Tag Archives: ethical practices

Taza Sets the (Chocolate) Bar for Direct Trade and Ethical Sourcing

Taza Chocolate is a bean-to-bar chocolate company that launched in Somerville, Massachusetts in 2005. Priding themselves on their unique stone-ground processing technique, which grinds organic cacao beans into “perfectly unrefined, minimally processed chocolate,” (Taza Website) Taza strives to provide a special blend of bold flavor and texture through their chocolate products. However, perhaps their most noteworthy trademark as a chocolate company is their commitment to ethical cacao sourcing that features the relationships with the farmers from whom they obtain their cacao beans. Specifically, Taza has formed Direct Trade relationships with five cacao producers around South America and the Caribbean. As documented through their groundbreaking annual cacao sourcing transparency reports, Taza contributes to the global problems facing the cacao-chocolate supply chain by keying in on each level within their supply chain- both the farmers who cultivate the product and the partners who source the cacao. Through their unique methodology and commitment, Taza achieves paying premium prices that reach their partners and promoting fair labor practices.

TazaPartners

For chocolate companies, forming strong, healthy relationships with both the farmers and companies from which they source their cacao seems like an obvious solution to the problematic cacao-producing industry, but it is more difficult and less observed in practice. While conventional practice for firms to promote fair labor practices features obtaining a Fair Trade certification, Taza has done an effective job of this using the alternative Direct Trade model. While Fair Trade aims to more justly compensate marginalized producers, it creates unintended consequences. For example, little of the extra money produced by a Fair Trade agreement reaches the developing countries, and of that, less reaches the farmers (Sylla, 2014). One reason for this is the cost to obtain a Fair Trade certification, shouldered by the producers, is the same everywhere, meaning that the poorest countries have the most difficulty obtaining the certification (Sylla, 2014; Martin, 2018, Lecture 9). Conversely, Direct Trade circumvents any fees required for certification and privatizes the contractual relationship so that the producers do not bear unnecessary costs. Taza was the first chocolate maker in the United States to establish a third-party certified Direct Trade Cacao sourcing program (Taza Website). Direct trade is “a form of sourcing practiced by some coffee roasters and chocolate companies with standards varying between produces” (Martin, 2018, Lecture 5). While relationships are often fragile and temporary between chocolate companies and cacao farmers that participate in Direct Trade (Martin, 2018, Lecture 9), Taza has taken notable steps to ensure a healthy relationship that truly benefits everyone, from the cacao farmer to the consumer.

Specifically, as one part of their relationships with their partners through the Direct Trade model, Taza physically visits each partner at least once per year to build trust and compassion. As seen on Taza’s Facebook page through founder Alex Whitmore’s trip to partner PISA in Haiti, Taza places an emphasis on connecting with both their partners and the farmers from whom their partners receive cacao to create a truly interconnected supply chain. Whitmore and company are seen sharing their Taza product with Haitian farmers, a gesture that is representative of their close relationship. By connecting with PISA, Taza, as Whitmore describes, has highlighted the strengths of two entities and brought them together to make something great. While Haiti’s cacao beans are comparable to those found in the Dominican Republic, failure to properly dry and ferment these beans left their exquisite taste to go unrecognized and their cacao to be sold at a heavily discounted price.  PISA specializes in these processes (Leissle, 2013). This relationship has led to Taza sourcing the first ever Certified USDA Organic Cacao from Haiti and PISA and the farmers being paid a premium price for the cacao that they have been able to provide (Taza Website).

Taza’s 2016 Transparency Report features their combating another major influential factor facing the global cacao-chocolate supply chain: the price of cacao. Daunted by unstable cacao market prices, government control of purchasing and distributing, and supply chain intermediaries squeezing profits, cacao farmers fall victim to extremely low incomes. (Sylla, 2014). In the agricultural crisis in the 1970’s, West African governments used marketing boards and caisse systems to force cacao farmers to sell at prices below the world price and use the proceeds towards industrialization (Martin, 2018, Lecture 7). Today, intermediaries have inserted themselves in the supply chain of these cacao-dependent communities, squeezing profits throughout the supply chain and leaving cacao farmers with the bare minimum. Specifically, they have garnered strong market power through horizontal and vertical integration. At each level of the supply chain, competition has driven many players out, allowing these intermediaries to accomplish horizontal integration. By broadening their responsibilities within the supply chain, they have also achieved vertical integration (Sylla, 2014).

