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Chocolate as a Pedagogical Tool for Teaching about Race and Racism: A High School Lesson Plan

TLDR: The following is a 2-3 day lesson plan for high school educators adapted from and inspired by Dr. Carla Martin’s course “Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food” at Harvard University. The main goal of this lesson plan is to develop students’ contemporary understandings of race and racism by situating this knowledge within the historical processes of colonization, slavery, and racial representation—through chocolate! Students should already have basic knowledge about the world geography, colonization of the Americas, chattel slavery, and the Jim Crow era.

Background for Teachers

What’s the big deal about chocolate?

Chocolate is a unsung hero of many of our everyday lives in America, especially in the lives of young people who always appreciate a chocolate candy bar after a long day of school, some chocolate cake after they’ve finished their vegetables at dinner, or a waffle cone full of chocolate ice cream on a hot summer day. If chocolate is ever controversial, it is because we may disagree with our friends or family members about whether white chocolate versus milk chocolate versus dark chocolate is the best, or in deciding if it’s really that much worth it to spend a few extra dollars on a Dove bar over a Hershey’s in the supermarket checkout line. However, what if we step back and begin to think about how chocolate got to the checkout line, on our plate, or in a waffle cone? What if we begin to think about chocolate as something that is cultural, political, social, and historical? Why in our society, for example, do we use the word “chocolate” to describe dark skin? What might chocolate be able to tell us about social phenomena like race and racism when we dig a little deeper? In fact, to understand race and racism through the lens of chocolate—something that seems like such a mundane yet integral part of our everyday lives—allows us to understand, as Michael Omi and Howard Winant tell us, how race and racism indeed shapes all part of our society and our identities. [1]

This is where Dr. Carla Martin steps in. Dr. Martin is a lecturer in the Department of African and American Studies at Harvard as well as the founder and executive director of the Fine Cacao and Chocolate Institute (FCCI), an organization which works to advance quality products and ethical practices in chocolate supply chains, especially issues related to unfair treatment of Black and Brown farmers in Africa and Central America. In her work and studies, Dr. Martin looks at the historical and global processes of colonization and harmful labor practices in the rise of chocolate production and consumption, predominantly focused on the people of Central America and West Africa. Through a disciplinary approach—combining anthropology, sociology, economics, history, political science, biology, African American studies, Latinx studies, and more—she teaches about the history of growing cacao (the plant used to make chocolate), chocolate’s changing cultural meanings from days of Aztecs and Mayans to being eaten by people around the world today, the relationship between the European colonization of Mesomerica and the rise of slavery to the global chocolate market today being controlled by only a few companies which often treat Black and Brown cacao farmers unfairly, and the ways that we have understood and represented race in and through this history to the contemporary moment. Her class at Harvard, called “Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food,” is extremely popular. Incentivized by weekly chocolate tastings, this course brings together a unique group of students, many of whom are white and middle-class, that typically wouldn’t take a class focused on questions of race and racism.

Schools in the United States can be understood as institutions of knowledge and identity formation which have historically been both constituted by and constitutive of meanings of race since the moment European colonizers began eliminating Indigenous people and enslaving Africans on this land, Bettina Love calling them “spaces of Whiteness”—Black and Indigenous people have nonetheless remained resistant and resilient, forging since their own institutions of knowledge and collective identity, which included establishing the public school system in the American South.[2-5] Nevertheless, the dominant mode of American schooling has always been one that seeks to do away with Indigenous culture and sensibilities, disempower and exploit Black people, and uphold ideals and systems that privilege white people. Talking specifically about the logic of whiteness in schooling/formation of knowledge, Du Bois writes, “How easy, then, by emphasis and omission to make children believe that every great soul the world ever saw was a white man’s soul; that every great thought the world ever knew was a white man’s thought; that every great deed the world ever did was a white man’s deed; that every great dream the world ever sang was a white man’s dream.”[6] A decade later, Carter G. Woodson would echo Du Bois’ sentiment, writing, “Why not exploit, enslave, or exterminate a class that everybody is taught to regard as inferior? There would be no lynching if it did not start in the classroom.”[7] What Du Bois and Woodson are fundamentally pointing to, and what I am presupposing in my own argument here, is that, as Jarvis Givens puts it, “violence inflicted upon Black bodies” by white people originates “at the level of ideas and knowledge.”[8] Thus, the intervention that Dr. Martin makes through her course allows us think about how chocolate can be used as a salient pedagogical tool for constructing anti-racist knowledge not only at the university level, but for all learners, especially in spaces that are white and middle-class.

Why teach about Race and Racism?

More than 150 years since Emancipation and half a century since the Civil Rights Movement and social transformation out of the Jim Crow order, racism continues to structure American society. Today, life in the United States is characterized by what Michael Omi and Howard Winant call racial hegemony, that is whereas the nation’s past was characterized by violent, legally-explicit domination of Black and Brown people (such as through forced labor and lynching), racism today exists in the form of colorblind racism.[9] While many people, particularly white Americans, use phrases such as “I don’t see color” to express that they try to treat everyone with understanding and compassion regardless of their racial identity, not recognizing the racial identities of others in our communities—Black and Brown people especially—can signal that we don’t see the histories and social barriers that play a role in the challenges they may face or unique cultural contributions they contribute.[10-11] By doing so in the context of education, we engage in ways of teaching that alienate and disempower Black and Brown students while socializing white students into thinking that their privileges are inherent and that racism does not exist in our contemporary moment and—therefore—does not need to be challenged beyond being friendly to people of all races.[12] However, in a contemporary era of mass incarceration, the Black-White wealth gap, disparities for Black and Brown people in healthcare and education, widespread white nationalist politics, and the continued enslavement/exploitation of Black and Brown in global supply chains, it is crucial that educators reckon with the ways we are teaching our youth about race and racism and, just as importantly, thinking about these issues ourselves. As sociologists Michael Omi and Howard Winant tell us, “We cannot step outside of race and racism, since our society and our identities are constituted by them; we live in racial history.”[13] All things considered—as Black and Brown educational leaders such as Frederick Douglass, Anna Julia Cooper, Carter G. Woodson, Bob Moses, and Bettina Love have modeled for us throughout U.S. history—educators can do their part to challenge racism today by teaching more critical approaches to history and society that 1.) acknowledge that racism is real today and plays a role in all parts of our lives, 2.) examine the history and dynamics of racism as a human creation organized around arbitrary meanings assigned to differences in human bodies in order to justify economic oppression that especially benefits white elites, and 3.) give students the knowledge and tools needed to be identify contemporary racism and challenge it in their schools and communities. Drawing from the example set by Dr. Martin, chocolate is a creative way that we may be able to do that.

Resources for teaching about race and racism.

Lesson Plan

Introductory Activity: Unpacking Assumptions about Race, Racism, and Chocolate

Live word clouds by Poll Everywhere are an fun, interactive, and effective way to introduce a new topic to your students, especially one as complex as this. Students, of course, bring their own assumptions, experiences, and associations into the classroom about any topic, and this approach allows you to draw out what those perspectives are so that you may reference and unpack them throughout your lesson.

ChocolateWordCloud

As I discussed in the introduction, chocolate is thought of in our society as something that is ahistorical, apolitical, and acultural; however, many us of do have very personal memories, feelings, and preferences in regards to the sweet treat. This gives your students an opportunity to showcase those and begin thinking about the role of chocolate in their contemporary lives. The same applies to issues of race and racism.

  • You may consider posing questions like this in the following order. After each question, pause to discuss the word cloud that was generated, paying attention to what words/concepts seem to be the most prevalent in the classroom but also those that may be unique:
    • “What words or phrases come to your mind when you hear the word the word ‘chocolate’?”
    • “What words or phrases come to your mind when your hear the word ‘race’?”
    • “What words or phrases come to your mind when you hear the word ‘racism’?”
  • While inputting their responses, encourage students to think about the feelings, memories, images, preferences, movies, TV shows, songs, commercials, and even things they’ve learned in school that they associate with the word.

Part One: Who is Willy, Really? The Racist Origins of The Chocolate Factory.

