Tag Archives: askinosie chocolate

Askinosie Chocolate vs DOVE Chocolate

There are two chocolate companies that I am going to describe in detail. There’s Askinsosie and then there’s DOVE. Why am I comparing these two chocolate companies? For one, I work at a coffeeshop that sells Askinosie chocolate, and we use it in our ganache to make things like hot chocolates and mochas. Secondly, I chose DOVE because my grandmother, who is now passed, used to always have DOVE Chocolate in her apartment. As a young child I liked to snag a piece whenever I went to visit. I grew up certain that Dove Chocolate was the best!

When my grandmother first began purchasing DOVE Chocolate, she thought it was a luxurious chocolate brand. Now, there are more sophisticated chocolate brands like Askinosie. Within these chocolate brands are labels as well. These labels, such as Direct Trade and Rainforest Alliance, exist to intrigue customers, help producers market their product, and honor farmers, or so that is what these labels claim.

Within this blog post I will delve deep into what these labels really mean and address the social, economic, and environmental implications of these labels. I will look at the advertising that each company uses, and I will compare the two brands and explain which chocolate brand is more ethical than the other and why.

Let’s start off by describing the chocolate companies’ origins:

Askinosie Chocolate

Askinosie Chocolate was founded by Shawn Askinosie in Springfield, Missouri (“Our Story”). Before he began his chocolate-making career he had another career in law. He was a criminal defense attorney and he practiced law for 20 years (“Our Story”). At the time, he enjoyed his work and was good at it; however, the work he put into his job was causing him undue stress that he worried would eventually kill him (“Our Story”). So, in an attempt to “save his life,” he began looking into different hobbies he could enjoy (“Our Story”).

Five years into his introspective journey, it dawned on him to become a chocolate maker (“Our Story”). As soon as this revelation hit his mind, he quickly began using his industrious work ethic to research information about chocolate: How to make chocolate and where it originates historically, culturally, and botanically (“Our Story”). Shawn Askinosie wanted to create a great product that tantalized the tastebuds of his consumers (“Our Story”).

After his initial research, he realized that making chocolate from bean to bar, meaning making chocolate from the bean and controlling each stage of production to form chocolate, would be tough work (“Our Story”). At the time back in the early 2000’s, there weren’t many bean-to-bar or craft chocolate companies (“Our Story”). By the time he started the company in 2005, he was a pioneer in the world of Direct Trade chocolate as one of the first chocolate makers to buy beans directly from the source: farmers (“Our Story”).

 

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Pictured here are several of Askinosie’s chocolate bars. The string on the top of each chocolate bar comes from the string used in the bags carrying the cacao beans (Forbes).

 

 

DOVE Chocolate

DOVE Chocolate was founded by Greek-American Leo Stefanos in 1939 (DOVE). Originally, DOVE Chocolate was called “Dove Candies & Ice Cream” and resided in Chicago, Illinois (“Dove (Chocolate)”). By the 1950’s, 1956 to be more precise, Leo Stefanos created the DOVE ice cream bar (DOVE). By 1960, DOVE Chocolate reached the UK and there it was rebranded as the Galaxy brand (DOVE). Later in 1986, Mars Inc. bought out the DOVE and Galaxy companies (DOVE).

Since being acquired by Mars Inc., DOVE Chocolate has made amendments in regard to their ethics and sustainability. DOVE Chocolate now works with Rainforest Alliance to certify 100% of its dark chocolate. In addition, through Mars’ Sustainable Cocoa Initiative, the chocolate making producers claim to work more closely with the farmers growing the cacao beans (DOVE).

 

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Here’s a picture of DOVE Chocolate’s dark chocolate bar. All of DOVE’s dark chocolate is Rainforest Alliance Certified (DOVE).

 

 

Now that we know about the companies’ origins, let us discuss the meaning behind some of the terms used such as, “Direct Trade” and “Rainforest Alliance”.

 

What is Direct Trade and Fair Trade?

Fair Trade: Fair Trade is an international organization that has a US branch that certifies or ranks products, such as chocolate, to be categorized or classified as more ethical and sustainable than other products that aren’t certified (Martin). Fair trade prides itself on its principles and the criteria it uses, which include: (1) maintaining long-term relationships with farmers; (2) paying fair prices and wages; (3) lacking child or exploited labor; (4) lacking workplace discrimination; (5) safe working conditions; (6) environmental sustainability; (7) using resources synergistically to help the community at large; (8) and transparency (Martin).

Fair Trade Downsides: Unfortunately, Fair Trade doesn’t come out to be exactly as it advertises. For one, getting certified by Fair Trade is quite expensive (Martin). For the smallest of farms, the minimum certification price may range from 1,430 euros to 3,470 euros (Sylla). This is equivalent to approximately $1,730 to $4,200. Furthermore, not much money actually gets into the hands of local farmers (Martin). The producing company is in charge of purchasing the certification and money goes through the company before it gets to the farmers. Fair trade has little to no evidence supporting its efficacy, and there are no incentives for farmers to produce a quality product (Martin). These are some of the pitfalls to Fair Trade, however, no model is perfect as we will see shortly.

Direct Trade: Direct Trade is different from Fair Trade in that it isn’t a certification organization (“Fair Trade vs. Direct Trade”). Rather, it is a description that explains the relationships between farmers and producers (“Fair Trade vs. Direct Trade”). The Direct Trade model has a different mission statement to that of Fair Trade. Direct Trade addresses several points that are lacking within the Fair Trade model such as the lack of incentive for farmers to produce a quality product, the lack of flexibility within the Fair Trade model of certification, and the high enrollment fees (Martin). Fair Trade has a very particular model, and if one farm doesn’t fit within the model, then they can’t be certified. This is different for Direct Trade. Direct Trade attends to these differences by promoting premium prices for exceptional crops, establishing more direct communication and therefore more flexibility within the relationships between farmers and producers, and by eliminating a costly enrollment certification processes (Martin).

