Tag Archives: Askinosie

Askinosie Chocolate: More Than Just Chocolate

Askinosie Chocolate

“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 at the newly built well in Mababu.

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. 

URL:

https://www.askinosie.com

http://www.chocolatenoise.com/askinosie-chocolate/

https://www.wbur.org/npr/171891081/bean-to-bar-chocolate-makers-dare-to-bare-how-its-done

Works Cited:

https://www.askinosie.com

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. 

Askinosie: A Company with a Social Mission

Chocolate is a $100 billion industry yet the majority of these profits are enjoyed by a handful of multinational companies. Those who actually grow the cocoa beans and provide the raw ingredient for the world’s chocolate see but a miniscule fraction of these profits: 3% according to the image below.

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Farmers earn only 3% of the profits from chocolate sales. The largest share goes to those who process and sell the finished product.

The majority of the value of chocolate sales is captured by retailers and chocolate manufacturers while the farmers at the bottom of the supply chain receive the smallest share. This inequality lies at the heart of the chocolate industry today. One bean-to-bar chocolate company called Askinosie seeks to do things differently. This post examines some of the challenges inherent in the structural inequality of the cocoa supply chain then looks at Askinosie’s mission and how it attempts to combat the dark side of chocolate production.

The truth behind the chocolate bar  

70% of the world’s cocoa is grown in only four West African countries: Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Cameroon, and Nigeria (Martin and Sampeck 50). The majority of this cocoa production is spread over two million small, independent family farms (Martin and Sampeck 50). Yet most of these farmers live well below the poverty line, a threshold defined by the World Bank as $1.90 per day (The World Bank). In fact, the typical average income for a family producing cocoa in Ghana is between $0.50 and $0.80 per day (Martin). These farmers work to survive on incomes that are volatile and irregular. Their wages are loosely tied to the weight of the cocoa beans, but even that is an oversimplification, as many other factors impact how much they earn (Martin). The profitability of their farms may fluctuate based on circumstances outside of their control: changing commodity prices of cocoa, weather and climate change, deforestation, political unrest and even war.

The Middleman

One major factor that determines how much or how little a farmer receives is the next step in the supply chain, the buyer. Farmers often have no choice but to sell cocoa to local buyers, a practice often rife with corruption and little oversight. In some cases, scales may be fixed to reflect an incorrect cocoa weight or farmers may not even be permitted to look at the scales when the cocoa beans are being weighed, relying solely only on the buyer’s word (Leissle 110).

Unpaid Labor

Many of these farmers may not be the owners of the farms but farm workers, which ties into another pressing issue in cocoa production: the harmful exploitation of labor. The cocoa industry has had a long history of egregious labor practices, including the worst forms of child labor. Though many statistics have been put forth over the past few decades and studies have been conducted by independent organizations finding evidence of child trafficking and slavery, the exact number of forced child labor in cocoa production today remains difficult to measure (Berlan 1089). This in no way diminishes the gravity of the situation, and any evidence of the worst forms of child labor must be addressed and eradicated. The challenge is that many of these children work on family farms where they are expected to be involved in the daily activities of the farm and perhaps learn the necessary skills to one day take the farm over themselves (Berlan 1090). Often, farm work is simply considered to be part of the child’s chores. The difficulty arises when children are not enrolled in school and are involved in long hours and heavy work that harms their physical or mental health and safety. A common thread among all these cases is that farm owners simply do not earn enough to hire labor and therefore depend on unpaid labor for basic survival.

The Fairtrade Label

Certification systems such as Fairtrade tackle these issues directly by ensuring that all products bearing the Fairtrade label comply with its terms, such as sustainable and environmentally safe farming practices, fair labor conventions according to the International Labour Organization that prohibit discrimination, forced labor, and the worst forms of child labor. As long as producer organizations can pay a certification fee and comply with the terms, they are ensured a Minimum Price for cocoa and receive a Fairtrade Premium (Leissle 141). Though well-intentioned, the Fairtrade label is not without criticism and controversy. Charging a certification fee to growers only adds to their existing financial hardships. As for the Minimum Price paid to cocoa producers, it has been criticized as being too low and stagnant to significantly improve the lives of cocoa farmers (Leissle 142).

