Tag Archives: Direct Trade

Building Each Other Up Through Chocolate: An Ethnographic Analysis of Askinosie Chocolate

Askinosie Chocolate is actively involved in chocolate production from bean-to-bar. More importantly, it is a model company that is driving change in how the industry treats farmers – the most exploited group in the chocolate industry. Through their business practices, the key players in Askinosie Chocolate’s supply chain practice kujengana – Swahili for “to build each other up.” Askinosie Chocolate founder and CEO, Shawn Askinosie, specializes in craft chocolate, meaning that they are involved in direct trade and the entire supply chain which helps them address social issues like child slavery and farmer exploitation. The company also has a reputation for its social and economic programs that benefit the farming communities and cooperatives. With few exceptions, the company counters racial and gender biases that seem to be pervasive in other big chocolate companies. In an industry that pays farmers very little, ignores child slavery, focuses on profit over quality, and fails to promote economic benefits, Askinosie stands out as a voice of change.

Dark Chocolate_Figure1

Active Supply Chain Management and Direct Trade. Askinosie Chocolate is an industry leader in promoting Direct Trade and working with the farmers. Shawn Askinosie has stated that “we do not source our beans from any location, unless I’ve been there.” Askinosie meets and conducts direct trade with the farmers, and pays above Fair Trade premiums for the beans which is often times more than double the standard commodity price. They attempt to cut out as many brokers as possible to lower costs. While Askinosie hires a customs brokering firm for exportation/importation of commodities, the company bears the responsibility of navigating through bureaucracy and is responsible for a vast amount of the administrative work moving the beans from the farm to factory.


Figure 1. As an example of their limited ingredients, their “Cortes” Honduras bar consists of: single origin 70% chocolate (67% cocoa liquor, 3% cocoa butter, pressed in their factory) with cocoa beans sourced directly from farmers in Cortes, Honduras, plus 30% organic can sugar. (Askinosie 2016)

Direct trade is critical for a craft chocolate company, giving them some leverage in how they receive the crop. Since their products contain few ingredients, the ingredients must be high quality. In Askinosie’s basic chocolate bars, the ingredients list is limited to cacao liquor, cacao butter, and organic sugar cane. The company does not add extra ingredients (i.e., vanilla) or emulsifiers (i.e., lecithin) into their products, like most companies. In comparison, Hershey’s bars sometimes contain as little as 11-20% cacao, sugar, powdered milk, lecithin, other emulsifiers, vanilla, and artificial flavors. Because their products are low-processed, quality and terroir are important to their business. The terroir plays into how they craft their chocolate using the subtle nuances in the flavors of the beans from different geographic regions. Beyond the flavors of beans themselves, Askinosie offers more than just basic chocolate bars. In some bars, they incorporate fruits, spices, and nuts to give a variety and depth of flavors. While they have not focused on highly elaborate artisanal designs or modern chocolate art, they have incorporated different designs in their products and bars to offer some artisanship.


Askinosie takes an active approach and gets into a deeper level of granularity in regards to farming practices. In a profit-sharing relationship, Askinosie educates and guides farmers in how certain processes will increase quality. By increasing the quality, he highlights the correlation in sales; there is a vested interested in producing and only introducing high quality beans in the shipments to Askinosie Chocolate. For contextualization, the partnership allows him to make suggestions in how he wants beans fermented which has a drastic impact on the flavor of the beans. The practice of organic farming translates to what consumers are wanting. Additionally, he understands terroir and uses that in his product creativity calculus.

“We are so hyper-focused on quality it’s crazy. It’s one of the reason I travel so much, I’m constantly tasting beans and testing beans and looking at the harvest practices so that the quality is better and better.” – Shawn Askinosie (Askinosie 2016)

Taking humanitarian efforts further, he offers business practice advice to locals and to farmers. The firm is also involved in the “Stake in the Outcome” (SITO) program that is a profit-sharing and equity program. In addition to providing profit sharing with his employees, Mr. Askinosie does transparent profit sharing with the farmers. SITO is a novel business concept that really bring people together because they are involved in the trajectory of the business. They have a stake in the business, and are working together for something bigger than just a simple paycheck. The founder of SITO, Jack Stack, describes it as a “vehicle of change.” The adoption of SITO by Askinosie complements his Kujengana efforts.

When a company such as Askinosie forges an unshakable bond with farmers, it also benefits its consumers as it provides a platform for traceability. Traceability is another concept that allows consumers to learn more about where their food comes from and how the process works. This is important for sales because people are becoming increasingly food conscious – about what is in their food and its origins. When consumers have more information about where their food comes from, they seem to feel a connection with producers. Askinosie’s website has a “Learn” section that describes the origins and origins travelogue. In 2009, it had a search function on its site to conduct virtual visits of some of the cacao bean farms in Mexico, Ecuador, and the Philippines. Traceability has practical purposes, not just for altruistic reasons. When there is a food safety problem, traceability helps businesses target the product(s) affected, and assists them in identifying where in the supply chain something may have occurred. By doing so, this limits profits loss and hastens response efforts. Since 2002, even U.S. Congress members have called for studies in traceability to better understand how the US can respond to food safety crises such as salmonella outbreaks.

Giving Back. Going beyond a social responsibility to ensure farmers receive an equitable portion of profits, Askinosie takes it a step further by being involved in their origin communities. Several communities, including Kyela, Tanzania and Davao, Philippines, has implemented a program called “A Product of Change.” In this program, they aim to feed children that have traditionally dealt with malnourishment issues. To accomplish this, Askinosie Chocolate teams with PTAs of local schools to offer school lunches.


The Product of Change program moves beyond their main business of chocolate production to help communities and PTA administration to produce products other than the cacao beans. In Kyela, Tanzania, they produce premium rice. In Davao, Philippines, they produce cacao rounds. This simple business has profound effects. When people buy the Kyela rice or the Tableya cacao rounds, it provides lunch for children that may not have an opportunity to eat throughout the day, with malnutrition or hunger possibly hindering learning. The Product of Change program is sustainable because it is donation free.


Figure 2

Figure 2. The photograph shows food being distributed for school children who would otherwise typically eat just once per day. The nourishment helps them mitigate hunger, ostensibly aiding them in focusing on studies.

“A bag of rice or a block of cocoa might seem insignificant, but through these goods, children have access to reliable, healthy daily school lunch and, ultimately, a better education. The bonus is that they also get to see this business model of sustainability as a solution to social problems.”  (Askinosie Product of Change 2016)

To monitor and evaluate Product of Change’s impact, Askinosie monitors the student’s height, weight, and arm circumference. They also collect data on attendance and test scores to correlate the biological data and education statistics. Askinosie claims that since the program’s inception, “90% of Malagos students have gained weight and achievement test scores are up 25%.”

Figure 3
Figure 3. During a guest speaking event at the University of Missouri, Shawn Askinosie shows a presentation slide that highlights the impact of the Tableya sales.Other statistics state on their website state that since the program’s inception, they have helped provide a total of 240,000 meals.
Chocolate University. Askinosie Chocolate and Drury University teamed up to provide educational programs for children in Springfield, Missouri, and they named the non-profit, Chocolate University. The program exposes children to all aspects of the chocolate business, from understanding factory machinery, to business plans and concepts, to field trips to Africa and South America at the cacao plantations. Askinosie is the sole founder of Chocolate University. Another reason why education is so important is that it also helps address child slavery and gender equality issues as well.

The groups work can be seen in the below video.

Child Slavery. Despite multi-corporation agreements and international media attention, child slavery still exists today. Some of the big chocolate manufacturers have agreed to 2020 Commitment to eradicate child slavery by 2020; however, those promises have been in place for over a decade and some experts believe that child slavery has only become more prevalent. Recent estimates show there are at least 2.1M child slaves in West Africa alone; this figure is, shockingly, likely under-reported. Askinosie is engaged in being socially conscious and combating slavery by ensuring the farms they conduct business with do not perpetuate child slavery.

“More than one million children ­ some as young as five ­are estimated to work in Ivory Coast’s cocoa industry, where they carry heavy loads, spray pesticides and fell trees using sharp tools, a report from Tulane University – New Orleans.” – Kieran Guilbert  (Guilbert 2016)

Craft chocolate makers have been able to make a difference by introducing quality checks to see if there is child slavery on the farmer’s plantations. However, these constitute only  a very small portion of the cacao worldwide compared to the major chocolate makers – Nestle, Mars, Hershey’s, Ferrero Rocher, and Cadbury’s. Nestle corporation netted $9.7B in 2014, compared to Askinosie’s $2M. Overall, it is easier for the craft and direct trade chocolate companies to ensure child slavery is not practiced on the origin farms where they derive their beans.

A late April 2016 New York Times article discusses how the International Cocoa Initiative is aiming to boost education to counter child slavery specifically in Cote d’Ivoire. The non-profit organization signed an agreement with the Ivorian government. The intent is to provide education as a long-term strategy. Education allows children to learn a separate trade besides cacao farming and harvesting or improve conditions to break the cycle of generational poverty. Dominique Ouattara, wife of the president and leading support of the ICI, echo those thoughts with her statement that, “Education is the alternative and the most effective long-term response in the fight against child labor.” (NYT 2016) Cote D’Ivoire’s civil war in 2011 exacerbated child slavery to the point where children involved in the cacao industry rose 51 percent to 1.3M in 2014 from 2008, according to a Tulane University report. (NYT 2016). Askinosie Chocolate has invested a lot of time and effort into educational programs, as well as other programs to improve lives in the communities with the children. Those long-term strategy initiatives work in tandem with the short-term (i.e., Direct Trade) requirements of no child slavery, to mitigate slavery from both angles.

Racism, Sexism, and Gender Equality. Askinosie Chocolate takes a very progressive and genuinely ethical approach to marketing. The wrapping on their chocolate bars show the farmers they conduct business with, not a generic African with exaggerated facial expressions. Their advertisements lack the sexism and refrain from exploiting sexuality and gender bias, as seen in other commercials where women lustfully indulge in chocolate. On the bar wrapping, Askinosie varies their designs. To honor the farmers, some include a photo of the farmer where they source their single-origin beans. Not all the farmers they conduct business with are male, there are female farmers as well. When they have profit-sharing meetings, they insist that both the farmer and the spouse present.
Another way they promote gender equality is through a funding a schooling initiative called the “Empowered Girls,” at Mwaya school in Tanzania. In Tanzania, approximately 53% girls graduate from form 1 to form 2 (~ 14 years of age). The educational stages for secondary level education would be Forms 1-4, and are the equivalent of a U.S. High School education stage. Forms 1 and 2, would then roughly equate to a freshman and sophomore years in the US. The Empowered Girls program also teaches the school girls self-esteem, sex education, and life skills to set them up for success. There are also awareness classes for boys, teaching and encouraging them respect women as well.

The education represents tremendous progress in terms of intangible efforts, but Askinosie also donates in the tangibles as well. Askinosie provides aid through providing text books, where there were none and only a chalk board. Additionally, the company has provided generators to power laptops, projectors, and screens to develop technology skills.

Figure 4
Figure 4. The graphic depicts an “Empowered Girls” session at Mwaya school, where Askinosie funded the program.
Conclusion. Askinosie is the embodiment of kujengana. Askinosie Chocolate builds up its own employees, its own Springfield community, the cacao origin communities, and the farmers they do business with. They are selective in who they sell to making sure that their vendors values are aligned with their business practices. Moving from “bean to bar” to “bean to bar to shelf” helps ensure others, even vendors, are building each other up as well. By employing this business methodology, even the consumer can be part of the movement by purchasing their chocolate, and the Product of Change products (Kyela rice and Tableya cacao rounds). Consumers also can be involved through traceability by learning and promoting the practices Askinosie employs. Askinosie Chocolate actively engages with consumers by offering tours and tastings, and through social media via its website, Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr, and Facebook page, are all ways to learn more. They achieve the spirit of Kujengana through addressing education, hunger, lack of potable water, exploited workers, countering child slavery, environmental sustainability, and lastly, providing a chocolate product that is consumed and enjoyed globally.



Askinosie. (2016). https://twitter.com/askinosie

Askinosie Chocolate. (2016) “Our Story.” Retrieved from https://www.askinosie.com/

Askinosie, Shawn. (2014) Huffington Post. 24 June 2014. Lifting The Veil on Direct Trade (And Why It’s Integral to Our Business). http://www.huffingtonpost.com/shawn-askinosie/lifting-the-veil-on-direc_b_5523459.html

Dinardo, Kelly. (2011). Mr. Bean. (We Like This Guy!)(chocolate entrepreneur Shawn Askinosie’s Cocoa Honors). O, The Oprah Magazine, 12(2), 44. Retrieved from http://kellydinardo.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/10/Askinosie.pdf

Martin, Carla. (2016) “Modern day Slavery.” AAAS 119x Lecture 15. Harvard University, Cambridge, MA. 22 March 2016. Lecture.

Martin, Carla. (2016) “The rise of big chocolate and race for the global market.” AAAS 119x Lecture 13. Harvard University, Cambridge, MA. 09 March 2016. Lecture.

Martin, Carla. (2016) “Slavery, Abolition, and Forced Labor.” AAAS 119x Lecture 11.
Harvard University, Cambridge, MA. 02 March 2015. Lecture.

Nestle. (2016) Key Figures. Retrieved from http://www.nestleusa.com/about-us/key-figures

NPR. February 14, 2014. Bean-To-Bar Chocolate Makers Dare to Bare How It’s Done. http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2013/02/13/171891081/bean-to-bar-chocolate-makers-dare-to-bare-how-its-done

Maxwell, Kate. (2009). Philippines: Hot Chocolate. (chocolate maker Shawn Askinosie is tapping Davao, Philippines’ cocoa supply) (Brief article). Conde Nast Traveler, 44(4), 28.

Petty, Clifton, Still, Kelley, & Auner, Janis Prewitt. (2010). Askinosie Chocolate: Single-origin or Fairtrade sourcing? (Business case study). Business Case Journal,17(2), Business Case Journal, Summer, 2010, Vol.17(2).http://web.b.ebscohost.com.ezp-prod1.hul.harvard.edu/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?sid=ce8c6f5e-527c-42c6-ac83-981526711a21%40sessionmgr107&vid=1&hid=115

Reuters. New York Times. APRIL 28, 2016. Boost Education to Cut Child Labor on Ivory
Coast Cocoa Farms: Charity. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/reuters/2016/04/28/world/africa/28reuters-ivorycoast-cocoa-education.html?ref=world&_r=0

Slave Free Chocolate. http://www.slavefreechocolate.org/contact/

Springfield Business Journal. June 25, 2014. Askinosie: Lifting The Veil on Direct Trade (And Why It’s Integral to Our Business). Retrieved from http://sbj.net/Content/Archives/Archives/Article/Askinosie-Lifting-The-Veil-on-Direct-Trade-And-Why-It-s-Integral-to-Our-Business-/48/108/97661

Stone, Brad. New York Times. 27 MARCH 2009. Forging a Hot Link to the Farmer Who Grows the Food. Retrieved from

Target. 25 September 2015. From Bean to Bar: Askinosie Chocolate Arrives at Target. https://corporate.target.com/article/2015/09/askinosie-chocolate-at-target-exclusive

Video: Forbes Honors Askinosie Chocolate. (Video file). (2016). Critical Mention.

Solutions to ethical dilemmas in the cacao-chocolate industry by the bean-to-bar chocolate company, Taza Chocolate.

  1. Introduction

Taza is a bean-to-bar chocolate company based in Somerville, MA, that addresses contemporary issues in the cacao-chocolate supply chain in unique ways. Founded in 2005 as a small, local company, operating on one rented floor of a warehouse in Somerville, the company focused on ethical trade and organic production, in addition to traditional production methods, from its inception. It has now expanded to a nationally sold company with enough capital to more effectively influence the cacao supply chain. By investing and interacting directly with organic cacao farms in South America and the Caribbean, the company is able to ensure that more money is going directly to the farmers and that ethical farming practices are being rewarded. They call this practice “direct trade,” and developed it as an alternative to Fair Trade, which has become controversial in recent years due to questions over its actual impact on small farmers and the cost and difficulty of obtaining such a certification. Further, in order to ensure their own adherence to this direct trade model, as well as to open the possibility of other companies aligning with this model, they have hired a third-party company to verify their sourcing program every year according to the policies they laid out. In addition to their Direct Trade program, Taza also maintains a high ethical standard in other company practices. In reviewing their materials, one finds that they do not rely on exploitation of the image of the cacao farmer as a victim, but instead use images and language that portray them as strong, independent individuals, with pride in their work. They do not rely on exploitative sexual or racial images in their advertising, as too many contemporary chocolate companies do, but instead rely on the unique quality of their product. In these ways, Taza is one of the most ethical chocolate companies currently in operation, and should be used as a model for other companies.

Taza Direct Trade Certification Logo. Taza has outlined a list of rules to which they adhere and are held accountable by a third party organization they hired.
  1. Current issues in the cacao trade

Cacao is an export of developing countries in tropical regions, and as such, is faced with the economic and agricultural issues associated with developing countries. Cacao is often purchased by middlemen in the country or region in which it is produced, who then export the product to chocolate producers abroad, mostly in the U.S. and Europe. These middlemen purchase cacao from farmers at much lower prices than the global value of cacao, thus earning most of the export’s value for themselves, and returning little to the farmers. This system can sometimes be simply be a result of exploitative middlemen, yet may also be more complicated; often, a combination of local and national laws and regulations, social or societal norms and expectations, and access to global markets, plays a role in this low monetary return to the cacao farmers (Martin, Lecture 8). Whatever the case, the low wages paid to individual cacao farmers has a negative effect on the industry in a variety of ways: forced or coerced labor can result if farmers are under pressure to produce products at such a low cost, unsustainable practices are used, and there is little incentive to improve the quality of the product (Sylla, 26-40; Off, 100-140; Berlan, 2013).

These issues are not new to the cacao industry. Following the abolition of slavery, slave labor or ‘unfree’ labor practices continued on cacao plantations in parts of Africa (Higgs, 133-150), and have continued to this day. Presently, one of the largest, and most publicized, labor issues in cacao production is the use of child labor. The causes of this coerced labor are often very complex and difficult to address, and can range from direct child trafficking in clearly forced labor situations, to micro-pressures such as fear of family breakdown or socio-cultural tradition (Berlan, 2013). Further, the growing popularity and commercialization of chocolate in the U.S. and Europe throughout the 20th century caused a push for larger quantities of cheaper cacao beans, and local and international responses to agricultural and economic events throughout this time period has further complicated production and exportation (Martin, Lecture 8).


  1. Attempts at repairing the cacao trade

Because these issues in the cacao industry are difficult to understand and cannot be easily generalized, the responsibility falls on chocolate companies to ensure that the beans they purchase are ethically produced. As local governments and international organizations are often unable to adequately enforce fair labor practices broadly, responses to such issues have mostly taken the form of using the free market to incentivize adherence to a set of principles in cacao and other agricultural practices.


