Tag Archives: fair trade

Saviorism in Chocolate Culture

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The history of chocolate illustrates the dilemma of good intentions and the moral ambiguity of efforts by one culture — in this case that of the wealthy white Christianity-dominated West — to re-form and re-create another culture in their own image. This ambiguity shows itself in the early history of American Christian missionaries bringing their faith — faith in God, and in the sort of education and vocational training they saw as inseparable from the preaching of the gospel — to Ghana in the late 19th and early 20 century, and it shows itself throughout the history of complex cultural interactions around the cultivation of chocolate. It shows itself, too, in the current conditions of the economy of chocolate, and, maybe most poignantly, in the ideological and humanistic battles around the billion-dollar trust created by the vast chocolate wealth of the Hershey family and the extraordinary school it funds. Like chocolate, religious and moral proselytizing often comes in with a sugar coating that can’t be refused, but underneath that sweetness lies something bitter.

White Saviorism

Missionaries promise better lives for the people they preach to, while often completely devaluing and invalidating their existing cultures and lives. In the article “MISSIONARY SPOTLIGHT – Ghana’s Christian legacy” on Evangelical Times, it is claimed that Christianity has “contributed in no small way to the development of Ghanaian society and the well-being of its people.” This article claims that while part of this improvement was due to development of education and medical services, Presbyterian Basel missionaries also helped the people of Ghana by introducing cacao to the region and providing training on how to grow it. The author notes that spreading Christianity in Ghana was not always an easy task. Missionaries were sometimes not welcomed, and “faced the hostility of the priests of traditional African religion, particularly when the latter’s shrines were forsaken by Christian converts” (Dapaah). This article reflects no self-awareness of why the religious reformation of Ghana may not have delighted all, or of the possibility that the traditional religion held value to the people. It is also fascinating that, taking credit for the introduction of cacao in Ghana, Evangelical Times assumes this as a positive influence. In other contexts, the cacao industry in Ghana has been under much moral scrutiny by the Western world.

Ethical Consumption

Consumers of chocolate want to feel good about what they are buying. Chocolate is, after all, the quintessential feel-good product, often connected in buyers’ minds with cozy notions of love and warm indulgence. It is upsetting to consider that we may be causing harm in buying it, and consumers are quick to squelch their guilt by opting for choices that advertise ethical production.

Problems of ethics in chocolate production are often portrayed in the West by stressing the dismal conditions of cacao farmers’ lives, highlighting their poverty, lack of education, or abuses propagated on or by them. We depict them as people who need our help to have any quality of life or morals. Orla Ryan’s Chocolate Nations chapter Child Labor shows that people in the West greatly exaggerate and misinterpret child labor on cacao farms in Africa. It is portrayed as a moral crisis that children are forced to work, and an often-suggested solution is the boycott of any chocolate produced with child labor. However, the children and families themselves view the situation differently. While some children are trafficked or forced to work against their will, it is most common for children to work along with the rest of their family on the family cacao farm. This can be dangerous, but it is not caused by sadism on the part of the perpetrating family members— there is simply such a problem with poverty that everybody has to work to survive. For this reason, boycotting chocolate from these farms would do little good and possibly have disastrous effects by further increasing poverty. Addressing child labor from a place of classist, racist moral superiority is not what the world needs (Ryan).

In the article “Spend & Save: The Narrative of Fair Trade and White Saviorism,” Bani Amor explains that fair-trade companies often are founded by white people seeking to portray themselves as heroic “fixers” of world issues, while suggesting erroneously that the problems of capitalism can be solved through capitalism means. She believes that this “saviorism through consumerism” actually relies on rather than dismantle oppressive structures.

“Saviorism employs a time-honored colonial narrative: The sad state of the savage Other necessitates civilizing via white/Western intervention, which maintains dominion over resources that sometimes trickle down to the needy via acts of charity. In his landmark 2012 essay, ‘The White-Savior Industrial Complex,’ Teju Cole reminds us that saviorism ‘is not about justice. It is about having a big emotional experience that validates privilege.’ …[I]t validates supremacy more than anything, because assuming the role of the savior is also a show of power” (Amor).

Saviorism validates supremacy— the supremacy of the white Western elite, their religion and morals, and what they have to offer. Allowing saviorism to continue is a roadblock to growing as a culture to celebrate diversity and embrace equality.

The Milton Hershey School

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Saviorism is often about race, but it is also about class. The Milton Hershey School is an example of class saviorism within the chocolate culture and industry in America. Milton S. Hershey and his wife Catherine had big dreams when they set up the utopian chocolate town of Hershey, Pennsylvania. They wanted to make a place where people were productive but also happy and well provided for. This was reflected in how Milton Hershey organized his company and town and also in the creation of what was then known as the “industrial school,” a school for orphaned boys established in the town of Hershey in 1909. The school was meant to provide opportunities for the many boys left orphaned in that time period, but also to morally shape these boys so that they would not become “shiftless and criminal men who would spawn another generation of undesirables” as was a great concern of society at the time (D’Antonio 197). In addition to Milton and Catherine’s philanthropic predilections, they found joy in inviting orphans into their lives because they themselves were unable to have children. However, there was a problem with this utopian conception. The program was designed with the purpose of shaping boys to become a certain type of upstanding, honest citizens who had to meet strict standards of behavior, performance, and character. Though the school did not require every pupil to be religious, it did teach Christian morals and expel anyone “incorrigible” or “undesirable”— boys were required to be “healthy” in every way to attend and many boys were sent away when they did not uphold these standards (D’Antonio 199).

The school is now known as the Milton Hershey School. Still funded by a trust made by Hershey, offers more than free tuition— it offers free medical and dental care and will even buy clothes for its students and house them year round if needed. It is no longer a school only for orphaned boys, and the website appeals to parents by offering extraordinary care for children at no cost. Though this may offer a wonderful opportunity for some, it imposes upon parents the idea that if they are poor, their children would be better off removed from their care and transplanted into idyllic Christian wealth with strangers. It is a problematic design to, instead of addressing poverty and education inequality in disadvantaged areas, select a few promising children to remove from their lives and reshape through privilege. Though it is illegal to discriminate against students based on health, the school website still states that children must “be free of serious behavioral problems that are likely to disrupt life in the classroom or student home life” (Admissions Considerations). Children at the Milton Hershey School are also required to attend church regularly, and the website states that “The school encourages students to learn to love God and others, to give service to their community, and to live a morally upright life. Devotions are woven into their daily routine” (Student Activities).

These moral and religious standards have led to problems in recent years at the Milton Hershey School. There have been complaints of discrimination and abuse. In a 2017 article on advocate.com, an incident is detailed in which a teenage student claims to have been forced to watch an hour-long gay conversion therapy video by his house-parents at the Milton Hershey School. The student said that he was also forced to pray with his house-parents to have God help him away from gayness, and was told stories of other gay people who had terrible things happen to them. In 2013, this student was expelled from the school following a suicidal gesture. This is an example of the great harm that can come about from imposing moral and religious values, and it also illustrates the school’s problematic readiness to expell students who displayed signs of mental illness. The school admitted that this incident occurred but denied any official involvement in the showing of the video, though conversion therapy is in line with the original vision of the founder.

“A spokeswoman for the school, Lisa Scullin, who responded to Dobson’s suit against the school by saying conversion therapy is a ‘practice the administration would never allow or condone,’ doubled down on denying official involvement in response to the revelation that conversion therapy had indeed been promoted at Hershey.

‘Unequivocally, the school does not promote or endorse any program that could be remotely characterized as gay conversion therapy,’ Scullin said. ‘Any suggestion otherwise is a gross mischaracterization of our values and the environment on our campus.'”

This was not an isolated incident. Last year, a second former student of the Milton Hershey School claimed that he was forced to watch the same video, and states that he was humiliated in front of others and made to feel “like the scum of the earth” by the incident. Human Rights Campaign states that gay conversion therapy techniques “have been rejected by every mainstream medical and mental health organization for decades, but due to continuing discrimination and societal bias against LGBTQ people, some practitioners continue to conduct conversion therapy. Minors are especially vulnerable, and conversion therapy can lead to depression, anxiety, drug use, homelessness, and suicide.” Because these methods are so injurious, a number of states and municipalities have put laws in place to protect minors from them. It is deeply troubling that an orginization meant to protect children would in fact use their position to attempt to abusively mold them to fit a moral ideal, and these incidents reveal a need for radically increased scrutiny of any such “savior” programs for youth.

Imposition of Culture is Dehumanizing

The world’s privileged white elite often act as though by helping others they gain the right to impose their own “superior” moral values, but fail to recognize that imposition of culture is dehumanizing. This saviorism takes away people’s autonomy and inherent right to self-determination. Although nobody wants to be trapped in poverty or treated unfairly, that does not mean that the Western white Christian capitalist life is the model of supremacy. It is important to improve fairness in the chocolate industry and in education, but in this endeavor it is vital to integrate respect for those we are helping and listen to their values and needs rather than imposing our own—to work with rather than for them.

 

Works Cited

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

D’Antonio, Michael. Hershey Milton S. Hersheys Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams. Paw Prints, 2008.

Amor, Bani. “Spend & Save: The Narrative of Fair Trade and White Saviorism.” Bitch Media, http://www.bitchmedia.org/article/spend-save.

Depaah, George.”MISSIONARY SPOTLIGHT – Ghana’s Christian legacy.” Evangelical Times, https://www.evangelical-times.org/28075/missionary-spotlight-ghanas-christian-legacy/

“Milton Hershey School.” Milton Hershey School, http://www.mhskids.org/.

Fernandez, Bob. “A 2nd former Hershey School student says he was forced to watch gay conversion film” The Enquirer, http://www.philly.com/philly/business/comcast/a-2nd-former-hershey-school-student-says-he-was-forced-to-watch-gay-conversion-film-20170801.html

“The Lies and Dangers of Efforts to Change Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity.” Human Rights Campaign, https://www.hrc.org/resources/the-lies-and-dangers-of-reparative-therapy

Images

Reaching hand image from pixabay.com CC0 Creative Commons

Milton S. Hershey portrait is from wikimedia commons and is in the public domain

Cacoa, Chocolate, Confections, Cravings, and Confusion: What’s in a Label? A too short view at Fair Trade, Direct Trade, and Other Labels.

Pareve, USDA Organic, Rainforest Certified, Fair Trade, Direct Trade, Equal Exchange, GF, Peanut/Tree Nut Free?! What is in a label? How do you decipher the myriad of symbols on your chocolate bar or confection? What do they mean? Are they important? Is one symbol more important than others? How can you tell? And where do you find the answers? How can a consumer find the answers?

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When you purchase a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup the label (if you look very closely) will tell you that it is Gluten Free. You won’t find the myriad of symbols that you find on Newman’s Own Peanut Butter Cups. The symbols there state that it is a Gluten Free, Fair Trade product amongst other things. An Equal Exchange chocolate bar label tells you that it’s USDA Organic, Worker Owned Cooperative, Kosher Pareve Certified in Switzerland and Equal Exchange Fairly Traded. The inside of the label goes on to tell you that not only is its cacao sourced from small farmers, but its sugar and vanilla are as well. It also introduces you to one of the farmers that they trade with. It also asks you, the consumer to “JOIN OUR MOVEMENT”.

Equal Exchange Clara Huaman Santa Cruz.jpg

 The inside of this label also gets to the crux of the labelling issue:

“With your support over the last 30 years, Equal Exchange has become one of the leading alternative trade organizations in the world. Together, we have enabled small farmers to gain market share and influence never believed possible.

And yet our mission is more threatened than it was 10 years ago.

Corporate control of Fair Trade-and in fact the entire food system-has reduced the power of small farmers and left consumers confused and demoralized. At the same time climate change is wreaking havoc on farmer communities.”

Equal Exchange-Luis Diaz Aylas.jpg

What and who defines Fair Trade?

 This video by Equal Exchange makes Fair Trade cacao farming seem almost idyllic. These are happy, well dressed cocoa farmers who are bettering their lives and their communities.

 

Ndongo Sylla in his book, The Fair Trade Scandal, states, “Fair Trade is but the most recent example of another sophisticated ‘scam’ by the ‘invisible hand’ of the free market. This noble endeavour for the salvation of the free market was tamed and domesticated by the very forces it wanted to fight. With its usual efficiency, the free market triggered the implosion of the Fair Trade universe and hijacked its mission, without Fair Trade supporters and stakeholders even realising it.” (Sylla, pp. 18.)

Sylla credits “Frans van der Hoff, a Dutch priest and economist living in
Mexico, and his fellow countryman Nico Roozen, Director of the
Solidaridad non-governmental organisation (NGO)” (Sylla, pp. 19.)with starting the first Fair Trade label, Max Havelaar in 1988. The foundation put out this video in 2013 to celebrate it twenty-fifth anniversary. (Sorry, I was unable to create a direct link.)

Another Viewpoint on Fair Trade. There are no happy farmers in this video.

Professor Don Boudreaux in this video from MRUniverity  actually argues that Fair Trade   actually hurts the poorest producers and workers of agricultural goods by diverting money and resources from them to areas where there is the infrastructure to support Fair Trade.

