Tag Archives: cacao growing

Plant and Community Disease: Impediments in Small Scale Cacao Farming.

In the summer after my sophomore year of college, I conducted research on sustainable development in Costa Rica and Panama. This was one of the most enriching academic and personal experiences in my life to-date, especially the week that I spent living on a small-scale cacao farm in Mastatal, Costa Rica. That magical week involved working and eating alongside the absolutely lovely family that has owned the land its cacao trees for generations.

Mastatal is a unique agricultural community that lies in the south west region of the San Jose Province. It is a town that has always relied on agriculture, usually on a small scale. It has never industrialized and found a comfortable place in the larger Costa Rica economy, but since the turn of the century it has revived its economy through agricultural tourism, or agritourism.

Wait… what is agritourism?

Agricultural tourism is a subset of the larger trend toward ecotourism, a style of travel that involves leaving a small footprint on the environment, while connecting on a deeper level with it. Agritourism involves staying and working on a farm with the goal of getting closer to the source of the food you eat. This trend is generally being driven by global changes in food and dining, climate and energy conservation, health and wellness, and heritage conservation (Ciglovska, 278). Four farms in Mastatal, all focusing on different products, use agritourism as a source of additional income, hosting visitors, giving tours, making local dishes, and putting the travelers to work. Where I was staying, La Iguana Chocolate, was the main attraction, because everybody loves chocolate.

The group of students that I was a part of worked alongside the family that owned the cacao operation, while conducting field research on the budding agritourism industry in the small town as a whole. The work was hard but rewarding and gave me closer insight into the process of harvesting cacao and making chocolate, as well as the struggles of a small scale producer. Chocolate is made from the beans inside a fruit that grows from a tree, something that I was unaware of before my time on the farm. Upon arriving we were given a full tasting, one of the services that is offered to travelers each day. The couple that operates the farm greeted us with an interesting looking fruit that reminded me of a squash, and when they broke it open it was filled with small white fuzzy pods. They encouraged us to take one of the pods and eat the white fuzzy material off of it, and that was the moment that I found my favorite fruit. Yes, cacao is my favorite fruit. It sounds crazy… most people have no idea where the cocoa powder and butter that makes their favorite treat comes from, or that the raw fruity product could be so delicious. For those of you struggling to believe me, I have attached a video of a tasting. That first sight of the cacao pods was only the beginning of my time spent with them over the course of my time at La Iguana.

The most rewarding part of the whole week was the time spent in the fields harvesting the cacao pods. The work is eye-opening in its difficulty. We started our day with a quick breakfast at around seven o’clock in the morning before packing lunch and all the necessary tools onto the back of a single horse. We then set off through the back of the immediate property, down a dirt, and then mud, road for about a mile until we came to a river. Shoes were removed and the river was crossed, the small dog accompanying us was carried, of course. After we scaled a large hill we finally reached the edge of a forest, situated in higher altitude than we were previously. The walk alone was enough to exhaust the group, but it is highly necessary that the cacao trees are in the perfect environment to grow effectively. Cacao trees need to be in an area with high moisture but good draining, usually shaded by other trees and surrounded by a heavy underbrush of leaves. This is knowledge that has been passed down for generations, since the first cacao tree was brought to Mastatal. These very particular conditions were perfect in this hillside forest, and the journey to reach the trees is absolutely worth it when the trees are highly productive. This is especially true when your livelihood depends on it.

Once we got to the vast area of cacao trees there was important training that needed to take place. There were several strains of cacao growing in the field. This meant that the ideal color and shape of the pods that were ready for harvest could differ from tree to tree. Green pods turn a deep yellow, but yellow pods turn a bright red. Clearly there is room for confusion. Beyond that, any pod that has black spots on it must be taken down despite its level of ripeness. The black spots are a disease that can ruin an entire harvest, Moniliophthora roreri, but more on that later. We also had to learn how to properly use the sharp tools to cut the pods from the trunks of the cacao trees. It seemed like at every step in the process of growing and harvesting cacao there was only one very specific way of doing things. While we may have been a bit unprepared, we were set off into the forest, machete and large hemp bag in hand.

Aside from the cliff of mud and rushing river that had to be passed to reach the crop, the work itself was awfully dangerous as well. Costa Rica is home to the Fer-de-Lance, an incredibly venomous viper who likes to live in underbrush… underbrush much like that required to grow cacao. Some of the pods are also out of reach, making climbing a tree with a machete in hand necessary. Once our bags were full with pods, we hauled them to the center of the forest and all dumped them out to extract the beans. While working on the pods, we chatted with the family about how they got started in cacao, and what the biggest challenges have been in making a living from the crop.

Pile of cacao pods from our harvest. Black pods have the Monilio disease and may not be useable.

While roughly two thirds of the worlds cacao production happens in West Africa, the plant is indigenous to Central and South America, an area that produces only five percent of the worlds cacao today (Leissle, 16). This is due to the colonial exportation of the production means to an area that was understood as having cheap and abundant labor that could support the booming chocolate industry. La Iguana is one of the few farms still producing cacao in the Mastatal area. We were told that cacao trees were brought to the area in the middle of the twentieth century because the Costa Rican Ministry of Agriculture saw it as an opportunity to breathe life into the economy of the area. In essence, small scale subsistence and fruit farmers were forced to change their production techniques and land use to cater to cacao. Encouraging shaded agro-ecosystems like cacao also “provide a promising means of addressing the challenges of creating a forest‐like habitat for tropical biodiversity in a rapidly deforested landscape, while simultaneously providing a lucrative crop for local agricultural communities” (Phillips‐Mora et al.).

However, many of the farmers that were planting cacao in Mastatal had to stop in the mid-90s when Monilio, the fungal disease discussed above, was spread through the area. We were told that there was no concrete understanding of how the disease came to the area, perhaps on the clothes of a traveler studying cacao. It was clear that this disease could cause hardship that seemed unsurmountable. It was well known that Monilio could be destroy long-term economic viability if even one yield was infected (Evans et al.). After the disease initially hit the La Iguana farm, they could not get enough pure cacao pods and had to revert to selling only fruit from their smaller fruit farm for a living. A highlight is that even in pods with black spots covering most of the fruit, it is possible that the fungus has not yet reached the beans on the inside, and the cacao is still useable.

A drawing I did for the farm as a parting gift. It reads “It’s what’s on the inside that counts” in reference to Monilia on cacao.

While La Iguana has implemented a few techniques to diminish the impact of the Monilia on their crop that has allowed them to maintain good harvests, there have been other struggles for the small farm in establishing a sustainable business model. The largest struggle for them, as well as the other farms shifting towards an agritourism model, was attracting the right crowds of people. The research that I ultimately produced from my time there looked at the marketing techniques of each of these farms, and how they are perceived by the surrounding community. I found that the initial launch of these farms as tourist destinations brought the wrong kind of people to the town, creating a tension between the farms and other locals. Jarkko Saarinen is a scholar who has done extensive research in the field, and he made a similar generalization that “high development goals of rural tourism may separate rural communities and tourism actors, which can cause economic and social conflicts, insecurity and locally unwanted changes in rural landscapes.” However, once La Iguana was able to control the crowds they were attracting, and their ability to bring new people to the area started having a positive impact on the greater community, they reached a new level of stability and social sustainability.

