Tag Archives: #chocolate #cacao #fairtrade #ethicalsourcing

Farmers are Friends: Askinosie Chocolate

The industry stranglehold coordinated by multinational chocolate corporations loosens every time the supply-chain becomes more transparent, the cacao farmer receives a pair price for her bean, the agricultural practices on a farm are improved : every time Askinosie Chocolate sells a chocolate bar. For centuries, capitalist, imperious chocolate magnates have sought their best interests unchecked, filling their pockets at the expense of others in the supply chain, specifically the famers responsible for producing cacao beans. As a result, the current state of the chocolate industry is one in which practices are obscure as a matter of principle and farmers are less than dirt-poor with no means for uplifting themselves. Effectively, farmers have become voiceless, disempowered, and impoverished due to a supply and demand imbalance, lack of negotiating leverage , and lack of information, not to mention a pervasive industry attitude of “brush it under the rug.” Dismantling the system which creates this inequality is no small task, especially when the system is one controlled by a small fraternity of some of the wealthiest and oldest corporations in the world. However, a growing segment of environmental and social conscious chocolate companies are embarking to improve the state of the industry. Many of these companies adhere to a “bean to bar” model, meaning they control every aspect of the chocolate making process from purchasing the beans to creating and selling the bars. This permits them control over the process in unique ways, allowing intervention on a more personal level and influence each step of the way. 

A particular “bean to bar” chocolate company making strides to solve issues in the cacao-chocolate supply chain is Askinosie Chocolate. Askinosie Chocolate was founded in 2005 by an ex-lawyer, Shawn Askinosie, searching to promote social responsibility in the chocolate industry. He states, “Askinosie Chocolate was born committed to fairness, sustainability, minimal environmental impact and community enhancement” (Our Story). In an attempt to further these goals, Askinosie employs a direct trade model to ameliorate many of the ailments in the supply chain. Though “direct trade” means different things for different companies, Askinosie’s model puts an emphasis on fair compensation, building relationships, and empowering farmers—Askinosie’s CEO takes time to make at least one visit to each partner farm every year. From a product perspective, Askinosie is dedicated to making high quality chocolate in small batches from beans imported from Ecuador, Tanzania, Amazonia, and the Philippines. Askinosie puts an emphasis on treating his farmers as partners and fostering a relationship of mutual respect and equality. He says, “If I were to treat cocoa farmers like business partners—with fairness, dignity, and respect, while making sure they receive their fair share of the income—I’d be one of the only people doing that, too” (Our Story). Though the mission of Askinosie is to make money and uplift farmers, there is also a particular emphasis on teaching people about the chocolate making process as can be seen on the website. Regarding this, Shawn says, “We’re dedicated not just to making the best quality chocolate you can buy, but to making it in such a way that the more you learn about it, the better you feel about it” (Our Story).

One of the most prevalent issues in the cacao-chocolate supply chain is the compensation of farmers. Though farmer compensation has come a way since the pre-Fairtrade days of no regulations where farmers made whatever buyers were willing to pay them, cacao farmers are still severely impoverished (Fair Trade Scandal, 2014). Cacao farmers earn less than two dollars a day on average, and that’s without accounting for their long, dangerous hours, as well as other costs like equipment and utilities (Kramer, 2013). This stems from multiple factors. Many advocates argue Fairtrade prices are still far too low to support a lifestyle, not to mention many small farms can’t afford fair trade certification in the first place (Fair Trade Scandal, 2014). Even if a farm can afford fair trade certification there are other issues at play due to the layers involved in the cacao-chocolate supply chain. Most of the time cacao is produced by local farmers and goes through multiple buying agents before reaching an export company (Direct Trade). The Fairtrade price or market price in general is one which is paid to the export company, and as is standard in any business, there will be a fee taken by each middleman along the way. This means the export company takes a fee and the intermediate agents take fees, leaving the farmer with only a portion of the original price paid. This makes the Fairtrade price a poor metric because it says nothing about the farm gate price, or the amount of money that actually makes it back to farmers. Reports suggest that the farm gate price can be between fifty and eighty percent of the price paid at port depending on the local context (Kraft, 2019). For example, in Haiti the farm gate price can be as low as fifty percent of the market price because Haitian cacao trees often produce fewer beans so middlemen have to buy from many more farms to get enough beans (Kraft, 2019). Also other conditions like poor infrastructure on the island contribute to the lower farm gate price.

Askinosie chocolate has many practices in place to tackle the problem of low compensation for farmers, most of which are linked to or a result of their direct trade model. According to their transparency report, over the last eleven years Askinosie chocolate has paid farmers thirty-five percent above World Market Price and twenty-five percent above Fair Trade Price, on average (Transparency Report). Not only does the company pay more for their chocolate, but they also employ a profit sharing model to incentivize high quality beans from farmers. Farmers stand to gain a portion of the profit the company makes as determined by the amount of their beans used in creating the profit. Not only does this provide additional compensation to farmers, but it encourages innovation to produce better beans, ultimately leading to finer beans and greater profit sharing. In addition to the high compensation, over the past eleven years Askinosie has provided financing in over half of their transactions and offered advance payments with no interest charged (Transparency Report). Another important capability facilitated by the direct trade model is the ability to pay farmers directly. Askinosie pays farmers in person, eliminating all the usual fees taken by middlemen in the supply chain, making certain farmers, not intermediate agents, get a fair price for their beans. Considered as a whole, Askinosie pays much higher prices than average and employs profit sharing, leading to farmers getting compensated significantly more than industry standards. Of course these high prices have to be accounted for in some way and that’s through the high prices charged by Askinosie, eight dollars and fifty cents for a chocolate bar. Though this is high, it’s important to note buying a chocolate bar from Askinosie is not only an investment in chocolate, but an investment in farmers and sustainable, moral business practices. 

