Tag Archives: organic

The Luxury Chocolate Tasting of R-Dizzle Rich

Purpose of the Tasting

The purpose of my chocolate tasting was to see whether the attendees could discern between the four various categories for the sourcing and materialization of chocolate as discussed in class and the readings: (1) Direct Trade, (2) Fair Trade, (3) Organic, and (4) Industrialized. Because much of Chocolate class was about the social, anthropological, and economic impacts of and differences between each of these chocolate types, I thought this would be an excellent theme to my tasting that brings historical, socioeconomic, and taste-related views.

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Figure 1. The fancy invitations I used to invite 7 participants to my tasting.

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Figure 2. The participants of my chocolate tasting.


Types of Chocolate in the Tasting

(1) Direct Trade There are four general types of chocolate (based on its production processes) that we have learned in Chocolate class. The first is Direct Trade, also known as bean-to-bar chocolate, as these companies have control of its manufacturing process from growing and harvesting of the cacao bean all the way to its packaging and selling into a bar. Direct Trade chocolate is usually a chocolate company that directly deals with farmers. There’s a bit of variation in its manufacturing processes, but this leaves more room for negotiation from the different chocolate companies. Direct Trade companies may place environmental and labor factors into consideration, but not to as far of an extent as other chocolate types such as Fair Trade. In Direct Trade, there is less regulation because it is assumed that there is maximum control between the cacao harvesters, manufacturers, and packagers of the chocolate product. However, the very direct control of these Direct Trade chocolate companies costs a high premium, making their products quite expensive. Because of the rarity of a chocolate company having complete control of an entire chocolate farm, which is usually located outside of the U.S., solely for their company, the quantity of Direct Trade producers which exists is very low.

(2) Fair Trade The second category of chocolates presented was the Fair Trade chocolate type. These mass-produced confections are intended to guarantee a consistent smell and taste, achieved through rigorous oversight and a careful blending of cacao. According to Michael D’Antonio of Hershey: Milton S. Hershey’s Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams, using liquid condensed milk instead of the powdered milk that the Swiss favored, Schmalbach’s mixture was easier to move through various processes: “…it could be pumped, channeled, and poured — and it required less time for smoothing and grinding. Hershey would be able to make milk chocolate faster, and therefore cheaper, than the Europeans” (D’Antonio 2006: 108). With techniques like these that were melded again and again by Hershey a century ago, efficiency of methods for the mass-production and -distribution of chocolate was possible. However, these efficient industrialized methods definitely compromise the ethics of labor, environmentalism, and health-focuses of these chocolates.

(3) Organic The third type of chocolate that is explored in this tasting is Organic chocolate. Organic chocolates place an emphasis on health and the environment. They do not use pesticides, and because it places such a large, conscious emphasis on these issues, there is a loss of yield that occurs in terms of its production and consumption. These chocolate products also tend to be extremely expensive, for there is usually a rearrangement premium placed on their price tag. Additionally, although organic chocolate products focus on health-related and environmental issues, there is no standard for the laborers of its production. Organic chocolate products must also all undergo certification, and usually the bars themselves are sold in small proportions.

(4) Industrialized The final category of chocolates which were presented during the tasting was Industrialized chocolate. Fair Trade chocolates emphasize the moral ethics of the chocolate production. They prioritize producing ethical, labor-regulated goods, and for this reason they also weigh between ingredient and product. These products also require a certification by one or more of the various Fair Trade certification companies. These groups usually require a type of price threshold, which makes this type of chocolate a little bit more expensive. Fair Trade chocolates also take the environment into account, although oftentimes not as much as Organic chocolates do. Fair Trade chocolates also focus on community development.


Advertising

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Figure 3. The advertising and packaging used for each of the four chocolates used in my tasting.

(1) Direct Trade:

Taza Chocolate, Seriously Dark, 87% Cacao, Organic Dark Chocolate

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Observations of Packaging:

  • Girly
  • Bright colors
  • Easy-to-read font that pops out

(2) Fair Trade:

Seattle Chocolate, Pike Place Espresso, Dark Chocolate Truffle Bar with Decaf Espresso

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Observations of Packaging:

  • “Adult-like”
  • “Rainy coffeehouse hipster”
  • Elegant
  • Cloudy color scheme (not as bright)

(3) Organic:

Lake Champlain Chocolates, Cacao Nibs & Dark Chocolate, 80% Cocoa

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Observations of Packaging:

  • Simple
  • “Typical coffee colors”
  • Compromise between adult- and kid-themed packaging (could theoretically work for either audience)

(4) Industrialized:

Cadbury, Royal Dark, Dark Chocolate

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Observations of Packaging:

  • Shiny
  • “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”
  • Regal, luxurious

 


Works Cited

“Here There Will Be No Unhappiness.” Hershey Milton S. Hershey’s Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams, by Michael D D’Antonio, Simon & Schuster, 2006, pp. 106–126.

 

 

Returning To the Basics: Grenada’s Chocolate Revolution

Chocolate is a universal product. Everyone knows this, yet no one can avoid it. No matter what you do at least a few times a day you come across someone selling, advertising, eating or talking about chocolate. The food is so popular that it has become ingrained as a staple in modern society. However, while being a staple of society, most people do not know the complexities behind what it takes to grow, harvest and trade chocolate. Companies fight on a daily basis to find the best cacao for the lowest price. Unfortunately, this pushes chocolate makers and providers towards ingenuine and sometimes unethical practices in order to compete within the market such as child labor, un-fair trade, in-genuine ingredient use and poor environmental impact. These have become major critiquing points for the chocolate industry. The existence of these practices shows how the present day chocolate industry has fallen out of touch with the unique flavor of chocolate, the personal relationships between farmer and consumer as well as with the environment that provides this product. Though many companies participate, in some way or another, in these unethical practices for the sake of convenience or monetary ease, there is a rising number of companies that are devoted to fair practices, high quality ingredients and environmental sustainability. One of these companies is the Grenada Chocolate company, a small group dedicated to setting an example of what chocolate production should be like through their high-quality chocolate, relationship with farmers and dedication to environmental sustainability.

 
grenada

The Grenada Chocolate company was established in 1999 by Mott Green (born David Friedman), Doug Browne and Edmond Brown who had the idea of creating a cooperative amongst Grenadian chocolate makers.1 The company is the first “Tree to Bar” chocolate company to be established in Grenada and prides themselves on fair practice and on the amount that they give back to the local economy of the village of Hermitage in St Patricks. GCC makes their award-winning chocolate using trinitario cacao beans and focuses on creating dark chocolate bars of various percentages and combinations. The story of GCC is very much linked to the story of its founder, Mott Green, who set out to create an ethical chocolate company after thinking about and seeing all the injustice that is committed while people enjoy chocolate without a clue that these injustices occur. After much contemplation, he and his partners bought a small abandoned building in the village of Hermitage and transformed it into a chocolate factory6. This was the beginning of the Grenada Chocolate Company.

In order to combat the ethical challenges within the chocolate industry, he created the GCC and established it as a bean to bar company, a company that makes their chocolate products straight from the cacao beans instead of melting purchased chocolate from a chocolate maker. This has allowed GCC to have control over their whole chocolate making process and empowers them to treat and compensate their workers fairly, something that is a current problem within the cacao industry. As a small company that lies outside the pressures of the modern cacao company Mott Green designed for GCC to be an ethical chocolate company that returns to the basics of chocolate making and selling treating both employees and the environment with respect while creating high quality chocolate in the process.

As such a company GCC has been able to find success while also keeping balance all the important relationships that are a part of chocolate production and showing that it is possible to be both ethical and successful in the chocolate industry. I will discuss a few of these relationships and offer examples as to how GCC successfully navigates them.

Dedication to Wholesome Ingredients

 One rising debate within the chocolate industry is the question of whether the existence of milk chocolate and corporation sized candy companies (like Mars and Hershey) have caused people to become accustomed to non-natural ingredients and whether that has led to a decreased appreciation and knowledge of the cacao plant and its varieties. On its own milk chocolate has no faults. However, those who only eat milk chocolate will miss out on the numerous amounts of flavor that comes with dark chocolate and how each type of cacao bean develops different tastes. Even some dark chocolate companies fill their bars with unnatural preservatives and flavorings that take away from the flavor of the cacao bean itself. This shows a disconnect in the relationship between chocolate producer and the cacao bean. While some companies do this in order to cheaply mass produce chocolate products, other companies believe that it is the job of the chocolate producer to work with the cacao and allow its various tastes to be highlighted instead of hiding it in a flood of added ingredients.

 

GCC does well in being an example of this philosophy and maintaining this balance, as they are devoted to creating chocolate with genuine and natural ingredients in ways that enhance the flavor of the cacao bean. In an effort to maximize the flavor from the cacao bean, GCC grows, ferments and processes their beans on-site (hence the bean to bar status). This allows them to have control of the fermenting process and the flavor profile of their beans while using fresh cacao beans instead of shipped ones allows their chocolate to have a much more intense flavor1. The GCC also uses organic raw sugar and vanilla as the sole sweeteners of their chocolate. In addition to its natural flavors, GCC chocolate is certified organic and free from: animal products, nuts and nut derivatives, milk and eggs, wheat, glutamines, artificial colors, preservatives and several other products that some companies add to chocolate1. This dedication to natural flavor allows for the fruity and hearty flavor of the Grenadian cacao bean to be highlighted and appreciated by all of GCC’s consumers1.

Improving Company Farmer Relations

Another big problem within the chocolate industry is the loss of relationship between producers and farmers. Though most chocolate is consumed in Europe and North America, the main cacao growers and providers are Africa, Asia, Central America and South America, due to their proximity to the equator2. As many big companies compete for the lowest prices of cacao, local cacao farmers are forced to sell their crop for lower and lower prices, threatening their livelihood. This is intensified by the fact that many farmers do not have knowledge of the cocoa world market and have to trust their buyers who act as the middlemen for the middlemen of big chocolate companies. With all these factors in play, local farmers are lost in the complex economical system of cacao trading and receive only cents compared to the billions made by big chocolate companies. This can be seen in the figure below that describes how money flows within the chocolate industry.

fair trade pic

Today there are many companies fighting this system with fair trade policies in which companies promise to pay farmers more money than what the market offers them for their cacao. While this is a good start, there is a lot more that needs to be done in order to give cacao farmers a fair shot and compensate them proportionally to the joy they provide to all who eat the chocolate made from their work.


A prime example of what more can be done has already been shown by the Grenada Chocolate Company. In 1964 Grenada founded the Grenada Cocoa Association. The purpose of this group was to act as the center point for all cocoa exporting from Grenada. This meant that farmers had to sell to them in order to get their cocoa abroad. This took away their freedom of to whom they could cell and could only sell to the GCA at the prices determined by the organization, which was usually well below reasonable prices4. It was in this scenario that the Grenada Chocolate Company was founded. After much pushback and intimidation, GCC became not only the first company to chocolate on the island (before all cacao beans in Grenada were exported) but paid their farmers fair prices and exported the chocolate themselves as well. GCC is able to do this by creating a cooperative, a group of farmers that are work together to grow, harvest, and trade a product (in this instance cacao).

 GCC not only seeks to pay their farmers well (GCC farmers are payed 65% higher than the average for most cooperatives3), but also empowers their farmers by working with them through the whole chocolate making process, teaching how they ferment and process their beans on site giving them an opportunity to work with the company and grow in knowledge and experience.

Another aspect of GCC that is not necessarily about fair trade but works to mend the producer-farmer relationship is the fact that GCC is very open about the people they work with and seek to inform their consumers about the people who are helping to grow and harvest the food they are eating. They do this by featuring all of their workers on their website as well as including photos of their cacao farmers working. This is interesting because it gets rid of the wall in between farmer and consumer. For once, people can see the people who are preparing the food they love so much. This creates a human connection and makes the idea that these people are being mistreated across the world a harder pill to swallow and is more likely to stir people to action, whether that action is campaigning for stricter fair-trade laws or just purchasing solely from fair trade companies. These actions taken by GCC not only re-establish the producer farmer relationship, but also create a consumer-farmer relationship, something that is much needed if cacao farmers are going to get the support, they need in order to make a living wage.

