There are two chocolate companies that I am going to describe in detail. There’s Askinsosie and then there’s DOVE. Why am I comparing these two chocolate companies? For one, I work at a coffeeshop that sells Askinosie chocolate, and we use it in our ganache to make things like hot chocolates and mochas. Secondly, I chose DOVE because my grandmother, who is now passed, used to always have DOVE Chocolate in her apartment. As a young child I liked to snag a piece whenever I went to visit. I grew up certain that Dove Chocolate was the best!
When my grandmother first began purchasing DOVE Chocolate, she thought it was a luxurious chocolate brand. Now, there are more sophisticated chocolate brands like Askinosie. Within these chocolate brands are labels as well. These labels, such as Direct Trade and Rainforest Alliance, exist to intrigue customers, help producers market their product, and honor farmers, or so that is what these labels claim.
Within this blog post I will delve deep into what these labels really mean and address the social, economic, and environmental implications of these labels. I will look at the advertising that each company uses, and I will compare the two brands and explain which chocolate brand is more ethical than the other and why.
Let’s start off by describing the chocolate companies’ origins:
Askinosie Chocolate was founded by Shawn Askinosie in Springfield, Missouri (“Our Story”). Before he began his chocolate-making career he had another career in law. He was a criminal defense attorney and he practiced law for 20 years (“Our Story”). At the time, he enjoyed his work and was good at it; however, the work he put into his job was causing him undue stress that he worried would eventually kill him (“Our Story”). So, in an attempt to “save his life,” he began looking into different hobbies he could enjoy (“Our Story”).
Five years into his introspective journey, it dawned on him to become a chocolate maker (“Our Story”). As soon as this revelation hit his mind, he quickly began using his industrious work ethic to research information about chocolate: How to make chocolate and where it originates historically, culturally, and botanically (“Our Story”). Shawn Askinosie wanted to create a great product that tantalized the tastebuds of his consumers (“Our Story”).
After his initial research, he realized that making chocolate from bean to bar, meaning making chocolate from the bean and controlling each stage of production to form chocolate, would be tough work (“Our Story”). At the time back in the early 2000’s, there weren’t many bean-to-bar or craft chocolate companies (“Our Story”). By the time he started the company in 2005, he was a pioneer in the world of Direct Trade chocolate as one of the first chocolate makers to buy beans directly from the source: farmers (“Our Story”).
Pictured here are several of Askinosie’s chocolate bars. The string on the top of each chocolate bar comes from the string used in the bags carrying the cacao beans (Forbes).
DOVE Chocolate was founded by Greek-American Leo Stefanos in 1939 (DOVE). Originally, DOVE Chocolate was called “Dove Candies & Ice Cream” and resided in Chicago, Illinois (“Dove (Chocolate)”). By the 1950’s, 1956 to be more precise, Leo Stefanos created the DOVE ice cream bar (DOVE). By 1960, DOVE Chocolate reached the UK and there it was rebranded as the Galaxy brand (DOVE). Later in 1986, Mars Inc. bought out the DOVE and Galaxy companies (DOVE).
Since being acquired by Mars Inc., DOVE Chocolate has made amendments in regard to their ethics and sustainability. DOVE Chocolate now works with Rainforest Alliance to certify 100% of its dark chocolate. In addition, through Mars’ Sustainable Cocoa Initiative, the chocolate making producers claim to work more closely with the farmers growing the cacao beans (DOVE).
Here’s a picture of DOVE Chocolate’s dark chocolate bar. All of DOVE’s dark chocolate is Rainforest Alliance Certified (DOVE).
Now that we know about the companies’ origins, let us discuss the meaning behind some of the terms used such as, “Direct Trade” and “Rainforest Alliance”.
What is Direct Trade and Fair Trade?
