Tag Archives: Haiti

Chiseled Chocolate and Other Delights: Cacao Shopping in a Haitian Supermarket

Intro:

When Boris Yeltsin visited a supermarket in the US in 1989, he was floored. The nondescript Randalls in Houston ended up being more powerful than the “screens, dials, and wonder at NASA.” The trip ended up “shatter[ing] his view of communism.” If the Russians back home got wind of American supermarkets, “there would be a revolution” he confided in his comrades (Hlavaty, 2016).

Nearly thirty years later, supermarkets continue to amaze. Visitors to Haiti, where I have lived for the past 8 years, continue to be amazed by Caribbean Supermarket, a family business founded in 1995 that has Haiti’s largest selection of local and imported goods. I had first written about Caribbean when I worked at Peace Dividend Trust (now called Building Markets) as part of the project’s Agribusiness Case Study Series.  Interviewing the procurement manager, I had discussed the store’s stockage of over 300 local products, and Caribbean’s continued push to buy Haitian goods (You can read the whole thing here). When I received the class assignment for Chocolate Class, I was interested to go back to the store to see how cacao, a historically prominent crop in Haiti, was portrayed and displayed.

As a note, Haiti tends to be a lightning rod for political, sociological, economic, botanical – well just about every type of commentary there is. A recent book about Haiti opened by quoting Ira Lowenthal, an anthropologist who has been in Haiti for 40 years, as saying: “Haiti is the most studied developing country in the world, and least understood” (Schwartz, 2017, Epigraph). As such, there are many things this post will NOT cover. The “right” or “wrongness” of having a US-style supermarket in the poorest country in the Western hemisphere. Whether a supermarket in Haiti is less authentic than going to a local marché (market). Whether the assignment should have been conducted in the rural zones and not the capital of Port-au-Prince. As Mr. Lowenthal suggests, there is nothing if not continued, sustained interest in the country, and I will leave such topics for further dissection by Haiti’s active local and international blogger community.

What this is then, is an overview of how Caribbean Market, situated in Petionville (a wealthy suburb of Port-au-Prince, the capital of Haiti) that serves both upper and middle class Haitians , as well as foreigners (including diplomats, missionaries, and NGO workers), serves as a microcosm in which to view the history of chocolate, particularly the way in which chocolate was hybridized as a result of the encounter between the Old World and the New. For if supermarkets are indeed a revolution, then how does cacao and chocolate get portrayed in one situated in the only country to be created from a successful slave revolution that defeated the French, English and Spanish? Let’s find out.

History of Chocolate in Haiti:

As Sophie Coe and Michael Coe write in The True History of Chocolate, “chocolate was invented almost four millennia ago” (Coe, 2013, p. 214). As for Haiti, my previous post for Chocolate Class, described how Hernando Cortez started Haiti’s first cacao plantation in the 1500’s. While not initially successful, Haiti’s cacao production did eventually flourish from the 17th to the early 19t century, at which point Haiti was producing 10x more cacao than Venezuela. However following the Haitian revolution of 1804, there was a precipitous decline in production due to political infighting and redistribution of land that saw a smallholder farmer model replace the larger plantation systems of colonialism.  (Should you want to learn more, the rest of the blog can be read here).

Modern Haiti has worked to revitalize their chocolate industry, producing a nascent chocolate trade (Another shameless plug for my last blog), while continuing their very Mesoamerican chocolate habits of drinking what C-Spot.com called the “champagne of the empire,” and Haiti calls Haitian spiced hot chocolate (Chery). Modern Haiti also has a very complex series of trade relationships with the world around it; a former French colony,  the country’s largest trade relationships  (Trading Economics, 2018) are not with the colonizer but rather with the United States (Miami is a 90 minute flight from Port-au-Prince), and the Dominican Republic, a former Spanish colony with which Haiti shares the island of Hispaniola. Going into Caribbean, I was interested to see how all this played out in how chocolate and cacao were displayed and portrayed.

Going to Caribbean:

Entering Caribbean, one must first prove their fearlessness by battling it out for a parking spot in the often packed 75+ space parking lot. Only a fool would go on a Saturday, or even certain Sundays, so to hedge my bets I go on a Thursday afternoon. Sliding easily into a prized vacancy, I hike up the hill (Haiti comes from the Arawak word for mountains) to the store’s entrance. Hiking through the parking lot also offers an opportunity to define the audience of Caribbean. (While I could just go into Caribbean and start photographing customers, the guards are armed, and I would prefer not to start any kerfuffle.) The cars show the mix of the middle-class and upper-class Haitians and foreigners who peruse the market. As shown in the photos below, you can see older cars (such as the Hyundai Accent) that are 10-20 years old (probably valued between $5,000-$15,000) as well as the more expensive Toyota Land Cruiser Prados (which start at $75,000).

Drinking Chocolate: 

Cacao was first encountered in drinkable form – and as Amanda Fiegl writes in her 2008 article, “A Brief History of Chocolate,” for the  Smithsonian, for about “90 percent of chocolate’s long history, it was strictly a beverage, and sugar didn’t have anything to do with it.”  According to INAFORESTA’s “History of Cocoa,” the “Olmecs (1500-400 BC) were almost certainly the first humans to consume chocolate, originally in the form of a drink.” The Olmecs would grind the cacao beans and mix them with water, and then add spices, chiles, and herbs to the mix. The Aztecs and Mayans soon got in on the action, and in 1528 AD cacao was first brought to Europe (Spain) by Cortez. Cocoa then made its way to France in 1615, and England (1650), and continued to spread throughout Europe (INAFORESTA).

