Tag Archives: artisan

’57 Chocolate: An Ethnographic Study

“Revolutionary artisanal chocolate made from bean to bar by a dynamic duo of Pan-African sisters. ’57 is a chocolate business pioneered in Accra, Ghana, and it is on a mission to revive Ghana’s 1957 ‘can do spirit.’”

Meet the Maker:

’57 Chocolate

Pithy, punchy, and powerful, these two sentences greet every visitor to ’57 Chocolate’s website, a sleek, black-and-white affair that serves as the brand’s online point of contact for customers, brand collaborators, and global enthusiasts of fine chocolate.

Though these sentences are crafted to introduce visitors to the company briefly, they efficiently allude to a number of ways in which this chocolate company grapples with key issues that plague the contemporary chocolate industry. Their reference to “artisanal chocolate made from bean to bar” in tandem with the site’s carefully curated aesthetic might simply seem like an attempt to establish ’57 chocolate as a luxury brand, but it also implies certain small-scale production practices that are more ethical and sustainable than those of the conglomerates producing the bulk of the world’s finished chocolate products. Their insistence on the “dynamic duo” of sisters behind the brand serves as a fruitful entry point to a discussion about marketing in the chocolate industry, because it departs from the norm in a few meaningful ways. And finally, the positioning of the brand as “revolutionary” is far from an arbitrary marketing decision, though the uninformed consumer might assume as much. In fact, it is a strategic move to grapple with issues of income imbalance across the chocolate supply chain that perpetuates centuries-old power dynamics by disadvantaging the so-called global south—namely South America, Africa, and South Asia—and pushing profits to North American and European chocolate retailers.

This essay will use secondary literature to explicate the magnitude and implications of each of these three issues, and then it will turn to primary sources—emphasizing ’57 chocolate’s very own marketing material as well as contemporary reporting on the company—to explore how ’57 Chocolate performs meaningful work to right the wrongs that plague the contemporary chocolate industry.

 

Craft Chocolate:

How Bean-to-Bar Businesses Can Better a Broken System

As a bean-to-bar chocolate company, ’57 Chocolate is part of a growing movement to promote increased literacy about the origins of the cacao in a given chocolate bar.[1] By tracing the trajectory of the cacao from its beginning as beans all the way to its final product, these companies attempt not only to give due credit to the countries providing the raw material that goes into a chocolate bar but also, so the theory goes, hold more members of the chocolate supply chain accountable for ethical business practices.[2] There are a few key ways in which Big Chocolate creates issues in the supply chain, and ’57 Chocolate addresses virtually each of these problems.

First, by nature of being a small-scale producer, ’57 Chocolate aids farmers by buying cacao in smaller batches directly from farmers and thus pushing profits to those at the very beginning of the chocolate supply chain.’57 Chocolate explains on its website that the company aims to “add value…to the cocoa farmer—on a local scale.” To the uninitiated, the weight of these words may not be apparent, but they actually imply an important attempt to invert the flow of revenue in the chocolate supply chain to the most time- and labor-intensive jobs.

One of the most upsetting injustices of the cacao supply chain is that profit margins are highest at the end of it and lowest for those who perform the physical labor that initiates the process. While farmers in the global south earn only a 3% margin on their cacao, retail boutiques and supermarkets in the global north earn a 43% margin on their chocolate products.[3] This is because the cacao supply chain is especially elongated in order to benefit large-scale chocolate producers like Nestlé, Hershey, and Mars. These companies buy chocolate from Africa in such bulk that they require sourcing from small cacao farms across the country in order to meet their demands. The trajectory of a cacao pod from its farm to a large batch in an African port is a long one made up of many middlemen; each time it exchanges hands, its price rises. Meanwhile, Big Chocolate companies negotiate reduced prices for cacao, because they buy it in bulk. As a result, cacao farmers in Africa are routinely forced to sell their product for as low a price as possible so that everyone downstream of them in the supply chain can still make a profit.[4] Not to mention, as an agricultural commodity, cacao’s price is volatile. In short, cacao farmers cannot count on a stable income from their jobs.

Given this contextual information, it becomes clear how ’57 Chocolate’s focus on small-batch, locally sourced cacao aids the farmers with whom they work. Though artisanal chocolate producers cannot single-handedly right the wrongs of Big Chocolate, the rise of small-scale producers who focus on bean-to-bar production is a net positive for African cacao farmers. ’57 Chocolate’s focus on creating bean-to-bar products means that they are not interested in buying cacao that has been sourced from farms all over Africa. Instead, they form direct relationships with individual farmers to ensure that they know the origins of the beans in their chocolate bars. By cutting out the middlemen, they push profits directly to those at the beginning of the supply chain. As well, by purchasing small batches, ’57 Chocolate does not negotiate discounted, bulk rates for their cacao. Instead, they pay a premium and thus provide farmers a livable wage.

 

Marketing Matters:

Race, Gender, and ’57 Chocolate

 Yet another issue that plagues the chocolate industry is that of toxic marketing—in the form of brand positioning, chocolate bar packaging, and advertisements—that either obscures or completely fails to confront the political, social, and economic issues in the chocolate supply chain as delineated above.[5] As Emma Robertson argues, “chocolate marketing often encourages us to indulge in a depoliticized moment, to ‘Have a Break’; [but] this moment…is and has always been deeply political.”[6] Indeed, even after the brief discussion of supply chain imbalances above, it is clear that eating chocolate is a politically loaded activity. Knowing this, lighthearted ads concerned with self-care and indulgence seem surprisingly myopic.

Moreover, chocolate marketing often tends to make use of debilitating sexist and racist imagery that either erases the people of color from the narrative about the chocolate’s production or perpetuates negative stereotypes about femininity. Robertson puts it elegantly when she writes, “the cultural construction of chocolate in marketing has …relied on and produced hegemonic narratives of gender, class, race, and empire.”[7] In short, chocolate marketing has routinely perpetuated racist and sexist narratives.

Indeed, there is a long history of minimizing the importance of manual labor in the supply chain, which is often performed by people of color. Robertson points out as much when she demonstrates that “despite encouragement from modernists in the 1930s to include representation so production on chocolate packaging, [she] found no evidence of either packaging or advertising which depicted chocolate workers.”[8] In addition to this erasure of labor, advertisements also cast black bodies as peripheral to the consumption of chocolate, as they only ever afforded white people the privilege of purchasing and eating it. She writes, “both Rowntree and Cadbury adverts created a world of white consumers in which the black producers of cocoa beans and the black consumers of chocolate were at best pushed to the margins, if not excluded completely.”[9] Finally, advertisements routinely minimized the work of female laborers in the production chain, only to fetishize motherhood and white female sexuality in their ads.[10] Certainly, elitism in the form of racism and sexism permeate all types of chocolate marketing.

Happily, ’57 Chocolate combats this issue in a variety of ways. The first and most noticeable is by means of their brand statement. ’57 Chocolate identifies its brand most prominently by its co-founders, “a dynamic duo of Pan-African sisters.” This is powerful because it emphasizes that not only two women but also two people of color are the brilliant business minds behind ’57 Chocolate. By providing the precise location of their offices—in Accra, Ghana—the sisters encourage readers to imagine corporate offices in a Ghanaian city, creating rich imagery of industrious, clever, and successful female businesswomen working out of a city in Africa. In fact, the sisters’ strategic marketing by way of this brand statement has been effective by all accounts, as every news source to report on ’57 Chocolate identifies the brand by way of its two female cofounders in the very title of their articles. To reinforce this, the sisters devote an entire page of their website to mini biographies of themselves. In so doing, they firmly establish their authority and clout and thus cast women of color in a more positive manner than they have historically been shown in chocolate marketing.

Secondly, ’57 Chocolate’s logo makes use of the image of a cacao plant and references the year 1957, two decisions that reference Ghana, the co-founders’ home country. By utilizing the image of cacao pods in their logo, the sisters draw consumers’ focus to the very beginnings of the cacao supply chain and pay homage to the laborers who grow and harvest the cacao. This type of respect for and appreciation of cacao farmers is distinct. As well, the reference to the year 1957 is crucial because it is the year that Ghana gained independence. By referencing this year in the very name of their company, the sisters hope to “revive the 1957 ‘can do spirit’” of the country in that year and prove that Ghana is more than simply a provider of raw material but also the home of developed, finished chocolate products on par with those created in Europe and North America.[11] In so doing, it “challenges the status quo that premium chocolate can only be made in Europe.”[12]

Finally, ’57 Chocolate rectifies the issue of erasure that has plagued much chocolate marketing. Each bar is “engraved with visual symbols originally created by the Ashanti of Ghana,” who play a large role in growing and harvesting the cacao that is ultimately made into these chocolate bars.[13] By exhibiting Ashanti art on perhaps the most prized real estate in the world of chocolate marketing—on the bar itself—Priscilla and Kimberly Addison afford African men and women the opportunity to engage with chocolate as more than simply manual laborers but also brand-creators and artists. This, like everything else about the brand’s marketing tactics, enacts a powerful restructuring of historically detrimental paradigms.

 

Revolutionary Retailer:

Reintroducing Africa as a Refined Producer

Yet a third issue in the cacao industry today is the inexplicable and unwarranted derision aimed at African cacao. This is unfortunate, especially considered that Africa is the primary provider of cacao to the global market.

Though the biological origin of cacao lies in Mexico and Central America,[14] the Portuguese transported the so-called “forastero” variety of cacao to Africa in 1824[15] to avoid scrutiny of their labor practice son plantations in South America.[16] Today, African cacao farms produce 72% of the world’s total cacao, though the country only consumes about 4% of the world’s chocolate.[17] Profs. Sophie and Michael Coe point out that it is “supremely ironic that West Africa, from which so many hundreds of thousand shad been torn against their will to work as slaves in the white man’s cacao plantations, should now be by far the world’s leading producer of cacao.”[18] Indeed, it is a travesty that the same country whose population was decimated in the seventeenth century in order to perform coerced labor on plantations in South America should now find itself hosting those very same systems on its own soil without enjoying any of the benefits of this labor.

