Tag Archives: Direct Sourcing

Parliament Chocolate: Bean-to-Bar and the Future of Craft Chocolate

Parliament Chocolate is a small Southern California chocolate company that epitomizes the bean-to-bar craft chocolate movement. With a focus on artisanship and direct trade single origin beans, Parliament makes it known that their goal is to produce great quality, ethical chocolate. Although not a perfect solution to all the problems of inequality in the cacao supply chain, bean-to-bar companies such as Parliament are making a positive impact through educating consumers and providing an alternative to big chocolate.

The Parliament Chocolate shop is nestled in the charming historic district of the small city of Redlands, California. Set amid a background of mountains and palm trees, Redlands is known by area residents for its bustling farmers market and trendy downtown businesses. Parliament can be found a block from the center of downtown, in an understated white washed one story building. Once the location of the White Owl Café, now the tiny space has been re-appropriated as Parliament’s kitchen and retail shop.

Front of Parliament Chocolate Shop
Figure 1. Parliament Chocolate Building

Ryan Berk established Parliament chocolate four years ago with his wife, Cassi. According to Berk in a Life and Thyme Magazine’s Letter to the editor (2015) “Our main principle behind the company is to have a relationship with the farmers and vendors behind the products we present to you.” He continues on in his story to discuss going to remote locations in Belize and Guatemala to visit the farmers he is sourcing his cacao beans from, and to express his appreciation for the hard work required to make good quality chocolate. His letter is filled with his personal photos of lush tropical landscapes and indigenous people. The photos depict an idealized notion of going back to chocolate’s origins. In an L.A. Times article Bark’s direct sourcing has been further romanticized. “Ryan Berk makes his chocolate from scratch. That means flying to Central America four times a year, hiking over Maya ruins to remote jungle villages and meeting face-to-face with the farmers who supply his cocoa beans” (Pierson, 2015).

Although lacking some of the passion and colorful imagery found in Berk’s writing, the Parliament Chocolate website explains direct trade, the bean-to-bar concept and their pride in making craft chocolate. On the About Us page, in three short paragraphs, Parliament conveys their mission in a simple, straightforward manner. Their website, store and product packaging all are representative of this simple, open and sincere brand. The grand opening video below also shows their commitment to being ethical and creating a unique product.

Large chocolate companies are not known for revealing detailed information about their processes or supply chain. In direct opposition to this, transparency is clearly important to Parliament Chocolate. Not only in the origin of their beans, but also in their daily operations. Large street facing windows provide views of the retail space and the kitchen. From inside the tiny retail area another window offers a full view of the equipment, ingredients and workers.  The photo below shows the kitchen space as seen from the retail space.

View of Chocolate Kitchen
Figure 2. View of Parliament Chocolate Kitchen

 

For those interested in seeing the areas not clearly visible from the window, Parliament also provides twice weekly tours of the facility. Factory tours are common for small craft chocolate companies. “Whether it is Theo Chocolate in Seattle or TCHO in San Francisco, small manufacturers are opening their doors to packed tours of people eager to learn about flavor, how chocolate is made, and where it comes from” (Williams & Eber, 2012, p. 157).

Parliament produces just four types of chocolate bars, each of which is made with only two ingredients; seventy percent cacao and thirty percent cane sugar. Each bar is made with single origin beans. This year they have Bolivia, Dominican Republic, Guatemala and Tanzania bars. All the bars are packaged in white textured craft paper and adorned with a drawing of an owl. The owl drawings are made by a local artist, four different owls representing the four different countries. The name of the company, Parliament, came from this parliament of owls.

Additionally, they also make chocolate syrup and an array of freshly prepared confections. On the day I visited their caramel and toffee truffles were the most popular treats. Samples of the chocolate bars are displayed for every guest to try, and they are happy to discuss the qualities and tasting notes of each with customers.