Nonetheless, Fairtrade has successfully raised consumer awareness of the inequality and human rights injustices in cocoa production. The dialogue and media attention it has created has stirred industry giants into action, forcing the largest players in the chocolate industry to take more corporate responsibility. Nestlé, Mars, Cadbury, and Ferrero have all committed to sourcing Fairtrade certified cocoa in some of their products (Leissle 147). Just this month, CNN published an article stating that Mondelēz had publicly pledged to use 100% sustainable cocoa by 2025, albeit through its internal Cocoa Life program (Wiener-Bronner). The fact that said cocoa would be certified by its in-house sustainability program, of course, raises the question of just how rigorous the program will be and if it will be transparent at all.

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Is Cadbury, given its questionable ethical history, being opportunistic by placing a Fairtrade label on its most popular product?

In fact, the lack of transparency in sourcing methods has been a constant criticism of the Big Five companies. For example, Hershey claims that a third of its cocoa comes from certified sustainable sources, however, little is known of their origins (Leissle 147). The ability of these multinational companies to pick and choose some, but not all, of their products to be Fairtrade certified is not a positive step towards eliminating the injustices in the cocoa industry. As Ndongo Sylla points out in The Fair Trade Scandal, certifying only products rather than the organizations themselves allows companies with unethical practices and a controversial history to maintain a positive public image without committing in any significant way (130). How do we differentiate between opportunistic companies that are jumping on the Fairtrade bandwagon and those that are morally committed to corporate activism and responsibility?

Askinosie & Social Responsibility  

Askinosie is a bean-to-bar chocolate company founded in Springfield, Missouri by Shawn Askinosie who retired from a 20-year career as a defense attorney in 2005 in order to start making his own chocolate. The company sources the beans directly from cocoa farms and processes the beans itself into the chocolate products that they sell. While many small companies today employ the same bean-to-bar model, Askinosie is unique in its dedication to social responsibility. Shawn Askinosie states on the Askinosie website: “I can confidently say the greatest opportunity and challenge has been weaving social responsibility into everything we do; it’s not just a buzzword, it’s who we are. Askinosie Chocolate was born committed to fairness, sustainability, minimal environmental impact and community enhancement” (Askinosie).

Direct Trade

What sets Askinosie apart is its direct trade model. It buys beans directly from the grower, eliminating the need for intermediary buyers and middlemen and allowing each step of this very short supply chain to be traceable (Leissle 154). This allows Askinosie to source fine flavor beans that meet its standards of quality. By having a say in every step of the post-harvesting process such as fermentation and drying, Askinosie is able to “ensure the resulting beans taste as perfect as possible” as well as spot defective beans before they arrive at the factory (Askinosie). The company is also able to control pre-shipment storing methods, the types of bags the cocoa beans are shipped in, as well as the actual importation and transportation of the beans themselves

Profit-sharing

Everything starts with quality–and an appreciation of farmers. We honor farmers as experts and craftsmen, so we treat them as such and consider them partners in our business. We work together with our farmer partners to create exceptional chocolate from exceptional cocoa beans.”    (Askinosie)

Askinosie prides itself in knowing the name of every farmer it works with and being able to trace the beans directly to the source, whether that source is a single farmer or a cooperative of smallholder farmers. And in addition to paying farmers prices that are, on average, 35% higher than world market price and 25% higher than the Fairtrade price, Askinosie shares its profits directly with its farmers. In doing so, farmers are treated as business partners, sharing in up to 10% of the net profits of the company (Askinosie). Because every single origin can be traced to the exact source, the very farm or cooperative, growers are able to get a percentage of the sales of products made with those beans. Both sides benefit in this mutually supportive model. Askinosie can source excellent beans and control a large part of the process that impacts flavor and quality, and the farmers are able to earn more. 

Askinosie also shares with the farmers its financial statements in what it calls its “Open Book Management policy.” In frequent trips to the farms, Askinosie shares the numbers and how each bean purchase affects the net profits of the company. These discussions “enable the farmers to connect the quality of their beans to the outcome of each chocolate bar,” showing farmers how improvements on post-harvest techniques can “ensure an even greater profit margin in the future, which means more opportunities for the farmers to share in a success they helped create” (Askinosie).

