harm to the environment than conventional chocolate. The latter, wasteful packaging, is another topic that needs assessment and corrective actions. Unfortunately, these scenarios are real-life examples that are being overlooked and emitting an indefinite amount of greenhouse gases.

In actuality, retailers have the potential to be the main change agents for food waste reduction including chocolate waste. However, edible food is commonly thrown away in these spaces due to excess inventory, imperfections, or damaged packaging. A recent study conducted by the Center for Biological Diversity’s Population & Sustainability and Ugly Fruit & Veg Campaign, reported a grade C or below to most of the top ten grocers in the country including Kroger, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Publix and Costco (Center for Biological Diversity). The relatively low grades were based on their poor efforts to address and combat food waste in eight focus areas: corporate transparency, company commitments, and supply chain initiatives, produce initiatives, shopping support, donation programs, animal feed programs and recycling programs (Center for Biological Diversity). Both sustainability driven organizations have pronounced a goal for all U.S. grocery stores to eliminate food waste by 2025 (Center for Biological Diversity). Grocers were also pushed to change their current marketing models into sustainable ones by promoting safer handling and lesser stock levels, leveraging new technologies to strengthen inventory management and creating policies on retail spoilage reduction (Center for Biological Diversity).


By Kgbo – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

A grocer aisle full of chocolate candies wrapped with seasonal packaging.


The Rise of Chocolate Production and Waste

Informatively, consumers worldwide indulge in approximately 7.3 million tons of chocolate every year (Sethi). Developing countries, such as India, Brazil and China, are adopting chocolate products that were once inaccessible or unaffordable for their respective populations (Sethi). Since 2008, disposable incomes for each these emerging markets are increasing exponentially due to economic boost from industrialization (Sethi). The rising market of chocolate products equates to a growing demand for global cocoa and sugar production. Industry experts forecasts a 30% growth in demand, from 3.5million tons of cocoa annually to more than 4.5 million in 2020 (Sethi). In consideration, the amount of chocolate squandered throughout the supply chain is currently undetermined or not shared publicly. Based on noticeable discrepancies in definitions and measurements, chocolate waste and even food waste for that matter will continue to intensify and be discussed loosely unless it’s highly prioritized and welcomes a new branch of international cooperation and mutual accountability. A stride that’s executable if all stakeholders collectively build upon a new systematic approach to carbon neutrality, waste diversion and socioenvironmental benefits.


Chocolate Commonsense

In the meantime, I’ve provided a list of suggestions below that can help you, as a consumer, avoid chocolate waste or divert it to greener waste streams. 

  • Purchase in moderation.
  • Don’t be alarmed by “Sell By Date”. Depending on care and the type of chocolate (milk, dark or white), chocolate is still safe to consume for longer periods of time.
  • Chocolate bloom, (whether sugar or fat bloom) which gives off a whitish or light coating on the chocolate’s surface, is still safe for consumption.
  • To retain freshness and structure, cool and dark environments are ideal storage locations for chocolate.
  • Have an excessive amount of unopened chocolate? Donate to participating charities like Ronald McDonald House Charities and Operation Gratitude.
  • ONLY FOR CONSUMERS WITHOUT PETS: Add leftover chocolate or raw cocoa shells, particularly organic certified, in compost for home gardening. *Fyi to pet owners, chocolate is poisonous to dogs and cats due to its theobromine content. If you have pets, you can distribute waste to a composting facility.
  • Advocate for chocolate waste (and food waste) assessments from involved stakeholders (including local and national governments, non-governmental organizations [Rainforest Alliance, Fairtrade, etc.] retailers, distributors and manufacturers)


By Leslie Seaton from Seattle, WA, USA – Cocoa Mulch, CC BY 2.0.

Cocoa mulch is made out of cocoa shells (most times organic) which are beneficial to soil health.  Organic cocoa mulch contains nitrogen, phosphate and potash and has a pH of 5.8 (Patterson). There is also a noticable warning sign to keep dogs away due to theobromine content, which is scientifically proven to be very harmful to pets.




Works Cited.

IMDb. Alexys Nycole Sanchez.

Chocolate Wasted Ice Cream, Co. About Us, 2017.

Dose of Colors. CHOCOLATE WASTED, 2018.

FAO. Food Loss and Food Waste.

ReFED. A Roadmap To Reduce U.S. Food Waste By 20 Percent, 2016.

Gunders, Dana.“Wasted: How America Is Losing Up to 40 Percent of Its Food from Farm to Fork to Landfill”. Natural Resources Defense Council, Natural Resources Defense Council Issue Paper 12-06-B, 2012,

Moss, Brian.“Water pollution by agriculture”. US National Library of Medicine

National Institutes of Health, 2007,

EPA. Methane Emissions.

Earth Overshoot Day. Food demand makes up 26% of the global Ecological Footprint, 2018,

Martin, Carla D. “Sugar and Cacao”. Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food, 14 Feb 2018, Harvard Extension School, Cambridge, MA. Class Lecture.

Martin, Carla D. “Health, Nutrition, and the Politics of Food + Psychology, Terroir, and Taste”. Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food, 11 April 2018, Harvard Extension School, Cambridge, MA. Class Lecture.

Martin, Carla D. “Haute patisserie, artisan chocolate, and food justice: the future?”. Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food, 18 April 2018, Harvard Extension School, Cambridge, MA. Class Lecture.

Center for Biological Diversity. Checked Out: How U.S. Supermarkets Fail to Make the Grade in Reducing Food Waste. Center for Biological Diversity, 2018,

Sethi, Simran.  “The Life Cycle Of Your Chocolate Bar” Forbes. 22 Oct 2017

Patterson, Susan. “Cocoa Shell Mulch: Tips For Using Cocoa Hulls In The Garden”, 5 April 2018,

Pakeha. Reinigung von Kakaobohnen.jpg., WikiMedia Commons.7 December 2017, 17:56:47

Kgbo. Easter chocolate in suburban food store in Brisbane, Australia in 2018.jpg, WikiMedia Commons, 24 February 2018, 10:04:29

Seaton, Leslie. Cocoa Mulch (4051611349).jpg, WikiMedia Commons, 20 October 2009, 15:55

ICCFO. Cocoa farmers during harvest.jpg. WikiMedia Commons, 1 January 2015,





TAZA Chocolate: Delicious & Sustainable

   My first experience trying Taza was unintentionally divined to bridge my paths of academic study and personal love for chocolate. While paying for my coffee and bagel, I was intrigued by a chocolate product displayed at the cash register of 7ate9 Bakery in Somerville, Massachusetts.  The product had a unique display, packaging, and shape. Picking up the round flat product for closer inspection; I had no clue what exactly I was holding or how I would eat it. My best guess was it might be a round cookie that was neatly wrapped in white paper. Printed with a black logo and lettering, it read “Dark Chocolate Mexicano” across the top and the word “Vanilla” printed on the bottom. Upon unraveling it, I was surprised to find out it was actually some kind of circular chocolate bar. Whilst familiar with the more commonly known rectangular chocolate bar styles, I had never seen a round chocolate like this before.

   Considering this meal was before my first day of a chocolate studies class, I seized the moment to try something unique and 4x the price of what I would normally pay. Excited to try it, I opened the wrapper and shared a broken triangular piece with my  girlfriend. Initially taken aback by the texture, my immediate opinion of it was unsatisfying. The first bite was shockingly different than the texture and mouthfeel of the regular mass produced chocolate I was accustomed to. As it was comparably gritty and sandy, I was very disappointed in the taste and the subsequent price for such an unpleasant experience. In stark contrast to my unhappiness, my girlfriend did not mind the texture at all and was delighted with the vanilla flavor. She remarked that she had eaten chocolate similar to this style and texture in Latin America before. And in fact, this style of chocolate was more commonly utilized for various forms of consumption and preparation. It was at this moment that I realized my awareness and knowledge of chocolate was more limited than I had assumed.

   Although that first piece of Taza chocolate may have left me feeling duped out of my money, it ignited a curiosity of questions around what chocolate was and how different cultures consumed it. The chocolate class, I soon found out had all the answers to the questions I had and ones I hadn’t even thought of yet.

   The journey of chocolate studies not only found me reading books about cacao production but even witnessing it firsthand. As a bean to bar chocolate company based in Somerville, Taza’s processing and production is open to the public on guided tours of their factory. Sampling a vast array of flavors and textures, I soon discovered an appreciation for Taza’s chocolate. Learning more about Taza as a company and its practices made me realize that my initial dissatisfaction with their gritty chocolate was misguided.  No longer feeling duped, I realized it was well worth the price and a good value for a product that was ethically and sustainably produced.

   According to the 1987 Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development, sustainability is defined as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs and should become a central guiding principle of the United Nations, Governments and private institutions, organizations and enterprises” (UN General Assembly). With years of inquisitive research and personal sustainability practices, my pursuit of a degree in sustainability was imminent. The topic of sustainability has become somewhat of a marketing buzzword in recent years but most people are unaware of what it exactly implies. As climate change looms and pollution threatens our natural resources, there has been a growing need for more involvement in sustainable practice. However, as a result of diverse scientific and corporate opinions amongst skeptics of sustainability, corporate practices and programs can have contrasting guidelines. Sometimes this can result in greenwashing, a term used to describe “the misleading of consumers about the environmental benefits of a product or policy through specious advertising, public relations and unsubstantiated claims” (Investopedia).

   Like most people, my predilections for chocolate stemmed from being just a consumer. But as my academic journey into sustainability began to shed light onto my own personal consumerism, I found myself wanting to learn how the industry would attempt to manage the chocolate market in a more sustainable fashion. Could chocolate be sustainably produced, ethically manufactured and marketed whilst still maintaining a profit? My goal for the class was to learn chocolates rich history and current sustainable practices for my own references as to compare its similarities to other crops and foods in other industries. I was particularly interested in small scale farming, specifically farms that require intense labor; chocolate and other similar commodities are commonly farmed this way.

   As I came to understand chocolate has had its own unique journey on its road to a sustainable future.  Many companies big and small, have made efforts to establish better practices, but it has had a few bumps on the road.     