However, both the control of tourists coming to eat chocolate from the source, and the control of Monilio are ongoing battles for La Iguana Chocolate as well as other small scale cacao farmers in the region. I am infinitely grateful for the time I was able to spend there, and the friends I made in Mastatal. The knowledge that I gained from living and working in a small agricultural town going through a beautiful economic transformation will allow me to better navigate these communities in the future and work with them on their long term development and sustainability: environmental, economic, and social.

Works Cited:

Evans, Harry C., et al. “What’s in a Name: Crinipellis, the Final Resting Place for the Frosty Pod Rot Pathogen of Cocoa?” Mycologist, vol. 16, no. 4, Nov. 2002, pp. 148–52. Cambridge Core, doi:10.1017/S0269915X02004093.

Leissle, Kristy. Cocoa. Polity, 2018.

Phillips‐Mora, W., et al. “Biodiversity and Biogeography of the Cacao (Theobroma Cacao) Pathogen Moniliophthora Roreri in Tropical America.” Plant Pathology, vol. 56, no. 6, 2007, pp. 911–22. Wiley Online Library, doi:10.1111/j.1365-3059.2007.01646.x.

Saarinen, Jarkko. “Traditions of Sustainability in Tourism Studies.” Annals of Tourism Research, vol. 33, no. 4, Oct. 2006, pp. 1121–40. ScienceDirect, doi:10.1016/j.annals.2006.06.007.

All photos were taken by Taylor Gates.

The Impact of Cacao Purchasing Practices: Cadbury vs. Taza

The definition of chocolate in the Oxford dictionary is, “a food in the form of a paste or solid block made from roasted and ground cacao seeds, typically sweetened and eaten as confectionary,” (Oxford 2019). This definition is very broad and it includes many different varieties and flavors of chocolate. The taste of a chocolate bar may be attributed to many factors, including the type of cacao used, the processing of the cacao, and the ingredients in the chocolate bar. We will explore the production process of Cadbury and Taza chocolate. While both Taza and Cadbury products fall under the definition of chocolate, they are made from very different cacao under distinct production processes. We can examine these elements to explain their differences in taste. Additionally, by analyzing the growing and purchasing practices of these two companies, we can look at their impact on the farmers and farming communities.

The Cadbury company, founded in 1824, receives the majority of its cacao from Ghana in West Africa (“Our Story” 2019). The cacao beans come from many small cacao farms in Ghana (“Cocoa Growing Countries” 2019). Each farm ferments and dries the beans and then they bring the cacao beans to large drying stations where workers combine the beans from many farms, weigh them and pack them into sacks. Merchants then send the cacao sacks to the Ghana Cocoa Board. From here, the Ghana Cocoa Board takes the sacks to a port where the Cadbury company selects and purchases their beans and then ships the beans to processing factories (one in Singapore and another in Chirk, North Wales (“Chocolate Making” 2019; “Fact Sheet: Chocolate Manufacturing,” n.d.). At these factories, workers separate the cacao into cocoa powder and cocoa butter using a hydraulic press. Other workers then send the cocoa powder and the cocoa butter to Cadbury factories in Australia and New Zealand for chocolate production (“Chocolate Making” 2019). Here, workers add condensed cream and sugar to the cocoa to create a “cocoa crumb” that they mix with chocolate liquor and cocoa butter and a “special chocolate flavoring,” the composition of which the company does not disclose. The mixture then undergoes refining, conching, and tempering (“Chocolate Making” 2019).

Taza, a much newer, smaller chocolate company founded in 2005, has a production process that differs drastically from that of Cadbury (“About Taza” 2015). Trading directly with the farmers, Taza purchases high quality cacao beans from the Dominican Republic, Bolivia, and Haiti (“Taza Direct Trade” 2015). Taza then ships the beans back to its factory in Somerville, Massachusetts and roasts and winnows the beans. They then use molinos, or traditional Mexican stone mills, to grind the cacao beans in order to preserve the flavor. This is where Taza’s “stone ground” chocolate comes from. The chocolate mass then undergoes tempering, molding, and cooling (“Our Process” 2015).


Taza receives its cacao directly from farms in South America and islands in the Caribbean. Cadbury receives its cacao from the Ghana Cocoa Board in Ghana in West Africa.

To emphasize, one of the major differences between Cadbury’s and Taza’s purchasing practices is that Cadbury purchases cacao in bulk from the Ghana Cocoa Board whereas Taza purchases cacao directly from the farmers. Cadbury previously received Fairtrade certification for following regulations for free and fair labor practices in the trade of ethical goods. However, Cadbury now follows free trade practices (“Cocoa Life” 2019; Leissle 2018). Free trade is a business model whereby companies purchase the cacao at market price, which is the lowest price for purchasing cacao. The cacao is likely not high quality. The Ghana Cocoa Board has instituted measures for quality control, including giving farmers training in agriculture and spraying to control for pests and diseases. The Cocoa Board also performs quality tests and bean classifications (Leissle 2018). Yet, the cacao comes from numerous farms and it is combined in bulk. Therefore, the purchaser does not know exactly what farms in Ghana or the types of cacao pods that the cacao beans come from. Additionally, since the farmers and farm workers do not know exactly what chocolate company will be purchasing their cacao, they do not have a direct relationship with the company and therefore, they may not have incentives to produce a high quality of cacao bean, rather they are more concerned with producing a large quantity of cacao beans. The majority of cacao farmers are involved in free trade because most of the big chocolate companies use the free trade business model to achieve the lowest possible price for the cacao. In purchasing cacao at market price, these companies can afford to sell their final chocolate products at a cheap price for chocolate consumers (Leissle 2018). Thus, consumers from all classes can afford to purchase Cadbury’s chocolate products, which will continue to increase Cadbury’s revenue (Albritton 2013). As a result of this free trade system, the farmers receive lower wages. In Ghana, the Ghana Cocoa Board pays the farmers and takes out taxes, which can be a large percentage. Additionally, the farmers’ payment may have further deductions depending upon farm labor and environmental certifications (Leissle 2018).

At the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century, Cadbury had issues with slavery in cacao farming on the islands of Sao Tome and Principe, its main suppliers of cacao at the time. Through various investigations and after several years, the Cadbury company decided to boycott the cacao grown in Sao Tome and Principe in an attempt to rectify the situation. After the start of the boycott, Cadbury began purchasing cacao from other countries in West Africa (Higgs 2012; Satre 2005). In a large company where there are many exchanges and intermediaries involved from the cacao bean to the final chocolate product, it can be difficult to monitor labor practices in third-world cacao growing regions, especially under the free trade business model. As previously mentioned, Cadbury’s cacao comes from the Ghana Cocoa Board. Thus, the Cadbury company is not aware of exactly what cacao farms the cacao comes from and Cadbury cannot easily monitor the labor practices on these farms. Nevertheless, Cadbury has launched a new initiative to partake in the Cocoa Life program (“Cocoa Life” 2019). This program is centered on educating cacao farmers and farming communities with the goals of lifting them out of poverty and giving them life skills in order to allow farmers to benefit from and participate more in the cocoa supply chain (“Cocoa Life – About the Program” 2019).  Currently, in the cacao farming world, large companies in first world countries control the supply chain while farmers in third world countries live in poverty (Leissle 2018). Many feel that it is imperative for farmers to be educated and play a larger role in the cacao supply chain such that they can earn better and fair wages to support their farms and, in turn, pay their workers fair wages (Fine Cacao and Chocolate Institute 2019).

