Tag Archives: Direct Trade

Chocolate and Ethics

Quality of life and ethical life choices are important factors in everything we do. Chocolate is a frequent part of our lives as well, for some, a daily part.  Chocolate is a multi-billion dollar industry.  When consumers spend money in a business that supports ethical business practices, it can make a difference in lives around the world.  Taza Chocolate is one such business.

Taza Chocolate.

Taza Chocolate makes stone ground chocolate from organic cacao in Somerville, Massachusetts.  Taza has been in business since 2005, and is an example of an ethical and forward-thinking chocolate business (Taza, 2017).  Taza devotes much of their time and business planning to ensure their business practices and those of their suppliers, who they refer to as partners, improves the lives of farmers, while reforming the chocolate industry from the ground up.  Taza has a wide selection of chocolate, including chocolate bars, gift sets, and even bulk chocolate so people can bake or cook with stone ground, organic, Direct Trade chocolate.

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Photo of Taza Chocolate products in public domain by Johnny Lai.

The process of purchasing cacao beans.

Obtaining cacao beans direct from growers is an important part of fair labor practices.  Historically, the cacao industry has taken advantage of its workers, ignoring abuse and slavery to achieve a greater profit.  An example of this can be seen in São Tomé and Príncipe in the 1900s.  Slavery had been officially abolished in 1870, and the cacao industry needed workers, so they began using the system of contract labor, where workers would agree to work a set number of years for a set wage (Satre, 2006, Location 1603).  Workers traveling to provide contract labor were “coerced, repatriation was all but impossible, and the death rate was as high as twelve percent” (Satre, 2006, Location 1603).   In 1907, long after these abusive practices became public knowledge, “Cadbury still imported 7.4 million pounds of cacao beans from São Tomé, about thirteen percent of the island’s total exports” (Satre, 2006, Location 1603).  Today, the chocolate industry is attempting to improve working conditions and payment for cacao farmers through fair trade initiatives.  There are several certifications that ensure fair labor practices in the cacao industry, but Taza’s Direct Trade is the first cacao sourcing program that is third-party certified (Taza, 2017).  Taza purchases their beans directly from growers with no “predatory middlemen and abusive labor practices,” so that farmers and their families receive more money for the cacao they grow and harvest (Taza, 2017).  Every year all five of Taza’s Direct Trade claims are certified by “a USDA-accredited organic certifier” (Taza, 2017).

 

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Cacao beans, taken by me, 2017e846.

Direct Trade certified claims by Taza.

The five Direct Trade certified claims Taza makes improve quality of life for cacao farmers and their families while improving the quality of cacao beans used in Taza chocolate.  The first claim is that Taza develops “direct relationships with cacao farmers” (Taza, 2017).  By visiting Taza’s partners every year and reviewing how much of the money paid for cacao beans reaches the farmers directly, other benefits farmers receive besides monetary payments, and actually meeting and speaking to farmers, Taza develops direct relationships with farmers.  The second Direct Trade certified claim is that Taza pays “a price premium to cacao farmers” (Taza, 2017).  Invoices are reviewed to verify that Taza has met this claim by comparing the price paid for cacao to the NYICE price for cacao on the same date as the invoice (Taza, 2017).  Another important Direct Trade claim is that Taza sources “the highest quality cacao beans” (Taza, 2017).  Taza staff perform a quality assessment of every container of cacao beans purchased, and complete an evaluation form indicating the results of each assessment (Taza, 2017).  A further Direct Trade claim is that Taza requires “USDA certified organic cacao” (Taza, 2017).  This is important to ensure the quality of the cacao used, and Taza provides documentation to support USDA organic certification to the independent certifier (Taza, 2017).  The fifth certified claim is a self-imposed action on the part of Taza.  It includes publishing a yearly Transparency Report.  Taza publishes every year a Direct Trade Transparency Report, so that consumers or anyone else who wants to verify their claims, has all the information to do so (Taza, 2017).  Currently, there are links to the report for the past six years available on Taza’s website.  This level of transparency in the bean to bar operation is unique in the chocolate industry.

Link to a discussion by Taza Chocolate on the difference between Direct Trade and Fair Trade.

Fair compensation to growers and farmers.

To maintain an ethical and healthy cacao industry, growers need to receive fair compensation.  Although slavery has been abolished, cacao farmers in many areas do not make a livable wage.  As recently as 2008, in a Côte d’Ivoire cacao village, people “lacked clean water, health care, and decent schools” (Orla, 2011, Location 793).  The issue of child labor was brought to public attention in 2000, when it came forward that children were being enticed by traffickers with promises of riches, and brought to cacao farms in Côte d’Ivoire, where they “survived on little food, little or no pay, and endured regular beatings” (Orla, 2011, Location 807).   In fact, some officials were even “convinced that the farmers were paying organized groups of smugglers to deliver the children to their cocoa groves…and police were being bribed to look the other way” (Off, 2006, Location 1893).  In 2001, the Harkin-Engle protocol was signed to help address the problem of child labor (Orla, 2011, Location 807).   In 2015, cacao farmers in Ghana earned “as little as 84 cents a day, and Ivorian farmers, 50 cents” (Soley, 2015).  Taza visits farmers that they buy cacao from every year, and “only buy cacao from growers who ensure fair and humane work practices” (Taza, 2017).  Additionally, Taza pays “at least $500 above the market price…and never less than $2,800 per metric ton” for their cacao (Taza, 2017).  In 2016, Taza purchased 233 metric tons of cacao beans, equating to at least $116,000 dollars more in the pockets of growers and farmers in developing countries due to Taza’s forward-thinking labor practices (Taza, 2017).  In 2016, Taza paid its Bolivia partner a fixed price of $5,300 per metric ton, and the partner paid 76.4% of this amount to the farmers (Taza, 2017).  This set price is paid by Taza even though the price of cacao on the world market may be much lower.  As an example, the International Cacao Organization lists the average daily price of a metric ton of cacao in December 2016 at $2,287.80 (ICCO, 2017).  Despite this price, Taza would pay its Bolivian partner $5,300 per metric ton for any cacao purchased in December, protecting farmers from the price fluctuations throughout the market.   This process ensures higher income for growers and farmers, cutting out the middleman, so they may better support their families.  With “most of the world’s cacao farmers living at or below the poverty line of $2 per day” (Taza, 2017), the chocolate industry needs to follow Taza’s actions, and customers need to spend their money with companies that are encouraging humane labor practices.

Monetary compensation is supplemented by other benefits to farmers.  Taza’s partners, in addition to paying their farmers more, also provide other benefits that cut costs for farmers and increase profits.  For example, all of Taza’s partners “drive to producers’ farms to pick up the cacao in its unfermented form” (Taza, 2017).  This saves farmers money on delivery, fermenting, and drying costs, so their profit is greater.   Taza’s partners may provide high-quality cacao seedlings, loans to buy farms, food, housing, and many other types of assistance that are meant to help farmers become more successful and live better lives (Taza, 2017).

Chocolate ingredients other than cacao.

The other ingredients used in chocolate production need the same devotion to fair labor standards and wages as cacao.  Historically, some chocolate merchants added dangerous ingredients to chocolate, such as “brick dust, chalk, clay, dirt, paraffin, talc, and other items” (Grivetti, 2009, Location 10908).  Using organic ingredients that are held to higher ethical standards is important.  The sugar industry is tied to the chocolate industry in many ways, and has a similar history as cacao in terms of the treatment of slaves.  As of 2013, the Department of Labor cited problems with child labor in the sugar industry in the Dominican Republic (U.S. Department of Labor, 2013).  The submission found violations of labor law concerning wages, hours of work, occupational safety and health, child labor, and forced or compulsory labor (U.S. Department of Labor, 2013).  It is important for customers and corporations alike to work for better conditions and wages for all workers.

Taza purchases certified USDA organic cacao and sugar from farmers “who respect the environment and fair labor practices” (Taza, 2017).  The country of origin of the cacao beans is listed on many of Taza’s products, and the partners are specifically listed in the Transparency Report, so individuals can research and verify fair labor practices.  Customers can buy a product with ingredients from a specific country, and support the practices of that supplier by choosing to do business with them.  The sugar that Taza purchases for their chocolate is organic, non-GMO, and the supplier is committed to sustainability and fair labor practices (Taza, 2017).  Not only are the mills that produce the sugar energy self-sufficient, the “organic farming system has resulted in 20% higher productivity than conventional sugar cane production while reducing Native’s carbon footprint and saving water, soil, energy, and promoting human welfare” (Taza, 2017).   Although Native Sugar uses a mechanical harvester, it has retrained its workers for “other positions within the organization” adhering to the commitment to fair labor and making workers lives better (Taza, 2017).   Business practices that promote environmental sustainability are important in today’s world.  Not only is this good for future generations, it is also benefiting the company economically.

Labor in the production process. 

The production process has become highly mechanized for many chocolate companies.  Historically, laborers produced chocolate using basic tools.  Some cacao farms, like Hacienda Buena Vista in Puerto Rico, began using hydropower to increase production and change the roles of workers.  It is impressive to see, with one pull of a lever, water rushing down and causing large equipment to start processing cacao, or coffee, or corn.  The process of making stone ground chocolate keeps the historic element alive, while mechanizing chocolate production.  Taza uses “traditional Mexican stone mills, called molinos, with hand-carved stones that turn inside” the mills (Taza, 2017).  Workers pay close attention during the process to ensure quality that cannot be achieved through high production automation.

Hacienda water run equipment
Machinery run by hydropower at Hacienda Buena Vista, taken by me 2017e846

 

Chocolate recipes.

Recipes for chocolate are an important component of a chocolate company.  Many of today’s chocolate recipes contain ingredients traditionally used in different cultures.  Cinnamon has been used traditionally in cacao recipes, and Taza uses it in some of its chocolate recipes (Taza, 2017).  Chili is also an ingredient to some of Taza’s products, similar to the “ancient Mesoamerican tradition of adding chili to chocolate” (Coe and Coe, 2013, Location 3828).  Additionally, vanilla, various nuts, sea salt, coconut, coffee and other ingredients are used today to make a chocolate bar that is both traditional and current.

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Traditional chocolate ingrediates.  Taken by me, 2017e846.

Value of the product.

For consumers in developed countries today, and some developing countries, chocolate is an affordable luxury.  Taza’s chocolate is reasonably priced given the quality and commitment to the cacao community of growers that encompasses its business model.  A Taza chocolate bar or disc are for the most part between $5.00 and $7.50 (Taza, 2017).  That is a reasonable price for organic chocolate, at least given prices for organic chocolate in the Caribbean.  An artisan chocolate bar made here in Puerto Rico is approximately $10.00, and they are small bars.  Organic chocolate is a relatively affordable luxury that enriches our lives.

Conclusion.

The chocolate industry as a whole is making strides towards incorporating more humane practices into its business model.  However, large companies are slow to change.  Small, independent chocolate businesses have the ability now to make positive changes in the lives of farmers and their families, showing larger businesses a better way to operate and improving the lives of those they do business with.  Taza Chocolate is one such company who appears to look at every aspect of their business in trying to improve the lives of others while growing a successful chocolate company and delivering a high-quality products.

Works Cited

Coe, Michael D., and Coe, Sophie D.  The True History of Chocolate.  Kindle ed., Thames & Hudson, 2013.

Grivetti, Louis E.  “Dark Chocolate:  Chocolate and Crime in North America and Elsewhere.”   Chocolate:  History, Culture, and Heritage, edited by Louis Evan Grivetti and Howard-Yana Shapiro.  Kindle ed., John Wiley and Sons, Inc., 2009.

International Cocoa Organization website.  Retrieved from: https://www.icco.org/statistics/cocoa-prices/monthly-averages.html?currency=usd&startmonth=12&startyear=2016&endmonth=12&endyear=2016&show=table&option=com_statistics&view=statistics&Itemid=114&mode=custom&type=1

Off, Carol.  Bitter Chocolate:  Anatomy of an Industry.  Kindle ed., The New Press, 2006.

Orla, Ryan.  Chocolate Nations:  Living and Dying for Cocoa in West Africa.  Kindle ed., Zed  Books, 2011.

Satre, Lowell J.  “Chocolate on Trial:  Slavery, Politics and the Ethics of Business.”  Journal of British Studies, vol. 45, no. 3, 2006.  Retrieved from:  https://oup.silverchaircdn.com/oup/backfile/Content_public/Journal/ahr/111/5/10.1086/ahr.111.5.1603/2/11151603.pdf?Expires=1494532181&Signature=Bktk0Wtwlcjwcjdb8gNc0UvvCVDVd8BNVD8Z4iKlCR9HALBUWSYbk55G2xWUJaxbqlN4Zvxkhe6860o3tEN~-8IS7dCLOuIUwFuh5pyob2uamoCVT~W-mzPbaBebkCVoWo1ywvI4HCJBf-fHA9k2e2bmNLlrGL0BxhqnMblaLW2HuEJWqY1lTAtB-4m60OXMHRyDWrsajBcFPLbHyQ8erLkEQelz2yZBq5lumwXYQ3m2M8so1i6LVviTHWrgXuokMQfgIlMrrjy6XKxoH71bHKuMAu20Ph8wNY3Rd70Q6yOIobiKhaBV6xhRrC8kjzuWuB6SCIqGldwX3B1006WE~w__&Key-Pair-Id=APKAIUCZBIA4LVPAVW3Q.

Soley, Allison.  “Cacao Farmers Still Aren’t Making enough money:  Cocoa Barometer review shows young farmers no longer replacing older farmers due to extremely low wages.”  1 July 2015.  Candy Industry website.  Retrieved from: http://www.candyindustry.com/articles/86817-cocoa-farmers-still-arent-making-enough-money.

Taza Chocolate website. Last accessed 10 May 2017.   https://www.tazachocolate.com/pages/about-taza.

United States Department of Labor, “Dominican Republic Submission Under Central America-United States Free Trade Agreements.” (7 September 2013).  Retrieved from:  https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/our-work/trade/fta-submissions#DR

 

Down to the Details: Dissecting the Intended Audience of Two NYC Chocolate Shops

New York City is constantly brimming with new additions to the food scene, and when it comes to chocolate, The Meadow and Chelsea Market Baskets are two specialty shops that aim to enhance one’s sensory and social experience. Closer comparison between these stores also yields distinct differences in their intended audience and marketing incentive. Whereas Chelsea Market Baskets has a more pronounced focus on gift purchasing and impulse buying, The Meadow offers a more well-rounded selection of origins and varieties, establishing itself as a solid destination for connoisseurs and consumers who place a greater priority on food product transparency.

Chelsea Market Baskets 

Chelsea Market Baskets (CMB) is located inside Chelsea Market, which boasts about 6 million visitors annually (Chelsea Market). The chocolate selection here is divided into three sections: Popular Chocolates, Specialty Chocolates (a sign reads “Chocolates that are not found in many places and we think are worth a bit of effort to find”), and Connoisseurs Chocolates (“Top quality chocolates that we are especially proud of and have sought out from smaller manufacturers”). The prices vary from around $3 to $11 per product.

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CMB’s three sections of chocolate (shot with iPhone)

Selection

Whereas mass manufacturers rely on wholesale companies to ensure lower costs, bean-to-bar makers take pride in carefully sourcing higher quality beans through a more collaborative environment with farmers and aim to increase product transparency (Dandelion Chocolate). Many bean-to-bar goods are offered here, and while most of the single origin bars only designate the country of origin, Dandelion Chocolate and Sol Cacao specify the estate where their beans come from: Akesson’s Farm in Madagascar.