3.1. Fair Trade’s impact and controversies

One of the most well known of such incentivizing organizations is Fair Trade USA, which promises fair wages to workers, no use of forced, child, or exploited labor, safe working conditions and reasonable hours, and environmental sustainability, among others (Martin, Lecture 10; Fair Trade USA, Mission/Values). Whether Fair Trade USA succeeds in these goals is unclear, yet the company certainly has at the very least raised consumer awareness about the issues facing the farmers that produce much of the world’s chocolate, coffee, sugar, and even produce. However, critics of Fair Trade USA believe that the organization fails in the following ways: fails to deliver the promised higher wages to the individual farmer and to developing countries in general; makes it too hard and expensive to obtain certification, so that only large, wealthy farms are able to obtain it; it actually harms small farms that do not have certification; they do not incentivize quality; and it fails to adequately monitor standards; and the farmers do not have enough of a say in the production of their product, among others (Martin, 10; Dickinson; The Fair Trade Shell Game).

Screen grab from “The Fair Trade Shell Game,” which criticizes the Fair Trade USA certification. The major complaint of this video was the lack of incentives for increased quality of the product in Fair Trade farms, and the lack of farmer input into the process.

3.2. Taza’s solution: Direct Trade

Taza decided to pursue a different approach to ethical sourcing of cacao beans for their chocolate. Rather than relying on an organization like Fair Trade USA to certify cacao farms with its standards of ethical trade and not necessarily effective practices, Taza began engaging with cacao farms directly, investing in farms that would agree to meet their standards of ethical production. This approach is called ‘Direct’ trade, and involves direct engagement of the chocolate company with their bean producers. This means the company must send a representative to each cacao farm they buy beans from at least once a year to check in and ensure their standards are still being upheld, and while it requires more effort on the part of the chocolate company, it seems to have a clearer positive impact on the farmers and their communities than Fair Trade does.

The clearest way in which Direct Trade is a better alternative to Fair Trade for achieving the same goals is its placement of financial responsibility with the cacao buyer, as opposed to the cacao producer. The cacao farms involved in direct trade with Taza, as opposed to those that go through the Fair Trade certification process, do not have to pay to have their farms certified in order to receive the higher premiums. Rather, Taza takes the responsibility of visiting farms and cooperatives, investing in, and paying higher premiums to ones that agree to meet their direct trade program commitments. Additionally, in 2011 Taza took the step of hiring a third party to certify their adherence to this program, to ensure that they do not deviate from the values themselves, thus taking further responsibility in ensuring their beans are ethically produced (Taza, Taza Direct Trade). Having the financial responsibility fall on the chocolate companies that buy the cacao beans ensures that more money is making it back to the farmers, and allows for smaller farms with less capital to participate in the program.

The Taza Direct Trade Program is verified by the third party company Quality Certification Services, and consists of five ‘commitments,’ or rules to which Taza must adhere. The first two of these commitments have already been mentioned, and are 1) the development of direct relationships with the farmers from which they purchase their beans, and 2) the payment of a premium to their cacao producers, specifically a premium of at least 500 US dollars per metric ton. The program then also has a quality standard based on fermentation rate and moisture of the beans, requires USDA organic certification from their suppliers, and requires Taza to produce an annual transparency report that details their cacao bean purchases and interactions with the farmers over the prior year (Taza, Direct Trade Program Commitments). One can see the way in which these rules interact to ensure more benefits for the farmers, as well as incentivize increased quality of the cacao beans: their paying of high premiums, along with quality standards and farm visits, rewards farmers for production of better beans; their commitment to produce an annual transparency report that is verified by a third party ensures that they continue to treat their producers ethically as outlined in their first two commitments.

Cover of a transparency report by Taza Chocolate. The Transparency reports detail interactions with farmers with photographs and descriptions, as well as accounts of trade. This photo is also a demonstration of positive portrayal of cacao farmers, as described in section 4.

There is one imperfection with the Taza Direct Trade Program that stands out: their requirement of USDA organic certification, a certification for which the farmers need to pay and which cannot be reimbursed by the USDA in any of the countries in which Taza has cacao suppliers (USDA, Organic Cost Share Programs). This requirement is reminiscent of Fair Trade USA, despite Taza’s desire differentiate itself from Fair Trade USA and to reduce the burden it places on the cacao producers. However, the USDA certification is often less expensive than Fair Trade certification, and many companies that purchase Fair Trade agricultural products would also require USDA organic certification, making the Taza Direct Trade Program still substantially less expensive for farmers than Fair Trade, and Taza investment in new cacao farms alleviates such costs (USDA, Organic Certification and Accreditation; Taza, Annual Transparency Reports 2011-2015).


  1. Taza’s other positive influences

In addition to Taza’s Direct Trade Program, the company also maintains high ethical standards in their advertising and their portrayal of cacao farmers. They do not rely on the sexualization of women to sell their chocolate, as many companies do, but instead use their ethical sourcing practices and the uniqueness of their product to sell their chocolate bars. Further, they do not exploit the image of cacao farmers as victims when portraying their ethical sourcing, but instead use images of the farmers proudly displaying their work, and write about the farmers’ lives, interests, struggles, and successes, in a very human and relatable way in their transparency reports (Taza, Transparency Reports 2011-2015). For these reasons in addition to their excellent direct trade program, Taza should be used as a model for other chocolate companies in combating the ethical problems in the cacao-chocolate industry.

Screen grab from a dutch video that portrays cacao farmers in Africa only in the context of ‘exploited.’ The intentions of the video-makers are in the right place, but portrayals like this support an exploiter/exploited binary that is oversimplified.
This photo from a transparency report is instead a good example of portrayal of cacao farmers as relatable people, with pride for their work
  1. References

Berlan, Amanda. “Social sustainability in agriculture: An anthropological perspective on    child labour in cocoa production in Ghana.” The Journal of Development   Studies 49.8 (2013): 1088-1100.

Dickinson, Rink. “An Analysis of Fair Trade: Reflections from a Co-founder.”       InterReligious Task Force on Central America. Cleveland, Ohio. 02 May 2016.   Speech.

First Taste of Chocolate in Ivory CoastMetropolis. VPRO Metropolis, 21 Feb. 2014.      Web. 30 Apr. 2016.

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

Kierz, Shane. Front Cover, Taza Annual Transparency Report 2014. Digital image. Taza   Chocolate Company. Taza Chocolate Company, Sept. 2014. Web. 3 May 2016.

Last, Jesse. Annual Cacao Sourcing Transparency Report. Rep. 2015 ed. Somerville,         MA: Taza Chocolate, 2015. Print.

Martin, Carla D. “Lecture 8: Modern Day Slavery.” Aframer 119x. CGIS, Cambridge,       MA. 22 Mar. 2016. Lecture.

Martin, Carla D. “Lecture 10: Alternative Trade and Virtuous Localization/            Globalization.” Aframer 119x. CGIS, Cambridge, MA. 6 Apr. 2016. Lecture.

“Mission/Values.” Fair Trade USA. Fair Trade USA, n.d. Web. 03 May 2016.

Off, Carol. Bitter chocolate: Investigating the dark side of the world’s most seductive         sweet. Vintage Canada, 2010.

“Organic Certification and Accreditation.” Agricultural Marketing Service. United States   Department of Agriculture, n.d. Web. 04 May 2016.

“Organic Cost Share Programs.” Agricultural Marketing Service. United States       Department of Agriculture, n.d. Web. 04 May 2016.

Our Direct Trade Program Commitments. List of Principles. Somerville, MA: Taza          Chocolate, n.d. Print.

Sylla, Ndongo. The fair trade scandal: Marketing poverty to benefit the rich. Ohio University Press, 2014.

“Taza Direct Trade.” Taza Chocolate. Taza Chocolate Company, n.d. Web. 03 May 2016.

Taza Direct Trade Certified Logo. Digital image. Taza Chocolate Company. Taza Chocolate Company, n.d. Web. 2 May 2016.

The Fair Trade Shell Game. Markham Nolan, Dusan Sekulovic, and Sara    Rao. Vocative.             Vocative, 20 Dec. 2013. Web. 4 May 2016.

Whitmore, Alex. Annual Cacao Sourcing Transparency Report. Rep. 2014 ed.       Somerville, MA: Taza Chocolate, 2014. Print.

Whitmore, Alex. Annual Cacao Sourcing Transparency Report. Rep. 2013 ed.       Somerville, MA: Taza Chocolate, 2013. Print.

Whitmore, Alex. Annual Cacao Sourcing Transparency Report. Rep. 2012 ed.       Somerville, MA: Taza Chocolate, 2012. Print.

Whitmore, Alex. Annual Cacao Sourcing Transparency Report. Rep. 2011 ed.       Somerville, MA: Taza Chocolate, 2011. Print.

Whitmore, Alex. Gabriel Pop, General Manager at Maya Mountain Cacao, proudly          stands in their new drying house. Digital image. Taza Chocolate Company. Taza           Chocolate Company, Sept. 2012. Web. 3 May 2016.

Love chocolate? Then love paying more for it.


What’s the problem?

Currently, chocolate farmers are not being paid fair wages. Oxfam’s pie chart below illustrates that farmers only receive 3% of the profit from each chocolate bar.oxfam-chocolate-bar-share_large

This means that chocolate farmers can earn less than $2 per day (Oxfam 5). In Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire, for example, some cacao farming households only make $0.50 – $0.80 per day and 60-90% of their income is dependent on cacao (Martin lecture 1 slide 6; Cacao Barometer 1). This results in many illiterate and malnourished chocolate farmers who live in poverty and are without health care, to the extent where it will take farmers in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire 341% and 1608% of their current income, respectively, to reach the poverty line, as illustrated below in Figure 1.


However, this huge percentage increase in income will still only allow such farmers to reach the poverty line. Providing farmers with fair living incomes and wages requires more than simply bringing them out of poverty. Farmers ought to be able to afford clean drinking water, sanitation, decent housing, adequate clothing and footwear, nutritious diets, social security, and basic social services (Cacao Barometer 44-45). Therefore, a lot of change and action is required since chocolate farmers are far away from escaping poverty, let alone earning a sufficient income to be able to live healthy lives.



Fairtrade is one attempt that has been made to tackle this injustice. Fairtrade aims to help farmers build sustainable businesses and improve their quality of life by selling products that are fairly priced (Fair Trade USA). After the Second World War and during the 20th century missionaries and humanitarians began North America’s oldest Fair Trade Organisations (Fair Trade Resource Network 1). Ndongo Sylla claims that since then Fair Trade has significantly impacted some regions of the world; however, the injustice towards farmers is complex and Fair Trade faces difficulties of its own (16, 63). Firstly, while Fair Trade chocolate is more expensive than regular chocolate, not much of the Fair Trade price goes back to the farmers (Martin lecture 10 slide 10). Since farmers sell their cacao beans to middle men who then sell it on, the middle men absorb the price increase. Secondly, the cost for certifications, like Fair Trade certification, is expensive and is an ongoing cost as products have to be continually re-certified (Martin lecture 10 slide 10). And farmers bear the cost of certification. Therefore the cost of certification may be greater than the profit gained from having products certified. Thus, chocolate farmers may lose money by having their products certified, which defeats the purpose of certification and Fair Trade. Furthemore, because certification is costly, Fair Trade is advantageous for wealthier farmers who can afford certification but disadvantageous for poorer farmers who cannot. Therefore Fair Trade promotes even greater inequality between chocolate farmers, which moves us away from our goal of eliminating farmer inequality. Thirdly, both consumers and farmers may lose incentive to participate in Fair Trade’s system because of quality concerns. Certified high quality cacao beans are priced the same as certified low quality cacao beans. Therefore, as explained in the video below, farmers are not rewarded for producing higher quality beans and therefore may be incentivised to sell their beans directly to a more profitable specialty market than have their beans certified with Fair Trade.

Additionally, consumers and farmers may also lose incentive to continue with Fair Trade due to ethical concerns in the media. Fair Trade are often secretive about the true value and gains that Fair Trade offers in comparison to regular chocolate. For example, from 2:23 onwards in Fair Trade Foundation’s marketing video below, Fair Trade is advertised as “a system that pays extra money and that extra profit comes back to us workers”; however, they do not explicitly state quantitative values for how much “extra money” and “extra profit” is earnt (Fair Trade Foundation).

Even on Fair Trade’s website page titled “Impact Research and Evaluation Studies” under the section “The Impact of Our Work” explicit figures are not specified. They make generic statements like: “findings illustrate the real difference that certification and sales have made to farmer organisations and living conditions” where “the real difference” is not clearly explained or supported with figures (Fair Trade Foundation). And in the video below, from 0:55 onwards, even the President and CEO of Fair Trade explicitly states that regular “farmers get 8% of export price” but generically compares that to Fair Trade farmers who “get a higher price”.

Lastly, consumers may be discouraged to buy Fair Trade products because Fair Trade is just one certification body out of many, such as UTZ certified and Rainforest Alliance, which all have different standards. And even within the Fair Trade organsation policies and methods are inconsistent. Fair Trade USA has different policies, standards, and management from Fair Trade UK. Therefore, though certifications such as Fair Trade aim to provide chocolate farmers with fairer wages, there are many flaws in the system and it is mostly definitely not a perfect solution to providing farmers the income they need and deserve.


Direct Trade

Direct Trade certification also aims to help chocolate farmers receive fair wages, and it addresses Fair Trade’s flaws and improves upon them (Martin lecture 10 slide 17). Unlike Fair Trade, Direct Trade rewards quality products and pays higher premiums for higher quality cacao beans. Direct Trade also limits the cost of certification, which helps prevent farmers from losing money from paying the cost of certification and it does not disadvantage the poorer farmers, in fact, Direct Trade allows for smaller farms. But Direct Trade’s most distinctive feature is that they promote direct communication and price negotiation between consumers and farmers. This is their most valuable practice because the direct communication increases the opportunity for farmers to receive fair wages and is a more effective method as it eliminates the middle men that absorb the price increase. Taza Chocolate based in Boston and Dandelion Chocolate based in San Francisco are two examples of companies that partake in Direct Trade. They are also the most transparent chocolate companies. Each year they release a transparency report explicitly detailing where their money goes, how many cacao beans they buy, and the origin of their cacao beans.  Figure 2 below is an example taken from Taza Chocolate’s 2015 transparency report to show how remarkably transparent the information they provide the public with is. Such transparency is extremely rare in chocolate companies.IMG_3523Figure 2.

However, even the most transparent companies cannot guarantee that the farmers receive the money that chocolate companies pay for their beans. For example, Taza explicitly states that in 2015 they paid $869,000 for 223 metric tons of beans purchased; however, there is no guarantee that there are not middle men absorbing the payment as the chocolate supply chain is complex and ensuring the money goes directly to the farmer is often out of chocolate companies’ power (Taza 2). Therefore the Fair Trade and Direct Trade certification system and increased transparency is not enough to ensure that farmers are receiving fair wages.


Craft Chocolate

Craft chocolate makers present a hopeful future for farmers and fair living wages. Craft chocolate makers are able to source the origin of the cacao beans they use, take raw ingredients, and complete the whole chocolate manufacturing process: roasting, winnowing, tempering etc. by themselves, and thus make chocolate from “bean-to-bar”. Since craft chocolate makers produce on small scale, are independent, and make their chocolate and their company from scratch, the origin of the beans they used are known and they can purchase those beans via direct trade relationships with the farmers. This enables the farmers to be paid much more for their cacao beans. The cacao is also grown under good labour conditions, which is a bonus as this is another one of Fair Trade’s aims and initiatives (Martin lecture 13 slide 31). Farmers are able to be paid much more for their cacao not only because of the direct relationship and direct purchase used, but also because craft chocolate is not certified. So, farmers do not bear the cost of certification. Therefore farmers that work with craft chocolate makers are hugely better off.

The high cost of a craft chocolate bar is the trade-off now that farmers are being paid higher and fairer prices for their cacao, despite their products being non-certified. Farmers are no longer the persons paying for their fairer wages through certification. Now consumers cover farmers’ labour costs by purchasing more expensive chocolate bars. Though some farmers greatly benefit from this shift, the majority of farmers continue to suffer because few consumers are willing to pay for higher priced chocolate bars. For example, craft chocolate such as Potomac Chocolate and Dick Taylor cost $8 and $9 per bar, respectively, whilst an average Hershey’s bar costs only $2. Thus, the majority of chocolate consumers would rather purchase a cheap $2 chocolate bar than an $8 or $9 craft chocolate bar. Furthermore, research has shown that regardless of a consumer’s personal financial fluctuations, they remain willing to only spend $3 or $4 per chocolate bar (Ahren). Therefore currently few farmers benefit from such ethical schemes, like craft chocolate, because there is not a large consumer audience who are willing to pay $8 and $9 for a chocolate bar.



There is a clear relationship between the fairness of a farmer’s wage and the price of a chocolate bar. An average unethical chocolate bar, such as Hershey’s chocolate, costs a mere $2 (Hershey’s). Though Fair Trade has some flaws and may not always ensure that farmers’ receive a higher wage, it is more ethical and farmer-friendly than an average chocolate bar. A Fair Trade chocolate bar such as Cadbury’s costs $4.29 for 6.5oz, which is more expensive than an average chocolate bar (Target). Then a Direct Trade chocolate bar such as Taza chcoolate, which offers farmers a better price for their cacao since they have direct communication with their farmers, costs $5 for 2.7oz, which is much greater than a Fair Trade bar (Taza). Finally, the most expensive is a craft chocolate bar such as Dick Taylor’s, which offer farmers much more for their cacao, costs $6.80 for 2oz (Dick Taylor). Therefore, because the more a chocolate bar provides farmers with fairer wages the more expensive it is, in order to help farmers receive fairer living wages, consumers must be prepared to pay more for chocolate bars.


Paying more

Though Ahren’s research has shown that chocolate consumers are only willing to pay $3 or $4 for a chocolate bar, there is hope that people will be willing to spend more and that chocolate farmers can have fair wages. Craft chocolate is a relatively new concept and trend. During the 1980s and 1990s there was an increase trend in single origin chocolate and the purity of tracing the origin of cacao beans (Martin lecture 13 slide 20). During the 2000s there was a birth of new craft chocolate producers, and over the past six year, during the 2010s, there have been over 150 bean-to-bar craft chocolate makers (Martin lecture 13 slide 20). Therefore, there is a growing movement and increase in consumer demand for craft chocolate, since this increase in supply could not occur without it. However, fair farmer wages is not the only reason why craft chocolate makers pay farmers much higher cacao prices. Craft chocolate makers pay more because they are purchasing higher quality beans. The concern is that the current consumer demand growth for single origin chocolate may be due to consumers’ desire for higher quality chocolate and not consumer consciousness. If consumers’ willingness to pay extra for chocolate is solely due to their desire for high quality chocolate, it is unlikely that many more farmers will be able to benefit from fair chocolate products such as craft chocolate bars. The number of chocolate consumers who desire high quality chocolate will plateau as the majority of chocolate consumers simply view chocolate as an easy delicious snack and do not care for its quality. Hence big leading chocolate companies today like Hershey’s are able to sell poor quality chocolate for just $2. Therefore it is promising that there is a trend and increase in chocolate consumers who are willing to pay for more expensive chocolate bars; however, in order for more farmers to benefit from fairer wages, consumers must be willing to purchase expensive chocolate due to consumer consciousness and not simply for higher quality chocolate.

