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Alter Eco – Changing The Chocolate Industry As We Know It

The chocolate industry has received significant criticism in the past decades for unsustainable practices stemming from questionable labor practices, use of low quality ingredients, poor production standards and problematic advertisements trends. These troubled elements combined have been brought to light by professionals analyzing the human, environmental, economic and social impact of chocolate on communities across the world. Indeed, most of the problems highlighted within the industry are still rampant today. Very few companies can pride themselves for having sustainable practices from a bean-to-bar perspective. Alter Eco, based out of California, France and Australia, prides itself in providing its clients with “healthy, sustainable and socially responsible foods” (Alter Eco, 2015). Through its high standards for quality and social responsibility, Alter Eco is a powerful response to the problems highlighted with today’s chocolate industry and attempts to mitigate the problems rampant within the multi-billion-dollar industry of cacao.


Alter Eco Foods provides its clients with a multitude of products ranging from chocolate bars, truffles, quinoa, and rice. Mathieu Senard, the co-founder and CEO of Alter Eco, states: [The company] started with chocolate, and then [evolved to] grains such as quinoa and rice. Our goal is to buy directly from cooperatives and, more importantly, pay a fair price” (Kaye, 2017). Alter Eco’s mission remains the same through its line of products. The company prides itself in its concept of “full circle sustainability” for all the products in its line. Full circle sustainability, in its most basic form, presents solutions to most of the problems highlighted by specialists in the chocolate industry. Most of the problematic companies view sales and production as a two-way street between the client and the business. Alter Eco views its everyday business practices from a different perspective by adding the environmental impact of production in their equation. With its globalized market, Alter Eco Foods is showing its competitors that sustainable practices in the labor, ingredients, production and marketing spheres is both attractive and delicious to consumers across the world.

The issue of child labor is an epidemic in Cacao plantations across the globe, and even more dominantly in Cote D’Ivoire. Chanthavong, in his analysis of child labor in chocolate production, writes: “Slave traders are trafficking boys ranging from the age of 12 to 16 from their home countries and are selling them to cocoa farmers in Cote d’Ivoire. They work on small farms across the country, harvesting the cocoa beans day and night, under inhumane conditions.” The problem of child labor, regardless of the production goals, is an incredibly sensitive issue that many governmental and non-governmental organizations are attempting to handle. In its efforts to limit the spread of child labor in Cote D’Ivoire and across the glove, Alter Eco sources its cacao beans from South American farmer-owned plantations, more specifically Peru and Ecuador. Furthermore, the company sources its Cacao butter from Dominican Republic, cutting any sort of possibility for economically- or socially-encouraging abusive labor practices. The company undoubtedly prides itself in its “single origin, highest quality cacao beans.” Alter Eco’s sustainable labor standards go much further than avoiding cacao originating from questionable sources with risk of child labor involvement. The company aims to rectify the issue of unsustainable labor practices through fair trade relationships, development programs, and women empowerment programs. Fair trade relationships are at the forefront of the sustainable labor practices push forth by the company’s values. Professor Martin from Harvard University writes: “Landlessness remains a serious problem among the descendants of enslaved people throughout the cocoa producing world today.” To further remedy these rampant issues, Alter Eco prides itself in sourcing all of its products from small-scale, farmer-owned cooperatives. Alter Eco is partners with the Institute of Marketecology (IMO), Fair Trade USA and the Fair Trade Labelling Organization (FTLO). This list of high-level certifications provides clients with the certainty that the labor practices for producers are socially acceptable and sustainable and that the values of the company for providing producers with good living and working conditions are followed.


Alter Eco’s efforts to offer a socially- and ethically-acceptable product do not stop at the location and origin of its labor force. The company put in place a variety of development programs in order to increase the likelihood of sustainability of its producers and workers. Its Fair Trade Premiums, which allocate money throughout the supply chain, have allowed Alter Eco’s sugar cooperative, Alter Trade, to build a training center for their employees in the Philippines, simultaneously serving as an assistance center for families to visit. Furthermore, in its full-circle attempt to provide all workers with social and economic support, Alter Eco addresses an underlying issue in today’s farming practices in its development of leadership and empowerment programs for women. Women within the farming industry are often viewed as second-class individuals due to the utterly and outrageously outdated assumption that they will not be as useful as men on the land. Alter Eco writes: “Gender equality is an important aspect of the Alter Eco business model, all the way down to the field.” Through such a stance, Alter Eco attempts to remedy the gender disparity and inequality within the farming industry through maintaining that “women will assert their due role and space in both the management of the homestead farming economy and in the governance of [the land]” (AlterEco.com).


