Tag Archives: ethics

Cadbury Ethics

In the early twentieth century, the Cadbury Brothers Limited was a prominent chocolate producer in Britain. In 1901, a member of the Cadbury company, William Cadbury, was exposed to the accusation of slavery in his company’s cocoa farms. The situation was such that “he was told that slave labor was used on the island of São Tomé. Shortly thereafter this unsubstantiated comment was given credence when the Cadbury company received an offer of a plantation for sale in São Tomé that listed as assets two hundred black laborers” (Satre 18). With the rumor of slavery existing and having a direct tie to the Cadbury company, William did not immediately conclude that slavery was going on because “he did not equate the labor of São Tomé to that of other forms of slavery reported in Africa” (Satre 19). Cadbury was not incorrect in observing that the labor conditions were different than the historical slavery in Africa, but it was still slavery and leads to the questioning of his ethics.

The slavery in São Tomé was different from other historical forms of slavery in Africa. “Portugal had abolished slavery in all of its colonies, including Angola, in the 1870s, but plantation owners and others still desperately craved workers” (Satre 2). “To satisfy this constant demand for labor, a state-supported system of ‘contract labor’ emerged. Wherein government agents certified that natives could, of their own free will, sign contracts committing themselves to five years of labor at a set wage.” The plantation owners abused these contracts, which lead to slavery. Nevinson, who was researching slavery in West Africa, described several reasons why people might become slaves, including the following:
“[s]ome had broken native customs or Portuguese laws, some had been charged with witchcraft by the medicine man because of a relative died, some sould not pay a fine, some were wiping out an ancestral debt, some had been sold by uncles in poverty, some were indemnity for village wars, some had been raided on the frontier, others had been exchanged for a gun; some had been trapped by Portuguese, others by Bibéan thieves; some were but changing masters” (Satre 7).
The exploitation of labor was in fact slavery, but William Cadbury wanted to be thorough in his obtainment of information because “he wanted to be absolutely fair to the responsible parties on the cocoa plantations and in Portugal” (Satre 19).
In order to come to a definitive conclusion regarding the possibility of slavery in the Cadbury cocoa farms, William Cadbury enlisted the services of Joseph Burtt, who would travel to São Tomé in order to uncover whether the rumors of slavery were true. Before Burtt could begin investigating, he had to first learn Portuguese. Cadbury might of had an expedited report if he had chosen someone who already knew Portuguese, but Burtt eventually found explicit evidence of slavery. When the time came for Burtt to publish his findings, he “added to the delays by pushing, in addition, for a ‘personal and private appeal to the planters’ to ensure they understood’ that the whole question has been taken up from a desire for decent conditions of coloured labour and not from English’ self-righteousness and hypocrisy” (Higgs 135). The delays in the report mounted to the extent that even though Burtt had been commissioned by the Cadbury family in 1905, he did not return to England till 1907. After William Cadbury read Burtt’s report and visted Africa, “he found a system he called ‘slavery in disguise’” (Vertongen).

Meanwhile, another party was uncovering the truth behind the working conditions. Henry Nevison was on an assignment to investigate the working conditions in West Africa. Nevison worked for Harper’s Monthly Magazine and would end up writing “a series of articles and a subsequent book describing slavery in Portuguese West Africa” (Satre 2). He witnessed explicit slavery and periodically published his findings in Britain. Nevison publically called for a boycott of the slave plantations.
With the information from Burtt’s report and the public scrutiny caused by Nevison’s exposure of the slavery conditions and pressure for change, William Cadbury came to the conclusion that a boycott was necessary. “1909, Cadbury Brothers wrote to Fry and Rowntree to recommend that all three firms ‘cease buying S. Thome cocoa’” (Higgs 147). All three firms began the boycott and were particularly effective in Britain because “[a]t the turn of the twentieth century, the British cocoa and chocolate business was dominated by three Quaker-owned firms-Cadbury, Fry, and Rowntree-although European companies continued to claim a large part of the British market” (Satre 14). The companies moved their cocoa farms to the Gold Coast in West Africa, where they knew slavery was not employed.

The ethics pertaining to William Cadbury’s actions in combating slavery need to be further examined. A substantial amount of time passed from when he first learned about the labor conditions in the cocoa farms and the action of the Cadbury company to boycott the slave labor being used. William is partly at fault for this delay. Although being prudent and securing a definitive report of the possibility of slavery may be wise, his choosing Burtt was problematic, since the latter had to learn Portuguese before beginning his research. The delays in the publishing of Burtt’s report were the result of Cadbury’s desire to not offend. Ultimately, William Cadbury can be criticized that the developments to end the slavery could have been conducted on an expedited time frame. Another reason for the delay was his not being convinced that the rumored conditions were in fact slavery, due to the differences between it and prior forms in Africa. He wanted more evidence of the exploitation as the Portuguese government even pledged to create better working conditions for the labors. Since “he obviously wanted to believe that the Portuguese government officials were sincere in their promise to enforce the new rules” (Satre 15), Cadbury’s delay in boycotting might be somewhat justified. In conclusion, enlisting Burtt to provide more evidence of slavery and allowing the Portuguese government time to correct the slavery problem are valid reasons for some of the delay in action, and given that the boycott of the slavery did ultimately occur, William Cadbury should not be regarded as unethical.

Works cited

Satre, L. Chocolate on Trial: Slavery, Politics, and the Ethics of Business

Higgs, C. Chocolate Islands: Cocoa, Slavery, and Colonial Africa

Vertongen, D. (Director), & Hargrave, G. (Producer). (2000). Extra Bitter: The Legacy of the Chocolate Islands [Video file]. Filmakers Library. Retrieved May 13, 2017, from Alexander Street.

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Chocolate and Ethics

Quality of life and ethical life choices are important factors in everything we do. Chocolate is a frequent part of our lives as well, for some, a daily part.  Chocolate is a multi-billion dollar industry.  When consumers spend money in a business that supports ethical business practices, it can make a difference in lives around the world.  Taza Chocolate is one such business.

Taza Chocolate.

Taza Chocolate makes stone ground chocolate from organic cacao in Somerville, Massachusetts.  Taza has been in business since 2005, and is an example of an ethical and forward-thinking chocolate business (Taza, 2017).  Taza devotes much of their time and business planning to ensure their business practices and those of their suppliers, who they refer to as partners, improves the lives of farmers, while reforming the chocolate industry from the ground up.  Taza has a wide selection of chocolate, including chocolate bars, gift sets, and even bulk chocolate so people can bake or cook with stone ground, organic, Direct Trade chocolate.

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Photo of Taza Chocolate products in public domain by Johnny Lai.

The process of purchasing cacao beans.

Obtaining cacao beans direct from growers is an important part of fair labor practices.  Historically, the cacao industry has taken advantage of its workers, ignoring abuse and slavery to achieve a greater profit.  An example of this can be seen in São Tomé and Príncipe in the 1900s.  Slavery had been officially abolished in 1870, and the cacao industry needed workers, so they began using the system of contract labor, where workers would agree to work a set number of years for a set wage (Satre, 2006, Location 1603).  Workers traveling to provide contract labor were “coerced, repatriation was all but impossible, and the death rate was as high as twelve percent” (Satre, 2006, Location 1603).   In 1907, long after these abusive practices became public knowledge, “Cadbury still imported 7.4 million pounds of cacao beans from São Tomé, about thirteen percent of the island’s total exports” (Satre, 2006, Location 1603).  Today, the chocolate industry is attempting to improve working conditions and payment for cacao farmers through fair trade initiatives.  There are several certifications that ensure fair labor practices in the cacao industry, but Taza’s Direct Trade is the first cacao sourcing program that is third-party certified (Taza, 2017).  Taza purchases their beans directly from growers with no “predatory middlemen and abusive labor practices,” so that farmers and their families receive more money for the cacao they grow and harvest (Taza, 2017).  Every year all five of Taza’s Direct Trade claims are certified by “a USDA-accredited organic certifier” (Taza, 2017).

 

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Cacao beans, taken by me, 2017e846.

Direct Trade certified claims by Taza.

The five Direct Trade certified claims Taza makes improve quality of life for cacao farmers and their families while improving the quality of cacao beans used in Taza chocolate.  The first claim is that Taza develops “direct relationships with cacao farmers” (Taza, 2017).  By visiting Taza’s partners every year and reviewing how much of the money paid for cacao beans reaches the farmers directly, other benefits farmers receive besides monetary payments, and actually meeting and speaking to farmers, Taza develops direct relationships with farmers.  The second Direct Trade certified claim is that Taza pays “a price premium to cacao farmers” (Taza, 2017).  Invoices are reviewed to verify that Taza has met this claim by comparing the price paid for cacao to the NYICE price for cacao on the same date as the invoice (Taza, 2017).  Another important Direct Trade claim is that Taza sources “the highest quality cacao beans” (Taza, 2017).  Taza staff perform a quality assessment of every container of cacao beans purchased, and complete an evaluation form indicating the results of each assessment (Taza, 2017).  A further Direct Trade claim is that Taza requires “USDA certified organic cacao” (Taza, 2017).  This is important to ensure the quality of the cacao used, and Taza provides documentation to support USDA organic certification to the independent certifier (Taza, 2017).  The fifth certified claim is a self-imposed action on the part of Taza.  It includes publishing a yearly Transparency Report.  Taza publishes every year a Direct Trade Transparency Report, so that consumers or anyone else who wants to verify their claims, has all the information to do so (Taza, 2017).  Currently, there are links to the report for the past six years available on Taza’s website.  This level of transparency in the bean to bar operation is unique in the chocolate industry.

Link to a discussion by Taza Chocolate on the difference between Direct Trade and Fair Trade.

Fair compensation to growers and farmers.

To maintain an ethical and healthy cacao industry, growers need to receive fair compensation.  Although slavery has been abolished, cacao farmers in many areas do not make a livable wage.  As recently as 2008, in a Côte d’Ivoire cacao village, people “lacked clean water, health care, and decent schools” (Orla, 2011, Location 793).  The issue of child labor was brought to public attention in 2000, when it came forward that children were being enticed by traffickers with promises of riches, and brought to cacao farms in Côte d’Ivoire, where they “survived on little food, little or no pay, and endured regular beatings” (Orla, 2011, Location 807).   In fact, some officials were even “convinced that the farmers were paying organized groups of smugglers to deliver the children to their cocoa groves…and police were being bribed to look the other way” (Off, 2006, Location 1893).  In 2001, the Harkin-Engle protocol was signed to help address the problem of child labor (Orla, 2011, Location 807).   In 2015, cacao farmers in Ghana earned “as little as 84 cents a day, and Ivorian farmers, 50 cents” (Soley, 2015).  Taza visits farmers that they buy cacao from every year, and “only buy cacao from growers who ensure fair and humane work practices” (Taza, 2017).  Additionally, Taza pays “at least $500 above the market price…and never less than $2,800 per metric ton” for their cacao (Taza, 2017).  In 2016, Taza purchased 233 metric tons of cacao beans, equating to at least $116,000 dollars more in the pockets of growers and farmers in developing countries due to Taza’s forward-thinking labor practices (Taza, 2017).  In 2016, Taza paid its Bolivia partner a fixed price of $5,300 per metric ton, and the partner paid 76.4% of this amount to the farmers (Taza, 2017).  This set price is paid by Taza even though the price of cacao on the world market may be much lower.  As an example, the International Cacao Organization lists the average daily price of a metric ton of cacao in December 2016 at $2,287.80 (ICCO, 2017).  Despite this price, Taza would pay its Bolivian partner $5,300 per metric ton for any cacao purchased in December, protecting farmers from the price fluctuations throughout the market.   This process ensures higher income for growers and farmers, cutting out the middleman, so they may better support their families.  With “most of the world’s cacao farmers living at or below the poverty line of $2 per day” (Taza, 2017), the chocolate industry needs to follow Taza’s actions, and customers need to spend their money with companies that are encouraging humane labor practices.

Monetary compensation is supplemented by other benefits to farmers.  Taza’s partners, in addition to paying their farmers more, also provide other benefits that cut costs for farmers and increase profits.  For example, all of Taza’s partners “drive to producers’ farms to pick up the cacao in its unfermented form” (Taza, 2017).  This saves farmers money on delivery, fermenting, and drying costs, so their profit is greater.   Taza’s partners may provide high-quality cacao seedlings, loans to buy farms, food, housing, and many other types of assistance that are meant to help farmers become more successful and live better lives (Taza, 2017).

Chocolate ingredients other than cacao.

The other ingredients used in chocolate production need the same devotion to fair labor standards and wages as cacao.  Historically, some chocolate merchants added dangerous ingredients to chocolate, such as “brick dust, chalk, clay, dirt, paraffin, talc, and other items” (Grivetti, 2009, Location 10908).  Using organic ingredients that are held to higher ethical standards is important.  The sugar industry is tied to the chocolate industry in many ways, and has a similar history as cacao in terms of the treatment of slaves.  As of 2013, the Department of Labor cited problems with child labor in the sugar industry in the Dominican Republic (U.S. Department of Labor, 2013).  The submission found violations of labor law concerning wages, hours of work, occupational safety and health, child labor, and forced or compulsory labor (U.S. Department of Labor, 2013).  It is important for customers and corporations alike to work for better conditions and wages for all workers.

