Tag Archives: environment

Beyond the Taste Buds

Lunch time on a Saturday seems like as good of a time as any for an all-you-can-eat, opulent Chocolate Buffet. At the request of my pregnant wife and her pregnant friend, I was summoned to the Chocolate Room to indulge. After talking about the Chocolate Room for weeks, we met up with the other couple for a visit to the Boston Langham Hotel where the event would be hosted. When we arrived, we tipped the valet, tended to our reservations, and didn’t so much as flitch at the forty-five-dollar charge to attend the Chocolate Room. Exceeding already-high expectations, it was worth every penny. While dollar-chocolate at the local convenience store is mere feet from home, why would any couple be compelled to spend over one-hundred dollars just to experience a room of chocolate?

While it is clear that chocolate varies in taste and quality, the experience chocolate warrants, and the experience that Langham creates, set a high value on the entire experience. It is worth exploring to what extent the gustatory perception plays in the social behavior around chocolate. The Chocolate Room experience invoked questions that I will use to probe at the value of the experience. This will help to understand whether the taste of chocolate, or the social and human experience, is a more powerful determining factor in assessing the value of chocolate. Ultimately, we will find that while the pleasantry of taste is what allows us to enjoy it so much, it is not always what compels us to enjoy it so much. When taste is paired with the experience of chocolate, it greatly influences a person’s love for the flavor of chocolate.

Love for chocolate: Natural vs. conditioned?

Is the human affinity for chocolate innate and then discovered in each person, or is it truly socially conditioned? On the topic of the development of food preferences in general, and not just chocolate, psychologist Jamie Hale explains what preferences are pre-programmed, or innate in humans. Hale explains that sweet, savory, and salty substances are innately preferred, whereas bitter and many sour substances are innately rejected (Jamie Hale). However, Hale further explains that “these innate tendencies can be modified by pre- and postnatal experiences.”  This means that while taste, a component of flavor, is detected by the olfactory system, it is also strongly influenced by early exposure and learning beginning in utero and continuing during early infant milk feedings (Jamie Hale). In a close study of child consumption, it was found that eighty-six percent of two to three-year-old American children consume some type of sweetened beverage or dessert in a day (Alison K. Ventura). These early experiences set the stage for later food choices and are important in establishing life-long food habits. While this is true, it cannot be ignored that flavors are enjoyed or not enjoyed by natural compulsions as well. In regards specifically to chocolate, studies show that multiple characteristics of chocolate, including sugar, cocoa and the drug–like effects experienced, play a role in the desire to consume chocolate (Nasser et al.) It is thought to be a combination of both early exposure and a naturally tendency to enjoy all that chocolate offers that ultimately shapes behaviors around chocolate. However, this understanding of a human affinity for chocolate does little to explain why chocolate is consumed as a treat.

Why is chocolate a dessert?

IMG_1783
Fig 1

When we looked around the chocolate room, there is more than just chocolate desserts. Although the vast majority of the treats are chocolate, there are also many other sweets. So, why when are so many chocolate centric? The obvious observation about chocolate is that desserts are often times thought of as a treat. We reward ourselves with something that we deserve. Often times toward the end of the day we may convince ourselves that “we’ve earned this”. Treats are pleasant and something we look forward to. The less obvious observation is that chocolate is a pleasantry beyond just taste. For more reasons that we will continue to explore, chocolate makes us feel good emotionally. According to psychology Doctor Susan Albers, we crave chocolate for the feeling that it gives us. She described in Psychology Today that it “Taste good. It smells good. It feels good when it melts on our tongue. And all of those ‘feelings’ are the result of our brain releasing chemicals in response to each chocolate experience” (Albers). As we learned, all these perceptions are part of the flavor of chocolate. A common thing happens when we feel good; our body release chemicals. The experience of eating chocolate results in feel good neurotransmitters (mainly dopamine) being released in particular brain regions (frontal lobe, hippocampus and hypothalamus) (Albers). If we are rewarding ourselves with a dessert what would a better way be than to do so with chocolate.

Am I getting a daily dose of dope with my chocolate?

IMG_1773
Fig 2

It was originally thought that chocolate contained compounds that could activate this dopamine system directly (like cigarettes and cocaine do) (Albers). Chocolate does contain theobromine, caffeine, fat and sugar. Theobromine can increase heart rate and bring about feelings of arousal.  Caffeine can make us feel awake and increase our ability to work and focus. Fat and sugar are preferred food sources for humans because they are calorie dense. However, experiments in which the components of chocolate were separated out indicated that just ingesting the chemicals in chocolate without the mouth-feel and taste does not decrease craving for more chocolate (Albers). This means that our bodies have a desire for the entire chocolate experience, and not just one chemical that is in chocolate.

What is chemically unique about chocolate?

In the chocolate Room, the effect chocolate had on our body, mood and emotions was evident. Starting with a chocolate crape with chocolate sauce, fruits and chocolate rum, my pallet was primed for more chocolate. We continued to explore the room in search for the next treat. After each sitting and each plate consumed, our joy and excitement continued to build for our next treat. We each shared a common affinity for chocolate. Chocolate’s effect on our body goes beyond the tongue. It enticed sense beyond taste and has a positive effect on our emotions. Chocolate transcends the senses and takes over inhibition. What seems like an insatiable desire for chocolate gradually transitioned to a glucose high, and feelings of stimulation. The joy’s of chocolate were compared to kissing in a study by psychologist David Lewis. The study found that letting chocolate dissolve slowly in your mouth produces as big an increase in brain activity and heart rate as a passionate kiss—but the effects of the chocolate last four times longer (BBC). Researchers at the Neurosciences Institute in San Diego, California say chocolate also contains a feel-

locknkey
Fig 3. Anandamide

good chemical called anandamide, which is found naturally in the brain, and is similar to another one called anandamide THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) found in marijuana (Woodford). Its name comes from ananda, the Sanskrit word for “bliss”(Senese) (Fig3). Blissful is exactly how I would  to describe the experience in the Chocolate room. I must have been experiencing ananda.

If chocolate transcends taste, what other senses could be enticed?

Screen Shot 2017-05-10 at 11.08.32 AM
Vid 1. Dr. Spense

In an effort to recognize that the experience of chocolate extends beyond the taste buds, the Langham was certain to maintain an elevated experience for each of the senses. According to Dr. Carla Martin of Harvard University, the “sound of the environment and of the food and beverage itself has been known to impact the experience of flavor” (Martin). This idea of a multisensory environment encompasses elements that entice all the senses. Dr. Charles Spence from the Crossmodal Laboratory at Oxford University explains that the flavor experience for anything from coffee and wine to seafood and chocolate can be altered when careful attention is given to the texture, temperature, feel and esthetics of the mugs, chinaware and silverware, and chairs, as well as the lighting in the room, the sound of the environment, and the context of how the food is being presented (Spense) (Vid 1). The senses come together in a way that change the flavor. The multisensory environment prepared by the Langham was replete with elements to arouse all the senses including fine utensils, live musical string instruments, all compound to add to the ambiance (fig 4).

