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TAZA CHOCOLATE: HOW A SMALL COMPANY IS MAKING A BIG DIFFERENCE

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TAZA CHOCOLATE

HOW A SMALL COMPANY
IS MAKING A BIG DIFFERENCE


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In its origins, cacao relied heavily on the slave trade to fuel its ever-increasing demand (Martin, 2018). Despite the abolition of slavery in the mid 19th century, the modern day chocolate industry is still riddled with inherent ethical issues. In response to the persistent pervasiveness of injustices within the industry’s process, bean-to-bar brands have proliferated as a potential solution with a commitment to both the ethicality and culinary aspects of chocolate production; Taza Chocolate in Somerville, Massachusetts typifies one of these companies striving to produce delicious chocolate through ethical practices and a high degree of production transparency. Founded in 2005 by Alex Whitmore and Kathleen Fulton, Taza Chocolate produces “stone ground chocolate that is seriously good and fair for all” (Taza, 2017). Taza acts as an all-around ethical, socially-conscious and purpose-driven business.

Taza’s company culture is driven by its founder, who prior to opening his own company “apprenticed with Mexican molineros, learning their ancient chocolate-making secrets” (Taza, 2017). Taza offers an easy application process opening up more opportunities in making an effort to get natives from the countries that it sources its cacao from involved in its business processes.

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Owner Alex Whitmore carving patterns into a stone for grinding chocolate

Taza, meaning “cup” in Spanish, is reminiscent of the way Aztecs ritualistically consumed chocolate in liquid form using specially designed cups or vessels for this purpose (Coe, 1996). A nod to its rich history is also found in its design and packaging displaying a cacao pod and its signature mold in the form of the Mexican millstone, a stone that is traditionally used to grind chocolate.

“Taza founder Alex Whitmore took his first bite of stone ground chocolate while traveling in Oaxaca, Mexico. He was so inspired by the rustic intensity that he decided to create a chocolate factory back home in Somerville, MA. Alex apprenticed under a molinero in Oaxaca to learn how to hand-carve granite mill stones to make a new kind of American chocolate that is simply crafted, but seriously good. In 2005, he officially launched Taza with his wife, Kathleen Fulton, who is the Taza Brand Manager and designed all of the packaging.

Taza is a pioneer in ethical cacao sourcing. We were the first U.S. chocolate maker to establish a third-party certified Direct Trade Cacao Certification program. We maintain direct relationships with our cacao farmers and pay a premium above the Fair Trade price for their cacao. We partner only with cacao producers who respect the rights of workers and the environment.” (Taza, 2017)


THE CHOCOLATE SUPPLY CHAIN

BUYING AND SELLING CACAO


 

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A traditional metate

Millions of hands spanning multiple continents are responsible for the production of the key ingredient in this beloved treat, but most consumers don’t have a sense of the complex intricacies of the supply chains involved in chocolate and the economic realities of the farmers who grow the crop.

The chocolate supply chain begins with the cultivation of cacao pods. After cacao cultivation, the pods are harvested and the seeds and pulp are separated from the pod. The cacao seeds are fermented and dried before being sorted, bagged, and transported to chocolate manufacturers. The cacao beans undergo roasting, husking, grinding, and pressing before the product undergoes a process called “conching,” in which the final flavors develop (Martin, 2018). Differences in the execution of each step influence the ultimate taste and consistency of the chocolate product.

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Today, approximately two million independent family farms in West Africa produce the vast majority of cacao. Each farm, between five to ten acres in size, collectively produce more than three million metric tons of cacao per year (Martin, 2018). While some of the farms grow crops like oil palm, maize, and plantains, to supplement their income, the average daily income of a typical Ghanaian cacao farmers is well under $2 per day.

The commercial process of purchasing cacao usually involves the farmers selling to intermediaries, who subsequently sell to exporters or additional  intermediaries. With each middle-man adding their own profit layers, the supply chain lengthens as well the opportunity for the corruption and exploitation of the growers and farmers.

In response to the social and economic injustices associated with the cacao supply chain, various organizations have been established with the common mission of improving ethical and corporate responsibility of global cacao practices. Many of these organizations have established criteria for certifications with the goal of enticing companies to comply with specified ethical requirements in exchange for public acknowledgement for doing so.

“Fair Trade,” a designation granted by the nonprofit of the same name, stands out as a recognizable stamp on many shelf-brands. Self-defined as an organization which “enables sustainable development and community empowerment by cultivating a more equitable global trade model that benefits farmers, workers, consumers, industry and the earth,” Fair Trade certifies transactions between U.S. companies and their international suppliers to guarantee farmers making Fair Trade certified goods receive fair wages, work in safe environments, and receive benefits to support their communities (“Fair Trade USA,” 2017).

Yet, while in theory Fair Trade seems to address many issues the cacao farmers face, critics of the certification point out there exists a lack of evidence of significant impact, a failure to monitor Fair Trade standards, and an increased allowance of non-Trade ingredients in Fair Trade products (Nolan, Sekulovic, & Rao 2014). So, while in theory certifications like Fair Trade offer the potential to improve the cacao-supply chain by ensuring those companies who subscribe to the certification meet certain criteria, the rigor and regulation of the criteria remains heavily debated.

 


FAIRER THAN FAIR-TRADE

BEAN-TO-BAR AND DIRECT TRADE


 

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In contrast to Fair Trade, an alternative type of product sourcing that is growing in popularity and reputation is that of Direct Trade. Different from the traditional supply chain process, ‘bean-to-bar’ companies offer this as a potential solution for the injustices in the cacao industry. By cutting out the middle-men and working directly with cacao farmers, these small chocolate companies commit themselves to the highest ethical standards and quality (Shute 2013). The goal is that this bean-to-bar “pipeline will make for more ethical, sustainable production in an industry with a long history of exploitation” (Shute, 2013).

While providing some oversight on ethical practices, Fair Trade’s supervisory capacity does little to create a relationship between the farmers and the ultimate producers or to eliminate extraneous intermediaries diluting profit from both parties. Additionally, achieving a Fair Trade certification costs between $8,000 and $10,000, whereas Direct Trade costs the chocolate bar producer nothing.