Transparency

In sharp contrast to multinational companies that offer consumers vague or almost no information about its supply chains, Askinosie publishes a Transparency Report detailing its purchase history from its inception. Following in the footsteps of Taza Chocolate, the first company to practice direct trade and also publish an annual transparency report, Askinosie fully discloses yearly prices paid for beans, how much was paid directly to farmers, the amount of profit shared, and even details of Shawn Askinosie’s yearly visits to the farms (Leissle 153; Askinosie). Unlike Taza, however, Askinosie provides detailed figures about the farm gate price paid to farmers, which allows consumers to know exactly how much farmers receive (Leissle 157). This remarkable level of transparency not only enhances consumer trust in the company but also raises the bar for the industry as a whole.

Community Development

Askinosie sources its beans from four origins: Davao, Philippines; Mababu, Tanzania; San Jose del Tambo, Ecuador; and Zamora, Amazonia in Ecuador. In each of these locations, Shawn Askinosie has built and maintained long-term relationships with each of the farmers who supplies his beans through the company’s direct trade practices (Askinosie).

In Davao and Mababu, Askinosie has worked to directly support the local communities through a sustainable lunch program called A Product of Change. In a pledge to ensure that local school children eat more than one meal a day, Askinosie sells local food products from those regions in its online store, storefront, and to other food retailers. 100% of the profits from those products go back to the schools to provide lunches for their students. In Mababu, Askinosie funded the first textbooks and computers at a local school and a deep water well delivering potable water to the entire village. In both Zamora and Mababu, Askinosie partners with female-led farmer cooperatives, recognizing and empowering a traditionally marginalized and undervalued demographic in cocoa production (Askinosie).

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Monica Guaman, lead farmer partner in Zamora, is prominently featured on the front of Askinosie’s single-origin Zamora bar. Askinosie features the actual individuals who farm the beans that go into each single-origin chocolate bar. (Source: Askinosie)

Education

In addition to developing the communities of its farmer partners, Askinosie seeks to involve the local community of Springfield through the establishment of Chocolate University, which is funded by proceeds from chocolate tours at the Askinosie factory. This learning program for local elementary, middle school, and high school students provides a hands-on experience with the goal of inspiring the youth “through the lens of artisan chocolate making to be global citizens and embrace the idea that business(es) can solve world problems” (Askinosie). The program even takes a group of high school students every year to Mababu, Tanzania where students engage with cocoa farmers on the farms and learn about small business and direct trade, allowing them to witness sustainable business practices firsthand and inspiring them to be agents of change within their own communities.

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Proceeds from tours of Askinosie’s chocolate factory go directly towards funding the Chocolate University (Source: Askinosie)

Final Thoughts

Social responsibility lies at the core of Askinosie’s mission, which it successfully executes through its direct trade and profit-sharing with its farmer partners. Direct trade eliminates the need for middlemen, ensuring that farmers receive their just pay. The transparency of its pricing and sourcing practices allows the public to see that these farmers are receiving above market price for their cocoa beans, which in turn, allows them to hire employees on their farms and support their local economies. 

The company also recognizes the importance of knowledge at all points in the cocoa supply chain. Askinosie team members in Springfield and farmer partners on cocoa farms alike receive financial education on the company’s numbers. The Transparency Report informs the public. Students of Chocolate University learn about corporate social responsibility, of the work that goes into cocoa farming, and the challenges in cocoa production. This level of transparency within the supply chain and the initiative to educate and inform consumers are refreshing in an industry that is often shrouded in so much ambiguity.

