Tag Archives: ethical consumer

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

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

Chelsea Market Baskets 

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

IMG_3250
CMB’s three sections of chocolate (shot with iPhone)

Selection

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

IMG_3403
Bean-to-bar makers Sol Cacao and Dandelion specify the estate from which their beans are sourced (shot with iPhone). 

IMG_3409

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

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

Visually appealing products (shot with iPhone)

IMG_3218

IMG_3245
Fusing bacon with chocolate

Ethical Concerns

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

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

 

tazaselection
Taza selection at CMB (shot with iPhone)

Taste

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

IMG_3429

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

IMG_3436

The Meadow

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

IMG_3202
The Meadow’s three sections of chocolate (shot with iPhone)

Selection

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

IMG_3199
Tasting samples (shot with iPhone)

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Domori

Ethical Concerns

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

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

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

Taste

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

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

Dick Taylor

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

Akesson's criollo chocolate

 

Conclusion

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

Works Cited

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

An Interview with a Chocolate Lover: Issues within the Chocolate Industry Revealed

Curious about people’s relationship with chocolate, I interviewed a young female adult about how her relationship with chocolate has changed from childhood into adulthood. The interviewee has never learned about chocolate, but she alludes to various historical, economical, and social issues within the chocolate industry throughout the interview. Specifically, she raises ethical issues about cacao farming practices, and explicates how business transactions harm chocolate producers. The interviewee is a college-educated individual, and demonstrates significant knowledge about these issues presumably because of her enrollment in a course about the sociology of food. Based on her responses in the interview, it is clear that this course changed her relationship with food and influences her current food decisions. Through the interview, the interviewee illuminates glaring issues within the chocolate industry related to the production of cacao, exploitation of cacao farmers, and chocolate advertising. First, she raises issues that about the production of cacao by demonstrating awareness about the economic difficulties cacao farmers face, and by discussing logistical issues about certifications that attempt to combat those economic issues. Second, in describing her chocolate preferences and perceptions, she alludes to issues regarding chocolate marketing strategies, and demonstrates the immense influence that chocolate advertisements hold over consumer purchasing decisions.

Before evaluating the historical, economic, and social issues within the chocolate industry revealed by the interviewee, it is necessary to explain the similarities between cacao and coffee bean production. The interviewee learned about coffee production in a course at a prestigious university, so this section purposes to provide legitimacy to the issues she raises about cacao production by emphasizing that the coffee and cacao industries experience the same problems, thereby qualifying her arguments about coffee production as applicable to cacao production as well. First, the working and economic conditions of coffee and cacao farmers are almost identical. Most coffee farmers produce beans on small, family-owned farms, and live in poverty.[1] Coffee farmers typically rely on bean sales as their primary source of income, but it is extremely volatile because it responds to any fluctuation in bean market prices and sales.[2] Second, coffee farmers can obtain Fair Trade and Organic Certification. Fair Trade promises the same benefits to coffee farmers as it does to cacao farmers, including minimum price premiums, social development, better labor rights, and long-term trading partnership.[3] Third, a large gap exists between coffee producers’ farming practices and coffee consumers’ purchasing decisions. There are stark differences between farmers that produce specialty coffee, and farmers that produce conventional, non-certified coffee. Demand for specialty coffee is on the rise because consumers, particularly those that identify with the ethical eating, Slow Food Movement, are willing to pay more for certified, eco-friendly coffee.[4] Higher quality coffee beans are sold at a higher price in the market, but most coffee consumers are unaware of the implications of their coffee-purchasing decisions.[5] Lastly, similar to the chocolate industry, a few select big coffee companies – less than 10 – control more than half of the coffee market.[6] These similarities are important to recognize, as the interviewee recalls this knowledge in the interview, and subsequently reveals that the economic and social issues afflicting coffee farmers and production are the same issues that exist in relation to cacao farming and production.

coffee beancacao bean

Image 1: Coffee Bean                                                                             Image 2: Cacao Bean

The interviewee brings attention to the importance of the raw coffee bean product to the existence of the entire coffee industry. Through this observation, she emphasizes the complete disconnect between coffee production and coffee consumption, revealing that the same issue exists within the chocolate industry. The interviewee comments, “without the farmers, you wouldn’t have the product. They’re the ones creating the base product to make coffee. They’re often the most forgotten. That’s like with any food product.”[7] This remark deserves close evaluation, as it perfectly describes the fragmented functioning and separateness of the different sectors of the coffee industry, also applicable to the chocolate industry. With that remark, the interviewee astutely explains that these complex industries rely wholly on the raw product, the bean, and without which, coffee and chocolate might not exist. This comment is interesting because it offers a simplistic vision that connects the necessity of the raw product to the consumer industry miles and miles away. This perception also illuminates how coffee and chocolate consumers are highly unaware of the implications of their purchasing decisions on the economic livelihood of the producers. Pictured in images 1 and 2 are a coffee and cacao bean, respectively (Image 1 and 2). These visuals purpose as a reminder to consumers that the coffee they drink from Starbucks, or Lindt chocolate they eat from their local supermarket, are products that begin with coffee and cacao beans, harvested and cultivated by farmers. Production and consumption are inherently connected, however, farmers are often naïve about the final product and consumers are often uneducated about the raw product process, both of which exacerbate the separateness between different players within the coffee and chocolate systems.

USDA organic labelImage 3: USDA Organic Certification Label

The interviewee discusses logistical issues with the Fair Trade and Organic Certification protocols, revealing that these labels harm rather than benefit cacao farmers and production. Fair Trade, Organic, and Direct Trade certifications share a common goal to compensate cacao farmers that produce their beans in adherence to specific environmental and social standards at a higher price than the conventional market offers.[8] The United States Department of Agriculture divides organic products into three categories, “100% organic,” “organic,” and “made with organic ingredients,” where each category is defined based on strict agricultural practice regulations.[9] Agricultural products that adhere to these standards are labeled with the “USDA Organic” logo, pictured in Image 3 (Image 3). In viewing this image, it is apparent that the USDA Organic label is not informative, as the certification seal does not specify whether the product is made with 100%, 95%, or at least 70% organic ingredients. The lack of information on this label raises questions about the authenticity of these certifications, and how organic certification guidelines are monitored. In probing about her knowledge regarding Organic Certification, the interviewee says “there are requirements…You can still use pesticides, but [the farmers] use “organic” or “natural” pesticides that are “better” for the environment…I know there are loopholes in the organic certification process.”[10] Here, the interviewee identifies the major criticisms of the USDA Organic Certification process in relation to cacao farming and production practices, alluding to claims of product quality issues and loose surveillance of organically certified cacao farmers’ adherence to USDA guidelines.[11] As revealed through her remarks, the vagueness of this label generates confusion among consumers. Furthermore, these observations illuminate the need for tighter institutional regulation of USDA Organic protocols, both for the benefit of consumers – ensuring that cacao farmers are following certification standards, guaranteeing that consumers are purchasing actual organic cacao – and for the benefit of the producers – that they are properly compensated for producing cacao beans using environmentally-friendly farming practices.