 

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Champion of Environmental Sustainability

The last problem within the chocolate industry that I will talk about is the environmental impact of chocolate production. While chocolate is an amazing product to enjoy, like any other product, its production has an environmental impact that, if not monitored, will ultimately be harmful to the environment and will cause long term affects that will ultimately affect chocolate production and society in general. An example of this can be seen in the journal article “Environmental impacts of chocolate production and consumption in the UK,” by Antonios konstanas, in which the environmental impacts of various UK chocolate products were analyzed. From this analysis Konstanas’ team found that the amount of Carbon Dioxide produced by the UK chocolate industry lied in between 2.91-4.15 kg of CO2 produced per kg of chocolate produced. They also found that it takes around 41 MJ (Millijoules) of energy to create a batch of chocolate5. Noting these findings, it is important for chocolate producers to emphasize sustainability and work towards having a smaller carbon footprint within their harvesting, creation and transportation processes.

Once again GCC is leading the charge in this aspect as they seek to make their chocolate lifecycle completely devoid of carbon dioxide production and excessive energy consumption. In order to achieve this goal the Grenada Chocolate Company created one of the world’s first solar powered chocolate factories. GCC uses a combination of solar panels and grid power to power their chocolate making machines while keeping a propane fuel generator on hand in case of power outages. This emphasis on renewable energy is a step in the right direction of using clean energy to make chocolate and thus decreasing the product’s carbon footprint.

GCC SOLAR PANELS
Solar panels outfit the roof of the GCC factory

(For those who are interested how GCC did this Mott wrote an article about how and why he did this. Find it here: https://www.grenadachocolate.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/homepower_article.pdf)

GCC also seeks to take the carbon emissions out of transport costs as much as possible. While the company usually delivers chocolate to nearby islands via sailboats1, getting their product to the main lands has always been an environmental challenge. However, in 2013 GCC partnered with the Tres Hombres Engineless Cargo Ship to ship over 50,000 chocolate bars to Europe, performing the world’s first ever mass sustainable, carbon neutral, chocolate delivery across the Atlantic1. While this was only a one-time thing, it emphasizes GCC’s devotion to restoring the relationship between chocolate producers and the environment.

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Mott Green with the Tres Hombres Cargo Ship

Like every billion-dollar industry, the chocolate industry has its challenges as well as ethical obstacles that need to be hurdled before the industry can be seen as completely ethical. Whether product-wise, personal or environmental there are several problems within the industry that can be solved through respect, ingenuity, unity and admiration for the cacao fruit. The Grenada Chocolate Company is a perfect example of this. Such a company models exactly how not only chocolate, but all product companies should interact with their suppliers, the environment and each other. This company was created from nothing by Mott Green who wanted to show the world what a chocolate company should look like and how it should behave and sere its community. Since then GCC has been a hidden gem in the chocolate world, constantly pushing the boundaries of modern chocolate ethnics and leading the word to a brighter and more chocolaty future. Sadly Mott Green Died on June 1st 2013 while working on solar power machinery for cooling chocolate during transport overseas3. However, his memory lives on in GCC and the values that he instilled into the company that serves as a model chocolate company, inspiring and teaching future generations of chocolate makers.

the legend
Mott Green: Founder of the Grenada Chocolate Company

 

Note: Over the course of this research project I fell in love with the Grenada Chocolate Company and even more its founder, Mott Green.  Green devoted his life to helping others and sought to make all of his experiences and the experiences of those he served, absolutely genuine. His death was a tragic loss to the world of chocolate and society in general. To understand both him and GCC a bit more check out this 30 minute video about Green, his values and GCC!

 

References (in order of appearance)

  1. “The Grenada Chocolate Company.” The Grenada Chocolate Company, n.p. Web. April 29 2019 www.grenadachocolate.com/
  2.  “The Situation.” Slave Free Chocolate, n.p, Web. 29 April 2019 www.slavefreechocolate.org/children-slavery-cocoa
  3. Yardley, William. “Mott Green, a Free-Spirited Chocolatier, Dies at 47.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 10 June 2013,29 April  2019 www.nytimes.com/2013/06/10/business/mott-green-47-dies-founded-grenada-chocolate.html.
  4. Terennzi, Sharon. “The Fascinating Story of Chocolate Made in Grenada” Thechocolatejournalist.com. n.p. 1 June 2018. Web, 29 April 2019. https://thechocolatejournalist.com/chocolate-grenada/
  5. Konstantas Antonios et al. “Environmental impacts of chocolate production and consumption in the UK” Science Direct. April 2018. Web. 1 May 2019.
  6. Green, Mott. “Solar Powered Chocolate Factory” Grenada Chocolate Company. March 2002. Web. 1 May 2019. https://www.grenadachocolate.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/homepower_article.pdf

Theo Chocolate: Making the World a Better Place One Bar at a Time

Chocolate, one of life’s sweetest treats, has the remarkable capability to bring people together from every corner of the world. From chefs working with the finest artisanal chocolates in France to a seven-year-old kid drinking a cup of hot chocolate in Rockefeller Center during Christmastime, chocolate uniquely transcends all ages, backgrounds, and borders. However, what is often unknown or ignored is chocolate’s simultaneous ability to divide people. While so many have the privilege and ability to enjoy chocolate’s delights, it is too often at the expense of the health and wellbeing of farmers and laborers around the world. Child labor, poverty, and food insecurity are only a few of the countless issues plaguing cacao farmers globally. Sadly, many of the major players in the chocolate industry depend on the exploitation of cacao farmers so they can mass produce their products cheaply, which is not a new practice. Amanda Berlan notes, “Because both good practices and labour abuses in cocoa have strong historical antecedents, they cannot be seen as exclusively symptomatic of the modern consumerist era, or simply caused by poverty or rapacious multinationals, as is often alleged” (1094). For the everyday modern consumer, however, the ethics of a company’s supply chain is probably not one of the first things to come to mind when selecting a bar of chocolate from underneath the checkout counter at the grocery store. Nevertheless, there are glimpses of hope in the expansive chocolate industry. Some chocolate companies have taken steps to use humane labor practices, assist cacao farmers in their social and economic endeavors, obtain various certifications, and raise awareness for impoverished farmers around the world. Each individual issue with the current climate of the international chocolate industry ties back into one overarching problem: volatility. The lack of consistency and stability in every aspect of cacao farmers’ professions and lives leaves them vulnerable to exploitation. Theo, the chocolate company based out of Seattle, Washington, is a bean-to-bar company that ethically sources cacao to produce delicious chocolate products. By outlining their business model, values, and practices, I intend to show how Theo has played a part in working to solve the numerous issues that contribute to the volatile nature of international cacao production. 

Before explaining Theo’s positive social impact in the realm of chocolate and beyond, it is important to more fully understand how severe the injustices at the roots of cacao supply chains are. Cacao is an agricultural good that must be cultivated and harvested, typically on farms. Many countries in Africa and South America have emerged as global producers of cacao; in West Africa alone, there are about 2 million small, independent family farms (Martin). The labor necessary to sustain such farms is extremely taxing, physically and emotionally. Producing cacao requires duties such as clearing trees, planting, fertilizing, harvesting, transporting, and pod breaking, among others (Martin). These tasks cannot be completed without using sharp and heavy tools, handling chemicals (fertilizers, pesticides, etc.), bending down for extended periods of time, being around insects and animals, or carrying heavy loads (Martin). To make matters worse, farm laborers often work without access to bathrooms, no filtered water, and no relief from extreme heat; thus, they often suffer various physical maladies ranging from fatigue to malaria (Martin). With such horrendous working conditions, one may think that only people most fit for the job would be employed and that they would be people paid substantially for their hard work. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Because these farms are often run by families, children and people aged 50 and over often must work for their family farm (Martin). People on cacao farms work tirelessly simply to earn enough to survive, yet, as Carol Off writes, “Days of their effort [are] consumed in a heartbeat on the other side of the world” (8). Farms and farmers are the heart of any agricultural production, yet in the domain of chocolate they are undercompensated and undervalued. To complement the remarkably intense labor practices outlined above, farmers usually work without the guarantee of wages or salaries (Martin). The price of cacao is volatile, which means the income of the cacao farmer is as well (Martin). Dealing with input costs like transportation, wages, planting materials, rent/mortgage, and others only further weakens farmers’ abilities to establish a steady flow of income and to invest in their businesses (Martin). 

The issues I have outlined only begin to scratch the surface of the problems that fill cocoa supply chains, many of which perpetuate the ability of big chocolate companies to buy cocoa cheaply on the market, which continues to oppress farmers, which leaves them working for survival. The cycle is vicious. So, the question becomes how can this cycle be broken? Whose responsibility is it to make a change? Joe Whinney, the creator of Theo chocolate, believed the responsibility was partly his (“Our Story”). In 1994, Whinney spearheaded what eventually became a widespread movement aiming to supply organic cocoa beans in the United States (“Our Story”). After traveling and working in Central America and Africa, “he recognized an injustice in the way that both were being exploited and wanted to make a difference” (“Our Story”). This desire turned into a decade long campaign to advocate for organic cocoa beans in the U.S. and for Fair Trade practices for the farmers (“Our Story”). Working with co-founder Debra Music, Whinney used his passion to inspire action. In 2006, years of brand building and experimenting in a factory culminated in the creation of Theo organic chocolate (“Our Story”).

Ever since the company’s conception 13 years ago, Theo has stuck to, taken pride in, and grown the meaning of being a bean to bar chocolate maker. To Theo, being a bean to bar company means, “We negotiate prices directly, provide training on good agricultural practices and offer meaningful quality incentive payments. With our model farmers know how much income to expect from their harvest, enabling them to make financial plans for the future and to invest in their families and communities” (“How We Source”). Theo’s website outlines the company’s mission, which, is “to create a more beautiful, compassionate, and enduring world by responsibly making delicious and inspiring products for everyone.” Theo’s consumers and employees alike value the company’s dedication to betterment, and the video below gives employees the opportunity to share what they like the most about Theo. 

I am going to discuss Theo’s sourcing, standards and values, certifications, and products in order to illustrate how they combat injustice in cocoa production. 

Although West Africa has emerged as a primary supplier of the world’s cocoa, Theo sources its beans directly from farms in Peru and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) (“How We Source”). Theo makes a point to highlight the differences in the beans’ flavors and the contexts in which they are produced. Their Congolese cocoa beans are nutty and comprise the majority of the company’s yearly supply, with roughly 70% of the cocoa coming from DRC annually (“Congolese Cocoa”). Theo has partnered with the Eastern Congo Initiative (ECI), which advocates on behalf of the citizens of eastern Congo to promote economic and social wellbeing in an effort to establish strong civil society and to create opportunities for individual and group development (“Congolese Cocoa”). Working with over 4,500 farmers in DRC has fortified Theo’s desire to help, which expands beyond the scope of a business transaction. For example, Theo supported an initiative in 2015 which aimed to educate women in cocoa farming on the importance of pre and post-natal care, which reduced maternal and newborn deaths in the respective health zones from 45 per year to zero (“Congolese Cocoa”). The remaining 30% of Theo’s cocoa comes from the Piura and Bagua regions of Peru (“Peruvian Cocoa”). Similar to their efforts in DRC, Theo invests in the lives of Peruvian farmers through its partnership with the Norandino Cooperative (“Peruvian Cocoa”). Moreover, they have worked to positively impact the environment. Through a collaborative investment in a reforestation program, Theo and Norandino have helped to create 2,500 new acres of forest (“Peruvian Cocoa”). This type of work not only benefits those in need, it benefits the entire world. The figure below shows where each Theo ingredient comes from. 