This direct connection, allows the buyer and farmer to communicate fair prices, ensuring that the cacao farmers receive fair wages, working conditions, and support (Zusman, 2016). Furthermore, the transparency associated with the bean-to-bar process motivates the companies to keep up to date on ethical practices, and encourages the cacao farmers to take extra care the cultivation of their beans.

Taza sources its cacao from its “Grower Partners” in the Dominican Republic, Bolivia, and Haiti. Taza provides a detailed profile for each of its cacao producers which features information including the country region, number of farmers, duration of partnership, tasting notes which contribute to the terroir of their chocolate, history of the region, and pictures of the farmers with Taza employees. The thorough information Taza provides truly puts faces to the names of the farmers and displays Taza’s direct and personal engagement with their cacao producers.

 


THE TAZA DIFFERENCE

TRANSPARENCY AND DIRECT-TRADE SOURCING


 

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Alex Whitmore, an innovator of the bean-to-bar movement founded Taza with a commitment to “simply crafted, but seriously good chocolate,” and as “a pioneer in ethical cacao sourcing” (Organic Stone Ground Chocolate for Bold Flavor, 2017).

The mission of Taza Chocolate is “To make and share stone ground chocolate that is seriously good and fair for all” (Taza, 2017). In the dual parts of their mission: “seriously good” and “fair for all”, Taza has become a leader in using the quality and ethicality of their products to empower and respect those often overlooked workers at the very front of the supply chain. Looking first at quality, Taza has seen success as a maker of “seriously good” chocolate (Taza, 2017). Their products are now available all over the country and internationally, in specialty, natural and gift stores. Fine restaurants have used Taza Chocolate in their kitchens and numerous major food publications have featured the company. But these are just outward indicators of what goes on behind the scenes. For one thing, their “seriously good” chocolate seeks to remain true to its cacao origins and acknowledge where it comes from through proper and authentic taste. While other chocolate makers may do as they please to conform to the tastes of the consumer masses, Taza Chocolate caters to the genuine recipes and processes of the geography and culture within which it was conceived.

In addition to publishing their Direct Trade Program Commitments, Taza provides access to their transparency report, cacao sourcing videos, and their sustainable organic sugar.  Seemingly, Taza exemplifies the archetype bean-to-bar company.

Taza chocolate products carry five certifications to ensure safe labor practices as well as organic ingredients, whose integrity is guaranteed by having their “five Direct Trade claims independently verified each year by Quality Certification Services, a USDA-accredited organic certifier based in Gainesville, Florida” (Taza, 2017).

“Taza is big on ethical cacao sourcing, and is the first U.S. chocolate maker to establish a third-party certified Direct Trade Cacao Certification program, meaning, you maintain direct relationships with your cacao farmers and pay a premium above the Fair Trade price for their cacao.” (Taza, 2017)

In its Transparency Report displayed below, Taza even discloses what it pays for its cacao beans. 

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Bean-to-bar chocolate companies appear to be a viable potential solution, albeit slow and on a more micro level, to addressing the issues in the cacao-chocolate supply. Because currently the consumer base does not seem to possess a critical awareness of different certifications, the bean-to-bar companies must continue to pioneer more moral standards until enough customers catch up and until demand forces the bigger chocolate vendors to take a similar approach. Until then, tackling the exploitation embedded in the cacao-supply chain falls exclusively on the shoulders of the chocolatiers equally loyal to both chocolate and social responsibility.

Taza Chocolate is undoubtedly making large efforts to be a part of the solution rather than a part of the problem. Rather than allowing consumers to blindly focus on the end product of the chocolate itself, Taza encourages consumers to acknowledge the environment and culture from which the chocolate originates. Often forgotten farmers and food artisans are brought to the forefront instead of being relegated to the archives of unseen histories. Indeed, Taza gives growers “an alternative to producing low quality cacao for unsustainable wages” (Taza, 2017). Taza’s operations may still be in its nascent stages, but it is exciting to see even a small company lead the entire chocolate industry towards a more ethical and sustainable future.

 


References


 

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

Fair Trade USA. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 May 2017.

Martin, Carla. “Modern Day Slavery.” Lecture, Chocolate Lecture, Cambridge, March 22, 2017.

Martin, Carla. “Alternative Trade and Virtuous Localization/Globalization.” Lecture, Chocolate Lecture, Cambridge, April 04, 2017.

Martin, Carla. “Slavery, Abolition, and Forced Labor.” Lecture, Chocolate Lecture, Cambridge, March 01, 2017.

Nolan, Markham, Dusan Sekulovic, and Sara Rao. “The Fair Trade Shell Game.” Vocativ. Vocativ, 16 Apr. 2014. Web. 03 May 2017.

“Organic Stone Ground Chocolate for Bold Flavor.” Taza Chocolate. N.p., 2015. Web. 08 May. 2018. <https://www.tazachocolate.com/&gt;.

Shute, Nancy. “Bean-To-Bar Chocolate Makers Dare To Bare How It’s Done.” NPR. NPR, 14 Feb. 2013. Web. 03 May 2017.

Taza Chocolate. “Sourcing for Impact in Haiti.” Vimeo. Taza Chocolate, 03 May 2017. Web. 03 May 2017. Video

 

Zusman, Michael C. “What It Really Takes to Make Artisan Chocolate.” Eater. N.p., 11 Feb. 2016. Web. 03 May 2017.


Media


Taza Chocolate. (2018) Header Image

Taza, Chocolate. (2018). “Stone Ground Chocolate”

Chocolatenoise.com (2018).  “Alex Whitmore”

Chocolatenoise.com (2018).  “A traditional metate”

Chocolatenoise.com (2018).  “Taza chocolate making process”

Chocolatenoise.com (2018).  “Whitmore with farmers”

Youtube. (2012).  Taza on fair trade

Chocolatenoise.com (2018).  “Rotary stone”

Taza, Chocolate. (2018). “Direct trade”

Vimeo.com. (2006). Taza Chocolate “Bean to Bar”

The Fine Line of Cadbury Business Ethics

We are often reminded that it is wise to toe a fine line and adhere to a certain code of moral conduct; but at what cost exactly?  This is a question that Britain’s chocolate giant Cadbury wrestled with during the beginning of the 20th century.  They flourished when it came to business ethics in their own Utopian village, Bourneville, yet struggled to maintain the same integrity when dealing with the horrific slave labor producing its most precious cacao supply.