By ensuring a share of the premium prices they pay their sourcing partners reaches the farmers themselves, Taza plays their part in combatting the global lack of cacao farmer compensation. Taza’s Direct Trade relationship with their partners contributes to their communities through paying premium prices for the cacao to the processors and ensuring that the said premium reaches the farmers themselves. Analyzed in their 2016 Transparency Report here, Taza pays their partners at least $500 above the market price- a 15-20% premium, and never less than $2,800 per metric ton for cacao, protecting their partners against extremely low world market prices. For Jesse Last, Taza’s Chocolate Cocoa Sourcing Manager, knowing what they pay their cacao sourcing partners wasn’t enough. In 2016, Last took steps to ensure that cacao farmers were getting a slice of the cake too. Specifically, he updated Taza’s Direct Trade agreement to include a commitment by their partners to “provide documentation demonstrating the compensation paid to farmers and/or employees, as well as facilitate conversation between farmers and Taza” (Taza Website).

When Last visited these farms ensure their shares were received, he found no discrepancies between their reports and the payments documented by their own partners. Furthermore, Last provided an in-depth analysis (5 Steps Towards Understanding Price) within the transparency report that contextualizes farmer compensations received from their origin partners, and found that all but one of their partners is paying above the world market average per metric ton of cacao and “some” by almost twice as much (Taza Website). The extensive effort displayed by Jesse Last and Taza sets the standard that not just bean-to-bar, but all chocolate companies around the world should strive to meet in regard to paying the cacao farmers a reasonable salary. While obstacles, like those previously mentioned, often intervene with guaranteed fair wages for farmers, Taza has taken a uniquely ethical path not only to ensure this but also to strengthen the relationship between their partners and the farmers and to spread this methodology through the transparency report for the world to see. Their effort to affect others in an ethical fashion does not end with their suppliers- it extends all the way to their consumers.

As further part of their Direct trade Commitment, Taza requires all their cacao be USDA Certified Organic and Non-GMO Project Verified, as can be seen on one of their chocolate bars below, providing a healthy blend of ingredients in their chocolate for their consumers. While every Taza chocolate product contains the seal of Certified USDA Organic and Non-GMO Project Verified, they are also Kosher, soy-free, dairy-free, and vegan. Taza’s effort to source organic sugar is especially noteworthy. They have partnered with The Native Green Cane Project, recognized by The World Economic Forum, the Boston Consulting Group, the Union for Ethical BioTrade, and other organizations “as one of the world’s leading examples of innovative agriculture and sustainability’ (Taza Website). The traditional cultivation method of burning sugar cane unavoidably releases toxic gases and substantially contributes to biodiversity loss. The Native Green Cane Project has made a positive environmental impact by designing a mechanical harvester that eliminates toxic gas emissions and saves water that would otherwise be used to clean burnt cane. Furthermore, this practice eliminates the use of synthetic fertilizers, genetically modified organisms, and pesticides, making for a safer labor environment. Through these organic methodologies, Taza not only provides healthier products for their consumers but also contributes to a cleaner environment while promoting safer working conditions.

TazaBar

TazaCertifications

 

To guarantee the integrity of their Direct Trade program, Taza has had Quality Certification Services, a USDA-accredited organic certifier out of Gainesville, Florida independently verify the upholding of five Direct Trade claims, outlined on their website. To verify annual visits to their partners, Taza provides flight receipts or e-tickets. To verify paying their cacao producers a premium rate, they provide annual invoices completed by their Sourcing Manager and the cacao-producing partner. To ensure the exclusive usage of USDA certified cacao, they provide proper certification documentation from their partners and farmers. Taza’s commitment to diminish the problems that have plagued much of the cacao industry for centuries, specifically its producers, can be seen by their initiative to hold themselves accountable in the continuation of these practices that benefit the producers, consumers, and everyone in between.

While Taza has contributed immensely by enhancing their relationships with their origin partners, one way they could improve their outreach is by expanding to West Africa. West Africa produces 75 percent of the world’s cacao, but they have an extensive and continued history of child labor exploitation. Evidence of child slavery in Cote d’Ivore has been recorded as recently as the early 2000’s (Off, 2008). In other countries such as Ghana, children have limited freedom to choose to go into labor (Berlan, 2013). This undeniable evidence highlights deep internal roots that drive these continued unethical labor practices and the need for intervention from outside parties- specifically from local government, international entities, and corporations. However, these entities have had limited effect on changing the scope of West African cacao production over the years. U.S. Representative Eliot Engel drafted a bill proposing the implementation a detailing a labeling system, classifying goods as “slave free” if it could be proved that slavery was not used in their production. However, significant pushback from industry giants like Hershey’s and Mars gave themselves more time to investigate and improve the labor practices behind the production of their chocolate (Off, 208). The Harkin-Engel protocol was then passed in 2001 to eliminate the worst forms of child labor in Cote d’Ivore and Ghana, but the extent of its impact remains in question today (Ryan, 2011).

