Tag Archives: future of cacao

The Future of Sustainable Cacao Practices

The contemporary state of the cacao-chocolate industry is rapidly evolving, and overall seems to be heading in a positive direction. In the past, two separate narratives have been told about chocolate, as discussed in my first blog post here: https://chocolateclass.wordpress.com/2019/03/15/blog-post-the-dark-side-of-cacao/. One tells a romanticized story of chocolate which is portrayed as a food of the gods, holding spiritual healing power, bringing people together socially, and even increasing wealth when used as currency. Simultaneously, a second narrative tells a story of slaves working gruelling conditions to make the romanticized story possible. However, in the contemporary cacao-chocolate industry, the two narratives are coming together to be told as one, which is something that we should be excited about. People are beginning to understand where chocolate is coming from and the processes involved, and people are changing their purchasing decisions accordingly.

In this blog post, we will discuss three different ways in which the two narratives are coming together to create a positive future for the cacao industry. The first is the expanding industry of bean-to-bar chocolate factories, which recognise the dark side of production and strive to make working conditions fair at all levels of the supply chain. Secondly, the United Nations is turning chocolate into more than a food, by creating its own chocolate bar as a symbol of social change. Finally, the fact that chocolate production is becoming a topic of discussion and more people are becoming educated is changing the way people think about cacao production at every level of the industry. 

  1. Bean-to-Bar Chocolate Production 

The first concrete measure we can look at that shows the two narratives coming together is bean-to-bar chocolate production. In the past, a major issue with the production of chocolate has been the disjointed supply chain, where those experiencing slave labour in the early stages of production have no interaction with those selling the product in the final stages. This makes it easy for two different narratives to develop. In various lectures, we discussed the rise of the big five and race for the global market. As seen in this image below, the chocolate packages only told the romanticised story of chocolate, appealing to consumers and leaving out the story of slave labour which was a vial part of the supply chain. “A True History of Chocolate” by Coe and Coe, discusses the immense importance of chocolate from social, religious, medical, and economic perspectives, outlining aspects such as “the food of the gods”, “the Mesoamerican genesis”, and “the Aztecs as the people of the sun” (Coe and Coe, 2013). The wrappers in the big five chocolate companies encapsulate these ideas, appealing to consumers and leaving out an important part of the overall narrative. 

Image 1: The Big Five Chocolate Producers

This is where the importance of bean to bar chocolate production becomes relevant. Here, we will discuss “the small five” companies that are making a big difference. These bean-to-bar companies may not hold as much of the market share as the big five, but they are making huge differences in the way we think about ethical cacao production, and combing the two narratives we have been talking about. The following five examples of bean-to-bar chocolate companies show how they are addressing issues with the supply chain, bringing the narrative of slave labour and the narrative of the shiny wrappers closer together, and improving conditions for those at the beginning of the supply chain.

1. Golden Tree Ghana

Image 2: Golden Tree Ghana



One example we discussed in class is the Golden Tree Ghana which is a cocoa processing company in Ghana. Golden Tree Ghana is a local bean-to-bar producer which makes products including the Akuafo Bar, which is a lemon-flavoured chocolate bar, and very well-know in the region. Golden Tree Ghana also makes chocolate coatings, cocoa, and popular drinks including Alltime and Vitaco. This bean-to-bar chocolate company aims for honesty, transparency, and accountability at every level of the supply chain. While creating a quality product for consumers, they are aware of the dark side of production, and making strides to not only improve working conditions for those producing the cacao, but improving transparency so that consumers know exactly how the products they are buying are being sourced. 

2. Raaka

Raaka is changing the way that consumers view chocolate. On each bar, facts can be found on the inside of the wrapper about where the cacao as purchased, how much they paid for the cacao, and other information about their company. Unlike shiny chocolate wrappers made by other companies such as the big five, this wrapper encapsulates the story of labour, the very thing that makes the production of every bar possible. This company may not be one of the big five, but it is doing big things to transform the cacao industry. Their genuine interest in persuing ethical practices shows through their mission statement: 

“We believe our process should value the community of growers, producers, and makers whose livelihoods depend on cacao and chocolate. It takes an entire village of individuals, literally stretching across cultures and continents, to make every delicious bar. As chocolate makers, we’re at the end of this supply chain closest to the customer. This allows us to tell some of the stories behind each bar we make.” – Raaka.

Image 3: Raaka Wrapper

3. Madecasse

Furthermore, the Brooklyn based company, Madecasse, is produced in Madagascar, but sold in Whole Food shops around America. 