To begin this lesson, you will be discussing this clip from the 2005 film Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. As explored below, the novel and film have racist origins that problematically normalize slavery and mock indigenous cultures as it relates to cacao’s origins and the production of chocolate.[14] You can read more about that from David Yacovone whose work I will draw from below. In addition to showing this one clip, you may dedicate an additional class period or homework assignment to viewing the entire film before the start of the lesson.

  • Begin by asking students to raise their hands if they are familiar with the story of Charlie and The Chocolate Factory; that could be the 1971 film, the 2005 film with Johnny Depp, or the original 1964 children’s book by Roald Dahl. Now have a student volunteer summarize the plot. You will probably hear back that five children, including Charlie, won golden tickets to tour Willy Wonka’s secretive chocolate factory; after each child except for Charlie failed to impress Wonka, they were each taken away by Oompa Loompas, leaving Charlie to inherit the factory.
    • Ask your students to describe the Oompa Loompas. Most of us know them as the small, brown or orange, Wonka factory workers that sing catchy tunes as they whisk away the naughty children who have failed to meet Willy’s standards.
    • Have your students break into pairs, brainstorm what the lives of the Oompa Loompas are like, and then share out to the group: How did they get to the factory? How much are they paid, and what kinds of benefits might they receive? Where are their families? How do you think they feel about their jobs? What are their individual personalities and lives like? What is their relationship to the chocolate their producing?
  • Introduce the YouTube clip “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Loompa Land” from the 2005 film in which Wonka explains how he came into contact with the Oompa Loompas while exploring Loompaland.[15] Post chart paper in four different locations of the classroom with the following quotes and related questions on them. Break students into four, pre-established groups; have them discuss and write out their responses on the sheets for 7-10 minutes.
    • “What a terrible country it is… The whole place is nothing but thick jungles, infested by the most dangerous beasts in the entire world.” How does Wonka represent Loompaland? What other countries do Americans often stereotype this way? Do you feel that it is wrong for Wonka, who is an outsider, to describe to another country this way, especially based on such a limited experience there?
    • “I went to Loompaland looking for exotic new flavors for candy. Instead, I found the Oompa Loompas.” What was Wonka’s primary motive for going to Loompaland? Think about it from his perspective as a business owner from another country. What might be wrong with Wonka saying he “found” the Oompa Loompas? Were they ever actually “missing”? How might the Oompa Loompas feel about a stranger coming to take their country’s plants, especially the cocoa beans that they view as sacred/religious, for his own financial gain?
    • “The Oompa Loompas ate nothing but green caterpillars, which tasted revolting. But the food they longed for most was the cocoa bean. An Oompa Loompa was lucky if he found three of four cocoa beans a year. But oh how they craved them. And all they’d ever think about was cocoa beans.” The film then shows Oompas Loompas bowing down to worship the cocoa beans and dancing around it headpieces made from cocoa pods. How does Wonka represent the food and culture of the Oompa Loompas? How does he use their love of cocoa beans to his own advantage? What does Wonka taking the cocoa beans and selling them for his own financial gain mean for the sacred/religious value that the Oompa Loompas place on them?
    • Speaking to the chief in Loompaland, Wonka says, “Come live in my factory. You can have all the cocoa beans you want! I will even pay your wages in cocoa beans if you wish!” Reflecting on that memory, he tells the family in his factory, “They are such wonderful workers.” How does the film represent the Oompa Loompas’ language? Why do you think the Oompa Loompas now sing in English when they initially spoke the language of Loompaland? How does Wonka use their love of cocoa beans to his own advantage? What purpose do the Oompa Loompas have for Wonka? Based on the way he represented their country, their food, and their language, do you think he actually values their culture or just their ability to work and produce chocolate for him?
  • Go around the room and have each group share out some of the key points from their quote discussion for 3-5 minutes each.
  • Have students return to their desks. Share the following with them:

As some of you have discussed in your responses to the clip, Willy Wonka represents the Oompa Loompas and Loompaland through unfair stereotypes and uses them for his own advantage while doing it.[16] However, it is important that we realize that this just isn’t the case of one character in a movie, but actually represents a longer real history of how people in the United States and Europe represent certain people and their cultures and have taken advantage of them—or exploited and appropriated them—for our own enjoyment and financial gain, particularly as it relates to chocolate.[17] As some of you may have gathered from our discussions so far, in our real world, these are the unfair, often inaccurate, racist ways in which we represent the people of African and Latin American descent, the people who we do actually have to thank for the chocolate we enjoy today.[18] That’s something that we will be exploring in the rest of our lesson.

Nonetheless, these racist representations were not a coincidence to the story of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and were intentionally written in by the author Roald Dahl when he published the book in 1964, a time when Black and Brown people around the world were engaging in social movements to challenge white supremacy, racism, and poverty; such as the Civil Rights Movement, Black Power, and the American Indian Movement here in the United States. Historian David Yacovone tells us that Dahl originally wrote the Oompa Loompas in as enslaved Africans.[19] The following image, in fact, shows how they were illustrated in the 1964 edition of the book:[20]

OompaLoompas

According to Yacovone:[20]

When Charlie and the four other golden ticket holders and their parents first spied the Oompa-Loompas Wonka explained that the workers were not made of chocolate, but they “are real people! They are some of my workers!” They belonged to “a tribe of tiny miniature pygmies known as Oompa-Loompas. I discovered them myself,” Wonka exclaimed. I brought them over from Africa myself—the whole tribe of them, three thousand in all. I found them in the very deepest and darkest part of the African jungle where no white man had ever been before.”

After luring them in with the promise of endless cocoa beans, according to Yacovone:[20]

Wonka “shipped them over here, every man, woman, and child in the Oompa-Loompa tribe. It was easy. I smuggled them over in large packing cases with holes in them, and they all got here safely.”

Once enslaved and shipped over to England in way similar to that of real enslaved Africans on the Middle Passage, Wonka not only forced them to do labor in his factory for nothing but beans in return and no chance of leaving or asking for more, but he also performed unethical experiments on them at his own leisure, such as turning them into blueberries.[23] This treatment reflects the real violent ways that enslaved Black and Brown people have been treated by Europeans and the United States in the production of chocolate both historically and even in many ways in today’s world.[24-25] Eventually, Dahl would revise this racist representation in his story in 1982 after decades of criticism from the NAACP, but he continued to use such racist representations in other stories, and as we just saw, those representations continue to circulate through the 2005 film, one the most popular movies about chocolate in our contemporary lives.[26] By not questioning the meanings behind these representations, as you all have done so well today, and understanding their histories, we hide the ways in which Black and Brown people still experience racism in our world today. To learn this history, we can all do our part to create a world without racism and poverty.

Part Two: Culture, Colonization, Slavery, and Chocolate Bars: How Chocolate Went from Something Sacred to Something Bittersweet

In part two, I will work with Professor Martin to further develop this lesson plan to include the cultural and spiritual significance of cacao in ancient Mesoamerican culture, the fundamental role of colonization and slavery in appropriation and production of chocolate in the Global North (drawing on my earlier blog post in the course), and the inequality and role of consumers in global chocolate production today.

Part Three: How to Recognize and Respond to Racism Today

To wrap up the lesson, teachers will revisit the earlier considerations around race and racism in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, examining chocolate’s broader use as a racist metaphor for Blackness in the twenty and twenty-first centuries. To end, students will again respond via live word clouds to the initial questions, comparing their original word clouds to the newly-enlightened ones, and the teacher will discuss ways for students to challenge racism in their lives today, which may include: creating a community action project to address an issue of racial inequality in their community in partnership with a local chocolate shop/producer, starting a reading/discussion group to talk about issues related to race and racism, starting a “Chocolate Week” to educate their school or community on the history of chocolate and celebrate/support the producers who we have to thank for it, implementing strategies to call out and change racist behaviors or representations. To celebrate their new knowledge, students should have a chance to enjoy ethically-sourced chocolate at the conclusion of the lesson!

Endnotes

[1] Michael Omi and Howard Winant, Racial Formation in the United States, 3rd ed. (New York, Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group, 2015), 137.