Even worse, misunderstandings about the differences between cacao varieties has led to an unwarranted lack of respect for the forastero ilk of cacao beans that are cultivated in Africa. The term was initially developed alongside two others—criollo and trinitario—to describe what many believed to be the least tasty type of cacao bean.[19] However, it has since been proven that these designations do not mean much, and that forastero beans feature flavors just as complex as the other two types of beans. Sadly, the stigma has remained, and very few bean-to-bar companies have cared to source their cacao from Africa under the impression that it will not taste good.[20]

’57 Chocolate thus acts as a leader in the artisanal chocolate space by sourcing its cacao from Ghana and celebrating the complexity of the flavor of the beans. By producing, marketing, and selling a line of craft chocolate bars made entirely from Ghanaian beans, the Addison sisters are helping to redefine people’s perceptions of African cacao as simply a low-grade product to be bought in bulk.[21]

In addition to this, the sisters perform the important work of establishing Africa as a tastemaker in haute patisserie just as France has done. In her exploration of the development of a culture surrounding high-end cacao in France, Susan Terrio incisively points out that it is the craft chocolate makers and retailers who hold the most power and cultural capital in the cacao supply chain. She writes, “in contemporary economies, cultural tastemakers determine fashion and shape taste for prestige commodities. They collaborate and negotiate with producers to establish the principles that govern expert knowledge and refined taste.”[22] In other words, those who operate at the end of the chocolate supply chain do not only make the largest profit margin but also enjoy the privilege of dictating global tastes.

The Addison sisters seem to know this intuitively, as they explicitly state that the main goal of their company is to “inspire the people of Ghana, especially the youth to not be satisfied at merely selling and trading the country’s natural resources or other items in their “natural” state, but to use their minds and creative geniuses to transform these resources and items by creating and developing made in Ghana products of premium value.”[23] In this light, the Addison sisters’ company is not simply one that brings justice to the forastero variety of cacao bean cultivated in Africa nor simply raises awareness about ethical sourcing and production in chocolate. Though it does both of these things, their company also establishes Africa as a global competitor with Europe and North America in the arena of determining tastes and shaping culture.

 

Works Cited

Addison, Kimberly and Priscilla. 57ChocolateGH.com, “Our Products.”

Addison, Kimberly and Priscilla. 57ChocolateGH.com, “Our Story.”

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

Martin, Carla D. Lecture. Harvard University, Cambridge, MA. Jan. 24, 2017.

– – -. Lecture. Harvard University, Cambridge, MA. Feb. 14, 2017.

– – -. Lecture. Harvard University, Cambridge, MA. Mar. 21, 2017.

– – -. Lecture. Harvard University, Cambridge, MA. Mar. 28, 2017.

– – -. Lecture. Harvard University, Cambridge, MA. Apr. 18, 2017.

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

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

Terrio, Susan J. 2000. Crafting the Culture and History of French Chocolate, pgs. 1-65.

Footnotes

[1] Martin, Carla and Sampeck, Kathryn, 2016, “The Bitter and Sweet of Chocolate in Europe,” 54.

[2] Lecture, Apr. 18, 2018.

[3] Lecture, Jan. 24, 2018.

[4] Lecture, Mar. 21, 2018.

[5] Lecture, Mar. 28, 2018.

[6] Robertson, Emma, 2010, Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History, 13.

[7] Robertson, 55.

[8] Robertson, 23.

[9] Robertson, 54.

[10] Robertson, 55.

[11] Addison, Kimberly and Priscilla, 57ChocolateGH.com, “Our Story.”

[12] Ibid.

[13] Addison, Kimberly and Priscilla, 57ChocolateGH.com, “Our Products.”

[14] Coe, Sophie D. and Michael D. Coe. 2013 [1996], The True History of Chocolate. 3nd ed. London: Thames & Hudson, 17.

[15] Coe and Coe, 196-7.

[16] Lecture, Mar. 21, 2018.

[17] Lecture, Jan. 24, 2019 and Lecture, Mar. 21, 2018.

[18] Coe and Coe, 196.

[19] Lecture, Feb. 14, 2018.

[20] Lecture, Feb. 14, 2018.

[21] Lecture, Apr. 18, 2018.

[22] Terrio, Susan J, 2000, Crafting the Culture and History of French Chocolate, pg. 41.

[23] Addison, Kimberly and Priscilla, 57ChocolateGH.com, “Our Story.”

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

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

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

Front of Parliament Chocolate Shop
Figure 1. Parliament Chocolate Building

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Parliament Samples
Figure 3. Parliament Samples

 

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

ParliamentChocolate-Bar Size
Figure 4. Parliament Bar Size

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

References

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Formaggio Kitchen Cambridge: With Quality Chocolate, Price Is Not Important

The modern chocolate industry has been changed by the rise of artisanal chocolate makers, historically popular in Europe and newly popular in the United States. Small-scale chocolate manufacturing was seen as a response “to the perceived loss of flavor and quality in industrially manufactured chocolate,” (Martin & Sampeck 2016: 53). In contrast to the “Big Five” industrial chocolate companies—Nestle, Mars, Cadbury, Hershey’s, and Ferrero, (Martin & Sampeck 2016:50), artisanal chocolate makers are “unconcerned with producing identical bars with every batch” and “seek instead to draw out the unique flavors of the beans,” (Leissle 2013: 23). Because chocolate artisans are small-scale manufacturers, their products are primarily available at specialty stores.

On Tuesday, May 2, 2017, I visited a gourmet grocer, Formaggio Kitchen in Cambridge—the original of the Formaggio Kitchen family of stores, to examine their chocolate selection. Since it opened in 1978, Formaggio Kitchen has expanded to Boston and New York. From the chocolates of artisans to bean-to-bar chocolate makers (1970s -1980s) to craft chocolate makers (since the mid-2000s) (Martin & Sampeck 2016: 54), all chocolates at Formaggio Kitchen are categorized as small batch. In the chocolate industry, small batch chocolate making has highlighted chocolate and cacao’s “country of origin—the conditions of production” and “local […] tastes—the conditions of consumption” (Martin & Sampack 2016: 37). Through the curation of the chocolate section at Formaggio Kitchen and the packaging of the individual chocolate bars, the importance of the conditions of production and consumption in small-batch chocolate making is echoed. The presentation at Formaggio Kitchen further suggests that the cost of these exceptional chocolate bars is secondary to their high-quality taste.

Initial Observations of the Chocolate Section

Upon finding the chocolate section at Formaggio Kitchen, my attention was initially captivated by the store’s personalized notes in front of or near the numerous chocolate brands available. These notes described how the chocolate bars taste by highlighting any combination of notable ingredients, cocoa content, origin of the cacao beans, place of manufacture, or distinct production technique.

fullsizeoutput_32d8
Overview of chocolate section at Formaggio Kitchen on 5/2/2017. No information about the price of each bar is visible.

As a consumer accustomed to knowing the price of a product almost immediately after I see it on a store shelf, I was surprised find the absence of visible price tags. To know the price of the chocolate bars I examined at Formaggio Kitchen, I had to grab the desired bar off the shelf and turn it around. Of all that was emphasized about each chocolate bar, how much it cost was not. Based on the store’s choice to present their chocolate bars in this fashion, I concluded as a potential customer that price came secondary to taste, brand, cultural origin, and so forth.

IMG_1198
Overview of chocolate selection at Whole Foods on 5/2/2017. Represents the typical presentation of chocolate with a visible price tag at supermarkets in the U.S.
fullsizeoutput_32da
Whole Foods presentation of chocolate contrasts that at Formaggio Kitchen where price tags are small stickers behind the chocolate bars and not as easily visible to the consumer.

Overall, I also noted the absence of familiar chocolates, including those from any of the Big 5 companies. In fact, I did not recognize the majority of the chocolate brands available at Formaggio Kitchen prior to my visit. The only brands I recognized were those Dr. Martin introduced during lecture (e.g., Dick Taylor, Potomac). Thus, my quest for knowledge about the chocolate selection at Formaggio Kitchen continued with my individual inspection of each chocolate bar and the content on its packaging.

Available chocolate brands (and flavors) at Formaggio Kitchen:

  1. Amedei (white chocolate with pistachios, milk chocolate with hazelnuts, Chuao)–$7.95 – $17.95
  2. Aynouse L’artesa (pure cacao, olive oil, fondant 65%, bitter orange, bitter 85%)–$7.95
  3. Chocolat Moderne —$8.95
  4. EHChocolatier (coconutty bar, peanut butter crunch bar) —$10.95
  5. Dick Taylor (brown butter with nibs and sea salt, black fig, fleur de sel, northerner blend) —$7.95 – $8.95
  6. Donna Elvira (pistachio, Modicana style, Pepperoncino, Mascobado, Cobaita) —$5.95 – $8.95
  7. Madre chocolate (coconut milk and caramelized ginger) —$11.95
  8. Marou (72, 74, 76, 78 single origin dark chocolate) —$2.95, 0.8 oz
  9. Mayana (kitchen sink bar, fix bar, space bar, haute and spicy–made specially for FK) —$8.95
  10. Poco Dolce (Assorted tiles, Aztec Chili tiles, Burnt Caramel tiles) —$23.95
  11. Potomac (San Martin 65 Milk, San Martin 70 dark + salt, 70 dark) —$8.95
  12. Pump Street Bakery (Rye Crumb milk & sea salt, Honduras bread and butter, sourdough and sea salt 66%) —$9.25
  13. Ritual (Belize, Fleur de Sel, Madagascar, Ecuador, Midmountain) —$7.95 – $11.95
  14. Romanengo Amaro (62% and milk) —$16.95
  15. Rózsavölgyi Csokoládé (green spices & matcha tea in white chocolate with lemon oil, caramelized lavender flowers in milk chocolate with star anise, cardamom dark chocolate) —$10.95
  16. Somerville chocolate (lapsang souchocolate, hops infused dark milk, Nicaraguan 70%) —$9.95 – $11.95
  17. Taza (chocolate disks: vanilla, chipotle chili, guajillo chili, coffee, super dark, caca puro, cinnamon, salted almond) –$5.50
  18. Venchi (cremino fondente, chocolate cigars-orange and chocolate, aromatic cocoa, nougatine) —$10.95

In-Depth Analysis of the Chocolate Bars:

Colors and Images:

The majority of the chocolate bars at Formaggio Kitchen had higher quality, and often more elaborate, packaging than industrially produced chocolate. For some bars, the color of the packaging, black in the case of the Amedei Chuao bar, or the lettering, metallic in the case of the Maraou and Ritual bars, conveyed its premium status.

