Tag Archives: bean-to-bar

Mindo Chocolate Makers: A Leader in the Ethical Bean to Bar Supply Chain

Mindo Chocolate Makers (2018) is a bean to bar chocolate company based in Mindo, Ecuador and Dexter, Michigan.  Their company values not only have the potential to change the chocolate supply chain for the better, but to change chocolate itself.  In order for bean to bar chocolate companies to pay fair wages throughout, not use forced labor, and be environmentally friendly, the company has to be willing to worry about the quality of product they are producing opposed to the amount of product they are producing.  This is exactly what Mindo Chocolate does and if other companies begin to follow their business model, it could drastically impact the chocolate industry for the better.

Mindo prides itself on being “a small business, and no matter how big we grow, we’ll always have a small business mentality that relies on great people coming together –  our growers, our employees, our customers –  to create the most delicious chocolate experience possible” (Mindo, 2018, para. 8).  By creating a sense of community from the moment the beans are harvested, all the way through the time chocolate is served to consumers, this already differs greatly from vast companies such as Hershey.  Mindo also has a goal of putting “more money into the hands of cocoa farmers and their farms, while providing our customers with superior quality, direct-trade, organic cocoa products” (Mindo, 2018, para. 1).  They do this by being a community supported chocolate company, in which their farmers are presented with upfront capital so they can harvest the maximum amount of product during peak season instead of losing income and product due to a lack of funding during harvest season.  One of the main ways Mindo has the potential to change the chocolate industry is by “paying two to three times the fair trade price for cocoa beans” (para. 6).  Doing this “encourage[s] the farmers to resist the hybrid and deforestation trend” (para. 6).  All of Mindo’s beans are from Nacional varieties of cocoa, which is an heirloom variety of cocoa bean, and they will, under no circumstances, accept diseased or hybridized beans (para. 6).

One of the main points that Mindo makes abundantly clear is their focus on community.  When consumers feel a connection to a product and its maker, they are more likely to actually consider the origins and production of the product, in contrast to faceless companies that mass produce chocolate in less than tasteful ways.  For “nine tenths of its long history, chocolate was drunk, not eaten” (Coe & Coe, 2013, p. 12).  The act of drinking is often a communal activity (e.g., tea, alcohol, coffee, etc.).

Ecuadorian Drinking ChocolateEcuadorian drinking chocolate (Mindo, 2018).  Description: A creamy intensely flavorful chocolate. Natural cocoa, single origin, organic, shade grown, ethically sourced, made from Nacional cocoa beans.  Ingredients: 77% dark chocolate (organic cocoa beans, organic cane sugar) , natural cocoa powder, organic cane sugar.

 In that, for most of its history, chocolate was actually consumed as a beverage, Mindo is committed to preserving the integrity of chocolate, though it is now more often consumed in solid forms; they are maintaining a sense of community even without it being in liquid form.  While companies like Hershey produce vast quantities of chocolate, they are a brand whose main goal is to make money.  They do not strive to be the highest quality and most community involved chocolate company.  By interacting with the community, Mindo is promoting an inquisitory attitude towards the bean to bar process, thus bringing ethics into play.

The question of ethical practices in the food industry is of utmost importance.  With the rising world population, more food is needed, and with this increase in food production, a rise in unfair labor practices is a major risk.  Fair trade is one of the combatants for the practice of unfair production in the food industry:

When you see a product with the Fair Trade Certified™ seal, you can be sure it was made according to rigorous social, environmental, and economic standards. We work closely on the ground with producers and certify transactions between companies and their suppliers to ensure that the people making Fair Trade Certified goods work in safe conditions, protect the environment, build sustainable livelihoods, and earn additional money to empower and uplift their communities. (Fair Trade Certified, 2018, para. 2)

Unfortunately, their claims of a seemingly impeccable system do not exactly hold up.  Some of their critiques include “Little money reaches developing world; [l]ess money reaches farmers; [l]ack of evidence of impact; [c]ost of Fair Trade certification, shouldered by farmers, is quite high; [i]nefficient marketing system (corruption); [q]uality concerns (no incentive); [f]air Trade never meant to be a one-stop shop for solving all social problems” (Martin, 2018a, slide 11).  While on the surface, Fair Trade seems to be an ideal system for bean to bar chocolate production, these issues prevent it from being so.

Mindo is not Fair Trade certified, and is taking fair practices into their own hands.  By paying farmers three times the fair trade value directly, they are ensuring that funds actually reach the farmers themselves and do not get lost in a system instead.  By not being Fair Trade certified and, instead, being independently, extremely dedicated to fair conditions throughout their bean to bar practice, they are able to avoid the hefty fee for Fair Trade certification and invest in fair practices themselves.  Their involvement in Community Supported Chocolate (CSC) (Mindo, 2018) is one of the main components of their upstanding practices.  As a customer you can “[make] a one-time payment that covers three months of a CSC share.  This one-time payment provides [their] farmers with the upfront capital required in cocoa production” (Mindo, 2018, para. 3).  Not only does this benefit the farmers themselves, but those that help fund the farmer’s harvest receive chocolate for being a CSC member.  This reinforces the feeling of community that Mindo strives to accomplish.  Members get the opportunity to actually taste their ethical practices.

By putting the CSC program into action, Mindo has the potential to change the bean to bar supply chain.  The Spaniards viewed “Emperor Moctezuma II drinking frothed chocolate with a degree of ceremony clearly marking it as an exalted food” (Presilla,2009, p. 18).  Chocolate being viewed as an exalted food has become a notion of the past.  Today, chocolate is an everyday commodity and is not viewed as a food for the wealthy.  According to the Hershey Company (2017), in the fourth quarter of 2017 alone, they sold $1,939.6 million worth of products.  The industrialization of the chocolate industry is borderline nullifying the beauty of cocoa.  By having people fund cocoa farmers and then experience chocolate made with cocoa beans they helped to harvest, it promotes an appreciation of the product.  Promoting an appreciation of the cocoa could then lead consumers to shy away from commercialized products such as Hershey bars and Kisses, which are more sugar than cocoa.

Sadly, the sugar industry is a profoundly unethical world.  Throughout history, sugar plantations utilized slave labor as commonplace; now it is still utilized, but since condemned by modern standards, is hidden from the public eye.  Sugar became popularized as a result of “underlying forces in British society and of the exercise of power” (Mintz, 1986, p. 150).  Sugar was for the rich and powerful, which, in turn, made the masses want it.  In order to reach the masses, “England fought the most, conquered the most colonies, imported the most slaves, and went furthest and fastest in creating a plantation system.  The most important product of the system was sugar” (Mintz, 1986, as cited in Martin, 2018b, slide 10).  Sugar production today still often utilizes slave labor and exploits farmers in order to produce cheap products, and lots of them.  Mindo’s refusal to exploit workers in any stage of their bean to bar process is a step against this system.

Some of the main challenges with companies such as Mindo are price point and notoriety.  Mindo is at the higher end of price points for chocolate products because they refuse to use hybridized or unhealthy beans, and pay their workers fair wages.  They are also a small company lost in the sea of media attention for big name companies.  Hershey is able to spend hundreds of millions a year on advertising, enabling them to reach everyone, anywhere.  Smaller companies like Mindo are unlikely to make as much money in five years as Hershey spends solely on advertising in a year long period.  They have a high rate of face to face communication in their company, but not the level of product to consumer communication as Hershey.  A pure 77% chocolate bar from Mindo

Pure 77% Chocolate Bar Description: Pure 77% chocolate, stone-ground to optimal flavor. This is our “flagship” flavor and cacao percentage as it reflects what we do best: dark chocolate made from organic Nacional cocoa beans. Heirloom variety and only fine flavor beans. No milk, no soy, nothing added. Ingredients: organic cocoa beans, organic evaporated cane juice (vegan), Made with cacao (Mindo, 2018).

is seven dollars, whereas a Hershey chocolate bar (usually) is under two dollars.  To consumers, Hershey seems to be the obvious choice because it is far cheaper and more recognizable.  Consumers equate notoriety with trust. What they are unaware of, however, is that Hershey’s chocolate contains roughly the minimum amount of cocoa that can be in a product while still being called chocolate: 10%.  It is at a lower price point because it is mainly sugar and other additives instead of what consumers think they are actually paying for – chocolate.

Mindo pays a premium for their cocoa in order to maintain the integrity of the bean and preserve its true flavor profile.  One of the main reasons that they use the Nacional variety of cocoa is because it “grows intermixed with other plants and trees that promote habitats for midge pollinators, birds, and other animals” (Mindo, 2018, para. 5).  This illustrates their dedication to helping preserve the environment instead of participating in harmful practices of deforestation and hybridization that other companies use.  They are also concerned about consumer safety:  “[a]ll of our beans are dried on long beds at the farmers’ cooperative – a fact that you take for granted until you realize that much of the cacao in the world is dried on the ground or on the side of the road where gasoline and other pollutants can easily seep into the beans” (para. 8).  As a whole, Mindo seems to be doing everything right.  The problem that arises, however, is how do they spread their practices and make their product know to the masses?

In today’s technology driven society, big name companies such as Hershey dominate the advertising industry.  Luckily, of late, social media has been able to bring smaller name brands to the forefront of the sales industry.  There is beginning to be a shift in the consumer trend; people want to feel good about what they are purchasing.  For example, the company Sand Cloud (2018) donates 10% of all of its proceeds to saving marine life and makes ocean-safe sunscreen as well as clothing out of old plastic bottles.  Consumers are willing to pay a higher amount for these products because they feel like they are being socially conscious and actually see, via social media, how their purchase is helping the environment.  Mindo is in a special place in which not only can they take advantage of this new wave of marketing, but their business is founded on it.  Even their inside and outside packaging is made from recycled, compostable material from the bean to bar process – sugar cane pulp.

Pure 77% Chocolate Bar

Pure 77% Mindo (2018) Chocolate Bar – See text at bottom of wrapper.

When buying Mindo Chocolate, not only are consumers helping the environment, but they are helping real people.

The less people buy from commercialized companies and the more they buy from companies such as Mindo, cocoa will become a beacon of change.  Cocoa was originally “ranked with gold and gems in records of solemn offerings to the dead, and [the Spaniards] gathered that its use was restricted to certain prestigious classes” (Presilla, 2009, p. 18).  Thus, cocoa went from being viewed as something reserved for the wealthy to something you can buy for a couple dollars at a convenient store.  Though the masses should be able to enjoy cocoa, it deserves to be respected, and everyone involved in the bean to bar process deserves to be as well.  Mindo is respecting the beans, the people growing them, creating a high quality product, and is inviting consumers to enjoy their community of respect for cocoa in the process.

Mindo is a brand not focused on sales, but on ethics.  It is a passionate company that not only takes pride in their product every step of the way, but is improving the chocolate industry while doing so.  This seemingly small company is utilizing methods that are drastically improving farmers’ lives, helping to preserve the environment, not utilizing slave labor, and still managing to please taste buds in the process.  If quality comes into question, it cannot be disputed that Mindo follows extremely rigorous standards to insure that their cocoa products are of the highest quality and are not diluted with sugar and additives in order to mass produce.  They treat every aspect of cocoa processing with respect and if able to spread their methods and message, can bring the respect cocoa deserves back to the masses.

References

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

Fair Trade Certified. (2018). Our global model. Retrieved from https://www.fairtradecertified.org/why-fair-trade/our-global-model

Hershey. (2017). Hershey announces fourth-quarter and full-year 2017 results; Provides 2018 outlook. Retrieved from https://www.thehersheycompany.com/content/dam/corporate-us/documents/past-presentations/2017/Q4_2017_Press_Release.pdf

Martin, C. (2018a). 20180404 Alternative trade and virtuous localization/globalization [PowerPoint presentation].

Martin, C. (2018b). 20180228 Slavery, abolition, and forced labor [PowerPoint presentation].

Mindo Chocolate Makers. (2018). Mindo chocolate makers. Retrieved from https://mindochocolate.com/pages/our-process

Mintz, S. W. (1986). Sweetness and power: The place of sugar in modern history.  New York, NY: The Penguin Group.

Presilla, M. E. (2009). The new taste of chocolate revised: A cultural and natural history of cacao with recipes. New York, NY: Crown Publishing.

Sand Cloud. (2018). Our mission. Retrieved from https://www.sandcloud.com/pages/our-mission

 

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The World’s Most Expensive Chocolate Might Just Be Worth It

It should come as no surprise that chocolate is a main or complementary ingredient in all of the most popular, mass produced candy bars in America. Having come a very long way since its adaptation into daily life by the Mayan people, cacao is available in a seemingly unending number of varieties today. From those popular candy bars with relatively little chocolate in them to more (un)refined bean-to-bar products, there really is something for everyone in the realm of chocolate. In recent years, there has been an increase in the availability of small-batch, luxury and artisanal chocolates making it, for some, more confusing than ever to choose a chocolate bar.

Beyond the obvious question of milk or dark—or in the case of some bean-to-bar chocolates I have found a hybrid of the two—it seems as though choosing a bar of chocolate could now be compared with choosing a bottle of wine; for those unaware or lacking a specific tried and true preference or knowledge base, there may exist a great deal of uncertainty surrounding what company to choose and why. On the other hand, however, this increase in availability and attention to detail in the realm of luxury, high-end chocolate has cultivated a new attention to detail; to flavor and quality and the overall terroir of chocolate which is made evident by the popularity and prized nature of single origin chocolate bars.

Similar to the wide price range we can see with wine, the price of a chocolate bar can run the consumer anywhere between $0.50 and $500 in cost. This is an expansive range and many may wonder if those higher end chocolates are truly worth shelling out the money for only a bite or two. While not necessarily consumable by the greater public on a regular basis, as a true lover of chocolate and the finer things in life myself, I am sure some of the most expensive chocolates in the world have tastes to match the price tag while others may seem drastically outrageous. Read on for an in-depth look at two of the world’s most expensive chocolate companies and the unique but important differences between them.