Direct Trade Downsides: Simply put, following the Direct Trade model is challenging. It is difficult to succeed at following this model due to the extra care and communication needed to make the model work (Martin). Furthermore, relationships between farmers and producers can be more fragile than those in the Fair Trade model, and there are social benefits that go along with the Fair Trade model that don’t exist for the Direct Trade model in its definition (Martin).

 

What is Rainforest Alliance?

Rainforest Alliance was founded in 1987 with a mission statement that includes the protection and preservation of ecosystems and biodiversity (Sylla). Rainforest Alliance endorses sustainable modes of production as well as improved working and living conditions for farmers (Sylla and “Factsheet Rainforest Alliance”). Critics of Rainforest Alliance argue that this certification method fails to provide adequate financial assistance to the farmers, fails to provide an adequate minimal price, and doles out certification with little true consideration (Sylla).

 

What is UTZ Certification?

UTZ certification has a goal to, “create an efficient sustainability program with effective certification and traceability tools for socially and environmentally responsible cocoa production that meets the needs of both producers and markets” (“Cocoa”). This essentially means that UTZ aims to create a sustainable means of production for products such as cocoa. UTZ certified products are in 108 countries, and five of the top ten chocolate manufacturers including Nestlé, Ferrero, Hershey, and Mars have committed to use 100% certified cacao (“Cocoa”). While they have made this commitment, that doesn’t mean that all of the chocolate produced by these companies is currently all certified, as is the case for Mars Inc. (“Cocoa: Caring for the Future of Cocoa”).

 

What’s Organic Certification?

Organically certified products are products that are free from use of pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, genetically modified organisms, or ionizing radiation (Martin). Principles of organic farming include, “concerns for safe food production, for the environment, for animal welfare and for issues of social justice (Browne, A W, et al)”. Before a farm can be granted certification as organic, a government-approved certifier must inspect the farm to see where the crops are being grown to ensure the rules are being followed to meet organic standards (Martin).

 

The principles of organic agriculture are wide ranging and include concerns for safe food production, for the environment, for animal welfare and for issues of social justice

 

Working within their Models

 

www.youtube.com/watch?v=2kNfUa5VUKY

 

When Shawn Askinosie talks about chocolate in this video, he describes how he works within the Direct Trade model (Forbes). He discusses the importance of having a relationship with the farmers and working in their communities (Forbes). He talks about becoming friends with farmers in Ecuador, Tanzania, and the Philippines (the three places from which he sources his chocolate (Forbes)).  Shawn Askinosie furthermore discusses his open-book management style where he shares his numbers through his transparency report that he keeps available to everyone on his company website, askinsosie.comhttps://www.askinosie.com/learn/transparency-report.html (Forbes). These numbers include the yearly bean cost per metric ton, the total paid to farmers per metric ton, and profit share per metric ton (“Transparency Report”). This open book management style shows his internal transparency with sales expenses and net revenues while also sharing the profit outcome (“Transparency Report”). By sharing the numbers with his employees, suppliers, customers, and the general public, he is adding a thick layer of transparency to the cake that is his company. Most companies, like DOVE within Mars Inc., do not share these numbers with employees, suppliers, consumers, and the general public, as they likely worry that consumers will be astonished and turned off by their large profit margins and small prices paid to farmers (“Cocoa: Caring for the Future of Cocoa”). This contrast in value of transparency really sets Askinosie apart from DOVE Chocolate and tends to show that Shawn Askinosie really doesn’t aspire to make his company bigger as much as he aspires to make his product better (Forbes).

 

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Shawn Askinosie, the founder of Askinosie Chocolate is pictured here working with Tenende, Tanzanian farmers (Editor)”.

 

Shawn Askinosie makes it known to his consumers that he treats the farmers ethically and doesn’t use pesticides in his chocolate farming (Forbes). With that being said, his chocolate isn’t certified organic. The farms may be using other chemicals such as fungicides, for example. It’s also feasible that he simply doesn’t want to pay the fee to be certified organic. The chocolate Shawn Askinosie buys for his company is shade grown and bought through the Direct Trade model (Forbes). In contrast, DOVE does not buy its chocolate through the Direct Trade model. Instead, it buys its chocolate and certifies it through the Rainforest Alliance organization (DOVE). As learned earlier, Rainforest Alliance certification has the intention of branding environmentally friendly products, so by having this certification for its dark chocolate, DOVE is declaring that it has more ethically sourced chocolate than most brands of chocolate that do not have this certification. However, we also learned earlier that the ability for a company to be granted certification through the Rainforest Alliance can be superficial and hasty (Martin). Furthermore, it is known that DOVE Chocolate only has Rainforest Certification for its dark chocolate, not all of its chocolate.

DOVE Chocolate has made efforts to be more ethical through its collaboration with CARE, a global poverty-fighting organization (“DOVE® Chocolate & CARE® Continue Work To Empower Female Farmers In Cote D’Ivoire”). By May of 2017, almost 2,000 women and men in the cocoa farming industry in Cote d’Ivoire joined the CARE Village Savings and Loan Associations, or the VSLA (“DOVE® Chocolate & CARE® Continue Work To Empower Female Farmers In Cote D’Ivoire”). CARE and DOVE partnered together in 1991 to begin the VSLA in Niger with the intentions of establishing a place where people can save their money and be granted small loans (“DOVE® Chocolate & CARE® Continue Work To Empower Female Farmers In Cote D’Ivoire”). This was all in an attempt to broaden opportunities for business development within the farming communities (“DOVE® Chocolate & CARE® Continue Work To Empower Female Farmers In Cote D’Ivoire”). DOVE and CARE have made efforts to give women more equal opportunities in the business realm through the VSLA (“DOVE® Chocolate & CARE® Continue Work To Empower Female Farmers In Cote D’Ivoire”). By 2017, there were 70 VSLA groups established in Cote d’Ivoire (“DOVE® Chocolate & CARE® Continue Work To Empower Female Farmers In Cote D’Ivoire”).