Fair Trade: Fair Trade is an international organization that has a US branch that certifies or ranks products, such as chocolate, to be categorized or classified as more ethical and sustainable than other products that aren’t certified (Martin). Fair trade prides itself on its principles and the criteria it uses, which include: (1) maintaining long-term relationships with farmers; (2) paying fair prices and wages; (3) lacking child or exploited labor; (4) lacking workplace discrimination; (5) safe working conditions; (6) environmental sustainability; (7) using resources synergistically to help the community at large; (8) and transparency (Martin).
Fair Trade Downsides: Unfortunately, Fair Trade doesn’t come out to be exactly as it advertises. For one, getting certified by Fair Trade is quite expensive (Martin). For the smallest of farms, the minimum certification price may range from 1,430 euros to 3,470 euros (Sylla). This is equivalent to approximately $1,730 to $4,200. Furthermore, not much money actually gets into the hands of local farmers (Martin). The producing company is in charge of purchasing the certification and money goes through the company before it gets to the farmers. Fair trade has little to no evidence supporting its efficacy, and there are no incentives for farmers to produce a quality product (Martin). These are some of the pitfalls to Fair Trade, however, no model is perfect as we will see shortly.
Direct Trade: Direct Trade is different from Fair Trade in that it isn’t a certification organization (“Fair Trade vs. Direct Trade”). Rather, it is a description that explains the relationships between farmers and producers (“Fair Trade vs. Direct Trade”). The Direct Trade model has a different mission statement to that of Fair Trade. Direct Trade addresses several points that are lacking within the Fair Trade model such as the lack of incentive for farmers to produce a quality product, the lack of flexibility within the Fair Trade model of certification, and the high enrollment fees (Martin). Fair Trade has a very particular model, and if one farm doesn’t fit within the model, then they can’t be certified. This is different for Direct Trade. Direct Trade attends to these differences by promoting premium prices for exceptional crops, establishing more direct communication and therefore more flexibility within the relationships between farmers and producers, and by eliminating a costly enrollment certification processes (Martin).
Direct Trade Downsides: Simply put, following the Direct Trade model is challenging. It is difficult to succeed at following this model due to the extra care and communication needed to make the model work (Martin). Furthermore, relationships between farmers and producers can be more fragile than those in the Fair Trade model, and there are social benefits that go along with the Fair Trade model that don’t exist for the Direct Trade model in its definition (Martin).
What is Rainforest Alliance?
Rainforest Alliance was founded in 1987 with a mission statement that includes the protection and preservation of ecosystems and biodiversity (Sylla). Rainforest Alliance endorses sustainable modes of production as well as improved working and living conditions for farmers (Sylla and “Factsheet Rainforest Alliance”). Critics of Rainforest Alliance argue that this certification method fails to provide adequate financial assistance to the farmers, fails to provide an adequate minimal price, and doles out certification with little true consideration (Sylla).
What is UTZ Certification?
UTZ certification has a goal to, “create an efficient sustainability program with effective certification and traceability tools for socially and environmentally responsible cocoa production that meets the needs of both producers and markets” (“Cocoa”). This essentially means that UTZ aims to create a sustainable means of production for products such as cocoa. UTZ certified products are in 108 countries, and five of the top ten chocolate manufacturers including Nestlé, Ferrero, Hershey, and Mars have committed to use 100% certified cacao (“Cocoa”). While they have made this commitment, that doesn’t mean that all of the chocolate produced by these companies is currently all certified, as is the case for Mars Inc. (“Cocoa: Caring for the Future of Cocoa”).
What’s Organic Certification?
Organically certified products are products that are free from use of pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, genetically modified organisms, or ionizing radiation (Martin). Principles of organic farming include, “concerns for safe food production, for the environment, for animal welfare and for issues of social justice (Browne, A W, et al)”. Before a farm can be granted certification as organic, a government-approved certifier must inspect the farm to see where the crops are being grown to ensure the rules are being followed to meet organic standards (Martin).