Taza purchases certified USDA organic cacao and sugar from farmers “who respect the environment and fair labor practices” (Taza, 2017).  The country of origin of the cacao beans is listed on many of Taza’s products, and the partners are specifically listed in the Transparency Report, so individuals can research and verify fair labor practices.  Customers can buy a product with ingredients from a specific country, and support the practices of that supplier by choosing to do business with them.  The sugar that Taza purchases for their chocolate is organic, non-GMO, and the supplier is committed to sustainability and fair labor practices (Taza, 2017).  Not only are the mills that produce the sugar energy self-sufficient, the “organic farming system has resulted in 20% higher productivity than conventional sugar cane production while reducing Native’s carbon footprint and saving water, soil, energy, and promoting human welfare” (Taza, 2017).   Although Native Sugar uses a mechanical harvester, it has retrained its workers for “other positions within the organization” adhering to the commitment to fair labor and making workers lives better (Taza, 2017).   Business practices that promote environmental sustainability are important in today’s world.  Not only is this good for future generations, it is also benefiting the company economically.

Labor in the production process. 

The production process has become highly mechanized for many chocolate companies.  Historically, laborers produced chocolate using basic tools.  Some cacao farms, like Hacienda Buena Vista in Puerto Rico, began using hydropower to increase production and change the roles of workers.  It is impressive to see, with one pull of a lever, water rushing down and causing large equipment to start processing cacao, or coffee, or corn.  The process of making stone ground chocolate keeps the historic element alive, while mechanizing chocolate production.  Taza uses “traditional Mexican stone mills, called molinos, with hand-carved stones that turn inside” the mills (Taza, 2017).  Workers pay close attention during the process to ensure quality that cannot be achieved through high production automation.

Hacienda water run equipment
Machinery run by hydropower at Hacienda Buena Vista, taken by me 2017e846

 

Chocolate recipes.

Recipes for chocolate are an important component of a chocolate company.  Many of today’s chocolate recipes contain ingredients traditionally used in different cultures.  Cinnamon has been used traditionally in cacao recipes, and Taza uses it in some of its chocolate recipes (Taza, 2017).  Chili is also an ingredient to some of Taza’s products, similar to the “ancient Mesoamerican tradition of adding chili to chocolate” (Coe and Coe, 2013, Location 3828).  Additionally, vanilla, various nuts, sea salt, coconut, coffee and other ingredients are used today to make a chocolate bar that is both traditional and current.

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Traditional chocolate ingrediates.  Taken by me, 2017e846.

Value of the product.

For consumers in developed countries today, and some developing countries, chocolate is an affordable luxury.  Taza’s chocolate is reasonably priced given the quality and commitment to the cacao community of growers that encompasses its business model.  A Taza chocolate bar or disc are for the most part between $5.00 and $7.50 (Taza, 2017).  That is a reasonable price for organic chocolate, at least given prices for organic chocolate in the Caribbean.  An artisan chocolate bar made here in Puerto Rico is approximately $10.00, and they are small bars.  Organic chocolate is a relatively affordable luxury that enriches our lives.

Conclusion.

The chocolate industry as a whole is making strides towards incorporating more humane practices into its business model.  However, large companies are slow to change.  Small, independent chocolate businesses have the ability now to make positive changes in the lives of farmers and their families, showing larger businesses a better way to operate and improving the lives of those they do business with.  Taza Chocolate is one such company who appears to look at every aspect of their business in trying to improve the lives of others while growing a successful chocolate company and delivering a high-quality products.

Works Cited

Coe, Michael D., and Coe, Sophie D.  The True History of Chocolate.  Kindle ed., Thames & Hudson, 2013.

Grivetti, Louis E.  “Dark Chocolate:  Chocolate and Crime in North America and Elsewhere.”   Chocolate:  History, Culture, and Heritage, edited by Louis Evan Grivetti and Howard-Yana Shapiro.  Kindle ed., John Wiley and Sons, Inc., 2009.

International Cocoa Organization website.  Retrieved from: https://www.icco.org/statistics/cocoa-prices/monthly-averages.html?currency=usd&startmonth=12&startyear=2016&endmonth=12&endyear=2016&show=table&option=com_statistics&view=statistics&Itemid=114&mode=custom&type=1

Off, Carol.  Bitter Chocolate:  Anatomy of an Industry.  Kindle ed., The New Press, 2006.

Orla, Ryan.  Chocolate Nations:  Living and Dying for Cocoa in West Africa.  Kindle ed., Zed  Books, 2011.

Satre, Lowell J.  “Chocolate on Trial:  Slavery, Politics and the Ethics of Business.”  Journal of British Studies, vol. 45, no. 3, 2006.  Retrieved from:  https://oup.silverchaircdn.com/oup/backfile/Content_public/Journal/ahr/111/5/10.1086/ahr.111.5.1603/2/11151603.pdf?Expires=1494532181&Signature=Bktk0Wtwlcjwcjdb8gNc0UvvCVDVd8BNVD8Z4iKlCR9HALBUWSYbk55G2xWUJaxbqlN4Zvxkhe6860o3tEN~-8IS7dCLOuIUwFuh5pyob2uamoCVT~W-mzPbaBebkCVoWo1ywvI4HCJBf-fHA9k2e2bmNLlrGL0BxhqnMblaLW2HuEJWqY1lTAtB-4m60OXMHRyDWrsajBcFPLbHyQ8erLkEQelz2yZBq5lumwXYQ3m2M8so1i6LVviTHWrgXuokMQfgIlMrrjy6XKxoH71bHKuMAu20Ph8wNY3Rd70Q6yOIobiKhaBV6xhRrC8kjzuWuB6SCIqGldwX3B1006WE~w__&Key-Pair-Id=APKAIUCZBIA4LVPAVW3Q.

Soley, Allison.  “Cacao Farmers Still Aren’t Making enough money:  Cocoa Barometer review shows young farmers no longer replacing older farmers due to extremely low wages.”  1 July 2015.  Candy Industry website.  Retrieved from: http://www.candyindustry.com/articles/86817-cocoa-farmers-still-arent-making-enough-money.

Taza Chocolate website. Last accessed 10 May 2017.   https://www.tazachocolate.com/pages/about-taza.

United States Department of Labor, “Dominican Republic Submission Under Central America-United States Free Trade Agreements.” (7 September 2013).  Retrieved from:  https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/our-work/trade/fta-submissions#DR

 

There is No Pleasure in Guilty Chocolate!

Why do you love chocolate? Because it is good! It tastes good and makes you happy. It is all that is good in the world wrapped in a beautiful candy bar. What if you learned that your delicious candy bar is a by-product of something bad, the output of someone else’s suffering?  A child’s suffering? Would you enjoy it just the same? Eating is not just a means to satisfy hunger; it is also an emotional and psychological experience.  We like to eat, and we like to eat good food without any negative connotations. Chocolate does not taste as good when it is served with a side of guilt. Chocolate tastes better when you wholeheartedly know that it came from a good place and produced in an ethical and social responsible manner.

Did you know that the global chocolate industry is nearly $100 billion dollars a year? The United States alone spends a little over 18 billion dollars in chocolate (2015), and that the average American consumes approximately 4.3 kilograms / 9.5 pounds of chocolate a year (2015). In comparison, beating the Americans at chocolate consumption are the Swiss who consume approximately a little over 9 kilograms / 20 pounds per person, then tied for second place are the Germans and the Austrians who approximately consume 3.6 kilograms / 7.4 pounds per person (Satioquia-Tan). Chocolate can be found anywhere around the world and is affordable to the masses especially to those who live in the developed world. Chocolate can be found in candy bars, truffles, fudge, cakes, muffins, biscuits, breakfast cereals, pancakes, health bars, sauces, drinks, in your café mocha, and anywhere you can sprinkle chocolate syrup. You can buy it in a specialty shop, supermarket, mini-market, drugstore, or any corner street gas station.

The majority of chocolate eaters are rather naïve in knowing the history and the current nature of the chocolate-making business. They simply eat it because they love chocolate without really knowing what it is, where it comes from, who makes and how; or any related social issues. For those consumers who are more aware of the social and economic impacts of the chocolate industry are a little more selective in choosing and enjoying their chocolate. To fully appreciate food is to experience it through all the possible senses, the physiological and psychological (Stuckey 13). Only twenty percent of what we physiologically taste happens in our mouths, the rest of the tasting experience happens through our remaining senses of sight, smell, touch, and sound. We, also, want to psychologically feel good about what we are eating. We want to know about the origins, the farming practices, and the ethics of what we are tasting (Stuckey 14). We want to know the context, the beautiful story, of what we are eating so we can enjoy it fully. The other option is to choose to remain a little ignorant of the subject as not to sour our chocolate taste, however this pleasure would be more superficial and would not represent the fullest appreciation of what we are eating. To fully appreciate today’s chocolate, we will have to fully experience it with the body and mind in full awareness of its origins, present journey and social impacts.

  1. What is Chocolate?

Cocoa is the main ingredient for all chocolate recipes.  Cocoa derives from cacao seeds, or more commonly referred to as cacao beans, which grow on the Theobroma Cacao tree.  Cacao trees are finicky trees that can only bear fruit in hot and humid tropical climates,twenty degrees from the equator at a specific altitude. These trees are highly dependent on midges, an insect, for its flowers to pollinate and bear fruit (Coe and Coe 19-21, 27). Cacao beans grow inside a fruity, pulp filled pod, approximately 30-40 beans grow inside one pod. Unlike most trees, where fruit grow dangling down from branches, cacao pods sprout directly from the tree trunk. In raw form, cacao beans constitute half its size in fat, cocoa butter. When cocoa butter is extracted from the cacao bean, what remains is the cocoa (or cocoa powder), the main ingredient of all chocolate (Coe and Coe 27). Before cacao beans turn into chocolate, cacao fruit is first farmed.  Upon harvest, fruit pods are removed from trees and cracked open to extract its beans with machetes. Cacao beans are then fermented, dried, sorted, roasted, transported, winnowed (deshelled), ground to a liquor, pressed (to remove the cacao butter), conched, and then what remains is added to chocolate-making recipes. Chocolate is the result of a labor intensive and highly processed food.

  1. Where Does Cacao Come From?

Cacao is native to the New World, the South American’s amazon basin region (Coe and Coe 25), and the Mesoamerican native cultures of the Mayans and Aztecs and predecessors were the first peoples to ever make chocolate dating back as far as 1500 BCE (Coe and Coe 33). Cacao was precious and a sacred food reserved for the elite, special occasions, and sacred rituals. Mayan and Aztecs Gods often appear alongside or in the form of cacao trees in their native hieroglyphs and surviving art (Coe and Coe 42). So precious, cacao beans were even used as a means of monetary currency. In 1545, documented is the commodity price of a tamale: one tamale equals one cacao bean (Coe and Coe 98-99). Upon colonizing Mesoamerica, the Spanish conquistadors were the first Europeans to discover and spread the taste of chocolate to Europe starting in the 1500’s (Coe and Coe 108). At the beginning of the chocolate history in Europe, chocolate was rare, expensive, and for the upper class.  Then as time passed and soon after the industrial revolution, chocolate became relatively common and affordable to the masses.

Amazon Basin
Amazon basin (based on Wikipedia, Amazon basin article, by Kmusser, using Digital Chart of the Word and GTOPO data)

After the end of the American colonial period, in the late 1800’s, the Spanish and the Portuguese introduced cacao to West Africa. Due to favorable climate conditions, cacao flourished in West Africa.  Today, approximately seventy percent of the world’s cacao comes from West Africa (Wessel and Quist-Wessel 1). The Ivory Coast and Ghana are the two major countries that supply cacao.  There are 2 million, small (3 hectares acres in size), independent farms (Ryan 52) in West Africa that supply three million metric tons of cacao per year (World Cocoa Foundation).

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West Africa, Ivory Coast depicted in orange and Ghana  depicted in green (based on Wikipedia, Ghana-Ivory Coast Relations article)
  1. What Are the Social Issues Involving the Chocolate Industry?

Since the first Europeans, the Spanish conquistadors, landed in the New World, the cacao industry has been tainted with slavery and forced labor since 1650’s (Berlan 1092). Upon colonizing Mesoamerica, the Spanish forced the natives to pay tribute in labor and cacao to their new Spanish Crown.  After millions of natives died of diseases, the Spanish, like other colonists in the Americas, resorted to using chattel slavery from Africa to extract New World resources (Presilla 24, 33). Chattel slavery officially ended in 1884, however it continued in disguise in Portuguese West Africa well into the 1900’s in the cacao industry and some reports state that it persisted until 1962 (Berlan 1092).

Today, cacao farmer incomes are very volatile for it depends on operating profits, and since cacao is a commodity, the market price.  Farmers need to sell their cacao at a high enough price in order to pay off their operation expenses which includes labor, a major expense, just like most businesses. Unexpected operating expenses and / or a fall in market price can be devastating on farmer revenues/incomes. Cacao farmers, per capita, constantly live without the security of a reliable living wage. In 2015, cacao farmers earned 50 to 84 cents on the American dollar a day (Cocoabarometer). As it is, cacao farmers barely break even, and there is little economic incentive for them to stay in the cacao farming business.  Due to local poverty and lack of other options, farmers continue to grow cacao under pressure to lower operating costs and often resort to desperate means to make a profit, break even, or just enough to pay for rice and cooking oil (Off 5).

In more recent history in the 1990’s and early 2000’s, a wave of newspaper stories and documentary films exposed the existence of child labor, trafficking, and slaves in West African cacao farms which caused much consumer outrage. The media graphically showed the world the extreme poverty and hard lives of cacao farmers in West Africa and the desperate measures farmers take to lower operating costs by using child slave labor (Berlan 1089).