Parliament Samples
Figure 3. Parliament Samples

 

Pictured above are the Parliament Chocolate bars, each cut into sample cubes. The bars are 1.7 ounces, and thicker than most bars on the market. One might think that thinner, wider bars with larger packaging would give consumers the impression that they were getting more value for their money. Parliament does not seem to be worried about standing out against other craft bars. Currently, not being supplied in any

ParliamentChocolate-Bar Size
Figure 4. Parliament Bar Size

large markets, there would be little concern to be noticed and chosen among the masses. Pictured on the right is a Parliament Chocolate bar next to a Dick Taylor Craft Chocolate bar. A 1.7 ounce bar versus a 2.0 ounce bar.

 

Parliament’s bars sell for six dollars a bar, or twenty dollars for the pack of all four varieties. This price does not seem particularly outlandish, considering the price of most craft chocolate bars. The question becomes, with this type of product being still relatively new, is the average consumer willing to pay a premium price for a single origin dark chocolate bar?

We know that there is a market for ethically conscious consumers that enjoy fine dark chocolate. We have yet to see how quickly that market could potentially grow. It seems likely to consider that the explosion of craft chocolatiers into this arena is happening faster than the growth of consumers. Research by Torres-Moreno, Tarrega, Torrescasana, and Blanch (2011) indicates that consumers prefer a familiar brand with a known quality, and that consumers of dark chocolate like products based on taste with little importance given to information on packaging.  Labeling information claiming single origin beans did not cause consumers to presume it would be better quality nor did they find it to be a feature that improved the product (p. 670).

Claims on product labels about the geographical origin of chocolates have been shown to be a distinctive characteristic of high quality products. However, the results presented here indicate that consumers in this study did not perceive the claim about geographical origins as a positive feature for dark chocolate (Torres-Moreno et al., 2011, p. 670).

Although the data from their research seems to hint at a barrier for craft chocolate expansion, in time the results could change. Currently, in the Unites States, many people still associate the excessively sweet, almost sour, quality of a Hershey’s bar with the taste of chocolate. Learning to appreciate dark chocolate, and the nuanced flavors of beans, takes exposure and education. “The spectacular growth of quality chocolate during recent decades has led to a vocabulary of connoisseurship previously seen only in the wine industry. (Coe & Coe, 2013, p. 260) Chocolate connoisseurs will grow in numbers with increased experience. It will be up to the craft chocolate maker to provide excellent tasting products. Single origin still might not be a driving factor behind consumer purchases, but a great tasting product will be.

With a market already saturated with cheap, well known chocolate brands, craft companies have a difficult road ahead.  Community engagement could help keep many of these craft companies in business. Parliament Chocolate sells their chocolate syrup to a local Redlands coffee company for their mocha lattes. This has caught on, and now Parliament sells to multiple coffee shops in several cities.  A day spa in the downtown area even offers a chocolate body scrub treatment using Parliament Chocolate.

This type of local exposure helps make the company, and their mission, more widely known. Not only is there a market for ethical food, there is also one for locally produced goods. Being well known in a small community drives business because many people feel a strong desire to help their neighbor, the little guy, succeed. Consumers wish to feel good about their purchases. Yes, thinking that they have paid a higher price to help a poor farmer is incentive for many, but so is seeing a small local community store flourish. Having set up shop in Redlands, a community that prides entrepreneurship and local artisanship, Parliament chocolate is a good place to continue doing well.

Regardless of whether or not some of these types of small companies thrive, the more craft chocolatiers entering the market, the more people will see this type of chocolate and become aware of its existence. Even by perhaps failing as a business, craft companies can succeed at making positive change by educating people and increasing appreciation for artisanal chocolate.

As much as bean-to-bar companies tout about being ethical and fair to their famers, paying higher prices for presumably better beans, artisanal chocolate is not fully explained without a discussion of West African cacao. The Ivory Coast and Ghana produce most of the world’s cacao supply, and yet these two countries are nearly nonexistent in the fine cacao market. There are many reasons for this. In the industry, the quality of the beans from West Africa are seen as subpar. Bean flavors from Central America, most notably the criollo variety, are seen as more desirable and sought after. There is also a nostalgia for cacao from its original source. To make matters worse, Africa is globally stigmatized for child labor abuses.