[2] Patrick Wolfe, “Settler Colonialism and the Elimination of the Native,” Journal of Genocide Research 8, no. 4 (2006), 392.

[3] Wolfe, “Settler Colonialism and the Elimination of the Native,”  399.

[4] Heather Andrea Williams, Self-taught: African American Education in Slavery and Freedom, John Hope Franklin Series in African American History and Culture (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2005), 13.

[5] Bettina Love, We Want To Do More Than Survive: Abolitionist Teaching and the Pursuit of Educational Freedom (Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 2019), 13.

[6] W. E. B. Du Bois, “The Souls of White Folk,” Monthly Review 55, no. 6 (2003):  46.

[7] Sylvia Wynter,  “No Humans Involved: An Open Letter to My Colleagues,” Forum H.H.I. Knowledge for the 21st Century 1, no. 1 (Fall 1994): 57-59.

[8] Jarvis R. Givens, “‘There Would Be No Lynching If It Did Not Start in the Schoolroom’: Carter G. Woodson and the Occasion of Negro History Week, 1926–1950,” American Educational Research Journal (2019): 9.

[9] Omi and Winant, Racial Formation, 132, 211.

[10] Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, Racism Without Racists: Color-blind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in America, 5th ed. (Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield, 2017), 2-4.

[11] “Color Blindness,” Teaching Tolerance, accessed May 07, 2019, https://www.tolerance.org/professional-development/color-blindness.

[12] Bettina Love, We Want to Do More Than Survive: Abolitionist Teaching and the Pursuit of Educational Freedom (Boston: Beacon Press, 2019), 14.

[13] Omi and Winant, Racial Formation, 137.

[14] Donald Yacovone, “Oh No! The Depressing Truth About the Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory Workers,” History News Network, December 30, 2018, accessed May 3, 2019, https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/170755.

[15-16] “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Loompa Land,” Youtube video, 3:41, “Willy Wonka,” January 16, 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pQ5GgslLgVQ.

[17] Sophie D. Coe and Michael D. Coe, The True History of Chocolate, 3rd ed. (New York City, NY: Thames & Hudson, 2013).

[18] Jack Bareilles, “Women, Gays, and Other Voices of Resistance,” Zinn Education Project, 2011, accessed May 13, 2019, https://www.zinnedproject.org/materials/women-gays-and-other-voices-of-resistance/.

[19-23] Yacovone, “Oh No! The Depressing Truth,” https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/170755.

[24] Coe and Coe, The True History of Chocolate, 186-196.

[25] Sidney W. Mintz, Sweetness and Power (New York, NY: Viking, 1985): 169-176.

[26] Yacovone, “Oh No! The Depressing Truth,” https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/170755.

Bibliography

“Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Loompa Land.” Youtube video, 3:41. “Willy Wonka,” January 16, 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pQ5GgslLgVQ.

Bareilles, Jack. “Women, Gays, and Other Voices of Resistance.” Zinn Education Project. 2011. Accessed May 13, 2019. https://www.zinnedproject.org/materials/women-gays-and-other-voices-of-resistance/.

Bonilla-Silva, Eduardo. Racism without Racists: Color-blind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in America. Fifth ed. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2018.

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. 3rd ed. New York City, NY: Thames & Hudson, 2013.

Du Bois, W. E. B. “The Souls of White Folk.” Monthly Review 55, no. 6 (2003):  44-58.

Givens, Jarvis R. “‘There Would Be No Lynching If It Did Not Start in the Schoolroom’: Carter G. Woodson and the Occasion of Negro History Week, 1926–1950.” American Educational Research Journal (2019): 1-38.

Love, Bettina. We Want To Do More Than Survive: Abolitionist Teaching and the Pursuit of Educational Freedom. Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 2019.

Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power. New York, NY: Viking, 1985.

Omi, Michael, and Howard Winant. Racial Formation in the United States. Third ed. New York: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group, 2015.

Williams, Heather Andrea. Self-taught: African American Education in Slavery and Freedom. John Hope Franklin Series in African American History and Culture. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2005.

Wolfe, Patrick. “Settler Colonialism and the Elimination of the Native.” Journal of Genocide Research 8, no. 4 (2006): 387-409.

Wynter, Sylvia.  “No Humans Involved: An Open Letter to My Colleagues.” Forum H.H.I. Knowledge for the 21st Century 1, no. 1 (Fall 1994): 42-73.

Yacovone, Donald. “Oh No! The Depressing Truth About the Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory Workers.” History News Network. December 30, 2018. Accessed May 3, 2019. https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/170755.

Child Labor in Ivorian Cocoa Production: An Economic Problem

Children join farmers in breaking cocoa pods on an Ivory Coast farm (Lowy 2016).

In the 1990’s, evidence of child trafficking in the cocoa–producing sector of Africa came to light. The issue gained global notoriety in 2000 when BBC released a documentary on the use of enslaved children on cocoa farms in some of West Africa’s top cocoa-producing countries. Outraged at this injustice, a strong movement to end child slavery rose in response. Bills such as the Harkin–Engel Protocol were passed, global powers pressured West African governments to intervene, and consumers began to demand chocolate made with ethically sourced cocoa beans or boycotted the good altogether. As researchers and reporters began to scrutinize the issue, however, it became clear that child labor was a far more complex problem than originally depicted. In 2009, a study conducted by Tulane University revealed that of the millions of children working on cocoa farms in West Africa, less than 0.5% were coerced into employment by a non–relative (Satyarthi 2016). While any form of child slavery is unacceptable, this study shows there is more to the issue of child labor than the purely malicious and immoral abuse of children.

Child labor in Cote D’Ivoire’s cocoa farming sector is an economic problem for two reasons. Most children in Cote D’Ivoire are “employed” on the farms of their own families. Cocoa farming is extremely labor–intensive, but the margins earned on cocoa beans are very slim. Cocoa farmers have come to rely on help from their children as cheap or free labor to survive on the little profit they are able to derive from production. Working on the family’s cocoa farm is seen as a much more beneficial use of children’s time than a formal education not only for the family’s economic needs but for the child’s future as well. It is a traditional practice to teach children the skills they need to one day take ownership of the family’s cocoa farm. This essay argues child labor is an economic problem on two fronts. Ivorian cocoa farmers need help from their children to meet the family’s financial needs, and the skills children gain from working on cocoa farms is seen as the best way parents can prepare their children for economic success in the future.

While cocoa farming requires intensive labor and maintenance, cocoa does not earn much revenue. Cocoa production is dominated by millions of smallholder farmers across the globe. Most cocoa is supplied by farmers in West Africa. In particular, Cote D’Ivoire is the world’s largest producer of cocoa, growing 40 percent of the global cocoa supply (Leissle 2018, 4). While the global market value of the chocolate industry is valued at $100 billion, the cocoa industry is only valued at $12 billion (7). Split between millions of farmers growing limited yields of cocoa, West African cocoa farmers have been found to make as little as $0.84 per day (117). While price levels might be lower in West African countries than more developed countries such as the US, the differential is not so great that living on such a small amount of money per day does not mean living in poverty. To further illustrate this point, a study found that cocoa farmers tend to be less well off than the general population in Cote D’Ivoire, and poverty is higher among cocoa farmers than in the general population across all measures tested (Katayama et al. 2017, 9). The economics of cocoa farming and financial challenges that often arise in cocoa production has made cocoa farming fertile grounds for child labor.  

Income from cocoa farming is seasonal and very volatile, placing rigid liquidity restraints on cocoa farmers. Cocoa farmers typically only receive income twice a year, which is once during the main harvest and once during the light crop season. Farmers therefore earn as much as 80% of their earnings from cocoa at one point in a year. Women in the family can often earn petty cash in the off-seasons through selling subsistence goods or homemade crafts in local markets to supplement the lack of cash flow in the rest of the year. The main source of income is from the main harvest of cocoa, however, making budgeting and saving very difficult (Leissle 2018, 106). In addition, the revenue a farmer makes per year is also variable due to differences in annual yields and prices. Both yields and prices are subject to environmental factors such as rainfall, temperature, and crop disease. Cocoa farmers are also extremely vulnerable to income shocks. Farmers have low credibility due to income volatility and low cash flow for a majority of the year, and few people in rural Cote D’Ivoire use or even have access to bank accounts. Farmers must often resort to shark loans with interest rates as high as 100% to pay for hospital bills, making debt accumulation a dangerous yet common financial hardship for cocoa producers (Ryan 2011, 60). Due to tough liquidity constraints and few ways to smooth consumption, cocoa farmers often live hand–to–mouth in constant economic uncertainty.