Music
Fig 4. Musical Instruments play in the Chocolate room

After being seated, we were immediately introduced to the layout of the room and explained that the room was segmented into the bodily senses. They have items prepared at separate tables to stimulate sight, sounds, touch, taste, and sent. Treats from the sight table we perfectly plated, meticulously garnished, and delicately placed with care. Desserts prepared for the smell table were chosen for their strong and pleasant aromatic properties such as Grilled Pineapple with chocolate beads, Orange Mouse, Milk chocolate Creamoux with Candied Violet and Rosewater Pana Cotta. Choices on the Sound table included items that audibly contributed to the experience, such as milk chocolate lined rice crispy treats, a crisp milk chocolate crème brulee, and some silent but delicious tarts topped with a fresh crisp strawberry. The touch table sought to tickle my fingers with tactile treats such as a chocolate bubble tapioca, chocolate mini waffle cones, chocolate cake pops, and Black Forest Triffle, rich red velvet cake with a light and airy whipped topping. The Taste table was curated to entice by pairing either rich and creamy or strong and dark chocolate with bold flavors such as cinnamon, spices, and citrus offerings. Not to be omitted, at the center of the room was a glorious fountain of chocolate ready to accept a dip from fruits and confectionaries such as pineapples or marshmallows (of course that included chocolate marshmallows).

pjimage

pjimage 2
Fig 5. Sensory Tables

Notes on culture:

Looking around the room, it was a joy to know that many more people than we were enjoying this multisensory experience. While all our senses were enticed by each offering, it was an experience that seemed universally enjoyed by people from all cultures. At the Langham, as a destination hotel in a major city, international travelers seeking a reprieve from their journey all found comfort in the room alike. Asian, Hispanic, African and European people, all speaking their own languages, found commonality in their human affinity for chocolate. This universal love of chocolate not only transcends the taste buds and has a multifaceted effect on the body, but transcends race, gender, age and culture as a universally beloved delicacy thanks to transcontinental trade and migration hundreds of years ago. So ubiquitous is the love for chocolate, I’ve often found that it is expected that I enjoy chocolate. Is this projection cast on everyone by everyone? That expectation would seem to be projected onto all those aforementioned classes and ages. This universal love would seem to have no issue contending with the idea that chocolate is simply conditioned and is not an innate trait.

Would sugar alone have the same effect?

To support this idea that the love for chocolate is innate, Dr. Albers reminds her readers that you probably did not have to learn to like chocolate. She explains that “the sensory experience is enjoyed on an innate, biological level, but it is likely that you received chocolate as a treat, reward, or for holidays, especially if you are American” (Albers). This reward based consumption can often times contribute to it being a comfort food. This association alone can bring someone into a better mood, even before the chemical effects of sugar set in. While the thoughts of sugar can allow someone to feel good, the distinct flavors of chocolate also hold a unique ability to socially and psychologically associate with a positive experience in someone’s life. This reinforces the idea that the popularity of chocolate in desserts is no coincidence or due to a lack of alternatives, but rather to meet the demands of human desire.

Socially we have come to think of chocolate as a food that is comforting and can bring us into a better mood. The nature of chocolate candy being a sweet desirable stimulant is more attractive with sugar, but not because of sugar. Sugar alone can often times have an adverse effect on mood and can often times act as a depressant. In a study on the effects of sugar, David Sack explains that “the roller coaster of high blood sugar followed by a crash may accentuate the symptoms of mood disorders” (Sack). His research has tied heavy sugar consumption to an increased risk of depression, even worse in people with schizophrenia. One theory is that sugar suppresses activity of a hormone called BDNF that is already fairly low in individuals with depression and schizophrenia (Sack). Humans love for chocolate has historically persisted without the additive of sugar. Consider the ancient Mayan Cacao beverage prepared and a hot coffee-like drink made from the cacao bean and simple spices alone. This was a beloved Beverage of the God’s long before the refinement of sugar (Coe and Coe).

Sweet Treats room vs Chocolate room: why chocolate?

Milk
Fig 6. Milk and Cookies

Is chocolate necessary in order to invoke this described response? As unique as chocolate is, it is one of many foods that can do what it does. While we were presented with bountiful chocolate offerings, the chocolate-less pastries couldn’t escape notice. While tarts, a glass of milk, tapioca pudding, cotton candy, strawberry shortcake, cream puffs, and even popcorn stood out from the chocolate theme, they had a role in contributing to the overall experience. After all, what good would chocolate cookies be without milk? We were told by the server these alternative treats, devoid of all chocolate as they were, allowed a reprieve from a chocolate over-load, while the salty popcorn offered a “pallet reset” that would allow us to extend our chocolate consumption further. We were advised that if we were to slow down and desire an extra boost to be able to continue, grab a hand full of popcorn to be able to carry on.

Reflections

If the room was only full of options deplete of chocolate offerings, the experience would have lacked appeal. Whether socially conditioned or innate, the human affinity for chocolate could not be accessed and leveraged as a draw for people to enjoy the room. While the ladies were excited to invite us men to the Chocolate room, and we were glad to accept the invitation, the we men would likely have attended a “Sweet Treats” room with less enthusiasm than a Chocolate Room”. Was the fact the two pregnant women invited their male husbands a fulfillment of the gender based stereotype of women craving chocolate?  As Thrilled as the women were to invite the men, it was no more a womanly compulsion than a gender natural human desire.

Our chemically motivated, socially reinforced desire, evident in all cultures, was satisfied in the Chocolate Room. Visiting the Boston Langham was an opportunity to satisfy and explore our most natural desire for the experience of chocolate flavor. The extent gustatory perception played in our social behavior around chocolate was the satisfaction of the craving for the taste of chocolate, but it did not address our deepest yearning for the full flavor experience that we craved. The social and human experience played the most powerful role in our enjoyment. Taste and flavor; experience and gustatory joy, are the ultimate pairing for chocolate.

Works cited

Albers, Susan. “Why Do We Crave Chocolate So Much?” Psychology Today Feb 11, 2014. Web. May 5 2017.

Alison K. Ventura, Julie A. Mennella. “Innate and Learned Preferences for Sweet Taste During Childhood.” Current opinion in clinical nutrition and metabolic care, , Vol.14(4), pp.379-84 Vol.14.(4) (July 2011): pp.379-84. Print.

BBC. “Chocolate ‘Better Than Kissing’.” BBC News 2007. Web. 5/10/17 2017.

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

Jamie Hale, M.S. “The Development of Food Preferences.” Web.

Martin, Carla. “Lecture 12: Psychology, Terroir, and Taste.” Chocolate, Culture and the Politics of Food. Harvard University: Cambridge, MA. 19 April 2017. Lecture.

Nasser, Jennifer A., et al. “Psychoactive Effects of Tasting Chocolate and Desire for More Chocolate.” Physiology & Behavior 104.1 (2011): 117-21. Print.

Sack, David. “4 Ways Sugar Could Be Harming Your Mental Health.”  2013. Web.

Senese, Fred. “The Bliss Recptor.” Frostburg State University 8/17/2015. Web.

Spense, Charles. “Charles Spence: Multisensory Experience and Coffee.” You Tube. Oxford University May 27, 2014. Web. May 10 2017.

Woodford, CHris. “The Science of Chocolate.” ExplainThatStuff 2016. Web. 5/10/17 2017.

Image Sources

Feature photo; The Langham Hotel Boston. Web. May 5, 2017  http://www.langhamhotels.com/en/the-langham/boston/dining/chocolate-bar/

Fig 3; General Chemistry Online! “The Bliss Recptor.” Frostburg State University 8/17/2015. Web.  http://antoine.frostburg.edu/chem/senese/101/features/anandamide.shtml.

