Tag Archives: ethically sourced cacao

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.

Valrhona’s Commitment to Responsibility: A Case Study

Valrhona Chocolate, created in 1922 by French pastry chefs, has long been committed to producing high-quality chocolates (Coe and Coe 259). They also take pride in projecting a sustainable business plan, which is admirable when considering that chocolate companies are often not held accountable for their actions. Valrhona sources Criollo and Trinitario cacao from Guanaja, Venezuela, Madigascar, Trinidad and Tobago, and most recently the Dominican Republic (Valrhona 4). It has published a Social Responsibility Report for public consumption which outlines the many ways it is committed to its suppliers, employees, consumers, and the community at large. In analyzing Valrhona’s practices in each of these areas in relation to the grander sociohistorical environment of the chocolate supply chain, we can better understand Valrhona’s success and shortcomings. Based on these conclusions, I will argue that Valrhona is on the path to solving many of the ethical problems that come with producing chocolate from the bean to the bar, but also has some room for improvement.

At the Source
First, Valrhona claims that they are committed to their suppliers. They have set up a “Buyer’s Code of Conduct” that encourages buyers to communicate fairly with suppliers, act sustainably and buy ethically (Valrhona 9). While this does not ensure that their buyers will behave this way, it is a step in the right direction. One of the biggest problems facing cacao farmers is how they may be exploited by buyers and not paid fairly, possibly being taken advantage of by both big chocolate companies and the local governments (Lockwood). At least they are attempting to prevent this.

In addition, Valrhona offers programs to teach cacao growers about research, planting cacao, and ways to improve (Valrhona 12). This is all part of their sustainability pledge: to build long-term relationships with their farmers, which is in the best interest of both the cacao farmers and Valrhona itself. I think this is very important because it means that the future of cacao, and of high quality chocolate, is being carefully considered.

Below is a short video created by Valrhona showing an idealized version of their newest plantation in the Domincan Republic, touting great treatment of farmers and high quality cacao:

Child labor is one of the most concerning issues facing the cacao industry today, and is an example of how farmers may also be the exploiters. In the United States, legislation was almost passed that would require a label stating that no child labor was used in the making of the chocolate, but it was heavily lobbied and did not pass. In the end, the Harkin-Engels Protocol was created. This was a voluntary pledge to work toward more ethical and credible standards, but has yet to prove itself as successful because the companies who signed it are not held accountable if they do not meet these standards (Coe and Coe 264).

Valrhona actually did not sign this protocol. They do, however, claim that they are committed to fight child labor on their cacao farms by regularly visiting plantations and otherwise relying on Fair Trade, Rain Forest and UTZ certifications. They also maintain that 80% of their supply chain is 100% traceable, meaning that each part of the supply chain is held accountable (for 80% of its cacao)(Valrhona 15). While this is a great feat, I would argue that it still leaves 20% of its products open to child labor and other ethical oversights, and any chance of child labor is not ideal. This keeps the cacao industry plagued by the same slavery used by early 19th century chocolate companies (Coe and Coe). We are past this as a society, and ideally chocolate companies should settle for nothing less than 100% accountability.

In addition, plantation visits and other certifications are only marginally helpful. For example, to become Fair Trade certified, farmers have to pay more to be a part of a certified co-op, which means that those who are underpaid are unable to be certified and those farmers who are already wealthier are benefitted (Martin). So while Valrhona claims that they are “fighting” child labor, there is still much room for improvement on this front.

2013-12-26-miniValrhonaSchool2.JPG
The school co-founded by Valrhona in the Dominican Republic opened in 2013 and serves the 15 local cacao growing families (Valrhona)

One area where Valrhona has begun to prove itself is in its community outreach programs for cacao growing communities. They have co-founded a small school in their newest plantation in the Dominican Republic, and built a school on their Madagascar plantation. These initiatives may also help ease chances of child labor by giving children a chance at an education, but seem to be focused more on promoting the future success of their plantations than anything else.

At Home
In addition to promoting sustainable and ethical relationships with cacao suppliers, Valrhona also claims to improve the lives of its employees and community where the chocolate is manufactured in France. In fact, their investment in their employees appears to exceed their interest in those who grow their cacao. They pride themselves on providing extensive training, equal opportunities, and even psychological counseling to their employees (Valrhona 18), all to improve the quality of their product and ensure that the company continues to flourish. They even organize trips for some employees to travel to their plantations and see how cacao is cultivated, likely an amazing learning experience. However they do not offer this same privilege in reverse: farmers are not invited to see the manufacturing process. This alone shows inequality between the farmers who are paid relatively little for doing extremely laborious work and Valrhona’s employees.