Though the dizzying path of money through the cacao-chocolate supply chain is reason for investigation and concern, it isn’t the only thing obfuscated in the process. Of significant concern is the path beans travel through the supply chain. In many cases, when chocolate companies don’t buy beans directly from farmers, they end up with a potluck of beans of which the origin is unknown (Gross, 2015). Imagine drinking a wine from which the grapes were of unknown origin! Losing track of bean origin makes labeling chocolates accurately impossible and overall discounts the quality of beans from different regions. In addition, it remove accountability in the chocolate making process because chocolate makers have no way of identifying the farmers who produced the beans. Again, Askinosie’s direct trade model provides an easy solution to this problem. Askinosie buys beans directly from the farmer,  “We control the actual importation of the beans ourselves because we are the importer. This is almost unheard of in the chocolate world” (Direct Trade). This means they know the name of the farmer who grows every bean they purchase. This allows them to label their chocolate accurately and makes the farmer accountable for bean quality. If the bean quality is bad, Askinosie can opt to not buy from the same farmer again, and if it is good then the farmer and Askinosie can partake in profit sharing. Aside from knowing the origin, this model is also helpful in maintaining the quality of the cacao beans. Askinosie workers are involved in the transportation and storage of beans straight from the farmers so there is more incentive along the supply chain to maintain the quality of the beans, as Askinosie is the company that will use the beans they transport (Direct Trade). In regard to this Askinosie’s website states, “This impacts flavor because we can make sure the beans are not ‘inadvertently’ mixed up with other beans at origin, that they are kept safe in transit all the way to our factory from the farm” (Direct Trade). The direct trade model allows Askinosie to maintain the highest quality in their cacao beans by imparting a layer of accountability only possible when buying directly from the source. 

Lastly, one of the biggest concerns in the chocolate industry is monitoring the types of labor employed on farms, in particular  slave labor and child labor. Though in law, acceptable child labor practices are strictly outlined, many farmers abide by their own rules, often for the sake of saving money at the expense of the child. To address immoral child labor practices, in 1999 the Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention was adopted by the International Labour Organization (Advancing the Campaign against Child Labor, 2002). This Convention outlined and outlawed the worst forms of child labor like selling children, trafficking children, and forcing children to work in dangerous environments (Advancing the Campaign against Child Labor, 2002). Even after the International Labour Organization adopted these rules, farmers actively violated them. For example, “…hundreds of thousands of children did work on cocoa farms, often doing risky work. The IITA estimated that there were nearly 500,000 children working in hazardous conditions, carrying loads that were too heavy for them or applying pesticides” (Ryan, 2012). In cacao-producing areas of the world, children are stolen and sold into the industry then either given negligible compensation or forced to work for free (Mckenzie, 2012). These children are forced to work long hours in circumstances which violate international labor laws. Many children work from sunrise to sunset using dangerous tools like chainsaws and machetes (Lamb, 2001). Though much has been done to avoid these child labor practices, it’s difficult to enforce the rules without constant monitoring, which is, again, where Askinosie’s direct trade model pays dividends. According to their website, “Our contract with our cocoa farmer partners also stipulates that they use ethical business practices…this means there is no child or slave labor, and that fair wages are paid to laborers” (Direct Trade). In order to ensure farmers are abiding by their contracts, members of Askinosie visit farms and check in. If things seem unfit then they can intervene. The relationship fostering encouraged by the direct trade model allows Askinosie to monitor farms for correct practices in ways less involved chocolate companies are unable. 

Askinosie is playing their part in forcing a paradigm shift in the chocolate industry. They are working toward a world where cacao farmers are treated with respect,  are paid fair wages, and feel they have the ability to negotiate. Looking out for farmers is no easy task when considering the additional logistical and economic burdens it puts on Askinosie, especially when their competitors are not taking on these burdens. Despite the hardship, Askinosie is able to persevere due to their guiding precept of putting social responsibility at the forefront and hoping customers follow along with them. And even though they are putting in effort to make the industry transparent, there are limitations to their scope. Though the direct trade model allows for personal intervention and oversight, it has very little scope outside of the farms Askinosie partners with.  And though Askinosie can uplift the farmers they partner with, this says nothing about their ability to uplift those who they don’t partner with. Though they suggest partnering with a few farms and paying higher prices can lift the price in the area at large, there is no empirical data to corroborate this. Given the limited scope of their endeavor it’s important that more companies follow suite and sway industry culture in favor of those who have been disadvantaged for so long. But until then, those who provide the sustenance for the multibillion dollar chocolate industry will continue to be cogs in the system. 

Works Cited

Advancing the Campaign Against Child Labor: Addressing the Worst Forms of Child Labor. (2002). PsycEXTRA Dataset. doi:10.1037/e560492006-001

Direct Trade. (n.d.). Retrieved April 28, 2019, from https://www.askinosie.com/learn/direct-trade.html

Fair Trade Scandal: Marketing Poverty to Benefit the Rich. (2014). Ohio University Press.