Taza, on the other hand, practices direct trade. The company created the Taza Direct Trade Program for the chocolate industry to promote transparency and quality (“Taza Direct Trade” 2015). In fact, Leissle refers to Taza as the “direct trade pioneer for chocolate,” (Leissle 2018). Direct trade involves a firsthand relationship between the purchaser (Taza) and the farmers (Leissle 2018). As such, Taza pays the farmers 15 percent to 20 percent above the market price for this high quality cacao. This ends up to be at least $500 above market price per metric ton of cacao (“2018 Transparency Report” 2018). Therefore, the final chocolate product is more expensive for consumers. This is due to the fact that the company (Taza) pays the farmers a higher price for the cacao to ensure that the cacao is high quality (Leissle 2018).

Taza’s direct relationship with cacao farmers, whom Taza refers to as its “grower partners,” plays a large role in the company’s ability to monitor the labor practices of the cacao farms (“Taza Direct Trade” 2015). In contrast to Cadbury, Taza has no intermediaries or middlemen in the cacao purchasing process. Therefore, with the direct contact, purchasers from Taza can monitor the growing conditions and labor practices on the farm to ensure that they are non-abusive and environmentally sound (“Taza Direct Trade” 2015). Furthermore, Taza publishes an annual transparency report that contains the price they paid for cacao among other statistics about the farmers and the farms.


Taza’s direct relationships with its growing partners fosters a better labor environment for the workers. Not only does Taza benefit from high quality cacao, but Taza has a positive impact on the community in Haiti by producing stability and giving workers a sense of ownership in the cacao and a critical piece of the supply chain. This video produced by Taza describes Taza’s relationship with growers in Haiti
(“Sourcing for Impact in Haiti” 2015).

One of the trademarks of direct trade is that the farmers have a direct relationship with the chocolate companies without the involvement of middlemen. On the other hand, in larger, free trade supply chains, there can be many middlemen involved in the cacao purchasing as shown in Cadbury’s purchasing process
(“Chocolate Making” 2019).

While both the direct trade and the free trade models have little third party regulation, the direct trade model can provide more transparency since it is less complicated with fewer middlemen involved in the cacao purchasing process. Additionally, since Taza pays higher prices for the cacao, the farmers earn higher wages. This leads to the prevention and mitigation, and even eradication of, unfair or forced labor on these farms. On the other hand, through the free trade model of paying market price for the cacao, the farmers earn much lower wages. This can be conducive to exploitative or forced labor environments since the farm owners may not be able to afford to pay their workers fair wages.

In addition to the effect of cacao purchasing practices on labor conditions, cacao purchasing practices affect the taste of the final chocolate product. This is due to the fact that Cadbury purchases lower quality cacao at market price in bulk from the Ghana Cocoa Board whereas Taza purchases higher quality cacao at a higher price via direct trade practices (“Taza Direct Trade” 2015; “Cocoa Growing Countries” 2019). This difference in cacao quality leads to different chocolate production practices. Since the cacao is low quality, Cadbury, like other large chocolate companies, hides the flavor of the cacao in the final chocolate product via various processing steps such as adding their “special chocolate flavoring,” which includes sugar and condensed milk (“Chocolate Making” 2019; “Fact Sheet: Chocolate Manufacturing,” n.d.). On the contrary, Taza’s production process preserves the flavor of the high quality cacao such that it is detectable in the chocolate.

In order to gain some more knowledge about the differences in taste between Cadbury and Taza chocolate, I had some friends do a tasting of the two. They each tasted a square of the Cadbury Royal Dark Chocolate bar and the Taza Chocolate Mexicano 70% Dark Cacao Puro stone ground disk. The only ingredients in the Taza chocolate are organic cacao beans and organic cane sugar. In the Cadbury bar, the ingredients are sugar, cocoa butter, chocolate, milk fat, natural and artificial flavor, soy lecithin, and milk. Looking at the ingredients of the two chocolates, some of the major differences are that there are no additives aside from organic sugar in the Taza disk whereas there are several ingredients besides cocoa in the Cadbury bar. Some major contrasts between the descriptors for the two types of chocolate were that the Cadbury chocolate was smooth, silky, and sweet, whereas the Taza chocolate was gritty, bitter, and not as sweet. These differences demonstrate the fact that Taza’s processing methods bring out the taste of the cacao for the consumer whereas Cadbury’s processing methods create a uniform flavor where the other ingredients mask the cacao.


Ingredient labels for Taza Cacao Puro and Cadbury Royal Dark Chocolate. The only ingredients in the Taza chocolate are organic cacao beans and organic cane sugar. Thus, many people can taste the flavor of the cacao. The Cadbury chocolate contains many other ingredients that mask the flavor of the cacao.

In all, chocolate takes on many different forms depending on the type of cacao processing and production methods. Direct trade cacao purchasing creates a firsthand relationship between the company and the farmers. By excluding middlemen from the process, the direct trade purchasing is less convoluted than free trade, making it easier to monitor labor practices and ensure fair labor practices. This is not to say that all free trade chocolate involves child labor or unfair labor, but that labor practices are more difficult to monitor when there are more parties involved in the purchasing.  In addition to the labor aspects of direct trade versus free trade, a byproduct of direct trade is that Taza is able to create a unique flavor from the high quality cacao beans rather than concealing the flavor of the cacao using other ingredients as in a Cadbury chocolate bar.

Bibliography

“2018 Transparency Report.” 2018. Taza Chocolate. 2018.
https://www.tazachocolate.com/pages/2018-transparency-report.

“About Taza.” 2015. Taza Chocolate. 2015. https://www.tazachocolate.com/pages/about-
taza.

Albritton, Robert. 2013. “Between Obesity and Hunger: The Capitalist Food Industry.” In
Food and Culture, edited by Carole Counihan and Penny Van Esterik. Taylor & Francis.

“Chocolate Making.” 2019. Cadbury. 2019. https://www.cadbury.com.au/about-
chocolate/chocolate-making.aspx.

“Cocoa Growing Countries.” 2019. Cadbury. 2019. https://www.cadbury.com.au/About-
Chocolate/Cocoa-Growing-Countries.aspx.

“Cocoa Life.” 2019. 2019. http://www.cadbury.co.uk/cocoa-life.

“Cocoa Life – About the Program.” 2019. Cocoa Life. 2019. http://www.cocoalife.org/the-
program/approach.

“Fact Sheet: Chocolate Manufacturing.” n.d. https://www.cadburyworld.co.uk/schoolandgroups/~/media/cadburyworld/en/files/pdf/fa
ctsheet-chocolate-manufacture.

Fine Cacao and Chocolate Institute. 2019. Examining Brazil’s Cocoa-Chocolate Supply Chain:
Film Screening and Discussion, Part 2. Harvard University.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8H6088tpE8c.

Higgs, Catherine. 2012. Chocolate Islands: Cocoa, Slavery, and Colonial Africa. Athens: Ohio
University Press.

Leissle, Kristy. 2018. Cocoa. Newark: Polity Press.

“Our Process.” 2015. Taza Chocolate. 2015. https://www.tazachocolate.com/pages/our-
process.

“Our Story.” 2019. Cadbury. 2019. http://www.cadbury.co.uk/our-story.