To guarantee that Theo’s product quality and ethical code continues to meet the high standards, the company has undergone several certification processes. Theo is USDA Organic, Fair for Life certified, STAR-K Kosher, and Non-GMO (GMO stands for genetically modified organism) (“Our Certifications”). While fully unpacking the nuances and procedures of each of these certifications is beyond the scope of this analysis, it is worth noting what each means. The USDA Organic seal guarantees that Theo chocolate’s ingredients are “grown without the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, sewage sludge, genetically modified organisms or ionizing radiation” (Quality Assurance International). Fair for Life falls under the larger umbrella of Fairtrade certifications, and “assures that human rights are safeguarded at any stage of production, workers enjoy good and fair working conditions and smallholder farmers receive a fair share” (Fair for Life). STAR-K Kosher serves as a “a guarantee that food products and ingredients meet all kosher requirements” (Star-K Kosher). Finally, the Non-GMO project aims to certify and promote products that are made without any “plant, animal, microorganism or other organism whose genetic makeup has been modified in a laboratory using genetic engineering or transgenic technology” (Non-GMO Project). The point of providing a glimpse into the meaning of each of these four certifications is to display the comprehensive effort Theo makes to eradicate issues at every stage and in multiple dimensions of chocolate production and consumption. Below, the figure outlines each step of Theo’s certified chocolate-making process.


While every food company, specific those selling chocolate, can always make further improvements in their business practices, Theo has social justice at its core, and these certifications show their aim to meet higher goals of fairness and prosperity for all. Two particularly remarkable elements of Theo’s certification and production protocol is that they own and operate their own certified factory and that both the suppliers they work with and the company itself get audited yearly to look at wages, working conditions, and environmental impact to promote accountability (“What Makes Theo Different?”). 

All of the hard work put into creating Theo chocolate could not effectively empower cocoa farmers or reshape the industry if consumers did not like final products. In such a saturated market, it is important that Theo stands out to the average consumer who may not be well versed in food ethics, and thus may be focused solely on the flavor of the chocolate rather than the farmers who helped produce it. Therefore, it is no surprise that Theo chocolate tastes as amazing as the mission behind it is. Exotic flavors like Ghost Chili, Root Beer Barrel, Bread and Chocolate, Salted Black Licorice, and Turmeric Spice make Theo chocolate bars jump off the shelf, while Sea Salt, Coconut, and Mint are exciting yet classic flavors.

Whatever range of flavors a consumer is looking for, they can find it in a Theo product. Theo does not exclusively sell chocolate bars, as they boast an impressive selection of ganache candies, caramels, and marshmallows on their website (Theo Chocolate). I have personally tried the Salted Toffee Dark Chocolate bar, and yet I did not know about Theo’s mission when I tried it. Producing delicious high-quality chocolate helps Theo to reach the average consumer, and to at least begin a dialogue with them about the importance of building up and sustaining fair farm practices around the world. It is, after all, in the nature of the Fairtrade movement to bring people’s attention to those who are often pushed to the side. As Kristy Leissle notes, “We must credit Fairtrade with a different kind of achievement, which has been to promote awareness that people living in the Global North enjoy luxuries like chocolate thanks to the labor of materially poor farmers” (145). 

Theo chocolate is unique in a lot of ways. It is a company that wants farming to be a viable and profitable career for people, not just a temporary, volatile job geared towards survival; it is a company that wants to make the planet fruitful and aims to preserve its resources; and it is a company with a mission manifested in delicious chocolate products. From its beginning, Theo has addressed injustice head first, and the world has become a better place because of it. Also, Theo wants to make its customers feel understand the part they play in bettering the world, and they clearly outline on their website how and why each chocolate bar purchase matters. All in all, I believe Theo is doing a great job of using its business model to continuously spread the importance of equality and justice in chocolate. They have successfully built a brand centered on ethics, which is a framework I hope many companies use in the future. In The Fair Trade Scandal, Ndongo Samba Sylla writes, “The fair and the sustainable are now ubiquitous,” and with companies like Theo influencing the chocolate industry, this is not too far from the truth (56). 

Works Cited:

“About For Life and Fair for Life.”Fair for Life – About, http://www.fairforlife.org/pmws/indexDOM.php?client_id=fairforlife&page_id=about&lang_iso639=en.

Berlan, Amanda. “Social Sustainability in Agriculture: An Anthropological Perspective on Child Labour in Cocoa Production in Ghana.” Journal of Development Studies, vol. 49, no. 8, Feb. 2013, pp. 1088–1100., doi:10.1080/00220388.2013.780041.

“Congolese Cocoa.” Theo Chocolate, 22 Feb. 2017, http://www.theochocolate.com/blog/congolese-cocoa/.

“Getting Certified Archives | STAR-K Kosher Certification.” STAR-K Kosher, http://www.star-k.org/articles/getting-certified/.

“Home.” Theo Chocolate, http://www.theochocolate.com/.

“How We Source.” Theo Chocolate, 29 June 2017, http://www.theochocolate.com/blog/how-we-source/.

Leissle, Kristy. Cocoa. Polity Press, 2018.

Martin, Carla. “Modern Day Slavery.” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food, 2019, Cambridge.

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

“Our Certifications.” Theo Chocolate, 27 Mar. 2017, http://www.theochocolate.com/blog/our-certifications/.

“Our Story.” Theo Chocolate, 22 Jan. 2017, http://www.theochocolate.com/blog/our-story/.

“Peruvian Cocoa.” Theo Chocolate, 22 Mar. 2017, http://www.theochocolate.com/blog/peruvian-cocoa/.

“Quality Assurance International (QAI).” Quality Assurance International (QAI) Organic Certification, http://www.qai-inc.com/.

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

“What Is a GMO?” Non-GMO Project, http://www.nongmoproject.org/gmo-facts/what-is-gmo/.

“What Makes Theo Different?” Theo Chocolate, 29 May 2017, http://www.theochocolate.com/blog/what-makes-theo-different/.

Chocolate’s Modern Tendencies to Incoherent Luxury

The ubiquity of cheap chocolate is no longer enough to capture the gaze of today’s consumer. We are now being lured away from Hershey kisses and Snickers candy bars towards a more exotic temptations—things like raw cacao powder. In fact, as represented by the two products below, the market is willing to pay almost three times more.”[1] We want to pay more for less product, and this phenomenon doesn’t just stop at cocoa powder. Something is pushing the door wider for cacao nibs, bean-to-bar craft chocolate, and artisan confections to emerge. I argue that chocolate is once again diversifying to a new state of nonsensical luxury, relying on contradictions within the organics movement, slow food movement, and the idea of decadence itself.

This familiar Hershey’s 100% Natural Unsweetened Cacao is worth 1/3rd the price of this organic raw cacao powder above. Both are from Amazon.com.

Historical Background

For most of its history, chocolate has for the elites. The Olmecs (1500-400 B.C.) are attributed with the first domestication of Theobroma cacao. This is supported by research reconstructing their ancient word kakawa for what we today call “cacao.”[1] While little is still known about this people, we know that they passed on “the plant, the process, and the word kakawa” to the Maya. For the Maya, this food had high significance in important cultural narratives, burial rituals of the upper-class, and associations with the gods. While we are unsure if the lower class could consume it, the Mayan elite certainly did at ornate feasts. Cacao was also highly held by the Aztecs, who used it for religious rituals, nutrition during travel, and currency.  For these reasons, their royalty and aristocrats ate cacao in the form of frothy drinks as a show of power.

During the conquest of the Aztecs in the early 16th century, conquistadors, missionaries, and merchants sent cacao beans and chocolate drink recipes back to the royalty in Europe.[1] As Coe and Coe describes, “At first, the only people in Europe who drank cocoa were Spanish royalty and their courts. Thanks to intermarriages between royal families and the circulation of fashionable trends among them, a taste for the drinks spread, first to southern Europe, then northward.” [2]To clarify, this spread across Europe was still confined to the royalty in those respective countries. By the 1600s, it trickled down to British aristocracy and intelligentsia, who talked politics in chocolate and coffee houses. It was only by the Industrial Revolution of the 1800s that cacao became truly democratized and accessible to everyone.[3] This was caused by technological advancement and product development, leading to the rise of chocolate company giants. In sum, this food has only been a household product for a short 200 years.

The Organics Movement

However, recent diversification of products for multiple audiences has caused us to reinforce the association between cacao and class that had been relaxed by the Industrial Revolution. One clear example is the company barkTHINS, founded in 2013. Taking on the mid to upper-middle class market, barkTHINS are explicitly sold as a “snacking chocolate.” The back of a package of their dark chocolate, almond, and sea salt bark reads: “barkTHINS are snackable slivers of dark chocolate paired with real, simple ingredients for a completely original take on snacking. Fair Trade Ingredient Certified and Non-GMO Project Verified, barkTHINS are a mindful and sophisticated way to snack. It’s Snacking. Elevated.” This also introduces how organic food and higher price-points together have facilitated an intangible link between non-GMO food and luxury.

In her article “Fast Food/Organic Food: Reflexive Tastes and the Making of ‘Yuppie Chow,’” Guthman uses the case study of organic salad mix in California to look at the greater social movement. The original motivations for organic farming were the “public health, environmental and moral risks involved with chemical-based crop production and intensified livestock management.”[1] San Francisco was a particularly conducive environment of post-counter culture combined, haute cuisine culture, and people with expendable income. When Alice Waters spearheaded the idea of cooking with local ingredients, she marketed and sold organic salad mix in what was soon to become an upscale dining establishment. The ties between  organic and the upper class became a trend as more elite restaurants copied the idea of selling organic salad mix. However, as this caught on, the dynamics began to change. Restaurants were willing to pay more for greens that were fresher and aesthetically pleasing.[2] In return, growers could make more money with a small batch yield. Eventually, this incentivized the scaling-up and streamlining of processes to produce a greater bounty of beautiful vegetables. The growth and adoption of the organic food into mainstream culture ultimately moved it further away from its core ideals. 

A video showing a more natural, less industrialized way of producing chocolate. However, it is limited to a very small batch.

Just like salad mixes, non-GMO and virgin/raw chocolate are examples of cacao products emerging as luxury goods. However, it has also inherited the pitfalls of the overall organics movement. To reiterate, the point is to eat food as natural as possible. In the video above, we can see that process. However, it is important to note his low yield at he end. To ensure supply for the increasing demand of virgin chocolate, companies will inevitably need to turn to extensive industrialization. Moreover, virgin cacao is advertised to boost mood, clean out toxins by increasing blood flow, and aid better digestion.[1] The fresher seems to be the better! However, the video shows how natural processes might enable unregulated bacterial growth. Working bare-handed, it seems that raw chocolate would be more dangerous than regular chocolate because of the bacteria on the shell covering the nib. To keep it food-safe, raw chocolate likely requires stringent processing if sold mass-scale.

The Slow Food Movement

Related, but distinct from the organics movement, analyzing the push for slow food will help us more deeply analyze the issue of food safety introduced in the section above. Rachel Laudan remarks that Culinary Luddism runs rampant, such that we scorn all industrialized food. It is a trend to yearn for food that is somehow more real, fresh, and natural for the health benefits. However, one shouldn’t wish for food that grandma had growing up. Laudan clarifies that “natural was something quite nasty. Natural often tasted bad. Fresh meat was rank and tough, fresh milk warm and unmistakably a bodily excretion: fresh fruits (dates and grapes being rare exceptions outside the tropics) were inediblely sour, fresh vegetables bitter..” [1] In addition to this, food would often quickly go bad and be difficult to digest. Advancements in regulated industrialization allows our food to be flash-frozen or our milk pasteurized before bacteria colonies grow. In these respects, fast foods have allowed safe food to be more accessible. Yet, it is a fair point that such foods are not always nutritionally balanced.