  The Mast Brothers caused a scandal in the market when they were allegedly caught using another company’s chocolate in their craft bars (Nir). This really undermines trust amongst consumers especially since they had been marketing themselves as an artisanal, rare, and authentic premium product. In an earlier marketing campaign, Michael and Rick Mast highlighted their sailing trips to the Dominican Republic to source and obtain beans themselves and bring them back to New York City to make their bars. This form of aggressive marketing raise brand awareness and brought attention to the craft chocolate industry; leading to substantial increase in the amount of sales. Unfortunately, word got out that some of those bars were fraudulently manufactured. Blogs and then news outlets had soon reported the bars were manufactured with Valrhona chocolate; just remelted, poured into molds and packaged as Mast Brothers bars. This was a major scandal for the burgeoning craft chocolate industry and without physical proof, the accusation remained as such.

   One crucial lesson, was that this kind of marketing works and the demand for high end, carefully crafted, well packaged, chocolate bars is increasing; with many customers willing to pay upwards of ten dollars per bar.  However, it’s excruciatingly difficult to verify such claims as bean to bar because there are no current testing methods. Which in turn places vulnerable consumers in the hands of marketing charlatans posing as sustainable companies with stellar business practice.

   Consumers are willing to pay more for a product that is advertised as being produced and manufactured with ethical and sustainable practices (Miremadi et al.). Marketing these products with certifications that protect against child labour, offers fair trade prices, protects the environment, made with ingredients without the use of pesticides and herbicides can increase sales substantially. Consumers make these purchases because they want to directly vote with their dollar and are willing to pay a premium if they can do their part to support better practices (Poelmans and Rousseau, 351). In a market inundated with too many certificates, it is difficult for consumers to discern what they actually mean. They just hope; they can trust the company is doing the right thing and conducting fair business (Rousseau, 94).

   Taza in my opinion, stands as shining example of a sustainably produced, ethically manufactured and marketed chocolate company. They only engage in direct trade with a select few organic farmers in very specific regions (Taza Chocolate). Unlike other large corporations that buy bulk cocoa, wich has no way of ensuring ethical farming techniques or even the use of forced child labor (Bhavnani and Schneider, Section 13). Once a bulk purchase is picked up from various farms across vast regions, they mix in all their beans in commodity packaging. This common practice makes it impossible to know where the ingredients in most of your chocolate bar are sourced from.

   As a means to set their own high standards and better educate consumers, Taza has opted to create their own certification: Taza Direct Trade Certified Cacao. Their direct trade certification  stands on the foundation of five verifiable claims. The first, is to establish and nurture business relationships directly with cacao farmers; cutting out any middle men that might take advantage of them. Second, to pay over commodity prices to their farming relationships, which helps the farmer get a fairer price and hopefully incentivizes them to give Taza their best beans from the current harvest. Third, Taza has promised to work only with USDA organic cacao beans. The fourth direct trade claim is to only source high quality cacao and to verify this with independent testing of every container of cacao they receive. Lastly, Taza Chocolate publishes an annual transparency report made available to the public on their website. Within this report you can see just how much each farmer was compensated for their beans and the quality of their beans that were harvested. This in conjunction with open public tours of their facilities is a staggering level of transparency from any kind company.

   The emphasis of bean to bar is carried across the company credo and is translated on the facility tour provided when you visit.The tour starts out with a video about the origins of the company and how the founder Alex Whitmore fell in love with an authentic chocolate drink while backpacking in Mexico. He loved the grittiness of the hand made, stone ground hot chocolate drink and wanted to find a way to bring it to the states. However his wife Kathleen Fulton, thought it would be a tough business stateside as it would be especially hard to sell hot chocolate during the warmer months. As great compromises result in great discoveries, they opted to create a stone ground chocolate bar instead. The chocolate bar could even be ground up with a cheese grater and made into a hot chocolate if you wanted to enjoy it that way.

   Kathleen went to work on a business model and marketing campaign, while Alex got into the art of making chocolate. To get that hand made gritty texture he loved so much he knew he had to keep his chocolate stone ground; so he went to study the almost extinct art of hand chiseling,  stone grinding mills. The grinding mills leave the chocolate with a similar texture as if the beans where hand ground. Though primitively used in a hand crank, Taza’s grinding stones are attached to a commercial motorized equipment. Looking for a sustainable alternative to purchasing new machinery, Taza opted for recycling second-hand machinery. Requiring a little maintenance and some difficult to find foreign parts, their roaster, winnower, and grinders are all Italian made from the sixties. Purchased from a closing chocolate factory in the Dominican Republic, great care was taken to have them shipped to Somerville, Mass. A few larger pieces even had to be dismantled just to fit them through the door.

   As the french word for soil, the term terroir is used as a culinary reference to describe the different nuances or characteristics that an ingredient gets from the unique environment it is grown in (Parker, 7). In well produced single origin chocolate bars, one could experience the distinct flavors of a particular region. Taza has its own line of single origin bars made from cacao beans, grown on several organic farms from different regions.

   Most people have consumed chocolate from big industry brands without any awareness of how chocolate is made, where it comes from, what practices surround its creation and all the resources involved in its delivery to the consumers. Chocolate companies, along with others have begun adapting better business models to improve products that are appealing to producers, consumers and the environment they’re sourced from.

   These form of business practices are known as corporate social responsibility. Embarking on a profitable business model while implementing these types of practices is not an easy task. It is especially difficult in competitive markets where other companies offer cheaper products without adhering to the same corporate social responsibility. Developing a business model that can adhere to those protocols and stay profitable is known as creating shared value.

role-of-businessFigure 1 Creating Shared Value Explained. The Role of Business in Society, Harvard Business School. (Institute for Strategy and Competitiveness, s.f.)

Taza, I believe has been ahead of the game in these aspects and the rest of the industry could learn significantly from their business model. Their full transparency approach of their direct trade certification coupled with the marketing and novelty of stone ground authentic chocolate, has proven successful. Their ability to turn a profit whilst making a difference in communities at home and abroad makes them an exemplary model of sustainability.


Works Cited

Direct Trade Certified, Taza Chocolate, 2017

Goodman, Todd, “Taza Chocolate “Bean to Bar”, About Taza, December 8, 2011

IESE Business School, Greenwash Today and Suffer Tomorrow, Jan 25, 2018

Miremadi, Musso & Weihe, How much will consumers pay to go green? McKinsey Quarterly, October 2012

Nir, Sarah M., Unwrapping the Mythos of Mast Brothers Chocolate in Brooklyn, The New York Times, Dec. 20, 2015

Parker, Thomas. Tasting French Terroir : The History of An Idea, California Studies in Food and Culture, University of California Press, 2015

Poelmans, Eline ; Rousseau, Sandra. How do chocolate lovers balance taste and ethical considerations? British Food Journal, Vol.118 (2), 2016, pp. 343-361

Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development, United Nations General Assembly,  96th plenary meeting, December 11, 1987

Rousseau, Sandra. The Role of Organic and Fair Trade Labels When Choosing Chocolate. Food Quality and Preference, Volume 44, September 2015, pp. 92-100
Figures & Tables
Porter, Michael E. Opportunities for Company Performance and Purpose: Creating Shared Value, Harvard Business School CSV Club, March 13, 2013



Porcelain and Posh: Juxtaposing Global Chinese Export Ware Influences and a Fraught Modern Chinese Chocolate Market

During the 17th to 19th centuries, there was a flourishing trade of export porcelain wares and material goods from China to Europe and the Americas centered around chocolate consumption.  Beautiful and ornate chocolate pots and cups with Chinese patterns and motifs became commonplace in many households and chinoiserie permeated Western decorative arts.  But for all this flow of material culture and ideas in the past, the introduction of chocolate, or the food products and culture of these objects, has been particularly difficult and fraught in Modern China.  The confusion over the Chinese chocolate market is evident in current news and popular articles declaring the rise of a generation of “young chocoholics” with predictions of a promising and expanding chocolate market[i] juxtaposed against downward trends of chocolate confectionary consumption due to greater awareness of healthier diets that contain less sugar.[ii]  This contrast in reception of items we think of as, for example, so quintessentially Chinese or absolutely American, illuminates the complex social interchanges and connectivity between different cultures and ideas.

By the time that Europeans were just discovering chocolate, the Chinese had already developed a thriving ceramics industry due to various major advancements in the sixth to ninth century, such as the “discovery of porcelain” and “the development of high-fired stoneware.”[iii]  In addition, kilns were producing goods to make and serve China’s own stimulant beverage.  Tea, with its own long social history, had taken hold and tea drinking habits expanded across socioeconomic boundaries thanks in part to easier and less expensive transportation channels after the Grand Canal was completed.[iv]  By the 14th century, Jingdezhen in southeast China emerged as the main kiln complex and single center of production due to a popular new technique, the now recognizable “porcelain painted with cobalt blue under a transparent glaze.”[v]

The kilns at Jingdezhen were making millions of products for trade and domestic use in the 15th century and by the 17th century, Chinese “blue-and-white porcelains” were “the most desired and technically advanced ceramics in the world.”[vi]  As trade routes developed, Chinese potters were commissioned to produce specific objects for the Western market, often receiving models and images to copy for some guidance.[vii]

A curious example of early East-West trade, this Portuguese ewer made in China around 1520-40, based on an Islamic form, actually has the Portuguese coat of arms upside down most likely because the Chinese painters misunderstood how they were supposed to appear.  From the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

But it was the imagery that came from “this wondrous, faraway place” that caused “la maladie de porcelaine”, or a craze and madness for porcelain.[viii]  The number of items exported was extensive; documents show that close to 10,000 chocolate cups and saucers out of a total of 150,000 porcelain items were brought over from Canton to Amsterdam for the Dutch East India Company in 1752 on one ship (Gordon 598).[ix]  When Europe developed their own porcelain factories in the early 18th century, they adopted Chinese “shapes and motifs” that became “part of Western ceramic traditions”; even today, common “shapes, sizes, techniques, and decoration” in ceramics are of Chinese origin.[x]

This chocolate pot was made in Germany where the first European porcelain was produced. It is still inspired, however, by Chinese and Japanese designs and “rich visual languages” which is evident in the flowers and plants painted on the pot (Evolution of Chinese Ceramics, The Met). From The National Museum of American History – Chocolate pot with wooden handle, porcelain, Meissen. 1987.0896.02ab. Syz Collection (1569).

