Tag Archives: sustainability

The Ethical Choices of Chocolate and Carbon

Any food we eat leaves a global environmental and ethical footprint, and chocolate, as adored as it is, is no exception. This blog post will consider the deleterious global effects of chocolate’s production and consumption and will provide guidelines for consumers who seek to enjoy its delicious flavor while minimizing some of its harmful global impacts.

The most comprehensive way to analyze the environmental impact of cacao, the raw material processed into chocolate, is to address every input and output for every aspect of its lifecycle from growing the raw materials to disposing of the wrapper post consumption. This impact analysis must consider how the cacao tree is cultivated and how the beans are then fermented, dried, roasted, winnowed (removal of the shell), and crushed. It must also consider how the sugar and vanilla used as ingredients in chocolate are grown and processed. If the chocolate is milk chocolate, it must consider how the cows are fed, milked, and housed during the winter, and how the milk itself is pasteurized and dried. Even the soy lecithin, a natural product used in small amounts to stabilize the coco solids in a processed bar, has a story with environmental footprints along the way – oil is extracted from raw soybeans, then mixed with water, and then dried. Every step along these supply chains require electricity and transportation, and the transportation vehicles themselves have to be manufactured.

This is only to demonstrate the complexity of accurately determining and comparing chocolate’s environmental footprint. A thorough lifecycle analysis that considers every impact from the tree to the consumer’s stomach is challenging, as every input requires another input further down the line and the supply chain never ends. Because of this, few have undertaken the challenge of calculating a full life-cycle analysis for this cherished food. But the analyses that do exist can help us understand chocolate’s environmental footprint and guide us in consumer choices. 

One lifecycle analysis was undertaken by ESU-services, a sustainability consulting firm, for cocoa produced in Ghana and consumed in Europe. Ghana is the world’s second largest cocoa producing nation after Cote d’Ivoire. While Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire have startlingly different social structures and levels of government regulation within the cacao industry, they neighbor each other geographically and both produce the Forastero variety of cocoa. In other words, a lifecycle analysis of just Ghanaian cacao is representative of a large portion of the world’s current cacao supply.

This ESU-services study found that on-farm activities account for over 70% of chocolate’s total environmental footprint. Retail packaging, distribution and selling, and transport from retailer to household account for the remaining portion of the footprint. Most food products have agricultural production footprints that account for a majority of their overall environmental footprint, so 70% puts chocolate on-par with other foods. The ESU-services study also found the global warming potential from the production of white chocolate to be more than double that of dark chocolate (milk chocolate falls in the middle). This is because white chocolate is largely made with milk solids and cows produce huge amounts of methane, a highly potent greenhouse gas. The Cadbury chocolate company found a similar result when it calculated the carbon footprint of its chocolate. The single largest source of emissions came from the production of the milk. In-house production accounted for 20% of emissions, sugar production was 10%, and packaging was just 2%. When other environmental criteria like heavy metal contamination, water usage, radioactive waste production, and eutrophication is considered, dark chocolate still has a lower footprint than white chocolate, but this gap closes. The ESG-services study also made an interesting point about the importance of how chocolate is transported. Because air travel has a carbon footprint almost 100 times larger per pound than cargo ship travel, chocolate that is purchased duty-free at the airport and transported home by airplane has the highest environmental footprint of all.

ESU-services made another report on the environmental lifecycle analysis of chocolate wrapped in aluminum foil. Although aluminum is an environmentally destructive metal to mine, the results from this study were almost identical to the results from the Ghanaian analysis. This further supports the claim that packaging and distribution are only of minor environmental importance compared to the on-farm and processing activities.

A third life-cycle assessment that sought to consider all the stakeholders of Ghana’s cocoa industry came to the same conclusion that the production of the raw cacao accounts for a majority of chocolate’s environmental impact. The footprint from agricultural production was followed by processing and chocolate manufacturing, and the study found room for improvement in the efficiency of the energy-intensive equipment such as roasters at the processing factory. While improvements to on-farm sustainability is the lowest hanging fruit, this last energy-related finding suggests that a consumer could look for companies that boast processing facilities run with entirely renewable energy.  

The tree that produces cacao grows in tropical environments, so cacao growing regions overlap significantly with global biodiversity hotspots.

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As recent chocolate demand growth has overwhelmed West Africa, cacao production has expanded in South America. This expansion of  cacao cultivation has unfortunately been paired with an increase in rainforest clear-cutting. By exacerbating climate change and destroying natural habitats, agricultural land-use changes are one of chocolate’s primary environmental impacts. Instead of conducting a complete lifecycle analysis like ESU-services, the World Resources Institute used satellite images to calculate the carbon footprint of just these land-use changes. The study looked specifically at Peru, which has seen a nearly five-fold increase in cacao production between 1990 and 2013, and found that consideration of the land-use changes doubles the carbon footprint of chocolate. While this land-use analysis is not as comprehensive as a full lifecycle analysis, it none-the-less raises the important issue of deforestation in the cacao industry.   