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Bean-to-bar makers Sol Cacao and Dandelion specify the estate from which their beans are sourced (shot with iPhone). 

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On the other hand, CMB also offers an equal amount of mass-produced chocolate by major European manufacturers (e.g. Cote d’Or). At least five brands represented at CMB incorporate more typical “Big Chocolate” ingredients: more refined sugar and emulsifiers (e.g. soy lecithin) to substitute for more expensive cocoa butter (Albader 55). This not only reduces production costs but also reduces the number of polyphenols (which can help reduce LDL cholesterol and raise HDL concentrations) naturally found in cocoa butter (Watson et al. 267). The homogenization of these sweeter, more artificially flavored products with the all-natural and single origin bars implies that the larger focus of CMB may be on the overall appeal of the product, rather than the nutritional value or manner of production.

Examination of packaging and flavor selection also furthers my impression that CMB greatest motive is to attract the gift-giving or impulse buyer. Several eye-catching packaging labels showcase cartooned creatures, which have been shown to specifically attract children (Shekhar and Raveendran 57). Makers such as Vintage Plantations showcase vibrant colors or paintings of exotic habitats; the dimension of packaging design that most significantly predicts impulsive buying is visual design (Cahyorini and Rusfian 17). Selling more visually attractive products is a particularly beneficial marketing strategy, because the more exposure to visual cues in packaging, the higher the probability of buying chocolates (Shekhar and Raveendran 60). Certainly, customers may come with a particular product in mind, but for those more impulse-driven visitors, CMB offers several choices that facilitate purchasing through graphic appeal. Another effective marketing strategy here is catering to the traditional “American” appetite. Many flavored chocolates are fused with bacon, caramel, cookies, or other familiar flavors; culturally, we are psychologically attracted to foods that are both sweet and high in fat (Benton 214). By offering a mixture of single-origin and mass-manufactured chocolate, visually attractive products, and both familiar and novel flavors, CMB accommodates all ages and flavor preferences.The primary goal is to retail “premium chocolates,” value-added products not just in terms of quality but also “taste and texture, packaging, image and perception, and communication” (Linemayr 13).

Visually appealing products (shot with iPhone)

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Fusing bacon with chocolate

Ethical Concerns

CMB offers a number of Fair Trade products, which are based on a collective effort to justly compensate farmers. However, many of the label’s claims are not accomplished, and a very small proportion of money reaches the poverty-stricken farmers at the base of the production chain (Martin). The growing ubiquitousness of Fair Trade has led to a dilution of its label, with some companies merely using it to enhance their public image (Sylla 133). For more knowledgable consumers, CMB offers several Direct Trade goods by makers who offer more substantial premiums to farmers. Taza, which created the “chocolate industry’s first third-party certified Direct Trade cacao sourcing program,” publishes an annual cacao sourcing transparency report, listing in detail the premiums paid to their farmers (Taza Chocolate). Over fifteen of Taza’s products are sold at CMB, all of them in the “Popular Chocolates” selection, thereby facilitating an outlet by which visitors can enjoy the unique taste of their stone-ground chocolate but also learn about their socially responsible practices. By representing several companies that work beyond simply paying Fair Trade premiums, CMB offers potential for spreading more awareness about the more grassroots approach to relieving ethical issues in chocolate production.

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A shot from Taza’s annual sourcing transparency report (Taza Chocolate)

 

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Taza selection at CMB (shot with iPhone)

Taste

I purchased a few bars from each store to share some interesting flavors and textures unique to each location. From CMB, I purchased Taza’s Cinnamon Stone Ground Chocolate Mexicano Discs. Taza is known for their unique processing technique where traditional Mexican style stone mills, or molinos, are used to grind the beans. This accentuates the bold flavors of the unconched chocolate, producing a rustic, gritty texture that lingers on the tongue. Taza allows the consumer to harken back to historical Mesoamerican chocolate traditions through the similar process of grinding cacao on a stone, or metate (Presilla 26). I loved the biscuit-like texture because it allowed me to taste the bold cacao, sugar, and warm cinnamon individually.

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I was first drawn to the artwork on Amano’s package and after turning it over, I found that Amano is the most highly awarded chocolate maker in America, which piqued my interest in its taste. Madagascar cacao is known for being fruity, and this tastes very smooth with clean raspberry, black currant, and cherry notes (Presilla 139).

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The Meadow

The Meadow is located in the West Village, and pricing is significantly on the higher end, ranging from around $6 to $22 per bar. Like CMB, the chocolate selection is divided into three sections, albeit for different categories: the first section comprises flavored chocolates, the second comprising single-origin bars and bean-to-bar makers, and the third for dark chocolate (85% cacao content or higher).

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The Meadow’s three sections of chocolate (shot with iPhone)

Selection

Unlike CMB, the vast majority of products here are by small batch craft makers, and one instantly notices the emphasis on minimal and natural ingredients. The flavored chocolates here rarely consist of emulsifiers or artificial sweeteners, and the associate can name several products with higher amounts of non-deodorized cocoa butter. The samples offered were only from 100% cacao bars, which may be a more unconventional choice for tasting. Some individuals may not be familiar with such astringent, potent flavors, but The Meadow urges one to stay true to the the pure experience of cacao. These factors all lead to marketing more health-conscious products; 100% cacao bars contain no sugar, and dark chocolate contains the most significant levels of antioxidant polyphenols and flavonoids, which have beneficial effects on hypertension and vascular disorders (Haber and Gallus 1287).

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Tasting samples (shot with iPhone)

A thorough understanding of the selection is largely dependent on the visitor’s level of understanding of origin and terroir. There are significantly more single origin countries presented here; the Francois Pralus single origin bars span eight countries. Whereas CMB retails Madagascar chocolate bars which source beans from a single farm (Akesson’s), actual chocolate bars made by Akesson’s are sold here. Akesson’s is a family-owned heritage plantation, which provides beans for many U.S. based chocolate companies, such as Dick Taylor, Patric, and Woodblock, all of which can be found at The Meadow (Carla Martin, personal communication, May 2 2017). This selection offers a dynamic medium for tasting and comparing flavors made from varying partners within the supply chain.

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Francois Pralus selection (shot with iPhone)
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Akesson’s single plantation chocolate

The Francois Pralus bars list not only the country of origin but also the cacao variety used. Other bars state “Porcelana” on the front, a criollo variety that is prized for its nuttiness and low astringency (Presilla 67). Those who are familiar with or are in favor of a specific cacao variety will find the detail-oriented selection at The Meadow particularly accommodating.

Several bars are labeled “Chuao,” one of the most coveted type of criollo beans. Today, the Chuao plantation in Chuao, Venezuela is run by a small community that adheres to a centuries-long tradition of processing and operations (Presilla 77). The narrow valley yields a very limited space for cultivating cacao, producing only about 16 to 17 metric tons annually, but the beans are highly coveted for their taste and quality (White). The reputation of Chuao has led some makers to misappropriate its name and branding significance to mimic the terroir effect of the Chuao geographical region (Giovannucci et al. xv). This controversy itself is implicated at The Meadow, where I found two “Chuao” bars: one from Francois Pralus and the other by Domori. Although the Francois Pralus bar sources specifically from the Chuao village, the Domori bar is made from beans in a different region of Venezuela where the genetics of the Chuao strain have been implanted (The Meadow). This “Chuao” labeling despite it being produced outside of the valued village raises questions of legitimacy and violations of terroir, which places a strong emphasis on geographical origin, specifically, the “link between the product and the production area, depending on natural and climate conditions in the region” (Aurier et al.). The Domori bar also distances itself from the cultural and historical prestige associated with terroir. The Francois Pralus Chuao bar ($14) is more popular than the Domori Chuao bar ($8), perhaps due to an understanding of the terroir complications at hand, again likening consumer knowledge as an important factor for visitors.

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This is a cacao pod in the Chuao region, lauded for its terroir and superior criollo beans (Wikimedia Commons). 

 

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The Francois Pralus and Domori “Chuao” bars (shot with iPhone)

Domori

Ethical Concerns

The Meadow represents a nice selection of Fair Trade and Direct Trade goods, and the sales associate is also fairly knowledgable about the downsides of the Fair Trade label. He pinpointed a few companies working more directly with their farmers, such as Madécasse. Madécasse, which makes their chocolate directly in Madagascar, pays farmers 10% higher than the maximum price for dry superior cacao and 55% higher than the median price for all cacao (Madécasse Social Impact Report).

He also told me about Askinosie, one of The Meadow’s top-selling companies, which places photos of their farmers, a map of their estate, and twine from their cacao bags on their packaging, attempting to secure a bridge of transparency with the consumer. Askinosie also pays a significantly higher premium than the Fair Trade market price, supports nutritional programs for children in underdeveloped countries, and shares a percentage of its profits through their “A Stake in the Outcome” program, incentivizing farmers to constantly improve methods to ensure better quality (Askinosie Chocolate). The selection at The Meadow, in addition to the knowledge of its sales associates, is better marketed towards spreading awareness of ethical issues and their relation to small batch makers.

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Askinosie shares and explains financial statements with their farmers (Askinosie).
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Askinosie goods at The Meadow (shot with iPhone)

Taste

Bertil Akesson’s plantation in the Sambirano Valley of Madagascar is divided into four smaller estates: Madirofolo, Menavava, Bejofo, and Ambolikapiky, but only the latter two provide the beans for Akesson’s own chocolate bars (Cocoa Runners). I wanted to compare an Akesson’s Chocolate with another maker who sources from Akesson’s Farm (e.g. Dick Taylor).

The Dick Taylor chocolate was very tart with cranberry and orange notes. The potent astringency significantly differed from the more sweet, berry-flavored Amano Madagascar bar. It finished off with a slightly overroasted taste, which made me experience firsthand how different bars sourcing from the same geographical region can yield differing flavors based on each company’s processing methods.

Dick Taylor

My second purchase was an Akesson’s 75% Criollo Bejofo Estate bar. Every Akesson’s bar shows not only which of the 4 smaller estates the cacao comes from but also the variety of beans used. According to the package, 300 tons of trinitario cacao are produced on Akesson’s Farm, but a limited 2 tons of criollo cacao are harvested separately to make this specific chocolate. As criollo varieties are generally perceived as the most mellow and refined in flavor, I compared the taste of this bar with the more trinitario-based Dick Taylor bar (Presilla 36). The Akesson’s bar has a familiar chocolatey aroma and significantly more refined taste with soft, tropical notes (papaya or peach) that balanced well with a very mild tartness. It has a much longer mouthfeel with a velvety texture. Of all the three Madagascar bars I purchased, this had the most delicate nuttiness and creaminess. Originally, I had thought the Amano, Dick Taylor, and Akesson’s bars would be difficult to differentiate in flavor as they all originate in Madagascar, but I was able to experience the complexities of terroir and processing techniques.

Akesson's criollo chocolate

 

Conclusion

Both CMB and The Meadow are valuable to the NYC food scene and heighten one’s experience with chocolate. Housed inside a bustling tourist attraction, CMB appeals to a wider audience, making it highly adapted to the marketplace. One can find goods that are suitable for the entire family, which relates to the store’s motto of gift-giving to share both popular and novel tastes. The Meadow caters to a smaller niche, one that requires a greater deal of knowledge. The high prices here can pose as a drawback, and had I visited The Meadow prior to taking Dr. Martin’s course, I would have had great trouble understanding the significance of “porcelana” or “single estate.” The Meadow’s selection is meticulously curated, just like the companies it represents direct great attention to their chocolate sourcing and production. The Meadow’s focus on minimal ingredients and terroir enhanced my affinity for chocolate, because I was able to apply my knowledge to various social, cultural, and ethical factors implicated by the selection. The Meadow’s greatest asset may be that it challenges traditional notions of what chocolate is and hones in on the complexities of food product transparency. By offering a more detailed rundown of production, sourcing, and cacao varieties, The Meadow works towards developing a more intimate connection of trust, reliability, and transparency between brand and consumer.

Works Cited

“About Chelsea Market.” Chelsea Market, http://www.chelseamarket.com/index.php/About/contact/about-chelsea-market. Accessed 29 April 2017.

“Akesson’s.” Cocoa Runners, https://cocoarunners.com/maker/akessons/. Accessed 3 May 2017.

Albader, Kawther. “Can you believe it’s not (cocoa) butter?”. Candy Industry, July 2012, 54-55.

Askinosie, Shawn. Direct Trade. Photograph. Askinosie Chocolate. https://www.askinosie.com/learn/direct-trade.html. Accessed 3 May 2017.

Aurier, Philippe et al. “Exploring Terroir Product Meanings For the Consumer.” Anthropology of Food, 1 May 2005.

Benton, David. “The Biology and Psychology of Chocolate Craving.” Coffee, Tea, Chocolate, and the Brain, edited by Astrid Nehlig, CRC Press, 2004, 205-218.

Cacao en Chuao. Reg2bug. Wikimedia Commons. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cacao_en_Chuao.jpg. Accessed 2 May 2017.

Cahyorini, Astri, and Effy Zalfiana Rusfian. “The Effect of Packaging Design on Impulsive Buying.” Journal of Administrative Science & Organization, Jan. 2011, 11-21.

“Domori Chuao 70% Dark Chocolate.” The Meadow, https://themeadow.com/products/domori-chuao-70-dark-chocolate. Accessed 2 May 2017.

Giovannucci, Daniele, et al. Guide to Geographical Indications: Linking Products and Their Origins. International Trade Center, 2009.

Haber, Stacy, and Karen Gallus. “Effects of Dark Chocolate on Blood Pressure in Patients With Hypertension.” American Journal of Health-System Pharmacy, 1 Aug. 2012, 1287-1293.

“How We Make Chocolate.” Dandelion Chocolate, https://www.dandelionchocolate.com/process/#anchor. Accessed 29 April 2017.

Linemayr, Thomas. “Establishing Premium Chocolate in the U.S. Mass Market.” The Manufacturing Confectioner, June 2011, 13-16.

“Madécasse Social Impact Report.” Madécasse LLC and Wildlife Returns, April 2017, 1-9.

Martin, Carla. “Lecture 10: Alternative Trade and Virtuous Localization/Globalization.” Chocolate, Culture and the Politics of Food. Harvard University: Cambridge, MA. 5 April 2017. Lecture.

Presilla, Maricel. The New Taste of Chocolate, Revised. Ten Speed Press, 2009.

Shekhar, Suraj Kushe, and P.T Raveendran. “The Power of Sensation Transference: Chocolate Packages & Impulse Purchases.” Indian Institute of management Indore, April 2013, 55-64.

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

“Taza Direct Trade.” Taza Chocolate. https://www.tazachocolate.com/pages/taza-direct-trade. Accessed 29 April 2017.

White, April. “The Potential and Pitfalls of Geographical Indications for Cacao.” Chocolate Class, 11 May 2016, https://chocolateclass.wordpress.com/2016/05/11/the-potential-and-pitfalls-of-geographical-indications-for-cacao/. Accessed 2 May 2017.

 

 

Drawing on Chocolate: How Society Displays its Values on its Favorite Food

From the earliest of its history, chocolate has been tied to the value systems of the people that consumed it. As cacao products and recipes traveled around the world, the decorations and designs that people have chosen to use on containers give us insight into the value systems of their cultures.