The documentary, Slavery: A Global Investigation (2000), especially shocked viewers by showing how easy it was to find child slaves working on cacao farms and how the local people seem to accept the practice as a way of life. On camera, journalists were able, with relative ease, to overtly interview real child slaves and get first-hand testimony about their hardships, a farm owner who openly admitted to having slaves and in how to get them, and a local official who confirmed as matter of fact that at least 90% of the Ivory Coast farms use child slave labor.  Ninety percent implies the existence of hundreds of thousands of slaves (Ryan 118). A 2000 US State Department report estimated that 15,000 Malian children worked on Ivory Coast cacao farms and that many of were under 12 years old and sold into indentured service (Off 133). Two of the local documentary crew even demonstrated how easy it was to buy slaves, posing as buyers, they went to the marketplace and were able to purchase two boys for the total of forty British pounds (approximately $40) within thirty minutes. Economics, low cacao market price, was credited as being the main reason why these farmers resorted to using slavery.  With such low cacao market prices, farmers cannot afford to pay employee wages and still make a profit, and they have no other income options. In contrast, in a free and mature economy, if a business is not profitable it goes out of business, and one can start a new business or find a new job, this is not the case for the West African cacao farmers.

Since the West African child labor scandals, there has an increased awareness and legislation attempts to eradicate forced and most hazardous child labor. Child labor in general is so embedded into the West African culture, not all children who work on farms are slaves or working with hazards. Most children work as part of the family on their family farms. It was deemed impossible and impractical to create a law that would abolish all form of child labor, however a voluntary agreement, The Harking-Engel Protocol, was signed among the Ivory Coast and the International Chocolate and Cocoa Industry in accordance with the International Labor Organization to end the worst forms of child labor in 2001 (Ryan 44, 47). Because of extreme poverty and lack of options, there are children who are better off working for they will at least have access to some food. Today, consumers are more aware, corporations have put efforts in demonstrating social responsibility in self-certifications, and nonprofit/advocacy organizations, have emerged and increased advocacy. There is still much poverty among cacao farmers, and many children  are still working on farms and some are still suspected of being forced to work against their will.  The child labor problems still exist today.  We, the world, hoped for that the state of child labor in West Africa would be better, however it could be worse.

It is natural that corporations would seek to do business with a poorer and less mature economies so to benefit from cheaper labor costs, but there should be limits when business practices violate human rights and the ability for workers to make a livable wage. It is evident that cacao farmers need more money so can they afford to hire farm workers to help cultivate their labor intensive cacao farms. In the least, the cacao market price needs to go up. It may mean that consumers would have to pay a little more for their chocolate treats. Would you be willing to pay a little more for your candy bar if it would end child and forced labor?

I realize that blindly throwing more money at the problem will not necessarily fix it if local corrupt governments and other stakeholders are still there to scheme away the extra money intended for the cacao farmers. This is a complex issue which requires multi-approach solution. We, the consumers, the governments, NGOs, the corporations, the media (or lack of media), the farmers, are all part of the problem, and we could also all be part of the solution. West African farmers and their children need special consideration for they are the most powerless demographic group in the chocolate food chain. The ones with the most power in the chocolate food chain by default have the most ability, and therefore the greater responsibility, to effect change. Wealthy companies and consumers are in the best position to invest and apply influence in the solution. We, the consumers, should expect that our chocolate companies to conduct business in an ethical and social responsible manner or make better consumer choices if they do not.

Here, in the first world, we would not accept the practice of child labor or slavery in our backyard, and we should not accept it elsewhere and in the products that we use and the foods we eat.  The West African modern-day slave issue is especially heartbreaking for it involves children in producing sweets that we all so enjoy so much. If we all knew that children were being kidnapped and forced to cultivate cacao, we would all enjoy the taste of our chocolate a little less. As consumers, we need to be more conscious about what we eat and learn as much as possible so we can make better consumer choices, maybe write a customer complaint to your chocolate provider or your congressman to influence change in law.  There is no better tasting chocolate than the one that is free from social guilt. In the end, we should all have the right to enjoy good and good-tasting chocolate.

Works Cited

Berlan, Amanda. “Social Sustainability in Agriculture: An Anthropological Perspective on Child Labour in Cocoa Production in Ghana. The Journal of Development Studies, vol. 49, no. 8, 2013, pp. 1088-1100. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00220388.2013.78004.

Cocoa Barometer 2015 report, USA Ed. Cocoabarometer.org. http://www.cocoabarometer.org/International_files/Cocoa%20Barometer%202015%20USA.pdf

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. 3rd ed., Thames & Hudson, 2013.

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

Presilla, Maricel. The New Taste of Chocolate, Revised: A Cultural & Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. Ten Speed Press, 2009.

Ryan, Orla. Chocolate Nations: Living and Dying for Cocoa in West Africa. Zed Books, 2011.

Satioquia-Tan, Janine. Americans East How Much Chocolate? CNBC.com, 23 Jul. 2015, 7:41 PM ET.  http://www.cnbc.com/2015/07/23/americans-eat-how-much-chocolate.html

Stuckey, Barb. Taste What You Are Missing: The  Passionate Eater’s Guide to Why Good Food Tastes Good. Free Press, 2012.

Slavery: A Global Investigation. Produced and directed by Brian Woods and Kate Blanchet.  A True Vision Production in Association with HBO, 2000. TopDocumentaryFilms, topdocumentaryfilms.com/slavery-a-global-investigation.

Wessel, Marius, and Foluke Quist-Wessel. Cocoa Production in West Africa, a Review and Analysis of Recent Developments. NJAS – Wageningen Journal of Life Sciences., vol. 74-74, pp. 1-7, 12-2015. doi.org/10.1016/j.njas.2015.09.001.

World Cocoa Foundation, http://www.worldcocoafoundation.org/category/program-region/africa.

The Big Four In Contemporary Chocolate Marketing

When it comes to buying chocolate consumers are overwhelmed with choices. There are hundreds of different products available at just one store. Dark, milk, white, nutty, fruity, extra sweet, extra dark, candy bar, chocolate bar; all of these come crashing together in one space where the consumer is forced to decide which one will win out among the rest. There are multiple ways that chocolate marketers entice consumers. They use celebrity sponsors, flashy advertising, appeal to certain market segments, and tug on the consumer’s emotions; but all of these tactics can overwhelm the consumer and hide the truth about the products. An analytical investigation reveals that there are four themes that stand out in chocolate marketing.

Strategy #1: Target Your Biggest Market

The largest demographic segment of the chocolate market is women. It has traditionally been thought of as a typical treat for women, but one has to question if this market structure is a result of an actual desire for chocolate by this gender, or if it was socially constructed years before. As Emma Robertson notes in her book Chocolate, Women and Empire since the nineteenth-century women have been the focus for advertisers.[1] During this time, women were constantly told that cocoa was good and wholesome for their families through advertising campaigns. This began the long historical connection between chocolate and the housewife.

Today, mothers are still told that chocolate is what they should be giving their children. Advertisements from Nestlé’s Nesquik, specifically tell mothers that their chocolate milk is nutritious for children.[2] Unfortunately, they rarely disclose in their advertisements that their products contain about half of the recommended daily amount of sugar for kids.[3] Instead, mothers are shown having happy interactions with their children when they give them these chocolate products. This is a strategic move on the part of marketers because every mother wants to give their child something that they believe will make them happy and healthy. However, housewives are not the only segment of the female population that is targeted in chocolate marketing.

Single women are often the ones portrayed eating chocolate in advertisements. In a recent ad from Hershey’s they are selling two of their classic chocolate bars, but only women are shown enjoying the treats.[4] The fifteen-second ad is very revealing because it perpetuates the image that women are the ones who enjoy chocolate the most. It would have been very easy to have a man eat part of the chocolate bar but it was a clear choice by Hershey’s to exclude men. To a chocolate marketer, men constitute only a small portion of the chocolate market, thus they are rarely included in advertisements.

Most chocolate advertisements not only focus on women but also focus on the emotions of women. In the 2015 Super Bowl ad for Snickers, the actor Danny Trejo portrays a hungry Marcia Brady, from the classic American television show The Brady Bunch. Mrs. Brady informs her daughter that she can be hostile when she is hungry, but the Snickers bar turns Marcia Brady back into her chipper self after she eats it.[5] This idea that women will calm down if they have chocolate is another common theme used in marketing chocolate. Women are frequently shown to have their moods altered just by consuming chocolate. They are sold the idea that chocolate can provide you with an emotional or biological experience.

Strategy #2: Packaging Sells

Another strategy that marketers commonly use is creative packaging to make their product stand out among all of the other options. If one walks down the chocolate aisle at any store they will see that all of the chocolate is packaged very differently. Some use bright colors to grab attention, while others have artistic images or use creative fonts. This is important when marketing chocolate because the packaging also denotes who the target audience is. Products wrapped in gold or high-gloss packaging can signal that the company is trying to convey the message that this is a quality product and they are trying to target a luxury consumer. Companies understand that the consumers are not likely to research the quality of the product; therefore the quality of the packaging and the information on the packaging is what will sell the product.

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Image Courtesy of 2017e677

 

A key segment of the chocolate market is the eco-friendly consumer, who will inspect the packaging of the product to make sure the company shares their values. This can involve looking at the packaging to see if it uses sustainable materials, checking the label certifications, or seeing if the company supports the same causes as they do. Purchasing a product is often an emotional experience. If the consumer is purchasing a chocolate without knowing how it tastes, their decision will also be based on whether the packaging grabbed their attention and made them feel a connection to the product.

 

Strategy #3: Play on Your Consumer’s Emotions

Emotions are a key factor when it comes to decision-making. Marketers know that people’s beliefs and feelings will sell products and subsequently, will support causes outside of their industry to make their product stand out among the competition. This is common in the chocolate industry that companies will support other causes in order to lure customers in to support their brand. The moist poignant example is Endangered Species Chocolate, who uses a social cause as their key marketing strategy.

“A snack that gives back”; Endangered Species Chocolate promises their customers that 10% of their net profits each year will be donated to their wildlife conservation partners.[6] They have had a wide variety of partners over the years, which include organizations that help animals in every ecosystem. This is a very clever marketing strategy because it connects their chocolate with a deeper purpose. The consumer feels like they are making a difference in the world if they are buying this chocolate, which is a compelling sales strategy. Endangered Species Chocolate further cements the emotional connection to the product by putting images of animals on every one of their products. While this is a very clear strategy to drive sales, the company is also transparent about the impact their donations have each year by publishing an annual impact report.[7]

Divine Chocolate also uses social causes as a marketing strategy to sell their chocolate. Their chocolate bars are branded as being owned by cocoa farmers and they seek to empower women. Cocoa farming has traditionally been thought of as mainly an industry for men and women have been overlooked.[8] Divine Chocolate changes this common chocolate dichotomy by emphasizing the important roles that women have in cocoa farming. Their advertisements often show African women as strong, well-dressed intelligent women, a stark contrast to the typical primitive images of women in Africa. As Kristy Leissle notes Divine’s advertisements, “reframe Africa’s role in modernity, creating an alluring female figure that envisions and promotes Africa’s contributions to industrial production and luxury consumption.”[9] By changing the typical narrative of chocolate, Divine Chocolate is creating social change. However, these advertisements that inspire change also play into the consumer’s emotions, which was created to highlight the company’s “unique selling point.”[10] Divine Chocolate understands that their ethical values as a company are a selling feature for their products, and as a result, they use these values as a marketing tool.

Strategy #4: Certify Everything

The final, and perhaps most contemporary, marketing tool that marketers use when selling chocolate are all of the different certifications that can appear on the packaging of products. Ideally, one would not have to be concerned about the treatment of farmers or the quality of the ingredients. If that were the case we would not need labels to tell us that this product is not harming the environment, but consumers do not automatically trust that a company will be ethical in their business practices. Consequently, there are many different certifications available: Fair Trade, Certified Organic, Non-GMO Verified, Direct Trade, Certified Vegan, Certified Gluten Free, among many others. For all of these certifications companies and farmers have to pay annual fees and meet certain standards to become a part of these organizations and as a result, they are allowed to use the corresponding label that they qualified for on their products. While the certifications have good intentions they have become a marketing ploy, and one could argue that the labels do not actually benefit the farmers or producers in the altruistic way that is intended.

The Fair Trade certification was created to help farmers improve their lives and ensure fair prices for their products, but these goals have not been realized.[11] It has been found that farmers are not earning more money, the quality of products has not improved, and they do not monitor standards in the way that was promised.[12] This is a significant problem for farmers because they spend a great deal of money to become Fair Trade certified but they are not receiving the benefits that were espoused.[13] Since the economic burden is so substantial many farmers opt out of the certification because they will make more money without it.[14] However, many consumers do not realize that certification labels like Fair Trade are failing to adhere to their promises.

Certifications labels were created to inform consumers that products were ethical in their origin. Nico Roozen and Frans van der Hoff created the first quality label called Max Havelaar.[15] Along with Albert Heijn, in 1988 they launched the first coffee brand that was labeled fair, Max Havelaar coffee.[16] The brand became so successful that more products began displaying the Max Havelaar label throughout Europe and North America.[17] As a result of the popularity of the Max Havelaar label, more certifications have been created. While these certification organizations have good intentions, they have also become an extremely successful marketing tool. Companies have seen large spikes in sales as a result of these labels, but there is the potential for this growth to stop.[18]

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The many certification labels on Theo Chocolate, Endangered Species Chocolate and Taza Chocolate. Images courtesy of 2017e677.

The average consumer does not know the requirements for certification for the majority of the programs that exists. They just assume that a Fair Trade or organic label denotes an ethical or high-quality product. But now that more certifications exist, companies will put multiple certifications on one product potentially confusing the consumer. As Ndongo Samba Sylla notes, companies run the risk of diluting the meaning of these labels by placing too many on one package.[19] By placing so many certifications on one product, the labels begin to be arbitrary and reveal their true purpose, which is a sales device.