In Lowell Satre’s article entitled Chocolate on Trial: Slavery, Politics and the Ethics of Business, the trial of the Cadbury chocolate company begins when a young journalist by the name Henry Nevinson embarked on a field assignment for Harper’s monthly magazine of New York in 1904.  The focal point of Nevinson’s field research was centered predominantly in the Portuguese controlled Angola territory in Africa.

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Shortly after the United States of America had abolished slavery in 1865, Portugal had followed suit during the 1870’s by legally outlawing forced labor in all of its controlled colonies as well.  However, Satre writes “plantation owners still desperately craved workers” as this sweeping outlaw of slavery threatened the convenience of free labor by tipping the economic scale slightly out of their favor.  Satre continues, “To satisfy this constant demand for labor, a state-supported system of “contract labor” emerged, wherein government agents certified the natives could, or of their own free will, sign contracts committing themselves to five years of labor for a set wage” (Satre, pg. 2).  These “contract jobs” also came with the so called benefits of being treated humanely and having the ability to return to their homeland after their contract expired.  However, Henry Nevinson would soon discover, and corroborate an earlier tip that the Cadbury Company received in 1901, that these were empty promises and the idea of working voluntarily under humane conditions was clearly not the case.

The Cadbury Chocolate Company was located somewhere north of 4000 miles away from where Nevinson carried out his expedition.  This was a Quaker owned firm, which meant that they were very serious in regards to their Christian religious beliefs; abstaining from particular vices that could be frowned upon – such as alcohol.  The Cadbury Company in particular experienced a boom in business which warranted moving from the smaller shop that John Cadbury, founder and sole proprietor, operated out of in Birmingham; to a factory town that his son George Cadbury had designed himself.  After John’s first son, Richard passed away suddenly in 1899, George became chairman of Cadbury’s board of directors along with he and Richard’s sons serving as board members.  If you visit the Cadbury website, you can get their account of their story here:

The Story of Cadbury

            Interestingly enough, Lowell Satre reveals what the Cadbury Company site dared not mention; the 1901 trip, when William Cadbury (George’s nephew) visited Trinidad.  The company owned a small cocoa bean plantation there and he was told that slave labor was being used on the islands of Sao Tome and Principe.  Shortly after, this rumor was “given credence when the Cadbury company received an offer of a plantation for sale in Sao Tome that listed as assets two hundred black laborers worth 3,555 dobra” (Satre, pg. 18).  Despite the reports of slave labor and its corroboration by Henry Nevinson’s trip to Africa, the Cadbury Company began sourcing cacao from Sao Tome and Principe indicating that they needed to seek out additional confirmation that the laborers’ treatment there was indeed slavery.

William’s Cadbury’s uncle, George, had created a village called Bourneville in England with the intention for its portrayal to highlight what it meant to take care of company workers.  Bourneville had no pubs – further emphasizing the Quaker lifestyle that the Cadbury family believed in – and was “built upon George Cadbury’s vision of improved dwelling, light, space and air for his employees” (YouTube: Barton’s Britain: Bourneville).

The-Bournville-Cadbury-site

The contradiction was stark however, as the admirable gesture was tainted by the charges of knowingly benefiting from slave labor in Sao Tome and Principe.  It raised the eyebrows of the media as they began to question the integrity of the company for its blatant hypocrisy.  On one hand, they demanded further proof of people dying in Africa due to gruesome work conditions; while on the other hand politely fired female employees in Bourneville who announced they were pregnant so they can endure less stress and prepare for parenthood.

It is my inclination to believe that William Cadbury did not want to swiftly back out of using these cacao plantations because he did not want to affect the bottom line of his family’s business.  So instead, he bided his time looking for a second voyager to travel to Africa and double down on Nevinson’s account to a) protect the company’s investment and b) not offend their Portugal partners overseeing the plantation operation.  While the Cadbury Company strategically dragged their feet with these goals in mind, pressure was mounting from activist groups such as the Anti-Slavery Society and the Aborigines’ Protection Society.  Along with the press, these entities were pushing for the relationship between the Quaker company and slave labor it employed to officially be brought to light.  Finally, William Cadbury elected Joseph Burtt to travel to Africa and confirm what everyone already knew.

In Catherine Higgs article entitled Chocolate Islands: Cocoa, Slavery and Colonial Africa, Higgs details how Joseph Burtt embarked on his journey to Africa and found that Henry Nevinson’s account of slavery occurring was more than accurate.  It was so accurate that Joseph Burtt’s initial report, in the interest of Cadbury needed to be edited multiple times to lessen the impact of the ugly truth and not upset their cacao supplier.  Higgs states that “Cadbury argued that publishing the report in the English press without first giving the Portuguese the opportunity to respond – which Burtt favored doing – would give them “every right to say, as they have done with Nevinson’s report, that they consider the whole attitude as unfriendly and unfair” (Higgs, pg.  134).  William Cadbury was more concerned with protecting his brand, along with his business partners interest that he’d go as far as sugar coating (no pun intended) the truth about their operation rather than taking a stand against what was morally unacceptable.

Shortly after Burtts report had circulated within media circles in October of 1908, William Cadbury had diligently tried to walk back the implications of his company being accused of hypocrisy.  In the end, the Cadbury Company backed out of Sao Tome and Principe, leaving the door wide open for the Hershey Chocolate Company of the United States to swoop in and assume the position of having no moral compass.  In 1839, British colonial administrator Herman Merivale wrote, “Every trader who carries on commerce with those countries, from the great house which lends its name and funds to support the credit of the American Bank, down to the Birmingham merchant who makes a shipment of shackles to Cuba or the coast of Africa, is in his own way an upholder of slavery: and I do not see how any consumer who drinks coffee or wears cotton can escape from the same sweeping charge” (Martin, Lecture #6).  While Herman’s words were about 60 years before the Cadbury controversy in Sao Tome and Principe, they eloquently capture the struggles William Cadbury and his company faced in attempting to tight rope the fine line of running a successful business while being an honorable one simultaneously.

 

 

 

Works Cited

“Barton’s Britain: Bournville.” Gaurdian.co.uk, 2009, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qz6tyxHlRlA.