Because the organics and slow food movements are so intertwined, by looking at both we better understand how the popularity of raw chocolate for its alleged health benefits might be premature. Industrialized food protects against many food-safety issues. Slow food introduces risk. This is the case for raw milk, raw water, and raw cacao. Finally, from the salad mix case study, we know that freshness has been associated with the elite. However, Laudan states, “Eating fresh, natural food was regarded with suspicion verging on horror, something to which only the uncivilized, the poor, and the starving resorted.”[1] This indicates a reversal of what luxury has meant over time.

Redefining Luxury as Immaterial

A video produced by Bon Appetite where a pastry chef attempts to make Ferrero Roche more gourmet.

            In the video above produced by the Bon Appetite Test Kitchen,[1] pastry chef Claire Saffitz is tasked with the goal of making gourmet Ferrero Rocher chocolates. As part of a series where she had previously recreated Kit Kats and Snickers, this one particularly stands out; Saffitz remarks this candy is already considered fancy. She says, “Yeah, I think hazelnut is like a sophisticated flavor. Whether or not its actually fancy, it’s marketed to be thought of as a fancy treat.”[2] So, how does she make it even more luxurious? She decides, “I just want to use really nice chocolate, toast some hazelnuts. And then I think overall, the improvement will just be in those details.”[3] These seemingly banal points bear great significance that can be next understood with McNeil and Riello’s work Luxury: A Rich History.

The attempt to make something currently sold as a luxury more gourmet indicates a hierarchy in what we define as high goods. When we imagine what luxury must have meant to past kings and queens, we would have said consumption and accumulation of fine things. What matters is exclusivity and scope, and consumption would have certainly stood out in a world where some people were struggling to survive from famine. However, the video below spotlights a nuance.

A video featuring and example of extremely extravagant chocolate (hint: gold is involved).

This video portrays a more extreme kind of luxury closer to extravagance. It showcases chocolate created to look like a gold ingot, called the Louis XIII Grand Gold Bar. It alludes to a French king with namesake cognac caramel filling and liberal spraying of 23-karat edible gold. With an elaborate, custom-made box for a single chocolate eaten at the restaurant, the key quality here is that it is “so over the top.”[1] McNeil and Riello terms this uber luxury. They state the “top end of the luxury market now needs to be extravagant (or elitist) beyond belief, because basic luxury is within the reach of too many today.”[2] This fits well with a point Saffitz made. She joked, “If you’re, like, trying to buy a gift for someone at the [laughs] drug store, this is your best option to look fancy.”[3] This suggests that finding the chocolate at the drug store runs counter to the idea of uber luxury because of Ferrero Roche’s ubiquity. However, it remains to be what McNeil and Riello would call life’s smaller luxuries. In chocolate, this might be what craft chocolate bars are, priced at about $5-6 compared to a Hershey’s bar.

Additionally,both videos indicate luxury has moved from a consumption of things to a consumption of another’s labor. McNiel and Riello write: “In this new vision of luxury, more than simple money is required from its consumer. Time and knowledge are key concepts in the very notion of twenty-first century luxury…‘distinction,’ the need to appear different from others, was not just achieved through the purchase and use of luxurious and expensive objects. It was also performed through the conspicuous expenditure of time in what we might call useless activities.”[1] In Saffitz’s case, if the ingredients stayed more or less the same, the thing that made her chocolates gourmet was that it was handmade. To recreate them took an abundance of her time and her knowledge from culinary school. Another, similar example would be the chocolate art below. Therefore, a person who eats them does not waste time doing a useless activity. Rather, they are imbibing the time spent by another person, who could have spent it doing something else. Therefore, artisan or gourmet chocolate is built on an incoherence embedded within the definition of high luxury. The good does not have to contribute to creating tangible improvements to one’s life. Productivity does not matter, and it is the irrationality that makes it valuable. It cannot be understood by outside people. Insiders would consider the good as extraordinary, and outsiders would think it wasteful. The separation between classes is what is underscored.

A very detailed and artfully done chocolate sculpture. If someone were to buy this, it would be an example of buying not just the piece, but the artist’s time and expertise.

Conclusion

In sum, chocolate is moving in a direction of decadence with multiple levels of contradiction embedded within it. It benefits from the organics movement, but moves further and further away from the idea of non-industrialized food. The idea of craft and gourmet chocolate parallels the slow food movement, but disregards the values of food safety previously held by the old upper class. At least in part, modern elitism in food is changing from material consumption to the consumption of experience and time. An implication of these trends is that chocolate is re-positioning itself as a crossroads of class. High-end chocolate is considered more delicious and healthier, as a higher price point pays for its quality and non-GMO status. Philanthropy also tends to be incorporated, like how people will agree to pay more for the humanitarianism of the Fair Trade Certification. But, not everyone can afford to be charitable. In contrast, the chocolate affordable by the people financially unstable is framed as lower-end food. It is less expensive, but more meaning than that is being infused into the idea of “cheap.” By “cheap,” we are insinuating accessible chocolate is not delicious and not “real” chocolate. The dimensions of taste, health attitudes, and philanthropy contribute to how cacao is becoming increasingly more socially charged.


Bibliography

Multimedia

“Amazon.Com: Hershey’s Chocolate Powder.” Accessed May 3, 2019. https://www.amazon.com/s?k=hershey%27s+chocolate+powder&ref=nb_sb_noss_2.

“Amazon.Com: KOS Organic Cacao Powder | Raw Unsweetened Cacao Powder.” Accessed May 3, 2019. https://www.amazon.com/s?k=KOS+Organic+Cacao+Powder+%7C+Raw+Unsweetened+Cacao+Powder&ref=nb_sb_noss.

Bon Appétit. “Pastry Chef Attempts to Make Gourmet Ferrero Rocher.” YouTube, February 12, 2019. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XY-hOqcPGCY&t=38s.

“We Tried A Boozy Golden Chocolate Bar – YouTube.” Accessed May 3, 2019. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=05jOGEmriqo.

Lane, Jim. “Art Now and Then: Chocolate Art.” Art Now and Then (blog), February 29, 2016. http://art-now-and-then.blogspot.com/2016/02/chocolate-art.html.

Other Sources

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. 3rd edition. London: Thames & Hudson, 2013.

Guthman, Julie. “Fast Food/Organic Food: Reflexive Tastes and the Making of ‘Yuppie Chow.’” In Food and Culture: A Reader, edited by Carole Counihan and Penny van Esterik, 496–509. New York and London: Routledge: Taylor and Francis Group, 2012.

Laudan, Rachel. “A Plea for Culinar Modernism: Why We Should Love New, Fast, Processed Food.” Gastronomica 1, no. Feb 2001 (February 2001).

Leissle, Kristy. Cocoa. Newark, UNITED KINGDOM: Polity Press, 2018. http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/harvard-ebooks/detail.action?docID=5294996.

McNeil, Peter, and Giorgio Riello. Luxury: A Rich History. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016.

Citations

[1] McNeil and Riello, Luxury, 239.


[1] “We Tried A Boozy Golden Chocolate Bar – YouTube,” pt. 0:44.

[2] McNeil and Riello, Luxury, 231.

[3] Bon Appétit, “Pastry Chef Attempts to Make Gourmet Ferrero Rocher,” pt. 1:05.


[1] Bon Appétit, “Pastry Chef Attempts to Make Gourmet Ferrero Rocher.”

[2] Bon Appétit, pt. 0:55.

[3] Bon Appétit, pt. 4:09.


[1] Laudan, 38.


[1] Laudan, “A Plea for Culinar Modernism: Why We Should Love New, Fast, Processed Food,” 36.


[1] “Amazon.Com: KOS Organic Cacao Powder | Raw Unsweetened Cacao Powder.”


[1] Guthman, “Fast Food/Organic Food: Reflexive Tastes and the Making of ‘Yuppie Chow,’” 497.

[2] Guthman, “Fast Food/Organic Food: Reflexive Tastes and the Making of ‘Yuppie Chow,’” 499-500.



[1] Leissle, Cocoa, 38.

[2] Leissle, 38.

[3] Leissle, 38–39.



[1] Coe and Coe, The True History of Chocolate, 35.


[1] “Amazon.Com: KOS Organic Cacao Powder | Raw Unsweetened Cacao Powder.”

Healthy Chocolate: The Rise of Marketing Chocolate as a Healthy Food

         Chocolate is an intriguing treat, junk food, energy snack, medicinal food, etc. This sentence itself is interesting in and of itself since chocolate is a type of food that can be labeled in so many different ways. This is not necessarily the case because there are an endless number of versions of chocolates, but it has instead been the result of the myriad of different ways in which chocolate has been marketed to different demographics throughout the years. As we have seen in our course, “Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food,” the way in which chocolate has been viewed has changed in many ways since it has been demonized by religious groups in the first half of the 20th century 1, it has also been “sanctified as a thoroughly American food” in the 1920’s 2, and if you go back to the 18th and 19th century, then you see that chocolate was marketed as a food that you could ingest as medicine to improve health 3. However, the contemporary state of the cacao-chocolate industry has led chocolate as a food to be seen and marketed in new ways that have been a response to the societal changes that have influenced the role that chocolate has in our society. The chocolate industry has started to market chocolate towards adults in recent years and they have started to put less focus on marketing to children. This shift in marketing has largely been the result of the fact that the market for children’s candies is so mercurial and is largely dependent on the current trend in candy, which makes it very difficult to remain profitable as a candy company that focuses on the children’s market 4. The chocolate industry is largely dependent on sugar and the way that it is perceived by society and there has currently been a shift to no longer seeing chocolate as an unhealthy food that was meant to be for kids. An interesting example of this shift is the fact that the National Confectionary Assn. has hired Olympic medalist Bob Matthias to promote “the nutritional benefits of chocolate.”5 The promotion of chocolate as a candy that is healthy and meant for adults largely stems from a trend of chocolate products moving up and offering better quality through sophistication.6 Gary Foote, who is the marketing manager for Ferrero USA, claims that this is largely the result of the “Europeanization, or the gourmetization of America.” 7 It is possible to see the cause of this shift because there are many examples of the perception that American adults have of European chocolate when compared to American chocolate.


As you can see in the video below, these Americans who are doing a study abroad program in Belgium, have this idea that European chocolate is a lot more sophisticated than American chocolate.8


Studies show that one of the reasons why these American exchange students feel that European chocolate is superior partially has to do with how “a brand and a country-of-origin have a positive correlation, as they influence consumer’s brand evaluation, perceptions, purchasing behavior and brand equity.” 9 European chocolate has the advantage that it is being made in European countries that are seen as first world countries which has a certain allure and elegance in the eyes of American consumers. On the other hand, you have chocolate that is being made in South America and Africa where most countries are seen as third world countries by most American consumers, which can be attributed to many social factors and racism is one of these factors. It becomes obvious that the reason why these Americans feel that European chocolate is superior to American chocolate is because the marketing and packaging is more professional and sophisticated—it is marketing that is clearly targeting an older demographic. The article “A review of marketing strategies from the European chocolate industry” by Nur Suhaili Ramli mentions that European chocolate typically stands out for the most part when it comes to their marketing, but it is also unique in the use of “quality ingredients, supply chains, marketplace, and product attribute information.”10 It is fascinating to notice how effective this type of marketing is with adults since the people in this video never mention anything about the chocolate itself. The women never mention that the taste of European chocolate is superior to American chocolate and instead they largely focus on the superiority of the look, the presentation, and the aesthetic of European chocolate. There have been many studies done around this topic of how marketing of chocolate affects the way that people perceive the differences between chocolate that is labeled as “organic” and chocolate that is not labeled that way. The study “The Effect of ‘Organic’ Labels On Consumer Perception of Chocolates” by Kiss, Kontor, and Kun makes a conclusion that the label of “organic” on chocolate packaging increased the “perceived gap between organic and regular chocolates according to fragrance, healthiness, calories content and price.”11


This is a rising trend in the chocolate industry that can clearly be seen in advertisements, as the one listed in the video below for the product Choconature, where you have a doctor appearing in this advertisement in order to assure audiences that this product will improve your health.12

The doctor in the video mentions that the chocolate is 100% organic, decrease inflammation in the body, decrease the free radicals in the body, help improve your skin, and decrease your blood pressure. 13 It is evident from this ad that there is a viable adult market in the chocolate industry and they are trying to find a way to rebrand the image that people have of chocolate, as a sugary treat that is bad for your health, and turn it into a product that can actually help fix many ailments that affect older demographics.

