Tag Archives: labels

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

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

Equal Exchange Chocoalate Orange.jpg


Equal Exchange Mint.jpg

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

Equal Exchange Clara Huaman Santa Cruz.jpg

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

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

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

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

Equal Exchange-Luis Diaz Aylas.jpg

What and who defines Fair Trade?

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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



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

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

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

Sylla, Ndaongo. 2014. The Fair Trade Scandal.


Industrialization of Chocolate: Consequences of Mass Production and the Returning Desire for Pure Cacao

Chocolate is a commodity that is frequently purchased with an overall retail value of 18.6 billion dollars in the United States alone (2017). With such a mass amount of consumers it is important to uphold safety regulations in order to ensure that the product being purchased is indeed safe for consumption. The consumer often places trust in the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to properly vet their store bought goods and designate them as safe for human consumption. Recent chemical analyses from the University of Campinas, Brazil, suggests that levels of cadmium and lead found in chocolate may be hazardous to consumers. These chemical elements are most likely introduced to the product during the preservation and manufacturing processes of production (Villa et al. 2014, 8762). Who then oversees such processes? What regulations are currently in place by the Food and Drug Administration regarding chocolate? What safety precautions will arise in the chocolate industry due to this new found discovery?

According to Jack Goody (2013) there are four steps that connote the industrialization of products meant for consumption. These four steps include preservation, mechanization, retailing and transportation (Goody 2013, 72). It is within these first two steps of preservation and mechanization, or manufacturing, that Villa et al. (2014) suggests hazardous chemicals have seeped into this widely consumed product. Preservation of food during early industrialization was often met through methods of salting, adding sugar, canning and artificial freezing (Goody 2013, 73). According to the Hershey’s company, chocolate is currently preserved by its’ wrapping and its’ placement in a cool, dry place. The packaging of this food, meant for preservation, is created during the mechanization phase of industrialization. Presilla (2009), author of The New Taste of Chocolate, points out that at “many factories the wrapping is done by machine” although others unfold and wrap each bar by hand (2009, 117).” Villa et al. identifies chocolate wrappers as one of the means responsible for initially introducing lead and cadmium into the product. The trace amounts found in chocolate vary depending on the brand which may have something to do with the differing approaches each company takes when wrapping their product.

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“…A linear correlation exists between the cocoa content and the concentrations of [cadmium and lead], which suggests that the main source of contamination of [cadmium] and [lead] in chocolates is the cocoa used in the manufacturing process (Villa et al. 2014, 8762).”

Title 21 of the Food and Drug Administration requires the declaration of all of the ingredients used in food to be stated on a label that can be easily seen by the consumer (FDA 2017). If chocolate is manufactured with alkali ingredients or neutralizing agents the manufacturing company is required to state that on that label as well. There has been recent controversy as to whether or not this label should include a warning due to the exposure of chemicals such as cadmium and lead. After all, California’s Proposition 65 requires “warning before exposure to chemicals known to cause cancer or reproductive toxicity (Abelson 1987, 1553).” On February 15, 2018 a California Superior Court judge in San Francisco finally set requirements for such warnings. These warnings will be required on labels in California based on the the levels of lead and cadmium in the product as well as the level of cacao content (2018).


This warning is required by California’s Proposition 65 to be listed on any product that may expose a consumer to chemicals that cause cancer or reproductive harm. 

Traditionally, or before chocolate was developed to be sold in mass quantities during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, there were no alkali ingredients or neutralizing agents stirred in to these recipes. There was no need for labels marking this product as hazardous. Instead, the ingredient list could be summed up by indigenous herbs and spices.