Furthermore, DOVE Chocolate, as clarified on Mars Inc. website, has set a goal to have 100% of its chocolate certified by 2020 (“Cocoa: Caring for the Future of Cocoa”). These certifications include Rainforest Alliance, UTZ Certified, and Fair Trade (“Cocoa: Caring for the Future of Cocoa”). While this aspiration is promising for the Mars Inc. company at large and DOVE Chocolate specifically, it is an aspiration that has yet to be achieved (“Cocoa: Caring for the Future of Cocoa”). It seems likely that some large chocolate corporations will create their own certification organizations to certify their chocolate (Martin). Given the large corporation that is Mars Inc., it is very feasible that Mars Inc. will implement this new standard. Only time will tell whether or not this comes to fruition.

 

In Conclusion

It is evident that Askinosie Chocolate does a better job at being transparent in its processes of buying and producing chocolate when compared to the practices of DOVE Chocolate. Askinosie has a website page, https://www.askinosie.com/learn/direct-trade.html, about its Direct Trade model and how they put this into action (“Direct Trade”). While the Direct Trade model of Askinosie Chocolate has its limitations such as its difficulty in execution, the Direct Trade model is more comprehensive than Rainforest Alliance in regards to their ethics. Both companies make efforts to give farmers equal opportunities to some capacity – whether that is through attention to fair wages or access to loans. DOVE Chocolate, for example, was the first to start Cocoa Development Centers in Asia and Africa where they trained farmers to help them increase their wages and level of sustainability (DOVE). However, given the nature of a Direct Trade alliance between a producer and farmer, in the end, Askinosie Chocolate comes out to be more ethical than DOVE Chocolate.

The next question to ask is: Which chocolate would a consumer be more inclined to purchase when considering the history, ethics, and expenses, among other things, of the chocolate company? Since purchase price and taste motivate consumers possibly more than ethical production, perhaps this is something to chew on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Works Cited

Browne, A W, et al. “Organic Production and Ethical Trade: Definition, Practice and Links.” Science Direct, Elsevier, Feb. 2000, http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0306919299000755. 

Forbes, director. Askinosie Chocolate: Meet The Criminal Defense Lawyer-Turned-Chocolatier | Forbes. Youtube, Forbes, 10 May 2017, www.youtube.com/watch?v=2kNfUa5VUKY.

Editor. “Bean-To-Bar Chocolate Makers Dare To Bare How It’s Done.” KCUR, 14 Feb. 2013, kcur.org/post/bean-bar-chocolate-makers-dare-bare-how-its-done#stream/0.

“Cocoa.” UTZ, utz.org/what-we-offer/certification/products-we-certify/cocoa/.

“Cocoa: Caring for the Future of Cocoa.” Mars, Incorporated, www.mars.com/global/sustainable-in-a-generation/our-approach-to-sustainability/raw-materials/cocoa.

“Direct Trade.” Askinosie Chocolate, www.askinosie.com/learn/direct-trade.html.

DOVE. “Choose Pleasure.” DOVE® Chocolate, dovechocolate.com/tagged/dove.

“Dove (Chocolate).” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 26 Apr. 2018, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dove_(chocolate).

“DOVE® Chocolate & CARE® Continue Work To Empower Female Farmers In Cote D’Ivoire.” PR Newswire, Mars Chocolate North America, 22 May 2017, www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/dove-chocolate–care-continue-work-to-empower-female-farmers-in-cote- divoire-300461025.html.

“Fair Trade vs. Direct Trade.” Goodnow Farms Chocolate, 22 Feb. 2017, goodnowfarms.com/blog/fair-trade-vs-direct-trade/.

Factsheet Rainforest Alliance. Forum, Nov. 2017, http://www.forumpalmoel.org/imglib/downloads/Factsheet_Rainforest Alliance_en.pdf.

Martin, Carla D. “Alternative Trade and Virtuous Localization/Globalization.” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food, 4 Apr. 2018, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

“Our Story.” Askinosie Chocolate, www.askinosie.com/learn/our-story.html.

Sylla, Ndongo Samba. The Fair Trade Scandal: Marketing Poverty to Benefit the Rich. The Fair Trade Scandal: Marketing Poverty to Benefit the Rich, Ohio University Press, 2014. Translated by David Clément Leye

“Transparency Report.” Askinosie Chocolate, 1 Nov. 2017, www.askinosie.com/learn/ transparency-report.html.

 

Building Each Other Up Through Chocolate: An Ethnographic Analysis of Askinosie Chocolate

Askinosie Chocolate is actively involved in chocolate production from bean-to-bar. More importantly, it is a model company that is driving change in how the industry treats farmers – the most exploited group in the chocolate industry. Through their business practices, the key players in Askinosie Chocolate’s supply chain practice kujengana – Swahili for “to build each other up.” Askinosie Chocolate founder and CEO, Shawn Askinosie, specializes in craft chocolate, meaning that they are involved in direct trade and the entire supply chain which helps them address social issues like child slavery and farmer exploitation. The company also has a reputation for its social and economic programs that benefit the farming communities and cooperatives. With few exceptions, the company counters racial and gender biases that seem to be pervasive in other big chocolate companies. In an industry that pays farmers very little, ignores child slavery, focuses on profit over quality, and fails to promote economic benefits, Askinosie stands out as a voice of change.