The Fairtrade Foundation in the UK argues that, “Twenty years after the first Fairtrade chocolate bar was launched in the UK, Fairtrade chocolate is becoming increasingly popular and now makes up 12% of all British chocolate sales – providing vital economic benefits to cocoa growers.

Last year, UK sales of Fairtrade chocolate reached £542 million, and as a result Fairtrade cocoa producer organisations earned £4 million in Fairtrade Premium, on top of the price they earned for their beans, to invest in business, social and environmental projects in their communities; this represented a 30% increase on the previous year.

Stephen Lord, Product Officer (Cocoa) at the Fairtrade Foundation, said: “Fairtrade currently works with 167,000 cocoa farmers in countries including Cote D’Ivoire, Ghana and the Dominican Republic. Most are small-scale farmers who live on very low incomes, and Fairtrade enables them to trade their way out of poverty, by helping to ensure they have stable incomes and long-term contracts with companies.” (Fair Trade News-10.13.2014.)

 

Andy Harner, the global cocoa director of Mars Chocolate, said this in an article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, “The demand for cocoa to make chocolate and related products is projected to exceed supply. If current trends continue, we anticipate that the world will need at least 1 million additional metric tons by 2020—more than Ghana, which is the second largest supplier of cocoa in the world and nearly as much as the current total annual production of the Ivory Coast, the world’s largest cocoa producer. Despite this increasing desire for cocoa, farmers in the West African and Southeast Asian countries that produce more than 85 percent of the world’s supply are often not able to invest in their farms to benefit. In the last 10 years, yields for many farmers have stagnated or decreased and income has remained flat, which has affected the long-term competitiveness of the industry and challenges the willingness of farmers and their families to continue growing cocoa.

Mars guides its business strategy according to five principles, one of which is mutuality, the belief that all actors in the supply chain should share in the benefits. With many cocoa farmers living on less than $2 a day, we launched our Sustainable Cocoa Initiative to enhance and promote mutuality for the farmers we depend on for our chocolate business. We believe that our business should benefit farmers today and tomorrow, which is why our guiding principle is Farmers First. For the cocoa industry to be truly sustainable, the world’s 5 to 6 million smallholder farmers must be put first so that they can have the opportunity to professionalize their farms, increase their incomes, diversify their crops, and support their families.

Increasing growers’ productivity dramatically is the most effective way to raise farmer income, and increasing farmer income is the most important way to empower farmers and their communities to create lasting change.” (Andy Harner, Stanford Social Innovation Review.April 25, 2012.)

Does anyone from any side of the debate have any common ground?

Direct Exchange is a panacea in the debate in the cocoa-Fair Trade- Mega-Corporation triangle. While the video below indicates the perhaps ideal relationship between grower and cacao artisan, as we discussed in class, this exchange is so limited in scope that it affects such a tiny percentage of the farmers trying to eek out an existence for themselves and their families that it is impractical to view this as a realistic solution for the majority of farmers who aren’t one of the lucky “few”. (“Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food”. Carla D. Martin, PHD. April 28, 2018.)

When we look at  our labels we can see that Fair Trade, Direct Trade, farmers, corporations and consumers all have a stake in the mix. Fair Trade and Direct Trade products such as Taza, Equal Exchange and others vie for a market share of an affluent market, but can our shelves and displays of specialty chocolate and confections change the tide of our aisles with bags or Mars Bars, Hershey Kisses, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, etcetera.

“While perhaps this is not surprising – modern capitalist business production relies on size and quantity metrics and notions of continuous growth and aggregation to determine value – it stands opposite to many of the values expressed by those involved in craft production.” (Martin, PHD, Carla D.. Sizing the Craft Chocolate Market. Fine Cocoa and Chocolate Institute. August 31, 2017.)

 

Sylla states that, “in spite of their ever greater ambitions, Fairtrade protagonists still have not come to realise theextent to which recent developments have rendered their movementanachronistic. First, agricultural products have been experiencing a
trending decline for many decades now. They now account for
only 9 per cent of the international merchandise trade, while
processed agricultural products represent two-thirds of exchanged
goods. In the case of LDCs, however, they merely accounted for
0.3 per cent of this latter market in the period 1991–2000 (FAO,
2004: 26). By focusing on primary agricultural products, Fairtrade
is pulling developing countries back. Besides, it does not allow
them to envisage local industrial processing, which creates more
value added and is more profitable in the long term.” (Sylla, pp. 235.)
This is an exceedingly complex issue that will not be solved in a blogpost or even a few books. It is an issue that needs a comprehensive approach with an eye toward the individual farmer and consumer, but also a reckoning that profit, mass market, and mass production aren’t ever going to be eliminated from the supply chain that brings us our bean to bar cacao, as well as, our most decadent chocolate confections.

 

Citations:

Fair Trade News. Choose Fairtrade to Make a Positive Impact for Cocoa Growers. October 13, 2014.

Harner, Andy.  Stanford Social Innovation Review. April 25, 2012.

Martin, PHD, Carla D.. Sizing the Craft Chocolate Market. Fine Cocoa and Chocolate Institute. August 31, 2017.)

Sylla, Ndaongo. 2014. The Fair Trade Scandal.

 

HEXX Chocolate – A Super. Natural. Story on the Las Vegas Strip

Situated in the shadow of a half-sized replica of the Eiffel Tower, amidst the glitz and glamour of the Las Vegas Strip, we find the unlikely presence of Nevada’s sole bean-to-bar chocolate concept called HEXX Chocolate (Feldberg). In a city where audacious and artificial are the norm – HEXX’s authentic approach to chocolate they call “Super. Natural.” is breaking the mold of industry paradigms and bridging the huge chasm between chocolate’s primary consumers in the global north and cacao producers in the global south (“Authentic”). In HEXX’s unique approach, they are taking on one of the most pressing social and ethical challenges facing the chocolate industry today – the plight of farmers in cacao producing nations and the general lack of awareness amongst consumers. By examining four key aspects of HEXX: The unique DNA of its leadership; the original way it is presenting its chocolate story to customers; its intentional cultivation of long-term, ethical relationship with its farmers; and its unique challenges, we will see HEXX molding chocolate’s present and future for the better.

HEXX’s Founders and Chocolate Makers – As Unique as Its Brand

As unique as HEXX’s presence is on the Las Vegas Strip, equally as original are its founders and chocolate makers. In the emerging craft chocolate space that has grown from a single company to 200 in the past two decades (Leissle 3; Giller), one might imagine a chocolate maker as a geeky chocolate scientist perfecting chocolate for other geeks (Giller) or perhaps a hipster with a cause (“MAST”). However, at HEXX, we find something quite different. The brain-trust and chocolate makers at HEXX are Matthew Silverman and Matthew Piekarski – established, culinary heavyweights in the Las Vegas dining scene who also lead HEXX’s 24×7 restaurant operation, which shares the same space and name (“Meet Our Chefs”).

Silverman and Piekarski
Chefs Matthew Silverman and Matthew Piekarski head up HEXX’s Restaurant and Chocolate Operations in the heart of the Las Vegas Strip (Morris).

In a town chock-full of celebrities, one could argue Silverman and Piekarski are celebrities in their own right. Silverman traces his culinary roots to the acclaimed Wolfgang Puck (Leach). Piekarski’s resume not only includes an Executive Chef stint working with Eva Longoria Parker but he has the distinction of being named “Las Vegas’ Hottest Chef” (“Chef Matt Piekarski”; Stapleton). Silverman and Piekarski’s culinary chops and earned reputations provide them a perfect platform to share HEXX’s chocolate story from their headquarters on the Las Vegas Strip, which they have been doing since 2015. In doing so, they are not only sharing the story of HEXX, but also the unique locales where its chocolate originates from and the oft-untold stories of farmers who cultivate and harvest cacao – the raw materials from which chocolate is made.

Engaging, Educating, and Expanding Chocolate’s Consumer Base

It is impossible to step-off of Las Vegas Boulevard, into HEXX’s 30,000 square foot restaurant and chocolate factory and not leave with a better appreciation for its chocolate and its origin stories (Womack).

HEXX's Logo
HEXX’s logo highlights the story of cacao farmers 20 degrees north and south of the equator (“HEXX Logo”).

That is exactly Silverman and Piekarski’s intent. From HEXX’s name and chocolate packaging to how it creatively engages customers throughout their restaurant dining experience, HEXX is educating its customers and changing their perceptions about chocolate (Piekarski). Says Silverman about the name HEXX, “The XX represents Roman numerals and speaks to the farms we source our cacao beans from, all of which are located 20 degrees above or below the equator” (Vintage View). Before unwrapping any of HEXX’s 2-oz, single-origin chocolate bars, one learns about the country and farm its cacao is sourced from and the unique flavors and terroir of the region (“Product”).

HEXX Chocoate Bars
HEXX’s single-orgin bars from different regions around the world (from left to right): Venezuela, Tanzania, Peru, Ecuador, and Madagascar (not pictured: Dominican Republic) (“About Our Chocolate”).
HEXX Dark Chocolate - Ecuador, Camino Verde Farm
HEXX’s most popular bar from the Camino Verde Farm in Ecuador (Vintage View). Its flavorings are “well-rounded with sweet marzipan and floral notes” (“Product Catalog”. It contains 73% cacao content (“HEXX Chocolate – Camino Verde Bar”).
Venezuelan Milk Chocolate Cheesecake
Venezuelan Milk Chocolate Cheesecake – one of the ways HEXX highlights chocolate throughout its menu (“Venezuelan Cheesecake”).

HEXX also sprinkles in subtle chocolate highlights throughout its restaurant dining experience – from its use of cocoa nibs as a nut replacement in muffins and salads to its use of Venezuelan Milk Chocolate in a luxurious cheesecake (Piekarski; That’s So Vegas). At the end of each meal, diners are given a petit four, which offers a taste of one of HEXX’s six single-origin chocolates. This end-of-meal ceremony not only serves as a decadent way to culminate one’s gastronomic experience but is an invitation to its patrons to learn more about HEXX’s chocolate story and more importantly connect with its cacao farmers – 20 degrees above and below the equator. 

Petit Four
A petit four, emblazoned with HEXX’s signature XX, and accompanied by a “spell-binding” message similar to those inscribed on the back of HEXX’s chocolate bars (HEXX Chocolate).

While HEXX’s chocolate message to its customers is subtle and sophisticated, its commitment to its farmers is clear and direct and can be traced to Silverman and Piekarski’s own personal culinary backgrounds: “Coming from our roots as chefs we have an appreciation for the farmers and purveyors who grow and raise our food. Developing relationships with the people who grow and import our ingredients is the most important thing that we do. Knowing who grows the ingredients, how they are grown and ensuring that the people growing them are paid a fair price is at the core of our beliefs as chefs and chocolate makers” (“Direct Trade”). It is HEXX’s relationship with its cacao farmers and how it is addressing current labor issues in the chocolate industry that we will explore next.

Cultivating Long-Term, Ethical Trade Relationships

One of the most pressing issues facing the chocolate industry today is the dichotomy between the wealth generated by big chocolate companies in the global north and the extremely low and inconsistent wages of cacao farmers in the global south (Martin “Introduction”). In 2014, the chocolate industry registered over $100 billion dollars in worldwide sales (“Cocoa Prices”). At the same time, in the two highest producing cacao nations of Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana – responsible for 60 percent of world cacao production – farmers are paid on average $.50 and $.84 a day, respectively (Martin “Introduction”). This is far below the World Bank’s poverty line of $1.90 per day and well below other global minimum wage standards (“FAQs: Global Poverty”; Martin “Introduction”).

Cocoa Barometer
Cacao farmers in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana make $0.50 and $0.84 a day on average. Additionally wages are often irregular, creating other challenges for farmers (“Cocoa Barometer”; Martin “Introduction”).
Cocoa Barometer
While chocolate is a $100 billion dollar industry, just a small percentage of it makes its way back to farmers in cacao producing nations (“Real Cost”).

In response to this disparity, over the years a number of solutions have been developed including coalitions, government initiatives, civil society organizations and ethical trade models (Martin “Introduction”). The most recognizable of these today are the certifications emblazoned on the front of chocolate bars and other food products like Fair-Trade, UTZ, USDA Organic, and Rainforest Alliance (Martin and Sampeck 51; Martin “Alternative Trade”). While HEXX does purchase certified beans from at least two of its six cacao suppliers, in its choice not to exclusively source certified beans, HEXX is highlighting the limitations and critiques leveled against the certification model itself – that it is not always most beneficial to farmers (“About Our Chocolate”; Martin and Sampeck 52). While certifications generate big dollars – over $3 billion in revenue worldwide – very little of it makes its way back to producers (Martin “Alternative Trade”). By some estimations, for every dollar an American consumer pays for a Fair Trade product, a meager $.03 makes its way back to farmers (Sylla 125). Of its decision not to solely purchase certified organic beans in particular, HEXX states, “Not all of our cacao beans are certified organic, because certifications can be a costly expense for our farmers, but all are produced to the same standards that organic certifiers adhere to” (“Direct Trade”). Thus, while quality is of great importance to HEXX, consideration for its farmers is paramount.