Thus for a country situated in Latin America, and colonized and/or invaded by France, England, and Spain (see Philippe Girard’s 2010 book, Haiti: The Tumultuous History for a complete history), it is no surprise that the drinking chocolate selection at Caribbean is plentiful. Upon entering the breakfast aisle, one encounters at least 20 different types of drinking chocolate, including breakfast drinks such as Carnation Breakfast Essentials, Ovaltine, Milo (Nestlé), Carlos V (Nestlé), Swiss Miss Hot Chocolate, Nestle Hot Chocolate, and Choco Listo, all which are produced outside of Haiti. The two Haitian chocolate options that are available are Choko Toro, and Chocolat Jeremie. The price ranges for breakfast chocolate drinks go from 110htg (a little under $2) for the local Choko Toro (3 cacao balls), to 615 htg (a little under $10) for an 18oz Ovaltine container. Those watching their weight can get a can of SlimFast Chocolate-flavored drink, but it’s going to cost you 1,800htg (~$27) for an 18oz container.

For those who don’t have time to prepare their chocolate beverage, you can purchase a ready-made, locally produced Chocolate Blast Ti Shake for 35htg (~$.50), whose packaging proudly boasts 9 grams protein and Vitamins A+D. Or if you have money (and fat) to burn, you can purchase a Myoplex Chiseled Chocolate Protein Shake for a heftier 365htg (~$5). There is also the Dutch-owned Chocomel (flavored chocolate milk) for a little over a dollar, the Nestle-owned Milo drink out of the company’s Australia division (available for the same price as the Chocomel), and Mrs. French’s AK-100 Vanilla Corn Drink Accassan,(which is a Haitian corn-based drink similar to others in Latin America and the Caribbean -see the Mangeons Lakay blog for more information).

Of particular interest in the drinking chocolate aisle is the branding. One of the local Haitian brands, Towo (which is a division of the Weiner Brand in Haiti) uses the creole word for bull (towo) to portray a product that gives one strength, or force as one would say in Haiti. The brand Towo additionally produces coffee as seen below, to further tie the stimulant properties of the cacao and coffee together.  As Marcy Norton writes in her 2006 article, “Tasting Empire: Chocolate and the European Internalization of Mesoamerican Aesthetics”, for the Mesoamericans, drinking chocolate “invigorates one.”  And according to INFORESTA, historically drinking cacao was shown to be a “strengthening, restorative, aphrodisiac” (Another interpretation for the bull perhaps-Europa anyone?) (INFORESTA). The “strengthening” motto is reinforced by the Milo brand as well, which shows a soccer player forcefully kicking a ball. Other brands, such as the Colombian Choco Listo, emphasize vitamin content, additionally hearkening to the invigorating properties.

Another item to note is that there is not a lot of flavoring in the drinkable chocolate aisle, besides sugar and dried milk (and of course the depiction of chocolate itself as a flavor to enhance drinks). The chocolate flavor that harkens the most back to the pre-colonial times is instead a chocolate paste placed in the peanut butter aisle and produced by Haitian brand FnF S.A. FnF S.A makes Chocolate Butter with Peanut Butter and Honey which includes cinnamon, salt and ginger. These are flavors (save for the peanut butter) that are common in traditional Haitian hot chocolate-see recipes here, here, and here. As Norton writes, “Spanish colonists modified traditional Mesoamerican chocolate by adding or substituting spices esteemed in the Old World—cinnamon, black pepper, anise, rose, and sesame, among others—in place of the native flower spice complex, achiote, and chili peppers” (Norton, 2006). Although once again, the addition of spices is really just seen here in the Chocolate Butter. All the other chocolate items are either in their natural state (the local cacao) or complemented with the Old World’s biggest influence on chocolate-sugar (all the imported drinking chocolates).

WhatsApp Image 2018-05-02 at 08.18.10

So should you need to slim, to energize, or to improve your health, the beverage aisle has an option for you. As Norton explains, “Europeans in the New World selected the cacao beverages that best fit their needs or temperament,” and at Caribbean, your drinking chocolate options are wide and varied indeed.

Chocolate Bars:

Chocolate bars originated in England in 1830 (INOFRESTA), and soon spread throughout the world. The Caribbean chocolate bar aisle has a wide range of these worldly chocolates- American childhood staples such as Hershey’s Kisses, M&M’s (plain and peanut), KitKats, as well as higher end European and American chocolate products such as Ferraro Rocher and Lindt LINDOR Truffles. There are also gift boxes, chocolate tins, and premium chocolates, such as multiple varieties of the Chocolove brand and Vanuatu Kakaw, a Mexican chocolate company looking to revitalize that country’s cacao industry. Prices range from $1 for the M&Ms-level chocolates to $5 for the Chocolove/Vanuatu bars. The bags of Lindt and boxes of Ferraro start at $7 and can go up to ~$30, depending on how many gold foils you are looking to unwrap (or what you have to apologize for).

However, most noticeable in the chocolate aisle is what’s not there: any Haitian chocolate. There are no bars from Haiti’s first bean-to-bar company, Askanya, and the Haitian origin tablets of Taza are nowhere to be found. Yet, it is not clear that Caribbean is to blame for this- as there have been many discussions of issues of the Haitian chocolate industries growing pains (final plug for my last blog post here). That being said the absence of any Haitian chocolate bars is noticeable, and it is the hope that the bars made in Haiti will be able to be sold side-by-side with the imports. Much of what has been discussed this semester in Chocolate Class is about a return to chocolate becoming more equitable, and away from the dichotomy that the raw product was taken from the New World and turned into something “civilized,” so being able to see Haitian chocolate bars represented in the chocolate bar aisle is an important step to balancing and re-framing perceptions.