The issue of unsustainable environmental practices within the chocolate industry is one Alter Eco addresses with strength. Indeed, as stated earlier, Alter Eco prides itself in adding the environment in its equation for sustainable production practices, which is something very few businesses work towards. Professor Martin from Harvard University, in her presentation entitled “Psychology, Terroir, and Taste,” states that Terroir and Harvesting practices can strongly affect, both positively and negatively, cacao quality and quantity. Furthermore, “the use of pesticides on the farms can lead to the destruction of part of the soil flora and fauna through both physical and chemical deterioration” (Ntiamoah, 2008). Alter Eco prides itself in assuring that all of its cooperative farms maintain their fields within American and European standards for organic certification. Such a certification makes sure the consumers are aware of what they are getting: a product “free of synthetic additives like pesticides, chemical fertilizers, and dyes, and [that] must not [have been] processed using industrial solvents, irradiation, or genetic engineering” (Henry, 2012). Such sustainable ecological and organic practices put forth Alter Eco’s values in promoting a product that is good for farmers, earth, and consumers. Alter Eco’s efforts in promoting sustainable environmental practices do not end at the farm or on the plantation. Although the company goes to great lengths to maintain its organic certification, it even goes steps further in pushing forward its values of sustainability. Through its commitment to becoming a carbon-negative business, Alter Eco has already received its Carbon-neutral certification, which confirms the company offsets the same amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) as it produces. “Alter Eco works closely with PUR Project and [its] farmers to plant trees for the amount of CO2 [produced]” (Alter Eco, 2017). Furthermore, in its efforts to become a carbon negative business, Alter Eco started its emission subdivision called PUR Project. “Contrary to offsetting, which consists in handling carbon compensation in other places by uncorrelated people and means, the insetting includes the handling of carbon compensation into the commercial dynamics of the company” (PUR Project, 2017). In other words, Alter Eco’s insetting efforts are rooted deeply in the idea that you must give back to the soil and air from which you took. In having an impact within its supply line, Alter Eco can assure that its efforts are not in vain, and that, although it plans to plant an additional 7,776 trees in 2017, the 28,639 trees (Alter Eco, 2017) already planted since 2008 are truly being put to good use to reinvigorate the soil from which so much is produced.

Alter Eco’s efforts to make their products more environmentally-friendly do not stop at their carbon-neutral status. They indeed go even further to make their products truly “full circle sustainable.” The packaging in which their chocolate and truffles are placed are fully compostable. Plastic and the conventional polyethylene packaging are quite detrimental to the environment due to the astronomical quantity of plastic sent to landfills or that finishes its life course in the oceans. The packaging developed by Alter Eco provides an eco-friendly alternative to the original plastic packaging found for most chocolate bars. This new packaging is made from compostable materials, GMO free, and without any toxic ink. Mathieu Senard adds: ““We believe the impact of our packaging is just as important as the product itself. How could we call ourselves a responsible, sustainable company when much of our packaging was going to landfills to live for hundreds of years?” (Alter Eco, 2015). This question raised by Senard is one answered by very few companies, which makes Alter Eco that much more efficient in its goal of changing the dynamics of chocolate production across the globe. To top off its environmental goals, Alter Eco has partnered with the 1% For the Planet Fund, which gives 1% of the company’s sales to a non-profit with environmental improvement goals.



Businessman David Ogilvy was once quoted for saying: “The more informative your advertising, the more persuasive it will be.” Advertisements and marketing are truly at the forefront of the chocolate industry’s sales. Whether it is for Valentine’s Day, Easter, Christmas, or Halloween, chocolate advertisements are all over television networks, the internet, and social media. Nonetheless, there are many problems and complaints associated with today’s chocolate industry and its marketing techniques. During her lecture at Harvard University about “Race, Ethnicity and Gender” in today’s chocolate industry, Professor Carla Martin elaborated on today’s chocolate marketing techniques and its associated prejudice, stereotypes, and discrimination. Most of this discrimination comes in the form of racism or sexism. Women are portrayed as irrational in the presence of chocolate while men are portrayed as sexualized bodies. Simultaneously, race is also being portrayed in stereotypical and offensive ways. Alter Eco attempts to go against all these rampant problems with marketing for chocolate. The company presents its potential buyers with an honest, informative advertising. Fagerhaug (Honest Marketing, 1997) writes: “The main point about honest marketing is to run the business in such a way that a customer at any time can feel the certainty any customer longs for; that he or she made the right choice.” When a customer purchases a product from Alter Eco, there is a directly associated certainty in the quality and honesty of the product received.