Oxford. 2019. “Chocolate.” Oxford Dictionaries | English. 2019.
https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/chocolate.

Satre, Lowell J. 2005. Chocolate on Trial: Slavery, Politics, and the Ethics of Business. Athens:
Ohio University Press.

“Sourcing for Impact in Haiti.” 2015. Vimeo. 2015. https://vimeo.com/141051869.

“Taza Direct Trade.” 2015. Taza Chocolate. 2015.
https://www.tazachocolate.com/pages/taza-direct-trade.

Importance of the Botanical History of Theobroma Cacao

            Chocolate is a daily part of modern life. It is constantly being advertised on television, mixed into various recipes, and consumed by the pounds. However, most people don’t stop to think about where their chocolate bars, cakes and drinks come from. Theobroma cacao is the answer to this unasked question. Theobroma cacao is the tree that grows cacao pods, which are harvested for the beans inside of them to be heavily processed to make the chocolate we know today. Theobroma cacao originated in South America and was discovered by European explorers in the 16th century, although it was used for hundreds of years by the native people of the region before this. It has since spread across the world through human expansion. The botanical history of the cacao tree has focused on how to cultivate it to maximize cacao pod production, which continues to be the emphasis today. Theobroma cacao has spread across the world and has been harvested for numerous uses throughout the centuries since it was discovered, but the botanical care needed to grow the tree has been the key factor to the plants’ success.

            Theobroma cacao’s genetic origin was in the Amazon basin of South America. It grew naturally throughout that area and in some parts of Central America. These locations fall within the geographic range of 20 degrees north and 20 degrees south of the equator, where Theobroma cacao can grow and bear cacao pods (Coe and Coe, 19). This very specific region where Theobroma cacao can grow has created difficulties for people trying to cultivate the tree in other areas of the world. It is a picky tree that needs the correct conditions to grow and produce fruit. After the discovery of the cacao tree in the 16th century, the popularity of chocolate spread throughout Europe. It wasn’t until 1753 that Carl Linnaeus named the tree Theobroma cacao, which means food of the gods in Latin. This meaning originated from the reverence the Maya and Aztec people had towards the cacao tree, often offering cacao drinks to their gods (Leissle, 28). Since Linnaeus’ classification in the 18th century, Theobroma cacao has continued to grow in popularity because of the valuable seeds it produces. As a result, there has been a consistent study of the botanical properties of the tree with the goal of producing the most number of cacao pods possible.

            Numerous works have been written about the botanical care of the cacao tree, which shows how important proper cultivation is for growing success. There are many variations of Theobroma cacao that present options to choose from when growing the tree. The two main types are the Mesoamerican specimen; the criollo and the South American specimen; the forastero. The book Theobroma cacao or Cocoa, Its Botany, Cultivation, Chemistry and Diseases by Henry Wright was written in 1907 and discussed the nuances of both criollo and forastero cacao, focusing on their cultivation and growth (Wright). Wright was not the only author to publish books dedicated completely to the botany of Theobroma cacao. John Hinchley Hart published a book in 1892 on the botany and cultivation of cacao, including images of both criollo and forastero cacao pods, which can be seen below (Hart). Even earlier, D. Morris published a book called Cacao: How to Grow and How to Cure It in 1882 (Morris). Clearly, the botany of the cacao tree was important enough to merit multiple books, each with hundreds of pages written on how to care for the plant.

Hart’s depictions of criollo and forastero cacao pods in his book ‘Cacao: Treatise on the Cultivation and Curing of Cacao; Botany and Nomenclature of the Same, and Hints on the Selection and Management of Estates’, 1892

            Knowing more about the cultivation of cacao may shed light on why so many works have been written on it. Theobroma cacao is a very tricky plant to grow. It requires to be above 60 degrees Fahrenheit and constantly have moisture, some shade, and specific soil components. If these conditions are met, it needs to survive the diseases and pests that can often overtake the tree (Royal Botanical Garden). If the tree grows and sprouts flowers on its trunk (a process called cauliflory), it requires a small fly called a midge to pollinate its flowers. Only 1-3% of flowers that grow on cacao trees are pollinated and grow into the actual cacao pod that is so valued for its beans (Coe and Coe, 21). The pods take around six months to completely ripen. These ripe pods are then harvested to get the coveted beans to make chocolate. The animated video below is one we watched in lecture explaining how complicated the process of growing a cacao tree can be and how other animals are involved. Given all of the intricate steps involved in getting one ripe cacao pod, it is no wonder so much emphasis has been placed on the botanical studies of Theobroma cacao. It is a plant that supplies an enormous industry across the world and takes a great deal of care to grow properly.

Royal Botanical Garden video on the complex process of growing a cacao tree

Theobroma cacao has spread across the world since its European discovery. Today, 74% of cacao is produced in Africa, 17% in the Americas and 9% in Asia Pacific (Leissle). The expansion of the cacao tree to Africa and Asia Pacific was due to human globalization, but even humans could not grow cacao out of its natural geographic location of 20 degrees north and south of the equator, as all of the places it grows today still fit in this band. The image below shows how tightly the cacao growing areas stay around the equator. Plantations have been created to grow cacao trees in large quantities to produce massive amounts of chocolate. A focus on the botany of the tree is imperative to the success of the entire industry. Theobroma cacao is a plant that needs a specific environment to produce cacao pods, which cannot be ignored even with today’s modern science.

Map from the Royal Botanical Garden showing the areas Theobroma cacao is grown along the equator, both as a native and introduced plant. This map is not exhaustive of the locations but gives a general overview.

            The natural history of cacao has seen it spread from the Amazon region of South America to plantations worldwide. Yet we still do not know all there is about the plant. In 2010, Mars, Incorporated funded a genome project for Theobroma cacao to try and learn more about the optimal ways to grow the tree and identify areas to genetically modify it to be more fruitful (Pollack). There are still studies being conducted on the genetic components of the cacao plant today. On the other hand, the botanical studies of Theobroma cacao in the past have created a collective knowledge that allows it to be grown in other parts of the world, and even in someone’s own home. A gardening website boasts ‘Grow Your Own Delicious Chocolate’, and has detailed instructions on how to care for a cacao tree in someone’s own backyard (Logee’s Growers). A video that accompanied the online instructions is included below, showing how much knowledge and care is required to grow a single cacao tree in a greenhouse. It takes meticulous care, but it can be done because of the collective knowledge built throughout the centuries of cacao cultivation.

Logee’s video on how to grow your own chocolate tree

            Theobroma cacao, the food of the gods, still has a deity-like presence over the world today. It is the source of chocolate, a billion-dollar industry and a food loved by all. However, it took hundreds of years of studying the natural history and botany of the cacao tree to be able to grow it successfully in large quantities worldwide. It is a special tree that takes special care, and we have the chocolate production we love today because of the botanical studies performed to know the ins and outs of Theobroma cacao.

Works Cited

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

Grow Your Own Delicious Chocolate (Theobroma Cacao). https://www.logees.com/growcacao. Accessed 13 Mar. 2019.

Hart, John Hinchley. Cacao: Treatise on the Cultivation and Curing of Cacao; Botany and Nomenclature of the Same, and Hints on the Selection and Management of Estates. Government Printing Office, 1892.

Leissle, Kristy. Cocoa. Polity Press, 2018.