The interviewee circles the debate about the effectiveness of Fair Trade certification’s impact on cacao farmers’ economic situation through her advocacy for Fair Trade coffee bean farming and production. Similar to organic certification, Fair Trade certification encourages sustainable farming practices, while also promoting social welfare and establishing long-term trading partnerships.[12] In explaining the benefits of Fair Trade for coffee farmers, the interviewee says, “the farmers work long, laborious hours and they don’t get paid very well unless they are in the Fair Trade system…more money goes to the farmer when it’s a Fair Trade transaction.”[13] Through this comment, the interviewee reveals two similarities between coffee bean and cacao production that are problematic for the farmers. First, she describes the difficult working conditions that coffee bean farmers endure, such as long and physically fatiguing hours, and subsequently suggests that the farmers are underpaid considering their strenuous working conditions. She alludes to a prominent issue that cacao farmers face in that they are not properly compensated for their grueling laborious efforts, and that their contributions to the chocolate industry are severely under-valued. Second, she asserts that Fair Trade certified coffee farmers are more economically stable than non-certified coffee farmers, referencing minimum price premiums and prompt payments promised by Fair Trade to certified farmers. This suggests that consumers perceive Fair Trade as an impactful certification that improves farmers’ economic situation. However, in reality, there is no strong evidence that the Fair Trade system is effective in combatting farmers’ economic crises, particularly that of cacao farmers.[14] This misconception is problematic, as consumers’ might purchase Fair Trade products hoping to improve farmers’ income situation, unbeknownst to the faults of Fair Trade.

The interviewee explicates that some of her food decisions are based on the ethicality of food production practices, but names high prices of Fair Trade and Organic products as a barrier that prevents her from always purchasing certified products. In regards to the cacao industry, attempts to improve the ethicality of cacao farmers’ working conditions by consumer advocacy groups more often than not fail.[15] Chocolate consumers are often uneducated about the complexities of the chocolate industry, making it difficult for consumers to grasp how their purchasing decisions impact the economic and/or social situation of cacao farmers. Therefore, consumers cannot be responsible for initiating change of the exploitative economic and social conditions endured by cacao farmers. Surprisingly, the interviewee demonstrates a deep consciousness about the relationship between production and consumption, explaining that she became a vegetarian because “I don’t like the treatment of farm animals on conventional farms…Also, I don’t like the growth hormones and antibiotics.”[16] This reasoning suggests that she chooses the type of food she consumes based on the ethicality of food production practices. She further explains that she prefers to consume organic food, as “It’s more environmentally friendly.”[17] Again, she adopts an ethical argument to support her preference to consume organic over conventional farm products. However, she subsequently mentions that she does not always purchase certified Organic or Fair Trade products because they are “more expensive.”[18] This confession reveals a common misconception among consumers that certified products are always more expensive, which is false, as Organic and Fair Trade farming practices can actually cost the same or less than conventional farming practices.[19] Through her remarks, it is clear that the interviewee is a conscious consumer, as she chose to become a vegetarian because of inhumane treatment of animals on conventional farms, indicating her care for ethical farming and production practices. However, her perception that Organic, Fair Trade, and Direct Trade products are more expensive than non-certified products alludes to major critiques of certification organizations, commonly accused of corrupt practices and falsely promising cacao farmers fair payment. Through the interviewee’s comments, she illuminates a significant issue that Organic, Fair Trade, and Direct Trade are actually more harmful than beneficial to cacao farmers’ economic and social conditions.

woman eating chocolate     Image 4: Gender in Chocolate Advertisement

Through the interviewee’s description of her chocolate perceptions and preferences, she reveals an issue rarely addressed, that of the immense control chocolate advertisements exercise over consumer choice. Chocolate advertisements commonly portray chocolate as an aphrodisiac, and as a luxurious product, through women’s sexuality.[20] Image 4 exemplifies this theme, as it pictures a woman, seemingly wearing no clothes, holding a piece of chocolate to her lips, with a seductive facial expression (Image 4). The image portrays chocolate as a desirable food through the sexual presentation and nature of the woman. The brightly colored lipstick brings focus to her lips, and accompanied by the sensual facial expression, the ad attempts to associate chocolate with love and romance. Furthermore, the woman is highly manicured, adorned with extravagant accessories, which contributes to the depiction of chocolate as a decadent and highly valuable product. Several times throughout the interview, the interviewee references chocolate as a “luxurious item.”[21] This association of chocolate with luxury precisely demonstrates the strong influence of chocolate advertisements, such as image 4, on consumers’ perceptions of chocolate. When prompted to reflect about chocolate advertisements, the interviewee pauses and appears puzzled, admitting a moment later that she only notices chocolate ads around Valentine’s Day.[22] Again, this emphasizes the effectiveness of chocolate marketing strategies to portray the product as an aphrodisiac, as consumers evidently associate chocolate with romance and love. The combination of a presumably seduced woman and a chocolate product, exampled in Image 4, contribute to this representation of chocolate as desirable. Most importantly, the interviewee illuminates that consumers are highly unaware of two issues related to chocolate marketing. First, the strong influence chocolate ads possess in forming their perceptions of chocolate, and second, the exploitation of female sexuality to deliver this specific representation of chocolate products. Based on the interviewee’s susceptibility to the impact of chocolate advertisements on her perceptions, and her unawareness of gender exploitation that litters these ads, it suggests that the chocolate industry should be taking action to enforce regulations that will reduce the influence of chocolate marketing on consumer perceptions and regulate chocolate marketing content.