Furthermore, craft chocolate is not the perfect solution to chocolate farmers being underpaid. Craft chocolate makers often neglect West African cacao, where farmers’ wages are the lowest. Therefore it should not be advocated for all chocolate consumers to switch to craft chocolate bars. Rather, chocolate consumers should use craft chocolate as a scenario where the products are expensive but the makers pay their farmers much more for their cacao. Thus, craft chocolate is an example that should encourage chocolate consumers to be willing to pay more for chocolate so that chocolate farmers can receive fairer wages and a better quality of life.



Non-hyperlinked Figure Sources

Figure 1. “Equality for Women Starts with Chocolate.” Oxfam. Retrieved from: https://www.oxfam.org/sites/www.oxfam.org/files/equality-for-women-starts-with-chocolate-mb-260213.pdf  May 4, 2016

Figure 2. “Annual Cacao Sourcing Transparency Report.” Taza. Sept 2015.  Retrieved from: https://cdn.shopify.com/s/files/1/0974/7668/files/Taza_Transparency_Report_2015_v10_spreads__1.pdf?7651569415208703683  May 4, 2016


Works Cited

Ahren, Dan. “Investing in Vice.” 2004. St. Martin’s Press, New York. Print

“Annual Cacao Sourcing Transparency Report”. Taza Chocolate. September 2015. Retrieved from: https://cdn.shopify.com/s/files/1/0974/7668/files/Taza_Transparency_Report_2015_v10_spreads__1.pdf?7651569415208703683 May 4, 2016

“Brief History of Fair Trade.” Fair Trade Resource Network. Retrieved from: http://www.fairtraderesource.org/uploads/2007/09/History-of-Fair-Trade.pdf May 4, 2016

“Cocoa Barometer 2015.” 2015. Retrieved from: http://www.cocoabarometer.org/Download_files/Cocoa%20Barometer%202015%20Print%20Friendly%20Version.pdf May 4, 2016

“Dick Taylor Craft Chocolate.” Dick Taylor. Retrieved from: http://www.dicktaylorchocolate.com/shop/?category=Chocolate+Bars May 4, 2016


“Impact Research and Evaluation Studies.” Fair Trade Foundation. Retrieved from: http://www.fairtrade.org.uk/en/what-is-fairtrade/the-impact-of-our-work/impact-research-and-evaluation-studies May 4, 2016

Martin, Carla. “Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food Lecture Slides 2016.” 2016. Retrieved from: https://drive.google.com/folderview?id=0B_kGt6Sj1X5bYUY0UWg0Y1h2TTA&usp=sharing May 4, 2016

— “Lecture 1: Introduction to Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food.” 2016.

— “Lecture 10: Alternative Trade and Virtuous Localization/Globalization.” 2016.

Oxfam Media Briefing. “Equality for women starts with chocolate”. Oxfam. 2013. Retrieved from: https://www.oxfam.org/sites/www.oxfam.org/files/equality-for-women-starts-with-chocolate-mb-260213.pdf May 4, 2016

“Products.” Hershey’s. Retrieved from: https://www.hersheys.com/fundraising/products/ May 4, 2016

“Shop.” Target. Retrieved from: http://www.target.com/#?lnk=icon_t_spc_1_0 May 4, 2016

Sylla, Samba Ndongo. “The Fair Trade Scandal.” Ohio University Press. 2014.

“Taza Chocolate.” Taza. Retrieved from: https://www.tazachocolate.com/collections/see-it-all/products/super-dark May 4, 2016

“What is Fair Trade?” 2016. Fair Trade USA. Retrieved from: http://fairtradeusa.org/what-is-fair-trade# May 4, 2016

Fair Trade, Direct Trade, and The Relationship Model: Millennials Changing The Ethically Sourced Market

We’ve heard a lot about our generation, the famed “millennials.” Often stereotyped as lazy, selfish and entitled, it doesn’t seem like we’re doing much for the world besides trying to build the next great “Angry Birds” app. However, there is an important part of our generation that is not talked about as much, that we are the “do well while also doing good” generation. Our generation wants to see contributions as investments in causes that we care about instead of solely a donation or charity. In finance, there is something called sustainable and responsible investment and “ESG,” which stands for environmental friendliness, social responsibility and corporate governance. This form of investing is known as impact investing, a strategy for investing in companies that do something good for humanity, yet also do well for portfolios.

Impact investing in the US has grown 76% from 2012 to 2014, in only two years (USSIF). Why is this? Because millennials are entering the marketplace and demanding more ethically sourced goods and ethically responsible companies. Although millennials currently may only account for a small percentage of investing, as we age and come into money that we want to invest for our future, we will be a significant driver of impact investing growth. This investment perspective is important for understanding millennial consumption habits, especially in regards to the future consumption of goods and products that have a history of bad ethics and poor social responsibility, such as characterized in the production of chocolate and coffee.

Our generation is extremely influential in its current and potential buying power, and it has a handle on the limitless potential of social media to address issues and be a voice for causes like no other generation before it. As our generation increasingly enters the marketplace, there will be increasing scrutiny of where we invest our money and what good it is doing in the world. There will be increasing scrutiny on transparency, on getting to the bottom of the supply chain, where much, much more of every dollar we spend gets back to the producer, the farmer. I mention these economic and finance terms as a way to frame the importance of understanding what is happening in the marketplace to inform chocolate companies of the coming conscious consumer and how we will see certifications such as Fair Trade and Direct Trade face increased scrutiny, and companies like Taza Chocolate as pioneers in the marketplace grow in popularity.

In its latest annual study, Nielsen revealed that almost two thirds (66%) of consumers are willing to pay extra for products that come from companies who are committed to positive social and environmental impact (Nielsen). This percentage represents a large jump from 55% last year and 50% the year before. Interestingly, willingness to pay more is consistent across income groups. The study also revealed that almost three-quarters of millennials (ages 20-34) claimed they would pay more for sustainable products, up from about half last year. One of the most fascinating parts of this study was that female millennials, in particular, were willing to pay more at 75% (Nielsen). These trends towards more conscious consumption are something chocolate companies should be paying attention to. While at the moment we are most familiar with Taza Chocolate as a pioneer in the Direct Trade chocolate market, I believe we will be seeing more companies and brands come into the Direct Trade ethically sourced market to capitalize on the millennials that will be looking for such differentiated products in the marketplace. As we discovered in class, women buy the bulk of chocolate products, and if millennial women are the most inclined to pay more for an ethically sourced product, it is good news for the ethical chocolate market and for companies like Taza, who have to charge a premium to maintain their Direct Trade business. According to Steve Polski, senior director of responsible supply chains and sustainability at a top consumer company observes, “Businesses today are looking at sustainability differently than they were even a few years ago.” Polski continues, “It’s an exciting time to be working on supply chain sustainability and I think we’re approaching an inflection point among consumers as well” (Mcavoy).


Chart showing the incredible rise in millennials being willing to pay a premium for sustainable products – this is good news for ethically sourced chocolate and coffee companies that must charge a premium to stay committed to their ethical sourcing and be willing to cover the high price of maintaining an ethically sourced company with a high quality, pricey product. 

I have had my own first-hand experience with the issue of supply chain sustainability and the new millennial market that I will discuss further. First, however, I will begin by highlighting the difference between Fair Trade and Direct Trade using Taza Chocolate as an example, and then discuss my own experience creating an ethically sourced coffee company without certifications of any type, a trade model I call the “Relationship Model,” or the one-to-one model. There is much to be explored on the topics of ethically sourced chocolate and coffee and many difficulties of supply-chain management. Yet, as noted earlier, the economic trends and research data tells us that the consumer of the future will increasingly demand ethical products, particularly those transparent as to source, and be willing to pay more for these products – the chocolate market needs to think about how to adapt to these trends and answer millennial questions on sourcing.

We have discussed and explored in depth the various issues with the Fair Trade and Direct Trade certifications in the chocolate world. Fair Trade USA promises “the money you spend on day-to-day goods can improve an entire community’s day-to-day lives” (Fair Trade USA). While this goal is promising, taking a closer look at Fair Trade USA’s standards reveals that this certification is not enough to directly impact cacao farmers (Martin). There is no guarantee that money from the purchase goes directly to the farmers’ pockets. Instead, farmers must shoulder high fees, pay premiums, and other charges that come with the Fair Trade certification (Martin). This furthers the sad reality that very little, if any, money actually goes the farmers at the origins of the supply chain. Fair Trade USA promises a fair minimum price for cocoa, but in reality it “barely differs from the current world market price” (Leissle). Ultimately, the research tells us that that Fair Trade USA’s promises and commitments are misleading, and “lack of evidence of impact” makes its certification less appealing to informed consumers seeking ethically sourced products, particularly among millennials (Martin).

By contrast, Direct Trade moves beyond Fair Trade USA’s standards to create a clearer connection between cacao farmers and chocolate makers, or coffee farmers and coffee makers. Direct Trade hopes to go further than Fair Trade USA and be the solution that “make[s] for more ethical, sustainable production in an industry with a long history of exploitation” (Shute). Direct Trade tries to realize this benefit by eliminating the “middleman,” allowing chocolate makers and coffee makers to speak and interact directly with the farmers at the beginning of the supply chain to negotiate prices for the beans. Such direct negotiation, eliminating the cost and burden due to the middleman, should make it possible to compensate farmers at a “premium price they should earn for the high quality cacao they produce” (Taza Chocolate). In addition, Direct Trade eliminates the fees that come with Fair Trade USA certifications. The direct interaction between the farmers and chocolate and coffee makers means the farmers and farms are not obligated to be a part of cooperatives and can thus earn even more (Martin). These structural details of the Direct Trade process make it a better solution than Fair Trade USA for consumers seeking truly ethically sourced products and who want to see more of their money getting back to the farmer and making a difference. Importantly, those who seek ethically sourced products are growing in numbers and are mostly made up of millennials, whose purchasing power is only increasing. Now is when the Direct Trade market can do well while also doing good in the world. As millennials, we care about where the products we eat come from and that the money we spend is going to a good cause, thus enabling companies to charge a premium to make sure that their products are up to our new millennial standards and be assured that these premium prices will not hinder the profits of their business.

Taza Chocolate marketing labels showing their “Direct Trade” icon and their marketing slogan, “seriously good and fair for all.” We should question what these labels mean and recognize the vague notion of “Direct Trade” and the lack of standards it implies. 

While the Direct Trade model eliminates most of the issues buyers have with the Fair Trade USA certification system, certain problems of inconsistency arise due to the lack of set standards for Direct Trade. Buyers who directly source from farmers can have different standards when it comes to what a so-called “premium price” actually represents, what “quality cacao” means, and what the expectations are for farms with “fair working conditions” (Martin). Taza Chocolate maintains that they have “direct relationships with cacao producers,” and pay a set “premium price” to cacao producers and continues to “purchase high quality beans” but does not offer too much into detail of where exactly the money from the premium pricing goes (Taza Chocolate).

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Screengrab of Taza Transparency Report meant to highlight that the transparency reports do not detail the amount of money received by individual farmers or the “premium” paid – it seems as if these “Transparency” reports are no more than a marketing scheme to appear transparent. The details of the economics of the cooperatives and the income of the farmers is left out. 

Taza’s particular company-developed souring transparency also brings forth concerns about inconsistencies in Direct Trade’s more general, less specific standards amongst other producers claiming to source their products via Direct Trade.

As a millennial, I know how difficult it is to be a conscious consumer. Until a few years ago I was unaware of the struggles farmers faced in their supply-chains and how little income farmers were able to make by selling to conventional markets or to big companies. It was only when a started a coffee company myself was I able to truly understand how difficult it is to create a great company with a great product, how difficult it is for the farmer to reap the benefits while also being able to make a profit to sustain a business. But the success of the business is a real case study in changing consumer habits and of the new supply chains consumer changes are causing. In 2011, I visited the Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania, Africa. There, I met Paskali Gwandu, our guide in the crater for a week and a wonderful horticulturist. He introduced my family to the most wonderful coffee we had ever tasted, grown and roasted right on his farm in his village down the road from the campsite. Over the course of the week my family drank his coffee and explored the crater. At the end of the week we exchanged email addresses so we could send some photos we had taken and keep in touch about his horticulture studies. In a couple of emails, my family asked about his family and his great coffee, which led to him sending us his coffee beans, rare Tanzanian Peaberry, for a small money transfer of $50, as a thanks for him sharing his knowledge with us. To our surprise, the coffee arrived in just over a week, wrapped in beautiful Tanzanian stamps and with a gift of a blanket interwoven with exotic cowrie shells and with my own name, “Catherine” on it – a thank you from Paskali’s wife and family.


My brother (on left) with Paskali Gwandu, the talented horticulturalist and coffee farmer. Evidence of direct relationship. 

We continued this email exchange and money transferring to receive his amazing coffee every few weeks. After a while, friends and extended family began asking about Paskali and the coffee and started buying it through us. For my senior multimedia project, I decided to build a website for Paskali as a way for it to be easier for both customers and Paskali to order coffee, naming it “Gwandu Coffee.” Since that point, I have been trying to help Paskali and his family by marketing Gwanducoffee.com and learning about the complex coffee business in Africa. The small amount of coffee we have sold has changed Paskali’s life, allowing him to earn tuition to send his children to school and invest in new coffee plants, things that Paskali never thought were possible before.

Screengrabs from GwanduCoffee.com, the website I made in my multimedia class. Fully functional credit card processing and order transfer to Paskali’s email at the village computer which he checks daily. 

I discovered that by selling this coffee direct from Tanzania to the consumer via the internet, Paskali could get $4 per pound, compared to max $.50 per pound he would get at the markets. I have seen first hand what transparency can do for both the consumer and the farmer. Paskali’s coffee is of highest quality, and he takes deep care of his coffee because he knows he is sending it directly to the consumer’s doorstep and getting paid a premium to care for the consumer and the coffee.


From GwanduCoffee.com, our simple infographic showing the supply-chain from farm to consumer. 

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A screengrab of my research slide detailing the current issues with the coffee market in Tanzania and how GwanduCoffee.com is a solution to those problems. Detailing the significant price change to the farmer. 

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A screengrab from GwanduCoffee.com showing again the supply chain as direct from farm to consumer, truly “Direct” trade, no middlemen (buyers, sourcers, packaging, etc. – such as Taza must use)

Here, my model goes one step further, in what I like to call the one-to-one or Relationship Model of trade. In this model, you, the consumer, know the exact farmer and farms where your coffee is grown and roasted and can directly witness the impact you make. You know that this coffee is from Paskali Gwandu, not from just from farms in a region or a cooperative. A common question that comes up from people is, “Is this coffee Direct Trade or Fair Trade” and this is where I have to tell them no, it’s much more than that. It’s a relationship trade with Paskali, his family, his village, the coffee and the consumer. It was clear that people knew about fair trade but were unaware of what it did or what it did not do for farmers.

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Straight from GwanduCoffee.com website under the “The Company” tab. Gwandu gvies all the credit to Paskali Gwandu and makes sure to give background to him and the company. Pictured below the information is a photo of Paskali Gwandu himself. 

These new ways of trade and sourcing chocolate and coffee beans leaves more questions to be asked pricing, quality control, marketing, and the disruption of old supply chains, and whether consumers may be exploited from labels and buzzwords, but that is a larger conversation. The important conclusion is that millennials coming into the marketplace and demanding more ethically sourced products, and willing to pay more for them, bodes well for the positive future of farmers and chocolate and coffee businesses.

Even further than the Relationship Model I propose, is a relationship much like World Vision, a charitable organization in which a specific child or family is sponsored over time by a contributing family. Perhaps in this extended relationship model, a farmer could be supported by multiple families or people over a longer period of time, to make a real difference and receive high quality coffee or chocolate. This may be wishful thinking for the future of coffee, but we must continue to think of new ways to innovate the supply-chain and how to increase transparency.


It is advised to avoid all certifications on packaging to not stray consumers with false advertising, but this is an example of a possible relationship model trade icon, if the market demands such labeling. 

Of course, not every person has access to a coffee or chocolate farmer and can create a company, but consumers can take control of their knowledge and quickly identify which companies are doing good for humanity. Something as small as a chocolate bar or a cup of coffee in the morning can change the life of a farmer half way across the world. As a millennial, I believe the market place will start to make this form of conscious consuming more available to us, as companies will want to capitalize off our changing concerns about where our food is from and where our money is going to support. Companies like Taza Chocolate and Gwandu Coffee are not only paving a new path for companies of the future, but also serving as a contrast to present company ethics and serving as a way for consumers to question current supply-chain practices. Our generation can and will create real positive change in the chocolate and coffee industry. I feel honored to be a part of this change and look forward to the future of an industry so marred with a dark past and even a dark present.


Works Cited:

Leissle, Kristy. “What’s Fairer than Fair Trade? Try Direct Trade with Cocoa Farmers.”YES! Magazine. YES! Magazine, 04 October 2013. Web. 02 May 2016.

Mcavoy, Kaitlyn. “Ethical Sourcing: Do Consumers and Companies Really Care?” Spend Matters. N.p., 15 Feb. 2016. Web. 2 May 2016. <http://spendmatters.com/2016/02/15/ethical-sourcing-do-consumers-and-companies-really-care/&gt;.

Martin, Carla. “Alternative Trade and Virtuous Localization/globalization.” AAAS 119x Lecture. CGIS South, Tsai Auditorium, Cambridge, MA. 6 Apr. 2016. Lecture.

Nielsen. “GLOBAL CONSUMERS ARE WILLING TO PUT THEIR MONEY WHERE THEIR HEART IS WHEN IT COMES TO GOODS AND SERVICES FROM COMPANIES COMMITTED TO SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY.” Nielsen. Nielsen Press Room, 17 June 2014. Web. 2 May 2016. <http://www.nielsen.com/us/en/press-room/2014/global-consumers-are-willing-to-put-their-money-where-their-heart-is.html&gt;.

Nielsen. “Sustainable Selections: How Socially Responsible Companies Are Turning a Profit.” Nielsen. Nielsen Press Room, 12 Oct. 2015. Web. 2 May 2016. <http://www.nielsen.com/us/en/insights/news/2015/sustainable-selections-how-socially-responsible-companies-are-turning-a-profit.html&gt;.

Shute, Nancy. “Bean-to-Bar Chocolate Makers Dare to Bare How It’s Done .” NPR: The Salt. NPR, 14 February 2013. Web. 02 May 2016.

REPORT ON US Sustainable, Responsible and Impact Investing Trends 2014. 02 May 2016

“Taza Chocolate Direct Trade Certified Cacao.” Taza Chocolate. Taza Chocolate, 2015. Web. 02 May 2016.



Nielsen chart: http://www.marketingcharts.com/traditional/will-consumers-pay-more-for-products-from-socially-responsible-companies-60166/

All Gwandu Coffee Images are from author and from Gwanducoffee.com website.

“Relationship” icon: http://blog.seattlecoffeeworks.com/in-the-news/introducing-relationship-trade/

Taza Direct Trade and Taza Chocolate: Via Taza Chocolate website


Do You Know Your Cacao Farmer? Looking Beyond Fair Trade Certified with Direct Trade Initiatives and ‘Bean-to-Bar’ Companies

Imagine this scenario: you’re looking through a magazine at the Doctor’s office one day and you see this ad –


And it makes you think, “Isn‘t that interesting… I know Ben and Jerry’s was bought by Unilever and ever since I’ve stopped buying their ice cream, but if they’re using Fair Trade ingredients maybe I will pick-up some on my way home – this decision makes me feel better about buying this delicious product again.