Gross, D. A. (2015, February 11). The Economics of Chocolate. Retrieved from https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/economics-chocolate-180954224/

Kraft, K. (2019, September 19). Farmgate Price: An Important – but Partial – Piece of the Sustainability Puzzle. Retrieved from https://coffeelands.crs.org/2017/09/farmgate-price-an-important-but-partial-piece-of-the-sustainability-puzzle/

Kramer, A. (2013, March 6). Women and the big business of chocolate. Retrieved from https://www.oxfamamerica.org/explore/stories/women-and-the-big-business-of-chocolate-1/

Lamb, C. (2001, April 22). The child slaves of the Ivory Coast – bought and sold for as little as £40. Retrieved from https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/cotedivoire/1317006/The-child-slaves-of-the-Ivory-Coast-bought-and-sold-for-as-little-as-40.html

McKenzie, D. (2012, January 19). Child slavery and chocolate: All too easy to find. Retrieved from http://thecnnfreedomproject.blogs.cnn.com/2012/01/19/child-slavery-and-chocolate-all-too-easy-to-find/

N, B. (2014, August 19). Shady Chocolate HD – Miki Mistrati. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z5C7jmrycf0

Fairtrade Logo [Digital image]. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.logolynx.com/images/logolynx/80/80044c245ec298c36de07e9ea79bc8d4.png

Our Story. (n.d.). Retrieved May 01, 2019, from https://www.askinosie.com/learn/our-story.html

R. (n.d.). [A man transports cocoa beans on a motor cycle in Abengourou, Ivory Coast]. Retrieved from https://i.guim.co.uk/img/static/sys-images/Guardian/Pix/pictures/2014/11/21/1416581907306/ba2b478e-117c-4348-9753-4029402bf6fc-2060×1236.jpeg?width=700&quality=85&auto=format&fit=max&s=1cf80690da6a8b43326dbfbee5c1edb9

Ryan, Ó. (2012). Chocolate nations living and dying for cocoa in West Africa. London ; New York: Zed Books.

Transparency Report. (n.d.). Retrieved April 29, 2019, from https://www.askinosie.com/learn/transparency-report.html?SID=bf1df2bbfd5327bea597bcc97a88dae7

Online Shopping and its Impact on the Chocolate Industry

Purchasing chocolate has never been as easy as it is today, in contemporary times. Chocolate is readily available at any convenience store, grocery store, and pharmacy, and is often found in two separate locations within the store: the candy aisle, and arranged in shelves lined up near the check-out register as a last-minute addition to the main items being purchased. In fact, much of the contemporary chocolate industry relies on the fact that, aside from major holidays such as Valentine’s Day, consumers most often purchase chocolate as an impulse buy. As Lawrence Allen describes it, there is a “grab-and-go” culture surrounding the purchasing of chocolate, as chocolate is present next to “virtually every cash register today” (Allen 20). This “grab-and-go” culture, however, is largely affected by the modern tendency to shop for most items, including groceries, online. Kate Taylor, a contributor to the Business Insider, writes, “More people are ordering groceries and other products online, meaning increasingly shoppers don’t have the chance to be tempted by snacks in the checkout line” (Business Insider). This shift in the shopping experience could indicate that online shoppers who purchase chocolate are doing so more intentionally than their in-store chocolate purchasing counterparts. In other words, when people buy chocolate online, it is more likely that their purchase is planned rather than impulsive. For example, when navigating the CVS website, one would have to type the word “chocolate” into the search bar to view the selection of chocolates available online. Only after one actively searches for the term “chocolate” can he or she view the results page displaying the selection of chocolate, and only after viewing this results page can he or she complete the process of purchasing it. Due to this contemporary cultural shift in the shopping experience from in-store to online, I thought it would be interesting to analyze the online chocolate selection of local chocolate retailers, rather than their in-store selections. I plan to compare the online display, available selection, intended audience, and price points of chocolate sold on the website versions of two local stores: CVS and Whole Foods. By doing so, I hope to reveal some ethical concerns and marketing strategies employed by companies involved in the current cacao-chocolate industry, in addition to the way these strategies may impact consumers.


Let us begin by exploring the chocolate selection available on the CVS website, (https://www.cvs.com/gbiSearch/?searchTerm=chocolate). After typing “chocolate” into the search bar, the customer is bombarded with four hundred twenty seemingly different chocolate products. The chocolate items are presented rather haphazardly, and although the default system of organization seems to be sorting and presenting the products by “relevance,” there is no clear rationale behind which products appear on the top of the list, and which appear further down. Customers do have the option of changing the way the products are displayed, with options such as “price Low to High,” “price High to Low,” and “top rated.” Based on personal experience, however, the default setting of a website seems to be used most often. The way the chocolate products are displayed online influences customers, as the products that appear on the top of the first page are more likely to be seen and purchased than those on the last page. This differs from the way chocolates are presented to customers in-store, as chocolate products are simply lined up on shelves in an aisle, so the customer has an equally likely chance of seeing one product as another.

(CVS Website vs Candy Aisle)

Some chocolate products on the CVS website are marked as ‘Best Sellers,’ with a bright red label presented next to the image of the chocolate product. Not all best sellers, however, appear at the top of the displayed list of chocolates. The “Best Seller” label is likely awarded to the chocolate products that are purchased most frequently by customers, or sold in the highest quantity. Yet, the label seems rather arbitrary, as there are several best-selling products—over ten to be exact. It is rather misleading to label products ‘best sellers’ when the term is not defined (could eight out of ten possible products all be labeled ‘best sellers?’). Additionally, the “Best Seller” label likely incentivizes customers to purchase more of that specific product, so by labelling a product a best seller, CVS likely ensures that the product will retain its best-seller status. Sales for the product either remain as high as they have been, or increase, as consumers feel they can trust the product since other consumers purchase it in high quantities. The “Best Seller” label, in this way, becomes a self-fulfilling advertisement.