There is a significant question that is posed by videos like the one above: is chocolate, or at least some version of chocolate, capable of not only being a healthy food, but also a food that could have medicinal properties? Chocolate, as it is typically created for products like Snickers and M&M’s—in particular dark chocolate of high cocoa varieties—has natural antioxidant benefits. 14 These benefits have long been known by the general public and companies selling dark chocolate, which has lead these companies to market their dark chocolate as a healthy version of chocolate for many years. However, there has recently been a huge surge in the fortification of chocolate in order to artificially add properties to chocolate that, according to these chocolate manufacturers, could help improve your health and solve other body ailments. 15 Some of the ingredients that companies fortify chocolate with are vitamins, minerals, superfruits, lavender, and goji berries. 16 On the surface the addition of these nutritious ingredients may seem like a win-win situation since customers will be able to eat a tasty snack, like chocolate, and also be able to consume ingredients that would improve their health. Yet, the chocolate manufacturers who are creating these healthy versions of chocolate are deliberately misinforming consumers on how healthy these snacks truly are by abusing how ambiguously defined  “organic” products and “all-natural” products are in the United States market and the international market. Chocolate manufacturers have taken note of the growing popularity of “organic products and ingredients in the U.S.” In order to take advantage of this trend, chocolate manufacturers have begun to market their products as “all-natural” products as an alternative to the “organic” products that consumers typically associate with healthy foods. On the surface, they both seem like they are equally healthy, however, it becomes apparent that they are some major differences between the two products once you start looking at the specific requirements needed for a product to be considered either “all-natural” or “organic.” When it comes to “organic” products, they are typically priced at a higher price since the ingredients required are more expensive. 17 Additionally, it is expensive for manufacturers of organic products to go through the certification process required to have their product labeled as “organic.” Therefore, chocolate manufacturers are leaning towards creating products that can be marketed as “all-natural” since it is easier and cheaper to make because of the lack of regulation and the affordability of the cheaper ingredients that are accepted as “all-natural.” More and more manufacturers are leaning towards creating “all-natural” products in order to satisfy the burgeoning demand for natural products in the adult demographic of chocolate consumers.

The lack of regulation that exists in the “all-natural” sub-industry of chocolate is an issue because it allows companies to use marketing in order to take advantage of the fact that the majority of chocolate consumers do not know the tactics that companies can use to falsify legitimacy as a healthy food product. A prime example of how chocolate companies manufacture artificial legitimacy is by paying independent researchers to conduct studies on the health benefits of eating chocolate—mainly the niche “all-natural” products that chocolate companies make. The chocolate brand CocoaVia, which is a subsidiary company of Mars Inc.—focuses on creating supplements and bars that are marketed as a healthy food option. 18 Brands like CocoaVia rely on scientific studies done on cocoa flavanol that claim that their products contain properties which allow them to “promote healthy blood flow from head to toe.” 19 There is a major issue with these studies that purportedly claim that these chocolate supplements are nutritious and beneficial to the health of consumers: the majority of these studies are funded by the same companies that are being examined by the independent researchers. 20 The main problem with the aforementioned power dynamics between employer and employee is that these companies are more inclined to “fund researchers with favorable views about their products, and researchers may consciously or unconsciously tweak the design of their studies or their interpretation of results to arrive at more positive conclusions.” 21

These claims are not unfounded since the Advertising Self-Regulatory Council has filed claims against CocoaVia as a result of a lack of substantial evidence to support claims in their marketing, such as “CocoaVia daily cocoa extract supplement delivers the highest concentration of cocoa flavanols, which are scientifically proven to promote a healthy heart by supporting healthy blood flow (as can be seen in the image below).” 22 23


It is dangerous to allow companies to make claims such as the aforementioned one because according to the Natural Marketing Institute found that “43% of US shoppers consulted nutritional information on product packaging when buying a product for the first time.” 24 Therefore, the fact that chocolate companies are putting unsubstantiated claims on their nutritional information marketing is dangerous since customers are easily susceptible to marketing, especially if it is marketing that promotes “healthy” chocolate that targets an adult demographic.


The chocolate industry has been maturing and it has made a conscious shift from focusing on kids as a market to focusing on adults as a more viable and profitable market. This has led to a change in the marketing used by chocolate companies in order to attract an older demographic to purchase their healthy chocolate. Chocolate marketing for kids has typically focused on making chocolate appear to be as fun and as tasty as possible, but marketing has started to focus more on “scientific studies” and “health facts” ever since the chocolate industry started to direct the majority of its industry to an adult demographic—this is evident in ads like the one below. 25

The marketing done for healthy chocolate is an example of the dangers that exist with the marketing of chocolate since it has become clear that there is a lack of regulations in place when it comes to the integration of science into the ads in this industry. The perception of chocolate, and the way that it is marketed by companies and by society, has changed throughout history as reactions to the ebbs and flows of societal values. Currently, this trend of healthy chocolate has been a reaction to a societal trend that has leaned toward valuing a healthy lifestyle and reducing the intake of food that is deemed to be junk food—and chocolate has long been a member of this group of foods.


Endnotes



1 Carla Martin, “The rise of big chocolate and race for the global market,” Class lecture, Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food from Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, March 13, 2019.

2 Ibid.

3 Carla Martin, “Sugar and cacao,” Class lecture, Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food from Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, February 20, 2019.

4 Chocolate marketing no longer kid’s stuff, pg 2

5 Patricia Winters, Chocolate marketing no longer kid’s stuff, Advertising Age, May 19, 1986, 2.

6 Ibid, 1.

7 Ibid, 1.

8 “Marketing Chocolate,” YouTube video, 4:54, “Clemson Study Abroad,” July 7, 2010, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5DZfsWQk-Zo.

9 Nur Suhaili Ramil, “A review of marketing strategies from the European chocolate industry,” Journal of Global Entrepreneurship 7, no. 10 (2017): 1.

10 Ibid, 6.

11 Marietta Kiss, Eniko Kontor, Andras Istvan Kun, “The Effect Of ‘Organic’ Labels On Consumer Perception Of Chocolates,” The Annals of the University of Oradea Economic Sciences XXIV, (2015): 448.

12 “Dr Steven Warren About the best #1 Organic chocolate on the market recommended By Doctors,” YouTube video, 0:51, “Peter Langelaar,” May 21, 2012, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GmUYUmV5_Ec.

13 Ibid.

14 Prepared Foods, “Natural Alternatives,” PreparedFoods.com, Accessed April 20, 2019.

15 Ibid.

16 Ibid.

17 Ibid.

18 Julia Belluz, “Dark chocolate is now a health food. Here’s how that happened,” vox.com, https://www.vox.com/science-and-health/2017/10/18/15995478/chocolate-health-benefits-heart-disease (accessed April 20, 2019).

19 Ibid.

20 Ibid.

21 Ibid.

22 Advertising Self-Regulatory Council, 2016, “NAD Recommends Mars Modify Certain Claims for CocoaVia Cocoa Extract,” News Release, http://www.asrcreviews.org/nad-recommends-mars-modify-certain-claims-for-cocoavia-cocoa-extract/, (accessed April 20, 2019).

23 https://www.cocoavia.com/.

24 Datamonitor, CocoaVia case study: Marketing healthy chocolate, New York City: Datamonitor, 2005, Accessed April, 2019, 6.

25 https://www.cocoavia.com/.





Interview with a Chocoholic

My informant was chosen due to her self-proclaimed addiction to the product in question, chocolate. The following interview seeks to uncover the role that chocolate has played in her life, her current relationship with chocolate and her perception of chocolate on a global scale (i.e. production, certifications, etc.).

“When did you first find yourself falling in love with chocolate?”

“I started loving chocolate when I was seven years old.”

I started to laugh. “So you’re telling me that you know the exact age that you started to fall in love with chocolate?”

“Yes! I do and the reason I do was because that was how old I was when my mother married my stepfather. He was a New York City police officer and one of his weekend jobs was to work security for a candy factory, so my siblings and I would go along with my stepfather to the candy factory every Saturday. That’s probably why I had cavities.” Now she was the one laughing. “I was always so excited because we would get to drive the go karts around in the candy factory.”

“Go karts? In a candy factory?”

“Yes. It was actually called The Candy Factory and it was over in the Brooklyn Terminal Market. We would all ride around in those carts where you lift up cartons of candy and transport it out to the trucks that delivered them to the store. We would stop at each section in the factory and take whatever candy we wanted home with us for the weekend. It was like my stepfather’s payment for watching the factory. We would take home Reese’s peanut butter cups and Joyva jelly rings, which were chocolate covered raspberry rings, and those were my favorite. I fell in love with chocolate.”

515tM-7M1-L

(Image Retrieved from: http://groceryonlinemarket.com/product/joyva-jell-rings-chocolate-covered-3-ring-pack-1-35-ounces-pack-of-24/)

“Do you think that your love of chocolate came from the way your family felt about chocolate? Did your mother like to eat chocolate as much as you did?”

“Well, my mom likes to eat rasinettes but she mostly eats jelly donuts, so, no. I’m the chocaholic of the family and I turned my husband into one. When I met him 35 years ago he hated chocolate. He hated it! And then he lived with me and now he absolutely loves chocolate and he always wants to eat it. He got addicted to it because sugar is very addicting. He just didn’t like the taste of it before. You know how some people just like salty versus sweet? Well, he was just eating salty things. After living together for a while I noticed he would put chocolate on his sundaes or make chocolate covered strawberries. Pretty soon after that he was ordering chocolate cake at restaurants for dessert instead of cheesecake. He started drinking hot chocolate and mochas also. Oh god, I want a chocolate bar now.”

“Speaking of chocolate bars, what is your chocolate preference? How much cacao do you prefer in a chocolate bar?”

“70% because I love dark chocolate and it’s not too bitter at that point. Once you get past 70% though it is really bitter. My favorite brand of chocolate is See’s candies. When I walk into a See’s store I always say, “You should make perfume out of this!” It’s like aromatherapy. I love See’s and I like Lindt, which I think is Swiss. I know Belgium and Swiss chocolate is really delicious. It’s just creamy and it’s rich tasting. I love chocolate. It’s healthy and it’s an antioxidant. It’s also an anti-inflammatory I found out! I read that on the internet. Oh! And chocolate has endorphins, it gives you a feeling of happiness.”

Sees_Candies.jpg

(Image Retrieved from: https://www.riceepicurean.com/sees-candies/)

As it turns out, my informant was correct. Chocolate contains flavanols which act as an anti-inflammatory in the body, however, Goya et al. points out that flavanol concentrations vary among chocolate products (Goya et al. 2016, 212). A study conducted by Melchior et al. in 1991 also confirms that chocolate increases beta-endorphins after consuming chocolate beverages (Melchior et al. 1991, 941).

I figured this would be the perfect time to dive into the health aspects of chocolate. “Are there any reasons you would consider chocolate to be unhealthy?”