In conclusion, Alter Eco attempts to provide its clients around the world with a sustainable chocolate product that tackles most, if not all the problems associated with today’s chocolate market. Through its fair labor practices, honest ingredients, conscientious production techniques and reliable advertisements, Alter Eco gives its customers exactly what they can expect. If more companies put as much care and attention in their products as Alter Eco does, the world would be a much better place. Alter Eco is undoubtedly part of the solution to the problems in the world’s chocolate and cacao industries.


Works Cited:

“Alter Eco – B Corporation”. B Corporation Website. Fair Trade & Organic Foods, 2017.

“Alter Eco Foods”. AlterEco.com, Web. Accessed 05.03.2017.

“Alter Eco 2015 Impact Report”. AlterEco.com. Pages 7/7. 2017.

Business Wire Magazine. Alter Eco Logo Image. Media Image (Jpeg). Web. 05.03.17. http://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20160419005633/en/Alter-Eco-Unveils-Annual-Full-Circle-Sustainability-Social

Chanthavong, Samlanchith. “Chocolate and Slavery: Child Labor in Cote D’Ivoire.” TED Case Studies. American University. Pages 17/17. 2017.

Fagerhaug & Andersen. “Honest Marketing: A Coherent Approach to Conscientious Business Operation.” Norwegian University of Science and Technology. 2017.

Henry, Alan. “What Does Organic Really Mean, And Is It Worth my Money?” Lifehacker.com. 2012.

Laye, Keon. “Alter Eco Wants to Make Chocolate a Regenerative, not Extractive, Industry.” Triple Pundit Online Publishing, 2017.

Lovely Package. Alter Eco Packaging Image. Media Image (Jpeg). Web. 05.03.17. http://lovelypackage.com/alter-eco/

Martin, Carla D.“Race, ethnicity, gender, and class in chocolate advertisements”, Harvard University, CGIS, AAAS 119x, 2017.

Martin, Carla D. “Slavery, abolition, and forced labor”, Harvard University, CGIS, AAAS 119x, 2017.

Martin, Carla D. “Psychology, Terroir, and Taste”, Harvard University, CGIS, AAAS 119x, 2017.

“Mission/Values.” Fair Trade USA. Fair Trade USA, 2016.

Ntiamoah, Augustine. “Environmental impacts of cocoa production and processing in Ghana: life cycle assessment approach.” Journal of Cleaner Production, Print. 2008.

Plan Vivo. Pur Project Logo image. Media Image (Jpeg). Web. 05.03.17. http://www.planvivo.org/

Smedley, Tim. “Forget About Offsetting, Insetting is the Future.” The Guardian. Web, 2015.

Squicciarini & Swinnen. “The Economics of Chocolate”, Oxford Scholarship Online, 2016.

Slave Free Chocolate. Chocolate’s Slave Trade Image. Media Image (Jpeg). Web. 05.03.17. http://www.slavefreechocolate.org/

The Problem of Child Labor in the Cocoa Plantations. Africa News Service, Feb 2, 2012

WordPress.Willandmegan. Alter Eco Chocolate Bar Image. Media Image (Jpeg). Web. 05.03.17. https://willandmegan.wordpress.com/tag/alter-eco/


Askinosie Chocolate: The Quintessence of Bean-to-Bar Companies

The current variety of chocolate that consumers get to choose from is dizzying and overwhelming. Especially with big chocolate companies like Hershey’s churning out confections by the millions, consumers are constantly bombarded with options. And yet, even with all of these options, we are often left in the dark about our chocolate, and are taught to blindly enjoy this candy churned out by an intimidating machine somewhere out there. But with the rise of food movements such as the organic and fair-trade movements, there has been an increasing trend towards specialty bean-to-bar chocolate. With an increasing demand for organic, local produce, single origin chocolate began to increase its presence. In fact, the American chocolate landscape transformed at the start of the twenty-first century, as bean-to-bar chocolate artisans began to enter the commercial chocolate market (Leissle 23). With this change, It has become fashionable to purchase fair-trade, local, organic, etc. chocolate for the sake of keeping up with the now enviable crowd who consistently shops at places like Whole Foods. However, this movement towards bean-to-bar, single origin chocolate, regardless of whether it’s merely a trend or not, has effectively addressed a demand for high quality and ethical chocolate. While many bean-to-bar companies have sprouted over the past two decades, Askinosie Chocolate stands out as a particularly notable business. Their philosophy seems to be that ethics and goodwill will inevitably lead to high quality, and that high quality will inevitably lead to ethical business practice. Through their business organization and devotion to excellence, Askinosie Chocolate can be seen as an archetype of modern chocolate companies, and of future chocolate companies, providing honest products and full business and process transparency, serving as a stark contrast to the corporate machines that still control most of the chocolate industry.