The principles of organic agriculture are wide ranging and include concerns for safe food production, for the environment, for animal welfare and for issues of social justice
Working within their Models
When Shawn Askinosie talks about chocolate in this video, he describes how he works within the Direct Trade model (Forbes). He discusses the importance of having a relationship with the farmers and working in their communities (Forbes). He talks about becoming friends with farmers in Ecuador, Tanzania, and the Philippines (the three places from which he sources his chocolate (Forbes)). Shawn Askinosie furthermore discusses his open-book management style where he shares his numbers through his transparency report that he keeps available to everyone on his company website, askinsosie.comhttps://www.askinosie.com/learn/transparency-report.html (Forbes). These numbers include the yearly bean cost per metric ton, the total paid to farmers per metric ton, and profit share per metric ton (“Transparency Report”). This open book management style shows his internal transparency with sales expenses and net revenues while also sharing the profit outcome (“Transparency Report”). By sharing the numbers with his employees, suppliers, customers, and the general public, he is adding a thick layer of transparency to the cake that is his company. Most companies, like DOVE within Mars Inc., do not share these numbers with employees, suppliers, consumers, and the general public, as they likely worry that consumers will be astonished and turned off by their large profit margins and small prices paid to farmers (“Cocoa: Caring for the Future of Cocoa”). This contrast in value of transparency really sets Askinosie apart from DOVE Chocolate and tends to show that Shawn Askinosie really doesn’t aspire to make his company bigger as much as he aspires to make his product better (Forbes).
Shawn Askinosie, the founder of Askinosie Chocolate is pictured here working with Tenende, Tanzanian farmers (Editor)”.
Shawn Askinosie makes it known to his consumers that he treats the farmers ethically and doesn’t use pesticides in his chocolate farming (Forbes). With that being said, his chocolate isn’t certified organic. The farms may be using other chemicals such as fungicides, for example. It’s also feasible that he simply doesn’t want to pay the fee to be certified organic. The chocolate Shawn Askinosie buys for his company is shade grown and bought through the Direct Trade model (Forbes). In contrast, DOVE does not buy its chocolate through the Direct Trade model. Instead, it buys its chocolate and certifies it through the Rainforest Alliance organization (DOVE). As learned earlier, Rainforest Alliance certification has the intention of branding environmentally friendly products, so by having this certification for its dark chocolate, DOVE is declaring that it has more ethically sourced chocolate than most brands of chocolate that do not have this certification. However, we also learned earlier that the ability for a company to be granted certification through the Rainforest Alliance can be superficial and hasty (Martin). Furthermore, it is known that DOVE Chocolate only has Rainforest Certification for its dark chocolate, not all of its chocolate.
DOVE Chocolate has made efforts to be more ethical through its collaboration with CARE, a global poverty-fighting organization (“DOVE® Chocolate & CARE® Continue Work To Empower Female Farmers In Cote D’Ivoire”). By May of 2017, almost 2,000 women and men in the cocoa farming industry in Cote d’Ivoire joined the CARE Village Savings and Loan Associations, or the VSLA (“DOVE® Chocolate & CARE® Continue Work To Empower Female Farmers In Cote D’Ivoire”). CARE and DOVE partnered together in 1991 to begin the VSLA in Niger with the intentions of establishing a place where people can save their money and be granted small loans (“DOVE® Chocolate & CARE® Continue Work To Empower Female Farmers In Cote D’Ivoire”). This was all in an attempt to broaden opportunities for business development within the farming communities (“DOVE® Chocolate & CARE® Continue Work To Empower Female Farmers In Cote D’Ivoire”). DOVE and CARE have made efforts to give women more equal opportunities in the business realm through the VSLA (“DOVE® Chocolate & CARE® Continue Work To Empower Female Farmers In Cote D’Ivoire”). By 2017, there were 70 VSLA groups established in Cote d’Ivoire (“DOVE® Chocolate & CARE® Continue Work To Empower Female Farmers In Cote D’Ivoire”).