 Other Chocolate Items:

As INOFORESTA writes, “Industrialization has had a marked democratizing effect on chocolate, transforming it from a rare delicacy reserved for royals, to a widely available and readily affordable treat for the masses. Not surprisingly, a plethora of new chocolate products began appearing as it became more popular, including chocolate with dried fruits, with liqueurs, fondu, praline, stuffed chocolates, powdered, spreads, frostings, pastes, hard candies, soft drinks and many, many others. Either hand-made or as a fast food, it is now an established part of the world’s vocabulary and diet” (INOFRESTA). This we see as we explore the other chocolate items of Caribbean.

For example, there is the chocolate-flavored Kremas (a typical Haitian liquor-see more here), and a slew of chocolate baking mixes, including a wide range of Ghiradelli Brownie Mixes, as seen below. There’s also Bakers Chocolate and Nestle chocolate morsels, Hershey’s Baking Cocoa and a blend of Natural and Dutched Cocoa from The Saco Pantry, which works with Kiva to support micro-finance loans through sales of their products. These items are priced between $5-$10, of course, providing you can buy just one unit.

There are also several locally-made chocolate ice cream options (along with the assorted foreign brands such as Breyers, Ben and Jerry’s, Hagaan Daaz and Blue Bunny). One flavor, Deliciously Dark, is an Italian-style gelato made in Haiti by the restaurant Portofino, which sells the ice cream in supermarkets throughout Port-au-Prince. The Deliciously Dark flavor is shown in its current state of consumption below.

WhatsApp Image 2018-05-02 at 08.20.05

Thus in the “other” chocolate items, there is a stronger representation of the hybridization of cacao and chocolate, offering both products that were innovations in other countries (See “Brownies: The History of a Classic American Dessert” by Carla Martin) as well as innovations within Haiti through alcohol and ice cream.

Conclusion:

I go to Caribbean Supermarket probably 3-5 times a week to buy everything from baby formula to baby wipes to baby food (my children eat up a large part of my budget), but going through the supermarket looking specifically at the cacao and chocolate was an eye-opening experience. The types of chocolate were broad, from the numerous types of drinking cacao (from pure cacao to sugar- and vitamin-infused chocolate powder, and whatever goes into making the flavor Chiseled Chocolate) to the most “authentic” spiced cacao product, which was the Chocolate Butter with Peanut Butter and Honey. There was a wide array of chocolate bars, as well as chocolate baking mixes, chocolate alcohols, and chocolate ice cream. Chocoholics entering Caribbean are in good hands.

That being said Chocoholics with a taste for Haitian chocolate will need to consume their chocolate in something other than bar form, which is something that will hopefully change in the future. There’s been a strong effort in Haiti to improve local purchasing and local production from both the government and the private sector, and hopefully this will result in local bars and other new chocolate innovations being available at the supermarket.

Regarding price points, there are certainly products that are priced out of range for most (the $27 Slim Fast, and the $5 Vanuatu bar), however there were many products placed under a $1 that would allow the middle class and emerging middle class to take part of, to borrow from Yeltsin, the “revolutionary” supermarket experience. As Haiti continues to develop, it is expected that more supermarkets will expand and more people will have access to these products.

“In the early sixteenth century, the use of cacao in beverages was a unifying trait of linguistically and geographically diverse communities encompassing Mesoamerica, and perhaps even extending beyond its frontiers” (Norton 2006). Caribbean Supermarket shows this by having an array of chocolates from Colombia to Belgium; from Mexico to most importantly, Haiti. You have chocolates such as Hershey’s and Mars that source from the ancestor countries of Haitians in West Africa, chocolate from colonizers such as France and Belgium, and chocolate from those in which trade relationships have begun to replace the uneven relationships of the past. Walking through Caribbean Supermarket, one gets the feeling that the knowledge and issues to explore within cacao and chocolate in Haiti and abroad are endless. And who wouldn’t want to study chocolate for life?

Works Cited:

About. (n.d.). Retrieved May 8, 2018, from http://www.sacopantry.com/cocoa/

About us. (n.d.). Retrieved May 8, 2018, from http://www.caribbeansupermarketsa.com/home/about-us/

Acassan. (2013, May 17). Retrieved May 8, 2018, from https://mangeonslakay.wordpress.com/2013/05/15/acassan/

Café Selecto | Votre pause-café. (n.d.). Retrieved May 8, 2018, from http://selectohaiti.com/home

Chery, M. (n.d.). Chokola Ayisyen (Haitian Hot Chocolate). Retrieved May 8, 2018, from http://loveforhaitianfood.com/chokola-ayisyen-haitian-hot-chocolate-2/

Chocolove. (n.d.). Retrieved May 8, 2018, from https://www.chocolove.com/

Chokola Ayisyen (Haitian Hot Chocolate). (2013, December 31). Retrieved May 8, 2018, from https://mangeonslakay.wordpress.com/2013/12/30/chokola-ayisyen-haitian-hot-chocolate/

2.(2018, March 08). Chokola: Challenges and Successes in the Haitian Cacao Industry. Retrieved May 8, 2018, from https://chocolateclass.wordpress.com/2018/03/08/chokola-challenges-and-successes-in-the-haitian-cacao-industry/

Coe, M. D. (2013). True history of chocolate. Thames & Hudson.