Askinosie should be lauded for its exemplary practices. However, so much more work needs to be done in the cocoa industry for large-scale change to occur. Direct trade is one step in the right direction, but it is limited in scale as top-quality beans are prioritized over bulk beans, which make up the majority of beans produced in the world and in whose production we find so many of the industry’s complex problems. Notice the absence from Askinosie’s selection of origins any West African country where these inequalities abound. This is likely due to sourcing challenges by any small craft company in this region of the cocoa-producing world, further indication of the many challenges in the global cocoa supply chain (Martin and Sampeck 55). The reality is that many consumers do not want to pay $10 for a bar of chocolate. And the market of cheap chocolate continues to perpetuate the system of structural inequality that exists today. Farmers depend on cocoa production for their livelihood and survival which are inextricably tied to global consumption and demand. Until the largest players in the cocoa industry start to adopt fair practices and corporate social responsibility on a global scale, until more consumers are made aware of the complexities behind that chocolate bar, the problems we see today, sadly, will continue to exist.  

 

Scholarly Works Cited

Berlan, Amanda. “Social Sustainability in Agriculture: An Anthropological Perspective on Child Labour in Cocoa Production in Ghana.” The Journal of Development Studies, vol. 49, no. 8, 2013, pp. 1088-1100.

Leissle, Kristy. Cocoa. Polity Press, 2018.

Martin, Carla. “Modern Day Slavery.” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food, 27 Mar. 2019, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA. Lecture.

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

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

Multimedia Sources

Askinosie Chocolate. Askinosie, http://www.askinosie.com. Accessed 2 May 2019.

“The Real Cost of a Chocolate Bar.” Raisetrade, http://www.raisetrade.com/real-cost-of-a-chocolate-bar.html. Accessed 2 May 2019.

“Fairtrade Certified Cadbury Dairy Milk.” Chocablog, http://www.chocablog.com/features/how-fair-is-fairtrade-chocolate. Accessed 2 May 2019.

The World Bank, 2019, http://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/poverty/overview. Accessed 2 May 2019.

Wiener-Bronner, Danielle. “Toblerone and Cadbury will be made with sustainable cocoa.” CNN Business, 29 Apr. 2019, amp.cnn.com/cnn/2019/04/29/business/mondelez-cocoa-sustainability/index.html. Accessed 2 May 2019.

 

A Crafty Future

There is a revolution going on in America.  It exists as almost a counter to the industrial revolution that drove this country forward a hundred years before it.  Craft artisans are taking over in the wake of a society that has been built by mass production.  As this revolution moves across foodstuffs, it is of no surprise that craft chocolate is currently on the rise.  However, it is important to understand why this revolution is taking place now, and some of the hurdles it must overcome to continue its success.

The Lay of the Land

Currently two chocolate companies, Hershey’s and Mars, account for over 50% of chocolate sales in the U.S. (Euromonitor, 2017). It should be of no surprise that these two particular companies own so much of the market share. They were both founded on the idea of bringing chocolate, which was previously a luxury treat, to the masses.  Milton Hershey was a pioneer in mass production, revolutionizing and streamlining much of the industrial process.  Hershey’s team discovered that by using condensed sweetened skim milk they could create a product with longer shelf life and that blended easily with cocoa powder.  This meant that not only could he ship his chocolate bars further, but lasting longer on the shelf meant less profit losses due to spoilage.  Hershey also looked at supply chain optimizations, investing in his own dairy farms and even building a sugar mill operation in Cuba, complete with its own railroad.  This allowed Hershey to control both the costs of commodities for his chocolate bar and the quality.  Mars, on the other hand, was more successful due to marketing than anything else.  His Milky Way bar (which originally sourced chocolate from Hershey) was more nougat than chocolate, making it larger on shelf and seem a comparatively good value to the Hershey bar. That said, both had the same result, taking an indulgence that was once almost exclusive to the wealthy and middle classes and democratizing it for every day enjoyment.

chocolate sizingMass production allowed for chocolate to be produced cheaper, allowing those savings to be passed on to the consumer – or more importantly, from a marketing sense, for them to outprice their competitors.  But while price is important, so are the products themselves.  While it may have taken a while for consumers to acclimate to the flavor of Hershey’s and Mars bars when they first came on the market, the particular blend of milk, sugar and other ingredients insured that they were universally palatable and they now exist as the template for what we expect chocolate to taste like.  Similarly, both companies have hero products that are specifically designed for easy consumption.  Both Hershey’s Kisses and M&Ms were made for portability (individually wrapped/ melts in your mouth, not in your hand) and their small, poppable size makes it easy for consumers to lose track of mindfulness and eat large quantities in one sitting. These products have other advantages, as they are easily adaptable to innovation.  As consumers are desiring more variety and novelty across the board, these products have proven to be the most flexible in introducing new flavors – and easily acceptable to consumers who are familiar with their form and have built brand trust.  These companies have leveraged seasonality, larger cultural trends, and limited time offers to drive new product news and sales.

pumpkin(wait.  Is she wearing an infinity scarf and hipster glasses?)