If you identify with this thought process you might think of yourself as a socially conscious and ethical consumer. You wouldn’t be wrong to think this but you probably haven’t heard the intricacies of the Fair Trade debate or of any other alternatives to this often idealized one-stop solution.

Let’s start by digging deeper into the public relations information promoted by the Fair Trade Certified™ organization reflected in the Ben & Jerry’s advertisement.

To see how companies market their products as having a value added benefit to farmers, producers and consumers using these standards, check out this article on What is Fair Trade by Cocoa Couriers a specialty chocolate website that sells a variety of Fair Trade Chocolate from around the world.

But there are some draw backs to Fair Trade as Maricel Presilla explains: “the Fair Trade Federation price system is meant to ensure just compensation to cacao farmers in developing nations, but it doesn’t guarantee substantially higher income for any individual farmer… organic or Fair Trade cacao can be mediocre (or worse) in quality. Moreover, the certification programs involved in such campaigns introduce layers of bureaucracy between grower and consumer that can cut into a farm’s profits.”1

To delve deeper into the underside of Fair Trade, take a look at this Introduction of Ndongo Sylla’s The Fair Trade Scandal. In her book she explores the very messy world of International Trade Regulations by WTO, effects of neoliberal globalization, and the history of Fair Trade and its relations to new buzz words like sustainable. Here Sylla examines the business of poverty and how it relates to advertising:

“Fair Trade nevertheless seeks to change the world by extending the empire of commodities further. How can it do so? Poverty itself has become a commodity. Poverty is being labelled. Through this label, it is the idea and the approach that are being sold. The label gives poverty a visibility it did not have before. It gives it an identity. A seal is applied on commodities produced by the poor – in fact by a minority among the poor – so that consumers of the North can distinguish between the ‘Fair’ approach and others. In theory, this label guarantees that the higher price paid will be put to good use and benefit impoverished workers. But Fair Trade needs advertising in order to attract clients, as all sellers do. Marketing and awareness campaigns are necessary to promote its cause.”2

After reading, you might feel more educated on the subtleties regarding why Fair Trade was created and what issues it faces, while also feeling more confused than ever. So what’s the alternative, isn’t buying a Fair Trade product the lesser evil? Yes, and no: increasingly some companies and growers are realizing the pitfalls of Fair Trade certifications and addressing them with new trade models. Companies like Taza Chocolate are using the terminology ‘bean-to-bar’ and ‘Direct Trade’ to label these decisions. Here is what Taza has to say about their Direct Trade Certified Cacao:

Direct Trade Certified

Taza makes stone ground chocolate that is seriously good and fair for all. From farm to factory, we do things differently. We do things better. We are chocolate pioneers.

It starts with Taza Direct Trade. We said no to predatory middlemen and abusive labor practices. We created the chocolate industry’s first third-party certified Direct Trade cacao sourcing program, to ensure quality and transparency for all. We have real, face-to-face relationships with growers who respect the environment and fair labor practices. They provide us with the best organic cacao, and we pay them prices significantly higher than Fair Trade. In fact, you can
see exactly what we pay them, in our groundbreaking Annual Cacao
Sourcing Transparency Reports.

Taza Direct Trade means more money for farmers, the best cacao for us, and seriously good chocolate for you.3

With this information about Direct Trade initiatives in mind, why don’t we see more advertisements that invite consumers to learn about this alternate business model and support companies that are implementing better trade practices and providing higher quality products? Would this advertisement catch your eye?


Did this advertisement I created make you think more than the Ben & Jerry’s ad regarding what you can do to educate yourself about direct trade models and get you interested in Askinoise, a company that the growers are advocating for?

If so, you might also consider:

  • What are the benefits of having direct relations with the growers of my food?
  • How can I support companies like Taza, Choba Choba and Askinosie who partner with and compensate their growers with ‘a stake in the outcome™‘ of their product?
  • How can I go beyond advertisements and learn more about the products I buy and the impact of their claims?

By asking questions like these you have the power to unlock real change in the cacao supply chain and other commodities by supporting companies with solutions to: Tariff barriers, global indexing of the global North vs the global South perpetuated with unethical and disastrous results that feed binaries of exploiter/exploited and do little to change the economic models that feed this inequality.

To Askinosie Chocolate, answers to these issues looks like these reasons for Direct Trade from their website:

Because you get better chocolate

Because it’s better Farmernomics

Because we all get better communities

So, why do we practice Direct Trade? Very few chocolate makers do, after all, and almost none go to the lengths we do to be involved every step of the way. It’s certainly not cheaper, easier or simpler, and it definitely doesn’t carry less financial risk for us. We practice Direct Trade because we think it’s the right way and the best way.4

Choba Choba, another company moving beyond Fair Trade shares this video that explains how they have imagined change in the supply chain:


What can be done to keep building more company, supplier alliances like these? Support organizations like TechnoServe who bring these partnerships together.

Additional Resources for Further Understanding Chocolate Trade Solutions:

Try some Direct Trade and Bean-to-Bar chocolate!



1 Presilla, Maricel. 2009. The New Taste of Chocolate. pp. 133.

2 Sylla, Ndongo Samba. “The Fair Trade Scandal.” Marketing Poverty to Benefit the Rich (Pluto (2014).

3 “Taza Direct Trade.” Taza Chocolate. Web. 08 Apr. 2016. <https://www.tazachocolate.com/pages/taza-direct-trade&gt;.
4 Askinosie Chocolate. A Stake in the Outcome. Web. 8 Apr. 2016. <https://askinosie.com/learn/direct-trade.html>


Choba Choba. ChobaChobaBlog1. 2014. Http://chobachoba.com/a-chocolate-revolution-is-about-to-star/a-chocolate-revolution-is-about-to-star/. Web. 8 Apr. 2016.
Askinosie Chocolate. A Stake in the Outcome. Web. 8 Apr. 2016. <https://askinosie.com/learn/a-stake-in-the-outcome.html&gt;.
Unilever. Ben & Jerry’s: “FAIR TRADE COCOA” Print Ad. 2010. Amalgamated New York. Coloribus. Web. 8 Apr. 2016. <http://files1.coloribus.com/files/adsarchive/part_1661/16612555/file/ice-cream-fair-trade-cocoa-600-93572.jpg&gt;.

Askinosie Chocolate: A Commitment to Community and Education

Fair trade is a system in which companies pay fair prices to producers in developing countries. As the nonprofit organization Fair Trade USA explains: “Fair Trade goods are just that. Fair. From far-away farms to your shopping cart, products that bear our logo come from farmers and workers who are justly compensated. We help farmers in developing countries build sustainable businesses that positively influence their communities. We’re a nonprofit, but we don’t do charity. Instead, we teach disadvantaged communities how to use the free market to their advantage. With Fair Trade USA, the money you spend on day-to-day goods can improve an entire community’s day-to-day lives.”[i] Fair Trade USA makes some huge promises. First, the organization claims to deliver fair prices and wages, to value long-term direct trading relationships with farmers, and to help farmers build sustainable businesses. It promises to help create a workplace free from child exploitation and gender discrimination. In addition to traceable and transparent financial transactions farmers should receive higher premiums on their products. Overall, Fair Trade USA claims to teach farmers how to operate more efficiently within the supply chain. They also believe community development projects and environmental sustainability are worth an investment. The hope is that consumers will feel magnanimous by purchasing fair trade products. Unfortunately, despite magnanimous intentions, fair trade does not fulfill all of these promises.[ii]

Often fair trade makes promises that it cannot fulfill. First, little money from fair trade actually reaches the developing world.[iii] Farmers are required to shoulder the high recurring cost of certification. As a result, the system benefits independently wealthy farmers and harms non-certified farmers, who are often poor. Second, quality is a concern since there are no incentives to produce high quality beans. A fair trade certified cooperative may produce poor quality cacao and still be paid similarly to high quality certified cocoa. In addition, standards may go unmonitored. Third, marketing may be inefficient or unethical. For example, a company that is not Fair Trade USA certified could print, “This is a fairly traded product” to appeal to consumer interest. Such inaccurate techniques may mislead consumers who often cannot tell the difference between legitimate and dishonest certification. Fair trade intentions are positive, yet the chocolate industry needs more compelling and practical alternatives to fair trade.

Direct Trade is seen as an alternative to some of the fair trade certification problems that exist. Whereas Fair Trade is typified by farmer cooperatives, complicated and expensive certification, and a minor $200 premium per ton of cacao over commodity bulk price, direct trade is an alternative that removes the middleman, reduces certification bureaucracy, and pays a higher premium over commodity bulk price.[iv] Unlike fair trade, individual farms are not required to be part of a cooperative to gain certification; direct trade allows manufacturers to work directly with farmers without excess fees, dues, and surcharges. For example, Taza Chocolate, which is seen as a pioneer of direct trade, produces an annual cacao sourcing transparency report that details its values and practices. For example, Taza builds long-term sustainable relationships by physically visiting each cacao farmer at least once a year; this circumvents any middlemen. Second, Taza pays a premium of at least 500 US dollars per metric ton above the New York International Commodities Exchange price directly to farmers.[v] This is more than double the typical fair trade premium of 200 USD. Lastly, Taza only buys cacao from farmers that ensure fair and humane work practices and never engage in child or slave labor. In general, direct trade is a valuable alternative because it promotes price negotiation, incentivizes quality, and encourages direct communication between buyer and farmer.[vi]

Alex Whitmore and Francisco Poma Cruz, president of the CIAAB Cooperative, signing the Taza Chocolate Direct Trade Agreement. Photo by Nicholas Valverde.
Alex Whitmore and Francisco Poma Cruz, president of the CIAAB Cooperative, signing the Taza Chocolate Direct Trade Agreement. Photo by Nicholas Valverde.

Askinosie is a small batch bean-to-bar chocolate factory located in Springfield, Missouri that focuses on direct trade and community development. The company’s founder Shawn Askinosie sources their cocoa beans directly from farmers around the world, has them shipped to the United States, and then makes and sells that chocolate around the world.[vii] Beans are central to the product, so “dealing directly with these farmers, and paying them directly, and having some influence how they harvest the beans is very important to our process and to our mission.”[viii] As Askinosie explains in the company mission statement, “We at Askinosie Chocolate exist to craft exceptional chocolate while serving our farmers, our customers, our neighborhood, and one another, striving in all we do to leave whatever part of the world we touch better for the encounter.”[ix] As a former criminal defense attorney, Shawn says that he finds directly trading and importing beans and sharing profits with farmers to be his biggest yet most rewarding challenge yet.[x] Overall, a commitment to community lies at the heart of Askinosie’s mission statement.

Direct trade practices can eliminate the complicated and costly elements of fair trade certification. Fair trade requires farmers to organize themselves into a cooperative, to pay a fee to the fair trade certifying body to conduct a survey, and to complete paperwork and pay a large fee to become fair trade certified. Farmer cooperatives shoulder the cost of certification, which often costs from $30,000 to $50,000.[xi] In the end, what fair trade delivers to a farmer cooperative is only a $200 premium above the typical $3,000 for a commodity ton of cacao.[xii] When farmers only receive $200 more per ton the cost of getting certified quickly eats into the profits brought by Fair Trade certification.[xiii] Since cooperatives often negotiate certification, which is a recurring cost, the incomes of individual farm workers rarely increase as a result of fair trade certification. Sometimes money flows back into education or medical facilities but rarely do individual farmers’ incomes increase. Thus, there is a gap between the promises made and the promises kept by fair trade. Askinosie hopes to close this gap. As the “Direct Trade” section of their website explains, Askinosie pays cocoa farmers significantly above the per-ton Fair Trade market price for their cocoa beans and also profit shares with farmers.[xiv] “On top of that, we also profit share with these farmers. At the end of the selling cycle, which also happens to be the time to inspect the new crop, we visit the farmers and pay them directly. Because we also do not use a broker, this is just another example of removing layers of middlemen. With our model, it’s just us and the farmers. This way, we both have more control and the farmers make more money.”[xv] Shawn personally interacts with suppliers like an Uwate cocoa farmers group in Tenende, Tanzania.[xvi] For Askinosie farmers are an essential “piece of the puzzle” that should be honored as “experts and craftsmen” and partners in their business.[xvii]

Askinosie focuses on high quality beans in order to produce award-winning chocolate that people love and recognize as a superior product. “Cocoa bean quality must be perfect and meet our standards for sourcing. The farmers adhere to our very detailed specifications, not those of a broker.”[xviii] Since only two ingredients go into their chocolate—organic cocoa beans and organic sugar—high quality beans are paramount. Askinosie is selective and takes the opportunity to reject defective beans at the farm. Conscious cultivation is also important, since their farmers sign a contract that asserts they are committed to “healthful and responsible cultivation method.”[xix] Their chocolate is 100% traceable, which means the company knows the name of every farmer they work with and can trace beans directly back to those suppliers.[xx] They are a helpful, hands-on company that endeavors to help identify and solve problems before they become unmanageable. Askinosie controls the actual importation of their beans, which is almost unheard of in the chocolate world.[xxi] By sharing a percentage of their profits based on the sales of products made with beans from a specific selling cycle, farmers are incentivized to produce the highest quality cocoa beans.[xxii] In short, higher quality beans leads to more sales, which leads to a higher profit share.

Shawn Askinosie is photographing beans; he offers quality incentives to encourage cocoa farmers to produce the best beans they possibly can.
Shawn Askinosie is photographing beans; he offers quality incentives to encourage cocoa farmers to produce the best beans they possibly can.

As an adherent of Direct Trade, Shawn not only knows the regions from which its beans come but, more significantly, he builds “long-term and mutually supportive relationships with the farmers.”[xxiii] In his “Cocoa Origin Travelogue” Shawn Askinosie records his travels to farmer sites and comments on poverty, local community council meetings, and company projects. In Davao, Philippines he visited the Malagos Elementary School where his company initiated the Sustainable Lunch Program. In his post on San Jose Del Tambo, Ecuador, Shawn wrote that Direct Trade gave him “a perspective that buying beans from brokers would not allow.”[xxiv] Many companies market single origin chocolate, but Shawn takes the single origin concept a step further and creates bars sourced from individual farms. Askinosie chocolate bar wrappers feature the faces of individual farmers so customers realize Peter from Davao or Vitaliano from San Jose Del Tambo farmed the beans.[xxv] Fostering such close connections between grower, manufacturer, and consumer is something not all companies are willing or able to do—Askinosie is truly a direct trade innovator.

As the website explains, this bar is classified as a single origin product.
As the website explains, this bar is classified as a single origin product. “To honor what the farmers have grown, we highlight that region’s cocoa flavors by using only those beans in our chocolates, not mixing or blending from other region’s beans.”

Askinosie wants their farmer partners’ communities to thrive and they aim to do this by profit sharing as well as by asking what communities need and working with them to fulfill those needs. Shawn tries to solve problems through fully sustainable community development programs in his own neighborhood in Springfield, Missouri and in impoverished communities where he buys cocoa beans. For example, in Davao, Philippines, and Kyela, Tanzania, Askinosie’s desire for community development led them to collaborate with school administrations to develop a Sustainable Lunch Program for the students, many of whom suffer from malnutrition. And the results are substantial; Askinosie has provided more than 315,000 meals sustainably since 2011.[xxvi] Shawn also personally participated in building wells to bring a village clean water.[xxvii] Clearly Askinosie is a trailblazer in direct trade and community development because, as Shawn explains, “My business is not just about making chocolate. The ‘why’ of why we’re in business is because of our participation in the neighborhood. And our chance to impact the lives of people 10,000 miles away and 100 yards away.”[xxviii] Shawn pours his heart and soul into his business. As he explains, “I don’t know what would fit so perfectly, make people happy, and would also engage young people and engage communities.”[xxix] Askinosie goes above and beyond business connections to foster personal ties with farming communities.

Askinosie connects communities through their hands-on learning program Chocolate University, which allows American students to connect with children in cocoa farming communities to experience firsthand Askinosie’s promise to Direct Trade and to community service. Shawn engages high school students from Springfield, Missouri in the Direct Trade process by offering active exercises in entrepreneurship. Students travel with Askinosie employees to meet cocoa producers and to directly participate in community projects. The American kids involved in Chocolate University are not tourists they are workers; they work to power classroom laptops, to bag rice, to form relationships with local students. Participants provided younger students in a farming community with a library filled with math, science, and English books.[xxx] Askinosie also focuses on children’s education at home; the company built a study room for homeless children at the local Hotel Missouri shelter in Springfield. These projects prove Askinosie is able to identify and fulfill community needs at home and abroad. As Martha Scott Burton, a Chocolate University Student explained, “Chocolate University has refined my perception of a truly global community.”[xxxi] Shawn agrees that the Chocolate University trip transforms, impacts, and “helps” American and African students alike.[xxxii] Through his company Shawn is able to identify and fulfill community needs both at home and abroad and to educate the next generation about direct trade practices.

Askinosie markets its product, values, and projects to consumers in a straightforward, detailed, and transparent manner. The majority of Askinosie chocolate bars go beyond sourcing from one country or region. Bars are comprised of beans sourced from one specific town and packaging often features an individual farmer. For example, the single origin 62% dark milk chocolate bar made of beans sourced directly from farmers in Davao, Philippines features Peter the farmer on its packaging. In a blog post on his Cocoa Origin Travelogue, Shawn wrote he is “honored to call Peter our farmer partner” after working together for eight years.[xxxiii] The 77% Davao Philippines bar also assures consumers that the bar is Certified Kosher product with single origin beans that eliminates the middleman and profit shares with farmers.[xxxiv] In September 2014 Shawn also discussed a profit share meeting with Vitaliano, a farmer featured on the 70% San Jose Del Tambo, Ecuador bar; they have worked together for eight years as well. The main video featured on Askinosie’s website titled “Ozark Mountain Chocolate Makers” shows close-up images of machinery, employees, and chocolate in a way that presents their process and product as meticulous, thoughtful, and excellent.[xxxv] Individual employees finish chocolate bars by hand in one facility is Springfield, Missouri. The video’s message is that the company is homegrown, unique, and luxurious yet unpretentious. Like Askinosie, Chocolatiers George Soriano and Julio Fernandez of Sibú Chocolates in Costa Rica know the story of a product is important. As George says, “We found we could really engage people by telling them we harvested and made the final product and bonbons here… You give them that and have them taste it, and then tell the story that’s attached to it—the story that’s wrapped up in that piece of chocolate.”[xxxvi] By printing the farmer’s portrait on packaging Askinosie puts the farmer’s story, town, and product front and center and offers consumers the epitome of specific, transparent marketing.

Like Askinosie, many small American manufacturers are opening their doors to packed tours of people excited to learn about where chocolate comes from, how it is made, and how to taste it. While many small manufacturers in the United States rely on gourmet shops to promote their chocolate, some are also building their success by appealing to local communities at farmers’ markets, public events, and their own stores, as well as providing factory tours.[xxxvii] Askinosie promises their tour provides a “concise education on how we make our bean-to-bar chocolate, including our ingredients and the type of equipment utilized” as well as background information concerning their Direct Trade practices, community involvement, and bean origins.[xxxviii] Theo Chocolate performs a similar factory tour in which they “entertain you with the story of cocoa” and “touch on the social and environmental issues related to cocoa and cocoa farmers.”[xxxix] Each guest leaves with a specially wrapped Theo chocolate bar as a memento, which encourages visitors to discuss the tour experience long after they leave the factory. Of course, tastings, tours, and other events are limited in how many people they reach and how much they communicate.

