A Historical Analysis of Gender Imbalances in Ghanaian Cocoa Production
West Africa is the greatest regional producer of cocoa in the world (Leissle 2018, p. 4). In Ghana alone, there are 720,000 farmers growing cocoa, 25 percent of which are women (Barrientos 2014, p. 796). Despite exhibiting both quality and productivity levels equal to if not greater than men, women’s income and farm ownership are severely disproportionate to men. Women sell a mean of 8 bags of cocoa per year, equalling ~$980 in annual income. Men, meanwhile, sell a mean of 23 bags of cocoa per year for an annual income of ~$2,817.50 (Leissle 2018, p. 23). Through an analysis of Ghana’s cocoa farming history, there are several sociopolitical factors that have led to the development of gender inequality in the sector. The combination of exogenous changes in the agricultural market and women’s social roles in farming and the household have shifted cocoa production power to men and constrained how women participate in the cocoa market. Traditional land inheritance laws have constrained women’s access to farming plots. Finally, the gendering of work in the cocoa sector has perpetuated the gender gap and prevented women from becoming independent cocoa farm owners. While the historical development of cocoa farming has led to these gender imbalances, the success of female cocoa farmers despite these adversities has spurred new initiatives to eliminate gender inequality in the cocoa sector.
Cocoa arrived in the Portuguese colonies of Sao Tome and Principe in the early 1800’s and expanded throughout mainland Africa by the end of the century. Before, most cocoa had been produced in South America and the Caribbean. During the nineteenth century, the abolishment of slavery throughout the region and disease such as witch’s broom severely limited the amount of cocoa South America and the Caribbean could provide. This supply restriction coincided with an acute increase in demand for cocoa. More successful marketing strategies and new innovations such as the Dutching process and the Swiss conche made smoother, creamier milk chocolate products that attracted more consumers. Since South America and the Caribbean could no longer support rising production demands, chocolate manufacturers turned their eyes to Africa, where cocoa trees had been found to flourish (Leissle 2018, p. 1–47).
West Africa saw a phenomenal rise in cocoa production first in Sao Tome and Principe. The cruel labor practices being encouraged on the islands were exposed in the early 1900’s, and British chocolate manufacturing giant Cadbury was forced to boycott cocoa from these islands as protests against these labor abuses rose. Major cocoa production moved to colonized regions of mainland West Africa as production subsequently declined in Sao Tome and Principe, particularly in Nigeria, the Ivory Coast, and Cameroon (Leissle 2018, p. 40–42). Nigeria’s rise as a prominent cocoa producer was not solely the result of imperial pressure but also of farmer’s own enthusiasm to begin growing cocoa. Around the turn of the twentieth century, coffee and rubber prices were low while cocoa prices were steadily rising with Europe’s voracious demand for chocolate. Gold Coast farmers jumped on the opportunity, and cocoa became the most important export of any category by 1910 (Allman and Tashjian 2000, p. 3).
Agricultural goods in Ghana have historically been gendered such that either men or women are solely responsible for their respective crops and their proceeds. How these crops were gendered resulted from household roles. Women were responsible for childcare, food processing, cleaning, and other household chores. This gave men much more time for cultivating crops other than subsistence goods, and men indeed devoted this extra time women spent on household labor devoted to commodity production and trading. Women became increasingly involved in trading subsistence goods in local markets while men pursued more lucrative occupations in cocoa farming or waged work (Allman and Tashjian 2000, p. 13–14). This genderization of crops and general markets became culturally cemented over time, and cocoa farming became a male–dominated sector while subsistence farming and local market trading became a feminized domain. As cocoa farming became more valuable and generated a more substantive part of a household’s income, women and children became increasingly involved as informal laborers on the household cocoa farm, with the husband/father acting as the central, mediating figure through whom the value of wives’ and children’s labor was realized (Allman and Tashjian 2000, p. 106).
The increasingly valuable role of women and children in cultivating the household cocoa farm upset traditional land inheritance practices. Prior to colonization, Ghanaian land inheritance was typically matrilineal in which a husband’s family land would be bequeathed to his sister’s sons and rarely to his own wife and children. A husband’s self–acquired land, however, could be bequeathed to his children and wife if “he had been well–served by the child” (Allman and Tashjian 2000, p. 107). Self–acquired land became much more popular with the cocoa boom, as women cultivated family land for subsistence farming and men cultivated new additional land for the cocoa farms. By 1920–1930, the value of a deceased man’s self–acquired property rivalled and even surpassed family land, causing tension between potential matrilineal inheritors and the husband’s wife and children. This tension remained throughout the twentieth century, although a few laws were instituted to make bequeathing nonfamily land to a man’s wife and children easier. In the mid–1980’s, revisions to land inheritance laws were implemented to facilitate family land inheritance to female spouses, but few Ghanaians have actually appealed to this law (Allman and Tashjian 2000, p. 107–109). Due to this system of land inheritance, and because women rarely acquired land for themselves due to their responsibility to other household duties and expectations, land ownership laws and land acquisition processes in Ghana have inhibited women from pursuing farm ownership. More than 90 percent of cocoa comes from smallholder farmers who cultivate a few hectares of land or less, and women have faced more limited access to the already restricted allocation of land than men (Leissle 2018, p. 3).
The cultural gendering of important work in the cocoa sector has also limited women’s growth in the cocoa sector. Cocoa farming involves many steps, and as new agricultural innovations have been introduced into the sector, women’s work has been devalued. As more technological advancements such as the use of fertilizers and pesticides have been produced, women were delegated to planting and harvesting. The male–dominated mechanical application of pesticides and herbicides became more highly valued because these activities more noticeably increase yields in the short run (Barrientos 2014, p. 797). The most gender–restricted activity is the point of sale. Since men have come to control the market for cash crops as women have come to predominate the markets for subsistence goods, social norms usually demand that only men are involved at the point of cash exchange. As female cocoa farmers must enlist men to sell their cocoa, they may not realize their full earnings potential, especially when wives combine their cocoa output with their husbands, as these women cannot tell who earned how much (Leissle 2018, p. 121–122). Women’s cultural exclusion from the most lucrative activities and important positions of agency have continued to perpetuate gender inequality in cocoa farming.
Several historical socioeconomic forces led to the development of gender inequality in the cocoa sector, including exogenous changes to the agricultural market, land access, and the perpetuation of cultural and social conditions disadvantageous to female cocoa farmers. Today, however, many initiatives are taking place to close this gap. Chocolate manufacturing and processing giants Cadbury and Cargill, working with NGO Care, have supported female farmers’ cooperative groups since 2006 (Barrientos 2014, p. 6). Land in Ghana’s western region is being transferred significantly more often from husbands to wives and daughters instead of sons and matrilineal inheritors. Two LBCs in Ghana, Kuapa Kokoo and Akuafo Adamfo, encourage women’s participation at the point of sale (Leissle 2018, p. 122). While women’s advancement in the cocoa sector has been limited by socioeconomic factors, women’s increasing involvement and success in cocoa farming despite these challenges has instead begun to contest this inequality and inspire change in the sector.
Allman, Jean Marie., and Victoria B. Tashjian. I Will Not Eat Stone : A Women’s History of Colonial Asante. Social History of Africa. Portsmouth, NH : Oxford [England] : Cape Town: Heinemann ; J. Currey ; D. Philip, 2000.
Quisumbing, Agnes R, Ellen M Payongayong, and Keijiro Otsuka. “Are Wealth Transfers Biased Against Girls? Gender Differences in Land Inheritance and Schooling Investment in Ghana’s Western Region,” n.d., 43.
Vigneri, Marcella, and Rebecca Holmes. 2009. “When being more productive still doesn’t pay: gender inequality and socio-economic constraints in Ghana’s cocoa sector.” Paper presented at the FAO-IFAD-ILO Workshop on Gaps, trends and current research in gender dimensions of agricultural and rural employment : differentiated pathways out of poverty, Rome, (31 March – 2 April 2009). Rome: FAO-IFAD-ILO. http://www.fao-ilo.org/fileadmin/user_upload/fao_ilo/pdf/Papers/20_March/Vigneri-Holmes-final.pdf.
Molded by years of exposure to masterfully crafted marketing campaigns, average consumer knowledge of cacao [or cocoa] is limited to its function as an ingredient and source from which their beloved chocolate is derived. There is much more to the birth, rise, and spread of Theobroma cacao.
The following seeks to explain how a culturally significant crop among early civilizations dating back to 1500 BCE (Coe and Coe, 2013) transformed from a highly treasured ingredient and social currency cultivated within a fairly limited zone to a globally produced and traded commodity: a highly reformulated, mass-produced, and readily available confectionery product.
This journey traces cacao back to its genetic and cultural beginnings where it was religious and cultural fixture among early civilizations; how exploration and migration played into the geographical expansion of its cultivation and rise in popularity as a food; role in accelerating industrialization; and transformation from a social currency and treasured ingredient to a heavily traded commodity and mass manufactured consumer product.
Genetic and Cultural Beginnings
From births and burials, recipes and rituals, cacao’s cultural origins are linked to Mesoamerica (present day Mexico through Central America), where its social and religious significance among the Olmec dates back to 1500 to 400 BCE (Coe and Coe, 2013). The rise of Maya and Aztec civilizations gave way for cacao’s evolution utility and proliferation as a consumable.
Cacao’s Role in Society and Religion
Evidenced by archeologic discoveries, translated texts, and scientific testing, several vessels and writings have been unearthed, clarifying and validating cacao’s significance, religious ties, and early application as a currency.
Mayan and Aztec civilization associated cacao with the gods. As such, they were believed to enrich and afford protections during and after life, playing a central role in offerings and rituals (Coe and Coe, 2013).
Ceramic vessels similar to those pictured here which date back to 455 to 465 CE were found in burial tombs at Río Azul (Martin, 2019). Further testing confirmed positive traces of caffeine and theobromine—two of cacao’s alkaloid signatures (Martin, 2019).
Dating back to 455 to 465 CE, “funerary vessels” similar to those pictured here were discovered in tombs at Río Azul. As testing revealed traces of caffeine and theobromine, two of cacao’s signature alkaloids, this further supported evidence of cacao’s religious significance (Martin, 2019).
As a food or drink, cacao took many forms. Popular among the Maya and Aztec, “cacahuatl” was a frothy preparation often transferred from one vessel to another and served cold (Coe and Coe, 2013).
Exploration and Migration: Changes in Cultivation and Consumption
By definition, explorers were bound to make new discoveries and learn from their experience. Capturing the innocent confusion and eye-opening experience (only to be realized years later), the following briefly details just how one explorer mistakenly thought that cacao beans were almonds.”
Mistaken for Almonds: When recounting observations from his 1502 landing at Guanaja, one of many landmasses that make up the Bay Islands archipelago, Ferdinand Columbus, one of Christopher Columbus’ sons wrote about cherished “almonds” that traded hands similarly to how currency would pass between customers and merchants (Coe and Coe, 2013). It was not until years later after multiple interpretations and sources concluded that what he presumed to be almonds were in fact cacao beans.
As it came to be more widely known, not far from where Ferdidnad landed, throughout the Rio Ceniza Valley (present day coast of El Salvador), cacao was an increasingly popular form of currency being produced and traded in record volume—something . In time, this led to further learnings about the “Nahua counting system” and subsequent adoption of cacao as payment for “protection” by Spanish conquistadors.
Generally relegated to tropical climates falling 10-15 degrees north and south of equator, is was inevitable that cacao would make its way around the world. So as people moved, and culture spread, so too did the cacao, as a crop, currency, and curiosity, ultimately leading to its introduction to new geographies, and paving the way for new industries and traditions around the world (Martin, 2019).