“The Bournville Cadbury Site.” The Manufacturer, 16 Jan. 2015, http://www.themanufacturer.com/articles/200-workers-take-voluntary-redundancy-cadbury-plant/.

Higgs, Catherine. Chocolate Islands: Cocoa, Slavery, and Colonial Africa. Ohio University Press, 2013.

Katz, Frau. “A Map of Angola.” Pinterest, http://www.pinterest.com/pin/345510602641044139/?autologin=true.

Martin, Carla. “Lecture #6.”

Satre, Lowell Joseph. Chocolate on Trial Slavery, Politics, and the Ethics of Business. Ohio Univ.Press, 2006.

http://www.iconinc.com.au, Icon.Inc -. “The Story of Cadbury.” Cadbury, http://www.cadbury.com.au/about-cadbury/the-story-of-cadbury.aspx.

 

CVS, Cardullo’s, and Their Consumers

We often see varieties of chocolate neatly arranged in so many stores, and the display is so tempting for customers walking by. Every shopping trip to a convenience or drug store is the same – make a rewarding selection between mainstream (and sometimes exotic) chocolate products. The tastings were set up in a way to acquire as much information as possible. The samples I acquired from CVS were: Ferrero Rocher hazelnut truffles (Italian), Hershey’s milk chocolate (American), Cadbury milk chocolate (English), Toblerone milk chocolate with nougat (Swiss), and Brookside dark chocolate with blueberries and almonds (American). The samples I acquired from Cardullo’s were: Niederegger’s Chocolate with marzipan (German), Truffettes milk chocolate covered marshmallows (French), Chuao Milk chocolate with potato chips (American/Venezuelan based), Vivra 65% dark with candied violets (American), and Taza 50% dark chocolate with guajillo chili. I recruited six tasters, and one taster was unable to try the dark chocolate samples, because dark chocolate disagrees with him. I expected that the tasters I shared various chocolate samples with would prefer more generic and familiar brands, such as the brands offered by CVS. However, by analyzing the results of my research done on various flavors of chocolate, it is apparent that my tasters generally preferred the less common chocolate bars without realizing it. This suggests that people do not put as much thought into their chocolate preferences as they really should be.

When organizing tastings for my research, I tried to get as many tasters as possible to taste my CVS and Cardullo’s products by themselves. There ended up being two groups of two, and two lone tasters. I wanted each person’s response to influence another person’s response as little as possible. Furthermore, none of the tasters were enrolled in Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. The students of the class now have an above average level of training for identifying specific tastes and smells in the chocolate, so I decided to test the abilities of non-chocolate scholars. I must admit that the whole tasting set-up was done by having in the back of my mind Barb Stuckey’s self-observation of her tasting skill after spending time working for the Mattson company. Barb excitedly recalls her “newfound skill” explaining that she “could take one bite of a food, consider it for a millisecond, and know exactly what it was missing that would give it an optimal taste (Stuckey 3)”. However, I was delighted to hear my tasters use descriptions for the samples, such as: dry, “varied texture”, “pop rock texture”, generic, “dull ‘thud’ sound”, sandy, “old book taste”, chalky, and/or matte colored.

The chocolate samples came from two different stores: CVS, and Cardullo’s Gourmet Shoppe, both in Harvard Square in Cambridge. Both stores are conveniently located in an area filled with people, some of whom may be hungry for a chocolate snack. Cardullo’s and CVS have their similarities, including the fact that they have their specific chocolate-seeking audiences. However, there is a difference between the chocolate-seeking audiences of Cardullo’s and CVS. Cardullo’s targets consumers of European origin and consumers with an interest in European culture, while CVS targets consumers that are not extremely fussy, and less willing to spend more for chocolate that would satisfy their cravings just as effectively. On a side note: the cost for all of the products between CVS and Cardullo’s totaled $46.34.

CVS’s chocolate is meant to “cater” to the general public. The store manager of the CVS location himself explained the ways in which the companies featured in the store cater to the general public. The confections sold at CVS are internationally recognized American and European brands whose confectionery styles do well with their plain chocolate, but also with commonly added flavors (some additional flavors include: caramel, nougat, nuts, and fruit). Hershey’s is a quintessential product at CVS, and must maintain their consumer loyalty with recognizable packaging, as well as producing creative ideas. For example, Hershey’s has designed resealable packaging to give their consumers a choice to eat some chocolate now and save the rest for later. A better alternative, rather than the consumer being forced to eat the entire product once it has been opened. Chocolate investigator, Kristy Leissle, begins her journal with, “Consider a hershey’s (sic) kiss. At once minimalist and iconic, the twist of silver foil sends a familiar flavor message to the brain, while the wrapper imparts nothing substantial about the chocolate (Leissle 22)”. When we see a chocolate product that is familiar to us, its iconic and memorable packaging prompts us to remember that what the product is. We also can trust familiar looking products to taste delicious if we decide to purchase them, rather than us risking the possibility of feeling like our money has been wasted on a bad tasting product.

Labels
Here is a selection of the most common chocolate products that we see for sale. The labels include the company name (i.e. Hershey), or a familiar product from Hershey (i.e. Reese’s). The label names are chosen carefully for consumers to easily recognize the products we want to purchase. The “Hershey’s” label will tell us that we are looking at a bar of plain chocolate, and might have a sub-description of nuts or caramel inside. The “Reese’s” label automatically signals to consumers that there is peanut butter complementing chocolate. “York” is a familiar label to consumers that signifies minty flavor in chocolate (hersheyindia).

The products from CVS have important descriptions that set them apart from the products at Cardullo’s. There were a few products made with dark chocolate, but most of the products sold at CVS were made with milk chocolate. The most popular CVS product was a tie between Toblerone and Ferrero Rocher – all six tasters liked the two products equally. Four out of six tasters especially liked the chocolate center of the truffles. The Toblerone sample was described by four out of six tasters as “better than Hershey’s.” Three out of six tasters did not care for the Brookside product, two tasters thought the product was “okay,” and one taster loved the Brookside product so much that it won CVS over as her favorite store of the two for buying chocolate. Fun fact: Hershey acquired Brookside in 2011 (Schroeder). Hershey’s milk chocolate was the least popular CVS product, and Cadbury’s milk chocolate was described by every taster as “better than Hershey’s,” while Cadbury’s still was not the most popular CVS product.

