Contrary to popular belief, Marcy Norton informed us that the Spanish developed a taste for Mesoamerican chocolate and did not improve much on it, in fact, they came to love this infatuating indigenous product (C. Martin, Health, Nutrition and The Politics of food, 2018).There has been no time more significant for authenticating this historic hypothesis than now. Quality chocolate manufacturers in the US are currently proliferating in their pursuit of bringing more value, new market, and high quality to the contemporary coca-chocolate market through the back to origins chocolate differentiation movement. This movement began focusing on purity of origin, single origin, and maximizing quality throughout the supply chain from the 1980s and 1990s (C. Martin, Haute Patisserie, Artisan Chocolate, and Food Justice: the future? 2018). What started with a number of small companies that could be counted by hand, and filled a shelf or two at a niche market store like Wholefoods, are now counted in the tens of differentiated chocolate brands that occupies an entire beautifully set sectionals of the Wholefoods Market with tens of options of bars and many certifications visible atop of their high quality, differentiated, certified, and indeed, confusing packages.
Photos by me,C.2018
This confusion might be due to the lack of knowledge of the meaning of those certifications, lack of information about Cocoa sourcing, and disconnect between the supply chain’s workers and farmers on one end and consumers on the other end. At a world distinguished by connectivity, in this particular chain, no one is connecting. My simple chocolate selection visit to Wholefoods took me through a complex analysis of this contemporary Cocoa-Chocolate market’s social and historic issues relating to differentiation, certification, and confusion. The Wholefoods Market research journey started with research, and then analysis that I conducted linking the chocolate’s origins to the future. I began to reason the philosophy motivating these companies to go back to the origins of chocolate through differentiation, certification, and what is causing consumers like me an unpleasant confusion. I chose three major brands, Theo, Divine, and Taza Chocolates. My curiosity towards these brands was triggered based on a unique characteristic distinguishing each of them, Theo’s unique manufacturing transparency, Divine’s unique Ghana based premium production, and Taza’s unique certification.
Photos by me,C.2018
The minute I set my eyes on Theo’s chocolate bars displayed,thoughts rushed flowing in my brain, linking the packages to chocolate origins, certifications, and their impact on cocoa’s workers and farmers. On Every Theo Chocolate Bar package, and for any flavor, the “O” in the word Theo is drawn as a Cocoa pod hanging down, the way oranges would off trees’ tops. While the Orange dripping chocolate is placed on the middle body of a tree the way cocoa pods grow on a cocoa tree; being a member of the cauliflory trees (C. Martin, Sugar and Cacao, 2018). I interpreted this creative swap of forming the Cocoa Pod logo as the upper part hanging on the top of Cocoa Tree’s body, and centered with fruits as divine design, because it took me back to Mesoamerican beliefs of Theobroma cocoa tree as the tree where gods were born, and that together with other tree, fruits’ gods are born from earth as fruits; this took me straight into history and tempted me to taste the flavors(C. Martin, Mesoamerica-and-the-Food-of-the-gods, 2018). Upon seeing the mixing of the melting chocolates with peppers, fruits, and colors, my mouth was watering with positive expectation. Once I tasted the melting-with-ease-chocolate mixed with the spicy pepper, another journey to origins took me to the traveling recipes that were adopted and transferred by Europeans and North Americans in the post Colombian Era.(C. Martin, Chocolate-Expansion, 2018).