Fast, R. S. (2016, December 10). Haitian Spiced Hot Chocolate with Coconut, Chokola Ayisyen. Retrieved May 8, 2018, from http://www.thehungryhounds.com/blog/2016/12/10/haitian-hot-chocolate-chokola-ayisyen

Fiegl, A. (2008, March 01). A Brief History of Chocolate. Retrieved May 8, 2018, from https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/a-brief-history-of-chocolate-21860917/

Girard, P. R. (2010). Haiti: The tumultuous history – from pearl of the Caribbean to broken nation. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

(n.d.). Haiti. Retrieved May 8, 2018, from https://www.etymonline.com/word/haiti

(2018). Haiti Balance of Trade | 2008-2018 | Data | Chart | Calendar | Forecast. Retrieved May 8, 2018, from https://tradingeconomics.com/haiti/balance-of-trade

(n.d.). History of Cacao. Retrieved May 8, 2018, from http://www.worldagroforestry.org/treesandmarkets/inaforesta/history.htm

Hlavaty, C. (2016, May 12). When Boris Yeltsin went grocery shopping in Clear Lake. Retrieved May 8, 2018, from https://blog.chron.com/thetexican/2014/04/when-boris-yeltsin-went-grocery-shopping-in-clear-lake/#photo-433894

Kuperberg, I. (2012, February 28). Supermarket Leads in Buying Local / Un Supermarché Donne Le Ton En Achetant Localement. Retrieved May 8, 2018, from http://buildingmarkets.org/blogs/haiti/2012/02/28/supermarket-leads-in-buying-local/comment-page-1/

Martin, C. (n.d.). The History of a Classic American Dessert. Retrieved May 8, 2018, from http://ushistoryscene.com/article/brownies/

Schwartz, T. T. (2017). The Great Haiti Humanitarian Aid Swindle. Port-au-Prince: Timothy Schwartz.

Seriously Dark Gift Box. (n.d.). Retrieved May 8, 2018, from https://www.tazachocolate.com/products/seriously-dark-gift-box

N., & M. (2006, June 01). Tasting Empire: Chocolate and the European Internalization of Mesoamerican Aesthetics | The American Historical Review | Oxford Academic. Retrieved May 8, 2018, from https://academic.oup.com/ahr/article/111/3/660/13687

(n.d.). Vanuato Kakaw® empresa orgullosamente 100% mexicana. Retrieved from http://www.vanuatokakaw.com/portal/

Welcome page. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://askanya.ht/

», H. F. (2013, December 29). Cremas (Kremas or Cremasse) -. Retrieved May 8, 2018, from http://haitiancooking.com/recipe/cremas-kremas-or-cremasse/

 

 

 

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.

Tied to Sugar Production: The Haitian Revolution

The Haitian Revolution that took place in the late 1700s often serves as a source of pride for many Haitians today. Through that revolution, Haiti was able to become the “first independent Black republic in the world” (Girard 61). Haiti was a big exporter of sugar and thus deeply entrenched within the clutches of the powerful French empire. The fact that the Haitian slaves were able to rally together, and defeat Napoleon and his French army have oftentimes been viewed as a miraculous feat. While this revolution was a great victory in terms of winning the pride and freedom of the slaves, it ultimately crippled the country due to its deep-rooted identity as a sugar-producing slave colony.

The history leading up to the Haitian Revolution shows how Haiti’s identity was structured around it being a slave colony—a colony fully devoted to using slaves for the benefit of a mother country. Haiti was originally known as Saint-Domingue, the French colony on the island of Hispaniola (Girard 18).

782px-map_of_hispaniolaA map of Hispaniola. The western third would go on to be known as the French colony of Saint – Domingue.

The slaves on Haiti were packed into large plantations for the main purposes of growing and exporting goods such as sugar. In fact, Haiti was Europe’s “largest supplier” of sugar (Ross 240). The sugar market’s reliance on Haiti as a producer was so evident that after the Haitian Revolution sugar prices spiked (Ross 240). Haiti was seen as a prized colony because of how much it was needed to supply sugar on a global scale. What further contributed to Haiti’s identity was the fact that a large part of the population within Saint-Domingue were slaves evidenced by the fact that by 1790 the “slave population topped 500,000” (Girard 24). Therefore, Haiti was not only externally identified by the slave-produced sugar, but it was also internally identified by its number of slaves. This identity combined with the seeds of dissent among the slaves by their inhumane treatment ultimately led to a revolt that sought to strip the country of its identity that was over one century in the making.

Leading up to the revolution, slaves and freedmen of color alike had many reasons to be angry with the white colonists. People of color were often “victims of scorn and fear, and often of violent attacks” (Geggus 13). What’s more is that there were external pressures from France.

297px-le_code_noir_1742_edition

A copy of the “Black Code”

The picture depicts the “code noir” which translates to “black code.” This was a code for dealing with “Negres dans les Colonies Françoifes” which means “Blacks in the French colonies.” The code was actually an “enlightened piece of legislation for its time” as it sought to pave ways to give respect to the slaves (Girard 25). Unfortunately, the colonists of Haiti did not care about this code and “simply ignored it” (Girard 25). Ultimately, much like in the Americas, blacks were treated as subhuman in Haiti, regardless of whether or not they were slaves. This, combined with Haiti’s large slave population stirred a pot that was ready to explode. By 1791, the revolution was underway and in 1804, impendence within Haiti was announced to the world (Geggus 179).

With the revolution won, Haitian leadership took the next steps to rid themselves of their identity as a slave colony, opting to do so in the most brutal ways possible. Under the rule of Jean Jacques Dessalines, Haitians committed what was close to a genocide as they purged the country of whites in hopes of separating themselves from a history and identity as slaves (Girard 60).

haitian_revolution_-_blacks_murdering_white_civilians

As can be seen in the image, not even women and children were spared. This massacre was obviously not looked upon well by the other countries. The narrative that was painted was that Haiti’s first diplomatic act as an independent black country was to murder all foreigners (Girard 62). This would undoubtedly be the first blow to Haiti’s “economic development” (Girard 62). Haiti would continue to grapple with how it could decouple itself from its history. Many plantations were burned down during the revolution and in its aftermath (Girard 65). Ultimately, many leaders rose up within Haiti which resulted in a fractured and divided country. In fact, after a particular series of civil wars, Haiti was divided between the north and the south where the north was sympathetic to the plantation system while the south did away with it, opting for sustenance farming instead (Girard 66). Sugar plantations continued to take massive hits until sugar exports completely ceased after Haiti was reunited (Girard 67). Haitians chose happiness while being poor over continuing to be big sugar producers (Girard 67). Of course, there are arguments that if Haiti would have stuck to sugar production they would have still gone down a bad path (Girard 68). However, the point in all this is that Haiti was focused on ridding themselves of a dark past and this ultimately proved to be problematic to their economic stability as it hindered them from looking forward to the future.