So, if big chocolate is designed for palatability and companies are responding to consumers desires for more interesting, topical flavors, why are we seeing a proliferation of craft chocolate providers? When we look at the numbers, the story becomes more telling.   When looking at sales growth, mass chocolate has remained flat year over year (CSP daily news, 2016).  This despite their innovation and the fact that chocolate consumption overall is growing.  Instead, the growth seems to be predominantly driven by premium and craft chocolates, suggesting not just changing tastes, but a changing attitude about where our food is actually coming from.

Big Food Backlash

There is growing negativity towards giant corporations and conglomerates, particularly when it comes to food. From an economic standpoint, consumers have watched as these corporations get massive tax breaks which have translated into bonuses for the executive suite, while the working class continues to struggle.  While this issue impacts most major corporations, it is of particular concern when it comes to the chocolate industry and growing awareness around fair labor practices, forced labor, child labor and the ethical price people pay for their chocolate.  There is a lot of skepticism that these companies will make ethical choices when given the opportunity, particularly when people see so many examples in the news of them pursuing profits over people, such as Nestle bottling drinkable water in the middle of the Flint, Michigan water crisis (the guardian, 2017).  More and more often, buying in to big brands feels like an investment against your own interests.

The Big Middle creates more space for differentiation

The sheer nature of big brands as they fold in to one another may be working against them. “When you have increasing concentration of producers in the center, you leave room on the periphery for specialization,” says Elizabeth G. Pontikes, associate professor at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business. (Shanker, 2017) In other words, these multinational conglomerates are creating their own sea of sameness.  In a society that is increasingly valuing individuality, particularly when it comes to the millennial and younger generations, brands and products that lack differentiation also lack appeal.  We can see this even in the most famous of branding cases, Coke vs. Pepsi with beverage drinkers now migrating to new choices like LaCroix and energy drinks.

The obvious choice might be for these mass chocolate brands to create verticals that touch these periphery spaces, but they have struggled breaking in.  Hershey’s introduced their Cacao Reserve premium line in 2006.  The brand lasted three years, suffered several price drops and the need for mass market advertising support, before they dropped it from store shelves. (Thompson, 2007) Their next move was to build their premium line using borrowed equity.  At the same time they launched Cacao Reserve, they purchased Scharfeen Berger, a premium line of chocolates out of California. As they pushed to mass market the brand, they switched suppliers, using cheaper beans from West Africa.  The result was severed relationships with brands like Whole Foods, who were concerned that Hershey’s could not guarantee that the beans weren’t sourced through child labor (Bloomberg, 2017).  The brand has somewhat rebounded, but the initial loss is still being recovered, and leaves the question as to whether or not big brands can ever play credibly in the premium/ craft space.

A wake up call for food

The obesity crisis in America was a wake up call about the food we consume and how it is being produced.  A series of films, articles and exposes, while at times misleading and ignores the true labor of food, caused people to rethink what they are getting out of processed food.  The consumer take-away was that mass produced food lacks quality and nutritional value, is predominantly artificial fillers, and is potentially detrimental to your overall health. Quality, whole ingredients, and care has become increasingly synonymous with healthfulness, regardless of traditional markers like fat and calories.

While all of these things make craft chocolate more appealing, it still has hurdles to overcome to convince people to pay the enormous price tag that comes along with it.

As noted, industrial chocolate is the baseline for people’s orientation to what chocolate should look and taste like, as well as what it should cost.  For Craft chocolate to succeed, they don’t just need to overcome the shift to premium pricing, they need to overcome expectations set by mass market chocolate.  There is a need to educate people on to the true value of the chocolate they are consuming and the difference that craft chocolate provides. There are four key ways in which craft offers a point of difference that both provides a difference that supports craft’s value proposition and requires consumer education: process, taste, ingredients and sourcing and ethics.