Trader Joe's dark chocolate bar     Image 5: Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Product

The interviewee’s description of her chocolate preferences further demonstrates consumer susceptibility to the influences of chocolate advertisements. The interviewee reveals she favors dark chocolate, offering “I buy it at Trader Joe’s…I like the pure flavor of their products.”[23] First, Trader Joe’s is a grocery store that advertises the sale of organic, natural, fresh food at low prices. Second, recall that the interviewee prefers organic food, but high prices prevent her from purchasing organic products. Keeping these two pieces of information in mind, the interviewee’s comment suggests that she purchases chocolate at Trader Joe’s because it is both organic and affordable. In addition to these conscious reasons, the packaging of the chocolate may also contribute to the interviewee’s decision to purchase dark chocolate bars from Trader Joe’s, though she is unconscious of this influence. Image 5 exemplifies a dark chocolate bar product sold at Trader Joe’s, one that the interviewee might encounter (Image 5). This package exercises marketing strategies to influence consumer choice by emphasizing a high cacao content of “61%,” indicative of pure chocolate. Additionally, printing “Imported from Belgium” carries connotations associated with Europe, such as fantasy and romance. Lastly, the package pictures a crown, presumably representative of chocolate’s historical association with royalty in Europe. This suggests to the consumer that the chocolate is luxurious and highly valuably, and implies that the chocolate will taste rich and pure. All of these elements on the package impact the consumer’s decision to purchase that product by manipulating her perceptions, thereby prompting the consumer to imagine the chocolate will taste special over other chocolate products. Similar to an issue already discussed, the interviewee reveals that consumers are naïve to chocolate marketing strategies, and make unconscious purchasing decisions based on the effectiveness of chocolate ads and their ability to influence consumers’ perceptions and taste preferences of chocolate.

The interviewee reveals major historical, economic, and social issues that persist within the chocolate industry through her comments about coffee production, and in describing her chocolate perceptions and taste preferences. Historical issues, such as the under-recognized efforts of cacao farmers and their contributions that permit the existence of the chocolate industry – i.e. they provide the raw product to make chocolate – are evidently issues that exist within the coffee industry as well. Economic issues, such as volatile income and impoverished livelihoods, partially the fault of certification organizations like Organic and Fair Trade, are also issues within both the cacao and coffee industries. Lastly, social issues related to the use of sexualized images of women to control consumers’ perceptions and taste preferences of chocolate are seemingly unnoticed by consumers. This is problematic in that consumers are unaware that these ads contribute to the proliferation of stereotypical gender roles, and in that consumers are also unaware that they possess little agency in their chocolate purchasing decisions.
[1] Christopher Bacon, “Confronting the Coffee Crisis: Can Fair Trade, Organic, and Specialty Coffees Reduce Small-scale Farmer Vulnerability in Northern Nicaragua?,” World Development 33 (2005): 497-511.
[2] Joni Valkila, “Fair Trade Organic Coffee Production in Nicaragua – Sustainable Development or a Poverty Trap,” Ecological Economics 68 (2009): 3018-3025.
[3] Valkila, “Fair Trade organic coffee.”
[4] Julie Guthman, “Fast Food/Organic Food: Reflexive Tastes and the Making of “Yuppie Chow,” in Food and Culture, ed. by Carole Counihan and Penny Van Esterik (New York: Routledge, 2013), 496-509.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Bacon, “Confronting the Coffee Crisis.”
[7] Anonymous, interview by Ashlee Korsberg, April 24, 2017.
[8] Carla Martin, “Alternative trade and virtuous/localization/globalization” (lecture, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, April 5, 2017).
[9] “USDA Organic Labeling Regulations,” USDA, accessed April 30, 2017, https://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/text-idx?c=ecfr&sid=c4e0df8f46a4f4b6f56d80be31f95ed3&rgn=div6&view=text&node=7:3.1.1.9.32.4&idno=7.
[10] Anonymous.
[11] Martin, “Alternative trade.”
[12] Ibid.
[13] Anonymous.
[14] Ndongo Samba Sylla, “On the Inequalities of the International Trade System” and “The Fair Trade Universe,” in The Fair Trade Scandal: Marketing Poverty to Benefit the Rich, translated by David Clement Leye (London: Pluto Press, 2014).
[15] Carla Martin, “Modern day slavery” (lecture, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, March 22, 2017).
[16] Anonymous.
[17] Ibid.
[18] Ibid.
[19] Martin, “Alternative Trade.”
[20] Emma Robertson, “A deep physical reason’: gender, race and the nation in chocolate consumption,” in Chocolate, women and empire: A social and cultural history (Oxford: Manchester University Press, 2009), 18-63.
[21] Anonymous
[22] Anonymous.
[23] Anonymous.

References

Anonymous. Interview by Ashlee Korsberg, April 24, 2017.

Bacon, Christopher. “Confronting the Coffee Crisis: Can Fair Trade, Organic, and Specialty Coffees Reduce Small-scale Farmer Vulnerability in Northern Nicaragua?.” World Development 33 (2005): 497-511.

Guthman, Julie. “Fast Food/Organic Food: Reflexive Tastes and the Making of “Yuppie Chow.” In Food and Culture, edited by Carole Counihan, and Penny Van Esterik, 496-509, New York: Routledge, 2013.

Martin, Carla. “Alternative trade and virtuous/localization/globalization.” Lecture at Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, April 5, 2017.

Martin, Carla. “Modern day slavery.” Lecture at Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, March 22, 2017.

Martin, Carla. “Race, ethnicity, gender, and class in chocolate advertisements.” Lecture at Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, March 29, 2017.

Robertson, Emma. “A deep physical reason’: gender, race and the nation in chocolate consumption.” In Chocolate, women and empire: A social and cultural history, 18-63, Oxford: Manchester University Press, 2009.

Sylla, Ndongo Samba. “On the Inequalities of the International Trade System” and “The Fair Trade Universe.” In The Fair Trade Scandal: Marketing Poverty to Benefit the Rich, translated by David Clement Leye, London: Pluto Press, 2014.