Mezo-American Values

Relics of Meso-American pottery date to the same place and timeframe as the archeological record of chocolate–with the Olmec people. (Rose) Chemical analysis of pottery shards shows that the Olmec culture made cacao pulp into an intoxicating beer-type drink at least 1000 years before the current era. Eventually the cacao bean byproduct fermented into its own food source and began to resemble chocolate–at least in its crudest liquid form. (Henderson)

Screen Shot 2017-03-05 at 10.39.18 PM
The Mayan drinking vase on display in the permanent collection of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts is an example of documentation of ceremony, politics, and the importance of chocolate in their society. Slightly larger than a modern quart jar, the drinking vase has a wrap-around visual narrative that details a ritual, specifically noting out that kakaw (cacao) was one of the stimulating substances used in this event.

Our first pictorial record of the original bitter drink begins with the wealthiest of the Mayan society. These colorful jewels of Western Hemisphere art document the details about ritual life by describing events, attendees, and even the ingredients of the beverage. Documenting their religion and political record onto the containers from which they drank chocolate shows the importance of the beverage in their society.

The Aztec created rounded bowls from the calabash gourds which the local populace used to prepare their daily cacao. The society elite commissioned ceremonial pottery that took the same shape and name as the gourd vessels–jícara. Vessels like this were documented in the first Spanish histories, with descriptions of cacao preparation being poured from bowl to bowl to create a frothy top. (Presilla 32)

By the time the Spanish arrived, Aztec decorations were becoming less literal than the Mayans’ had been, and were more symbolic of the gods’ earthy powers. Geometric representation of forces such as lightening and serpents were replacing the drawings of the gods themselves. As colonization progressed, the strong geometric symbolism was married with the Spanich-Islamic influences and techniques–showing up in the hybridization of cuisines, ingredients (Lauden) as well as in the art motifs.

The ultimate reason for the Spanish colonization the Americas was to extract the wealth from the natural resources of the new world. Although the Spanish government justified their version of slavery with the religious conversion of the Native Americans, in the end the colonization effort needed to be a wealth-producing enterprise. Along with agricultural products such as chocolate and sugar, metals were of great value in the European market. Native cultures shared the affinity for gold, silver and copper and used them as ornament and decorative items for the elite, but they had not perfected many techniques to create items for utilitarian purposes. The Spanish brought the knowledge of metallurgy which led to the local creation of copper chocolate pots for drink preparation. They also used silver to create handles and feet on the local cups made from coconut, literally wrapping the drink in wealth.

This video of a Filipino chocolate preparation shows the use of a copper chocolate pot and a molinillo stick to stir the chocolate into a froth. This is how the Spanish modified the native Nahuatl method of pouring the chocolate from bowl to bowl to produce a froth. (Coe 156), (Presilla 20)

After the Spanish arrival, pottery designs started showing stronger geometric divisions and flowery natural imagery moving away from the stylization of the Aztec and becoming more reminiscent of the designs that were slathered on mother Spain’s 12th century Moorish architecture. Images of upper-class colonial life, replaced the Native American depictions of myths and ceremonies. Plantation life was becoming more important than the natural forces and religions of Mexico. The sgrafitto, or incised pottery techniques that the Spaniards brought with them, married well with the engraved and carved techniques that had been in Meso-America since the Olmecs, but allowed for a more refined hand to carve into gourds and coconuts as well as pottery. (Presilla 32)

jicara
Jícara such as this one from Peru uses the sgrafitto technique to create a delicate designs that bring to mind the Spanish homeland.

The gourd-bowl shape has become synonymous with colorful, modern Mexican tourist-style pottery in the shape of flowerpots and salad bowls. Calabash gourds are still grown, dried, carved and sold today in the markets of Tabasco. Grown from a native American tree that is remarkably similar to cacao in habit and form–modern uses for the gourds can be anything from drinking, to measuring, to display.

The influence and pottery technology of the Olmecs had moved northward with trade routes to the Pueblo people. Gas chromatography analysis of North American artifacts has shown that long before the Aztecs had usurped the regional market on cacao, the trade routes of the Mayans had extended northward to canyons of New Mexico. (Mozdy) The Anasazi cultures created tall, vessels reminiscent of the Mayan vase shape, decorated with extremely stylized iconography that represented the common Meso-American pantheon.

anasazi2
These examples from Chaco Canyon are covered with lightening bolts that reflect the Pueblo’s interpretation of the imported Mezoamerican rain god, Quetzocoatle and display the reverence to the forces of nature that the local culture held. (Eaton 38)

This 1200-mile path between where the vessels were found (in the Pueblo Bonito of Chaco Canyon) and the nearest source of cacao would have required 600 hours of backpacking through rough country and sweltering heat. As one researcher phrased it “That’s a long way to go for something that you don’t need for survival”, [something] that’s more of a delicacy…” Whether the Anasazi acquired this cacao through dedicated treks south–which would have taken weeks–or their pueblo was the endpoint of an even slower hand-to-hand, village-to-village trade route. (Mozdy)

European Values

Soon after chocolate washed across the courts of Europe, trade with the east opened up, bringing with it tea, and a new the technology harder, refined pottery that we still refer to as “china”. Tea was not treated just as basic sustenance. Like the original chocolate beverage, there was ceremony attached to it that appealed to the idle wealthy who could afford these imported beverages. Tea was prepared in a fancy ceramic pot–separate from the kettle used to heat the water. Then it was decanted to a cup to delicately sip. The wealthy started applying the same approach their chocolate. Long gone was the habit of preparing and drinking chocolate out of the same vessel. The wealthy had even stopped decanting directly from a copper pot into a cup. Drinking chocolate now represented wealth and was given all the trappings to prove it. Chocolate was prepared in the kitchen and placed in the chocolate pot, or chocotalière, by servants, then brought to the public gathering of wealthy ladies, and delicately poured into cups and handed round by the magnanimous hostess. (Coe 156-159)

meissen
The best and most expensive chinoiserie hailed from Germany, where Johann Friedrich Böttger duplicated the art of Chinese fine porcelain making.

 

Chocolate pots were made from the most expensive of porcelain, and shaped in the fashion of teapots with some adjustments. Traditional teapots have a short, squat form into order to be able to keep heat in and extract the flavor from the swirling tea leaves that are actively stewing in the hot water. A low-seated spout is fixed with an interior strainer to keep the floating leaves in the pot once you are ready to pour the fully brewed beverage. Coffee pots, on the other hand, need a tall form and highly placed straining spout for the opposite reason. As it is basically a decanting mechanism for an already brewed beverage, the height of the coffee pot allows any grounds from the brew to settle to the bottom, or get caught in the strainer. (Righthand)

Chocolate pots can be hard to spot, as they often hybridize these two forms–typically tall, but often bulbous. Early European chocolate pots most always have a removable finial to allow for a mixing stick to create the desired froth and keep the chocolate mixed. As cocoa powder was developed and cocoa preparations replaced true hot chocolate, the stirring stick went by the wayside, and chocotalière became nearly indistinguishable from coffee pots. The last distinguishing characteristic of a coffee pot was the internal strainer where the spout and body meet, and a spout that lowered over time.

Drinking chocolate represented wealth, therefore decorations were those that affluent courtiers and nouveau-riche traders would value. Gone were the forces of Meso-American nature, or plantation life, and in came garden scene–often mimicking the exotic origins of the pot. Elaborately painted and gilt decorations brought the wealth of court on the surface of the chocolate pot. An 18th century fad called “Chinoiserie” depicted the European’s visions of Asian gardens with palm trees, umbrellas, and architecture that they imagined would be found in the gardens of the imperial court of China. As many of the traders were making fortunes off the new-found economy, the asian motifs became a temporary obsession throughout the continent and its colonies.

staffordshire
Pottery for the middle class living in British colonies was most often imported from Staffordshire England. Extremely fine china rarely made it across the Atlantic during the colonial period.

Chocolate drinkers in the British colonies of North America usually imported English middle-class pottery with basic garden motifs to take to their breakfast tables. Very little pottery was made in New England so imported china had a cache of wealth and the designs were reminiscent of the estate and gardens of England as colonists tried to keep up all the appearances of home. The wealthiest of families had their chocolate pots crafted by local silversmiths, and garnished with the family seal to tie their family names and crests directly with the wealth that the precious metal embodied.

 

Modern Global Values

bars

As solid chocolate became available and ubiquitous throughout western culture, the packaging of it has changed with the form, but the still conveyed the values of the local surroundings. To make chocolate appealing to a mass Victorian audience, purveyors wrapped it in the trappings of health and wholesomeness. As modern food science undermined the myth of “healthful chocolate” and the western world was coming out of a financial depression, the ideology of wealth returned. Silver wrappers, foil lettering on thick, glossy boxes, expansive packaging, and silky imagery are on all price-points of chocolate. Our favorite addiction is made more expensive by giving it the trappings of luxury: heart-shaped boxes and ribbons; gilded truffles and patisseries. Feeling rich makes many of us very happy.

The fact that cacao is grown as a third world agricultural product, but consumed almost exclusively in comfortable homes of first world economies has been coming to the attention of consumers over the last half a century. For the socially conscious consumer–those whose values do not hold with personal indulgence without consideration to the cost to others and the planet–a whole new branding for chocolate has developed.

These consumers feel better about buying chocolate that is emblazoned with the iconography of Fair Trade, organic, or direct trade certifications–even if the certification system is more of a seasonal band-aid than a true economic transformation. (Sylla) The sheer plethora of virtuous symbols appearing on labels in the chocolate isle work to the benefit of the marketing. The variety of symbols and levels of individual certification system adds layers of confusion to the real benefits. The level of confusion is so high, there is no way the average consumer can understand all the nuances and impacts. In the end buyers spend more for a product that has a “seal of approval,” and go on their merry way with the psychological satisfaction of having done something good for the “other.”  They get to feel good without ever looking for any proof of the benefit these programs have on the lives of the farmers.

Slapping a feel-good seal on a wrapper has become so successful as marketing, that major companies are eschewing certifications that are attached to bureaucratic oversight of bona fide good intent, and instead are working toward establishing their own brands’ seal of ethical approval and creating home-grown social initiatives that are much easier to operationalize and do not threaten profits in the way that transforming the cacao supply chain would. Adding these icons into the patchwork of other initiatives ensures that social initiative logos appear on more and more packaging. Buying products branded with one of the myriad of ethical icons assuages the consciences of most purchasers. (Martin) In this way, we ensure that imagery that conveys these values will keep on proliferating on the packaging of our chocolate.

Works Referenced:

Brigden, Zachariah. Chocolate Pot. 1755. Silver. Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts.

Burt, Benjamin, and Nathaniel Hurd. Teapot. 1763. Silver. Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts.

“Crescentia cujete.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 03 Apr. 2017. Web. 07 May 2017. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crescentia_cujete>.

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. Third ed. New York: Thames and Hudson, 2013. Print.

Eaton, William M. Odyssey of the Pueblo Indians: an introduction to Pueblo Indian petroglyphs, pictographs, and kiva art murals in the Southwest. Paducah, KY: Turner Pub., 1999. Print.

Henderson, John S., et al. “Chemical and Archaeological Evidence for the Earliest Cacao Beverages.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, National Acad Sciences, 16 Nov. 2007, www.pnas.org/content/104/48/18937.full. Accessed 6 Mar. 2017.

Laudan, Rachel, and Ignacio Urquiza. “The Mexican Kitchen’s Islamic Connection.” Aramco World. Saudi Aramco Services Co, May 2004. http://archive.aramcoworld.com/issue/200403/the.mexican.kitchen.s.islamic.connection.htm. Accessed 3 Feb. 2017

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

Martin, Carla D. “Alternative trade and virtuous localization/globalization.” 5 April 2017, Cambridge, Massachusetts, Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food.

“Metallurgy in pre-Columbian America.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 02 May 2017. Web. 07 May 2017.

Mozdy, Michael. “Cacao in Chaco Canyon.” Natural History Museum of Utah, Natural History Museum of Utah, 4 Aug. 2017, nhmu.utah.edu/blog/2016/08/04/cacao-chaco-canyon. Accessed 6 Mar. 2017.

Righthand, Jess. “A Brief History of the Chocolate Pot .” Smithsonian.com. The Smithsonian Institution, 13 Feb. 2005. Web. 23 Feb. 2017. <http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian-institution/brief-history-chocolate-pot-180954241/>.

Rose, Mark. “Olmec People, Olmec Art.” Archeology. Archaeological Institute of America, n.d. Web. 23 Apr. 2017.

Sylla, Ndongo Samba., and David Clément Leye. The fair trade scandal marketing poverty to benefit the rich. Athens, OH: Ohio U Press, 2014. Print.

Unknown. Anasazi [Pueblo] pottery, Pueblo Bonito, Chaco Canyon, New MexicoAMNH Digital Special Collections, accessed March 06, 2017, lbry-web-007.amnh.org/digital/items/show/38991.

Unknown. Drinking Vase for “om kakaw”. Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts, 2003.

Unknown. Gourd (jicara) with red figures. Circa 1700. Lacquered Gourd. Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, San Francisco, California.

Unknown. Jícara. Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts, 2003.

Image Citations:

Unless otherwise noted, drawings and photographs are works of the author and images may not be reused without attribution.

 

 

Unethical Practices in the Cacao Industry and Direct Trade as the Solution

The Cacao Market was established on the backs’ of slaves, and to this day, the injustices from its origins have continued to haunt the Cacao-Chocolate Supply Chain. With the abolishment of legal slavery in the Cacao Trade, there was indeed hope that the “Free” Market would correct some of the rampant inequalities that existed between cacao producers (farmers) and chocolate suppliers (companies). Unfortunately, economics has allowed an oligopoly to form: Big Chocolate Companies control the majority of the cacao market. These companies have the power to collude and have outsourced the production of cacao almost entirely away from South America, where cacao originated, to West Africa, where labor is much cheaper and the use of modern day slaves is not uncommon. Fortunately, there is a small group of chocolate companies that are working towards correcting the market inequalities that have become the norm in the last century, and this small group is composed is the collection of bean-to-bar chocolate companies that use Direct Trade practices. Bean-to-bar chocolate companies, and specifically, Taza Chocolate, employ unconventional business operations, in what is known as Direct Trade, in order to benefit cacao producers (the supply side of the market), by paying a premium for cacao beans and ensuring that ethical standards in production are met (e.g. no slave labor), while also benefitting chocolate consumers (the demand side of the market), by providing the public with a more rich kind of chocolate.

What is the Problem?

The issues in the cacao market are twofold: an issue of economic inequality, and as a derivative of the economic problem, the issue of unsanctioned slavery. The economic issue has developed due to the oligopoly in the cacao market, and this oligopoly has resulted in Chocolate suppliers having the ability to unfairly set prices below the market equilibrium. Slavery occurs due to the need for uncompensated labor since most cacao producers cannot make a predictable living income. For example, cacao farmers in Ghana typically receive less than $1 per day, and sometimes, these farmers receive as little as $0.50 per day. (Martin, 2017). Since the issue of unsanctioned slavery is a derivative of the economic problem, the economic problem must be solved before slavery is addressed.

How did this Economic Problem happen?

An oligopoly in the chocolate market was able to come about due to the high barriers of entry for chocolate makers. Depicted below is a graph which outlines the original chocolate making process that was used in the early 20th century:

supply

(Coe & Coe, 2013)

As it can be interpreted from the graph, chocolate making is a very complicated process and involves expensive machinery. Since only a handful of firms were able to afford this machinery, those companies quickly rose to dominate the market. These Big Chocolate Companies that quickly rose to the top (Callebaut, Cargill, Blommer, and Cemoi), have come to control over 50% of the industrial chocolate market share, as outlined in the pie chart below.