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In the case of Chocolat Moderne’s chocolate bars, the clear packaging made visible the vibrant colors infused in the chocolate bar. The intention behind the clear packaging is illuminated by Chocolat Moderne’s mission “to create visually stunning, hand-crafted confections […]” on the Meet the Chocolatier note featured at Formaggio Kitchen.
Supporting Chocolat Moderne’s aforementioned notion of chocolate as a medium of art, a Rózsavölgyi Csokoládé bar declared: “We don’t consider ourselves to be only bean-to-bar chocolate makers, but artists as well. We look at chocolate as an art material, and attempt to surprise and entertain out customers through our chocolates.”

Taza’s stone-grounding and use of chilis in their chocolate most explicitly identifies with the Mesoamerican cultural origin of chocolate and cacao (Norton 2006:684). As indigenous societies did, some of the chocolate bars, including EHChocolatier and Marou, glorified chocolate’s primary ingredient, through their inclusion of on the cacao pod on the package. Some bars, such as Madre, highlighted additional ingredients in their bars, such as coconut and ginger.

Place of cacao’s origin versus place of chocolate manufacture:

The place of manufacture of chocolate and the origin of its primary ingredient, cacao, are not always the same. While cacao can only grow near the equator, the manufacture of chocolate is not bound to any region.

Prior to the rise of industrial chocolate makers, such as Hershey or Mars, the practice of advertising the place of origin of the cacao beans used to make chocolate was common among European artisanal chocolate makers (Leissle 2013: 22). Over time, however, the place of manufacture overshadowed the place of the cacao’s origin as taste was linked to European national palettes (Leissle 2013: 23). Considering Europeans are the largest importers and processors of cacao and consume the most chocolate per capita in the world (Martin & Sampeck 2016:37), I was not surprised to find that chocolates manufactured in Europe were well represented at Formaggio Kitchen: Hungary (Rózsavölgyi Csokoládé); Italy (Amedei; Donna Elvira; P. Romanengo Amaro; Venchi); Spain (Aynouse L’artesa); United Kingdom (Pump Street Bakery).

For some European brands, the culture of the European place of manufacture was reinforced through the use of the corresponding language on the packaging (e.g., Amedei—Italian, Aynouse L’artesa—Catalan, Rózsavölgyi Csokoládé-—Hungarian). The bars that included multiple language translations, such as English, on the package reflect how globalized the chocolate industry is.

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Although crafted in Saigon, Vietnam, the use of French (“Faiseurs de chocolat”) on the Marou chocolate bar doubly alludes to the bar’s French manufacturers as well as the history of cacao in Vietnam. France was the one to introduce cacao to Vietnam—the only Asian country represented in the Formaggio Kitchen chocolate section, in the 19th century (Marou Chocolate 2013).

Meanwhile, it was not until the turn of the 21st century that a significant number of small batch chocolate makers began to appear in the United States. Since 2005, “more than thirty fine flavor chocolate brands have been founded in the United States,” (Williams & Eber 2012:155-156). The chocolate bars crafted in the United States, grouped by their specific state of origin, included:

  • California: Dick Taylor, Poco Dolce
  • Hawaii: Madre Chocolate
  • Massachusetts: EHChocolatier, Somerville Chocolate, Taza
  • New York: Chocolat Moderne
  • Virginia: Potomac
  • Wisconsin: Mayana

Of the American craft chocolates, Madre chocolate highlighted its Hawaiian culture by featuring the Hawaiian word chocolate, or kokoleka, on the bar.

At Formaggio Kitchen, Donna Elvira, Madre chocolate, and Pump Street Bakery identified themselves as being bean-to-bar on their chocolate bars.

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For bean-to-bar chocolates, the flavor and quality of the chocolate bar is tied to their batch number, listed on the package. Although not pictured, Donna Elvira, Madre, Potomac, and P. Romanengo Amaro chocolate bars also listed their batch numbers. 

Ultimately, the place where the chocolate was manufactured was more heavily advertised than the place of origin of the cacao beans used. Among the chocolate bars that included the place of origin of the cacao beans, an underrepresentation of West African cacao was evident. In general, fine chocolate makers favor Criollo and Trinitario varieties, primarily found in the Central America and the Caribbean, over Forastero breeds, the majority of which are in West Africa (Leissle 2013:23). The gap is significant because 70% of cacao exports are West African, but only 4% of artisan chocolates use West African cacao.

Ingredients, Health Labels, and Social Awareness:

“Many of these US manufacturers may be small, but they have been driving recent changes for the better in the industry: Change the world—make better chocolate. They pride themselves on direct and transparent trade, paying top dollar for the best beans, speaking out against forced labor, investing in education, and making chocolate that tastes nothing like the multinational mass-market brands,” (Williams & Eber 2012: 156).

In response to growing consumer consciousness, many chocolate bars advertised the certified quality of their ingredients, health information, environmental concern, and social consciousness. Research by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations shows that demand for organic cocoa and chocolate has risen (Williams & Eber 2012: 197-198). In addition, fine chocolate makers have adjusted their products to meet the rising demand for lactose-free, sugar-free, and high-cocoa-content chocolate options from consumers (Williams & Eber 2012:185). Notably, some chocolate brands choose to explicitly label their dark chocolate as vegan and gluten-free even though dark chocolate, in general, is inherently vegan and gluten-free (Williams & Eber 2012:185). The following certifications and health-related labels were featured on some of the chocolate bars at Formaggio Kitchen:

  • Dairy-Free: Amedei, Marou
  • Gluten-Free: Amedei, Aynouse L’artesa, Marou, Potomac
  • GMO-Free: Poco Dolce
  • Kosher: Amedei
  • No soy lecithin added: Romanengo Amaro
  • Nut-free: Potomac
  • Soy-free: Marou, Potomac
  • Organic ingredients: Potomac (cacao); Ritual (organic cacao, organic cane sugar, cocoa butter), Rózsavölgyi Csokoládé (cocoa beans, organic cane sugar, organic cocoa butter, cardamom)
  • Organic chocolate: Taza
  • Vegan: Ritual

As evidenced above, demands from consumers extend to the specific ingredients used in the making of chocolate. In contrast to an industrially produced chocolate bar, such as a Hershey’s bar, most craft chocolate bars have higher cocoa content and lower sugar content. I found that the purity of the chocolate bars is conveyed through the simplicity of their ingredients—no artificial sweeteners, emulsifiers, or unrecognizable ingredients were listed on the small batch bars. Ritual and Rózsavölgyi Csokoládé also expressed environmental awareness through a “Please recycle” request and a “We support the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International” sticker, respectively. Similarly, Taza advertises its participation in Direct Trade.

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Chocolate brands may choose to advertise multiple certifications to catch the range of concerns of consumers may have.

Lastly, a few of the chocolate bars asserted their quality taste through the inclusion of national and international awards: Chocolat Moderne’s (sofi Gold Award 2012, 2013); Pump Street BakeryInternational Chocolate Awards; Madre (Northwest Chocolate Festival 2014 Gold); and Mayana (Food and Wine Editors Top 10).

Concluding Thoughts:

In a study comparing taste preferences for different combinations of fat and sugar, 7.6% sugar with cream containing 24.7% fat was deemed to be the most desired (Benton 2004: 214). Although the sugar content of chocolate tends to be higher than the ideal figure, the widespread attraction of chocolate can be attributed to how closely it resembles the fat-to-sugar content of foods perceived to be the best tasting (Benton 2004:214).

When it comes to optimal palatability, chocolate is nearly perfect. Because most chocolate tastes good by virtue of their composition, I asked one of the employees at Formaggio Kitchen about how their chocolate buyers choose the chocolates in their inventory. She shared, ” Our manager and chocolate buyer do a lot of tastings and attend the sofi awards. Often, when they travel, they’ll find something they like and we end up getting it. They are always looking for something unique and different.” Formaggio Kitchen’s personalized notes asserted the unique tastes of their selection of chocolate bars without attention drawn to the final price of the bar. Concurrently, the chocolate makers represented at Formaggio Kitchen presented the quality of their chocolate through ornate packaging, place of manufacture, origin of cacao beans, certified quality of their ingredients, health information, environmental concern, and social consciousness, and awards.

Still, one must be aware that the chocolate found at Formaggio Kitchen may be financially unsustainable or even inaccessible to average consumers. Most chocolates at Formaggio Kitchen cost anywhere from just under $8 to over $20. This price range is may be at least 8x the cost of $0.99 chocolate bars at convenience stores. Furthermore, because the selection of chocolates available at Formaggio Kitchen is not available at convenience stores or most supermarkets, the intended customer is one that is educated about the source of their food, willing and able to pay a higher price for their food, and interested in discovering unfamiliar food products. Therefore, while price may not be important when it comes to proclaiming the quality of chocolates at Formaggio Kitchen, it does matter when it comes to the accessibility of these small batch chocolates.

Works Cited

Benton, David. 2004. “The Biology and Psychology of Chocolate Craving.” pp. 205-218.