In Cote D’Ivoire, the “pisteurs” purchase cocoa directly from the village and bring the beans to a warehouse in a regional city. The beans are then sold to exporters. The offloading of beans at the middleman’s warehouse is pictured here (Neuhaus 2006).

On top of the inconsistency of earnings, cocoa farmers have little market power and live off extremely low profit margins. The cocoa market in Cote D’Ivoire is an inverted pyramid made of many local farmers, middlemen, and exporters. To sell cocoa, farmers must package cocoa beans and take the produce to the village middleman. These middlemen, who are licensed by the government, are used because it is illegal in Cote D’Ivoire for exporters to interact directly with farmers. A study on Cote D’Ivoire’s cocoa market reports while there are nearly one million cocoa farmers in the country, there are only 1,000 licensed middlemen, creating a huge distortion of market power (Kireyev 2010, 5). The study finds Ivorian producers received, on average, no more than 41 percent of the world price for cocoa in 2001–2009, which is the lowest share in West Africa and plausibly the world (8). Most cocoa farmers grow small farms of 3 hectares with yields as little as 137.5 kg per hectare (Ryan 2011, 59). Coupled with depressed prices, cocoa farming revenue is extremely low.

A young boy uses a machete to break cocoa pods at a farm in eastern Cote D’Ivoire (Lowy 2016).

Cocoa farming is also an extremely labor–intensive business. Farmers must harvest cocoa by climbing cocoa trees, hacking down and breaking open pods with the brute force of a machete to obtain the valuable beans inside. Kilograms of beans must be carried from place to place while they are fermented, dried, and packaged for sale. Even outside of harvesting, cocoa farms must be meticulously maintained and protected by weeding the soil, pruning and fertilizing trees, and planting new seedlings. This labor is not only physically demanding but costly. Cocoa farmers must also pay for capital such as fertilizers, drying racks, and new seedlings. With little revenue to begin with, the costs of capital and labor are high relative to total earnings. Cocoa farmers need the cheapest workers possible, which is often their own family and children, to keep up with the labor demands of cocoa farming (Ryan 2011, 59–60). There is therefore immense economic pressure on cocoa farmers to resort to child labor to cut costs enough to survive. Liquidity constraints, low revenue, and high costs of production have not only made living on cocoa extremely difficult but also limited farmers’ options on how they can make cocoa production economically sustainable.

Many cocoa farmers also believe it is more beneficial to their children’s future economic success to have the children work on the family’s cocoa farm than to have them receive a formal education. In Cote D’Ivoire and many African countries, work is seen as a rite of passage for children, especially young men, and as a tool for socialization. Much of the work assigned is seen as appropriate for the child’s age. For example, the youngest children work by helping to maintain the home or cultivate a farm plot. This work, called “child work,” is considered an “acceptable” participation in subsistence and training for the child’s future life. In Cote D’Ivoire and many developing countries in general, parents and grandparents have often not received a formal education. They therefore place emphasis on learning through work rather than school because they know for sure that children will receive the skills and training they need to successfully work on the farm, and the child is guaranteed a job working on the farm in the future. Meanwhile, receiving a formal education does not necessarily lead to a good job or guarantee a job at all (Buono and Babo 2013). Child labor is therefore not considered an issue in most African countries but a social norm. In fact, Kielland and Tovo (2006) and Guessous (2002) argue that child labor is perceived by parents as a sure guarantee for their future.

Since life in rural Cote D’Ivoire is very difficult, the first imperative of most families is to teach children the skills they need to be autonomous and not dependent on any family members from as early an age as possible. The mortality rate in rural Cote D’Ivoire is high, and parents want their children to be able to survive in the event that there is no one to care for them. In this vein, the work of the land represents and remains the most effective protection against hunger. According to Buono and Babo (2013), “It is one of the rules that the adult teaches the child: ‘to sit’, to do nothing, is to die of hunger,” while growing food or cash crops such as cocoa and rubber that can always be sold for money is guaranteed to provide sustenance and income. It is not that cocoa farming and rural families in general see no value in formal education, however. In an ideal situation, most families want their children to both go to school and learn by working on the farm. These families acutely realize how valuable a formal education is (Buono and Babo 2013). One Ivorian farmer who was unable to attend school due to work demands at home stated, “Being an illiterate has cost me in so many ways…. I feel I am missing a lot” (Ryan 2011, 46). If a child does not attend school, oftentimes it is because the child is desperately needed to work at home. Additionally, if a choice must be made between formal schooling and learning farming skills, knowing how to work the land is seen as a much higher imperative, as this is most important survival skill a child can learn. Child labor is present on cocoa farms because learning how to work the land is seen as an imperative part of a child’s upbringing and a necessary skill for survival.

Halima, 10, used to work in the cocoa fields. Now, she’s in her first year of school and dreams of becoming a teacher (Vigneault-Dubois 2014).

The issue of child labor in Ivorian cocoa farms is extremely complex. In the first place, one must define how child labor is an issue, as many children are employed not only to help their families but also ensure their own survival and success in the future. Berlan (2013) defines child labor as an issue when working on the farm prevents the child from receiving a formal education or the work is harmful or hazardous to the child’s health. In most cases, children are prevented from receiving an education due to economic constraints. Cocoa farmers not only need the children’s help to sustain the cocoa farm but also cannot afford to send them to school. To help combat this conflict of interest, in 2010 UNICEF and the Government of Côte d’Ivoire launched a program covering the school fees of children of struggling cocoa farmers. As seen above, this program has met with significant success (Vigneault-Dubois 2014). Similar programs have been implemented by other major players in the cocoa industry. The World Cocoa Foundation and chocolate manufacturing giant Mars, for example, implemented a program in several cocoa farming villages in Cote D’Ivoire that incentivized cocoa farming families to enroll their children in formal education by providing children free lunches at school (PR Newswire 2015). While many of these programs are still small and new, they have proven to be very effective solutions to harmful child labor.

Examining Brazil’s cocoa–chocolate supply chain gives insight into how child labor arises and potential solutions to stop it.

Child labor in cocoa production is not a phenomenon unique to Cote D’Ivoire. Many cocoa–producing countries around the globe suffer from this issue. Brazil, for example, is the second–largest producer of cocoa beans in South America and has as many as 8,000 children working on cocoa farms (Picolotto et al. 2018). As discussed in the video above, child labor is a problem in Brazil for similar reasons as it is in Cote D’Ivoire. For example, one of the reasons why child labor is prevalent in Brazil is because of the low price paid to producers by middlemen and families’ economic need for children to work on the cocoa farm rather than attend school. Several solutions to this issue are proposed, including shortening the chocolate supply chain and improving producers’ coordination and organization to ameliorate the disparity in market power. Just as the issue and economic drivers of child labor are not unique to Cote D’Ivoire, successful programs implemented in Cote D’Ivoire might also work in Brazil. Similarly, the solutions proposed in this video could viably be applied in Cote D’Ivoire. The issue of child labor is complicated, but by better understanding the economic problems that drive harmful child labor, more effective solutions can be derived and implemented to eventually eradicate the worst instances of this issue.

Bibliography

Berlan, Amanda. 2013. “Social Sustainability in Agriculture: An Anthropological Perspective on Child Labour in Cocoa Production in Ghana.” The Journal of Development Studies 49 (8): 1088-100.

Buono, Clarisse, and Alfred Babo. 2013. “Travail des enfants dans les exploitations de cacao en Côte d’Ivoire. Pour une réconciliation entre normes locales et normes internationales autour du « bic », du balai et de la machette.” Mondes en developpement 163 (3): 69–84.