(screenshots of best sellers from CVS website)

Moving away from the manner in which products are displayed and labeled, and towards the selection of products available, it seems that CVS offers a wide selection of chocolate brands and products. To name a few products from the first page of results, CVS sells: Brookside Dark Chocolate-Covered Berries, M&Ms, York Peppermint Patties, Dove Chocolates, Cadbury Eggs, Ferrero Rocher Fine Chocolates, Kit-Kats, Taza Chocolate, and Theo Chocolate. Upon further inspection, however, the seemingly wide array of brands and products are not so diverse after all. After perusing through the Brookside website (http://www.brooksidechocolate.com/usa) , and clicking on the privacy policy link, it is apparent that the brand is owned by the Hershey Company. York Peppermint Patties (https://www.hersheys.com/york/en_us/home.html) and Kit-Kats are also clearly owned by the Hershey Company (https://www.hersheys.com/kitkat/en_us/home.html) , and surfing through the Dove (https://www.dovechocolate.com/Home) and M&M (https://www.mymms.com/home.do) websites for a few minutes is all it takes to uncover the fact that they are both owned by Mars. Aside from Taza Chocolate and Theo Chocolate, nearly all of the chocolate products sold on the CVS website are brands owned by the large companies Mars, Hershey’s, Nestle, Cadbury, and Ferrero. These companies, referred to as the Big Five, make up over 50% of the world’s confectionary market share (Martin Lecture 1). Not surprisingly, their chocolate products are also the most affordable products sold at CVS, as they minimize their costs by paying as little as possible for their cacao, since most of it is not Fair Trade Certified (Darhan 227). Theo and Taza Chocolate, both organic and fair trading companies, retail for over $40 on the CVS website, at around ten times the price of the Big Five chocolate products. Of course, this price surge is due to the fact that Theo and Taza Chocolate are sold in bulk rather than individually on the CVS website. To the average customer, however, prices this high are an enormous disincentive from purchasing the item, regardless of the amount of product he or she would be receiving. By selling Theo and Taza chocolate on their website only in bulk, CVS effectively advertises the other, less expensive chocolate product options– the very products that are owned by the Big Five companies. Whether intentional, or unintentional, the CVS website promotes chocolate sold by the Big Five chocolate companies over smaller, more ethical companies, like Taza and Theo.

(Comparing the prices of Taza and Theo Chocolate to Big Five Company chocolate products).

Screen Shot 2017-05-05 at 8.57.09 PM.png

(The Big Five Companies)

Whole Foods 

Moving on to the chocolate section of the Whole Foods website, the contrast between the CVS chocolate selection and Whole Foods chocolate selection is quite vast. After typing “chocolate” into the Whole Foods search bar  (https://delivery.wholefoodsmarket.com/store/whole-foods/search_v3/chocolate?page=1), the customer is met with thirty four pages of results. Similar to the CVS website, there is no clear rationale behind the organization of these chocolate products, and no explanation for why certain products appear on the first few pages, and others on the last few pages. This is one similarity in the method by which chocolate is sold on the CVS and Whole Foods websites. Within the thirty four pages of the Whole Foods chocolate products, brand names such as barkThins, Chocolove, Guittard, Justin’s, Theo, and Endangered Species arise. None of these brands, however, are offshoots of the big five companies: Hershey’s, Nestle, Mars, Ferrero, or Cadbury. They are, instead, independent chocolate manufacturing companies. Additionally, all of these companies produce products that are Fair Trade certified.

Screen Shot 2017-05-05 at 9.21.51 PM

(Whole Foods website chocolate selection)

There are no Best Seller” labels strewn across any of the chocolate products, and none of the chocolate bars are sold in bulk, in direct contrast with the chocolate sold on CVS’s website. In terms of price, no single chocolate bar is significantly more expensive than another, since all of them are being sold individually, rather than in bulk. In this way, it seems there are no external factors pushing consumers toward certain brands or companies sold on the Whole Foods website. The fact that nearly all of the chocolate products sold on the Whole Foods website are Fair Trade certified, however, demonstrates the values of Whole Foods as a retailer. There may not be external influence from Whole Foods pushing a consumer to buy certain products, but that lies in the fact that Whole Foods does not carry chocolate products they do not approve of in the first place. Although the CVS website contains elements that may influence a consumer’s decision to purchase certain items (i.e. Best Seller signs and only selling certain chocolate products in bulk), the CVS online site carries chocolate products produced by the big five chocolate companies, in addition to certified Fair Trade chocolate products, like Theo and Taza. It is still ultimately the consumer’s decision to purchase the chocolate product they desire. Whole Foods, on the other hand, seems to pre-select chocolate products for the consumer; there are no chocolate products owned by any of the big five companies available for purchase on the Whole Foods website at all, so the consumer does not have the option to purchase them, even if he or she so desires.

By choosing to exclusively sell chocolate products that are Fair Trade certified, Whole Foods makes an ethical statement– that the company and its customers are Fair Trade supporters.

Screen Shot 2017-05-05 at 10.28.35 PM.png

The image above is taken from the Fair Trade Website, and depicts a cacao farmer in Ecuador. With images like these, Fair Trade promotes the idea of close relationships between cacao farmers and chocolate producing companies. The idea behind forging these close relationships with farmers, and the “prompt payment of fair prices and wages” pushes chocolate producers and retailing companies like Whole Foods to support Fair Trade. There is also consumer influence on the push for companies to become Fair Trade Certified. As the demand for Fair Trade Certification increases, so do companies’ desires to become Fair Trade Certified.  As ethical and utopian as it sounds, the impact of Fair Trade certification does not always hold up to its claims, unfortunately. As depicted in the video entitled “The Fair Trade Shell Game” http://www.vocativ.com/40932/fair-trade-shell-game/, Fair Trade certification has negative impacts, such as hurting non-certified farmers, and does not have solid evidence to support its claim that money reaches farmers in the developing world (Martin Lecture 9).