To complement factory tours and tastings, manufacturers of bean to bar products offer a great deal of information to consumers about their chocolate; the company website is often a valuable forum for consumer education. Manufacturers like Chocolates El Rey in Venezuela provide details on the flavor components and potential uses of their chocolates.[xl] John Kehoe of TCHO created a Flavor Wheel featuring tastes such as nutty, earthy, and floral to “help consumers understand” chocolate.[xli] Askinosie lists various recipes so consumers can learn and appreciate chocolate beyond its bar form.[xlii] As Richard Callebaut of the Swiss company Barry Callebaut said, “We put a premium on the importance of education so consumers can make the best decisions.”[xliii] In order to make thoughtful purchases, consumers should be able to understand not only a bean-to-bar company’s social responsibility efforts, but also to appreciate its superior product.

Marketing is driving many of the decisions consumers make, so “the importance of truth in marketing is paramount,” as Art Pollard of Amano Chocolate asserts.[xliv] Unfortunately, some marketing is inaccurate or misleading. As Christian Aschwanden, CEO of Felchlin says, “Marketing is sometimes more important than the flavor and quality of a product because the consumer is not in a position or doesn’t take the time to distinguish quality chocolate.”[xlv] As Steve De Vries explains, “The explosion of small manufacturers means a dizzying array” of options.[xlvi] The large selection is made more confusing because manufacturers offer a vast amount of information concerning the bean origins and their chocolate for both marketing and education purposes. This overflow of information makes it more difficult for consumers to select and differentiate between brands.[xlvii] As Joe Whinney of Theo Chocolate explains, “I can’t really think of one major brand that hasn’t made some sort of enhanced claim. So that’s also why I think transparency is important. Products have to be three-dimensional in terms of the product quality, its price, and value proposition, and the impact that it is having on the community and the rest of the world. That’s where the future is.”[xlviii] Transparency is important because companies have a responsibility to educate their consumer, who relies on company marketing to inform purchasing decisions. Although Askinosie does not publish a detailed transparency report like Taza, Askinosie fulfills its responsibility to consumers by providing other marketing information in their online shop such as tasting notes, awards and accolades, and product certification. Although companies are responsible for providing correct information, it is ultimately up to the consumer to educate himself to accurately interpret product labels.

I argue that chocolate is a product consumers should actively—not passively—consume. Postconsumers.com, a “national brand without profit” that endeavors to help society move beyond addictive consumerism, claims to “advocate mindful consumption based on each person’s core values, rather than an endless quest for stuff.”[xlix] In a detailed 2015 post that explained Fair Trade Chocolate Postconsumers.com educated readers on how to recognize Fair Trade chocolate.[l] Although one may rely on a for-profit labeling and certification process like FLO-CERT (the certification and labeling division of Fair Trade International) to promise socially and environmentally sustainable practices, Postconsumers.com urges consumers to assertively go beyond certifications and conduct “a little extra research on your part.”[li] They recommend consumers scan products with the Buycott smartphone app to see the social and environmental rankings of a manufacturer and to get suggestions for alternatives.[lii] Since Direct Trade is a hugely varied system upheld by individual companies and not regulated by an overarching organization like Fair Trade International, it is especially important that consumers take time to research a company’s history and current practices. Ultimately it is the consumers’ responsibility to research a chocolate manufacturer to truly understand the manufacturer’s farming, harvesting, purchasing and manufacturing processes.

Direct trade is a positive arrangement for both manufacturer and farmer, yet direct trade is not particularly scalable. For example, Taza manages a small number of direct trade relationships but they are a small company so they cannot handle that many more. If Taza were to go out of business the farmers with whom they are trading would be left suspended and unsupported. Although the farmers could find another company there is still a lot of risk built into that relationship. Direct trade hasn’t received an overall standardization yet, which means it is practiced irregularly and it can be potentially corrupt. Askinosie appears to fulfill all of its promises regarding fair trade; the company pays above market prices for beans and supports its farming communities in new, creative ways. Still, it would be positive for Shawn Askinosie to produce a detailed Transparency Report similar to the document Taza publishes annually. Although Shawn’s blog is a user-friendly forum, an official document would be an appropriate vehicle in which to list how many tons Askinosie purchased from a farmer cooperative, how much they paid, and how farmers feel about the transaction. Despite varying standards between producers, direct trade practices promote direct communication, encourage price negotiation, and encourage and incentivize quality. Although direct trade is not particularly scalable it allows Askinosie to fulfill many of its promises to improve the financial and social development of communities.

Askinosie has served as a leader of direct and transparent trade in the chocolate industry by paying top dollar for the best beans, investing in education, spearheading community development projects, fostering personal relationships with farmers, and making high quality chocolate. Direct trade is not a cheaper, easier, or simpler way to conduct business and it carries financial risk. Askinosie looks beyond the chocolate when very few chocolate makers do and when few make an effort to be involved every step of the way. Shawn Askinosie personally opts to practice direct trade because he feels it is a moral way to conduct his business. Dealing direct “impacts the flavor of chocolate, and it brings the consumers closer to the producers,” Askinosie says.[liii] At the end of the day, Askinosie recognizes what chocolate is all about: connection. A commitment to community is at the heart of all Askinosie transactions whether financial or social. Perhaps most admirable is how Shawn uses his company to educate communities both at home and abroad. I believe consumer education is key to a thriving bean to bar chocolate trade. The conscientious consumer should be aware of all aspects of a product including the production process, the bean origin story, and flavor notes.



Albritton, Robert. “Between Obesity and Hunger: The Capitalist Food Industry.” In Food and Culture: A Reader, edited by Carole Counihan and Penny van Esterik. New York and London: Routledge, 2013.

“All About Askinosie Chocolate.” YouTube video, 6:50, posted by Askinosie Chocolate, September 14, 2011, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X5H-ZVnbcVk.

Askinosie Chocolate. “Welcome to Askinosie Chocolate.” Last modified May 2015. https://askinosie.com/

“Askinosie Chocolate Tanzania Cocoa Bean Documentary,” produced by Sara Swango and Kenzi Inman, YouTube video, 7:09, Askinosie Chocolate, November 26, 2010, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ThTqIFhIG08

Askinosie, Shawn. “Davao, Philippines- January Davao 2015,” Cocoa Origin Travelogue: small batch direct trade on four continents, February 2015, http://askinosiechocolate.tumblr.com/post/109881032791/davao-philippines-january-davao-2015

Askinosie, Shawn. “Spotlight on Missouri Business: Askinosie Chocolate,” YouTube video, 3:30, posted by Missouri Economic Development, November 15, 2013, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=utic2PaXjwE.

Bean to Bar: A Film About Artisan Chocolate. Directed by Bob Ridgley. Bellingham, WA: Binary Recording Studio, 2012.

Campbell, Rob. “The Fine Art of Craft Chocolate: An Interview with Carla D. Martin (Part 1),” Formaggio Kitchen Blog, October 2, 2014, http://www.formaggiokitchen.com/blog/the-fine-art-of-craft-chocolate-an-interview-with-carla-d-martin-part-1/.

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1996.

Davies, Iain A., and Andrew Crane. “Ethical Decision Making in Fair Trade Companies.” Journal of Business Ethics 45 (2003): 79-92.

Davies, Iain A., and Lynette J. Ryals. “The Role of Social Capital in the Success of Fair Trade,” Journal of Business Ethics 96 (2010): 317-338.

Fair Trade USA. “What is Fair Trade?” Last modified May 2015. http://fairtradeusa.org/about-fair-trade-usa/mission

Guittard Chocolate Company. “Bean to Bar.” Accessed May 7, 2015. https://www.guittard.com/bean-to-bar.

Healy, Kevin. “Cacao Bean Farmers Make a Chocolate-Covered Development Climb.” In Llamas, Weavings, and Organic Chocolate: Multicultural Grassroots Development in the Andes and Amazon of Bolivia. Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 2001.

Interview by Bob Linder. “Askinosie Chocolate University Tanzania Trip with Student Interviews,” YouTube video, 9:26, Askinosie Chocolate, August 29, 2012, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4RqPMmTvD28.

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

Levkoe, Charles Z. “Learning Democracy Through Food Justice Movements.” In Food and Culture: A Reader, edited by Carole Counihan and Penny van Esterik. New York and London: Routledge, 2013.

Lockwood, Sarah. “Exploiters or Exploited? Cocoa Production in West Africa.” Class lecture, Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food from Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, 23 March 2015.

Martin, Carla D. “Alternative Trade and Virtuous Localization/Globalization.” Class lecture, Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food from Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, 8 April 2015.

Martin, Carla D. “Modern day slavery.” Class lecture, Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food from Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, 25 March 2015.

Martin, Carla D. “Race, ethnicity, gender, and class in chocolate advertisements.” Class lecture, Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food from Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, 1 April 2015.

Nesto, Bill. “Discovering Terroir in the World of Chocolate.” Gastronomica 10 (2010): 131-135.

Postconsumers Content Team. “Explaining Fair Trade Chocolate.” February 20, 2015. Postconsumers.com: Finding the Satisfaction of Enough. Accessed May 6, 2015. http://www.postconsumers.com.

Presilla, Maricel E. The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural and Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. New York: Crown Publishing. 2009.

Shute, Nancy. “Bean to Bar Chocolate Makers Dare to Bare How It’s Done.” National Public Radio, February 14, 2013. Accessed May 3, 2015. http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2013/02/13/171891081/bean-to-bar-chocolate-makers-dare-to-bare-how-its-done.

Taza Chocolate. Annual Cacao Sourcing Transparency Report. September 2012. http://www.tazachocolate.com/documents/file/Taza_Transparency%20Report_final_v5_o.pdfSee, accessed May 5, 2015.

Williams, Pam, and Jim Eber. “To Market, To Market: Craftsmanship, Customer Education, and Flavor.” In Raising the Bar: The Future of Fine Chocolate. Vancouver, BC: Wilmor Publishing Corporation, 2012.

[i] Fair Trade USA. “What is Fair Trade?” last modified May 2015, http://fairtradeusa.org/about-fair-trade-usa/mission.

[ii] Carla D. Martin, “Alternative Trade and Virtuous Localization/Globalization,” Class lecture, Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food from Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, 8 April 2015.

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] Ibid., PowerPoint slide 20.

[v] Taza Chocolate, Annual Cacao Sourcing Transparency Report, September 2012, http://www.tazachocolate.com/documents/file/Taza_Transparency%20Report_final_v5_o.pdfSee, accessed May 5, 2015.

[vi] Carla D. Martin, “Alternative Trade and Virtuous Localization/Globalization,” Class lecture, Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food from Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, 8 April 2015, PowerPoint slide 15.

[vii] Shawn Askinosie, “Spotlight on Missouri Business: Askinosie Chocolate,” YouTube video, 3:30, posted by Missouri Economic Development, November 15, 2013, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=utic2PaXjwE.

[viii] Ibid.

[ix] Askinosie Chocolate, “Learn: Our Story,” Last modified May 2015, https://askinosie.com/learn/our-story.html.

[x] “All About Askinosie Chocolate.” YouTube video, 6:50, posted by Askinosie Chocolate, September 14, 2011, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X5H-ZVnbcVk.

[xi] Carla D. Martin, “Alternative Trade and Virtuous Localization/Globalization,” Class lecture, Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food from Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, 8 April 2015.

[xii] Ibid.

[xiii] Ibid.

[xiv] Askinosie Chocolate, “Direct Trade,” last modified May 2015, https://askinosie.com/learn/direct-trade.html.

[xv] Ibid.

[xvi] Nancy Shute, “Bean to Bar Chocolate Makers Dare to Bare How It’s Done,” National Public Radio, February 14, 2013, Accessed May 3, 2015, http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2013/02/13/171891081/bean-to-bar-chocolate-makers-dare-to-bare-how-its-done.

[xvii] Askinosie Chocolate, “Direct Trade,” last modified May 2015, https://askinosie.com/learn/direct-trade.html

[xviii] Ibid.

[xix] Ibid.

[xx] Ibid.

[xxi] Ibid.

[xxii] Ibid.

[xxiii] Ibid.

[xxiv] Shawn Askinosie, “Davao, Philippines- January Davao 2015,” Cocoa Origin Travelogue: small batch direct trade on four continents, February 2015, http://askinosiechocolate.tumblr.com/post/109881032791/davao-philippines-january-davao-2015

[xxv] Ibid.

[xxvi] Askinosie Chocolate, “Direct Trade,” last modified May 2015, https://askinosie.com/learn/direct-trade.html

[xxvii] “Askinosie Chocolate Tanzania Cocoa Bean Documentary,” produced by Sara Swango and Kenzi Inman, YouTube video, 7:09, Askinosie Chocolate, November 26, 2010, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ThTqIFhIG08

[xxviii] Ibid.

[xxix] Askinosie, Shawn. “Spotlight on Missouri Business: Askinosie Chocolate,” YouTube video, 3:30, posted by Missouri Economic Development, November 15, 2013, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=utic2PaXjwE.

[xxx] “All About Askinosie Chocolate.” YouTube video, 6:50, posted by Askinosie Chocolate, September 14, 2011, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X5H-ZVnbcVk.

[xxxi] Ibid.

[xxxii] Ibid.

[xxxiii] Askinosie, Shawn. “Davao, Philippines- January Davao 2015,” Cocoa Origin Travelogue: small batch direct trade on four continents, February 2015, http://askinosiechocolate.tumblr.com/post/109881032791/davao-philippines-january-davao-2015

[xxxiv] Askinosie Chocolate, “77% Davao, Philippines Dark Chocolate Bar,” last modified May 2015, https://askinosie.com/77-davao-philippines-dark-chocolate-bar.html.

[xxxv] “Ozark Mountain Chocolate Makers,” YouTube video, 1:21, posted by Askinosie Chocolate, June 30, 2014.

[xxxvi] Pam Williams and Jim Eber, “To Market, To Market: Craftsmanship, Customer Education, and Flavor,” In Raising the Bar: The Future of Fine Chocolate (Vancouver, BC: Wilmor Publishing Corporation, 2012), 155.

[xxxvii] Ibid., 156.

[xxxviii] Askinosie Chocolate, “Tour Our Factory,” last modified May 2015, https://askinosie.com/learn/tour-our-factory.html.

[xxxix] Theo Chocolate, “Factory Tour,” last modified May 2015, https://theochocolate.com/factory-tour

[xl] Williams and Eber, “Raising the Bar,” 158.

[xli] Ibid.

[xlii] Askinosie Chocolate, “Recipes,” last modified May 2015, https://askinosie.com/learn/recipes.html

[xliii] Williams and Eber, “Raising the Bar,” 158.

[xliv] Ibid., 170.

[xlv] Ibid., 171.

[xlvi] Ibid., 173-174.

[xlvii] Ibid., 174.

[xlviii] Ibid., 171.

[xlix] Postconsumers Content Team, “Explaining Fair Trade Chocolate,” February 20, 2015, Postconsumers.com: Finding the Satisfaction of Enough, accessed May 6, 2015, http://www.postconsumers.com.

[l] Ibid.

[li] Ibid.

[lii] Ibid.

[liii] Nancy Shute, “Bean to Bar Chocolate Makers Dare to Bare How It’s Done,” National Public Radio, February 14, 2013, accessed May 3, 2015, http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2013/02/13/171891081/bean-to-bar-chocolate-makers-dare-to-bare-how-its-done.

A Journey in Vain: Introducing My Husband to Craft and Fine Dark Chocolate

This Tranquilidad chocolate bar is made by Rogue Chocolatier, a fine bean-to-bar chocolate maker located in Western Massachusetts and considered by many to be the best such maker in North America (Martin “Rogue”). Photo by the author.
This Tranquilidad chocolate bar is made by Rogue Chocolatier, a fine bean-to-bar chocolate maker located in Western Massachusetts and considered by many to be the best such maker in North America (Martin “Rogue”). Photo by the author.

The chocolate in our house is typically mass-produced chocolate purchased from Trader Joe’s, our usual grocery store stomping grounds. Frequent fliers include the mini milk chocolate peanut butter cups, sea salt and turbinado sugar dark chocolate almonds, Belgian milk chocolate bars 3-packs, and more recently, a selection influenced by this course, mini Valrhona 56% dark chocolate bars, as well as their more formidable 71% cousins. All of these chocolates are milk and/or high in sugar and cacao butter, with the exception of the 71% bar, making these products extremely palatable to the average American consumer. Also, with the possible exception of both Valrhona bars, all of these products are most likely produced with bulk cacao, the term used to describe over 90 percent of the world’s cacao, which is grown with the intent of producing “a solid core of satisfactory—or better—chocolate flavor” (Presilla 123-124; Presilla 118). Uniformity is key for bulk cacao, since the Big Five chocolate manufacturers prize consistency of taste above all else to cater to their customers’ strong brand (and flavor) loyalty (Allen 21).1 Although I have long been familiar with dark chocolate and some bean-to-bar chocolate, particularly the Somerville-based Taza Chocolate, taking this class has exposed me to the world of craft and fine chocolate. The obvious end result was a trip to the gourmet food store, Formaggio Kitchen, to purchase four bars of craft and fine dark chocolate to share with my husband, and, as a counterpoint, with some of my coworkers. As the title suggests, sharing these new flavors with my husband was a spectacular failure, but my journey revealed the elitist side of craft and fine chocolate, as well as the hold that the flavors of milk and sugar have on (an admittedly very small sample of) American chocolate consumers.

Seen here is part of the storefront of Formaggio Kitchen’s Cambridge location, which is tucked away in a semi-residential area, accessible by car, several bus lines, or by foot from Harvard Square (as I did). Photo by the author.
Seen here is part of the storefront of Formaggio Kitchen’s Cambridge location, which is tucked away in a semi-residential area, accessible by car, several bus lines, or by foot from Harvard Square (as I did). Photo by the author.

My trip to Formaggio Kitchen was an experience in privilege in and of itself—my ability to access these chocolates, let alone pay for them, would not be true of many Americans. Formaggio Kitchen is an excellent gourmet food shop with locations in Cambridge, Boston, and New York City, as well as an online store. It focuses on cheese, but its list of products from the website includes, “Artisan Cheese, Chocolate, Cheese Clubs & Samplers, Specialty Seafood, Olives & Antipasti, Olive Oils & Specialty Oils, Candy & Confections” (formaggiokitchen.com), and others, with language that advertises products from an expensive, high quality store. Two levels of remove put this establishment at a distance from most Americans—first, there are only three physical locations, so if you do not live in the greater Boston or NYC area, you are out of luck. The second level of remove is the placement of the two Formaggio Kitchen locations within Cambridge and Boston. The Cambridge location is located on 244 Huron Avenue, about a 20-25 minute walk from Harvard Square, in what feels more like a residential neighborhood than a commercial district. While the Boston location is slightly more accessible, both stores are pretty out of the way for anyone who is reliant on public transportation and/or the commercial hubs of the city that spring up around major transit centers. Certainly, the internet, theoretically the world’s great equalizer, could partially remedy this situation, but the delicate nature of Formaggio Kitchen’s perishable products requires expensive shipping, which is a deterrent for many consumers in this age of free shipping and even free returns from many large online retailers. In short, Formaggio Kitchen is designed to be accessible to those with the resources to afford its products.