A Not so Sweet Industry
In order to understand why Askinosie is a model of excellence, it is important to first take a look at some of the problems that plague the current chocolate industry. To start, much of the industry is controlled by large corporations like Hershey’s, Mars, and Nestle. This inevitably raises questions about labor, ranging from fair pay to fair treatment. The infographic below presents a breakdown on the profits of chocolate. The chocolate industry may seem lucrative, but this does not remain true for a key player in the making of chocolate: the cacao farmer. The farmer only profits 3% of the cost of a chocolate bar, and given the intense labor required of cacao cultivation, this is clearly an unjust practice implemented by the hulking corporations that dominate the industry.

From CNN's "Cocoa-nomics explained: Unwrapping the chocolate industry"
From CNN’s “Cocoa-nomics explained: Unwrapping the chocolate industry”

In addition to unfair labor wages, the chocolate industry has been faced with child labor, child slavery, and child trafficking in the production of cocoa. With cacao cultivation labor wages standing at such a low rate, it is unsurprising that farmers have turned to child labor in order to get more productivity at a cheaper cost. Luckily, steps have been taken to alleviate the situation, including the creation of the Harkin-Engel Protocol/Cocoa Protocol. Created in 2001, this international agreement outlines a goal of ending the worst forms of child labor as defined by the International Labor Organization. It places the responsibility on multiple parties ranging from “governments, global industry (comprised of major manufacturers of cocoa and chocolate products as well as other, major cocoa users), cocoa producers, organized labor, non-governmental organizations, and consumers.” (Chocolate Manufacturers Association).
Finally, we come to a question of quality. While this is less of an ethical issue, it is still an issue that is important to any food-related industry. Given how little we pay for a Hershey’s bar, it is obvious that we may not be getting the best quality. In fact, the Food and Drug Administration’s requirements for cacao content in chocolate is rather low, raising the question of what exactly goes into our chocolate, and what could be done better to get a more superior product. As chocolate connoisseur and author Chloe Doutre-Roussel put it, the best mass-market brands can be compared to “the ‘boom boom’ of a jazz drumbeat” and the finer artisan brands to the “rich complexity of a symphony” (Williams & Eber 144). This issue of quality may just be a matter of educating consumers: “What we need to do with chocolate is appreciate the differences between the two-dollar, five-dollar, and ten-dollar bars instead of just producing more and more chocolate the people will not understand.” (Williams & Eber 145). But as we will see with Askinosie Chocolate, quality and the appreciation of fine chocolate is in the hands of both the producer and the consumer.

Askinosie Chocolate
Askinosie Chocolate was founded by former criminal defense lawyer, Shawn Askinosie, after realizing that his career was burning him out. With his love of eating chocolate and his lawyer skills, he set out to learn as much as he could about chocolate. He didn’t simply stop at basic production, but learned the botanical, historical, and cultural significance of cacao, and traveled to the Amazon to study the post-harvest techniques of cocoa farmers. From there, he sought to figure out how to use this knowledge and these techniques to create the perfect chocolate flavor. Askinosie chose to experiment by sourcing and importing the beans himself. With a tabletop grinder and a bag of beans, Askinosie and his family created Askinosie Chocolate. To learn more about the start of the company, hear from Shawn Askinosie himself in the video below (“Askinosie Chocolate”).

Bean-to-Bar: The Process Behind Askinosie Chocolate
Askinosie started his business by making a firm decision to source and import the beans himself without any sort of middleman. Askinosie Chocolate sources their cacao beans from four specific locations: Davai in the Philippines, Kyela in Tanzania, Cortes in the Honduras, and San Jose Del Tambo in Ecuador. He personally visits each of these locations to understand the local cultivation of cacao, to learn new techniques, and to make sure that the farmers are in the know. This differs greatly from companies like Hershey’s, in which the origins of their cacao goes so far back in a complicated supply chain that most consumers have no idea where the ingredients came from. In addition, the company outlines their entire 70-step chocolate making process on the website. With Askinosie’s own research and techniques learned from farmers, Askinosie Chocolate claims to have perfected this process to produce an exquisite product. This transparency of process lends a sense of confidence to the consumer that the product has been crafted with pride and careful supervision, assuring consumers that they will have a delicious product that was created through honest means.
Direct Trade: Labor Ethics
“’I actually go source these beans myself on four continents, directly with farmers,’ says Shawn Askinosie, founder of Askinosie Chocolate based in Springfield, Mo. ‘I pay them directly. We pay them above-market prices. Then I go back with my financial statements, translated in whatever language they need, and profit-share with them.” (Shute). When Askinosie decided that his company would be a bean-to-bar company, he also decided that he wanted to treat cocoa famers like business partners instead of isolated figures in an ambiguous supply chain. This direct relationship and information transparency is beneficial for all parties involved. For the farmers, this relationship guarantees that they are being fully compensated for their work and that they don’t have to rely on practices like child labor. For Askinosie and his company, this guarantees that they are getting the highest quality of beans and motivates the farmers to perfect their methods. And unlike fair-trade, there is no potential for third-party oversight. Every party is directly involved in the process, leaving no room for faulty business practices.