Certifications
Certifications generate big dollars but by some estimations, for every dollar an American consumer pays for a Fair Trade product, just $.03 trickles down to farmers (Sylla 125; Martin “Alternative Trade”).

HEXX’s answer to the social and economic conditions of its farmers and the less-than-effective certification model is clear: the cultivation of long-term, direct trade relationships (“Direct Trade”). Advocates of direct trade, including HEXX, argue three primary benefits: first, it enables farmers to negotiate price, resulting in generally higher premiums. Second, it incentivizes farmers to produce higher-quality beans. Lastly and most importantly, it eliminates the layers of middlemen that have historically been a part of the chocolate trade. This fosters learning and mutually beneficial relationships between farmers and chocolate makers (“Direct Trade”; Martin “Alternative Trade”).

Conventional Cocoa Value Chain
Direct trade eliminates the layers of middlemen historically a part of the chocolate supply chain (Phillips).

Their relationships with cacao farmers is something Piekarski and Silverman take very personally. While potential partners are first identified by friend and “Chocolate Sourcerer,” Greg D’Alesandre of Dandelion Chocolate, Piekarski and Silverman take it from there (Piekarski). They travel to each country to meet and establish relationships with potential partners, and see the conditions farmers work under. Piekarski describes these trips as “life changing experiences” that have altered both his business and personal perspectives. Silverman adds, “When we form a partnership with a cacao farm, we are looking to build a long-term relationship with them. There’s no way to do that without going to the farm, trying and testing their cacao beans, and getting to know the owners and operators. Plus, we need to feel good about the culture of the cacao farm. Establishing a business relationship . . . is like getting to know extended family” (“Behind the Scenes”). HEXX’s verbal commitment translates into action. While the global commodity price for cacao has hovered around $1 a pound in recent years, HEXX pays its farmers between $5 and $10 a pound, according to Piekarski.

Silverman and Piekarski - Camino Verde
Piekarski (second from right) and Silverman (far right) visiting Camino Verde in Ecuador – one of the farms HEXX sources its cacao from (“Camino Verde”).

Direct trade is not without its limitations and critiques as well. Critics, particularly as it relates to craft chocolate, point to at least three limitations: first, its reach is very limited. For instance, of the 4.8 million metric tons of cacao purchased each year, HEXX purchases just 30 tons of it (Martin “Alternative Trade”; Martin and Sampeck 55; Piekarski). Second, direct trade partnerships tend to be devoid of farms in West African countries which account for 70 percent of the world’s cacao production (Martin and Sampeck 55; Wessel and Quist-Wessel). This is true of HEXX’s partnerships as well, which are in Madagascar, Peru, Ecuador, Venezuela, Tanzania, and the Dominican Republic (“Product”). Lastly, direct trade relationships can be fragile, in part, because craft chocolate companies that favor these relationships may lack industry experience, financial stability, and face steep learning-curves (Martin and Sampeck 55). To this final critique, HEXX’s response is strong. Silverman and Piekarski’s culinary pedigree and HEXX’s business model set them apart from other craft chocolate companies. While chocolate will always be the foundation and cornerstone on which HEXX is built, its sales account for just $1 million of HEXX’s $30 million in annual combined revenue (Piekarski). This fact puts HEXX in an extremely strong position and affords them creative liberties to take risks with its chocolate brand – a luxury most craft chocolate companies do not have.

When one looks at the entirety of HEXX: The culinary and celebrity gravitas of its two chocolate makers, a $30 million restaurant behind it, and its prime location on the Las Vegas Strip, it is easy to assume HEXX holds the perfect hand in the burgeoning craft chocolate market. However, HEXX is not without its challenges. The very things that make HEXX distinct, also contribute to its biggest challenges. We will close by exploring these challenges and the opportunities that lie ahead for HEXX.

HEXX’s Challenges and Its Future

With its prime location and Silverman and Piekarski at the helm, HEXX has unrivaled access to two atypical markets for a craft chocolate company: the casual consumer dining at its restaurant and the vast number of restaurateurs in Las Vegas, whom HEXX could source its chocolate to. However, in its outreach to both groups, HEXX has faced some resistance. While chocolate is featured throughout HEXX’s menu, Piekarski said they have scaled back use particularly in some of its main dishes. While chocolate connoisseurs might swoon over a chicken mole or steak finished-off with condensed cocoa butter, not all of HEXX’s customers have taken to these flavors. Further, Piekarski said they have reached out to “every casino in town” to offer their chocolate as a source ingredient that could potentially be incorporated into other restaurants’ dishes. This has also been met with resistance. Piekarski states, “We want people to incorporate our chocolate in everything they do not necessarily because we want our brand out there but we want to supply people with a superior quality product at a cheaper price. We understand, as chefs, restaurants operate on very thin margins and this is as important for [other restaurants] as it is for us.”

Alexxa
HEXX’s Book of Chocolate Stories features Alexxa, HEXX’s “mystical muse” who is featured prominently throughout its brand. While appealing to mainstream customers, Alexxa’s presence as well as the absence of certification labels on HEXX’s products may be a hurdle for gourmet grocery stores (“Alexxa”).

HEXX’s location and popular appeal has also proved perplexingly problematic to a typical craft chocolate ally: gourmet grocery stores like Whole Foods. While HEXX has been well-received at events like the Fancy Food Show – the largest food show on the West Coast – it has faced a vexing, uphill battle with gourmet grocery stores precisely because of its mainstream appeal and Las Vegas Strip location (That’s So Vegas; Piekarski). Piekarski explains, “It took us a year and a half to get into Whole Foods in Las Vegas. And we only got there because we are [local].” He continues, “Everything about what we do is not what they look for in terms of craft chocolate. People ask, ‘Where do you produce? On the Las Vegas Strip?’ And that can be the end of the conversation 7 times out of 10.” In just its third year of operations, as the only craft chocolate producer in Nevada, challenges such as these should not come as a total surprise.  And as HEXX steps out further to explore new territory, its opportunities for growth are abundant.

HEXX’s future plans include developing its restaurant presence locally, growing retail sales nationally, and forming new cacao partnerships internationally. After recent renovations to its dining facilities, HEXX is purposefully reintegrating chocolate into its food program in a distinct way, says Piekarski. Weekend diners will now find a cart-wheeling Chocolate Sommelier offering up chocolate for guests to sample, adding another chocolate connection point for its customers. HEXX also recently hired a former Mars and Hershey employee tasked with expanding its retail presence in the Northwest and Midwest, in addition to Central Markets in Texas and Carr Valley Cheese Stores in Wisconsin where HEXX is currently sold (Piekarski; “Where to Find”). Finally, HEXX is looking to extend its international reach to cacao farmers in two additional countries – Trinidad and Granada (Piekarski).

HEXX - James Beard Foundation
Piekarski (third from left) and Silverman (far right) with fellow chefs and friends presenting a 6-course Chocolate Themed Valentine’s Eve Dinner at the historic James Beard Foundation House in New York City (“James Beard”).

Conclusion

In HEXX, we see an immensely compelling craft chocolate concept, connecting multitudes of atypical consumers to the story of its cacao farmers – 20 degrees above and below the equator. Through its authentic message to its customers and ethical relationships with farmers, HEXX is artfully bringing two worlds together that could not be further apart. While HEXX has faced challenges on multiple fronts during its first years, it is impossible not to be incredibly optimistic about HEXX’s industry-altering potential. With two talented and resolute chefs at the helm of its $30 million restaurant and chocolate operations, HEXX has both the gastronomic and financial chops to challenge the chocolate industry’s status-quo, transforming the way consumers see chocolate, and elevating the plight of cacao farmers in the process. In a city built on big wagers, perhaps there is none bigger and more important to chocolate’s sustainable future than HEXX.

Works Cited

“About Our Chocolate” HEXX Chocolate, 13 Jan. 2017, www.hexxchocolate.com/our-chocolate/#prettyPhoto/31/.

“Alexxa.” HEXX Chocolate, shop.hexxchocolate.com/products/alexxa-book-sample-pack-4-2-12-oz-milk-bars.

“Authentic. Handcrafted. Bean-to-Bar.” HEXX Chocolate, 27 Nov. 2017, www.hexxchocolate.com/.

“Behind the Scenes of Hexx’s Beans.” Vegas Seven, Dec. 2016, vegasseven.com/2016/12/06/behind-beans-hexx-chocolate-confexxions/.

“Camino Verde.” HEXX Chocolate, www.hexxchocolate.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/Hexx-Chefs-in-Ecuador-with-Keith-from-High-Road-Ice-Cream.jpg.

“Chef Matt Piekarski – A Celebrity Chef among Celebrities.” Haute Living, 16 Aug. 2010, hauteliving.com/2010/08/chef-matt-piekarski-%E2%80%94-a-celebrity-chef-among-celebrities/76371/.

“Cocoa Barometer.” Green America, https://www.greenamerica.org/sites/default/files/styles/frontpageslideshow1382/public/2017-04/cocobarom.png?itok=mzOq8F1y.

“Cocoa Prices and Income of Farmers.” Make Chocolate Fair!, 16 Aug. 2017, makechocolatefair.org/issues/cocoa-prices-and-income-farmers-0.

“Direct Trade.” HEXX Chocolate, 9 July 2016, www.hexxchocolate.com/direct-trade/.

“FAQs: Global Poverty Line Update.” World Bank, www.worldbank.org/en/topic/poverty/brief/global-poverty-line-faq.

Feldberg, Sarah. “Hexx Debuts New Chocolate Tour and Tasting: Travel Weekly.” Travel Weekly- The Travel Industry’s Trusted Voice, 12 Dec. 2016, www.travelweekly.com/North-America-Travel/Hexx-debuts-new-chocolate-tour-and-tasting.

Giller, Megan. “Geeks Are Using Science to Make the Best Chocolate Ever.” Engadget, 17 Jan. 2018, www.engadget.com/2017/12/19/bean-to-bar-chocolate-tech/.

HEXX. “Venezuelan Cheesecake.” Yelp, 8 Sept. 2016, www.yelp.com/biz_photos/hexx-kitchen-bar-las-vegas-2?select=XwvqAqiHkq5E9kth5ewVGg.

HEXX Chocolate. “Petit Four.” Facebook, facebook.com/hexxchocolate/.

“HEXX Chocolate – Camino Verde Bar.” HEXX Chocolate, HEXX Chocolate, www.hexxchocolate.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/product_20.jpg.

“HEXX Chocolates.” HEXX Chocolate, www.hexxchocolate.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/chocolate_2.jpg.

“HEXX Exterior.” Splash Magazines | Los Angeles, www.lasplash.com/uploads//4be6/598cc629ae581-hexx-kitchen-bar-review-2.jpg.

“HEXX Logo.” HEXX Chocolate, https://www.hexxchocolate.com.

“HEXX Restaurant Eiffel Tower.” TripAdvisor, www.tripadvisor.ca/LocationPhotoDirectLink-g45963-d7892832-i152216425-Hexx_kitchen_bar-Las_Vegas_Nevada.html.

“James Beard.” HEXX Chocolate, http://www.hexxlasvegas.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/JBF-2-13-2016-All-the-Chefs-in-the-Kitchen-01.png.

“Kitchen.” HEXX Chocolate, www.hexxchocolate.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/DSC_2749-e1429702796581.jpg.

Leach, Robin. “Mark Andelbradt Is New Chef at Spago; Chef-Chocolatier Matthew Silverman Sweetens Hexx at Paris Las Vegas.” Las Vegas Review-Journal, 19 Feb. 2017, www.reviewjournal.com/entertainment/entertainment-columns/robin-leach/mark-andelbradt-is-new-chef-at-spago-chef-chocolatier-matthew-silverman-sweetens-hexx-at-paris-las-vegas/.

Leissle, Kristy. “Invisible West Africa.” Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture, vol. 13, no. 3, 2013, pp. 22–31., doi:10.1525/gfc.2013.13.3.22.

Mair, Anthony. “HEXX Restaurant Interior.” Las Vegas Review Journal, 18 July 2017, www.reviewjournal.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/8914853_web1_4-credit-anthony-mair-hexx_dining-room.jpg.

Martin, Carla D. “Alternative Trade and Virtuous Localization.’” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard Extension School: Cambridge, MA. 04 Apr. 2018. Class Lecture.

Martin, Carla D. “Introduction.’” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard Extension School: Cambridge, MA. 24 Jan. 2018. Class Lecture.

Martin, Carla D. and Sampek, Kathryn E., The Bitter and Sweet of Chocolate in Europe. 2016 Jan., DoI: 10.18030/socio.hu.2015en.37.

“MAST Brothers, the Most Hipster Chocolate Company Ever, Is Coming to LA next Month.” Time Out Chicago, 23 Mar. 2016, www.timeout.com/los-angeles/blog/mast-brothers-the-most-hipster-chocolate-company-ever-is-coming-to-la-next-month-032316.

“Meet Our Chefs.” HEXX Chocolate, 18 Oct. 2017, www.hexxchocolate.com/chefs/.

Morris, Sam. “Silverman and Piekarski”. Las Vegas Review-Journal, 3 Apr. 2014, www.reviewjournal.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/9851452_web1_newfoods_040315sm_014.jpg.

