Ethical chocolate can come in different shapes and sizes. What ethical means to various chocolate companies can be very different, from fair work conditions, to organic ingredients, to environmental sustainability. Taza Chocolate is a company that boasts chocolate that is “seriously good and fair for all,” given their bold flavor and direct trade practices (“About Taza,” 2017). Alter Eco is a company that creates chocolate and other foods and aims to nourish “foodie, farmer, and field” with their sustainable food (“Our Story,” 2017). This post will explore the similarities and differences between Taza Chocolate and Alter Eco, two ethically minded chocolate producers, and how they portray themselves in order to appeal to consumers. Exploring their trade relationships, environmental impact, and community impact, it becomes apparent that Taza Chocolate has a main focus on fair and ethical trade as a means for driving improved conditions for farmers, whereas Alter Eco has a greater emphasis on sustainability and positive environmental impacts.
About the Companies
Taza Chocolate is a company founded in 2005 and based in Somerville, MA that creates stone ground chocolate. The stone ground beans create a unique coarse texture unlike most mass-produced chocolate on the market today. Besides the flavor, Taza Chocolate prides itself on its role as a “pioneer” in ethically sourced cacao. They are Direct Trade certified, holding them to standards of fair pay and partnerships with cacao farmers who respect workers’ rights and the environment (“About Taza,” 2017).
Alter Eco is a food company in the business of chocolate and truffles as well as quinoa and rice with a focus on sustainability and fair practices. Their mission is to create a global transformation through ethical relationships with farmers and a focus on sustainability in their supply chain (“Our Story,” 2017). The company puts an emphasis on the benefits and social and environment changes that can be made through their practices.
Taza stands apart from other chocolate companies because of its Direct Trade. Direct Trade is a third-party certification program that Taza has established that ensures cacao quality, fair labor, and transparency. Direct trade means what it sounds like – direct trade and relationships between cacao farmers and the company. Taza establishes relationships with cacao farmers in countries like the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Belize, having yearly visits to the farms and staying knowledgeable and transparent about where their beans are coming from (“Transparency Report,” 2015).
Direct trade is based on five key commitments (“Our Direct Trade Program Commitments,” 2017). The first is to develop direct relationships with cacao farmers, which they do by visiting their partners at least once per year. The second commitment is to pay a premium price for cacao of at least $500 above market price per metric ton of cacao beans, with a price floor of $2800. Their third and fourth commitments are to sourcing the highest quality beans, with an 85% or more fermentation rate and 7% or less moisture, and USDA certified organic beans. The fifth and final commitment is to publish an annual transparency report, which displays details of the visits to partner farms in various countries, as well as prices paid and amounts of cacao beans purchased. The key aspects of the Direct Trade certification that set it apart from others are the high premium paid for chocolate, which exceeds that set for Fair Trade certification, as well as the transparency report.
Direct Trade beings benefits to farmers in the form of a monetary premium paid for their beans, and it brings benefits to consumers with the transparency report that keeps consumers informed about the chocolate’s origins. However, Direct Trade can in some ways still fall short of being a wide-reaching solution to problems in the cacao-growing world. Direct Trade relationships can be fragile, and if Taza Chocolate were to go under, the partners would lose a key purchaser of their beans. Despite this, Direct Trade has economic benefits for the producers that cannot be discounted.
Alter Eco is Fairtrade certified. Fairtrade is a much more widespread certification, with 1226 Fairtrade certified producer organizations worldwide (“Facts and Figures about Fairtrade,” 2017). Fairtrade sets a price floor as a Fair Trade Premium that companies must pay for the products, so for organic cacao beans currently have a price minimum of $2300 per metric ton, and companies pay an additional premium of $200. This Fair Trade Premium is for investment in social, environmental, and economic projects, such as education or technology, which the producers decide upon. Alter Eco attributes their social impact to the effects of their Fair Trade contributions.