    Industrial Chocolate Market Share

Screen Shot 2017-05-05 at 4.12.10 PM

(Martin, 2017)

To have an understanding of the size of the companies: Cargill is the largest privately held company in America and had over $120 Billion in revenue for the year 2016 (Forbes). If Cargill was a publicly traded company, it would rank as Number 15 on the Fortune 500 list (Fortune).

In emerging industries, such as the chocolate industry in the late 19th Century, it is not uncommon for a monopoly or oligopoly to arise. The problem, from an economic standpoint, only occurs when a monopoly or oligopoly persists over time.

Why has the Oligopoly Persisted?

Most modern oligopolies form during the infant years of a new market that possesses high barriers of entry. Unless the oligopoly has a unique limited resource or is protected by the government, the oligopoly will usually be broken apart as technological advancements allow new firms to enter with lower barriers. However, in the market for chocolate, Big Chocolate has been able to maintain their power through the purchases bulk beans, which “account for more than 90 percent of the world’s cacao production” (Presilla 123). “Bulk cacao” refers to the practice of aggregating cheap, low-quality cacao beans from various farmers, which Big Chocolate companies use in order to produce more chocolate at once. Africa produces 75% of the world’s cacao, and almost all of this cacao is in the form of bulk beans (Martin, 2017). Bulk cacao has become the most common form of cacao because it is what almost every major chocolate company chooses to purchase, and the sale of bulk cacao has allowed various middlemen and governments to unjustly benefit from the labor of the cacao farmers.

What can YOU do?

Removing these middlemen would allow cacao producers to sell more pure, high-quality beans, make it easier to increase the wages of cacao farmers, and eliminate slavery from the market. The best way to remove these middlemen is by increasing public awareness of the ethical issues that are supported by Big Chocolate Companies, and also increasing public awareness to the bean-to-bar chocolate companies that have started to emerge. By increasing public awareness, more consumers will make the switch from big brand chocolate to the smaller, bean-to-bar companies. If enough people switch to supporting bean-to-bar over Big Chocolate (including whoever is reading this post), then the companies that support ethical practices will become more profitable, and expand through the marketplace, and the companies that directly or indirectly support unethical practices will become unprofitable, and thus be removed from the marketplace.

Bean-to-bar

Bean-to-bar chocolate companies are those that make chocolate completely in-house, as opposed to the Big Chocolate Companies which buy bulk cacao. Bean-to-bar companies are more likely to use high-quality cacao beans since it is common for bulk cacao to be composed of overly roasted and even rotten beans (Presilla, 2009). The best bean-to-bar companies are those that engage in a form of Direct Trade with cacao farmers, and although a Fair Trade Certification is better than no certification at all, Fair Trade is somewhat a misnomer as the non-profit does little to increase the welfare of farmers.

Fair Trade vs. Direct Trade

Here is a video that quickly overviews the differences between Fair Trade and Direct Trade:

(PBS Foods)

The video paints Fair Trade in a very decent manner, especially considering the high amounts of criticism that Fair Trade has received in recent years. An entire book has even been written on the issues with Fair Trade (The Fair Trade Scandal: Marketing Poverty to Benefit the Rich by Ndongo Sylla). Overall, the consensus is that companies with Direct Trade practices can be more beneficial to cacao farmers than companies with Fair Trade certifications. Taza Chocolate’s Direct Trade practices have become so transparent that consumers can actually see how cacao farmers benefit by working with Taza Chocolate. For this reason, Taza Chocolate should either expand to work with even more farmers or other bean-to-bar companies should aim to achieve Taza Chocolate Direct Trade Certification in their own practices. Both of these options are viable possibilities if more consumers make the switch from big chocolate to bean-to-bar.

Taza Chocolate

Taza Chocolate, located in Somerville, MA, is a bean-to-bar company that employs crazy transparency regarding their Direct Trade practices. These direct trade practices center around one simple belief: “We (Taza Chocolate) believe that both farmer and chocolate maker should share the reward of making a great product” (Taza). Each year, Taza publishes a Direct Trade Transparency Report, which details how their practices have benefited cacao farmers. A summary of the report can be found in the infographic below:

taza

(Taza)

Taza has “said no to predatory middlemen and abusive labor practices” (Taza) by following Direct Trade practices. It is clear that Taza does not support the unethical practices that are normal in the cacao industry, but what is amazing is how all of the economic and ethical problems of the cacao industry could be solved if all companies had a Taza Direct Trade Certification.

Removing Middlemen; Increasing Wages (Solving the Economic Problem)

There are many different types of middlemen in the cacao industry, some of these go by the name of “cacao brokers”, but another kind of middlemen is the governments themselves. Some governments have prevented the oligopoly, and thus the issue of slavery, to be solved by economic markets. For example, Ghana’s government requires all cacao to be sold to the Cocoa Marketing Board, which acts a monopoly in the marketplace. By removing these middlemen, the price of cacao beans, and thus the income of cacao farmers, can increase substantially. Taza Chocolate’s Direct Trade initiative purchases cacao beans directly from farmers. Working directly with farmers allows for farmers to focus on the quality of their beans instead of the quantity that is required to make a living in a market that favors the use of bulk beans. If all companies had Taza Direct Trade Certifications, then all middlemen would be removed and cacao farmers would make more money.

Eliminating Slavery (The Derivate of Economic Problems)

Slavery in the cacao market is sometimes simplified to one or two primary beliefs: either adult cacao farmers are exploiting children by the use of slave labor or adult cacao farmers are using slave labor because they are being exploited by the low market prices and their governments. Unfortunately, the problem is not that simple: a hybrid of both beliefs is correct. At the community level, some cultures view child labor as acceptable. In Ghana specifically, scholars write, “child labour is very much imbedded (sic) in the socio-local dynamics of Ghanaian society” (Berlan 1098). This may be true, and the belief that “it is hard to implement a slavery-free label for cocoa” (Ryan 52) may have also been true at a point in time, but this could all be changed with Direct Trade practices. If all companies had a Taza Chocolate Direct Trade Certification, then all companies would be working directly with farmers, and thus, companies could educate farmers as to why child and slave labor is unethical. In the interim, a “slavery-free label for cocao” can now exist, and with enough training at the microeconomic level, cacao farmers in Western Africa could eliminate the use of all child and slave labor. This would also now be a very realistic option since the increase in prices (by cutting out the middlemen) would allow for slave labor to no longer be a necessity in the industry.

In Conclusion– Direct Trade as the Solution

In summary, the cacao industry has been plagued by inequalities ever since the Western World found chocolate. The inequalities started with legal slave labor, and slave labor, albeit illegal, is still seen throughout some parts of the cacao industry. The reason as to why these inequalities are still prevalent is the economic market has failed to provide a competitive environment. Through public education, the market can be corrected with consumers choosing their chocolates more carefully so that Direct Trade practices become the norm for chocolate companies. Taza Chocolate has created a Direct Trade Certification which increases the wages of cacao farmers and eliminates slavery, and every chocolate company should have this certification.

References

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson, 2013. Print.

Forbes. www.forbes.com/pictures/578e38dd31358e0aa22e2c6f/1-cargill/#77b379753935

Fortune. http://beta.fortune.com/fortune500/list/

Martin, Carla. Class: African Americans Studies 119x (2017)  at Harvard College.

PBS Food. “Fair Trade vs. Direct Trade | The Lexicon of Sustainability | PBS Food.” YouTube. YouTube, 08 May 2014. Web. 05 May 2017.

Presilla, Maricel E. The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural & Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. Revised Edition. Berkley: Ten Speed Press, 2009. Print.

Ryan, Orla. Chocolate Nations: Living and Dying for Cocoa in West Africa. London: Zed, 2012. Print.

Sylla, Ndongo Samba. The Fair Trade Scandal Marketing Poverty to Benefit the Rich. Athens, OH: Ohio UP, 2014. Print.

Taza Chocolate. https://www.tazachocolate.com/

Taza Chocolate and TCHO: A case study on the evolving applications of direct trade

When someone says “direct trade”, we’re inclined to think “ethical practices” and, in the context of our class, “Taza Chocolate”. Generally, direct trade in the chocolate industry is a form of sourcing where companies work directly with the farmers who provide their cacao, often paying above market price (Martin, Lecture 10). However, it is important to note that direct trade can serve purposes beyond fostering communication within the supply chain or paying farmers higher wages. By contrasting Taza Chocolate with TCHO, pronounced “choh”, I hope to demonstrate direct trade’s evolving applications. Instead of emphasizing direct trade as a platform to promote ethical practices, as Taza does, TCHO focuses on the role of technology to empower their farmers to improve their product’s taste. Although TCHO and Taza are both companies striving to change the way chocolate is made, they utilize direct trade in vastly different ways, signaling that there is not yet an industry-wide interpretation of what direct trade means.

As background, Taza Chocolate was founded in 2005 by Alex Whitmore and Kathleen Fulton after a trip to Oaxaca, Mexico (About Taza, 2015). Whitmore loved the traditional stone ground chocolate he had tried on the trip and decided to start Taza with his wife, Fulton, as a way to bring this style of chocolate to the United States (About Taza, 2015). Today, their chocolate is known for its minimal processing, use of traditional Mexican stone mills, and gritty, unrefined texture (About Taza, 2015). Below is a video produced by Taza detailing their unique chocolate process.

Whitmore and Fulton opened the Taza factory, seen in the video above, in Somerville, MA in 2006 and continue to operate from this location today (About Taza, 2015). Their products can be found across the United States, most notably in Whole Foods. Overall, the company has three main aims: 1) produce a unique tasting stone ground chocolate, 2) promote ethical cacao sourcing through direct trade, and 3) create a certification for direct trade that can be used throughout the chocolate industry.

In contrast, TCHO is much less about a founding story and much more about their business model. In fact, they are so much less about how they were founded, that you have to look at the third to last question on the bottom of their FAQ page to figure out who founded TCHO. Here, you will find that they were founded by Timothy Childs, a NASA space shuttle contractor, and Karl Bittong, a 40-year chocolate industry veteran, in 2005 (FAQ, 2017). They are based in the San Francisco Bay Area and are self-described as a “Silicon Valley start-up meets San Francisco food culture” (Our Vision, 2017). Below is a video produced by TCHO that gives a brief overview of their company.

TCHO produces high-end chocolate centered on the flavor of the cacao it comes from. Rather than focusing on the percentages of cocoa in each bar, TCHO creates dark chocolates based on cacao flavor profiles (Our Vision, 2017). TCHO believes that its chocolate is bringing to life terroir, or the characteristics imparted on cacao by where it is grown, similar to how terroir is used with fine wines (Nesto, 135). For example, its “Fruity” chocolate is single source from Peru, its “Citrus” bar from Madagascar, its “Chocolatey” bar from Ghana, and its “Nutty” bar from Ecuador (FAQ, 2017). TCHO wants to educate its consumers on how to taste chocolate with emphasis on how cacao can impart such differing flavors. TCHO even put together an interactive taste wheel for its consumers to understand TCHO’s thought process when making each bar.

In comparison to Taza, TCHO’s process, while important, is not their proudest achievement; rather, it is the high-quality beans they source from across the world. Like Taza, their products can be found throughout the United Sates, most notably in Whole Foods, Wegmans, and on private label at Starbucks (FAQ, 2017). Overall, TCHO has three aims: 1) create products that cultivate the terroir of cacao beans, 2) use direct trade to help farmers improve their product, and 3) employ technology every step of the way.

The clear commonality between Taza and TCHO is that they both utilize direct trade to source their cacao beans. However, how they advertise and promote their direct trade methods are significantly different. For example, Taza’s emphasis is on constructing a uniformly accepted definition of direct trade for the chocolate industry. In fact, they created the first direct trade certification program for the industry, Taza Direct Trade, that they certify all their products with (Taza Direct Trade, 2015).

The Taza Direct Trade program calls for 5 commitments including, 1) develop direct relationships with cacao farmers, 2) pay a price premium to cacao producers, 3) source the highest quality cacao beans, 4) require USDA certified organic cacao, and 5) publish an annual transparency report (Taza Direct Trade, 2015). More details on these commitments can be found here. Overall, these commitments hit all the key tenets of direct trade; however, they are vague, incomplete, and, in effect, don’t do enough to prove ethical practices. This isn’t to say that Taza doesn’t have an ethical sourcing program, only that Taza Direct Trade is not a foolproof certification program.

For example, how does one define “develop direct relationships with cacao farmers”? For Taza Direct Trade, this means that company staff must visit their farmers at least once per year and provide flight receipts of these trips (Taza Direct Trade, 2015). But, does this really mean that a company has good relationships with their farmers? Providing flight receipts isn’t a personal or appropriate indicator of productive relationships like, for example, feedback or comments from the farmers themselves would be. Taza, as a certified Taza Direct Trade company, makes up for this by detailing their trips and relationships with their farmers in their transparency reports, but it is unclear if other companies certified under Taza Direct Trade would go through the same effort.

Similarly, what does “source the highest quality cacao beans” mean? As Taza Direct Trade explains, their requirement is that the beans have an 85% fermentation rate or more and are dried to 7% moisture or less (Taza Direct Trade, 2015). While these are important factors, they aren’t sufficient measures for high-quality cacao as they miss other crucial aspects such as growing conditions, pH levels during fermentation, or sorting efficiency (Martin, Lecture 4). Again, this isn’t to say that Taza’s cacao isn’t high-quality, only that Taza Direct Trade does not have a stringent enough standard.

However, Taza Direct Trade does make a significant contribution to defining direct trade with its transparency report requirement. Direct trade is all about companies being personally involved in every step of the supply chain. Because of this, physical requirements, like providing flight receipts, to detail personal relationships are not adequate. As alluded to before, the transparency report allows companies more creativity and flexibility in showing consumers these relationships. Taza’s transparency report from 2016 does an excellent job of illustrating this point. By using personal details and compelling stories, this report clearly demonstrates that Taza has direct relationships with each of their farmers.

While I am convinced Taza is a direct trade company, I am not convinced Taza Direct Trade is the right certification for direct trade. In fact, a traditional certification may not be appropriate for direct trade right now at all. Because of direct trade’s emphasis on company built supply chains, it appears that company communication, like Taza’s transparency report, is really the most effective means to prove direct trade. In contrast to Fair Trade, where companies aren’t involved in every part of the supply chain, certification can be useful because it signals to companies that a certain level of quality is ensured with their cacao providers (Martin, Lecture 10). Because direct trade companies are active with all their suppliers, they are personally ensuring quality. In this sense, direct trade companies should focus on demonstrating their relationships with their farmers to their consumers, like with Taza’s transparency report, rather than seeking a uniform certification. A vague list of commitments can be applied to direct trade companies, but it doesn’t follow the essence of direct trade.

TCHO just does this with its commitment to direct trade, “individuals and companies have the power and responsibility to act directly to make a better world, not just buy a logo” (TCHOSource, 2017). TCHO makes it clear that they participate in direct trade not only because it is ethical, as Taza does, but because it is a mutually beneficial system for them (TCHOSource, 2017). Unlike Taza, TCHO details not only their relationships with each farmer, but the ways in which they help each farmer to produce a higher quality product. Whereas Taza pays a premium price to farmers because it is part of their ethical commitment with Taza Direct Trade, TCHO pays farmers more because they produce a certifiably higher-quality product that garners the price premium.