New Formulations and Complementary Ingredients
As ingredients such as vanilla, chili, and many others traveled around the world, pairings and formulations rapidly evolved. Marking a major development and informing direction for the confectionery side as we know it today, sugar was introduced to Europe around 1100 CE and chocolate followed shortly thereafter in 1500 CE (Martin, 2019).
Cacao’s Role in Accelerating Industrialization and Expanding its Place in Society
While cacao consumption continued to be reserved for certain classes during its journey around the world, increasingly sophisticated processing methods streamlined productions, regulation eventually brought its price down, and despite medical and religious challenges to its place in society, cacao products were increasingly available to a grander population.
By the 1600 and 1700s, advances in processing continued to align with rising and more diverse consumption habits. Of course, by this time, the separation between “producing” and “processing” countries (read: colonies vs. industrialized nations) was increasingly clear.
So while cultivation and production spread across Central and South America, Southeast Asia, and Africa to meet demand, industry began to take shape on the consumer side as well with the emergence of social gathering halls or “Chocolate Houses” in Britain, France, Spain, the United States, and other “industrialized” nations who had transitioned to managing the cacao’s trade as a commodity and processing for various food and beverage applications. It was not until Rudolphe Lindt’s invention of the conche in 1879, an advancement that bolstered flavor and feel (among other things), and set the stage for quality, processing, and mass production to take off (Coe and Coe, 2013).
Illustrated above, the matete, grinder, and conche are examples of what cacao processing tools were used by early civilizations (and are still used in the same or similar forms today) and evolved or industrialized processing equipment employed today (Martin, 2019).
From early civilizations to present day, cacao’s role in society, cultural significance, availability and consumption have evolved tremendously. However, its mystique and association as something special are still true to this day—just as they were in different and more elaborate forms among early civilizations. Perhaps this condensed history will give pause and reason for the average consumer to think beyond commercialization of cacao, cocoa, or chocolate, and value and validate its history and claims made by brands to improve global understanding, perception, and consumer habits.
Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. 3rd Edition, Thames & Hudson, 2013.
Martin, Carla D., and Kathryn E. Sampeck. “The Bitter and Sweet of Chocolate in Europe.” Socio.Hu, Vol. 3, 2015, pp. 37–60.
Mintz, Sidney. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. Penguin Books, 1986.
Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies. “Map of Mesoamerica.” Accessed February 17, 2019. http://www.famsi.org/maps/.
Río Azul [Electronic Image]. Retrieved from Lecture. Martin, Carla D. “Chocolate Politics: How History, Multinational Corporations, Governments, NGOs, and Critics Influence the Chocolate We Eat”. Harvard University: Cambridge, MA. January 30, 2019. Lecture.
Matete [Electronic Image]. Retrieved from Lecture. Martin, Carla D. “Chocolate Politics: How History, Multinational Corporations, Governments, NGOs, and Critics Influence the Chocolate We Eat”. Harvard University: Cambridge, MA. January 30, 2019. Lecture.
Grinder [Electronic Image]. Retrieved from Lecture. Martin, Carla D. “Chocolate Politics: How History, Multinational Corporations, Governments, NGOs, and Critics Influence the Chocolate We Eat”. Harvard University: Cambridge, MA. January 30, 2019. Lecture.
Conche [Electronic Image]. Retrieved from Lecture. Martin, Carla D. “Chocolate Politics: How History, Multinational Corporations, Governments, NGOs, and Critics Influence the Chocolate We Eat”. Harvard University: Cambridge, MA. January 30, 2019. Lecture.
Martin, Carla D. “Chocolate Expansion”. Harvard University: Cambridge, MA. February 13, 2019. Lecture.
Martin, Carla D. “Sugar and Cacao”. Harvard University: Cambridge, MA. February 20, 2019. Lecture.
Martin, Carla D. “Chocolate Politics: How History, Multinational Corporations, Governments, NGOs, and Critics Influence the Chocolate We Eat”. Harvard University: Cambridge, MA. January 30, 2019. Lecture.
Given the fact that cocoa has an extensive and, often times, perplexing history, it is often time the case that the many different uses for cocoa are analyzed in order to determine cocoa’s true significance and impact on some of the world’s earliest documented civilizations. In today’s modern world, it has become the norm to view chocolate as either a simple snack, or as nothing more than a gift that one might give his or her loved one as a means for celebration on a special day. However, once one begins to delve deep into the cocoa’s earliest roots, it can immediately be seen how it not only played a significant role in how different civilizations, such as the Maya, viewed cocoa, but also, how it was able to, in part, dictate a large part of how their civilizations were organized and governed. Despite how common chocolate is today, such is the case that some of the main methods by which cocoa was used in the Mayan civilization, to our knowledge, include using cocoa as a means to flash their wealth, marry other individuals, and as an exchange of currency throughout society.
Cocoa as a Portrayal of Wealth
Despite the fact that a number of civilizations drank cocoa for a multitude of reasons, whether it was cleansing of the body or as a means for socializing, there is strong evidence that points to the notion that one of the most common uses of cocoa in both the the Mayan civilization was both as a tool for the elites to convey both power as well as a negotiation tool (Dorie Reents-Budet). In order to do this, it was not unusual to see wealthy elites flash their wealth in front of their peers by taking part in gift presentations that common individuals would not be able to afford. By doing this, elites were able to claim a stake in society and were often times able to make a point in regards to the amount of wealth that they had. Of course, in civilizations such as the Maya, more wealth, in this case, also meant more political power, thereby being granted the ability to enact change within society due to this certain wealth. As such, it is therefore argued in many historical contexts that cocoa was able to play a lead role in appealing to the wealthy, while it was more likely the case that the common, everyday individual did not have much access to cocoa throughout his or her lifetime.
Cocoa as a Means for Marriage
The notion of cocoa became incredibly central to the idea of a Mayan marriage with the introduction of a ritual referred to as the tac haa, which is to be translated as “to serve chocolate” or “to invite the father of a girl whom one’s son wants to marry to marry to discuss the marriage and serve him drink” (Martin “Mesoamerica”). The fact that tac haa was considered to be a key component in order for a man to be able to ask a father whether or not he would be able to marry the father’s daughter is a strong indicator of just how significant cocoa was throughout this time period. Equally as important to point out is the that “these feasts celebrated significant political events, such as royal marriage or military victory; in that context, serving cocoa was a way to display wealth, and therefore power” (Leissle 36). Within this context, it can be seen that cocoa’s role in Mayan civilization extended from being able to inquire about marrying a specific woman all the way to conveying to outsiders the amount of power that they had via the celebration of the marriage.
Cocoa as a Means for Currency
Perhaps one of the most indicative aspects of the Mayan civilization that points to just how central cocoa was to society is the way in which they started to use cocoa as a means for currency. In terms of using cocoa as a means for currency, individuals would use cocoa beans as a method to be able to exchange or purchase goods, such as food or other amenities (Museum of the National Bank of Belgium). In addition to being used as a currency, individuals would often times take their cocoa beans and make a drink referred to as Xocoatl. The fact that cocoa was able to be used as currency within the civilization shows the heavy importance that individuals would place on cocoa. Not only that, but it is also able to show that they not only saw cocoa as a simple food that grew on trees, but rather, as nothing short of a lifestyle design.
Dorie Reents-Budet, “The Social Context of Kakaw Drinking among the Ancient Maya,” in Chocolate in Mesoamerica .
Although Slavery has long been abolished, the chocolate industry has been utilizing coerced labor and slavery, knowingly or unknowingly, to this day. The most essential ingredient of chocolate, cocoa, must be mass produced for major corporations that produce a majority of the world’s chocolate. This entails extensive manpower, which was once provided by slaves before the abolishment of slavery. The chocolate industry chose to turn a blind eye to a form of modern slavery in the case of the Cadbury company in Sao Tome, a Portugal controlled area off the Coast of Africa in the early 1900s. Cadbury, one of the biggest chocolate companies in the world today, directly bought cocoa from plantations who used slave labor, and did not immediately condemn it, thereby indirectly supporting post abolition slave labor.
Cacao Beans Used to Make Chocolate
In the 1900s, the Cadbury company employed over tons of workers in controlled factory settings. They were a formidable player in the chocolate game. In 1901, William Cadbury visited some cocoa plants in Trinidad. There he learned of instances of slave labor on cocoa plantations Cadbury bought cocoa from on the island of Sao Tome, a Portuguese controlled colony Cadbury and other chocolate companies bought cocoa from off the coast of Western Africa. By this time, Portugal had banned slavery in the 1870’s, and had put in place a system of contract labor, where natives of the area could sign contracts for up to five years of labor at a dirt cheap wage.(Satre 2) A british journalist, Henry Nevinson, visited West Africa Portugal in 1905 to study the conditions that laborers had to work in in Sao Tome and surrounding areas. (Martin) He wrote in detail about the post abolition slavery he was witnessing during his trip and even went as far as to call the new contract labor put in place by the Portuguese government just another form of slavery.(Satre 2) He wrote a book about it titled “A Modern Slavery” which included pictures and details about the forms of slavery he witnessed. (Flewelling)
Interested in the claims of slavery in the West African Portuguese colonies, William Cadbury himself sent a young man by the name of Joseph Burtt to investigate what was going on. Burtt was a devout Quaker, and held deep Quaker values. Burtt returned back to Cadbury after his two year trip with similar results to that of Nevinson. (Satre 13) He found that slave labor had in fact been in use on the islands. He submitted a report to Cadbury, but they took a long time to reach the public eye for a number of reasons. The foreign office of Great Britain was keen on not offending the Portuguese government, so they requested certain aspects of the report be deleted.(Flewelling) The report was also to be adopted by other players in the chocolate game because they were all buying from these islands as well.(Flewelling) This lead to long negotiations as to what the final report would contain and was ultimately another delay to the process. The Cadbury brothers depended too much on cocoa from these regions to be able to boycott them until they found another source of cocoa that did not use slave labor, and they did just that in 1909.(Flewelling) After Cadbury took a trip himself to Sao Tome and the surrounding islands, he realized that the reports were in fact true, and that the Portuguese government really could not enforce abolition in these areas.(Higgs 148) They chose the Gold Coast as it had better quality cocoa than the Portuguese slave labor areas. All of this combined to allow the Cadbury company along with other chocolate producers in Great Britain to announce their boycott of the Portuguese held cocoa producing islands that were employing slave labor.
This is one of the first, but sadly not the last, well documented and notable incidents where companies use the morally reprehensible tactic of post abolition slave labor to make profits margins rise and costs lower. William Cadbury knew of the transgressions in the Portugal controlled West African province cocoa plantations, yet he waited until it was convenient for his company to come out and condemn the labor situation in the affected areas. He found another way to get high quality cocoa beans for just as cheap, and then he stopped buying from the well documented slave laborers. Politics and fear of offending the Portuguese government also got in the way of doing what is morally correct and having the type of integrity that a giant corporation should have because of the type of power and influence they wield. Cadbury objectively participated in illegal and disgusting schemes with the incentive of higher profits and convenience. This type of action to farm cocoa still goes on today, but it often has deeper layers and complexities that must be dove into to truly understand. Child labor and quasi slave labor in the eyes of the global community is considered wrong in America and among many other countries, but for some, it is ingrained in their culture. Is this still slavery or is it just a part of a culture that has yet to prescribe to the modern ideals of labor ethics? You be the judge.
Higgs, Catherine. 2012. Chocolate Islands: Cocoa, Slavery, and Colonial Africa. pp. 130-160
Martin, Carla D. Slavery, Abolition, and Forced Labor .