This image shows the main chocolate section of Formaggio Kitchen in Cambridge. Note the small selection and tiny square footage, the curated feel of the display, and the signs handwritten in elegant script. Photo by the author.
This image shows the main chocolate section of Formaggio Kitchen in Cambridge. Note the small selection and tiny square footage, the curated feel of the display, and the signs handwritten in elegant script. Photo by the author.

Indeed, these craft and fine chocolate bars are not cheap. I purchased four bars, two of the Rogue Tranquilidad variety, each for $16.95 for 2.12 ounces or 60 grams, one bar of Amedei 70% Chocolate for $9.95 for 1.75 ounces or 50 grams, and one bar of Aynouse L’Artesa for $6.95 for 5.3 ounces or 150 grams, coming to a total of $50.80 spent on 11.29 ounces of chocolate. This kind of cost is intentionally contrary to the trend that Coe and Coe describe as “the near-disappearance of the connoisseurship that had typified the aristocratic and clerical chocolate drinkers of a bygone era [such that] [inexpensive] mass-produced chocolates seem to have conquered all” (257). Presilla notes similarly that “even excellent chocolate had become faceless and anonymous, for the great majority of customers had no way of seeing and judging the cacao from which it was made” (41). Formaggio Kitchen’s shelves, while fairly inaccessible to many, are working to counteract the trend of chocolate as a cheap, mass-produced, faceless indulgence. According to their online webpage dedicated to “Artisan Chocolate,” “Ahhh, the power of chocolate. Touted for its health benefits and enjoyed by just about everyone, this is certainly one of our favorite food categories. We focus on bean-to-bar producers who eschew emulsifiers and create their wondrous chocolates with nothing more than sugar and cacao” (formaggiokitchen.com). Although problematic in several places—most notably, Castell, Pérez-Cano, and Bisson’s article makes it clear that further studies are need for conclusive connections between chocolate consumption and health, as well as at what doses (271)—this statement sums up one of the newer trends in conscientious chocolate consumption, one that has given rise to these fine and craft chocolate bars.

Note the handwritten label identifying the chocolate's origins, cacao percentage, and flavor notes.
Note the handwritten label identifying the chocolate’s origins, cacao percentage, and flavor notes. Photo by the author.

Accordingly, Formaggio Kitchen curates its selection to include chocolate makers doing relatively small batch chocolate production, which sometimes, but not always, indicates greater ethical standards in cacao production and sourcing. Also, the in-store labels describe individual bars’ flavor profiles, identifying nutty, floral, or earthy notes in the chocolate, as well as (in most cases) the company, source of the beans, percentage of cocoa solids, and type of chocolate. While the labels do not explicitly name the individual people who grow cacao or who make chocolate, restoring connoisseur vocabulary and culture to the chocolate industry may begin to put a human face and intrinsic value on the production of fine chocolate similar to the cachet of excellent wine, craft beer, or artisan cheese. That being said, Colin Gasko of Rogue Chocolatier is concerned about the viability of the future of craft and fine chocolate (Gasko), let alone the reality that any shifts in consumer culture defined by such a large conglomerate of the Big Five chocolate companies, as well as larger mid-size companies, is an uphill battle.

This Amedei Jamaica Cru 70% bar is made from cocoa mass, cane sugar, cocoa butter, and vanilla, according to the label. Donal and I (really, I) tasted this bar third, after the Trader Joe’s milk and Valrhona 56% dark bars. Photo by the author.
This Amedei Jamaica Cru 70% bar is made from cocoa mass, cane sugar, cocoa butter, and vanilla, according to the label. Donal and I (really, I) tasted this bar third, after the Trader Joe’s milk and Valrhona 56% dark bars. Photo by the author.

Sharing these craft and fine dark chocolate bars with my husband, Donal (name changed), was not a success based on his taste preferences but was more successful than the tasting with my coworkers in terms of flavor analysis. I selected three different chocolate bars that I hoped would appeal to his taste buds, which I knew to have a strong preference for milk chocolate and a dislike for even the mildest dark chocolate. Based on these criteria, the Rogue Tranquilidad bar was a stretch at best, but I hoped that he might try it after getting through the Amedei 70%, chosen for its sweeter flavor profile, and the Aynouse L’Artesa 65%, chosen for its high sugar content and similarity to Taza chocolate, with which Donal is familiar. We also began with a Trader Joe’s Belgian milk chocolate bar and a Valrhona 56% dark chocolate bar, again to try to ease into the tasting. I went over the steps of tasting with him, using methods modified from class tastings, Presilla’s The New Taste of Chocolate, and Stuckey’s Taste What You’re Missing. We began by looking at the chocolate and evaluating its color and gloss, then smelling it for any underlying flavor notes. Next, we broke the piece of chocolate to determine the sharpness of its “snap,” and smelled it again to see what other scents we could determine. Finally, we tasted it for texture, letting it melt on the tongue, and then for flavor.

This roughly processed Aynouse L’Artesa Fondant 65% bar is made from cocoa paste, sugar cane, and cocoa butter, according to the label. We tasted it fourth. Photo by the author.
This roughly processed Aynouse L’Artesa Fondant 65% bar is made from cocoa paste, sugar cane, and cocoa butter, according to the label. We tasted it fourth. Photo by the author.

Donal enjoyed tasting the milk chocolate, which he is used to eating, and learning about the influence that cocoa butter and cocoa solids have on the snap of a piece of a chocolate bar. Given that milk chocolate has a high fat content from the added milk and cocoa butter, the break in the first chocolate sample was not smooth, like a bar high in cocoa solids would have. Having taken a Science of Wine class for his science requirement in college, Donal is familiar with the steps in a wine tasting, which are quite similar to those for chocolate tasting. He identified a slight citrus flavor in the milk chocolate that I was unable to detect, but that was overwhelmed by caramel when I told him that was the main note that I could sense. When we moved to the Valrhona chocolate and I asked him what he smelled, he said with a pronounced frown, “dark chocolate.” He did not finish the sample. After that, he chose not to taste the Amedei or the Rogue bars, but he was willing to smell each one for the flavor notes. He did give the Aynouse L’Artesa bar a brief nibble, being familiar with Taza’s roughly finished dark chocolate, but the rest of that piece was also returned to me. He did note that the chocolate bar wrappers all gave the impression of imitating high-end wine labels, with frequently minimalist or otherwise elegant design and layout. While we enjoyed seeking out the different notes in the smells and tastes of the bars, we concluded that I need to bring back dark milk chocolate from Formaggio Kitchen, although I am unconvinced that anything darker than traditional milk chocolate will be a success in this (hopeless? helpless?) case.

This Rogue Chocolatier 75% bar is made only with cacao and cane sugar, making it the darkest chocolate of the group. I saved it for tasting last (with Donal, so to speak). Photo by the author.
This Rogue Chocolatier 75% bar is made only with cacao and cane sugar, making it the darkest chocolate of the group. I saved it for tasting last (with Donal, so to speak). Photo by the author.

The tasting I conducted with two colleagues, Sarah and Adam (names changed), was better received in terms of taste but less nuanced in terms of flavor than the tasting with Donal. It was also a much more informal and quick tasting due to the nature of the workplace setting. I talked a little about smelling, snapping, and tasting the chocolate, as well as the difference between chocolate made with pure cacao solids and sugar versus that with added cocoa butter and/or other additives or flavorings, but I was not able to do so in as much detail as I was with Donal. Adam, who has similar tastes to Donal, actually enjoyed the Rogue chocolate quite a bit, which surprised me. He did not have any significant flavor feedback, but he did enjoy the “snap” too. Clearly, the physical engagement with the “snap” can be a satisfying “in” for people who have not done much or any intentional chocolate or food tasting. Sarah sampled both the Rogue and the Aynouse L’Artesa bars, and while she enjoyed the Rogue sample, she seemed to like the second sample better. Her immediate reaction to the Aynouse L’Artesa was to say that the flavor profile was more complex, but upon further consideration, she asserted that perhaps it had more to do with what seemed to be a greater amount of sugar in that bar when compared to the Rogue bar.

Donal did not appreciate the complex flavors in this piece of dark chocolate from Rogue chocolatier.
Donal did not appreciate the complex flavors in this piece of dark chocolate from Rogue Chocolatier. Photo by the author.

Combining the feedback from these two tastings leads to some interesting commentary on the types of tasters and an affirmation of the common flavor preferences for some, if not many, American chocolate consumers. While it was somewhat disappointing for me that Donal was not able to enjoy the craft and fine dark chocolate in the tasting, Barb Stuckey’s article suggests one possible reason why. Her husband, who cannot stomach many bitter flavors like red wine, green vegetables, or dark chocolate, is what is known as a supertaster, or as Stuckey prefers to say, a hypertaster. Both labels describe a member of the population with the highest number of taste buds on the tongue, which renders that person extra sensitive to strong or bitter flavors (20-21). It is possible that Donal is a supertaster, but it is also possible that he is a taster or tolerant taster (nontaster) who simply does not enjoy bitter flavors—Stuckey’s article makes it clear that the breakdown between hypertasters, tasters, and tolerant tasters cannot account for all food preferences, just as one way to understand some of them (29). Donal was familiar with these categories of tasters from his Science of Wine course, and we were able to have a conversation about taste and flavor preferences in the context of Linda Bartoshuk’s system.2

Dark chocolates like the ones sold at Formaggio Kitchen may simply not have the same flavor appeal for the average American as an industrially processed milk chocolate bar.
Dark chocolates like these ones sold at Formaggio Kitchen may simply not have the same flavor appeal for the average American as an industrially processed sugar-and-milk chocolate bar. Photo by the author.

Another outcome from this wider chocolate tasting experiment was anecdotal evidence that supports the theory that many Americans prefer sweeter, milkier chocolate as a general rule. In “Big Sugar’s Little Lies,” Taubes and Couzens have documented the aggressive tactics of the American sugar industry to resist regulation of sugar consumption guidelines, to the detriment of Americans’ health. Unsurprisingly, thanks to these efforts, as well as other trends in food production and marketing, most Americans now have a strong taste for sugar and other sweet foods. I would argue that these marketing efforts have been so influential that they may have led Sarah to think initially that the more sugary chocolate was more flavorful, when in fact it simply had more sugar and cocoa butter in the recipe. Donal’s reactions also reflect the widespread preference for milk chocolate over dark chocolate in our society. While these preferences themselves are not “good” or “bad,” per se, they do have a strong influence on what types of foods we choose to consume, and they may be something for the craft and fine chocolate industry to consider as it evolves.3

The three main dark chocolate barwrapperss from the tasting placed together for comparison.
The three main dark chocolate bar wrappers from the tasting placed together for comparison. Photo by the author.

My next steps, following this expedition? In short, to try more fine chocolate and share it with more people. While I have identified some of the issues with high end gourmet foods, and fine and craft chocolate in particular, Formaggio Kitchen is an excellent place to start for trying bean-to-bar chocolate if you are interested and live in the Boston or Cambridge area. I am curious to see what some of my other family and friends, particularly those who already have an affinity for dark chocolate, think of brands like Rogue and others. I also look forward to trying some dark milk chocolate with Donal, if he will consent to being a guinea pig one more time. While I acknowledge the problematic elitism of fine and craft chocolate, I also believe these products are providing a much needed perspective in an industry so otherwise dominated by only five companies. I look forward to supporting these small bean-to-bar companies, particularly the ethically sourced ones, now and in the future.


  1. The Big Five chocolate companies—Hershey, Mars, Cadbury, Ferrero Rocher, and Nestlé (Allen 21)—do not include Trader Joe’s, of course, but they do dominate the market with incredible control over what kind of cacao is most commonly grown and therefore available to other chocolate manufacturers.
  2. Donal has in fact taken one of the tests that assesses taster type, as a requirement for his Science of Wine class, and he is unsurprisingly either a taster or a hypertaster (supertaster).
  3. Indeed, a growing number of small batch chocolate makers are offering “dark milk” chocolate bars, which are intended to appeal to consumers who prefer their fine chocolate with larger amounts of milk and sugar (Martin “Haute Patisserie”).

Thanks to Formaggio Kitchen for permission to take the pictures included in this blog post. The thoughts and opinions expressed here are my own.

Works Cited

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

Castell, Margarida, Francisco Jose Pérez-Cano, and Jean-François Bisson. “Clinical Benefits of Cocoa: An Overview.” Chocolate in Health and Nutrition. Ed. R.R. Watson et al. Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, 2013. 265-275. Print.

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

formaggiokitchen.com. Formaggio Kitchen. Web. 10 May 2015.

Gasko, Colin. “Film Viewing and Rogue Chocolatier Tasting and Interview.” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard Extension School: Cambridge, MA. 6 May 2015. Class Lecture.

Martin, Carla D. “Film Viewing and Rogue Chocolatier Tasting and Interview.” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard Extension School: Cambridge, MA. 6 May 2015. Class Lecture.

Martin, Carla D. “Haute Patisserie, Artisan Chocolate, and Food Justice: The Future?” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard Extension School: Cambridge, MA. 29 Apr. 2015. Class Lecture.

“Mini Peanut Butter Cups.” traderjoes.com. Trader Joe’s, 9 Oct. 2012. Web. 10 May 2015.

Presilla, Marciel E. The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural and Natural History of Cacao with Recipes, Revised. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press, 2009. Print.

“Sea Salt & Turbinado Sugar Chocolate Almonds.” traderjoes.com. Trader Joe’s, 19 Mar. 2012. Web. 10 May 2015.

Stuckey, Barb. Taste What You’re Missing: The Passionate Eater’s Guide to Why Good Food Tastes Good. New York: Free Press, 2012.

Taubes, Gary and Cristin Kearns Couzens. “Big Sugar’s Sweet Little Lies.” MotherJones. 31 Oct. 2012. Web. 10 Apr. 2015.

tazachocolate.com. Taza Chocolate. Web. 10 May 2015.

“Three Chocolate Bars.” traderjoes.com. Trader Joe’s, n.d. Web. 10 May 2015.

“Valrhona Le Noir.” finedarkchocolate.com. Fine Dark Chocolate, n.d. Web. 10 May 2015.

“Valrhona Le Noir Amer 71% Cacao Dark Bittersweet Chocolate (Pack of 5).” amazon.com. Amazon, n.d. Web. 10 May 2015.

Talking Fair Trade: Exploring Chocolate Consumption and Ethical Perspectives through a Chocolate Tasting


In a world of increasingly globalized supply chains, considering the origins of the products that we use every day can be a daunting task. Economist Pietra Rivoli’s renowned book The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy follows the production processes for different components of a standard t-shirt across the nations in which they are produced, discussing the labor conditions, history, and current economic situation in each locale. Rivoli recounts efforts by manufacturers to cut production costs along every step, from harvesting materials to manufacture and even resale. Yet, she arrives at a somewhat surprising conclusion – despite the relatively dismal conditions under which some workers labor, “she asserts that their jobs were a little better than other available options (usually farm work) and, what’s more, that textile factories led to advances in industrialization and, just as dependably, in living standards” (Lowenstein, 2005). This leads to a somewhat befuddling moral quandary – should we be willing to accept global jobs that provide significant relative benefit to the employees, even if the working conditions are poor on an absolute scale?

Unfortunately, Rivoli’s findings are by no means limited to the textile industry. Globally, the cacao industry employs millions of farmers in impoverished areas that are less-than-satisfied with their line of work, even if it’s necessary for their subsistence; as noted in class, “less than one-quarter of cocoa farmers would recommend that their children go into farming” (see Lecture 15, slide 9). However, despite the wishes of their parents, many children do not have a choice – the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) reported from a study began in 2001 that more than one million West African children work on family cacao farms (and thousands more children working on farms without family ties), with “most children [stating] that they came to work because factors out of their control – such as family poverty” (Toler et al. 1).

Of course, numerous solutions have been devised to mitigate this problem. Perhaps the most notable program that works to improve labor conditions on farms is Fair Trade, “a global trade model and certification [that] allows shoppers to quickly identify products that were produced in an ethical manner” (see “What is Fair Trade?”). Toler et al. describe Fair Trade as “a proven solution to the child labor crisis because it guarantees farmers a stable living wage, prohibits abusive child labor and forced labor, and requires independent monitoring of farms each year” in addition to ensuring environmentally responsible practices are enacted (Toler et al. 4). Fair Trade manifests its benefits for both producers and consumers: the farmers and their families see quality of life improvements from receiving higher wages, while chocolate consumers enjoy a higher quality product that comes with the moral satisfaction of having helped afford a better life for farmers that are less well-off. The appeals of the program have certainly gained traction in recent years; as seen below, Fair Trade certified product sales have risen tremendously from 1998-2011, increasing from just a few millions of pounds cumulatively to 250 million pounds annually.

Fair Trade Sales in the United States have risen drastically across the past 15 years.

As with any proposed solution to an ethical problem, there are numerous criticisms of Fair Trade. Some argue that Fair Trade neglects the poorest growers, or that it attracts lower quality product since prices can be made artificially high; another argument holds that the prohibitive costs of certification prevent some from participating and heavily reduce profit margins for some participants (Wydick, “10 Reasons Fair-Trade Coffee Doesn’t Work”). On the consumer side, a popular criticism is that the moral satisfaction consumers may gain from buying Fair Trade products affords a false sense of having “done good,” while failing to tackle or even appreciate the actual problem of widespread poverty that remains prevalent. Fair Trade is in vogue, and is on the rise – but is it effective? Perhaps just as importantly, are people aware of it and what it means for producers?


One of the themes of the course by which I was most engaged this semester was that of food as an inherently social object, the need for and consumption of which necessarily affects our social lives (see: Objectives 4 and 7, Lecture 5). The notion of food as a social bonding tool is by no means new; William Robertson Smith wrote in his 1889 foundational anthropological work The Religion of the Semites that “the very act of eating and drinking with a man was a symbol and a confirmation of fellowship and mutual social obligations” (Robertson 269). Sidney Mintz acknowledges this viewpoint in Sweetness and Power, expressing his belief that “the connections between food and kinship, or food and social groups, take radically different forms in modern life. Yet surely food and eating have not lost their affective significance” (Mintz 5). In keeping with this concept, I wanted to use this ethnographic project as an opportunity to bring people together over eating food and a shared interest in exploring and discussing chocolate while still diving into the complex ethical issues we tackled in the second half of the course. Accordingly, I asked several friends and roommates of various backgrounds to join me in consuming chocolate bars from different origins and talking about the differing conditions that may have factored into their production.

Logistically, I and five friends spent an hour on Friday, 5/1 trying three different chocolate bars and conversing about the practices behind the chocolate’s production and how that relates to the global cacao industry today. To contextualize the findings from our discussion, I will first briefly provide details on each chocolate bar and the values and practices of the company behind it.