Key to TCHO’s mutually beneficial relationship with their farmers is their use of Flavor Labs. Because TCHO’s chocolate is produced to capture the natural flavor of cacao, TCHO buys cacao with the best natural flavor. But, to do this, they need farmers to understand what these natural cacao flavors are. However, cacao farmers have often never tasted chocolate (Off, 7). To train their farmers, TCHO installs Flavor Labs, 10 across the world so far, where farmers can make small batches of chocolate from their own cacao to learn the flavor profile of their beans (TCHOSource 2017). By understanding how to taste chocolate and cacao, farmers learn the lexicon essential to talk about the quality of their product (Stuckey, 140). Because farmers have the knowledge to understand the goals for their cacao, like “fruity” or “nutty”, they can actively work to create a higher-quality product themselves. TCHO’s chief chocolate maker, Brad Kintzer, gives a brief overview of how these Flavor Labs create a mutually beneficial direct trade system for TCHO.

Besides giving their farmers access to Flavor Labs, TCHO gives their famers strategies to improve their cacao. For example, fermentation and drying are crucial stages in cacao processing where most of the flavor profile is determined (Presilla, 108). While most farmers don’t have access to extensive tools and practices to improve or monitor their fermentation practices, TCHO gives their farmers tools to measure variables such as pH, temperature, and Brix (TCHOSource, 2017). Interestingly, these are some of the exact measurements for high-quality cacao that were missing from Taza Direct Trade’s commitments. TCHO continues to follow their farmers through cacao processing and helps them set up solar drying stations to reduce the moisture in the beans and to continue developing flavor (TCHOSource, 2017). Finally, TCHO gives their farmers a cloud-based software, Cropster, that allows them to upload their data concerning fermentation, drying, and flavor so that they can track their cacao and so TCHO can communicate with their farmers and give them adjustments as conditions change (TCHOSource, 2017).

Cropster confronts Taza Direct Trade’s requirement that company staff visit farmers yearly to ensure direct relationships. Is it necessary for TCHO staff to visit their farmers yearly if they are communicating through Cropster almost daily? Similarly, if the farmers have been trained in the Flavor Labs and have the tools to improve their cacao themselves, what is TCHO’s role when they visit? TCHO’s business model takes away the need to visit their farmers yearly, pushing back against Taza Direct Trade’s limited and rigid definition of direct trade. TCHO’s technology-based model also allows them to have far more direct trade relationships, an argued weakness of direct trade in general (Martin, Lecture 10). Not only does TCHO have more direct trade relationships than Taza, but they also span more of the cacao producing region worldwide. While Taza is confined to South America, TCHO has farmers across South America, Ghana, and Madagascar (TCHOSource, 2017). TCHO’s model makes their farmers more independent, sustainable, and profitable, a key goal of direct trade and ethical sourcing, but also gives TCHO access to the highest quality beans.

Overall, Taza and TCHO both accomplish the key tenets of direct trade. They have personal relationships with their farmers, pay price premiums, and source high-quality cacao. However, while they are both direct trade companies, they utilize direct trade very differently. While Taza focuses on creating an industry-wide certification program, Taza Direct Trade, TCHO is more company oriented, focusing on the technological advancements they can provide their farmers with. While neither company’s use of direct trade is unambiguously better, TCHO’s direct trade method conflicts with the Taza Direct Trade certification in a way that suggests the interpretation of direct trade is still evolving. Because of this uncertainty, it seems that for today’s direct trade companies, it is less important to create a unified certification program, as Taza is doing, and more important to further explore the beneficial aspects of direct trade. In fact, this may be the reason that no other direct trade company has become Taza Direct Trade certified or created a certification program of their own (About Us, 2015). Altogether, TCHO demonstrates that direct trade is a practice that can provide higher quality beans and increased profitability, signaling that the applications of direct trade expand beyond just an ethical practice.

 

Works Cited:

“2016 Transparency Report.” Taza Chocolate, 2015, https://www.tazachocolate.com/pages/2016-transparency-report. Accessed 4 May, 2017.

“About Taza.” Taza Chocolate, 2015, https://www.tazachocolate.com/pages/about-taza. Accessed 4 May, 2017.

“FAQ.” TCHO, 2017, http://www.tcho.com/faq/. Accessed 4 May, 2017.

“Flavor Focus.” TCHO, 2017, http://www.tcho.com/tchois/flavor-focus/. Accessed 4 May, 2017.

Martin, Carla. “Lecture 4: Sugar and Cacao.” Aframer 199x. CGIS, Cambridge, MA. 25 Feb., 2017. Lecture.

Martin, Carla. “Lecture 10: Alternative Trade and Virtuous Localization/Globalization.” Aframer 199x. CGIS, Cambridge, MA. 5 Apr., 2017. Lecture.

Nesto, Bill. “Discovering Terroir in the World of Chocolate.” Gastronomica Vol. 10, No. 1 (Winter 2010), pp. 131-135. Online.

Off, Carol. Bitter Chocolate: The Dark Side of the World’s Most Seductive Sweet. The New Press, 2006.

“Our Direct Trade Program Commitments.” Taza Chocolate, 2015, https://cdn.shopify.com/s/files/1/0974/7668/files/Taza_DT_Commitments_Aug2015.pdf?2533070453853065353. Accessed 4 May, 2017.

“Our Vision.” TCHO, 2017, http://www.tcho.com/tchois/our-vision/. Accessed 4 May, 2017.

Presilla, Maricel. The New Taste of Chocolate, Revised: A Cultural & Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. Ten Speed Press, 2009.

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

“Taza Direct Trade.” Taza Chocolate, 2015, https://www.tazachocolate.com/pages/taza-direct-trade. Accessed 4 May, 2017

“TCHOSource.” TCHO, 2017, http://www.tcho.com/tchosource/. Accessed 4 May, 2017.

 

Videos:

“Taza Chocolate ‘Bean to Bar’.” Taza Chocolate, 2012, https://vimeo.com/33380451.

“TCHO.” TCHO, 2013, https://vimeo.com/50330693.

“TCHO Chocolate Factory Tour: How Farmers Help Boost Flavor.” San Francisco Business Times, 2017, http://www.bizjournals.com/sanfrancisco/video/50cTl3dDq8a0Iv_aMWVc9xGlDjkP27XC.

 

 

 

 

Is Certified Chocolate Better Chocolate?

Chocolate is a delicious treat, but for the farmers who grow cacao, life is not so sweet. Cacao farmers inhabit some of the world’s poorest regions and earn small, irregular wages. When Carol Off visited a farming community in Côte d’Ivoire, she found that the cacao laborers lacked access to basic services including education and medical care (Off, 6). Additionally, the cacao farmers faced highly variable pricing and high taxation levels (Off, 6). These conditions severely hinder economic development and allow poverty to persist among farm workers. Because these problems are so prevalent, several organizations have risen to promote more fair business practices. These groups certify producers who follow a strict set of policies throughout their production process. This paper focuses on three groups in particular: Fair Trade, Direct Trade, and USDA Organic. Carla Martin’s course “Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food” discusses the benefits of these various certifications as well as their flaws. Among the many critiques of these certifications is their failure to ensure a higher quality product and to gain traction among American consumers. To test these weaknesses, I decided to perform an informational chocolate tasting to gauge Harvard students’ understanding of these certifications and to ascertain whether certified products were of a higher quality.

image locating cote divoire
Côte d’Ivoire: The world leader in cacao farming. 

Brief Summary of Certifications

According to Fair Trade’s mission statement, the organization seeks to empower farmers by using a market-based approach to improve wages and working conditions for farmers and laborers. Additionally, Fair Trade seeks to strengthen local economies while simultaneously protecting the local environment (Fair Trade). Ndongo Samba Sylla argues in her book The Fair Trade Scandal that while Fair Trade is an organization with good intentions, the organization often falls short of its aims. Among Sylla’s complaints is the lack of money actually reaching certified producers. Fair Trade products charge a premium, but only minimal amounts of this increased price actually reach the farmers (233). Thus, Fair Trade’s impact on poor farmers is negligible. Similar sentiments are echoed in “The Fair Trade Shell Game” which suggests that Fair Trade hurts non-certified farmers and offers no real quality guarantee (Markham Nolan, Dusan Sekulovic, and Sara Rao). With these and many other problems, it seems that Fair Trade, while commendable in its aims, fails to truly benefit producers and can also mislead consumers.

The USDA Organic website suggests that the intent of this certification is to promote healthier and safer agricultural practices for producing the crops (USDA). While their efforts to promote better environmental and health practices are admirable, this strategy fails to account for social issues. Julie Guthman notes that if certified organic products focus intensely on the materials used during the production process, the labor practices should also be scrutinized (507). Evaluating the USDA’s various certification levels also reveals the potential for great disparity among certified products (USDA). In addition to these concerns, it has been suggested that organic standards have declined over time and that certification provides a false assurance of quality (Martin). With these critiques, it is important to understand that organic products may not be as beneficial as they are often portrayed.

Finally, Direct Trade is intended to serve as an alternative to Fair Trade. According to Taza, Direct Trade implies a rejection of unfair labor practices and unfair wages. Direct interaction with cacao growers is intended to ensure better treatment of farmers and a higher quality product (Taza). As can be seen with Taza, however, these relationships often rely on small chocolate makers which can lead to potential problems in stability and quantities being purchased (Martin). Nonetheless, Direct Trade may prove to be an effective means of combating unfair treatment of cacao growers.

The logos for the certifications appear below. Direct Trade’s logo was unavailable under Creative Commons.

The Chocolate

Sample 1: Hershey’s Special Dark (45% cacao; $0.59/oz.; no certifications)

The first sample in the tasting was a Hershey’s Special Dark chocolate bar. While only 45% cacao, significantly below the other chocolates in percentage, this bar was selected to serve as the typical dark chocolate bar that could be found in American households. For its prevalence, it was selected as the first sample in the tasting in order to establish a comparison point for the other chocolates.

Sample 2: Lake Champlain Dark Chocolate (72% cacao; $2.00/oz.; 100% Fair Trade, USDA Organic)

The second sample, a dark chocolate bar from Lake Champlain, was selected to fill the role of the Fair Trade certified bar, although it was also certified organic. At 72% it was close to the 70% cacao I was targeting in the study. Every ingredient in the bar was reported to be organic and Fair Trade certified.

Sample 3: Taza Cacao Puro (70% cacao; $2.04/oz.; Direct Trade, USDA Organic)

Taza is known for its small, dedicated chocolate making team. Participating in the Direct Trade initiative, Taza claims to work with cacao farmers to ensure that they are selecting the best cacao possible and purchasing it at a fair price. The chocolate selected was 70% cacao, perfectly at my target percentage. The chocolate disc was also certified organic.

Sample 4: Ghirardelli Intense Dark (72% cacao; $0.85/oz.; no certifications)

Ghirardelli’s Intense Dark bar was selected as a good quality non-certified bar to challenge the quality assumptions that the tasters might have about certified and non-certified bars. At 72%, it fell within my target range. With its general perception of higher quality, it seemed an excellent choice to challenge the craft producers in the tasting.

Sample 5: Lindt Smooth Dark (70% cacao; $0.85/oz.; no certifications)

The Lindt chocolate was selected as another good quality non-certified chocolate bar. This bar matched the 70% cacao chocolate without receiving any certifications.

Sample 6: Dick Taylor Northerner Blend (73% cacao; $3.98/oz.; organic*)

The Dick Taylor bar carried a similar cacao percentage to the other bars in the study. While the bar does not bear the USDA Organic symbol, it advertises its ingredients as organic. According to the USDA website “You may only, on the information panel, identify the certified organic ingredients as organic and the percentage of organic ingredients.” With the bar using only certified organic ingredients, I considered this bar to be certified organic though some may disagree with this assessment. This bar is not Fair Trade or Direct Trade and so was used to capture the impact of using only organic materials without the effects of other certifications.

20170504_192908
Certified Samples-Personal Photo
20170504_192831
Non-Certified Samples-Personal Photo

 

The Process

Five of my friends, who were not involved with Martin’s course, generously volunteered to participate in the tasting. Before providing them with any chocolate, I gave them a brief questionnaire about the three certifications. For each certification, I asked them if they were familiar with it and how they interpreted it. Across all five participants, the only certification that was familiar to the tasters was USDA Organic. None of the tasters were familiar with Fair Trade or Direct Trade. Having ascertained that the participants did not have a well-developed understanding of these certifications, I provided them with information sheets describing the purpose of each and the critiques that were discussed in Martin’s class. While these information sheets were certainly not comprehensive, they were intended to help the tasters understand the intent of my tasting.

After ensuring that all of the participants had read through their information sheets, I moved onto the tasting portion of the event. Before beginning, I allowed the tasters to read the series of questions asked on their tasting sheets. Using Hershey’s Special Dark chocolate as the first sample, I walked the group through the tasting process. Because the tasting was intended to be a blind test, I asked that the participants not look at the chocolate samples throughout the process. While not a foolproof method, the participants were able to avoid seeing the chocolate while performing the tasting. They were asked to first smell the chocolate, evaluating its aroma. Next, they were asked to snap their samples to judge the sound of the chocolate. Finally, they were allowed to put the chocolate on their tongues and let it melt. This final step was used for them to evaluate the texture and flavor of the chocolate. During each of these steps, the participants were asked to provide ratings for certain qualities on a scale of 1-5. An image of the specific questions asked is posted below. After answering this series of questions intended to help the tasters evaluate the chocolate, they were asked to judge the overall flavor and quality of the chocolate on scales of 1-10. The separation of flavor and quality was intended to account for tasters who prefer lower quality chocolate. One taster was particularly aware of his preference for low quality chocolate. His self-awareness was evident in his responses. Between each sample, tasters were asked to use carbonated water to cleanse their palates.

tasting sample
Tasting Sheet-Personal Photo

 

Once each of the 6 samples had been tasted, the tasters were told to rank the chocolate based on apparent quality. Once this task was completed, I announced the name of each sample and its certifications. I then asked the tasters based on their analysis whether they thought that there existed a correlation between quality and certification. Finally, I asked the participants how large of a premium they would be willing to pay to consume an equal amount of certified chocolate as non-certified. For example, if they would be willing to pay $1.50 for a certified chocolate bar and $1.00 for a non-certified bar of the same size, this difference was considered to be a 50% premium. Once this question was answered, the task was left to me to interpret the tasters’ responses.

Results

By the time that the tasting was complete, both questions I sought to address in my tasting had been answered. Simply put, the participants did not understand Fair Trade or Direct Trade, but had a basic knowledge about USDA Organic. Despite understanding the intent behind organic certification, they were not aware of the varying levels of certification and the requirements for each level. Since these Harvard students, a group which tends to have high engagement on socioeconomic and environmental issues, failed to recognize these certifications, it could be inferred that American consumers are unlikely to recognize them as well. For the organizations who provide these certifications, this lack of recognition should be concerning. Certified products may not be appropriately valued by consumers because the certifications mean little to the average person purchasing a chocolate bar or other certified products.

Flavor Ratings

Taster

Hershey’s Lake Champlain Taza Ghirardelli Lindt Dick Taylor

A

9 4 6 7 3 1

B

3 8 9 5 1 10

C

8 8 6 7 8

7

D 6 8 7 5 6

8

E 7 9 6 9 6

6

Average 6.6 7.4 6.8 6.6 4.8

6.4

Certified?

No Yes Yes No No

Yes*

This table shows the tasters’ reviews of the chocolate’s taste on a scale of 1-10.

Quality Ratings

Taster

Hershey’s Lake Champlain Taza Ghirardelli Lindt Dick Taylor

A

3 4 8 7 3 1

B

1 7 9 6 2 10
C 8 8 6 7 7

7

D 6 8 8 5 6

9

E 5 9 7 8 6

8

Average 4.6 7.2 7.6 6.6 4.8

7

Certified?

No Yes Yes No No

Yes*

This table shows the tasters’ estimates of the chocolate’s quality on a scale of 1-10.