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TO’AK Chocolate is regarded as one of the most expensive chocolates in the world with a price tag of $385 for 50 grams of chocolate. The story of this Ecuadorian company is somewhat of a rags-to-riches tale, its start originating in a cabin in the rainforest with no electricity. To’ak was co-founded by two Ecuadorian transplants, Jerry Toth and Carl Schweizer. It is evident early on that they approach their chocolate making with the utmost care and attention for the sacred cacao tree and with ecological appreciation for their placed-based production right down to the very name of the company; “Derived from a fusion of ancient dialects in Ecuador, the name To’ak (pronounced Toe-Ahk) means “earth” and “tree,” which together represent the true source of all chocolate. We liken this name to the French term terroir, which describes how the taste of an artisanal product (wine, cheese, chocolate) expresses the specific soil and climate conditions of the land on which it was grown” (To’ak Chocolate).

To’ak Chocolate Video

Located in the province of Manabí, To’ak began with Toth’s conservation work and his desire to cultivate an organic orchard featuring fifty different kinds of fruit trees in addition to cacao trees. While working on this endeavor, Toth and his team found several old cacao groves along the banks of a river. This heirloom cacao was harvested and they began making chocolate as it was taught to them by their neighbors. Because of the lack of electricity, in the beginning everything was done by way of the old world; beans were roasted over an open fire, de-husked and ground by hand. After doing this for a while and coming to understand the value and quality of the cacao he was working with, Toth brought in Schweizer as well as fourth-generation cacao grower Servio Pachard to further his mission to bring the fine, dark Ecuadorian chocolate to the world.

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Not only does To’ak demonstrate an appreciation and respect for their product, but also for the environment around them; it is clear that they understand the importance of giving back and replenishing the resources they use in order for them to be successful in the preservation of cacao into the future. “To’ak is working with a coalition of local cacao growers, conservationists, and international universities to save Ecuador’s historic Ancient Nacional cacao from the brink of extinction. Cuttings from DNA-verified 100% pure Nacional trees have been grafted onto seedlings and planted in a protected plot of land in the nearby Jama-Coaque Ecological Reserve, managed by the rainforest conservation foundation Third Millennium Alliance. Within three years, each of these young trees will be able to provide enough cuttings to reproduce dozens of additional pure Nacional seedlings each year, which will then be distributed to any local cacao grower who wants to help save this historic variety from extinction. We call it the Noah’s Ark of Ancient Nacional cacao” (To’ak Chocolate). To’ak also pays their growers the highest price per pound in Ecuador, a direct indication that they have responsible business practices not only in regard to the environment but also in regard those that they employ. It should be noted that To’ak chocolate is based entirely out of Ecuador, from harvesting to packaging, it is providing a wealth of opportunity and safe jobs.

To’ak currently offers 5 different chocolates for sale on their website, all of them available in a 50-gram portion. When you purchase from To’ak however you are not just getting a bar of chocolate. “Each of our editions contains a 50-gram bar of dark chocolate with a single roasted cacao bean in the center. The chocolate bar is accompanied by a bamboo tasting utensil and a 116-page booklet, all of which are housed in a handcrafted Spanish Elm wood box with the individual bar number engraved on the bottom. The design of each of these items is inspired by ancient Ecuadorian artwork, dating back thousands of years, which we proudly introduce to the contemporary world” (To’ak Chocolate)It is these touches that make the chocolate that much more of a luxury experience. Divided into two collections, Vintage and Harvest, the former aged anywhere from 2 to 4 years and the latter from the 2016 harvest. For each chocolate, they list specific tasting notes and qualities one might pick up on as well as flavor wheels.

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There are several indications on the To’ak website that they are aiming to make their chocolate an experience on par with that of tasting fine wine or whiskey, with heavy nods towards understanding and appreciation of their product’s terroir and value as it related to Ecuador and the rich history and appreciation for cacao. Despite the very steep price tag, for those who are looking to have a fine chocolate experience and are willing to pay for it, in the case of To’ak, you are getting what you pay for.

Heading in a different direction and more than a bit closer to home, we come to Knipschildt Chocolatier based out of Norwalk, Connecticut. Started by Fritz Knipschildt, Knipschildt Chocolatier has been around since 1999 where it got its start in his small apartment kitchen. Knipschildt is a chef by trade as well as an immigrant from Denmark, giving him a unique perspective on chocolate. “Pursuing the American dream founded on traditional European chocolate craftsmanship, the philosophy behind House of Knipschildt rests on this desire to constantly improve the confectionary experience to provide customers with the highest value imaginable” (Chocopologie). Since its creation, Knipschildt has branched out to include two additional brands apart from Knipschildt Chocolatier, House of Knipschildt and Chocopologie. All three brands aim to produce quality products which respect individual ingredients, process, and the people behind each step.

Unlike To’ak, the Knipschildt brand, while there are indications they use single origin cacao from places such as Ecuador, the overall brand is much less process focused and much more end result. Not only do they not show pictures of any kind of their cacao source, but there is no specific mention or indications towards the rich historical traditions of cacao. It is safe to say that this company is much more of a European chocolatier in that their attention seems to be more on highly decorated refined chocolate truffles than on bean-to-bar efforts.

Their most prized chocolate is the La Madeline au Truffle with a price tag of $250.00 for a single truffle. This truffle starts with 70% Valrhona dark chocolate, heavy cream, sugar, truffle pol and vanilla as the base for a ganache. Then, a French Perigord truffle which is a very rare mushroom is surrounded by the chocolate ganache. This is then dipped into more dark chocolate and rolled in fine cocoa powder. The end product “Is pure extravagance! Lying on a bed of sugar peals in a gold box tied with ribbon” (Chocopologie) The company also offers other truffles at much lower price points however these come with no indication of where the chocolate is coming from.

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While I am sure this truffle has a unique and incomparable taste, I find it much harder to justify spending hundreds of dollars on something that shows little to no indication of where its coming from or who its really made by. Not to mention, there is no sign that they are sourcing their cacao from places that are free of child-labor or unfair and unsafe work conditions. I think this is a huge determining factor in understanding and appreciating today. While they do indicate that they use Valrhona chocolate, a visit to the Valrhona website does not provide much additional information

Comparing these companies might seem like comparing apples to oranges, in light of all we learned in chocolate class this year my opinions and preferences are changing. When one has a true knowledge base on the subject of cacao and the intricate web that has been woven around it throughout history, it changes how they view chocolate. And while I still love and appreciate the milky European varieties, I know understand what true chocolate is. True chocolate pays homage to those who came before with a heightened level of sacred respect for cacao as an ingredient passed down from the gods. It is difficult to maneuver the protection of old-world techniques and practices in the modern world but it can certainly be done as made evident by To’ak. Of course, business is business and both of these companies examined aim to make a profit however it is their differences that set them apart. The people behind To’ak have demonstrated a heightened connection to the cacao industry and from close examination of their website, one might leave thinking they are more in the business of preservation than candy sales and I think this is very true; by selling the chocolate for a high price, they generate money to protect and preserve the cacao species so it will thrive well into the future as well as provide for local indigenous people in the moment. Buying one of their chocolate bars is almost ceremonial in the same way that sharing chocolatewas seen as sacred and to be saved for special occasions such as new life, marriage, or death in the Mesoamerican culture (Coe & Coe 2013). As Maricel Presilla said in her book, “The true appreciation of chocolate quality begins with a link between the different spheres of effort. To know chocolate, you must know that the candy in the box or the chef’s creation on the plate begins with the bean, with the complex genetic profile of different cacao strains. Think how impossible it would be to make fine coffee with the coarse acrid beans of Coffea robusta. You must know also that the flavor of the finished product further depends on people carrying out careful, rigorous harvesting and fermentation practices” (Presilla 2009 pg. 4). It is with this in mind that we can find appreciation and understanding for certain higher end chocolates like To’ak.

 

 

Works Cited

“About.” Valrhona, http://www.valrhona-chocolate.com/about.

Coe, Michael D., and Sophie Coe. True History of Chocolate. Thames & Hudson Ltd, 2013.

“Knipschildt Chocolatier.” Chocopologie, chocopologie.com/.

Presilla, Maricel E. The New Taste of Chocolate: a Cultural & Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. Ten Speed Press, 2009.

“The World’s Most Luxurious Dark Chocolate Made by To’ak in Ecuador.” To’ak Chocolate, toakchocolate.com/.

 

An In-depth Look Into Dandelion Chocolate: How a Unique Bean-to-Bar Craft Chocolate Company Positively Transforms the Way to Supply, Manufacture, and Retail Chocolate

Dandelion Chocolate, a small-batch chocolatier cafe, sits in San Francisco’s oldest neighborhood, The Mission. Founded in 2010 by Todd Masonis as a cafe, Dandelion Chocolate has expanded to retailers across U.S and Japan, designed tours and classes, and diversified its menu offerings with several new recipes in addition to the company’s handmade candy bars (2). Masonis, CEO of Dandelion Chocolate and previously a software developer, started the company with a vision to scale, to transform the chocolate industry, and to challenge people’s customary view of chocolate. This paper will conduct an in-depth analysis of the company’s supply chain, chocolate manufacturing process, and retail strategy. Throughout I will highlight how Dandelion’s innovative techniques are challenging the Big Five chocolate makers and redefining how chocolate is produced and sold. By the end, it will be clear how Dandelion continues to be a part of the solution to the problems in the cacao-chocolate market.

BeanTo-Bar: The Supply Chain from Cacao Trees to the Dandelion Factory

Three words sum up Dandelion’s supply chain — precise, sustainable, and global. As a bean-to-bar chocolatier, Dandelion emphasizes the quality of the beans it uses in its chocolate bars and menu recipes. The company focuses on simplicity. Since Dandelion “uses only two ingredients to make [their] chocolate — cocoa beans and organic cane sugar”, the company has to be particular of the sourced beans’ flavor profiles (2). This directly contrasts the origin, sourcing, and flavor profile of the Big Five chocolate makers. Early in Hershey’s development, Milton S. Hershey hired a chemist before firing him and hiring John Schmalbach who helped create Hershey’s taste profile that we still see today (4). When Schmalbach was done experimenting, he arrived at “a mild-tasting milk chocolate that had the perfect bite — like al dente pasta — that melted smoothly in the mouth” (4). This product utilized swiss condensed milk which helped Hershey easily pump, channel, and pour the chocolate through mass production. Unlike Dandelion’s simple single ingredient taste profile, Hershey confuses consumers with its chocolate nutritional profile. On Hershey’s site, the company states their chocolate bars are made with “simple ingredients — and never any artificial flavors, preservatives or sweeteners” (5). These ingredients include “farm fresh whole milk, cocoa 100% certified, almonds, sugar from the finest sugar plantations, and vanilla” (14). How can we believe Hershey’s promises? To begin to answer this question, consumers can look at the back of Hershey’s chocolate bar.

The iconic Hershey’s Milk Chocolate bar wrapper from 1973-1976. Clearly, consumers can see contradictions from the website today in the ingredients section. Artifical flavoring is added (6).

The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act require food companies to show nutrition labeling (1). Fortunately, this gives consumers the honest answer to the question stated above. Under the ingredients tab, Hershey lists that an artificial flavoring is added in addition to other ingredients that are not common to the average consumer (5). This is the first evidence of how Dandelion is redefining the chocolate market and supply chain process for the better. Dandelion is so precise with its sourcing and ingredients that it can give consumers the transparency and trust they desire. On their site, Dandelion gives a distinct background of the supply chain process, the origin of each of the beans, and the Chef’s preparation technique for each of the products that it retails. These details get as precise as the cacao percentage, the single origin location, ingredients, and when the cacao beans were harvested.

This is the MAYA MOUNTAIN, BELIZE 70% chocolate bar. It is one of the many single origin chocolate bars sold on Dandelions retail site and in stores. The bar’s flavor profile and the cocoa beans terror serve up beautiful “hints of honey and caramel with notes of strawberries and cream.” Finally, the bars are made with just cocoa beans and sugar, no added cocoa butter, lecithin or vanilla (10). 

 

 

 

Consumers can be confident they are getting fine cacao and that the ingredients in their chocolate are not unhealthy with too much sugar or saturated fats. This last point is critical as chocolate makers such as Ferrara, Lindt, and Nestle are making real commitment to increase health awareness surrounding chocolate products, provide better labeling and packaging, and partner with Healthier America.

Each year Dandelion publishes a sourcing report that is easily accessible on their site. The 2016 sourcing report, 48 pages long, provides consumers with information on the executives core philosophy, the geographic location where beans sourced, the fermentation and drying style, cultivation notes, farmer’s certifications, cacao beans’ exporter, tasting notes, company’s relationship/history with each farmer, price they paid per tonne in each region, and date of the company’s last visit to the farm to do a checkup (3).

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An example of all the information from the sourcing report for Bertil Akesson’s organic estate in Ambanja, Madagascar, the place Dandelion purchased their first full bag of beans, is shown above (3).

Dandelion’s control of the entire supply chain as a bean-to-bar chocolatier gives them the flexibility to synthesize and present all this information. 

In addition to providing precise transparency to consumers of every detail in the supply chain process, the Dandelion executives discuss the importance of sustainability in their core philosophy. Dandelion “pays a premium price for their cacao far above the world market price (that is fixed rather than dependent on an arbitrary market)” (3). This information is presented in the sourcing report. The average market price for cacao in 2016 was $2,892.16 per tonne. The least Dandelion paid for cacao $5,100.00 per tonne, the most $7,500.00 per tonne, and $6,599.00 per tonne on average.  This increase in income solves many of the cacao industry’s problems. With prices at the average market price or less than half Dandelion’s price, cacao farmers earn less than $2 per day in Western Africa (9).