Is Chocolate Marketing All a Façade?

With all of these marketing strategies, it begins to look like there is a lack of honesty in the marketing industry. As a result, consumers are left to wonder if they are simply being sold lies. It is true that chocolate marketers will exploit every angle they can in order to sell you a product but they are not necessarily acting unethically, they are just doing their job. Companies need to push boundaries in order to set themselves apart from all of the competition. Ultimately a company cannot be altruistic without selling their products, thus earning the additional money necessary to meet their charity goals. The chocolate industry is a highly competitive world and it is important as a consumer to not get caught up in the strategies that companies implement.

In order to be mislead by all of the marketing schemes, consumers need to do their homework when searching for the chocolate product they want to purchase. There are honest chocolate companies that are very transparent about their processes and openly publish company information. For example, Theo Chocolate is proud to share information about their passions for chocolate and changing the world.[20] On their website they are open about where their beans are sourced from and share their pricing structure publically.[21] In addition, Taza Chocolate publishes a direct trade transparency report that details where they are buying their cacao and from whom.[22] The reports often list farmers by name, giving the consumer more knowledge than is usually possible with the food industry.[23]

While both Taza Chocolate and Theo Chocolate still market their chocolate like any other business would, they also publish information about their respective business practices, which indicates that they are open to additional conversations about their methods. Their honesty is a refreshing change in the chocolate industry. Although transparency is not commonly employed in marketing chocolate, by clearly understanding the tools that companies use to sell their products a consumer can look past all of the sales techniques and find the chocolate product that is right for them.

 

 

 

Works Cited

[1] Emma Robertson, Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History (Manchester University Press: New York, 2009), 20.

[2] “Postgame Nutrition”, Nestle Nesquik, accessed May 1, 2017, https://www.nesquik.com/postgame-nutrition/.

[3] “Sugar Recommendation Healthy Kids and Teens Infographic”, American Heart Association, accessed May 1, 2017, http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/HealthyLiving/HealthyEating/Nutrition/Sugar-Recommendation-Healthy-Kids-and-Teens-Infographic_UCM_487755_SubHomePage.jsp.

[4] Hershey’s, “HERSHEY’S Love in Every Bite”, YouTube Video, 00:15, Posted February 6, 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MxYHyZWaK2o.

[5] Wall Street Journal, “Super Bowl 2015: Snickers Ad”, YouTube Video, 00:32, Posted January 29, 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3UO2A2p-19A.

[6] “Promise”, Endangered Species Chocolate, accessed May 1, 2017, http://www.chocolatebar.com/?page_id=18.

[7] Endangered Species Report, Impact Report 2016, Accessed May 2, 2017,

http://www.chocolatebar.com/docs/doc_2016_Impact_Report.pdf.

[8] Divine Chocolate, “Empowering Women”, accessed May 2, 2017, http://www.divinechocolate.com/us/about-us/TrainingWomen.

[9] Kirsty Leissle, “Cosmopolitan Cocoa Farmers: Refashioning Africa in Divine Chocolate Advertisements”, Journal of African Cultural Studies, 24:2, 123.

[10] Ibid.

[11] “Mission/Values”, Fair Trade USA, accessed May 2, 2017. https://fairtradeusa.org/about-fair-trade-usa/mission.

[12] Carla D. Martin, “Alternative Trade and Virtuous Localization/Globalization” (Lecture Slides, Chocolate Culture and the Politics of Food, Cambridge, MA, April 5, 2017), Slide 11, accessed May 2, 2017, https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1CkKtJa-PLeSsmfsrheoSqdO2gT7yiizxE7x0DmcwcKA/edit#slide=id.g12aecdfb3_057.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Carla D. Martin, “Alternative Trade and Virtuous Localization/Globalization” (Lecture, Chocolate Culture and the Politics of Food, Cambridge, MA, April 5, 2017).

[15] Ndongo Samba Sylla, The Fair Trade Scandal: Marketing Poverty To Benefit The Rich (Ohio University Press: Athens, 2014), 70-71.

[16] Sylla, The Fair Trade Scandal, 72.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Sylla, The Fair Trade Scandal, 91.

[19]Sylla, The Fair Trade Scandal, 133.

[20] “Mission”, Theo Chocolate, accessed May 2, 2017, https://www.theochocolate.com/mission.

[21]“Sourcing”, Theo Chocolate, accessed May 2, 2017, https://www.theochocolate.com/sourcing.

[22] “Taza Direct Trade”, Taza Chocolate, accessed May 3, 2017, https://www.tazachocolate.com/pages/taza-direct-trade.

[23] “Taza Transparency Report 2015”, Taza Chocolate, accessed May 3, 2017, https://cdn.shopify.com/s/files/1/0974/7668/files/Taza_Transparency_Report_2015.pdf?10448975028103371905.

 

Featured Image Courtesy of Flickr, https://www.flickr.com/photos/jeffanddayna/5126226571

Potomac Chocolate: a Closer Look at the Ethics, Marketing, and Intentions of Craft Chocolate Makers

Potomac Chocolate is a craft chocolate maker based in Woodbridge, Virginia. Ben Rasmussen is an award-winning chocolate maker who founded Potomac in 2010 and now has chocolate bars for sale across the country.  Potomac is often described as an “absurdly small” chocolate company, as it is truly a one-man show.  As I read more articles and blog posts from Ben Rasmussen, I quickly learned the truth behind that statement.  One blog post from June of 2013 simply said “Just a quick note that I’ll be traveling with my family from today until July 21st. Any orders placed will go out when I return” (Rasmussen, 2013).  Moreover, Rasmussen also wrote that he probably spends over half of the time that he is making chocolate on matters that have nothing to do with chocolate; he is everything from a “designer, custodian, accountant, salesman…and on and on.”  While he doesn’t love all of the these roles, they enable him to do what he loves, which is making great chocolate.  However, Rasmussen should be praised for far more than the taste of his chocolate. I have found that Potomac Chocolate is ethically sourced, modestly marketed, intended for all to enjoy, and made with a passion for great chocolate.

Sources of Cacao

The first thing I noticed when I looked at the catalog of Potomac bars was the variety of cacao sources.  Each Potomac bar is a single-origin bar, meaning the cacao beans used for each bar are from one particular region of a country.  Origin is particularly significant for chocolate production, as there is a long history of unethical cacao farming: some of which continues to this day.  In The True History of Chocolate, Sophie Coe writes:

“The gravest and most troubling issue confronting practically all of the major players in the chocolate business concerns child labor—usually unpaid—on the great West African cacao plantations. The countries most involved in this shameful practice are the Ivory Coast (Côte d’Ivoire) and Ghana. The former alone produces nearly 40 percent of the world’s supply of forastero cacao, the mainstay of the chocolate giants. Several million African children, many of them trafficked from neighboring countries such as Mali, work under terrible conditions throughout the year…” (Coe, 2013).

Moreover, Carla Martin, a leading expert on chocolate, explains that even in the 21st century there is still prominent evidence of the worst forms of child labor on various cocoa farms in West Africa (Martin, 2017).  As a result of this troubling issue, I wanted to take a closer look at Potomac’s cacao sources.  According to Potomac’s website, Ben is currently sourcing cacao from four locations.  However, at various times in Potomac’s short history, Ben has tested cacao beans from a wider variety of sources— he said no to some of these sources altogether, while others he adopted for a short while before moving on to sources he liked better.  Here are the current cacao sources used by Potomac:

Upala, Costa Rica (3 bars): Potomac offers three different bars using cacao from Upala, Costa Rica.  This is also the first source of cacao that Ben Rasmussen ever used in his marketed chocolate bars.  The 70% dark and 85% dark bars are both comprised of simply organic Costa Rican cacao and organic sugar.  The description found on the packaging for both of these bars says: “Pure dark chocolate made from cacao grown by Finca La Amistad, a small farm in northern Costa Rica. Rich and earthy with notes of caramel, cream, nut, and red fruit.”  Potomac also offers a 70% dark bar using the same cacao beans but with the addition of cacao nibs (nibs are the most raw, pure form of chocolate).  I took a closer look at Finca La Amistad to find that the farm prides itself on having “Best quality, fair working conditions, responsible management of natural resources and long-term partnerships based on mutual trust” (Amistad, 2017).

San Martin, Peru (3 bars): Next, Potomac offers three different bars sourced from San Martin, Peru.  However, there is a discrepancy between the bars in terms of the farms within San Martin providing the cacao.  The 70% dark bar as well as the same bar with the addition of salt are grown by the same farmers.  The description on the packaging for both of these bars says: ”Pure dark chocolate made from cacao grown by the Acopagro Cacao Cooperative in the Amazonian highlands of Peru. Bright and fruity with notes of banana, raisin and apricot.”  The Acopagro Cacao Cooperative sought Fair Trade Certification in order to meet important needs like raising income levels, educational opportunities for children, and adequate healthcare for employees (Acopagro, 2017).  The third bar from this source, the 65% dark milk bar, sources cacao from a different farm.  The description on the packaging for this bar says: ”Pure dark milk chocolate made from cacao grown by the Oro Verde Cooperative in the Amazonian highlands of Peru. Rich and creamy with notes of berries and caramel.”  I found that the Oro Verde Cooperative is so small that they explicitly mention each team member’s name and credentials on their website. Moreover, they pride themselves on healthy living conditions, quality, and transparency (Oro, 2017)

Duarte, Dominican Republic (2 bars): Rasmussen also offers two bars sourced from Duarte, Dominican Republic.  The 70% dark bar was my first encounter with Potomac Chocolate.  I said something to myself like, “that’s the best chocolate I have ever had,” and quickly became interested in learning more.  The packaging description for this bar says: ”Pure dark chocolate made from cacao grown in the Duarte province of the Dominican Republic by a collection of small producers and then carefully fermented and dried by ÖKO-Caribe. Rich cocoa with notes of red fruit.”  Potomac also offers a bar from Duarte with the addition of coconut.  This description presented the biggest challenge in determining ethical sourcing, but after more research, it seems that the ÖKO-Caribe provide transparent trade and high quality (Oko, 2017).

Cuyagua, Venezuela (1 bar): Lastly, Rassmussen’s most recent addition to his list of sourced cacao is his single bar from Cuyagua, Venezuela.  The packaging description for this bar says: ”Pure dark chocolate made from cacao grown by a small cooperative in Cuyagua, located on the northern coast of Venezuela. Deep cocoa notes with subtle citrus and spice.”  In The New Taste of Chocolate by Maricel Presilla, there is an entire page about Cuyagua.  Presilla writes:

“As on other cacao plantations, black ex-slaves eventually acquired the rights to the land. Today tourism is the main industry of Cuyagua, and it is hard to get people to work the farm. But a small cooperative still works a remnant of the old farm, carrying out fermentation and drying next to an old colonial house. The day-to-day work falls on only six men and eight women” (Presilla, 2000).

What I’ve gathered from taking a closer look at these sources is that while Rasmussen does not go into too much detail on his website about the cooperatives and farms he works with, he nonetheless explicitly mentions the farming sources for his cacao.  In general, there is a clear emphasis on cacao origin for Potomac bars, which seems to suggest that Rasmussen has given the topic fair thought.  Unfortunately, this can’t be said for the chocolate world at large.  Lastly, when asked about Fair Trade Certification on Potomac’s Kickstarter page, Rasmussen responded:

“All of my cacao is currently fair trade certified, although I pay a good deal more than the fair trade price…I am also working towards doing more direct trade with the farmers who grow the cacao I use, which results in the farmers making a lot more for their cacao than they would with only fair trade” (Kickstarter, 2017).

 

Marketing

Next, I have found that Potomac chocolate is modestly marketed.  To understand the marketing behind Potomac Chocolate better, I took a trip to three different retailers in the Boston area to see Potomac on the shelves.  My first stop was Formaggio Kitchen in West Cambridge, MA.

Formaggio Kitchen in West Cambridge, MA
IMG_2432Storefront of Formaggio Kitchen in West Cambridge, MA. Personal photo.

While Potomac Chocolate was first on the shelves at Formaggio Kitchen in Cambridge as early as June, 2011, Dan Rasmussen was finally able to visit the shop in March, 2017.  He wrote on an Instagram post:

“I finally got to visit Formaggio Kitchen in Cambridge MA and see my bars on their shelf! Best of all, I got to meet and chat with Julia Hallman who curates their chocolate selection. Julia and Formaggio have been great supporters of Potomac for a long time. They were one of the earliest shops to carry my bars” (Instagram, 2017).

Formaggio Kitchen responded to the post and said: “It was so great to finally meet you in person after all of these years! We love your chocolates and can’t wait to see what comes next!”

IMG_2439A section of the chocolate selection you can find at Formaggio Kitchen.  Personal photo. 

I was able to take a look at this chocolate curation for myself, and I then understood why there was a need for a “chocolate curator” in the first place.  Formaggio Kitchen had the largest chocolate selection of any of the specialty shops I visited.

IMG_2436Potomac Chocolate on the shelves at Formaggio Kitchen. Personal photo.

A closer look at Potomac’s packaging shows the simplicity in its marketing strategy.  Ben Rasmussen has always stood by the statement, “it’s all about the chocolate,” and this is evermore clear in his packaging.  Potomac Chocolate’s packaging is actually in fairly stark contrast to the packaging of other chocolates that you will find on the same shelves. Dick Taylor Craft Chocolate, for example, has a flashier marketing strategy on multiple levels.

IMG_2438A Potomac Chocolate bar next to a Dick Taylor bar in Formaggio Kitchen. Personal photo.