The above tables display the participant’s responses to the various chocolate samples in terms of flavor and quality. The row labeled “Certified?” identifies whether the sample is certified with any of the three certifications discussed in this paper. In the flavor ratings, the certified chocolate performed well with Lake Champlain and Taza having the highest average response. Dick Taylor was below Hershey’s and Ghirardelli but was not far behind. Lindt was easily the least popular among the group. In the quality ratings, the gap between certified and non-certified chocolate was clear. Taza, Lake Champlain, and Dick Taylor were rated as the three highest quality chocolates on average. Ghirardelli’s average was slightly lower than this group, but the other two non-certified chocolates received much worse scores. While this sample of tasters and chocolate bars is too small to claim that the relationship between certification and quality is statistically significant, the selection of the certified bars as the best tasting and highest quality seems to indicate that these companies do in fact produce a higher quality product. This result could be explained by these companies’ relatively small supply as they tend to be craft chocolate makers while the non-certified companies produce on a much larger scale. This smaller production could be viewed as a confounding variable in my study. Without further study and a significant budget increase, it would be quite difficult to determine whether the smaller production or the certifications are the cause of the higher quality. Regardless of which aspect of these producers leads to their apparent higher quality, the selection of the certified products as the highest quality in this study seems to indicate that there is at least a correlation between quality and certification. In the table below, it is shown that the participants in the study were able to guess almost perfectly which chocolate bars were certified and which were not. Tasters A and C incorrectly guessed that Ghirardelli was certified, but all other answers in the study were correct. Since Ghirardelli had a significantly higher quality rating than the other non-certified chocolates, these incorrect guesses suggest that the participants perceived an association between quality and certification. The participants all felt that they could identify the certified bars based on apparent quality, further confirming this hypothesis.

Do you think it is certified?

Taster

Hershey’s Lake Champlain Taza Ghirardelli Lindt Dick Taylor

A

No Yes Yes Yes No Yes

B

No Yes Yes No No Yes
C No Yes Yes Yes No

Yes

D No Yes Yes No No

Yes

E No Yes Yes No No

Yes

Certified? No Yes Yes No No

Yes*

Participants’ guesses as to which bars were certified.

While the tasters’ failure to recognize the certifying bodies speaks to a lack of consumer education, the ability of participants to identify certified chocolates with near perfect accuracy signals that concerns about quality assurance from these certifying bodies may be unwarranted. The apparently discernable higher quality of certified chocolates may indicate that companies concerned with their business practices tend to produce better products. Despite this indication, the responses to the question of how large a premium should be on certified products fell significantly short of capturing the true price differences in the samples provided. On average, participants were willing to pay a 16% premium for certified chocolate. Based on prices for the certified chocolate and non-certified chocolate, the premium for these certified chocolates was approximately 249%. In other words the certified chocolate was approximately 3.5 times as expensive as the non-certified chocolate. With such disparity between actual pricing and the participants’ willingness to pay, the certified chocolate seems to be too expensive for the consumers in my study. Furthermore, only a small portion of this high premium reaches the farmers growing the cacao anyway (Sylla, 233). In conclusion, despite providing a higher quality product, these chocolate makers may not achieve their objectives in addressing issues in production due to high pricing, poor distribution of the price premium, and lack of consumer recognition. While these certifications are a step toward improving the chocolate industry, further efforts are necessary to fully address the poor conditions on cacao farms.

 

Works Cited

Fair Trade USA. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 May 2017.

Guthman, Julie. “Fast Food/Organic Food Reflexive Tastes and the Making of “Yuppie Chow”.” Food and Culture: A Reader. Ed. Carole Counihan and Penny Van Esterik. New York: Routledge, 2013. Print.

Martin, Carla. “Alternative Trade and Virtuous Localization/globalization.” Cambridge, MA. 05 Apr. 2017. Lecture.

Nolan, Markham, Dusan Sekulovic, and Sara Rao. “The Fair Trade Shell Game.” Vocativ. Vocativ, 16 Apr. 2014. Web. 03 May 2017.

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

“Organic Regulations.” Organic Regulations | Agricultural Marketing Service. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 May 2017.

Sylla, Ndongo Samba. The Fair Trade Scandal: Marketing Poverty to Benefit the Rich. Trans. David Cleiment Leye. London: Pluto, 2014. Print.

“Taza Direct Trade.” Taza Chocolate. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 May 2017.

 

Photo Sources

Several photos in the essay are personal photos taken by me. These are labeled as such in the captions.

Côte d’Ivoire: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cote_d_Ivoire_in_Africa.svg

Fair Trade Logo: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:FairTrade-Logo.svg

USDA Organic Logo: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:USDA_organic_seal.svg

Shortening the Supply Chain: How Taza Chocolate’s Direct Trade Benefits the Chocolate Industry

The supply chain which governs the production of chocolate is full of complex relationships, blind spots, and middle men.  With these issues, inefficiencies and exploitative practices run their course throughout the chain.  Fixing these problems is not a one man or company job, but a change that must start with a small step.  This step has come with Taza Chocolate.  With Taza’s certifications, specifically its one concerning Direct Trade, and its “Bean to Bar” philosophy, they have shrunk the cacao/chocolate supply chain to take out these inefficiencies and harmful, exploitative practices in order to benefit both the growers and the consumers.

Launched in 2005 in Somerville, Massachusetts by founder Alex Whitmore, Taza strives to create “unrefined, minimally processed chocolate” with an incredible flavor (About Taza, 2015). Not only does their chocolate taste great, but it is ethically sourced.  This means they partner directly with the cacao farmers they buy from and pay a premium above the Fair Trade price for their cacao (About Taza, 2015).  Additionally, they only partner with farmers who “respect the rights of workers and the environment” (About Taza, 2015).  Taza uses a “Bean to Bar” philosophy, which utilizes their Direct Trade certification.  The video below gives you a sense of what “Bean to Bar” means to Taza, its partners, and workers.

Direct Trade ensures that Taza workers partner directly with the growers and maintain a face-to-face relationship with their farmers.  Additionally, Taza pays well above the market price for cacao beans, which currently stands around $1800 per metric ton. (Nasdaq: Cocoa, 2017).  To showcase how this buying works, Taza puts out an annual Transparency Report that highlights their program, prices, and key statistics.  Click here to view their 2016 report.  As you navigate this page, be sure to examine particular partner reports as they emphasize this program’s price benefits, stability, and room for farm improvement.

Their “Bean to Bar” and Direct Trade practice has shrunk the supply chain significantly.  The only non Taza or grower related dealer is the import company, which ships the cacao beans to Taza.  A typical supply chain for Taza can be seen below.

Screen Shot 2017-05-03 at 11.49.44 AM
Typical Taza Chocolate Supply Chain

This chain comes specifically from Taza’s partnership with the Alto Beni Cacao Company from Bolivia.  As you can see, Taza uses Atlantic Cacao as their importer and has developed a relationship with them such that they are used for all imports coming from the Caribbean and Central American region.

So, how does the chocolate supply chain look for a chocolate producer or retailer that does not operate as Taza does?  The answer is it is a lot longer with more independent players.  Below is an image depicting what this supply chain might look like.

Screen Shot 2017-05-03 at 12.18.26 PM
Typical Chocolate Supply Chain*

Throughout this chain, there are many actors with varying roles and profit margins.  The proportion of a final bar price for some individuals in the supply chain is as follows: farmers receive 3%, cocoa buyers receive 5%, manufactures receive 20%, and retailers receive 43% (Martin, Lecture 1).  This highlights a major inefficiency and exploitation that occurs during chocolate growing and production.  With little pay received by the growers, there is essentially no money left after operating expenses have been paid.  This means less money is put into the farm to improve the crop and harvesting process.  Additionally, apart from the growing and harvesting itself, no money is left to improve the lives of the farmers and their families.

This lack of money feeds into an even larger problem, which has become a topic covered extensively by media and activists, child labor.  There is certainly a negative side to this sort of labor, but it is very much a part of the African culture.  It is very typical for a young son or daughter to accompany his or her parent to the farm and help with simple tasks such as carrying food or lesser manual labor (Ryan 45-46).  This is generally deemed acceptable if the child does not miss out on schooling that will help him or her with their long-term career.  This is often not the case.  With the poverty and small income that come with being a grower, there is a benefit to having one’s child work on the farm.  With fewer employees to pay, there is a lower cost associated with family labor (Berlan 1093).  However, this mentality breeds an even worse form of child labor, trafficking and debt bondage.

Child trafficking has become an all too familiar phenomena on cocoa farms.  In 1998, UNICEF wrote a report that described how the transactions of children work out.  “Recruiters” will seek out children at bus stops of busy cities who have left home seeking work that will bring in more money for them and their family (Off 130).  The transporter then receives money from the farmer who uses this fee as overhead for the child’s contribution on the farm; thus, the child receives no money from working (Off 130-131).  Conditions for the worst kind of child labor are quite grim as they may work at gunpoint, eat little, sleep in bunkhouses that are locked at night, and are subject to horrible sores on their backs from carrying heavy bags of cacao beans and from being beaten (Off 121).  The image below showcases how grueling this labor can be and the types of dangerous tools children use while working.

Child Labor
Child Cutting Cacao Pod

One area of tension that arises when chocolate producers and organizations talk about exposing and ending child labor is the possibility of a boycott from a growing area.  For many African countries, a boycott on their cacao beans would be devastating to the economy as most depend on jobs in the cacao industry (Off 142).  Firms and larger chocolate companies and producers have attempted to eradicate this problem, but their efforts have been mostly ineffective.  Put in place in September of 2001, the Harkin-Engel Protocol was an attempt to solve this problem:

Cocoa beans and their derivative products should be grown and processed in a manner that complies with International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention 182 Concerning the Prohibition and Immediate Action for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labor (Harkin-Engel Protocol).

This objective would be accomplished with the help of governments, global industry, cocoa producers, organized labor, non-government organizations, and consumers (Harkin-Engel Protocol).  Many big chocolate companies such as Hershey’s, Mars, and Nestle supported this protocol and hoped to solve the problem of child labor in cocoa farms by 2005 (Martin, Lecture 8).  While having big companies backing this program promises a source of funds, they have continued to push back the deadline and now have it stand in the year 2020 (Martin, Lecture 8).  So, perhaps a large-scale, top-down approach is not the best solution to the problems plaguing the chocolate supply chain.  While I have digressed from Taza, now is great time to return to their company approach, as they work a more effective grass-roots style.

As seen in the diagram above highlighting Taza’s supply chain, there are fewer players at work in the production of their chocolate.  To tackle how their process is more efficient and beneficial compared to that of a larger company with a longer, more complex supply chain, we shall examine the benefits and even some of the drawbacks seen within the growers, in the production process, and with the consumers when Taza chocolate hits the shelves.

Starting with the grower, the benefits seen with Taza’s partnered farmers compared to the conditions seen on farms of those who supply to larger companies all stem from Direct Trade.  With Direct Trade, Taza can form a long-lasting relationship with farmers.  By traveling directly to the farms, Taza buyers can see who they are buying from and the conditions of the workers and those living on or near the farm.  This eliminates the poor labor practices that may take place on farms that supply larger companies, as these big companies are unable to see the conditions of their cacao growers.  In fact, Taza is so in touch with their partners that they share on their website profiles of these farms and their workers to showcase this relationship and the benefits it provides.  Here is a link to a profile on Maya Mountain Cacao that tells you a bit about their farm and the fermentation and drying facility built by Taza.

In addition to the relationships formed with the farmers, as published in their report, Taza pays a premium for the beans purchased from suppliers.  It has been noted by many scholars that the key problem the chocolate industry faces is poverty among primary producers, yet no large-scale programs have been implemented to address this issue (Off 146).  By paying a premium for their cacao beans, Taza is attempting to address this economic issue.

Apart from these benefits, there are some faults with Taza’s model.  The first is the small scale and limited reach of direct trade.  In 2016, Taza purchased only 233 metric tons of beans (Taza: 2016 Transparency Report).  This pales in compassion to the millions of metric tons purchased by the chocolate industry each year.  A second issue can be identified in the types of farms Taza partners with.  The beans that Taza purchases are high quality, fine cacao beans, which tend to be more expensive to grow.  Therefore, some of these farms are more wealthy, and Taza is in fact not benefitting the farms in dire need.  Of course, these negatives do not outweigh the positive work Taza does in the chocolate industry.  To start a change, small steps must be made, and Taza’s Direct Trade is a step in the right direction.

Turning to the production of Taza chocolate, their process is vastly different than those of larger companies and this difference is directly influenced by Direct Trade.  There is a high degree of care and precision that goes into crafting each bar of chocolate.  Taza strives to limit the amount of processing involved in production to “let the bold flavors of (their) organic, Direct Trade cacao shout loud and proud” (Our Process, 2015).  A diagram of their production process is presented below and highlights the easy to follow and minimalistic process used by Taza.

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Taza Chocolate Making Process

Lastly, in regards to their process, ingredients used are source known, which is a direct benefit of Direct Trade.  When you flip over the wrapper to read your bar’s ingredients, there are simple, organic ingredients that can be easily traced back to their origin.  This allows for confidence in consumption and in knowing ingredients come from a sustainable, humane farm.

The last component of the supply chain involves the consumer.  Taza certainly plays on a feel-good sensation seen by a consumer when they purchase a bar of Taza chocolate.  This feeling stems from the smart, ethical sourcing associated with Direct Trade.  When a consumer picks up a bar and sees the Direct Trade certification, they feel that they are helping tackle many of the problems in the chocolate industry.  Is this an ethical practice for Taza or are they preying on the gullible emotions of consumers?  With Taza’s small-scale production relative to the chocolate industry, it is acceptable to question whether you are actually making a difference when you buy a bar of Taza chocolate.  However, you are contributing to their mission.  Taza has ambitious goals, but is also thinking about the well-being of all cacao farmers.  They may not be helping all of them, but they are trying to make a difference.

In conclusion, Taza’s Direct Trade does mean something and is making a difference. By shrinking the supply chain seen with larger chocolate companies, Taza is eliminating many of the exploitative labor practices and economic inefficiencies seen in a typical supply chain.  So, next time you are craving some chocolate, head to the store and grab that Taza bar.

 

* Process information found on http://businesscasestudies.co.uk/bccca/creating-a-sustainable-chocolate-industry/the-supply-chain-for-chocolate.html; image made in PowerPoint

Works Cited:

“About Taza.” Taza Chocolate, 2015, https://www.tazachocolate.com/pages/about-taza. Accessed 3 May, 2017.

Berlan, Amanda. “Social Sustainability in Agriculture: An Anthropological Perspective on Child Labour in Cocoa Production in Ghana.” The Journal of Development Studies, vol. 49, no. 8, 2013, pp. 1088-1100.

“Cocoa: Latest Price & Chart for Cocoa.” Nasdaq, 2017, http://www.nasdaq.com/markets/cocoa.aspx. Accessed 3 May, 2017.

“Harkin-Engel Protocol.” Chocolate Manufacturers Association. 19 September, 2001, http://www.globalexchange.org/sites/default/files/HarkinEngelProtocol.pdf. Accessed 3 May, 2017.

Martin, Carla D. “Lecture 1: Mesoamerica and the “food of the gods”.” Aframer 199x. CGIS, Cambridge, MA. 01 Feb., 2017. Lecture.

Martin, Carla D. “Lecture 8: Modern day Slavery.” Aframer 199x. CGIS, Cambridge, MA. 22 Mar., 2017. Lecture.