Phillips, D.; Tallontire, A. Drivers and Barriers to Sustainable Purchasing in the Cocoa Sector; NRET Working Paper; Department of Geography, University of Newcastle: Tyne and Wear, UK, 2007; pp. 1–8.

Piekarski, Matthew. Phone Interview. 30 Apr.2018

“Product Catalog.” HEXX Chocolate, Jan. 2017, https://www.hexxchocolate.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/HEXX_00037_ProductCatalog_BR_LoRes.pdf.

“Real Cost” Raisetrade, www.raisetrade.com/real-cost-of-a-chocolate-bar.html.

“Sorting Beans.” HEXX Chocolate, www.hexxchocolate.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/DSC_2761.jpg.

Stapleton, Susan. “Matt Piekarski Is Las Vegas’ Hottest Chef.” Eater Vegas, Eater Vegas, 14 Feb. 2013, vegas.eater.com/2013/2/14/6479591/matt-piekarski-is-las-vegas-hottest-chef.

Sylla, Ndongo Samba. The Fair Trade Scandal Marketing Poverty to Benefit the Rich. Ohio University Press, 2014.

That’s So Vegas. HEXXY Valentine’s Day. YouTube, YouTube, 9 Feb. 2017, www.youtube.com/watch?v=gS36E7ttE4Y.

Vintage View. “HEXX Chocolate & Confexxions and HEXX Kitchen + Bar.” VintageView, 24 July 2015, vintageview.com/blog/hexx-chocolate-confexxions-and-hexx-kitchen-bar/.

Wessel, Marius, and Quist-Wessel, P.M. Foluke. “Cocoa Production in West Africa, a Review and Analysis of Recent Developments.” NJAS – Wageningen Journal of Life Sciences, vol. 74-75, 2015, pp. 1–7., doi:10.1016/j.njas.2015.09.001.

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

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

TazaPartners

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

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

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

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

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

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

TazaBar

TazaCertifications

 

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Works Cited:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Faulty Fair Trade: The Hidden Realities of Fair Trade Chocolate

In today’s interconnected world, one’s decisions are no longer decisions merely. Every choice is a statement, a declaration of personal values. For example, purchasing a Prius or installing solar panels can reveal your stance regarding the state of the environment. In a similar fashion, purchasing Fair Trade certified chocolate provides an option for chocolate lovers to enjoy a delicious treat while contributing to the well-being of cacao farmers and indirectly shunning “bad” chocolate companies that utilize modern day slave labor. In fact, one research showed that consumers sought the Fair Trade label to a point that they were willing to purchase the same amount of certified Fair Trade chocolate each year, even after an increase in prices (Hainmeuller 23).

Above: Promotion of Fair Trade chocolate for Valentine’s Day. The Fair Trade brand has become a part of consumer decision making.

Thus, the demand for Fair Trade is clearly present. In theory, Fair Trade helps cacao farmers “build better livelihoods for themselves, their families and communities” (Fair Trade Briefing 10). More specifically, Fair Trade aims to stabilize incomes for cacao farmers, whose livelihoods fluctuate in response to the volatility of chocolate prices[1] (Ibid 11). For example, Fair Trade guarantees a “minimum price of $2,000/tonne for Fairtrade certified cocoa beans, or the market price if higher” and works to ensure that “forced labour and child labour are prohibited” (Ibid). According to Fair Trade such measures “[help] producer organisations and farmers weather low and unstable markets by encouraging greater access to financing, relationship building between buyers and sellers, and improved contract terms” (Ibid 17). But is the existing consumer demand for Fair Trade chocolate feeding a truly “fair” system? While the Fair Trade theory is desirable, the realities are much less so. Despite Fair Trade’s efforts, cacao farmers continue to struggle with chocolate pricing, costs of obtaining Fair Trade certification, and ambiguity of Fair Trade standards in cultural contexts.

Screen Shot 2017-05-05 at 8.18.14 PM
The ideal results of Fair Trade Chocolate

Fair Trade’s claim on providing cocoa farmers with better prices has been questioned in recent years. Entrepreneurship lecturers Alex Nicholls and Charlotte Opal point out that returns are “marginal at best, non-existent at worst,” and that “a typical Fair Trade chocolate bar only returns about 4% of its final price to the producer” (Nicholls 29). Seventy% founder Martin Christy, founder of Seventy%[2], stated that “the Fairtrade premium—about $400 per tonne of cacao—is not enough to make much difference to farmers lives and there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence that not much of that actually reaches the real farmers” (Ramsey). Christy adds, “if you do the the maths backwards from a £1.30 100g Fairtrade bar there’s no way, once you’ve taken off all the margins, that the farmer is getting enough to live on” (Ibid).

According to a transnational investigation hosted by the Forum for African Investigative Reporters, farmer testimonials support Christy’s claims. Frédéric Doua—owner of a cocoa farm in the Ivory Coast—revealed that his harvested product often sits in warehouses, waiting for the occasional Fair Trade buyer to come along (Fair 6). According to Doua, he was hoping for “higher prices and welfare premiums,” but instead became “overly dependent on cocoa prices and Fair Trade buyers” (Ibid). This is due to the fact that “as a member of a FAIRTRADE-certified cooperative, one ‘cannot sell beans outside the FAIRTRADE circuit’” (Ibid). In other words, even if Fair Trade can provide better prices (which Nicholls and Christy have shown isn’t necessarily true), they do not guarantee consistent purchases, despite forcing farmers to sacrifice their freedom to choose their buyers.

But restriction on clientele is only one of the many hoops Fair Trade farmers must jump through. In the first place, gaining Fair Trade certification is a challenge for many cocoa producers. Economist Peter Griffiths notes that “the costs of achieving certification are an unavoidable negative impact” (Griffiths 363). Farmers are expected to pay fees for receiving certification (Certification). For a small farming cooperative of just twenty workers, such a fee can run upwards of $5,000 (Ibid). In addition, Fair Trade does not cover the costs incurred by farmers in order for them to meet Fair Trade standards. A major Fair Trade requirement is the use of sustainable agricultural practices (Brodersen). Thus, cocoa producers that use herbicides must switch to manual weeding, which usually results in higher wage costs. In such cases, Fair Trade does not compensate farmers accordingly (Griffiths 363).

Two additional issues exacerbate the cost problem of Fair Trade certification. The first is that Fair Trade is “unable to certify the total production of registered organizations” (Muradian 2033). For example, in 2001 only about 13% of total production was sold as Fair Trade, thereby resulting in “a large gap between potential and actual certified sales” (Ibid). Farmers’ fears of certification costs are usually sated by projected sales, which are based on selling annual production in its entirety as Fair Trade. However, the reality of partial certification sales causes farmers to rarely restore the money used in order to pay for Fair Trade certification in the first place. The second problem is the lack of a strong regulatory force on Fair Trade’s part. Mislabelling—when non Fair Trade products are sold as “fair trade”—is a rampant problem, allowing non-certified products to enjoy the benefits of price premiums (Parry). The global nature of the chocolate market makes label enforcement difficult, which means that real Fair Trade certified farmers aren’t protected. One seller might lie about being “fair trade,” which is unfair for the producers who had to spend their own money to officially earn Fair Trade certification.

An unexpectedly ambiguous source of contention is Fair Trade’s policy on child labour. Simply stated, Fair Trade has zero tolerance for child labour, especially in a production process as risk-heavy as cacao farming (Child). Injuries from the use of tools such as machetes are common, as well as illnesses caused by contact with various agricultural chemicals (Alliot 10). The confusion arises from determining the line between child labor and family labor. According to Fair Trade:

A major cause of the use of child labour is poverty: farmers receive such low prices for their produce that they can’t afford to pay hired workers. Even where farmers want their children to attend school, this is often hampered by poor availability of education in rural areas, and parents not being able to afford to buy schoolbooks or pay teachers. (Fair Trade Briefing 8)

But from farmers’ perspectives, Fair Trade’s child labour regulations are what leads to such “poverty” (Ibid). Without the help of family members, farmers simply cannot harvest enough to pay for their children’s school fees (Etahoben 16). Furthermore, the generalization that any child participating in work—even if that work is the family business—is considered a violation of Fair Trade values seems excessive. A Cameroonian farm owner Dat Williams explained: “When it is time to break the cocoa pods, I collect my children and any family children around at the time and take them to the farm to help. This is considered as part of the household chores children do to help their parents” (Ibid). Etahoben added “It was an exciting experience when we, as kids, were taken to the farms to break the cocoa, suck the seeds and drink the juice from the pods. We considered it part of becoming a responsible family member” (Ibid). While no parent should get away with abusing children and placing them at risk, the issue of child labour requires greater scrutiny and careful judgment so as to prevent unintended harm caused by good intentions.

 

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A child helping with the cacao harvest. The boundaries between familial work and child labour are sometimes unclear.

With Fair Trade no longer being a clear-cut good, and standard chocolate brands already having been criticized for unsustainable business practices, who can consumers turn to? Organizations like Direct Cacao, founded in 2012, are attempting to provide alternatives to the Fair Trade model. Whereas Fair Trade requires cocoa producers to essentially become members of a global organization and work under standardized guidelines, Direct Cacao works directly with small farmers and create specific relationships based on individualized circumstances (Declaration). Without a singular structure and a set of regulations that apply universally, this direct interaction model does run the risk of creating inconsistent standards. In addition, the process of following each producer through their cocoa production and discussing the best price is time-consuming and in many cases, expensive. The time and money costs can limit the range at which direct interaction can have an impact. However, as Direct Cacao points out, this new approach frees farmers from having to meet Fair Trade standards that aren’t universally easy to achieve.

Another alternative to Fair Trade is an alternative trading organization (ATO). ATOs share the goals of the Fair Trade movement, but each ATO takes its own approach to achieving those goals (Abufarha). Alter Eco, a France-based company founded in 1988, is a representative example of an ATO. All of Alter Eco’s chocolate is Fair Trade certified, but the organization also pursues particular principles that are not apparent in the Fair Trade’s broader manifesto. For example, Alter Eco places a special emphasis on gender equity within the chocolate industry (Alter). While the Fair Trade movement has a general mission to improve the well-being of cacao producers, they are not as specific as Alter Eco’s. Because Alter Eco is part of the Fair Trade movement but doesn’t manage every source of Fair Trade cocoa, they are more mobile and better equipped to place more focus on individual producers. In essence, ATOs are a compromise between Fair Trade and Direct Cacao.

It’s important to note that the presence of such alternatives does not necessarily mean that Fair Trade has failed. Fair Trade’s ideology comes from a desire to help people and create a more sustainable world. Despite the problems discussed above, there are plenty of success stories with Fair Trade—as there should be, given its 70-year history. Still, consumers should approach products with a critical mind. It’s not enough to claim one’s participation in ethical consumerism simply by purchasing a Fair Trade chocolate bar. Without proper scrutiny, the Fair Trade brand will quickly fall from being a symbol for change to being a pawn of consumerism, manipulating the consumers’ guilt complex and desire to “feel good.” In the case of Fair Trade, the organization as a whole should work to ensure stable income over higher per unit prices, redirect cocoa premium investments toward children’s education—thereby alleviating parents’ concerns regarding school fees—and implementing an organized regulatory force that effectively prevents others from taking advantage of the Fair Trade label, so as to protect the investment and hard work of farmers toward Fair Trade certification.

Works Cited

“About.” Seventy%. N.p., n.d. Web. 8 May 2017.

Abufarha, Nasser. “Alternative Trade Organizations and the Fair Trade Movement.” Fair World Project. N.p., 2013. Web. 09 May 2017.

Alliot, Christophe, Matthias Cortin, Marion Feige-Muller, and Sylvain Ly. The Dark Side of Chocolate: An Analysis of the Conventional, Sustainable and Fair Trade Cocoa Chains. Rep. N.p.: Bureau for the Appraisal of Societal Impacts and Costs, n.d. Print.

“Alter Eco Nourishing Foodie, Farmer and Field.” Alter Eco Foods. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 May 2017.

Brodersen, Pernille Louise. How Fair is Fairtrade? Thesis. Copenhagen Business School, 2013. Copenhagen: n.p., 2013. Print.

“Certification fees.” FLOCERT. N.p., n.d. Web. 9 May 2017.

“Child and Forced Labour.” Fairtrade International (FLO): Child and Forced Labour. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 May 2017.

“Declaration.” Direct Cacao. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 May 2017.

Etahoben, Chief Bisong, Bjinse Dankert, Janneke Donkerlo, Selay Kouassi, Benjamin Tetteh, and Aniefiok Udonquak. The FAIRTRADE Chocolate Rip-off. Rep. Ed. Evelyn Groenink. N.p.: n.p., 2012. Print.

Griffiths, Peter. “Ethical Objections to Fairtrade.” Journal of Business Ethics 105 (2012): 357-73. Print.

Hainmueller, Jens. Consumer Demand for the Fair Trade Label: Evidence from a Multi-Store Field Experiment. Diss. Stanford U, 2014. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.

Muradian, Roldan, and Wim Pelupessy. “Governing the Coffee Chain: The Role of Voluntary Regulatory Systems.” World Development 33.12 (2005): 2029-044. Web.