One of the most obvious differences between these two bars is the size.  After taking a measurement of the surface area of covers of each of these bars, I found that the Dick Taylor bar is approximately 47% bigger than the Potomac bar.  However, in terms of actual chocolate content, these bars are much closer to the same size than they appear. The Dick Taylor bar is 57 grams while Potomac bars are just 50 grams, a twelve percent difference.  The Dick Taylor bar obviously must compensate by being thinner than Potomac bars, which gives it the larger appearance.  This is not to say that Dick Taylor is attempting to falsely advertise to their advantage, but it shows that Ben Rasmussen is not concerned with the flashiness of his chocolate.  His initial goal is always to make chocolate that tastes the best, not make the chocolate that sells the best.  Furthermore, Potomac’s design is much simpler than Dick Taylor’s as well as many of the other chocolates found at Formaggio.  Rasmussen has changed his design over time, but it has always been minimal and clean, enough to represent the brand and the origin of the cacao.

potomacpackagingThe five-year evolution of packaging of Potomac’s 70% dark Upala bar. From http://www.potomacchocolate.com

Intended Audience

Dave’s Fresh Pasta in Somerville, MA

IMG_2516Storefront of Dave’s Fresh Pasta in Somerville, MA. Personal photo.

Dave’s Fresh Pasta in Somerville, MA is a specialty food, wine, and cheese shop that primarily specializes in their homemade pasta.  While not quite as glamorous as Formaggio Kitchen’s chocolate section, Dave’s chocolate selection is one of the first things you notice upon entering the shop.  I found many of the same chocolates at Dave’s that I did at Formaggio like Taza and Dick Taylor Chocolate.  However, Dave’s Fresh Pasta also included a wide variety of candy chocolates that I did not find at Formaggio.  As I looked more into Potomac’s marketing, this observation got me thinking about the intended audience for Potomac Chocolate.

IMG_2512The chocolate selection at Dave’s Fresh Pasta, where Potomac can be found in the upper right. Personal photo.

IMG_2546More chocolate found at Dave’s Fresh Pasta. Personal photo.

Potomac Chocolate is a craft chocolate.  This means that it is made on a smaller scale and is handmade from the bean to the bar.  Therefore, Potomac is automatically placed into a different category than the candy chocolates we are all familiar with like Snickers and Milky Way.  Who is Potomac for then?  I answer this question by taking a deeper look at Ben Rasmussen’s own story.  In a blog post from 2010, Rasmussen describes how he once ate almost exclusively Mars’ 3-Musketeers bar (Rasmussen, 2010).  He speculates that he has enjoyed hundreds, maybe even thousands of these bars, and he even remembers strongly disliking dark chocolate. One day, his family decided to have a fine chocolate tasting. Rasmussen realized that his preconception of dark chocolate was quite wrong.  After tasting a variety of dark chocolates, he tried a Hershey bar only to find that it “bore almost no resemblance to chocolate and tasted mostly like a chemical marshmallow.” Rasmussen was, as he put it, “converted to the dark side” from that point on.

Through this juxtaposition, Potomac’s presence in Dave’s Fresh Pasta feels just right. Potomac does not exist in spaces exclusive to craft chocolates, rather it can be found within a few feet of chocolates like the 3-Musketeers at shops like Dave’s.  This observation has salient implications for Potomac Chocolate’s target audience.  Perhaps someone will go to Dave’s Fresh Pasta with the intention of buying a box of Pocky and instead walk out with a Potomac bar, inspired and changed like Ben Rasmussen.  As Potomac was just getting off the ground in 2010, Rasmussen invites anyone to enjoy Potomac chocolate— he wrote:

“We’re really trying to build up a community around Potomac Chocolate Co. of friends and fellow chocolate lovers. We really want you to be a part of this crazy thing.”

Price

Wine Gallery in Brookline, MA

IMG_2535Storefront of Wine Gallery in Brookline, MA. Personal photo.

Wine Gallery in Brookline, MA is a shop for wine, beer, and spirits that strives to have something for everyone.  While 99% of the store is comprised of alcohol, it is hard to miss their Bean-to-Bar section at the checkout counter.

IMG_2532Checkout counter at Wine Gallery in Brookline, MA where Potomac Chocolate can be found in the upper right shelf. Personal photo.

IMG_2534Potomac Chocolate on the shelf at Wine Gallery in Brookline, MA. Personal photo.

At this point, I had seen Potomac Chocolate in three different shops and began to think more about the pricing at these different retail shops.  While there were discrepancies in the prices, Potomac Chocolate was always $8-$9 per bar:

Online price: $9.00 per bar, though there are savings if bought in bulk

Formaggio Kitchen: $8.95 per bar

Dave’s Fresh Pasta: $7.99 per bar

Wine Gallery: $8.50 – $9.00 per bar (as seen above)

Suppose we use the online price of nine dollars, for example.  At 1.76 ounces per bar, buying a bar of Potomac Chocolate costs over five dollars per ounce.  That’s some pretty expensive chocolate— is Ben Rasmussen just trying to make money?  Jennifer Rader with Prince William Living Magazine conducted an interview with Rasmussen, which cleared this question right up (Rader, 2013).  Not only is Potomac Chocolate Rasmussen’s second job, but he explains that finances, time, and production space have all presented challenges for the company.  The company originally got started using Kickstarter, a creative project funding mechanism that allowed supporters to help Rasmussen acquire the necessary equipment to make great chocolate.  Ben Rasmussen does want the company to grow, but he stated in the interview: “I will never allow it to grow too big that I am not involved in at least the flavor development steps…I don’t foresee a time that I’m not doing the roasting.”

In conclusion, I have found that Potomac Chocolate is a great example of a chocolate maker with ethical sourcing, modest marketing, and good intentions. It is my hope that Potomac can be a model for existing and future craft chocolate makers, as this can contribute to a bigger focus on the chocolate itself and a more ethical world.

Works Cited

Acopagro Cooperative. “ACOPAGRO – COOPERATIVA AGRARIA CACAOTERA ACOPAGRO LTDA.” Fair Trade USA. Web. 02 May 2017.

Amistad, Finca La. “Finca La Amistad.” 2017. Web. 02 May 2017.

Coe, Sophie. Micheal D. Coe. “The True History of Chocolate 3rd edition.” 2013. iBooks. 02 May 2017.

Instagram. “Potomac Chocolate.” 2017. Web. 02 May 2017.

Kickstarter. “Potomac Chocolate — Handcrafted bean-to-bar chocolate!” Kickstarter. 2017. Web. 02 May 2017.

Martin, Carla. “Modern Day Slavery.” Lecture. 2017. 02 May 2017.

Oko Caribe. “OKO Caribe, DR – 2016 Harvest.” Uncommon Cacao. 2017. Web. 02 May 2017.

Oro Verde Cooperative. “Mission and vision.” Oro Verde Cooperative. Web. 2017. 02 May 2017.

Presilla, Maricell. “The New Taste of Chocolate.” Hardcover. 2000. Revised Edition. 02 May. 2017.

Rasmussen, Ben. “Potomac Chocolate.” Potomac Chocolate. 2010-2017. Web. 02 May 2017.

Rader, Jennifer. “BEN RASMUSSEN: POTOMAC CHOCOLATE.” Prince William Living Magazine. 2013. Web. 02 May 2017.

 

 

 

 

Does Good Chocolate Exist: an analysis of vertical product differentiation in the market for chocolate

The candy aisle in CVS features a colorful selection of sweet confections ranging from caramels to sour gummy candies. Of course, the most prominent appearance in the confectionery aisle is chocolate – chocolate in fact makes up more than 60% of US confection sales (National Confectioners Association). Within the chocolate category there is further variation in brand, flavor, and quality – marked by differences in prices. In the field of industrial organization (how firms make decisions), we call variation in a category of product that cannot be objectively determined as qualitative difference, horizontal differentiation. Variation that can be objectively determined as qualitatively specified is called vertical differentiation. Chocolate products exhibit both forms of differentiation – it is impossible to agree on the qualitative difference between one brand’s milk chocolate bar and dark chocolate almond bar (horizontal differentiation), but everyone can agree that a craft designed chocolate bar is qualitatively better than a generic Hershey’s bar (vertical differentiation).

In fact, the difference between chocolate candies and chocolate has become a source of great debate of recent, with eleven food producing associations, including the Chocolate Manufacturers Association, the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the Snack Food Association, and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, petitioning the FDA to expand the definition of chocolate to include products that use vegetable oils and fats instead of cocoa butter – products which currently must be called “chocolatey” or “chocolate-flavored” (May, 1). The debate speaks to an issue central to the commercial world of chocolate: what makes chocolate, chocolate, and what makes some chocolate objectively better than others? The factors that horizontally differentiate chocolate products simply cater to different tastes, and effectively offer separate subproducts. The vertically differentiated spread however, is more interesting because its factors are significantly more nuanced and shed critical light on the global chocolate industry. This paper will first discuss the chocolate industry’s vertical differentiation strategies, and then critique the assumption that more expensive chocolate is ethically and qualitatively better.

So what goes into the rise in price (upwards of double) from CVS’s chocolates in the candy aisle to those in the “premium chocolates” section just around the corner? First, we see a simple disparity in packaging. The recognizable brown and white Hershey’s bar, orange and yellow Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, and colorful assortment of M&Ms is contrasted with the sleeker look of the premium chocolate bars. These bars are, impressively, all colored darkly, with gold lettering, or in the case of Ferrero Rocher individually wrapped in gold foil. Many of the bars are described with catch phrases, also in gold lettering, signaling to consumers that their products are superior to classic chocolate candies – Lindt’s “Excellence”, and Chuao’s “Gourmet Handcrafted Chocolate”.

image5

(The candy aisle  in Harvard Square CVS, showing Hershey’s Kisses and Reese’s Pieces in foreground)

image6

(Landscape layout of Hershey’s chocolate bars in candy section)

image1

(Premium Chocolates section around the corner from the candy aisle, notice gold lettering and clean portrait orientation of chocolate bars)

 

Brand/Product Name Price per ounce ($/oz) Motto/Catchphrase Additional Points
Hershey’s 0.47 Made with farm fresh milk “Cocoa is rich in antioxidants”
Reese’s (Hershey) 0.54 Filled with Reese’s peanut butter n/a
M&M’s (Mars) 0.53 Chocolate candies n/a
Lindt 1.14 Excellence, gourmet chocolate “Exotic Fruits” collection
Endangered Species 1.00 Indulge in a cause nonGMO, Fair Trade, gluten free, vegan
Ferrero Rocher 1.05 A tempting combination Individually wrapped in gold foil
Ghirardelli 1.14 From bean to bar Encourages use in cooking with recipes
Chuao Chocolatier 1.89 Gourmet handcrafted chocolate Chef name, master chocolatier’s message

 

Another tactic to show higher quality visually is the inclusion of diagrams, graphics, and special messages on the back of the bars. Ghirardelli bars include a four panel description of the production process “from bean to bar”, claiming that the company’s ability to control each of the steps causes their chocolates to have “ultimate quality”. Every Chuao chocolate bar is detailed with both an autograph from a particular chef, assumed to be involved in the specific flavor of chocolate bar, and a message from the “master chocolatier”. In comparison, the cheaper chocolates have essentially no additional information about the product – the classic Hershey’s Bar simply says “made with farm fresh milk”, Reese’s cups are “filled with Reese’s peanut butter”, and M&Ms are simply described as “chocolate candies”. The most subtle difference in packaging style is likely the orientation of the bar – while the candy chocolate bars are typically oriented landscape (so that when you read the front, the bar is wider than it is tall), whereas every bar in the “Premium Chocolate” section is oriented portrait (so that it is vertically longer than it is wide).

Beyond the fancy packaging, the most expensive chocolates justify their higher prices with claims to better ingredients. On each of the higher end chocolate brand’s websites, stress the importance of using “superior ingredients” in their chocolates. Asides from claiming that the ingredients selected for their chocolates are better than those used in cheaper chocolates, premium chocolates are marketed as having ingredients specifically selected from specific regions around the world. This is especially true for Craft Chocolates, a category of chocolates too luxurious to be included even in the premium chocolates section in CVS. Potomac chocolates for example, which sell at a whopping $5.11 per ounce, are sold in bars horizontally differentiated according to cocoa bean source. Consumers are essentially paying the extra dollars to taste specific regional cocoa beans in their chocolate.

Screenshot 2017-05-05 at 3.59.08 PM

Potomac chocolate bars differentiated according to source of cocoa beans (https://www.potomacchocolate.com/shop/ )

Some chocolates, including Endangered Species chocolate, also adhere to specific dietary demands by highlighting the use of gluten free or vegan ingredients. Although these specifications don’t objectively imply a change in quality of the product, they do appeal to consumers who have specific diets and can afford specific diets.

The final factor that plays into the quality difference across chocolates is the process of chocolate production. As aforementioned, Ghirardelli is especially proud of their control on the entire chocolate-making process “from bean to bar”, so much so that they include a diagram of it on each chocolate bar. The claim here is the same as with many craft chocolatiers – that with the ability to control each step, from roasting the beans, to grinding, to milling, and conching, comes the opportunity to create both a unique and elite product. Although not necessarily a factor into the flavor of the product, many premium chocolates also boast ethically sourced ingredients, organically farmed ingredients, and environmentally conscious processes. Frequent appearances include the simple use of the phrase “ethically sourced ingredients”, Fair Trade certification, nonGMO certification, and USDA Organic. Endangered Species chocolate is not only a brand that displays all of the above certifications, but is also a brand completely devoted to environmental conservationism – particularly the preservation of endangered species, as its name suggests. The company pledges to donate 10% of net profits from its chocolate sales, and each chocolate bar is dedicated to an endangered animal, including interesting information about the animal and its status. The video below describes the process of Endangered Species’ involvement in aiding the recovery of endangered species around the globe.