Coe and Coe (2013) express the concern that “The gravest and most troubling issue confronting practically all of the major players in the chocolate business concerns child labor-usually unpaid-on the great West African cacao plantations.” (p. 264) Of course we need to acknowledge the truth of the situation, but we also need to look at these societies without the lens of western cultural thinking. West African cacao farmers are trying to survive on meager incomes. Villainizing the farmers does not solve the problem, nor does thinking of them as a charity case. If farmers in this area were making a livable wage, if adults in a family were better able to provide for their dependents, then children would not need to work so much. Incidences of child slavery and abuse would diminish greatly.

Could direct trade be the answer to help this area? It might take a long time to find out. “U.S. artisans are, on the whole, stout in their commitment to both ethics and quality. While they purchase costly flavor beans and can thus improve the livelihoods of poor farmers, they are also unlikely to buy from a place with a negative image – such as West Africa” (Leissle, 2013, p.29). West Africa’s global image is not likely to change soon.

To be fair to U.S. craft chocolate companies, it would be a much bigger expense and logistics project to source their beans from West Africa, especially the Ivory Coast, than someplace closer to the U.S. such as the Dominican Republic. Many small craft chocolate makers are doing so as a side hobby. Berk owns three popular ice cream shops in addition to Parliament Chocolate. Working with such small profit margins does not allow a large amount of capital for such an endeavor. If a company was capable of doing so, I think they would see that the West African stigma is not as big of an issue as it might seem. As we have learned, consumers care more about taste than origin.

Craft chocolate companies promoting a bean-to-bar artisanal chocolate product, such as Parliament Chocolate, will not make much of a dent in the overall volume of chocolate produced. Realistically, not every chocolate bar produced could come from a single, direct traded source. This is not to discredit these types of newly emerging companies. They are having a positive impact. “Many of these US manufacturers may be small, but they have been driving recent changes for the better in the industry; change the world-make better chocolate” (Williams & Eber, 2012, p. 156). Even with narrow profit margins and the likelihood of many startups to fail, these companies are providing public awareness. Through enthusiastically engaging those in their communities, overtime a shift in thinking and taste preferences will occur.

 

References

Berk, R. (2015). Cacao Sourcing: A First Hand Account. Life & Thyme: Reflections. Retrieved from https://lifeandthyme.com/reflections/cacao-sourcing-first-hand-account/

Coe, S. D., & Coe, M. D. (2013). The true history of chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson.

Leissle, K. (2013). Invisible West Africa: The Politics of Single Origin Chocolate. Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture. 13(3), 22-31

Pierson, D. (2015) Artisanal, hand-crafted chocolate is a growing niche. L.A. Times. Retrieved from http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-artisan-chocolate-20150228-story.html

Parliament Chocolate website, http://www.parliamentchocolate.com/

Torres-Moreno, M. , Tarrega, A. , Torrescasana, E. , & Blanch, C. (2012). Influence of label information on dark chocolate acceptability. Appetite, 58(2), 665-771

Williams, P. & Eber, J. (2012). Raising the Bar: The Future of Fine Chocolate. Vancouver: Wilmor Publishing.

Figures 1-4. Personal Photos taken at Parliament Chocolate, Redlands, CA. March 7, 2017.

Parliament Chocolate Grand Opening Video, retrieved from https://vimeo.com/user23796783

Better than Your Average Chocolate Company

Dandelion Chocolate: A New Kind of Chocolate Company

Dandelion, a bean to bar, small batch chocolate company based in San Francisco, is a socially conscious company who focuses on making a quality product, that not only benefits the company and consumers, but ensures that the producers and farmers also receive fair treatment. Within the chocolate and cacao market, there are many issues with the chain from the cacao bean to the chocolate bar. For example, farmers receiving little pay, child labor, slavery, high certification costs, etc… Dandelion Chocolate is a company that works to combat these issues within the cacao supply chain by transparency and open communication throughout the process, direct sourcing, and the eradication of certifications on their products. Dandelion Chocolate is not labeled Fair trade, or Organic, but in their own way, they are able to create a brand with quality ingredients and  Through these tactics Dandelion has created a meaningful, quality and sustainable brand that has sought to continually learn about and better the cacao supply chain.