Vid 1: “Charles Spence: Multisensory Experience and Coffee.” You Tube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vVKabsudi1I

Fig. 1, 2, 4, 5, 6; Stoffel, Grant. “Langham Chocolate Bar experience.” April 22, 2017. Langham Hotel, Boston.

Advertisements

The Ethical Choices of Chocolate and Carbon

Any food we eat leaves a global environmental and ethical footprint, and chocolate, as adored as it is, is no exception. This blog post will consider the deleterious global effects of chocolate’s production and consumption and will provide guidelines for consumers who seek to enjoy its delicious flavor while minimizing some of its harmful global impacts.

The most comprehensive way to analyze the environmental impact of cacao, the raw material processed into chocolate, is to address every input and output for every aspect of its lifecycle from growing the raw materials to disposing of the wrapper post consumption. This impact analysis must consider how the cacao tree is cultivated and how the beans are then fermented, dried, roasted, winnowed (removal of the shell), and crushed. It must also consider how the sugar and vanilla used as ingredients in chocolate are grown and processed. If the chocolate is milk chocolate, it must consider how the cows are fed, milked, and housed during the winter, and how the milk itself is pasteurized and dried. Even the soy lecithin, a natural product used in small amounts to stabilize the coco solids in a processed bar, has a story with environmental footprints along the way – oil is extracted from raw soybeans, then mixed with water, and then dried. Every step along these supply chains require electricity and transportation, and the transportation vehicles themselves have to be manufactured.

This is only to demonstrate the complexity of accurately determining and comparing chocolate’s environmental footprint. A thorough lifecycle analysis that considers every impact from the tree to the consumer’s stomach is challenging, as every input requires another input further down the line and the supply chain never ends. Because of this, few have undertaken the challenge of calculating a full life-cycle analysis for this cherished food. But the analyses that do exist can help us understand chocolate’s environmental footprint and guide us in consumer choices. 

One lifecycle analysis was undertaken by ESU-services, a sustainability consulting firm, for cocoa produced in Ghana and consumed in Europe. Ghana is the world’s second largest cocoa producing nation after Cote d’Ivoire. While Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire have startlingly different social structures and levels of government regulation within the cacao industry, they neighbor each other geographically and both produce the Forastero variety of cocoa. In other words, a lifecycle analysis of just Ghanaian cacao is representative of a large portion of the world’s current cacao supply.

This ESU-services study found that on-farm activities account for over 70% of chocolate’s total environmental footprint. Retail packaging, distribution and selling, and transport from retailer to household account for the remaining portion of the footprint. Most food products have agricultural production footprints that account for a majority of their overall environmental footprint, so 70% puts chocolate on-par with other foods. The ESU-services study also found the global warming potential from the production of white chocolate to be more than double that of dark chocolate (milk chocolate falls in the middle). This is because white chocolate is largely made with milk solids and cows produce huge amounts of methane, a highly potent greenhouse gas. The Cadbury chocolate company found a similar result when it calculated the carbon footprint of its chocolate. The single largest source of emissions came from the production of the milk. In-house production accounted for 20% of emissions, sugar production was 10%, and packaging was just 2%. When other environmental criteria like heavy metal contamination, water usage, radioactive waste production, and eutrophication is considered, dark chocolate still has a lower footprint than white chocolate, but this gap closes. The ESG-services study also made an interesting point about the importance of how chocolate is transported. Because air travel has a carbon footprint almost 100 times larger per pound than cargo ship travel, chocolate that is purchased duty-free at the airport and transported home by airplane has the highest environmental footprint of all.

ESU-services made another report on the environmental lifecycle analysis of chocolate wrapped in aluminum foil. Although aluminum is an environmentally destructive metal to mine, the results from this study were almost identical to the results from the Ghanaian analysis. This further supports the claim that packaging and distribution are only of minor environmental importance compared to the on-farm and processing activities.

A third life-cycle assessment that sought to consider all the stakeholders of Ghana’s cocoa industry came to the same conclusion that the production of the raw cacao accounts for a majority of chocolate’s environmental impact. The footprint from agricultural production was followed by processing and chocolate manufacturing, and the study found room for improvement in the efficiency of the energy-intensive equipment such as roasters at the processing factory. While improvements to on-farm sustainability is the lowest hanging fruit, this last energy-related finding suggests that a consumer could look for companies that boast processing facilities run with entirely renewable energy.  

The tree that produces cacao grows in tropical environments, so cacao growing regions overlap significantly with global biodiversity hotspots.

Screen Shot 2017-05-05 at 5.39.46 PM

As recent chocolate demand growth has overwhelmed West Africa, cacao production has expanded in South America. This expansion of  cacao cultivation has unfortunately been paired with an increase in rainforest clear-cutting. By exacerbating climate change and destroying natural habitats, agricultural land-use changes are one of chocolate’s primary environmental impacts. Instead of conducting a complete lifecycle analysis like ESU-services, the World Resources Institute used satellite images to calculate the carbon footprint of just these land-use changes. The study looked specifically at Peru, which has seen a nearly five-fold increase in cacao production between 1990 and 2013, and found that consideration of the land-use changes doubles the carbon footprint of chocolate. While this land-use analysis is not as comprehensive as a full lifecycle analysis, it none-the-less raises the important issue of deforestation in the cacao industry.   

Theobroma Cacao is an understory tree, so farmers can theoretically cultivate it among the existing rainforest, and if integrated in this way, cacao is actually a comparatively sustainable crop. The government of Peru has even partnered with the US Agency for International Development to encourage the cultivation of cacao as a way of protecting the forest. In regions that were formerly clear-cut to grow coca (the raw substance for cocaine), the introduction of sustainable cacao cultivation not only supports the regrowth of forest, but also has social value as it provides an alternative to the drug trade associated with coca. 

New research shows that cacao, a crop that traditionally prefers shade, can be grown in direct sun as long as it is heavily irrigated. This allows companies to grow cacao on cleared plots of land rather than integrating it among the existing forest. The role of the consumer in working against land-use changes is to buy from companies that encourage integrated crop systems. Chocolate companies that work with farmers to sustainably cultivate the cacao that ends up in their bars will advertise that they are doing so.

The easiest way for companies to signal their environmental awareness to consumers is through outside certifications. Farms certified through the Rainforest Alliance, known for its iconic green frog symbol, must meet criteria encompassing social, economic, and environmental sustainability set by the Sustainable Agricultural Network. These farmers are audited regularly and receive a price premium for their cacao. If a chocolate wrapper is made with paper or another wood-derived product, the company may choose to pursue a certification from the Forest Stewardship Council. This ensures the material was made with sustainably and ethically managed forestry practices.

Another certification is organic, which simply means that no synthetic fertilizers or pesticides were applied during cultivation. While these agricultural chemicals present an array of environmental concerns, there is also debate about the benefits of improving yields through traditional farming methods to reduce the environmental problems associated with land-use changes. Additionally, many have begun to attach other expectations about product quality and ethical fairness to organic certification. With the proliferation of food certifications, confusion about each one’s mission is common among consumers.

On top of its environmental impacts, chocolate production also has ethical implications felt globally. In addition to aligning unfortunately with global biodiversity hotspots, the geographic distribution of cacao production also aligns with areas of increased poverty. Theobroma cacao grows within 20 degrees north and south of the Equator, and due to the unfortunate inverse correlation between proximity to equator and wealth, the regions most suitable to growing cacao are also some of the poorest.