Though again, saving endangered species has no direct effect to the quality of the chocolate, it adds a side value to the product, so that consumers willingly choose to pay more for the double benefit of chocolate and saving endangered animals.

As presented, there are myriad factors that play into the price spread across chocolates of assumed differentiated quality. We will now evaluate these factors in order to cement whether the most expensive products are justifiably priced as better products than generic chocolate candy bars.

The most noticeable difference between cheap and pricier chocolates, at first glance, is packaging. Aesthetically packaging is obviously a marketing tactic, and to some degree, consumers are paying for a prettier box around the chocolate, with better sounding catchphrases. Although the flowery language may not actually provide useful information about the product, this kind of product differentiation could in fact be an effective method to signal, in an effort to combat market information asymmetry. Information asymmetry is an economic concept describing a transactional state where one or more sides of the transaction is not fully informed about the transaction or product – a market inefficiency that could result in no transactions taking place, even though the buyer and seller could feasibly form an agreement if the necessary information was fully disclosed. Signaling is a strategy that the supplier can utilize to signal to consumers that their product is in fact a high quality product – advertising, for example, signals to consumers that a firm is well-established enough to even afford advertising, and by extension their products must be trustworthy (Investopedia, 1). In the market for chocolate, unless consumers choose to try all chocolate products that exist on the market and determine, by tasting, which products are in fact the best (which is unlikely – consumer behavior tends to favor revisiting familiar products), it is up to chocolate makers to accurately reveal their value to consumers. Spending extra money per bar of chocolate to decorate the bar with fancy text, textured paper, diagrams, and heartfelt messages from the makers of the chocolate signals to chocolate buyers that these products took more effort, money, and care to create, and that thus they must be better than the less-aesthetically wrapped chocolates.

A second claim held by many of the most expensive chocolate brands is superior or specific ingredients. In terms of ingredients, the cheaper chocolates are surprisingly not particularly different from expensive chocolates, when the cheaper chocolate is simply chocolate. However, when a Hershey’s bar adds some peanut butter and becomes a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, suddenly ingredients like partially hydrogenated vegetable oil make an appearance – an ingredient which “distorts cholesterol levels, encourages obesity, causes inflammatory conditions, and can even be a cause of infertility” (Collier, 1). Contrarily, expensive brands have significantly shorter ingredients lists, and maintain healthier ingredients even when the flavors become more complicated; for example, Lindt truffles use vegetable oil, but avoid refined or hydrogenated oils. From a health perspective then, plain chocolate (milk or dark) is generally as healthy in cheap chocolates as in expensive chocolates when eaten in moderation, while the chocolates in the more interestingly flavored category are definitely healthier in expensive brands.

The focus on specific sourcing of cocoa beans is a particularly nuanced strategy for vertical differentiation of chocolate. The theory that contextualizing a food infuses the food with another layer of flavor is part of the “psychology of taste” discussed by Carla Martin in her April 19th lecture. In this lecture Martin described the particular contextualizing of a food’s origin as Terroir, or “the set of special characteristics that the geography, geology and climate of a certain place, interacting with the plant’s genetics, expressed in agricultural products”, or simply a “sense of place” (Martin, 4/19). Terroir is a legitimate factor that affects flavor, and products that are able to bring out the Terroir in the chocolate by single-sourcing, simplifying other ingredients or simply bringing the cacao source to attention arguably do in fact offer a unique (and justifiably more expensive) product. There is however an important caveat to the use, or abuse, of Terroir.

Social activist Bell Hooks writes of the problem of “Othering” in Western consumer culture in his work “Eating the Other”, a concept that can absolutely be related to many food industries in the US, including the chocolate industry. In her work Hook describes the use of ethnicity as spice – “when race and ethnicity become commodified as resources for pleasure, the  culture  of  specific  groups,  as  well  as  the  bodies  of  individuals,  can  be  seen  as constituting an alternative playground where members of dominating race […]  affirm  their  power-over  in  intimate  relations  with  the  Other.” (Hooks, 2). For the most part chocolate companies seem to be able to utilize Terroir without objectifying foreign culture, but the line between an appreciation for source and the commodification of other cultures is grey and difficult to clearly draw. It is important that chocolate firms don’t simply repeat the chocolate industry’s historical trend of cultural appropriation, slavery, and exploitation, by commodifying a region of the world and its inhabitants as a flavor.

The final category of factors that seem to affect chocolate quality is the use of ethically and environmentally conscious processes. The goals behind certifications like USDA Organic, Fair Trade and other ethical trade certifications are generally ethically fantastic goals, like environmental conservation and the abolition of child slavery in cacao farms. However the efficacy of each certification is not always straightforward. In an April 5th lecture Carla Martin described a list of problems with Fair Trade, including problems with product quality, issues with corruption and favoring richer farmers, harming farmers who don’t have access to Fair Trade, and ethical questions in marketing (Martin, 4/5). Other trade organizations like Direct Trade and the organizations to which Endangered Species Chocolate donate face similar critiques. In addition, a Fair Trade and USDA Organic certification does not necessarily imply that the entire product is completely fairly traded and organic, because they allow products to have categoric certifications with certain percentages of fairly traded or organic ingredients. These certifications then, don’t necessarily imply that a product is 100% ethically, environmentally, and economically conscious. Regardless of actual effect, products marketed as being certified by one or more of these organizations appeal to the goodwill of consumers, and take advantage of a “feel good” factor in consumer “taste” preferences.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, not all of the factors assumed to boost chocolate products’ value are as ethically conscious or environmentally helpful as they seem to be. However, in general, high-end chocolates are in fact healthier and better quality products, and are signaled as such with more extravagant packaging, leaving cheaper chocolate confections to rely on consumer familiarity to continue to sell. At first glance, attention to details in production processes, Terroir, and side goals (like animal and environmental concerns) seem to simply be added to “spice” up products; which would be horizontal differentiation and not justifying of higher prices. However there is some backing to added value in elements of taste idolized by haute cuisine, like Terroir and a sense of doing good in the world. Ultimately, prices are determined by consumer demand, and it seems consumers are becoming increasingly excited buyers of premium chocolates, as demand for premium chocolates is currently growing at 11% – the largest sector of growth in the confection market (Zhang, 1). Although preferences for the chocolate we find in the candy aisle will likely always exist, and the quality and ethical concern of the best chocolate is not quite perfect, the increased awareness for issues in the chocolate industry and higher expectations for product quality reflected in this consumer sector growth is encouraging. Chocolate can only get better.

Sources Cited

Collier, Andrew. “Deadly Fats: Why are we still eating them?”. Independent UK. 9 June 2008. Web. 05 May 2017. <http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/healthy-living/deadly-fats-why-are-we-still-eating-them-843400.html&gt;

Hooks, Bell. “Eating the Other: Desire and Resistance.” Black Looks: Race and Representation. PDF. 1992.

Investopedia. “Signaling Approach”. Investopedia. Web. 05 May 2017.<http://www.investopedia.com/terms/s/signallingapproach.asp&gt;

Martin Carla. Lecture. April 5, 2017. Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard University.

Martin, Carla. Lecture. April 19, 2017. Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard University.

May, Cybele. “Hands off my chocolate, FDA!” Los Angeles Times. 19 April, 2007. Web. 05 May 2017. <http://www.latimes.com/la-oe-may19apr19-story.html&gt;

National Confectioners Association. “Data & Insights”. Web. 05 May <2017. https://www.candyusa.com/data-insights/>

Zhang, Yu. “5 Facts About the Chocolate Industry.” Reynolds Center. National Center for Business Journalism, 12 Oct. 2016. Web. 05 May 2017. <http://businessjournalism.org/2016/10/5-facts-about-the-chocolate-industry/&gt;.

Hotel Chocolat: An Ethnographic Analysis

When it comes to bean-to-bar chocolate companies, Hotel Chocolat is certainly one of the most distinguished. The Hotel Chocolat website offers a plethora of information about the brand, but what seems to stand out the most is that this company is not simply a maker of fine chocolate. This company is an architect of experiences, and these experiences are all founded in the company’s commitment to growing its own cocoa on the island of St. Lucia. Even the logo on the website reads “Hotel Chocolat British Cocoa Grower”. The experiences that this carefully grown cocoa sponsors range from entry to the Hotel Chocolat “Club”, a subscription chocolate service starting at about 10 British pounds per month, to private parties and reservations at their restaurants and “cocoa bar cafes”, to a stay at their resort in Saint Lucia. These amenities are extensions of the original craft confections of Hotel Chocolat, bringing the idea of chocolate tourism into a quite literal sense. Loyal customers of Hotel Chocolat might choose to follow the company across the globe for an incredible, one-of-a-kind experience, all aimed at an experience in which you can “experience cocoa like never before” (Hotel Chocolat, 2017).

While this company seems to have an incredibly nuanced grasp of the importance of changing the agricultural traditions surrounding the production of chocolate, elite model of quality assurance, and thorough commitment to customer accountability, it appears to be perpetrating certain chronic illnesses of the chocolate industry as well. Certain aspects of the Hotel Chocolat’s agricultural model are troublesome, namely in certain decisions that the company made in regards to their ethics policy, as well as the very location where they decided to set up shop. Additionally, Hotel Chocolat seems to cater to an elite, establishing a binary of fine chocolate consumers and cocoa producers that unfortunately does little to update the status quo of cacao that has been established over centuries. In the following post, I will first examine the rise of Hotel Chocolat in historical context, examine the strengths and weaknesses of the company, and recommend certain changes that might bring Hotel Chocolat closer to what they describe their goals to be.

First of all, it is crucial to begin with a thorough understanding of the historical trajectory of Hotel Chocolat. While the company began selling chocolates online in 1993, the first storefront opened in 2004, founded by Angus Thirlwell and Peter Harris, two entrepreneurs set on “making chocolate exciting again” (Hotel Chocolat, 2017). Taking a step back, it is crucial to ask what was happening with chocolate at this point in time, and what had gotten it there. Why was there a need to make chocolate exciting again? In colonial Europe, when chocolate was first brought to the Europeans, it was an expensive and special luxury, one that only the ruling class could afford. As Coe and Coe describe it, “it had been an elite drink among the Mesoamericans, and it would stay that way among the white-skinned, perfumed, bewigged, overdressed royalty and nobility of Europe” (Chapter 5). England, uniquely, was a more entrepreneurial society, and therefore shopkeepers and businessmen were able to pedal their wares to the larger population, although it was still the mostly upper class and well to do that could afford chocolate in the beginning (Coe and Coe, Chapter 5).  Thus, even in its earliest stages, chocolate in England was diverging from its traditional role as sumptuous luxury. As Professor Martin and her colleague Sempak explain, by the 1800s, chocolate was for everyone, due to a plethora of revamped factors which had maximized efficiency of the treat for mass production (49). One of these newly cheapened factors was of course, sugar, which by 1900 provided “1/5 of calories in an English diet”(Mintz 6). While the price of sugar has certainly fluctuated over time, as exemplified by Figure 1, in 2004, the year of Hotel Chocolat’s birth, the price of sugar was extremely low, and this was not a fact that was wasted on the company’s founders.

Screen Shot 2017-05-05 at 3.28.29 PM
Figure 1

 

In their story, the company explains that “as sugar prices have dropped, British chocolate has focused increasingly on sweetness… Today sugar is 20 times cheaper than cocoa”, and later they even explain that their motto is “More Cocoa, Less Sugar.” With this in mind, it seems that perhaps Hotel Chocolat, in its founding, was not only intent on creating a high quality brand, but also moving back to the original vision of chocolate as a food for the elite. In it’s mission statement, Hotel Chocolat describes sugar as “cheap”, citing its qualities of being “sweet”, and “flavor-dulling”, and contrast this image with their abundant use of cocoa, which they describe as “nuanced”, and “fine”. This distinction between simple and complex, basic and fine, seems to be creating a strict binary. There is mass-produced chocolate for the masses, and then there is Hotel Chocolat, for the higher class individual, in need of an elevated experience.

Additionally, as mentioned before, the company’s commitment to growing its’ own cocoa for its chocolate, restaurants, cafes, and hotel is the backbone of what makes Hotel Chocolat unique. The company owns a plantation in St. Lucia, and is proud of a nuanced “Ethical Engagement” program by which they procure all of their cocoa—their answer to an inability to participate in Direct Trade, which they explain on their website that they are ineligible for (Hotel Chocolate 2017). The company bought the Rabot Plantation is St. Lucia in 2006, and has been growing their own cacao and working with farmers on the island ever since then (Hotel Chocolat 2017). In historical context, this was an incredibly business savvy method. As Martin and Sempak explain, the 1990s were wrought with revelations of the worst forms of child labor, and individuals searching for ways to get their chocolate fix without exploiting vulnerable populations (51). Therefore, by taking production into their own hands, Hotel Chocolate was able to make certain that certain exploitations were not occurring, and offer their clientele a clear conscience in consumption.

Since the purchase of this plantation, the company has continued to thrive. Along with the hotel, the company has 92 cafes, 2 restaurants, and a seemingly endless selection of unique, handcrafted chocolates. As the Telegraph reported last year, Hotel Chocolat went public on the London stock exchange at a value of 150 million pounds (Yeomans and Chan).