The demand for porcelain from Europe declined, but a new market emerged in America in the late 1700’s.[xi]

Chinese porcelain ware trade not only brought about a vast exchange and sharing of ideas “that remains unparalleled in world history”[xii], but also extended the global influence of Chinese motifs and decorative themes that deeply permeated Western culture and social realms.  E. Fleming writes that art objects can bear a “double commentary on the society” in both a “passive and an active voice” in that they are an expression of the culture and give “direction, form, energy, and self-consciousness” to the culture (277).[xiii]  The “Chinese taste” filled homes and the intimate social lives of 18th century colonial Americans, influencing a wide spectrum of decorative arts and material goods from landscape gardening to textiles.[xiv]  These objects and their patterns and motifs filled the American aesthetic imagination (we can still see examples of Chinese motif decorative ironwork on the exterior of Beacon Hill homes in Boston to this day) and played a part in the flow of ideas at the time.

A closer look at an example of Chinese fret motif on a decorative ironwork balcony in Beacon Hill, Boston. In the background, the architectural style of the building appears to be Greek Revival, but the Chinese-inspired pattern showcases the strong influence of Asian aesthetic ideals. From Wikimedia Commons.

In the 19th century, for example, Eastern art was seen as “uncorrupted” by industrialism and the artistry of skilled handiwork and “good design” [xv] may have been juxtaposed against increasingly uniform factory products.  Moreover, Eastern art provided a new vocabulary and an alternative to revivalist styles based on historical associations[xvi], which would have been important in a time when differentiation in identity and from the tastes of antiquity were being discussed.  Much like Marcy Norton’s argument that Europeans did not change chocolate to suit their own tastes, instead they adopted a taste for indigenous chocolate and sought to recreate the experience[xvii], Europeans and Americans also either brought Chinese decorative art objects into social spheres or sought to emulate Chinese designs and craftwork.  The heart of the matter is that importing Chinese porcelain and goods, and their proliferation throughout society, fundamentally changed European “ideas about itself, its material culture, and its relation to the world” that permeated all levels of society (Cavanaugh and Yonan, 6-7).[xviii]

In contrast, the entry of chocolate confectioneries, as produced by western brands and companies, into Modern China has been particularly challenging and complex.  Chocolate has been present in China since the 17th century, but it has only existed marginally with very limited penetration into local cuisine (though much is still unknown about China’s chocolate history)[xix], unlike in Europe and America.  In modern times, China was isolated from the Western world from 1949 to 1979 during a chaotic period of great social experiments and revolutions, but an Open Door policy was implemented in 1978 to encourage and increase foreign trade and investment.[xx]  Soon after, the “Big Five” global chocolate companies – Cadbury, Hershey, Nestle, Ferrero and Mars – all sought to establish their brand in this perceived massive market with a population of 1.3 billion people, fighting for ways to achieve commercial success and enter the social lives of the Chinese people in the 1980’s and 1990’s.[xxi]  They set up joint-ventures and factories, Mars in the late 1980’s and finally Cadbury, the last to move into China, in 1995, and sold their products mainly as luxury goods.[xxii]  By 2004, the first “international exposition of fine chocolate” or “Salon du Chocolat” was held in Beijing.[xxiii]

Soon thereafter, speculations spread about the potential of the emerging chocolate market in China, but these statistics and predictions have carried over to today with relatively little progress.  In 2005, the average consumption of chocolate in China was about a kilo per person annually and only about 2% of inhabitants could afford luxury goods.[xxiv]  Projections were quite optimistic, however, with a strong value forecast for chocolate and a compound annual growth rate of 11% from 2005-2010[xxv]; China could potentially become the “largest confectionery market in the future.”[xxvi]  By 2010, chocolate sales had increased steadily in China to a little over $1.25 billion USD, however, the per capita sales remained relatively low at a miniscule approximate 1¥ or about 15 cents USD increase per year between 2006-2010.[xxvii]  China remains a small market in comparison, only accounting for about 2% of total chocolate sales in the world.[xxviii]  The spread of chocolate has “met significant resistance” outside of the larger cities and still is hardly present Chinese cuisine today.[xxix]

There are many practical explanations for the difficulties the Big Five faced in penetrating the Chinese market.  Lawrence Allen describes them in great detail: the limited infrastructure and underdeveloped retail channels that prevented widespread distribution (particularly when it came to air conditioning), especially outside of first-tier cities; lack of business information; difficulties working with local ingredients; and potential viable competition from local brands, especially if they reach and succeed in lower-tier cities first.[xxx]  Other challenging factors included the lack of dairy in Chinese cuisine, which, according to Bertram Gordon, “may have been the single most important reason” that there was no “‘takeoff’ of chocolate” in China in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.[xxxi]  Even more important, perhaps, was the role of sugar – Sucheta Mazumdar argues that Mintz’ theories of sugar consumption’s complex connections to production and realms of power cannot fully explain why it was so limited in China; instead, it was the contrast to Britain’s major population shift from agrarian to urban.[xxxii]  In China, peasant households, which still made up 90% of the population well into the 19th century, simply did not buy many products on the market, and, combined with relatively higher prices and no increases in real wages, sugar did not enter the everyday lives of Chinese people as it did in Britain.[xxxiii]  To this day, there is no dessert course during Chinese meals.  Finally, the familiar concept of cradle to grave product loyalty simply could not be applied to China’s emerging and new consumerism, people spent much more time reading and perusing products before they made a purchase decision.[xxxiv]

The incredible permeation of Chinese porcelain throughout Europe and America can act as a lens to view the remarkable lack of success of Western chocolate companies in the constantly cited great potential of the Chinese chocolate market.  Allen uses the example of the Big Five chocolate companies’ entrance into China to show the global interconnectedness of “China’s destiny”[xxxv], but as the history of Chinese export ware shows, China had tight connections with global interchanges where its own products had been hugely influential and deeply intertwined with other cultures in the past.  The difference is that the Europeans were fascinated by and in wonder of the “Other” they viewed through the images and decorations on porcelain from the Far East, but the “Other” in Modern China from foreign products is often associated with excess.  Some Chinese condemn the “Eurocentrism” of the Chinese chocolate market where the Big Five try to outcompete each other in upselling their “luxurious” products, and they are not fooled by this façade – many are keenly aware that the Big Five produce chocolate for mass consumption and that these manufacturers are not giving them a reason to incorporate chocolate “into their daily consumption habits.”[xxxvi]  In the past, Europeans imitated Chinese porcelain because of the exquisite designs and extraordinary craftsmanship, now in turn, American and European companies are holding up a product to for the Chinese to emulate that has false connotations and is an extension of a lifestyle that is culturally and socially foreign.

Current chocolate ads in China still portray the pinnacle of Western luxury, placing Chinese actors in very “exotic” locales, for example, with tastes and cultural references that can be lost on or too foreign for most Chinese people.

This Dove ad has many elements that would appear distinctly foreign to a Chinese audience from the Parisian location, the dress of the actors, to the pet dogs. Though on the rise, keeping animals as pets is still (relatively) not always a common practice in China, especially outside of major cities. 

When Snickers partnered with a mainstream Chinese boy band, TF Boys, to create an ad campaign with stories of studying and dealing with the pressures of school, with a video game format mixed in, that seems more universally appealing to Chinese children and general audiences, sales skyrocketed within two days.[xxxvii]

Allen continues to offer business advice that centers on a company’s “foreign heritage” that somehow lends them “product quality”, “management depth” and “credibility”.[xxxviii]   But Zhou argues that it is precisely this kind of emulation of “the high-end status of imported chocolate” that will not lead to success or interest mass consumers in China.[xxxix]  Consumerism has a complicated history in China and can still be an ambivalent, problematic topic today.  The Chinese Communist Party was quite “anti-consumerist” in the 1950’s when “revolutionary asceticism” was promoted, but at the same time allowed advertising and some forms of consumerism to persist (Gerth, 2010).[xl]  This dichotomous tension continues in the present day and, even if high-end products are commonplace in some areas and foreign brands can be associated with “credibility”, many Chinese people may still be hesitant and lukewarm towards extensive messages about luxury.  Zhou writes that chocolate manufacturers will need to “go against market norms” and “promote their products on a cultural level”; more importantly, chocolate companies will have to think outside the box, perhaps collaborating with a Chinese culinary institute or engaging in a “cross-cultural dialogue” about chocolate’s different historical roles in Chinese and European societies.[xli]

In conclusion, the challenges of chocolate confectionery companies in China and the stagnating pace of growth of the Chinese chocolate market may be due to many misunderstandings and disconnected cultural interpretations.  While only some aspects of chocolate were touched upon here in a long history of global exchanges, the particular significance of Chinese export ware for chocolate and their remarkable influence in so many aspects of European and American society may be helpful as a foil in thinking about how little the products of the Big Five chocolate companies have permeated Chinese society.

Special thanks to Nancy Hearst, Librarian in the Fairbank Collection of the H.C. Fung Library for finding or suggesting many of the sources on Modern China.

[i] Ren, Daniel. “New Generation of Chocoholics may Turn China into a Major Chocolate Market.”  South China Morning Post, 10 Sept. 2017.  Web.  7 May 2018.

[ii] “Chocolate Confectionery in China Executive Summary.”  Euromonitor International.  Euromonitor International, Aug. 2017.  Web.  8 May 2018.

[iii] “Evolution of Chinese Ceramics and Their Global Influence are Theme of Entirely New Installation on Metropolitan Museum’s Great Hall Balcony.”  The Met.  The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 14 Sept. 2012.  Web.  8 May 2018.

[iv] Sigley, Gary.  “Tea and China’s Rise: Tea, Nationalism and Culture in the 21st Century.”  International Communication of Chinese Culture, vol. 2, issue 3, 2017, pp. 319-341.

[v] “Evolution of Chinese Ceramics,” The Met.

[vi] “Evolution of Chinese Ceramics,” The Met.