Unlike Hershey’s Chocolate in Hershey, Pennsylvania, where an entire town was built to house and service its employees (Coe and Coe 251), Valrhona’s company is relatively small and so it spends its efforts on community outreach outside of itself. Conscious of its impact on its local community, Valrhona donates money and services to develop its surroundings and ensure a minimal environmental footprint (Valrhona 29-30). They regularly survey local residents for feedback on their progress, and prove to be successful in improving the lives of not only their own employees, but those who live in their community.

For the Greater World of Chocolate

Pedregal
One of Valrhona’s high quality chocolate bars, “El Pedregal”, is a single-origin chocolate bar sourced from the finest Criollo cacao in Venezuela (Valrhona)

Since it was established in 1922, Valrhona has primarily focused on producing high quality chocolate for pastry chefs. Even world-renowned French pastry chef Pierre Herme, commonly known as the “Picasso of Pastry”, works exclusively with Valrhona because of their extensive knowledge of chocolate and their ability to consistently produce it well (Williams 176). And with the birth of L’ecole du Grand Chocolat in 1989 and its two newer outposts in Japan, and most recently in 2014, the United States, Valrhona has become synonymous with expertise in the world of chocolate all around the globe. This is unlike any other chocolate company, and shows a true dedication to this unique craft. Valrhona is also responsible for promoting and even creating some of the world’s leading pastry competitions, thereby furthering its reputation as a leader in haute cuisine and promoting an interest in the pastry arts, while also donating sales to charitable causes (Valrhona 25).

Weaknesses
While Valrhona has made great strides in ethically and sustainably sourcing and producing its chocolate, there is still room for improvement. One area they do not openly discuss is how much their farmers are being paid and what their working conditions are truly like, so there is no way to know if money is going to the farmers, their co-op, or even into the local government’s pocket. The only mention is that they “encourage local suppliers to support their local economies” (Valrhona 9). This loosely stated policy is likely not the most effective strategy to ensure equal pay.

Once again, their response to the issue of child labor is also lacking – they could take on full accountability and focus more energy on eliminating any chance of child slave labor all together, rather than claiming that only 80% of their cacao is child labor-free. More of their efforts seem to be located in serving their own local communities and pastry chef consumers than that of the farmers who work to grow their cacao, which demonstrates Valrhona’s greater commitment to quality and the future of the industry than to their farming partners.

Valrhona's employees

Madagascar plantation
Which group seems happier? Here the farmers at Valrhona’s plantations (bottom) are compared to Valrhona’s own employees (top) to illustrate Valrhona’s struggle to equally provide for their suppliers (Valrhona)

One more interesting thing to note is that one of their main missions is to meet the stakeholder’s expectations (Valrhona 6), and because they do not delineate what their stakeholder’s expectations are, this may suggest that their primary goal is to make money rather than behave sustainably. (However I cannot fault them for that, as a business should indeed have the goal to be profitable.) Still, there is the sense that because this report was voluntarily released, many of Valrhona’s weaknesses may not be overtly evident.

Conclusion
Having weighed these weaknesses against their strengths, I think it can still be said that Valrhona is on its way to meeting its goal of developing high quality chocolate in an ethically sustainable and consistent way. Of course there will always be room for improvement. But building schools, offering training, donating services and money to local causes and requesting their suppliers to behave ethically are all steps in the right direction. In this way, Valrhona is a leader of the modern chocolate industry – all while producing some of the finest chocolates in the world.

References

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. “The True History of Chocolate”. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1996. Print.

Lockwood, Sarah. “Exploiters or Exploited? Cocoa Production in West Africa.” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard Extension School: Cambridge, MA. 23 March 2015. Class Lecture.

Martin, Carla D. “Alternative Trade and Virtuous Localization/Globalization.” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard Extension School: Cambridge, MA. 8 April 2015. Class Lecture.

Williams, P. and Eber, J. “Raising the Bar: The Future of Fine Chocolate”. Vancouver, CA: Wilmor Publishing Corporation, 2012. Print.

Valrhona. Corporate Social Responsibility Report. 2012-2013. Group Espirit Libre: Tain I’Hermitage, France. Retrived from: http://www.valrhona-chocolate.com/files/Valrhona-CRS-Sept-2013.pdf.

.http://www.valrhona-chocolate.com/shop/media/Valrhona-Pedregal-64-10806.jpg

.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p8P6zYhhSSE

.http://www.huffingtonpost.com/regina-varolli/valrhona-chocolate-builds_b_4504455.html

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