Nicholls, Alex, and Charlotte Opal. Fair Trade: Market-Driven Ethical Consumption. London: Sage, 2011. Print.

Parry, Hannah. “Beware the Fairtrade fraudsters: Shoppers warned to watch out for produce with fake labels as criminals attempt to cash in on premiums on ‘ethical’ goods.” Daily Mail Online. Associated Newspapers, 06 May 2015. Web. 9 May 2017.

Ramsey, Dom. “How Fair Is Fairtrade Chocolate?” Chocablog. N.p., 1 Mar. 2013. Web. 8 May 2017.

[1] Some of the causes behind price volatility are: political instability in cacao producing countries, variable weather, and changes in supply and demand (Fair Trade Briefing 5)

[2] Seventy% is an organization founded in 2001 whose aim is “to raise awareness of the quality and origin of the chocolate we eat” (About)

Tackling Terroir in Chocolate

For this blogpost, I was curious to explore the idea of terroir as it pertains to chocolate. “Terroir” is, literally, the French word for soil or land and can be defined as “the conditions in which a food is grown or produced and that give the food its unique characteristics.” [i]  According to Kristy Leissle, “cocoa beans, like wine grapes, produce distinct flavors depending on strain and terroir, and showcasing that flavor is the goal of single origin chocolate.” [ii]

Of course, as discussed throughout our chocolate class (Karla Martin, personal communication) the final taste of chocolate is determined by many factors. The taste can be influenced by the type of cacao and where it is grown but can also be influenced by the type of cacao tree, how the cacao beans are fermented and dried and how it is processed. How is it roasted? Is it conched and for how long? Are other ingredients added?  A description of the kinds of factors that influence chocolate flavor can be found here: [iii]  But despite those questions, I was curious to explore what differences we would taste in chocolate bars whose beans were sourced from different countries.

So I took myself off to Whole Foods in Dedham – one of the largest Whole Foods I have ever visited. There I faced an enormous and bewildering display of chocolate: 3 full banks of shelves – ½ of an entire aisle – entirely devoted to chocolate, none of it mass market. I employed the following criteria to restrict my choices:

  • Must be at least 70% chocolate
  • No added ingredients other than sweetener, vanilla, emulsifier
  • Package must state the cacao is sourced from a certain geographic area.

I ended up with 7 bars of chocolate to taste, from 6 different areas: Ghana, Dominican Republic Madegascar, Tanzania, Haiti, and Ecuador. Only one was made in the country of origin. The others were produced in Germany, Massachusetts, Belgium, and Switzerland.

What I found at Whole Foods bears out Leissle’s statement that even though the majority of the world’s cocoa comes from West Africa, most single single origin chocolate bars are sourced from other regions. She suggests that this is likely because the quality of West African chocolate is often not high. The one bar I found from West Africa was from Ghana. Ghanaian chocolate, which is regulated by a national Cocoa Board is considered the best of the West African chocolate. (Leissle). Tight regulation may be the reason that it is higher quality, but it can also make it difficult for manufacturers to source enough chocolate from Ghana to create single-origin bars. Another issue with West African chocolate is that it is often tainted in the public mind by allegations of child and slave labor, which could affect sales.

Interestingly, all of these chocolates bore a special certification of one kind or another, indicating that the buyer was not just buying chocolate to eat, but also contributing to social good with the purchase. Certifications included Fair trade, Fair for life, direct trade, whole trade.  As Ndongo S. Sylla suggests in his critique of Fair Trade, it is as if “poverty itself has become a commodity. Through this label, it is the idea and the approach that are being sold…The irony is that the new advocates of the poor unknowingly work for the rich, being themselves part of this category.” [iv] The packaging suggests that with your purchase you have become a “compassionate consumer” as Martin and Sampeck [v] label it, and so you can feel good about yourself because you are meeting the needs of others when you spend your money, often justifying a higher price. Of course, one doesn’t know how much of that premium actually reaches the farmer. It’s almost a side benefit to one’s good work in buying the chocolate, that it may also be delicious.

All but two of the bars were organic, and this also seems to play into the idea of doing good with your dollars. The packaging materials themselves are organic-looking/earthy-crunchy with non-shiny paper and arty graphics. Julie Guthman, in her history of the development of organic salad mix (“yuppie chow”), says “eating organic salad mix connoted a political action in its own right, legitimizing a practice that few could afford.”[vi] This notion of eating as a political action could also be applied to organic chocolate. However, as Williams and Eber point out in Raising the Bar [vii], organic chocolate isn’t necessarily the best chocolate. Furthermore, organic certification is an expensive proposition for a small cocoa farmer because the land must come out of production for 3 years and getting a certificate costs money. The premium that organic chocolate can demand tends not to come to the farmer. Furthermore, much cocoa actually is in essence organic, though not certified as such, because many farmers cannot afford pesticides. So how much good are you really doing by buying organic chocolate?

For this project, I convened an after-dinner tasting panel of 3 foodies: myself (a prolific cook-gardener), my friend Emily (an artist/social worker who generally prefers milk chocolate to dark chocolate), and my husband John (a field engineer by day and musician/poet in the off hours). We discussed a common convention of tasting, guided by Barb Stuckey’s article on How the Pros Taste. [viii] She suggests the importance of using other senses in tasting, such as sight, smell, taste, and texture or mouth feel. We placed each sample on a white plate to judge the the color, slowly sniffed it to sense the aroma, snapped it with our teeth to judge crispness, and then placed it on our tongue to savor slowly and see what flavors emerged. We sampled in order of lightest (70%) to darkest (85%). After sampling each, we took a look at the package to see what information we could glean. Our method of palate cleansing after each taste was perhaps unorthodox, but delicious: water, plain crackers, and red wine that had been aged in bourbon barrels.

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THE TASTING:

Divine 70% “Intensely Rich” chocolate. Ghana     IMG_7855

Color: very dark brown. Aroma: rich and lovely. Snap: Nice, crisp.

Savoring notes: we found it sweet but not overly so. Delicious. You could taste the vanilla. It melted slowly with a lingering flavor and was very smooth. John, our poet, said he could taste the savannah. The finish was very earthy. However, at the end it felt a bit chalky and dry, as if it sucked the moisture out of one’s mouth. We decided to call this kind of finish “sere.”  “Sere” is defined as dry or arid. [ix]

Judgment: We all liked this chocolate very much at first taste, though we weren’t fond of the sere finish.

Ingredient %: 70% cacao. 19g fat, 11 g sugar.   Ingredients: cocoa mass, sugar, cocoa butter, sunflower lecithin, vanilla.

Certifications: Non gmo project, halal, fairtrade.

Price: $3.00 for 3.5 oz. (It was on sale; normally $3.99).

Website here

Other Notes:  Divine is made with cocoa beans from a co-op of small-holder farmers in Ghana and is produced in Germany. The package is decorated with Adinkra symbols which are traditional West African motifs. The inside of the package congratulates the buyer for supporting cocoa farmers and displays the photograph of an individual cocoa farmer and tells her story.  It also displays the AYA symbol, representing Endurance and Peaceful Coexistence. It feels like you are invited into the community of cocoa farmers by purchasing this chocolate.

Taza Chocolates 70% stone ground chocolate. “perfectly unrefined” Dominican Republic

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Color: less dark and rich looking than the Divine. Aroma: less intense than Divine, but nice. Less crisp than Divine.

Savoring notes: Tasted sweeter than Divine and the initial taste was less intense at the start. Not buttery and smooth but textural, (unsurprising since it is stone ground and unconched.) Very pleasant to savor, though the texture was distracting. Overall a simpler taste than the Divine. The finish was also less dry (sere) at the end.

Judgment: We all thought this chocolate was o.k., but not a favorite, mostly because of the grittiness and lack of complexity.

Ingredient %: 70% cacao. 14 g. fat, 11 g. sugar.  Ingredients: organic cacao beans, organic cane sugar, organic cocoa butter, organic vanilla beans.

Certifications: USDA Organic, non GMO project, Gluten Free, Vegan, Direct Trade

Price: $4.75, 2.5 oz.

Website here

Other notes: Packaging is simple non glossy paper, quite attractive. It makes a big point of being unrefined and minimally processed with bold flavor and texture. It is made in Somerville, MA

Madecasse, Madagascar.  70% heirloom Madagascar cocoa, “bright with a fruity finish.”

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Color: not as dark as the first two. Aroma: strong, rich and deep. You could almost taste the chocolate as you smelled it. A reasonable snap.

Savoring notes: A bit granular. Not as smooth as the divine. Lingering, complex flavor. Our poet musician called it “beautiful birds” and then described the taste as “symphonic” and “well-orchestrated.” The finish had a little vanilla, it was luscious all the way through, and there was no chalky dryness or “sere” quality at the end.

Judgment: Our favorite so far.

Ingredient %: Fat 16 g, Sugar 10 g.   Ingredients: cocoa beans, sugar, cocoa butter, sunflower lecithin, natural vanilla.

Certifications: Fair Trade, Fair for life.

Price: $4.50 for 2.64 oz.

Website here

Other notes:  The packaging is lovely. Simple yet colorful with a drawing of an opened cocoa pod (revealing the white flesh and the cocoa beans), nestled with leaves, cocoa beans and pieces of chocolate bar. On the back, a map of Africa/Madagascar and the story of the chocolate. Madecasse was started by peace corps volunteers in Madagascar who decided to make chocolate “as a vehicle for social impact.” This bar is not only sourced from Madegascar, it is made there. More than some of the other packaging, this bar seemed to stress the deliciousness of the chocolate, as much as their mission.

Whole Foods 72% “Tanzania Schoolhouse Project Cacao.”

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Color: quite dark, as dark as the divine chocolate. Aroma: rich. Bite: soft.

Savoring notes:  Smooth and delicious. No “sere” finish at the end. We couldn’t say exactly what we were tasting…just that it was delicious.

Judgment: The favorite of Emily, the person who typically doesn’t like dark chocolate. John and I still preferred Madecasse, though we did enjoy this bar.

Ingredient %: 17 g fat and 10 g of sugar.  Ingredients: Organic chocolate liquor, organic cane sugar, organic cocoa butter. No lecithin and no vanilla.

Certifications: vegetarian, USDA organic, Kosher, Whole trade

Price: $6.00 for 3.5 oz.

No website.

Other notes:  Somehow we didn’t expect this to taste good – perhaps because it seemed to be more about supporting Tanzanian schoolhouses and doing “good works” and less about the chocolate. And perhaps because it was made by the big business of Whole Foods. The packaging wasn’t as appealingly earthy/arty as the others. It was glossier, with photographs of Tanzanian people and cocoa trees rather than compelling graphics. This bar is made in Belgium. We were also surprised to find that we didn’t miss the vanilla in this bar. Interestingly, the Tanzania schoolhouse Project website link which describes their charitable projects makes no mention of this chocolate. The packaging also doesn’t indicate what amount of proceeds are donated to the project. My cynical side thinks Whole Foods may be using the Tanzanian project as a marketing tool, since there is so little transparency about what they are really doing in Tanzania.

Apotheker’s “classic dark”, bee-sweetened 76% chocolate, Dominican Republic.

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Color: This chocolate was the darkest so far. Aroma: wonderful – very rich. Bite: very soft.

Savoring notes: The honey taste was predominant at first and the chocolate tasted very different from the other ones. Although the texture was not smooth, it was enjoyable, more so than the grittiness of the Taza. The taste felt slow to open up, perhaps because it was less sweet, but when it did open was nice. The honey taste lingered throughout and the finish had no “sere” at all. This was definitely a different kind of chocolate and we found it enjoyable.

Ingredient %: 18 g fat, 6g of sugar.  Ingredients: Organic Cacao liquor, organic cacao butter, organic raw honey, sunflower lecithin, organic vanilla beans.

Certifications and claims: direct trade, family owned, gluten, dairy and soy free, single origin, biodynamic, hand-crafted.

Price: $6.50 for 2.5 oz.

Website here

Other notes: The package graphics and the name hint at being like something from an apothecary or a general store, like it might be good for you. It has an old-fashioned, early 20 century look that might draw you in on the basis of sentimentality. It also proclaims in large letters that it is organic raw honey sweetened – so it can draw in people who are drawn to health foods. This bar is made in Dorchester, MA by a husband/wife team who also make soaps, hot cocoa, and bee-sweetened mallows. This was our second bar made with Dominican cocoa and quite different from the first.

Taza “perfectly unrefined” 84% Dark chocolate, sourced from Haiti.

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Color: quite dark. Aroma: very earthy and perhaps a little sharp. Bite: hard but not crisp

Savoring notes: Like the other Taza bar, this was granular, but the texture was almost sandy. It had a very earthy taste, very simple, almost primitive. Emily commented that it was more like a food than a dessert. It finished with a fruity taste.

Judgment: We loved the flavor that opened when we savored a piece of this bar, but we were put off by the grittiness.

Ingredient %: 13 g fat, 6 g sugar.  Ingredients: cacao beans and cane sugar

Certifications and claims: organic direct trade, non gmo, gluten free, dairy soy and vegan free

Price: $7.50 for 2.5 oz.