Overall, it seems that the CVS and Whole Foods online stores cater to two different chocolate consuming populations. Consumers searching for chocolate on the CVS website likely purchase chocolates they have grow accustomed to eating, either from prior impulse purchases when shopping in the grocery store, or from acquiring tastes for certain brands of chocolate over time. These consumers are also likely influenced by the price of the chocolate, which ranges from one to around four dollars a piece. Consumers who purchase their chocolate from the Whole Foods online store are likely driven by the idea of purchasing healthy and ethical chocolate, since nearly all of the chocolate sold on the website is Fair Trade certified. The price difference in chocolate bars does not differ too drastically from the CVS chocolate products, with chocolate bars ranging in price from three to around seven dollars a bar. While CVS online chocolate shoppers may have different intentions from Whole Foods online chocolate customers, both sets of chocolate consumers share one thing in common: they are all influenced by the vendors they buy from. The CVS and Whole Foods websites influence customers’ purchasing decisions, either directly, through bulk retailing and influential labelling (like CVS’s website), or by simply excluding certain products from retail altogether. It may seem as though purchasing chocolate online is more thought-out and purposeful for consumers than impulse-buying chocolate in stores, but consumers are just as easily persuaded through online tactics as they are in person.

Works Cited

Scholarly Sources:

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

Dahan, Nicolas M., and Milton Gittens. “Business and the Public Affairs of Slavery: A Discursive Approach of an Ethical Public Issue.” Journal of Business Ethics, vol. 92, no. 2, 2010, pp. 227–249., http://www.jstor.org/stable/25621557

Martin, Carla D. Lecture 1: Mesoamerica and the Food of the Gods. 01 February 2017. Lecture.

Martin, Carla D. Lecture 9:Alternative trade and virtuous localization/globalization. 04 May 2017. Lecture.

Taylor, Kate. “Online shopping is killing a category that retailers have been relying on for years– and now they’re scrambling.” Business Insider, 10 Nov. 2015.


Screenshots from CVS website: https://www.cvs.com/gbiSearch/?searchTerm=chocolate

Screenshots from Whole Foods website: (https://delivery.wholefoodsmarket.com/store/whole-foods/search_v3/chocolate?page=1)

Big Five Companies chart: Martin, Carla D. Lecture 9:Alternative trade and virtuous localization/globalization. 04 May 2017. Lecture.

Image of Fair Trade farmer:

Rodriguez, James A. Fortaleza del Valle: Manabi, Ecuador. 26 Oct. 2015. Fair Trade, Fair Trade USA,ftusa.photoshelter.com/galleries/C00006y5VLM3yg74/G0000r4djXMuM0aw/I0000bV8fmylvn5o/ Fortaleza-del-Valle-Manabi-Ecuador. Accessed 5 May 2017.

Video:”The Fair Trade Shell Game.” Vocativ, 20 Dec. 2013, http://www.vocativ.com/40932/fair-trade-shell-game/. Accessed 5 May 2017.

Chocolate,Chocolate Everywhere

As I ponder the selections of chocolate available in my local Trader Joe’s , it is important to understand a bit of the history of chocolate that is included in The True the History of Chocolate by  Coe & Coe .Cacao, Chocolate originated in Meso-America and is referred to as the “Food of the Gods” consumed by the elite and used in sacrifices to please the gods.  

Did you know that unlike money cacao really does grow on the pods and barks of trees.The chocolate trees were scientifically named Theobroma cacao in 1753 by the “great Swedish Naturalist” Linnaeus (1707-78). 

Theobroma cacao

Linnaeus- Swedish Naturalist that named the cacao tree-theobroma cacao

Raw Cacao beans don’t taste anything like the chocolate bars we consume.  After the cacao beans are harvested the cacao and pulp are fermented once fermentation is complete the beans are laid out to dry in the sun.  Once dried the beans are then sorted and roasted.  After the beans are roasted they are winnowed and finally  the cacao nibs that are used to make chocolate reveal themselves. The cacao nibs are naturally bitter therefore sugar and other ingredients are added when making chocolate to reduce the acidity and bitterness and increase the sweetness.

Sidney Mintz in his book Sweetness and Power reminds us that sugar and sweetness is introduced to us at a very young age , “the first non milk food that a baby is likely to receive in North American hospital is a 5% glucose and water solution used to evaluate its postpartum functioning because newborns tolerate glucose better than water.”(Mintz, 1985)  The fondness for sugar influences the chocolate that we consume as “most Americans instinctively go for blends with a high West African cacao content – this is a dominant cacao in some mass-produced brands that most American have eaten since childhood that is naturally identified with full chocolate flavor. Americans gravitate towards very light chocolate.” ( The New Taste of Chocolate, p. 136) Sweetness is a preferred taste from a very young age Cacao and sugar go together sort of like peanut butter and jelly. Alone each tastes okay but together they taste wonderful.

Chocolate has always evoked pleasant happy memories for me. From my childhood I can remember the heavenly aroma of chocolate from the Lowney Chocolate Factory wafting  through the air as we walked to school, the anticipation of devouring my  grocery store chocolate Easter bunny after Mass and the way the chocolate icing on a Honey Dew Donuts éclair melts in your mouth in an explosion of chocolate mixed with Bavarian cream. 