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

Marou Chocolate. 2013. Published on Jul 20, 2013. http://marouchocolate.com/post/55951688118/history

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

Norton, Marcy. 2006. “Tasting Empire: Chocolate and the European Internalization of Mesoamerican Aesthetics.” The American Historical Review 111 (3): 660-691.

Williams, Pam and Jim Eber. 2012. Raising the Bar: The Future of Fine Chocolate. pp. 141-209.

An Experiment to Test Chocolate Preference

To test chocolate preferences, I conducted an experiment on my friends by having them taste a wide variety of chocolates. They didn’t know that they were part of an experiment. They were only told that I was holding a chocolate tasting as part of a course I was taking and I wanted them to rank their preference of each of 7 chocolates, or cacao nibs, from 1 to 7 (1 being the best). Three of my friends were not raised in America which provided some interesting information on the differences in chocolate preference between Americans and people from other parts of the world. Through my experiment I discovered how texture, Fair Trade or organic labels, gourmet or artisan labels, and the distinct taste of Hershey’s chocolate affected preferences.

In an attempt to set up a controlled experience with as little changing variables as possible, I decided to make all the samples I gave my friends look exactly the same. I melted down the 6 types of chocolate bars I bought and molded them using the brown mold pictured below. I did not want my friend’s preferences to be affected by product names or the shape/appearance of the chocolate.

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I presented the chocolates in the same way to everyone, as pictured below. The only noticeable difference between the chocolates was that the chocolate on the left side of the plate was obviously milk chocolate. I kept my samples in plastic bags with the original packaging, as seen in the picture, to ensure that I did not mix up the samples that now looked exactly the same. My friends did not see me set up the plates so they had no way of knowing if I was telling the truth about the chocolates they were eating during the tasting.

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I randomly assigned my 8 friends to two separate groups, Group A and Group B. Sometimes I switched two chocolates on the tasting plate for a particular group. This meant that as I was leading the tasting, I was telling one group that they were eating one type of chocolate when they were really eating another. I did this so I could see if what I said to them about the chocolates had any affect on how much they liked them. I gave each friend a tasting form and a tastes “cheat sheet,” pictured below.

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My cheat sheet was inspired by chocolate tastings done in class and Stuckey’s explanation of the five tastes: “… the only five tastes we Homo sapiens can detect using our tongue alone [are] sweet, sour, bitter, salt, and umami… These tongue sensations are known as the five Basic Tastes” (5). I gave my friends minimal information about the chocolate on the tasting sheets. I left a spot for them to rank the chocolates and another spot for them to write their general thoughts on the chocolate’s taste. As I led the tasting, I explained what any possibly unfamiliar words meant, like Fair Trade, organic, non-GMO, single origin, gourmet. Per recommendations from class, I had my friends taste things in order of highest cacao content to lowest. I decided to include cacao nibs in my tasting as an interesting difference from all the chocolate. I figured that most of my friends had never had cacao nibs so I was eager to see their reactions. The Cacao nibs are pictured below.

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From my friends’ reactions during the debriefing at the end of the experiment, they had no idea that I had lied about which chocolates I gave them. This leads me to believe that my data should be significant. Before I present my data, I will discuss each of the chocolates I used in my tasting, excluding the cacao nibs which I have already mentioned. I used two 80% chocolates which I switched for the groups. One of the chocolates was Taza’s 80% cacao and the other was Equal Exchange’s single origin chocolate from Panama with 80% cacao. The second line on my chocolate tasting sheet describes Equal Exchange’s chocolate while the third line describes Taza’s. I did not switch the fourth chocolate on my tasting sheet for the groups. This chocolate was Equal Exchange’s single origin chocolate from Peru with 71% cacao. Next I had Valrhona’s gourmet, single origin chocolate from Madagascar with 64% cacao (line 5) and Hershey’s dark chocolate (line 6). From my research, Hershey’s dark chocolate has approximately the same cacao percentage as the Valrhona chocolate I chose. Lastly, I gave the groups different milk chocolates with approximately the same percentage cacao. One group received Hershey’s milk chocolate while the other received a milk chocolate meant for chocolate fountains (pictured in the first image). Below are the rankings that my friends gave to each of these chocolates.

Cacao nibs: [2, 3, 4, 4, 5, 5, 6, 7]

Taza: [1, 2, 5, 6, 7, 7, 7, 7]

Equal Exchange 80%: [1, 1, 2, 3, 4, 4, 4, 6]

Equal Exchange 71%: [2, 2, 2, 3, 3, 3, 4, 4]

Hershey’s Dark: [1, 1, 1, 1, 3, 5, 5, 6]

Valrhona: [1, 2, 2, 3, 3, 5, 5, 6]

Hershey’s milk: [6, 6, 6, 7]

Milk fountain chocolate: [2, 4, 5, 7]

From my data, the fair trade, organic and single origin labels did not seem to have any significant impact on chocolate preference. There were varying preferences for the four chocolates that had these labels (Taza, Equal Exchange, and Valrhona). This is interesting given what I read about “Perceptions of the Fairtrade label”:  “thanks in part to the numerous sensitisation campaigns, the Fairtrade label has become increasingly well known. Likewise, the purchase of FT products continues to grow at enviable rates… 50 per cent of people are familiar with the Fairtrade label. Beyond this, various opinion polls also showed that consumers are increasingly aware of the potential consequences of their consumption rates” (Sylla, “The marketing success of FT: some figures). Sylla suggests that increased education about Fair Trade has caused an “enviable” increase in the sale of fair trade products. One can deduce that an increased sale means an increased preference. The ranging ratings of my friends for Fair Trade chocolates (Equal Exchange and Taza), suggest that there is not really a correlation between a chocolate having a Fair Trade label and a higher preference for that chocolate.

Another interesting result in my data was the general feelings about Taza chocolate. Taza chocolate is different from most chocolate because it is stone ground, with the end result of a higher particle size in the chocolate. Part of the reason that chocolate became more popular was the introduction of machines that could grind chocolate into smaller particles, which might explain why my friends did not generally like it. Only 2 of my 8 friends liked Taza, while 4 out of my 8 friends liked it the least of all the samples (including the cacao nibs). There was actually more general dislike for Taza chocolate than the “bitter” cacao nibs. 7 out of my 8 friends described it as “grainy,” “gritty,” or “powdery.” In my mind, these are not positive adjectives for chocolate. I believe it is safe to say that people tend not to like higher particle size chocolates.

One fascinating result from my experiment was the reactions to Hershey’s chocolate. D’Antonia describes how Hershey’s chocolate differs from other chocolates and played a large role in shaping the chocolate preferences of Americans: “Hershey’s milk chocolate… carries a single, faintly sour note. This slight difference is caused by the fermentation of milk fat, an unexpected side effect… Anyone who knew Swiss milk chocolate… may have found Hershey’s candy unpleasant… Hershey’s milk chocolate… would also come to define the taste of chocolate for Americans” (108). The most striking result from my experiment was that 4 out of the 5 Americans chose Hershey’s dark chocolate as their favorite chocolate from the samples. This makes sense given what D’Antonio says, but it is particularly interesting given that milk is an ingredient in Hershey’s dark chocolate, unlike the other dark chocolate samples I tested. The non-Americans gave Hershey’s dark a lower rating (3, 5, and 5).

I included one expensive, gourmet chocolate in my tasting to see if there would be a general preference towards the chocolate. Williams and Beer explain that many consumers cannot recognize the improvements with gourmet or artisan chocolate, asking the question: “So, can consumers learn to slow down, taste, explore, and value the costly complexity of fine flavor?” (146). From my experiment, the answer to this question appears to be no. The very varied rankings of the gourmet chocolate indicate that my friends did not have any particular preference toward it.

Through my experiment I discovered that Americans and non-Americans definitely have different preferences for chocolate. Americans tend to prefer Hershey’s chocolate over other chocolates. Labels like Fair Trade and organic do not seem to have a significant impact on preferences but this might be due to lack of education. The particle size of chocolate also appears to play a big role in preference. Lastly, it is safe to say that people have not yet learned to appreciate the taste of more expensive artisan and gourmet chocolates.

 

Sources:

D’Antonio, Michael D. 2006. Hershey: Milton S. Hershey’s Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams. pp. 106-126.

Stuckey, Barb. 2012. Taste: What You’re Missing. pp. 1-30, 132-156.

Sylla, Ndongo. 2014. The Fair Trade Scandal.

Williams, Pam and Jim Beer. 2012. Raising the Bar: The Future of Fine Chocolate. pp. 141-209.

 

Multimedia sources:

All images were taken by me.

Chocolate and Class in the Twenty-First Century: An Analysis and Tasting/Conversation

From its origins, chocolate has been linked to notions of class, and, in particular, chocolate has been associated with upper class culture. Elites, from Mesoamerica to Baroque Europe, have been principal consumers of chocolate, devoted to perfecting the preparation and consumption of the commodity. For example, the European nobility built a complex material and social culture around chocolate, crafting specialized objects and recipes to enhance the quality and presentation of chocolate. (Coe and Coe, 125) However, as the historiography contends, from the late nineteenth to early twentieth century, with mass production technologies and the rise of companies such as Hershey’s and Mars, chocolate was transformed from an elite privilege to a cheap commodity consumed widely throughout society, and sold at every corner store in America and throughout much of the world.

In my project, I seek to examine the extent to which chocolate remains linked to class, and re-evaluate the narrative that chocolate was transformed from an elite privilege into a universally consumed staple food, and today exists simply as a symbol of our universal sweet tooth. While the industrialization of food enabled chocolate to be consumed by the whole of society, I contend that recent trends in the chocolate industry, specifically the growth in fine chocolate producers and the increasing differentiations between different brands and products, particularly the new emphasis on Fair Trade, organic, single origin, and artisan, have cemented distinctions in food consumption as indicators of class and identity. By further analyzing the contemporary link between chocolate and class, we can learn more about food as a social differentiator, and individual consumption preferences.