Understanding the process

Over time, manufactures have swapped out real ingredients for cheaper artificial substitutes such as vanillin instead of vanilla.  (Martin-Sampeck, 2016). This has impact on the flavor, consistency and mouthfeel of the chocolate itself. Craft chocolate’s smaller production model in of itself creates a different end product, but some companies have gone further, focusing on minimizing the process.

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Taza chocolate, a bean to bar company located in Somerville, MA, takes great pains to educate consumers as to their process.  They describe their bars as “chocolate with true grit.” Their mission is to return chocolate to its pre-industrial roots.  They believe that less processing allows for more complexity in flavors. Their chocolate is stone ground on hand carved molinos (mill stones) with little refinement between that and the end product.  The result is, to their description, a chocolate bar that lacks the smoothness that consumers have come to expect, but with a stronger chocolate flavor and more complexity in experience overall.

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Expanding your palate

“When most people eat a piece of chocolate we want that pleasure immediately: boom!  That’s the music of mass-market chocolate.” (Williams, 2012)

Historians have theorized (incorrectly) that when chocolate came to the old world, that it was appropriated to suit Europeans’ tastes (Norton, 2016).  In fact, chocolate’s evolution from its new world form to the substance we know today was a process that took over a century of innovation.  The chocolate that Europeans first enjoyed was a fairly close recreation of how it was consumed in Mesoamerica.  The Europeans had just acquired a taste for it.  That said, they had a lot of motivation to do so – chocolate was seen as exotic, a luxury (due to both its scarcity and use as currency), and had potential new health benefits.  Additionally, unlike today, there was no basis for comparison.  For today’s consumers, their palates have been educated in the world of mass produced chocolate – and what they have come to expect is a very sweet, creamy, almost single note experience.  Craft chocolate, on the other hand, leans in to chocolate’s bitter notes, and offers way more complexity.  Not only do consumers need to adjust to the new flavor profile, but they need help recognizing the flavor notes to truly appreciate the difference they are getting from craft.

Dick Taylor chocolates started in a small factory in Eureka, California by Adam Dick and Dustin Taylor.  They started their factory out of a love of craftsmanship and making things with their hands (both worked in woodworking and boat building).  In addition to educating consumers on the sourcing of their beans, they seek to educate consumers on how craft processing changes the flavor and experience of their chocolate.  From their website “by not cutting corners or taking shortcuts in our process we are able to leave out vanilla, additional cocoa butter or other emulsifiers, in hopes of capturing and highlighting the subtle flavor nuances in the cacao we source from around the world.”

In this they set expectations that their chocolate will be less sweet and have more complexity of flavors.  To further support that, their packaging calls out the specific flavor notes that the chocolate bar offers, much in the way that wine and craft beers call out tasting notes.

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XOCOLATL, a “micro-factory” chocolatier out of Atlanta similarly looks to highlight chocolate’s natural flavors.  Their bars are blended with spices and other elements that call out chocolate’s flavor components.  For example, their Americana bar contains no apples, but uses familiar pie spices to highlight that quality within the chocolate.

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Origin/ localization

While mass chocolate uses the blending of not only several different types of beans, but beans from multiple locations, there is a rising trend in single origin chocolate.  This has arisen both out of an increased interest in food provenance and small chocolate purveyors interest in highlighting the different unique flavor profiles of the beans.  (Norton, 2013) By doing so, they are able to not only show off the different flavor varietals, but capitalize on the exotic locales to add a sense of rarity and uniqueness to their product lines.

Amedei Chocolates, a craft company out of Tuscany, Italy, builds their sourcing education in to their product offerings.  Each of their bar product lines serves as an exploration in the difference that cacao content, origin and the beans themselves can make.  Their Toscano Black line offers three different (though relatively close) percentages of dark chocolate – 63%, 66%, and 70%.  Their cru product line is all single origin dark chocolate – allowing consumers to taste the subtle differences between each region.  But where they go one step further than many bars is to focus and educate consumers on the strains of cacao available.  They offer both a Blanco de Criollo and a Porcelana bar.  The external packaging on each features a botanical drawing of the bean.  The inside explains the history, origin and flavor notes.  For the Porcelana bar, it notes the Venuzuela plantation, it’s small production of only 3,000 kilos of beans, and the rarity of this particular strain. Tasting notes are described as “toasted almonds that alternates with pressed olives.” This reinforces the specialness of the bar and the unique experience that it offers, while simultaneously pushing the consumer’s palate to recognize more subtleties in flavor.