Dark Chocolate_Figure1

Active Supply Chain Management and Direct Trade. Askinosie Chocolate is an industry leader in promoting Direct Trade and working with the farmers. Shawn Askinosie has stated that “we do not source our beans from any location, unless I’ve been there.” Askinosie meets and conducts direct trade with the farmers, and pays above Fair Trade premiums for the beans which is often times more than double the standard commodity price. They attempt to cut out as many brokers as possible to lower costs. While Askinosie hires a customs brokering firm for exportation/importation of commodities, the company bears the responsibility of navigating through bureaucracy and is responsible for a vast amount of the administrative work moving the beans from the farm to factory.

 

Figure 1. As an example of their limited ingredients, their “Cortes” Honduras bar consists of: single origin 70% chocolate (67% cocoa liquor, 3% cocoa butter, pressed in their factory) with cocoa beans sourced directly from farmers in Cortes, Honduras, plus 30% organic can sugar. (Askinosie 2016)

Direct trade is critical for a craft chocolate company, giving them some leverage in how they receive the crop. Since their products contain few ingredients, the ingredients must be high quality. In Askinosie’s basic chocolate bars, the ingredients list is limited to cacao liquor, cacao butter, and organic sugar cane. The company does not add extra ingredients (i.e., vanilla) or emulsifiers (i.e., lecithin) into their products, like most companies. In comparison, Hershey’s bars sometimes contain as little as 11-20% cacao, sugar, powdered milk, lecithin, other emulsifiers, vanilla, and artificial flavors. Because their products are low-processed, quality and terroir are important to their business. The terroir plays into how they craft their chocolate using the subtle nuances in the flavors of the beans from different geographic regions. Beyond the flavors of beans themselves, Askinosie offers more than just basic chocolate bars. In some bars, they incorporate fruits, spices, and nuts to give a variety and depth of flavors. While they have not focused on highly elaborate artisanal designs or modern chocolate art, they have incorporated different designs in their products and bars to offer some artisanship.

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Askinosie takes an active approach and gets into a deeper level of granularity in regards to farming practices. In a profit-sharing relationship, Askinosie educates and guides farmers in how certain processes will increase quality. By increasing the quality, he highlights the correlation in sales; there is a vested interested in producing and only introducing high quality beans in the shipments to Askinosie Chocolate. For contextualization, the partnership allows him to make suggestions in how he wants beans fermented which has a drastic impact on the flavor of the beans. The practice of organic farming translates to what consumers are wanting. Additionally, he understands terroir and uses that in his product creativity calculus.

“We are so hyper-focused on quality it’s crazy. It’s one of the reason I travel so much, I’m constantly tasting beans and testing beans and looking at the harvest practices so that the quality is better and better.” – Shawn Askinosie (Askinosie 2016)

Taking humanitarian efforts further, he offers business practice advice to locals and to farmers. The firm is also involved in the “Stake in the Outcome” (SITO) program that is a profit-sharing and equity program. In addition to providing profit sharing with his employees, Mr. Askinosie does transparent profit sharing with the farmers. SITO is a novel business concept that really bring people together because they are involved in the trajectory of the business. They have a stake in the business, and are working together for something bigger than just a simple paycheck. The founder of SITO, Jack Stack, describes it as a “vehicle of change.” The adoption of SITO by Askinosie complements his Kujengana efforts.

When a company such as Askinosie forges an unshakable bond with farmers, it also benefits its consumers as it provides a platform for traceability. Traceability is another concept that allows consumers to learn more about where their food comes from and how the process works. This is important for sales because people are becoming increasingly food conscious – about what is in their food and its origins. When consumers have more information about where their food comes from, they seem to feel a connection with producers. Askinosie’s website has a “Learn” section that describes the origins and origins travelogue. In 2009, it had a search function on its site to conduct virtual visits of some of the cacao bean farms in Mexico, Ecuador, and the Philippines. Traceability has practical purposes, not just for altruistic reasons. When there is a food safety problem, traceability helps businesses target the product(s) affected, and assists them in identifying where in the supply chain something may have occurred. By doing so, this limits profits loss and hastens response efforts. Since 2002, even U.S. Congress members have called for studies in traceability to better understand how the US can respond to food safety crises such as salmonella outbreaks.

Giving Back. Going beyond a social responsibility to ensure farmers receive an equitable portion of profits, Askinosie takes it a step further by being involved in their origin communities. Several communities, including Kyela, Tanzania and Davao, Philippines, has implemented a program called “A Product of Change.” In this program, they aim to feed children that have traditionally dealt with malnourishment issues. To accomplish this, Askinosie Chocolate teams with PTAs of local schools to offer school lunches.

 

The Product of Change program moves beyond their main business of chocolate production to help communities and PTA administration to produce products other than the cacao beans. In Kyela, Tanzania, they produce premium rice. In Davao, Philippines, they produce cacao rounds. This simple business has profound effects. When people buy the Kyela rice or the Tableya cacao rounds, it provides lunch for children that may not have an opportunity to eat throughout the day, with malnutrition or hunger possibly hindering learning. The Product of Change program is sustainable because it is donation free.

 

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Figure 2. The photograph shows food being distributed for school children who would otherwise typically eat just once per day. The nourishment helps them mitigate hunger, ostensibly aiding them in focusing on studies.

“A bag of rice or a block of cocoa might seem insignificant, but through these goods, children have access to reliable, healthy daily school lunch and, ultimately, a better education. The bonus is that they also get to see this business model of sustainability as a solution to social problems.”  (Askinosie Product of Change 2016)

To monitor and evaluate Product of Change’s impact, Askinosie monitors the student’s height, weight, and arm circumference. They also collect data on attendance and test scores to correlate the biological data and education statistics. Askinosie claims that since the program’s inception, “90% of Malagos students have gained weight and achievement test scores are up 25%.”