By analyzing the Dandelion Sourcing book from 2015 I will highlight the mission of Dandelion Chocolate and how they are focused on not just creating a quality product that sells, but they are interested in “good business practices [that] can foster positive social, environmental, and economic change.” (Gore) Also if we compare Dandelion Chocolate to Big Five Chocolate companies or other Fair Trade or organic companies we are able to see that Dandelion is truly taking an approach that is solving these cacao supply chain issues.

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This is a picture of the Dandelion Chocolate store in San Francisco. From the start of your visit, they want you to know that they have a simple recipe, made with high quality ingredients. 

image found from: http://www.shipstation.com/stories/dandelion-chocolate/

Exploiters and the Exploited

Big Five chocolate companies such as Hershey, Mars, and Cadbury buy bulk cacao. This bulk cacao is not sourced directly or through fair trade, meaning there are no social regulations on the farms that they buy their cacao from. Often, there is this notion that the Big Chocolate companies “exploit” West African cacao farmers. For example, someone observing the workers noted, “the villagers seem to make everything for today, living hand to mouth with little remaining for tomorrow… their primary activity here is to produce cocoa for the international market. As such, they earn just enough money from cacao sales to pay for rice and cooking oil. there’s usually nothing left over.” (Off, pg. 5) Furthermore, These companies do not practice transparency in their sourcing and because of this it is likely that they are buying from places who have child labor, slavery and are receiving wages that are hardly survivable on. The farmers are trying to make money by harvesting cacao but this ends up in them exploiting members of their communities and families. For example, another observation noted, “Mack learned of another category of labor…What his informers described sounded a lot like slavery, and what made the stories even more horrifying was that it seemed the slaves were children.” (Off, pg.120) The Big Chocolate companies are buying this cacao and there is no security for these farmers in what they receive from the sales of the cacao they harvest.

chocolate_slavery_main
This is a picture of child slavery. Larger companies such as the Chocolate Big Five do not practice transparency in sourcing cacao. Meaning, it is likely that thier products come from farms where they practice child slavery.

 

image found from:http://www.foodispower.org/slavery-chocolate/

Cacao Sourcing Transparency

Dandelion makes it a goal to have transparency through their whole process of sourcing. This company is clearly making an effort to allow their customers to learn about their process and how they source their cacao. Publishing and uploading their “2015 Dandelion Sourcing Book” is something that opens the conversation for consumers to see their ethics in sourcing. Consumers are able to see where and who Dandelion trades with, also, consumers are able to see how much Dandelion pays for their cacao in comparison to how much other companies pay for cacao. This detail allows the consumer to know what their money is going towards and and ensure that the farmers and producers are being justly compensated. Dandelion says, “We pay as much as two times the world market price (and sometimes more) for the beans, providing a premium between seven and seventeen times greater than the Fair-trade standard of $200 per tonne.” (Gore) This compensation not only gives the consumer peace of mind, it also helps to guarantee a better quality cacao bean. Paying a higher amount for cacao helps to reinforce the farmers and producers incentive for harvesting better beans.

Chocolate makers like us are willing to pay far more than the world market price for high quality beans, which means the price we pay for cacao is completely detached from the volatility of the world market price. Instead, what we pay depends upon the quality of the cacao, what the farmer believes it is with and what our customers will pay for a finished chocolate bar. (Gore)

For Dandelion Chocolate, it is not just about creating a chocolate bar that sells, they are socially conscious and take into account all the people involved in the process. They practice transparency so that every step in the bean to bar supply chain is open and people know what their money is going towards.