Taza's "Cacao Nib Crunch" bar. $5.99
Taza’s “Cacao Nib Crunch” bar – $6.99

The flagship company for ethical business practices discussed in this class has been Taza Chocolate, a chocolate manufacturer based locally in Somerville, MA. Taza prides themselves on making “stone ground, organic chocolate” that features the cacao as the centerpiece of the experience rather than the sugary sweetness of most modern chocolate. Notably, Taza sources Direct Trade Certified cacao, which is often thought of as going a step beyond Fair Trade in terms of ethics – it strives to build lasting relationships with organic cacao farms and farmers, paying premium prices over the accepted price for high-quality organic beans and ensuring fair labor practices (see “Taza Chocolate Direct Trade Certified Cacao”). In this sense, Taza is likely to be perceived as the “most ethical” of the three companies. The bar used for this tasting was a “Cacao Nib Crunch” bar with 80% dark stone ground chocolate, pictured below, purchased for $6.99.

The second bar came from Equal Exchange, a food producer and seller that deals exclusively in fairly traded products. They define their mission as being “to build long-term trade partnerships that are economically just and environmentally sound, to foster mutually beneficial relationships between farmers and consumers and to demonstrate, through our success, the contribution of worker cooperatives and Fair Trade to a more equitable, democratic and sustainable world” (see “Equal Exchange – About).

Equal Exchange Very Dark bar - $5.99
Equal Exchange Very Dark bar – $5.99

The company’s website also lists a variety of their farmer partners for sourcing cacao, providing detailed information about each cooperative, their relationship with Equal Exchange, and how cooperative farming and Fair Trade relationships have tangibly benefited the worker (see “Equal Exchange – Chocolate and Cocoa”). They adhere very strictly to the notion of Fair Trade, hoping to serve as a representative success story that could inspire others to participate. Given this, Equal Exchange is the “second most ethical” of the three companies used in this tasting. The below-pictured $5.99 Organic Very Dark Chocolate with 71% cacao content sourced from cooperatives in the Dominican Republic and Peru was selected for this study to keep with the dark chocolate theme of the Taza bar.

The final bar requires less explanation, and will be more familiar to most consumers – a standard Hershey’s milk chocolate bar, one of the most iconic bars around the world. Unfortunately, the source of the cacao used in the production of this chocolate bar is less transparent than the other countries, so the exact labor practices are less well-known; however, Hershey’s has received criticism in the past for permitting poor labor practices and conditions on West African farms from which they source cocoa (Baird et al. 1). As such, it was considered the “least ethical” of the bars and companies.

Hershey's Milk Chocolate bar - $1.25
Hershey’s Milk Chocolate bar – $1.25

Having laid out the bars used, I will list a few of the questions used to motivate discussion. Although I did not restrict the discussion to a more linear format, the conversation flowed nicely and moved around topically without much difficulty.

  • How much do you know about labor practices in the cacao industry?
  • Have you heard of Fair Trade? If so, what are its implications, and do you think it’s a good program? How about Direct Trade?
  • Which of the chocolate bars do you most prefer and why?
  • What would you expect each bar to cost?
  • Do you consider ethics when purchasing products in general? What about chocolate specifically?

The discussion was extremely productive, with everyone participating substantially and me serving as a moderator without trying to guide their opinions or experience. The favorite chocolate bar of the five participants was the standard Hershey bar, closely followed by the Equal Exchange bar. The Taza bar was too “gritty” and unrefined feeling for most of the participants, who also found it to be extremely bitter compared to the taste they were used to and did not enjoy the taste of the cacao nibs. The Equal Exchange bar was also found to be bitter, but not relative to the Taza bar, and it had a smoother texture. The Hershey bar was described almost unanimously as “familiar” and “what I’m used to” by the tasters, which gave it the edge over the craft bars. The average predicted price for the Hershey bar was understandably accurate, but the participants expected the Equal Exchange bar to cost $8.00 on average rather than the $5.99 that it cost; similarly, the predicted average price for the Taza bar was $8.60, whereas it only cost $6.99 in reality. The differential between actual and expected prices reveals that the participants held some incorrect conceptions about the price of “craft” or luxury chocolates. This has interesting societal implications in that it suggests the average consumer may associate “unique” or nonstandard chocolates with an even higher price point than they achieve in reality, which may distance more cost-conscious buyers.

However, the interesting results of the discussion extend far beyond those inferred from price differentials. Much of the talk centered on ethical cocoa production and the responsibility of consumers and sellers in this process. After some discussion, the participants agreed that relatively well-off Western consumers have some moral responsibility to purchase ethically-produced chocolate (assuming they have the means to do so), but identified two key problems. First, one participant noted that he and one other participant were not especially aware of Fair Trade practices before the discussion, and suggested that education of consumers about alternatives may be one logistic barrier to popularizing ethically-produced products that exists right now. Additionally, another person pointed out that sourcing and scaling up Fair Trade products takes time, and that supply has to rise before demand in order for the products to remain affordable and attractive. I found these to be reasonable concerns, but shared the consensus opinion that Fair Trade was overall a step in the right direction – even if it does not go as far as Direct Trade certification, it is better than sourcing and consuming uncertified cacao.

A fascinating discussion on how global expectations of chocolate have changed ensued when trying to assess why the Hershey bar was most favored. One theory is that because it was perceived as more familiar, it matched their expectations about how chocolate should taste sweet and feel smooth. As Mintz discusses, the constant and steady addition of more sugar to the diet of the modern consumer has colored expectations for the taste of different foods. The role of marketing in establishing expectations of sweetness for customers was also briefly discussed, which included mention of the sugar industry’s bankrolling of studies in the late 20th century as we learned in class.

One potential bias in the conversation’s demographic was that not many of the participants regularly consume chocolate that they have purchased for their own personal enjoyment due at least in part to being on fairly restrictive college budgets. Anecdotally, all five other people agreed that they ate free chocolate treats at events or on special occasions more frequently than they purchased them for themselves. As such, the views of the participants may not be reflective of those of the average chocolate consumer in the U.S.

Overall, it proved to be an incredibly informative discussion with important conclusions. Despite the general consensus that relatively well-off Western consumers have some ethical obligation to purchase Fair Trade chocolate when possible, most consumers do not seem to do so as a result of cultural conceptions of chocolate as sweet as well as somewhat-misguided affordability concerns due to the association between “different” chocolate and expensive chocolate. This demonstrates that we must work as a society to break cultural conceptions of chocolate as necessarily being sweet before organic and Fair Trade production practices become favored. While this is a broad goal, the steps of tackling consumer education and establishing more Fair Trade and Direct Trade farms are meaningful first efforts.

Works Cited:

Baird, Harper, Nicole Guevara, Aleksander Karpechenko, O. C. Ferrell, and Linda Ferrell. “The Hershey Company and West African Cocoa Communities.” The Hershey Company and West African Cocoa Communities (2012): 1-10. Web. 6 May 2015. <http://danielsethics.mgt.unm.edu/pdf/Hershey%20Case.pdf&gt;.

“Chocolate.” Better World Shopper. N.p., 2014. Web. 06 May 2015. <http://www.betterworldshopper.org/chocolate_data.html&gt;. Note: for a list of the research sources used to compile these rankings, please see: http://www.betterworldshopper.org/research.html

“Equal Exchange – About.” Equal Exchange. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 May 2015. <http://equalexchange.coop/about&gt;.

“Equal Exchange – Chocolate & Cocoa.” Equal Exchange. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 May 2015. <http://equalexchange.coop/products/chocolate&gt;.

Lowenstein, Roger. “Travels With My Florida Parrot T-Shirt.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 20 Aug. 2005. Web. 06 May 2015. <http://www.nytimes.com/2005/08/21/business/yourmoney/21shelf.html&gt;.

Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York: Penguin, 1985. Print.

Smith, William Robertson. The Religion of the Semites: The Fundamental Institutions. 3rd ed. New York: Macmillan, 1927. Archive.org. Web. 6 May 2015. <https://archive.org/stream/lecturesontherel028530mbp#page/n11/mode/2up&gt;.

“Taza Chocolate Direct Trade Certified Cacao.” Taza Chocolate. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 May 2015. <http://www.tazachocolate.com/About/Taza_Direct_Trade_&gt;.

“The Taza Chocolate Story.” Taza Chocolate. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 May 2015. <http://www.tazachocolate.com/About/Our_Story&gt;.

Toler, Deborah, Ph. D, and Melissa A. Schweisgurth. “While Chocolate Lovers Smile, Child Cocoa Workers Cry.” Ed. Jason D. Mark. (n.d.): 356-60. Web. 6 May 2015. <http://www.globalexchange.org/sites/default/files/cocoareport2003.pdf&gt;.

“What Is Fair Trade?” Fair Trade USA. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 May 2015. <http://fairtradeusa.org/what-is-fair-trade&gt;.

Wydick, Bruce. “10 Reasons Fair-Trade Coffee Doesn’t Work.” The Huffington Post. N.p., 07 Aug. 2014. Web. 06 May 2015. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bruce-wydick/10-reasons-fair-trade-coffee-doesnt-work_b_5651663.html&gt;.

Multimedia Sources:

Elliott, Kimberly. “Is My Fair Trade Coffee Really Fair? Trends and Challenges in Fair Trade Certification.” Center For Global Development. N.p., 19 Dec. 2012. Web. 06 May 2015. <http://www.cgdev.org/publication/my-fair-trade-coffee-really-fair-trends-and-challenges-fair-trade-certification&gt;.

“Fair Trade and Earth Day.” One World Fair Trade. N.p., 12 Apr. 2013. Web. 06 May 2015. <http://www.oneworldfairtrade.net/blogs/news/7686973-fair-trade-and-earth-day&gt;.

Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bar. Digital image. Hershey’s. N.p., n.d. Web. 6 May 2015. <https://www.hersheys.com/pure-products.aspx&gt;.

Organic Very Dark Chocolate. Digital image. Equal Exchange. N.p., n.d. Web. 6 May 2015. <http://shop.equalexchange.coop/chocolate/chocolate-bars/organic-chocolate-bar-very-dark.html&gt;.

Ranson, Ben. Fairtrade Criticisms. Digital image. SlideShare. N.p., 11 Dec. 2014. Web. 6 May 2015. <http://www.slideshare.net/captainbenranson/fairtrade-criticisms&gt;.

Taza Stone Ground Cacao Nib Crunch Amaze Bar. Digital image. Tony Caputo’s Food Market & Deli, n.d. Web. 6 May 2015. <http://www.caputosdeli.com/products/taza-stone-ground-cacao-nib-crunch-amaze-bar.html&gt;.

Askinosie Chocolate – Making a Difference

Askinosie Chocolate is a chocolate manufacturer which produces bean to bar craft chocolate. They incorporate traditional methods to make their chocolate and they source all of their cacao beans directly from their farmers. Askinosie obtains their cocoa beans from farmers in Davao, Philippines, Mababu, Tanzania, Cortes, Honduras, and San Jose Del Tambo, Ecuador. In Davao, Philippines the farmers harvest a sub variety of Trinitarian beans while the beans in Mababu, Tanzania are also Trinitarian but fruity in taste. In Cortes, Honduras the beans are of a Trinitario variety while in San Jose Del Tambo, Ecuador the beans are rare and highly coveted Arriba Nacional cocoa beans.

Askinosie Chocolate stands by one of their frequently used quotes “It’s not about the chocolate, it’s about the chocolate” which they take to mean placing an emphasis on producing the best quality chocolate possible while working to make improvements in the world (Askinosie – Learn). Their desire to give back is outlined in the video below which also offers a broad overview of Askinosie Chocolate and it’s mission. Shawn Akinosie discusses in the video the importance of fermenting chocolate and his goal of allowing his consumers to taste precisely the beans that the farmers themselves grew. Askinosie Chocolate’s goal of giving back takes on many forms like practicing Direct Trade, incorporating students into their business through Chocolate University, and development projects in the hometowns of their farmers. All of these display that Askinosie Chocolate is a manufacturer which strives to improve the communities around them, educate youth nearby, and fight problems prevalent in today’s chocolate industry like exploitative labor.

Shawn Akinosie who is the current CEO and founder of Askinosie Chocolate has been a major player in the rise of craft chocolate. At first he was a criminal defense attorney in Springfield, Missouri when suddenly he decided that he wanted to change professions. Thus, Shawn Askinosie decided to mix his passion of chocolate with his future business endeavors so he entered the chocolate industry. His move to transition from a successful career to one with a lot of unknowns is commendable. He decided to prioritize working in a field he was passionate about over a stable job as a criminal defense attorney which is gutsy. Shawn Askinosie moved forward with his new business pursuit and sought to educate himself on every facet of chocolate including it’s botanical, historical, and cultural context in order to produce chocolate that would be beloved. He wanted to ensure that “Askinosie Chocolate was born committed to fairness, sustainability, minimal environmental impact and community enhancement” (Askinosie – Our Story). Shawn Askinosie desired to make chocolate from scratch and to be one of the first people in the country to make chocolate from cocoa bean. His detailed 70-step process for making chocolate is covered in detail at the link below.


The lack of craft chocolate currently is evident in “Discovering Terroir in the World of Chocolate” where Bill Nesto highlights that “the chocolate industry from bean to bar existed, and continues to exist, in a regulatory void” (Nesto, 131). Askinosie also wanted to personally source the beans so that he could know precisely where they came from and he wanted a business relationship with his farmers so they could have a fair income. These desires established the pillars of Askinosie Chocolate which are still prevalent today.


Askinosie Chocolate practices Direct Trade which eliminates middlemen and puts a larger premium over commodity bulk price. Their farmers are payed significantly above the per-ton Fair Trade market prices for their cocoa beans. In the article “Planetary Stewardship in a Changing World: Paths Toward Resilience and Sustainability”, Mary E. Power and F. Stuart Chapin III note that “only a few small chocolate manufacturers currently practice direct trade (Taza Chocolate 2010, Askinosie Chocolate 2010)” which showcases the moral and ethic leadership of both Askinosie Chocolate and Taza Chocolate (Power & Chapin, 161). Askinosie Chocolate emphasizes the need to honor the farmers who are responsible for their cocoa beans and to always visualize them as equal business partners. This is prevalent on Askinosie Chocolate “wrappers that feature photographs of hale farmers and information about the considerable development work the company conducts at each origin site” which Kristy Leissle discusses in her article “Invisible West Africa: The Politics of Single Origin Chocolate”(Leissle, 27). Askinosie Chocolate also makes it a point to communicate financial statements to their farmers in their local language in order to explain the profit share step by step. By generating such a good rapport with their farmers, it builds a level of trust where the farmers listen to Askinosie’s specific requests to improve the flavor of their product.


Askinosie Chocolate highlights the need to build long mutually beneficial relationships with farmers because it can only lead to success. Sharing profit with their farmers ensures that the farmers have a vested interest in nurturing the cocoa beans so Askinosie Chocolate can produce the best bar of chocolate possible. The incentive comes to a head once Askinosie Chocolate bars have been created because Askinosie representatives return to the farmer’s homeland and share the profits made from their farm’s cocoa beans. As Presilla mentions “he makes it his business to stay abreast of conditions in the different orchards, and personally delivers checks for the 10 percent of net profits that he contracts to share with each farmer” (Presilla, 132). It is worthy of note as well that the farmers have to sign a contract ensuring that they healthfully and responsibly cultivating cocoa beans. Once Shawn Askinosie arrives at a new farm he “begins by individually meeting every farmer he works with and requesting a commitment to carry out proper fermentation and drying of the cacao harvest” (Presilla, 132). This means that the cocoa beans “are grown using organic, pesticide-and chemical-free practices that are ecologically responsible” (Askinosie – Direct Trade).

Over the passage of time, Askinosie Chocolate has placed an emphasis on community outreach which is evident by their Chocolate University. It all began when Shawn Askinosie’s family noticed that a vast number of children were sleeping at a local homeless shelter. They then decided to create Chocolate University which would involve these children and children from local elementary and high schools in the business of Askinosie Chocolate. It provides a space for local children to gain a hands on learning experience about the creation of chocolate. Also they emphasize a desire to produce leadership qualities in their students so they can move forward in life as successful leaders wherever they go. The children of Chocolate University also come to understand the origin of Askinosie’s cocoa beans through visits to their precise origin. This is evident by the video below which showcases the kids experience in Tanzania. The kids note in their interviews that the trip was a life changing experience and it instilled a desire to make a difference in the world. Their time in Tanzania broke down their misconceptions and it immersed them in a culture quite different from their own. It is an experience that might not have been attainable without the help of Chocolate University.

Askinosie Chocolate’s prominence on community outreach stretches outside local Missouri and encompasses the origin cities of their cocoa beans. These cities in particular consist mostly of Kyela, Tanzania and Davao, Philippines. Askinosie Chocolate helps the communities of these cities through their program A Product of Change which centers around the administration and PTA of local schools in Kyela, Tanzania and Davao, Philippines. A Product of Change goods come from the origins of the cocoa beans in Davao, Philippines and Kyela, Tanzania and the products themselves are created and harvested by the administration and PTA of the local schools. Once a consumer buys A Product of Change good then all the profits go back to the school administration and PTA in order to supply meals for the students. By buying these products you ensure students a healthy lunch which combats the problems of malnutrition. The products used are talbeya from Davao, Philippines and rice from Kyela, Tanzania.

Askinosie Chocolate is a manufacturer which is attempting to make a global difference. They are making their chocolate strictly from the bean in order to make the most pure chocolate possible. The chocolate industry from bean to bar is not common so Askinosie Chocolate is commendably going against the grain. They also are not devaluing the role of the farmer which is common in the chocolate industry today. Farmers are seen as equal partners with Askinosie which is evident by Askinosie Chocolate’s practice of direct trade. Askinosie Chocolate also reaches out to the communities they come into contact with to improve their lives. This is evident with their program A Product for Change, which provides lunches to students in schools in Tanzania and the Philippines. Their Chocolate University also provides kids near Springfield Missouri a hands-on education. It provides an opportunity for these kids to witness the chocolate making process at Askinosie Chocolate and to learn about the origin of Askinosie’s cocoa beans. Experiences and opportunities become attainable which these children did not have before hand.


“Askinosie Chocolate.” Home Page. Web. 5 May 2015. <https://askinosie.com&gt;.

“Askinosie Chocolate.” YouTube. YouTube. Web. 5 May 2015. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NKFAovyNmWI&spfreload=10&gt;.

“Askinosie Chocolate: Bringing The World Together One Bean At A Time.” Markets of New York City. Web. 6 May 2015. <http://www.marketsofnewyork.com/2014/06/askinosie-chocolate-bringing-the-world-together-one-bean-at-a-time/&gt;.

“Askinosie Chocolate University Tanzania Trip with Student Interviews; by Bob Linder.” YouTube. YouTube. Web. 5 May 2015. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4RqPMmTvD28&spfreload=10&gt;.

“Askinosie Chocolate Unveils Next CollaBARator on New Bar: Intelligents.” PRWeb. Web. 5 May 2015. <http://www.prweb.com/releases/2011/11/prweb8947710.htm&gt;.

“Chocolate Making.” – Learn. Web. 5 May 2015. <https://askinosie.com/learn/chocolate-making.html&gt;.

Leissle, Kristy. “Invisible West Africa: The Politics of Single Origin Chocolate.” Gastronomica 13.3 (2013): 27.