Photo by me, C.2018
From Theo’s two major certifications the Certified Organic was the least confusing to me in an organic niche-market-store of the relatively informed customer. However, the Fair-for-Life Certification is not as recognized as the Certified organic. Researching their website literature added to my confusion as it mentions its “respect to human rights and fair working conditions” at the top of its mission statement, however it does not mention any evidence of its impact’s further details about what its reality, structure, and policy of “fair working conditions”(Fair-for-Life, 2018). This may induce a comfortable feeling within a consumers that they are contributing to the livelihoods of workers and farmers who are giving them the joy of chocolate. However, this may be an inflated, vague, and confused comfort. Citing directly from Theo’s company’s literature atop packaging covers is what even adds to it:” we pay farmers quality premiums that far exceeds fair trade premiums.” (Theo Chocolate, 2018). Despite the fact Theo chocolate mentions that 70% of its cocoa beans come from the Republic of Congo, there is no connection or information provided about workers or the Terroir of place and community that distinguishes this specific cocoa characteristics. The connect lacking between the up and down stream far ends of Theo’s consumers on one end, and workers and farmers on the other end, is not lacking when it comes to the connection Theo uniquely established between consumers and manufacturers as it provides a theochocolate.com link to its website on the back of its bar’s cover. The Theo chocolate’s website includes a scheduling of a tour to its factory in a rare display of transparency that is unconventional in the chocolate industry in general, nevertheless, these tours are not free. (Theo Chocolate, 2018). To view details about scheduling a tour of the Theo’s Chocolate Factory, please visit the following link: https://www.theochocolate.com/factory-tours/
Photo by me,C 2018
The second brand that tempted me to research was the Divine chocolate. The Louis Vuitton-Like luxurious packaging distinguished with patterns displaying what is perhaps ancient Ghanaian Drawings and patterns depicting turtles, birds, and objects, took me back to the origins of Mesoamerican luxurious artifacts and vases used to contain liquid chocolate the way this gold-lined-packet is containing this modern version of molded chocolate reminiscent of Rio Azul’s Mayan-patterned Vessel (C. Martin, Introduction, 2018). The texture of the chocolate is supper rich, smooth, and takes longer to melt. Citing directly from Divine literature on the bar cover, there is a seal that says: “ Owned by Farmers, Made for Chocolate Lovers”( Divine chocolate, 2018)”, while the “V” in the word Divine is shaped as a heart for logo, which displays an association between love celebrations and the Divine bar in a display of commercialization. Nevertheless, what struck me in this brand is the level of contrast between its luxurious packaging and its uniqueness being located in a Ghana producing region and the lack of depiction of farmers and workers, especially working women in Ghana.
Photos by me, C 2018
The back of the package mentions the Co-operative farmers owned coca farms in Ghana, Kuapa Kokoobusy, and the Fairtrade Certification was visible on top of the front-cover; however, nothing explains what Fairtrade Certification means. Nothing explains the way Fairtrade distributes money premiums that is supposed to go to farmers. The glamorous look of the package does not inform me as a consumer about the responsible sourcing. This is not an issue of Divine chocolate as much as it is a Fairtrade issue due to two major reasons. First, there is a lack of evidence about the impact of Fairtrade due to absence of any studies that prove it, in the Fair Trade Scandal, page 181, Ndongo S. Sylla expresses this fundamental problem at the hardcore of Fairtrade operations: “…they do not conduct baseline studies, do away with the use of reference groups and do not take into account the possible selection bias involved in participation in the FT system” ( Sylla, 2014). Second, the association of Fairtrade, Farmers, and Co-operatives, because the Cooperatives system within Fairtrade ensures that the money premium consumers pay does not go directly to farmers. Rather instead, it goes to the Co-operatives who will allocate resources based on priorities they set without taking into consideration the individual workers and farmers’ priorities who are already overburdened with the additional pay for the Fairtrade Certification(C. Martin, Alternative Trade and Virtuous Localization/Globalization, 2018). From my analysis, Co-operatives as an agricultural phenomenon that grew in the 19th century in the US through the “Rochadel Cooperativism”, only to expand into Latin America and other parts of the world, is not necessarily the answer to current cocoa farmers’ problems (Healy, 2001). Perhaps the Fairtrade Bureaucracy needs to empower the source of this market’s wealth, the workers, and provide the opportunity for them to share the abundant industry’s wealth by listening to their priorities. One thing Divine is associating with Fairtrade and I found confusing, and can be defined as the responsibility of Divine, is the association of quality and fair trade in the first sentence on the back of the Divine package,as it says: “the Divine chocolate is made with the finest quality Fairtrade Cocoa Beans” (Divine chocolate, 2018), however, the Fairtrade Certification does not guarantee quality (C. Martin, Alternative Trade and Virtuous Localization/Globalization, 2018).