Morris, D. Cacao: How to Grow and How to Cure It. Government Printing Establishment, 1882.

Pollack, Andrew. “DNA of Cocoa Bean Tree Sequenced by Mars and Hershey.” The New York Times, 15 Sept. 2010. NYTimes.com, https://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/15/business/15chocolate.html.

“Theobroma Cacao L. | Plants of the World Online | Kew Science.” Plants of the World Online, http://powo.science.kew.org/taxon/urn:lsid:ipni.org:names:320783-2. Accessed 13 Mar. 2019.

Wright, Henry. Theobroma Cacao or Cocoa, Its Botany, Cultivation, Chemistry and Diseases. 1907.

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;.

Cacao in the Caribbean

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Photo of cacao pods taken by me, 2017e846.

Puerto Rico and other islands in the Caribbean are important in the history of the cacao trade and chocolate production.   While cacao did not originate in the Caribbean, the climate and location make it a major part of the cacao industry beginning in the 1500’s.  The Caribbean became a main location for cacao production and shipping, but disease and the desire for greater profit caused a downturn in the growth of cacao in the Caribbean.

 

Demand for chocolate increases in Europe, and the Caribbean takes on a more important role in the chocolate industry.  By the early 1600’s, England is embracing chocolate for its medicinal properties, as well as its taste (Momsen and Richardson, location 19611).   This demand for cacao encourages the growth of the cacao trade in the Caribbean islands.  The Spanish introduced the criollo variety of cacao as a crop to the Caribbean in the 1500’s from Venezuela (Momsen and Richardson, location 19253).  Cacao grows well in the Caribbean, and the physical location also makes it an ideal shipping location to access Europe, as it is on the shipping route from South and Central America.   By 1665, cacao and ginger are the main export crops in Puerto Rico (Momsen and Richardson, location 19091).  Trinidad is a major source of cacao production in the Caribbean as well, and their cacao is considered of superior quality (Momsen and Richardson, location 19252).  The quality of Trinidad cacao is most likely due to the original criollo type cacao planted there at the time.   However, after their cacao crops are devastated by disease, when the industry attempts to revive itself years later, they plant the forastero type of cacao, which is considered not to have the same high quality taste as criollo, and the industry never fully recovers (Momsen and Richardson, location 19278).  Problems with Spain cause cacao production in the Caribbean to become even more important to Europe.

Spain’s attempt to control the cacao trade makes Caribbean cacao production more important.  Although Spain prohibits the export of raw cacao beans in Venezuela in the 1700’s, cacao already has a foothold in the Caribbean (Momsen and Richardson, location 19126).  Privateers control Caribbean shipping to a great extent and the cacao trade into the 18th century (Momsen and Richardson, location 19126).   In fact, Dutch privateers trade with Venezuelans and are active in distributing cacao back to Europe (Coe and Coe, location 2732).  Spain’s attempt to control the cacao trade pushes Europe into finding new ways of promoting cacao production.  In some ways, dealing with privateers may be easier for Europe than dealing with Spain, as privateers are interested in money; but they are independent sources for obtaining cacao from the Caribbean, and are not as concerned with politics.  Additionally, Britain can obtain cacao directly from many of the islands of the Caribbean as they control a number of the islands that produce cacao.   The cacao crop itself is grown in a more natural setting than many agricultural crops in the Caribbean.  Cacao trees in Puerto Rico and much of the Caribbean are grown in cacao forests.  Multiple species of trees are interspersed, and planted in a more natural habitat.  While touring a cacao farm in Puerto Rico, one can walk through a cacao forest, and observe it in the same way it would have been hundreds of years ago.  In Puerto Rico, cacao trees, coffee trees, banana trees and others are often mixed in together.   This unobtrusive way of growing cacao makes it easier to grow and more difficult to control.

20170309_153045
Photo of cacao pods on the tree before they are ripe taken by me, 2017e846.

A desire for greater profit changes the scope of the Caribbean and Puerto Rico’s role in the cacao trade.  By 1800, the major exporters of cacao in the Caribbean, Grenada and Trinidad, are using other islands such as Puerto Rico and Cuba to send their crops to Spain (Momsen and Richardson, location 19098).  Most of the islands have stopped producing cacao on a large scale, and although cacao is still grown in Puerto Rico and throughout the Caribbean, many of the large farms are planting more profitable crops.  Cacao is often combined with growing coffee and other crops, providing a more diversified farm.  This helps to stabilize the farm’s income.  Cacao farms use of slaves throughout much of the Caribbean contributes to the huge profits being made in the chocolate industry.  On many of the Caribbean islands, slaves were used as labor for farms, including cacao farms (Higman 59).  Slavery is abolished in Puerto Rico in 1873 (The World of 1898).   In the Caribbean, when slavery is abolished, it is a turning point in cacao production, as the majority of the organized agricultural industry moves on to other crops that yield a higher profit.  The Caribbean is no longer as lucrative to the chocolate industry as a location for cacao growing.  However, some farms in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean continue growing their cacao crops, using hydropower.  Cacao is still grown in the Caribbean on a smaller scale.  The water of rivers in the mountains run equipment to make production of cacao easier and less labor intensive.  Yet the historical place the Caribbean held in the chocolate industry and trade with Europe is finished.

The Caribbean played an important role in the chocolate industry.  Though cacao did not originate here, as cacao’s popularity grew and Europe became aware of its many benefits, the Caribbean played its own role in the growth of chocolate’s place in society.  On a tour of a cacao farm in Puerto Rico, I was able to witness how cacao was farmed and produced on a smaller scale in the 1800s.  The way that hydropower was used is impressive, and the experience of walking through a cacao forest is one I would recommend.

 

Works Cited

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

Higman, Barry W.  Slave Populations of the British Caribbean, 1807-1834.  University of the West Indies Print, 1995.

Momsen, Janet Henshall, and Richardson, Pamila.   “Caribbean Chocolate.”   Chocolate:  History, Culture, and Heritage, edited by Louis Evan Grivetti and Howard-Yana Shapiro.  Kindle ed., John Wiley and Sons, Inc., 2009.

“The World of 1898:  The Spanish-American War.”  Library of Congress, Hispanic Reading Room.  Retrieved from:  https://www.loc.gov/rr/hispanic/1898/slaves.html.