Grier, Beverly. 2004. “Child Labor and Africanist Scholarship: A Critical Overview.” African Studies Review 47 (2): 1–25. http://dx.doi.org.ezp-prod1.hul.harvard.edu/10.1017/S0002020600030833.

Guessous, Chakib. 2002. L’exploitation De L’innocence : Le Travail Des Enfants Au Maroc. Casablanca: EDDIF.

Katayama, Roy, Andrew Dabalen, Essama Nssah, and Guy Morel Amouzou Agbe. 2017. “Welfare and Poverty Impacts of Cocoa Price Policy Reform in Cote d’Ivoire.” 29625. World Bank Other Operational Studies. The World Bank. https://ideas.repec.org/p/wbk/wboper/29625.html.

Kielland, Anne, and Maurizia Tovo. 2006. Children at Work: Child Labor Practices in Africa.

Kireyev, Alexei. 2010. “Export Tax and Pricing Power: Two Hypotheses on the Cocoa Market in Côte D’Ivoire.” IMF Working Papers 10 (269): 1. https://doi.org/10.5089/9781455210763.001.

Leissle, Kristy. 2018. Cocoa. Resources (Polity Press). Cambridge, England; Medford, Massachusetts: Polity.

Lowy, Michael. March 1, 2016. In “Inside Big Chocolate’s Child Labor Problem.” http://fortune.com/big-chocolate-child-labor/.

Neuhaus, Tom. 2006. OFFLOADING BUSH BEANS. San Pedro, Cote D’Ivoire. https://www.projecthopeandfairness.org/gallery-category.php?id=12.

André Picolotto, Daniel Giovanaz, Julieta Casara, Luara Wandelli Loth, Lúcio Lambranho, Marques Casara, Poliana Dallabrida, Raquel Sabrina, and Tulio Kruse. 2018. “COCOA SUPPLY CHAIN ADVANCES AND CHALLENGES TOWARD THE PROMOTION OF DECENT WORK: A situational analysis.” ILO Working Papers. https://cocoainitiative.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/Cocoa_EN.pdf.

PR Newswire; New York. 2015. “World Cocoa Foundation and Mars, Incorporated Team Up to Provide School Lunches in Cote d’Ivoire Cocoa Communities,” July 17, 2015. http://search.proquest.com/docview/1696890536/abstract/A4E8B3D5D9D04362PQ/1.

Ryan, Orla. 2011. Chocolate Nations : Living and Dying for Cocoa in West Africa. African Arguments. London : New York, NY: Zed ; Distributed in the USA Exclusively by Palgrave Macmillan.Satyarthi, Kailash. 2016. “It’s up to Us All to End Child Labour.” Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. The OECD Observer; Paris, no. 308 (June): 1B,2B,3B,4B,5B. http://dx.doi.org.ezp-prod1.hul.harvard.edu/10.1787/1ce14148-en.

The Future of Sustainable Cacao Practices

The contemporary state of the cacao-chocolate industry is rapidly evolving, and overall seems to be heading in a positive direction. In the past, two separate narratives have been told about chocolate, as discussed in my first blog post here: https://chocolateclass.wordpress.com/2019/03/15/blog-post-the-dark-side-of-cacao/. One tells a romanticized story of chocolate which is portrayed as a food of the gods, holding spiritual healing power, bringing people together socially, and even increasing wealth when used as currency. Simultaneously, a second narrative tells a story of slaves working gruelling conditions to make the romanticized story possible. However, in the contemporary cacao-chocolate industry, the two narratives are coming together to be told as one, which is something that we should be excited about. People are beginning to understand where chocolate is coming from and the processes involved, and people are changing their purchasing decisions accordingly.

In this blog post, we will discuss three different ways in which the two narratives are coming together to create a positive future for the cacao industry. The first is the expanding industry of bean-to-bar chocolate factories, which recognise the dark side of production and strive to make working conditions fair at all levels of the supply chain. Secondly, the United Nations is turning chocolate into more than a food, by creating its own chocolate bar as a symbol of social change. Finally, the fact that chocolate production is becoming a topic of discussion and more people are becoming educated is changing the way people think about cacao production at every level of the industry. 

  1. Bean-to-Bar Chocolate Production 

The first concrete measure we can look at that shows the two narratives coming together is bean-to-bar chocolate production. In the past, a major issue with the production of chocolate has been the disjointed supply chain, where those experiencing slave labour in the early stages of production have no interaction with those selling the product in the final stages. This makes it easy for two different narratives to develop. In various lectures, we discussed the rise of the big five and race for the global market. As seen in this image below, the chocolate packages only told the romanticised story of chocolate, appealing to consumers and leaving out the story of slave labour which was a vial part of the supply chain. “A True History of Chocolate” by Coe and Coe, discusses the immense importance of chocolate from social, religious, medical, and economic perspectives, outlining aspects such as “the food of the gods”, “the Mesoamerican genesis”, and “the Aztecs as the people of the sun” (Coe and Coe, 2013). The wrappers in the big five chocolate companies encapsulate these ideas, appealing to consumers and leaving out an important part of the overall narrative. 

Image 1: The Big Five Chocolate Producers

This is where the importance of bean to bar chocolate production becomes relevant. Here, we will discuss “the small five” companies that are making a big difference. These bean-to-bar companies may not hold as much of the market share as the big five, but they are making huge differences in the way we think about ethical cacao production, and combing the two narratives we have been talking about. The following five examples of bean-to-bar chocolate companies show how they are addressing issues with the supply chain, bringing the narrative of slave labour and the narrative of the shiny wrappers closer together, and improving conditions for those at the beginning of the supply chain.

1. Golden Tree Ghana

Image 2: Golden Tree Ghana



One example we discussed in class is the Golden Tree Ghana which is a cocoa processing company in Ghana. Golden Tree Ghana is a local bean-to-bar producer which makes products including the Akuafo Bar, which is a lemon-flavoured chocolate bar, and very well-know in the region. Golden Tree Ghana also makes chocolate coatings, cocoa, and popular drinks including Alltime and Vitaco. This bean-to-bar chocolate company aims for honesty, transparency, and accountability at every level of the supply chain. While creating a quality product for consumers, they are aware of the dark side of production, and making strides to not only improve working conditions for those producing the cacao, but improving transparency so that consumers know exactly how the products they are buying are being sourced. 

2. Raaka

Raaka is changing the way that consumers view chocolate. On each bar, facts can be found on the inside of the wrapper about where the cacao as purchased, how much they paid for the cacao, and other information about their company. Unlike shiny chocolate wrappers made by other companies such as the big five, this wrapper encapsulates the story of labour, the very thing that makes the production of every bar possible. This company may not be one of the big five, but it is doing big things to transform the cacao industry. Their genuine interest in persuing ethical practices shows through their mission statement: 

“We believe our process should value the community of growers, producers, and makers whose livelihoods depend on cacao and chocolate. It takes an entire village of individuals, literally stretching across cultures and continents, to make every delicious bar. As chocolate makers, we’re at the end of this supply chain closest to the customer. This allows us to tell some of the stories behind each bar we make.” – Raaka.

Image 3: Raaka Wrapper

3. Madecasse

Furthermore, the Brooklyn based company, Madecasse, is produced in Madagascar, but sold in Whole Food shops around America. 

Image 4: Madacasse Chocolate

Madacasse as a company has recognized that there is a lack of transparency in the chocolate industry, especially in big companies. There are thousands of miles and layers of middlemen separating the farmers that grow the cacao, and the consumers who eat it. Hence, it is easy for the two separate narratives to continue simultaneously, with consumers having no idea where their chocolate product is coming from. Madacasse has integrated their company into some of the poorest communities to buy directly from the cacao producers, changing the way chocolate is produced. As a result, farmers are earning more, increasing their quality of life, and the quality of chocolate is being increased for consumers. The following quote from their website shows their belief that Fair trade is not enough, as companies need to really understand the supply chain to create positive change.