Most of the products were neatly arranged by brand on the candy aisle. The rest of the products could be found on the end cap of the candy aisle on the side furthest away from the registers. The products on the end cap are known as the “deluxe chocolates.” The Deluxe brands included, but were not limited to Lindt and Chuao. Recall that I bought my Chuao potato chip milk chocolate at Cardullo’s. I had gone shopping at Cardullo’s before shopping at CVS, and was surprised to find the same type of Chuao bar in the Deluxe section of CVS. The Chuao bar was more hidden than the easily seen Cardullo’s Chuao bar, and it was two dollars cheaper at CVS. Perhaps, the Deluxe chocolates at CVS are placed so that the adventurous customers who already know about the products will know where to find them. The specific placement of products could be CVS’s precaution against scaring away most of their customers with expensive, daring flavors of chocolate as the first available chocolate snack.

Cardullo’s confections are meant to cater to people with more sophisticated tastes regarding confections. More specifically, Cardullo’s employees pointed out that the shoppe targets Europeans (and a few other ethnicities) who grew up with their featured products that are hard to find outside of their countries. The store manager of Cardullo’s herself explained that Cardullo’s products are special because they invoke a strong feeling of nostalgia among visitors/immigrants from various countries. You can find a wall stocked with Cadbury products, and Cadbury is one of the few iconic chocolate brands featured in the entire store. There is no chance of finding any products from Hershey when shopping at Cardullo’s. The American products featured at Cardullo’s tend to have avant-garde flavors. For example, Cardullo’s features Vosges, a Chicago based chocolate company. One of Vosges products at Cardullo’s is a chocolate bacon bar. What a combination!

Cardullo's Front
Classy-looking photo of the front of Cardullo’s Gourmet Shoppe in Harvard Square at Cambridge, Massachusetts (Yelp).

As preferred by five out of six tasters, Cardullo’s was the most popular of the two stores for chocolate shopping. The opportunity to taste new flavors of chocolate was a little intimidating, yet exciting to each of my chocolate tasters. Chloé, the chocolate connoisseur featured in Raising the Bar, voices her concern for a general lack of appreciation for chocolate variety, “[c]onsumers can be fickle and even dismissive when it comes to matters of taste… (Raising 147)”. The tasters were enthralled by the Vivra dark with violets, and this product was enjoyed by everyone that could try it. Four out of six people did not care for the Chuao potato chip chocolate, but the two other tasters enjoyed the sweet and salty combination within it. Niederegger’s marzipan milk chocolate was described by three tasters as “too sweet.” The other three tasters liked the marzipan milk chocolate, especially the consistency of the marzipan. When biting into the Truffettes milk chocolate covered marshmallows three tasters experienced them as “too chewy.” The other three tasters enjoyed the consistency of the marshmallow. Five tasters could try Taza’s Guajillo chili. Four tasters did not care for the guajillo chili infusion with the dark chocolate. One taster said that the Taza sample with guajillo chili was “awesome stuff!”

I would especially like to highlight the presence of Taza products at Cardullo’s. Taza is one of the few American chocolate companies with products for sale at Cardullo’s, and they happen to operate locally in Somerville, Massachusetts. What is special about Taza in comparison to many other American products is that the workers of Taza are interested in traditional, authentic Mexican chocolate-making methods. With a high demand in place for their products, Taza has had to find means of efficient production that would still allow for the presence of a Mexican quality surrounding the chocolate. By producing solid chocolate bars, Taza is aware that consumers are seeking a snack with traditional Mexican flavors, rather than traditional Mexican beverages. Taza’s YouTube channel serves as an efficient tool to connect with their customers on a more personal level than relying only on their website and word of mouth to deliver information to consumers. Taza wants its consumers to remember that there is still care involved with Taza’s chocolate making process, as their YouTube page’s introductory paragraph states that, “we hand-carve granite millstones to grind cacao… (TazaChocolate)”. The introductory video on their YouTube channel is an invitation for all who would like to catch a glimpse of the chocolate making process inside the factory:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7tcA51tUOxU&feature=youtu.be

It is exciting to learn a little bit about another culture’s specific methods for creating products that are so similar, yet so different from what we are usually exposed to.

Truffette's
Truffette’s label for chocolate covered marshmallows is quick to flaunt its French origin. The photo of the confection looks so tempting by featuring a delicious marshmallow covered in smooth, creamy chocolate. The elegant, French words along with the Eiffel tower momentarily remind us of the culture-rich city of Paris, and it is almost as if we are tasting the confection while in France. However, what consumers do not immediately realize is that, as pointed out by Susan J. Terrio, “France itself is not a country historically famous for its luxury chocolates (Terrio 10)”. Perhaps, with the recent European involvement in chocolate, this product is an example of a French confectioner’s take on perfecting a use for solid chocolate. Members of newer generations from France would immediately recognize Truffette’s upon finding their products at Cardullo’s.

It is worth noting that every person has unique preferences for chocolate products, among all other products. There are people who prefer CVS products over Cardullo’s products, as astounding as it may sound to the people who appreciate variance in chocolate. Some people may enjoy every chocolate product presented to them, while others may only accept milk chocolate. Allergies to common foods such as nuts will skew a person’s preferences, because they must work around their health concerns when determining their favorite flavors to have with chocolate. The confections we looked at for this project demonstrate the many creative and culture-specific ideas that so many talented confectioners have cooked up since chocolate became more available around the world. Perhaps, if my tasters were all chocolate connoisseurs that my research would have yielded different results about chocolate preferences.

Works Cited

Leissle, Kristy. “Invisible West Africa.” Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture 13.3(2013): 22-31. JSTOR [JSTOR]. Web. 6 May 2017. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/gfc.2013.13.3.22&gt;.

Schroeder, Eric. “Hershey to Buy Brookside Foods.” Food Business News. Sosland PublishingCo., 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 6 May 2017. <http://www.foodbusinessnews.net/News/NewsHome/Business News/2011/12/Hershey to buy Brookside Foods.aspx?cck>.

Slide-img20.jpeg. N.d. Hersheyindia.com. Web. 6 May 2017.