[vii] Munger, Jeffrey, and Alice Cooney Frelinghuysen.  “East and West: Chinese Export Porcelain.”  Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History.  The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Oct. 2008.  Web.  8 May 2018.

[viii] High, Rachel.  “Porcelain Obsession: Denise Patry Leidy on Her New Book, How to Read Chinese Ceramics.”  Blogs / Now at The Met.  The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 11 Sept. 2015.  Web.  8 May 2018.

[ix] Gordon, Bertram M.  “Chinese Chocolate: Ambergris, Emperors, and Export Ware.”  Chocolate: History, Culture, and Heritage.  Eds. Louis Evan Grivetti and Howard-Yana Shapiro.  Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, 2009, pp. 595-601.

[x] High, Rachel.

[xi] Munger, J. and A. Frelinghuysen.

[xii] “Evolution of Chinese Ceramics,” The Met.

[xiii] Fleming, E. McClung.  “Early American Decorative Arts as Social Documents.”  The Mississippi Valley Historical Review, vol. 25, no. 2, Sept. 1958, pp. 276-284.

[xiv] Fleming, E. McClung, 218.

[xv] Oshinsky, Sara J.  “Exoticism in the Decorative Arts.”  Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History.  The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Oct. 2004.  Web.  8 May 2018.

[xvi] Oshinsky, Sara J.

[xvii] Norton, Marcy.  “Tasting Empire: Chocolate and the European Internalization of Mesoamerican Aesthetics.”  American Historical Review, June 2006, pp. 660-691.

[xviii] Cavanaugh, Alden and Michael E. Yonan.  “Introduction.”  The Cultural Aesthetics of Eighteenth-Century Porcelain.  Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing Company, 2010.

[xix] Gordon, Bertram, 601.

[xx] Wood, L.J. and S. Grosvenor.  “Chocolate in China: the Cadbury Experience.”  Australian Geographer, vol. 28, no. 2, 1997, pp. 173-184.

[xxi] Allen, Lawrence L.  Chocolate Fortunes; The Battle for the Hearts, Minds, and Wallets of China’s Consumers.  New York: American Management Association, 2010.

[xxii] Wood, L.J. and S. Grosvenor.

[xxiii] Gordon, Bertram, 600.

[xxiv] Pacyniak, Bernie.  “Chocolates ‘n China.”  Candy Industry.  Stagnito Publishing Co., June 2005.

[xxv] “China’s Chocolate Binge.”  Food Magazine.  Reed Business Information Australia, Ltd., April 2007, pp. 30-31.

[xxvi] Pacyniak, Bernie.

[xxvii] “China Acquires a Taste for Chocolate and Wine.”  China Business Review, July-September 2011, pp. 32-33.

[xxviii] Allen, Lawrence, Battle for China’s Consumers, 203.

[xxix] Gordon, Bertram, 600-601.

[xxx] Allen, Lawrence, Battle for China’s Consumers.

[xxxi] Gordon, Bertram, 600.

[xxxii] Mazumdar, Sucheta.  Sugar and Society in China: Peasants, Technology, and the World Market.  Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Asia Center Press, 1998.

[xxxiii] Mazumdar, Sucheta.

[xxxiv] Allen, Lawrence, Battle for China’s Consumers, 38.

[xxxv] Allen, Lawrence, Battle for China’s Consumers.

[xxxvi] Zhou, Hongcheng.  “Why the  Chinese Are Still Not Sweet on Chocolate.”  Sixth Tone, 2016-2018.  Web.  9 May 2018.

[xxxvii] Yu, Douglas.  “M&M’s, Dove and Snickers Maintain Chocolate Market Lead in China.  William Reed, 3 Sept. 2017.  Web.  9 May 2018.

[xxxviii] Allen, Lawrence L.  “Chocolate Fortunes; Lessons Learned by Leading Chocolate Companies Can Help Firms Succeed in the China Market.”  China Business Review, July-September 2011, pp. 28-31.

[xxxix] Zhou, Hongcheng.

[xl] Gerth, Karl.  “Compromising with Consumerism in Socialist China: Transnational Flows and Internal Tensions in ‘Socialist Advertising’.”  Past and Present (2013), supplement 8, pp. 204-232.

[xli] Zhou, Hongcheng.

Chocolate: Good Food, Good for Mood

Oh chocolate; how we love it so. We eat it when we are happy, we serve it at celebrations and use it to show affection when we are feeling amorous; Hersey’s Kiss, anyone? We eat it when we are sad, we send it in gift baskets to show sympathy to others and we devour it in high doses when we are feeling lonely; Hersey’s Hug, anyone? No matter what the happy chocolateemotion or situation, there’s a Hersey’s for that. While I’m sure that team Snickers and team Kit Kat will argue that their confections work just as well, if not better, the point is that chocolate is synonymous with our happy place. We seem to be convinced that it has occult powers that can enhance the tolerability of any circumstance. To put it plainly, chocolate makes us feel good. To achieve the energetic and emotional stimulation of chocolate we will travel to supermarkets and specialty shops and even have it shipped to us in bulk. We crave it, but why? Have you ever wondered why we look to the “food of the gods” for comfort and a remedy for emotional turmoil? And just who were the first group of people who munched on cacao seeds and said, “oh I feel great?”


As early as 1900 B.C, “Olmec, Mayan and Aztec civilizations found chocolate to be an invigorating drink, mood enhancer and aphrodisiac, which led them to believe that it possessed mystical and spiritual qualities. The Mayans worshipped a god of cacao and reserved chocolate for rulers, warriors, priests and nobles at sacred ceremonies” (Klein, 2014). These Mesoamerican natives have been credited with introducing cacao to the world. With that said, I have a question with respect to how much the indigenous people of Mexico and Central America understood about the chemicals included in cacao and whether they had knowledge of any psychotropic effects that the beans had on those who consumed them. Sophie and Michael Coe, authors of the book The True History of Chocolate, state that “psychologists tend to dismiss the possibility that any one of the myriad chemical compounds that constitute chocolate, or any combination of them, could have a physical effect on the consumer” (Coe, 1993), but what effects does it have on the mind? Does chocolate really affect one’s mood, and if yes, is it a psychotropic stimulant or an inhibitor? Cacao and its believed benefits were discovered centuries ago. Since that time the concentration of actual cacao included in drinks and edibles has been significantly reduced. In the United States, the FDA only requires that confections contain at least 10 percent cacao in order to be labeled as chocolate (Chocolate, As Defined By FDA, 2015). With this dilution of cacao, it seems arguable that the benefits received by consuming chocolate would be significantly decreased when compared to the euphoric or mind-altering reaction that the Mesoamericans would have experienced. This blog intends to focus on the psychological benefits of cacao, particularly on depression and whether it can be altered based of the levels of cacao concentration

major-depressionThis graph shows Depressive episode among adults in the U.S.

Depression is one of the most common mood disorders in the United States. There are several types of depression. These types include persistent depressive disorder (dysthymia), postpartum depression, psychotic depression and seasonal affective disorder. The symptoms associated with these types of depression can range from mild “blues” to more severe and even suicidal actions. The National Institute of Mental Health lists the risk factors for depression as having personal or family history of depression, major life changes, trauma or stress and certain physical illnesses and medications (Depression, 2018). That being said, there are treatment options for even the most severe cases of depression. Most cases can be managed by antidepressant medications. The effects of these medications can take up to four weeks to be realized. It is suggested by medical professionals that patients continue taking their medication up to 12 months before stopping or requesting a decreased dosage. Studies show that holistic treatments for depression can be effective alternatives to pharmaceutical options. According to Dr. Hervé Robert, author of Les vertus thérapeutiques du chocolat, “the caffeine, theobromine, serotonin, and phenylethylamine that chocolate contains make it a tonic, and an anti-depressive and anti-stress agent, enhancing pleasurable activities, including making love” (Coe, 1993).

Live Science reports that though chocolate can induce a high from the stimulants that it contains such as tyramine and phenylethylamine, however the potency of these compounds is too low to serve as an antidepressant. “Chocolate may interact with neurotransmitter systems that contribute to appetite, reward and mood regulation, such as dopamine, serotonin and endorphins, according to the 2013 article in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology (BJCP). However, the authors noted, the effects may have more to do with chocolate’s taste and smell than its chemical effects” (Szalay, 2018). BJCP found that though “It is a common belief that eating chocolate can improve mood states and make people feel good. Chocolate is often associated with emotional comfort. This effect seems to be linked to the capacity of carbohydrates including chocolate to promote this type of positive feelings through the release of multiple gut and brain peptides” (Nehlig, 2013).


Though this research indicates that the euphoria associated with chocolate is all in our heads, contrast to these scientific findings, popular polling would conclude that consuming chocolate definitely has a major chemical affect. Bryn Mawr College student, Kristen Coveleskie, would agree that chocolate has healing powers. She wanted to research the best things to take to a friend in the hospital and found that “One of the more unique neurotransmitters released by chocolate is phenyl ethylamine. This so called “chocolate amphetamine” causes changes in blood pressure and blood-sugar levels leading to feelings of excitement and alertness. It works like amphetamines to increase mood and decrease depression, but it does not result in the same tolerance or addiction. Phenyl ethylamine is also called the “love drug” because it causes your pulse rate to quicken, resulting in a similar feeling to when someone is in love” (Coveleskie, 2004). Coveleskie also found that the effects of eating diluted chocolate to only nominal. Particularly, the United States only requires that a product contain 10% of cacao for it to qualify as chocolate, while other countries such as Germany have a higher requirement. She suggests eating chocolate that contains at least a 30% cacao.

In contrast to BJCP’s findings that chocolate is more of a comfort food than an actual emotional stimulant, A Moment of Science reports that chocolate is actually a drug, like cannabis or opiates. “Chocolate also contains a cannabinoid, a drug similar to the cannabis in marijuana, which produces feelings of euphoria and well-being. Other chemicals, that inhibit the breakdown of cannabinoids naturally produced by your brain, prolong this feeling long after chocolate is consumed. As if the opiate and cannabinoid high aren’t enough, chocolate also contains theobromine, a stimulant similar to caffeine, and phenyl ethylamine, a chemical thought to be related to the feeling of love. (Chocolate-a drug?, n.d.) An article posted on Everyday Health lists 10 delicious reasons to eat chocolate; fighting  depression is one of them. The article says that good mood starts with good diet. Among the foods recommended in the article is dark chocolate. “Dark chocolate helps to release serotonin and relaxes the blood vessels of the cardiovascular system” (Myers, 2018). Another article on this site says that chocolate containing at least 65 percent cacao is the most effective.