Fair Trade Critiques

Fair trade is a great thing. “[Products] that bear [this] logo were made with respect to people and planet. Our rigorous social, environmental and economic standards work to promote safe, health working conditions, and protect the environment…When you choose products without eh Fair Trade label, your day-to-day purchases can improve an entire community.” (Fair Trade USA) The overall mission of Fair Trade is to help these farmers that companies source from receive fair treatment and fair payment. Though these ideals seem as if they will benefit the farmers, there are a few critiques of the Fair Trade industry.  Though fair trade aims for fair treatment and fair compensation for all parts of the cacao supply chain, critiques show that farmers still receive little compensation, there is a lack of evidence that fair trade actually helps, and the fair trade certification is very expensive. Dandelion Chocolate works to combat these issues and critiques of Fair Trade by ensuring quality products without the certifications. The certifications are so expensive that it is hard for the farmers to get in the first place, and then they have to be renewed every few years. For example, “in Tanzania, it costs $8,000 just to get the organic certification auditors to visit a farm.” (Gore) Fair Trade also has not been shown to have evidence of results. For example, a report from the Institute of Economic Affairs states, “Even analysts sympathetic to the movement have suggested that only 25 per cent of the premium reaches producers. No study ever produced has shown that the benefit to producers anything like matches the premium paid.” (Wallop). Dandelion’s lack of certifications does not mean that they have a product of lesser quality. They directly source their cacao from farms and visit these farms throughout the year. They believe that “the burden of proof is their responsibility” (Gore) so they go to the farms themselves if they want to see the cacao production ethics and quality. This is a way in which they are able to guarantee quality of the cacao they source while avoiding the steep certification costs. 

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These are workers from Dandelion Chocolate, who are traveling to cacao farms. They are ensuring ethical practices and quality cacao beans. 

Image found from: https://www.dandelionchocolate.com/category/industry/

Dandelion: An Environmentally Friendly Company

Dandelion claims to use only two ingredients in their chocolate, “cacao beans and cane sugar.”  The cacao beans they source are directly sourced and use ethical treatment of the farmers. As I mentioned, they pay more for their cacao to incentivize ethical practices on the farms they receive it from, as well as better quality cacao. Not only does Dandelion practice good relationships with the people they work with and the farmers they source from, Dandelion practices and fosters a sustainable and nurturing approach to sugar cane farming. Their sugar is bought from “Native Green Cane Project” where “the project aims to replace traditional sugarcane farming methods that ravage natural ecosystems with new methods that return the land closer to it’s natural state.”(Gore) The land is an important part in producing materials for Dandelion’s chocolate and they are making sure that they are using environmentally friendly methods to produce these ingredients. So far, with the “Ecosystem Revitalizing Agriculture” system there is “23x more biodiversity than conventional sugarcane farms… a 20-30% increase in yield per hectare, and the drastic reversal of the operation’s carbon footprint.” (Gore) Dandelion has really made an effort to be transparent in all parts of the cacao supply chain. With this transparency, we are able to see the steps Dandelion Chocolate has taken to fight issues displayed in the cacao supply chain by Big Five Chocolate companies and Fair Trade Certifications.

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Dandelion makes a product, socially and environmentally friendly. They travel to different cacao farms to ensure quality and ethical practices and source  their sugar from an environmentally friendly farm.    

Image found from: http://www.davidlebovitz.com/2013/02/dandelion-chocolate-san-francisco/

Conclusion

Dandelion is not a perfect company, however they make a really good effort to be better for the environment, farmers, customers and everyone they work with. With their transparency and 2015 Sourcing Report we are able to learn where they get their materials and ingredients from, how much they pay them, the ethics and methods they use, etc… This transparency shows initiative and an earnest attempt to combat the issues with the cacao supply chain.

Works Cited

Gore, Molly. Dandelion Small Batch Chocolate 2015 Sourcing Report. Rep. San Francisco: Dandelion Chocolate, 2015. Web.

Wallop, Harry. “Fair Trade Does Not Help the Poorest, Report Says.” The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group, 4 Nov. 2010. Web. 02 May 2016.

Off, Carol. Bitter Chocolate: The Dark Side of the World’s Most Seductive Sweet. New York: New, 2008. Print.

Fair Trade USA.” What Is Fair Trade? Fair Trade USA, n.d. Web. 02 May 2016.

Gore, Molly. “Dandelion Chocolate.” Dandelion Chocolate. Dandelion Chocolate, n.d. Web. 02 May 2016.