Stuckey, Barb. “What Are You Missing?” Introduction. Taste What You’re Missing: The Passionate Eater’s Guide to Getting More from Every Bite. New York: Free, 2012. 1-29. Print.

TazaChocolate. “Taza Chocolate.” YouTube. YouTube, 20 Jan. 2012. Web. 10 May 2017.<https://www.youtube.com/user/TazaChocolate&gt;.

TazaChocolate. “The Taza Chocolate Story.” YouTube. YouTube, 20 Jan. 2012. Web. 10 May 2017. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7tcA51tUOxU&feature=youtu.be&gt;.

Terrio, Susan J. “People Without History.” Introduction. Crafting the Culture and History of French Chocolate. London, England: U of California, 2000. 1-22. Print.

TRUFFETTES DE FRANCE MARSHMALLOWS MILK CHOCOLATE. Digitalimage.Redstonefoods.com. Redstone Foods, n.d. Web. 8 May 2017.<http://redstonefoods.com/products/712331–truffettes-de-france-marshmallows-milk-chocolate&gt;.

Williams, Pamela Sue., and Jim Eber. “To Market, To Market: Craftsmanship, Customer Education, and Flavor.” Raising the Bar: The Future of Fine Chocolate. Vancouver, BC: Wilmor Corporation, 2012. 143-209. Print.

V, Sonam. Cardullo’s Gourmet Shoppe. 2005. Yelp.com, Cambridge, MA. Yelp.com. Web. 10 May 2017. <https://www.yelp.com/biz_photos/cardullos-gourmet-shoppe-cambridge?select=-Cg_WKg2ExKzcEgzCuyLzQ&gt;.

Hotel Chocolat: An Ethnographic Analysis

When it comes to bean-to-bar chocolate companies, Hotel Chocolat is certainly one of the most distinguished. The Hotel Chocolat website offers a plethora of information about the brand, but what seems to stand out the most is that this company is not simply a maker of fine chocolate. This company is an architect of experiences, and these experiences are all founded in the company’s commitment to growing its own cocoa on the island of St. Lucia. Even the logo on the website reads “Hotel Chocolat British Cocoa Grower”. The experiences that this carefully grown cocoa sponsors range from entry to the Hotel Chocolat “Club”, a subscription chocolate service starting at about 10 British pounds per month, to private parties and reservations at their restaurants and “cocoa bar cafes”, to a stay at their resort in Saint Lucia. These amenities are extensions of the original craft confections of Hotel Chocolat, bringing the idea of chocolate tourism into a quite literal sense. Loyal customers of Hotel Chocolat might choose to follow the company across the globe for an incredible, one-of-a-kind experience, all aimed at an experience in which you can “experience cocoa like never before” (Hotel Chocolat, 2017).

While this company seems to have an incredibly nuanced grasp of the importance of changing the agricultural traditions surrounding the production of chocolate, elite model of quality assurance, and thorough commitment to customer accountability, it appears to be perpetrating certain chronic illnesses of the chocolate industry as well. Certain aspects of the Hotel Chocolat’s agricultural model are troublesome, namely in certain decisions that the company made in regards to their ethics policy, as well as the very location where they decided to set up shop. Additionally, Hotel Chocolat seems to cater to an elite, establishing a binary of fine chocolate consumers and cocoa producers that unfortunately does little to update the status quo of cacao that has been established over centuries. In the following post, I will first examine the rise of Hotel Chocolat in historical context, examine the strengths and weaknesses of the company, and recommend certain changes that might bring Hotel Chocolat closer to what they describe their goals to be.

First of all, it is crucial to begin with a thorough understanding of the historical trajectory of Hotel Chocolat. While the company began selling chocolates online in 1993, the first storefront opened in 2004, founded by Angus Thirlwell and Peter Harris, two entrepreneurs set on “making chocolate exciting again” (Hotel Chocolat, 2017). Taking a step back, it is crucial to ask what was happening with chocolate at this point in time, and what had gotten it there. Why was there a need to make chocolate exciting again? In colonial Europe, when chocolate was first brought to the Europeans, it was an expensive and special luxury, one that only the ruling class could afford. As Coe and Coe describe it, “it had been an elite drink among the Mesoamericans, and it would stay that way among the white-skinned, perfumed, bewigged, overdressed royalty and nobility of Europe” (Chapter 5). England, uniquely, was a more entrepreneurial society, and therefore shopkeepers and businessmen were able to pedal their wares to the larger population, although it was still the mostly upper class and well to do that could afford chocolate in the beginning (Coe and Coe, Chapter 5).  Thus, even in its earliest stages, chocolate in England was diverging from its traditional role as sumptuous luxury. As Professor Martin and her colleague Sempak explain, by the 1800s, chocolate was for everyone, due to a plethora of revamped factors which had maximized efficiency of the treat for mass production (49). One of these newly cheapened factors was of course, sugar, which by 1900 provided “1/5 of calories in an English diet”(Mintz 6). While the price of sugar has certainly fluctuated over time, as exemplified by Figure 1, in 2004, the year of Hotel Chocolat’s birth, the price of sugar was extremely low, and this was not a fact that was wasted on the company’s founders.

Screen Shot 2017-05-05 at 3.28.29 PM
Figure 1

 

In their story, the company explains that “as sugar prices have dropped, British chocolate has focused increasingly on sweetness… Today sugar is 20 times cheaper than cocoa”, and later they even explain that their motto is “More Cocoa, Less Sugar.” With this in mind, it seems that perhaps Hotel Chocolat, in its founding, was not only intent on creating a high quality brand, but also moving back to the original vision of chocolate as a food for the elite. In it’s mission statement, Hotel Chocolat describes sugar as “cheap”, citing its qualities of being “sweet”, and “flavor-dulling”, and contrast this image with their abundant use of cocoa, which they describe as “nuanced”, and “fine”. This distinction between simple and complex, basic and fine, seems to be creating a strict binary. There is mass-produced chocolate for the masses, and then there is Hotel Chocolat, for the higher class individual, in need of an elevated experience.