U.S. Government Publishing Office. “USDA Organic Labeling Regulations.” Accessed April 30, 2017. https://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/text-idx?c=ecfr&sid=c4e0df8f46a4f4b6f56d80be31f95ed3&rgn=div6&view=text&node=7:3.1.1.9.32.4&idno=7.

Valkila, Joni. “Fair Trade Organic Coffee Production in Nicaragua – Sustainable Development or a Poverty Trap.” Ecological Economics 68 (2009): 3018-3025.

Image sources

Image 1: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Coffee_Beans_Photographed_in_Macro.jpg

Image 2: https://pixabay.com/en/photos/cocoa/

Image 3: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:USDA_organic_seal.svg

Image 4: https://www.flickr.com/photos/orofacial/8219609037

Image 5: https://chocolateihaveknown.wordpress.com/category/acquired/trader-joes/

 

 

Good Chocolate / Bad Chocolate: A Gradient of Chocolate Qualities in Harvard Square

The history of chocolate and its relation to society is long and full of dichotomies, some true, and some false: the use of chocolate by Aztec male soldiers and nobility as an energizing, strengthening elixir in preparing for battles, while women grinded and prepared the cacao (Coe); the consumption of chocolate drinks by European aristocrats, while those of lower classes were could not really afford indulging in tea, coffee, and cacao beverages (Coe); advertisements where women do the chocolate-indulging and men are the providers who gift it; chocolate as a healthy superfood or chocolate as an evil, sugary cavity-causing agent (Martin, Lecture 7, Slide 28). These are just some of the instances in the history of chocolate where there are binary instances in who is eating chocolates and what kinds of chocolate consumers can eat.

With my new background surrounding the culture, history, and food politics of chocolate products from class, I went into Harvard Square to examine what the stores there had to offer. Two of the shops that I explored sold a wide variety of products. I noticed the stores seemed to offer two very different sorts of chocolate- a dichotomy in chocolate price, quality, and social-consciousness. This observation is based on just a glance at the labels and the price tags at the chocolates sold at the two different stores: CVS and Cardullo’s Gourmet Shoppe. Considering the labels and inconsistencies between them, however, I found that there was no binary in chocolate quality between the two stores, but that each offered an array of production process differences to consider.

Big 5, Small Prices:

I first browsed the chocolate offerings at the Harvard Square CVS on the corner of Brattle Street. CVS arranged their chocolates in two different sections. Through the aisles of the store, on a shelf facing the back wall was a small shelf labeled “Premium Chocolate.” On this shelf, there were a dozen or so types of chocolates, composed of fewer brands than the other “non-Premium” chocolate shelves of the store contain. About six feet away, in the direction of the register, is a second panel of chocolate bars, not labeled “Premium.”

image1

CVS’s “Premium” assortment of chocolates.

CVS does not spell out what Premium actually means, and how the chocolates on the “Premium” shelf differ from the others. To me, the difference seems to be defined by the brands of chocolate: Ghiradelli, Lindt, and Ferrero Rochers, which all have more decadent images on their gold and metallic-hued wrappers than the loud and bibrant wrappers in CVS’s second chocolate section. The bars in the “Premium Chocolate” section are pricier, also, but only by a few dollars.

The CVS chocolates, made up of inexpensive impulse buys and the more expensive “Premium” Chocolates, which I found were still not as costly as the chocolate products in Cardullo’s, were not always the cheap, industrialized foods they are on these shelves. Once a luxury reserved for drinking in elite chocolate houses in Europe, the price of chocolate was driven down by industrialization of the chocolate production process. Chocolate making began as a laborious process, the ability to mechanically winnow, mill, and conch in chocolate making made cacao products a more easy-to-make and available foodstuff, driving down the price (Martin, Lecture 5, Slide 66).

Moreover, the less expensive chocolate products of CVS were mostly products of the “Big 5.” The Big 5 are mainly composed of enormous food companies that have dominated in the chocolate industry for centuries. They include Ferrero, Nestlé, Cadbury, Hershey, and Mars (Allen, 7). Each company has its own unique historic roots that make it a well-established and sought-out brand. The five complete with one another for power in the chocolate market, driving down the cost of their products. These corporations do not label where their chocolate comes from, and bulk cacao can come from many sources, often through middle men who make an unfair share of the pay coming from bigger chocolate producers (Martin, Lecture 10, Slide 42). As a result, those who shop for Ferrero, Nestlé, Cadbury, Hershey, and Mars get these outstandingly low prices, like those I found at CVS, but sacrifice the knowing social consciousness of smaller chocolate producers, who often pinpoint on wrappers where their cacao is from. Because the cacao is sourced from many different places and obtained using these “middle men,” it is less likely that these bigger companies have long-term relationships with the cacao farmers they are using, and there is no way the “Big 5” can make sure the farmers themselves are being fairly paid for their work in the cocoa supply chain (Martin, Lecture 10).

Furthermore, child labor has been accounted as an issue in parts of West Africa where farmers depend on cacao as a livelihood (Off, 130). In some instances, young boys help of farms as a way to assist the family, but when labor is physically injurious and keeps children from school or a normal childhood, these farming sources are problematic and unethical (Martin, Lecture 8, Slide 49). By not properly and informatively labeling chocolates or certifying them in some way to warn customers, there is no way of knowing who farmed the cacao in the bar or how those people were paid, even if evidence of child labor on cacao farms is varied (Ryan, 47). Still, even in the 21st century it is a consideration for chocolate consumers to think about.

The chocolates at CVS are all ones that I recognized by name. As is the nature of chain stores, the CVS candy selection was not different at all from that of other CVS stores I had been to. Moreover, the products are ones I have been exposed to at cash registers, on TV, in magazines, and all around my in advertising from a very young age. An important part of the business of these major chocolate companies is a cradle-to-grave loyalty established with consumers of chocolate from a very young age (Martin, Lecture 7, Slide 20). By going into CVS, customers are guaranteed to find brands that they know well and most likely have been exposed to over time.