Satre, Lowell. 2005. Chocolate on Trial: Slavery, Politics, and the Ethics of Business. pp. 1-30
“William Cadbury, Chocolate, and Slavery in Portuguese West Africa.” Isles Abroad, 11 Feb. 2017, britishandirishhistory.wordpress.com/2016/05/11/william-cadbury-chocolate-and-slavery-in-portuguese-west-africa/.Flewelling, Lindsey.
Health and The Dutch Cocoa Process: Van Houten’s Legacy and Modern Analyses
Throughout history, chocolate and cacao has been purported to have medicinal properties, and especially in the modern age, there is increased emphasis on the health benefits associated with these ingredients. In the processing of cacao, there are numerous points where the chemical composition is changed in some manner, which in part contributes to the unique flavor profile of chocolate. Generally, the process encompasses the same set of operations such as fermentation, drying, and winnowing, but a significant point of distinction occurs during the creation of cocoa powder. With the two conventional forms of cocoa powder, natural and Dutch process, there is a significant variation in terms of the product. The Van Houten family is generally attributed with the process necessary for creating cocoa powder as well as the techniques for making cocoa more palatable through the Dutch process. As the Dutch process is noted to affect flavonoid and antioxidant levels, there are limitations in terms of health benefits as a result of this processing that are removed from natural cocoa powder, despite historical arguments for similar benefits. To contextualize the distinctions between the two types of cocoa powder, it is important to understand their historical development as well as modern examinations.
The Van Houten Hydraulic Press Process
In the early 19th century, chocolate had become relatively ubiquitous, but there were many issues with the ease of consumption and the quality of the taste. Coenraad van Houten and his father, Casparus van Houten, are attributed with the development of a technique that utilizes a hydraulic press to remove over half of the cocoa butter from the beans (Robbins and Coe 2006). The additional byproduct of this process was a brick of cocoa solids, which could be turned into natural cocoa powder. As this cocoa powder retained the chemical compounds naturally found in cacao, many of the potential health benefits arguably are retained after this process (Minifie 1970).
“Dutching” the Cocoa
Perhaps the more significant contribution of Coenraad van Houten is the process known as “Dutching,” which involved treating the natural cocoa powder with alkaline salts with the goal of making the powder more dissolvable (Robbins and Coe 2006). This process proved transcendental as it not only improved the creation of chocolate drinks, but it also alleviated some of the bitterness associated with cacao and created a more intense color for the cocoa powder. However, this “Dutching” process indeed alters the chemical composition of the cocoa powder, and thus potentially affects the medicinal benefits of chocolate (Minifie 1970). Alongside the significantly improved solubility of cocoa powder, this new product also opened the door to produce chocolate bars and other varieties of chocolate products.
Marketing Overcomes Reality
Regardless of the changes caused by the alkalization of cocoa powder, the Van Houten company that initially manufactured Dutch process cocoa, as it become commonly known as, had aggressive campaigns that emphasized the health benefits associated with cocoa powder consumption. To overcome the stronghold on drinks that tea and coffee seemed to have, this variety of cocoa was seminal in the rise of chocolate as a consumed good throughout the world (Van Houten’s Cocoa). Additionally, given the new-found ability to create chocolate bars, the Dutch process cocoa occupied a substantive sector of the market without a proper grasp of what was truly healthy about it. With little to no actual understanding of why chocolate and cocoa were healthy, companies were able to leverage these supposed health benefits for immense capital gain.
Alongside these marketing ventures, it is also essential to consider the official classification for what constitutes chocolate. With the introduction of these new processing techniques, chocolate was essentially bastardized to a point beyond traditional recognition. Therefore, as large manufacturer’s like Cadbury and Nestle introduction new products like milk chocolate, these products began to deviate immensely from the chocolate drinks that Van Houten aimed to modernized (Leissle 2018). Furthermore, as other additives became increasingly prominent within cocoa powder and subsequently chocolate, it became difficult to classify what truly could be considered authentic chocolate.
The Fall of Chocolate’s Medicinal Value
With the creation of the first chocolate bar by Joseph Fry in 1847, sugar and cocoa butter were added to the Dutch process cocoa to make it more palatable (Leissle 2018). In the mid-20th century, the health benefits associated with chocolate had largely subsided as the sugar and fat levels continued to increase dramatically. As sugar and fat became villainized in terms of their detrimental health effects, chocolate suffered a similar fate, so the purported medical benefits were put on the back burner (Rasmussen 2012). Given the shifted emphasis of what constitutes health, chocolate at some point during this span transitioned from being a food with purported health benefits into an unhealthy product.
In the modern era, chocolate had been essentially demonized for its hedonistic and unhealthy nature, but there are trends that also aim to counteract these movements. Through historical and scientific approaches, chocolate is essentially at the intersection of healthy and unhealthy foods. Given the high amounts of sugar and fat found within common varieties of chocolate, chocolate is partly responsible for the obesity crisis within the United States (Rasmussen 2012). On the other hand, modern longitudinal studies have suggested potential long-term health benefits associated with moderate chocolate consumption. However, it is important to contextualize these results given the amount of money within the modern chocolate lobby. To counteract the negative publicity surrounding chocolate, many positive studies are funded by chocolate and cocoa interest groups, which skew the results to favor the health benefits of chocolate (Fleming 2018).
Dutch Process Chemical Modifications
While it is difficult to truly assess the health benefits of chocolate, there are methods of measuring absolute levels of certain chemical compounds that are known to have beneficial health effects. The composition of cacao itself is noted to have caffeine, flavonoids, antioxidants, and a variety of minerals (Li 2012). However, the process of “Dutching” has been shown to decrease the relative levels of these healthy compounds through the reaction with alkaline salts (Miller 2008). Furthermore, the stereochemistry of common flavins was shown to be altered, which means that “healthier” flavins are lost through the “Dutching” process (Hurst 2011). Therefore, despite the struggle to understand the exact health benefits associated with cocoa and chocolate, the ubiquitous usage of the Dutch process does lower the health value of cocoa and chocolate.
Overall, the perception of chocolate as a health food has varied throughout history and remains enigmatic. Chocolate used to have an elite status of providing exceptional nourishment, so the Dutch process was pivotal as it increased accessibility to such a sought-after food. However, the repercussions of the Dutch process were also immensely influential as the production of chocolate bars and variations of chocolate began to arise. As this processing became ubiquitous, the purity of chocolate was diluted with significant increases in the proportion of sugar and fat that comprised the food. With the strength of the modern chocolate lobby, the reputation of chocolate has been widely restored, but the purported health benefits are up for further discussion. The single innovation of the Dutch process snowballed into the modern chocolate industry and is responsible for shifting the paradigm of whether cacao was healthy to if the bastardized version of chocolate has nutritional value.
Even after all this analysis, it brings us back to the question that plagues us all. Is chocolate healthy?
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Leissle, Kristy. Cocoa. Polity Press, 2018.
Li, Yue, et al. “The Effect of Alkalization on the Bioactive and Flavor Related Components in Commercial Cocoa Powder.” Journal of Food Composition and Analysis, vol. 25, no. 1, 2012, pp. 17–23., doi:10.1016/j.jfca.2011.04.010.
Miller, Kenneth B., et al. “Impact of Alkalization on the Antioxidant and Flavanol Content of Commercial Cocoa Powders.” Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, vol. 56, no. 18, 2008, pp. 8527–8533., doi:10.1021/jf801670p.
Minifie, Bernard W. Chocolate, Cocoa and Confectionary: Science and Technology. Avi Publ., 1970.
Rasmussen, Nicolas. “Weight Stigma, Addiction, Science, and the Medication of Fatness in Mid-Twentieth Century America.” Sociology of Health & Illness, vol. 34, no. 6, 2012, pp. 880–895., doi:10.1111/j.1467-9566.2011.01444.x.
Van Houten’s Cocoa. “There Is No Nourishment In Tea or Coffee, but Plenty in Cocoa Especially in Van Houten’s.” Dutch Innovation, 29 May 2013, d1oww3ejuoh8m6.cloudfront.net/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/vanhouten-542×385.jpg.
“Van Houten’s Cocoa.” Alchetron, 4 Mar. 2018, alchetron.com/cdn/coenraad-johannes-van-houten-32ec3165-8809-4b1b-aeb7-63893a18afd-resize-750.jpeg.
“the modern mocha is a bittersweet concoction of imperialism, genocide, invention, and consumerism served with whipped cream on top.” ― Sarah Vowell
Humorist Sarah Vowell captures much of the history of chocolate (and coffee) in this little quip. However, the history of chocolate is long and its social, economic, and political implications are vast. Putting the positive impacts of invention aside, the negative impacts of imperialism and consumerism more than linger. They have resulted in gross economic inequities and lasting environmental and social damage, particularly in the production end of the cocoa supply chain. It’s going to take the force of consumerism and capitalism to right these inequalities and bring about sustainability.
Approximately 70% of the world’s cocoa is produced in West Africa by small farms spread out across the area. In the 1980s cocoa farmers received approximately 16% of the chocolate profits, today this percentage has been greatly reduced to 3%. Cocoa farmers are not organized and have little bargaining power against more organized buyers.
The 2018 Cocoa Barometer highlights the many challenges for cacao farmers, including volatile pricing. From September 2016 – February 2017, farmers experienced a 30%-40% decline in income (Ghana farmers were protected by this price drop through government subsidies). Although prices are on the rise again, the overall trend the past 60 years is a decline in prices (see figure 2). With farmers having little, to no, protection from their governments they are hardest hit by market fluctuations, while others on the value chain will see an increase of their profit margins, even if only temporary.
Farmers in West Africa make well below a living wage of $2.51 per day, averaging $0.78 per day (FairTrade). The Cocoa Barometer asserts that the price drops are directly related to improved production due to new farming areas created from deforestation. More than 90% of West Africa’s original forests are gone.
An estimated 2.1 million children work in West African cocoa fields. Structural issues such as poverty, lack of schools, and infrastructure also contribute to the high levels of child labor. Efforts in the past few decades to end child labor, preserve the environment, and to balance these inequities have been challenging and difficult to measure. Currently, third party certification bodies have been the only levers toward implementing and measuring sustainability efforts as well as signals to consumers as to where, and how, their chocolate products are sourced.
The three main certification entities are Fairtrade, Utz and the Rainforest Alliance. Fairtrade Standards are designed to support the sustainable development of small producer organizations and agricultural workers in the poorest countries in the world. Similarly, Utz certification was created to show consumers that products were sustainably sourced. Rainforest Alliance certification meant farmers met rigorous environmental and social standards. In January 2018, Utz merged with the Rainforest Alliance. The New Rainforest Alliance plans to publish a singular program at the end of 2019.
Certification and bean-to-bar efforts in the specialty chocolate market have many success stories, but compared to the global consumption of chocolate, these efforts have only made a dent. The Fine Cacao and Chocolate Institute (FCCI) reports, with caveats intended to illustrated the challenges of obtaining this data, that there are 481 specialty chocolate makers and manufacturers worldwide that represent approximately 6% of the annual global production of cacao.
The FCCI defines this market segment as those chocolate makers and manufacturers that choose to purchase specialty cacao at a premium price for purposes of taste quality and/or sustainability reasons. Within this small group, sustainability is but a factor in paying the price premium, but not necessarily a primary factor. In order for sustainability initiatives to have any meaningful impact to cocoa farmers the major chocolate manufacturers need to take the lead and invest in best practices throughout their supply chain that address the environmental, social, and economic challenges their farmers face.