In the two pictures, we see the ethical problem in the chocolate industry. In the picture on the left, a young boy is performing hard labor with a machete to chop cacao pods from high up in a cacao tree (16). The child faces physical and developmental risks from this kind of labor. Further, the highlight the systematic effects of child labor, the lack of education, the lack of enforcement of child labor laws, and the effects of you consuming chocolate from companies who exploit these problems (17). 

The problem is most prevalent in Western Africa where stories like of 16-year-old Alhassan Ali, who took the opportunity to work on a cocoa farm in western Ghana and left his home. Quickly, Alhassan felt “cheated as life was hard” and the conditions unbearable for a teenager who had no choice after his father died.

Children are thrown into these jobs to help their families, although less than one-quarter of cacao farmers would recommend that their children go into farming and the fact that this violates international labor laws (12, 18, 8 ). The work is dangerous and the risks include fatigue, mosquito-borne diseases, and agrochemical poisoning.

Since cacao is a commodity and harvested seasonally, cacao farmers struggle with volatile income. Dandelion executives recognized this problem as they “used to buy beans as needed but sometimes that led to chaos and stress both on the part of their team as well as on the part of our suppliers” (3). In 2016, the company constructed a 5-year plan in which they would buy beans one year in advance in order to help alleviate the stress on their producers. Employees from Dandelion visit their producers each year to ensure the quality of the cacao, environmentally friendly farming practices, and sustainable conditions for the workers. If you don’t believe their mission and core philosophy, then you can ask their producers themselves, since the company provides names, locations, and pictures to earn consumers’ trust.

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Vincente Norero, the manager of Camino Verde Cacao farm in Ecuador, sits on top of one of his machines as he explains the genetics of cacao in his region to visiting employees from Dandelion (3).  

Additionally, a major component of Dandelion’s long-term planning strategy is a rigorous quality assessment beyond fine cacao or bulk cacao, which the Big Five use. This evaluation starts out “breaking down cacao producers based on physical quality, sensory evaluation, and hedonic preference” (3). Dandelion gives the producers enough feedback so that the farmers know what is the flavor profile and the terroir that the company wants.

Finally, Dandelion has created a global network of producers that provide the company with a diverse set of high-quality cacao. Dandelion strengthens relationships between the community of producers by emphasizing information sharing. Producers in different regions visit each other and share their techniques and experiences. For instance, the heads of the farm estate “Brian and Sim from Kokoa Kimili visited Zorzal in the Dominican Republic” (3). This is unlike any craft chocolate or large chocolate make and this may be the CEO Todd Masonis’ secret weapon to scale the craft chocolatier business. The company has two factories across the globe in San Francisco and Japan. They both support the company’s global sourcing of cacao in 7 different regions: Madagascar, Ecuador, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Tanzania, Venezuela, and Belize. This degree of diversity is uncommon for one company. In fact, “70% of the world’s cocoa is grown in the region and the vast majority of that supply comes from two countries: Ivory Coast and Ghana” (7). Dandelion not only ensures to source diverse cacao but also does not mix cacao from different regions or farms. This is powerful in the cacao in the cacao industry. Not even regulation or certifications can effectively track that companies keep to this promise like Dandelion does. 

Bean-ToBar: The Exquisite Manufacturing and Chocolate Production Process and Ingenious Retail Strategy

Once the factory receives the diverse, high-quality cocoa beans which have been fermented and dried in their regions, the company undergoes another precise taste tests on each batch. Surprisingly, each testing of a batch may take “as many as eight to sixteen tastings before they are happy with the taste profile” (2). Next, the batch is sorted and dirt, rocks, and defected beans are removed.

3 winnower
Here, the chocolatiers use a machine they built in-house to winnow and remove the shells. However, the company says that your household hair dryer would work the same (15).

about13

A melanger is used to stir and crush beans creating small particles and more fluid chocolate state (11).

After these steps, the chocolate is packaged until it is ready to be tempered and transformed into chocolate bars.

This highly technical process ensures that each chocolate bar holds up to the company standard that no added ingredients or artificial flavoring are included in the end products. The company even offers tours and classes to teach chocolatiers their craft chocolate secrets. The whole production process is transparent. This eliminates any need for certification from organizations like Fair Trade, USDA Organic, or Rainforest Alliance. Instead, consumers are educated on the labor conditions, ingredients, quality, and health information from researching online on Dandelion’s site. Dandelion utilizes this transparency and network of information to scale their consumer base and challenge the chocolate industry to have the same care for all parts of the process.

Finally, Dandelion is redefining the retail strategy for chocolate. Most people are accustomed to purchasing chocolate bars from large retail and convenience stores like CVS, Walmart, and Target. The large chocolate manufacturers spend millions on advertisements in commercials, billboards, and magazines. However, Dandelion’s executives have taken a different approach. The company’s first establishment, the Dandelion Chocolate Cafe, is the model for how Dandelion will transform the chocolate industry and how consumers expect to consume chocolate. Music blasts from the speakers playing a hip playlist that caters to the diverse crowd in the cafe. Children, young teens, and chocolate connoisseurs from Mission District crowd the shop on Valencia street for the chocolate wrapped in gold foil and custom wrappers, the blowtorched s’mores, or for a bag of locally roasted, single origin cocoa beans.  Adopting the executives’ Silicon Valley marketing and trendy style, Dandelion Cafe consumer and sales skyrockets in its first years. The company reached “$1 million in early 2013 after opening its factory/cafe in the Mission” (19). Shortly after a year, more outposts were built in Tokoya and across California. All the while, the company has elevated its online presence with a vibrant website which hosts a blog, instructional videos, and information about each of their products and locations. What was once an antiquated industry ruled by roughly 5 chocolate manufactures is being transformed by two software engineering executives and their ambitious company to scale handmade, craft chocolate globally. No longer can the chocolate industry exploit poor working conditions in their supply chain, obscure nutritional information, or produce low quality chocolate because Dandelion Chocolate and many other craft chocolate companies businesses are transforming the industry and the consumers are recognizing this transformation.


Works cited

  1. Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. “Labeling & Nutrition – Small Business Nutrition Labeling Exemption.” U S Food and Drug Administration Home Page, Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/GuidanceDocumentsRegulatoryInformation/LabelingNutrition/ucm2006867.htm.
  2. “Dandelion Chocolate.” Dandelion Chocolate, http://www.dandelionchocolate.com/.
  3. “Dandelion Chocolate.” Dandelion Chocolate, http://dande.li/2016SourcingReport
  4. D’Antonio, Michael D. 2006. Hershey: Milton S. Hershey’s Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams. pp. 106-126
  5. “Fooducate.” Lose Weight & Improve Your Health with a Real Food Diet, www.fooducate.com/app#!page=product&id=530B67CE-E108-11DF-A102-FEFD45A4D471.
  6. Hershey Community Archives | Hershey’s Milk Chocolate: Bar Wrappers over the Years, www.hersheyarchives.org/exhibits/default.aspx?ExhibitId=20&ExhibitSectionId=44.
  7. “Inside Big Chocolate’s Child Labor Problem.” Fortune, fortune.com/big chocolate child-labor. O’Keefe, Brian. “Inside Big Chocolate’s Child Labor Problem.” Fortune, @2018 Time Inc., fortune.com/big-chocolate-child-labor.
  8. International Labour Organization. January 26, 2000. “Convention 182.” http://www.ilo.org/public/english/standards/relm/ilc/ilc87/com-chic.htm. (3/01/14)
  9. Kramer, Anna. March 6, 2013. “Women and the big business of chocolate.” Oxfam America. https://www.oxfamamerica.org/static/media/files/oxfam-fact-sheet-women-and-cocoa-screen.pdf (9/4/17)
  10. “MAYA MOUNTAIN, BELIZE 70%.” Products, http://www.dandelionchocolate.com/store/products/maya-mountain-belize-70/#anchor.
  11. “Melanger.” Process, http://www.dandelionchocolate.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/about13.png.
  12. Price, Larry C. July 10, 2013. “One Million Children Labor in Africa’s Goldmines.” PBS. http://www.pbs.org/newshour/updates/world-july-dec13-burkinafaso_07-10/. (3/03/14)
  13. Ryan Órla. Chocolate Nations Living and Dying for Cocoa in West Africa. Zed Books, 2012.
  14. “Take a Look inside Our Factory.” Our Brands, http://www.hersheys.com/en_us/our-story/our-ingredients.html.
  15. “Winnow Machine.” LE GRANDE EXPERIMENT, http://www.dandelionchocolate.com/2015/05/12/le-grande-experiment-part-2-making-chocolate-steve-devries-style-in-denver/.
  16. “Child Labor: The Dark Side of Chocolate.” WilderUtopia.com, 3 Mar. 2018, http://www.wilderutopia.com/international/earth/child-labor-the-dark-side-of-chocolate/.
  17. USA, Fair Trade. “Is There Child Labor In Your Chocolate?” The Huffington Post, TheHuffingtonPost.com, 7 Dec. 2017, www.huffingtonpost.com/fair-trade-usa/is-there-child-labor-in-y_b_9169898.html.
  18. Martin, Carla D. “Lecture: Modern Slavery”
  19. Shanker, Deena. “The Rise of Craft Chocolate.” Bloomberg.com, Bloomberg, 7 Feb. 2017, http://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2017-02-07/the-rise-of-craft-chocolate.

 

’57 Chocolate: An Ethnographic Study

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

Meet the Maker:

’57 Chocolate

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

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

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

 

Craft Chocolate:

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

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

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

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

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

 

Marketing Matters:

Race, Gender, and ’57 Chocolate

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Revolutionary Retailer:

Reintroducing Africa as a Refined Producer

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Works Cited

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Footnotes

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

[2] Lecture, Apr. 18, 2018.

[3] Lecture, Jan. 24, 2018.

[4] Lecture, Mar. 21, 2018.

[5] Lecture, Mar. 28, 2018.

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

[7] Robertson, 55.

[8] Robertson, 23.

[9] Robertson, 54.

[10] Robertson, 55.

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

[12] Ibid.

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

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

[15] Coe and Coe, 196-7.

[16] Lecture, Mar. 21, 2018.

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

[18] Coe and Coe, 196.

[19] Lecture, Feb. 14, 2018.

[20] Lecture, Feb. 14, 2018.

[21] Lecture, Apr. 18, 2018.

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

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

Chocolate Production in the GCC

Even though the Middle East is not thought of as a significant chocolate producer, in recent years there has been an increase in production.  From international companies setting up factories in the region, to the emergence of local small-scale organizations, there is an awareness of  an expanding market and demand for standard and luxury chocolate.  However, there is a lack in transparency, awareness of the supply chain, and even sourcing of the cocoa beans.  This is changing slowly in recent years with the emergence of local bean-to-bar companies that realize that there is a gap in this regional market.

The Market:  

The increase in volume of chocolate confectionary retail in the Middle East and Africa is said to be the largest world-wide, where volume has more than doubled since 2000 (+104 per cent). (Poelmans, 34) This is in part due to strong economic growth, rising incomes, and a youthful population. (37) The Arab region and Gulf, known as the GCC (Qatar, Kuwait, UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain), in particular is known for its passion for sugary goods, with the value of this sector amounting to $10 billion, with growth of 12% annually, which is the highest in the world.  The size of the chocolate market in the region is increasing continuously, where Saudi Arabia imported 250 tons of Swiss chocolate in 2014, an increase of 8.2% from the year before.  The consumption of standard and luxury chocolate increases during “Eid” festivities especially, to exceed 14 million dollars. (“UAE and Saudi Arabia top Middle East chocolate importers”)

Image result for ctc festival chocolate

Image: Kids Chocolate Activities at CTC Festival in Qatar.

Chocolate and Socialization:

In the region, chocolate bars represent a socialization with family and friends and are favored by locals and expatriates. (El-Khazindar, 51) Many occasions have incorporated chocolate as a necessary factor, these include the Holy month of Ramadan, Eid, weddings, births, social gatherings; as the chocolate presence increases with local and international chocolate brands appearing in malls and streets all over the region in the last few decades.   In recent years, specialized chocolate festivals have taken place in several places, such as the Coffee & Chocolate International Exhibition in Riyadh, the Chocolate, Tea, and Coffee Festival in Qatar, and a Chocolate Bazaar in Dubai with a chocolate fountain and chocolate egg hunt. (Ravindranathan)

International Brands:

The Gulf region has seen a growing chocolate production in recent decades, where the international giants have engulfed the market.  For example, Mars GCC, is the undisputed leader in chocolate confectionary with a value share of 42% in 2012 in the region.  It is supported by brands such as Galaxy, Snickers, Twix, Mars, and M&M’s.  The second position was occupied by Nestle Middle East, with a retail value share of 17% as of 2012, supported by the strong position of the KitKat brand. (Sambridge, “Mars GCC opens $40 m chocolate factory in Dubai”) The first Mars GCC factory was opened in 1998 in Dubai to produce the complete range of Galaxy chocolates locally.  In 2010, a new $40 million 6,000 sq. m chocolate factory was opened. The company posted net sales of more than $450m, and claims double digit growth every year since the beginning of the decade, and with consumer demand they have a strong commitment and target for further growth.  They aim to strengthen their position as the leading chocolate manufacturer in the Middle East, and will continue to distribute products to more than 20 countries in the GCC, Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East, spreading from the UK to Taiwan. (Sambridge, “Mars Inc invests further $60m to expand Dubai factory”)

Middle East Map highlighting GCC member countries

Furthermore, in 2014, Mars GCC invested a further $60m to expand the Dubai factory, adding new production lines for its Snickers chocolate bars, making the total investment over $160 million.  Chocolate sales in the Middle East and North Africa were expected to reach $5.8 billion in 2016. The company opened another factory in the region, with a $210m investment, the US confectionary giant built a state-of-the-art $60 million manufacturing facility at King Abdulla Economic City, to create the popular Galaxy and Galaxy Jewels chocolate bars. (McGinley) However, Mars GCC omits important information regarding cacao sourcing, fair trade techniques and overall transparency as the case in most Mars branches.