Taza could potentially break the stigma that West Africa is a poor investment for these artisan chocolate makers. However, considering the obstacles in play, Taza would need to stumble upon a perfect situation- one that might not exist now. Ghana’s Cocoa Board controls exports, limiting the ability of artisan chocolate makers to source cacao from farmers. Taza would likely need to look to other countries, such as the Ivory Coast. The Ivory Coast completely deregulated its market, meaning Taza could directly contact farmers and cooperatives as they do with their five current partners. The problem then would be the quality of cacao. Cacao beans emit varying flavors and textures depending on strain and terroir, and Taza, like most bean-to-bar companies, prides itself on the unique tastes produced by the terroir of the regions from which they source their cacao. Despite being the biggest producer in the world, West Africa is known for producing very few single origin bars. In Christian’s Chocolate Census, the most comprehensive online database for chocolate, 3.8% of 1500 chocolate products contain beans exclusively from West Africa. U.S. chocolate artisan companies like Taza cite bean strain and scale of production for their avoiding West African cacao to source single origin chocolates. Farmers in West Africa predominantly grow direct-sun-tolerant, pest- and disease-resistant hybrid cacao beans, which are usually weak in flavor or bitter (Leissle, 2013). Furthermore, these regions operate on a large scale, making it difficult for small artisan companies to buy beans in smaller quantities. These regions typically will not sell in small quantities even if Taza offered a high premium for their beans. If Taza could somehow find a way into the small community of the Ivory Coast with quality cacao, they could impact that community through their commitment to relationships and premium prices. More importantly, they might open the door for other artisan – specifically bean-to-bar- chocolate companies By showing that it is possible to ethically source quality cacao from West Africa.

Overall, Taza sets a notable example for the chocolate industry by doing their part to combat the global problems facing cacao producers. Specifically, the Direct Trade method of sourcing cacao that Taza has adopted has allowed them to form strong relationships with their partners by connecting face-to-face at least once per year. By circumventing profit-squeezing middlemen present in the more widely practice Fair Trade method, Taza ensures that both their cacao-sourcing partners and the farmers get a fair share of the profits that their cacao generates. Furthermore, their awareness and commitment to uphold these practices is obvious as displayed through their unique transparency reports and third-party certifier. While Taza could up the ante by seeking to take on the most corrupt cacao-producing region in the world, West Africa, they would face many challenges- namely finding a Direct Trade partner and flavorful cacao-beans- that would danger upholding their current model of ethical sourcing. Taza, while only a small bean-to-bar chocolate company, must continue their commitment to ethical partnerships with cacao-producers and to transparency of these partnerships. They set the bar high (100% cacao…just kidding) for other bean-to-bar companies and show bigger conglomerates the potential to contribute to cacao producers around the world.

 

 

 

Works Cited:

Berlan, A. (2013). Social Sustainability in Agriculture: An Anthropological Perspective on Child Labour in Cocoa Production in Ghana. The Journal of Development Studies, 49(8), 1088-1100.

Leissle, K. (2013). Invisible West Africa. The Politics of Single Origin Chocolate. Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture, 13(3), 22-31.

Martin, C. (2018). (Lectures 5, 8, 9).

Off, C. (2008). Bitter chocolate : The dark side of the world’s most seductive sweet. New York: New Press.

Ryan, Órla, International African Institute, Royal African Society, & Social Science Research Council. (2011). Chocolate Nations (African arguments.). Zed Books.

Sylla, N., & Leye, David Clément. (2014). The fair trade scandal: Marketing poverty to benefit the rich. Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press.

“Taza Direct Trade.” Taza Chocolate, http://www.tazachocolate.com/pages/taza-direct-trade.

Buying Chocolate at Cardullo’s: An Experiment in Social Conscience

 

Cardullo’s Gourmet Shoppe of Harvard Square has sold quality foodstuffs since 1950, offering both local and imported niche food items. Along with many other dessert foods, Cardullo’s has a significant chocolate inventory. Their chocolate bars range from ultra local Taza and Somerville chocolate, to imported European brands like Neuhaus and Milkboy. According to the owner, the chocolates are organized by brand location—America or Europe—and then largely by type of chocolate and cacao percentage, along with the organics being clustered together. Although the spread does not emphasize any particular brand, or contain much information about the bars other than what is on the wrappers, the owner stated that her customers generally know what they are looking for. As Cardullo’s has a boutique selection, this makes sense. Finally, when questioned on popularity of various brands, the owner concluded that the best sellers were Neuhaus, Godiva, and Taza. The chocolate selection at Cardullo’s captures a dichotomy in the consumption of chocolates—at a given price level, consumers seem to have to choose between haute patisserie and equitably sourced chocolate. In examining the differences between these chocolates, the factors underlying their price emerge from the mission of the brand and the intended audience.