“Fair trade is a label. It’s used by large companies, to verify that farmers who live thousands of miles away from where the chocolate is made are paid a fair price for their cocoa (which isn’t actually fair enough to be sustainable).  It’s a top-down approach for companies with an outsourced supply chain.” – Madacasse. 

Madacasse is working from the very bottom of the supply chain, with workers on the ground to make cacao farming as sustainable and as fair as possible. 

4. French Broad Chocolates

Image 5: French Broad Chocolates 

Sourcing sustainably is an integral part of the process for this small bean-to-bar chocolate manufacturer. The employees at French Broad Chocolates spend a great deal of their time with the cacao workers in Central and South American, building relationships and understanding the process of production. Through those relationships, a platform is created to negotiate mutually beneficial wages, so workers can continue their jobs with dignity, pride, and prosperity. Currently, cacao is being sources from Peru, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Guatemela, and produced in a small factory in the mountains of Asheville, North Carolina. Just like the other bean-to-bar companies we have discussed, this company is taking enormous strides in putting the workers at the bottom of the supply chain first and reducing the disparity in the two narratives that have previously been told. 

5. Dandelion

Dandelion adopts a similar approach to the sourcing of their cacao. They strive to work directly with the producers who grow, ferment, and dry the cacao. Just like French Broad Chocolates, the employees at Dandelion travel as frequently as possible to the beginning of the supply chain, to best understand the practices of those producing the cacao, and gain valuable feedback from the workers. Wages for the workers exceed the world market price, as an effort to strengthen relationships with workers, and commit to creating the best and most distinctive cacao possible.

Image 6: Dandelion Chocolates

As seen in these five examples, bean-to-bar chocolate production has the potential to change the way chocolate is made, especially if replicated more times and on a larger scale. Larger production companies, particularly the big five, have dominated the market in the past. But, if they do not change their practices to match the changing views of the consumers, they may not be so dominant in the future. In the 2010’s there were over 230 bean-to-bar craft chocolate makers, and increased demand among consumers for these products (Martin, 2019). The future of chocolate is looking brighter thanks to the innovations of bean-to-bar chocolate producers. Due to the sustainable practices of these companies, the big five are being forced to change the way their companies operate. They are facing enormous social and environmental pressure to become more sustainable, as well as economic pressures. In “Sweetness and Power” by Mintz, it is suggested that companies will change their practices if it means economic benefits (Mintz, 1986). In the 1840’s when slavery and protectionism collided with needs to compete in a widening market, free-trade advocates and government’s motives saw eye to eye as interests aligned. When it means staying competitive in the market, companies will change their practices. Companies will seek economic benefits, and if moving to sustainable practices will attract more consumers, then it is an advantage for all involved. An example of this is Mars, who are now investing more than $1 billion to make a more sustainable cacao supply chain (Mars, 2019). Originally, the company was not founded as a social enterprise, as seen in the Brenner reading (Brenner, 2000). But, due to social and environmental pressures for more sustainable cacao practices, the nature of cacao production is changing (Brenner, 2000). Eventually all companies will have to do the same to stay competitive in the chocolate market. Small companies are leading the charge for social change, and the big companies must keep up. However, the positive changes in the production of cacao does not end here. The second point we will discuss is how the United Nations chocolate is changing the way we view chocolate as a commodity.

2. United Nations chocolate made for a mission

The United Nations has created its own chocolate bar which is available at various locations, in the hope of addressing both economic and environmental problems. The UN Development Programme (UNDP) has initiated this project. By making chocolate available in United Nations wrapping makes it clear that cacao and chocolate bar production is a global social issue, not just another food. It all began with nine-year-old Felix Finkbeiner from Germany, who founded the organisation, Plant for the Planet, announced his vision to his class at the end of one of his presentations.

“Children could plant one million trees in every country on the earth and thereby offset CO2 emissions all on their own, while adults are still talking about doing it.” – Felix Finkbeiner.

He made this vision a reality, and went on to partner with Patricia Espinosa, who is currently serving as the executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.Together, they created a vision for the United Nations to create its own chocolate bar to be sold in the market. However, this was not just an ordinary chocolate bar, for it encapsulates the essence of how the chocolate industry should be developing.

This bar really brings together the two narratives of production. While the appealing wrapper and delicious taste of the smooth, milky bar tells the romanticised version of chocolate, it encapsulates the story of slavery, and simultaneously fights for justice. 

Image 7: United Nations Chocolate 

It is one of the first chocolate bar purely focused on sustainable farming practices, and bringing together the two narratives we have discussed. This production line is setting the standard for how sustainable practices should look. Chocolats halba produces this chocolate, and as seen in their mission statement, their ideals align closely with the goals of the UNDP, which is what makes it an appropriate company to produce this chocolate:

“Chocolats Halba has a clear ethos of generating added value for all stakeholder groups along its value chain – from cocoa farmers to consumers. To achieve this, it pursues a sustainability strategy that applies to all core areas of the business and to all employees. We received the Swiss Ethics Award in 2018 for our commitment to sustainability. The price of the chocolate bar will reflect its impact on the ecosystem and the real costs of production and export. The profits will be shared fairly, with farmers receiving a significantly greater share than through any other method.” – Chocolat Halba.

The production of this bar marries the two separate narratives told. By having chocolate wrapped in United Nations packaging – an organization which aims to fight injustices in the world – shows to consumers that this is a social issue which must be addressed, and is being addressed now in many different forms.

3. Education and broadening discussions about cacao and chocolate production

Finally, education and the broader discussion about chocolate is changing the way people think about chocolate, and influencing the way people choose to purchase and enjoy their chocolate.

Our class is a prime example of this broadening education, including the panels and speakers we have heard from, and the work they are doing beyond the classroom. In the past, people were unaware of how chocolate was actually made, hence people were less educated and less was being done to prevent this kind of suffering, particularly for children. The contemporary state of cacao production is therefore heading in a positive direction, and rapidly evolving, so it is important that we stay educated and up to date to make good decisions about future steps in this industry. Current literature, such as the Berlan article we read in this course, is addressing issues in slave labour, and identifying what we do and don’t know. If this type of research continues, we will be able to gain a greater understanding of the nuances and myriad of complex issues which allow slave labour to continue (Berlan, 2013), and through a better understanding we will be able to address these issues thoughtfully and properly. 

In this class alone, the students have completed 39 hours of class time each, and combined, written approximately 6 books worth of information about chocolate (Martin, 2019). Furthermore, the teaching staff has completed about 750 words of written feedback for each student, teaching the students about this topic beyond what they knew before. This is about 120,000 words of written feedback for the class, all of which has developed the overall knowledge of this topic in the world (Martin, 2019). With such a diverse class, we will be able to take this knowledge to the various fields we go into in the future, while being conscious consumers and teaching others what we know. The impact of this class goes far beyond the classroom, and is a big step in the right direction for closing the gap between the two narratives of chocolate theta have existed in the past. And this is in one course alone. In the past, this type of education simply did not exist. Through education and the broadening discussion of cacao production, we are changing the way that we think about chocolate production. The idea of chocolate is changing for the better, and we should be incredibly excited about this positive trajectory. 

Overall, the future of sustainable chocolate practices is looking very positive. Through bean-to-bar chocolate manufacturers, the United Nations chocolate bar, and education, the two narratives of cacao are coming together to tell a more accurate story of production. The conditions for workers on cacao farms are improving due to these companies, research, and education, and this will likely continue to improve in the future.

References:

Berlan, Amanda. 2013. “Social Sustainability in Agriculture: An Anthropological Perspective on Child Labour in Cocoa Production in Ghana.” pp. 1088-1100 


Brenner, Joel. 2000. The Emperors of Chocolate: Inside the Secret World of Hershey and Mars. chapters 5, 13 pp. 49-69, 179-194

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. 2007[1996]. The True History of Chocolate.

Martin, Carla. 2019. Harvard University Lectures from Course: Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food.

Mintz, Sydney W. 1986[1985]. Sweetness and Power.          