Furthermore, companies outside of the Gulf cater to this market, such as Lebanese companies Patchi or Crystal.  They also display a lack of attention to sourcing and information on the supply chain, despite the grand scale of their production.  Patchi was founded in Beirut in 1974 and currently has factories in five Middle Eastern countries, among them the UAE and Saudi Arabia.  As of 2011, the company has annual chocolate sales in the region exceeding US $4.2 billion and is expanding to international markets. (“For the Love of Chocolate”)

Local Companies:

When it comes to local chocolate companies in the region, there is a lack of transparency and more of a focus on the luxury side, emphasizing chocolate from Belgium, Switzerland, and France.  Terroir is not a factor in this market. The connection that is most emphasized is the European production, as stated in most company profiles.  There is a general misconception that chocolate imported from these countries, no matter the source of the beans, are automatically of better quality than chocolate produced locally.  (“Ali Al-Kazemi..”)  This is the case with the chocolate producer, AlKazemi in Kuwait.  With the factory now supplying 60%-70% to coffee shops or companies in Kuwait, and the rest to other Gulf countries. New chocolates are produced daily to suit new tastes, and the company produced its packaging in house as well.  (“A Tour of Alkazemi…”) By producing high quality chocolate in the region, they are trying to challenge these misconceptions.

Image: Alkazemi Chocolate Factory – Kuwait

I spoke to one of the owners of the chocolate company in Kuwait named Silverenia.  It is known in the region for its unique shaped chocolates, local ingredients, as well as seasonal flavorings, such as cotton candy.  It’s biggest markets are within Kuwait, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia; with the most in demand occasions being weddings and newborn celebrations.  The owner stated that their chocolate is imported from Belgium, Switzerland, and France; thus, he was not sure of the source of the beans, and stated it may have been African. The company uses couverture tempering method to shape their chocolate into elaborate shapes, where the designs are made in house and are updated every year.

Screen Shot 2018-05-03 at 11.10.29 PM.png

Image: Silverenia Chocolate

In addition, this is the case in Dubai, where there are an overall eighteen chocolate factories in the city, several that import from Belgium, France or Switzerland and place their own brand on the product. (El-Khazindar, 46) The domestic market was valued at $222bn in the last few years. (Duncan) One of these chocolate companies, called ChoCo’a has expanded its market beyond the region and has its products reach Russia, Japan, Australia, and Morocco; through participating in prestigious global exhibitions and fairs. (El-Khazindar, 53)

More regional companies emphasise the European connections of their chocolates. In Qatar, the chocolate producer Kaafe, established in 2011, sells “premium hand-made Belgian chocolates” with an “Arabic taste”.  It also does not name the source of its cocoa beans, but emphasizes that it boycotts companies that rely on child labor and slavery farmers. (Qatar Tribune) Another chocolate company in Bahrain, Chocolate & Co, focuses on premium chocolate, combining skillful artisans with a state-of-the art manufacturing process, to make products out of “fine Belgian chocolate” and quality ingredients from around the world. (“Our Story”) Also, most of the other chocolate producers in the region, such as a number in Saudi Arabia, focus on their story, their market, and means of production; but do not address any sourcing or ethical concerns. (Saudi Chocolate Factory, Badr Chocolate Factory, Bostani).

Emphasis on Luxury:

The luxury chocolate market has been expanding over recent decades in the region.  Studying the psychology of consumer behavior, reveals three distinct types of buyers, the convenience, value, and luxury buyer, all with different behaviors and demands.  The luxury buyer has been increasing in developing and developed economies with the idea that expensive chocolate is an affordable luxury. (El-Khazindar, 79) Dubai announced the launch of the Middle East’s most expensive chocolate. The French company Debauve & Gallais’s box is the sixth most expensive chocolate in the world (Bhoyrul).  Even brands such as Godiva and Lindt are becoming almost mass market, as consumers develop a taste for everyday glamour. In the last decade, there has been a strong segment of the market that seeks these luxury chocolates. (El-Khazindar, 46) The emphasis on luxury, local spices and ingredients on the company profiles seems to be the main information presented for these chocolate companies in the region.

Changing Awareness:

However, the awareness of the importance of sourcing of the cocoa beans, transparency, and fair trade in the whole supply chain is slowly emerging in the region.  In recent years, a bean-to-bar company has emerged in Dubai, called ‘Mirzam’.  It emphasizes sourcing single origin beans from Vietnam, Indonesia, Madagascar, Papua New Guinea and India. Mirzam uses the legacy of the region as a trade bridge between East and West in its marketing. They designed the production process to be transparent and have catered to a huge demand a gap in the market for handcrafted ‘real’ chocolate, and aim to expand across the region.  Also, in Qatar, a new chocolate company called Buono emphasizes its single origin Ecuadorian cacao beans of the purest kind for its chocolate. (Buono Website)

What is the significance of this region in needing to address ethical factors in its chocolate production and supply chain? As we have seen the region is growing in chocolate production, locally and internationally.  Big name companies are investing in factories to cater to the region, while small companies are being established as well.  The companies in the region need to factor in organic, fair trade, and direct trade for their many benefits (when established correctly).  Fair trade improves lives and protects the environment, as well ensures quality products.  It helps farmers in developing countries build sustainable businesses that positively influence their communities. By establishing Fair Trade in the region, there can be a long term direct trading, ensuring prompt payment of fair prices and wages, no child, forced, or exploited labor, safe working environments.  Also, an emphasis on the importance in traceability and transparency.  Direct trade can lead to the companies in the region to remove the middle man of Europe and to promote direct communication and price negotiation between buyer and farmer, along with systems that encourage and incentivize quality.  It is also important as it challenges the geographical indexing of our world of the global south vs. global north in the context of the chocolate industry.  The fact that the Middle East is in the middle of these two regions, it could positively affect the global south in its reforms, and eradicate many problems that face under appreciated chocolate farmers. (Alternative Trade Lecture Slides).

Image: 1,000kg Chocolate Cake on Display for Ramadan in Dubai.

Conclusion:

The GCC’s has had a growing importance in chocolate production and as a consumer market in recent times.  With many companies within the region and outside of the region catering to its growing standard and luxury consumer market. However, the ethical concerns, emphasis on organic, fair trade, and terroir does not receive adequate attention in the region.  The main indicator of quality to these companies is the manufacturing, and importing of chocolate from Belgian, Swiss, or French sources as an indicator of luxury, despite where the beans come from.  There is an awareness that is slowly emerging and should increase once consumers are completely aware of the differences, the ethical issues that plague the cacao industry, and demand that the companies contribute more positively to farmers, in eradicating poverty, child abuse, and other labor issues.

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Media Sources:

  1. Kids Chocolate Activities at the CTC Festival in Qatar.  http://ctcfestival.qa/activities.php
  2. Map of the GCC. https://www.mapsofworld.com/answers/politics/is-qatar-part-of-gcc/attachment/map-of-gcc-countries/
  3. Alkazemi Chocolate Factory in Kuwait.  https://khaleejesque.com/2012/05/blog/a-tour-of-al-kazemi-food-industries-kuwaits-own-chocolate-factory/
  4. Silverenia Chocolate. https://www.instagram.com/silverenia/
  5. “1,000kg chocolate cake on display in Dubai for Ramadan.”  06 July 2016.  http://www.arabianbusiness.com/1-000kg-chocolate-cake-on-display-in-dubai-for-ramadan-598710.html

 

Works Cited:

Poelmans, Eline and Johan Swinnen. “A Brief Economic History of Chocolate”.  The Economics of Chocolate. Ed. Mara P. Squicciarini and Johan Swinnen. 2016: Oxford University Press.

“UAE and Saudi Arabia top Middle East chocolate importers.” 24 November 2015. Saudi Gazette.  https://english.alarabiya.net/en/business/markets/2015/11/24/UAE-and-Saudi-Arabia-top-Middle-East-chocolate-importers.html

El-Khazindar Business Research and Case Center. Entrepreneurship in the Arab world. 2016: The American University in Cairo Press.

Interview with the manager of Silverenia conducted over the phone on May 2, 2018.

Ravindranathan, Shreeja. “There’s a chocolate festival at Dubai Marina mall”.    20 April 2017.  https://fridaymagazine.ae/life-culture/there-s-a-chocolate-festival-at-dubai-marina-mall-1.2014837

Sambridge, Andy. “Mars GCC opens $40m chocolate factory in Dubai”. Arabian Business. 27 May 2010. http://www.arabianbusiness.com/mars-gcc-opens-40m-chocolate-factory-in-dubai-271385.html

Sambridge, Andy. “Mars Inc invests further $60m to expand Dubai factory”. Arabian Business. 12 December 2014.  http://www.arabianbusiness.com/mars-inc-invests-further-60m-expand-dubai-factory-574804.html

McGinley, Shane. “Mars to open chocolate bar factory in Saudi Arabia”.  Arabian Business.  16 February 2012.  http://www.arabianbusiness.com/mars-open-chocolate-bar-factory-in-saudi-arabia-445654.html

“Ali Al-Kazemi: Leading The Region’s Top Chocolate Factory”. 2 April 2012.  https://khaleejesque.com/2012/04/diwan/ali-al-kazemi-leading-the-regions-top-chocolate-factory/

“A Tour of AlKazemi Food Industries, Kuwait’s Own Chocolate Factory”.   3 May 2012.  https://khaleejesque.com/2012/05/blog/a-tour-of-al-kazemi-food-industries-kuwaits-own-chocolate-factory/

Duncan, Gillian. “Sweet times for Dubai chocolatier ChoCo’a”. The National. 28 March 2012. https://www.thenational.ae/business/sweet-times-for-dubai-chocolatier-choco-a-1.383043?videoId=5585868180001

“Kaafe Chocolatier Opens Showroom”. Qatar Tribune. http://archive.qatar-tribune.com/viewnews.aspx?n=7C14A632-11AE-4E39-83E8-230C1136939A&d=20150313

Chocolate & co. “The Story”. http://www.choc-and-co.com/thestory

“For the Love of Chocolate”. 30 August 2011. http://www.wipo.int/ipadvantage/en/details.jsp?id=2848

Bhoyrul, Anil. “Dubai Launches Middle East’s most expensive Chocolate”.  Arabian Business.  23 Feb 2012.  http://www.arabianbusiness.com/dubai-launches-middle-east-s-most-expensive-chocolate-446636.html

Mirzam, Chocolate Makers. https://mirzam.com/us/

Woods, Andrew. “Mirzam to Sell its Chocolate across the GCC”.  Business Chief.  26 January 2018. https://middleeast.businesschief.com/leadership/1409/Mirzam-to-sell-its-chocolate-across-the-GCC

Professor Carla D. Martin.  Lecture Slides: “Alternative trade and virtuous localization/globalization”. Harvard University.  04 April 2018.

 

The Rise of Craft Chocolate Makers and the Consequences of a Saturated Chocolate Bar Market

Whether it’s a CVS, Walgreens, Walmart, or nearby vending machine, consumers can always expect to find a Reese’s, bag of M&Ms, or Snickers. The tastes, packaging, and experience from these common chocolate bars have been ingrained in our minds since we were little.

A lighthearted commercial Kit Kat Large uses of “Dancing Babies” so people will remember the happy memories of them eating Kit Kats and to increase brand loyalty, the driving factor for the success of the Big Five companies (7). 

Up until the 1970s, the Big Five companies: Cadbury, Ferrero, Nestle, Hershey’s, and Mars faced little competition from smaller chocolate makers and if they did their strategy was to acquire them or bully them out of the market. The companies leveraged being first to enter the chocolate market when the “industrialization of the manufacturing process, retail, and transportation” of chocolate started (8). It is no surprise, these companies split over 70% the U.S. confectionery market share (5). However, after the 1970s and 1980s, the competition increased in the chocolate confectionery market due to the rise of craft chocolate makers who “returned to small-scale manufacturing and single origin fine cacao” (8) This paper will discuss why the craft chocolate makers were able to break through despite the firm grasp the Big Five has held on the chocolate market including reasons such as increasing the transparency of the manufacturing process and ingredients, embracing variations (new and old) in recipes, flavors, and richness, and because of a shift in the typical consumer’s attention to the ethics of the companies they are purchasing from.

Craft chocolate, not Kraft chocolate

There have been warning signs that hint the pendulum swing occurring in the chocolate bar market since the 1970s. By pendulum swing, I am referring to the transition from the pre-industrial chocolate which was rich, handmade with fine cacao in Mayan and Aztech households to the dip in quality and diversity that occurred after the invention of the cocoa press and dutch process chocolate and with the rise of industrial chocolate (2, 11). The year 2017 was a “positive year for many confectionery players outside of the Big Five” (14). Companies like Hershey with +1.25% and Mondelez with +2.3% net sales growth were outpaced by rest of chocolate industry growth of +3.3% (14). Furthermore, net profit took a large spike for companies in the Big Five (10).  These companies’ savvy advertising techniques, meticulous taste testing of flavor profiles, and their economy of scale are not as scary to new chocolate makers or enticing to consumers.

Pop up, craft chocolate makers have “exponentially risen over the past few decades to approximately 200 today” in North America (10). These include Scharffen Berger Chocolate Maker, Soma chocolate, and Rogue Chocolatier (1). What uniquely separates these companies are their attention to the combination of flavors, origins of cacao beans, initiatives the companies support, and experiences they create for the consumer.