I will spend the discussion on the most expensive chocolate brands, as this is where the most distinct differences between brands reveal themselves. At one of the highest price points of fifteen to twenty dollars, three choice categories emerge, providing a slight wrinkle on the dichotomy previously suggested but not invalidating it. First, there is the option of a small Taza chocolate assortment; second, a bar of Chocolate Bonnat; and third, a box of Godiva assorted chocolates. The Taza chocolate is visibly advertised as “Made in Massachusetts,” organic, and practicing direct trade. The Bonnat chocolate bars are more minimalist—their brand name occupies most of the bar’s cover, along with the silhouette of a cathedral in the background and the origin of the chocolate in smaller letters. The Godiva stands out gold and shimmery, with an oversized ribbon draped across. Thus, at this price point I would distinguish Taza as occupying the role of equitably sourced chocolate whereas Bonnat and Godiva share the spot of haute patisserie. What separates them, however, proves largely to be volume of product, but underlying that—and not immediately visible to the consumer—lies the truth that Chocolate Bonnat truly embodies the role of haute patisserie whereas Godiva does so mainly in appearance.

 

Taza chocolate commands a high price point because of the extreme care it takes in crafting its product with ethical concerns in mind, paired with a consumer base willing to pay a premium to support fair relationships with farmers and suppliers and to support organic agriculture.

Taza Transparency Report

Taza’s flagship program is the Direct Trade Certification. Taza Direct Trade, as outlined in the first page of the above Transparency Report, eliminates middlemen that would even be found in supposedly equitable programs such as Fair Trade. Taza directly purchases from select Certified USDA Organic and non-GMO cacao farmers, who “ensure fair and humane work practices.” Additionally, Taza pays at least $500 above market price for cacao, which equates to a 15-20% premium—much higher than the around 4% premiums given to Fair Trade farmers (Sylla, 2014). It is for this reason, along with Taza’s traditional methods of chocolate production at their Somerville factory, that Taza chocolate bars sell at a high price point. On the other side, however, are the consumers willing to pay for an equitable product. Some argue that companies touting fair trade are benefitting from consumers’ desire to feel good about themselves, and that, as Professor Martin notes, feel that “food as material culture can be consumed as a way to reflect one’s knowledge, worldliness and morality” (Sampeck & Martin, 2015, p.55). This can be problematic: for example, researcher Ndongo Sylla has stated, “Fair Trade is but the most recent example of another sophisticated ‘scam’ by the ‘invisible hand’ of the free market” (Sylla, 2014, p. 18). What Sylla argues is that the ‘invisible hand’ of the market indicated to suppliers that demand for equitably sourced product existed. So, certifications such as Fair Trade cropped up and companies changed their marketing strategies. But, Sylla thinks, these certifications and companies have not actually made a tangible change in shifting profit to farmers or bettering the living situations of impoverished suppliers; rather, they simply increase profit to companies. Taza’s Transparency Report proves an exception to this claim.

Although Taza chocolate is undoubtedly high quality, it does not (yet) occupy a niche filled primarily by European chocolatiers, confectioners, and chocolate makers. Though the word “haute patisserie” generally translates to a bakery that sells fancy products, when applied to chocolate, it refers to a product crafted with perfectionist attention to detail, extremely controlled ingredients and process, generally small batches, and a well defined desired effect, such as the notes of taste and smell and visual appeal (Eber & Williams, 2012). One could also instead use the more general designation, “haute cuisine.” Chocolate Bonnat epitomizes these qualities, with a price per bar to reflect it (Sampeck & Martin, 2015).

Chocolate Bonnat History

In fact, Bonnat has been at the forefront of a movement towards high quality, artisanal chocolates—in 1983, Bonnat pioneered the single-origin bar, with bars made from beans from one location only–see above multimedia link. Bonnat’s emphasis on taste provides results: for the past three years, Bonnat has won upwards of 5 gold and silver medals at the International Chocolate Awards (see below multimedia link for specific categories).