As I matured my love of chocolate did not waver and I stayed loyal to brands like Hersey and Nestle and for special occasions Godiva was the go to brand.  Then one day in 1987 a local chocolate shop called Puopolo’s Candies opened nearby.  As a big believer in supporting local business I felt that it was my duty to check out the new chocolate shop.  It was heaven!  The aroma and the wide assortment of chocolate confections was astounding. There wasn’t a Snickers, Milky Way or Kit Kat in the place and it didn’t matter because these chocolates didn’t require brand recognition as one could see, smell and anticipate the chocolate truffles melting smoothly on your tongue while the milk chocolate flavors come to life. I never knew exactly why I came to prefer the chocolate sold at Puopolo’s over Hersey, Nestle or even Godiva, until now.

The big chocolate manufactures like Hershey, Nestle and Godiva appeal to the masses for both taste and price of their products.  The chocolate  is made in huge factories using industrial equipment. Each batch of chocolate is made to taste exactly the same as the other so that there is no variation  of taste, color or texture in the thousands of candy bars that are made each day. Chocolate manufactured in this manner is referred to as industrial chocolate.


Shops like Puopolo’s are known as chocolatiers’ that appeal to people who appreciate and will pay for high quality chocolate . Chocolatiers’ produce chocolate creations on a much smaller scale and create confections in small batches by melting large bars of chocolate.


Sailboat and Anchor Favors
Puopolo chocolatiers’ confection

Another player has come on the scene and companies like  Taza chocolate  are part of a growing movement of small companies that produce  bean to bar products.

Image result for taza chocolate


The bean to bar companies are conscious of the long history of exploitation in the chocolate industry including children being used as forced labor on cacao plantations. (Off, 2006)  The bean to bar companies produce an ethical and sustainable product by controlling all stages of their chocolate making including choosing and grinding their own cacao beans.
The advantage of industrial chocolate for the consumer is that whether you purchase a Hershey bar in Alaska or Massachusetts the wrapper texture, color and taste of the chocolate will be the same. Whereas the smaller manufacturers including chocolatiers and bean to bar, aim to produce small unique batches of products.  Cacao beans alone are bitter thus sugar and sometimes other flavorings like vanilla and milk are added to cocoa beans to make the chocolate bars more palatable.  The more cacao content in a product the more intense the chocolate flavor which to many tastes bitter.

Not everyone is lucky enough to have a local chocolatiers nearby so I set out to my local Trader Joe’s  to utilize my new-found knowledge and analyze their chocolate section.

Mintz states ” food choices and eating habits reveal distinctions of age, sex, status , culture and even occupation.” (Sweetness and Power).  Trader Joe’s is a slighty upscale, funky progressive full service grocery store who cater to their customers food and need to shop at a socially responsible store. Customers that shop here generally care about where and how the ingredients in their food come from . Trader Joe’s listened to their customers and according to the timeline listed on their website in 1997 they “made a commitment to eliminate artificial trans fats from all private label products (along with artificial flavors, artificial preservatives & GMO ingredients… but that’s old news by now).”

Trader Joe’s shoppers are diverse and span the  socio economic scale. They want to feel as if they are being socially and environmentally responsible without spending a lot of cash. They will however spend a bit more for a product if it makes them feel like they are achieving the goals of being a responsible consumer.   One such chocolate bar checks all those boxes the  Fair Trade Organic Belgium Chocolate Bar is  included in the wide selection of chocolate products that are displayed throughout the store. These bars were included in the chocolate bar section located at the back of the store at the end of an aisle near the milk.  The majority of the chocolate bars were 3.5 ounces with price points between $1.99 for the Fair Trade Organic Belgium Chocolate bars , $2.99 for a Valrhona dark chocolate bar and for $4.99 you could purchase a milk and almond pound plus bar.  There were quite a few chocolate products located in the impulse buy zone at the front of the store including dark chocolate peanut butter cups and chocolate covered almonds for $4.99 each.

As I strolled the isles I noticed some chocolate bars above the seafood section that had pretty and exotic looking labels.  Upon closer inspection it is revealed that these are dark chocolate bars made with 70% cacao and delicious fillings like coconut caramel and toffee and walnuts.  Along side these bars there was a 65% Dark Cacao bar that is made from single origin fairly traded beans from Ecuador. These chocolate bars highlight the cacao content to entice those that believe the claim that chocolate is good for your heart . However,  James Howe  advises  that the claim that chocolate is heart healthy  is not scientifically proven that chocolate consumption alone is the primary element in increasing cardiovascular health. ( Chocolate and Cardiovascular Health, 2012) The artwork depicts nature scenes to enhance the natural allure of these chocolate bars that are priced at just $1.89.










In spite From the  lovely artwork and detailed descriptions highlighting the cacao content and country of origin of the beans it is clear from the price points of $1.89 that these are mass marketed  industrial made chocolate bars covered in cleverly  designed Trader Joe’s wrappers. The wrappers contain all the buzz words and images  the consumer wants to see so they feel like they are purchasing socially responsible products.  When I questioned the  store manager about the private label chocolate bars he did not know what company Trader Joe’s bought the chocolate bars from however he assured me that they were made from the finest organic ingredients yet… only a few chocolate bars are labeled organic or Fair Trade.

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The Trader Joe’s Chocolate truffles look decadent on the shiny red background of the package. They even provide directions on how to”taste these delicate truffles”.  Trader Joe’s selections so far were on target for their consumers, good cacao content, some organic selections. therefore  I was very surprised when the first ingredient listed in the Cocoa Truffles was vegetable oil , the second sugar and finally cocoa powder appears as the third ingredient. This was disappointing  as it is not as high quality chocolate product as it appears and not consistent with the prior products viewed.