Off, Carol. Bitter Chocolate: The Dark Side of the World’s Most Seductive Sweet. The New Press, 2006.

“Our Process.” Taza Chocolate, 2015, https://www.tazachocolate.com/pages/our-process. Accessed 3 May, 2017.

Ryan, Órla. Chocolate Nations: Living and Dying for Cocoa in West Africa. Zed Books, 2011.

“2016 Transparency Report.” Taza Chocolate, 2015, https://www.tazachocolate.com/pages/2016-transparency-report. Accessed 3 May, 2017.

Picture and Video Source:

“Boy Cutting Cacao Bean.” Google Images, Accessed 3 May, 2017.

“Creating a Sustainable Chocolate Industry.” Business Case Studies, 2017, http://businesscasestudies.co.uk/bccca/creating-a-sustainable-chocolate-industry/the-supply-chain-for-chocolate.html. Accessed 3 May, 2017.

“Taza Chocolate Making Process.” Taza Chocolate, 2012, https://cdn.shopify.com/s/files/1/0974/7668/files/Taza_Chocolate_Making_Process.pdf?10043542871181577895. Accessed 3 May, 2017.

“Taza Chocolate “Bean to Bar”.” Taza Chocolate, 2012, https://vimeo.com/33380451.

“2016 Partner Report.” Taza Chocolate, 2015, https://www.tazachocolate.com/pages/2016-partner-report-alto-beni-cacao-company. Accessed 3 May, 2017.

 

 

 

 

A comparison of Taza and Alter Eco: two companies seeking to create good chocolate in an ethical way

Ethical chocolate can come in different shapes and sizes. What ethical means to various chocolate companies can be very different, from fair work conditions, to organic ingredients, to environmental sustainability. Taza Chocolate is a company that boasts chocolate that is “seriously good and fair for all,” given their bold flavor and direct trade practices (“About Taza,” 2017). Alter Eco is a company that creates chocolate and other foods and aims to nourish “foodie, farmer, and field” with their sustainable food (“Our Story,” 2017). This post will explore the similarities and differences between Taza Chocolate and Alter Eco, two ethically minded chocolate producers, and how they portray themselves in order to appeal to consumers. Exploring their trade relationships, environmental impact, and community impact, it becomes apparent that Taza Chocolate has a main focus on fair and ethical trade as a means for driving improved conditions for farmers, whereas Alter Eco has a greater emphasis on sustainability and positive environmental impacts.

About the Companies

Taza

Taza Chocolate is a company founded in 2005 and based in Somerville, MA that creates stone ground chocolate. The stone ground beans create a unique coarse texture unlike most mass-produced chocolate on the market today. Besides the flavor, Taza Chocolate prides itself on its role as a “pioneer” in ethically sourced cacao. They are Direct Trade certified, holding them to standards of fair pay and partnerships with cacao farmers who respect workers’ rights and the environment (“About Taza,” 2017).

Alter Eco

Alter Eco is a food company in the business of chocolate and truffles as well as quinoa and rice with a focus on sustainability and fair practices. Their mission is to create a global transformation through ethical relationships with farmers and a focus on sustainability in their supply chain (“Our Story,” 2017). The company puts an emphasis on the benefits and social and environment changes that can be made through their practices.

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Trade Relationships

Taza stands apart from other chocolate companies because of its Direct Trade. Direct Trade is a third-party certification program that Taza has established that ensures cacao quality, fair labor, and transparency. Direct trade means what it sounds like – direct trade and relationships between cacao farmers and the company. Taza establishes relationships with cacao farmers in countries like the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Belize, having yearly visits to the farms and staying knowledgeable and transparent about where their beans are coming from (“Transparency Report,” 2015).

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Maya Mountain Cacao Farmers in Belize, a partner with Taza Chocolate

Direct trade is based on five key commitments (“Our Direct Trade Program Commitments,” 2017). The first is to develop direct relationships with cacao farmers, which they do by visiting their partners at least once per year. The second commitment is to pay a premium price for cacao of at least $500 above market price per metric ton of cacao beans, with a price floor of $2800. Their third and fourth commitments are to sourcing the highest quality beans, with an 85% or more fermentation rate and 7% or less moisture, and USDA certified organic beans. The fifth and final commitment is to publish an annual transparency report, which displays details of the visits to partner farms in various countries, as well as prices paid and amounts of cacao beans purchased. The key aspects of the Direct Trade certification that set it apart from others are the high premium paid for chocolate, which exceeds that set for Fair Trade certification, as well as the transparency report.

Direct Trade beings benefits to farmers in the form of a monetary premium paid for their beans, and it brings benefits to consumers with the transparency report that keeps consumers informed about the chocolate’s origins. However, Direct Trade can in some ways still fall short of being a wide-reaching solution to problems in the cacao-growing world. Direct Trade relationships can be fragile, and if Taza Chocolate were to go under, the partners would lose a key purchaser of their beans. Despite this, Direct Trade has economic benefits for the producers that cannot be discounted.

Alter Eco is Fairtrade certified. Fairtrade is a much more widespread certification, with 1226 Fairtrade certified producer organizations worldwide (“Facts and Figures about Fairtrade,” 2017). Fairtrade sets a price floor as a Fair Trade Premium that companies must pay for the products, so for organic cacao beans currently have a price minimum of $2300 per metric ton, and companies pay an additional premium of $200. This Fair Trade Premium is for investment in social, environmental, and economic projects, such as education or technology, which the producers decide upon. Alter Eco attributes their social impact to the effects of their Fair Trade contributions.

Comparing Direct Trade and Fair Trade, we can see that Direct Trade demands a higher price for cacao than Fair Trade, though both require premiums above the market price. Fairtrade sets aside premiums into a fund for investment into the community, whereas Direct Trade has buyers pay more for the beans, resulting in profits that could be used to invest in the community.

Environmental Impact

Sustainable farming practices have been on the rise over time, as international buyers have become more demanding about production practices. These practices can require a lot more hard work and labor, and require farmers to learn new processes, but they can be essential in order to survive long term as demand grows (Healy, 2002). A commitment to environmental sustainability is important to restoring or preserving nature’s biodiversity and preventing damage from industrial farming practices.

Taza Chocolate is committed to making an environmental impact through their use of USDA certified organic beans. Organic farming involves using practices that maintain or improve soil quality, conserve wetlands, woodlands, and wildlife, and do not use synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation, or genetic engineering (“About the National Organic Program,” 2017). By only purchasing USDA certified organic beans, Taza is supporting farms that comply to these standards set to protect and preserve the environment.

Alter Eco, on the other hand, takes sustainability and environmental impact to the next level. Not only do they purchase organic cacao, but also they have a focus on their carbon footprint in the supply chain and take active steps to minimize it. Working with the PUR Project and the ACOPAGRO cacao producers, Alter Eco supports an effort to reforest the San Martin region in Peru, which had suffered from severe deforestation in the 1980s. From 2008 to 2015, they planted 28,639 trees through this initiative, improving biodiversity, restoring soils, protecting wildlife, and providing necessary shade for cacao (“Impact Report,” 2015). In addition, they are a partner of 1% for the Planet, with which they commit to giving at least 1% of their sales to nonprofits aimed at protecting the environment.

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PUR Project farmers carrying saplings

Furthermore, Alter Eco seeks to be a carbon negative business, net reducing more than they emit, though this goal is still far-reaching. They post a yearly carbon report that breaks down consumptions of water, waste, and energy in chocolate production and approximates greenhouse gas emissions. In 2014, chocolate production directly or indirectly resulted in a little over 2,400 tons of CO2. Alter Eco uses its tree planting initiative as its efforts to offset CO2 emissions, and between 2008 and 2014 they had offset 7,690 tons of CO2 (“Yearly Carbon Report,” 2014). All in all, the transparency that Alter Eco provides about their environmental impact and their efforts to reduce it are satisfyingly informative. Though it can feel like their claims about sustainability are mainly a marketing ploy or way to make consumers feel good about their purchase, it is reassuring to have the information that allows consumers to be informed and hold Alter Eco accountable if they really wish to do so.

Community Impact

Taza and Alter Eco both make an impact on the communities of producers that they work with. Both companies have direct relationships with the farming cooperatives that they purchase cacao from, involving in-person visits to the partners. They build deep, trusting relationships with their partners that bring an extra level of support to the community. However, while Taza’s relationships appear to be mostly business, Alter Eco shows a commitment to community development. Alter Eco also boasts 48 development programs that they are involved in (“Socially Just,” 2017). They are also a certified B Corp, recognizing their social and environmental performance and transparency. Alter Eco uses Fairtrade premiums as their main way of supporting community development. It is important to note that this method of supporting developing is not a solution to large problems in poor regions, but it can have an impact in small ways by better stabilizing income (Sylla, 2014). Analysis of the impact that Fairtrade has on producers has pointed to a slight impact that is “all but exceptional” and is something that can better protect farmers from extreme poverty rather than lift them out of poverty (Sylla, 2014).

It is important to note that though Alter Eco does a good deal more marketing their positive impact on community development through their development programs and Fairtrade premiums, Taza still pays more per metric ton for their cacao. The difference between the two is that Alter Eco prioritizes their funds supporting community and environmental development projects, whereas Taza pays the money to farmers which is then theirs to use.

Conclusion

Both companies make a commitment to transparency in their chocolate. Taza produces a transparency report each year detailing the company’s purchases, prices paid, and visits to various cacao farms. Alter Eco lists details of each chocolate bar’s cacao origin, cocoa content, organic ingredient content, and fair trade certified ingredient content on their website. These added details, way beyond which the average consumer would demand of a Hershey bar, give these Taza and Alter Eco bars a story for the consumers to follow and a justification of the ethical nature of the purchase. Small scale chocolate companies often find success in the education of their consumers of things like single origin cacao and fine cacao flavors, as it gives them an edge on industrial chocolate which dominates with marketing and low prices (Williams and Eber, 2012). By emphasizing transparency and providing detailed information about cacao sources and flavor notes, Taza and Alter Eco are leveraging this.

Furthermore, Taza and Alter Eco market their products in a way to make the consumers feel like they are making an impact. Advertisements need to show images that make the viewer feel good, or at least good enough to buy chocolate, a luxury item (Liessle, 2012). By emphasizing the ethical nature and the social benefits of their products, these companies play up the consumer’s feelings of being altruistic by purchasing the chocolate bars. These companies may be flaunting their ethical practices as a marketing strategy, but if they are making a real, positive impact for the cacao-producing community or for the environment, then it is a win-win situation for the companies and the farmers.

Taza Chocolate and Alter Eco are both chocolate-producing companies that are ethically minded, where Taza has a large focus on direct trade partnerships with cooperatives, and Alter Eco has some focus on fair trade but a greater emphasis on environmental sustainability. These companies demonstrate how ethical practices in the chocolate industry can have different implications, whether they be for farmer compensation, farmer community development, greenhouse gas emissions, reforestation and biodiversity, amongst many others. What is important to take away is that some companies may focus on some impacts more than others, and it is important as consumers to be educated and to know what impact you believe is the most important to make.

References

“About the National Organic Program.” (2016, November). Retrieved from https://www.ams.usda.gov/publications/content/about-national-organic-program

“About Taza.” (2017). Retrieved from https://www.tazachocolate.com/pages/about-taza

“Annual Cacao Sourcing Transparency Report.” (2015, September). Retrieved from https://cdn.shopify.com/s/files/1/0974/7668/files/Taza_Transparency_Report_2015.pdf?10448975028103371905

“Facts and Figures about Fairtrade.” (2017). Retrieved from http://www.fairtrade.org.uk/en/what-is-fairtrade/facts-and-figures

Healy, K. (2001). Llamas, Weaving, and Organic Chocolate: Multicultural Grassroots Development in the Andes and Amazon of Bolivia. 123-154

“Impact Report.” (2015). Retrieved from http://www.alterecofoods.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/AE-ImpactReport-RF4-Digital.pdf

Leissle, K. (2012). “Cosmopolitan cocoa farmers: refashioning Africa in Divine Chocolate advertisements.” Journal of African Cocoa Studies 24(2): 121-139

“Our Direct Trade Program Commitments.” (2017). Retrieved from https://cdn.shopify.com/s/files/1/0974/7668/files/Taza_DT_Commitments_Aug2015.pdf?2533070453853065353

“Our Story.” (2017). Retrieved from http://www.alterecofoods.com/our-story/

“Socially Just.” (2017). Retrieved from http://www.alterecofoods.com/sustainability/socially-just/

Sylla, N. (2014). The Fair Trade Scandal.

Williams, P. and Eber, J. (2012). Raising the Bar: The Future of Fine Chocolate. 141-209.

“Yearly Carbon Report.” (2014). Retrieved from http://www.alterecofoods.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/AlterEco-Carbon-Report-2014_v2.pdf

Multimedia Sources

Dark Super Blackout Bar. [Image]. Retrieved from http://www.alterecofoods.com

Maya Mountain Cacao. [Image]. Retrieved from https://www.tazachocolate.com/pages/maya-mountain-cacao

Taza Chocolate From Bean to Bar. [Video] Retrieved from https://vimeo.com/33380451

Tree Saplings. [Image]. Retrieved from http://www.alterecofoods.com/environmentally-responsible/

Bean-to-Bar Chocolate: Addressing Ethical Criteria in the Cacao-Chocolate Supply Chain via the Ethnographic Review of Taza Chocolate

Introduction

Despite the variety of available chocolate products, the process by which a chocolate bar comes to fruition maintains certainty consistency. A ubiquitous procedure, the evolution of a cacao pod to a chocolate bar ought to have reached contemporary standards of ethicality and efficiency. Yet, the bean-to-bar progression is plagued with inherent injustices that have been embedded in the chocolate industry from the start. Fundamental to the development of capitalism, cacao, a commodity crop like tobacco, sugar, coffee, rum, and cotton, initially relied heavily on the slave trade to fuel increasing demand. (Martin, 2017) Yet, despite the abolition of slavery in the mid 19th century, modern day slavery still prevails in the cacao industry. In response to the persistent pervasiveness of injustices in the bean-to-bar process, particularly surrounding the harvesting and cultivation of cacao, bean-to-bar brands have proliferated as a potential solution with a commitment to both the ethicality and culinary aspects of chocolate production; Taza Chocolate in Somerville, Massachusetts typifies one of these companies striving to produce palatable chocolate through ethical practices and a high degree of production transparency.

Cacao-Chocolate Supply Chain

The cacao-chocolate supply chain begins with the cultivation of cacao pods. After cacao cultivation, the pods are harvested and the seeds and pulp are separated from the pod. The cacao seeds are then fermented and dried before being sorted, bagged, and transported to chocolate manufacturers, chocolate makers, and chocolatiers. The cacao beans then undergo roasting, husking, grinding, and pressing before the product undergoes a type of “polishing,” called “conching,” in which final flavors develop. (Martin, 2017) Differences in the execution of each step influence the ultimate taste, texture, feel, and consistency of the chocolate bar.

Today, cacao cultivation and harvesting has predominately shifted away from the Americas to West Africa. Almost all of the world’s cacao used in the making of chocolate, approximately 75%, grows in Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana. (Martin, 2017). Despite the shift of the geographic foci of cacao trade, partially fueled to escape slavery associated with commodities crops in the Americas, a narrative of slavery and exploitation continue to plague the cacao trade. (Martin, 2017) Modern day farming of cocoa has exploited child and migrant labor, with price fixing by governments a likely causal link between abuses and the need for farmers to reduce their own cost.  (“Organic Cocoa Industry” 2014) Additionally, as small producers, the farmers lack collective bargaining ability and are thus dependent on price fixing governments or commodity boards that “leave them at the mercy of independent traders or other large buyers of their cocoa.” (“Organic Cocoa Industry” 2014)

Approximately two million small, independent family farms in modern day West Africa produce the vast majority of cacao. Each farm, between five to ten acres in size, collectively produce more than three million metric tons of cacao per year. (Martin, 2017) While some of the farms also grow crops like oil palm, maize, and plantains, to supplement their income, the average daily income of a typical Ghanaian cacao farmer hovers between $0.50-$0.80. (Martin, 2017).