Theobroma Cacao is an understory tree, so farmers can theoretically cultivate it among the existing rainforest, and if integrated in this way, cacao is actually a comparatively sustainable crop. The government of Peru has even partnered with the US Agency for International Development to encourage the cultivation of cacao as a way of protecting the forest. In regions that were formerly clear-cut to grow coca (the raw substance for cocaine), the introduction of sustainable cacao cultivation not only supports the regrowth of forest, but also has social value as it provides an alternative to the drug trade associated with coca. 

New research shows that cacao, a crop that traditionally prefers shade, can be grown in direct sun as long as it is heavily irrigated. This allows companies to grow cacao on cleared plots of land rather than integrating it among the existing forest. The role of the consumer in working against land-use changes is to buy from companies that encourage integrated crop systems. Chocolate companies that work with farmers to sustainably cultivate the cacao that ends up in their bars will advertise that they are doing so.

The easiest way for companies to signal their environmental awareness to consumers is through outside certifications. Farms certified through the Rainforest Alliance, known for its iconic green frog symbol, must meet criteria encompassing social, economic, and environmental sustainability set by the Sustainable Agricultural Network. These farmers are audited regularly and receive a price premium for their cacao. If a chocolate wrapper is made with paper or another wood-derived product, the company may choose to pursue a certification from the Forest Stewardship Council. This ensures the material was made with sustainably and ethically managed forestry practices.

Another certification is organic, which simply means that no synthetic fertilizers or pesticides were applied during cultivation. While these agricultural chemicals present an array of environmental concerns, there is also debate about the benefits of improving yields through traditional farming methods to reduce the environmental problems associated with land-use changes. Additionally, many have begun to attach other expectations about product quality and ethical fairness to organic certification. With the proliferation of food certifications, confusion about each one’s mission is common among consumers.

On top of its environmental impacts, chocolate production also has ethical implications felt globally. In addition to aligning unfortunately with global biodiversity hotspots, the geographic distribution of cacao production also aligns with areas of increased poverty. Theobroma cacao grows within 20 degrees north and south of the Equator, and due to the unfortunate inverse correlation between proximity to equator and wealth, the regions most suitable to growing cacao are also some of the poorest.

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A 2015 study found that the average income per capita per day for an entire cacao farming household in Ghana is approximately $0.50-$0.80 USD3. This is largely because less than five percent of the price of a typical chocolate bar makes its way back to the farmer. Worst of all, a cacao farmer’s already meager income is highly volatile because yields are dependent on natural events and global commodity prices are constantly in flux3. This irregular income further undermines a farmer’s ability to climb out of poverty. Cacao farm labor is both dangerous and demanding, and farmers are marginalized and under-represented. Because of this, less than one-quarter of West African cacao farmers would recommend that their children go into farming3. There is significant evidence of the worse forms of child labor, as defined by the International Labour Organization, on many West African farms3. Input and labor costs for cacao cultivation are high, so engaging familial labor is common practice. If a child is pulled from school to work on the farm, they lose out on education and the cycle of poverty continues. On a much broader scale, the demand for familial agricultural labor encourages high fertility rates.

Policy aimed at some of these problems suffer from unequal trade agreements, and corporate social responsibility lacks transparency and consumer education. In general, it is challenging to bring wide-scale awareness to these ethical concerns without falling victim to the exploiter-exploited binary3. Just as certifications have risen to respond to the environmental impacts of chocolate, certifications have risen to respond to the ethical impacts of chocolate.

The Fair Trade certification is probably the most recognized among American consumers of these ethically-focused certifications. The Fair Trade organization makes dramatic claims about the positive impact it brings to farmers who are certified with ambitious promises about everything from promoting community development and environmental sustainability to reducing child labor and gender inequality. The UTZ certification seeks similar outcomes of improving product quality, environmental sustainability, and farmer welfare. However, the reality is that the premiums paid to farmers who become certified are insufficient to achieve such dramatic economic, social, and environmental outcomes. Additionally, the certification process itself is expensive and only accessible to farmers who are able to take on the initial financial investment.