Recent Commitments by the Majors / Certifications & Goals
Mondelēz International (a subsidiary of Kraft) Chocolate Brands: Cadbury, Alpen Gold, Côte d’Or, Toblerone, etc. Certification provided by FLOCERT through a private labeling partnership.
In 2012 Mondelēz International invested $400 million to create its Cocoa Life program. The program plans to empower 200,000 cocoa farmers and one million community members by 2022. In April 2018 Mondelēz International reported that they have reached 120,500 cocoa farmers, in a variety of programs and they reached 35% certified cocoa.
Cocoa Life is tied to the UN Sustainability Development Goals (SDGs), with an emphasis on Goals 1 (no poverty), among others. Cocoa Life has partnered with local governments and NGOs to build community-centric Child Labor Monitoring and Remediation Systems (CLMRS), which educate farming communities on the dangers of child labor, identify children at risk, and remediate cases with its local partners. Cocoa Life CLMRS programs have started in Ghana and continue to increase. Roll out of CLMRS in Côte d’Ivoire will begin in 2018. Nestlé has also implemented CLMRS program into its sustainability programs.
Nestlé Chocolate Brands: Smarties, Nestlé Crunch, Butterfinger, KitKat, etc.
Certifications: Utz and Fairtrade
In their detailed, first report (2017), co-authored with the International Cocoa Initiative (ICI), Nestlé asserts that certification is not enough and that additional support for the farmer is needed. In fact, Nestlé asserts that certification drove the issue of child labor “underground” as farmers would hide any child laborers when inspectors came around. While Mondelēz set up CLMRS in Ghana, Nestlé set up its CLMRS in Côte d’Ivoire and report a 51% reduction of child labor in a recent sample of 1,056 children over a two-year period. 
Nestlé is also investing in Community Liaison People (CLPs) to educate the community of the dangers of child labor. They are targeting women and mothers as they are more likely to invest their income and education into their family. The CLPs are local young people who are paid to train and the cost of the CLPs are split between Nestlé and the farmer. Remediation is highly individualized, but these activities are ones Nestlé continues to invest. Nestlé hopes to scale their more successful initiatives to meet the goals of its Cocoa Plan, which is set to reach 57% cocoa certification by the end of 2020.
Ferrero Chocolate Brands: Ferrero Pralines, Nutella, Kinder Chocolate Certification is conducted by Utz, Fairtrade, and Rainforest Alliance.
According to its 2016 Social Responsibility Report Ferrero has made a commitment to 100% certified cacao by 2020 and 75% by the end of 2018.
In its April 2018 Cocoa Barometer reports Ferrero is 70% certified (figure 4), and by its own reporting, on track to meet its goal of 75% cocoa certification (figure 10).
Ferrero reports partnerships with cacao cooperative ECOOKIM, the largest in Côte d’Ivoire, which takes part in the Fairtrade Africa program “It Takes a Village to Protect a Child.” Similar to CLMRS, the program establishes a Child Labor Committee to raise awareness about child labor, create child protection policy, and monitor activity at the community level. Ferrero reports that 9,413 children benefitted from this program. 
Ferrero also works with Save the Children to work toward ending child labor. It reports 1.2 million children are forced to work in hazardous conditions, however, Ferrero has set relatively modest goals of reaching 500 children, 7,500 members of 10 communities, and 100 representatives of local institutions.
In January Ferrero announced it planned to acquire Nestlé’s U.S. confectionary business for $2.8 billion in cash making Ferrero the third largest confectionary company in the U.S. It is anticipated that Ferrero will realign their sustainability goals after the acquisition of Nestlé, but their goals are currently similar.
The Hershey Company Popular Chocolate Brands: Hershey’s Chocolate Bar, Cocoa, Kisses, and Baking chocolates, Kit Kat, Almond Joy, Mounds, Reese’s, York. Certification is conducted by Utz, Fairtrade, and Rainforest Alliance.
In its 2016 Corporate Social Responsibility Report, The Hershey Company highlights progress in their Learn to Grow agriculture and empowerment program, serving 48,300 farmers in West Africa. The report also highlights its Energize Learning program, which provides Vivi energy bars to students improving overall nutrition. The program is a partnership with the Ghana School Feeding Program and Project Peanut Butter and 50,000 kids in Ghana receive 50,000 Vivi bars every day. Hershey also partnered with The World Cocoa Foundation’s (WCF) Climate Smart Cocoa Program to address climate change impacts to cocoa growing regions. The partnership will pilot a series of programs to develop “climate-smart” best practices to inform the Learn to Grow curriculum and through Hershey’s CocoaLink program knowledge sharing between farmers will be allowed via low-cost mobile technology. Hershey’s report indicates that it is on schedule to reach its 100% certified goal by 2020. In April 2018 the Cocoa Baramoter reports Hershey reached 75% (see figure 4). Also in April 2018, Hershey announced the creation of its Cocoa for Good sustainability programs
Beyond certification, Cocoa for Good seeks to address the most pressing issues facing cocoa-growing communities. The strategy is to target four key areas: increase family access to good nutrition, elimination of child labor and increase youth access to education opportunities, increase household incomes for women and men, zero deforestation and increased agroforestry. The announcement came with a $500 million commitment by 2030 and like Mondelēz International and Mars, aligns its strategy to contribute to the goals of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
Mars Chocolate Brands include: M&M, Snickers, Twix, Dove, Milky Way, etc. Certification is conducted by Utz, Fairtrade, and Rainforest Alliance.
In September of 2017, Mars announced its Sustainable in a Generation Plan, with a pledge to invest $1 billion over the next few years to address threats such as climate change, poverty in its value chain, and scarcity of resources. This is across all their raw products, not just cocoa. Oxfam will serve as an advisor to their Farmer Income Lab, which aligns with the United Nations Sustainability Development Goal 1 (no poverty). The Farmer Income Lab will seek to create solutions through research for farmers working in Mars’ supply chain in developing countries. Other actions include improving cocoa farming methods, pests and disease prevention, and unlocking the cocoa genome. Engagement with others actors in the cocoa industry is also key, such as the World Cocoa Foundation and CocoaAction. Mars’ Chief Sustainability & Health and Wellbeing Officer, Barry Parkin, also serves as Chairman of World Cocoa Foundation.
Mars may lay claim as the first major chocolate company to commit to 100% certified chocolate by 2020, but its progress has lagged, reporting 50% of their cocoa being certified in 2016 and the same percentage being reported by the cocoa barometer in 2018 (figure 4). During this same time frame Ferrero and Hershey have demonstrated increases in certification of cocoa reporting 70% and 75% certificated cocoa, respectively (figure 4). Their website lacks a corporate social responsibility report and the information available on their site appears to be written in 2016, except for recent press releases and Income Position Statement. For example Mars’ claim to be the only major manufacturer to work with all three major certification organizations Utz, Rainforest Alliance, and Fairtrade International is outdated. Hershey and Ferrero include these bodies in their 2016 sustainability reports.
Until the recent announcement of Sustainable in a Generation Plan, Mars’ approach, as described on their website, leans more toward improving farmer yield through technology (fertilizer, farming techniques, mapping the cacao genome) than increasing living wages and address child labor. A press release by Frank Mars in April 2018 urges collaborative scientific approach and extolls their work on breeding higher yield cocoa plants for improving farmer incomes. However, higher yields do not always improve farmer incomes. As previously mentioned, the recent Cocoa Barometer report suggests that higher production results in driving down price, thus less income for farmers. Perhaps Mars’ real progress is tied to the progress of the World Cocoa Foundation.
World Cocoa Foundation (WCF) and CocoaAction
CocoaAction is a voluntary industry-wide organization that aligns the world’s leading cocoa and chocolate companies, cocoa producing governments, and key stakeholders on regional priority issues in cocoa sustainability run by the World Cocoa Foundation (WCF). The WCF member companies committed to CocoaAction include Mondelēz International, Nestlé, Ferrero, The Hershey Company, Mars, Incorporated, among others. In November of 2017 a Framework of Action was announced by the WCF with the governments of Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana and major chocolate and cocoa companies to end deforestation, restore forest areas, and accelerate investment in long-term sustainable production of cocoa, and the development and capacity-building of farmers’ organizations and farmer’s income. Commitments also include participation of policy creation by farmers and extensive monitoring and reporting. The Framework of Action involves governments and companies that represent 80% of the global cocoa production and usage. If implemented correctly, these commitments should go a long way in repairing the deforestation in West Africa.
The Future of Chocolate
These efforts are welcome and it is promising that the majors can successfully collaborate with governments, NGOs, and each other in the important effort to secure the future of chocolate and those that produce it. It is also encouraging to see the major manufacturers release sustainability reports, however, as barometer.org reports, many of their commitments fall well short compared to the actual scope of the problem. The commitment to reach 400,000 children by 2020 would only impact 18% of children in need (figure 15). Similarly meeting commitments to help farmers in CocoaAction would only reach 15% of farmers in need (figure 15). Regarding living income, farmers are only making $0.78 per day, 31% of the living wage of $2.51 per day (figure 15). The Cocoa Barometer report stresses that a living wage, among other factors, is a major component that these initiatives must include in their sustainability initiatives. From available data, all reports aspire to improve farmer income, either by improving productivity or identifying additional income generating activities. However, these plans do not set a living wage as a goal. As mentioned earlier in this article more production doesn’t always result in more income.
The future of chocolate depends on the fate of cocoa farmers and their fate relies on untangling a mess of social and economic issues caused by imperialism, and exacerbated by free market capitalism and consumerism. The goals set forth in these reports are generally headed in the right direction, but their success is dependent on their ability to make their initiatives successful, then scale up on that success. Accountability and transparency among the industry and at the government level is also paramount to measure the effects of these initiatives. Consumers also have a role in making responsible purchases and applying pressure on corporations and governments to minimize inequality in the supply chain and certification plays an important role. If farmers continue to be marginalized, then there will be little incentive for a younger generation of farmers to take up the trade and chocolate may become a rare treat indeed.
 Vowell, Sarah. The Partly Cloudy Patriot. Simon & Schuster. New York, New York. October 2002. p. 42
 Martin, Carla D. “Introduction.” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard Extension School: Cambridge, MA. 24 Jan. 2018. Class Lecture.
“Chocolate wasted” was not a hashtag when it first presented itself. As a matter of fact, it was blurted out by a six-year-old actress named Alexys Nycole Sanchez (playing Becky Feder) in Adam Sandler’s Grown-Ups. Per the movie’s storyline, “I wanna get chocolate wasted!” was an appropriate phrase for childlike overindulgence that caught every movie-goer’s attention in 2010 (IMDb). The legendary line even helped Alexys win the “Best Line” category at MTV Movie Awards the following year (IMDb). Soon after, headlines like Los Angeles (LA) Times, celebrities and random college students, like myself, were using the term rather frequently. Still today, there are establishments and products named after the infamous idiom such as a Houston-based ice cream truck and a lipstick shade made by Doses of Color, respectively (Chocolate; Dose of Colors). Amazingly, the power of the Internet allows us to revisit its cinematic origination and locate namesake innovations. But truthfully speaking, the denotation of chocolate wasted is not leading in headlines like its figurative interpretation nor being quantifiable in scholarly publications. Prior to diving into a serious topic, I have several questions that will hopefully heighten your interest to want to learn more.
What is food waste (including chocolate waste)? What are the associated impacts?
What are direct implications from chocolate waste throughout the supply chain?
What qualities does a sustainably certified product uphold? Is waste not included in the sustainability assessment? Does waste not contribute to the overexertion of resources and labor?
How do I avoid chocolate waste in my home? Does chocolate have an expiration date? Is chocolate (or cocoa) mulch safe for pets?