Comparing Direct Trade and Fair Trade, we can see that Direct Trade demands a higher price for cacao than Fair Trade, though both require premiums above the market price. Fairtrade sets aside premiums into a fund for investment into the community, whereas Direct Trade has buyers pay more for the beans, resulting in profits that could be used to invest in the community.
Sustainable farming practices have been on the rise over time, as international buyers have become more demanding about production practices. These practices can require a lot more hard work and labor, and require farmers to learn new processes, but they can be essential in order to survive long term as demand grows (Healy, 2002). A commitment to environmental sustainability is important to restoring or preserving nature’s biodiversity and preventing damage from industrial farming practices.
Taza Chocolate is committed to making an environmental impact through their use of USDA certified organic beans. Organic farming involves using practices that maintain or improve soil quality, conserve wetlands, woodlands, and wildlife, and do not use synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation, or genetic engineering (“About the National Organic Program,” 2017). By only purchasing USDA certified organic beans, Taza is supporting farms that comply to these standards set to protect and preserve the environment.
Alter Eco, on the other hand, takes sustainability and environmental impact to the next level. Not only do they purchase organic cacao, but also they have a focus on their carbon footprint in the supply chain and take active steps to minimize it. Working with the PUR Project and the ACOPAGRO cacao producers, Alter Eco supports an effort to reforest the San Martin region in Peru, which had suffered from severe deforestation in the 1980s. From 2008 to 2015, they planted 28,639 trees through this initiative, improving biodiversity, restoring soils, protecting wildlife, and providing necessary shade for cacao (“Impact Report,” 2015). In addition, they are a partner of 1% for the Planet, with which they commit to giving at least 1% of their sales to nonprofits aimed at protecting the environment.
Furthermore, Alter Eco seeks to be a carbon negative business, net reducing more than they emit, though this goal is still far-reaching. They post a yearly carbon report that breaks down consumptions of water, waste, and energy in chocolate production and approximates greenhouse gas emissions. In 2014, chocolate production directly or indirectly resulted in a little over 2,400 tons of CO2. Alter Eco uses its tree planting initiative as its efforts to offset CO2 emissions, and between 2008 and 2014 they had offset 7,690 tons of CO2 (“Yearly Carbon Report,” 2014). All in all, the transparency that Alter Eco provides about their environmental impact and their efforts to reduce it are satisfyingly informative. Though it can feel like their claims about sustainability are mainly a marketing ploy or way to make consumers feel good about their purchase, it is reassuring to have the information that allows consumers to be informed and hold Alter Eco accountable if they really wish to do so.
Taza and Alter Eco both make an impact on the communities of producers that they work with. Both companies have direct relationships with the farming cooperatives that they purchase cacao from, involving in-person visits to the partners. They build deep, trusting relationships with their partners that bring an extra level of support to the community. However, while Taza’s relationships appear to be mostly business, Alter Eco shows a commitment to community development. Alter Eco also boasts 48 development programs that they are involved in (“Socially Just,” 2017). They are also a certified B Corp, recognizing their social and environmental performance and transparency. Alter Eco uses Fairtrade premiums as their main way of supporting community development. It is important to note that this method of supporting developing is not a solution to large problems in poor regions, but it can have an impact in small ways by better stabilizing income (Sylla, 2014). Analysis of the impact that Fairtrade has on producers has pointed to a slight impact that is “all but exceptional” and is something that can better protect farmers from extreme poverty rather than lift them out of poverty (Sylla, 2014).
It is important to note that though Alter Eco does a good deal more marketing their positive impact on community development through their development programs and Fairtrade premiums, Taza still pays more per metric ton for their cacao. The difference between the two is that Alter Eco prioritizes their funds supporting community and environmental development projects, whereas Taza pays the money to farmers which is then theirs to use.