Website here

Other notes: the packaging of this bar is similar to that of the Taza Dominican bar. It is also made in Somerville. The package makes note that Taza is the first U.S. chocolate maker to source certified USDA organic cacao from Haiti.

Alter Eco, “dark blackout” 85% dark chocolate, from Peru.

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Color: quite dark. Aroma: strong and vegetal, reminiscent of tobacco. Snap: crisp.

Savoring notes: The flavor was very slow to open – perhaps because it had less sugar. The taste was a little acidic. The texture was smooth, waxy at the start. It had a chalky, “sere” finish.

Judgment: Meh. We didn’t care for this chocolate very much.

Ingredient %: 22 g fat, 6 g sugar.  Ingredients: cacao beans, cocoa butter, raw sugar, vanilla beans

Certifications: USDA Organic, Fair trade, gluten free, non gmo.

Price: $3.99 for 2.82 oz.

Website here

Other notes: packaging is the least glossy of all – very recycled looking. There is a lot of comment on the inside of the packaging about their mission: sustainability, replacing coca crops with cacao crops and the importance of cocoa cooperatives and a Carbon Zero reforestation project, along with photographs of people who are presumably cacao farmers. Clearly the intent is to let you know that by buying this chocolate you are doing good. Too bad we didn’t like the taste of it.

Last thoughts on this experience

We were all surprised by how interesting – and enjoyable – it was to use so many senses in experiencing each chocolate bar. Taking the time to savor revealed so many nuances. Emily, who prefers milk chocolate, actually enjoyed most of the bars when she took the time to smell and consider each sample and slowly let it melt in her mouth. We found ourselves with questions about the reasons for the differences in taste: what was due to how the chocolate was processed, how much was terroir, how much was the power of suggestion in packaging, how much was due to the percentage – or type – of ingredients.

There are many avenues for further investigation. For instance, we could compare a number of different chocolates sourced from one region (if we could find them). We could compare chocolates produced with different methods – for instance a variety of unconched chocolates. We could investigate the claims different companies make about bettering the lives of farmers or the environment or contributing to other good causes. How much do they actually do and contribute and how much of the lingo is an attempt to reel in the compassionate consumer by convincing them they are doing good with their consumer dollars? I look forward to  exploring these ideas in future tastings with friends.

Sources Consulted:

[i] Dictionary.com, http://www.dictionary.com/browse/terroir.

[ii] Leissle, Kristy, “Invisible West Africa: The Politics of Single Origin Chocolate,” Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture. 2013. 13:3, pp, 22-31.

[iii] Chocolate Review, Chocolatereview.com.au, accessed May 9, 2017.

[iv] Sylla, Ndongo S., The Fair Trade Scandal: Marketing Poverty to Benefit the Rich. 2014. Athens, Ohio University Press.

[v] Martin, Carla D. and Kathryn E. Sampek, The Bitter and Sweet of Chocolate in Europe. Doi: 10.18030/SOCIO.HU.2015EN.37.

[vi] Guthman, Julie, “Fast Food/Organic Food: Reflexive Tastes and the Making of “Yuppie Chow” in Counihan, Carole and Penny van Esterik, ed., Food and Culture. 2013. New York: Routledge.

[vii] Williams, Pan and Jim Eber, Raising the Bar: The Future of Fine Chocolate. 2012. Vancouver, BC: Wilmor Publishing Corporation.

[viii] Stuckey, Barb, “How the Pros Taste,” in Taste What You’re Missing: The Passionate Eater’s Guide to Why Good Food Tastes Good. 2012. New York: Free Press.

[ix] Mirriam Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/sere, Accessed May 9, 2017.

Chocolate Lessons: Knowledge Gleaned from Chocolate Bars Sold in the Natural Foods Aisle

On average, Americans consume 12 pounds of chocolate per person each year or a little less than a quarter pound of chocolate per week. A typical chocolate bar ranges from 1.5-3.5 ounces. Therefore, 12 pounds of chocolate equates to enjoying 55-128 chocolate bars (depending on its size) per year! It is safe to say, for better or for worse, chocolate has become an integral part of the American diet.

Historically, chocolate was consumed for medicinal purposes, primarily as a source of nourishment and energy. Today, the developed world struggles with being simultaneously over nourished and malnourished from an imbalanced diet. Nevertheless, chocolate health claims persist, usually in reference to darker chocolates. Beneficial properties of cocoa include antioxidant, cardiovascular, and psychological enhancement, which are linked to its polyphenol, flavanol, and caffeine content (Castell, Pérez-Cano, and Bisson, 2013). These health claims are not present on chocolate bar labels, though.

In the last couple of decades, food packaging has actually become quite informationally dense. How can you sift through all of the information on chocolate labels to know what’s really important? Additionally, what can we learn from a chocolate bar’s packaging, besides its nutritional content? The goal of this blog post is to help decipher the various symbols, certification meanings, and key words that appear on chocolate wrappers.

Ultimately, you, as the consumer, have to decide what is important to you and what you are looking for in your chocolate purchases, not only in terms of taste but also social responsibility. Equipping yourself with the knowledge to know what to look for, and what symbols, certifications, and other words on chocolate packages mean, makes informed chocolate purchases a much smoother process and ensures you have the best chocolate buying experience possible. Before chocolate tasting can become embodied knowledge, it requires repetition in order to pick up on flavor nuances of single origin chocolate or to be able to tell if a chocolate bar was made with over-roasted cacao beans. In the same way, learning the stories and processes behind the chocolate you are eating requires some research, occasionally beyond the label itself.

I studied the chocolate bars in the natural foods aisle of a Stop & Shop grocery store in the greater Boston area to see what information could be gleaned from the chocolate labels within this section. I did not include enrobed chocolate candies within this aisle, “regular” chocolate bars (i.e., Hershey’s) in the main candy aisle or those present in the checkout lanes. I chose to focus on the chocolate bars within the natural foods aisle because, typically, these brands offer more information and stories about cacao procurement, processing, and its impact on people or the environment, whereas chocolate produced by most Big Five brands only provide nutritional information on the back of the wrapper. The Big Five chocolate brands include well-known companies: Hershey, Mars, Cadbury, Nestle, and Ferrero (Allen, 2010).

The type of consumer who shops for chocolate in the natural foods aisle is most likely not just looking for a sugar fix because there are cheaper ways to meet that need. The intended audience includes individuals who may be interested in supporting social or environmental causes, and who are probably health conscious, even though it is still chocolate. Additionally, he or she may have a sophisticated or informed palate, and prefer quality chocolate with nuanced flavors. The natural foods aisle typically offers products that are slightly more expensive than its conventional counterparts, so the consumer is not making his or her choice of chocolate based solely on price point. Rather, the consumer possibly has a higher disposable income and is able to spend two or three times as much money on a chocolate bar from this section than on chocolate from one of the large chocolate corporations previously mentioned.

The natural foods aisle in Stop & Shop offers eight different brands of chocolate bars: Chocolove XOXOX, Green & Black’s, Divine, Theo, TCHO, LILY’s, Endangered Species Chocolate, and Alter Eco. These bars are being sold for $2.50-$3.99, with Chocolove XOXOX being the cheapest because it was on sale. Divine, LILY’s, and Alter Eco lands at the upper end of the options. The TCHO 70% dark chocolate bar usually retails for $4.29, but happened to be on sale. Still, these are moderately priced “good” chocolate bars compared to other specialty chocolate companies and retailers who sell their bars for about double the price. The juxtaposition of these brands, with a $1.00 (or less) Hershey’s chocolate bar, provides an interesting comparison in both price and taste.

The eight brands offer bars in a variety of flavors ranging from 34% milk chocolate to 85% dark chocolate with the option of added fruit or nut pieces. The white chocolate selection was nonexistent in this section at this particular grocery store. However, just for informational purposes, one brand (outside of the eight focused on here) does contribute a white chocolate peanut butter cup.

Just a few of the brands provide chocolate bars made from single origin cacao, which might be a more common provision at specialty retail stores. Both TCHO and Divine use Ghanaian cacao, and Alter Eco sources its cacao beans from Ecuador. Chocolove XOXOX states on the back of the wrapper that their Belgian chocolate bars are crafted with African cocoa beans. This somewhat vague statement only alludes to the fact that their beans do not come from Central or South America, or Southeast Asia but could be sourced from one or more of the cacao producing countries within the large continent of Africa. Additionally, Green & Black’s credits Trinitario cacao beans for giving their chocolate a rich and unique flavor profile. Trinitario cacao beans are thought to embody the best qualities of its genetic parents, the Criollo and Forastero varieties, with the hybrid cacao being both hardy and possessing a nice flavor profile (Prisilla, 2009). Likewise, the purpose of brands specifying single origin or the use of a single cacao variety suggests an increase in quality or flavor characteristics that add value to the end product. Thus, the price of these types of bars is usually slightly higher compared to mixed bean origin or variety, and especially compared to bulk cacao.

There are a few things that stand out upon taking a closer look at the packages. First, Alter Eco is the only brand that uses a cardboard packaging to house its chocolate. All of the other brands wrap their bars in a glossy paper. In both cases, the chocolate is likely sealed in foil before receiving either the glossy paper or cardboard outer wrapper. While the outer cardboard layer looks visually appealing and feels nice to the touch, it also makes the bar appear larger than it actually is. The 2.8 ounce Alter Eco chocolate bar looks bigger than the 3 ounce LILY’S bar sitting next to it on the shelf, as the image shows below. Thus, most consumers probably believe they are purchasing a larger chocolate bar if they do not read the front of the package and realize the chocolate bar is smaller by weight than some other options.

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Alter Eco 2.8 ounce chocolate bar

Like several other brands, Theo includes a brief description about the company and their procurement and processing practices on the back of the package. Here, Theo shares it is a bean to bar chocolate company, which means the company purchases the fermented and dried cacao beans, and then carries out each of the remaining processing steps (about 10) from roasting to packaging, according to their unique preferences. Thus, the company oversees the entire chocolate making process and can tweak each batch according to its needs and the desired outcome, making it a true craft.

Green & Black’s label does not readily offer information about the company’s processing practices other than it uses fair trade and organic ingredients. Interestingly, the backside of the label does say Mondelez Global LLC distributes Green & Black’s chocolate bars. Mondelez is one of the largest global snack food companies and now owns Cadbury, one of the Big Five chocolate companies. Last year, Mondelez even attempted to acquire the Hershey Company, but Hershey declined the offer (Bukhari, 2017). Thus, Mondelez is a significant player within the global food system. This association alone may deter some consumers from purchasing Green & Black’s chocolate.

Another unexpected but perhaps pioneering find is LILY’s, whose chocolate bars are sweetened with the natural sweetener, Stevia, and erythritol, a sugar alcohol. Additionally, LILY’s adds inulin, a fiber commonly used as a bulking agent. These are not traditional chocolate bar ingredients, but perhaps the fewer calories and grams of sugar allow individuals with specific dietary restrictions to still purchase fair trade chocolate. The bar also boasts that it is still “100% indulgent.”

Before dissecting the chocolate bars’ various certifications, I want to look at Divine’s commitment to its producers. In the West, chocolate consumption has long been feminized, associated with temptation and indulgence (Robertson, 2009). Women are important as both chocolate consumers and producers, something Divine has recognized. The two images above depict Divine’s pledge to support the female cacao farmers within Kuapa Kokoo (cocoa co-operative) in Ghana and make sure their voices are heard. In doing so, these female business owners are positioned as powerful actors within the cacao and chocolate industries, rather than being viewed as exploited workers in an underdeveloped country (Leissle, 2012). This has significant implications not only for the female producers, but also culturally, and for future standards within the chocolate industry.

This final section includes a brief discussion on food certifications. Fair trade certification is the most popular certification that the eight brands feature. Other certifications that appear on the chocolate wrappers include USDA Organic, Non-GMO Verified, Certified Gluten-Free, Certified Vegan, Kosher (dairy), Fair for Life, and rBST free. I was surprised I did not find the UTZ Certified symbol on any of the chocolate bars, since UTZ is the most common cacao certification related to sustainable farming practices.

Fair trade certifications can be represented in a variety of ways depending on the party providing the certification. The images above show several different certifications present on the different brands’ packaging that symbolize the employment of fair trade practices. In order for a product to be labeled “fair trade,” all members of the processing chain (including producers) must pay into the fair trade system. As a result, producers are promised better trading conditions including long term relationships with buyers, garner presumably higher wages, have better working conditions, and live overall improved lives. However, many question whether this system is as transformative as it claims to be. The terms “fair trade” and “sustainable” have become ubiquitous, and the commodification of the terms also threatens their legitimacy (Sylla, 2014).

When thinking about food certifications, it is important to remember these certifications are neither all encompassing nor meant to solve all social or environmental issues with one label. Companies are now starting to launch their own certifications rather than going through a third party certification. It will be up to the individual company to define the criteria for “fair” or “sustainable,” or any new term it deems important. Whole Foods already uses its “Whole Trade Certified” label. Consequently, continuing to be an educated consumer will be extremely imperative in order to know what the certifications represent and what the companies stand for. It is unclear whether these self-certifications will be viewed as legitimate certifications or just add to the confusion many consumers feel when reading food labels.