Scharffen Berger Chocolate Maker - Ferry Building, San Francisco

Founded in 1996, Scharffen Berger was the first Modern bean-to-bar chocolate company in North America. One of its slogans Romancing the Bean highlights the companies finest chocolate bars paired with luxurious wine. This company was one of the first to start selling bars made with cocoa from Madagascar. (12) Note Scharffen Berger was acquired by Hershey in 2005 after its success as craft chocolate maker. 

This stainless steel instrument is a grindometer. A worker at the Dandelion Cafe is using it to measure particle size in suspensions in order to arrive at the smooth sweet chocolate texture the chef desires. This is a prime example of DIY small machines that allow for craft chocolate makers to produce high-quality products by controlling the whole chocolate making process. 

Just like the culture change beer and coffee are experiencing with new small breweries and niche coffee shops, the chocolate market is growing with new ideas and diverse flavors (13).

A great example of this change in culture around chocolate is Dandelion Chocolate. The cafe sits in the hip Mission District of San Francisco. Here is a sign showing the advertising the company is using to draw consumers in and convince them of their unique chocolate bar’s taste (3). 

These craft chocolate companies describe their process as “Bean-To-Bar Chocolate”, meaning all produced in-house. Cases like these are reshaping the chocolate retail market slowly as the market shifts back to pre-industrial chocolate making and the frequent use of vintage machines to produce Mayan and Aztec inspired tastes and chocolate forms as opposed to “industrial chocolate: low cost and taste consistency” (4).

The dynamics of the selling point for chocolate companies have changed and the new millennials and advancements in communication with social media are at the core pushing this transformation. Over the past two decades, the Big Five chocolate companies have been facing large scrutiny for their negligence or responsibility for some of the worst forms of child labor and forced labor in its supply chain and industry. “On average, cacao farmers earn less than $2 per day” in Western Africa (1). While these large companies profits reach the billions, these countries fall into a trap of poverty and dependence on the commodity. To combat this scrutiny in the eyes of the public, these companies set up plans to address these issues. Mars, Hershey, and Ferrero promised that by 2020 they would purchase 100% of their cacao from “certified producers (6). While the other large companies aimed to invest in cacao non-profits to train and assist farmers in these regions such as Western Africa.

From these companies’ ambitious responses and promises, it is clear that they are worried about the perception of the manufacturing processes they use. However, we have yet to see how the chocolate market will respond or if they will reach these goals. The advantage heavily favors craft chocolate makers who produce the chocolate from scratch. The maker “roasts, grinds, and smoothens them into chocolate in a single facility” (6). The success of these small companies are driven by consumers who can trust the chocolate is made carefully and without ethical concerns.

This brings me to my last topic, the implications of the saturation of the chocolate market with more craft chocolate makers. As the pendulum swings to more traditional small chocolate chains, I suspect more pressure on the large-scale companies that depend on in-store purchases to change their marketing model and increase transparency of their manufacturing processes beyond ensuring their cacao comes from certified cacao farms. E-commerce will be the biggest cause of this transformation. The Big Five market share for in-store purchases will shrink, they will be forced to consolidate their large product/brand offerings into one brand, and companies will explore different recipes to pair with chocolate. Additionally, with the increase in the number of companies, I believe there will be a stronger necessity for a standardized, international regulation of cacao quality and a metric to quantify rich, milk,  or real chocolate. All in all, the rise in craft chocolate makers will lead the charge for more ethical cacao farming and increased standard of living in regions that grow cacao.


Works cited

  1. “Child Labor and Slavery in the Chocolate Industry.” Child Labor and Slavery in the Chocolate Industry | Food Empowerment Project, http://www.foodispower.org/ slavery-chocolate.
  2. Coe, Sophie D. and Coe, Michael D. The True History of Chocolate.  Thames & Hudson Ltd: London (1996) Print 
  3. “Dandelion Chocolate.” Dandelion Chocolate, http://www.dandelionchocolate.com/.
  4. Giller, Megan. Bean-to-Bar Chocolate: Americas Craft Chocolate Revolution: the Origins, the Makers, and the Mind-Blowing Flavors. Storey Publishing, 2017.
  5. Hershey. “ The Hershey Company Fact Book.” Thehersheycompany, Oct. 2017, https://http://www.thehersheycompany.com/content/dam/corporate-us/documents/investors/2017-fact-book.pdf.
  6. “Inside Big Chocolate’s Child Labor Problem.” Fortune, fortune.com/big chocolate child-labor. O’Keefe, Brian. “Inside Big Chocolate’s Child Labor Problem.” Fortune, @2018 Time Inc., fortune.com/big-chocolate-child-labor.
  7. Kit Kat Dancing Babies Commercial, YouTube, 18 Jan. 2013, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0o2qeU4RSuA.
  8. Martin, Carla D. “Lecture 1: Introduction” and “Lecture 3: Chocolate Expansion”
  9. Martin, Carla, D. “Sizing the craft chocolate market,” Fine Cacao and Chocolate Institute (blog), August 31, 2017, https://chocolateinstitute.org/blog/sizing-the-craft-chocolate-market/.
  10. “Mondelēz Revenues Slide 13% in 2016 as Analysts Casts Doubt on Kraft-Heinz Merger.” Confectionerynews.com, 7 Feb. 2017,  http://www.confectionerynews.com/Article/2017/02/07/Mondelez-2016-results-Sales-sliDe-13-organic-growth-target-missed.
  11. Presilla, Maricel E. The new taste of chocolate: a cultural and natural history of cacao with recipes. Random House Digital, Inc., 2009
  12. SCHARFFEN BERGER|Artisan Chocolatehttp://www.scharffenberger.com/ en_us/home.html.
  13. Shanker, Deena. “The Rise of Craft Chocolate.” Bloomberg.com, Bloomberg, 7 Feb. 2017, http://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2017-02-07/the-rise-of-craft-chocolate.
  14. “The Candy Papers: Confectionery Industry Year in Review 2017.” Confectionerynews.com, William Reed Business Media Ltd 2018., 12 Dec. 2017, http://www.confectionerynews.com/Article/2017/12/12/The-Candy-Papers-Confectionery-industry-year-in-review-2017.

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

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

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

Front of Parliament Chocolate Shop
Figure 1. Parliament Chocolate Building

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Parliament Samples
Figure 3. Parliament Samples

 

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

ParliamentChocolate-Bar Size
Figure 4. Parliament Bar Size

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

References

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BEAN to BARCODE: collecting, preserving, and producing premium chocolate from the wild

 

 

Chocolate is a billion dollar a year industry, and with an ever growing global demand, consumers are not only hunting for “something sweet”, but rather for premium chocolate that is produced and processed ethically and sustainably. There is a growing desire to locate, collect, and produce premium chocolate, but how do companies and consumers know that the chocolate they are purchasing is in fact “premium” chocolate? Many chocolate companies are addressing these social and environmental concerns by not only focusing on a quality product, but also the welfare of the people working in production and identifying wild populations to assist in protecting the land on which they grow. One company takes these social and environmental concerns very seriously, and works to connect scientists, chocolatiers, and consumers in a network that supports the production premium chocolate. Landmark™ Wild Chocolate Reserve encompasses four major values: Quest, Race, Pursuit, and Experience. By focusing on these core values, Landmark™ Wild Chocolate Reserve not only sets out to connect people with a quality, premium product, but it also addresses the future of the plant (Theobroma spp.) populations in the South America by documenting occurrences in the wild and sequencing the DNA (barcoding). Landmark™ Wild Chocolate Reserve is an example of a company putting their “money where their (chocolate covered) mouth is” and in doing so, provides a network of support that allows for the distribution of the knowledge of chocolate “Bean to Bar” for future generations.

What is Premium Chocolate? The revenue generate from chocolate production is a billion dollar a year industry, but how is premium chocolate defined? Is it simply the packaging? Is it related to the origin of the beans? Is it the way in which it is processed? The answer is “all of the above”. “Like wine, chocolate is an agricultural product whose character and flavor are dependent on genetics, climate, soil and processing practices to yield a finished product. The higher the quality and care taken along the route from bean to bar, the better the finished product will taste.” (Fine Chocolate, 2017).  There are therefore five factors that determine “fine” or “premium” chocolate: origin and processing, production practices, ingredient quality, technical expertise, artistry and presentation. In accepting these criteria, it is the job of companies selling their products to make sure they are selling premium chocolate, but rather the whole supply chain from the field to the lab to make sure they are producing, processing, and selling a product worthy of the label “premium”. In doing so, the entire industry is not only looking to produce a quality product, but rather to create a quality process that looks out for the interest of the people and the planet.

Landmark™ Wild Chocolate Reserve – established in 2016; the story of cacáo-into-chocolate, however, begins much earlier… rooted sometime around ~10millionBC. (“The Story”, 2017)

Landmark™ Wild Chocolate Reserve, established in 2016 and launched in 2017, is co-founded by Mark Christian, the Director of HCP (Heirloom Cacao Preservation), and the creator of C-Spot™ (The Independent Consumer Guide to Premium Chocolate). C-Spot™ is dedicated to chocolate and describes two major points in its philosophy 1) “Other than the Christmas tree, no tree on Earth brings as much hope & joy to a troubled world and 2) cacao can play a role in creating a model for ethical capitalism that builds networks between the producing South & the consuming North based on mutual respect.” (“Philosophy”, 2017). Where C-Spot™ provides the public with multitudes of educational materials by describing the history of Theobroma cacao and the science of preservation (The Chocolate Atlas), a database of available chocolate products with statistics and reviews (The Chocolate Census), provides information regarding how to appreciate chocolate through taste (The Laws of Chocodynamics). Through the philosophy expressed by C-Spot™ and the efforts in preservation by HCP and the USDA, Landmark™ Wild Chocolate Reserve builds on this expressed philosophy to bring the taste of their efforts, and vision of conservation, to the people themselves.

Video#1: HCP Google Hangout sponsored by HCP Co-Founder Pam Williams (Ecole Chocolat) and featuring her and fellow co-founders Dan Pearson (Maranon Chocolate) and Lyndel Meinhardt (USDA-ARS), as well as Jim Eber the HCP Director of Communication.

Landmarks Wild Chocolate Reserve: four major values

 “In establishing Landmark Wild Chocolate Reserve™, this network recovers & protects humanity’s inheritance: the original prime root varietals – the crowns jewels / rock stars – of chocolate. It creates value to improve the livelihoods of forest families. A financial bulwark against cutting down the Amazon via logging, mining & drilling for cattle grazing, soybean farming, resort hotels & the like which contributes to climate flux & defacing the Earth’s surface. It impels still other forest communities to literally come out of the woodwork in pointing out these rarest treasures of cacáo trees to fortify the network so when a groundswell of wild reserves are landmarked the odds of deforestation are reduced if not eliminated.” (“The Story”, 2017)

Mark Christian developed the Landmark™ Wild Chocolate Reserve label that uses DNA analyses (genetics) to not only identify wild beans, but also to assist in the preservation of the lands from which these wild varieties reside, and have resided for thousands of years. “The goal is to build a network in the region that can help fuel the specialty chocolate boom with the rarest flavors on Earth – and offer incentive to protect them.” (Gewin, 2017). Volker Lehmann (a cacao trader and owner of Tranquilidad chocolate) said “he even hopes that by engaging enough Amazon communities to sustainably harvest wild cacao, Christian’s label can help them secure World Heritage Site status, protections given to cultural or natural places that have outstanding value.” (Gewin, 2017).  This would be a huge step forward for conservation and preservation of the land for which Theobroma cacao is native, and for the many other important flora and fauna species that reside in the Amazonian rain forest.

World Heritage sites must be of outstanding universal value and meet at least one out of ten selection criteria: (http://whc.unesco.org/en/criteria/)

  1. to represent a masterpiece of human creative genius;
  2. to exhibit an important interchange of human values, over a span of time or within a cultural area of the world, on developments in architecture or technology, monumental arts, town-planning or landscape design;
  3. to bear a unique or at least exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilization which is living or which has disappeared;
  4. to be an outstanding example of a type of building, architectural or technological ensemble or landscape which illustrates (a) significant stage(s) in human history;
  5. to be an outstanding example of a traditional human settlement, land-use, or sea-use which is representative of a culture (or cultures), or human interaction with the environment especially when it has become vulnerable under the impact of irreversible change;
  6. to be directly or tangibly associated with events or living traditions, with ideas, or with beliefs, with artistic and literary works of outstanding universal significance. (The Committee considers that this criterion should preferably be used in conjunction with other criteria);
  7. to contain superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance;
  8. to be outstanding examples representing major stages of earth’s history, including the record of life, significant on-going geological processes in the development of landforms, or significant geomorphic or physiographic features;
  9. to be outstanding examples representing significant on-going ecological and biological processes in the evolution and development of terrestrial, fresh water, coastal and marine ecosystems and communities of plants and animals;
  10. to contain the most important and significant natural habitats for in-situ conservation of biological diversity, including those containing threatened species of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science or conservation.