With reports that supports chocolate’s mood lifting abilities and popular belief that like these, I was ready to establish in a lifelong regime of daily truffles and bon-bons, that was until a little more digging uncovered an article on Psychology Today that says more chocolate could mean more depression, and even an increase in suicide rates. The article faults added ingredients such as trans-fats and fillers, which has “detrimental effects on the brain” (Deans, 2015). This study subscribes to the idea that a higher the cacao content, means a higher flavanol and polyphenol concentration, which will be more beneficial to consumers. The article recommends a dose of cocoa containing 500 mg of polyphenols over a 30 day period in order to improve mood.

Works Cited

Chocolate, As Defined By FDA. (2015). Retrieved from Registrar Corp:

Chocolate-a drug? (n.d.). Retrieved from Moment of Science:

Coe, S. D. (1993). The True History of Chocolate. London: Thames & Hudson LTD.

Coveleskie, K. (2004). Chocolate On The Brain. Retrieved from

Deans, E. M. (2015). Your Brain on Chocolate. Retrieved from

Depression. (2018). Retrieved from National Institute of Mental Health:

Klein, C. (2014). The Sweet History of Chocolate. Retrieved from

Myers, W. (2018). 8 Foods That Fight Depression. Retrieved from Everyday Health:

Nehlig, A. (2013). The neuroprotective effects of cocoa flavanol and its influence on cognitive performance. British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology.

Szalay, J. (2018). Chocolate Facts, Effects & History. Retrieved from Live Science:


The Ethical and Economic Rationale for Selling Fair Trade Chocolate

The sale of chocolate is big business. According to the National Confectioners Association, chocolate sales totaled $21.1 billion in the United States in 2014. (Franchise Help). Despite the significant size of the market, growers responsible for cultivating cocoa do not always share the benefits. The Fair Trade movement attempts to address this imbalance and improve the economic plight of cocoa growers. This ethical movement has resonated with consumers, and there is well-documented consumer demand to purchase Fair Trade items. Despite the ethical and economic rationale for selling Fair Trade chocolate, cocoa sold with the Fair Trade label accounts for a very low 0.5% share of the global cocoa market, according to International Cocoa Organization. Based on the ethical and economic benefits companies will attain from distributing Fair Trade products, a strong case can be made for retailers to offer a larger selection of Fair Trade chocolates.  

Despite the significant global demand for cocoa products, producers struggle with economic deprivation & human rights abuses. As a result of oversupply and fluctuating commodity prices, many cocoa growers live below the global poverty line, and earn less than $2 a day (ILPI 14). In addition to the struggle to afford basic life necessities, many cocoa growers are unable to hire sufficient labor and are forced to rely instead on having family members farm, including children who might be pulled from school. Even worse, other children are trafficked as low-salary laborers or even slaves, and forced to work on some cocoa plantations. There are an estimated 880,00 child laborers in Ghana, and 1,150,00 children working in Côte d’Ivoire (ILPI 31). Many of these children work in hazardous conditions, including operating heavy machinery, applying pesticides to foods, and using dangerous tools to harvest cacao pods.

In order to improve economic and human rights conditions, Fair Trade organizations have developed systems that organize cocoa growers to sell their goods as part of collectives which increases their bargaining power and reduces layers of middlemen. Cocoa growers receive a guaranteed minimum price for their goods which allows them to earn a living wage. This helps ensure that cocoa growers have a safety net when cacao falls below a sustainable level as a commodity. This is valuable to the cocoa growers because cocoa prices can be volatile and can move in a wide range, thereby creating uncertainty in the price that the cocoa growers will receive for their crop. 

Cocoa com
Cocoa prices


The Fair Trade organization consults producers, traders and other stakeholders and to determine a fair price for cocoa. The cooperatives also receive an additional “Fair Trade premium” where members have discretion to spend the funds in order for the benefit the cocoa growers and their communities. The Fair Trade premium for standard quality cocoa is $150 / ton. (International Cocoa Organization) and the Minimum Price including the Fair Trade Premium is $1,750 / ton. In return for these economic benefits, cocoa growers agree to comply with the organization’s labor standards which prohibit child labor and protect against other human rights abuses. Additional standards include environmental protections. 

Producers of goods that purchase from Fair Trade providers display logos on their products which inform consumers the food was produced under Fair Trade standards. Consumers who purchase these items can be confident that they are supporting the Fair Trade system. 

Fair Trade logos


While there is a strong ethical case to be made for the sale of Fair Trade items, the question remains as to whether consumers are interested in purchasing them. Numerous academic studies have been conducted to investigate the amount of consumer interest in Fair Trade goods.

The first question a retailer should consider is whether or not consumers are interested in buying Fair Trade products and the amount they would be willing to pay. A survey posed to American consumers the questions of whether they value Fair Trade products and how much more they would be willing to pay for Fair Trade coffee. The results of this survey indicated that Americans are interested in Fair Trade products and would to be willing to pay $0.22 /lb. more for Fair Trade coffee than for the non-Fair trade equivalent. (Carlson 5)

Researchers at the Stanford Business School set up an experiment to determine whether coffee carrying a Fair Trade label sold better, equally, or worse than identical coffee not labeled. The results showed that the Fair Trade label had a substantial positive effect both on the quantity sold as well as the price it was able to command. Researchers found that sales rose by almost 10% when a coffee carried a Fair Trade label as compared to the same coffee carrying a generic placebo label. A second study found that demand for Fair Trade coffee was inelastic; sales of the Fair Trade labeled coffee remained fairly steady when its price was raised by 8%. In contrast, coffee without the Fair Trade labels experienced a 30% decline in sales after a similar price increase (Hainmueller et al 2).

In another study, titled “Are Consumers Willing to Pay More for Fair Trade Certified Coffee?” the author looked at items that went through Fair Trade certification and compared the price consumers were willing to pay for the same item before and after the item received its Fair Trade certification. The conclusion was that “consistent with prior work… (the study) finds that Certification has a large positive effect on the price of coffee”, although this paper determined that the premium consumers were willing to pay for Fair Trade certification was smaller than previous studies. (Carlson 16)

Fair Trade labeling produces a measurable response in the brain. Researchers from the University of Bonn conducted a two part study to discern the neural effects of Fair Trade labels. In the first part of the study, subjects were shown pictures of 80 different products, 40 with the Fair Trade emblem, and 40 identical items without the emblem. They were then prompted to choose how much they were willing to pay for each item. Not only were customers willing to pay more for each Fair Trade object, but fMRI scans revealed that while ‘buying’ these objects, the activity of the reward section of the subjects brains increased when the subjects were buying Fair Trade labelled items. For the second part of the study, a conventional chocolate bar was broken up into pieces for every participant and then equally distributed on two small plates. While the chocolate on the two plates were identical, scientists told subjects that one plate contained conventional chocolate, while the other was Fair Trade certified chocolate. When eating what they believed to be Fair Trade chocolate, fMRI scans showed “increased experienced taste pleasantness and intensity for the [Fair trade] label” (Enax et al 11)

At least some of the demand for Fair Trade chocolate can be attributed to positive, albeit unsubstantiated, perceptions that Fair Trade chocolate is healthier than non-Fair Trade chocolate. The ‘Halo Effect’, is a well known psychological phenomenon in which a singular good trait of a person or object leads people to apply additional good traits to the person or item. Companies can often be seen taking advantage of the halo effect by promoting organic, non-GMO, and locally grown products. Likewise, Fair Trade goods also tend to be perceived as having superior characteristics when compared to non-Fair Trade goods. In one study, subjects were given a description of a brand of chocolate. The control group was given no information about the chocolate, while the other group was it was told it was a Fair Trade product produced by a manufacturer that pays cocoa growers “50 percent more than the standard market price for cocoa, to ensure that the growers receive a fair wage for their efforts.” When the participants were later asked whether they believed the chocolate they had been presented with contained more, equal, or fewer calories compared to other brands, those who had been told that the chocolate was Fair Trade perceived it as lower-calorie than other brands. (Jacobs 1).

The moral arguments for Fair Trade products resonate with consumers. Numerous studies conclude because of the ethical considerations, consumers are interested in buying Fair Trade products. Selling Fair Trade chocolate makes sound economic sense and there is a demand for Fair Trade products. Are Fair Trade products readily available for purchase by American consumers? In order assess the availability of Fair Trade chocolate products I conducted a survey of five retailers: Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, CVS and Rite Aid drugstores and Key Food supermarkets to determine the extent of their Fair Trade chocolate selection. Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s were chosen because they are two out of the three retailers listed on the Fair Trade America’s website. CVS and Rite Aid were chosen as representative of chain drug stores. Key Food was chosen as representative of a neighborhood supermarket. The survey was conducted the week of May 6, 2018. In order to correct for variations in offerings and out of stocks at different locations, two locations for each retailer were surveyed.

Whole Foods
Whole Foods is a supermarket chain with 470 stores, primarily in North America (Securities and Exchange Commission). Whole Foods has a strong history and association with social responsibility. As part of the Core Values listed on the website, Whole Foods highlights “We practice win-win partnerships with our suppliers”, a notion highly aligned with Fair Trade philosophy.  Each of the Whole Foods surveyed had an extensive selection of Fair Trade chocolates which comprised nearly all of the chocolate items for sale. The stores surveyed had approximately 100 different Fair Trade chocolate products for sale, from 16 companies. 