Additionally, as mentioned before, the company’s commitment to growing its’ own cocoa for its chocolate, restaurants, cafes, and hotel is the backbone of what makes Hotel Chocolat unique. The company owns a plantation in St. Lucia, and is proud of a nuanced “Ethical Engagement” program by which they procure all of their cocoa—their answer to an inability to participate in Direct Trade, which they explain on their website that they are ineligible for (Hotel Chocolate 2017). The company bought the Rabot Plantation is St. Lucia in 2006, and has been growing their own cacao and working with farmers on the island ever since then (Hotel Chocolat 2017). In historical context, this was an incredibly business savvy method. As Martin and Sempak explain, the 1990s were wrought with revelations of the worst forms of child labor, and individuals searching for ways to get their chocolate fix without exploiting vulnerable populations (51). Therefore, by taking production into their own hands, Hotel Chocolate was able to make certain that certain exploitations were not occurring, and offer their clientele a clear conscience in consumption.

Since the purchase of this plantation, the company has continued to thrive. Along with the hotel, the company has 92 cafes, 2 restaurants, and a seemingly endless selection of unique, handcrafted chocolates. As the Telegraph reported last year, Hotel Chocolat went public on the London stock exchange at a value of 150 million pounds (Yeomans and Chan).

Hotel Chocolat Goes Public

With this in mind, it is now possible to take a look at the ethical implications of the company. One thing that is truly incredible is Hotel Chocolat’s “Engaged Ethics” model (EE). The ultimate goal of EE is to “make life as a cocoa farmer truly sustainable”. Thus, this is a many-layered initiative. One of the staples of EE is the Hotel Chocolate Cocoa Growers Programme of Engaged Ethics (HCCAPEE). Within it, farmers are guaranteed a premium price all of a farmers harvested “wet” cocoa, which the company specifically prefers over the dry, fermented product, preferring to complete that step themselves in-house. Hotel Chocolat explains that prior to this program, St. Lucian farmers were subjected to exploitive prices from middlemen and untrustworthy vendors. Under HCCAPEE, a fixed price above fair trade, which is $.75 kg/wet and $1.88/kg dry, which is 28 cents hire than the world trade price.   Other perks of the program are access to Hotel Chocolat’s fine quality seedlings, quick turnaround for payday, easy drop off sites, fair measurements, and a local consultant who helps with the process. Membership is free to all cocoa farmers on the island. What is one of the most striking aspects of this program is the fact that the company guarantees to pay a fixed price for all cocoa produced by a farmer, giving the farmer security in income even if there is an issue with the season’s harvest. Additionally, in its business model, Hotel Chocolat cites an even greater goal, which is positively impacting the entire agricultural sector of St. Lucia. Hotel Chocolat explains a greater goal “to use knowledge and skills to help formulate sound agricultural policies and laws; to challenge and correct untrue statements about the agricultural industry and to foster dialogue among agriculturists, other professionals, landowners, and the public regarding agricultural policies” (Hotel Chocolat 2017). With nearly 168 cocoa farmers now taking part in the program, it seems that Hotel Chocolat is indeed working towards a more ethical future for the agricultural future of St. Lucia (Hotel Chocolat 2017).

St. Lucia
St. Lucia and the Piton Mountains. Photo courtesy of Pixabay

However, some distinctly important issues emerge on closer analysis of the Hotel Chocolat model. First of all, as mentioned previously, the company does place a premium on using trope that separates low quality chocolate from high quality, implying a social class divide along with it. Words like “luxury,” “private,” “distinctive,” “fine,” and more dominate the language on the company website, making it clear that this chocolate is of the highest caliber. As Robertson explains, chocolate companies have historically focused marketing to a “refined” taste palette, suggesting that a high quality of chocolate is meant for a high class individual (26). For example, in a Rowntree marketing campaign, advertisements for Black Magic were utilized high-class women, emphasizing luxury and expense. When Rowntree advertised their lower cocoa content chocolate, the Dairy Box, they used words that emphasized cheapness and accessibility (27). This is practically identical to the binary set up by Hotel Chocolat in its description of their product. Thus, it seems that Hotel Chocolat is perpetuating a chocolate class distinction, one of the more serious issues that the chocolate industry faces today.

Additionally, while the HCCAPEE program is undoubtedly doing some fantastic things, there are certain critiques to be found there as well. One of the most glaring issues to me comes from the fact that the company asks its farmers to sell their cocoa to them “wet” rather than “dry”. This means that the farmers are not being trained by Hotel Chocolat in the artisanship of fermentation, and are thus kept at a level of crude labor, with little opportunity for growth. Hotel Chocolat defends itself, stating that buying it wet allows the farmers to do less work and receive the same payday, and even claims that if a farmer is interested in fermentation, Hotel Chocolat will send an inspector to their facility. However, there is no evidence that any farmers partake in this option. Therefore, farmers in the Hotel Chocolat system stay at just that- farmers. Something that immediately comes to mind is Berlan’s concept of “unfree” labor. Berlan explains that in Ghana, farmers and their children have “varying degrees of agency over their lives,” and that this is what sometimes results in individuals having no other choice but to seek out labor on cocoa farms (1094-1095). Hotel Chocolat themselves explains that St. Lucia’s cocoa industry was riddled with poverty, and this historical context makes it difficult to believe that farmers on the island had options besides participating in the HCCAPPEE program.

The last critique I offer looks at HCCAPEE’s policy of only allowing cocoa farmer’s to experience the benefits of the program. As the CIA’s world fact book presents, St. Lucia’s agricultural industry is largely based off of bananas, with this commodity making up 41% of the country’s exports (CIA 2017). If Hotel Chocolat were truly committed, as they claim to be, to improving the agricultural situation of St. Lucia, then they would be hard pressed to find a better medium than by including the banana farmer’s in their program.

After studying the company, I feel that in order to truly meet its goals, several key changes should be put into action. First of all, the distinction between cheap and expensive should be diminished. By perpetuating an elitist mindset with chocolate, they take away from their commitment to incredible chocolate, and instead, create a vision that lacks diversity. As chocolate connoisseur Chloe explains, “chocolate is like music or friends, each person must make his own opinion and those opinion evolve” (Williams and Eber 146). With this in mind, I think that Hotel Chocolat should focus more on taste preferences between the individual, rather than the exclusivity of the chocolate itself. An integration of testimonials from their own workers in St. Lucia would go a long way to show that Hotel Chocolat is not about where you come from, or what you do, but rather, the kind of chocolate you love. Second, I would be thrilled to see some sort of chocolate academy launched on the Rabot Plantation. If Hotel Chocolat committed itself to providing farmers with unique, valuable skills, then farmers may have more autonomy over their own lives, which would be a fabulous improvement from the current situation. Lastly, I think that Hotel Chocolat needs to actively recruit banana farmers to diversify their farms with the company’s cocoa seedlings. This would provide support to the St. Lucian agricultural sector, and give Hotel Chocolat an even greater opportunity to make an impact, all while crafting delicious chocolate.