Today, Haiti is still a proud and loved country, but it has its issues. A lot of poor people in Haiti continue to eat a traditional type of sugar, showing that Haiti hasn’t caught up with increased standards of sugar production (Ross xx). When we look back to the Haitian Revolution we see a great victory for the Haitian people and a momentous occasion in our world’s history. However, in retrospect, we realize that Haiti’s deep ties to an identity of forced labor and sugar production resulted in a brutal reaction that sought to rip all ties to that identity. Instead of looking to see how they could put their country in a position to dominate the future, Haitian leaders felt it necessary to look back at their history, and we can hardly blame them for doing so.

 

Works Cited

Code Noir. Digital image. N.p., n.d. Web.

Geggus, David Patrick. The Haitian Revolution: a Documentary History. Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 2014.

Girard, Philippe R. Haiti: the Tumultuous History–from Pearl of the Caribbean to Broken Nation. Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.

Haitian Revolution – Blacks murdering white civilians. Digital image. N.p., n.d. Web.

Map of Hispaniola. Digital image. N.p., n.d. Web.

Ross, Clark G., and Sidney W. Mintz. “Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History.” Ethnohistory, vol. 34, no. 1, 1987, p. 103., doi:10.2307/482268.

Chokola: Challenges and Successes in the Haitian Cacao Industry

Upon learning of his troops’ devastating losses in the French colony of Saint-Domingue, soon to be Emperor of France, Napoleon Bonaparte, is said to have proclaimed “Damn sugar! Damn coffee! Damn colonies!” Two years later in 1804, the colony would proudly proclaim its independence as Haiti, and Napoleon would soon after part with most French holdings in the Western Hemisphere (Baptist, Edward E). While the Haitian revolution would wipe out coffee production on the island and contribute to a “sharp decrease” (Mintz, 69) in global sugar production, there was another casualty not included in Napoleon’s famous epithet: cacao.

747px-Battle_for_Palm_Tree_Hill.jpg
“Battle for Palm Tree Hill” by January Suchodolski (“Category:Haitian Revolution.”)

The first commercial cacao plantation of the Spanish empire was established by Hernando Cortez in present day Haiti during the early 1500’s (“Chocolate History”). While this early attempt did not turn out favorably for Spain, it did not stifle other attempts to increase cacao production on the island. The period spanning the early 17th century through the early 19th century “saw the institution…of large scale cocoa production” in which “Haiti’s cocoa production dwarfed that of Venezuela, being nearly ten times as large” (a Brief History of Chocolate) However, following the Haitian revolution, there was a distinct move away from the plantation system as former slaves strongly tied independence to land ownership. When the country divided briefly into the northern kingdom and the southern republic, a plantation system was maintained  in the north while small plots of land were distributed to those in the south. Unsurprisingly, the population preferred the “free and poor” life of the latter over the “happy against their will” (Girard, p.67) existence often used to describe northerners. Once the North fell following Christophe’s suicide by silver bullet, Jean-Pierre Boyer reunited the country and instituted the smallholder farmer system nationwide. However, the propagation of small landholder model meant a precipitous decline in production.

In the years to follow, political mismanagement, global isolation driven by fear – many nations at the time still had legal slavery and had no desire for their “property” to be filled with ideas of independence – and racism led to a steady decline in the Haitian economy. By 2015, over 200 years since Haiti declared independence, Haitian cacao made up only 0.1% of global supply, averaging just 4,500ha a year (confectionerynews.com). This diminutive output, while rooted in historical injustices, is also due to the following causes:

  • Post-harvest loss estimated to be between 20-25%, due to “poorly kept ageing plantations that are usually in just one hectare of land and managed by ageing farmers” (confectionerynews.com) Many youth in Haiti, not seeing a future in agriculture, migrate to urban centers for education and work opportunities.
  • Haitian cacao being sold unfermented due to poor infrastructure for drying which often leads to mold growth during the rainy periods (confectionerynews.com).
  • Lack of access to credit facilities (confectionerynews.com)
  • Lack of access to electricity, including affordable electricity, electricity for more than 6 hours a day, and predictable/scheduled electricity (“How Askanya Is Reviving Haiti’s Chocolate Industry”)
  • Lack of awareness of Haiti as a origin for fine cacao, particularly among American consumers (“Haitian Chocolate Project.”) While the Dominican Republic is a fairly well-known origin country, and services both the US and Latin American markets, many consumers are unaware that the countries share an island and that Haiti has comparable cacao.
  • Burdensome government regulations that do not respond to market needs and make it tenuous for businesses to operate within the country (Haiti ranks 181st on the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Report (Doing Business in Haiti))
  • Arcane property laws (including land tenure) that make it difficult (and often costly) to even secure a site (Building a Stronger Haiti with Chocolate)
  • Low investment by growers at the plantation level as well as the lack of research on cocoa varieties and the improvement of their aromatic and productive potential (“Le Cacao D’Haïti”)

However in recent years there have been a number of initiatives to revitalize the Haitian cacao industry. Premium chocolate companies such as Taza (“Haiti Trip!”), Equitable, Singing Rooster, and Askanya have worked to both source Haitian cacao as well as create sustainable bean-to-bar production companies within the country. Because of their efforts, Haitian chocolate can now be purchased at Whole Foods, and other fine retailers in the United States, France, and Belgium. Products include Taza’s 84% Dark Haiti Chocolate Bar (“84% Dark Haiti.”) and Singing Rooster’s Lemon Ginger Chocolate Bar (“Haitian Chocolate (and Raw Cacao for Bean to Bar Makers)”). Haitian cacao has also been used in beauty products, with Haitian-owned companies such as Kreyol Essence (“Haitian Black Castor Oil”) producing Haitian Organic Chocolate Black Castor Oil, also sold at Whole Foods.