Screen Shot 2017-05-05 at 7.09.36 PM.png

A 2015 study found that the average income per capita per day for an entire cacao farming household in Ghana is approximately $0.50-$0.80 USD3. This is largely because less than five percent of the price of a typical chocolate bar makes its way back to the farmer. Worst of all, a cacao farmer’s already meager income is highly volatile because yields are dependent on natural events and global commodity prices are constantly in flux3. This irregular income further undermines a farmer’s ability to climb out of poverty. Cacao farm labor is both dangerous and demanding, and farmers are marginalized and under-represented. Because of this, less than one-quarter of West African cacao farmers would recommend that their children go into farming3. There is significant evidence of the worse forms of child labor, as defined by the International Labour Organization, on many West African farms3. Input and labor costs for cacao cultivation are high, so engaging familial labor is common practice. If a child is pulled from school to work on the farm, they lose out on education and the cycle of poverty continues. On a much broader scale, the demand for familial agricultural labor encourages high fertility rates.

Policy aimed at some of these problems suffer from unequal trade agreements, and corporate social responsibility lacks transparency and consumer education. In general, it is challenging to bring wide-scale awareness to these ethical concerns without falling victim to the exploiter-exploited binary3. Just as certifications have risen to respond to the environmental impacts of chocolate, certifications have risen to respond to the ethical impacts of chocolate.

The Fair Trade certification is probably the most recognized among American consumers of these ethically-focused certifications. The Fair Trade organization makes dramatic claims about the positive impact it brings to farmers who are certified with ambitious promises about everything from promoting community development and environmental sustainability to reducing child labor and gender inequality. The UTZ certification seeks similar outcomes of improving product quality, environmental sustainability, and farmer welfare. However, the reality is that the premiums paid to farmers who become certified are insufficient to achieve such dramatic economic, social, and environmental outcomes. Additionally, the certification process itself is expensive and only accessible to farmers who are able to take on the initial financial investment.

Taza, a small bean-to-bar chocolate company, thought Fair Trade was not doing enough and started its own Direct Trade program independently verified by a third party. They exclude all middle-men, visit the farmers they work with annually, and pay prices significantly higher than Fair Trade. Taza also requires that its cacao is grown in agroforestry systems – i.e. the cacao trees are integrated within the existing forest to avoid clear-cutting and radical land-use changes. Taza prides itself on absolute transparency by stating in its annual transparency report exactly how much it paid for each bag of cacao beans. The growth of this company demonstrates consumer buy-in for this supply-chain model, but the involved nature of Taza’s farmer relations is not scalable to the entire chocolate industry. This is only to say that it is a work in progress. All certification programs have their flaws, but they are steps in the right direction by bringing awareness to social and environmental issues in the supply chain of which consumers might not have been previously aware. By purchasing certified products, consumers can also demonstrate their commitment to those values.

Screen Shot 2017-05-05 at 11.04.09 PM
The symbols from certifications do not alone educate consumers, so the burden is on consumers to research the certification requirements for each one. These are the symbols of all the certifications discussed in this blog post.

Chocolate is a $100 billion dollar per year global industry ensnared in negative environmental and ethical footprints. While Europe, the United States, and Canada account for 73% of this global consumption, they produce none of it. This strong misalignment between where cacao is consumed and where it is grown has led to consumer naiveté about its negative footprints. We have yet to develop solutions for all of these impacts, and each cacao growing region has its own microclimate and political and cultural constraints so no one solution or certification is the golden ticket.

These issues require governmental action and multi-stakeholder collaboration, but from the consumer’s perspective, purchasing dark chocolate from companies that work to improve on-farm sustainability through agroforestry systems is a good start. Additionally, consumers can purchase chocolate from companies that support or partner with the International Cocoa Initiative and/or the International Cocoa Organization to end the worst forms of child labor.

FinalHandout_EH212Project_PDF.jpg
This is a consumer guide for chocolate made by several students at the Harvard Chen School of Public Health. It rates a diversity of commercially-available chocolate bars on environmental, nutritional, and societal metrics and could be a useful tool for consumers trying to mitigate the negative global impacts of their chocolate consumption.

Once chocolate production internalizes its negative social and environmental externalities, the product is going to cost more. But compared to other fine food items like cheese and wine, chocolate can still be a relatively accessible treat. Consumer awareness of the global impacts of the chocolate industry can also extend to a greater understanding and appreciation of the global impacts of other food and non-food products.

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

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

About the Companies

Taza

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

Alter Eco

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

Super-Blackout-Blue

Trade Relationships

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

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

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

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

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

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

Environmental Impact

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

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

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

Pur-Projet-farmers-carrying-trees
PUR Project farmers carrying saplings

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

Community Impact

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

References

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Multimedia Sources

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

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

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

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

Alter Eco – Changing The Chocolate Industry As We Know It

The chocolate industry has received significant criticism in the past decades for unsustainable practices stemming from questionable labor practices, use of low quality ingredients, poor production standards and problematic advertisements trends. These troubled elements combined have been brought to light by professionals analyzing the human, environmental, economic and social impact of chocolate on communities across the world. Indeed, most of the problems highlighted within the industry are still rampant today. Very few companies can pride themselves for having sustainable practices from a bean-to-bar perspective. Alter Eco, based out of California, France and Australia, prides itself in providing its clients with “healthy, sustainable and socially responsible foods” (Alter Eco, 2015). Through its high standards for quality and social responsibility, Alter Eco is a powerful response to the problems highlighted with today’s chocolate industry and attempts to mitigate the problems rampant within the multi-billion-dollar industry of cacao.

Acopagro_

Alter Eco Foods provides its clients with a multitude of products ranging from chocolate bars, truffles, quinoa, and rice. Mathieu Senard, the co-founder and CEO of Alter Eco, states: [The company] started with chocolate, and then [evolved to] grains such as quinoa and rice. Our goal is to buy directly from cooperatives and, more importantly, pay a fair price” (Kaye, 2017). Alter Eco’s mission remains the same through its line of products. The company prides itself in its concept of “full circle sustainability” for all the products in its line. Full circle sustainability, in its most basic form, presents solutions to most of the problems highlighted by specialists in the chocolate industry. Most of the problematic companies view sales and production as a two-way street between the client and the business. Alter Eco views its everyday business practices from a different perspective by adding the environmental impact of production in their equation. With its globalized market, Alter Eco Foods is showing its competitors that sustainable practices in the labor, ingredients, production and marketing spheres is both attractive and delicious to consumers across the world.

The issue of child labor is an epidemic in Cacao plantations across the globe, and even more dominantly in Cote D’Ivoire. Chanthavong, in his analysis of child labor in chocolate production, writes: “Slave traders are trafficking boys ranging from the age of 12 to 16 from their home countries and are selling them to cocoa farmers in Cote d’Ivoire. They work on small farms across the country, harvesting the cocoa beans day and night, under inhumane conditions.” The problem of child labor, regardless of the production goals, is an incredibly sensitive issue that many governmental and non-governmental organizations are attempting to handle. In its efforts to limit the spread of child labor in Cote D’Ivoire and across the glove, Alter Eco sources its cacao beans from South American farmer-owned plantations, more specifically Peru and Ecuador. Furthermore, the company sources its Cacao butter from Dominican Republic, cutting any sort of possibility for economically- or socially-encouraging abusive labor practices. The company undoubtedly prides itself in its “single origin, highest quality cacao beans.” Alter Eco’s sustainable labor standards go much further than avoiding cacao originating from questionable sources with risk of child labor involvement. The company aims to rectify the issue of unsustainable labor practices through fair trade relationships, development programs, and women empowerment programs. Fair trade relationships are at the forefront of the sustainable labor practices push forth by the company’s values. Professor Martin from Harvard University writes: “Landlessness remains a serious problem among the descendants of enslaved people throughout the cocoa producing world today.” To further remedy these rampant issues, Alter Eco prides itself in sourcing all of its products from small-scale, farmer-owned cooperatives. Alter Eco is partners with the Institute of Marketecology (IMO), Fair Trade USA and the Fair Trade Labelling Organization (FTLO). This list of high-level certifications provides clients with the certainty that the labor practices for producers are socially acceptable and sustainable and that the values of the company for providing producers with good living and working conditions are followed.