Exploring the Current State of Colombia’s Cacao-Chocolate Industry through Cacao Hunters

As a cacao-producer, Colombia would be considered a minnow when compared to the cacao-growing giants of West Africa––Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Cameron, which constitutes approximately 70% of global production.[1] Even closer to home, Colombia is dwarfed by neighboring Brazil, and is outperformed by smaller Ecuador fourfold.[2] As a result, the cacao sector of Colombia receives less attention both within literature and the media than its fellow Latin American producers. That is finally changing, however. For the past several decades, the Colombian cacao-chocolate industry, with the support of its government, has been hard at work in strategically positioning itself within the fine cacao market, specifically by focusing on growing Fino de Aroma[3] cacao. As a result, it has drawn the attention of confectionary giants the likes of Barry Callebaut AG[4] and Ferrero SPA.[5],[6] Colombia’s pursuit of growing high-quality cacao has additionally obtained the support of several international development initiatives, including those of Swisscontact,[7] USAID[8] and the German Society for International Cooperation (GIZ).[9] Their hope is to foster agro-sustainability and socioeconomic equality that will yield both economic and social upgrading, particularly for the growers. Their goal is to implement much needed improvements throughout Colombia’s cacao-chocolate value chain. As a result, Colombia has alas become one of the most recent entrants to the fine chocolate-making world. In an effort to reduce the knowledge gap in the global map of cacao-chocolate production, I will provide an examination of the current state of Colombia’s cacao-chocolate industry, by focusing on its Fino de Aroma sector and by providing a brief ethnographic summary of one of its newest and most successful fine chocolate brands, Cacao Hunters.[10]

Cacao Hunters in a “Bean-Shell”

Cacao Hunters is the chocolate brand for Cacao de Colombia created by Colombian native Carlos Ignacio Velasco and Mayumi Osaka of Japan. In 2009, Velasco, with his 12 plus-years experience working for the Federación Nacional de Cafeteros (Colombian Coffee Growers Federation),[11] created Cacao de Colombia, branding his chocolate by highlighting the origins and the communities from which the beans were acquired.[12] His strategy was a break from mainstream Colombian chocolate-makers, and it paid off. He saw an untapped market, which allowed him to use his expertise and the collaboration of some of his former colleagues at the Federation, to break into the fine chocolate market, seeing that Colombia is poised to becoming one of the world’s leading fine cacao-growing powerhouses.

main-logo
Cacao Hunters is part of Cacao de Colombia’s fine bean to bar brand, highlighting the origins and communities from which the cacao are acquired (source: http://www.cacaohunters.com/)

Velasco envisioned a three-pronged strategy: (1) building knowledge; (2) infrastructure; (3) and a business plan that would mutually benefit both buyer and seller. The first and the third were in place. They began transferring their knowledge, by providing classes on technical and sustainable practices on growing and harvesting high-quality cacao to growers throughout the country, incentivizing them toward excellence by offering, in some cases, 50% above market value for quality beans. As for infrastructure, the company needed help, which it successfully obtained from international organizations, such as Swisscontact and USAID; and, won an award for innovation from GIZ, which provided the resources to build a model farm and postharvest plant in the small river town of Aracataca,[13] located nearby the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta[14] mountain range. In 2015, the company sold $1 million USD worth of fine chocolate, winning awards at international competitions including the Gold at the 2015 World Finals of the International Chocolate Awards in London.[15] And with the support of the Acumen fund[16] at the tune of $1.15 million, Cacao Hunters sales for this year are expected to surpass $3 million.[17] Cacao Hunters’ partnership with Acumen and other international players have initiated an economic and social upgrading throughout the company’s value chain. An impressive feat given that this increase was achieved amid a globally depressed commodities market. Nonetheless, the demand for fine chocolate grows. The below is video of Salon du Chocolat, “the world’s largest event dedicated to chocolate,” is an important part of the fine chocolate world, including boutique brands like Cacao Hunters, who attended the 2016 Tokyo edition.

Indigenous Shareholders are Represented

Cacao Hunters works closely with one of Colombia’s most geographically remote indigenous nations, the Arhuaco.[18] Although Cacao Hunters purchases its cacao from various sectors of the country, they advocate for socio-responsibility and equitable engagement with their growers in the pursuit of fostering mutual economic and social upgrading. And their engagement with the Arhuaco has paid off, for it was Cacao Hunter’s Arhuaco 72% dark chocolate bar that took Gold at the 2015 World Finals in London. It is a significant achievement for the Arhuaco growers, especially given that they are ill supported and underrepresented within the Colombian government. As part of a campaign to promote their products in the ever-growing Japanese market, Cacao Hunters chose Hernan, one of the Arhuaco tribe leaders, to be part of the team to represent the company at the 2016 Salon du Chocolat-Tokyo.[19]

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 photo, taken from Cacao Hunters’ Facebook page, shows co-founder Mayumi Osaka purchasing bean during one of her “market day with Arhuacos: a several hours’ journey down from the Sierra Nevada mountains.” Far right, is Hernan, of one the Arhuaco leaders who was flown to the 2016 Salon du Chocolat – Tokyo edition. (source: Cacao Hunters’FaceBook).

Colombia: A Privileged Ecological Site for Cacao-Growing

Although its neighbors, particularly Venezuela and Ecuador, are known for their fine cacao, Colombia, however, albeit its ecological advantages, is less known. It is only just now coming on line, and for good reasons.[20] The country is ecologically privileged to grow cacao. In fact, Colombia is considered one of the five “megadiverse countries” in the world.[21] With only 0.8% of the world’s land, it hosts close to 15% of the world’s biodiversity, making Colombia, per square kilometer, the most biodiverse country on the planet.[22] This richly endowed nation thus possesses multiple, ideal-growing regions with the capacity to expand exponentially (see figure below).

mapa
The Cacao Growing Regions in Colombia (source: Cacao de Colombia)[23]

This comes as no surprise to many cacao-chocolate scholars as there is strong research showing that the genetic cradle and the most diversified genetic materials of Theobroma cacao is found is in South America, specifically, the large bean-shape area of the Upper Amazon, encompassing southern Perú, to the Ecuadorian Amazon, and the border areas between Perú, Brazil and, of course, Colombia (see image below).[24]

journal.pone.0047676.g004

For a very thorough and scholarly presentation of the genetic origins of Theobroma Cacao L., see the salient contribution of Evert Thomas et al., “Present Spatial Diversity Patterns of Theobroma Cacao L. in the Neotropics Reflect Genetic Differentiation in Pleistocene Refugia Followed by Human-Influenced Dispersal,” ed. Dorian Q. Fuller, PLoS ONE 7, no. 10 (October 24, 2012): e47676, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0047676 (source: Journals Plos)[25]

 Colombia to Become the New Powerhouse in Fino de Aroma Cacao Production

The source of Colombia’s cacao-chocolate heritage and its recent boom onto the world market is the Fino de Aroma cacao. The below video on Fino de Aroma is created by one of Colombia largest exporter of chocolate, Casa Luker. Although this video is part of the company’s promotional materials, it nonetheless provides a good explanation of the high-quality variety.

(source: CasaLuker Official YouTube Channel)

The International Cocoa Organization (ICCO)[26] has classified Colombia as a 95% fine cacao exporter.[27] And, along with Venezuela, Ecuador and Perú, Colombia grows 76% of the world’s Fino de Aroma cacao. Currently, it is Ecuador who leads.[28] But that is about to change. Both Perú and Colombia are poised to leapfrog the Ecuadorians. For Perú’s part, if the current growth rate of its exports continues unhindered, their cacao sector could expand beyond 214,000 mt in 2020, which would easily surpass Ecuador’s current exports of 116,000 mt, according to José Iturrios, director of the Alianza Cacao Perú[29] (Perú Cocoa Alliance.)[30] However, Perú, unlike Colombia, is only classified at 75% Fino de Aroma, which means that a significant portion of their yield will not be premium cacao, thus reducing their share of the market. The Colombian government, however, plans to substantially back its growers by adding up to 80,000 ha of Fino de Aroma plantations, as they wish to capitalize on the growing global demand.[31] Since 2005, Colombian cacao production has been rising. Back then it only cultivated 96,000 ha, yielding approximately 17,000 mt of cacao.[32] Today, Colombia’s yield is roughly 50,000 mt, but, with the addition of the 80,000 ha of Fino de Aroma plantations being replanted in the following departments: Santander, North Santander, Nariño, Tolima, Huila, Antioquia and Meta, they will be able to expand their yields to over 138,450 mt, surpassing both Ecuador and Perú, making Colombia the world’s lead Fino de Aroma producers.[33]