Both companies make a commitment to transparency in their chocolate. Taza produces a transparency report each year detailing the company’s purchases, prices paid, and visits to various cacao farms. Alter Eco lists details of each chocolate bar’s cacao origin, cocoa content, organic ingredient content, and fair trade certified ingredient content on their website. These added details, way beyond which the average consumer would demand of a Hershey bar, give these Taza and Alter Eco bars a story for the consumers to follow and a justification of the ethical nature of the purchase. Small scale chocolate companies often find success in the education of their consumers of things like single origin cacao and fine cacao flavors, as it gives them an edge on industrial chocolate which dominates with marketing and low prices (Williams and Eber, 2012). By emphasizing transparency and providing detailed information about cacao sources and flavor notes, Taza and Alter Eco are leveraging this.
Furthermore, Taza and Alter Eco market their products in a way to make the consumers feel like they are making an impact. Advertisements need to show images that make the viewer feel good, or at least good enough to buy chocolate, a luxury item (Liessle, 2012). By emphasizing the ethical nature and the social benefits of their products, these companies play up the consumer’s feelings of being altruistic by purchasing the chocolate bars. These companies may be flaunting their ethical practices as a marketing strategy, but if they are making a real, positive impact for the cacao-producing community or for the environment, then it is a win-win situation for the companies and the farmers.
Taza Chocolate and Alter Eco are both chocolate-producing companies that are ethically minded, where Taza has a large focus on direct trade partnerships with cooperatives, and Alter Eco has some focus on fair trade but a greater emphasis on environmental sustainability. These companies demonstrate how ethical practices in the chocolate industry can have different implications, whether they be for farmer compensation, farmer community development, greenhouse gas emissions, reforestation and biodiversity, amongst many others. What is important to take away is that some companies may focus on some impacts more than others, and it is important as consumers to be educated and to know what impact you believe is the most important to make.
“About the National Organic Program.” (2016, November). Retrieved from https://www.ams.usda.gov/publications/content/about-national-organic-program
“About Taza.” (2017). Retrieved from https://www.tazachocolate.com/pages/about-taza
“Annual Cacao Sourcing Transparency Report.” (2015, September). Retrieved from https://cdn.shopify.com/s/files/1/0974/7668/files/Taza_Transparency_Report_2015.pdf?10448975028103371905
“Facts and Figures about Fairtrade.” (2017). Retrieved from http://www.fairtrade.org.uk/en/what-is-fairtrade/facts-and-figures
Healy, K. (2001). Llamas, Weaving, and Organic Chocolate: Multicultural Grassroots Development in the Andes and Amazon of Bolivia. 123-154
“Impact Report.” (2015). Retrieved from http://www.alterecofoods.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/AE-ImpactReport-RF4-Digital.pdf
Leissle, K. (2012). “Cosmopolitan cocoa farmers: refashioning Africa in Divine Chocolate advertisements.” Journal of African Cocoa Studies 24(2): 121-139
“Our Direct Trade Program Commitments.” (2017). Retrieved from https://cdn.shopify.com/s/files/1/0974/7668/files/Taza_DT_Commitments_Aug2015.pdf?2533070453853065353
“Our Story.” (2017). Retrieved from http://www.alterecofoods.com/our-story/
“Socially Just.” (2017). Retrieved from http://www.alterecofoods.com/sustainability/socially-just/
Sylla, N. (2014). The Fair Trade Scandal.
Williams, P. and Eber, J. (2012). Raising the Bar: The Future of Fine Chocolate. 141-209.
“Yearly Carbon Report.” (2014). Retrieved from http://www.alterecofoods.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/AlterEco-Carbon-Report-2014_v2.pdf
Dark Super Blackout Bar. [Image]. Retrieved from http://www.alterecofoods.com
Maya Mountain Cacao. [Image]. Retrieved from https://www.tazachocolate.com/pages/maya-mountain-cacao
Taza Chocolate From Bean to Bar. [Video] Retrieved from https://vimeo.com/33380451
Tree Saplings. [Image]. Retrieved from http://www.alterecofoods.com/environmentally-responsible/