The industrialization of food, and particularly the developments of preservation, mechanization, retailing and transportation, were central to democratizing access to food (Goody). Indeed, these innovations and “culinary modernism” generally  “has provided…the food of the elite at a price everyone could afford” (Laudan, 40).  However, the growing distinctions between different chocolate producers and types of chocolate, as I explored with a tasting and interviews with Harvard students, indicate the extent to which chocolate functions as a differentiator of class and consumers’ preferences for particular chocolates, show social identity.

“Taste has come to play a role in defining social ranking and identity… Taste as an aesthetic has become a sign of privilege” – Julie Guthman, Fast Food/Organic Food: Reflexive Tastes and the Making of “Yuppie Chow,” p. 497

Pierre Bordieu, French sociologist, anthropologist and author of Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste, contended that “cultural consumption are predisposed, consciously and deliberately or not, to fulfill a social function of legitimating social differences” (Bordieu, 7). In this vein of thought, Julie Guthman argues that the growth of the organic industry was driven by “gentrification and the class differentiation that necessarily entailed” (Guthman, 497). The growth of the artisan chocolate industry, including organic chocolate, has been driven by similar factors, as producers recognize the opportunity to earn a devoted customer base by catering to an upper-class clientele who are inclined to consume distinctly “high-end” foods that separate them from, as one survey/tasting participant put it, “the Hershey’s consuming public.” For American producers, the craft business can be lucrative and satisfying, and allow them to compete in the international economy as they turn to gourmet shops, specialty stores, and community gatherings to target the bourgeois market and capitalize on the eagerness of more affluent Americans to buy specialized food (Eber, 155).

As Jim Eber notes in Raising the Bar: the Future of Fine Chocolate, there has been a recent explosion in the number of small manufacturers and chocolatiers (Eber, 144) and at the time of the book’s publication (2012), nearly fifty American fine flavor chocolate brands had been established in the past seven years (Eber, 155). Consumers are buying more fine cacao; premium chocolate accounted for $2.9 billion of the $20 billion in US chocolate sales in 2013, with an expected annual growth of 10% (Eber, 167). Author and philosopher Carolyn Korsmeyer argues in Making Sense of Taste: Food and Philosophy that “the pursuit of taste for pleasure alone…seems a frivolous pursuit permitted only to a leisured few” (Korsmeyer, 1). Bordieu, too, argues that it is uniquely the “upper classes, who are more interested in treating food as an art form” (Korsmeyer, 89). The fine chocolate market is driven by the keenness of the wealthiest consumers to “indulge” in a distinctly gourmet treat, and one that is healthier from its mass-market, chemical-filled alternatives.

“Food has become the premier marker of social distinctions, that is to say — social class” – Adam Drewnowski, What Food Says About Class in America

To look further into this issue of chocolate preferences as related to social class and lifestyle, I conducted individual sampling/tastings with twenty Harvard College students. I selected six chocolate bars, and presented all six to each person that I spoke to, carefully explaining the details of each bar, before asking each student to answer a few questions. I asked the students to consider: 1) Are all of these chocolates appealing to you? 2) Which of these chocolates is most appealing to you and why? 3) Which of these chocolates is least appealing to you and why? 4) When choosing a chocolate to consume, what factors determine your preference? before sampling. Students were given the option to sample all six chocolate, but many declined to taste all. Here is a list of the chocolates I used, and the elements about each that I pointed out or read:

  • Hershey’s Milk Chocolate: Purchased at CVS, note the large company logo emblazoned across the front.
  • Divine Dark Chocolate with Mint: Fair Trade label, Purchased at Cardullo’s,“Cocoa, vanilla, and sugar in chocolate: traded in compliance with Fairtrade Standards, total 94% of the product’s ingredients,” “Divine chocolate is made with the finest quality Fairtrade cocoa beans from Kuapa Kokoo, a co-operative of small-holder farmers in Ghana. The cocoa is grown in the shade of the tropical rainforest, and slowly fermented and dried in the sun by the farmers, who take great pride in the chocolate company they co-own.”
  • Mast Goat Milk Chocolate: Purchased at Cardullo’s,“Goat Milk Chocolate: Made in New York,” “60% Cacao, Cane Sugar, Cocoa Butter, Goat Milk Powder”
  • Taza 70% Dark Stone Ground Organic Chocolate: Purchased at Cardullo’s,USDA Organic label, Taza Direct Trade Certified Cacao label, Non GMO Project Verified label, Certified Gluten-Free label, Dairy Free, Soy Free, Vegan Label, “Dominican Republic Single Origin,” “Organic,” “We keep the bean in the bar. We make stone ground, organic chocolate, Cacao is so complex in flavor that we want to let it shout loud and proud. That is why we do less to bring you more. We stone grind cacao beans into perfectly unrefined, minimally processed chocolate with bold flavor and texture, unlike anything you have ever tasted.”
  • Dolfin 38% Cacao: Purchased at Cardullo’s, “Made in Belgium,” “The Art of Blending, Natural & Tasty, Tradition & Quality,”
  • Dove Dark Chocolate: Purchased at CVS, Rainforest Alliance Certified Cocoa label, “Our special patented and proprietary Cocoapro process helps retain much of the naturally occurring cocoa flavanols.”

Fast food and organic/slow food are posed as class binaries (Guthman, 506). Likewise, as articulated through readings and demonstrated by my tastings and conversations with Harvard students, mass-market chocolates, such as Hershey’s and Dove, are perceived in opposition to “fine chocolate.” While the Harvard students I spoke with were not necessarily clear about the specific differences between different types of chocolate, they unanimously preferred the more expensive Mast, Divine, Dolfin, and Taza bars — I did not disclose exact price to my student subjects, although the different presentations of the bars serve as an indication of price —  to the CVS-distributed Hershey’s and Dove varieties. When discussing the difference between these two groups, in relation to the chocolates we tasted, students used descriptors like “organic,” “better quality,” “artisanal,” “healthier,” “better for the environment and the world,” and “fair trade” to articulate why they preferred the above. “I prefer chocolate with a high quality reputation, whatever that means,” one student remarked when asked about his consumption preferences. “If someone offered me Hershey’s for free, like you are doing right now, I would never take it,” another added.

Most students selected their preferred chocolate on the basis of packaging, labeling, and/or percentage of cacao. Commentary included: “Either the Dolfin or Mast chocolate. Cute wrappers,” “I definitely prefer the pink one because it looks the best from the packaging,” and “I think I will like the Mast chocolate because the design is simplistic and modern.”

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Student holds up her preferred chocolates, selected on the basis that they “seem the most natural.”

Angelo Agostoni, President of Italian chocolate producer ICAM, notes a recent “purist trend,” in which consumers have a preference for a “single origin, a bean type or a percentage of cacao” (Eber, 161). Many participants that I spoke to claimed that the main, or only, factor they considered when purchasing or consuming chocolate was the percentage of cacao. “I like to buy dark chocolate, at least 60 percent cacao,” one remarked. Participants did not seem as concerned with the origin of the cacao. “Other than the percentage, I don’t care about specific factors of the chocolate, like what country it comes from,” said another.

Curtis Vreeland of Vreeland & Associates, confectionary industry leader in market research and analysis, notes that premium chocolate is considered to be “chocolate selling for greater than $8.00 a pound… qualitative factors: better quality ingredients, better execution, upscale packaging etc” (Eber, 168). Are these distinctions significant beyond the price differential and their appeal to the high-end consumer? While fine cacao or fine chocolate is indeed sold at a higher price based on perceived quality (Martin, “Popular sweet tooths or scandal”),  as we discussed in lecture, Fairtrade, Direct Trade, and organic certifications do not necessarily indicate a higher quality product. During my chocolate tasting, a participant recognized that her partiality for so-called natural or healthier products was likely grounded in rhetorical appeal, rather than objective quality distinction. After expressing her preference for the Taza bar, she noted the effectiveness of the slogan “Stone ground chocolate.” “Stone ground chocolate makes me think that the Taza chocolate is natural and artisanal, even though for all I know, all chocolate could be stone ground, or the stone grinding could have absolutely no effect on the taste of the chocolate,” she admitted.

As the commentary of my sample population of the Harvard student body indicates, the presentation of chocolate, including the retail channel, brand name, package design, information included on the packaging, phrasing of the information, and any included labels signal to the consumer whether or not the chocolate bar is one that they would want to consume, without any awareness of the taste of the actual product, or, in fact, perhaps despite the taste. A participant, who initially expressed her preference for the Divine bar, remarked that although she had not tried the brand before, “I like the Fair Trade aspect and not all the processed junk in it.” Upon sampling the Divine chocolate, she did not like the taste of the mint as much as she expected. However, she still asserted that she would prefer to eat the Divine bar over the Hershey’s bar, despite the fact that she preferred the taste of the Hershey’s. “I don’t want to eat a chocolate that I can’t imagine being sold at Whole Foods, such as Hershey’s. And even if I prefer the taste, I also assume that there are a ton of unhealthy chemicals that I don’t want to put in my body.” One student cited the relative difficulty of reading the list of ingredients in a Hershey’s bar as a concern: “You have to really fold back the flap and open the wrapper to read the list.”

For higher-income, highly educated consumers concerned with the consumption of socially conscious, healthy, or natural products, of which I will classify the population of Harvard students that I sampled as generally falling under, presentation and labeling are paramount. However, according to fine flavor industry experts, “up to 90% of what you read on the average chocolate package is “marketing” (or “lies” or “propaganda”)” (Eber, 169). Additionally, there are several major issues with certification labels specifically: certification is very costly for many farmers (who must bear a significant portion of the costs themselves) to obtain, and furthermore, there is little evidence of impact or higher quality associated with certification (Martin, “Alternative trade and virtuous localization/globalization”).