Fivecocoakids-BBC+Dominic+Hurst

Alter Eco’s efforts to offer a socially- and ethically-acceptable product do not stop at the location and origin of its labor force. The company put in place a variety of development programs in order to increase the likelihood of sustainability of its producers and workers. Its Fair Trade Premiums, which allocate money throughout the supply chain, have allowed Alter Eco’s sugar cooperative, Alter Trade, to build a training center for their employees in the Philippines, simultaneously serving as an assistance center for families to visit. Furthermore, in its full-circle attempt to provide all workers with social and economic support, Alter Eco addresses an underlying issue in today’s farming practices in its development of leadership and empowerment programs for women. Women within the farming industry are often viewed as second-class individuals due to the utterly and outrageously outdated assumption that they will not be as useful as men on the land. Alter Eco writes: “Gender equality is an important aspect of the Alter Eco business model, all the way down to the field.” Through such a stance, Alter Eco attempts to remedy the gender disparity and inequality within the farming industry through maintaining that “women will assert their due role and space in both the management of the homestead farming economy and in the governance of [the land]” (AlterEco.com).

Guadalupe-405x304

The issue of unsustainable environmental practices within the chocolate industry is one Alter Eco addresses with strength. Indeed, as stated earlier, Alter Eco prides itself in adding the environment in its equation for sustainable production practices, which is something very few businesses work towards. Professor Martin from Harvard University, in her presentation entitled “Psychology, Terroir, and Taste,” states that Terroir and Harvesting practices can strongly affect, both positively and negatively, cacao quality and quantity. Furthermore, “the use of pesticides on the farms can lead to the destruction of part of the soil flora and fauna through both physical and chemical deterioration” (Ntiamoah, 2008). Alter Eco prides itself in assuring that all of its cooperative farms maintain their fields within American and European standards for organic certification. Such a certification makes sure the consumers are aware of what they are getting: a product “free of synthetic additives like pesticides, chemical fertilizers, and dyes, and [that] must not [have been] processed using industrial solvents, irradiation, or genetic engineering” (Henry, 2012). Such sustainable ecological and organic practices put forth Alter Eco’s values in promoting a product that is good for farmers, earth, and consumers. Alter Eco’s efforts in promoting sustainable environmental practices do not end at the farm or on the plantation. Although the company goes to great lengths to maintain its organic certification, it even goes steps further in pushing forward its values of sustainability. Through its commitment to becoming a carbon-negative business, Alter Eco has already received its Carbon-neutral certification, which confirms the company offsets the same amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) as it produces. “Alter Eco works closely with PUR Project and [its] farmers to plant trees for the amount of CO2 [produced]” (Alter Eco, 2017). Furthermore, in its efforts to become a carbon negative business, Alter Eco started its emission subdivision called PUR Project. “Contrary to offsetting, which consists in handling carbon compensation in other places by uncorrelated people and means, the insetting includes the handling of carbon compensation into the commercial dynamics of the company” (PUR Project, 2017). In other words, Alter Eco’s insetting efforts are rooted deeply in the idea that you must give back to the soil and air from which you took. In having an impact within its supply line, Alter Eco can assure that its efforts are not in vain, and that, although it plans to plant an additional 7,776 trees in 2017, the 28,639 trees (Alter Eco, 2017) already planted since 2008 are truly being put to good use to reinvigorate the soil from which so much is produced.

Alter Eco’s efforts to make their products more environmentally-friendly do not stop at their carbon-neutral status. They indeed go even further to make their products truly “full circle sustainable.” The packaging in which their chocolate and truffles are placed are fully compostable. Plastic and the conventional polyethylene packaging are quite detrimental to the environment due to the astronomical quantity of plastic sent to landfills or that finishes its life course in the oceans. The packaging developed by Alter Eco provides an eco-friendly alternative to the original plastic packaging found for most chocolate bars. This new packaging is made from compostable materials, GMO free, and without any toxic ink. Mathieu Senard adds: ““We believe the impact of our packaging is just as important as the product itself. How could we call ourselves a responsible, sustainable company when much of our packaging was going to landfills to live for hundreds of years?” (Alter Eco, 2015). This question raised by Senard is one answered by very few companies, which makes Alter Eco that much more efficient in its goal of changing the dynamics of chocolate production across the globe. To top off its environmental goals, Alter Eco has partnered with the 1% For the Planet Fund, which gives 1% of the company’s sales to a non-profit with environmental improvement goals.

 

 

Businessman David Ogilvy was once quoted for saying: “The more informative your advertising, the more persuasive it will be.” Advertisements and marketing are truly at the forefront of the chocolate industry’s sales. Whether it is for Valentine’s Day, Easter, Christmas, or Halloween, chocolate advertisements are all over television networks, the internet, and social media. Nonetheless, there are many problems and complaints associated with today’s chocolate industry and its marketing techniques. During her lecture at Harvard University about “Race, Ethnicity and Gender” in today’s chocolate industry, Professor Carla Martin elaborated on today’s chocolate marketing techniques and its associated prejudice, stereotypes, and discrimination. Most of this discrimination comes in the form of racism or sexism. Women are portrayed as irrational in the presence of chocolate while men are portrayed as sexualized bodies. Simultaneously, race is also being portrayed in stereotypical and offensive ways. Alter Eco attempts to go against all these rampant problems with marketing for chocolate. The company presents its potential buyers with an honest, informative advertising. Fagerhaug (Honest Marketing, 1997) writes: “The main point about honest marketing is to run the business in such a way that a customer at any time can feel the certainty any customer longs for; that he or she made the right choice.” When a customer purchases a product from Alter Eco, there is a directly associated certainty in the quality and honesty of the product received.

alter-eco-coc-edit

In conclusion, Alter Eco attempts to provide its clients around the world with a sustainable chocolate product that tackles most, if not all the problems associated with today’s chocolate market. Through its fair labor practices, honest ingredients, conscientious production techniques and reliable advertisements, Alter Eco gives its customers exactly what they can expect. If more companies put as much care and attention in their products as Alter Eco does, the world would be a much better place. Alter Eco is undoubtedly part of the solution to the problems in the world’s chocolate and cacao industries.

———————————————

Works Cited:

“Alter Eco – B Corporation”. B Corporation Website. Fair Trade & Organic Foods, 2017.

“Alter Eco Foods”. AlterEco.com, Web. Accessed 05.03.2017.

“Alter Eco 2015 Impact Report”. AlterEco.com. Pages 7/7. 2017.