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Ethical Sourcing

One of the major challenges in the chocolate industry overall is the issue of labor practices and sourcing.  Even setting aside the more dire problems of forced and child labor, very little of the profits made from chocolate sales actually makes its way back to the farmers that grow it.  While there are a variety of certification schemes (i.e. Fair Trade, UTZ Certified, IMO Fair for Life), the cost of participating is high, and consumer demand has yet to drive a higher price in goods that can be translated back to the farmer. (Martin-Sampeck, 2016)  Additionally, there are those who don’t think that programs like Fair Trade go far enough, and result in a minimal profit increase for the farmer.

Companies like Taza and Askinosie chocolates instead have focused on direct trade, which cuts out middlemen and insures that more profits go back to the hands of the farmers.  Askinosie notes on their website “we hold the craft and quality of our chocolate in almost equal balance with doing as much good as we can in the world.”  As part of educating consumers at to the importance of direct trade, their bars feature the actual farmers that they work with on the front.  The back label tells that person’s story, how they became acquainted with Askinosie chocolate, and how their contribution insured the quality of the product you are holding.  It also features the following guarantee:  A stake in the Outcome. We guarantee to our farmers more than fair prices, open books and a share in our success.   In the way that they tell the story of their trade relationships, Askinosie doesn’t just insure the consumer of the ethics of their bar, they humanize it and translate that in to a real value to the consumer in the quality and craft of the final product itself.

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The future of craft

Craft still has some educational and orientation challenges to overcome, but as more and more people migrate away from big food and big chocolate, the opportunity to create a wider variety of chocolates leveraging ethical sourcing and quality ingredients remains as promising and sweet as the product itself.

Sources used:

Brenner, Joel. 2000. The Emperors of Chocolate: Inside the Secret World of Hershey and Mars.

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. 2007 (1996) The True History of Chocolate.

CPS News (September 15, 2016) Premium Chocolate Driving US Sales Growth.  CPS Daily News. Retrieved from:http://www.cspdailynews.com/category-news/snacks-candy/articles/premium-chocolate-driving-us-sales-growth

D’Antonio, Michael D. 2006. Milton S. Hershey’s Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams.

Glenza, Jessica. (September 29, 2017) Nestle Pays $200 a Year to Bottle Water Near Flint Michigan.  The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/sep/29/nestle-pays-200-a-year-to-bottle-water-near-flint-where-water-is-undrinkable

Laudan, Rachel (May 5, 2015) A Plea for Culinary Modernism. Jacobin Magazine Retrieved from https://www.jacobinmag.com/2015/05/slow-food-artisanal-natural-preservatives/

Leissle, Kristy. (2013) Invisible West Africa: the Politics of Single Origin Chocolate. Gastronmics: The Journal of Food and Culture, Vol. 13. No. 3 (Fall 2013)pp.22-31

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

Shanker, Deena (February 7, 2017) The Rise of Craft Chocolate. Bloomberg News. Retrieved from https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2017-02-07/the-rise-of-craft-chocolate

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

Thompson, Stephanie. (March 6, 2007) Reservations about Reserve Haunt Hershey. Adage Magazine. Retrieved from: http://adage.com/article/news/reservations-reserve-haunt-hershey/115326/

Trout, Jack. Differientate or Die: Survival in our Era of Killer Competition. New York. Wiley, Second Edition 2008

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

Yu, Douglas. (March 29, 2018) Lindt Will Most Certainly Come Back to Growth in US. Confectionary News. Retrieved from https://www.confectionerynews.com/Article/2018/03/29/Lindt-will-most-certainly-come-back-to-growth-in-US-says-Vontobel

 

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.

Table

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.

 

Figure 2

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.

Figure 4
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.