Image 4: Madacasse Chocolate

Madacasse as a company has recognized that there is a lack of transparency in the chocolate industry, especially in big companies. There are thousands of miles and layers of middlemen separating the farmers that grow the cacao, and the consumers who eat it. Hence, it is easy for the two separate narratives to continue simultaneously, with consumers having no idea where their chocolate product is coming from. Madacasse has integrated their company into some of the poorest communities to buy directly from the cacao producers, changing the way chocolate is produced. As a result, farmers are earning more, increasing their quality of life, and the quality of chocolate is being increased for consumers. The following quote from their website shows their belief that Fair trade is not enough, as companies need to really understand the supply chain to create positive change.

“Fair trade is a label. It’s used by large companies, to verify that farmers who live thousands of miles away from where the chocolate is made are paid a fair price for their cocoa (which isn’t actually fair enough to be sustainable).  It’s a top-down approach for companies with an outsourced supply chain.” – Madacasse. 

Madacasse is working from the very bottom of the supply chain, with workers on the ground to make cacao farming as sustainable and as fair as possible. 

4. French Broad Chocolates

Image 5: French Broad Chocolates 

Sourcing sustainably is an integral part of the process for this small bean-to-bar chocolate manufacturer. The employees at French Broad Chocolates spend a great deal of their time with the cacao workers in Central and South American, building relationships and understanding the process of production. Through those relationships, a platform is created to negotiate mutually beneficial wages, so workers can continue their jobs with dignity, pride, and prosperity. Currently, cacao is being sources from Peru, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Guatemela, and produced in a small factory in the mountains of Asheville, North Carolina. Just like the other bean-to-bar companies we have discussed, this company is taking enormous strides in putting the workers at the bottom of the supply chain first and reducing the disparity in the two narratives that have previously been told. 

5. Dandelion

Dandelion adopts a similar approach to the sourcing of their cacao. They strive to work directly with the producers who grow, ferment, and dry the cacao. Just like French Broad Chocolates, the employees at Dandelion travel as frequently as possible to the beginning of the supply chain, to best understand the practices of those producing the cacao, and gain valuable feedback from the workers. Wages for the workers exceed the world market price, as an effort to strengthen relationships with workers, and commit to creating the best and most distinctive cacao possible.

Image 6: Dandelion Chocolates

As seen in these five examples, bean-to-bar chocolate production has the potential to change the way chocolate is made, especially if replicated more times and on a larger scale. Larger production companies, particularly the big five, have dominated the market in the past. But, if they do not change their practices to match the changing views of the consumers, they may not be so dominant in the future. In the 2010’s there were over 230 bean-to-bar craft chocolate makers, and increased demand among consumers for these products (Martin, 2019). The future of chocolate is looking brighter thanks to the innovations of bean-to-bar chocolate producers. Due to the sustainable practices of these companies, the big five are being forced to change the way their companies operate. They are facing enormous social and environmental pressure to become more sustainable, as well as economic pressures. In “Sweetness and Power” by Mintz, it is suggested that companies will change their practices if it means economic benefits (Mintz, 1986). In the 1840’s when slavery and protectionism collided with needs to compete in a widening market, free-trade advocates and government’s motives saw eye to eye as interests aligned. When it means staying competitive in the market, companies will change their practices. Companies will seek economic benefits, and if moving to sustainable practices will attract more consumers, then it is an advantage for all involved. An example of this is Mars, who are now investing more than $1 billion to make a more sustainable cacao supply chain (Mars, 2019). Originally, the company was not founded as a social enterprise, as seen in the Brenner reading (Brenner, 2000). But, due to social and environmental pressures for more sustainable cacao practices, the nature of cacao production is changing (Brenner, 2000). Eventually all companies will have to do the same to stay competitive in the chocolate market. Small companies are leading the charge for social change, and the big companies must keep up. However, the positive changes in the production of cacao does not end here. The second point we will discuss is how the United Nations chocolate is changing the way we view chocolate as a commodity.

2. United Nations chocolate made for a mission

The United Nations has created its own chocolate bar which is available at various locations, in the hope of addressing both economic and environmental problems. The UN Development Programme (UNDP) has initiated this project. By making chocolate available in United Nations wrapping makes it clear that cacao and chocolate bar production is a global social issue, not just another food. It all began with nine-year-old Felix Finkbeiner from Germany, who founded the organisation, Plant for the Planet, announced his vision to his class at the end of one of his presentations.

“Children could plant one million trees in every country on the earth and thereby offset CO2 emissions all on their own, while adults are still talking about doing it.” – Felix Finkbeiner.

He made this vision a reality, and went on to partner with Patricia Espinosa, who is currently serving as the executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.Together, they created a vision for the United Nations to create its own chocolate bar to be sold in the market. However, this was not just an ordinary chocolate bar, for it encapsulates the essence of how the chocolate industry should be developing.

This bar really brings together the two narratives of production. While the appealing wrapper and delicious taste of the smooth, milky bar tells the romanticised version of chocolate, it encapsulates the story of slavery, and simultaneously fights for justice. 