The packaging illustrates the bean-to-bar and direct communication philosophy of Askinosie Chocolate
The packaging illustrates the bean-to-bar and direct communication philosophy of Askinosie Chocolate

Business Practice: Ethics at Home
In addition to having an ethical approach to business in regards to trade, Askinosie Chocolate uses the same approach at home in their offices in Missouri. “A Stake in the Outcome” or SITO is a principle used in the Open Book Management business philosophy. It encourages employers to be completely transparent with his/her employees in order to foster a greater sense of ownership in the processes leading up to a goal. As mentioned before, Askinosie implements this practice with farmers by physically visiting the cacao sites and communicating with the farmers and their families in person. Within their offices and their factory, this means going over all financial information and future plans with all employees in order to increase everyone’s stake in the company. SITO is a great summation of the company’s general philosophy and practice of making all information available at all times to every constituent associated with Askinosie Chocolate. There is nothing to hide, and if a problem arises, everyone is aware and ready to fix it.
Education: Chocolate University
Another unique aspect of Askinosie Chocolate is Shawn Askinosie’s dedication to education. It is already clear that the company was founded in the spirit of fairness and giving back, but Askinosie brings that philosophy one step further with what they call Chocolate University. According to their website, “The goal is to inspire students through the lens of artisan chocolate making to be global citizens and embrace the idea that business(es) can solve world problems…The goal is not for these students to become bystanders during a lecture on chocolate making. It’s to provide them with a hands-on experience that takes them from the inner-workings of the factory to the cocoa bean farms across the world” (“Askinosie Chocolate”). This may seem like just another philanthropic tie-in to a business, but it actually contributes a great deal to the world of chocolate. One of the issues with both chocolate production and consumption is that consumers are not educated on the background of cacao cultivation and how those beans go from raw products to chocolate bars. This background is full of historical, sociological, economical, and political nuances. Educating the youth on how chocolate is made, and how it can be made ethically, creates the potential for a future population of educated consumers who will continue to support companies like Askinosie. To learn more about Askinosie’s education ventures, read this article published in O, The Oprah Magazine.

Clearly, Shawn Askinosie has built the pillars of his company to represent and implement upstanding morals. From his small start to his ethically sustainable business model, Askinosie has built a company that combats, to some degree, all of the evils that the modern chocolate industry faces. It seems that the overarching theme of all of his implementations is transparency. From the current discussion, we can see that transparency is a key factor internally: within the company he makes sure that everybody is consistently informed on the status of the company, and outside of the company, at the factories and the farms, transparency is a virtue. By making trips to all of the supplying cacao farms and providing full disclosure financial statements, Askinosie insures that every party is well informed. It is important to note that Askinosie Chocolate also values transparency externally. On their website, they truly provide a comprehensive look at how their company functions. This can be seen from their “Meet the Team” section to the thorough page on their chocolate making process. Askinosie Chocolate should be an example to upcoming bean-to-bar chocolate companies as it strives to have the most ethical business practices, to educate chocolate consumers, and to create delicious chocolate. It stands in protest to the monopolizing big chocolate companies by remaining humble and valuing progress instead of profit.

“Askinosie Chocolate.” Askinosie Chocolate. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 May 2014.

Chocolate Manufacturers Association. Harkin-Engel Protocol. 19 Sept. 2001. Protocol for the growing and processing of cocoa beans and their derivative products in a manner that complies with ILO convention 182 concerning the prohibition and immediate action for the elimination of the worst forms of child labor.

Dinardo, Kelly. “A Lesson in Chocolate (and Good Will).” O, Oprah Magazine Feb. 2011: n. pag. Web. 3 May 2014.

Leissle, Kristy. “Invisible West Africa: The Politics of Single Origin Chocolate.” Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture 13.3 (2013): 22-31. Web. 5 May 2014.

Shute, Nancy. “Bean-To-Bar Chocolate Makers Dare To Bare How It’s Done.” NPR.org 14 Feb. 2013: n. pag. Web. 5 May 2014.

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