Value#1: “Quest: Recovers & protects humanity’s inheritance: the original prime root varietals – the crowns jewels / rock stars – of chocolate.” (“The Story”, 2017)

This first value, QUEST, describes the importance of finding populations of Theobroma from the “original prime root varietals” of the species. This description floods the consumer with images of the ancestral beginnings of not only the plant, but also of the people who were the first consumers of cacao, the natives of the Amazon. Landmark™ Wild Chocolate Reserve focuses its efforts on searching for new plants and protecting new “Landmarks” in the hotspot of Cacao’s biodiversity (see image below).

originImage#1: (permission to use image granted by Mark Christian: image above courtesy of Samantha Madell) Species richness of genus Theobroma

Focusing on the center of genetic biodiversity of Theobroma cacao allows researchers to locate, sample, and preserve important wild lineages. Working not only to collect, process, and sell wild collected cacao beans, but also by contributing to the science and study to isolate DNA, maintain propagules (seeds and clones), allow for taste testing, and to share these wild strains with farmers around the world is required in order to produce cultivars that are resistant to witches broom, and that still produce the flavors that we have all grown to love. “Geneticists Raymond Schnell, Dapeng Zhang, & Motamayor of the USDA Agricultural Research Service are in the deep stages of identifying by busily fingerprinting the DNA of 3,000+ cacáo clones that should solve both the relationships & origins puzzle. By combing the genome of the tree for genetic markers linked with specific traits — such as fruit quality, environmental adaptation, & disease / pest resistance – they’ve developed filters to make corrections for common sequencing errors. Thousands of such genetic markers called SNPS (Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms) stand additionally as signposts pointing out the degree to how much or how little cacáo types are interrelated.” (“The Strains”, 2017). This research, by the USDA, not only assists with conservation work in the field, but also allows for research to understand the genetics of an extremely valued plant, and find ways to grow and produce viable cultivars that are disease resistant without sacrificing flavor.

“The ability to understand the genetic makeup of a single cacao bean is important to cacao research and to the fine chocolate industry in general.  We now have the ability to open a bag of cacao beans and identify the genetic makeup of those beans.  That information can be used to profile the cacao types that are represented in that bag of cacao; to authenticate them to a particular type, or identify adulterations and this ability could improve the sourcing and quality of cacao”. (Japhet, 2016)

DNA Barcoding allows researchers and farmers to identify and track the specific plants that are producing healthy plants, but also identifying specific plants (individuals) that produce premier flavors. HCP and the USDA have rigorous protocols for samples, testing, sequencing DNA, and taste testing new plants (or existing plants on farms). To read the protocols please follow this link http://hcpcacao.org/wp-content/uploads/HCP-Protocols-Submission-Through-Site-Visit.pdf.

AmazonImage#2: (with permission from Mark Christian; Photo by Mark Christian February 1, 2011) Rio-Amazon

“In its natural habitat, cocoa grows in the understory of evergreen tropical rainforest. It often grows in clumps along river banks, where the roots may be flooded for long periods of the year. Cocoa grows at low elevations, usually below 300 meters above sea level, in areas with 1,000 to 3,000 mm rainfall per year.” (“Theobroma cacao”, 2017)

“Rare & Wild Landmark Varietals

These landmarks shelter pure genotypes & rare flavor-cacáo. Their guardians – re: Bromans (tenders of Theobroma cacáo trees) — row, trek, hack & sweat their way thru jungle to pick wild cacáo.

Each tends to our most ancestral cacáo trees on mother Earth. Millennia in the Making.

Time-honored; time-tested; timeless.

Carefully selected & tenderly handpicked, then left undisturbed.

The kind of treasure you bring out by the rucksack, cargo pants pockets & a trunk. GL getting it all the way home.” (“Landmarks”, 2017)

genus-theobromaImage#3: (with permission from Mark Christian; photo by Mark Christian March 10, 2013) Species richness of genus Theobroma. Left: observed species richness in 10 minute grid cells and a circular neighborhood of 1 decimal degree; Right: modeled species richness in 2.5 minute grid cells.

Value#2: “Race: It creates value to improve the livelihoods of forest families” (“The Story”, 2017)

This again brings an image of indigenous people from times long past. The consumer may imagine as though they are consuming a piece history, and at the same time know they are literally helping to supporting indigenous communities of the present day. “Improving livelihoods for indigenous families in the Amazon means the global community can benefit from the abundance of the rainforest without destroying it.” (“The Story”, 2017)).  These factors allow the consumer to feel as though they are assisting with a bigger issue other than satisfying their need for chocolate. The Landmark™ label promises major social and environmental returns for those working to collect and process cacao from the wild.

Best organic

Bests Organic

Wild cacáo from the rainforest…
because nobody perfects like Mother Nature

Image#4: (with permission from Mark Christian) “Best Organic”, 2017

Fair Trade

Beyond FairTrade

Well-Paid
Direct-Line
Reciprocal Integration

Image#5: (with permission from Mark Christian) “Beyond Fair Trade”, 2017

Bargain Fare

Bargain Fare

‘Mindful Money’ investment
in affordable luxury

Image#6: (with permission from Mark Christian) “Bargain Fare”, 2017

 

Value#3: “Pursuit: A financial bulwark against cutting down the Amazon via logging, mining & drilling for cattle grazing, soybean farming, resort hotels & the like which contributes to climate flux & defacing the Earth’s surface.” (“The Story”, 2017)

The consumer is saving the forest! This value tugs at the hearts of those who wish to save the ever shrinking Amazon rainforest. There are many reasons why people are driven to protect such a valued asset, but the people who need the most convincing are the people who occupy the lands in and near the forest in the Amazon. As stated above, the Amazon is shrinking due to human activity, but with little regard to the huge loss that follows. The indigenous communities of the Amazon have a vested interest in land preservation, and many groups are turning to collecting and selling wild cacao, and even farming cacao plants, as a way to conserve the rainforest. “In Ecuador, one tribe has swapped hunting for growing cocoa. Another in Brazil has started managing its fish stocks. And one in Peru set up an indigenous local government to protect its environment from oil, mining and logging companies.” (Lopez, 2015). The indigenous communities are in need of protecting their traditional way of life, but also must deal with the reality of climate change, deforestation, and the competition between natives and corporations looking to profit from the declining resources of the forest.  “To combat the problem, an indigenous women’s group, the Association of Waorani Women of the Ecuadoran Amazon (AMWAE), created a program that gives cocoa trees to local women if their husbands stop hunting.” (Lopez, 2015). With more indigenous groups turning to the collection of wild cacao, and the farming of “premium” lineages, it is important that a mark ™ exists that promotes and supports these important efforts in the wild. This support not only assists in the protection of the land, but also supports the people who are part of this amazing environmental network.

Value#4: “Experience: It impels still other forest communities to literally come out of the woodwork in pointing out these rarest treasures of cacáo trees to fortify the network so when a groundswell of wild reserves are landmarked the odds of deforestation are reduced if not eliminated.” (“The Story”, 2017)

 Landmarks Wild Chocolate Reserve promotes Luisa Abram Chocolate Bar which is described as follows:

“Taste Adventure… Taste Straight from the Jungle

All across the world, people are re-discovering chocolate.

Most chocolate today is just flavored-sugar wrapped up in a candy bar. A ghost of the real thing.

The choice of chefs, chocolatarians & savvy sharp consumers like you, Landmark Wild Chocolate Reserve™ re-introduces the original authentic chocolate.

For those who demand the finest & the wildest, Landmark™ sets the standard from pod-to-palette.

Comparable wines, single-malts, smokes, caviars & like specialties run $100+… yet this chocolate is every bit as elaborate & worth it as all those for but a fraction.” (“Chocolate Bars”, 2017)

rio-purus-70Image#7: (with permission from Mark Christian) Rio Purús Wild Cacáo 70%

Landmark™ Chocolate Wild Reserve provides detailed information for each bar of chocolate they highlight for sale on their website.

The Landmark™ Wild Chocolate Reserve provides education for consumers and producers. There is a sense of pride expressed by those who use the label, and a sense of accomplishment in sticking to the values set forth. Luisa Abram takes her job seriously, and is working to make purchasing cacao beans from the collectors easier, and she also states that she does not work with people only looking for a profit.

Luisa Abrams:

“These people need a market to come to them,” he said. “They have no way of going to the market.”

Still, connecting the market to the jungle is rife with complications. In 2014, Luisa Abram and her father, Andre Banks, sourced her first cacao beans from a community in the Purus valley. But, the young Brazilian recounted, they had to abandon a promising deal with a community near the border with French Guiana because the middlemen were motivated only by profit.

Abram today sells a chocolate that is “81 percent wild cocoa” and bears the Landmark designation. She both wants to find new sources to explore her country’s flavor possibilities as well as to empower communities to help preserve the land they live on. “The Amazon is getting chopped up,” she said. “We are racing through time to preserve it.” (Gewin, 2017)

Video#2: (with permission from Mark Christian) Luisa Abram Purus Conclusion

The importance of companies such as Landmark™ Wild Chocolate Reserve cannot be stated lightly. It is with the creation of a growing network, providing education and support that the movement for the preservation of the plants, flavor, and business will continue into the future. This network is able to work closely with the people who collect the cacao pods (fruit); focus on the sustainability and preservation of the land; understand and grow the science behind the discovery and preservation of wild populations; and maintain the historic evolution and preservation of the taste of chocolate for future generations in a way that the message is translated in various forms that all are able to understand. From the BEAN to BARcode, companies like Landmark™ Wild Chocolate Reserve are making a difference in the world of chocolate, and it tastes great!

References:

C-Spot, “Amazonia”, 2017 (https://www.c-spot.com/atlas/chocolate-sources/amazonia/)

C-Spot, “Philosophy”, 2017 (https://www.c-spot.com/about/philosophy/) Accessed May 2017

C-Spot, “The Strains”, 2017 (https://www.c-spot.com/atlas/chocolate-strains/) Accessed May 2017

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson, 2013.

Fine Chocolate Industry Association (FCIA) “Fine Chocolate” http://www.finechocolateindustry.org/differentiate.php Accessed May 2017

Gewin, V., “A ‘wild’ label aims to help find and preserve rare cacao sources in the Amazon”. Washington Post February 2017. (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/speaking-of-science/wp/2017/02/14/a-wild-label-aims-to-help-find-and-preserve-rare-cacao-sources-in-the-amazon/?utm_term=.0eec26056dfb) Accessed May 2017

 Japhet, S., “New Discoveries: The Importance of Cacao DNA”. Heirloom Cacao Preservation, March 18, 2016. Accessed May 2017

 Landmark™ Wild Chocolate Reserve “Chocolate Bars”, 2017 (https://wildchocolate.org/shop/chocolate/#) Accessed May 2017

 Landmark™ Wild Chocolate Reserve “The Landmarks”, 2017 (https://wildchocolate.org/landmarks/) Accessed May 2017

 Landmark™ Wild Chocolate Reserve “The Strains”, 2017 (https://www.c-spot.com/atlas/chocolate-strains/) Accessed May 2017

 Landmark Wild Chocolate Reserve “The Story”, 2017 (https://wildchocolate.org/the-story/) Accessed May 2017

 Lopez, P., “Amazon peoples change ancestral ways to save forest”, PHYS.org December 22, 2015 (https://phys.org/news/2015-12-amazon-peoples-ancestral-ways-forest.html) Accessed May 2017

 Plants of the World Online, “Theobroma cacao”, Kew Science, 2017. (http://powo.science.kew.org/taxon/urn:lsid:ipni.org:names:320783-2) Accessed May 2017

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

 United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization. “The Criteria for Selection”, 2017 (http://whc.unesco.org/en/criteria/) Accessed May 2017

Wikipedia, Theobroma cacao, 2017 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theobroma_cacao

 Multimedia Sources:

 Image#1: Species richness of genus Theobroma https://www.c-spot.com/atlas/chocolate-strains/

 Image#2: Rio-Amazon by Mark Christian, February 1, 2011 https://www.c-spot.com/atlas/chocolate-sources/amazonia/

 Image 3: Mark Christian March 10, 2013, “Genus-theobroma”, 2017  https://www.c-spot.com/atlas/chocolate-strains/

 Image 4: Landmark Wild Chocolate Reserve, with permission from Mark Christian, “Best Organic”, 2017 (https://wildchocolate.org/shop/chocolate/)

Image 5: Landmark™ Wild Chocolate Reserve, with permission from Mark Christian, “Beyond Fair Trade”, 2017 (https://wildchocolate.org/shop/chocolate/)

Image 6: Landmark™ Wild Chocolate Reserve, with permission from Mark Christian, “Bargain Fare”, 2017 (https://wildchocolate.org/shop/chocolate/)

Image#7: (with permission from Mark Christian) Rio Purús Wild Cacáo 70% (https://wildchocolate.org/shop/chocolate/#)

 Video#1: “Heirloom Cacao Preservation Initiative”, 2017 http://hcpcacao.org/2015/12/20/the-hcp-video/

Video#2: (with permission from Mark Christian) “Luisa Abram Purus” (https://wildchocolate.org/the-story/)

Down to the Details: Dissecting the Intended Audience of Two NYC Chocolate Shops

New York City is constantly brimming with new additions to the food scene, and when it comes to chocolate, The Meadow and Chelsea Market Baskets are two specialty shops that aim to enhance one’s sensory and social experience. Closer comparison between these stores also yields distinct differences in their intended audience and marketing incentive. Whereas Chelsea Market Baskets has a more pronounced focus on gift purchasing and impulse buying, The Meadow offers a more well-rounded selection of origins and varieties, establishing itself as a solid destination for connoisseurs and consumers who place a greater priority on food product transparency.

Chelsea Market Baskets 

Chelsea Market Baskets (CMB) is located inside Chelsea Market, which boasts about 6 million visitors annually (Chelsea Market). The chocolate selection here is divided into three sections: Popular Chocolates, Specialty Chocolates (a sign reads “Chocolates that are not found in many places and we think are worth a bit of effort to find”), and Connoisseurs Chocolates (“Top quality chocolates that we are especially proud of and have sought out from smaller manufacturers”). The prices vary from around $3 to $11 per product.