The CVS selection overall was quite different from that of Cardullo’s Gourmet Shoppe. Its selection offered familiar, inexpensive chocolate bars produced by major well-established food corporations was a trade off for the possible unethical qualities along the chocolate production line, which could not really be indicated to the uneducated chocolate consumer buying at CVS. I did, however find one instance of more “ethical” chocolate at CVS. Among the shelves of non-”Premium” chocolate, there was a brand of chocolate called “Endangered Species Chocolate.” This bar was a stark contrast from all others at CVS, which had no ethical chocolate certifications, and instead advertised that its contents are “Fairtrade,” “Non-GMO Verified,” “Certified Gluten Free,” and “Certified Vegan.” This stood out to me as an indication that not all of the chocolate at CVS is evil and corporate (in fact, chocolate being affordable and accessible is a great thing about the CVS candy selection, it just comes with supply chain trade offs to consider). CVS offered the majority of certification-free, big corporation candy bars, but definitely had something to offer for customers looking for another, perhaps more informative option.

IMG_2089.JPG

Endangered Species Chocolate was an enormous contrast the the other chocolate bars I found at CVS. It had lots of informational certifications on the wrapper, and was still much less expensive than most of the Cardullo’s options.

A “Gourmet” Selection:

Across the street, at Cardullo’s Gourmet Shoppe, there is a very different selection of chocolate offerings. Cardullo’s is not a chain store like CVS. The store sells all sorts of specialty gourmet foods, including candy, syrup, tea, coffee, seasonings, and wine. On the store’s left wall, is their panel labeled “Chocolate.” The shelves are taller than me by a few feet, and it seems that the chocolate selection is wider than CVS’s selection. The wrappings and brands enveloping the candies are all less loudly colorful than the candies I saw in CVS. Overall, the chocolates are less familiar to my eyes- not the brands I find at my supermarket in my home town. None of these candies are produced by any of the “Big 5” corporations represented in CVS. Anyone shopping for chocolates at Cardullo’s has to be willing to spend more than they might at CVS. The prices here are higher, between seven and thirty dollars. Part of this is because not many of the chocolates sold at Cardullo’s are from the “Big 5” corporate chocolate manufacturers. Many are instead from smaller chocolate companies that emphasize an assortment of certifications on their labels, which indicate the chocolates are “Fairtrade,” “Non GMO Project Verified,” “Certified Gluten Free,” and “USDA Organic” among other things.

image1 2.JPG

A picture of just some of the diverse selection of chocolates Cardullo’s had to offer.

These are what separate the chocolates at Cardullo’s from the chocolates at CVS. I could conclude two things a customer might be looking in chocolate here: more “ethical” chocolates, and chocolates that have some “health benefits.” Many of the products emphasized, right on the wrappers, where the cacao came from, empowering Cardullo’s customers with the ability to decide about single-source chocolate and the kind of relationship the chocolate company has the the cacao farmers. Often times, these smaller chocolate companies have more direct relationships with the farmers and offer long-term business to them, as well as fair working wages. Still, chocolate with higher prices can mean that the middle man is being paid more also, and that the farmer’s wages are not being increased as much as a customer thinks (Martin, Lecture 10, Slide 9). So while there is this ethical choice customers at Cardullo’s are able to make, unclarity and inconsistency in the way the chocolate is labeled obfuscates this decision.

Fairtrade-logo

A fair trade certification on food labels, like this, lets customers know that the workers in the farming and production process of the food they are purchasing were paid fair wages, still there are other similar certifications and sorting out their meaning in relation to each other can be a lot for customers to consider.

Of course, just like at CVS, there were exceptions to the surface idea that one store has better or more ethical chocolate than the other. Cardullo’s had an enormous selection of Cadbury chocolates. Cadbury is included in the Big 5 so prominently marketed at CVS. The Cadbury chocolates, unlike many of the chocolates from smaller companies at Cardullo’s, did not have any fair trade certifications or special health labels. A customer at Cardullo’s buying the Cadbury chocolates there would be less sure of the origins and contents of the chocolate than if he or she were buying and of the Taza chocolate or Chuao chocolate. Just like CVS had options outside of the Big 5 majority on its shelves, Cardullo’s offered Cadbury chocolates free of labels indicating any superfood or healthy benefits to the candy or socially conscious certifications, so neither store sold exclusively chocolate from either sort of company, and even within these companies are more differences in food content and social responsibility.

Conclusion

While certainly confusing and perhaps in need of some sort of standardization to help customers decide what chocolate they would like to buy, the selection at Cardullo’s does offer more information for customers to consider according to their values in a way the Reese’s, Snickers, and 3 Musketeer’s of the CVS shelves do not. In this way, the Cardullo’s customer is seemingly more empowered and aware of the social consequences of the chocolate they buy. Still, there are chocolate options at Cardullo’s that are from Big 5 chocolate companies and chocolate that does not include fair trade certifications or informations about the cacao’s origins. Moreover, while CVS was filled with familiar big brand chocolate bars, customers looking for more “ethical” chocolate there will not be at a complete loss.

Additionally, besides considering the stores themselves based on their offerings, the companies cannot be properly compared using any kind of binary. Bigger chocolate companies are often placed into this role with their cacao sources where the corporation is the exploiter and the farmers are being exploited. However, there are many parts to the problems in unethical chocolate. Its continuation on shelves can be attributed to consumer action, government regulations, the cultures in the communities the cacao comes from, and relationships between countries that trade cacao (Martin, Lecture 8, Slide 22). It is a complex and important problem which cannot be blamed solely on the Big 5 or CVS. Customers of Cardullo’s and CVS can help chocolate move in the ethical direction by educating themselves in social problems surrounding cacao and using that to their power in buying.

In considering the manifold options while buying chocolate bars and candies, there are a lot of factors to take into consideration. For many, price is one of the most important considerations, and companies that purchase bulk cacao like Hershey and Mars are the sought out options. Beyond price, chocolate buyers can be provided with information about the ingredient origins, the company’s relationships with farmers, and nutritional details to consider. This is a lot to think about, and until there is some standardized certifications or rating across all chocolate labels for customers to read and compare, it makes buying “better chocolate” pretty tricky. Because of these inconsistencies in labeling and certification, as well as evidence of chocolate from both major chocolate producers and smaller companies in both stores, the binary “good chocolate/bad chocolate” that I had first considered upon glancing over the stores’ selection was rejected. Instead, Harvard Square’s chocolate destinations offer an assortment of options that customers who know about chocolate quality and food politics must consider for themselves and their own values.