Cacao Hunters Bean to Bar Strategy Breaks from the Colonial Scheme and Disrupts the Asymmetric Buyer-Seller Dynamic

All of this is good news for Colombia’s chocolate-makers, especially Cacao Hunters who only uses 100% Colombian premium in their bars. In using their native beans, the company effectively breaks from the colonizer-colony scheme that persists within many developing countries. This is significant given that historically raw materials of erstwhile territories were sent back to the Europe, a pattern that persists today, with the inclusion of US among the major end-product manufacturers. This is especially true with the cacao-chocolate industry. Cacao is 100% grown in the Global South, yet the lion’s share is sent to Europe and the US, in raw form, who then primarily turn it into sugar-laden, artificially saturated, under 15% bulk chocolate food stuff, while reaping 96% of the profits.[34] As discussed in my April 8th post, “The Real Celebrities Behind Chocolate,” there is additionally gross misreprentation and a highly asymmetric buyer-seller dynamic within the cacao-chocolate global value chain that poorly remunerates growers, while enhancing the coffers of Big Chocolate.[35]

Cacao Hunter’s involvement with their shareholders, which include the aforementioned Arhuaco nation, is premised on mutual sustainable and equitable upgrading for all throughout their value chain. And, by manufacturing their chocolate in their Popayan facility, they successfully break from the asymmetric buyer-seller relationship, and successfully disrupt the north-south paradigm, in which many cacao growers find themselves embedded. There needs to be a transformation of global sourcing, as it has had a negative impact on gender, racial and socioeconomic equality.[36] Lead firms irresponsibly reinforce and drive the prevailing imbalance that further proliferates negative social reproduction within sourced nations. By contrast, the Cacao Hunters’ stratagem highlights the implication of liberalizing global production of cacao at the local level. This is especially important given that cocoa–chocolate global value chains have “significantly consolidated” in recent years.[37] Processors and chocolate companies have merged, leaving a few as lead firms within the industry, severely disadvantaging the market against smaller and localized companies. Cacao Hunters’ engagement with the indigenous and the rural communities proactively seeks to not only disrupt this imbalance but furthermore aims to contribute to their social and economic upgrading.

What Lies ahead for Cacao Hunters

Cacao Hunters joins the ranks of other South American chocolate brands, the likes of Pacari[38] of Ecuador, and Venezuela’s Chocolates El Rey,[39] who themselves are recent phenomena in South America, explains food historian Dr. Maricel Presilla.[40] They “are taking chocolate into their own hands and creating factories that can compete internationally.”[41] They have a good understanding of how to incorporate local ingredients and flavors, creating beautiful creations with ingredients such as guanábana, tamarind and canella, flavors that are unique to Latin America and increasingly becoming more popular in the North American and European mainstreams.[42] The cacao and other ingredients they use to produce their chocolate is directly sourced and locally grown. And Cacao Hunters is a part of it.

Though there is a slow down in world demand and production of bulk cacao, the growth rate and demand for high-quality beans treks firmly upward, and that too is good news for Colombians, including Cacao Hunters.[43] In fact, “there’s real excitement about investment in Colombia” says Dough Hawkins, Managing Director of Hardman Agribusiness.[44],[45] In their 2016 company report on the current state of the world’s cacao production, Colombia is on everyone’s radar, especially given that the government’s peace talks with the FARC is close to conclusion.[46] Moreover, the demand for an expanding Colombian cacao sector is due to a ‘move away’ from West Africa, explains Hardman Agribusiness:

Future cocoa demand will be met by a thriving professionalized sector in Latin America as chocolate makers move away from a “structurally blighted” West African market…[47] Cocoa is a fragmented sector… With the commodity in shortening supply and now being a $12bn plus annually traded segment in the softs market, there is a swell of developing interest in its production and capital flows are increasing to support that production. Our research report lays bare a spiral of decline in Asia and the unpalatable truth about African production whilst shining a spotlight on the exciting developments in Latin America.[48]

It would then behoove all within the Colombian cacao-chocolate sector to continue their pursuit towards producing high-quality beans, not only to satiate the demands of their foreign buyers, but to also support their own native brands. Cacao Hunter not only serves as an excellent model for other native brands to follow, but also for all aspiring bean to bar companies the worldover. They demonstrate good practices, are socially and environmentally responsible, engage growers with dignity, and pursue the mutual upgrading for all within their value chain. And becuase of this, Cacao Hunters has robustly contributed to the sweet taste of Colombian fine chocolate.

Notes and References

[1] Isis Almeida, “Why 2015’s Best Commodity Could Turn Into This Year’s Nightmare – Bloomberg,” Business News, Bloomberg, (January 5, 2016), http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-01-05/why-2015-s-best-commodity-could-turn-into-this-year-s-nightmare.

[2] Vladimir Pekic, “Colombia Plans to Replant High-Quality Fino de Aroma Cocoa Plantations,” Business News, Confectionery News, (August 18, 2014), http://www.confectionerynews.com/Commodities/Colombia-plans-to-replant-high-quality-Fino-de-Aroma-cocoa.

[3] “Cacao Fino de Aroma,” Food and Chocolate Company, Casa Luker | Food Ingredients, (2016), http://www.lukeringredients.com/en/home.

[4] Barry Callebaut is over 150 year old Swiss company, and one of the largest manufacturer of high-quality chocolate and cocoa. See “Barry Callebaut Is a B2B Chocolate & Cocoa Manufacturer,” Chocolate Manufacturers, Barry Callebaut, accessed May 9, 2016, https://www.barry-callebaut.com/.

[5] Ferrero SpA is an Italian manufacturer of chocolate and confectionery products and is the third largest chocolate-confectionery company in the world. See “Ferrero Corporate,” Chocolate Manufacturers, Ferrero, accessed May 9, 2016, https://www.ferrero.com/.

[6] “Operations At The Cacao Hunter Chocolate Factory As Colombia Aims To Increase Production,” Stock Photo Agency, Getty Images, (October 6, 2014), http://www.gettyimages.com/detail/news-photo/chocolate-awaits-packaging-after-being-removed-from-molds-news-photo/456939106.

[7] “SwissCompany,” Coporate Legal Consultation, SwissCompany, accessed May 9, 2016, http://www.swiss-company.ch/en/home.asp.

[8] USAID is the lead U.S. Government agency that is primarily responsible for administering civilian foreign aid to foreign nations. See “U.S. Agency for International Development,” The United States Agency for International Development, USAID From the American People, accessed May 9, 2016, https://www.usaid.gov/.

[9] See “GIZ | Deutsche Gesellschaft Für Internationale Zusammenarbeit,” Owned by German Federal Government for its Economic and Development Initiatives, GIZ, accessed May 10, 2016, https://www.giz.de/en/worldwide/germany.html.

[10] “Cacao Hunters®,” Chocolate Company, Cacao Hunters, accessed May 11, 2016, http://www.cacaohunters.com/.

[11] “Colombian Coffee Growers Federation,” Coffee Federation, Federación Nacional de Cafeteros, accessed May 10, 2016, http://www.federaciondecafeteros.org/caficultores/en/.