IMG_3250
CMB’s three sections of chocolate (shot with iPhone)

Selection

Whereas mass manufacturers rely on wholesale companies to ensure lower costs, bean-to-bar makers take pride in carefully sourcing higher quality beans through a more collaborative environment with farmers and aim to increase product transparency (Dandelion Chocolate). Many bean-to-bar goods are offered here, and while most of the single origin bars only designate the country of origin, Dandelion Chocolate and Sol Cacao specify the estate where their beans come from: Akesson’s Farm in Madagascar.

IMG_3403
Bean-to-bar makers Sol Cacao and Dandelion specify the estate from which their beans are sourced (shot with iPhone). 

IMG_3409

On the other hand, CMB also offers an equal amount of mass-produced chocolate by major European manufacturers (e.g. Cote d’Or). At least five brands represented at CMB incorporate more typical “Big Chocolate” ingredients: more refined sugar and emulsifiers (e.g. soy lecithin) to substitute for more expensive cocoa butter (Albader 55). This not only reduces production costs but also reduces the number of polyphenols (which can help reduce LDL cholesterol and raise HDL concentrations) naturally found in cocoa butter (Watson et al. 267). The homogenization of these sweeter, more artificially flavored products with the all-natural and single origin bars implies that the larger focus of CMB may be on the overall appeal of the product, rather than the nutritional value or manner of production.

Examination of packaging and flavor selection also furthers my impression that CMB greatest motive is to attract the gift-giving or impulse buyer. Several eye-catching packaging labels showcase cartooned creatures, which have been shown to specifically attract children (Shekhar and Raveendran 57). Makers such as Vintage Plantations showcase vibrant colors or paintings of exotic habitats; the dimension of packaging design that most significantly predicts impulsive buying is visual design (Cahyorini and Rusfian 17). Selling more visually attractive products is a particularly beneficial marketing strategy, because the more exposure to visual cues in packaging, the higher the probability of buying chocolates (Shekhar and Raveendran 60). Certainly, customers may come with a particular product in mind, but for those more impulse-driven visitors, CMB offers several choices that facilitate purchasing through graphic appeal. Another effective marketing strategy here is catering to the traditional “American” appetite. Many flavored chocolates are fused with bacon, caramel, cookies, or other familiar flavors; culturally, we are psychologically attracted to foods that are both sweet and high in fat (Benton 214). By offering a mixture of single-origin and mass-manufactured chocolate, visually attractive products, and both familiar and novel flavors, CMB accommodates all ages and flavor preferences.The primary goal is to retail “premium chocolates,” value-added products not just in terms of quality but also “taste and texture, packaging, image and perception, and communication” (Linemayr 13).

Visually appealing products (shot with iPhone)

IMG_3218

IMG_3245
Fusing bacon with chocolate

Ethical Concerns

CMB offers a number of Fair Trade products, which are based on a collective effort to justly compensate farmers. However, many of the label’s claims are not accomplished, and a very small proportion of money reaches the poverty-stricken farmers at the base of the production chain (Martin). The growing ubiquitousness of Fair Trade has led to a dilution of its label, with some companies merely using it to enhance their public image (Sylla 133). For more knowledgable consumers, CMB offers several Direct Trade goods by makers who offer more substantial premiums to farmers. Taza, which created the “chocolate industry’s first third-party certified Direct Trade cacao sourcing program,” publishes an annual cacao sourcing transparency report, listing in detail the premiums paid to their farmers (Taza Chocolate). Over fifteen of Taza’s products are sold at CMB, all of them in the “Popular Chocolates” selection, thereby facilitating an outlet by which visitors can enjoy the unique taste of their stone-ground chocolate but also learn about their socially responsible practices. By representing several companies that work beyond simply paying Fair Trade premiums, CMB offers potential for spreading more awareness about the more grassroots approach to relieving ethical issues in chocolate production.

taza
A shot from Taza’s annual sourcing transparency report (Taza Chocolate)

 

tazaselection
Taza selection at CMB (shot with iPhone)

Taste

I purchased a few bars from each store to share some interesting flavors and textures unique to each location. From CMB, I purchased Taza’s Cinnamon Stone Ground Chocolate Mexicano Discs. Taza is known for their unique processing technique where traditional Mexican style stone mills, or molinos, are used to grind the beans. This accentuates the bold flavors of the unconched chocolate, producing a rustic, gritty texture that lingers on the tongue. Taza allows the consumer to harken back to historical Mesoamerican chocolate traditions through the similar process of grinding cacao on a stone, or metate (Presilla 26). I loved the biscuit-like texture because it allowed me to taste the bold cacao, sugar, and warm cinnamon individually.

IMG_3429

I was first drawn to the artwork on Amano’s package and after turning it over, I found that Amano is the most highly awarded chocolate maker in America, which piqued my interest in its taste. Madagascar cacao is known for being fruity, and this tastes very smooth with clean raspberry, black currant, and cherry notes (Presilla 139).

IMG_3436

The Meadow

The Meadow is located in the West Village, and pricing is significantly on the higher end, ranging from around $6 to $22 per bar. Like CMB, the chocolate selection is divided into three sections, albeit for different categories: the first section comprises flavored chocolates, the second comprising single-origin bars and bean-to-bar makers, and the third for dark chocolate (85% cacao content or higher).

IMG_3202
The Meadow’s three sections of chocolate (shot with iPhone)

Selection

Unlike CMB, the vast majority of products here are by small batch craft makers, and one instantly notices the emphasis on minimal and natural ingredients. The flavored chocolates here rarely consist of emulsifiers or artificial sweeteners, and the associate can name several products with higher amounts of non-deodorized cocoa butter. The samples offered were only from 100% cacao bars, which may be a more unconventional choice for tasting. Some individuals may not be familiar with such astringent, potent flavors, but The Meadow urges one to stay true to the the pure experience of cacao. These factors all lead to marketing more health-conscious products; 100% cacao bars contain no sugar, and dark chocolate contains the most significant levels of antioxidant polyphenols and flavonoids, which have beneficial effects on hypertension and vascular disorders (Haber and Gallus 1287).

IMG_3199
Tasting samples (shot with iPhone)

A thorough understanding of the selection is largely dependent on the visitor’s level of understanding of origin and terroir. There are significantly more single origin countries presented here; the Francois Pralus single origin bars span eight countries. Whereas CMB retails Madagascar chocolate bars which source beans from a single farm (Akesson’s), actual chocolate bars made by Akesson’s are sold here. Akesson’s is a family-owned heritage plantation, which provides beans for many U.S. based chocolate companies, such as Dick Taylor, Patric, and Woodblock, all of which can be found at The Meadow (Carla Martin, personal communication, May 2 2017). This selection offers a dynamic medium for tasting and comparing flavors made from varying partners within the supply chain.

Francois Pralus
Francois Pralus selection (shot with iPhone)
Akesson's
Akesson’s single plantation chocolate

The Francois Pralus bars list not only the country of origin but also the cacao variety used. Other bars state “Porcelana” on the front, a criollo variety that is prized for its nuttiness and low astringency (Presilla 67). Those who are familiar with or are in favor of a specific cacao variety will find the detail-oriented selection at The Meadow particularly accommodating.

Several bars are labeled “Chuao,” one of the most coveted type of criollo beans. Today, the Chuao plantation in Chuao, Venezuela is run by a small community that adheres to a centuries-long tradition of processing and operations (Presilla 77). The narrow valley yields a very limited space for cultivating cacao, producing only about 16 to 17 metric tons annually, but the beans are highly coveted for their taste and quality (White). The reputation of Chuao has led some makers to misappropriate its name and branding significance to mimic the terroir effect of the Chuao geographical region (Giovannucci et al. xv). This controversy itself is implicated at The Meadow, where I found two “Chuao” bars: one from Francois Pralus and the other by Domori. Although the Francois Pralus bar sources specifically from the Chuao village, the Domori bar is made from beans in a different region of Venezuela where the genetics of the Chuao strain have been implanted (The Meadow). This “Chuao” labeling despite it being produced outside of the valued village raises questions of legitimacy and violations of terroir, which places a strong emphasis on geographical origin, specifically, the “link between the product and the production area, depending on natural and climate conditions in the region” (Aurier et al.). The Domori bar also distances itself from the cultural and historical prestige associated with terroir. The Francois Pralus Chuao bar ($14) is more popular than the Domori Chuao bar ($8), perhaps due to an understanding of the terroir complications at hand, again likening consumer knowledge as an important factor for visitors.

chuao
This is a cacao pod in the Chuao region, lauded for its terroir and superior criollo beans (Wikimedia Commons). 

 

Francois Pralus chuao
The Francois Pralus and Domori “Chuao” bars (shot with iPhone)

Domori

Ethical Concerns

The Meadow represents a nice selection of Fair Trade and Direct Trade goods, and the sales associate is also fairly knowledgable about the downsides of the Fair Trade label. He pinpointed a few companies working more directly with their farmers, such as Madécasse. Madécasse, which makes their chocolate directly in Madagascar, pays farmers 10% higher than the maximum price for dry superior cacao and 55% higher than the median price for all cacao (Madécasse Social Impact Report).

He also told me about Askinosie, one of The Meadow’s top-selling companies, which places photos of their farmers, a map of their estate, and twine from their cacao bags on their packaging, attempting to secure a bridge of transparency with the consumer. Askinosie also pays a significantly higher premium than the Fair Trade market price, supports nutritional programs for children in underdeveloped countries, and shares a percentage of its profits through their “A Stake in the Outcome” program, incentivizing farmers to constantly improve methods to ensure better quality (Askinosie Chocolate). The selection at The Meadow, in addition to the knowledge of its sales associates, is better marketed towards spreading awareness of ethical issues and their relation to small batch makers.

askinosie
Askinosie shares and explains financial statements with their farmers (Askinosie).
askinosie
Askinosie goods at The Meadow (shot with iPhone)

Taste

Bertil Akesson’s plantation in the Sambirano Valley of Madagascar is divided into four smaller estates: Madirofolo, Menavava, Bejofo, and Ambolikapiky, but only the latter two provide the beans for Akesson’s own chocolate bars (Cocoa Runners). I wanted to compare an Akesson’s Chocolate with another maker who sources from Akesson’s Farm (e.g. Dick Taylor).

The Dick Taylor chocolate was very tart with cranberry and orange notes. The potent astringency significantly differed from the more sweet, berry-flavored Amano Madagascar bar. It finished off with a slightly overroasted taste, which made me experience firsthand how different bars sourcing from the same geographical region can yield differing flavors based on each company’s processing methods.

Dick Taylor

My second purchase was an Akesson’s 75% Criollo Bejofo Estate bar. Every Akesson’s bar shows not only which of the 4 smaller estates the cacao comes from but also the variety of beans used. According to the package, 300 tons of trinitario cacao are produced on Akesson’s Farm, but a limited 2 tons of criollo cacao are harvested separately to make this specific chocolate. As criollo varieties are generally perceived as the most mellow and refined in flavor, I compared the taste of this bar with the more trinitario-based Dick Taylor bar (Presilla 36). The Akesson’s bar has a familiar chocolatey aroma and significantly more refined taste with soft, tropical notes (papaya or peach) that balanced well with a very mild tartness. It has a much longer mouthfeel with a velvety texture. Of all the three Madagascar bars I purchased, this had the most delicate nuttiness and creaminess. Originally, I had thought the Amano, Dick Taylor, and Akesson’s bars would be difficult to differentiate in flavor as they all originate in Madagascar, but I was able to experience the complexities of terroir and processing techniques.

Akesson's criollo chocolate

 

Conclusion

Both CMB and The Meadow are valuable to the NYC food scene and heighten one’s experience with chocolate. Housed inside a bustling tourist attraction, CMB appeals to a wider audience, making it highly adapted to the marketplace. One can find goods that are suitable for the entire family, which relates to the store’s motto of gift-giving to share both popular and novel tastes. The Meadow caters to a smaller niche, one that requires a greater deal of knowledge. The high prices here can pose as a drawback, and had I visited The Meadow prior to taking Dr. Martin’s course, I would have had great trouble understanding the significance of “porcelana” or “single estate.” The Meadow’s selection is meticulously curated, just like the companies it represents direct great attention to their chocolate sourcing and production. The Meadow’s focus on minimal ingredients and terroir enhanced my affinity for chocolate, because I was able to apply my knowledge to various social, cultural, and ethical factors implicated by the selection. The Meadow’s greatest asset may be that it challenges traditional notions of what chocolate is and hones in on the complexities of food product transparency. By offering a more detailed rundown of production, sourcing, and cacao varieties, The Meadow works towards developing a more intimate connection of trust, reliability, and transparency between brand and consumer.

Works Cited

“About Chelsea Market.” Chelsea Market, http://www.chelseamarket.com/index.php/About/contact/about-chelsea-market. Accessed 29 April 2017.

“Akesson’s.” Cocoa Runners, https://cocoarunners.com/maker/akessons/. Accessed 3 May 2017.

Albader, Kawther. “Can you believe it’s not (cocoa) butter?”. Candy Industry, July 2012, 54-55.

Askinosie, Shawn. Direct Trade. Photograph. Askinosie Chocolate. https://www.askinosie.com/learn/direct-trade.html. Accessed 3 May 2017.

Aurier, Philippe et al. “Exploring Terroir Product Meanings For the Consumer.” Anthropology of Food, 1 May 2005.

Benton, David. “The Biology and Psychology of Chocolate Craving.” Coffee, Tea, Chocolate, and the Brain, edited by Astrid Nehlig, CRC Press, 2004, 205-218.

Cacao en Chuao. Reg2bug. Wikimedia Commons. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cacao_en_Chuao.jpg. Accessed 2 May 2017.

Cahyorini, Astri, and Effy Zalfiana Rusfian. “The Effect of Packaging Design on Impulsive Buying.” Journal of Administrative Science & Organization, Jan. 2011, 11-21.