When the Spaniards arrived to New Mexico and discovered chocolate in the 1500s, they also discovered the concept chokola’j, the act of drinking chocolate in social contexts. Colonists decided to bring this concept back with them to the Old World as a way of bringing together members of the opposite sex for casual conversation. When the realization occurred in the early 19th century that chocolate could be hardened and eaten in a solid form, nations such as Northern and Central Europe decided to capitalize on the idea and turn a profit. By 1828 a Dutch chemist by the name of Van Houten had synthesized a manufacturing process that would take the world by storm (Coe and Coe 1996, 233-234). Dutch-Process cocoa was able to “neutralize some of the harsh acid components of the original cacao” by treating cocoa with alkali (Martin 2018, Lecture). The color of the cocoa becomes much darker while the flavor becomes milder as is seen with the Oreo (Martin 2018, Lecture).


The photo listed above is from a 1945 issue of Parent’s magazine. An advertisement for Van Houten’s Dutch-Process cocoa is listed to the left of the magazine spread.

Many corporations have made a large capital from innovations such as the manufacturing of Dutch-Process cocoa as well as the creation of milk chocolate in 1879 (Coe and Coe 1996, 247). However, there were several scandals along the way. It was eventually uncovered that companies would substitute cacao related ingredients with other additives in a scheme to get rich quick. Coe and Coe quote a French author from 1875 who discusses such scandals, claiming that companies have been able to replace cocoa butter with additives such as “olive oil, sweet almond oil, egg yolks, or suet of veal and mutton” with an addition of foreign materials like gum or dextrin in order to keep the chocolate from spoiling (Coe and Coe 1996, 243).

Of course, scandals like these were soon put to justice as the health commission for the analysis of foods was finally created in Europe in 1850 (Coe and Coe 1996, 244). Today the United States FDA regulations require labels stating the ingredients used in manufacturing their chocolate. However, there is still a widespread desire to return to this notion of “pure” chocolate.

Coe and Coe discuss a push to return to a more natural version of cacao, one that contains less sugar content and additives. There is also a push to return to local markets and purchase cacao that comes from small producers rather than large factories. Perhaps this push will create a chain reaction in which the safety precautions and labels, such as those mandated from Proposition 65, will no longer be needed. If in fact high levels of cadmium and lead are positively correlated with machines used in corporate manufacturing, then the desire for a product that is developed with more of a personal touch, as seen in companies who wrap their chocolate bars by hand, may in turn decrease the level of hazardous chemicals consumed.


Works Cited

Abelson, P. (1987). California’s Proposition 65. Science, 237(4822), 1553.

Advertisement: VAN HOUTEN’S DUTCH PROCESS COCOA. (1945, 11). Parents’ Magazine, 20, 44. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.ezp-prod1.hul.harvard.edu/docview/1913261614?accountid=11311

Anonymous. (2017). CHOCOLATE CONFECTIONERY IN THE US. Euromonitor Industrial and Sector Capsules, 1-3.

Coe, Sophie D. and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate.  Thames & Hudson Ltd: London (1996) Print

Court Establishes Guidelines For Chocolate Sold In California. (2018, February 15). Food Manufacturing, p. Food Manufacturing, Feb 15, 2018.

Goody, J. (1982). Industrial food: Towards the development of a world cuisine. In Cooking, Cuisine and Class (pp. 154-174). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hershey Company. (2018). Frequently Asked Questions. Retrieved from https://www.thehersheycompany.com/en_us/home/faqs.html

Martin, Carla D. “Lecture 2: Mesoamerica and the “Food of the Gods”” Lecture

OEHHA. (2018). Proposition 65. Retrieved from https://www.p65warnings.ca.gov

Presilla, Maricel. The New Taste of Chocolate, Revised.  Ten Speed Press, Berkeley, CA (2009) Print

U.S. Food & Drug Administration. (2017). CFR – Code of Federal Regulations Title 21. Retrieved from https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/cdrh/cfdocs/cfcfr/CFRSearch.cfm?fr=163.130

Villa, J., Peixoto, R., & Cadore, S. (2014). Cadmium and lead in chocolates commercialized in Brazil. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 62(34), 8759-63.

Author, A. A., & Author, B. B. (Date of publication). Title of article. Title of Online Periodical, volume number(issue number if available). Retrieved from http://www.someaddress.com/full/url/