“It’s not about the chocolate, it’s about the chocolate.” At first glance, the slogan of Askinosie Chocolate puzzles the unacquainted. But for those familiar with Askinosie Chocolate, the saying sounds just right. This Bean to Bar chocolate dates its origin to 2005, when a criminal defense lawyer living in Springfield, Missouri prayed to the heavens for a new vocation (Askinosie Chocolate). When his sights became set on chocolate, the perseverance and analytical skills that suited him so well as a lawyer easily transitioned into the world of chocolate. He threw himself into the history of cocoa, in the farming of it and the business of it. After spending time in the Amazon studying the techniques of the cocoa farmers, Shawn Askinosie finally decided to create a business of his own. This business would be a rare type of chocolate company, one of the few bean to bar companies in America during the early 2000s (Askinosie Chocolate). Askinosie embraced the challenge of making chocolate from the cocoa beans, along with importing the beans directly from the source and treating the cocoa farmers like business partners (Askinosie Chocolate). When making chocolate of the highest quality and taste was mastered, it began to be sold at places like Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams and Van Leeuwen. The true mission of creating such chocolate was so that this business could use its success to weave social responsibility in the realm of cocoa. Clay Gordon was quoted as describing Shawn Askinosie as “not looking to maximize his profits, [but] looking to maximize his company’s impact on the world,” (Chocolate Noise).Askinosie Chocolate has done just that with their commitment to fairness, sustainability, and environmental preservation (Askinosie Chocolate). The way that Askinosie Chocolate has continued to make a unique impact is by sharing profits, utilizing direct trade, and emphasizing community development.
When it comes to selling cocoa, farmers face an uphill battle. World market price “sets the terms for international exchange of cocoa,” but the farmers rarely receive the true price for their product (Leissle 2018). In fact, many are “highly vulnerable to being cheated,” especially in remote areas and with large businesses that can use the threat of buying elsewhere to drive down prices (Leissle 2018). The idea of fair trade is a flawed solution to this problem, as the minimum premium that is set for the cocoa is not always reported. Therefore, Askinosie Chocolate participates in “direct trade;” paying farmers a premium for their cocoa quality, along with the costs of environmental aspects without the use of a broker (Askinosie Chocolate). Cocoa farmers rarely receive “the full world market price,” due to the presence of brokers that can be charged with inspecting the beans, weighing them, and transporting them across the sea. Askinosie chocolate removes these middle men and deals directly with the farmers. The company boasts that “every single bean purchase we’ve made in our history has exceeded the average farm gate price” or the price of the producer that is paid at the point of sale (Askinosie Chocolate). This claim is backed up with their transparency reports that can be easily accessed upon their website. In the last eleven years, Askinosie has paid farmers an average of 35% above the world market price and 25% above the fair trade price. These prices do not factor in shipping costs, because Askinosie Chocolate handles the costs of shipping to U.S. ports, paying the company, freight forwarders, and customs brokers (Askinosie Chocolate). This policy places Askinosie in complete control of importation. This rarity in the chocolate world is a deliberate choice to ensure that the beans bought by Askinosie Chocolate are not mixed up with another companies’ and that they are safely delivered to the company factory and warehouse. It is a win-win situation forboth parties. Direct trade between Askinosie and the farmers ensures that the farmers receive as much of the profit as possible.
With the benefits of direct trade, the money that would normally be received by the middle men is shared between the two parties. By nature, the business of farming cocoa is an inconsistent system. In Africa, there are two main seasons for growing cocoa where the profits for the entire year might be made (Leissle 2018). This characteristic causes cocoa farmers to rarely receive a “regular paycheck” or “long term wages,” instead relying on the main growing season (Leissle 2018). They are forced to hire daily laborers and use credit to purchase fertilizer, pesticides, and other instruments necessary for this main season. Because these farmers only earn cash when they sell their beans and pods, they are required to pay off their debts before addressing “individual and household needs:” like food, clothing, clothing, tuition, and school supplies (Leissle 2018). Askinosie Chocolate acknowledges these burdens and for every purchase they make, at least “10% net profit or 1% gross revenue” is paid to the farmers (Askinosie Chocolate). This bonus can reach up to 18.8% above the farm gate price, which is why the world market and fair trade prices paid by Askinosie can reach the excesses of 35% and 25% mentioned earlier. As of last fall, Askinosie Chocolate has shared with almost $100,000 with the farmers it does business with (Askinosie Chocolate). With the money from the profit shares, farmers prefer to invest back into their own businesses (Askinosie Chocolate). They purchase better equipment and supplies, and collaborate and teach other farmers techniques that result in better beans. Better beans allow the farmers leverage for better prices, which creates a ripple effect that raises the price of cocoa and stimulates the economy (Askinosie Chocolate). These practices build strong relationships between Shawn Askinosie and the local farmers. A testament to this relationship is shown on the front of Askinosie Chocolate bars, where the faces of farmers from the respective regions of the cacao are proudly plastered.