Läderach Chocolate Factory, a Switzerland-based manufacturer, displays a collection of “cocoa waste” in their in-house museum for tourists’ enjoyment. From right to left there: cocoa with waste materials, extracted waste (like stones, dust, metal or wood), and cleaned cocoa.
Food Waste: A Global Problem
On a global scale, 1.3 billion tons of food production meant for human consumption gets lost or wasted annually (FAO). Regarding economic losses, food waste is equivalent to $310 billion in developing countries and $680 billion in industrialized countries with the U.S. leading in food waste and overall wastage than any other country in the world (FAO). Specifically, in the U.S., about 40 percent of food goes uneaten annually which equates to 133 billion pounds with an USD value $161 billion (USDA, n.d.). Conversely, 42 million Americans including 13 million children are facing food insecurity and hunger daily (FAO). Hypothetically speaking, the diversion of 93,000 tons of wasted food could create 322 million meals for people in need and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 714,000 tons (ReFED). This alarming amount of wasted food is not only associated with socioeconomic implications but it also depletes natural resources significantly.
According to Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC), U.S. food production utilizes the following: 50% of land, 30% of all energy resources, and 80% of all freshwater (Gunders). Resources consisting of land, water, labor, energy and agricultural inputs (fertilizers, pesticides and fungicides) to produce wasted food are squandered as well, unwillingly inviting resource scarcity and negative environmental externalities. Activating ozone pollution, the misuse of agricultural inputs including irrigated water, pesticides and common fertilizers like nitrogen & phosphorus can cause further damage to ecosystems. Irrigation practices promotes water pollution affecting quality, groundwater accessibility, and potable water accessibility (Moss). Moreover, pesticides are common culprits to human health effects, resistance in pests, crop losses, bird mortality and groundwater degradation (Moss). Other inputs, such as nitrogen and phosphorus fertilizers, wreak havoc to human health, air quality and aquatic ecosystems (Moss).
The utilization of resources is not the only emitter of greenhouse gas emissions, pertaining to food waste, but also the decomposition of it makes substantial damage to the environment. Postharvest, food waste is the single largest component of municipal solid waste making landfills the third largest source of methane in the country (Gunders). Anthropogenic methane accounts for 10 percent of total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions contributing to a rise in global average temperatures, better known as global warming (EPA, n.d.b). Particularly, landfill methane generates 16 percent of total methane releases compared to carbon dioxide which emits 81% annually (EPA). Although carbon dioxide is the main contributor of global warming, methane carries significant weigh as a pollutant due to its ability to absorb more energy per unit mass than any other greenhouse gas (EPA).
Pinpointing on ecological footprint, the most recent “Earth Overshoot Day” occurred on August 2, 2017 in which the extraction of natural resources exceeded the Earth’s capacity to regenerate in the given year (Earth Overshoot Day). By partnering with Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition, Global Footprint Network also reported that a 50% reduction in food waste could push the date of “Overshoot Day” by 11 Days (Earth Overshoot Day).
Chocolate Waste Feeds the Food Waste Problem
The classification of food waste is distinguished by each level of the supply chain including agricultural production, post-harvest handling & storage, processing, distribution and consumption. From a global supply chain perspective, food waste is very difficult to define across countries. The conflicting views of edible versus inedible food waste is one example of cultural variation which impedes the approval of a standardized definition that will cater to all diverse parties and accurately measure waste at the macro level. For instance, the U.S. chocolate market classifies the pulp of a cocoa pod along with the shell of the cocoa bean as inedible products. Thus, cocoa pulp is left at the farmgate level, and at the processing level, cocoa shells are removed and most commonly converted into biofuel or mulch. Unlike the US, the Brazilian chocolate market produces chocolate with cocoa solids but also makes shell and pulp into sellable products such as loose leaf tea or juice, respectively. Moreover, these value-added practices are present-day testaments of indigenous traditions. The myriad indigenous uses of cacao and chocolate products are analogous to the circular economy that we are yearning for today.
During the Mesoamerican period, chocolate was classified as an esteemed delicacy, a form of payment, ceremonial gift, everyday cooking agent, natural remedy for human health & the environment and so forth. However, during European colonization, the rise of industrialization came with added ingredients, mainly refined sugar, that devalued the quality aspect as well as created a negative image of chocolate over time (Martin, “Sugar”). The health risks of added sugars began to overshadow the medicinal properties of cacao. Even the perception of cacao changed from a specialty crop into a cash crop. From a socioenvironmental view, terroir of cash crops rose in volatility at the extent of mass enslavement and corruption (Martin, “Health”). At the same time, these characteristic flaws did not stop consumption. Even today, popular chocolate products are sugary, highly processed and in conjunction with unethical sourcing backgrounds. For instance, laborers endure labor-intensive work on a daily basis in top cocoa producing countries, such as West Africa. The average laborer is paid below the global poverty line, uses dangerous tools such as a machete to manually cut down cacao pods, applies fungicides & pesticides typically without the proper protective equipment (PPE) and oftentimes exposed to insects and other dangerous animals. In turn, these hazards can result in serious health complications both physically and mentally.
By ICCFO – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0
West African laborers removing beans from the cacao pod. It is a labor-intensive process.
Nonetheless, the chocolate market has expanded its portfolio over the years, containing commercial chocolate and craft chocolate, in which consumers can be selective among the two categories. Commercial chocolate is what we usually see in supermarkets in which the supply chain depends on multiple stakeholders (across countries) to meet global demand. Whereas, craft chocolate consists of a relatively small team who produces chocolate in small batches from cocoa bean to bar (Martin, “Haute”). Compared to commercial chocolate, these manufacturers seek to provide quality rather than quantity which typically comes with a higher retail price (Martin, “Haute”).
Once it hits retail, consumers, like myself, are in awe of the multiple offerings, appealing packaging and even sustainability labels that lures us in to help “save the world” and eliminate any guilt from buying chocolate. It’s like a race to find the one with the most honorable mentions comprising of Organic Certified (USDA, Non-GMO and an overlap of third-party ethical standards (Rainforest Alliance, Fairtrade, etc.) However, after investigating various sustainability standards, retail chocolate waste is not attributable to certifiable requirements nor is it recognized as a concern overall. Based on logical reasoning and what I stated earlier, the primary ingredients of chocolate consisting of refined sugar, cocoa derivatives (cocoa powder and butter), palm oil and/or milk powder that were extracted from its origination to be processed, transported and packaged as a single product. In addition, these ingredients are combined and further processed into chocolate which is then packaged and transported to retail as a finished good. Just imagine the man hours, natural resources and other inputs used within this supply chain. Broaden that imagination to consider the following: consumers discarding “safe-to-eat” chocolate confections due to fat or sugar bloom, retailers not knowing what to do with an overstock of unsold seasonal products, improper storage temperatures ruining a truckload full of chocolate candies, outdated farming techniques producing more waste than yield and slightly related, the packaging of sustainably certified chocolate causing more harm to the environment than conventional chocolate. The latter, wasteful packaging, is another topic that needs assessment and corrective actions. Unfortunately, these scenarios are real-life examples that are being overlooked and emitting an indefinite amount of greenhouse gases.
In actuality, retailers have the potential to be the main change agents for food waste reduction including chocolate waste. However, edible food is commonly thrown away in these spaces due to excess inventory, imperfections, or damaged packaging. A recent study conducted by the Center for Biological Diversity’s Population & Sustainability and Ugly Fruit & Veg Campaign, reported a grade C or below to most of the top ten grocers in the country including Kroger, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Publix and Costco (Center for Biological Diversity). The relatively low grades were based on their poor efforts to address and combat food waste in eight focus areas: corporate transparency, company commitments, and supply chain initiatives, produce initiatives, shopping support, donation programs, animal feed programs and recycling programs (Center for Biological Diversity). Both sustainability driven organizations have pronounced a goal for all U.S. grocery stores to eliminate food waste by 2025 (Center for Biological Diversity). Grocers were also pushed to change their current marketing models into sustainable ones by promoting safer handling and lesser stock levels, leveraging new technologies to strengthen inventory management and creating policies on retail spoilage reduction (Center for Biological Diversity).
By Kgbo – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,
A grocer aisle full of chocolate candies wrapped with seasonal packaging.
The Rise of Chocolate Production and Waste
Informatively, consumers worldwide indulge in approximately 7.3 million tons of chocolate every year (Sethi). Developing countries, such as India, Brazil and China, are adopting chocolate products that were once inaccessible or unaffordable for their respective populations (Sethi). Since 2008, disposable incomes for each these emerging markets are increasing exponentially due to economic boost from industrialization (Sethi). The rising market of chocolate products equates to a growing demand for global cocoa and sugar production. Industry experts forecasts a 30% growth in demand, from 3.5million tons of cocoa annually to more than 4.5 million in 2020 (Sethi). In consideration, the amount of chocolate squandered throughout the supply chain is currently undetermined or not shared publicly. Based on noticeable discrepancies in definitions and measurements, chocolate waste and even food waste for that matter will continue to intensify and be discussed loosely unless it’s highly prioritized and welcomes a new branch of international cooperation and mutual accountability. A stride that’s executable if all stakeholders collectively build upon a new systematic approach to carbon neutrality, waste diversion and socioenvironmental benefits.
In the meantime, I’ve provided a list of suggestions below that can help you, as a consumer, avoid chocolate waste or divert it to greener waste streams.
Purchase in moderation.
Don’t be alarmed by “Sell By Date”. Depending on care and the type of chocolate (milk, dark or white), chocolate is still safe to consume for longer periods of time.
Chocolate bloom, (whether sugar or fat bloom) which gives off a whitish or light coating on the chocolate’s surface, is still safe for consumption.
To retain freshness and structure, cool and dark environments are ideal storage locations for chocolate.
Have an excessive amount of unopened chocolate? Donate to participating charities like Ronald McDonald House Charities and Operation Gratitude.
ONLY FOR CONSUMERS WITHOUT PETS: Add leftover chocolate or raw cocoa shells, particularly organic certified, in compost for home gardening. *Fyi to pet owners, chocolate is poisonous to dogs and cats due to its theobromine content. If you have pets, you can distribute waste to a composting facility.
Advocate for chocolate waste (and food waste) assessments from involved stakeholders (including local and national governments, non-governmental organizations [Rainforest Alliance, Fairtrade, etc.] retailers, distributors and manufacturers)
By Leslie Seaton from Seattle, WA, USA – Cocoa Mulch, CC BY 2.0.
Cocoa mulch is made out of cocoa shells (most times organic) which are beneficial to soil health. Organic cocoa mulch contains nitrogen, phosphate and potash and has a pH of 5.8 (Patterson). There is also a noticable warning sign to keep dogs away due to theobromine content, which is scientifically proven to be very harmful to pets.
Martin, Carla D. “Sugar and Cacao”. Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food, 14 Feb 2018, Harvard Extension School, Cambridge, MA. Class Lecture.
Martin, Carla D. “Health, Nutrition, and the Politics of Food + Psychology, Terroir, and Taste”. Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food, 11 April 2018, Harvard Extension School, Cambridge, MA. Class Lecture.
Martin, Carla D. “Haute patisserie, artisan chocolate, and food justice: the future?”. Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food, 18 April 2018, Harvard Extension School, Cambridge, MA. Class Lecture.
Mindo Chocolate Makers (2018) is a bean to bar chocolate company based in Mindo, Ecuador and Dexter, Michigan. Their company values not only have the potential to change the chocolate supply chain for the better, but to change chocolate itself. In order for bean to bar chocolate companies to pay fair wages throughout, not use forced labor, and be environmentally friendly, the company has to be willing to worry about the quality of product they are producing opposed to the amount of product they are producing. This is exactly what Mindo Chocolate does and if other companies begin to follow their business model, it could drastically impact the chocolate industry for the better.