After reviewing the chocolate bar and other chocolate products at Trader Joe’s  I’ve concluded that Trader Joe’s should expand their chocolate selections to include more Fair Trade chocolate products and add a few  Bean to Bar and local chocolatiers products to the inventory.  It would be a clear statement to Trader Joe’s customers and the chocolate industry  that  Trader Joe’s cares about ethics and is committed to providing  their customers with more Fair Trade, organic and local chocolate products.  While the typical Trader Joe’s customer appreciates a bargain , many would be willing to pay more for chocolate if they know that their purchase directly benefits the cacao farmer or the small business person.  Trader Joe’s has the opportunity to make a difference in the chocolate industry if they go beyond selling private label chocolate bars and include bean to bar and local chocolate makers.
If you want to make an effort to consume Fair Trade organic chocolate the key is read the labels or find your local chocolate shop , either bean to bar or chocolatiers you won’t be disappointed.


Works Cited

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

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

“Chocolate and Cardiovascular Health: The Kuna Case Reconsidered.” Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture 12.1 (2012): 43-52. Web.

The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural & Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. Ed. Maricel E. Presilla. New York: Ten Speed, 2009. 61-94. Print.

Carol Off, Bitter Chocolate: the dark side of the world’s most seductive sweet.2006. The New Press.  print.


Multimedia and internet sources

Google Images , date accessed 5/7/16. http://exhibits.mannlib.cornell.edu/chocolate/images/content_img/CacaoGod.jpghttps://madhuwellness.files.wordpress.com/2012/11/cacoa.jpg
http://www.traderjoes.com/images/fearless-flyer/uploads/article-428/95474-Trader Joes 95475_Fair_Trade_Chocolate.jpg

Websites referenced.

Hershey’s Chocolate Making Process. htttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0TcFYfoB1BY-
USDA Organic guidelines.  https://www.ams.usda.gov/services/organic-certification


Fair Trade and Ethical Sourcing in the Cocoa Trade: A Comparison of Business Practices

The origin of food continues to grow in importance in the minds of many consumers. Organic, locally-grown produce is more widely available that ever before, and the term of “farm-to-fork” has extended beyond status as a trend found in dining out to become a philosophy that many consumer require as essential understanding of the supply chain of the food they purchase and consume.

Concerns about the practices surrounds the growth, harvest and production of cacao have been widely publicized for decades. Sustainability of the industry in the midst of ongoing concerns of shortages in supply are magnified by increasing scrutiny of the farming practices used from both an environmental and human rights perspective.

CNN - "Many cocoa growers work on small family-run farms.  Jean inherited his two-hectare plantation seven years ago when he was just 11, after his father died."
CNN – “Many cocoa growers work on small family-run farms. Jean inherited his two-hectare plantation seven years ago when he was just 11, after his father died.”

While the cocoa and chocolate is a multi-billion dollar global industry, many cacao farmers remain poor, living in poor conditions, and earning a very small income which must support their family, the farm, and its staff. Many farmers have never tasted, nor can they afford, the finished chocolate product that is the result of their careful cultivation and harvest of the cacao tree. The cocoa famer is “is right at the bottom of a multi-layered global supply chain which sees cocoa transformed from bean to bar, and as such, the fundamental cocoa-nomics are firmly against him. Traders, processors, exporters and manufacturers all demand their margin, and for everyone to make a profit, the system dictates that (the farmer) who has little or no bargaining power — receives the bare minimum for his bag of beans.” (CNN)

In response to consumer concern about origins of food, ethical sourcing, and human rights concerns in the farming industry in developing countries, fair trade labeling organizations such as FINE were created and support the work of fair trade certifiers such as Fairtrade International, Fairtrade Labeling Associations International and Fair Trade USA. The World Fair Trade Organizations.  “The World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO) believes that trade must benefit the most vulnerable and deliver sustainable livelihoods by developing opportunities especially for small and disadvantaged producers.  Recurring global economic crises and persistent poverty in many countries confirm the demand for a fair and sustainable economy locally and globally. Fair Trade is our response. “ (WFTO)

“WFTO and its members believe that the path to Fair Trade means changing the practices in the supply chain to follow the 10 Principles of Fair Trade. To be able to deliver the promise of Fair Trade, practices from the production to sale of products should pass the global Fair Trade Standard set by WFTO. Fair Trade scrutiny should not only focus on the production sphere but also on the buying behavior of organisations. This is because for WFTO the burden of proving Fair Trade compliance covers the entire supply chain, and is not the sole responsibility of producers. “

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Companies such as Theo Chocolate, in Seattle were created in response to serving a consumer desire for delicious chocolate that is sourced within the guidelines of fair trade.

Theo Chocolate - The First Organic, Fair Trade Bean-to-Bar Chocolate Company in the United States.
Theo Chocolate – The First Organic, Fair Trade Bean-to-Bar Chocolate Company in the United States.

I had a chance to tour Theo Chocolate last week and see the entire process from start to finish. In speaking with their employee partners, it is clear that the company takes great care in handcrafting their product in small batches with an eye to the product and a socially responsible process from bean to bar. According to their website Theo was “the first organic and Fair Trade chocolate factory in the country, our founding principle is that the finest artisan chocolate in the world can (and should) be produced in an entirely ethical, sustainable fashion. All of our ingredients are carefully screened and 3rd party verified to ensure they meet our standards for social and environmental responsibility.”

Theo Chocolate - Seattle, Washington
Theo Chocolate – Seattle, Washington

Theo is Fair Trade certified by IMO, http://www.fairforlife.org. who “guarantee(s) producers have been paid a price that enables positive economic growth for the individual and the region.” (Theo) Fair for Life states that the organization “offers operators of socially responsible projects a solution for brand neutral third-party inspection and certification in initial production, manufacturing and trading. It combines strict social and fair trade standards with adaptability to local conditions. The system is designed for both food and non-food commodities (like cosmetics, textiles or tourist services).”