Askanya-Haitian-chocolate-brand.png
Chocolate from Haiti Bean-to-Bar Company, Askanya (“How Askanya Is Reviving Haiti’s Chocolate Industry.”)

Furthermore, noting that cacao accounts for 30 percent of the country’s primary exports, the Ministry of Agriculture (MARNDR), along with donors such as the IDB, USDA, and USAID, have worked to improve infrastructure, farmer/cooperative capacity and access to markets.  In 2011, FECCANO, became the first Haitian cooperative to export fermented cocoa, which was also certified fair and organic. In November 2013, Haiti’s cocoa was voted the best in the world, according to the International Cocoa Awards (“Le Cacao D’Haïti”).

haitian-cocoa-beans.jpg
Haitian Cocoa Beans, “Haitian Chocolate (and Raw Cacao for Bean to Bar Makers).”

Thus while the challenges are plentiful there exists a strong possibility to build up the cacao industry in Haiti and create livelihoods for tens of thousands of families on the island. While some components are structural and must be addressed by the government and donors, consumers can as well support Haitian cacao by purchasing specialty bars and spreading the word about the emerging market. Haiti also serves as a microcosm for the nuanced history cacao has throughout the Americas, showing how a product that was initially associated with slavery and forced labor can, with a concerted effort, be transformed into a product that provides freedom for it’s growers in the form of new opportunities for education, healthcare, and property-an example of just some of the items cacao livelihoods can provide. The responsibility now is for everyone in the supply chain to practice responsible production and consumption to assure that cacao continues to be a plant of opportunity and joy.

Works Cited

a Brief History of Chocolate, http://www.hhhh.org/cloister/chocolate/history.html.

Doing Business in Haiti – World Bank Group, http://www.doingbusiness.org/data/exploreeconomies/haiti.

Building a Stronger Haiti with Chocolate | University of Michigan News, ns.umich.edu/new/multimedia/videos/24582-building-a-stronger-haiti-with-chocolate.

“84% Dark Haiti.” Taza Chocolate, http://www.tazachocolate.com/products/84-dark-haiti.

Baptist, Edward E. “The Ironic, Tragic History of the Louisiana Purchase That Your Teacher Never Told You.” Slate Magazine, 6 Aug. 2015, http://www.slate.com/articles/life/history/2015/08/the_most_successful_slave_rebellion_in_history_created_an_independent_haiti.html.

“Category:Haitian Revolution.” Category:Haitian Revolution – Wikimedia Commons, commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Haitian_Revolution.

“Chocolate History.” Martsipan, martsipan.ee/en/sokolaadi-ajalugu.

Girard, Philippe R. Haiti: the Tumultuous History–from Pearl of the Caribbean to Broken Nation. Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.

“Haiti Trip! Taza Is the First American Chocolate Company to Source Organic Haitian Cacao.” Taza Chocolate, http://www.tazachocolate.com/blogs/news/67713347-haiti-trip-taza-is-the-first-american-chocolate-company-to-source-organic-haitian-cacao.

“Haitian Black Castor Oil Organic Chocolate 100% Natural 3.4oz.” Kreyòl Essence, kreyolessence.com/products/haitian-black-castor-oil-chocolate-arome-chokola.

“Haitian Chocolate (and Raw Cacao for Bean to Bar Makers).” Direct Trade Haitian Coffee, Art, Chocolate, 3 Feb. 2017, singingrooster.org/haitian-chocolate-and-raw-cacao-for-candy-makers/.

“Haitian Chocolate Project.” Yellow Seed, http://www.yellow-seed.org/origins/haitian-chocolate-project.

“How Askanya Is Reviving Haiti’s Chocolate Industry.” Kreyolicious.com, 8 Sept. 2016, kreyolicious.com/askanya-haitian-chocolate-industry/24851.

“Le Cacao D’Haïti : Entre Filière Porteuse Et Absence De Politiques Publiques.” Quotidien Le National, 2 Mar. 2016, http://www.lenational.org/cacao-dhaiti-entre-filiere-porteuse-absence-de-politiques-publique/.

Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power: the Place of Sugar in Modern History. Penguin, 1985.

confectionerynews.com. “After the Earthquake: Haitian Cocoa Rep Rises on High-End Chocolate Scene.” Confectionerynews.com, 17 Feb. 2015, http://www.confectionerynews.com/Article/2015/02/17/Haitian-cocoa-a-rising-origin-for-premium-chocolate.

 

Bean to Bar Chocolate Makers and the Process Oriented Generation

Today niche markets blossom as the national food system increases efficiency and homogeneity. These two interconnected trends force us to ask ethical questions that our grandparents never faced. Firstly, technology both mechanical and genetic, have spurred unprecedented efficiency in food production. We see record yields per acre in corn and soybeans every year (Kristy). Discussions about the risks of GMOs aside, most would agree that today’s feast is preferable to the famines our ancestors faced only a few generations ago. As the most privileged consumers in history, we take for granted the concerns of our forefathers; namely, access to safe, nutritious, food at a reasonable cost. Today food is more accessible, cheaper, and safer than any other time in history (Laudan). This is all good news for consumers. As food choices have become unanimously safe and inexpensive, little was left to differentiate one brand from another.