Mindo prides itself on being “a small business, and no matter how big we grow, we’ll always have a small business mentality that relies on great people coming together – our growers, our employees, our customers – to create the most delicious chocolate experience possible” (Mindo, 2018, para. 8). By creating a sense of community from the moment the beans are harvested, all the way through the time chocolate is served to consumers, this already differs greatly from vast companies such as Hershey. Mindo also has a goal of putting “more money into the hands of cocoa farmers and their farms, while providing our customers with superior quality, direct-trade, organic cocoa products” (Mindo, 2018, para. 1). They do this by being a community supported chocolate company, in which their farmers are presented with upfront capital so they can harvest the maximum amount of product during peak season instead of losing income and product due to a lack of funding during harvest season. One of the main ways Mindo has the potential to change the chocolate industry is by “paying two to three times the fair trade price for cocoa beans” (para. 6). Doing this “encourage[s] the farmers to resist the hybrid and deforestation trend” (para. 6). All of Mindo’s beans are from Nacional varieties of cocoa, which is an heirloom variety of cocoa bean, and they will, under no circumstances, accept diseased or hybridized beans (para. 6).
One of the main points that Mindo makes abundantly clear is their focus on community. When consumers feel a connection to a product and its maker, they are more likely to actually consider the origins and production of the product, in contrast to faceless companies that mass produce chocolate in less than tasteful ways. For “nine tenths of its long history, chocolate was drunk, not eaten” (Coe & Coe, 2013, p. 12). The act of drinking is often a communal activity (e.g., tea, alcohol, coffee, etc.).
Ecuadorian drinking chocolate (Mindo, 2018). Description: A creamy intensely flavorful chocolate. Natural cocoa, single origin, organic, shade grown, ethically sourced, made from Nacional cocoa beans. Ingredients: 77% dark chocolate (organic cocoa beans, organic cane sugar) , natural cocoa powder, organic cane sugar.
In that, for most of its history, chocolate was actually consumed as a beverage, Mindo is committed to preserving the integrity of chocolate, though it is now more often consumed in solid forms; they are maintaining a sense of community even without it being in liquid form. While companies like Hershey produce vast quantities of chocolate, they are a brand whose main goal is to make money. They do not strive to be the highest quality and most community involved chocolate company. By interacting with the community, Mindo is promoting an inquisitory attitude towards the bean to bar process, thus bringing ethics into play.
The question of ethical practices in the food industry is of utmost importance. With the rising world population, more food is needed, and with this increase in food production, a rise in unfair labor practices is a major risk. Fair trade is one of the combatants for the practice of unfair production in the food industry:
When you see a product with the Fair Trade Certified™ seal, you can be sure it was made according to rigorous social, environmental, and economic standards. We work closely on the ground with producers and certify transactions between companies and their suppliers to ensure that the people making Fair Trade Certified goods work in safe conditions, protect the environment, build sustainable livelihoods, and earn additional money to empower and uplift their communities. (Fair Trade Certified, 2018, para. 2)
Unfortunately, their claims of a seemingly impeccable system do not exactly hold up. Some of their critiques include “Little money reaches developing world; [l]ess money reaches farmers; [l]ack of evidence of impact; [c]ost of Fair Trade certification, shouldered by farmers, is quite high; [i]nefficient marketing system (corruption); [q]uality concerns (no incentive); [f]air Trade never meant to be a one-stop shop for solving all social problems” (Martin, 2018a, slide 11). While on the surface, Fair Trade seems to be an ideal system for bean to bar chocolate production, these issues prevent it from being so.
Mindo is not Fair Trade certified, and is taking fair practices into their own hands. By paying farmers three times the fair trade value directly, they are ensuring that funds actually reach the farmers themselves and do not get lost in a system instead. By not being Fair Trade certified and, instead, being independently, extremely dedicated to fair conditions throughout their bean to bar practice, they are able to avoid the hefty fee for Fair Trade certification and invest in fair practices themselves. Their involvement in Community Supported Chocolate (CSC) (Mindo, 2018) is one of the main components of their upstanding practices. As a customer you can “[make] a one-time payment that covers three months of a CSC share. This one-time payment provides [their] farmers with the upfront capital required in cocoa production” (Mindo, 2018, para. 3). Not only does this benefit the farmers themselves, but those that help fund the farmer’s harvest receive chocolate for being a CSC member. This reinforces the feeling of community that Mindo strives to accomplish. Members get the opportunity to actually taste their ethical practices.
By putting the CSC program into action, Mindo has the potential to change the bean to bar supply chain. The Spaniards viewed “Emperor Moctezuma II drinking frothed chocolate with a degree of ceremony clearly marking it as an exalted food” (Presilla,2009, p. 18). Chocolate being viewed as an exalted food has become a notion of the past. Today, chocolate is an everyday commodity and is not viewed as a food for the wealthy. According to the Hershey Company (2017), in the fourth quarter of 2017 alone, they sold $1,939.6 million worth of products. The industrialization of the chocolate industry is borderline nullifying the beauty of cocoa. By having people fund cocoa farmers and then experience chocolate made with cocoa beans they helped to harvest, it promotes an appreciation of the product. Promoting an appreciation of the cocoa could then lead consumers to shy away from commercialized products such as Hershey bars and Kisses, which are more sugar than cocoa.
Sadly, the sugar industry is a profoundly unethical world. Throughout history, sugar plantations utilized slave labor as commonplace; now it is still utilized, but since condemned by modern standards, is hidden from the public eye. Sugar became popularized as a result of “underlying forces in British society and of the exercise of power” (Mintz, 1986, p. 150). Sugar was for the rich and powerful, which, in turn, made the masses want it. In order to reach the masses, “England fought the most, conquered the most colonies, imported the most slaves, and went furthest and fastest in creating a plantation system. The most important product of the system was sugar” (Mintz, 1986, as cited in Martin, 2018b, slide 10). Sugar production today still often utilizes slave labor and exploits farmers in order to produce cheap products, and lots of them. Mindo’s refusal to exploit workers in any stage of their bean to bar process is a step against this system.
Some of the main challenges with companies such as Mindo are price point and notoriety. Mindo is at the higher end of price points for chocolate products because they refuse to use hybridized or unhealthy beans, and pay their workers fair wages. They are also a small company lost in the sea of media attention for big name companies. Hershey is able to spend hundreds of millions a year on advertising, enabling them to reach everyone, anywhere. Smaller companies like Mindo are unlikely to make as much money in five years as Hershey spends solely on advertising in a year long period. They have a high rate of face to face communication in their company, but not the level of product to consumer communication as Hershey. A pure 77% chocolate bar from Mindo
Description: Pure 77% chocolate, stone-ground to optimal flavor. This is our “flagship” flavor and cacao percentage as it reflects what we do best: dark chocolate made from organic Nacional cocoa beans. Heirloom variety and only fine flavor beans. No milk, no soy, nothing added. Ingredients: organic cocoa beans, organic evaporated cane juice (vegan), Made with cacao (Mindo, 2018).
is seven dollars, whereas a Hershey chocolate bar (usually) is under two dollars. To consumers, Hershey seems to be the obvious choice because it is far cheaper and more recognizable. Consumers equate notoriety with trust. What they are unaware of, however, is that Hershey’s chocolate contains roughly the minimum amount of cocoa that can be in a product while still being called chocolate: 10%. It is at a lower price point because it is mainly sugar and other additives instead of what consumers think they are actually paying for – chocolate.
Mindo pays a premium for their cocoa in order to maintain the integrity of the bean and preserve its true flavor profile. One of the main reasons that they use the Nacional variety of cocoa is because it “grows intermixed with other plants and trees that promote habitats for midge pollinators, birds, and other animals” (Mindo, 2018, para. 5). This illustrates their dedication to helping preserve the environment instead of participating in harmful practices of deforestation and hybridization that other companies use. They are also concerned about consumer safety: “[a]ll of our beans are dried on long beds at the farmers’ cooperative – a fact that you take for granted until you realize that much of the cacao in the world is dried on the ground or on the side of the road where gasoline and other pollutants can easily seep into the beans” (para. 8). As a whole, Mindo seems to be doing everything right. The problem that arises, however, is how do they spread their practices and make their product know to the masses?
In today’s technology driven society, big name companies such as Hershey dominate the advertising industry. Luckily, of late, social media has been able to bring smaller name brands to the forefront of the sales industry. There is beginning to be a shift in the consumer trend; people want to feel good about what they are purchasing. For example, the company Sand Cloud (2018) donates 10% of all of its proceeds to saving marine life and makes ocean-safe sunscreen as well as clothing out of old plastic bottles. Consumers are willing to pay a higher amount for these products because they feel like they are being socially conscious and actually see, via social media, how their purchase is helping the environment. Mindo is in a special place in which not only can they take advantage of this new wave of marketing, but their business is founded on it. Even their inside and outside packaging is made from recycled, compostable material from the bean to bar process – sugar cane pulp.
Pure 77% Mindo (2018) Chocolate Bar – See text at bottom of wrapper.
When buying Mindo Chocolate, not only are consumers helping the environment, but they are helping real people.
The less people buy from commercialized companies and the more they buy from companies such as Mindo, cocoa will become a beacon of change. Cocoa was originally “ranked with gold and gems in records of solemn offerings to the dead, and [the Spaniards] gathered that its use was restricted to certain prestigious classes” (Presilla, 2009, p. 18). Thus, cocoa went from being viewed as something reserved for the wealthy to something you can buy for a couple dollars at a convenient store. Though the masses should be able to enjoy cocoa, it deserves to be respected, and everyone involved in the bean to bar process deserves to be as well. Mindo is respecting the beans, the people growing them, creating a high quality product, and is inviting consumers to enjoy their community of respect for cocoa in the process.
Mindo is a brand not focused on sales, but on ethics. It is a passionate company that not only takes pride in their product every step of the way, but is improving the chocolate industry while doing so. This seemingly small company is utilizing methods that are drastically improving farmers’ lives, helping to preserve the environment, not utilizing slave labor, and still managing to please taste buds in the process. If quality comes into question, it cannot be disputed that Mindo follows extremely rigorous standards to insure that their cocoa products are of the highest quality and are not diluted with sugar and additives in order to mass produce. They treat every aspect of cocoa processing with respect and if able to spread their methods and message, can bring the respect cocoa deserves back to the masses.
Coe, S.D., & Coe, M.D. (2013). The true history of chocolate. London: Thames and Hudson LTD.
At some point in our lives, we all hear Forrest Gump’s famous quote: “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” Climate change is no different. Mother Nature is currently harnessed by an increasingly volatile system that continues to alter our earth each and every day, and by failing to change our destructive ways, humans are allowing this force to perpetuate. According to NASA, average global temperature has increased by 1.7 percent since the late nineteenth century, and 16 of the 17 warmest years on record have occurred since 2001 (MacLennan). Additionally, carbon dioxide levels in the air are at the highest they have been in 650,000 years (MacLennan). Because all agricultural systems are sensitive to these changes, cacao and therefore chocolate are equally subject to adversity. Between the monstrous chocolate industry and diligent cacao farmers, countless constituents are at stake in this sensitive predicament. Given the escalating atmospheric constraints on cacao-growing regions due to the intensification of climate change, cacao farmers must carefully adapt while simultaneously seeking out responsible, innovative ways to keep the beloved cacao crop from becoming obsolete in the coming decades.