Fair Trade organizations such as IMO, are focused largely on the cooperative groups to which cocoa farmers belong. The cooperatives ensure that farmers receive fair prices for their cocoa, access to credit so they can invest in their farms, and protects against unfair labor practices and child labor. Review and certification is targeted to the cooperative with a focus on empowerment of the farmers in the cooperative through participation, training and development; economic development through fair pricing and wages; social responsibility, and environmental  stewardship. While each organization is slightly different their principles are largely very similar and a this detailed example is representative of many Fair Trade Organizations. FTUSA_Standards_Principles

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Starbucks Coffee Company has taken a different approach by implementing Ethical Sourcing enterprise-wide and Cocoa Practices specifically for the acquisition of tens of millions of dollars in cocoa annually.  According to their website, the Starbucks “approach to buying cocoa, is… based on a commitment to ensuring a long-term supply of high-quality, ethically sourced cocoa while contributing positively to the environment and to cocoa-farming communities. Our Cocoa Practices program seeks to verify the supply chain for the cocoa beans used in our beverages, with inspections performed by independent verifiers overseen by SCS Global Services. Our Cocoa Practices program is designed to understand the supply chain for cocoa beans and provide valuable sustainability information to producers and purchasers alike.”

The Starbucks “Cocoa Practices program has helped us identify key areas for improvement and increased our understanding of the dynamics of cocoa farming in West Africa. ”

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Starbucks Cocoa Practices: Key Areas for Improvement

Unlike Fair Trade, Starbucks Ethical Sourcing and Cocoa Practices are targeted directly to the farmer, not just the cooperative, no matter the size of their operation.

Starbucks uses a detailed audit found here and though a team of highly trained third-party verification teams works year-round to ensure that very pound of cocoa they purchase meets their very strict standards for ethical sourcing.  Their standards are high, extending beyond broad statements of protection of workers and include requirements for freedom of association, paid time off, access to education and health care, and non-discrimination.  Several requirements of the program have a zero-tolerance policy for non-compliance including forced labor, child labor, and the use of trafficked labor.  Additionally, for children over the age of 14 who are permitted to work, must have work schedules that do not conflict with school hours.

I was fortunate enough to spend time with the leader than oversees cocoa sourcing and acquisition and the Cocoa Practices program for Starbucks last week. He shared with me that the enterprise focus on ethical sourcing of cocoa and coffee in particular was intended to be “disruptive” from the very beginning.  Their goal is to do for cocoa what they did for coffee which was to ensure that 100% of all coffee beans met their strict standards for sourcing. The goal is not just for Starbucks to be 100%, but also to change to expectations of consumers for the sourcing of the coffee and cocoa they consume, as well as increase the visibility to and accountability of every company that sources coffee and cocoa around the world.

Starbucks is extremely transparent, and published the scorecards used to evaluate each of their farmers here.  As I met with our leader of this program I was able to go into the database that contains the information for every farmer from which the company buy cocoa.  I saw single owner-operated units as small as a hectare, family run operation of 10 hectares and much larger operations.  The expectations for each are the same, and the level of detail that the company uses to track every aspect of the individuals, family members and employees is staggering and includes perceptions about well-being, potential vulnerability to do availability of fresh water and cooling for the home, along with detailed question about the business and finances.

I asked about scores and what constitutes “passing” or “failing” and I was told that zero-tolerance, is exactly that, but beyond that there is no pass or fail as the company sees it as their obligation to provide support and resources to the individual farmers who may be struggling in an area to ensure they can sustain their livelihood and the supply of cocoa for the long-term.

While Theo and Starbucks have taken very different approaches, arguably their individual decisions on how to approach protecting cocoa farmers and their workers seems appropriate for the scale of their business and long-term business needs.  Theo has shown consumers that gourmet chocolate can be produced from bean-to-bar in small batches using only organic and fair trade cocoa and ingredients.  Starbucks, on of the world’s largest consumers of cocoa has put into place ethical sourcing practices that are designed to protect the long-term supply of cocoa and are also in support of the health and well-being of the individual farmer.  Both companies command a premium price for their product, but based on the history of slavery and child-labor in the cocoa trade it is hard to argue that the premium price is not worth it.  In fact, from a sustainability perspective for both the environment and the human race I wish more companies would be as bold and more consumers would be as informed.


Chocolate, Social Responsibility and Fair Trade  Whinney, Joe, “Chocolate, Social Responsibility, and Fair Trade” (2011). Speakers & Events. Paper 1400.http://digitalcommons.spu.edu/av_events/1400

Fair For Life  http://www.fairforlife.org/pmws/indexDOM.php?client_id=fairforlife&page_id=home

Fair Trade USA  http://fairtradeusa.org/certification/producers/cocoa

Motavalli, Jim. Sweet dreams: Seattle’s Theo is a fair trade version of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory.(Eating Right) E, Nov-Dec, 2007, Vol.18(6), p.42(2)

Percival, Matt. From Bean to Bar: Why Chocolate Will Never Taste The Same Again. February 28.2014 Web. http://edition.cnn.com/2014/02/13/world/africa/cocoa-nomics-from-bean-to-bar/

SBC Global Services http://www.scsglobalservices.com/starbucks-cocoa-practices?scscertified=1

Starbucks http://www.starbucks.com/responsibility/sourcing/cocoa

Theo Chocolate   https://www.theochocolate.com/