Bonnat Awards

What jumps out in comparison between the Bonnat and Taza bars themselves, however, is that Bonnat displays no information about the nature of its cacao sourcing, other than the location. One might find it surprising not to see “USDA Certified Organic” or “Fair Trade Certified” emblazoned upon such an expensive product. This, however, emphasizes the difference between haute patisserie product and an equitably sourced one: Bonnat seeks to sell to a consumer focused on the prime gustatory experience, whereas Taza markets to a consumer who values supporting equitable trade. In investigating Bonnat’s sourcing practices, it appears that they practice some sort of direct trade, sourcing cacao beans from meticulously researched farming outfits. This makes sense, because Bonnat looks expressly for the highest quality product and for specific varieties of cacao bean, and as such is intimately involved in the purchase of their cacao. As Professor Martin notes in a paper on chocolate in Europe, actions of “haute cuisine” artisans “reflected a return to interest in terroir, or the sense of a place, in chocolate” (Sampeck & Martin, 2015, p.53). According to Bonnat’s mission statements in the above multimedia link, Bonnat spends five months a year exploring the world for just the right beans, and seeing as they move their sourcing frequently, perhaps a Fair Trade or Organic certification would not be the right fit. As such, Bonnat avoids to a degree the fetishization of fairly sourced goods talked about in the Taza case, where consumers want to make a statement about their own morality instead of actively caring about societal problems (Sampeck & Martin, 2015). Even though the cacao beans that Bonnat selects are probably farmed with organic techniques, it is important to note that Bonnat does not advertise as such, rather placing their strategy in the consumer’s desire for an intricate and curated product. Such demand has not existed long, however: anthropologist Susan Terrio writes, “In 1988 it would have been difficult to predict that French chocolatiers and their products would become, in the words of one well-informed Parisian observer, ‘un phenomene de societe,’ a societal phenomenon” (Terrio, 2000, p. 3). Since then, chocolate has become one of the high staples of gastronomic art and artisanal exposition, and Bonnat remains one of the paragons of this trend.

 

Though the artisanal chocolate wave began more recently, Europe—especially Belgium and Switzerland—have long been associated with the best chocolate and confectionary production (Terrio, 2000). As such, older and larger European chocolate companies have benefited from the elevation of chocolate in the international gastronomic stage, even if they do not practice the same meticulous craft as smaller producers. An example of such a company carried by Cardullo’s is Godiva Chocolatier, a Belgian company that has been operating since 1926 that makes both chocolate and confections. Godiva dwarfs both Taza and Bonnat in size, and its revenue numbers in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

Godiva’s “Belgian Heritage”

At Cardullo’s one can by a box of eight Godiva chocolates for the equivalent of one bar of Chocolate Bonnat or a grouping of Taza disks. Whereas with Taza and Bonnat one can see the reasons underlying high prices—equitable sourcing and artisanal product, respectively, along with the use of fine grade chocolate—determining the pricing for Godiva presents a few more intricacies. As a large company, Godiva likely uses bulk grade chocolate, and while in the above multimedia link the company makes allusion to direct trade practices, without any certifications such claims do not mean much. Most of Godiva’s cost probably comes from the perceived notion of Belgian chocolate as superior and chique, even though its high-volume product does not reflect the values of “haute cuisine” products like Chocolate Bonnat. Godiva does not have any organic or fair trade certifications, which tend to contribute to a higher cost product. Rather, much of Godiva’s product is in the delivery and visuals: the fancy boxes and presentation make Godiva chocolate a good gift. While one cannot be sure as to how Godiva’s actions support unfair labor in cacao producing countries without some sort of transparency report like Taza provides, Godiva does claim to donate money to certain charities. In this way, Godiva indirectly supports sustainable practices, though the extent to which they donate is not shown.

Godiva Sustainable Practices

The charities of note in the above multimedia link are the World Cocoa Foundation and the Cocoa Horizons Foundation. Though neither are certifying organizations, they appear to donate towards more sustainable cocoa growing practices and the building of infrastructure in impoverished agricultural areas. What worries me, however, is the fact that the World Cocoa Foundation claims to represent over 80% of cocoa production—as discussed in class, such large organizations are problematic for several reasons (see below link for WCF facts).

http://www.worldcocoafoundation.org/our-work/our-approach/

First of all, they promote inefficiency in being so large, and siphon significant proportions of the money meant towards charity as middle men operating costs. Second, such large organizations promote unionized or centrally organized farming operations, which hurt single growers. Third, in representing such a significant proportion of the industry, the WCF may end up catering to the wills of its donors, and end up helping large chocolate companies more than the farmers it is intended to aid. Finally, such a broadly defined charity may have trouble targeting the very individual problems affecting cocoa production, namely forced labor in smaller outfits, which a more direct company-producer relationship like Taza has would do more to prevent (Leissle, 2013).

Although price is often thought of an indicator of quality, in the search for the perfect chocolate product at Cardullo’s we see that price reflects a compilation of unique and diverse factors. These factors, in delving deeper into the companies represented, seem to sift out into two categories. In one category, high price results from a product that is equitably sourced, certified organic, supports locals, and is generally socially conscious, like Taza. In the other category, high price results from a status of haute cuisine, either real or implied. In the case of Bonnat, the haute cuisine designation results from an artisanal and small batch product with high production costs and time, verified by awards and pedigree. In the case of Godiva, the haute cuisine designation comes from reputation and mental image of Belgian chocolate being high quality, along with physical presentation of the product.