Business Wire Magazine. Alter Eco Logo Image. Media Image (Jpeg). Web. 05.03.17. http://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20160419005633/en/Alter-Eco-Unveils-Annual-Full-Circle-Sustainability-Social

Chanthavong, Samlanchith. “Chocolate and Slavery: Child Labor in Cote D’Ivoire.” TED Case Studies. American University. Pages 17/17. 2017.

Fagerhaug & Andersen. “Honest Marketing: A Coherent Approach to Conscientious Business Operation.” Norwegian University of Science and Technology. 2017.

Henry, Alan. “What Does Organic Really Mean, And Is It Worth my Money?” Lifehacker.com. 2012.

Laye, Keon. “Alter Eco Wants to Make Chocolate a Regenerative, not Extractive, Industry.” Triple Pundit Online Publishing, 2017.

Lovely Package. Alter Eco Packaging Image. Media Image (Jpeg). Web. 05.03.17. http://lovelypackage.com/alter-eco/

Martin, Carla D.“Race, ethnicity, gender, and class in chocolate advertisements”, Harvard University, CGIS, AAAS 119x, 2017.

Martin, Carla D. “Slavery, abolition, and forced labor”, Harvard University, CGIS, AAAS 119x, 2017.

Martin, Carla D. “Psychology, Terroir, and Taste”, Harvard University, CGIS, AAAS 119x, 2017.

“Mission/Values.” Fair Trade USA. Fair Trade USA, 2016.

Ntiamoah, Augustine. “Environmental impacts of cocoa production and processing in Ghana: life cycle assessment approach.” Journal of Cleaner Production, Print. 2008.

Plan Vivo. Pur Project Logo image. Media Image (Jpeg). Web. 05.03.17. http://www.planvivo.org/

Smedley, Tim. “Forget About Offsetting, Insetting is the Future.” The Guardian. Web, 2015.

Squicciarini & Swinnen. “The Economics of Chocolate”, Oxford Scholarship Online, 2016.

Slave Free Chocolate. Chocolate’s Slave Trade Image. Media Image (Jpeg). Web. 05.03.17. http://www.slavefreechocolate.org/

The Problem of Child Labor in the Cocoa Plantations. Africa News Service, Feb 2, 2012

WordPress.Willandmegan. Alter Eco Chocolate Bar Image. Media Image (Jpeg). Web. 05.03.17. https://willandmegan.wordpress.com/tag/alter-eco/

Money can grow on trees: the valuation of and payment for ecosystem services in the chocolate industry

As issues like food justice and consumer activism are popularized around certain products, there is an increased demand that food is good concerning not only taste but ethicality as well. When exploring what was being done to make chocolate more ethical and sustainable, I became interested in exploring how chocolate companies were taking action to make their products more “good” for people, the planet, and the sustainability of the industry.

A multi-billion dollar industry with nearly 50 million people along its global value chain, the chocolate industry, is undergoing many challenges which center around its sustainable procurement of cocoa. This is the case not only with respect to rising demands due to the expansion of new middle-class markets in Africa and Asia but is particularly relevant to concerns about the sustainability of its labour force, especially with regard to cocoa farmers and growers, and the environment, specifically with respect to the resilience of the crops affected  by climate change impacts; issues like these have affected an increasing global demand for chocolate. In fact, it is projected that by 2020, the global cocoa demand will exceed the supply by almost 1 million metric tons with industry forecasts of a 30% growth in demand amounting to 4.5 million tons by 2020. [1]

Alongside an increasing demand for chocolate, there has been a rising demand amongst consumers for greater transparency, traceability, and accountability throughout the chocolate value chain particularly at relates to social factors. [2] For example, chocolate companies are being scrutinized on the production end of its supply chain on issues like generational poverty faced by cocoa farmers, low productivity due to agricultural practices, and increasing the prevalence of many cocoa farmers and growers choosing to walk away from the industry entirely. For instance, according to CNN’s “Cocoa-nomics” series, revealed that compared to 16% received by cocoa farmers for every chocolate bar sold in the late 1980’s, today farmers receive only 3%. [3]

b7obgpeiiaa9gs4
Figure 1. Infographic outlining the pricing of chocolate bar and how it relates to actors all along the value chain.

 

Also, as the negative impacts of climate change -including increasingly unpredictable differentiation between wet and dry season, intense rains and flooding, longer and prolonged dry periods, as well as subsequent changes in the local ecosystem – continues to grow, many consumers have increased concern about the environmental impact of food production. Together, these focus areas have come to form a basis for the concern about the sustainability of the overall chocolate industry with attention increasingly directed at the both the beginning (farmers and growers) and end (consumers) of the chocolate product supply chains. Through emergence and development sustainability mechanisms like third-party audits, chain-of-custody schemes, direct trade (bean-to-bar chocolate producers), and single-source supply chains, chocolate companies have begun to adopt new and innovative models for sustainable sourcing of cocoa.

Concerning consumers, chocolate companies have increased their marketing efforts at increasing customers’ assurance of their sustainable practices. In particularly, some chocolate producers have implemented market-driven approaches through the use of consumer-facing tools like certification labeling and standards. [4] However, even with such certifications, there have been some useful questions raised about the effectiveness of certifications at positively impacting the lives of actors at the beginning of the supply chain, particularly for farmers and growers. For example, the Fair Trade certification offers a price premium price for the production of crops grown at higher social and environmental standards; however, questions have been raised around how much of the intended benefit of the certification reaches the poorest farmers and growers. [5] (Sylla, 2014, p. 208).

And so chocolate producers have begun exploring other market-driven approaches to increasing the sustainability of its industry. Most recently, in November of 2015, many leaders came together for the COP 21, the annual United Nations Climate Change Conference, where the Paris Agreement was adopted which governs the climate change related measures calling for the reduction of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. While the  Paris agreement does not  go so far as to establish what agriculture’s role in  reducing global emissions should be, it does outline that the international community “must address climate change’s effects on agriculture to build resilience and enhance food security globally.”[6]The chocolate industry has been sensitive to the devastating effect climate change could have on its industry. In Yasin’s 2014 Salon article titled “Why climate change could mean the end of chocolate”, she points out that that in West Africa, particularly Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana where nearly 70 percent of the world’s cocoa is produced, temperatures are expected to rise by a 2-degree Celsius (36.5 F) by 2050.  Many worry that this increase in temperature could affect a greater amount of water being lost by cocoa trees to evapotranspiration making them too dry. [7] 

Overall, the COP 21’s call-to-action instilled a renewed interest in exploring how the expansion of ecosystem services markets could help industries become more sustainable, including the chocolate industry. Actors from the chocolate industry showed up to the convening to make leaders aware of the world’s first carbon-neutral chocolate company, The Change Chocolate, and distributed their chocolate to remind them of how crucial the outcomes of the talks were to the sustainability of the chocolate industry.

chocolate-e1449053074396
Figure 2. The Change Chocolate, a carbon-neutral chocolate bar making an appearance of the COP21 with words to leaders.

While much attention has been drawn to chocolate industry’s efforts to increase crop productivity, which could include things like monocropping,  as a vehicle for farmers to get liveable incomes thus sustaining the cocoa supply chain’s labor force, some have argued that this strategy alone fails to account for the environmental externalities associated with that increased production and adverse impacts like for example the loss of biodiversity. [8] [9] (Healy, 2001, p. 151). For instance, in the case of no-shade cocoa versus shady cocoa, scholars have found that a trade-off emerges between growing no-shade cocoa that has higher yields, meaning more economic return, but is more environmentally destructive, and shady cocoa which has lower yields but is more sustainable, meaning increased biodiversity, permaculture, and carbon sequestration. [10] When the only thing valued is the consumption of resources, it can leave many developing nations having to choose between exploiting those resources and their economic development.