 

Sources:

Allen, Lawrence L. “Chocolate Fortunes.” New York: AMACOM, 2009. Print.

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson, 2000. Print.

Martin, Carla. Lecture 5.

Martin, Carla. Lecture 7.

Martin, Carla. Lecture 8.

Martin, Carla. Lecture 10.

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

Ryan, Orla. “Chocolate Nations: Living and Dying for Cocoa in West Africa.” New York: Zed Books, 2011. Print.

Image:
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Fairtrade-logo.jpg (Fair Trade logo)

(All other images taken by the author)

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

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

ice-cream-fair-trade-cocoa-600-93572

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Direct Trade Certified

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

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

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

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

CacaoGrowersWantToKnow-DirectTradeMeme

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

If so, you might also consider:

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

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

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

Because you get better chocolate

Because it’s better Farmernomics

Because we all get better communities

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

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

Chobachobameme1.jpg

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

Additional Resources for Further Understanding Chocolate Trade Solutions:

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

 

References:

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

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

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

Images:

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

Slave-free Sugar: exploring the economic linkages between sugar, British industrialization, and abolition

As the global commodification of sugar served to enrich European markets, laying the groundwork for an industrialized and pre-capitalist economy, the discourse around the abolition of slavery also shifted. The growing efficacy of arguments for the abolishment of slavery coincided with the emergence of technological advances and changed  labor needs. In short, as the efficiencies around sugar production increased to drastically decrease the amount of human capital required in its production, the need for slave labor diminished.

For example, the scholar Eric Williams, in what is now referred to as the “Williams Thesis”, argued that central to the development of Britain’s economy into a capitalist and industrial one was its accumulation of economic surplus through slavery and that it was the decline of the  sugar economy rather  than morality that led to Britain’s abolishment  of slavery and slave trade in the British West Indies. [1] In Capitalism and Slavery, it was “the commercial capitalism of the eighteenth century developed the wealth of Europe by means of slavery and monopoly. But in so doing it helped to create the industrial capitalism of the nineteenth century, which turned round and destroyed the power of commercial capitalism, slavery” explains Williams. [2] In Sweetness and Power, Mintz explains that during debates against and for both the slave trade and slavery, the future of Britain’s sugar production figured into such discussions. [3] (Mintz, 1985, p. 68)

Not all scholars shared Williams view, for example Solow explains how Eltis and Engerman, respected scholars, countered that Britain’s sugar industry when compared to its others was not its most dominant nor did it have strongest ties to Europe’s economic growth and development. [4] (Solow, 2014, p. 49) While the economic debate around the linkages between Atlantic trade and the industrialization of Britain are contested, scholars like Inikori have clarified that the central concern of Capitalism and Slavery was Williams exploration of the causality between “between industrial capitalism in England and the abolition of the slave trade and slavery by the British government” [5] (Inikori, 2012, p. 14) and demonstrate the overall economic basis of  British abolition. [6]  

On the other hand, economic linkage between slavery and sugar consumption in Britain was very much in the public consciousness; for abolitionists, it was a link they attempted to break through a campaign of public awareness, consumer activism through the boycott of sugar from the British West Indies. [7] (Carmichael, 2015, p. 8) In protesting the horrors of slavery, abolitionists called upon the British people to abstain from consuming and buying sugar from the British West Indies, thought to be derived from slave labor,  to undermine the economic foundations of slavery through collective action. [8] (p. 25)

Changing consumer habits based on increasing consumer awareness of how  a product was produced or not produced was central to the consumer’s economic resistance to slavery, which included buycotts. For example, a strategy adopted included other colonial sugar producers marketing their product as “free sugar” signaling to consumers that the commodity was derived from non-slave labor which may have correlated with “positive brand association (Figure 1). [9] (p. 67) This technique is not too dissimilar from today’s usage of certifications of the ethical and sustainably sourced/produced products, like coffee and chocolate for example. 

east_india_sugar_not_made_by_slaves_glass_sugar_bowl_bm
Figure 1. East India Sugar Bowl

Finally, the development of print culture introduced new strategies for promoting the boycott campaign included literary and visual materials to shape the public discourse. [10] (p. 26) For example, in 1791 James Gillray released “Barbarities in the West Indies‟ a cartoon satirising horrors and atrocities of sugar slavery (Figure 2) , the image worked to make explicit the link between human suffering  and violence  through the institution of slavery and sugar sourced from the British West Indies.

NPG D12417; 'Barbarities in the West Indies' by James Gillray, published by  Hannah Humphrey
Figure 2. Barbarities in the West Indies, by James Gillray, published by Hannah Humphrey, hand-coloured etching, published 23 April 1791 (NGP D12417)

All in all,  historical scholars continue to debate to what extent sugar played a role in Britain’s industrialization and the emergence of capitalism, arguing primarily the economic importance of sugar to Britain overall. However, even while this is the  subject of ongoing  historical debate, it may be reasonably inferred that for many British consumers, the economic link between sugar and their consumer behavior  and consumption habits  was well understood. This is most easily demonstrated in their resistance to slavery using economic strategies like the boycott of British West India sugar and buycott East India sugar. This would become one of the earliest examples of consumer and food activism. 

Endnotes

[1] Selwyn H. H. Carrington. (2003). Capitalism & Slavery and Caribbean Historiography: An Evaluation. The Journal of African American History, 88(3), 304–312. http://doi.org/10.2307/3559074

[2] Williams, Eric (2015-09-17). Capitalism and Slavery (Kindle Locations 5839-5843). Lulu.com. Kindle Edition.

[3] Mintz, S. W. (1985). Sweetness and power: The place of sugar in modern history. New York: Penguin.

[4] Solow, B. L. (2014). The Economic Consequences of the Atlantic Slave Trade. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.

[5] Inikori, J. E. (2002). Africans and the industrial revolution in England: A study in international trade and economic development. New York: Cambridge University Press.

[6]  Ibid.

[7] Carmichael, L. (2015). Fetishism and the Moral Marketplace: How Abolitionist Sugar Boycotts in the 1790s Defined British Consumers and the West Indian” Other” (Master’s Thesis,Victoria University of Wellington). Retrieved from http://researcharchive.vuw.ac.nz/bitstream/handle/10063/4941/thesis.pdf?sequence=1.