The current system of buying and selling cacao in West Africa typically involves the growers and farmers selling to intermediaries, who subsequently sell upstream to additional intermediaries. The longer the supply chain, the greater opportunity for corruption and the exploitation of the farmers as the latter receive increasingly smaller shares of the overall price of a chocolate bar as the supply chain grows more layered with intermediaries adding their own profit layer. The marketing structures in Ghana and Cote D’Ivoire, the two largest cacao producers in West Africa, typify West African cacao trade. In Ghana, farmers take cacao to buying centers operated by the Ghana Cocoa Board, Cocobod. Cocobod fixes prices, and either Cocobod representatives or private buyers purchase the cacao. In Cote d’Ivoire, private traveling buyers collect cacao from farmers and pay a guaranteed minimum export price. (“Organic Cocoa Industry,” 2014)

The marketing structures in both countries exemplify the complexities of the exploitation of cacao farmers. In Ghana, local elites dominate cacao farming. Raising cacao prices would empower the local elite, and threaten the state. (Martin, 2017).  Therefore, the state, by controlling cacao prices through the Cocobod, also controls and restricts the power of the local elite. In Cote D’Ivoire, peasants comprise the majority of cacao farmers, and consequently, present a lesser threat to the government of the Cote D’Iviore. Consequently, allowing itinerants to collect cacao from farmers, while giving peasant farmers more ability to negotiate prices and thus greater power, does not, in the government’s view, create a threat to the state.

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Cote D’Ivoire Marketing Structure (“Organic Cocoa Industry” 2014)
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Ghana Marketing Structure (“Organic Cocoa Industry” 2014)

Cacao, a commodity, theoretically should command a volatile price as determined by the global markets. Market variability within the past half-decade, however, has demonstrated the     effects of a long cacao-supply chain. Due to farming conditions, over the past five years, cacao supply has gone from a severe deficit to a surplus. In late 2014, poor harvest yields coupled with increased demand for chocolate drove the supply of cacao way down. (Ferdman, 2014) In fact, a 2014 Bloomberg report even suggested that in 2020, when the demand for cacao would exceed supply by 1 million metric tons, the world would have to turn to a genetically modified form of cacao, even at the forfeit of flavor, to attempt to meet demand. Yet, despite market economics which dictate that with increasing scarcity an item should demand a higher price, unusually, cacao farmers struggled to make a profit and began switching to other crops like palm and rubber. (Ferdman, 2014). Profits from the higher prices, instead of trickling down to the farmers, were captured higher up the supply chain. As recently as March 2017, however, cacao supply had usurped demand. Rather than let the market reset the pricing of cacao, the governments of both Cote D’Ivoire and Ghana announced an unspecified cut in prices of cacao, which further economically harms the farmers. With only meager profits, and constant subjection to harsh work conditions, the farmers cannot move beyond subsistence level and suffer from inescapable exploitative labor practices. (Hunt & Aboa, 2017)

In response to the social and economic injustices associated with the cacao-supply chain, various organizations—governmental, non-governmental, global and national—have been established with the common mission of improving ethicality and corporate responsibility of global cacao practices. For example, the International Cocoa Organization, ICCO, ratified by the United Nations, unifies cacao producing and cacao consuming countries.  The ICCO established an official mandate on a Sustainable World Cocoa Economy to addresses the exploitative environment cacao farmers face. (“International Cocoa Organization”) In 2012, Cargill, an American global corporation with a large focus on agricultural commodities, founded Cargill Cocoa Promise which specifically concentrates on bringing transparency to the global cocoa supply chain by supplying ethically sourced cacao to their buyers.  (“Cargill is committed to helping the world thrive” 2017) On a micro, private level, Cargill itself develops professional farmers’ organizations in the regions from where the corporation buys cacao in order to help farmers develop a sustainable way to improve and maintain their livelihoods.

Further, various organizations have established criteria for certifications with the goal of enticing companies to comply with specified ethical requirements in exchange for public acknowledgement for doing so.  “Fair Trade,” a designation granted by the nonprofit of the same name, stands out as a recognizable stamp on many shelf-brands. Self-defined as an organization which “enables sustainable development and community empowerment by cultivating a more equitable global trade model that benefits farmers, workers, consumers, industry and the earth,” Fair Trade certifies transactions between U.S. companies and their international suppliers to guarantee farmers making Fair Trade certified goods receive fair wages, work in safe environments, and receive benefits to support their communities. (“Fair Trade USA,” 2017) Yet, while in theory Fair Trade seems to address many issues the cacao farmers face, critics of the certification point out there exists a lack of evidence of significant impact, a failure to monitor Fair Trade standards, and an increased allowance of non-Trade ingredients in Fair Trade products. (Nolan, Sekulovic, & Rao 2014) So, while in theory certifications like Fair Trade offer the potential to improve the cacao-supply chain by ensuring those companies who subscribe to the certification meet certain criteria, the rigor and regulation of the criteria appears debatable.

Contemporary Solutions: Bean-to-Bar Chocolate

In contrast to the traditional process of chocolate manufacturers buying beans in bulk from suppliers who amalgamate beans from anonymous farms, “bean-to-bar” companies offer another potential solution for the injustices in the bean-to-bar process.  By maintaining absolute control of the bean-to-bar process by cutting out the middle-men and dealing directly with the cacao farmers, these small companies not only strive for superior quality, but commit to ethical standards. (Shute 2013) The hope is that the the bean-to-bar “pipeline will make for more ethical, sustainable production in an industry with a long history of exploitation.” (Shute, 2013) The expensive price tag associated with a small-batch bean-to-bar product contributes to a more decent wage for West African cacao farmers, while simultaneously promising an excellent product.

The close relationship proves to be mutually beneficial as the bean-to-bar companies get well-flavored chocolate and the cacao farmers receive fair wages. (Zusman, 2016) Further, the transparency associated with the small-batch bean-to-bar process motivates the companies to adhere to ethical criteria, as well as keep up to date on ethical practices, and encourages the cacao farmers to take extra care in drying and fermenting their beans. Some bean-to-bar chocolate companies have also started following the lead of coffee companies by implementing Direct Trade, a partnership arguably doing more, directly, to help minimize exploitative practices, than Fair Trade. (Zusman 2016)

Direct Trade, a type of product sourcing, partners bean-to-bar buyers directly with cacao farmers. While providing some oversight on ethical practices, Fair Trade’s supervisory capacity does little to create a more direct relationship between the farmers and the ultimate producers or to eliminate extraneous intermediaries diluting profit from the growers. Further, achieving a Fair Trade certification costs between US$8,000 and US$10,000.  In contrast, Direct Trade costs the chocolate bar producer nothing while facilitating their purchase of cacao directly from farmers. This one-step connection, perhaps the epitome of the bean-to-bar movement, allows the buyer and seller (the farmer) to together dictate fair prices, and ensure the cacao farmers receive fair wages, working conditions, and support. With control over the bean-to-bar pipeline, and Direct Trade making such a choice more accessible, these smaller chocolate bar companies seem to provide a more viable blueprint to mitigate, and hopefully end, the exploitation of the cocoa farmers.

Taza Chocolate

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Taza Logo (“Organic Stone Ground Chocolate for Bold Flavor” 2017)

Alex Whitmore, an innovator of the bean-to-bar chocolate movement founded Taza Chocolate in 2005.  A ground-breaking chocolate shop committed to “simply crafted, but seriously good” chocolate, Taza exists as “a pioneer in ethical cacao sourcin.” (“Organic Stone Ground Chocolate for Bold Flavor” 2017) Taza “created the chocolate industry’s first third-party certified Direct Trade cacao sourcing program, to ensure quality and transparency for all.” (“Organic Stone Ground Chocolate for Bold Flavor” 2017) Taza maintains a direct “real, face-to-face relationships with growers who respect the environment and fair labor practices,” and pays farmers a premium for cacao well above the Fair Trade price.  (“Organic Stone Ground Chocolate for Bold Flavor” 2017) Within this symbiotic relationship, in exchange for ethical treatment and the removal of middlemen, the cacao farmers provide Taza with the “best organic cacao.”  (“Organic Stone Ground Chocolate for Bold Flavor” 2017)

Taza maintains a high degree of transparency on their website.  In addition to publishing their Direct Trade Program Commitments (“1. Develop direct relationships with cacao farmers; 2. Pay a price premium to cacao producers; 3. Source the highest quality cacao beans; 4. Require USDA certified organic cacao; 5. Publish an annual transparency report” (“Organic Stone Ground Chocolate for Bold Flavor” 2017) ), Taza provides hyperlinks to their transparency report, cacao sourcing videos, and their sustainable organic sugar.  Seemingly, Taza exemplifies the archetype bean-to-bar company.

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Taza Direct Trade Program (“Organic Stone Ground Chocolate for Bold Flavor” 2017)

I spoke with Ayala Ben-Chaim, Taza’s Tours and Events Coordinator, to gain further understanding of Taza’s revolutionary approach and the impact Taza has on the cacao-chocolate supply chain. Ayala explained that Alex set out with the goal of creating a socially responsible chocolate brand that balanced environmental, social, and quality responsibilities.  In 2005, market trends indicated consumers wanted organic products, so Alex initially considered making chocolate that was organic and Fair Trade.  Ayala noted, however, that as Taza began to develop, Alex discovered not all organic products aligned with Fair Trade certified products, not all Fair Trade Products aligned with organic products, and occasionally both organic and Fair Trade products tasted poorly. Additionally, early on, Taza did not have the budget to pay for Fair Trade certification; further, Alex realized he could be paying that fee directly to the cacao farmers. Consequently, Alex turned to the idea of direct trade.

Taza identified the main issue with the cacao-supply chain as the length of the chain from farmer to chocolate company. The longer the supply chain, the more opportunity for funding to disperse before reaching farmers, and the more opportunity for corruption by middle-men. Confirming the information I found on the website, Ayala explained that to help combat the supply chain injustices by shortening the cacao-supply chain as much as possible, Taza adopted Direct Trade.  Ayala elaborated that, emulating Counter-Culture coffee, an organic coffee company that formalized a third-party direct trade policy, Alex forfeited Fair Trade in favor of Direct Trade, and Taza hired a cacao sourcing manager. (“Sustainability At Coffee Origin,” 2017) Based in Columbia, the sourcing manager oversees all of the cacao sourcing, visits cacao farms regularly to ensure the conditions meet Taza’s own highly ethical criteria, and that the cacao fetches fair prices.  One of Taza’s biggest direct trade sourcing successes was creating a relationship with Haiti. Taza consistently pays farmers significantly more under the Direct Trade policy than they would have received under a Fair Trade certification, which would not have necessarily cut out middlemen.

Ultimately, however, the question remains whether the extreme efforts Taza puts forth to create an ethically sound product really produce a significant impact on the cacao-supply chain. Although Taza makes a significant impact on the people with whom they directly partner, Ayala commented that many customers approach her to ask about Fair Trade and completely confuse Direct Trade for Fair Trade, and thus do not comprehend Fair Trade’s shortcomings and the increased benefits to the farmers of Direct Trade.  Although frustrating, she does concede that some level of awareness in the choice of which chocolate to purchase is better than a total lack of knowledge or concern.

Ayala offered the statistic that in 2005, Taza was only one of three bean-to-bar chocolate companies. Today, however, Taza is one of 60 bean-to-bar companies. While the significance of Taza’s impact may be relatively small, the overall bean-to-bar movement has started to gain momentum. If each bean-to-bar company identifies issues in the cacao supply chain similarly to Taza, then, over time, an increasingly larger percentage of chocolate will come from ethically responsible sourcing. And, hopefully, that will also mean that customers will start to become more knowledgeable about what they are eating, become more discerning about the distinctions between the various “stamps” on the packaging, and more willing to pay a higher price for product that subscribes to and supports ethical farming.

Bean-to-bar chocolate companies appear to be a viable potential solution, albeit slow and on a more micro level, to addressing the issues in the cacao-chocolate supply. Because currently the consumer base does not seem to possess a critical awareness of different certifications, the bean-to-bar companies must continue to pioneer more moral standards until enough customers catch up and until demand forces the bigger chocolate venders to take a similar approach. Until then, tackling the exploitation embedded in the cacao-supply chain falls exclusively on the shoulders of the chocolatiers equally loyal to both chocolate and social responsibility.

References

“Cargill is committed to helping the world thrive.” Provider of food, agriculture, financial and industrial products and services to the world. | Cargill. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 May 2017.

Fair Trade USA. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 May 2017.

Ferdman, Roberto A. “The World’s Biggest Chocolate-maker Says We’re Running out of Chocolate.” The Washington Post. WP Company, 15 Nov. 2014. Web. 27 Apr. 2017. <https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2014/11/15/the-worlds-biggest-chocolate-maker-says-were-running-out-of-chocolate/?utm_term=.6f1b2516fded&gt;.

“International Cocoa Organization.” About ICCO. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 May 2017.

Leissle, Kristy. “Cosmopolitan Cocoa Farmers: Refashioning Africa in Divine Chocolate Advertisements.” Journal of African Cultural Studies 24.2 (2012): 121-39. Web.

Nolan, Markham, Dusan Sekulovic, and Sara Rao. “The Fair Trade Shell Game.” Vocativ. Vocativ, 16 Apr. 2014. Web. 03 May 2017.

“Organic Cocoa Industry.” Cocoa Production and Processing Technology (2014): 67-78. Anti-Slavery International. Web.

“Organic Stone Ground Chocolate for Bold Flavor.” Taza Chocolate. N.p., 2015. Web. 27 Apr. 2017. <https://www.tazachocolate.com/&gt;.

Martin, Carla. “Modern Day Slavery.” Lecture, Chocolate Lecture, Cambridge, March 22, 2017.

Martin, Carla. “Alternative Trade and Virtuous Localization/Globalization.” Lecture, Chocolate Lecture, Cambridge, April 04, 2017.

Martin, Carla. “Slavery, Abolition, and Forced Labor.” Lecture, Chocolate Lecture, Cambridge, March 01, 2017.

Schatzker, Mark. “To Save Chocolate, Scientists Develop New Breeds of Cacao.” Bloomberg.com. Bloomberg, 14 Nov. 2014. Web. 27 Apr. 2017. <https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2014-11-14/to-save-chocolate-scientists-develop-new-breeds-of-cacao&gt;.

Shute, Nancy. “Bean-To-Bar Chocolate Makers Dare To Bare How It’s Done.” NPR. NPR, 14 Feb. 2013. Web. 03 May 2017.

“Sustainability At Coffee Origin.” Counter Culture Coffee. N.p., 27 Feb. 2017. Web. 03 May 2017.

Taza Chocolate. “Sourcing for Impact in Haiti.” Vimeo. Taza Chocolate, 03 May 2017. Web. 03 May 2017. Video

Zusman, Michael C. “What It Really Takes to Make Artisan Chocolate.” Eater. N.p., 11 Feb. 2016. Web. 03 May 2017.

Video,

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.

Table

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.

 

References

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
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/28/technology/internet/28farmer.htm

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.