While the objective of self-certification is to offer more affordable fair trade items to consumers, it raises the question of whether that should be the ultimate goal of selling fair trade products, and what the tradeoffs are for making fair trade more affordable and part of the mainstream? If large food conglomerates begin to self-regulate certifications, rather than paying third party companies, who is to say the consumer will actual benefit from the money saved? Historically, when the price of goods has dropped, large corporations scoop up the difference and pocket the extra profits, rather than decreasing the cost for the consumer (Albrittion, 2013). However, consumers still have the power to vote with their dollars.

The next time you peruse the chocolate selection within a store, feel empowered to study the information provided on the packaging (and conduct further research if needed) rather than being overwhelmed by various symbols and industry jargon.

 

**All images were taken by the author

 

Works Cited

Albritton, Robert. 2013. “Between Obesity And Hunger: The Capitalist Food Industry”. In Food And Culture: A Reader, 3rd ed., 342-352. New York: Routledge.

Allen, Lawrence L. 2010. Chocolate Fortunes: The Battle For The Hearts, Minds, And Wallets Of China’s Consumers. New York: American Management Association.

Bukhari, Jeff. 2017. “Why Investors Are Bingeing On Snack-Maker Mondelez”. Fortune.Com. http://fortune.com/2017/02/22/why-investors-are-bingeing-on-snack-maker-mondelez/.

Castell, Margarida, Francisco Jose Pérez-Cano, and Jean-François Bisson. 2013. “Clinical Benefits Of Cocoa: A Review”. In Chocolate In Health And Nutrition, 1st ed., 265-276. Humana Press.

Leissle, Kristy. 2012. “Cosmopolitan Cocoa Farmers: Refashioning Africa in Divine Chocolate Advertisements.” Journal of African Cultural Studies 24 (2): 121-139. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13696815.2012.736194

Prisilla, Maricel E. 2009. The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural and Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. 1st ed. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press.

Robertson, Emma. 2009. Chocolate, Women, and Empire: A Social and Cultural History. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Sylla, Ndongo Samba. 2014. The Fair Trade Scandal: Marketing Poverty To Benefit The Rich. 1st ed. Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press.

Two Sides Of The Chocolate Coin

While American and European consumers associate chocolate with romance, desserts, and luxury, the disparity between end product consumer and cacao producer is significant. One perspective is that northern consumers provide self-agency and opportunity through a free market economic exchange in an environment that provides few opportunities. While western Africa currently provides 75% of the world’s cacao (Coe &Coe, 2013) the African cacao grower has to rely solely on northern purchasers as they lack the economic resources to purchase, manufacture, or market their product. With labor as their only agency, the African cacao grower is in a disadvantaged position in the food production paradigm despite their high product yield. Corporate complicity in unethical labor, slave legacy that has left southern producers turning to raw materials for economic survival, and consumer apathy created by distance from the food supply chain have culminated in producing very opposing experiences for the cacao supplier and the chocolate consumer.

Success in Cacao

With the steady increase of cacao prices, the cacao-growing region of western Africa has seen steady socioeconomic growth in the industry for decades. According to “CNN Freedom Project,” an organization focused on labor practices worldwide, in 2008-2009 western Africa supplied more than 75% of the world’s chocolate, while Europeans and North Americans were consuming a roughly equal amount (2012). In their book Cocoa in Ghana: Shaping the Success of An Economy, Shashi Kolavalli, and Marcella Vigneri observe the steady increase of cacao prices have allowed for significant improvement via more investment in production yields through transport and infrastructure. (2012). Kolavalli and Vigneri further observe that so lucrative is the cacao production in Ghana  that positive socioeconomic influences of the crop, and improvement in western Africa’s poverty, have been significant by stating,

“economic growth has been solid, averaging more than 5 percent since 2001 and reaching 6 percent in 2005–06. Coupled with the effects of greater access to education, health services, and land ownership (World Bank 2008), this rate of growth has contributed to the near halving of the national poverty rate since the beginning of the 1990s, from 51.7 percent in 1991/92 to 28.5 percent in 2005/06” (p. 205).

For cacao growing countries in Africa, maintaining this resource is critical to prevent sliding backward economically in an already impoverished environment.

Who is Eating All the Chocolate?

According to CNN’s freedom project, northern countries are driving the demand for chocolate. In this breakdown for 2008-09, Europeans and North Americans were responsible for eating an equal amount of western Africa’s entire production, which is 75% annually of the world supply. In simple terms, if you live in the northern hemisphere there is a good chance you are consuming on average between 9 to 24 lbs. of chocolate per year. (Satioquia-Tan, J. 2015)

hershey27s_chocolates_in_store
The Swiss eat 24 lbs. of chocolate per person, per year. That’s roughly equivalent to eating half of a Hershey bar every day for one year (Maxim75, 2016)

World consumption of cocoa: 2008/09
Europe – 49.32%
North America – 24.22% (United States only – 20.19%)
Asia and Oceania – 14.49%
South America – 8.68%
Africa – 3.28%

The demand from northern consumers continues to increase steadily. In his paper, Cocoa production in West Africa, a review and analysis of recent developments, Marius Wessel projects necessary agricultural growth for western Africa to maintain its current supply when he states, “The International Cocoa Organization (ICCO) forecasts a 10 percent increase in the world cocoa production and a 25 percent increase of the cocoa price in the next decade. … If West Africa wishes to maintain its present world market share a 10 percent increase in production is needed in the next decade” (Wessel, M., 2015). This is significant in that considerable investment will be required to meet the growing demand, which in turn will offer more employment from land developing to harvesting; boosting the economy even further. The staggering contrast of chocolate consumption between northern consumers and southern producers however, in relation to race and geography is no accident.

A History of Disconnection

After the chocolate drink of Mesoamericans made it to Europe via Spanish colonists in the 16th century, popularity of the drink in Europe began to rise. When Spanish colonists exhausted the Mesoamerican population as a resource for labor, they turned to the middle passage across the Atlantic to Africa for labor to meet the demand (Coe & Coe, 2013). On a continent that functioned tribally with no formal governments, it was quite easy to enslave people into labor for the remainder of their life, which on average due to hard labor and dismal living conditions was about 7 to 8 years after enslavement (Coe & Coe, 2013). This of course, required massive quantities of slaves, which Africa had in abundance. In his book Sweetness and Power Sidney Mintz observes that by the 18th century, the European lower proletariat was adopting the culinary habits of the aristocracy as a way of establishing equality for people in lower social stations (p.181, 1986). The biggest promoter of chocolate consumption for the masses According to Coe & Coe in their book A True History of Chocolate was the industrial revolution when they state,

menier_chocolate_factory
The Menier Chocolate factory in Paris, France. Mechanized in 1830, and shortly after became France’s largest chocolate supplier. (Expressing Yourself, 2009)

“The Industrial Revolution, which changed chocolate from a costly drink to cheap food, [was] the driving force in this metamorphosis” (Coe & Coe, p. 232, 2013).

Before the industrial revolution the use of people from southern countries as a commodity for labor separated them from society and cultural habits of northern countries. Even had they wished to adopt the habits of their masters, there was no means or opportunity as a consumer base. Having never been ‘folded in” to European culture, they were completely disenfranchised as a chocolate consumer base. The exclusion of southern laborers and slaves from society as citizens, also found them ignored by the industrial revolution; leaving them to lag behind economically and industrially, unable to participate as consumers of chocolate.

State of Labor Today

After northern consumers developed a social conscience for disenfranchised populations and impoverished nations, one might be tempted to think everything has changed, but it has not. Still lagging from being on the outside of the industrial revolution, Cacao farming practices have changed little in the last hundred years. In villages of working adults there is a complete disconnect to their labor once it leaves the village. In her book Bitter Chocolate, Carol Off  tells of a village where all but the chief were ignorant of where the cacao went, none knew how it was used, and only one had ever tasted chocolate. Micheal and Sophie Coe argue that it is not only adults and families working, but that millions of children are trafficked and forced into slavery from neighboring countries (Coe & Coe, 2013). Off supports this claim by observing that slavery is alive and well  particularly in the Ivory Coast where child slavery is so common, it is a sub-industry of cacao with its own economy, as farmers finance networks to traffic children for forced labor who then suffer from starvation, disease and physical abuse while working on cacao farms (Off, C. 2006). While numbers of child slavery are at times sketchy and often disputed, no one denies it exists (Off, C. 2006).

flickr_-_dfid_-_uk_department_for_international_development_-_children_pictured_at_a_unhcr_food_distribution_point_in_liberia
Children from the Ivory Coast. Due to extreme poverty many children seek out work in cacao only to be abducted and worked as slaves. (DFID, 2011)

Consumers Grow Distant

sweets_vending_machine_window
The consumer vending machine selling prepacked processed chocolate adding a further degree of separation from labor to consumer. (Whitehouse, P. 2007)

While slaves grow cacao, consumers grow distant. Though southern laborers have not advanced industrially, this is not the case for northern consumers. The industrialization of food completely changed northern food culture. Through mechanization, transport, and refrigeration, the distance between consumer and food source has grown. Mechanization produced food en mass cheaply, allowing access to goods that were more accommodating to lower budgets, while transport and refrigeration allowed food to travel further than it had before. (Counihan & Van Esterik, 2013) The biggest game changer in food culture was the mechanization of canning and preservation. With better preservation, food sources began to change, ingredients began change, and soon we had processed and prepackaged food embraced by women everywhere for freeing their time and labor (Counihan & Van Esterik, 81-82, 2013). After two or three generations of eating processed food transported from faraway places, with lists of ingredients that are rarely inspected, consumers today know very little about their food, or even what it contains. They are not unlike their southern counterparts in this way who do not know where cacao goes, or what its use is after it leaves the village.

 

Distance Creates Apathy

Capitalist consumerism breeds competition, creating incentive to keep the consumer

cocoa_farming_in_ghana
Cacao farmer in Ghana with his crop before it is prepared and bagged to be sent to manufacturers to make chocolate. (Rberchie, 2014)

happy. As modern chocolate consumers in the north are far more concerned with inclusiveness, fair treatment, and food activism than previous generations, the power of the purchase is seemingly an easy solution to the poor working conditions and poverty that are still prevalent in the cacao industry despite its economic growth. Far removed from the supply chain, unaware consumers continue to purchase due to lack of transparency in food product, and manufacturers remain complicit in the absence of financial threat. Manufacturers however also have limited power. Even with strict purchasing policies, and government regulation it is still difficult to know if a supplier is using slaves without constant physical inspections (Martin, C. 2017), and blame shifts all along the supply chain making it easy for manufacturers to be complicit, and consumers to remain uninformed.  Lack of transparency in food sourcing, blame shifting in the industry, and distance from food sources, culminate to create a culture of apathetic food consumers.

How It All Comes Together

The dichotomy between cacao consumer and producer today began with early Europeans and European colonists who failed to view southern peoples as sovereign and instead as a voiceless labor resource. Excluded from global interaction, Southern populations failed to participate in cultural trends, shifts, and innovations that were transforming society and industry elsewhere. Non-participation in the industrial revolution left southern continents behind in what would become a global economy with no agency for economic competition; turning to natural resources and labor for economic survival in a state somewhere between hunting and gathering and industry with little opportunity for growth. While mechanization followed by technology has created decadence in northern populations as compared to southern countries, northern consumers are today ignorant of their food supply chain because of these advancements, and unaware of the poverty and labor practices of those supplying it. Lack of transparency in food products add to this distance, and northern Chocolate manufactures as well as governments are complicit in unethical labor practices, shifting blame along the food supply chain leaving those who are aware unsure of who to even hold accountable (Martin, C. 2017). While northern consumers today have more of a social conscience than their ancestors, the opposing lifestyles of the chocolate consumer and the cacao laborer have failed to come closer together over the last several hundred years due to a legacy of “othering,” and complicit corporate interests protecting their revenue stream that has created an apathetic northern food culture.

Where We Go From Here

Consumer awareness is growing. Projects like Fair Trade, CNN Project Freedom, End Slavery Now, Slave Free Chocolate etc., have been working hard to inform the public. Many consumers now seek out fair trade products when available, and appear willing to pay more for ethical practices. In their paper, Consumer Demand for the Fair Trade Label: Evidence from a Multi-Store Field Experiment ,  Hainmueller, Hiscox, & Seguiera state,

“Total sales of Fair Trade goods in the United States in 2011 amounted to roughly $1.4 billion (FLO 2012) … But the average annual rate of growth in U.S. sales of Fair Trade certified goods was close to 40% between 1999 and 2008” (2014).

Fair Trade is not without its problems, as certification can be costly and marginalizes the poorest producers, but it is a start, and one of few ways to access transparency of the food supply chain in a consumer market that provides no source-to-store product information. Legislators are also working to intervene in child slavery practices. Senator Tom Harkin and Representative Eliot Engen introduced a protocol to reduce trafficking in the cacao industry, agreed to by manufacturers and legislators from Ghana and the Ivory Coast as stated by the ILO, “that aims to reduce the worst forms of child labor by 70 percent across the cocoa sectors of Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire by 2020” (ILO, 2017). Currently Fair Trade and other transparent and ethical alternatives have not achieved mainstream mass production, making it difficult for a consumer to use the power of the dollar against corporate complicity even when they choose to. Raising awareness and creating a demand for ethical products can aid in ending consumer apathy by closing the information gap, and denting corporate revenue streams that, with some work, will promote less disparity between southern suppliers and northern purchasers.