 

Looking to the future, it is important that we recognize the extent to which chocolate preferences, as representative of a larger trend in consumer behavior, are dictated by personal identity, social class, and lifestyle motivations, and the degree to which chocolate, like many other foods, is, often falsely, perceived as existing in dichotomy (e.g. mass market vs. fine). For the consumer who can afford to spend over $8 on a chocolate bar, likely in search of a product that is delicious, high quality, natural, healthier, and artisanal, as supported by research and personal inquiry, the presentation of the good is significant. Producers and consumers alike should evaluate the factors that draw an individual to a particular chocolate product to reflect on the influence of social milieu and the realities of the commodity.

Works Cited

Bourdieu, Pierre. Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1984. Print.

Coe, Sophie D. and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. London: Thames & Hudson, 1996. Print.

Goody, Jack. Fast Food/Organic Food: Industrial Food: Towards the Development of a World Cuisine. Ed. Carole Counihan and Penny Van Esterik. New York: Routledge, 1997. 72-88. Print.

Guthman, Julie. Fast Food/Organic Food: Reflexive Tastes and the Making of “Yuppie Chow” Food and Culture: A Reader. Ed. Carole Counihan and Penny Van Esterik. New York: Routledge, 1997. 496-509. Print.

Korsmeyer, Carolyn. Making Sense of Taste: Food and Philosophy. Cornell UP, 2014. Print.

Laudan, Rachel. “A Plea for Culinary Modernism: Why We Should Love New, Fast, Processed Food.” Gastroeconomics: the Journal of Food and Culture 1.1 (2001): 36-44. Web.

Martin, Carla. “Alternative Trade and Virtuous Localization/globalization.” AAAS 119x Lecture. CGIS South, Tsai Auditorium, Cambridge, MA. 6 Apr. 2016. Lecture.

Martin, Carla. “Popular Sweet Tooths and Scandal.” AAAS 119x Lecture. CGIS South, Tsai Auditorium, Cambridge, MA. 24 Feb. 2016. Lecture.

Martin, Carla. “The Rise of Big Chocolate and Race for the Global Market.” AAAS 119x Lecture. CGIS South, Tsai Auditorium, Cambridge, MA. 9 Mar. 2016. Lecture.

Miller, Lisa. “What Food Says About Class in America.” Newsweek 22 Nov. 2010. Web.

Trigg, Andrew B. “Veblen, Bourdieu, and Conspicuous Consumption.” Journal of Economic Issues 35.1 (2001): 99-115. Web.

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

 

 

 

Les Îles Chocolat: Past & Present Impact of Cacao on São Tomé and Príncipe

It would almost appear too simplistic to suggest that the tiny cacao bean could have significantly shaped and impacted a nation’s history. However, in large part, that is exactly what cacao did in São Tomé and Príncipe (São Tomé or STP).[1] Although these tiny islands sometimes bear the sobriquet Les Îles Chocolat––the Chocolate Islands, its dark past is far from tasteful. Today, however, São Tomé is once again part of the chocolate world, but this time as both a grower of cacao and an exporter of fine chocolate.

sao-tome-and-principe-location-on-the-africa-map
São Tomé and Príncipe’s location played a vital role in the Portuguese supply chain of sugar, cacao, and coffee as well as Portuguese empire-building stratagem as it was part of the chain of ports that skirted Africa on their way to the East Indies.(source: www.ontheworldmap.com).

Though initially it was the demand for sugar that intrinsically linked São Tomé to the “European centers of commercial and technical power,”[2] it was cacao that ultimately transformed its politics, topography and demographic. São Tomé was a part of a chain of Portuguese ports skirting west Africa, allowing the Europeans to maintain and secure their highly profitable ties to the spice market of the East Indies.[3] However, the ever-increasing demand for sugar in Europe during the early 1400s precipitated European expansion of sugar production to Atlantic islands, which included São Tomé.[4] By 1485, even before the discovery of the Americas, Portugal forced indentured Jews to both settle and grow sugar cane on the islands.[5] It would not be until 1822, however, that José Ferreira Gomes introduced cacao from Brazil.[6] Twenty years later, approximately 1.5 metric tons of cacao beans were exported, subsequently replacing sugar cane as the primary crop.[7] This led the way for São Tomé to become Africa’s first and largest cacao grower by the early 1900s, significantly increasing its export yield to 36,000 metric tons by 1910, and securing trading contracts with international chocolate giants, including Hershey’s and Cadbury.[8]

As a result of the ever-increasing global demand for cacao, a massive labor force was required to sustain such high levels of production, ultimately transforming São Tomé. Given that these islands were uninhabited prior to European arrival, the Portuguese were heavily reliant on an imported labor force, which was readily supplied by slaves from their west African colonies of Benin, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Equatorial Guinea, and Angola.[9]

By the early 1900s, the journalistic reporting of Henry Nevinson and others began to influence public opinion in Europe regarding the use of slavery in African cacao growing.[10] Nevinson’s contribution vastly impacted both the general reader and other journalists:

Perhaps the most wonderful achievement of this great-hearted man was his exposure of the Portuguese slave trade in Angola and the Cocoa Islands [São Tomé and Príncipe]… He made a lonely journey through the dense forests of Central Africa following the dolorous way by which the slaves were taken to captivity as horrible as any recorded in human history.[11]

Nevinson’s works were collected and published in his book, A Modern Slavery (1906), “which aroused the conscience of this [UK] and other countries and brought him the only reward he sought––the abolition of the system within a few years”.[12] Cadbury’s procurement of STP cacao was exposed, sparking public outcry, forcing Cadbury and the other major European companies to divest from São Tomé.[13] Shockingly, Hershey’s, however, not only continued its procurement of São Tomé cacao without any demands for change, they furthermore took over all of Cadburby’s prior accounts, thus consolidating their cacao supply in the islands.[14] Though it has been suggest by Sydney Mintz that the demand for sugar was the main force driving the need of slavery during the colonial era,[15] it was the demand for cacao, however, that was the primary cause that prolonged slavery well into the 1960s, over 100 years after the British Slavery Abolition Act of 1833.[16]

enslaved-man
This photo depicts an Angolan slave awaiting transport to São Tomé. They were often left for days before being collected by plantation owners (source: www.chocoalateclass.wordpress.com).

Today, São Tomé is home to one of the world’s finest producers of chocolate. After STP’s independence in 1975, cacao plantations were virtually abandoned. And the 1997 discovery of oil was made cacao growing even less relevant to its economy. However, as result of the civil wars in Zaire––present day Democratic Republic of the Congo, an Italian agronomist by the name of Claudio Corallo relocates to São Tomé in the 1990s, initially to grow coffee.[17] Yet, it was cacao that captured his imagination, sparking his dream to restore São Tomé’s cacao growing heritage.[18] After two decades, and the restoration of two plantations, São Tomé is now not only once again growing cacao, but it is furthermore producing some of the world’s finest chocolate, allowing São Tomé to proudly don one of its more endearing names––the Chocolate Islands. (The below video from the BBCTWO’s Full on Food features Claudio Corallo’s cacao growing and fine chocolate making in São Tomé).

sao_tome_12
Today São Tomé cacao growers are now part of the finished product. This photo captures how the local work force is now part of the fine chocolate-making (source: www.stpauls.it).

The significance of the cacao as a high demand food drug played a large part in shaping the history, economy and politics of many former European colonies, arguably São Tomé’s most of all. Human settlement was initiated on the islands for the production of another food drug, sugar, then perpetuated by the establishment of cacao plantations to further satiate the global consumption of stimulant foods. It is a bitter truth that unfree labor persists today in cacao growing nations, and thus a closer examination must be given to the social issues surrounding the labor rights and treatment of cacao growers, not only in African nations such as São Tomé, but the world over. We must learn from the good practices of conscientious chocolate makers such as Claudio Corallo who have brought a massive turnaround to the Chocolate Islands’ cacao and chocolate heritage if we  wish to support a truly fair and sweet tasting industry.

[1] The official name is the Democratic Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe; its official UN ISO3 abbreviation is STP, see “Country Codes/Names,” United Nations, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, (2016), http://www.fao.org/countryprofiles/iso3list/en/#.
[2] Sidney W. Mintz, Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History (New York: Penguin Books, 1986), 31.
[3] Bamber Gascoigne, “HISTORY OF SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA,” History World, accessed March 11, 2016, http://www.historyworld.net/wrldhis/PlainTextHistories.asp?gtrack=pthc&ParagraphID=gprb#gprb.
[4] Mintz, Sweetness and Power, 31.
[5] Leonard John Schwarz, Cocoa in São Tomé and Príncipe, Trade Promotion Series 138 (US Government Printing Office, 1932), 1.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Gascoigne, “HISTORY OF SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA.”
[10] Carla D Martin, “Lecture 6: Slavery Abolition and Forced Labor” (Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food, Harvard University, March 9, 2016).
[11] Howard J Whitehouse, “Henry Nevinson,” The Contemporary Review 161, no. 44 (January 1, 1942): 2, http://search.proquest.com.ezp-prod1.hul.harvard.edu/docview/1294586004?rfr_id=info%3Axri%2Fsid%3Aprimo.
[12] Ibid., 1.
[13] Martin, “Lecture 6: Slavery Abolition and Forced Labor.”
[14] Ibid.
[15] Mintz, Sweetness and Power.
[16] Martin, “Lecture 6: Slavery Abolition and Forced Labor.”
[17] “About Us,” Claudio Corallo Cacao & Coffee, accessed March 12, 2016, http://www.claudiocorallo.com/index.php?lang=en&Itemid=831.
[18] Ibid.