Mars. 2019. Saving Tomorrow’s Cocoa, Today. Cocoa for Generations. Retrieved from https://www.mars.com/news-and-stories/cocoa-farming-sustainability

Image Links:

Image 1: Big Five Chocolate Producers

https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1p2hW-YsJ6faWMHz0rYuRjFGfTurfgjCDDGSRnzn_Sn4/edit#slide=id.g2f058252d_2_56

Image 2: Golden Tree Ghana

https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1iUp0kTTeUJ0qKN7Q-K7_f9EnZ5VdayRga2PynV0W-W8/edit#slide=id.g10e64a5659_2_93

Image 3: Raaka Wrapper (taken by Sarah Tisdall) 

Image 4: Madacasse Chocolate

Image 5: French Broad Chocolates

Image 6: Dandelion Chocolates

Image 7: United Nations Chocolate

Quotes:

Chocolat Halba – http://chocolatshalba.ch/en/sustainability/sustainability-core-principles.html

Felix Finkbeiner – https://www.plant-for-the-planet.org/en/about-us/who-we-are-2

Madacasse – https://madecasse.com/direct-trade/

Raaka – https://www.raakachocolate.com/pages/transparent-trade

A Crafty Future

There is a revolution going on in America.  It exists as almost a counter to the industrial revolution that drove this country forward a hundred years before it.  Craft artisans are taking over in the wake of a society that has been built by mass production.  As this revolution moves across foodstuffs, it is of no surprise that craft chocolate is currently on the rise.  However, it is important to understand why this revolution is taking place now, and some of the hurdles it must overcome to continue its success.

The Lay of the Land

Currently two chocolate companies, Hershey’s and Mars, account for over 50% of chocolate sales in the U.S. (Euromonitor, 2017). It should be of no surprise that these two particular companies own so much of the market share. They were both founded on the idea of bringing chocolate, which was previously a luxury treat, to the masses.  Milton Hershey was a pioneer in mass production, revolutionizing and streamlining much of the industrial process.  Hershey’s team discovered that by using condensed sweetened skim milk they could create a product with longer shelf life and that blended easily with cocoa powder.  This meant that not only could he ship his chocolate bars further, but lasting longer on the shelf meant less profit losses due to spoilage.  Hershey also looked at supply chain optimizations, investing in his own dairy farms and even building a sugar mill operation in Cuba, complete with its own railroad.  This allowed Hershey to control both the costs of commodities for his chocolate bar and the quality.  Mars, on the other hand, was more successful due to marketing than anything else.  His Milky Way bar (which originally sourced chocolate from Hershey) was more nougat than chocolate, making it larger on shelf and seem a comparatively good value to the Hershey bar. That said, both had the same result, taking an indulgence that was once almost exclusive to the wealthy and middle classes and democratizing it for every day enjoyment.

chocolate sizingMass production allowed for chocolate to be produced cheaper, allowing those savings to be passed on to the consumer – or more importantly, from a marketing sense, for them to outprice their competitors.  But while price is important, so are the products themselves.  While it may have taken a while for consumers to acclimate to the flavor of Hershey’s and Mars bars when they first came on the market, the particular blend of milk, sugar and other ingredients insured that they were universally palatable and they now exist as the template for what we expect chocolate to taste like.  Similarly, both companies have hero products that are specifically designed for easy consumption.  Both Hershey’s Kisses and M&Ms were made for portability (individually wrapped/ melts in your mouth, not in your hand) and their small, poppable size makes it easy for consumers to lose track of mindfulness and eat large quantities in one sitting. These products have other advantages, as they are easily adaptable to innovation.  As consumers are desiring more variety and novelty across the board, these products have proven to be the most flexible in introducing new flavors – and easily acceptable to consumers who are familiar with their form and have built brand trust.  These companies have leveraged seasonality, larger cultural trends, and limited time offers to drive new product news and sales.

pumpkin(wait.  Is she wearing an infinity scarf and hipster glasses?)

So, if big chocolate is designed for palatability and companies are responding to consumers desires for more interesting, topical flavors, why are we seeing a proliferation of craft chocolate providers? When we look at the numbers, the story becomes more telling.   When looking at sales growth, mass chocolate has remained flat year over year (CSP daily news, 2016).  This despite their innovation and the fact that chocolate consumption overall is growing.  Instead, the growth seems to be predominantly driven by premium and craft chocolates, suggesting not just changing tastes, but a changing attitude about where our food is actually coming from.

Big Food Backlash

There is growing negativity towards giant corporations and conglomerates, particularly when it comes to food. From an economic standpoint, consumers have watched as these corporations get massive tax breaks which have translated into bonuses for the executive suite, while the working class continues to struggle.  While this issue impacts most major corporations, it is of particular concern when it comes to the chocolate industry and growing awareness around fair labor practices, forced labor, child labor and the ethical price people pay for their chocolate.  There is a lot of skepticism that these companies will make ethical choices when given the opportunity, particularly when people see so many examples in the news of them pursuing profits over people, such as Nestle bottling drinkable water in the middle of the Flint, Michigan water crisis (the guardian, 2017).  More and more often, buying in to big brands feels like an investment against your own interests.

The Big Middle creates more space for differentiation

The sheer nature of big brands as they fold in to one another may be working against them. “When you have increasing concentration of producers in the center, you leave room on the periphery for specialization,” says Elizabeth G. Pontikes, associate professor at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business. (Shanker, 2017) In other words, these multinational conglomerates are creating their own sea of sameness.  In a society that is increasingly valuing individuality, particularly when it comes to the millennial and younger generations, brands and products that lack differentiation also lack appeal.  We can see this even in the most famous of branding cases, Coke vs. Pepsi with beverage drinkers now migrating to new choices like LaCroix and energy drinks.

The obvious choice might be for these mass chocolate brands to create verticals that touch these periphery spaces, but they have struggled breaking in.  Hershey’s introduced their Cacao Reserve premium line in 2006.  The brand lasted three years, suffered several price drops and the need for mass market advertising support, before they dropped it from store shelves. (Thompson, 2007) Their next move was to build their premium line using borrowed equity.  At the same time they launched Cacao Reserve, they purchased Scharfeen Berger, a premium line of chocolates out of California. As they pushed to mass market the brand, they switched suppliers, using cheaper beans from West Africa.  The result was severed relationships with brands like Whole Foods, who were concerned that Hershey’s could not guarantee that the beans weren’t sourced through child labor (Bloomberg, 2017).  The brand has somewhat rebounded, but the initial loss is still being recovered, and leaves the question as to whether or not big brands can ever play credibly in the premium/ craft space.

A wake up call for food

The obesity crisis in America was a wake up call about the food we consume and how it is being produced.  A series of films, articles and exposes, while at times misleading and ignores the true labor of food, caused people to rethink what they are getting out of processed food.  The consumer take-away was that mass produced food lacks quality and nutritional value, is predominantly artificial fillers, and is potentially detrimental to your overall health. Quality, whole ingredients, and care has become increasingly synonymous with healthfulness, regardless of traditional markers like fat and calories.

While all of these things make craft chocolate more appealing, it still has hurdles to overcome to convince people to pay the enormous price tag that comes along with it.

As noted, industrial chocolate is the baseline for people’s orientation to what chocolate should look and taste like, as well as what it should cost.  For Craft chocolate to succeed, they don’t just need to overcome the shift to premium pricing, they need to overcome expectations set by mass market chocolate.  There is a need to educate people on to the true value of the chocolate they are consuming and the difference that craft chocolate provides. There are four key ways in which craft offers a point of difference that both provides a difference that supports craft’s value proposition and requires consumer education: process, taste, ingredients and sourcing and ethics.

Understanding the process

Over time, manufactures have swapped out real ingredients for cheaper artificial substitutes such as vanillin instead of vanilla.  (Martin-Sampeck, 2016). This has impact on the flavor, consistency and mouthfeel of the chocolate itself. Craft chocolate’s smaller production model in of itself creates a different end product, but some companies have gone further, focusing on minimizing the process.