Image 7: United Nations Chocolate 

It is one of the first chocolate bar purely focused on sustainable farming practices, and bringing together the two narratives we have discussed. This production line is setting the standard for how sustainable practices should look. Chocolats halba produces this chocolate, and as seen in their mission statement, their ideals align closely with the goals of the UNDP, which is what makes it an appropriate company to produce this chocolate:

“Chocolats Halba has a clear ethos of generating added value for all stakeholder groups along its value chain – from cocoa farmers to consumers. To achieve this, it pursues a sustainability strategy that applies to all core areas of the business and to all employees. We received the Swiss Ethics Award in 2018 for our commitment to sustainability. The price of the chocolate bar will reflect its impact on the ecosystem and the real costs of production and export. The profits will be shared fairly, with farmers receiving a significantly greater share than through any other method.” – Chocolat Halba.

The production of this bar marries the two separate narratives told. By having chocolate wrapped in United Nations packaging – an organization which aims to fight injustices in the world – shows to consumers that this is a social issue which must be addressed, and is being addressed now in many different forms.

3. Education and broadening discussions about cacao and chocolate production

Finally, education and the broader discussion about chocolate is changing the way people think about chocolate, and influencing the way people choose to purchase and enjoy their chocolate.

Our class is a prime example of this broadening education, including the panels and speakers we have heard from, and the work they are doing beyond the classroom. In the past, people were unaware of how chocolate was actually made, hence people were less educated and less was being done to prevent this kind of suffering, particularly for children. The contemporary state of cacao production is therefore heading in a positive direction, and rapidly evolving, so it is important that we stay educated and up to date to make good decisions about future steps in this industry. Current literature, such as the Berlan article we read in this course, is addressing issues in slave labour, and identifying what we do and don’t know. If this type of research continues, we will be able to gain a greater understanding of the nuances and myriad of complex issues which allow slave labour to continue (Berlan, 2013), and through a better understanding we will be able to address these issues thoughtfully and properly. 

In this class alone, the students have completed 39 hours of class time each, and combined, written approximately 6 books worth of information about chocolate (Martin, 2019). Furthermore, the teaching staff has completed about 750 words of written feedback for each student, teaching the students about this topic beyond what they knew before. This is about 120,000 words of written feedback for the class, all of which has developed the overall knowledge of this topic in the world (Martin, 2019). With such a diverse class, we will be able to take this knowledge to the various fields we go into in the future, while being conscious consumers and teaching others what we know. The impact of this class goes far beyond the classroom, and is a big step in the right direction for closing the gap between the two narratives of chocolate theta have existed in the past. And this is in one course alone. In the past, this type of education simply did not exist. Through education and the broadening discussion of cacao production, we are changing the way that we think about chocolate production. The idea of chocolate is changing for the better, and we should be incredibly excited about this positive trajectory. 

Overall, the future of sustainable chocolate practices is looking very positive. Through bean-to-bar chocolate manufacturers, the United Nations chocolate bar, and education, the two narratives of cacao are coming together to tell a more accurate story of production. The conditions for workers on cacao farms are improving due to these companies, research, and education, and this will likely continue to improve in the future.

References:

Berlan, Amanda. 2013. “Social Sustainability in Agriculture: An Anthropological Perspective on Child Labour in Cocoa Production in Ghana.” pp. 1088-1100 


Brenner, Joel. 2000. The Emperors of Chocolate: Inside the Secret World of Hershey and Mars. chapters 5, 13 pp. 49-69, 179-194

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. 2007[1996]. The True History of Chocolate.

Martin, Carla. 2019. Harvard University Lectures from Course: Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food.

Mintz, Sydney W. 1986[1985]. Sweetness and Power.          


Mars. 2019. Saving Tomorrow’s Cocoa, Today. Cocoa for Generations. Retrieved from https://www.mars.com/news-and-stories/cocoa-farming-sustainability

Image Links:

Image 1: Big Five Chocolate Producers

https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1p2hW-YsJ6faWMHz0rYuRjFGfTurfgjCDDGSRnzn_Sn4/edit#slide=id.g2f058252d_2_56

Image 2: Golden Tree Ghana

https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1iUp0kTTeUJ0qKN7Q-K7_f9EnZ5VdayRga2PynV0W-W8/edit#slide=id.g10e64a5659_2_93

Image 3: Raaka Wrapper (taken by Sarah Tisdall) 

Image 4: Madacasse Chocolate

Image 5: French Broad Chocolates

Image 6: Dandelion Chocolates

Image 7: United Nations Chocolate

Quotes:

Chocolat Halba – http://chocolatshalba.ch/en/sustainability/sustainability-core-principles.html

Felix Finkbeiner – https://www.plant-for-the-planet.org/en/about-us/who-we-are-2

Madacasse – https://madecasse.com/direct-trade/

Raaka – https://www.raakachocolate.com/pages/transparent-trade