Work Cited

“About Us.” Claudio Corallo Cacao & Coffee. Accessed March 12, 2016. http://www.claudiocorallo.com/index.php?lang=en&Itemid=831.
“African Slaves Sail for São Tomé.” Blog. Chocolate Class. Accessed March 12, 2016. https://chocolateclass.files.wordpress.com/2015/02/screen-shot-2015-03-12-at-7-11-13-pm.png.
Batista de Sousa, Izequiel. Sao Tomé et Principe de 1485 à 1755, Une Société Coloniale: du Blanc au Noir. Mondes Lusophones. Paris: L’Harmattan, 2008.
BBC TWO. Claudio Corallo Chocolate. Full on Food. BBC TWO, 2004. https://youtu.be
/v4gz9yqlDv0.
Butcher, Tim. “Cocoa Passion on Oil-Rich Island.” News. BBC News, July 24, 2004. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programmes/from_our_own_correspondent/3920167.stm.
Chern, C. J., and E. Beutler. “Biochemical and Electrophoretic Studies of Erythrocyte Pyridoxine Kinase in White and Black Americans.” American Journal of Human Genetics 28, no. 1 (January 1976): 9–17.
Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. Third edition. London: Thames & Hudson, 2013.
“Country Codes/Names.” United Nations. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2016. http://www.fao.org/countryprofiles/iso3list/en/#.
Gascoigne, Bamber. “HISTORY OF SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA.” History World. Accessed March 11, 2016. http://www.historyworld.net/wrldhis/PlainTextHistories.asp?gtrack=pthc&ParagraphID=gprb#gprb.
Martin, Carla D. “Lecture 6: Slavery Abolition and Forced Labor.” presented at the Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food, Harvard University, March 9, 2016.
Melik, James. “Slave Island Ignites Chocolate Passion.” BBC News. Accessed March 11, 2016. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/3935769.stm.
Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York: Penguin Books, 1986.
Ponting, Clive. World History: A New Perspective. Pimlico 486. London: Pimlico, 2001.
“Sao Tome and Principe | Chocolate Class.” Accessed March 11, 2016. https://chocolateclass.wordpress.com/tag/sao-tome-and-principe/.
“Sao Tome and Principe Location on the Africa Map.” Maps. On The World Map. Accessed March 11, 2016. http://ontheworldmap.com/sao-tome-and-principe/sao-tome-and-principe-location-on-the-africa-map.jpg.
Schwarz, Leonard John. Cocoa in São Tomé and Príncipe. Trade Promotion Series 138. US Government Printing Office, 1932.

“The Influence of Public Scrutiny on Cadbury Business Ethics.” Accessed March 11, 2016. https://chocolateclass.wordpress.com/2016/03/09/the-influence-of-public-scrutiny-on-cadbury-business-ethics/.

Whitehouse, Howard J. “Henry Nevinson.” The Contemporary Review 161, no. 44 (January 1, 1942): 4. http://search.proquest.com.ezp-prod1.hul.harvard.edu/docview/1294586004?rfr_id=info%3Axri%2Fsid%3Aprimo.

Bringing Back the Stone Age: A Brief History of the Metate and the Effects on Contemporary Artisanal Food Culture

 

hb_1986.200
Metate: This image illustrates the complexity of metate carvings.

Indigenous Mesoamericans kneel down holding a long stone with a slight curve formed to conform to the large stone slab set beneath them, grinding what looks like dark brown mud into an ever more viscous puree (Presilla 26). The above illustration elicits a picturesque, idealized metate-ground production of chocolate liquor in Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica. In the relatively brief period in which Europeans had managed to wrest control of Theobroma cacao and similar species from the indigenous Mesoamericans, the use and production of metates spread across the globe for the purpose of chocolate liquor production (Presilla, Coe & Coe). The manufacturing of chocolate from pod to drink or food has seen three separate ideological, social, and economical revolutions (Presilla, Coe & Coe). These revolutions have directly related to a particular processing point of the cacao bean: the grinding of the shelled cacao beans in to a viscous paste on a metate (Presilla 26). The metate stone-grinding process has come full circle from the ancient processing method to the now passé idealized food production and processing movement, symbolizing personal and environmental wellbeing (Ray 190-191, Chin et al).

5141164268_ebe4b65d2a_z
metate is being used here to illustrate the rough and gritty beginnings of chocolate liquor.

The metate, a heated stone slab on which roasted, crushed cacao beans were ground into the basic form of chocolate liquor is the foundation upon which most Mesoamerican foodstuffs were processed (Presilla 26). Grinding slabs (metates) and pestles (manos) have a complex history throughout the world in nearly every culture as the basic implements for food processing (Ray 190-191). The preliminary diacritical marker of most modern Mexican metates over that of ‘generic’ grinding slabs is that of its aesthetic composition: “three legs, two in front and one behind” (Aschmann 683). Not only are metates created for utility but also can be decorated; with the advent of modern oil based paints, the metate maker can decorate easily, otherwise he/she would be confronted with the arduous task of chiseling (Cook 1499). This represents a division of appeal in which undecorated metates have wider appeal amongst rural households and/or low income, often gender stratified, households in which the homestead grinding of foodstuffs is seen as more productive than working in a capitalist economy (Cook, “Price and Output”); (Cook, “Stone Tools” 1499). Those metates which are painted or elaborately decorated would be for higher income households/individuals who have income and time available for the artisanal and ritual production of traditional indigenous foods (Preston-Werner).

This latter group of individuals who attempt to embody the traditional indigenous production of food have done so in response to the capitalist industrial mass market economy focused on inexpensive production and uniformity of poor quality foodstuffs particularly those involving cacao (Coe & Coe 233). In “Comparison of antioxidant activity and flavanol content of cacao beans processed by modern and traditional Mesoamerican methods,” an article by Elizabeth Chin…et al, they discovered that the cacao beans of original origin and production in Mesoamerica, particularly washed (lavado) unfermented beans have near double the antioxidants of the Ivory Coast fermented cacao beans, which are popularly used by Hershey (5-6). Ancient Mesoamerican people would have imbibed these higher antioxidant rich cacao products because of local environmental factors which increased the appeal of washed and relatively unfermented cacao beans (Chin et al 6). For further illustration see graph.

metate
Metate carvers are polishing the edges.

“The craftsman, however, would not consider leaving the shady date groves of Comondú for an ugly, hot, dusty mining camp merely to double his income. Likewise there is no attempt to sell at the highest price the traffic will bear. The poor ranchero who comes to town on a burro to buy a metate once in 15 years will get it at the same price as the jobber who guarantees to take entire unsold surplus. The former even receives favored treatment, and will get the first metate made, even though the jobber is ready to haul it to Santa Rosalia that very day. The craftsman gets a satisfaction from putting his product directly in the hands of the consumer.” (686)

 

 

The metate signifies how ancient Mesoamerican tools of food processing continue to shape modern socio-economic and cultural perceptions of artisanal chocolate confectioners.

taza-85-super-dark-mexican-style-stone-ground-chocolate-organic-77g-disk-dated-27-06-15-34760-p
This chocolate claims on its packaging to be stone-ground indicating a niche market in which artisanal chocolatiers utilizing metates are able to capitalize.

Bibliography

Artisan Crafted Metate Sculpture of Pre-Hispanic Blue Iguana, ‘Turquoise Iguana’ 2016. Novica. Web. 19 Feb. 2016.

Aschmann, Homer. “A Metate Maker of Baja, California.” American Anthropologist 51.4 (1949): 682-86. Anthrosource. Web. 19 Feb. 2016.

Ceronne. 2010. Flickr. Web. 19 Feb. 2016.

Chin, Elizabeth, Kenneth B. Miller, Mark J. Payne, W. Jeffery Hurst, and David A. Stuart. “Comparison of Antioxidant Activity and Flavanol Content of Cacao Beans Processed by Modern and Traditional Mesoamerican Methods.” Heritage Science 1.1 (2013): 1-7. SpringerOpen. Web. 19 Feb. 2016.

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

Cook, Scott. “Price and Output Variability in a Peasant-Artisan Stoneworking Industry in Oaxaca, Mexico: An Analytical Essay in Economic Anthropology.” American Anthropologist 72.4 (1970): 776-801. AnthroSource. Web. 19 Feb. 2016.

Cook, Scott. “Stone Tools for Steel-Age Mexicans? Aspects of Production in a Zapotec Stoneworking Industry.” American Anthropologist 75.5 (1973): 1485-503. AnthroSource. Web. 19 Feb. 2016.

Flying Panel Metate. 1986. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. Web. 19 Feb. 2016.

Presilla, Maricel E. The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural and Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. Revised ed. Berkeley: Ten Speed, 2009. Print.

Preston-Werner, Theresa. “4 Breaking Down Binaries: Gender, Art, and Tools in Ancient Costa Rica.” Archeological Papers of the American Anthropological Association 18.1 (2008): 49-59. AnthroSource. Web. 19 Feb. 2016.

Ray, Cyrus N. “Was the American Mano and Metate an Invention Made during Pleistocene Time?” Science 91.2356 (1940): 190-91. JSTOR. Web. 19 Feb. 2016.

Taza 85% Super Dark Mexican Style Stone Ground Chocolate Organic – 77g Disk Dated 22/12/15. 2015. The Stateside Candy Co. Americansweets.co.uk. Web. 19 Feb. 2016.

Terrio, Susan J. “Bibliography Crafting the Culture and History of French Chocolate.” Food and Foodways 10.1-2 (2002): 79-95. RoutledgeTaylor&FrancisOnline. Web. 19 Feb. 2016.