Photos by me, C 2018
The third brand I chose is Taza chocolate for three specific reasons: First, its Mesoamerican back to the Mexican-Mayan origins of chocolate and the application of differentiation and terroir. Second, its unique Taza Direct Trade Certification. Third, its unique application of the term “minimally processed” in their market positioning. From Taza Chocolate’s paper use for packaging we can sense the back to authenticity upon touching the baking-sheet-like type of paper. The unique disk shaped bar reminds us of the Cocoa Powder pressed cakes (C. Martin, iNtroduction,2018). To me it is also an artistic expression for sustainability and cradle to cradle product life cycle. The taste of their 70% Cacao Puro is dryer than other 70% chocolates, yet it is delicious and intense. The differentiation in Taza goes back to the Mesoamerican Mayan Origins in many manifestations on the small disk’s front and back, it is especially reminiscent of Rio Azul Rounded and Mayan-patterned Vessels (C. Martin, Introduction, 2018). In my perspective, citing Taza’s packaging literature, the front is manifestation of differentiation through their comprehensive phrase: “Mexican-Style Stone Ground Chocolate”, and manifestation of certification through “Organic-Direct Trade” (Taza chocolate, 2018). While the back also manifests differentiation through both the “minimally processed” and the “stone ground” simultaneously ( Taza chocolate, 2018). Taza’s manifestation of certifications comes through its certified organic and Taza Direct Trade Certification. Taza Direct Trade Certification has its pros and cons, on one hand it ensures farmers are directly paid their increased premiums, and it incentivizes quality, Nevertheless, it is distinguished by its fragile relationships, and is limited in reach, as it only represents a small amount of 200 Mt/Y from 4800 Mt/Y of Cocoa Yields.(C. Martin, Alternative Trade and Virtuous Localization/Globalization, 2018). The pros of the quality chocolate, real relationships, and more money to farmers are highlighted in Taza’s literature on their website, however the cons are not. (Taza Chocolate, 2018).
Photos by me, C. 2018
In applying my own analysis, I find the Taza Chcolate emphasized phrase of “minimally processed chocolate” to be the most confusing on top of the confusion caused by the vast unknowability of Taza Direct Trade Certified. My interpretation as a health conscious consumer of the word “Processed” in food is associated with many negativities of general processed foods like preservatives, artificial coloring, high fructose corn syrup, and artificial falvors, etc. However, in the high quality certified chocolate differentiated market, the word “processed” is often associated with the process of making chocolate including all of its natural stages of processing chocolate, and to me this is a confusing employment of the concept.Perhaps it is intended to drive the niche Wholefoods health conscious consumer to perceive Taza Chcolate as different from other quality chocolate brands. Nevertheless, Taza might not necessarily be that different in quality, and in my perspective this is a point of confusion. The processing of quality chocolate is often natural, while the processed massively produced chocolate is what is usually only adding 11% chocolate to a bunch of saturated fats, sugar, milk, and other artificial ingredients and calling it chocolate, because in the US it is legal to add 11% chocolate to these ingredients and call it chocolate (Martin, C. Introduction, 2018). Moreover, that is the massively produced chocolate of the big top five managerial corporations, but this is a different topic to a different set of research that is not applicable to quality chocolate definition of “Processed chocolate”. Honesty, transparency, and explicit goal-driven intentions are more important in the long run for Taza chocolate so that it can strategically grow, prosper, and expand its market.
The word fair means allot to human beings and triggers our passions for treating others the way we like to be treated, and this should be the reality of Fairtrade Certification not just the Title. The word fair induces a good feeling for the customer that is thinking I am acting responsibly and purchasing things that would help the farmer communities in building school, eliminate child labor, abolish inequality, provide health services, and better living conditions. Consumers have no idea that there is no guarantee that the premiums go directly to the farmers in Fairtrade and rather it goes towards the cooperatives. Additionally, there are fees for certification that are very costly throughout the chain costing millions of dollars,however Fairtrade yields are selling in very low numbers(C. Martin, Alternative Trade and Virtuous Localization/Globalization, 2018).