[8]  Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

Sources

Carmichael, L. (2015). Fetishism and the Moral Marketplace: How Abolitionist Sugar Boycotts in the 1790s Defined British Consumers and the West Indian” Other” (Master’s Thesis,Victoria University of Wellington). Retrieved from http://researcharchive.vuw.ac.nz/bitstream/handle/10063/4941/thesis.pdf?sequence=1.

Inikori, J. E. (2002). Africans and the industrial revolution in England: A study in international trade and economic development. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Mintz, S. W. (1985). Sweetness and power: The place of sugar in modern history. New York: Penguin.

Selwyn H. H. Carrington. (2003). Capitalism & Slavery and Caribbean Historiography: An Evaluation. The Journal of African American History, 88(3), 304–312. http://doi.org/10.2307/3559074

Solow, B. L. (2014). The Economic Consequences of the Atlantic Slave Trade. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.

Williams, Eric (2015-09-17). Capitalism and Slavery (Kindle Locations 5839-5843). Lulu.com. Kindle Edition.

Image

Figure 1. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:East_India_Sugar_not_made_by_Slaves_Glass_sugar_bowl_BM.jpg

Figure 2. http://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/portraitLarge/mw61443/Barbarities-in-the-West-Indias-Indies

Advertising, Psychology, and Fair Trade

It is interesting, and often undervalued, what factors go into the decision-making process when consumers buy chocolate. Although it is often a subconscious process, a typical chocolate consumer unknowingly takes many elements into account before purchasing a chocolate bar. Undoubtedly, factors such as price comparisons, taste and ingredients, consumer preferences, and reputation of chocolate companies play a dominant role in these decisions. This partially explains how companies like the Big 5 have been so successful in integrating their products into many populations. These companies pride themselves in creating brand loyalty, or a “cradle to grave” attitude among consumers (Martin, Lecture 12). This was evident in Hershey’s attempt to become the iconic American chocolate by aligning their advertisements with American values (Martin, Lecture 12). Furthermore, they have been able to maximize profits by diminishing production costs, allowing them to sell their products at a lower price. As a result, these companies and their products have become globalized and they are all known to have a reputation of producing easily accessible, affordable chocolate.

However, a growing concern in the chocolate industry surrounds the cacao-chocolate supply chain and emphasizing the necessity for ‘ethically based cacao’ (Barrientos, 2006). This term applies to a broad range of topics including environment sustainability, fair treatment of cacao farmers, and direct contact with workers (Barrientos, 2006). These concerns arose mainly from speculations of unfair treatment of workers and exploitation of children in West African cacao regions, such as Ghana and Cote D’Ivoire (Martin, Lecture 15). In response, various certifications have arisen that attempt to motivate chocolate companies to engage in these efforts. The three main ones are organic, fair trade, and direct trade certifications. Fair trade and direct trade certifications are similar in that they both address fair treatment and pay of farmers (Barrientos, 2006). However, some argue that direct trade is a better alternative to fair trade as it addresses many of the critiques associated with fair trade. Organic certification, on the other hand, stipulates that produce has to have been grown without the use of pesticides or other fertilizers (Martin, Lecture 18).

There are now multiple chocolate companies that make a conscious effort to obtain these certifications. They identify themselves as ‘ethically sourced’ and attempt to target consumers who wish to purchase chocolate that not only tastes good, but also is ethically produced (Barrientos, 2006). However, one of the main problems with these companies is that their products are often more expensive since their production costs are higher and they are paying a premium to farmers (Martin, Lecture 18). Furthermore, there has been some controversy over the certifications themselves and whether there is accountability in some of their promises (Martin, Lecture 18). This raises some interesting questions: are consumers thinking about these issues when they make purchasing decisions? What are the tradeoffs between cost and ethics? And most importantly, what influences consumers to choose ethically sourced chocolate bars over other chocolate bars?

The challenges associated with motivating consumers to buy ethically sourced chocolate is a major barrier that companies face when producing certified chocolate bars. In order to make an impact in relation to the cacao-chocolate supply chain, the consumer has to be willing to purchase the products. The efforts of fair and direct trade chocolate companies don’t summate to anything if no one is purchasing their products. If one were to turn to the success of the Big 5 chocolate companies, they have attracted consumers primarily through advertising and marketing strategies. Since direct trade chocolate companies have additional barriers, such as inflated costs, marketing their products is even more critical to their success. As such, I would argue that the sole placement of the term ‘ethically sourced’ on a chocolate bar is not sufficient to sway the typical chocolate consumer to buy their products over a ‘more affordable’ option. Instead, these companies need to both focus on ethically based initiatives and also enable a way to connect with consumers to establish the same brand loyalty that is seen among the Big 5 chocolate companies. Thus, when it comes to influencing consumer decisions, the most impactful companies will be able to both prioritize direct trade relationships over profits as well as find an effective way to advertise their brand to appeal to the general consumer.

The importance of advertising can be assessed by closely examining a direct trade chocolate company, and gauging its overall impact on both the main issues of fair trade and of gaining consumer interest. If these two components are addressed, direct trade chocolate companies will be more successful and influential overall.

Taza Chocolate Factory is situated in Somerville, MA and was founded in 2005 by Alex Whitmore (“TAZA chocolate”, 2012). Taza chocolate-makers pride themselves in producing “stone ground, organic chocolate” (“TAZA chocolate”, 2012). From the beginning, Taza’s mission was “to make and share stone ground chocolate that is seriously good and fair for all” (“TAZA chocolate”, 2012).

The process of making Taza chocolate is relatively unique compared to other US companies. First, they use solely organic products and aim to include as few ingredients as possible. This is meant to enhance the flavors of cacao as well as promote environment sustainability (“TAZA chocolate”, 2012). Their chocolate is also unconched, giving it a grainy/course texture. This is interesting as most chocolate these days undergoes a conching process, so this aspect creates a distinctive tasting experience for consumers.

Taza chocolate was the first in the USA to establish direct trade certification. They have partnered with La Red Guaconejo, a cooperative of cacao farmers that is based in the Dominican Republic (“TAZA chocolate”, 2012). They pay a premium to these farmers upon the sale of cacao beans and make an effort to visit these cacao farms at least once per year. In order to ensure accountability, Taza chocolate produces a transparency report once a year that provides a detailed account of their impact on the cacao industry (“TAZA chocolate”, 2012). This report is highly visual and makes it easy for consumers to understand.