In exploring the price distinctions further, one could surmise that an element of social conscience is present in both cases. In the first, by purchasing Taza, one is socially conscious regarding the company and producers. In the second, by purchasing Bonnat or Godiva, one is more socially conscious regarding oneself—i.e. desiring the best tasting product or a product that designates oneself as conscious of haute cuisine. Thus, the simple proposition of purchasing a bar of chocolate at Cardullo’s metamorphoses into an introspection on the underlying motive for ones purchase, both individual and social.

 

 

Sources

Healy, K. (2001). Llamas, weavings, and organic chocolate: Multicultural grassroots development in the Andes and Amazon of Bolivia. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press.

Leissle, K. (2013). Invisible West Africa. Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture, 13(3), 22-31.

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

Sylla, N. S., & Leye, D. C. (2014). The fair trade scandal: Marketing poverty to benefit the rich. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press.

Terrio, S. J. (2000). Crafting the culture and history of French chocolate. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Whitmore, Alex, et al. (2015). “Taza Transparency Report.”

Williams, P., & Eber, J. (2012). Raising the bar: The future of fine chocolate. Vancouver: Wilmor Pub.

 

 

“Hey man! Heard about blue and purple? They’re nuts!” Green and Black’s challenges to staying cool in a hot environment.

Can sourcing chocolate be sustainable, ethical, fair trade AND cool? Well, it can if you market it properly and Green and Black’s seems to have a captured this paradigm well. But has the organic chocolate company, known for its ethical standards and grass roots approach to sourcing chocolate, outgrown its ‘bean to bar’ co-op roots? As the chocolate market continues to grow, even companies producing fair trade quality products face the same industrial challenges as leading global chocolate corporations, as well as facing larger ethical dilemmas.

Green and Black’s was first launched in 1991 when Craig and Josephine Sams, owners of Whole Earth, an organic food company, discovered the wonders of a 70% chocolate bar made from organic cocoa beans they had acquired. Their fascination with dark, intense chocolate led them to Belize, where they purchased a small cocoa farm which had been cultivated by Mayan farmers. There are 3 major types of cocoa beans grown around the world: Trinitario (which makes up about 5% of the world’s beans), Criollo (which makes up about 1%) and Forestero (which makes up over 80%) (Celeste 2015). These Mayan farmers had planted Trinitario beans, which were grown organically to ensure the sustainability of the product, and farmed by hand (in the Mayan tradition) and with the utmost care. In 1994 this sustainable, organic bean produced a quality chocolate and Green and Black’s launched Maya Gold, the company’s flagship product. What’s more, this Mayan inspired chocolate bar became the United Kingdom’s first fair trade bar certified by the Fairtrade Foundation, which means the third world producers growing these types of cocoa beans are getting paid a living wage rather than being exploited. And this single bar was about to change the industry.

Green and Black’s believes in ethical sourcing standards, to the extent that the company expects suppliers, co-manufacturers and partners they work with to as well. It should come as no surprise, then, that human rights, ethical trading and the environment are key business factors for the company, and they believe that ethical and responsible actions are expected, an attitude not prevalent among most chocolate companies. Green and Black’s believes in a bean to bar practice; knowing the source of the beans with as little human involvement and outside production as possible. But in such a booming global market, is this feasible for chocolate production?

Green and Black’s promotes itself on being a company founded on ethical beginnings. Even their marketing efforts are considered ‘grass roots’ in the sense that they were primarily promoted through social media and word of mouth. While most companies are sexualizing chocolate, Green and Black’s was personalizing chocolate through humorous advertisements with particular focus on the quality of the chocolate and the flavor of ingredients.

One brilliant distinction to how Green and Black’s markets its chocolate bars is in the use of color. Each bar is packaged simply and classified by distinct colored wrappers (color coded, if you will), making each bar flavor easily associated by its color.

Whether you see these bars in a local chocolate shop or on the shelves of a large supermarket, you are immediately able to associate the bar flavor, and as if intentionally your mind forgets about the brand. Brilliant? “Color can often be the sole reason someone purchases a product, where 93% of buyers focus on visual appearance and almost 85% claim color to be their primary reason for purchase” (Dashburst 2014). The simple use of color behind Green and Black’s bars cleverly focuses on which flavor you might prefer, rather than on the company itself. Pretty genius when you consider the aim of most companies is to sell more chocolate associated with the brand, and not necessarily the quality and flavor of the overall product. Add a fair trade distinction, score!