I believe fair trade can enhance its message, international presence, and success through reforms to its cooperative policy that enables change in its structure in the following three main areas: 1. Reform structure to deliver money straight to farmers and works, 2. Emphasize dispatching promotion and marketing campaigns directed towards governments, corporations, manufacturers, and inform consumers and retailers to purchase certified cocoa. This insures that cocoa farmers and workers that have been enduring the costs associated with fair trade certification and committing their limited resources to it are not left alone to face their economic hardships. 3. The word fair inhibits the value of fairness that touches hearts, especially the warm hearts of chocolate lovers, therefore fair trade certification has to implement a reform strategy that would put the consumer and the worker/farmer in the central respectful place they deserve by being transparent, and by connecting the consumers and farmers together through informing consumers about farmers and workers conditions, issues, and aspirations. This strategy would eliminate the confusion that has been a chronic characteristic and a residue of the chocolate differentiation certification. Moreover, it will illuminate the truth around fair trade chocolate certification due to the international recognition of fair trade. This in turn will have a positive impact upon other certifications like Taza Direct Trade, UTZ, and Rain Forest Alliance, in terms of democratizing awareness around workers and farmers conditions, improving the workers and farmers conditions, and connecting consumers at the end market to workers and farmers at the beginning, where it all starts.
Fair For Life. (2018). About Life and Fair for Life. Fair For Life. Fairforlife.org. Retrieved from http://www.fairforlife.org/pmws/indexDOM.php?client_id=fairforlife&page_id=about&lang_iso639=en
Fairtrade America. (2018). what is Fairtrade. Fair Trade America. Fairtradeamerica.org. Retrieved from http://fairtradeamerica.org/What-is-Fairtrade
Divine Chocolate. (2018). Introducing our new packaging design!, Divine Chocolate. Devinechocolate.com. Retrieved from http://www.divinechocolate.com/us/good-stuff/news/2018/3/introducing-our-new-packaging-design
Healy, Kevin. (2001). Llamas, Weavings, and Organic Chocolate: Multicultural Grassroots Development in the Andes and Amazon of Bolivia. (Class readings week of April 2)
Martin, Carla D. “Introduction.” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard University: Cambridge, MA. 24 Jan.2018. Class Lecture.
Martin, Carla D. “Mesoamerica and the ‘Food of the Gods.’”. Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard University: Cambridge, MA. 31 Jan.2018. Class Lecture.
Martin, Carla D. “Chocolate Expansion.’”. Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard University: Cambridge, MA. 07 Feb.2018. Class Lecture.
Martin, Carla D. “Health, Nutrition and The Politics of food’”. Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard University: Cambridge, MA. 11, April .2018. Class Lecture.
Martin, Carla D. “Haute Patisserie, Artisan Chocolate, and Food Justice: the future?” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard University: Cambridge, MA. 25 April.2018. Class Lecture.
Martin, Carla D. “Sugar and Cacao” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard University: Cambridge, MA. 14 Feb.2018. Class Lecture.
Martin, Carla D. “Alternative Trade and Virtuous Localization/Globalization” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard University: Cambridge, MA. 04, April.2018. Class Lecture.
Sylla, S.N. (2014). The Fair Trade scandal: marketing poverty to benefit the rich. Page 181, Retrevied from https://link-springer-com.ezp-prod1.hul.harvard.edu/content/pdf/10.1007%2Fs10460-017-9803-y.pdf
Taza Chocolate. ( 2018). Direct Trade Certified. Taza Chocolate. Tazachocolate.com. Retrieved from https://www.tazachocolate.com/pages/taza-direct-trade
Theo Chocolate (2018). Tours at Theo. Theochocolate. Theochocolate.com. Retrieved from https://www.theochocolate.com/factory-tours/
P.S. All Images have been taken by me with the approval of the Wholefoods store Management and Prof. Martin.