Geographically, cacao can only grow within 20 degrees latitude both north and south of the equator, as illustrated by Figure 1 (Scott). As we learned from a course book, cacao trees flourish under strict conditions including high humidity, abundant rain, uniform temperatures, nitrogen-rich soil, and protection from the wind (Presilla 95). In short, cacao trees thrive in tropical rainforests. The vast majority of the world’s cacao is produced by smallholders, meaning those owning less than five acres of land (de Groot). Currently, there exist about two million smallholder farmers in West Africa alone, all of whom depend on cacao for their livelihoods (Schroth et al 231). Their vulnerability to climate change derives from the fact that they are predominately located in the tropics, but I strongly believe we should remain equally concerned by the various demographic, socioeconomic, and policy trends we discussed in class that hinder their capacity to adapt to change. The world’s leading producers are Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, and Indonesia, and research highlighted in a recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change indicates that, under a “business as usual” scenario, those countries will experience a 3.8°F increase in temperature by 2050, which I suspect would connote a marked reduction in suitable cultivation area (Scott).
Figure 1. A geographical representation of the cacao belt, which spans across the equator.
Cacao will face a distinct challenge from the changing climate compared to that of many other crops. Coffee, for example, suffers direct harm from rising temperatures, but this paradigm alone won’t necessarily hinder cacao production (Jaramillo et al). Cacao cultivation areas in Malaysia, for instance, already endure a warmer climate than West Africa without any obvious negative effects (Scott). Upon briefly conversing with one of our guest lecturers after a guided tasting this semester, I learned that one of the greatest dangers to cacao arising from climate change is the increase in evapotranspiration, particularly given that higher temperatures projected for West Africa by 2050 are unlikely to be accompanied by an increase in rainfall (Scott). Evapotranspiration is the process by which water is transferred from the land to the atmosphere through both soil evaporation and plant transpiration (Handley). In other words, as higher temperatures coax more water from soil and plants, rainfall likely will not increase enough to offset the moisture loss. In order to avoid generalizing, one should note that this situation will not necessarily represent that of all cacao-growing regions; a study on a Nigerian research farm, for example, found that a combination of optimal temperature (84°F) and minimal rainfall (900 to 1000mm)—both less than the current yearly averages—would result in the best yields (Ojo et al 353). This mélange in the effects and remedies of climate change is a fantastic example of why farmers must adopt such a dynamic attitude moving forward.
As we approach 2050, rising temperatures will push the suitable cacao cultivation areas uphill. The optimal altitude for cacao cultivation in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, for example, is expected to rise from 350-800 feet to 1,500-1,600 feet above sea level (Scott). Generally, areas anticipated to show improved cultivation conditions look to be rugged, hilly terrain. But herein lies the problem: Ghana’s Atewa Range, for example, is a forest preserve where cultivation isn’t permitted, so inhabitants are left with the difficult choice of illegally gutting the forest to grow cacao in the name of global demand or preserving the natural habitat in which they live and losing their only source of income. Given that our class dedicated a substantial amount of time to discussing the already turbulent livelihoods of cacao farmers, I am troubled to see that they may soon face such an unfair quandary. One study examined nearly 300 locations in the world’s primary cacao-growing regions and found that only 10.5% showed increasing suitability for cacao production by 2050, while the remaining 89.5% showed the opposite (Scott). Figure 2 shows current suitability and projections for future conditions under a changing climate (Schroth et al 233):
Figure 2. Maximum temperature of the warmest month under current and projected 2050 climate conditions in the West African cacao belt. The dotted area shows the extent of current cacao production as used for model calibration. The red lines show areas of cacao production.
The area depicted above is known as the West African cacao belt. Once entirely covered by the Nigerian lowland forests in the east and the Guinean lowland forests in the west, much of the area has now been converted to agriculture (Schroth et al 235). The world’s cacao industry depends largely on this belt for raw material due to the sheer volume of cacao produced as well as the abundance of high-quality bulk cacao that cannot be readily replaced by other cacao origins. As we learned in lecture, blended cacao typically goes to large industrial producers (unlike exclusive-derivation cacao, which exemplifies the traits of terroir through individual nuances), so this region is undeniably crucial to the future success of the large chocolate industry. Climate change aside, production in this region faces a wide variety of challenges, all of which we addressed in lecture: most trees are over-aged and therefore unproductive in the already small farms; low prices—until the recent price inflation—and variability make it difficult for farmers to afford costly inputs such as fertilizers; absence or insufficiency of technical assistance in most countries make maintenance difficult (Schroth et al 236). Perhaps while addressing climate change, whether internally or through foreign aid, actors should undertake these challenges alongside those directly associated with climate change itself.
Due in part to the aforementioned adversities, cacao farming has been a major driver of deforestation in West Africa, most notably in Côte d’Ivoire. Historically, cacao has been a “pioneer crop” grown after forest clearing, meaning that rather than replanting aging plantations, farmers have typically opted to migrate to the forest frontiers to establish new cacao farms. During the second half of the twentieth century, the cacao frontier moved from the drier east to the wetter southwest of the country, a migration fueled by massive immigration of prospective cacao farmers from the savannah (Ruf et al 101). From my perspective, it appears that the climate gradient was a major driver of these east-west migrations and that, by replacing forest with farmland over vast areas, cacao farmers contributed to the further drying of the climate in what appears to be a positive feedback loop. This is precisely the type of damage we as a civilization must avoid in the coming decades. In order to help facilitate a greater awareness of sustainability, governments and supply chain actors should discourage forest frontier dynamics by helping farmers adapt to environmental change through more intensive and diversified farming practices.
The question of whether water availability or maximum temperatures during the dry season will be more limiting to the survival, growth, and yield of cacao trees in a future climate is of particular importance when considering the design of climate resilient production systems. One highly efficient—and, in my opinion, the only practical—method of protecting cacao trees from high temperatures is through overhead shade from appropriately selected, spaced, and managed companion trees such as banana and plantain as seen in Figure 3 (Colina). This practice can reduce cacao leaf temperatures by up to 40°F, sequester carbon that would otherwise be lost from the soil, make cacao trees less vulnerable to pests, and provide nutrient-rich leaf litter as well as protection from wind and soil erosion (Rajab et al). With that said, adequate ventilation is also important as a complementary measure, as it helps to reduce the prevalence of fungal disease in cacao (Schroth et al 240). The general takeaway here is that farmers need to be properly trained such that they can correctly execute these methods.
Figure 3. Young cacao plants in a nursery under shade trees in Mindanao, Philippines.
When considering shadow crops such as those pictured above, we must recognize that an expectation of severe water limitation during the dry season may complicate things. Under such conditions, there could eventually not be enough water available for both cacao and shade trees during the dry season, thereby stressing the trees and leaving farmers in a tough position. Although I feel this is an unlikely extreme, we should prepare for all possibilities. Temperature struggles aside, another mitigation strategy could be to provide cacao growers with selectively bred seeds that have superior drought resistance. Farmers could, however, be skeptical of genetically modified seeds given the stereotypically low trust between farmers and large agrochemical corporations such as Monsanto. While I am not sure how feasible this final point is given my unfamiliarity with the growing techniques behind these commodities, it may be beneficial for cacao farmers to raise animals or cultivate honey in order to spread climate risk (de Groot). In general, climate-smart agriculture—an approach that combines various sustainable methods under a climate-change umbrella—that assesses climate change-related risks and requirements of a farm and subsequently tackles those challenges using practices crafted for that particular situation is key to success in the coming decades.
In our class, we discussed industrial chocolate production as well as consumption, both practices that are generally decoupled from on-farm production. Fortunately, industrial chocolate corporations have a large incentive to help with damage control and mitigation. MARS is a fantastic example of corporate initiative: the company plans to slash carbon pollution from its products by 67 percent come mid-century (Simon). This includes reducing emissions from land use changes and agriculture, and the company has even gone a step further by offering resources to help farmers increase yields, though they don’t disclose any specifics (Simon). The five global titans of chocolate—Ferrero, Cadbury, Hershey, Nestle, and Mars—should work together with consumers and defy the ugly “Big Sugar” stereotype considering we all share a common enemy: climate change. In terms of consumers themselves, our research from class suggests that people should seek out responsible, sustainable companies that give fair treatment to farmers. Whole Foods and other specialty stores, for example, boast a great selection of fair trade and organic bars such as Taza, Chuao, and Endangered Species. Consumers who have already caught wind of the possible “cacao crisis” are understandably uneasy, but they’ll be happy to know that research suggests climate change will not have an effect on the taste of cacao—that is, assuming the crop isn’t wiped out entirely (Sukha et al 255). For further information, videos such as the following can help to spell things out in a more informative and empowering way:
Realistically, we simply have no way of accurately predicting what the future climate will look like. With that said, the cacao belt appears to have a strong differentiation of climate vulnerability across its latitudinal axis, with the most susceptible areas near the forest-savanna transition in eastern Côte d’Ivoire and Nigeria, and the least vulnerable areas in the southern parts of Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia, and Cameroon. Farmers will face the challenging task of controlling as many factors as possible in a progressively erratic world, so I recommend they look towards specialized companies such as The Climate Corporation—a digital agriculture company that examines weather, soil, and field data to help farmers determine potential yield-limiting factors on their fields—while employing the many protective measures mentioned above. Moving forward will require a team effort that ranges across the chocolate production and consumption chains, but because most changes in climatic suitability are predicted to take place over a time period of nearly 40 years, we have a full generation of cacao trees and farmers to adapt.
So, who will win the fight: climate or chocolate? Let’s not leave it to chance.
Anga, Jean-Marc. “International Cacao Organization.” The International Cacao Organization; Cacao Producing and Cacao Consuming Countries, ICCO, May 2018.
Bunn, Christian, and Mark Lundy. “Bittersweet Chocolate: The Climate Change Impacts on Cacao Production in Ghana.” CGIAR Research Program, 2015.
Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. 3rd ed., vol. 1, Thames & Hudson, 2013.
Colina, Antonio. “Cacao Developemnt in Davao Region.” Davao Integrated Development Program, 2014.
de Groot, Han. “Preparing Cacao Farmers for Climate Change.” Rainforest Alliance, EarthShare, 20 Sept. 2017.
Handley, Liam. “The Effects of Climate Change on the Reproductive Development of Theobroma Cacao.” ProQuest, vol. 1, no. 1, 2016.
Jaramillo, Juliana, and Eric Muchugu. “Some Like It Hot: The Influence and Implications of Climate Change on Coffee Berry Borer (Hypothenemus Hampei) and Coffee Production in East Africa.” PLoS ONE, vol. 6, no. 9, 14 Sept. 2011.
MacLennan, David W. “Our Changing Climate.” Our Changing Climate: Supporting Farmers to be Resilient in the Face of Changing Weather Patterns, Cargill, 2018.
Morton, J. F. “The Impact of Climate Change on Smallholder and Subsistence Agriculture.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol. 104, no. 50, 11 Dec. 2007, pp. 19680–19685.
Ojo, A.D., and I. Sadiq. “Effect of Climate Change on Cacao Yield: a Case of Cacao Research Institute (CRIN) Farm, Oluyole Local Government Ibadan Oyo State.” CABI , vol. 12, no. 1, 2010, pp. 350–358. CAB Direct.
Presilla, Maricel E. The New Taste of Chocolate. 2nd ed., vol. 1, Ten Speed Press, 2009.
Rajab, Yasmin Abou, and Christoph Leuschner. “Cacao Cultivation under Diverse Shade Tree Cover Allows High Carbon Storage and Sequestration without Yield Losses.” PLoS ONE, vol. 11, no. 2, 29 Feb. 2016.