Hotel Chocolat Goes Public

With this in mind, it is now possible to take a look at the ethical implications of the company. One thing that is truly incredible is Hotel Chocolat’s “Engaged Ethics” model (EE). The ultimate goal of EE is to “make life as a cocoa farmer truly sustainable”. Thus, this is a many-layered initiative. One of the staples of EE is the Hotel Chocolate Cocoa Growers Programme of Engaged Ethics (HCCAPEE). Within it, farmers are guaranteed a premium price all of a farmers harvested “wet” cocoa, which the company specifically prefers over the dry, fermented product, preferring to complete that step themselves in-house. Hotel Chocolat explains that prior to this program, St. Lucian farmers were subjected to exploitive prices from middlemen and untrustworthy vendors. Under HCCAPEE, a fixed price above fair trade, which is $.75 kg/wet and $1.88/kg dry, which is 28 cents hire than the world trade price.   Other perks of the program are access to Hotel Chocolat’s fine quality seedlings, quick turnaround for payday, easy drop off sites, fair measurements, and a local consultant who helps with the process. Membership is free to all cocoa farmers on the island. What is one of the most striking aspects of this program is the fact that the company guarantees to pay a fixed price for all cocoa produced by a farmer, giving the farmer security in income even if there is an issue with the season’s harvest. Additionally, in its business model, Hotel Chocolat cites an even greater goal, which is positively impacting the entire agricultural sector of St. Lucia. Hotel Chocolat explains a greater goal “to use knowledge and skills to help formulate sound agricultural policies and laws; to challenge and correct untrue statements about the agricultural industry and to foster dialogue among agriculturists, other professionals, landowners, and the public regarding agricultural policies” (Hotel Chocolat 2017). With nearly 168 cocoa farmers now taking part in the program, it seems that Hotel Chocolat is indeed working towards a more ethical future for the agricultural future of St. Lucia (Hotel Chocolat 2017).

St. Lucia
St. Lucia and the Piton Mountains. Photo courtesy of Pixabay

However, some distinctly important issues emerge on closer analysis of the Hotel Chocolat model. First of all, as mentioned previously, the company does place a premium on using trope that separates low quality chocolate from high quality, implying a social class divide along with it. Words like “luxury,” “private,” “distinctive,” “fine,” and more dominate the language on the company website, making it clear that this chocolate is of the highest caliber. As Robertson explains, chocolate companies have historically focused marketing to a “refined” taste palette, suggesting that a high quality of chocolate is meant for a high class individual (26). For example, in a Rowntree marketing campaign, advertisements for Black Magic were utilized high-class women, emphasizing luxury and expense. When Rowntree advertised their lower cocoa content chocolate, the Dairy Box, they used words that emphasized cheapness and accessibility (27). This is practically identical to the binary set up by Hotel Chocolat in its description of their product. Thus, it seems that Hotel Chocolat is perpetuating a chocolate class distinction, one of the more serious issues that the chocolate industry faces today.

Additionally, while the HCCAPEE program is undoubtedly doing some fantastic things, there are certain critiques to be found there as well. One of the most glaring issues to me comes from the fact that the company asks its farmers to sell their cocoa to them “wet” rather than “dry”. This means that the farmers are not being trained by Hotel Chocolat in the artisanship of fermentation, and are thus kept at a level of crude labor, with little opportunity for growth. Hotel Chocolat defends itself, stating that buying it wet allows the farmers to do less work and receive the same payday, and even claims that if a farmer is interested in fermentation, Hotel Chocolat will send an inspector to their facility. However, there is no evidence that any farmers partake in this option. Therefore, farmers in the Hotel Chocolat system stay at just that- farmers. Something that immediately comes to mind is Berlan’s concept of “unfree” labor. Berlan explains that in Ghana, farmers and their children have “varying degrees of agency over their lives,” and that this is what sometimes results in individuals having no other choice but to seek out labor on cocoa farms (1094-1095). Hotel Chocolat themselves explains that St. Lucia’s cocoa industry was riddled with poverty, and this historical context makes it difficult to believe that farmers on the island had options besides participating in the HCCAPPEE program.

The last critique I offer looks at HCCAPEE’s policy of only allowing cocoa farmer’s to experience the benefits of the program. As the CIA’s world fact book presents, St. Lucia’s agricultural industry is largely based off of bananas, with this commodity making up 41% of the country’s exports (CIA 2017). If Hotel Chocolat were truly committed, as they claim to be, to improving the agricultural situation of St. Lucia, then they would be hard pressed to find a better medium than by including the banana farmer’s in their program.

After studying the company, I feel that in order to truly meet its goals, several key changes should be put into action. First of all, the distinction between cheap and expensive should be diminished. By perpetuating an elitist mindset with chocolate, they take away from their commitment to incredible chocolate, and instead, create a vision that lacks diversity. As chocolate connoisseur Chloe explains, “chocolate is like music or friends, each person must make his own opinion and those opinion evolve” (Williams and Eber 146). With this in mind, I think that Hotel Chocolat should focus more on taste preferences between the individual, rather than the exclusivity of the chocolate itself. An integration of testimonials from their own workers in St. Lucia would go a long way to show that Hotel Chocolat is not about where you come from, or what you do, but rather, the kind of chocolate you love. Second, I would be thrilled to see some sort of chocolate academy launched on the Rabot Plantation. If Hotel Chocolat committed itself to providing farmers with unique, valuable skills, then farmers may have more autonomy over their own lives, which would be a fabulous improvement from the current situation. Lastly, I think that Hotel Chocolat needs to actively recruit banana farmers to diversify their farms with the company’s cocoa seedlings. This would provide support to the St. Lucian agricultural sector, and give Hotel Chocolat an even greater opportunity to make an impact, all while crafting delicious chocolate.

In ending, Hotel Chocolat’s Engaged Ethics program is a fabulous step in the right direction for the future of ethical chocolate making, and certain tweaks could make it an even more efficient initiative.

 

References:

Armstrong, Ashley. “Hotel Chocolat Enjoys a Sweet Start after IPO.” The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group, 12 July 2016. Web. 05 May 2017.

Berlan, Amanda. “Social Sustainability in Agriculture: An Anthropological Perspective on Child Labour in Cocoa Production in Ghana.” The Journal of Development Studies 49.8 (2013): 1088-100. Print.

“Chocolate Gifts & Luxury Presents.” Hotel Chocolat – Luxury Chocolates and Gifts. Hotel Chocolat, 2017. Web. 04 May 2017.

CIA. “The World Factbook St. Lucia.” Central Intelligence Agency. Central Intelligence Agency, 01 Apr. 2016. Web. 05 May 2017.

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson, 2013. Print.

Martin, Carla D and Sampeck, Kathryn E (2015) The bitter and sweet of chocolate in Europe. SOCIO.HU, 2015 (No. 3). pp. 37-60.

Robertson, Emma. (2009) Chocolate, women and empire: A social and cultural history. Manchester; New York: Manchester University Press.

Williams, Pamela Sue., and Jim Eber. Raising the Bar: The Future of Fine Chocolate. Vancouver, BC: Wilmor Corporation, 2012. Print.

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

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

About the Companies

Taza

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

Alter Eco

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

Super-Blackout-Blue

Trade Relationships

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

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

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

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

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

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

Environmental Impact

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

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

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

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

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

Community Impact

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

References

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Multimedia Sources

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

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

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

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

Theo Chocolate, Inc.: Working to Make the Chocolate Industry a Better Place

Introduction

Over the past several decades, chocolate has become a part of daily life for most consumers in the United States. Once a beverage reserved for consumption by the elite classes in Mesoamerica, chocolate is now a popular commodity among most social classes in our society. Manufacturers combine cocoa beans grown in the equatorial parts of the world – primarily countries in central Africa and South America – with sugar and other ingredients to craft these delectable treats. When choosing which confections to purchase, consumers base their decision on several factors, including price, brand loyalty, and availability. One factor casual consumers often neglect when making their choice is where the cocoa used to craft the chocolate originated. With many cocoa growing regions plagued by questionable ethical or moral practices, should this not be the most important factor in chocolate purchasing? Many smaller chocolate companies believe that it should, and craft their confections using carefully sourced cocoa that meets several standards to help combat these practices. One such company working to eliminate these questionable practices is Theo Chocolate, Inc. of Seattle, Washington.  A close examination of the company’s history, certifications, and sourcing and partnerships, reveals the progress Theo is making to promote an ethical chocolate industry that does not need to rely on forced or underpaid labor to maintain its profitability.

History

theos_chocolate_logo
Theo Chocolate, Inc. Logo.

As “the first organic, fair trade certified chocolate maker in North America” (“Mission”) Theo has been making great strides in the industry over the past two decades. Founder Joe Whinney began his work in chocolate in 1994 by directing organic cocoa beans from Central America to a host of American customers (“Mission”; Allison). For Whinney, the following decade was a time of learning and discovery. He spent much of the time losing money due to the great cost of each step in his supply chain and the desire to pay the cocoa farmers a fair value for their crops (Allison). After realizing that his current situation was unsustainable, Whinney decided that to maintain his work in the organic cocoa business, he would need to open his own factory for production and cut out several of the later steps in his chain (Allison). Thus, in 2004, Theo Chocolate, Inc. was born.

To create the company that would sustain his passion and allow him to promote his work, Whinney relocated with Debra Music, the company’s Chief Marketing Officer, to Seattle (“Mission”). While Music worked to market and brand the upcoming products, the company’s factory and team of workers was assembled, and, in March 2006, Theo’s first line of chocolate was produced (“Mission”). Throughout the entire process Whinney strove to maintain his standards, and the company remains devoted to these ideals today.

Certifications

200px-usda_organic_seal-svg
The seal used to denote Organic certification.

Perhaps the most prominent outward reflection of the values that the company espouses comes in the form of their product certifications. Theo holds four such certifications: Organic, Fair Trade, Non-GMO, and Demeter (“Our Certifications”). The company must meet several criteria to qualify for each of these certifications as explained below.

Organic

In order to become certified as an organic producer through Quality Assurance International (QAI), the company who certifies Theo’s products, a company must complete a five step process (“Steps”). First, the company must apply for certification and provide QAI with details about their operations and processes (“Steps”). Second, the company undergoes a thorough inspection similar to the one they will undergo annually if they are provided with the certification (“Steps”). Third, the company experiences a technical review to ensure their operation “complies with all necessary organic regulations” (“Steps”). Fourth, the company receives notification from QAI about the status of their request and the areas of deficiency that need to be remedied to proceed with the certification process (“Steps”). Fifth, the company becomes compliant and deemed certified by QAI (“Steps”). To maintain its certification, and its standards of production, Theo subscribes “to the most stringent definition of organic” (“Our Certifications”). Wherever possible, Theo uses organic ingredients that have been grown using sustainable practices (“Our Certifications”). This commitment to quality exemplifies Theo’s desire to benefit the world as a whole, rather than just their bottom line.

Fair Trade

In addition to being Organic certified through QAI, Theo maintains a Fair for Life Fair Trade certification through the Institute for Marketecology (IMO) (“Our Certifications”). The Fair for Life certification requires companies to adhere to a set of social responsibility standards and to provide support through fair trade relationships with their suppliers (“Your options”). “Fair for Life Fair Trade means long-term and trusting cooperation between partners, transparent price setting negotiations and prices,” all ideals that Theo strives to uphold through their sourcing partnerships (“Your options”). This makes this certification perhaps the most valuable for the company from a farmer outreach perspective. Through their work as a fair trade company, Theo is able to provide the farmers from which they source their cacao with wide-reaching benefits, including healthcare and education (“Our Certifications”).  Theo’s commitment to aiding the often impoverished cacao farmers of the world is truly an admirable trait for a company in the chocolate industry.

Non-GMO & Demeter

As part of their promise to use organic ingredients, Theo avoids the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) (“Our Certifications”). While the labeling of GMOs is not legally required in the U.S. and Canada, Theo feels that “consumers have the right to know what is in their food and have made a commitment to non-GMO certification of [their] products” (“Our Certifications”). There is much ongoing debate about the safety of GMO ingredients. Many companies, including Theo Chocolate, Inc., feel that until these ingredients are deemed safe for consumers, it is not worth the risk to include them in their products.

As a Demeter certified company, Theo has committed to maintaining high standards of sustainable farming that will benefit the planet (“Our Certifications”). To achieve this certification, the farms Theo sources from must meet the Demeter Biodynamic® Farm Standard, and Theo must meet the Demeter Biodynamic® Processing Standard (“Demeter”). For more information on these standards, please visit the Demeter USA website here.

Sourcing & Partnerships

theo_chocolate
One of the two varieties of Theo chocolate crafted using Congolese cacao.

As yet another effort to maintain their commitment to high quality, ethical chocolate production, Theo is focused on selecting the best cacao beans it can find. Currently, Theo’s cacao beans are sourced from Peruvian farmer cooperative Norandino and Congolese company Esco Kivu (“Sourcing”). Theo concentrates its efforts in cacao sourcing on providing fair prices to their partners to promote an emphasis on quality propagation year after year (“Sourcing”). Instead of paying the commodity price for cacao beans, Theo has built a structured pricing model that provides a greater price for higher quality cacao to provide incentives to their farmer cooperatives (“Sourcing”). This method benefits both the farmers and the company . By providing an increased price for cacao that goes above and beyond the current commodity market rate, farmers are able to enjoy a greater profit and are better able to provide for themselves and their families. By ensuring that their farmers are well taken care of, Theo is able to maintain a positive relationship with these farmers and can encourage the farmers to make a strong commitment to quality production. As committed Fair Trade producers who provide quality price premiums, full transparency in their supply chain, and third party verification of their cacao purchases, Theo is able “to actively raise the bar for [the] entire industry” (“Sourcing”).