Figure 3
Figure 3. During a guest speaking event at the University of Missouri, Shawn Askinosie shows a presentation slide that highlights the impact of the Tableya sales.Other statistics state on their website state that since the program’s inception, they have helped provide a total of 240,000 meals.
Chocolate University. Askinosie Chocolate and Drury University teamed up to provide educational programs for children in Springfield, Missouri, and they named the non-profit, Chocolate University. The program exposes children to all aspects of the chocolate business, from understanding factory machinery, to business plans and concepts, to field trips to Africa and South America at the cacao plantations. Askinosie is the sole founder of Chocolate University. Another reason why education is so important is that it also helps address child slavery and gender equality issues as well.

The groups work can be seen in the below video.

Child Slavery. Despite multi-corporation agreements and international media attention, child slavery still exists today. Some of the big chocolate manufacturers have agreed to 2020 Commitment to eradicate child slavery by 2020; however, those promises have been in place for over a decade and some experts believe that child slavery has only become more prevalent. Recent estimates show there are at least 2.1M child slaves in West Africa alone; this figure is, shockingly, likely under-reported. Askinosie is engaged in being socially conscious and combating slavery by ensuring the farms they conduct business with do not perpetuate child slavery.

“More than one million children ­ some as young as five ­are estimated to work in Ivory Coast’s cocoa industry, where they carry heavy loads, spray pesticides and fell trees using sharp tools, a report from Tulane University – New Orleans.” – Kieran Guilbert  (Guilbert 2016)

Craft chocolate makers have been able to make a difference by introducing quality checks to see if there is child slavery on the farmer’s plantations. However, these constitute only  a very small portion of the cacao worldwide compared to the major chocolate makers – Nestle, Mars, Hershey’s, Ferrero Rocher, and Cadbury’s. Nestle corporation netted $9.7B in 2014, compared to Askinosie’s $2M. Overall, it is easier for the craft and direct trade chocolate companies to ensure child slavery is not practiced on the origin farms where they derive their beans.

A late April 2016 New York Times article discusses how the International Cocoa Initiative is aiming to boost education to counter child slavery specifically in Cote d’Ivoire. The non-profit organization signed an agreement with the Ivorian government. The intent is to provide education as a long-term strategy. Education allows children to learn a separate trade besides cacao farming and harvesting or improve conditions to break the cycle of generational poverty. Dominique Ouattara, wife of the president and leading support of the ICI, echo those thoughts with her statement that, “Education is the alternative and the most effective long-term response in the fight against child labor.” (NYT 2016) Cote D’Ivoire’s civil war in 2011 exacerbated child slavery to the point where children involved in the cacao industry rose 51 percent to 1.3M in 2014 from 2008, according to a Tulane University report. (NYT 2016). Askinosie Chocolate has invested a lot of time and effort into educational programs, as well as other programs to improve lives in the communities with the children. Those long-term strategy initiatives work in tandem with the short-term (i.e., Direct Trade) requirements of no child slavery, to mitigate slavery from both angles.

Racism, Sexism, and Gender Equality. Askinosie Chocolate takes a very progressive and genuinely ethical approach to marketing. The wrapping on their chocolate bars show the farmers they conduct business with, not a generic African with exaggerated facial expressions. Their advertisements lack the sexism and refrain from exploiting sexuality and gender bias, as seen in other commercials where women lustfully indulge in chocolate. On the bar wrapping, Askinosie varies their designs. To honor the farmers, some include a photo of the farmer where they source their single-origin beans. Not all the farmers they conduct business with are male, there are female farmers as well. When they have profit-sharing meetings, they insist that both the farmer and the spouse present.
Another way they promote gender equality is through a funding a schooling initiative called the “Empowered Girls,” at Mwaya school in Tanzania. In Tanzania, approximately 53% girls graduate from form 1 to form 2 (~ 14 years of age). The educational stages for secondary level education would be Forms 1-4, and are the equivalent of a U.S. High School education stage. Forms 1 and 2, would then roughly equate to a freshman and sophomore years in the US. The Empowered Girls program also teaches the school girls self-esteem, sex education, and life skills to set them up for success. There are also awareness classes for boys, teaching and encouraging them respect women as well.

The education represents tremendous progress in terms of intangible efforts, but Askinosie also donates in the tangibles as well. Askinosie provides aid through providing text books, where there were none and only a chalk board. Additionally, the company has provided generators to power laptops, projectors, and screens to develop technology skills.

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Figure 4. The graphic depicts an “Empowered Girls” session at Mwaya school, where Askinosie funded the program.
Conclusion. Askinosie is the embodiment of kujengana. Askinosie Chocolate builds up its own employees, its own Springfield community, the cacao origin communities, and the farmers they do business with. They are selective in who they sell to making sure that their vendors values are aligned with their business practices. Moving from “bean to bar” to “bean to bar to shelf” helps ensure others, even vendors, are building each other up as well. By employing this business methodology, even the consumer can be part of the movement by purchasing their chocolate, and the Product of Change products (Kyela rice and Tableya cacao rounds). Consumers also can be involved through traceability by learning and promoting the practices Askinosie employs. Askinosie Chocolate actively engages with consumers by offering tours and tastings, and through social media via its website, Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr, and Facebook page, are all ways to learn more. They achieve the spirit of Kujengana through addressing education, hunger, lack of potable water, exploited workers, countering child slavery, environmental sustainability, and lastly, providing a chocolate product that is consumed and enjoyed globally.