To bring balance to key decision-points, people have increasingly looked at valuing the ecological services provided to evaluate in a cost-to-benefit analysis against the exploitation of the said resource. Such valuation looks towards the value of not only what is provided but what may be avoided or lost as well to become the basis of an emerging environmental marketplace. Features of such markets could include tools like payment for ecosystem services (PES). [11] One of the most readily recognizable examples of PES are carbon credits.

The chocolate industry has begun to explore how to engage in carbon markets both at the beginning and end of the product supply chain. Actors in the chocolate industry are exploring how the economic valuation of environmental services provided by eco-friendly farming practices can work for payment for ecosystem services (PES) program. Such a system would be formed to create new value-streams for its cocoa producers so as to incentivize sustainable agroforestry practices monetarily. Also, as consumers become increasingly concerned with understanding how their consumption and purchasing decision impacts their overall carbon footprint, companies are marketing chocolate products that feature carbon emissions labeling.

Concerning farmers and growers and their communities,  more food companies have looked towards working with farmers and growers to introduce more ecological farming practices to curtail environmental degradation and increase the crop’s resilience. [12] An inspiring example of small-scale farmers benefiting from a PES program focused on the sequestration of carbon in the soil is the Kenya Agricultural Carbon Project (KACP). The KACP was the first organization in the world to earn verified carbon credits under the verified carbon standard (VCS) through its use of the sustainable agricultural land management (SALM) methodology for carbon sequestered in soil. [13] Later, the research on the efficacy of KALP adoption of the SALM methodology in the context of the KACP program not only provided benefits to the environment but led to increased agricultural productivity as well.

(lo-res) New manuals will help farmers in Kenya and Uganda earn carbon credits (1)
Figure 3. An agroforestry project training for farmers on how to sequester carbon and earn money.

The SALM methodology is empowering to farmers and growers because of how it engages them in measuring the impact of their eco-friendly farming practices on crop yields and the amount of carbon sequestered in the soil and makes them the PES beneficiaries for their performance of the improved farming methods.

According to Diarietou Gaye, World Bank Country Director for Kenya, “carbon credits are creating a revenue stream that enhances the extension services provided to farmers, which are critical to the adoption of these practices and also adds to farmers’ income beyond their increased crop yields.” [14] Moreover, methodologies like SALM have found their way into the chocolate world as well on both the large and small scale. For example, German-based ForestFinest Consulting, a well-renowned sustainable land-use expert, works with cocoa farming communities in Panama on a  carbon-certified climate-protection project and in turn worked with a small-scale chocolate manufacturer trying to achieve a climate-positive product. On the other end, Mondelēz International, one of the world’s largest manufacturers, promised $400 million USD  to support the production of sustainable cocoa with zero net deforestation in Africa. [16] All in all, this points to how PES is used at the beginning of the chocolate product supply chain by a variety of chocolate industry actors.

Chocolate is a product that has a relatively high carbon footprint associated with it, attributed mostly to its production, and chocolate producers have already started marketing and selling their carbon-neutral or reduced carbon impact chocolate products as a potential buying point for some consumers and in preparation for anticipated legislation requiring such labeling. [17]

chocolate_graphic_v3_english
Figure 4.  An infographic featuring the carbon footprint associated with different types of chocolate.

While some chocolate companies have chosen to focus its carbon neutrality or reduction effort on the production side of the chocolate product supply chain, others have decided to steer that focus in other areas. For example, Gru Rococo, a British chocolate company transported its chocolate bars via sail and solar powered ships and then sold famously sold its 3.5 ounces bars for around $21 USD each. [18] The company’s spokeswoman explained that the price was meant to shock consumers to help them realize that “people are not paying anywhere near the real environmental price for chocolate when they buy an ordinary bar. This is chocolate without an impact.” [19] While this company is making significant steps in reducing the carbon impact through its use of environmentally-friendly transportation, researchers have agreed that the majority of carbon reduction in the chocolate industry likely has more to do with how the crop is produced. [20]

Finally, food is about more than just taste, it’s political. With regard to food (and politics for that matter), it’s our responsibility to learn more and do more with that knowledge to increase the wellbeing of ourselves, families, community, and world. Rather than marginalizing certain cocoa growing regions from prime chocolate production markets due its reputation,  examining what steps are being taken to create ethical supply chains and better livelihoods for farmers is critical. For instance, while artisan producers may:

“purchase costly flavor beans and can thus improve the livelihoods of poor farmers, they are also unlikely to buy from a place with a negative image—such as West Africa. Colin Gasko, who has not sourced from West Africa, although he is considering it, remarked: ‘How do you buy cacao from West Africa in a way that is socially responsible, given its reputation and political climate?'”[21] (Leissle, 2013, p. 30).

Promoting the work being done to engage farmers in PES programs, brings into focus examples of cocoa cultivation working in ways that are not exploitative to workers through community-level engagement and then markets that as a selling point for buying chocolate from that community. It helps to draw consumers to become aware of the communities it purchases from and imagine their decision to purchase as being supportive of its wellbeing rather than contributing to its exploitation. By focusing on the community-level, it helps to disrupt the biases blanketed over the entire region and helps producers from those regions that are growing cocoa ethically to have access to the lucrative artisan and fine chocolate markets. An excellent example of this approach being used is in the case of Divine Chocolates.[22] (Ibid., p. 27). Essentially, it helps to counter the “dislocation of production and consumption in commodity markets”[23](Martin & Sampeck, 2015, p. 48) and achieve “the transformation of the relationship between producers and consumers.”[24] (Ibid.)

Food and climate change activism has re-shaped ideas, policies and industries and has led to positive transformations in key agricultural industries, like coffee for example. This was accomplished through the work of multiple stakeholders with communities rather than excluding those communities that needed to improve to lucrative areas of the market. When looking to recent examples of  how the chocolate industry is beginning to engage in environmental markets to make itself more sustainable, such programs have the ability to shine a spotlight on ethical and sustainable actors in the industry. Overall,  it is exciting to see how the incentives of the industry, farmers and consumers can come together to make the future of chocolate seem a little sweeter while bringing into focus the communities themselves.

Endnotes

[1] Goodyear, D. (n.d.). The Future of Chocolate: Why Cocoa Production is at Risk. The Guardian. Retrieved May 1, 2016, from http://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/fairtrade-partner-zone/chocolate-cocoa-production-risk

[2] Mccabe, M. (2015). Fine Chocolate, Resistance, and Political Morality.Journal of Business Anthropology, 4(1), 54-81. Retrieved May 1, 2016.

[3] Torre, I. (2014, February 27). Cocoa-nomics explained: Unwrapping the chocolate industry. Retrieved May 1, 2016, from http://www.cnn.com/2014/02/13/world/africa/cocoa-nomics-explained-infographic/index.html

[4] Sylla, N. S. (2014). The Fair Trade Scandal: Marketing poverty to benefit the rich (1st ed.) (D. C. Leye, Trans.). Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Center for American Progress Energy and Environment Team. (2016, May 12). Agriculture and the Paris Agreement. Retrieved May 12, 2016, from https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/green/report/2016/05/12/137310/agriculture-and-the-paris-agreement/

[7] Scott, M. (2016, February 10). Climate & Chocolate. Climate Watch Magazine. Retrieved May 01, 2016, from https://www.climate.gov/news-features/climate-and/climate-chocolate

[8] Harris, N., Payne, O., & Mann, S. (2015, August 6). Tech tells you how much rainforest is in that chocolate bar. Retrieved May 1, 2016, from http://www.greenbiz.com/article/tech-tell-you-how-much-rainforest-chocolate-bar

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

[10] Ibid.