Nesto, Bill. “Discovering Terroir in the World of Chocolate.” Gastronomica 10.1 (2010): 131-32.

Power, Mary E., and F. Stuart Chapin III. “Planetary Stewardship in a Changing World: Paths Towards Resilience and Sustainability.” Bulletin of the Ecological Society of America 91.2 (2010): 161.

Presilla, Maricel E. The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural and Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. Berkeley: Ten Speed, 2001.

Ethical Chocolate: Sweet or Sour?

The concept of the “ethical consumer” was first formally published in 1989 by a UK magazine and has since gained popularity amongst those who view consumption as a moralistic opportunity to translate their personal convictions into pubic action (Giesler & Veresiu). Ethical consumerism is founded on the perception of market-based consumption as a simultaneously economic and political act, a means by which to express one’s fundamentally non-economic values by “voting with dollars.” Through the deliberate moral boycotting of those products that do not meet specific moral or environmental criteria regarding conditions of production, ethical consumers aim to embed the capitalist market within a system of social norms and environmental concerns. The purchasing patterns of these self-proclaimed ethical consumers are thus largely governed by the presence or absence of what has been defined as “values-based labels,” or labels that make explicit claims to be engaged in an “ethical and moral effort to counter unsustainable trends within presently existing capitalism” (Barham 349-350).

In recent years, much light has been shed on the existence of several of these unsustainable trends within the chocolate industry. After many technological innovations of the 19th century allowed for the mass production of chocolate, emerging producers became engaged in a race to conquer this new and flourishing market. Even after plantation slavery had been officially abolished in European colonies across the globe, the success of many of the pioneering chocolate firms became inextricably bound up in imperialistic pursuits. The promise of increasing profits proved too alluring for some members of the chocolate industry to resist the free price of forced labor, and post-abolition slavery remained an integral link in the supply chains of many companies. As late as the early 1900s, investigators backed by the Cadbury company discovered incontrovertible evidence of slave labor on cacao farms on the former Portuguese colony of São Tomé and Príncipe. After public outcry erupted, British chocolate firms formally boycotted cacao from São Tomé and Príncipe and relocated their production centers to Africa’s Gold Coast, where cash crop production was already coming to fruition (Martin, “Slavery, Abolition, and Forced Labor”). The seeds were thus planted for the growth of the West African cacao economies, which remain dominant centers of cacao production to this day.

Over the course of the 20th century, cacao exportation became particularly important in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire, former British and French colonies, respectively. Today, over 60% of the world’s total cacao production falls upon these two small, developing African nations, with Côte d’Ivoire producing 34.4% and Ghana producing 17.5%. The brunt of this heavy load is borne on the shoulders of agricultural laborers scattered across two million small-scale, independent family farms. These West African cocoa farmers are collectively responsible for the production of 2.8 million metric tons of cocoa per year, yet receive an average per capita daily income of below $0.30 USD (Martin, “Modern day Slavery”).

Given these unsustainable wages, in conjunction with the extremely labor-intensive nature of cacao farming, it is no small surprise that labor conditions on cacao farms are often hazardous and, on occasion, coercive. In response to the increased public visibility of the deplorable working conditions that plague many of the cacao farms throughout West Africa, many chocolate retailers have vowed to sell products made only from ethically-sourced cacao. They have claimed corporate social responsibility by shifting production sources to ethically-certified cacao co-operatives that promise sustainable conditions of production both for workers and the environment (Martin, “Alternative trade and virtuous localization/globalization”). As such, many products marketed in today’s grocery stores now bear the logos for various certifications of ethical production, such as Fair Trade, USDA Organic, Direct Trade, Non-GMO Project, and Rainforest Alliance.

Fair Trade USA Certification Label
Fair Trade USA Certification Label (Fair Trade USA)

Regardless of the specific nature of their claims, products bearing these values-based labels distinguish themselves from their ordinary commercial counterparts through an emphasis on process and quality, attempting to increase corporate transparency by reconnecting consumers to the conditions of production along the supply chain. With the rise of corporate social responsibility, one of the most eminent values-based labels has become that of Fairtrade International, which first appeared in 1988 on coffee sold in Dutch supermarkets, in opposition to the exploitation of coffee pickers in Mexico. By 2002, Fairtrade International launched their official FAIRTRADE Certification Mark to “improve visibility on supermarket shelves, facilitate cross border trade, and simplify export procedures for both producers and exporters.”  Five years later, Fairtrade became recognized as one of just seven organizations worldwide that had reached the highest standards for defining terms of ethical trade (“History of Fairtrade”).

(“Fair Trade: Every Purchase Matters,” 2011)

However, despite these increasingly abundant claims of virtuous production, in this promise to consumers that “behind every Fairtrade certified label is a rigorous certification process, which means [they] can feel confident knowing that [they] are living [their] values with each purchase,” this video makes clear that the undercompensated laborers on West African cacao farms are, in fact, not the primary beneficiaries of many of these values-based certifications. Despite the fact that global Fairtrade sales have amounted to over $3 billion in the non-profit’s short lifetime, very few of these consumer “dollar votes” to “ensure farmers and workers are getting a fair deal” actually reach the impoverished laborers themselves after traveling through Fairtrade’s expensive bureaucratic network (Martin, “Alternative trade and virtuous localization/globalization”).

As such, many of these values-based certification claims of virtuous production do not seem to hold up in practice. The stark reality remains that, in the $100 billion per year chocolate industry, a vast majority of cocoa farmers remain well below the poverty line. These farmers seem to be of secondary concern to the ethical consumers themselves, whose restless consciences and hesitant pocketbooks can be placated by the knowledge that, when they buy values-based goods, “they are making a choice that means quality products, improved lives, and protection of the environment” (“Fair Trade: Every Purchase Matters”). The construction of the socially responsible chocolate producer thus plays directly into the hands of the emerging ethical consumer, relying increasingly on values-based labeling as a means by which to manipulate this audience into consumption by appealing to their heightened moral sensibilities.

It is evident that, within the Machiavellian context of the capitalist marketplace, consumers must always remain skeptical of the motives and claims made by producers. As such, I decided to conduct a taste test survey in hopes of exploring and evaluating the influence of these values-based labels on consumer perceptions of chocolate’s overall taste and nutritional value, the nature of which can ultimately determine downstream purchasing behaviors.

My experiment was comprised of a two-part taste test of nine different chocolate bars, each of which had range of values-based labels. The chocolate bars and their certifications, or lack thereof, were as follows:

Chocolate bars

  1. Dove Dark Chocolate (Rainforest Alliance Certified)
  2. Endangered Species Chocolate: Natural Dark Chocolate with Sea Salt & Almonds, 72% Cacao (Rainforest Alliance Certified, Non-GMO Project Verified)
  3. Hershey’s Milk Chocolate (None)
  4. Hershey’s Special Dark Mildly Sweet Chocolate Bar, 45% Cacao (None)
  5. Lindt Excellence: 70% Cocoa Smooth Dark Chocolate (None)
  6. Nestlé’s Milk Chocolate (None)
  7. Rescue Chocolate: Pick Me! Pepper Chocolate (Fair Trade Certified, USDA Organic Certified)
  8. Taza Chocolate Mexicano Cacao Puro, 70% Dark (Non-GMO Project Verified, Direct Trade Certified, USDA Organic Certified)
  9. Theo Chocolate: Pure 85% Dark Chocolate (Non-GMO Project Verified, Fair Trade Certified, USDA Organic Certified)

The first half of the experiment consisted of a blind taste test, in which each of my seven participants tasted samples of the nine different chocolate bars, given in a random but consistent order to all participants, with no visual cues or background information regarding the chocolate itself or the company that produced it. After each sample, I prompted participants to answer a series of three questions, the first of which asked them to score their overall enjoyment of each undisclosed chocolate bar on a scale of 0-5 (based on flavor, texture, aroma, etc.), where 0 indicated no enjoyment and 5 indicated strong enjoyment. The second question then asked participants to answer how many calories they thought one serving of each chocolate bar contained relative to other brands of chocolate. I provided them with the USDA nutritional breakdown for a general “Sweet Chocolate Bar,” which contains 208 calories per 41 g serving, as a standard reference for this subsequent evaluation (“USDA Sweet Chocolate Bar”). Answers for this second question were also given on a scale of 0-5, where 0 indicated that they thought the chocolate in question contained many fewer calories than the standard given, and 5 indicated that they believed it contained many more calories. The final question asked participants to rate, again on a scale of 0-5, how frequently they thought each chocolate bar should be consumed compared to other brands of chocolate, where 0 indicated much less frequently and 5 indicated much more frequently.

(Pleasantly?) surprised taste testers!
(Pleasantly?) surprised taste testers!






In contrast, the second half of the experiment was an informed taste test, in which I first provided the participants with a brief description of all the different values-based certifications represented by the chocolate brands, including Fair Trade, Direct Trade, USDA Organic, and Rainforest Alliance. Before re-tasting each sample, I presented participants with background information about the producer as well as the product itself, paraphrased from the packaging and company website. The participants were also told the ingredients and given a complete list of any of the aforementioned certifications received by each bar. I then had them taste each of the nine chocolate samples again in alphabetical order, after which they were then asked the same series of three questions in the same order, regarding overall enjoyment, relative caloric content, and proposed frequency of consumption.

When all participants finished both parts of the experiment, I compared the results from the answers given during the blind taste test versus the informed taste test, analyzing any significant trends or notable changes. A comparison of the answers given for the first question concerning overall enjoyment of each chocolate bar, as they changed from the blind test to the informed test, can be summarized by the following graph:

Overall Enjoyment Results
Overall Enjoyment Results


These results reveal that consumer enjoyment of each chocolate was indeed somewhat impacted by awareness of the product and producer, as overall ratings did not remain constant between tests for any of the nine samples. Because the intrinsic, objective factors (i.e. ingredients, presence or absence of conching, etc.) contributing to the chocolate’s overall quality, flavor, texture, and aroma were unchanged across both tests, it can be deduced that some extrinsic factor was affecting the subjective personal experience of these qualities. This extrinsic factor can be assumed to be contained within the information provided to participants during the second, non-blind taste test. In this case, consumer satisfaction and experience of chocolate quality might have been influenced by awareness of brand name, company background, or ingredients, as well as sensitivity to product description or values-based certifications.

In both the blind and informed taste test, the Dove Dark Chocolate came out on top, with 24.5 and 27.5 points, respectively. The fluctuations in overall enjoyment appear to be more correlated with whether the chocolate bars were of the milk chocolate or dark chocolate variety, rather than with the knowledge of the company mission or values-based certifications. Both milk chocolate samples tested (Hershey’s and Nestlé’s) received much lower ratings in the non-blind test, while enjoyment increased for all the dark chocolate bars. Initially, in the blind taste test, Nestlé’s Milk Chocolate received 20.5 points, but only half of that number in the informed taste test, falling from fourth to last place. Similarly, Hershey’s Milk Chocolate ratings declined to 13, placing it eighth out of nine in the second test. In contrast, enjoyment of Hershey’s Dark Chocolate bar increased from 22 to 27 points, bringing it from third place in the blind taste test to second place in the informed taste test. This observed trend may in part be due to the fact that dark chocolate is often perceived as being of higher quality and purity than milk chocolate. The ability to discern visual indicators of this presumed superior quality, such as the dark color of the chocolate bar itself or the percentage of cacao contained within it, may have caused participants to perceive the dark chocolate bars as being of higher quality in the second test.

Amongst those chocolates with several values-label certifications, Taza Cacao Puro enjoyment remained relatively high and stable across both tests, while enjoyment of Rescue Chocolate, Endangered Species Chocolate, and Theo Chocolate was relatively low, but increased slightly in the informed test. This finding becomes of particular interest, when taken with the results from the following question, in which participants were asked how frequently they thought each chocolate bar should be consumed compared to other chocolate brands:

Proposed Consumption Frequency
Proposed Consumption Frequency

With the exception of the Lindt chocolate, which is marketed as a premium chocolate, the recommended frequency of consumption for chocolate brands that lacked any values-based certifications showed a marked decreased over the course of the two taste tests. Conversely, for those chocolate brands that did have values-based certifications, the recommended frequency of consumption increased conspicuously in the informed taste test compared to the blind taste test. When taken with the previous observation that enjoyment of these same chocolate bars was lower than most other conventional bars and did not increase significantly, such a finding suggests that it is the consumer’s active promotion of those social or environmental causes that are represented by these values-based labels, rather than an improved tasting experience, that is motivating them to recommend more frequent consumption when their knowledge of the product increases.

The final question touched more directly on my main inquiry and motivation for conducting this taste test survey–that is, whether claims of ethical production would promote a “halo effect,” a long-established phenomenon in social psychology whereby “an initial favorable impression promotes subsequent favorable evaluations on unrelated dimensions” (Schuldt, Muller, & Schwarz 1). Participants were asked to score relative calorie content of each chocolate sample, a higher score out of 35 total points reflecting that participants tended to think that the chocolate sample contained more calories than most other brands of chocolate, while a score on the lower end indicating the general perception of the chocolate as lower calorie than most other chocolate brands.

Proposed Calorie Content
Proposed Calorie Content

These results demonstrate that those chocolate brands with several ethical production certifications were ranked as being significantly lower in calories in the informed taste test. In contrast, all of the bars that lacked any explicit claims of ethical production methods were perceived as being much higher in calories after the second taste test. Consistent with the logic of health halo effects, consumers appeared to be making positive and negative health inferences on the basis of the presence or absence of socially ethical food production practices, respectively, which bear no nutritional connotation whatsoever. Previous research has already demonstrated the existence of significant “health halo effects” based on claims of USDA Organic certification, whereby consumers judge organic foods as being lower in calories than their non-organic counterparts, regardless of the fact that organic certification does not have any direct bearing on calorie content. For example, people tend to judge Oreo cookies made from organic flour as containing fewer calories than do regular Oreos, despite the fact that the two products have equal nutritional value (Schuldt, Muller, & Schwarz 2).

With the growing obesity epidemic sweeping the nation, this health halo effect that accompanies values-based labeling is of imminent concern, as consumers are being led to make to unfounded assumptions about the nutritional value of the foods they are eating

Sucrose for Comfort (Mother Jones)
“Sucrose for Comfort” (Mother Jones)

Over the past 30 years, the percentage of adults who suffer from obesity has more than doubled from 15% to 35.7%, causing the incidence of diabetes, heart disease, and other chronic illnesses to skyrocket. Increasing rates of obesity have been shown to be directly correlated with annual per capita sugar consumption, which has soared to over 132 pounds in the United States, or the equivalent of 31 teaspoons of added sugars per day (Taubes & Couzens, Albritton 343). This exponential sugar increase in the American diet can be largely attributed to the rise of industrial food corporations, which, driven by competition in the capitalist marketplace, seek to maximize profits by minimizing production costs; however, this self-seeking mentality is often at odds with the best interests of the American population, as lowering production costs often means pumping food products full of empty calories. As a direct consequence of the contemporary capitalist food industry, “junk foods,” or those foods that tend to be very high in calories relative to nutrients, abound to such an extent that 50% of the average American’s daily caloric intake can be accounted for by fat and sugar (Albritton 343).

From the point of view of the capitalist food corporations, the “ideal food ingredient for profit purposes is something that is cheap and that consumers crave,” (Albritton 344). Many big businesses have found the perfect profitable candidate in chocolate, which exploits the addictive quality of sweetness and requires relatively low input costs. Today, mass-produced chocolate bars are ubiquitous across the nation, lining the aisles and countertops of every grocery and convenience store, supplied primarily by the chocolate industry’s “Big Five”–Hershey’s, Mars, Nestlé, Cadbury, and Ferero Rocher (Martin, “The rise of big chocolate and race for the global market”). These corporations reap the profits of the American obesity epidemic, aggressively pursuing marketing strategies that enforce ‘brand loyalty from cradle to grave’ for those products that exploit the human craving for sugar, fat, and salt.

However, these large chocolate corporations are not the only ones responsible for pursuing profit-maximizing ends at the expense of consumer health. Rather than competing directly for the same consumer base as the Big Five industrial chocolate powerhouses, emerging “socially conscious corporations” have adopted the aforementioned alternative, values-based marketing strategies. It is in these companies’ best interests to pursue such values-based marketing strategies, as their success is likely enhanced by the evocation of these problematic health halos that accompany claims of socially ethical production. However, by capitalizing on the unsustainable working and environmental conditions that tarnish the reputations of bigger chocolate corporations, socially conscious corporations are selfishly bolstering sales to the detriment of the health of their “ethical consumers.”

In order for ethical consumption to become an authentic and meaningful institution capable of affecting actual positive change, consumers must become more than superficial values-based label-readers. They must view these products with the same skeptical eye with which they would view any product of the capitalist food industry, seeking to further educate themselves not only about the benefits of ethical production, but also about its shortcomings that impact those at home and abroad. Only in this way can ethical consumption truly live up to its potential to become an agent of social and environmental transformation.

Albritton, Robert. “Between Obesity and Hunger: The Capitalist Food Industry.” Food and Culture. 3rd ed. New York: Routledge, 2013. 343-52. Print.

Barham, Elizabeth. “Towards a Theory of Values-based Labeling.” Agriculture and Human Values 19 (2002): 349-60. Kluwer Academic Publishers. Web. 1 May 2015.

Fair Trade: Every Purchase Matters. Fair Trade Certified, 2011. Youtube. Web. 3 May 2015. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7K4G5-ydhS0&gt;.

Fair Trade USA Certification Label. Digital image. Logos & Labels. Fair Trade USA, 2015. Web. 5 May 2015. <http://fairtradeusa.org/resources/logos-labels&gt;.

Giesler, Markus, and Ela Veresiu. “Creating the Responsible Consumer: Moralistic Governance Regimes and Consumer Subjectivity.” Journal of Consumer Research 41.3 (2014): 840-57. Chicago Journals. Web. 2 May 2015.

“History of Fairtrade.” Fairtrade International. Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International, 2011. Web. 3 May 2015.

Martin, Carla. “Alternative trade and virtuous localization/globalization.” AAAS 119x Lecture 18. Harvard University, Cambridge, MA. 4 Apr. 2015. Lecture.

Martin, Carla. “Modern day Slavery.” AAAS 119x Lecture 15. Harvard University, Cambridge, MA. 25 Mar. 2015. Lecture.

Martin, Carla. “The rise of big chocolate and race for the global market.” AAAS 119x Lecture 13. Harvard University, Cambridge, MA. 11 Mar. 2015. Lecture.

Martin, Carla. “Slavery, Abolition, and Forced Labor.” AAAS 119x Lecture 11. Harvard University, Cambridge, MA. 4 Mar. 2015. Lecture.

Schuldt, Jonathan P., Dominique Muller, and Norbert Schwarz. “The ”Fair Trade” Effect: Health Halos From Social Ethics Claims.” Social Psychological and Personality Science (2011): 1-9. Sage Publications. Web. 1 May 2015.

Taubes, Gary, and Cristin K. Couzens. Sucrose for Comfort. Digital image. Big Sugar’s Sweet Little Lies. Mother Jones, Nov.-Dec. 2012. Web. 05 May 2015.

“USDA Sweet Chocolate Bar.” HealthGrove. N.p., 2015. Web. 2 May 2015.