 

References

Askinosie. (2016). https://twitter.com/askinosie

Askinosie Chocolate. (2016) “Our Story.” Retrieved from https://www.askinosie.com/

Askinosie, Shawn. (2014) Huffington Post. 24 June 2014. Lifting The Veil on Direct Trade (And Why It’s Integral to Our Business). http://www.huffingtonpost.com/shawn-askinosie/lifting-the-veil-on-direc_b_5523459.html

Dinardo, Kelly. (2011). Mr. Bean. (We Like This Guy!)(chocolate entrepreneur Shawn Askinosie’s Cocoa Honors). O, The Oprah Magazine, 12(2), 44. Retrieved from http://kellydinardo.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/10/Askinosie.pdf

Martin, Carla. (2016) “Modern day Slavery.” AAAS 119x Lecture 15. Harvard University, Cambridge, MA. 22 March 2016. Lecture.

Martin, Carla. (2016) “The rise of big chocolate and race for the global market.” AAAS 119x Lecture 13. Harvard University, Cambridge, MA. 09 March 2016. Lecture.

Martin, Carla. (2016) “Slavery, Abolition, and Forced Labor.” AAAS 119x Lecture 11.
Harvard University, Cambridge, MA. 02 March 2015. Lecture.

Nestle. (2016) Key Figures. Retrieved from http://www.nestleusa.com/about-us/key-figures

NPR. February 14, 2014. Bean-To-Bar Chocolate Makers Dare to Bare How It’s Done. http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2013/02/13/171891081/bean-to-bar-chocolate-makers-dare-to-bare-how-its-done

Maxwell, Kate. (2009). Philippines: Hot Chocolate. (chocolate maker Shawn Askinosie is tapping Davao, Philippines’ cocoa supply) (Brief article). Conde Nast Traveler, 44(4), 28.

Petty, Clifton, Still, Kelley, & Auner, Janis Prewitt. (2010). Askinosie Chocolate: Single-origin or Fairtrade sourcing? (Business case study). Business Case Journal,17(2), Business Case Journal, Summer, 2010, Vol.17(2).http://web.b.ebscohost.com.ezp-prod1.hul.harvard.edu/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?sid=ce8c6f5e-527c-42c6-ac83-981526711a21%40sessionmgr107&vid=1&hid=115

Reuters. New York Times. APRIL 28, 2016. Boost Education to Cut Child Labor on Ivory
Coast Cocoa Farms: Charity. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/reuters/2016/04/28/world/africa/28reuters-ivorycoast-cocoa-education.html?ref=world&_r=0

Slave Free Chocolate. http://www.slavefreechocolate.org/contact/

Springfield Business Journal. June 25, 2014. Askinosie: Lifting The Veil on Direct Trade (And Why It’s Integral to Our Business). Retrieved from http://sbj.net/Content/Archives/Archives/Article/Askinosie-Lifting-The-Veil-on-Direct-Trade-And-Why-It-s-Integral-to-Our-Business-/48/108/97661

Stone, Brad. New York Times. 27 MARCH 2009. Forging a Hot Link to the Farmer Who Grows the Food. Retrieved from
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/28/technology/internet/28farmer.htm

Target. 25 September 2015. From Bean to Bar: Askinosie Chocolate Arrives at Target. https://corporate.target.com/article/2015/09/askinosie-chocolate-at-target-exclusive

Video: Forbes Honors Askinosie Chocolate. (Video file). (2016). Critical Mention.

Askinosie Chocolate: A Leader in High Quality Chocolate and Sustainable Business

Chocolate, once a luxury consumed only by the elite, has become an every day good for those of us fortunate enough to live in the better-developed parts of the world. It is easy to walk into the nearest convenience store and find a pretty large selection of different kinds of chocolate (albeit produced by the same few major corporations). But among all of the flashy chocolate wrappers advertising added delights like caramel and nougat, there is very little to inform the consumer about where their chocolate is coming from, how it was made, and what is actually in it. As Kristy Leissle explains, in the 19th century, when it was predominantly artisans making chocolate, the origin of cacao beans was clearly advertised as a measure of quality, but in the 20th century, rising industrial chocolate makers were more interested in selling particular candy bars, and “and thoroughly effaced any links with the sweaty, tropical farms whence their primary ingredient came” [1]. In fact, most chocolate consumers today are entirely unaware of the processes through which a chocolate bar is made and the sheer amount of labor that goes into turning cacao into chocolate. And in today’s modern society when people balk at the idea of their clothes being made in a sweatshop in Asia, people should also be questioning whether or not their food has been ethically produced—this is true for chocolate in particular not only because chocolate is still technically considered a luxury item, or a treat, but also because of the extensive history of slave labor, exploitation, and racist advertising within the chocolate industry.

Awareness is the key here—what kinds of practices are consumers condoning when they buy certain brands of chocolate? And if the answer makes them uncomfortable, what can they do about it? For most consumers, abandoning the consumption of chocolate is out of the question, but luckily, there are more and more chocolate companies out there that provide the amount of transparency that can help consumers make the right decisions. Increasingly more chocolate producers are becoming bean-to-bar chocolate companies, meaning that they oversee the production of the chocolate from the cacao bean to the finished product. These companies are often employed in direct trade relationships with the farmers that they get their cacao from and even more companies have Fair Trade and Organic certifications. Each of these different types of farmer-producer-consumer relationships has its pros and cons when it comes to addressing the issues that prevail in the chocolate industry, but at the end of the day a certification is just a piece of paper and a claim of direct trade could be a marketing ploy—what’s really important is how these companies are presenting themselves and their chocolate, whose best interests they truly have in mind, and how transparent they are with their practices and their intentions. In 2005, the World Summit on Social Development identified three goals for sustainable development that have come to be known as the “three pillars of sustainability”: social development, economic development, and environmental protection [2]. I believe that these goals can and should be directly applied to the business model of an ethically run chocolate company. Chocolate’s history is not without its fair share of social implications, so, as contemporary consumers of chocolate, it is our responsibility hold chocolate companies accountable for their actions and to ensure that our money is going towards supporting companies that believe in not only producing a high quality product, but also in maintaining a sustainable and healthy relationship with that product.