Brand 95 East Houston St. store  4 Union Square store
365 house brand 4  –
Alter Eco 4 5
Barethins 4
Divine 11 8
Endangered Species 11 10
Equal Exchange 4 4
Green & Black 9 7
Jelina  – 4
Lake Champlain 7 9
Lilly’s 9 8
Madecasse (Direct Trade) 7 7
Taza (Direct Trade) 5 5
Theo Chocolate 13 13
Unreal 5 5
Vosages 7
Whole Foods – private label 4 8
Total 97 100
Whole Foods FT chocolate
Whole Foods Fair Trade chocolate offerings (photo taken by author)

Trader Joe’s

Trader Joe’s is a supermarket chain with 474 stores nationwide (Trader Joe’s). The company does not highlight social responsibility, but rather “innovative, hard-to-find, great-tasting foods… that cut our costs and save you money.” While the company does not position themselves as placing a high value on socially responsible products, they do maintain lists Vegan, Gluten Free, and Kosher products.  Based on the “Halo Effect” described above, this might lead some customers to make the association with selling Fair Trade items as well. The Trader Joe’s stores surveyed had a very limited selection of Fair Trade Chocolates. 

Brand 14th St. store 31st Street store
TJ Batons 3 3
TJ Fair Trade Organic 1
Total 3 4
Trader Joes FT chocolate
Trader Joe’s Fair Trade chocolate offerings (photo taken by author)

CVS / Rite Aid

CVS is a pharmacy/convenience store chain with 8,060 stores and Rite Aid is a chain similar to CVS with 2,550 stores (Securities and Exchange Commision) CVS and Rite Aid cater to a much broader demographic than either Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s. Of the stores surveyed, the number of Fair Trade chocolate products were far below those sold at Whole Foods, and sold a similar number of Fair Trade chocolate items to Trader Joe’s. 


Brand 500 Grand Street store 253 1st Ave. store
Chauo 3
Endangered Species 1
Total 4 0
CVS FT chocolate
CVS Fair Trade chocolate offerings (photo taken by author)

Rite Aid

Brand 408 Grand St. store 81 First Ave. store
Bark Thins 3 2
Rite Aid FT chocolate
Rite Aid Fair Trade chocolate offerings (photo taken by author)

Key Food

Key Food is a cooperative of independently owned supermarkets located in the Northeast. Of the two stores surveyed, one sold no Fair Trade items while the other sold considerably more than CVS, Rite Aid or Trader Joe’s.

Brand 43 Columbia St. – store 52 Ave. A – store
Divine 11
Endangered Species 6
Green & Black 5
Total 0 22
Key Food FT chocolate
Key Food Fair Trade chocolate offerings (photo taken by author)


Despite the sound ethical and economic reasons for retailers to sell Fair Trade chocolate, cocoa sold with the Fair Trade label still captures a very low share of the cocoa market. Research indicates that consumers are interested in purchasing Fair Trade products and are willing to pay a premium. Whole Foods has tapped into this demand and demonstrates that it is possible for a retailer to offer an extensive selection of Fair Trade chocolate items. They however seem to be more the exception rather than the rule. If other retailers tapped into the demand and offered a more extensive selection of Fair Trade chocolate, it is likely that more Fair Trade chocolate would be purchased and more cocoa suppliers would share the benefits of Fair Trade.


Works cited

Cameron. “KEEP CALM AND ONLY EAT FAIR TRADE CHOCOLATE.” Keep-Calm-o-Matic, Keep Calm Network Ltd.,

Carlson, Adam P. Are Consumers Willing to Pay More for Fair Trade Certified Coffee? Are Consumers Willing to Pay More for Fair Trade Certified Coffee?

“Child Labour in the West African Cocoa Sector.” International Law and Policy Institute, 26 Nov. 2015,

“Chocolate Industry Analysis 2018 – Cost & Trends.”,

“Cocoa | 1959-2018 | Data | Chart | Calendar | Forecast | News.” Trading Economics, TRADING ECONOMICS,

Enax, Laura, et al. “Effects of Social Sustainability Signaling on Neural Valuation Signals and Taste-Experience of Food Products.” Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, vol. 9, 2015, doi:10.3389/fnbeh.2015.00247.

“Fairtrade Certified Products – Fairtrade America.” Fair Trade, Fair Trade,

“Fair Trade Labels.” A Fair Trade Place, WordPress,

Hainmueller, Jens, et al. “Consumer Demand for the Fair Trade Label: Evidence from a Field Experiment.” The Review of Economics and Statistics, vol. 97, no. 2, Feb. 2014, pp. 242–256., doi:10.2139/ssrn.1801942.

“International Cocoa Organization.” International Cocoa Organization,

Jacobs, Tom. “’Fair Trade’ Chocolate Perceived as Healthier.” Pacific Standard, Pacific Standard, 5 Jan. 2012,

“Jens Hainmueller: Will People Pay More for Fair Trade Products?” Youtube, Stanford Graduate School of Business, 18 Feb. 2015,

United States, Congress, Washington, D.C. “Edgar .” Edgar , SECURITIES AND EXCHANGE COMMISSION, 17 Nov. 2017.

United States, Congress, Washington, D.C. “Edgar.” Edgar, SECURITIES AND EXCHANGE COMMISSION, 14 Feb. 2018.

United States, Congress, Washington, D.C. “Edgar.” Edgar, SECURITIES AND EXCHANGE COMMISSION, 26 Apr. 2018.

“What Is Fair Trade.” Youtube, FairtradeANZ, 12 July 2017,


Destined for Contention: Chocolate’s Place in a “Healthy” World

Chocolate, and what it means to people, differs across time and space. From its inception as the seeds of a fruit tree to the myriad ways in which it is transformed and eventually consumed by humans, chocolate’s potential variety seems limitless. The history of chocolate merits this variety; it is a fascinating story across multiple continents and cultures. What becomes ever more apparent when studying chocolate’s history as a food, and potentially as a healthy food, is that human obsession with food – in general, but more pertinent to this paper as a source of health – is no new phenomenon. The Western diet has undergone huge transformation since the industrial revolution, chocolate was transformed along with it, and both have not slowed in their development. When chocolate was first encountered by Europeans, the scientific reasoning behind food knowledge was based on a 1500-year-old system developed in Ancient Greece and Rome. Today, modern science allows us to measure the nutritional content of anything and everything we can think of ingesting. But, alas, this technological exactitude has not led to uniform consensus when it comes to which foods are healthy and which are not. Diversity, in both our options of foods and the opinions on which of them we should choose to consume, still reigns supreme. This paper will track chocolate, from its birth place to the continents where it is now most widely and voluminously consumed, and attempt to appraise its value as a beneficial dietary supplement. It will also discuss what effect the perception of chocolate as a health food might have on the industry today. What becomes apparent is that, while Galen’s humours may no longer hold sway in the scientific realm, the Hellenic wisdom from Apollo’s temple that prescribes, “Everything in Moderation,” is as true today as it was two thousand years ago.

According to Michael and Sophie Coe, in their exhaustively well-researched book, The True History of Chocolate, feelings have been mixed about the legitimacy of chocolate as a health food for a long time. The Aztecs, who did not discover or invent the cacao seed and its most valued product, but were controlling the product across its empire with an iron fist, did not view chocolate as a panacea like some Europeans came to do. For the Aztecs, the chocolate drink, as it was consumed then, was taken chiefly as a preferable option to wine – drunkenness being hugely frowned upon (Coe: 75). There were some supposed benefits, that were reported by the Spanish mendicant friars, including increased “success with women” (Coe: 96), and as a cooling drink that could be taken before hard labour to avoid overheating (Coe: 123). But there were also warnings against chocolate, with a myth purporting that chocolate had made Aztecs fat and weak, distancing them from their superior forebears (Coe: 77). In Europe, chocolate arrived as a medicine (but Coe notes, “it soon became a medicine that was appreciated for its taste, its filling nature, and its stimulation, 126). However, the guise under which it came, the now utterly refuted Galenic humoral system, makes its supposed benefits interesting but not pertinent to this discussion. To sum up briefly, chocolate was claimed to benefit a host of ailments including: angina, constipation, dysentery, dyspepsia, kidney disease, liver disease, breast and stomach illness, asthenia, indigestion, fatigue, gout, haemorrhoids, erectile dysfunction, and the list goes on.1 It was not until modern medical research took root in the 19th century that false claims started to become harder to make (though they have never been completely extinguished).

So what claims can be made about chocolate? Unfortunately, because chocolate in the United States only has to be 10% or more made from cacao, very little can be said uniformly about chocolate.2 So it is important to clarify that the only chocolates that can be said to have possible health benefits (at least benefits that derive from the cacao) must be those produced with a significant cacao content. Much has been said recently about the health benefits of dark chocolate, some of it true, some of it exaggerated, and some of it quite misleading. If one googles, “dark chocolate health,” the vast majority of articles one will find will boast of the “superfood” qualities of high cacao content chocolate or of the benefits of adding raw powdered cacao as a supplement to one’s diet.3 The nutritional properties of cacao most touted are its antioxidants – polyphenols and flavonoids – with claims that they are good for cardiovascular health, protection from disease, anticancer properties, lower cholesterol, cognitive health, and lower blood pressure.4 Antioxidants has become a “buzzword” in the health community, especially the health selling community, and so anything that can be provably claimed to contain antioxidants and can also be produced and sold will appear in advertising before long. However, scientific research results have not proved as exciting as the claims of fitness and holistic-living “experts.” The antioxidant immunity boost from chocolate has showed to be extremely short-lived in humans5 and studies have revealed, like that of red wine’s supposed health benefits, that the amount of chocolate (or wine) that would need to be consumed to enjoy the rewards from the antioxidants contained would be such an enormous amount that the damage caused by the fat and sugar (or alcohol) would far outweigh the goodness done.6 Thus, the health benefits of chocolate, if any, must be attainable from a small amount, as its fat content is so high.