As consumers we are currently experiencing the, “process generation.” Beginning around the time of the organics movement in the late 1990s, process has come to dominate marketing and consumption. Companies all had complete access to the same limitless basket of ingredients, and were producing only marginally different products. Process became king. When choosing the type of pasta, one no longer looked at the nutrition facts, knowing they would all be roughly the same. Rather, one looked for branding that might denote the most ethically, or sustainably produced pasta made by the most charitable and socially conscious company, packaged in the least wasteful and most recycled paper. Food no longer had to be safe and nutritious, those aspects were assumed, food needed a story.

Thankfully food producers were quick to answer the call. The dichotomy of processed versus non-processed has become complicated by the addition of ethical process issues. Shoppers suddenly can choose between Kraft mac-n-cheese and Annie’s organic and all natural mac-n-cheese, never mind both products are made by multinationals. It does not matter what the story is, but if you are a conscious consumer your food needs a story. Morality suddenly sits on the dinner plate, every food option is either, right or wrong, typically buying the, “right” food costs a little more. Your eggs need to be cage free, your fish needs to be caged, your coffee needs to be fair trade, and your beer needs to be a local brew. The birth of the process generation means that food makers can choose one of many social issues to attract customers. Those customers in turn, use their food purchases to signal their values to their communities. Though people have always used food to signal wealth, for the first time in history, your salad dressing can prove to your neighbors what a charitable person you are. Of course the vast majority of the food industry has remained unchanged, but among premium products differentiation comes with a back-story. Though a little slower to the table, the chocolate industry is no different.

Food advocates often refer to consumption decisions as casting a vote. When walking down the chocolate aisle at the grocery store, you can vote for a wide range of social causes. Your chocolate can help save endangered species, fight global warming, empower women, build schools, pay farmers livable wages and stop deforestation. A relatively new niche has developed in the chocolate industry. Bean to bar chocolate makers occupy a tiny portion of the total chocolate industry but claim to impact producer communities while delivering superior chocolate. Bean to bar chocolate makers are the latest iteration of food snobs, combining the artisanal specificity of a craft brewer with the social awareness of a fair trade coffee roaster and the geographic condescension of a wine connoisseur. If your purchase is your vote, we need to understand who’s on the ballot and what exactly it is that they stand for. This post will try to figure out if bean to bar chocolate makers actually reduce inequality in the chocolate industry or if they simply provide the latest luxury for affluent consumers: peace of mind.

Chocolate bars are typically plastered with certifications to prove their ethical engagement. Gluten free, GMO free, organic, and fair trade are all common badges. However bean to bar makers often go beyond these more standard certifications and claim to address problems that more mainstream bars only hint at. Namely bean to bar chocolate makers try to address the issue of inequality in the chocolate industry. Activists often accuse large chocolate makers of selling “blood” chocolate, or chocolate made from cacao produced by exploited people (Ryan). The common narrative paints cacao farmers as impoverished surfs, exploited by the fickle winds of a corrupt commodity market. However, those same farmers are often accused of exploiting children, by forcing them to work in their cacao plantations as slave labor. More than 500,000 children are estimated to be trapped in forced labor between Ghana and Cote D’ivoire, an area that produces roughly 75% of the worlds cacao (Mustapha). For this reason many consumers flock to chocolate certified as fair trade, searching for assurance that their favorite chocolate company pays farmers enough to avoid forcing children to work as forced laborers.

Taza chocolate based in Somerville Massachusetts is often cited as a shining example of social responsibility in the chocolate world. Self described, “chocolate pioneers” Taza created their own certification, “Direct Trade” that supposedly holds producers to higher environmental and fair-labor standers than the current “Fair Trade” certification. Taza is not simply blowing smoke. They seem genuinely committed to their standard, going so far as to employ, “Quality Certification Services” a third party auditor accredited by the USDA, to audit their internal supply standards. To go even further Taza publishes a yearly transparency report that illuminates the amount and price paid for cacao from each producer region. Currently Taza partners with five grower communities in Bolivia, Belize, Dominican Republic, and Haiti. The below video describes how Taza has impacted their farmer partners in Haiti and generally how the Direct Trade model is supposed to work.

 

Though not explicitly stated, the video shows how Direct Trade relies on a framework of intermediaries to organize high quality cacao production. Though Taza found quality cacao in Haiti, investment and technical support were required for industrial production. Pisa is a cacao company that buys raw cacao seeds from farmers and prepares and markets them for export. In addition to coordinating with buyers such as Taza, Pisa supports farmers, helping them grow the most efficient and highest quality cacao possible. The video only briefly referenced Root Capital. This Cambridge based company works to, “connect smallholder farmers to world markets” typically through financing, technical training and business education (Root). Though called, “Direct Trade” Taza’s video shows that farmer – chocolate maker interactions are complicated, and even in their simplest forms require third and fourth party involvement. As ethical consumers, we can celebrate the impact that Taza and their partners have had in Haiti. The Direct Trade model appears to help stabilize demand and provide consistent, fair pricing for farmers. In his book “The Fair Trade Scandal” Ndongo Samba Sylla explains how price fluctuation and market inconsistency are two of the main factors preventing farmers from investing in their farms. His point, as the title might suggest, is that the “Fair Trade” standard falls short of reducing inequality in the chocolate industry. Adding a few hundred dollars to an ever changing global cacao price is often not worth the high certification fees for farmers (Sylla). Taza appears aware of the shortcomings of “Fair Trade” and seems determined to overcome the challenge of inequality. However, is there a point at which too much foreign involvement can hurt a cacao community?