“Cholesterol. Chocolate increases your cholesterol, which is not heart healthy, although they say that chocolate does have antioxidants in it which are good for you! Also, there is too much sugar in it which just isn’t good for you when you are worried about diabetes! You have to be careful too because chocolate is an addiction so once you start eating chocolate you crave it. I did. I do. I still crave it. I can’t imagine life without chocolate. It’s totally my vice. I don’t smoke, I don’t drink much. If I had to be on an island, I would bring chocolate.”

The popular belief that chocolate increases cholesterol is no doubt derived from the common misconception that follows the meaning behind HDL’s, high-density lipoproteins, and LDL’s, low-density lipoproteins. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, LDL’s are considered to be the “bad” form of cholesterol, with high levels raising risk for heart disease and stroke. HDL’s are considered to be the “good” form of cholesterol, lowering the risk for heart disease and stroke (CDC 2017). It is recognized that the anti-oxidant activity that follows the consumption of chocolate actually helps decrease ones low-density lipoprotein cholesterol activity while increasing ones high-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels (Wilson 2015, 17). Therefore, certain types of chocolate are considered to be heart healthy as they delay the progression of diseases such as atherosclerosis and arteriosclerosis (Wilson 2015, 17).

The notion that chocolate, which contains a lot of sugar, is a danger to those who have diabetes, seems like a completely rational statement. However, a study conducted in 2015 by Mellor et al. suggests that this may not be entirely true. As it turns out, small amounts of polyphenol rich chocolate, up to about 20-45g per day, can be safely added to the diets of those who have diabetes (Mellor et al. 2015, 9917). Unfortunately, it is not common for the level of polyphenol’s in chocolate to be labeled on products. As more research in this area continues, this may be expected to change (Mellor et al. 2015, 9917). After explaining the relationship between chocolate and cholesterol as well as chocolate with diabetes to my informant, we were able to continue the interview.

“How often would you say that you eat chocolate?”

“I used to eat chocolate at least three times a week but now I’ve cut my sugar down due to the cancer so I try to have it maybe once every two weeks. I would have a whole bar at a time, I couldn’t stop.”

“How did your consumption of chocolate change when you were diagnosed with breast cancer?”

“I got depressed. I still eat a little bit, not too much now. I modified my diet but I still can’t resist it every couple of weeks. They say to cut back on sugar because sugar feeds cancer so I don’t eat as much sugar in my diet but if I do eat sugar it is usually saved for dark chocolate. Last time I had a bag of dark chocolate peanut butter cups.

I became curious as to what exactly the relationship was between chocolate and cancer. According to a study in the European Journal of Cancer Care, dark chocolate contains catcehins which act as an anti-cancer compound or as a preventative for the development of cancer (European Journal of Cancer Care 2000, 131). However, it is also recognized that sugar fuels cancer. Receptors associated with cell survival in tumors are maintained through intracellular glucose levels and SGLT1’s, or the stabilization of the sodium glucose transporter 1 (Penson 2009, 918). It is then no wonder that those who have cancer are more likely to consume their catechins through less sugary products such as tea.

“When was your last chocolate binge?”

She started giggling again, as if I had caught her red handed doing something she was not supposed to be doing. “Honestly, it was yesterday. They were on sale! It was $4.99 for the bag and I wound up eating the whole thing in two days. That’s why I’m so happy right now. But I did gain back a pound that I had lost so I do seem to gain weight right away after I eat the chocolate.”

When my informant mentioned she had gained weight after eating chocolate, I decided to investigate the relationship between chocolate and obesity. This led me to a study conducted in 2013 by Gu et al. who conducted animal trials in an attempt to identify the positive effects of cocoa. The introduction of cocoa in mice was said to reduce obesity after just a ten week period (Grace et al. 2014, 795). While it is unclear whether or not certain levels of flavinols in cocoa, or in dark chocolate, are responsible for an anti-obesity effect in humans, the results from a variety of animal studies seems to point in that direction. However, more research in humans must be conducted before there can be any confirmation that this is the case. Dark chocolate, the product that my informant had consumed before her weight gain, contains “more cocoa butter and fat” than cocoa powder, which was analyzed in comparison with dark chocolate during the trials mentioned above (Grace et al. 2014, 793).

“Where do you usually buy your chocolate? For example, would you ever buy chocolate at a gas station?”

“Not unless I’m on Highway 5 for a long time and I’m dying for it. I used to buy the Mexican chocolate bars at the supermarket, melt them and make hot chocolate. Those bars have cinnamon in them, I don’t even have to add anything. They come in these round, circular containers that are yellow with red writing. I forget the name of the brand. I could look it up online!”

6a0120a8551282970b0148c6d03d81970c-320wi

(Image Retrieved from: http://kitchenencounters.typepad.com/blog/2010/12/-mexican-chocolate-cinnamon-orange-brownies-.html)

“No, that’s alright. Thank you. So, which grocery stores do you go to when you purchase chocolate?”

“I like Whole Foods because they have a variety of different countries the chocolate comes from. I can easily find the Swiss chocolate or the Belgium chocolate in that store versus a Safeway. Also, Cost Plus Imports is a great place to buy chocolate.”

I decided to switch gears here a little bit and discuss the ways in which chocolate is processed. “What do you consider the term processed to mean?”

“Processed? I think that means adding substances to the food that isn’t naturally organic. It’s when you add chemicals and fats that are unhealthy so that it tastes better.”

This brings up another common misconception. Many people associate the term processed with the term unhealthy. As it turns out, that is not always the case. “According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) processed food is defined as any raw agricultural commodity that has been subject to washing, cleaning, milling, cutting, chopping, heating, pasteurizing, blanching, cooking, canning, freezing, drying, dehydrating, mixing, packaging, or other procedures that alter the food from its natural state (MSU 2014). Chocolate actually undergoes many of these processes.

“Were you aware that chocolate is a processed food?”

“No, but at Trader Joes they have organic chocolate and I buy their organic 70% cacao dark chocolate.”

I could sense here that my informant believed that because the product was organic, it must not be processed. I decided to explore this idea further. “How do you feel about food that is marked organic?”

“I prefer it because I don’t want chemicals, pesticides and unnatural products in my food. I want to eat clean , especially after the remission of my cancer.”

The USDA claims that the term organic may be used on labels for raw or processed agricultural products (USDA 2018). Were you aware that processed products could be labeled as organic?

“No I wasn’t aware of that. I wish these labels would be more specific as far as letting us know exactly what is in the food or what has happened to the food.”

“Now that you know chocolate is processed, what steps do you think are involved in its’ production?”

“I have never thought about that. I actually never knew that it was processed. I assume they have to take it out of the pod, clean it, grind it, probably add sugar or some sweetener to it and put it in a mold. That’s all I can think of.”

My informant was correct, however, there were a few steps missing from her list. According to Dr. Martin (2018), the steps involved in processing chocolate are as follows: the harvesting of cacao pods, the extraction of seeds, fermentation, drying (in sun or over fire), sorting and bagging of beans, roasting, winnowing (aka deshelling, husking), Grinding in a metate, pressing in a hydraulic press, and finally, conching (Martin 2018, Lecture). I repeated this list to my informant and proceeded to ask her more questions.

I wanted to make sure she understood the steps that I had previously addressed. “What do you think winnowing means?”

“Widowing? Winn-o-wing? Can I look it up on google? Winnowing…winnowing…what do I think it means? I have no idea to be quite honest.”

“Winnowing, in this sense, means to de-shell or husk the cacao.”

“I would have never thought that. I winnow pistachio nuts, walnuts, I’ve winnowed! Yeah, winnow, I do that all the time. I never knew I was winnowing.”

The-Chocolate-Tree-Winnowing.jpg

(Image Retrieved from: http://www.chocablog.com/features/the-chocolate-tree-a-scottish-bean-to-bar-story/)

“Given the complex process involved in creating the chocolate that you see at the supermarket, how much would you say is a reasonable price to pay for a chocolate bar?”

“That depends on how much I’m buying but I usually won’t spend more than seven dollars on chocolate. I’ll either buy a really great chocolate bar or buy a bag of chocolate with peanut butter in it. If it’s over seven dollars though in one store visit I’ll say, forget it. I will only spend more than that if I am buying gifts for other people.”

By the end of this interview it had become clear that while chocolate as a product is readily available for consumption, the information concerning its’ production is not. Many people do not realize the complexity involved in creating the chocolate bar or fully understand the labels that are associated with the food that they consume. This experience as a whole was very eye-opening for my informant and acted as a reminder of what my own conceptions were surrounding chocolate when I had first began Dr. Martin’s course, “Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food.”

Works Cited:

2017. “LDL and HDL Cholesterol: “Bad” and “Good” Cholesterol” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), May 9. https://www.cdc.gov/cholesterol/ldl_hdl.htm

2018. “Electronic Code of Federal Regulations.” E-CFR, May 9. https://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/text-idx?c=ecfr&sid=c4e0df8f46a4f4b6f56d80be31f95ed3&rgn=div6&view=text&node=7:3.1.1.9.32.4&idno=7#se7.3.205_1300

Farhat, G., Drummond, S., Fyfe, L., & Al‐Dujaili, E. (2014). Dark Chocolate: An Obesity Paradox or a Culprit for Weight Gain? Phytotherapy Research, 28(6), 791-797.

Goya, L., Martín, M., Sarria, B., Ramos, S., Mateos, R., & Bravo, L. (2016). Effect of Cocoa and Its Flavonoids on Biomarkers of Inflammation: Studies of Cell Culture, Animals and Humans. Nutrients, 8(4), 212.

Melchior, Rigaud, Colas-Linhart, Petiet, Girard, & Apfelbaum. (1991). Immunoreactive beta-endorphin increases after an aspartame chocolate drink in healthy human subjects. Physiology & Behavior, 50(5), 941-944.

Mellor, D., Sathyapalan, T., Kilpatrick, E., & Atkin, S. (2015). Diabetes and chocolate: Friend or foe? Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 63(45), 9910-8.

Parrish, Ashley. 2014. “What is a processed food?” Michigan State University (MSU), May 9. http://msue.anr.msu.edu/news/what_is_a_processed_food

Penson, R. (2009). Sugar fuels cancer. Cancer, 115(5), 918-921.

Wilson, Wilson, Philip K., Hurst, W. Jeffrey, & Royal Society of Chemistry. (2015). Chocolate and health : Chemistry, nutrition and therapy. Cambridge, UK: Royal Society of Chemistry.

 

The Chocolate Interview: Impact of Chocolate’s Role

To understand chocolate’s impact on our lives, I interviewed a friend who happens to be a chocolate lover. Her profession is interior design so she likes quality products, therefore it was no surprise that her high-standards extended to the world of chocolate. It was a very insightful conversation, which started off with her weekly consumption habits. I wanted to gage how it compared with the average consumer’s consumption level. Considering she loves chocolate, I was quite taken abackButton Hill Cottage pic when she answered with such precision that she consumes three ounces of chocolate per week, which equates to almost ten pounds of chocolate per year. At first glance, I thought that seemed pretty low. But I recall from Dr. Martin’s lecture, stating that in 2016, consumers in the US ate 12 pounds of chocolate per person on average. So my friend was pretty much in the ballpark!

The chocolate that she tends to gravitate towards is dark chocolate because she says it has a higher cacao content. Interestingly enough, her go-to chocolate is not actual chocolate bars, rather it is baked goods, followed by drinking chocolate and then chocolate bars.

Indulgence Chocolatier picThough when it comes to dark chocolate, she emphasized it must be 70 percent or less in cacao content because beyond that, she does not enjoy it. To the left is a photo of the chocolate she buys when she does buy chocolate bars, though she admits that she isn’t brand-loyal. In keeping with her belief system, she tends to support small local businesses like this one. What struck me the most is when she informed me that she does not pay close attention to the ingredients as a deciding factor when purchasing anything with chocolate. But she had a logical reason, since her purchases are weighted heavier on baked goods, as it relates to chocolate, she tends to buy from local bakeries because she believes they use higher grades of chocolate and ingredients. Below is a video on the popularity of bakeries due to their characteristics of quality.