Askinosie Chocolate: The Quintessence of Bean-to-Bar Companies

Introduction
The current variety of chocolate that consumers get to choose from is dizzying and overwhelming. Especially with big chocolate companies like Hershey’s churning out confections by the millions, consumers are constantly bombarded with options. And yet, even with all of these options, we are often left in the dark about our chocolate, and are taught to blindly enjoy this candy churned out by an intimidating machine somewhere out there. But with the rise of food movements such as the organic and fair-trade movements, there has been an increasing trend towards specialty bean-to-bar chocolate. With an increasing demand for organic, local produce, single origin chocolate began to increase its presence. In fact, the American chocolate landscape transformed at the start of the twenty-first century, as bean-to-bar chocolate artisans began to enter the commercial chocolate market (Leissle 23). With this change, It has become fashionable to purchase fair-trade, local, organic, etc. chocolate for the sake of keeping up with the now enviable crowd who consistently shops at places like Whole Foods. However, this movement towards bean-to-bar, single origin chocolate, regardless of whether it’s merely a trend or not, has effectively addressed a demand for high quality and ethical chocolate. While many bean-to-bar companies have sprouted over the past two decades, Askinosie Chocolate stands out as a particularly notable business. Their philosophy seems to be that ethics and goodwill will inevitably lead to high quality, and that high quality will inevitably lead to ethical business practice. Through their business organization and devotion to excellence, Askinosie Chocolate can be seen as an archetype of modern chocolate companies, and of future chocolate companies, providing honest products and full business and process transparency, serving as a stark contrast to the corporate machines that still control most of the chocolate industry.

A Not so Sweet Industry
In order to understand why Askinosie is a model of excellence, it is important to first take a look at some of the problems that plague the current chocolate industry. To start, much of the industry is controlled by large corporations like Hershey’s, Mars, and Nestle. This inevitably raises questions about labor, ranging from fair pay to fair treatment. The infographic below presents a breakdown on the profits of chocolate. The chocolate industry may seem lucrative, but this does not remain true for a key player in the making of chocolate: the cacao farmer. The farmer only profits 3% of the cost of a chocolate bar, and given the intense labor required of cacao cultivation, this is clearly an unjust practice implemented by the hulking corporations that dominate the industry.

From CNN's "Cocoa-nomics explained: Unwrapping the chocolate industry"
From CNN’s “Cocoa-nomics explained: Unwrapping the chocolate industry”

In addition to unfair labor wages, the chocolate industry has been faced with child labor, child slavery, and child trafficking in the production of cocoa. With cacao cultivation labor wages standing at such a low rate, it is unsurprising that farmers have turned to child labor in order to get more productivity at a cheaper cost. Luckily, steps have been taken to alleviate the situation, including the creation of the Harkin-Engel Protocol/Cocoa Protocol. Created in 2001, this international agreement outlines a goal of ending the worst forms of child labor as defined by the International Labor Organization. It places the responsibility on multiple parties ranging from “governments, global industry (comprised of major manufacturers of cocoa and chocolate products as well as other, major cocoa users), cocoa producers, organized labor, non-governmental organizations, and consumers.” (Chocolate Manufacturers Association).
Finally, we come to a question of quality. While this is less of an ethical issue, it is still an issue that is important to any food-related industry. Given how little we pay for a Hershey’s bar, it is obvious that we may not be getting the best quality. In fact, the Food and Drug Administration’s requirements for cacao content in chocolate is rather low, raising the question of what exactly goes into our chocolate, and what could be done better to get a more superior product. As chocolate connoisseur and author Chloe Doutre-Roussel put it, the best mass-market brands can be compared to “the ‘boom boom’ of a jazz drumbeat” and the finer artisan brands to the “rich complexity of a symphony” (Williams & Eber 144). This issue of quality may just be a matter of educating consumers: “What we need to do with chocolate is appreciate the differences between the two-dollar, five-dollar, and ten-dollar bars instead of just producing more and more chocolate the people will not understand.” (Williams & Eber 145). But as we will see with Askinosie Chocolate, quality and the appreciation of fine chocolate is in the hands of both the producer and the consumer.

Askinosie Chocolate
History
Askinosie Chocolate was founded by former criminal defense lawyer, Shawn Askinosie, after realizing that his career was burning him out. With his love of eating chocolate and his lawyer skills, he set out to learn as much as he could about chocolate. He didn’t simply stop at basic production, but learned the botanical, historical, and cultural significance of cacao, and traveled to the Amazon to study the post-harvest techniques of cocoa farmers. From there, he sought to figure out how to use this knowledge and these techniques to create the perfect chocolate flavor. Askinosie chose to experiment by sourcing and importing the beans himself. With a tabletop grinder and a bag of beans, Askinosie and his family created Askinosie Chocolate. To learn more about the start of the company, hear from Shawn Askinosie himself in the video below (“Askinosie Chocolate”).

Bean-to-Bar: The Process Behind Askinosie Chocolate
Askinosie started his business by making a firm decision to source and import the beans himself without any sort of middleman. Askinosie Chocolate sources their cacao beans from four specific locations: Davai in the Philippines, Kyela in Tanzania, Cortes in the Honduras, and San Jose Del Tambo in Ecuador. He personally visits each of these locations to understand the local cultivation of cacao, to learn new techniques, and to make sure that the farmers are in the know. This differs greatly from companies like Hershey’s, in which the origins of their cacao goes so far back in a complicated supply chain that most consumers have no idea where the ingredients came from. In addition, the company outlines their entire 70-step chocolate making process on the website. With Askinosie’s own research and techniques learned from farmers, Askinosie Chocolate claims to have perfected this process to produce an exquisite product. This transparency of process lends a sense of confidence to the consumer that the product has been crafted with pride and careful supervision, assuring consumers that they will have a delicious product that was created through honest means.
Direct Trade: Labor Ethics
“’I actually go source these beans myself on four continents, directly with farmers,’ says Shawn Askinosie, founder of Askinosie Chocolate based in Springfield, Mo. ‘I pay them directly. We pay them above-market prices. Then I go back with my financial statements, translated in whatever language they need, and profit-share with them.” (Shute). When Askinosie decided that his company would be a bean-to-bar company, he also decided that he wanted to treat cocoa famers like business partners instead of isolated figures in an ambiguous supply chain. This direct relationship and information transparency is beneficial for all parties involved. For the farmers, this relationship guarantees that they are being fully compensated for their work and that they don’t have to rely on practices like child labor. For Askinosie and his company, this guarantees that they are getting the highest quality of beans and motivates the farmers to perfect their methods. And unlike fair-trade, there is no potential for third-party oversight. Every party is directly involved in the process, leaving no room for faulty business practices.

The packaging illustrates the bean-to-bar and direct communication philosophy of Askinosie Chocolate
The packaging illustrates the bean-to-bar and direct communication philosophy of Askinosie Chocolate

Business Practice: Ethics at Home
In addition to having an ethical approach to business in regards to trade, Askinosie Chocolate uses the same approach at home in their offices in Missouri. “A Stake in the Outcome” or SITO is a principle used in the Open Book Management business philosophy. It encourages employers to be completely transparent with his/her employees in order to foster a greater sense of ownership in the processes leading up to a goal. As mentioned before, Askinosie implements this practice with farmers by physically visiting the cacao sites and communicating with the farmers and their families in person. Within their offices and their factory, this means going over all financial information and future plans with all employees in order to increase everyone’s stake in the company. SITO is a great summation of the company’s general philosophy and practice of making all information available at all times to every constituent associated with Askinosie Chocolate. There is nothing to hide, and if a problem arises, everyone is aware and ready to fix it.
Education: Chocolate University
Another unique aspect of Askinosie Chocolate is Shawn Askinosie’s dedication to education. It is already clear that the company was founded in the spirit of fairness and giving back, but Askinosie brings that philosophy one step further with what they call Chocolate University. According to their website, “The goal is to inspire students through the lens of artisan chocolate making to be global citizens and embrace the idea that business(es) can solve world problems…The goal is not for these students to become bystanders during a lecture on chocolate making. It’s to provide them with a hands-on experience that takes them from the inner-workings of the factory to the cocoa bean farms across the world” (“Askinosie Chocolate”). This may seem like just another philanthropic tie-in to a business, but it actually contributes a great deal to the world of chocolate. One of the issues with both chocolate production and consumption is that consumers are not educated on the background of cacao cultivation and how those beans go from raw products to chocolate bars. This background is full of historical, sociological, economical, and political nuances. Educating the youth on how chocolate is made, and how it can be made ethically, creates the potential for a future population of educated consumers who will continue to support companies like Askinosie. To learn more about Askinosie’s education ventures, read this article published in O, The Oprah Magazine.

Conclusion
Clearly, Shawn Askinosie has built the pillars of his company to represent and implement upstanding morals. From his small start to his ethically sustainable business model, Askinosie has built a company that combats, to some degree, all of the evils that the modern chocolate industry faces. It seems that the overarching theme of all of his implementations is transparency. From the current discussion, we can see that transparency is a key factor internally: within the company he makes sure that everybody is consistently informed on the status of the company, and outside of the company, at the factories and the farms, transparency is a virtue. By making trips to all of the supplying cacao farms and providing full disclosure financial statements, Askinosie insures that every party is well informed. It is important to note that Askinosie Chocolate also values transparency externally. On their website, they truly provide a comprehensive look at how their company functions. This can be seen from their “Meet the Team” section to the thorough page on their chocolate making process. Askinosie Chocolate should be an example to upcoming bean-to-bar chocolate companies as it strives to have the most ethical business practices, to educate chocolate consumers, and to create delicious chocolate. It stands in protest to the monopolizing big chocolate companies by remaining humble and valuing progress instead of profit.

Resources:
“Askinosie Chocolate.” Askinosie Chocolate. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 May 2014.

Chocolate Manufacturers Association. Harkin-Engel Protocol. 19 Sept. 2001. Protocol for the growing and processing of cocoa beans and their derivative products in a manner that complies with ILO convention 182 concerning the prohibition and immediate action for the elimination of the worst forms of child labor.

Dinardo, Kelly. “A Lesson in Chocolate (and Good Will).” O, Oprah Magazine Feb. 2011: n. pag. Web. 3 May 2014.

Leissle, Kristy. “Invisible West Africa: The Politics of Single Origin Chocolate.” Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture 13.3 (2013): 22-31. Web. 5 May 2014.

Shute, Nancy. “Bean-To-Bar Chocolate Makers Dare To Bare How It’s Done.” NPR.org 14 Feb. 2013: n. pag. Web. 5 May 2014.

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