The video above tells the story of a well that was donated to the people of Tanzania. The people who lived in Mababu originally had a well that was pitifully shallow and contained murky water. The money for the well was raised by Askinosie Chocolate and the Cocoa Honors students from Central High School in Springfield, MO. While this was the first experience of entrepreneurship and philanthropy for the students, Shawn Askinosie is no stranger. Inspired by children at a homeless shelter in his own community, Shawn Askinosie created Chocolate University (Askinosie Chocolate). This was a learning program with a “worldwide reach” for local students to be inspired to challenge the problems that plague our world today. Even though over $10 million has been raised for anti-slavery work in cocoa, these practices persist in west Africa, also known as the Ivory Coast (Berlan 2013). Large chocolate companies permit this cycle to occur when buying from places where slave trade and child labor are known to occur. Either the companies are too large to pay close enough attention or they are aware of where they purchase their chocolate and choose to continue to do so. In the 1900s, it was Cadbury Chocolate who was in business with Sao Tome where slavery, in all but name, was occurring (Satre 2005). To this day, companies like Hershey’s, Mars, and Nestle are supplied by places in Africa where “the worst forms of child labor, human trafficking, and slavery” are present (Mistrati and Romano, 2010). Companies like Askinosie Chocolate are so important because they break against this mold. When Shawn Askinosie asked the Cocoa Honors Students to find a new source of cocoa, he emphasized that it must be from an ethical source without the cruelties of child labor, human trafficking, and slavery. After choosing Mababu, Tanzania, Shawn tasked these students with finding the best way they could help this community. The well that they built had an immediate impact, and as shown in the video, the people were dancing, singing, and very happy to receive the donation. This does not miraculously erase or end their suffering, but it takes a step in the right direction and makes a significant difference on the health of the residents.
Shawn Askinosie does not just delve in chocolate. Askinosie Chocolate created a program called A Product of Change (Askinosie Chocolate). The program is mediated through the Chocolate University founded by Askinosie and maintained by the students of schools who live in Springfield, MO (Askinosie Chocolate). A key project of this program is the Sustainable Lunch Program, where the rice that is taken from the origin communities are sold by Askinosie Chocolate and one hundred percent of the profits are returned to these communities. Because of the high rates of malnourishment in these communities, the profits are used to provide a school lunch to hungry students. Since the start of this program in 2013, more than 96,000 lunches have been provided at Mwaya Secondary School (Askinosie Chocolate). A similar program is undergone at Malagos, where a Filipino hot cocoa called Tableya is sold and one hundred percent of the profits are used to provide lunches to local students. This program has provided more than 240,000 school lunches in the last nine years. Chocolate University is a unique opportunity to provide real world experience and lessons that cannot be taught in the classroom, and Askinosie Chocolate should be proud of its involvement in the many things that they do.
In conclusion, Askinosie Chocolate is a truly unique chocolate company. Askinosie Chocolate started off as a way for a man to escape from high profile murder cases and front page felonies and has grown into something truly impactful. With a small business that uses a shortened supply chain, many problems and difficulties arise that are not as easily handled compared to corporations like Mars or Hershey’s. “You have to be content with being discontent,” is Shawn’s response to that difficulty, because to him, it is worth it (Askinosie Chocolate). To the people of places like Tanzania, cocoa is their lifeline. The success or failure to grow and sell cocoa could mean the difference between health and malnourishment or even life and death. The problems that many face in the United States would be considered trivial in less developed countries that grow cocoa. For too long have these places been exploited by large chocolate companies and now, bean to bar companies like Askinosie Chocolate provide ideal models on how to successfully purchase and sell cocoa and chocolate without compromising ethical standards. Askinosie Chocolate has improved the lives of many cocoa farmers from across the world, both by providing economic and residential benefit. By using direct trade and a shortened supply chains, Askinosie Chocolate maximizes the profits of the farmers. Gone are the fees associated with shipping and middle men that lord over the local farmers and claim cheat these men and women of their hard earned profits. By sharing their profits, Askinosie Chocolate equips farmers with the necessary capital to upgrade their farming supplies and improve their farming yields, leading to an increase in prices of cocoa and stimulation of the economy. By investing in programs and projects that are designed to feed and support the community, Askinosie Chocolate changes the lives of entire families and communities. That’s why it’s not about the chocolate, it’s about the chocolate.
Berlan, Amanda. (2013) Social Sustainability in Agriculture: An Anthropological Perspective on Child Labour in Cocoa Production in Ghana, The Journal of Development Studies, 49:8, 1088-1100, DOI: 10.1080/00220388.2013.780041
Leissle, Kristy. “Invisble West Africa” The Politics of Single Origin Chocolate.” University of California Press. 13:3, 22-31, 2013.
Leissle, Kristy. Cocoa. Polity Press. 2018.
Mistrati, Miki, and Romano, U. Roberto. The Dark Side of Chocolate. Performed by Mistrati, Miki (2010; Copenhagen: Bastard Film & TV). DVD.
Satre, Lowell J. Chocolate on Trial: Slavery, Politics, and the Ethics of Business. Ohio University Press. 2005.