Green and Black’s reputation has always been one of the elusive recluse. You see glimpses of the bars in every major market where quality chocolate is found, yet you never seem to hear of Green and Black’s in the news, or see them as a company growing by adding large plants or acquiring chocolate manufacturers. In fact, even employment opportunities at the company are treated as specialty events. The most recent position the company had come available wasn’t advertised to the public through any career website, or even on its own website. No, it was held publicly, in the news, as a contest. That’s right – the last position open at Green and Black’s in 2010 was that of a chocolate taster, and was filled by way of a contest. Applicants underwent a blind taste-test in which they had to successfully identify the ingredients of specially created chocolate bars. “Flavor is made up of a complex combination of taste, smell, touch, temperature” with sensation to smell being the most important aspect (Taylor 2013). According to experts women tend to have better sense of taste and smell than men, with women under 35 being more likely to have sharper senses since sensitivities to taste tend to decline with age. But the winner of Green and Black’s job contest wasn’t female. Brandt Maybury, a former chef, now earns more than £35,000 a year just to taste chocolate. Lucky devil.

Green and Black’s is no stranger to quality chocolate. In fact, its flagship bar is still an industry favorite. Even now, Green and Black’s is attempting to make history with its chocolate by showcasing their newest bar – THIN.

THIN_SPLASH PAGE

While this might appear to be a curious attempt to offer a more delicate, refined quality chocolate, it does beg the question of how this new product is timed with the acquisition of Green and Black’s by food giant Kraft, which now owns Cadbury. More and more, chocolate manufacturers, in an attempt to sell more chocolate, think of ways to lengthen the life of chocolate, by adding preservatives through increasing levels of sugar and emulsifiers. But Green and Black’s is an organic chocolate company, focused on fair trade and ethical practices, so how can this be if they are part of a chocolate giant known for creme eggs? Could the introduction of THIN be merely an attempt to address the growing shortage of cocoa beans by producing smaller chocolate bars, getting consumers used to eating less with a thin bar and making it cool? Or could this be simply an elaborate marketing effort by big corporate to charge the same as the usual Green and Black’s bar while using less chocolate? Pesky profits.

When the company was originally sold to Cadbury in 2005, the owners of Green and Black’s were concerned with maintaining the company’s ethical image. But in 2010, Kraft bought out Cadbury and things began to turn slightly sour for Green and Black’s ethical approach. The company struggled to maintain its ‘entrepreneurial spirit’ under Kraft. While Kraft insists that a company like Green and Black’s still has a place in the world of ethical products, Kraft’s head of individual country businesses in Europe was quoted as saying, “Green & Black’s is £40m out of a £1bn chocolate business [in the UK]. I would sell more Creme Eggs” (Milmo 2011). I guess when it comes down to it, eggs are eggs.

It should come as no surprise then that recent issues have begun to arise around Green and Black’s reputation for being organic, and have the company in the middle of questionable ethical practices. Historically, Green and Black’s has always considered itself an organic company, which in general consumers understand, and there is certainly a level of expectation behind the knowledge of what is considered to be organic when purchasing a product classified as such. However, one recent chocolate sized stain on the otherwise pristine organic brand occurred with their hot chocolate product.

Green_Black_s_Organic_Hot_Chocolate_300g

Green and Black’s Hot Chocolate is labeled, in the United States, as USDA certified organic. But upon closer inspection of the ingredient label you will find soy lecithin, an emulsifier. Now, much like their famous chocolate bars their hot chocolate is also certified Fairtrade. This is good news for the third world farmers producing the beans used to produce the product. But being an organic product also means that any ingredients in it are also GMO-free, and grown according to organic principles without pesticides, herbicides or other synthetic chemicals. And soy lecithin is not certified organic. In fact, 94% of the soybeans planted and grown in the United States are genetically modified (USDA 2014). So the chances that the soy lecithin used in this ‘organic’ product is genetically modified is more than likely.

This gives rise to another ethical dilemma. USDA regulations allow some wiggle room for genetically modified ingredients, which means that a product labeled as organic must contain at least 95% organic ingredients. If a product is labeled ‘made with organic ingredients,’ it must contain 70% organic ingredients. That means having an organic label on a package can easily mean that there are genetically modified ingredients contained in that product, as long as they do not add up to more than 5% of the final product (Michaelis 2015). Not the kind of wiggle room one might expect from an organic company like Green and Black’s, but is this really much of a surprise given larger corporations interests in cheaper products and profits?

And the questionable practices do not end there. In 2009 Cadbury added the Fairtrade logo to their Dairy Milk bars, which was pretty huge for the company. However, Cadbury declined to state what percentage of beans used in their chocolate were actually considered fair trade. What does this mean? Well, simply put, not all the ingredients in a fair trade chocolate bar have to be fairly traded. Yep, it’s true. The Fairtrade Foundation defines a fair trade product as having “an ingredient that can be sourced on Fairtrade.” Fairtrade.org To be more specific, the Fairtrade Foundation uses what is called a mass balance system for certifying chocolate, which means that for a chocolate bar to be certified the manufacturer must purchase a specific mass of cocoa beans under fair trade terms, however those beans do not actually have to end up in the bar. And since cocoa beans are often mixed up before they reach a chocolate maker, it is quite possible that any one bar of Fairtrade Dairy Milk contains no fair trade beans. Conversely, though, a non-certified bar of Cadbury chocolate might just end up using 100% fair trade beans. You see, the use of the Fairtrade logo is an attempt to entice customers into buying a product under the assumption that a consumer is contributing to an ethical organization. However that manufacturer has the right to use ingredients that are not ethically sourced. Sneaky.