One company that I feel is leading the way as a shining example for other bean-to-bar chocolate companies is Askinosie Chocolate. A criminal defense attorney for twenty years, Shawn Askinosie became a chocolate maker in 2007. He learned all he could about chocolate-making and cacao and soon found himself in the Amazon studying how the post-harvest techniques of cacao farmers influenced the finished chocolate’s flavor. But Askinosie was interested not only to crafting high quality chocolate, but also to weaving social responsibility into everything that the company does; he confidently says now: “We’re dedicated not just to making the best quality chocolate you can buy, but to making it in such a way that the more you learn about it, the better you feel about it” [3]. The company’s mission statement rings along the same lines: “We at Askinosie Chocolate exist to craft exceptional chocolate while serving our farmers, our customers, our neighborhood, and one another, striving in all we do to leave whatever part of the world we touch better for the encounter.“ Askinosie Chocolate stands out to me as a bean-to-bar chocolate company because they hold doing as much good as they can in the world just as importantly as crafting high quality chocolate. They are very aware of the impact that they, as a chocolate company, can have on the world and are determined to use that power responsibly, giving back to the communities that provide them with their product and educating the rest of the world about ethical business practices. In this essay, I will analyze how Askinosie Chocolate sells and presents itself and its ideals, how it fulfills the criteria for transparency in its processes, and how it goes above and beyond in developing sustainable practices. In doing so, I plan to show why I believe that Askinosie Chocolate is a great part of the solution to the problems that plague the chocolate-cacao supply chain.

Before I move any further, I would like to make it clear that my impression of the Askinosie Chocolate company and how they present themselves comes directly from their website at https://askinosie.com/. The popularity of the Askinosie Chocolate company is part of a rising focus on what is referred to as ethical eating—Julie Guthman explains that, in this view, consumption practices are driven by a conscious reflexivity, where customers pay attention to how food is made and then reflects upon the consequences of that knowledge when making future food-related decisions [4]. But because ethical eating is the latest trend, many companies that boast ethical practices are actually more focused on other things, advertising the luxuriousness of their chocolate instead, for example. As such, Askinosie Chocolate takes great care to portray that social, economic, and environmental responsibility are an integral part of their company. The Askinosie Chocolate website is simply, but elegantly designed—following an earthy-toned color scheme, the three centrally positioned links at the top are labeled “shop” (their online store), “learn” (a plethora of information about their company), and “wholesale” (for retailers interested in selling their products and being part of the team). The banner that takes up the top portion of their website shuffles between commendations on their products and images of the several sources that they get their cacao beans from. Already, it is clear to see that the image that they’re selling is that their business (chocolate-making) and their mission (doing good in the world) go hand-in-hand.

A screenshot of what a visitor to Askinosie Chocolate’s main website would first see on the home page.

Askinosie Chocolate sells a large variety of chocolate-related products: chocolate bars, cocoa powder, chocolate nibs, chocolate spread, chocolate beverages, the vast majority of their ingredients are produced at their own factory from the same cacao beans that the chocolate is made from—they even make their own cocoa butter to add to their chocolate [5]! They sell single-origin chocolate bars from four different locations around the world: the Philippines, Honduras, Ecuador, and Tanzania. Each of these single-origin bars come simply packaged in paper with a piece of string tied at the top. On the paper wrapping, the name of the origin is printed colorfully at the top; below that, a picture of what is presumed to be the cacao farmer that the company works with at that origin location, a description of the chocolate content, and the Askinosie logo. Although I believe that the name of the cacao farmer should be clearly indicated on the front of the packaging with the picture, I also understand that there may be privacy or security reasons that it is not included. Despite this, Askinosie Chocolate does a wonderful job of modestly and honestly packaging their chocolate bars—each of the farmers are presented in as neutral a light as possible, with their skin tones even being edited to match to color of the paper packaging. Their presentation of the cacao farmers involved with their company can be compared to that of the Divine Chocolate company: Although Divine Chocolate has been praised for “refashioning” their cacao farmers to be “Cosmopolitan,” I feel that their advertisements miss the mark [6]. Their portrayal of the female cacao farmers as “glamorous” with tacky labels like “Equality Treat” almost makes it seem like the women are the products, especially considering the common association of chocolate with blackness. The decision of Askinosie Chocolate to include a humble image of their cacao farmers right on their chocolate bar packaging reflects the intimate relationships that they have forged with those farmers—they are more than business partners, they are their friends as well.

A side-by-side comparison of Divine Chocolate’s representation of their cacao farmers (left) versus Askinosie Chocolate’s representation of their cacao farmers (right).

In an industry that has always faced controversy when it comes to ethical concerns in business practices, i.e., slave and child labor and exploitation, it is important for all chocolate companies to have a certain amount of transparency in what they do, especially if they are advertising themselves as being on the right side of ethics. With chocolate companies in particular, transparency is important in several areas—where their beans are coming from, who is growing the cacao and how are they being treated, who is making the chocolate and where that is happening, where the rest of the ingredients are coming from—but it ultimately boils down to (1) the nature of the relationship between the farmer, the producer, and the buyer and (2) how the chocolate is being presented and why that is the case. With one look-through of Askinosie Chocolate’s website, I was incredibly impressed with how transparent they are with their business practices. They make a strong attempt at clearly communicating to their customers what they are doing and what they hope to do every step of the way. For example, as mentioned before, in addition to the “shop” section of their website, there is a clearly labeled “learn” section, where readers can find a lot of information: the story of the founder, Shawn Askinosie, where their cacao comes from, how their chocolate is made, and all of the special initiatives that have been incorporated into their business model. It even includes a lot of information about what direct trade is and why they choose to have that kind of relationship with their farmers. A whole page is dedicated to explaining their precise seventy-step process of chocolate making, from finding the farmers to molding the finished product, complete with a detailed description and a video demonstration for every step. Additionally, they even have a link to the travel blog (http://askinosiechocolate.tumblr.com/ ) that documents all of their journeys to the countries where their cacao originates from, which includes not only pictures of the cacao farmers, but their communities and schools.