So if the antioxidants in chocolate are too small in number, are there any other benefits to eating dark chocolate? In short, yes. Small amounts of very dark chocolate, approximately 85% cocoa content, do boast three important nutrients that, while less glamorous than immortality-inducing antioxidants, are incredibly important to human health. High cacao content chocolate boasts impressive amounts of fibre, iron, and magnesium. While the numbers are not uniform brand to brand, a comparison of eight brands at a Somerville, Massachusetts convenience store (Perugina, Green and Blacks, Jelina, Scharffen Berger, Newman’s Own, Lindt, Chocolove, and Divine) showed enough correlation to warrant discussion. The average fibre content from the eight brands darkest products (ranging from 72%-85%) was 19% of a person’s recommended daily amount; for iron it was 27.5%. Magnesium is generally not listed on FDA required packaging and so product to product this number is hard to acquire. However, Humana Press’s comprehensive compendium, Chocolate in Health and Nutrition, is not vague when it comes to chocolates magnesium content claiming, “Chocolate has one of the highest magnesium levels reported of all foods.” (Watson 430) Are these facts about chocolate’s nutritional profile important? Possibly. The United States Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service claims that 57% of Americans do not have enough magnesium in their diet; it also claims, more dramatically, that 92% of Americans do not get sufficient fibre in their diet.7 Magnesium deficiency is not trivial. The American National Institutes of Health claims:

“Magnesium is the fourth most abundant mineral in the body. It has been recognised as a cofactor for more than 300 enzymatic reactions, where it is crucial for adenosine triphosphate (ATP) metabolism. Magnesium is required for DNA and RNA synthesis, reproduction, and protein synthesis. Moreover, magnesium is essential for the regulation of muscular contraction, blood pressure, insulin metabolism, cardiac excitability, vasomotor tone, nerve transmission and neuromuscular conduction. Imbalances in magnesium status—primarily hypomagnesemia as it is seen more common than hypermagnesemia—might result in unwanted neuromuscular, cardiac or nervous disorders. Based on magnesium’s many functions within the human body, it plays an important role in prevention and treatment of many diseases. Low levels of magnesium have been associated with a number of chronic diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease, insulin resistance and type-2 diabetes mellitus, hypertension, cardiovascular disease (e.g., stroke), migraine headaches, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).”8


For anyone living in America, sadly, these diseases and afflictions are not unfamiliar. Fiber deficiency too poses health risk with the Harvard School of Public Health claiming, “Fiber appears to reduce the risk of developing various conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, diverticular disease, and constipation.”9 Iron deficiency is not, according to the United States Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service, a seriously prevalent issue among Americans with 89.5% getting enough in their diet. Although the risks associated with iron deficiency, for one in ten Americans,

“can delay normal infant motor function (normal activity and movement) or mental function (normal thinking and processing skills… can increase risk for small or early (preterm) babies. Small or early babies are more likely to have health problems or die in the first year of life than infants who are born full term and are not small, … cause fatigue that impairs the ability to do physical work in adults. Iron deficiency may also affect memory or other mental function in teens.”10

Iron deficiency is not a huge issue at the moment, but with the amount of meat being consumed in the American diet coming under attack, alternative sources of iron might be important to a new generation of health and environmentally conscious consumers looking to eat considerably less meat, and with it the iron it provides.

The number not yet mentioned, but most important when discussing the possible benefits or dangers of high cacao content chocolate is that of the fat, and especially saturated fat, content. The average saturated fat content from a single serving of one the eight brands mentioned previously is 58% of the recommended daily amount, according to the FDA packaging. This number is astronomically high. The dangers of saturated have been widely reported for many decades10 but recently there has been contention within the medical community. The British Medical Journal posted a controversial article in 2017 claiming “Saturated fat does not clog the arteries… Despite popular belief among doctors and the public, the conceptual model of dietary saturated fat clogging a pipe is just plain wrong.”13 The article came under fire, not for necessarily being outright wrong, but for being misleading.14 Fat is still something that should be monitored, whatever the type is being consumed. So, unlike a food source like a kiwi, which boasts enormous health benefits and can be added to any diet with no known drawbacks (unless one is allergic), chocolate can only be effectively employed as a source of nutrients to a diet low in fat. For many this is bad news. The United States Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service reports that only 40% of Americans are staying within the guidelines of consuming 10% or less of their calories from saturated fat.15 Ultimately, this means for a large section of society the only way to employ dark chocolate as a health food is if they restructure their diet to include significantly less saturated fats.

So, if it can be argued that a small amount of high quality dark chocolate can be employed as a nutritious source of food to an already health conscious individual, what could this man for the industry today? One positive effect that has started to occur is that people’s dissatisfaction with the amount of sugar in their diet has caused producers to start making chocolate with much higher cacao content. With cacao content coming under focus, the origin, quality, and ethical standards in production of the cacao have come out of the shadows for mainstream consumers to take a better appreciation of the politics behind what they put in their bodies. Chocolate has a dark past that unfortunately it has not completely shed. But with cacao becoming the star of the show for many selective buyers, attention is increasing, albeit too slowly, to cacaos often third-world origins and the ethics of production in countries like Ghana and The Ivory Coast. Unfortunately, healthy (or at least healthier) chocolate does not mean ethical chocolate. Lindt is a brand that has not exonerated itself with total transparency after accusations of turning a blind eye to the unethical means of production of its chocolate. Yet its 85% bar is a favourite among fitness enthusiasts for its nutritional content and great flavour.16

What is exciting is the recent explosion of craft chocolate in the United States and beyond. Craft chocolatiers are typically willing to pay more for their beans, and as Dr Martin of Harvard University has written, “buyers must pay more for cacao, uncertified and certified. Both practically and morally, consistent cacao farmer poverty in an industry replete with wealth is unacceptable.”17 Craft chocolate is also inherently made from higher quality ingredients, and with an emphasis on a robust amount of cacao per bar. An often reliably healthier option than mass-produced chocolate. The craft chocolate market is still small and producers have for the most part stayed clear of buying beans from West Africa, where the bulk of ethical concerns lie. However, increase in chocolate consumption is rising rapidly according to an article publish recently in Vox, “Chocolate retail sales in the US have risen from $14.2 billion in 2007 to $18.9 billion in 2017, the market research group Euromonitor International found, at a time when candy sales overall have been waning.”18 If demand for craft chocolate increases, perhaps a future where farmers are able to choose to sell their beans to craft chocolatiers over mass-producing corporations is possible.



Works Cited

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

Watson, RR, Preedy, VR & Zibadi, S 2013, Chocolate in health and nutrition. Humana Press Inc. DOI: 10.1007/978-1-61779-803-0

Dandelion Chocolate: Transparency and Accountability in Craft Chocolate

Dandelion Chocolate is a bean-to-bar craft chocolate company operating out of California (“Visit Us,” Dandelion), with factories in San Francisco (Masonis 14) and Tokyo (“Sourcing Report,” 2016) and bars on the shelves of numerous retailers in numerous countries (“Retailers,” Dandelion) . The company was founded by Todd Masonis and Cameron Ring in 2010 (“Company Overview of Dandelion Chocolate, Inc.,” Bloomberg), after the pair sold their social networking startup and Masonis spent a year abroad tasting European chocolate. Dandelion’s mission is a simple one: “to bring small-batch, bean-to-bar chocolate back to the Bay Area,” striving for care, quality, and transparency in their operations along the way. This quest has led them not only to great-tasting craft chocolate, but admirable accountability with regards to their cocoa supply.

The world of industrial chocolate has notoriously been fraught with ethical issues since Conquest; the complexity, opacity, and exploitation involved in getting cocoa from equatorial farms to American supermarkets has drawn intense criticism from social awareness fronts (Ryan 43-44; O’Keefe 2016; Rivero 2017). Implementing measures to address such problems is difficult; promises from the biggest chocolate companies in the world (“Responsible Sourcing,” Hershey; “Tackling Child Labor 2017 Report,” Nestle, 49; “Modern Slavery Statement,” Mars Inc.; “Home,” Slave Free Chocolate;  “Compliance and Integrity,” Mondelez International; Sequeira 2016) to contribute to industry overhauls in exploitative labor conditions and practices have been pushed further and further back year by year (“Ferrero sets date to end cocoa slavery,” CNN; Clarke 2015; O’Keefe 2016), and even well-meaning efforts by certification organizations such as Fair Trade (“Fair Trade Cocoa from Cote D’Ivoire,” Fair Trade Certified) may be more exclusionary than truly impactful in the lives of primary producers (“Sourcing Report,” 2015; Claar & Haight 2015; Sylla 92, 233). It is in this troubled environment that Dandelion has made a name for itself (Shute 2013; Crowley 2015), emphasizing fair relationships with cocoa farmers with an eye toward improved consumer education; and various measures to correct and avoid traditional supply chain problems can be seen in Dandelion’s dealings with the multiple grower enterprises from whom they buy. In their investment in direct trade, farmer education and training initiatives, fairness of pricing, and environmental consciousness, Dandelion are putting their money behind a better kind of chocolate trade and production.


Since initiatives like Fairtrade first began drawing attention to market anonymity and other trade and industry problems disadvantaging cacao producers (Sylla 66, 83), understanding of where and how Western manufacturers get the material for their product has become a key measure of accountability in the marketplace, signaling that farmers have power in relationships with the organizations that buy from them (Sylla 92, Macatonia 2013). Dandelion is an excellent example of what to do right. Working closely with the estates and cooperatives that grow and ferment its cacao beans is an important part of Dandelion’s mission as stated on its website: “We believe that good business practices can help foster positive social, environmental, and economic change, and we are committed to increasing transparency in … our own process as well as across the supply chain” (“Our Beans and Sugar,” Dandelion); “To us, Direct Trade means the way we source beans is more relationship-based than it is purely transactional” (“Sourcing Report,” 2015, p. 9). Dandelion has made information on where its product comes from openly available on the company website, including thorough “sourcing reports” for the years of 2014, 2015, and 2016, which detail where they buy their beans and how many metric tonnes have come from each source (“Sourcing Report,” 2014; “Sourcing Report,” 2015; “Sourcing Report,” 2016); this allows customers to keep abreast of changes in supply as the still relatively young company shifts purchasing, and offers assurance that the crop is coming from real people concerned for its quality at ground level—confirmed by Dandelion’s budgeting of regular in-person visits to sources (“Sourcing Report,” 2015). Dandelion’s attitude toward sourcing offers reassurance for concerned chocolate buyers, but moreover it constitutes a much-needed corrective to an industry historically cynical about disclosing source information or addressing the need for it (Ryan 44; Off 140, 142-145).