Furthermore, DOVE Chocolate, as clarified on Mars Inc. website, has set a goal to have 100% of its chocolate certified by 2020 (“Cocoa: Caring for the Future of Cocoa”). These certifications include Rainforest Alliance, UTZ Certified, and Fair Trade (“Cocoa: Caring for the Future of Cocoa”). While this aspiration is promising for the Mars Inc. company at large and DOVE Chocolate specifically, it is an aspiration that has yet to be achieved (“Cocoa: Caring for the Future of Cocoa”). It seems likely that some large chocolate corporations will create their own certification organizations to certify their chocolate (Martin). Given the large corporation that is Mars Inc., it is very feasible that Mars Inc. will implement this new standard. Only time will tell whether or not this comes to fruition.
It is evident that Askinosie Chocolate does a better job at being transparent in its processes of buying and producing chocolate when compared to the practices of DOVE Chocolate. Askinosie has a website page, https://www.askinosie.com/learn/direct-trade.html, about its Direct Trade model and how they put this into action (“Direct Trade”). While the Direct Trade model of Askinosie Chocolate has its limitations such as its difficulty in execution, the Direct Trade model is more comprehensive than Rainforest Alliance in regards to their ethics. Both companies make efforts to give farmers equal opportunities to some capacity – whether that is through attention to fair wages or access to loans. DOVE Chocolate, for example, was the first to start Cocoa Development Centers in Asia and Africa where they trained farmers to help them increase their wages and level of sustainability (DOVE). However, given the nature of a Direct Trade alliance between a producer and farmer, in the end, Askinosie Chocolate comes out to be more ethical than DOVE Chocolate.
The next question to ask is: Which chocolate would a consumer be more inclined to purchase when considering the history, ethics, and expenses, among other things, of the chocolate company? Since purchase price and taste motivate consumers possibly more than ethical production, perhaps this is something to chew on.
Browne, A W, et al. “Organic Production and Ethical Trade: Definition, Practice and Links.” Science Direct, Elsevier, Feb. 2000, http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0306919299000755.
Forbes, director. Askinosie Chocolate: Meet The Criminal Defense Lawyer-Turned-Chocolatier | Forbes. Youtube, Forbes, 10 May 2017, www.youtube.com/watch?v=2kNfUa5VUKY.
Editor. “Bean-To-Bar Chocolate Makers Dare To Bare How It’s Done.” KCUR, 14 Feb. 2013, kcur.org/post/bean-bar-chocolate-makers-dare-bare-how-its-done#stream/0.
“Cocoa: Caring for the Future of Cocoa.” Mars, Incorporated, www.mars.com/global/sustainable-in-a-generation/our-approach-to-sustainability/raw-materials/cocoa.
“Direct Trade.” Askinosie Chocolate, www.askinosie.com/learn/direct-trade.html.
DOVE. “Choose Pleasure.” DOVE® Chocolate, dovechocolate.com/tagged/dove.
“Dove (Chocolate).” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 26 Apr. 2018, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dove_(chocolate).
“DOVE® Chocolate & CARE® Continue Work To Empower Female Farmers In Cote D’Ivoire.” PR Newswire, Mars Chocolate North America, 22 May 2017, www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/dove-chocolate–care-continue-work-to-empower-female-farmers-in-cote- divoire-300461025.html.
“Fair Trade vs. Direct Trade.” Goodnow Farms Chocolate, 22 Feb. 2017, goodnowfarms.com/blog/fair-trade-vs-direct-trade/.
Factsheet Rainforest Alliance. Forum, Nov. 2017, http://www.forumpalmoel.org/imglib/downloads/Factsheet_Rainforest Alliance_en.pdf.
Martin, Carla D. “Alternative Trade and Virtuous Localization/Globalization.” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food, 4 Apr. 2018, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
“Our Story.” Askinosie Chocolate, www.askinosie.com/learn/our-story.html.
Sylla, Ndongo Samba. The Fair Trade Scandal: Marketing Poverty to Benefit the Rich. The Fair Trade Scandal: Marketing Poverty to Benefit the Rich, Ohio University Press, 2014. Translated by David Clément Leye
“Transparency Report.” Askinosie Chocolate, 1 Nov. 2017, www.askinosie.com/learn/ transparency-report.html.