Image taken from Askinosie Chocolate travelogue; Caption: “Yoga before business. Me with my Del Tambo, Ecuador farmer friends in the cocoa trees this morning.”

It is these personal accounts that really show that there is a good relationship between the company and the communities that they are building with. These trips aren’t just about business, but also about building friendships, having fun, and sharing knowledge between cultures. For example, on every trip that Askinosie Chocolate goes on, they make sure to host an extensive chocolate tasting for their partners, who may not have that opportunity.

Charles Levkoe argues that food can be a way to understand and learn about the world in which we live, and part of Askinosie Chocolate’s great communication with their customers is also their eagerness to teach and share information [7]. It is built right into their business model to use their proceeds as a producer of high quality chocolate to educate people and battle social issues. Askinosie Chocolate’s Chocolate University initiative embodies this dedication to education and advocacy for social issues: It is an experiential learning program with a worldwide reach for local students, the goal being to use artisan chocolate making to inspire the students to be responsible global citizens and to use business to solve world problems. They involve students from neighboring schools by visiting their classrooms, hosting field trips to the factory, and even visits to cacao origin sites [8]. In addition, they even allow their customers to learn about the story behind the specific bar of chocolate that they purchased by entering a number into their website (see below).

But what has impressed me most about Askinosie Chocolate and what I believe really, truly sets them apart is their willingness to go above and beyond in creating a sustainable chocolate company. For example, they bring direct trade to a whole new level: Not only are they intimately involved with all of the on-site cacao processing, but they help the farmers identify and solve problems and have complete control over the actual importation of the beans (which is rare). They share their profits with the farmers, visiting them and paying them directly, and even share and explain their financial statements with the farmers, so that they understand exactly why they are receiving the amount that they are [9]. Levkoe also emphasizes that there has been an increasing focus on people as consumers, rather than citizens, and this has led to the image of our current progress as a civilization to be unsustainable [7]. Askinosie Chocolate combats this unsustainability because they care about the people that they are working with. When asked why they practice direct trade, they respond, “Very few chocolate makers do, after all, and almost none go to the lengths we do to be involved every step of the way. It’s certainly not cheaper, easier or simpler, and it definitely doesn’t carry less financial risk for us. We practice Direct Trade because we think it’s the right way and the best way” [9]. Beyond just the business relationship, Askinosie Chocolate does a considerable amount investing back into the communities in the origin locations. For example, in the Philippines and Tanzania, they have worked with schools to develop a Sustainable Lunch Program, where they sell a product harvested there, sell it domestically, and then return one hundred percent of the profits to buy lunch for every student every school day [9].

Advertised on the Askinosie Chocolate website home page, Direct Trade is an integral part of their company.

There is much work for our society to do to truly combat the social, economic, and environmental issues that we face today, but I truly believe that Askinosie Chocolate is a leader in this battle. Their reach extends beyond that of the chocolate industry—they are showing that business is not just all about profit, it’s about what you can do with that profit and the ways that you can improve the lives of those who helped you gain that profit. At the end of the day, bettering one community puts us all in a better position to better all of our communities.

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Multimedia Sources

[1] Askinosie Chocolate home page. Digital Image. Available from: https://askinosie.com/. Accessed May 6, 2015.

[2] Cacao farmer representations in advertising. Digital Image. Available from: http://i174.photobucket.com/albums/w104/xlitobabiiangelzpiex/comparison.png. Accessed May 6, 2015.

[3] Askinosie Chocolate travelogue. Digital Image. Available from: http://38.media.tumblr.com/a3312a9a130880a742fd396d66acca29/tumblr_inline_ncom83W4jP1sxcjpi.jpg. Accessed May 6, 2015.

[4] Askinosie Chocolate Choc-o-Lot Number. Digital Image. Available from: https://askinosie.com/. Accessed May 6, 2015.

[5] Askinosie Chocolate Direct Trade. Digital Image. Available from: https://askinosie.com/. Accessed May 6, 2015.

References

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

[2] United Nations General Assembly (2005). 2005 World Summit Outcome, Resolution A/60/1, adopted by the General Assembly on 15 September 2005. Retrieved on: 2009-02-17.

[3] Our Story – Learn | Askinosie Chocolate. (n.d.). Retrieved May 6, 2015, from https://askinosie.com/learn/our-story.html.

[4] Guthman, Julie. (2013). Fast Food/Organic Food: Reflexive Tastes and the making of ‘Yuppie Chow’. In C. Counihan & P.V. Esterik (Ed.), food and culture (pp. 496-509). New York: Taylor & Francis. (Original work published in 2003).

[5] Chocolate Making – Learn | Askinosie Chocolate. (n.d.). Retrieved May 6, 2015, from https://askinosie.com/learn/chocolate-making.html

[6] Leissle, Kristy. (2012). Cosmopolitan cocoa farmers: refashioning Africa in Divine Chocolate advertisements. Journal of African Cultural Studies, 24(2): 121-139.

[7] Levkoe, Charles Z. (2013). Learning Democracy Through Food Justice Movements. In C. Counihan & P.V. Esterik (Ed.), food and culture (pp. 587-601). New York: Taylor & Francis. (Original work published in 2006).

[8] Chocolate University – Chocolate Farming | Askinosie Chocolate. (n.d.). Retrieved May 6, 2015, from https://askinosie.com/learn/chocolate-university.html

[9] Direct Trade – Chocolate Farming | Askinosie Chocolate. (n.d.). Retrieved May 6, 2015, from https://askinosie.com/learn/direct-trade.html