In addition to their commitment to fair trade sourcing, Theo has partnered with the Eastern Congo Initiative (ECI) to benefit the cacao farmers of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) (“Our Partners”). Through this partnership, Theo has the “potential to positively impact more than 20,000 people living in Eastern Congo” (“Our Partners”). The cacao sourced through this partnership is used to craft two chocolate bars, each with its own unique flavor: Vanilla Nib and Coffee & Cream (“Our Partners”). Since their involvement with ECI farmers began, Theo has sourced over 1,600 tons of cocoa from the DRC (“Our Partners”). While aiding farmers in the DRC has brought increased prosperity to the area, it has not been without difficulties. The following interview of Joe Whinney by Stan Emert of Rainmakers TV, details some of the issues caused by the current governmental structure of the DRC along with the efforts being made by Theo in the country.

Conclusion

With many cacao producing nations resorting to forced labor and some of the worst forms of child labor to maintain their prosperity, along with diminished payouts for cacao farmers, it is easy to see that the current state of affairs in cacao production is appalling. In recent years, companies have begun to attempt to source their cacao from ethically run farms, but the response from the industry has left much to be desired. While many larger chocolate producers put their own profits above those of their cacao farming counterparts, many smaller producers are making a commitment to providing consumers with ethically sourced, fair trade chocolate. One such company who is devoted to making strides in the right direction is Theo Chocolate, Inc. of Seattle, Washington. Since its founding in 2004, Theo has endeavored to make an impact on the industry and draw to light the issues that many producers prefer to hide from consumers. An examination of Theo’s history, its certifications, and its sourcing and partnerships, allow us to see just how far the company is willing to go to further its ideals. The next time you are shopping for chocolate, be a conscientious consumer and remember to consider the ethical nature of the chocolate’s source.


Works Cited

Allison, Melissa. “Fair-trade Theo Chocolate fairly booming.” Seattle Times, 04 April 2013. Web. 08 May 2016.

“Demeter Biodynamic and Processing Standards.” Demeter USA. Demeter Association, Inc. Web. 08 May 2016.

“Mission.” Theo. Theo Chocolate, Inc. Web. 08 May 2016.

“Our Certifications.” Theo. Theo Chocolate, Inc. Web. 08 May 2016.

“Our Partners.” Theo. Theo Chocolate, Inc. Web. 08 May 2016.

“Sourcing.” Theo. Theo Chocolate, Inc. Web. 08 May 2016.

“Steps to Organic Certification Process.” QAI : Client Resources : Prospective : Steps to Organic Certification Process. Quality Assurance International. Web. 08 May 2016.

“Your options for certification and verification.” Fair for Life. IMOgroup AG. Web. 08 May 2016.


Multimedia Sources

Theo Chocolate. Digital Image. Wikimedia Commons, 2014. Web. 08 May 2016.

Theo’s Chocolate Logo. Digital image. Wikimedia Commons, 2015. Web. 08 May 2016.

USDA organic seal. Digital image. Wikimedia Commons, 2015. Web. 08 May 2016.

Whinney, Joe. Interview by Stan Emert. Chocolate from Difficult Places. YouTube, 29 December 2014. Web. 08 May 2016.

 

Thinking Through Your Chocolate Choices: A Short Story

Making ethical eating choices is very important; as consumers, we are responsible for choosing products that do as little harm to the world as possible. Thankfully, with things like chocolate, a little research can go a long way: simply googling “ethical chocolate buying” leads to dozens of online listings of chocolate companies that give a little extra thought to the environment, fairness of trade, or social justice.

However, what happens when you don’t have time to do your research? What happens when there’s no Google to access? The answer, my friends, is a series of questions.

Below, within the context of a monologue-led short story, you will be introduced to just one group of these questions. By examining the price of a product, what kind of business creates that product, and how the product is certified, these questions can let any consumer make better decisions.

These questions can easily be adapted to any situation. But they’re especially effective when making an impulsive chocolate purchase.

 —

It’s Wednesday and where are you again? Where you always are, Wednesday nights. At the grocery store. Grocery shopping.

Your cart is full and you’re waiting to check out.

“Mom, can I have a Snickers?” says your 9-year-old. You look down and see her eyes locked on the tiers of candy bars and gum surrounding you. There is a little bit of spittle at a corner of her mouth.

You want to say “No”. You even consider saying an all caps “NO” with a small but powerful shake of the head for emphasis. Your 9-year-old doesn’t need the 27 grams of sugar in a Snickers bar. Right now or ever. The monstrous current rate of child obesity is linked to sugar and, though that rate has plateaued in recent years, it’s nowhere close to decreasing[1].

But another look at the colorful chocolates rocks your resolve. The chocolate industry spends millions of dollars on advertising a year; Hershey’s alone spent $668 million on advertising in 2013[2]. And these millions are put to very good use. You think of the pleasure and luxury the chocolate ads have made you associate with chocolate. You think of how chocolate is basically has its own holiday, Valentine’s Day.[3] You think about how yummy chocolate is.

(You also imagine yourself over sexualized and seduced, like the women in an alarmingly large percentage of chocolate advertisements[4]. That seduction feels kind of good and you worry about the implications of you thinking so.popupsource: https://static01.nyt.com/images/2009/11/16/business/energy-environment/16adnews1/popup.jpg)

Sensing that your resolve is wavering, the 9-year-old lobs another “Mom, can I have a Snickers bar?”

The resolve gives way with a sharp Crack!. “Okay,” you say to the 9-year-old.

A GOLDEN QUESTION APPEARS IN THE AIR FOR 10 SECONDS. “YOU MUST CHOOSE THE BEST CHOCOLATE!” YELL THE QUESTION, TWICE. THEN THE QUESTION ASKS: DOES THE PRICE MATCH THE PRODUCT?

“Thanks, guiding question”, you say. You say it quietly though, so as not to startle your 9-year-old.

The little sticker next to the Snickers bar reads 75 cents. You know there’s no way 75 cents is enough for the cacao farmer who’s grown the cacao beans for the Snicker’s chocolate. Especially since the farmer is probably only getting 3 perfect of the profit from the 75 cents, or even less.[5] You glance at the other chocolate bars in the checkout aisle, noting that they also all cost about a dollar. This chocolate must not be the best choice.

(You remember this handy diagram as well. Most chocolate purchases support all the wrong people, you think. 43% to retailers? What kind of a ridiculous system is that?Screen Shot 2016-05-04 at 7.05.53 PMsource: Martin, Carla. “Introduction to Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food.” Cambridge. 27 Feb. 2016. Lecture.)

WITH A MUSICAL FLOURISH, ANOTHER GOLDEN QUESTION APPEARS IN THE AIR: QUESTION 2: HOW WELL KNOWN IS THE BRAND?

Unfortunately, today’s large companies are more likely to be working towards a profit than worrying about how that profit affects the world around them. Capitalism rewards that kind of stuff, you know.

You think back to the lawsuits three of the five biggest chocolate companies- Hershey, Mars, and Nestle -faced in 2015: buying chocolate from farmers using the worst forms of child labor. [6] You look down at your 9-year-old. You imagine her smuggled across some border, forced to work long hours. You shiver. You decide that maybe supporting these large, potentially problematic brands is not for you.

(Turns out supporting slavery isn’t a recipe for good night sleeps.6a00d8341bf90b53ef013483af2d4a970c-800wi                                                                        source: http://laborrightsblog.typepad.com/.a/6a00d8341bf90b53ef013483af2d4a970c-800wi)

At just this moment, a fellow shopper, passing buy, drops QUESTION 3: WHAT KINDS OF CERTIFICATION DOES THE PRODUCT HAVE?

None. Looking at the chocolates in the checkout aisle, you realize they are all made by huge chocolate companies and are certification-free. If you’re going to get the right chocolate, you’ll have to try a little harder.

“Wait, just a second, honey. I’ll be right back,” you whisper to your 9-year-old. You whisper loudly and both the woman in front of you, with her 14 single-serving yogurts, and the cashier can hear. Then you dash back into the store.

Soon you’re in the Official Sweets Aisle, the aisle where the sweets are. Dozens of chocolate brands stare back at you. How to choose a good chocolate? You’re at a loss again. You guess the same rules apply here as back there, with the 9-year-old and the checkout aisle: cheap, uncertified chocolates from well-known brands are likely neither high quality nor ethically sourced.

You crouch down in front of the chocolates and peer intently at their wrappers. After a couple of minutes of peering, you notice small stickers- certifications- on the labels.

(This is the more nuanced than you realize. With extra research, you would be able to see just how complicated companies’ relationships with certification truly is:ScorecardFinalsource: http://www.greenamerica.org/programs/fairtrade/whatyoucando/images/ScorecardFinal.png)

In front of you, there’s Fair Trade, which basically promises fair working conditions and a slightly higher pay than other chocolates[7]. There are a couple of organic certifications, which look so nice and mean the products weren’t grown with many pesticides[8]. There’s also a Direct Trade sticker, meaning the chocolate was made with products directly sourced from farmers.[9]

ANOTHER QUESTION APPEARS AND TAPS YOU ON THE BACK, IMPATIENTLY. THIS GOLDEN QUESTION DOES A LITTLE DANCE AS WELL. IT’S QUESTION 4: WHAT DO THE CERTIFICATION REALLY MEAN?

You dance along with the question for a little bit. Then “thanks, question,” you say. You’ve been saying that a lot lately.

You know the certifications promise only what they seem to promise. Organic certification usually indirectly means workers will work in better conditions (since they’ll be working with less toxic chemicals), but, says nothing about better wages or working conditions overall. And Direct Trade certification simply means a product is made with products directly sourced from farmers.

You also think back to the rumors swirling around Fair Trade. Apparently, Fair Trade has a very noticeable lack of real proof of impact. [10]Apparently, Fair Trade is just (hyperbolically) a certification created by a bunch of well-intended hippies and surrounded by greatly exaggerated “science”. It’s just the free market, making messes again[11].

What are you supposed to do now? You glance down the aisle, notice the FOUR BIG QUESTIONS gathered at the end. They can’t help you any longer. But they have guided you far enough. At least you’re far away from the problems of the cheap checkout aisle chocolates now.

You smile at the questions. They smile back. You reach for a small, bean to bar, organic and direct trade chocolate. The chocolate promises decent wages on the label on its back. It’d be best to do some extra research, but this is good for now.

You dash back towards the checkout line and your 9-year-old.

You know that the questions could have all come up to you in a different order. You know that not all questions apply in all situations. You know that, sometimes, larger companies can certify their chocolates and smaller companies can claim benefits without being that good for the world around them.

But these questions are good to start with.

You have tried your best.

Asking question is, generally, good. And questioning the price of the chocolate (and what that could mean for the amount of money received by the cacao farmers), the size of the chocolate companies, and what certifications are present and what they mean, provides an easy way to consider the implications of any purchase of chocolate. The considerations presented in the short story above are only some of many. But they’re important and, as a group, definitely provide good guidance for those trying to be careful with their consumption.

Of course, purchases all have many effects. And when choosing the right chocolate, “right” can be defined in many ways. Chocolate could be “right” ethically, nutritionally, or even taste wise (as shallow as that sounds compared to the other two categories).

Regardless of what kind of “right” chocolate you’re looking for, one thing is clear: it’s not always easy to make the choices that lead to that “right”. The chain of production and consumption is very large in our hyper-globalized world. Chocolate goes through many steps before reaching consumers. This staggering amount of steps is all related to the industrialization of food; preservation, mechanization, retailing, wholesaling, and transportation are all developments that have added more people and steps to the chocolate making process[12].And partially because of how large production has become, when information available to consumers, it is often misleading or blatantly inaccurate[13].

However, it’s important not to give up. So feel free to really take to heart the little short story above! With greater general education, and more questions like the FOUR BIG QUESTIONS we can make progress. We can try and make better choices about what we eat.

 

Sources:

[1] Fed Up. Dir. Stephanie Soechtig. The Weinstein Company, 2014.

[2] Schultz, E. J. “Hershey Plans to Triple Digital Ad Spending.” Advertising Age Digital RSS. Crain Communications, 31 Jan. 2013. Web. 02 May 2016.

[3] Henderson, Amy. “How Chocolate and Valentine’s Day Mated For Life.”Smithsonian. Smithsonian, 12 Feb. 2015. Web. 02 May 2016.

[4] Martin, Carla. “Valentine’s Day: Women Being Seduced By Chocolate.”Bittersweet Notes. WordPress, 14 Feb. 2012. Web. 04 May 2016.

[5] Martin, Carla. “Introduction to Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food.” Cambridge. 27 Feb. 2016. Lecture.

https://drive.google.com/folderview?id=0B_kGt6Sj1X5bYUY0UWg0Y1h2TTA&usp=sharing

[6] Neiburg, Oliver. “Mars, Nestlé and Hershey Face Fresh Cocoa Child Labor Class Action Lawsuits.” ConfectioneryNews.com. William Reed, 30 Sept. 2015. Web. 04 May 2016.

[7] Martin, Carla. “Alternative Trade and Virtuous Localization/Globalization.” Cambridge. 6 April. 2016. Lecture.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Sylla, Ndongo Samba. Fair Trade Scandal: Marketing Poverty to Benefit the Rich. N.p.: Ohio UP, 2014. Print.

[12] Martin, Carla. “The Rise of Big Chocolate and Race for the Global Market.” Cambridge. 9 March. 2016. Lecture.

[13]“Child Labor and Slavery in the Chocolate Industry.” Child Labor and Slavery in the Chocolate Industry. Food Empowerment Project. Web. 03 May 2016.