[11] Attunes, P. (2013, May). Ecosystem Services. Retrieved May 1, 2016, from http://www.ejolt.org/2013/05/ecosystem-services/

[12] Ibid.

[13] Muriuki, T. (2014, January 21). Kenyans Earn First Ever Carbon Credits From Sustainable Farming. Retrieved May 1, 2016, from http://www.ecosystemmarketplace.com/articles/kenyans-earn-first-ever-carbon-credits-from-sustainable-farming/

[14] Ibid.

[15]  Fortyr, P. (2015, November 05). Sweet: Chocolate goes climate-positive with carbon insetting. Retrieved May 1, 2016, from http://www.landscapes.org/insetting-turning-things-sweet-with-climate-positive-chocolate/

[16] Taylor, L. (2015, December 12). Paris climate deal might just be enough to start turning the tide on global warming. The Guardian. Retrieved May 1, 2016, from http://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2015/dec/13/paris-climate-deal-gives-even-a-cynic-grounds-for-optimism

[17] Inderscience Publishers. (2016, February 26). Consumers care about carbon footprint: Do consumers care about carbon emitted during the lifecycle of consumer goods?. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 1, 2016, from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/02/160226133615.htm

[18] Ibid.

[19] Vidal, J. (2011, May 11). UK’s Only Carbon-neutral Chocolate Arrives by Sailing Ship [blog post]. Retrieved May 1, 2016, from http://www.theguardian.com/environment/blog/2012/may/11/carbon-neutral-chocolate

[20] Ibid.

[21] Leissle, K. (2013). Invisible West Africa: The Politics of Single Origin Chocolate. Gastronomica, 13(3), 22-31. Retrieved May 1, 2016, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/gfc.2013.13.3.22?ref=search-gateway:521ecce351ea0879eb5addd32e7fa493

[22] Ibid.

[23] Martin, C. D., & Sampeck, K. E. (2015). The bitter and sweet of chocolate in Europe. Socio.hu, (Special issue 3), 37-60. doi:10.18030/socio.hu.2015en.37

[24] Ibid.

Multimedia  – Figures

  1. Torre, I., & Jones, B. (2014, February 27). The real cost of a chocolate bar [Digital image]. Retrieved May 1, 2016, from http://edition.cnn.com/2014/02/13/world/africa/cocoa-nomics-explained-infographic/index.html
  2. [The Change Chocolate supports an afforestation project.]. (2015, December 09). Retrieved May 1, 2016, from http://i1.wp.com/www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/chocolate-e1449053074396.jpg?w=669
  3. Meadu, V. (2015, July 7). New manuals will help farmers in Kenya and Uganda earn carbon credits [Innovative training projects help farmers to sequester carbon and earn cash from carbon.]. Retrieved May 1, 2016, from https://ccafs.cgiar.org/research/annual-report/2014/new-manuals-will-help-farmers-in-kenya-and-uganda-earn-carbon-credits
  4. Harris, N., Payne, O., & Mann, S. (2015, August 6). Distribution of land-use change impacts across United Cacao’s production cycle [Digital image]. Retrieved May 1, 2016, from http://www.wri.org/sites/default/files/uploads/chocolate_graphic_v3_english.png

Multimedia  – Videos

  1. Carbon Control. (2012, March 10). How does the emission trading scheme work? [Video blog post]. Retrieved May 1, 2016, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ReOj12UAus4
  2. Fair Trade Eastern Africa. (2015, December 15). Fairtrade Carbon Credits Animation [Video blog post]. Retrieved May 1, 2016, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C49FY3OKEhk

Sources

Attunes, P. (2013, May). Ecosystem Services. Retrieved May 1, 2016, from http://www.ejolt.org/2013/05/ecosystem-services/

Center for American Progress Energy and Environment Team. (2016, May 12). Agriculture and the Paris Agreement. Retrieved May 12, 2016, from https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/green/report/2016/05/12/137310/agriculture-and-the-paris-agreement/

Fortyr, P. (2015, November 05). Sweet: Chocolate goes climate-positive with carbon insetting. Retrieved May 1, 2016, from http://www.landscapes.org/insetting-turning-things-sweet-with-climate-positive-chocolate/

Goodyear, D. (n.d.). The Future of Chocolate: Why Cocoa Production is at Risk. The Guardian. Retrieved May 1, 2016, from http://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/fairtrade-partner-zone/chocolate-cocoa-production-risk

Harris, N., Payne, O., & Mann, S. (2015, August 6). Tech tells you how much rainforest is in that chocolate bar. Retrieved May 1, 2016, from http://www.greenbiz.com/article/tech-tell-you-how-much-rainforest-chocolate-bar

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

Inderscience Publishers. (2016, February 26). Consumers care about carbon footprint: Do consumers care about carbon emitted during the lifecycle of consumer goods?. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 1, 2016, from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/02/160226133615.htm

Leissle, K. (2013). Invisible West Africa: The Politics of Single Origin Chocolate. Gastronomica, 13(3), 22-31. Retrieved May 1, 2016, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/gfc.2013.13.3.22?ref=search-gateway:521ecce351ea0879eb5addd32e7fa493

Martin, C. D., & Sampeck, K. E. (2015). The bitter and sweet of chocolate in Europe. Socio.hu, (Special issue 3), 37-60. doi:10.18030/socio.hu.2015en.37

Mccabe, M. (2015). Fine Chocolate, Resistance, and Political Morality. Journal of Business Anthropology, 4(1), 54-81. Retrieved May 1, 2016.

Muriuki, T. (2014, January 21). Kenyans Earn First Ever Carbon Credits From Sustainable Farming. Retrieved May 1, 2016, from http://www.ecosystemmarketplace.com/articles/kenyans-earn-first-ever-carbon-credits-from-sustainable-farming/

Scott, M. (2016, February 10). Climate & Chocolate. Climate Watch Magazine. Retrieved May 01, 2016, from https://www.climate.gov/news-features/climate-and/climate-chocolate

Sylla, N. S. (2014). The Fair Trade Scandal: Marketing poverty to benefit the rich (1st ed.) (D. C. Leye, Trans.). Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press.

Taylor, L. (2015, December 12). Paris climate deal might just be enough to start turning the tide on global warming. The Guardian. Retrieved May 1, 2016, from http://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2015/dec/13/paris-climate-deal-gives-even-a-cynic-grounds-for-optimism

Torre, I. (2014, February 27). Cocoa-nomics explained: Unwrapping the chocolate industry. Retrieved May 1, 2016, from http://www.cnn.com/2014/02/13/world/africa/cocoa-nomics-explained-infographic/index.html

Vidal, J. (2011, May 11). UK’s Only Carbon-neutral Chocolate Arrives by Sailing Ship [blog post]. Retrieved May 1, 2016, from http://www.theguardian.com/environment/blog/2012/may/11/carbon-neutral-chocolate