 

Works Cited

 

Coe, S. D., & Coe, M. D. (2013). The true history of chocolate (3rd ed.) London, ENG.Thames & Hudson Ltd.

Counihan, C., Van Esterik, P., (Eds.). (2013). Food and culture a reader New York NY. Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.

CNN Freedom Project (2012) Who eats the most chocolate?. Retrieved from:                          http://thecnnfreedomproject.blogs.cnn.com/2012/01/17/who-consumes-the-most-chocolate/

DFID, (2011) Children of the Ivory Coast [digital image].  Retrieved from Wikimiedia Commons Website: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/77/Flickr_-_DFID_-_UK_Department_for_International_Development_-_Children_pictured_at_a_UNHCR_food_distribution_point_in_Liberia

Expressing Yourself (2009) Menier Chocolate Factory. [digital media]. Retrieved from: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Menier_Chocolate_Factory

Hainmueller, j., Hiscox, M., Sequeira, S., (2014) Consumer Demand for the Fair Trade Label: Evidence from a Multi-Store Field Experiment. Retrieved from: http://www.hbs.edu/faculty/conferences/2014-launching-the-star-lab/Documents/FT_final_2_20.pdf

ILO, (2017) Africa: Child Labor in Cocoa Fields/ Harkin-Engel Protocol. Retrieved from:     http://www.ilo.org/washington/areas/elimination-of-the-worst-forms-of-child-    labor/WCMS_159486/lang–en/index.htm

Kolivalli, S., Vigneri, M. (2014) Cocoa in ghana: Shaping the success of an economy. Retrieved from http://siteresources.worldbank.org/AFRICAEXT/Resources/258643-1271798012256/Ghana-cocoa.pdf

Martin, C. (2017) Modern Day Slavery. Harvard Extension School. [Mar 22, 2017 Lecture].

Maxim75 (2016) Hershey Bars. [digital media] Retrieved from Wikimiedia Commons Website: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hershey%27s_chocolates_in_store.

Mintz, S.W. (1986) Sweetness and Power. NY, NY. Penguin Books 1986

Off, C., (2006) Bitter Chocolate: The Dark Side of the World’s Most Seductive Sweet. New   York: The New Press.

Rberchie (2014). Cacao farmer [digital media] Retrieved from Wikimiedia Commons Website: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cocoa_farming_in_Ghana

Satiodqua-Tan, J (Jul, 2015) Americans eat how much chocolate?. Retrieved from:             http://www.cnbc.com/2015/07/23/americans-eat-how-much-chocolate.html

Wessel, Marius (Dec, 2015). Cocoa production in west Africa, a review and analysis of recent developments. NJAS-Wageningen Journal of Life Sciences, 74-75, 1-7. doi:                 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.njas.2015.09.001

Whitehouse, P.  (2007). Vending machine [digital image]. Retrieved from Wikimedia Commons Website: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Mars_Bar

 

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).

 

20170309_150507
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

 

Choosing Chocolate: Ethical concerns and nutritional considerations

Last Sunday, I invited four opinionated family members to join me for an international chocolate tasting. My goal for this tasting and analysis was twofold. I wanted to survey my tasters’ preferences for various international chocolate offerings, and gauge their opinions and knowledge on many of the topics that we learned about in class. My family often discusses politics and current events, however I was curious to discover each guest’s individual level of knowledge of fair trade, direct trade, child labor and other troublesome issues related to cacao farming. My ultimate question for each participant was “would you alter your chocolate buying preferences based on potential ethical issues in the harvesting and production of cacao”. The evening did not disappoint. We enjoyed a colorful and insightful discussion on numerous levels.

My first task was to buy international chocolate for the sample tasting. On my way to Trader Joe’s and Fresh Market in the neighboring town, I stopped by my local grocery store to investigate their selection and confirm my suspicion of the limited choices. I live in a small town with a seasonal population and our little grocery store often presents slimly stocked shelves at this time of year. It appeared that the person responsible for chocolate buying was not interested in purchasing chocolate with any kind of ethical or organic certifications. The shelves were stocked with milk chocolate from the big American manufacturers. I was unable to locate one offering with any kind of ethical certification. Consumer demand in a mostly working class town may not be strong enough to offer chocolate with ethical certifications which often demand higher prices. As my guests debated later in the evening, many consumers are use to milk chocolate laden with sugar offered by the large manufacturers. The group’s contention was that ethical concerns in the production of cacao have not reached the vast majority of those in the United States who purchase chocolate on a regular basis. The limited selection at my local store confirmed my initial sense that I would be obligated to drive to the more affluent neighboring town where there is a Trader Joe’s and Fresh Market serving a larger population. The affluent town also includes a Whole Foods store on the opposite end of town. Whole Foods offers a good selection of international chocolate, however the choices offered at Trader Joe’s and Fresh Market, closer to my home, proved to be more than enough to support a successful tasting.

trader joe's chocolate shelves
Trader Joe’s Chocolate Bar Selection

Although I had visited Trader Joe’s in the past, I had never shopped in the chocolate section. I was shocked and pleasantly surprised at the variety and reasonable prices of many of the choices. My goal was to buy a wide range of chocolate that was manufactured outside of the United States with the cacao percentage and source of the cacao beans clearly labeled. Trader Joe’s offers numerous bars marketed with their own brand, most with the “USDA Certified Organic” label. However, the majority of bars branded with the Trader Joe’s name failed to list the detail of the source of the cacao or where it was manufactured. I found it frustrating that I could not determine where the cacao was sourced from. The Columbian chocolate bar was the only exception.

All of the Trader Joe’s chocolate bars I surveyed are distributed and sold exclusively through Trader Joe’s distribution center in Monrovia, California, even the bar that was listed as a product of Columbia. My guess is that most of the chocolate is manufactured in the United States. I reached out to Trader Joe’s through their website in an attempt to learn more, however, as of the date of this posting, I had not heard back. After searching the internet for information on Trader Joe’s business model, it is likely that I will not receive more specific information on the source of the cacao. It appears that Trader Joe’s brand is often white-labeled in an effort to sell quality brand name products at a lower price.

My intention was to purchase a wide variety of chocolate bars, with varying percentages of cacao. The selection at Trader Joe’s was broad, however Fresh Market’s international chocolate selection was impressive. Fresh Market often offers some good loss leaders, yet I find that the prices overall are higher than other grocery stores, especially compared to Trader Joe’s. The chocolate bar offerings were no exception. In total, I purchased eleven bars produced in numerous countries with differing cacao percentages and ethical certifications, plenty to engage in a good discussion with my tasters.

Fresh Market candy bar
Fresh Market’s Chocolate Bar Selection

To prime my guests for a meaningful discussion, I first asked them this question: “If they learned that unethical behavior was occurring in the production of cacao, would they alter their buying preferences and seek chocolate bars manufactured with confirmed ethical practices and legitimate certifications.” Quite honestly, I was a bit surprised at my guests firm conviction to alter their buying preferences. To be honest, three of the guests live in the affluent town in very close proximity to the Trader Joe’s and Fresh Market. Although they purchase their groceries at varying markets including Stop and Shop and Shaws, they regularly shop at Trader Joe’s and Fresh Market. Price is not necessarily a high priority for them.

Nonetheless, each guest confirmed they would be interested to learn more about fair trade and unethical practices in agriculture. In fact, one guest recollected an incident when she was traveling through Tanzania on a vacation and saw very young children working in a field. She could not ascertain which crop they were harvesting. After her description of the area, we felt the children were not harvesting cacao. Our suspicion was that the crop may have been coffee. According to the Bureau of International Labor Affairs as noted on the United States Department of Labor website, there is reason to believe that child labor exists in the harvesting of coffee in Tanzania. Our conversation brought back a disturbing memory to my guest and made our discussion surrounding child labor come to light. The other guests were clearly not educated on the prevalence of child labor or modern day slavery in the production of crops.

Child Labor photo DOL ILAB

After serving dinner, I quickly realized I needed to whittle down my offerings. Our discussion was lively and time was slipping away. Eleven tastings were too much to expect from my group on a Sunday night. Professor Martin had the ability to space out her tastings over time which would have been my preference but not an option in this situation. I quickly sorted through my chocolate stash and decided on the following choices making sure I only offered a very small sample of each:

  • Trader Joe’s dark Chocolate Lover’s Chocolate Bar 85% Cacao – Colombia-6g sugar per serving
  • Trader Joe’s Fair Trade Organic 72% Cacao Belgian Dark Chocolate Bar- 10g sugar per serving
  • Fresh Market Alter Eco Dark Blackout 85% cacao organic chocolate Switzerland- 6g sugar per serving
  • Valrhona Le Noir Amer 71% cacao- France- 12g sugar per serving
  • Vanini dark Chocolate 62% cocao with pear and cinnamon-Italy- 15g sugar per serving
  • Trader Joe’s Organic milk chocolate truffle 17g sugar per serving
  • Vosges Pink Himalayan Crystal Salt Caramel Bar 70% cacao 17g sugar per serving

    chocolate bars
    Original Chocolate Bars Selected for the Tasting

I lured the tasters to my house, stating they would be part of a blind chocolate tasting test. I explained my requirements: the tasters would be required to guess the percentage of cacao, the country of origin of each bar, and provide their honest opinions on the actual taste of each bar. Three of the guests have traveled extensively and have had the opportunity to taste many European chocolate offerings. Clearly, they were disappointed. None of the participants enjoyed the dark chocolate. Only one guest was somewhat accurate and able to guess the percentage of cacao in each sample. She’s a bit of a foodie, a good baker and was able to detect the percentage of cacao within a reasonable deviation. She was even able to describe the flavor as it was described in some of the packaging, i.e. full bodied, smooth or fruity. None of the tasters were able to detect the country where the chocolate was produced. They simply guessed and all guessed wrong. The group didn’t care for the initial offerings which included a high percentage of cacao. Their expressions were priceless. When I asked them to join me in a “chocolate tasting”, my guests clearly did not expect to eat chocolate with such a high percentage of cacao that lacked milk and sugar. After three pieces of dark chocolate in a row, I knew I needed to mix it up a bit and offered an olive branch, a piece of Trader Joe’s organic milk chocolate which quickly brought them back to life.

The tasters preferences were clear. All preferred the chocolate with the least amount of cacao and the highest amount of sugar. They were only able to tolerate the higher cacao percentage in the bars that included an additive such as the Vanini chocolate with pear and cinnamon and the Vosges chocolate bar with pink Himalayan crystal salt and caramel. After the last sample, we entered into a discussion around how they felt dark chocolate is an acquired taste similar to the varying choices of coffee offered at Starbucks versus a typical Dunkin Donuts coffee that many Americans were use to drinking before the advent of specialized coffee chains.

As I completed my assessment of the group’s chocolate preferences, I outlined their preferences versus the grams of sugar in each bar. It was not surprising to learn that the higher the sugar content included in each bar, the higher the personal preference. All of the testers agreed they enjoyed the chocolate bars with the most sugar as noted by the number of grams on the bar’s label. They clearly did not like the chocolate bars with less than 15 grams of sugar. Although their preferences were not surprising, it was somewhat disturbing. According to the USDA recommended dietary guidelines, individuals should consume less than 10 percent of calories per day from added sugar. One small serving of chocolate can constitute a large portion of the suggested amount of added sugar in a consumer’s healthy daily diet. The new USDA nutrition labels required by July 26, 2018 mandate a separate category for “added sugar” in addition to the amount of natural sugar in a given food. No doubt this will highlight a negative aspect of the typical chocolate bar sold in the United States.

Food label changes coming. Old and new, all good!
USDA Nutrition Labels

Chocolate has proven to be beneficial in various studies, however moderation is key. There is evidence to suggest that eating too much sugar may raise your risk of heart disease (Corliss). If we plan to eat chocolate, we may need to consider reducing the amount of chocolate that we eat with high amounts of added sugar.

The final consensus of our tasting experiment, after our spirited discussion, led us to believe that we need to be more responsible in our chocolate choices. There is more to chocolate than the pretty packaging and sweet satisfaction. Ethical concerns and nutritional considerations should be at the forefront of our decisions.

 Works Cited

“Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor – Tanzania.” United States Department of Labor. N.p., 30 Sept. 2016. Web. 07 May 2017. <https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/tanzania&gt;.

Corliss, Julie. “Eating Too Much Added Sugar Increases the Risk of Dying with Heart Disease.” Harvard Health Blog. Harvard Health Publications, 30 Nov. 2016. Web. 07 May 2017. <http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/eating-too-much-added-sugar-increases-the-risk-of-dying-with-heart-disease-201402067021&gt;.

Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015-2020. Washington, D.C.: For Sale by the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, 2015. Web. 7 May 2017.

Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. “Labeling & Nutrition – Changes to the Nutrition Facts Label.” U S Food and Drug Administration Home Page. Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, n.d. Web. 09 May 2017.