[12] “Empresa Colombiana Conquista la Élite del Chocolate,” Business News, Dinero, (January 21, 2016), http://www.dinero.com/edicion-impresa/negocios/articulo/carlos-ignacio-velasco-cacao-de-colombia/218326.

[13] Aracataca is best known for being the birthplace of one Colombia’s most famous Nobel literature laureate, Gabriel García Márquez. See “Aracataca – Colombia,” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia, January 26, 2016, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Aracataca&oldid=701840576.

[14] The Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta is the highest coastal mountain range in the world. It is also home to some of Colombia’s indigenous peoples, including the Arhuaco nation. See “Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta,” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia, April 12, 2016, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Sierra_Nevada_de_Santa_Marta&oldid=714813686.

[15] “World Final Winners – 2015,” Chocolate Industry Awards, International Chocolate Awards, (2015), http://www.internationalchocolateawards.com/2015/10/world-final-winners-2015/.

[16] Acumen aims to raise “charitable donations to invest in companies, leaders, and ideas that are changing the way the world tackles poverty.” See “Acumen | Who We Are,” Non-profit global venture organization to address poverty, Acumen, (2016), http://acumen.org/about/.

[17] “Empresa Colombiana Conquista la Élite del Chocolate.”

[18] “Arhuaco People,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, December 31, 2015, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Arhuaco_people&oldid=697526704.

[19] Salon du Chocolat is the world largest chocolate trade show. See “Le Salon Du Chocolat,” Chocolate Industry Trade Show, Salon Du Chocolat, (2016), http://www.salonduchocolat.fr/accueil.aspx.

[20] “Empresa Colombiana Conquista la Élite del Chocolate.”

[21] “Colombia is listed as one of the world’s “megadiverse” countries, hosting close to 10% of the planet’s biodiversity. Worldwide, it ranks first in bird and orchid species diversity and second in plants, butterflies, freshwater fishes and amphibians. With 314 types of ecosystems, Colombia possesses a rich complexity of ecological, climatic, biological and ecosystem components. Colombia was ranked as one of the world’s richest countries in aquatic resources.” See “Colombia – Overview: National Biodiversity,” UN Science Body | Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (SCBD), UN Convention on Biological Diversity, (2016), https://www.cbd.int/countries/?country=co.

[22] “Stretching from the Pacific Ocean to the Caribbean Sea, the country covers “only” 0.8% of the world’s land surface, yet, with between 45,000 and 51,000 species, it is home to some 15% of the all plant species in the world. And with1,752 bird species and 583 amphibians, Colombia has a biodiversity of fauna unrivalled by any other country. Moreover, in terms of the number of species of flora that only occur in one specific region, the so-called endemic species, Colombia is also a world leader.” See: “Implementing the Convention on Biodiversity,” Environmental and Biodiversity, Biodiversity Day, (June 9, 2001), http://www.biodiversity-day.info/2001/english/bday-colombia.html.

[23] “Cacao de Colombia > Cacao Region,” Chocolate Company, Cacao de Colombia, (2012), http://www.cacaodecolombia.com/CacaoRegion.aspx.

[24] For a very thorough and scholarly presentation of the genetic origins of Theobroma Cacao L., see the salient contribution of Evert Thomas et al., “Present Spatial Diversity Patterns of Theobroma Cacao L. in the Neotropics Reflect Genetic Differentiation in Pleistocene Refugia Followed by Human-Influenced Dispersal,” ed. Dorian Q. Fuller, PLoS ONE 7, no. 10 (October 24, 2012): e47676, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0047676.

[25] Ibid.

[26] The ICCO is the international monitoring body of cacao-chocolate production and consumption. See “The International Cocoa Organization (ICCO) | Cocoa Producing and Cocoa Consuming Countries,” International Cocoa Organization, ICCO.org, (2016), http://www.icco.org/.

[27] Luker Official, Learn More About CasaLuker Food Ingredients – Fino de Aroma Cacao, 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=56&v=OZoT7qN1aow.

[28] Pekic, “Colombia Plans to Replant High-Quality Fino de Aroma Cocoa Plantations.”

[29] Alianza Cacao Perú (ACP) is a USAID initiative assisting Peruvian cacao sector with the intent of providing the rural population an alternative to cultivating coca as a cash crop. See USAID Peru, Alianza Cacao Perú, 2014, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rpxFaVDhYnU.

[30] Vladimir Pekic, “Inca Empire Strikes Back: Perú Could Dethrone Ecuador as Leading Global Producer of ‘Fino de Aroma’ Cocoa by 2020,” News on Confectionery & Biscuit Processing, Confectionery News, (June 26, 2015), http://www.confectionerynews.com/Commodities/Perú-could-overtake-Ecuador-as-fine-flavor-cocoa-king.

[31] Pekic, “Colombia Plans to Replant High-Quality Fino de Aroma Cocoa Plantations.”

[32] Ibid.

[33] Ibid.

[34] Edward Enriquez, “The Real Celebrities Behind Chocolate,” WordPress, Chocolate Class, (April 8, 2016), https://chocolateclass.wordpress.com/2016/04/08/the-real-celebrities-behind-chocolate/comment-page-1/.

[35] For a candid discussion on the misrepresentation and socioeconomic inequality within Mars’ global value chain, see Ibid.

[36] Stephanie Barrientos provides a salient scholarly contribution in her analysis of Big Chocolate cocoa–chocolate sourcing, exploring the interplay between commercial value chains and societal norms. See Stephanie Barrientos, “Gendered Global Production Networks: Analysis of Cocoa–Chocolate Sourcing,” Regional Studies 48, no. 5 (May 4, 2014): 791–803, doi:10.1080/00343404.2013.878799.

[37] Ibid.

[38] “Pacari | History,” Chocolate Company, Pacari, accessed March 23, 2016, http://www.pacarichocolate.com/en/index.php/history.

[39] “Chocolates El Rey Venezuelan Chocolate,” Chocolate Company, Chocolates El Rey, accessed May 11, 2016, http://www.chocolates-elrey.com/.

[40] “Maricel Presilla,” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia, May 4, 2016, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Maricel_Presilla&oldid=718572676.

[41] Ana Sofía Peláez, “One Food Historian’s Mission to Promote Latin America’s Fine Cacao,” News, NBC News, (February 22, 2016), http://www.nbcnews.com/news/latino/one-food-historian-s-mission-promote-latin-america-s-fine-n511606.

[42] Ibid.

[43] Doug Hawkins, “Destruction by Chocolate – Hardman Agribusiness,” Argibusiness Consultants, Hardman Agribusiness, accessed May 11, 2016, http://www.hardmanagribusiness.com/product/chocolate/.

[44] Hardman Agribusiness is a lead investment consulting agency for agribusiness enterprises. See “Hardman Agribusiness,” Argibusiness Consultants, Hardman Agribusiness, (2016), http://www.hardmanagribusiness.com/.

[45] Oliver Nieburg, “Cocoa’s Future Lies in Latin America: Report,” Confectionary Industry News, Confectionery News, (March 29, 2016), http://www.confectionerynews.com/Commodities/Cocoa-s-future-lies-in-Latin-America-Report.

[46] Ibid.

[47] Ibid.

[48] Hawkins, “Destruction by Chocolate – Hardman Agribusiness.”

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