I proceeded to ask if she perceived organic chocolate to be superior in taste. While she has never done a comparison of either organic versus non-organic, her assumption was that organic must taste better since it’s being produced in a healthier way. In other words, it was pesticide-free, therefore since it was better quality, it should taste better. Though she readily admitted that she did not have a clear understanding of organic, her understanding was mostly that it had less chemicals. This exchange with my friend reminded me of Guthman’s “Fast Food/Organic Food” article in which she talks about California’s organic salad mix craze. After all, it was salad mix that jump-started California’s organic sectorganic sulfuros blog.wordpressor and it helped establish organic food as a precious, niche product (Guthman, 497). The equation of organic with high value brought a rash of new growers into the sector. While pesticides are not used, there are still fertility needs to be met and though the fertilizer may be organic, it may still have an undesirable consequence. In the case of baby greens, some fertilizers are known to destroy micro-organisms and contribute to ground water pollution, as Guthman cites. Though in the case of cacao, micro-organisms go to work, stirring into about four hundred different chemicals and organic substances that transform a bland bean into the raw material that is the essence of what makes chocolate seductive (Off, 3).

So when it comes to cacao farming, organic is also touted as better. Most folks are no different than my friend in their belief that organic chocolate must taste better. Though in reality, it’s a false assurance of quality since something can be organic while simultaneously being of lesser quality. For instance, as we learned in one of Dr. Martin’s lectures, in most instances the best chocolate may be sent abroad, while the lesser quality chocolate may be sold locally. A good example of this is the Cocoa Processing Company (or Golden Tree Ghana) in Ghana, which produce chocolate bars but the lesser quality stays in Ghana, while the best stuff is sent to other countries. Another Ghanaian company known as Omanhene Cocoa Bean Company is actually headquartered in Milwaukee and is mostly sold in the US, but the chocolate is made in Ghana. Since its purpose is to be sold, primarily, in the United States, it is understood the chocolate will be of higher quality.

It is important to keep in mind that just because something is not labeled organic does not mean it is not organic and that it’s of lesser quality. Simply, organic certification can be obstacles for many small independent producers who cannot afford the expense of being certified. Below is a video of an organic chocolate producer that not only describes its process from harvesting of cacao to retail packaging, but it goes so far as to tout its health benefits and its importance to the local community. My friend made it clear to me that she does not buy chocolate on its perceived health benefits, but simply because she loves the taste of chocolate.

Indeed, organic does not equate to fair trade, as the conditions in California’s lettuce industry relied on marginalized immigrant workers. In cacao farming, the conditifair-trade-logoons are no better and in certain parts of the world, they are quite worse by the use of child trafficking and slavery. When I asked my friend to tell me what she knew about fair trade, her response was that “ideally farmers were paid a living wage and did not engage in child labor.” In a nutshell, she was pretty accurate. Products that bear the fair trade certified logo, pictured on the right, come from farmers and workers who are justly compensated.

In 2009, there was a study done by Tulane University and it found that 1 million children in Ghana worked on cocoa-related activities in 2008, and less than 10 percent of them were actually paid. According to Dr. Martin, she stated that in 2013/14, over 2 million children were involved in hazardous work in Ghana and Côte d’lvoire. Unfortunately, Côte d’lvoire has been a haven for violence, particularly in the coveted cocoa groves, where much of the fighting has been over ownership of cocoa-producing land, as conflicting interests vie for control of its agricultural wealth (Off, 4). But the most horrific headlines have been the trafficking of children from Mali into Côte d’lvoire. Young boys were almost worked to death with very little to eat and slept in bunkhouses that were locked during the night. They were also frequently beaten and worked at gunpoint (Off, 121). While there has been some efforts to curtail child labor, not enough has been done considering the amount of cacao that is supplying the five major chocolate companies (Hershey’s, Nestle, Mars, Ferrero, and Cadbury), and hence, they are extremely profitable at the expense of human rights in West Africa.

Though, there is a silver lining for some farmers in West Africa who want to do things differently. The key is a new ecologically-based, natural resource management approach known as agroforestry. This system cuts costs and labor for farmers while promoting the integration of diverse food and timber. To learn more about agroforestry, click here.

I asked my friend where she thought the majority of cacao came from and she replied South/Central America. She was quite stunned when I informed her that almost 75 percent is actually coming from West Africa. She has never visited a region that produces chocolate nor has taken a chocolate tour. But this week, we will be meeting up to do a chocolate tasting and I will be extending some of the knowledge I gained from this class. In the meantime, I sent her on a mission to find the Omanhene chocolate bar that Dr. Martin mentioned during her lecture, since my friend lives in Milwaukee where the company has its headquarters, so that we may taste chocolate that is made in Ghana. She completed her mission in record-time! No sooner than I mentioned it and she had gone to the store and purchased it. Here’s a picture she sent me to prove it. Lol!

Omanhene chocolate back

When asked if chocolate serves as a comfort food for her, she replied, “definitely.” And she’s not alone in this, as David Benton argues, chocolate is by far the most common food item that people crave, especially when they are emotionally distressed. He adds that the attraction of chocolate lies in its taste (Benton, 206). In a study Benton carried out, he discovered some insights into the relationship between negative mood and chocolate craving. Essentially those who craved chocolate displayed a weakness for chocolate when under emotional stress. Some of the reasons he discovered in his study uncovered responses that dealt with being bored, upset, or feeling down. Interestingly enough, Robert Albritton argues that the ideal food ingredient for profit purposes is something that is cheap and that consumers crave (Albritton, 344). He says that sweetness is the most desired taste which makes sense and as a result, it’s what makes chocolate more appealing. Below is a video created by a non-for-profit class that spoofs the lengths that companies will go to, to make us crave their product. It’s actually not far off from what companies do on a regular basis to prey on our senses.

After taking this class, it’s made me more inquisitive in everything relating to chocolate. It takes me much longer to get through the chocolate aisle as I pay particular attention to what labels are on the packaging and what ingredients are in the chocolate. It’s also made me curious on how others perceive chocolate, which is why I asked my friend if the words cacao and cocoa represented the same thing to her. She answered, yes. But in fact, there is a slight difference. Historically, the word cacao has been used to define the raw material from the cacao tree. While the word cocoa is the Anglicization of the word cacao, but it’s most commonly used to refer to the commodity once it has been processed. The use of the word cacao instead of cocoa is symbolically important in the niche, fine-cacao chocolate community, where it’s a point of distinction from bulk commodity cocoa (Dr. Martin lecture).

After interviewing my friend for this project, it was quite clear that she buys chocolate for its taste but is also meticulous in her shopping habits, particularly when it comes to her shopping behavior. She leans heavily towards buying local products and supporting small businesses, which she perceives as higher quality than mass-produced cocoa in bulk. While there wasn’t a difference to her in the words cacao and cocoa, it was apparent that she is more into the niche products which would fit in with the definition of cacao. It was clear that she looks for quality chocolate based on her revelations during our interview. I hope through my brief conversation with her, I was able to impart some newfound knowledge on chocolate and perhaps, moving forward, she will be able to look at it through a different lens, when in the chocolate aisle. I am in anticipation to continue the conversation with her through our chocolate tasting this week, and see her reaction to the various nuances of flavor in chocolate. It will be interesting to see what words she’ll use to describe some of the uniqueness that is inherent by some chocolate producers. If I am allowed to write a follow-up post to this chocolate blog for fun since the class will be over by then, I will happily do so. Until then, happy chocolate tasting to my friend and I!

 

Works Cited

Albritton, Robert. “Between Obesity and Hunger: The Capitalist Food Industry.” Food and Culture (Routledge, New York, NY, 2013), pp. 342-352

Benton, David. “The Biology and Psychology of Chocolate Craving.” Coffee, Tea, Chocolate, and the Brain (CRC Press LLC, Boca Raton, FL, 2004), pp. 205-218

Guthman, Julie. “Fast Food/Organic Food: Reflexive Tastes and the Making of Yuppie Chow.” Food and Culture (Routledge, New York, NY, 2013), pp. 496-509

Off, Carol. Bitter Chocolate the Dark Side of the World’s Most Seductive Sweet (The New Press, New York, NY, 2008)

Works Consulted

Geffner, Dana. “Cocoa Farming: The Key to Reversing Deforestation in West Africa.” Huffington Post, (Jan. 2018) Online.

Image and Video Credits

Chocolate Sign image: http://www.buttonhillcottage.com

Indulgence Chocolate image: friend took photo, 2018

“A Few Great Bakeries.” PBS video, August, 2015

Organic image: http://www.organicsulfurosblog.wordpress.com

“Cacao Organic Growing and Harvesting.” Navitas video, September, 2010

Fair Trade Certified logo image: http://www.fairtradecertified.org

Omanhene chocolate bar image: friend took photo, 2018

Not-for-Profit class video: Nutella Advert, created by Emilie Thoreson on vimeo, 2015

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tackling Terroir in Chocolate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 IMG_7870 (1)

THE TASTING:

Divine 70% “Intensely Rich” chocolate. Ghana     IMG_7855

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

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

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

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

Certifications: Non gmo project, halal, fairtrade.

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

Website here

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

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

IMG_7857

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

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

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

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

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

Price: $4.75, 2.5 oz.

Website here

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

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

IMG_7858

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

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

Judgment: Our favorite so far.

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

Certifications: Fair Trade, Fair for life.

Price: $4.50 for 2.64 oz.

Website here

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

Whole Foods 72% “Tanzania Schoolhouse Project Cacao.”

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

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

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

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

Certifications: vegetarian, USDA organic, Kosher, Whole trade

Price: $6.00 for 3.5 oz.

No website.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Price: $6.50 for 2.5 oz.

Website here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Price: $7.50 for 2.5 oz.

Website here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Price: $3.99 for 2.82 oz.

Website here

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

Last thoughts on this experience

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

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

Sources Consulted:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Alter Eco 2.8 ounce chocolate bar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

**All images were taken by the author

 

Works Cited

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Drawing on Chocolate: How Society Displays its Values on its Favorite Food

From the earliest of its history, chocolate has been tied to the value systems of the people that consumed it. As cacao products and recipes traveled around the world, the decorations and designs that people have chosen to use on containers give us insight into the value systems of their cultures.

Mezo-American Values

Relics of Meso-American pottery date to the same place and timeframe as the archeological record of chocolate–with the Olmec people. (Rose) Chemical analysis of pottery shards shows that the Olmec culture made cacao pulp into an intoxicating beer-type drink at least 1000 years before the current era. Eventually the cacao bean byproduct fermented into its own food source and began to resemble chocolate–at least in its crudest liquid form. (Henderson)

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The Mayan drinking vase on display in the permanent collection of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts is an example of documentation of ceremony, politics, and the importance of chocolate in their society. Slightly larger than a modern quart jar, the drinking vase has a wrap-around visual narrative that details a ritual, specifically noting out that kakaw (cacao) was one of the stimulating substances used in this event.

Our first pictorial record of the original bitter drink begins with the wealthiest of the Mayan society. These colorful jewels of Western Hemisphere art document the details about ritual life by describing events, attendees, and even the ingredients of the beverage. Documenting their religion and political record onto the containers from which they drank chocolate shows the importance of the beverage in their society.

The Aztec created rounded bowls from the calabash gourds which the local populace used to prepare their daily cacao. The society elite commissioned ceremonial pottery that took the same shape and name as the gourd vessels–jícara. Vessels like this were documented in the first Spanish histories, with descriptions of cacao preparation being poured from bowl to bowl to create a frothy top. (Presilla 32)

By the time the Spanish arrived, Aztec decorations were becoming less literal than the Mayans’ had been, and were more symbolic of the gods’ earthy powers. Geometric representation of forces such as lightening and serpents were replacing the drawings of the gods themselves. As colonization progressed, the strong geometric symbolism was married with the Spanich-Islamic influences and techniques–showing up in the hybridization of cuisines, ingredients (Lauden) as well as in the art motifs.