Some of the more valuable components of these reports are the pictures of Taza workers with the cacao farmers. These pictures really emphasize Taza’s direct relationship with cacao farmers and presents the farmers as valuable members of their business. Since the challenges associated with cacao farming are often ignored or not revealed to consumers, these pictures provide meaningful insight to a crucial element of the chocolate-making process.

As indicated, Taza chocolate claims to be ethically sourced in two respects. First, they claim to only use organic ingredients in their recipes and second, they are direct trade certified. What makes Taza chocolate stand out, however, is their high accountability and transparency to consumers, which builds a reputation in the product. While Taza’s efforts address some of the cacao-supply chain issues, the problem of attaining consumer interest still remains.

There has certainly been more interest in buying ethically sourced products. As Low and colleagues (2005) state, fair trade sales are continually growing and it is evolving to become more mainstream. They describe this shift as an ethical consumer movement, where the consumer has the ability to create positive change by choosing one good over another (Low & Davenport, 2005). Given this rise in popularity, they emphasize the importance of building fair trade brands and marketing their products to consumers (Low & Davenport, 2005). On average, a typical consumer spends about 4 seconds examining a shelf before making a purchasing decision (Low & Davenport, 2005). In this time, they are likely not considering the details of each company, but rather choosing products based on the labels and taste preferences.

While people enjoy the idea of being an ethical consumer, they are not always willing to incur the additional costs associated with it. An average Taza chocolate bar sells for about $7.50, whereas a regular-sized Hershey’s bar sells for about $1.00 (“TAZA Chocolate”, 2012; “The Hershey’s Company”, n.d.). This is a significant gap between prices. This means that there has to be additional incentives to purchase fair trade chocolate. As such, in order to compete with the sales of the Big 5 companies, fair trade companies like Taza need to be able to effectively advertise their products to the public.

If we look to the success of companies like Hershey’s, it has become such an iconic brand in the USA because they are able to align themselves with mainstream values. This is commonly displayed in their advertisements as they integrate elements of taste and pleasure to create a sense of desire among consumers. That way, consumers are primed to crave Hershey’s chocolate before they even step into the store.

For example, in their S’mores Around The Campfire commercial, it takes a popular social gathering and makes it seem more appealing with the addition of a Hershey’s chocolate bar.

The ad features adults and children, all smiling, and sitting around a campfire enjoying a s’more that is made complete with a Hershey bar. It plays on elements of taste by capturing people biting into the s’more as well as showing close up shots of the construction of the s’more. Even though it’s only a 15 second clip, it builds an association with a pleasurable event that consumers can draw on when making purchasing decisions.

If fair trade chocolate companies could integrate similar marketing strategies, consumers could build positive associations with the product, which would ultimately increase the likelihood of buying their products. As of now, Taza chocolate company does market their brand in some respects. They have online videos that are meant to increase brand awareness and make consumers aware of their story.

These videos are targeted toward the ethical consumer and are meant primarily to be educational. In the first video, the viewer is taken through a brief story of the creation of Taza chocolate. This video is interesting as there is no script, just festive music playing in the background.

The second video, on the other hand, focuses on children and educates them on the processes that go into making the chocolate. Both these videos were likely created with the intention of raising awareness and maintaining their image of transparency.

However, both these videos lack the psychological elements that implicitly draw consumers to chocolate. David Benton (2004) states that the consumption and craving for chocolate is highly psychological. Eating chocolate is a very emotional process and is often craved due to its association with mood elevation (Benton, 2004). Given this knowledge, it seems as though the implementation of psychological elements in advertising is necessary to attract a wide consumer-base.

In sum, the increase in direct trade initiatives is positively impacting the cacao-supply chain in numerous ways. Companies, such as Taza Chocolate, have been able to generate more interest in ethically sourced cacao and sustain relationships with their cacao-supplying nations. However, while fair trade companies excel at portraying these efforts to consumers, they lack in their ability to directly relate and incentivize their brands over others. Since marketing and advertising has a tremendous effect on consumer purchasing decisions, improving in this area would likely lessen the discrepancy in profits between the Big 5 chocolate companies and fair trade companies. Thus, the ability to influence consumer decisions plays a big role in the success of chocolate companies, and is an area that is lacking in the fair trade industry.

Works Cited

  1. Barrientos, S. (2006). Transformation of Global Food: Opportunities and Challenges for Fair and Ethical Trade. In Ethical sourcing in the global food system. Sterling, VA: Earthscan.
  2. Benton, D. (2004). The Biology and Psychology of Chocolate Craving. Nutrition, Brain and Behavior, 205-218.
  3. Chocolate Products, Recipes, Nutrition Information. (n.d.). Retrieved May 1, 2015, from http://www.hersheys.com
  4. Low, W., & Davenport, E. (2006). Has the medium (roast) become the message?: The ethics of marketing fair trade in the mainstream. International Marketing Review, 494-511. Retrieved May 1, 2015, from http://www.emeraldinsight.com.ezp-prod1.hul.harvard.edu/doi/full/10.1108/02651330510624354
  5. Martin, C. (2015, March 9). The rise of big chocolate and race for the global market. AAAs 119x: Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food . Lecture conducted from , Cambridge.
  6. Martin, C. (2015, March 25). Modern Day Slavery. AAAS 119x: Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food . Lecture conducted from , Cambridge.
  7. Martin, C. (2015, April 6). Alternative trade and virtuous localization/globalization. AAAS 119x: Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food . Lecture conducted from , Cambridge.
  8. Taza Chocolate | stone ground chocolate. (2012). Retrieved May 1, 2015, from http://www.tazachocolate.com

Multimedia Sources

  1. Curious George Visits The Chocolate Factory, 2010. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MY_wD10tszA
  1. Hershey’s “S’mores Around the Campfire” Commercial, 2014. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hGRAmQeu2xo
  2. Taza Workers and Cacao Farmers, Image http://www.tazachocolate.com/documents/image/DirectTrade.jpg
  1. The Taza Chocolate Story, 2012.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7tcA51tUOxU