 

Taza founder Alex Witmore explains about his role as co-founder of “Maya Mountain Cacao” in Belize. Maya Mountain acts much like Pisa did in Haiti, providing industry coordination as well as technical support for new and existing farmers. A cynic might see Taza’s investment in the Belizean company as a step backward toward colonial sugar or cacao production, once so common in Sough America and the Caribbean. However, while some socially conscious consumers might still cringe, Taza appears to be fostering an infant industry in Belize. Firstly, according to Taza’s transparency report, they only bought 3.81 metric tons of cacao from Maya Mountain in 2016. This purchase made up approximately 1.6% of all Taza’s total purchases by weight. Secondly 74.5% of the sale price went to Maya Mountain’s partner farmers, this is on par with, or slightly higher than the percentages paid to farmers in Taza’s other four production groups. At this point it appears that Taza is leveraging their considerable industry knowledge to support cacao cultivation in an infant cacao industry. After going through the literature and the information on Taza’s website, it seems like they are the gold standard for a reason. Taza strives to create legitimate impact in their producer communities. We can’t fault Taza for their limited impact simply because they are a comparatively small company.

 

As a second case study we examine Lake Champlain Chocolates, a confectioner based in Burlington Vermont. From the start LCC and Taza appear to be from two different generations. Taza embodies the ideals and desires of the “process generation” prominently sporting the option, “learn” next to the, “buy” or, visit buttons on their homepage. This header sits over a slideshow of chocolate close-ups, machinery grinding beans and farmers growing cacao. The website expertly communicates that Taza values process as much as any millennial. LCC on the other hand, is a retail website. The homepage sports glossy images of neatly packaged seasonal gifts. Customers have to scroll to the bottom of the page and hunt through the fine print to find the “About Us” section. While this product-oriented approach to marketing denotes humility on LCC’s part, it misses the importance that current consumers place on a food’s background. On the face of it LCC is appears to be from the generation where luxury meant flavor and packaging, not a social conscience. However beneath the superficiality of websites, LCC and Taza may have much in common.

 

Blue Bandana Chocolate Maker is one of LCC’s sub-brands. Blue Bandana is a bean to bar chocolate maker, currently producing five, single origin bars. Started in 2012 by LCC’s, now CEO, Eric Lampman Blue Bandana partners with growers and cooperatives to provide consistent income while ensuring the highest quality cacao. One of the ways that Blue Bandana ensures that their partner-farmers are upholding high labor and environmental standards is through site visits. The below video shows follows funder Eric Lampman as he pays a visit to Anselmo Luc, a Guatemalan cacao producer.

 

I had the good fortune to speak with Nick Hadsel-Mares, the principle chocolate maker at Blue Bandana about the company and the bean to bar industry more generally.

 

Nick explained that Blue Bandana, and many other bean to bar makers are riding a wave of consumer demand. According to Nick, “Chocolate is a completely different landscape than it was ten years ago.” He added that, “Consumers have shifted, they expect a lot more transparency, they want Fair Trade and organic and are willing to pay a premium for it.” The new tide of consumer interest in transparency is one that Nick thinks is unlikely to end. When asked what drove Blue Bandana to work with a specific community he said, “Well firstly, it’s all about the beans, we’re a company after all and we need to produce exceptional chocolate bars. That being said, we care deeply about the working conditions and practices on our partner’s farms. If a producer is not transparent about their practices, we won’t work with them.” According to Nick, Blue Bandana’s commitments to ethical process and Direct Trade are not unique in the bean to bar community. From his years in the industry, Nick assured me of the earnestness and responsibility that bean to bar makers feel about their partners growing the cacao. Because Blue Bandana is much smaller than Taza, they don’t have the resources to produce an in-depth transparency report. However Nick assured me that part of their direct trade model is paying farmers well above the “Fair Trade” price for premium cacao.

After researching both companies and speaking to Nick, it appears this post is premised on a false dichotomy. Bean to bar chocolate makers might simultaneously impact their producer communities while also providing a product inline with consumers’ ethical standards. Because the bean to bar industry makes up an estimated .47% of the chocolate industry, their impact might go further than critics expect. Consumers are demanding more transparency and more ethical process. Though small, companies like Taza and Blue Bandana are validating that consumer interest. Some, including Nick, hope that Taza and Blue Bandana can teach the rest of the chocolate industry how to be “better” while still turning a profit. When evaluating these companies as consumers it is important to remember one thing; Blue Bandana and Taza never ask consumers to compromise on taste. Both companies are jointly driven by finding powerful and unique flavors while achieving a tangible benefit for their places of origin. Ethics aside, many would argue that the premium for these bars is justified by taste alone. However, knowing that farmers are paid a fair price only makes the bar that much sweeter.

 

Special thanks to Nick Hadsel-Mares who took time out of his busy schedule to chat. His skill as a chocolate maker is paralleled only by vast knowledge of the industry.

 

                       Work Cited

Kristy Foster Seachrist | Sep 09, 2016. “Georgia producer sets new world soybean yield record.” Corn and Soybean Digest. N.p., 21 Sept. 2016. Web. 05 May 2017.

Laudan, Rachel. “Plea for Culinary Modernism.pdf.” : n. pag. Print.

Mustapha, Kemi. “Taste of Child Labor Not so Sweet: A Crititue of Regulatory Approaches to Combating Child Labor Abuses by the U.S Chocolate Industry.” 1 (2010): n. pag. Print.

“Root Capital.” Root Capital. N.p., 03 May 2017. Web. 05 May 2017.

Ryan, Orla. Chocolate Nations: Living and Dying for Cocoa in West Africa. N.p., 2011. Print.

Sylla, Samba Ndongo. The Fair Trade Scandal. N.p., 2014. Print.