While this might be true, there is still an issue of transparency. One would think that if a company is going to promote itself in an ethical manner that there would be safeguards in place which would ensure that, without question, that company could, and would, answer to any question against that ethical practice. Instead, it would seem that fair trade is just another buzz word in the world of fine chocolate, used only to sell more bars. That is not to say that companies like Green and Black’s do not start out with the best if intentions. But it is becoming clearer to most consumers that, as a company grows, it becomes less sustainable to invest in, or adhere to, a sustainable product. Shame, especially when such companies rely on the sale of products that consumers purchase for the specific purposes of supporting sustainable and ethical practices.

Green and Black’s has indeed revolutionized the chocolate world. Being on of the first companies to produce a fully backed fairtrade product, with specific emphasis on ethical practices, it could be argued that the company was strategically involved in bringing the issues of sustainability and fair trade practices to the world of fine chocolate. But as with any big business – or at least one that grows and gets bought out by a food superpower – that focus on bean to bar, fair trade ethics is short lived, and while may still be used to promote its product might, upon closer inspection, not quite live up to the same standard. But can we blame the company entirely? Let’s face it, people love chocolate. Bars, beans, eggs, bunnies, cups, bites. And our consumption of chocolate is not subsiding. It is up to us to demand that our chocolate, no matter where we purchase it, comes from fairtrade sources and is completely organic. Perhaps then we can demand a better, ethically sourced product because, much like Green and Black’s of its suppliers and partners, we expect it.

Works Cited:

“About Premium Chocolate.” Chocolate Celeste. Mary Leonard, n.d. Web. 10 May, 2015. http://www.chocolatceleste.com/cacao-beans-criollo-trinitario.html

“Adoption of Genetically Engeneerd Crops in the US.”  USDA. n.d. Web. 12 May, 2015. http://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/adoption-of-genetically-engineered-crops-in-the-us/recent-trends-in-ge-adoption.aspx

Dashburst. “How to Use the Psychology of Colors When Marketing.” Smart Business Trends. 19 June, 2014. Web. 10 May, 2015.http://smallbiztrends.com/2014/06/psychology-of-colors.html

“Decoding Labels: Green & Black’s Organic Hot Chocolate.” Food Renegade. Kristen Michaelis, n.d. Web. 8 May, 2015 http://www.foodrenegade.com/decoding-labels-green-blacks-organic-hot-chocolate/

Fairtrade Foundation, n.d. Web. 10 May, 2015. http://www.fairtrade.org.uk/

Green and Black’s, n.d. Web. 8 May, 2015. www.greenandblacks.co.uk and us.greenandblacks.com

“How Fair is Fairtrade Chocolate?” Chocoblog. Dom, 1 March, 2013. Web. 10 May, 2015. http://www.chocablog.com/features/how-fair-is-fairtrade-chocolate/

Milmo, Cahal. “Cadbury Deal Turns Sour for Green & Black’s.” The Independent. 18 January, 2011. Web. 12 May, 2015.  http://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/analysis-and-features/cadbury-deal-turns-sour-for-green-amp-blacks-2187044.html

Presilla, Maricel E. The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural and Natural History pf Cacao with Recipes. New York: Crown Publishing. 2009. Print.

Roberts, Laura. “Dream chocolate tasting job for £35,000 a year offered by Green & Black’s.” The Telegraph. 16 October, 2010. Web. 10 May, 2015. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/foodanddrink/foodanddrinknews/8065891/Dream-chocolate-tasting-job-for-35000-a-year-offered-by-Green-and-Blacks.html

Taylor, Beth. “Undercover Waitress.” Payscale. 23 August, 2013. Web. 13 May, 2015. http://www.payscale.com/career-news/2013/08/chocolate-consultant-or-chocolate-taster-

Media:

Green and Black’s. “Green & Black’s Orange and Lemon.” Online Video. Youtube. 20 September, 2013. Web. 9 May, 2015. https://youtu.be/6X9KbcXqwkU

Green & Black’s. Logo. Green & Black’s. Web. 12 May, 2015

Green & Black’s. Thin. Green & Black’s. Web. 12 May, 2015

Green & Black’s. Hot Chocolate. Green & Black’s. Web. 12 May, 2015

Jones, Mark. “Green & Black’s.” Online Video. Youtube. 26 March, 2011. Web. 9 May, 2015. https://youtu.be/V21mOV4sMVc