In ending, Hotel Chocolat’s Engaged Ethics program is a fabulous step in the right direction for the future of ethical chocolate making, and certain tweaks could make it an even more efficient initiative.

 

References:

Armstrong, Ashley. “Hotel Chocolat Enjoys a Sweet Start after IPO.” The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group, 12 July 2016. Web. 05 May 2017.

Berlan, Amanda. “Social Sustainability in Agriculture: An Anthropological Perspective on Child Labour in Cocoa Production in Ghana.” The Journal of Development Studies 49.8 (2013): 1088-100. Print.

“Chocolate Gifts & Luxury Presents.” Hotel Chocolat – Luxury Chocolates and Gifts. Hotel Chocolat, 2017. Web. 04 May 2017.

CIA. “The World Factbook St. Lucia.” Central Intelligence Agency. Central Intelligence Agency, 01 Apr. 2016. Web. 05 May 2017.

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

Martin, Carla D and Sampeck, Kathryn E (2015) The bitter and sweet of chocolate in Europe. SOCIO.HU, 2015 (No. 3). pp. 37-60.

Robertson, Emma. (2009) Chocolate, women and empire: A social and cultural history. Manchester; New York: Manchester University Press.

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

The Paradoxical Selflessness of China’s Chocolate Market

The experience of eating and purchasing chocolate in our western society can often be defined by our individual love for its taste and its self-indulgent nature. It would make sense that in trying to extend this experience to the Chinese marketplace, the “Big Five” producers (Ferrero, Cadbury, Hershey, Nestle, and Mars) should try to replicate many of these same factors. Interestingly, China’s adoption of chocolate as something not primarily for oneself was rather backwards when compared with our traditional western practices, so much so that some may even consider it paradoxical. Yet it is this paradox that reveals that power of a specific culture to shape the experience of chocolate into one that is suitable for its audience.

In the taste arena, chocolate was very foreign to the Chinese palate. As described by Lawrence Allen in his work China and Chocolate: East Meets West, China had gone through a period of austerity from the 1950’s to the 1970’s. During this time, “people became accustomed to a limited range foods that were predominantly indigenous…variety was not only limited, it was also highly seasonal” (Allen 27). As such, existing populations found “the taste, texture, and particularly the sweetness of chocolate too foreign and extreme” (27). Frank McCafferty, a senior manager for chocolate product development in Asia, describes the dichotomy between westerners’ and China’s tastes well: “In the U.S. it has to be sweet, sweet, sweet, more sugar is better — not in China” (Doland). Thus, rather than embracing the rational attraction of its sweet taste, the Big Five had to take a much different strategy and promote chocolate as a “foreign and exotic curiosity” (Allen 23). The means to do this would be through the Chinese culture of gift giving.

Trends revealed that Chinese consumers were not largely buying chocolate for themselves. Not only does this support the idea that the fundamental chocolate taste was not playing a major factor in consumption, but also that chocolate for self-consumption was a rather underdeveloped market, again defying much of our traditional views on the self-indulgent nature of chocolate. For other established chocolate markets, the gift-giving purpose of chocolate only accounted for less than 10 percent of total sales (Allen 27). This was not the case in China. With over half of chocolate sales attributed to gifting, Allen puts it well when he writes, “Chocolate gift sales do not require the purchaser to have a taste for chocolate – only that he or she be willing to pay the price” (26). In this way, it almost appears that the inherent food qualities of chocolate were secondary to its role as a good gift, a symbol of “prosperity and fashionable good taste” (Allen 26). As seen in this media post by Shanghai Jungle, the author writes about how much of the success seen by Ferrero in China can be linked to its good gifting qualities, such as a the company’s premium gold packaging as seen in the image below from a Hong Kong shop.

Chocolate: A Gift That Conveys Love
http://www.shanghaijungle.com/news/Chocolate-A-Gift-That-Conveys-Love

Come 2008, despite economic challenges in China, Ferrero was doing well with the sales of their gift boxes outperforming the overall growth of the chocolate market. However, the development of their self-consumption products remains “elusive” (Allen 204).

It’s helpful to keep in mind that China’s chocolate market is still very young. Chocolate has only been around for a little over 20 years, as pointed out by the reporter in the following news video.

Yet so much of the market has been shaped by chocolate’s introductory role as a high end gift. The Godiva store shown in the video is just one example of the Chinese desire for chocolate as a luxury item for social interaction, rather than an everyday candy for personal enjoyment. Possible reasons for this are the geographic, demographic, and logistical barriers of reaching the masses in China. While high-end “first tier” cities have been tapped into, “consumers who lived beyond third-tier city standards were physically, culturally, and financially inaccessible for chocolate” (Allen 35). Indeed, this is just a start. Starting with China’s major cities, it will be fascinating to see how demand for chocolate will evolve over these next few decades and spread out to the masses. In many ways, the development of a selfless gift giving chocolate market not revolving around its good taste and personal satisfaction is highly paradoxical. But it does show a side of China’s gift-giving culture that chocolate has helped to illuminate.

Multimedia Sources:

[http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/a4/HK_Kennedy_Town_%E5%AF%B6%E7%BF%A0%E5%9C%92_Belcher%27s_Westwood_mall_shop_7-eleven_Ferrero_Rocher_Jan-2011.JPG]

[http://www.shanghaijungle.com/news/Chocolate-A-Gift-That-Conveys-Love]

[https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m4AzK3ecKwI]

References:

Allen, Lawrence L. Chocolate Fortunes: The Battle for the Hearts, Minds, and Wallets of China’s Consumers. New York: American Management Association, 2010. Print.

Doland, Angela. “Who’s Winning China’s Chocolate War?” Advertising Age. N.p., 8 Dec. 2014. Web. 13 Mar. 2015.