“Domori Chuao 70% Dark Chocolate.” The Meadow, https://themeadow.com/products/domori-chuao-70-dark-chocolate. Accessed 2 May 2017.

Giovannucci, Daniele, et al. Guide to Geographical Indications: Linking Products and Their Origins. International Trade Center, 2009.

Haber, Stacy, and Karen Gallus. “Effects of Dark Chocolate on Blood Pressure in Patients With Hypertension.” American Journal of Health-System Pharmacy, 1 Aug. 2012, 1287-1293.

“How We Make Chocolate.” Dandelion Chocolate, https://www.dandelionchocolate.com/process/#anchor. Accessed 29 April 2017.

Linemayr, Thomas. “Establishing Premium Chocolate in the U.S. Mass Market.” The Manufacturing Confectioner, June 2011, 13-16.

“Madécasse Social Impact Report.” Madécasse LLC and Wildlife Returns, April 2017, 1-9.

Martin, Carla. “Lecture 10: Alternative Trade and Virtuous Localization/Globalization.” Chocolate, Culture and the Politics of Food. Harvard University: Cambridge, MA. 5 April 2017. Lecture.

Presilla, Maricel. The New Taste of Chocolate, Revised. Ten Speed Press, 2009.

Shekhar, Suraj Kushe, and P.T Raveendran. “The Power of Sensation Transference: Chocolate Packages & Impulse Purchases.” Indian Institute of management Indore, April 2013, 55-64.

Sylla, Ndongo. The Fair Trade Scandal. Ohio University Press, 2014.

“Taza Direct Trade.” Taza Chocolate. https://www.tazachocolate.com/pages/taza-direct-trade. Accessed 29 April 2017.

White, April. “The Potential and Pitfalls of Geographical Indications for Cacao.” Chocolate Class, 11 May 2016, https://chocolateclass.wordpress.com/2016/05/11/the-potential-and-pitfalls-of-geographical-indications-for-cacao/. Accessed 2 May 2017.

 

 

Bean to Bar Chocolate Makers and the Process Oriented Generation

Today niche markets blossom as the national food system increases efficiency and homogeneity. These two interconnected trends force us to ask ethical questions that our grandparents never faced. Firstly, technology both mechanical and genetic, have spurred unprecedented efficiency in food production. We see record yields per acre in corn and soybeans every year (Kristy). Discussions about the risks of GMOs aside, most would agree that today’s feast is preferable to the famines our ancestors faced only a few generations ago. As the most privileged consumers in history, we take for granted the concerns of our forefathers; namely, access to safe, nutritious, food at a reasonable cost. Today food is more accessible, cheaper, and safer than any other time in history (Laudan). This is all good news for consumers. As food choices have become unanimously safe and inexpensive, little was left to differentiate one brand from another.

As consumers we are currently experiencing the, “process generation.” Beginning around the time of the organics movement in the late 1990s, process has come to dominate marketing and consumption. Companies all had complete access to the same limitless basket of ingredients, and were producing only marginally different products. Process became king. When choosing the type of pasta, one no longer looked at the nutrition facts, knowing they would all be roughly the same. Rather, one looked for branding that might denote the most ethically, or sustainably produced pasta made by the most charitable and socially conscious company, packaged in the least wasteful and most recycled paper. Food no longer had to be safe and nutritious, those aspects were assumed, food needed a story.

Thankfully food producers were quick to answer the call. The dichotomy of processed versus non-processed has become complicated by the addition of ethical process issues. Shoppers suddenly can choose between Kraft mac-n-cheese and Annie’s organic and all natural mac-n-cheese, never mind both products are made by multinationals. It does not matter what the story is, but if you are a conscious consumer your food needs a story. Morality suddenly sits on the dinner plate, every food option is either, right or wrong, typically buying the, “right” food costs a little more. Your eggs need to be cage free, your fish needs to be caged, your coffee needs to be fair trade, and your beer needs to be a local brew. The birth of the process generation means that food makers can choose one of many social issues to attract customers. Those customers in turn, use their food purchases to signal their values to their communities. Though people have always used food to signal wealth, for the first time in history, your salad dressing can prove to your neighbors what a charitable person you are. Of course the vast majority of the food industry has remained unchanged, but among premium products differentiation comes with a back-story. Though a little slower to the table, the chocolate industry is no different.

Food advocates often refer to consumption decisions as casting a vote. When walking down the chocolate aisle at the grocery store, you can vote for a wide range of social causes. Your chocolate can help save endangered species, fight global warming, empower women, build schools, pay farmers livable wages and stop deforestation. A relatively new niche has developed in the chocolate industry. Bean to bar chocolate makers occupy a tiny portion of the total chocolate industry but claim to impact producer communities while delivering superior chocolate. Bean to bar chocolate makers are the latest iteration of food snobs, combining the artisanal specificity of a craft brewer with the social awareness of a fair trade coffee roaster and the geographic condescension of a wine connoisseur. If your purchase is your vote, we need to understand who’s on the ballot and what exactly it is that they stand for. This post will try to figure out if bean to bar chocolate makers actually reduce inequality in the chocolate industry or if they simply provide the latest luxury for affluent consumers: peace of mind.

Chocolate bars are typically plastered with certifications to prove their ethical engagement. Gluten free, GMO free, organic, and fair trade are all common badges. However bean to bar makers often go beyond these more standard certifications and claim to address problems that more mainstream bars only hint at. Namely bean to bar chocolate makers try to address the issue of inequality in the chocolate industry. Activists often accuse large chocolate makers of selling “blood” chocolate, or chocolate made from cacao produced by exploited people (Ryan). The common narrative paints cacao farmers as impoverished surfs, exploited by the fickle winds of a corrupt commodity market. However, those same farmers are often accused of exploiting children, by forcing them to work in their cacao plantations as slave labor. More than 500,000 children are estimated to be trapped in forced labor between Ghana and Cote D’ivoire, an area that produces roughly 75% of the worlds cacao (Mustapha). For this reason many consumers flock to chocolate certified as fair trade, searching for assurance that their favorite chocolate company pays farmers enough to avoid forcing children to work as forced laborers.

Taza chocolate based in Somerville Massachusetts is often cited as a shining example of social responsibility in the chocolate world. Self described, “chocolate pioneers” Taza created their own certification, “Direct Trade” that supposedly holds producers to higher environmental and fair-labor standers than the current “Fair Trade” certification. Taza is not simply blowing smoke. They seem genuinely committed to their standard, going so far as to employ, “Quality Certification Services” a third party auditor accredited by the USDA, to audit their internal supply standards. To go even further Taza publishes a yearly transparency report that illuminates the amount and price paid for cacao from each producer region. Currently Taza partners with five grower communities in Bolivia, Belize, Dominican Republic, and Haiti. The below video describes how Taza has impacted their farmer partners in Haiti and generally how the Direct Trade model is supposed to work.

 

Though not explicitly stated, the video shows how Direct Trade relies on a framework of intermediaries to organize high quality cacao production. Though Taza found quality cacao in Haiti, investment and technical support were required for industrial production. Pisa is a cacao company that buys raw cacao seeds from farmers and prepares and markets them for export. In addition to coordinating with buyers such as Taza, Pisa supports farmers, helping them grow the most efficient and highest quality cacao possible. The video only briefly referenced Root Capital. This Cambridge based company works to, “connect smallholder farmers to world markets” typically through financing, technical training and business education (Root). Though called, “Direct Trade” Taza’s video shows that farmer – chocolate maker interactions are complicated, and even in their simplest forms require third and fourth party involvement. As ethical consumers, we can celebrate the impact that Taza and their partners have had in Haiti. The Direct Trade model appears to help stabilize demand and provide consistent, fair pricing for farmers. In his book “The Fair Trade Scandal” Ndongo Samba Sylla explains how price fluctuation and market inconsistency are two of the main factors preventing farmers from investing in their farms. His point, as the title might suggest, is that the “Fair Trade” standard falls short of reducing inequality in the chocolate industry. Adding a few hundred dollars to an ever changing global cacao price is often not worth the high certification fees for farmers (Sylla). Taza appears aware of the shortcomings of “Fair Trade” and seems determined to overcome the challenge of inequality. However, is there a point at which too much foreign involvement can hurt a cacao community?

 

Taza founder Alex Witmore explains about his role as co-founder of “Maya Mountain Cacao” in Belize. Maya Mountain acts much like Pisa did in Haiti, providing industry coordination as well as technical support for new and existing farmers. A cynic might see Taza’s investment in the Belizean company as a step backward toward colonial sugar or cacao production, once so common in Sough America and the Caribbean. However, while some socially conscious consumers might still cringe, Taza appears to be fostering an infant industry in Belize. Firstly, according to Taza’s transparency report, they only bought 3.81 metric tons of cacao from Maya Mountain in 2016. This purchase made up approximately 1.6% of all Taza’s total purchases by weight. Secondly 74.5% of the sale price went to Maya Mountain’s partner farmers, this is on par with, or slightly higher than the percentages paid to farmers in Taza’s other four production groups. At this point it appears that Taza is leveraging their considerable industry knowledge to support cacao cultivation in an infant cacao industry. After going through the literature and the information on Taza’s website, it seems like they are the gold standard for a reason. Taza strives to create legitimate impact in their producer communities. We can’t fault Taza for their limited impact simply because they are a comparatively small company.

 

As a second case study we examine Lake Champlain Chocolates, a confectioner based in Burlington Vermont. From the start LCC and Taza appear to be from two different generations. Taza embodies the ideals and desires of the “process generation” prominently sporting the option, “learn” next to the, “buy” or, visit buttons on their homepage. This header sits over a slideshow of chocolate close-ups, machinery grinding beans and farmers growing cacao. The website expertly communicates that Taza values process as much as any millennial. LCC on the other hand, is a retail website. The homepage sports glossy images of neatly packaged seasonal gifts. Customers have to scroll to the bottom of the page and hunt through the fine print to find the “About Us” section. While this product-oriented approach to marketing denotes humility on LCC’s part, it misses the importance that current consumers place on a food’s background. On the face of it LCC is appears to be from the generation where luxury meant flavor and packaging, not a social conscience. However beneath the superficiality of websites, LCC and Taza may have much in common.

 

Blue Bandana Chocolate Maker is one of LCC’s sub-brands. Blue Bandana is a bean to bar chocolate maker, currently producing five, single origin bars. Started in 2012 by LCC’s, now CEO, Eric Lampman Blue Bandana partners with growers and cooperatives to provide consistent income while ensuring the highest quality cacao. One of the ways that Blue Bandana ensures that their partner-farmers are upholding high labor and environmental standards is through site visits. The below video shows follows funder Eric Lampman as he pays a visit to Anselmo Luc, a Guatemalan cacao producer.

 

I had the good fortune to speak with Nick Hadsel-Mares, the principle chocolate maker at Blue Bandana about the company and the bean to bar industry more generally.

 

Nick explained that Blue Bandana, and many other bean to bar makers are riding a wave of consumer demand. According to Nick, “Chocolate is a completely different landscape than it was ten years ago.” He added that, “Consumers have shifted, they expect a lot more transparency, they want Fair Trade and organic and are willing to pay a premium for it.” The new tide of consumer interest in transparency is one that Nick thinks is unlikely to end. When asked what drove Blue Bandana to work with a specific community he said, “Well firstly, it’s all about the beans, we’re a company after all and we need to produce exceptional chocolate bars. That being said, we care deeply about the working conditions and practices on our partner’s farms. If a producer is not transparent about their practices, we won’t work with them.” According to Nick, Blue Bandana’s commitments to ethical process and Direct Trade are not unique in the bean to bar community. From his years in the industry, Nick assured me of the earnestness and responsibility that bean to bar makers feel about their partners growing the cacao. Because Blue Bandana is much smaller than Taza, they don’t have the resources to produce an in-depth transparency report. However Nick assured me that part of their direct trade model is paying farmers well above the “Fair Trade” price for premium cacao.

After researching both companies and speaking to Nick, it appears this post is premised on a false dichotomy. Bean to bar chocolate makers might simultaneously impact their producer communities while also providing a product inline with consumers’ ethical standards. Because the bean to bar industry makes up an estimated .47% of the chocolate industry, their impact might go further than critics expect. Consumers are demanding more transparency and more ethical process. Though small, companies like Taza and Blue Bandana are validating that consumer interest. Some, including Nick, hope that Taza and Blue Bandana can teach the rest of the chocolate industry how to be “better” while still turning a profit. When evaluating these companies as consumers it is important to remember one thing; Blue Bandana and Taza never ask consumers to compromise on taste. Both companies are jointly driven by finding powerful and unique flavors while achieving a tangible benefit for their places of origin. Ethics aside, many would argue that the premium for these bars is justified by taste alone. However, knowing that farmers are paid a fair price only makes the bar that much sweeter.

 

Special thanks to Nick Hadsel-Mares who took time out of his busy schedule to chat. His skill as a chocolate maker is paralleled only by vast knowledge of the industry.

 

                       Work Cited

Kristy Foster Seachrist | Sep 09, 2016. “Georgia producer sets new world soybean yield record.” Corn and Soybean Digest. N.p., 21 Sept. 2016. Web. 05 May 2017.

Laudan, Rachel. “Plea for Culinary Modernism.pdf.” : n. pag. Print.

Mustapha, Kemi. “Taste of Child Labor Not so Sweet: A Crititue of Regulatory Approaches to Combating Child Labor Abuses by the U.S Chocolate Industry.” 1 (2010): n. pag. Print.

“Root Capital.” Root Capital. N.p., 03 May 2017. Web. 05 May 2017.

Ryan, Orla. Chocolate Nations: Living and Dying for Cocoa in West Africa. N.p., 2011. Print.

Sylla, Samba Ndongo. The Fair Trade Scandal. N.p., 2014. Print.