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Taza chocolate, a bean to bar company located in Somerville, MA, takes great pains to educate consumers as to their process.  They describe their bars as “chocolate with true grit.” Their mission is to return chocolate to its pre-industrial roots.  They believe that less processing allows for more complexity in flavors. Their chocolate is stone ground on hand carved molinos (mill stones) with little refinement between that and the end product.  The result is, to their description, a chocolate bar that lacks the smoothness that consumers have come to expect, but with a stronger chocolate flavor and more complexity in experience overall.

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Expanding your palate

“When most people eat a piece of chocolate we want that pleasure immediately: boom!  That’s the music of mass-market chocolate.” (Williams, 2012)

Historians have theorized (incorrectly) that when chocolate came to the old world, that it was appropriated to suit Europeans’ tastes (Norton, 2016).  In fact, chocolate’s evolution from its new world form to the substance we know today was a process that took over a century of innovation.  The chocolate that Europeans first enjoyed was a fairly close recreation of how it was consumed in Mesoamerica.  The Europeans had just acquired a taste for it.  That said, they had a lot of motivation to do so – chocolate was seen as exotic, a luxury (due to both its scarcity and use as currency), and had potential new health benefits.  Additionally, unlike today, there was no basis for comparison.  For today’s consumers, their palates have been educated in the world of mass produced chocolate – and what they have come to expect is a very sweet, creamy, almost single note experience.  Craft chocolate, on the other hand, leans in to chocolate’s bitter notes, and offers way more complexity.  Not only do consumers need to adjust to the new flavor profile, but they need help recognizing the flavor notes to truly appreciate the difference they are getting from craft.

Dick Taylor chocolates started in a small factory in Eureka, California by Adam Dick and Dustin Taylor.  They started their factory out of a love of craftsmanship and making things with their hands (both worked in woodworking and boat building).  In addition to educating consumers on the sourcing of their beans, they seek to educate consumers on how craft processing changes the flavor and experience of their chocolate.  From their website “by not cutting corners or taking shortcuts in our process we are able to leave out vanilla, additional cocoa butter or other emulsifiers, in hopes of capturing and highlighting the subtle flavor nuances in the cacao we source from around the world.”

In this they set expectations that their chocolate will be less sweet and have more complexity of flavors.  To further support that, their packaging calls out the specific flavor notes that the chocolate bar offers, much in the way that wine and craft beers call out tasting notes.

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XOCOLATL, a “micro-factory” chocolatier out of Atlanta similarly looks to highlight chocolate’s natural flavors.  Their bars are blended with spices and other elements that call out chocolate’s flavor components.  For example, their Americana bar contains no apples, but uses familiar pie spices to highlight that quality within the chocolate.

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Origin/ localization

While mass chocolate uses the blending of not only several different types of beans, but beans from multiple locations, there is a rising trend in single origin chocolate.  This has arisen both out of an increased interest in food provenance and small chocolate purveyors interest in highlighting the different unique flavor profiles of the beans.  (Norton, 2013) By doing so, they are able to not only show off the different flavor varietals, but capitalize on the exotic locales to add a sense of rarity and uniqueness to their product lines.

Amedei Chocolates, a craft company out of Tuscany, Italy, builds their sourcing education in to their product offerings.  Each of their bar product lines serves as an exploration in the difference that cacao content, origin and the beans themselves can make.  Their Toscano Black line offers three different (though relatively close) percentages of dark chocolate – 63%, 66%, and 70%.  Their cru product line is all single origin dark chocolate – allowing consumers to taste the subtle differences between each region.  But where they go one step further than many bars is to focus and educate consumers on the strains of cacao available.  They offer both a Blanco de Criollo and a Porcelana bar.  The external packaging on each features a botanical drawing of the bean.  The inside explains the history, origin and flavor notes.  For the Porcelana bar, it notes the Venuzuela plantation, it’s small production of only 3,000 kilos of beans, and the rarity of this particular strain. Tasting notes are described as “toasted almonds that alternates with pressed olives.” This reinforces the specialness of the bar and the unique experience that it offers, while simultaneously pushing the consumer’s palate to recognize more subtleties in flavor.

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Ethical Sourcing

One of the major challenges in the chocolate industry overall is the issue of labor practices and sourcing.  Even setting aside the more dire problems of forced and child labor, very little of the profits made from chocolate sales actually makes its way back to the farmers that grow it.  While there are a variety of certification schemes (i.e. Fair Trade, UTZ Certified, IMO Fair for Life), the cost of participating is high, and consumer demand has yet to drive a higher price in goods that can be translated back to the farmer. (Martin-Sampeck, 2016)  Additionally, there are those who don’t think that programs like Fair Trade go far enough, and result in a minimal profit increase for the farmer.

Companies like Taza and Askinosie chocolates instead have focused on direct trade, which cuts out middlemen and insures that more profits go back to the hands of the farmers.  Askinosie notes on their website “we hold the craft and quality of our chocolate in almost equal balance with doing as much good as we can in the world.”  As part of educating consumers at to the importance of direct trade, their bars feature the actual farmers that they work with on the front.  The back label tells that person’s story, how they became acquainted with Askinosie chocolate, and how their contribution insured the quality of the product you are holding.  It also features the following guarantee:  A stake in the Outcome. We guarantee to our farmers more than fair prices, open books and a share in our success.   In the way that they tell the story of their trade relationships, Askinosie doesn’t just insure the consumer of the ethics of their bar, they humanize it and translate that in to a real value to the consumer in the quality and craft of the final product itself.

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The future of craft

Craft still has some educational and orientation challenges to overcome, but as more and more people migrate away from big food and big chocolate, the opportunity to create a wider variety of chocolates leveraging ethical sourcing and quality ingredients remains as promising and sweet as the product itself.

Sources used:

Brenner, Joel. 2000. The Emperors of Chocolate: Inside the Secret World of Hershey and Mars.

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. 2007 (1996) The True History of Chocolate.

CPS News (September 15, 2016) Premium Chocolate Driving US Sales Growth.  CPS Daily News. Retrieved from:http://www.cspdailynews.com/category-news/snacks-candy/articles/premium-chocolate-driving-us-sales-growth

D’Antonio, Michael D. 2006. Milton S. Hershey’s Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams.

Glenza, Jessica. (September 29, 2017) Nestle Pays $200 a Year to Bottle Water Near Flint Michigan.  The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/sep/29/nestle-pays-200-a-year-to-bottle-water-near-flint-where-water-is-undrinkable

Laudan, Rachel (May 5, 2015) A Plea for Culinary Modernism. Jacobin Magazine Retrieved from https://www.jacobinmag.com/2015/05/slow-food-artisanal-natural-preservatives/

Leissle, Kristy. (2013) Invisible West Africa: the Politics of Single Origin Chocolate. Gastronmics: The Journal of Food and Culture, Vol. 13. No. 3 (Fall 2013)pp.22-31

Martin, Carla and Sampeck, Kathryn. 2016. “The Bitter and Sweet of Chocolate in Europe.” pp. 37-60.

Norton, Marcy. 2006. “Tasting Empire: Chocolate and the European Internalization of Mesoamerican Aesthetics.”The American Historical Review 111 (3): 660-691

Shanker, Deena (February 7, 2017) The Rise of Craft Chocolate. Bloomberg News. Retrieved from https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2017-02-07/the-rise-of-craft-chocolate

Terrio, Susan J. 2000. Crafting the Culture and History of French Chocolate. pp. 1-65

Thompson, Stephanie. (March 6, 2007) Reservations about Reserve Haunt Hershey. Adage Magazine. Retrieved from: http://adage.com/article/news/reservations-reserve-haunt-hershey/115326/

Trout, Jack. Differientate or Die: Survival in our Era of Killer Competition. New York. Wiley, Second Edition 2008

Williams, Pam and Jim Beer. 2012. Raising the Bar: The Future of Fine Chocolate. pp.141-209

Yu, Douglas. (March 29, 2018) Lindt Will Most Certainly Come Back to Growth in US. Confectionary News. Retrieved from https://www.confectionerynews.com/Article/2018/03/29/Lindt-will-most-certainly-come-back-to-growth-in-US-says-Vontobel