Dandelion touts its hands-on approach to working with sources largely as the most effective means of assuring product quality (“Source Report,” 2015, p. 8); but they are careful to stress that it also loops back to value for the producers: “Chocolate makers like us are willing to pay far more than the world market price for high quality beans … We believe that improving quality is a more sustainable means of increasing the price that producers can charge” (“Sourcing Report,” 2015, p. 8). Part of their effort to maximize bean quality has been to ensure that the enterprises and cooperatives they partner with give farmers access to training and educational support – a resource the lack of which has proven prohibitive for many “bulk cacao” producers in terms of getting the best crop out of their land as well the best money for that crop (“Unsustainable farming,” Make Chocolate Fair; Rolden et al 121, 125-129). Dandelion’s concern for and investment in this issue is reflected in their business arrangements with several of their sources. Their page on an Ecuadorian source, Camino Verde fermentary (“Camino Verde, Ecuador,” Dandelion), gives pride of place to the fact that this source has shared advice and information about cacao processing not only with farmers in Ecuador, but with Dandelion’s Dominican Republic and Tanzanian partners. ADIOESMAC (Asociación de Desarrollo Integral Ox’ Eek Santa María Cahabón), Dandelion’s Guatemalan source for nutty-tasting beans (“Cahabon, Guatemala,” Dandelion), works with Cacao Verapaz, a “social enterprise and export group” begun by sourcing enterprise Uncommon Cacao (“Cahabon, Guatemala,” Dandelion; “Quien Somos,” Cacao Verapaz), to sell and export beans to Dandelion; but Cacao Verapaz fills a role beyond this by providing training in cacao processing to cooperative members, so that processing and quality control remain largely in farmers’ hands (“Cahabon, Guatemala,” Dandelion). Meanwhile, Zorzal in the Dominican Republic—from whom Dandelion purchased 10.2 metric tonnes of cacao in 2016—lists education services and “supporting … neighboring farms with best practices to garner higher prices for their produce” among the tenets of its organization (“Home,” Zorzal Cacao); and Kokoa Kamili in Tanzania sends their own trained agricultural expert to local farms, “providing training on Good Agronomy Practices to help increase both the yields and the quality of cocoa,” plus organizing “Farmer Field Schools to make sure we can educate larger numbers of farmers on some of the basics” (“IMPACT,” Kokoa Kamili). Maya Mountain Cacao, Dandelion’s Belize source on which the company again partnered with Uncommon Cacao, prioritizes farmer training as well; in 2016, following the reception of Dandelion funding for new facilities, the enterprise gathered their first harvest from a demonstration farm, “an educational space for producers to learn best practices and receive technical support” (“Maya Mountain, Belize,” Dandelion), as Dandelion’s website proudly notes—a testament to the strength of the company’s support for farmer education and empowerment.

In addition to addressing issues of anonymity and supporting training resources for farmers, Dandelion’s chosen investments show an interest in the ecological sustainability of its product (“Life in Belize,” Dandelion). This is again in contrast to industry norms regarding chocolate production (“Bittersweet: Chocolate’s Impact on the Environment,” World Wildlife Fund; Konstantas et al 2018;  Schroth & Harvey 2007; “Chocolate production may be harming environment: study,” The Economic Times; Maclean 2017; “Cutting Deforestation Out of the Cocoa Supply Chain,” World Bank), wherein unsustainable practices contribute to deforestation and loss of biodiversity, among other concerns. Part of the way Dandelion shows its concern for impact on forests is through its support of Zorzal Cacao in the Dominican Republic. Zorzal, a fermentary and estate which shares land with the Reserva Zorzal bird sanctuary, was cofounded by Chuck Kerchner, Sesar Rodriguez, Jamie Phillips, and Jesus, Jaime and Angelica Moreno, on the belief that production of goods like chocolate could go hand-in-hand with, and even promote, responsible conservation efforts (“Home,” Zorzal Cacao; “Zorzal, Dominican Republic,” Dandelion). In addition to its work helping to preserve the Bicknell’s Thrush on the sanctuary side of the operation (“The Reserve,” Zorzal Cacao), Zorzal works with other landowners under the Plan Vivo project to reforest the DR. Per Zorzal’s website: “The Plan Vivo project is a long-term program that directly addresses the 50 year goal of the Conservation Action Plan for Bicknell’s thrush … The unique … aspect of the Plan Vivo certificate[] is that it links farmers in the Cordillera Septentrional (the northernmost of the DR’s four highest mountain ranges; Bencosme 17)  to chocolate companies … who are willing to invest in restoration activities” (“Conservation Programs,” Zorzal Cacao) –one of which is Dandelion (“Partners,” Zorzal Cacao), whose each purchase of a tonne of Zorzal cacao is accompanied by a purchase of $200 worth of Plan Vivo carbon offset credits (“Zorzal, Dominican Republic,” Dandelion). These credits go toward the planting of native trees by local farmers on and off the reserve proper, contributing to reforestation and increasing biodiversity. Moreover, Dandelion’s sugar—the only ingredient in each bar besides cacao—is sourced from the Native Green Cane project (“Green Cane Project: Production Methods,” Native), which produces a third of all organic sugar on the market and is described as the world’s biggest organic agricultural project (“Our Sugar,” Dandelion). The Green Cane Project grows and harvests sugarcane self-sustainably; instead of burning, the leaves are air-stripped using a specially developed harvester, and then fed back into the ground as mulch. Pest control is accomplished via the introduction of natural predators which do not harm the environment (“Green Cane Project: Biological Pest Control,” Native; “Our Sugar,” Dandelion), while light, slightly deflated harvester tires help to minimize soil compression. The result is a harvesting process which is non-destructive and, indeed, facilitates dramatic increases in land biodiversity, “maintain[ing] soil fertility, creating a favorable environment for the action of beneficial microorganisms and water and air infiltration, essential for plant growth” (“Green Cane Project: Green Cane Harvesting,” Native; “Our Sugar,” Dandelion) –and offering a green sweetness to each Dandelion bar.

Throughout all these operations, fair prices going to producers is of paramount importance to Dandelion. Pricing is a huge problem in the chocolate industry at large (“Cocoa Farmers,” Fairtrade Foundation; Nieburg 2017; “Chocolateis a Bittersweet Way of Life in Ghana,” NBCNews ); bulk cacao can pass through a huge or sometimes unknowable number of hands from the point it leaves a farm to when it hits the retail market (“An Overview of Cocoa Production in Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana,” World Agroforestry Centre), and by the time profit returns to farmers it is often no profit at all. Dandelion addresses this issue by buying dried cacao directly from the fermentary facilities of organizations that either grow that cacao themselves, or purchase it fresh from nearby farmers, so that the only hands the crop goes through before it is shipped to Dandelion are the farmers’ and the fermenters’. One such organization is Kokoa Kamili, Dandelion’s source for Tanzanian cacao. Kokoa Kamili’s founders established their fermenting enterprise in a remote farming community in the Kilombero Valley, miles from the nearest town or tarred road, where they started out buying “wet,” unfermented cacao directly from producers at high prices—the same practice is followed by Dandelion’s Belize and Ecuadorian sources (“Maya Mountain, Belize,” Dandelion; “Camino Verde, Ecuador,” Dandelion)—which they then ferment and dry in their own facilities before selling it on to companies like Dandelion (“CHOCOLATE,” Kokoa Kamili). Not only does this shorten distance-to-sale dramatically for those farmers who might otherwise have to travel a long way—Kokoa Kamili picks up cacao lots from farmers daily, and transports larger quantities for no charge—but per the group’s website, “farmers get paid more, quicker, for less work. The time and effort spent fermenting and drying beans can now be spent tending their cocoa, working on their farms, starting a small business, or just enjoying a little down time” (“OPERATIONS,” Kokoa Kamili). Kokoa Kamili are able to pay high prices for undried cacao because they can exert a lot of control over the quality of beans they dry themselves; when the process is complete, the beans are highly desirable to craft chocolate makers like Dandelion, who are willing to pay what they are worth (“Kokoa Kamili, Tanzania,” Dandelion). ADIOESMAC in Guatemala has been able to do similarly thanks to support from Cacao Verapaz and Dandelion; where once middlemen called coyotes set unsustainably low prices for Guatemalan cacao, “Cacao Verapaz has offered more equitable and stable payments directly to the farmers [and] established a standard of transparency, simultaneously connecting producers with a more diverse, international market of chocolate makers. Dandelion currently purchases as much as the association is able to produce” (“Cahabon, Guatemala,” Dandelion). In addition to a general policy of good pricing, Dandelion strives for fairness and non-exclusionary practices in what it expects from its sources—namely, quality product, not necessarily certified product: “If we want proof that the producers we buy from do not use bad chemicals, unfair labor practices, or environmentally unsound cultivation methods, we visit the farm and find out for ourselves … In Tanzania, it costs $8,000 just to get the organic certification auditors to visit a farm … what we pay depends upon the quality of the cacao” (“Sourcing Report,” 2015, p. 8). The work Dandelion does to seek equitable treatment of its producers sets it apart from much of the chocolate world and demonstrates its overall commitment to improving the way craft chocolate is manufactured.

With the chocolate market so consistently plagued by the moral and financial misfires of capitalism, and solutions often difficult to find, Dandelion Chocolate and the initiatives it works with to source its product shines through as a hopeful counterpoint. The company still has a ways to go in its social approach—while it has accessed East Africa by way of Tanzania, and reported a Liberian source in 2014, the most recent 2016 report does not mention any sources in West Africa (“Sourcing Report,” 2014; “Sourcing Report,” 2016), where the vast majority of the world’s cacao-growing families live and work (“Our Work,” World Cocoa Initiative); and the company recently backed out of its partnership with a women-led cooperative when the company Tisano shifted operations away from Venezuela due to “challenges” (“Mantuano, Venezuela,” Dandelion). But the company is still new, and in the efforts it has made to establish connections that foster direct relationships with producers, educational initiatives, conservation efforts, and proper pricing, it has set the ethical bar higher for its peers in the industry; future success for Dandelion and companies like it could translate into better regulations, market-wide restructuring of the supply chain and higher-quality product overall. In the meantime, Dandelion continues to grow into its success, learning along the way.


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