Ruf, François, et al. “Climate Change, Cacao Migrations and Deforestation in West Africa: What Does the Past Tell us about the Future?” Sustainability Science, vol. 10, no. 1, 18 Nov. 2014, pp. 101–111.
Schroth, Götz, and Christian Bunn. “Vulnerability to Climate Change of Cacao in West Africa: Patterns, Opportunities and Limits to Adaptation.” Science of The Total Environment, vol. 556, 15 June 2016, pp. 231–241. ELSEVIER.
Scott, Michon. “Climate and Chocolate .” Climate.gov, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 10 Feb. 2016.
Simon, Rosie. “Climate Change Could Hurt Chocolate Production.” Yale Climate Connections, Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, 19 Oct. 2017.
Stroman, Lee. “Rethinking the Cacao Supply Chain.” AgThentic, Medium Corporation, 16 July 2017.
Sukha, D.a., and D.r. Butler. “The Impact Of Processing Location And Growing Environment On Flavor In Cacao (Theobroma Cacao L.); Implications For ‘Terroir’ and Certification.” Acta Horticulture, no. 1047, 2014, pp. 255–262. ISHS.
On average, Americans consume 12 pounds of chocolate per person each year or a little less than a quarter pound of chocolate per week. A typical chocolate bar ranges from 1.5-3.5 ounces. Therefore, 12 pounds of chocolate equates to enjoying 55-128 chocolate bars (depending on its size) per year! It is safe to say, for better or for worse, chocolate has become an integral part of the American diet.
Historically, chocolate was consumed for medicinal purposes, primarily as a source of nourishment and energy. Today, the developed world struggles with being simultaneously over nourished and malnourished from an imbalanced diet. Nevertheless, chocolate health claims persist, usually in reference to darker chocolates. Beneficial properties of cocoa include antioxidant, cardiovascular, and psychological enhancement, which are linked to its polyphenol, flavanol, and caffeine content (Castell, Pérez-Cano, and Bisson, 2013). These health claims are not present on chocolate bar labels, though.
In the last couple of decades, food packaging has actually become quite informationally dense. How can you sift through all of the information on chocolate labels to know what’s really important? Additionally, what can we learn from a chocolate bar’s packaging, besides its nutritional content? The goal of this blog post is to help decipher the various symbols, certification meanings, and key words that appear on chocolate wrappers.
Ultimately, you, as the consumer, have to decide what is important to you and what you are looking for in your chocolate purchases, not only in terms of taste but also social responsibility. Equipping yourself with the knowledge to know what to look for, and what symbols, certifications, and other words on chocolate packages mean, makes informed chocolate purchases a much smoother process and ensures you have the best chocolate buying experience possible. Before chocolate tasting can become embodied knowledge, it requires repetition in order to pick up on flavor nuances of single origin chocolate or to be able to tell if a chocolate bar was made with over-roasted cacao beans. In the same way, learning the stories and processes behind the chocolate you are eating requires some research, occasionally beyond the label itself.
I studied the chocolate bars in the natural foods aisle of a Stop & Shop grocery store in the greater Boston area to see what information could be gleaned from the chocolate labels within this section. I did not include enrobed chocolate candies within this aisle, “regular” chocolate bars (i.e., Hershey’s) in the main candy aisle or those present in the checkout lanes. I chose to focus on the chocolate bars within the natural foods aisle because, typically, these brands offer more information and stories about cacao procurement, processing, and its impact on people or the environment, whereas chocolate produced by most Big Five brands only provide nutritional information on the back of the wrapper. The Big Five chocolate brands include well-known companies: Hershey, Mars, Cadbury, Nestle, and Ferrero (Allen, 2010).
The type of consumer who shops for chocolate in the natural foods aisle is most likely not just looking for a sugar fix because there are cheaper ways to meet that need. The intended audience includes individuals who may be interested in supporting social or environmental causes, and who are probably health conscious, even though it is still chocolate. Additionally, he or she may have a sophisticated or informed palate, and prefer quality chocolate with nuanced flavors. The natural foods aisle typically offers products that are slightly more expensive than its conventional counterparts, so the consumer is not making his or her choice of chocolate based solely on price point. Rather, the consumer possibly has a higher disposable income and is able to spend two or three times as much money on a chocolate bar from this section than on chocolate from one of the large chocolate corporations previously mentioned.
The natural foods aisle in Stop & Shop offers eight different brands of chocolate bars: Chocolove XOXOX, Green & Black’s, Divine, Theo, TCHO, LILY’s, Endangered Species Chocolate, and Alter Eco. These bars are being sold for $2.50-$3.99, with Chocolove XOXOX being the cheapest because it was on sale. Divine, LILY’s, and Alter Eco lands at the upper end of the options. The TCHO 70% dark chocolate bar usually retails for $4.29, but happened to be on sale. Still, these are moderately priced “good” chocolate bars compared to other specialty chocolate companies and retailers who sell their bars for about double the price. The juxtaposition of these brands, with a $1.00 (or less) Hershey’s chocolate bar, provides an interesting comparison in both price and taste.
The eight brands offer bars in a variety of flavors ranging from 34% milk chocolate to 85% dark chocolate with the option of added fruit or nut pieces. The white chocolate selection was nonexistent in this section at this particular grocery store. However, just for informational purposes, one brand (outside of the eight focused on here) does contribute a white chocolate peanut butter cup.
Just a few of the brands provide chocolate bars made from single origin cacao, which might be a more common provision at specialty retail stores. Both TCHO and Divine use Ghanaian cacao, and Alter Eco sources its cacao beans from Ecuador. Chocolove XOXOX states on the back of the wrapper that their Belgian chocolate bars are crafted with African cocoa beans. This somewhat vague statement only alludes to the fact that their beans do not come from Central or South America, or Southeast Asia but could be sourced from one or more of the cacao producing countries within the large continent of Africa. Additionally, Green & Black’s credits Trinitario cacao beans for giving their chocolate a rich and unique flavor profile. Trinitario cacao beans are thought to embody the best qualities of its genetic parents, the Criollo and Forastero varieties, with the hybrid cacao being both hardy and possessing a nice flavor profile (Prisilla, 2009). Likewise, the purpose of brands specifying single origin or the use of a single cacao variety suggests an increase in quality or flavor characteristics that add value to the end product. Thus, the price of these types of bars is usually slightly higher compared to mixed bean origin or variety, and especially compared to bulk cacao.
There are a few things that stand out upon taking a closer look at the packages. First, Alter Eco is the only brand that uses a cardboard packaging to house its chocolate. All of the other brands wrap their bars in a glossy paper. In both cases, the chocolate is likely sealed in foil before receiving either the glossy paper or cardboard outer wrapper. While the outer cardboard layer looks visually appealing and feels nice to the touch, it also makes the bar appear larger than it actually is. The 2.8 ounce Alter Eco chocolate bar looks bigger than the 3 ounce LILY’S bar sitting next to it on the shelf, as the image shows below. Thus, most consumers probably believe they are purchasing a larger chocolate bar if they do not read the front of the package and realize the chocolate bar is smaller by weight than some other options.
Like several other brands, Theo includes a brief description about the company and their procurement and processing practices on the back of the package. Here, Theo shares it is a bean to bar chocolate company, which means the company purchases the fermented and dried cacao beans, and then carries out each of the remaining processing steps (about 10) from roasting to packaging, according to their unique preferences. Thus, the company oversees the entire chocolate making process and can tweak each batch according to its needs and the desired outcome, making it a true craft.
Green & Black’s label does not readily offer information about the company’s processing practices other than it uses fair trade and organic ingredients. Interestingly, the backside of the label does say Mondelez Global LLC distributes Green & Black’s chocolate bars. Mondelez is one of the largest global snack food companies and now owns Cadbury, one of the Big Five chocolate companies. Last year, Mondelez even attempted to acquire the Hershey Company, but Hershey declined the offer (Bukhari, 2017). Thus, Mondelez is a significant player within the global food system. This association alone may deter some consumers from purchasing Green & Black’s chocolate.
Another unexpected but perhaps pioneering find is LILY’s, whose chocolate bars are sweetened with the natural sweetener, Stevia, and erythritol, a sugar alcohol. Additionally, LILY’s adds inulin, a fiber commonly used as a bulking agent. These are not traditional chocolate bar ingredients, but perhaps the fewer calories and grams of sugar allow individuals with specific dietary restrictions to still purchase fair trade chocolate. The bar also boasts that it is still “100% indulgent.”
Kuapa Koko’s story
Before dissecting the chocolate bars’ various certifications, I want to look at Divine’s commitment to its producers. In the West, chocolate consumption has long been feminized, associated with temptation and indulgence (Robertson, 2009). Women are important as both chocolate consumers and producers, something Divine has recognized. The two images above depict Divine’s pledge to support the female cacao farmers within Kuapa Kokoo (cocoa co-operative) in Ghana and make sure their voices are heard. In doing so, these female business owners are positioned as powerful actors within the cacao and chocolate industries, rather than being viewed as exploited workers in an underdeveloped country (Leissle, 2012). This has significant implications not only for the female producers, but also culturally, and for future standards within the chocolate industry.
This final section includes a brief discussion on food certifications. Fair trade certification is the most popular certification that the eight brands feature. Other certifications that appear on the chocolate wrappers include USDA Organic, Non-GMO Verified, Certified Gluten-Free, Certified Vegan, Kosher (dairy), Fair for Life, and rBST free. I was surprised I did not find the UTZ Certified symbol on any of the chocolate bars, since UTZ is the most common cacao certification related to sustainable farming practices.
Fair trade certifications can be represented in a variety of ways depending on the party providing the certification. The images above show several different certifications present on the different brands’ packaging that symbolize the employment of fair trade practices. In order for a product to be labeled “fair trade,” all members of the processing chain (including producers) must pay into the fair trade system. As a result, producers are promised better trading conditions including long term relationships with buyers, garner presumably higher wages, have better working conditions, and live overall improved lives. However, many question whether this system is as transformative as it claims to be. The terms “fair trade” and “sustainable” have become ubiquitous, and the commodification of the terms also threatens their legitimacy (Sylla, 2014).
When thinking about food certifications, it is important to remember these certifications are neither all encompassing nor meant to solve all social or environmental issues with one label. Companies are now starting to launch their own certifications rather than going through a third party certification. It will be up to the individual company to define the criteria for “fair” or “sustainable,” or any new term it deems important. Whole Foods already uses its “Whole Trade Certified” label. Consequently, continuing to be an educated consumer will be extremely imperative in order to know what the certifications represent and what the companies stand for. It is unclear whether these self-certifications will be viewed as legitimate certifications or just add to the confusion many consumers feel when reading food labels.
While the objective of self-certification is to offer more affordable fair trade items to consumers, it raises the question of whether that should be the ultimate goal of selling fair trade products, and what the tradeoffs are for making fair trade more affordable and part of the mainstream? If large food conglomerates begin to self-regulate certifications, rather than paying third party companies, who is to say the consumer will actual benefit from the money saved? Historically, when the price of goods has dropped, large corporations scoop up the difference and pocket the extra profits, rather than decreasing the cost for the consumer (Albrittion, 2013). However, consumers still have the power to vote with their dollars.
The next time you peruse the chocolate selection within a store, feel empowered to study the information provided on the packaging (and conduct further research if needed) rather than being overwhelmed by various symbols and industry jargon.
**All images were taken by the author
Albritton, Robert. 2013. “Between Obesity And Hunger: The Capitalist Food Industry”. In Food And Culture: A Reader, 3rd ed., 342-352. New York: Routledge.
Allen, Lawrence L. 2010. Chocolate Fortunes: The Battle For The Hearts, Minds, And Wallets Of China’s Consumers. New York: American Management Association.