The ultimate reason for the Spanish colonization the Americas was to extract the wealth from the natural resources of the new world. Although the Spanish government justified their version of slavery with the religious conversion of the Native Americans, in the end the colonization effort needed to be a wealth-producing enterprise. Along with agricultural products such as chocolate and sugar, metals were of great value in the European market. Native cultures shared the affinity for gold, silver and copper and used them as ornament and decorative items for the elite, but they had not perfected many techniques to create items for utilitarian purposes. The Spanish brought the knowledge of metallurgy which led to the local creation of copper chocolate pots for drink preparation. They also used silver to create handles and feet on the local cups made from coconut, literally wrapping the drink in wealth.

This video of a Filipino chocolate preparation shows the use of a copper chocolate pot and a molinillo stick to stir the chocolate into a froth. This is how the Spanish modified the native Nahuatl method of pouring the chocolate from bowl to bowl to produce a froth. (Coe 156), (Presilla 20)

After the Spanish arrival, pottery designs started showing stronger geometric divisions and flowery natural imagery moving away from the stylization of the Aztec and becoming more reminiscent of the designs that were slathered on mother Spain’s 12th century Moorish architecture. Images of upper-class colonial life, replaced the Native American depictions of myths and ceremonies. Plantation life was becoming more important than the natural forces and religions of Mexico. The sgrafitto, or incised pottery techniques that the Spaniards brought with them, married well with the engraved and carved techniques that had been in Meso-America since the Olmecs, but allowed for a more refined hand to carve into gourds and coconuts as well as pottery. (Presilla 32)

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Jícara such as this one from Peru uses the sgrafitto technique to create a delicate designs that bring to mind the Spanish homeland.

The gourd-bowl shape has become synonymous with colorful, modern Mexican tourist-style pottery in the shape of flowerpots and salad bowls. Calabash gourds are still grown, dried, carved and sold today in the markets of Tabasco. Grown from a native American tree that is remarkably similar to cacao in habit and form–modern uses for the gourds can be anything from drinking, to measuring, to display.

The influence and pottery technology of the Olmecs had moved northward with trade routes to the Pueblo people. Gas chromatography analysis of North American artifacts has shown that long before the Aztecs had usurped the regional market on cacao, the trade routes of the Mayans had extended northward to canyons of New Mexico. (Mozdy) The Anasazi cultures created tall, vessels reminiscent of the Mayan vase shape, decorated with extremely stylized iconography that represented the common Meso-American pantheon.

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These examples from Chaco Canyon are covered with lightening bolts that reflect the Pueblo’s interpretation of the imported Mezoamerican rain god, Quetzocoatle and display the reverence to the forces of nature that the local culture held. (Eaton 38)

This 1200-mile path between where the vessels were found (in the Pueblo Bonito of Chaco Canyon) and the nearest source of cacao would have required 600 hours of backpacking through rough country and sweltering heat. As one researcher phrased it “That’s a long way to go for something that you don’t need for survival”, [something] that’s more of a delicacy…” Whether the Anasazi acquired this cacao through dedicated treks south–which would have taken weeks–or their pueblo was the endpoint of an even slower hand-to-hand, village-to-village trade route. (Mozdy)

European Values

Soon after chocolate washed across the courts of Europe, trade with the east opened up, bringing with it tea, and a new the technology harder, refined pottery that we still refer to as “china”. Tea was not treated just as basic sustenance. Like the original chocolate beverage, there was ceremony attached to it that appealed to the idle wealthy who could afford these imported beverages. Tea was prepared in a fancy ceramic pot–separate from the kettle used to heat the water. Then it was decanted to a cup to delicately sip. The wealthy started applying the same approach their chocolate. Long gone was the habit of preparing and drinking chocolate out of the same vessel. The wealthy had even stopped decanting directly from a copper pot into a cup. Drinking chocolate now represented wealth and was given all the trappings to prove it. Chocolate was prepared in the kitchen and placed in the chocolate pot, or chocotalière, by servants, then brought to the public gathering of wealthy ladies, and delicately poured into cups and handed round by the magnanimous hostess. (Coe 156-159)

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The best and most expensive chinoiserie hailed from Germany, where Johann Friedrich Böttger duplicated the art of Chinese fine porcelain making.

 

Chocolate pots were made from the most expensive of porcelain, and shaped in the fashion of teapots with some adjustments. Traditional teapots have a short, squat form into order to be able to keep heat in and extract the flavor from the swirling tea leaves that are actively stewing in the hot water. A low-seated spout is fixed with an interior strainer to keep the floating leaves in the pot once you are ready to pour the fully brewed beverage. Coffee pots, on the other hand, need a tall form and highly placed straining spout for the opposite reason. As it is basically a decanting mechanism for an already brewed beverage, the height of the coffee pot allows any grounds from the brew to settle to the bottom, or get caught in the strainer. (Righthand)

Chocolate pots can be hard to spot, as they often hybridize these two forms–typically tall, but often bulbous. Early European chocolate pots most always have a removable finial to allow for a mixing stick to create the desired froth and keep the chocolate mixed. As cocoa powder was developed and cocoa preparations replaced true hot chocolate, the stirring stick went by the wayside, and chocotalière became nearly indistinguishable from coffee pots. The last distinguishing characteristic of a coffee pot was the internal strainer where the spout and body meet, and a spout that lowered over time.

Drinking chocolate represented wealth, therefore decorations were those that affluent courtiers and nouveau-riche traders would value. Gone were the forces of Meso-American nature, or plantation life, and in came garden scene–often mimicking the exotic origins of the pot. Elaborately painted and gilt decorations brought the wealth of court on the surface of the chocolate pot. An 18th century fad called “Chinoiserie” depicted the European’s visions of Asian gardens with palm trees, umbrellas, and architecture that they imagined would be found in the gardens of the imperial court of China. As many of the traders were making fortunes off the new-found economy, the asian motifs became a temporary obsession throughout the continent and its colonies.

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Pottery for the middle class living in British colonies was most often imported from Staffordshire England. Extremely fine china rarely made it across the Atlantic during the colonial period.

Chocolate drinkers in the British colonies of North America usually imported English middle-class pottery with basic garden motifs to take to their breakfast tables. Very little pottery was made in New England so imported china had a cache of wealth and the designs were reminiscent of the estate and gardens of England as colonists tried to keep up all the appearances of home. The wealthiest of families had their chocolate pots crafted by local silversmiths, and garnished with the family seal to tie their family names and crests directly with the wealth that the precious metal embodied.

 

Modern Global Values

bars

As solid chocolate became available and ubiquitous throughout western culture, the packaging of it has changed with the form, but the still conveyed the values of the local surroundings. To make chocolate appealing to a mass Victorian audience, purveyors wrapped it in the trappings of health and wholesomeness. As modern food science undermined the myth of “healthful chocolate” and the western world was coming out of a financial depression, the ideology of wealth returned. Silver wrappers, foil lettering on thick, glossy boxes, expansive packaging, and silky imagery are on all price-points of chocolate. Our favorite addiction is made more expensive by giving it the trappings of luxury: heart-shaped boxes and ribbons; gilded truffles and patisseries. Feeling rich makes many of us very happy.

The fact that cacao is grown as a third world agricultural product, but consumed almost exclusively in comfortable homes of first world economies has been coming to the attention of consumers over the last half a century. For the socially conscious consumer–those whose values do not hold with personal indulgence without consideration to the cost to others and the planet–a whole new branding for chocolate has developed.

These consumers feel better about buying chocolate that is emblazoned with the iconography of Fair Trade, organic, or direct trade certifications–even if the certification system is more of a seasonal band-aid than a true economic transformation. (Sylla) The sheer plethora of virtuous symbols appearing on labels in the chocolate isle work to the benefit of the marketing. The variety of symbols and levels of individual certification system adds layers of confusion to the real benefits. The level of confusion is so high, there is no way the average consumer can understand all the nuances and impacts. In the end buyers spend more for a product that has a “seal of approval,” and go on their merry way with the psychological satisfaction of having done something good for the “other.”  They get to feel good without ever looking for any proof of the benefit these programs have on the lives of the farmers.

Slapping a feel-good seal on a wrapper has become so successful as marketing, that major companies are eschewing certifications that are attached to bureaucratic oversight of bona fide good intent, and instead are working toward establishing their own brands’ seal of ethical approval and creating home-grown social initiatives that are much easier to operationalize and do not threaten profits in the way that transforming the cacao supply chain would. Adding these icons into the patchwork of other initiatives ensures that social initiative logos appear on more and more packaging. Buying products branded with one of the myriad of ethical icons assuages the consciences of most purchasers. (Martin) In this way, we ensure that imagery that conveys these values will keep on proliferating on the packaging of our chocolate.

Works Referenced:

Brigden, Zachariah. Chocolate Pot. 1755. Silver. Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts.

Burt, Benjamin, and Nathaniel Hurd. Teapot. 1763. Silver. Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts.

“Crescentia cujete.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 03 Apr. 2017. Web. 07 May 2017. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crescentia_cujete>.

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. Third ed. New York: Thames and Hudson, 2013. Print.

Eaton, William M. Odyssey of the Pueblo Indians: an introduction to Pueblo Indian petroglyphs, pictographs, and kiva art murals in the Southwest. Paducah, KY: Turner Pub., 1999. Print.

Henderson, John S., et al. “Chemical and Archaeological Evidence for the Earliest Cacao Beverages.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, National Acad Sciences, 16 Nov. 2007, www.pnas.org/content/104/48/18937.full. Accessed 6 Mar. 2017.

Laudan, Rachel, and Ignacio Urquiza. “The Mexican Kitchen’s Islamic Connection.” Aramco World. Saudi Aramco Services Co, May 2004. http://archive.aramcoworld.com/issue/200403/the.mexican.kitchen.s.islamic.connection.htm. Accessed 3 Feb. 2017

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

Martin, Carla D. “Alternative trade and virtuous localization/globalization.” 5 April 2017, Cambridge, Massachusetts, Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food.

“Metallurgy in pre-Columbian America.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 02 May 2017. Web. 07 May 2017.

Mozdy, Michael. “Cacao in Chaco Canyon.” Natural History Museum of Utah, Natural History Museum of Utah, 4 Aug. 2017, nhmu.utah.edu/blog/2016/08/04/cacao-chaco-canyon. Accessed 6 Mar. 2017.

Righthand, Jess. “A Brief History of the Chocolate Pot .” Smithsonian.com. The Smithsonian Institution, 13 Feb. 2005. Web. 23 Feb. 2017. <http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian-institution/brief-history-chocolate-pot-180954241/>.

Rose, Mark. “Olmec People, Olmec Art.” Archeology. Archaeological Institute of America, n.d. Web. 23 Apr. 2017.

Sylla, Ndongo Samba., and David Clément Leye. The fair trade scandal marketing poverty to benefit the rich. Athens, OH: Ohio U Press, 2014. Print.

Unknown. Anasazi [Pueblo] pottery, Pueblo Bonito, Chaco Canyon, New MexicoAMNH Digital Special Collections, accessed March 06, 2017, lbry-web-007.amnh.org/digital/items/show/38991.

Unknown. Drinking Vase for “om kakaw”. Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts, 2003.

Unknown. Gourd (jicara) with red figures. Circa 1700. Lacquered Gourd. Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, San Francisco, California.

Unknown. Jícara. Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts, 2003.

Image Citations:

Unless otherwise noted, drawings and photographs are works of the author and images may not be reused without attribution.