Taza, a small bean-to-bar chocolate company, thought Fair Trade was not doing enough and started its own Direct Trade program independently verified by a third party. They exclude all middle-men, visit the farmers they work with annually, and pay prices significantly higher than Fair Trade. Taza also requires that its cacao is grown in agroforestry systems – i.e. the cacao trees are integrated within the existing forest to avoid clear-cutting and radical land-use changes. Taza prides itself on absolute transparency by stating in its annual transparency report exactly how much it paid for each bag of cacao beans. The growth of this company demonstrates consumer buy-in for this supply-chain model, but the involved nature of Taza’s farmer relations is not scalable to the entire chocolate industry. This is only to say that it is a work in progress. All certification programs have their flaws, but they are steps in the right direction by bringing awareness to social and environmental issues in the supply chain of which consumers might not have been previously aware. By purchasing certified products, consumers can also demonstrate their commitment to those values.

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The symbols from certifications do not alone educate consumers, so the burden is on consumers to research the certification requirements for each one. These are the symbols of all the certifications discussed in this blog post.

Chocolate is a $100 billion dollar per year global industry ensnared in negative environmental and ethical footprints. While Europe, the United States, and Canada account for 73% of this global consumption, they produce none of it. This strong misalignment between where cacao is consumed and where it is grown has led to consumer naiveté about its negative footprints. We have yet to develop solutions for all of these impacts, and each cacao growing region has its own microclimate and political and cultural constraints so no one solution or certification is the golden ticket.

These issues require governmental action and multi-stakeholder collaboration, but from the consumer’s perspective, purchasing dark chocolate from companies that work to improve on-farm sustainability through agroforestry systems is a good start. Additionally, consumers can purchase chocolate from companies that support or partner with the International Cocoa Initiative and/or the International Cocoa Organization to end the worst forms of child labor.

This is a consumer guide for chocolate made by several students at the Harvard Chen School of Public Health. It rates a diversity of commercially-available chocolate bars on environmental, nutritional, and societal metrics and could be a useful tool for consumers trying to mitigate the negative global impacts of their chocolate consumption.

Once chocolate production internalizes its negative social and environmental externalities, the product is going to cost more. But compared to other fine food items like cheese and wine, chocolate can still be a relatively accessible treat. Consumer awareness of the global impacts of the chocolate industry can also extend to a greater understanding and appreciation of the global impacts of other food and non-food products.

Alter Eco – Changing The Chocolate Industry As We Know It

The chocolate industry has received significant criticism in the past decades for unsustainable practices stemming from questionable labor practices, use of low quality ingredients, poor production standards and problematic advertisements trends. These troubled elements combined have been brought to light by professionals analyzing the human, environmental, economic and social impact of chocolate on communities across the world. Indeed, most of the problems highlighted within the industry are still rampant today. Very few companies can pride themselves for having sustainable practices from a bean-to-bar perspective. Alter Eco, based out of California, France and Australia, prides itself in providing its clients with “healthy, sustainable and socially responsible foods” (Alter Eco, 2015). Through its high standards for quality and social responsibility, Alter Eco is a powerful response to the problems highlighted with today’s chocolate industry and attempts to mitigate the problems rampant within the multi-billion-dollar industry of cacao.


Alter Eco Foods provides its clients with a multitude of products ranging from chocolate bars, truffles, quinoa, and rice. Mathieu Senard, the co-founder and CEO of Alter Eco, states: [The company] started with chocolate, and then [evolved to] grains such as quinoa and rice. Our goal is to buy directly from cooperatives and, more importantly, pay a fair price” (Kaye, 2017). Alter Eco’s mission remains the same through its line of products. The company prides itself in its concept of “full circle sustainability” for all the products in its line. Full circle sustainability, in its most basic form, presents solutions to most of the problems highlighted by specialists in the chocolate industry. Most of the problematic companies view sales and production as a two-way street between the client and the business. Alter Eco views its everyday business practices from a different perspective by adding the environmental impact of production in their equation. With its globalized market, Alter Eco Foods is showing its competitors that sustainable practices in the labor, ingredients, production and marketing spheres is both attractive and delicious to consumers across the world.

The issue of child labor is an epidemic in Cacao plantations across the globe, and even more dominantly in Cote D’Ivoire. Chanthavong, in his analysis of child labor in chocolate production, writes: “Slave traders are trafficking boys ranging from the age of 12 to 16 from their home countries and are selling them to cocoa farmers in Cote d’Ivoire. They work on small farms across the country, harvesting the cocoa beans day and night, under inhumane conditions.” The problem of child labor, regardless of the production goals, is an incredibly sensitive issue that many governmental and non-governmental organizations are attempting to handle. In its efforts to limit the spread of child labor in Cote D’Ivoire and across the glove, Alter Eco sources its cacao beans from South American farmer-owned plantations, more specifically Peru and Ecuador. Furthermore, the company sources its Cacao butter from Dominican Republic, cutting any sort of possibility for economically- or socially-encouraging abusive labor practices. The company undoubtedly prides itself in its “single origin, highest quality cacao beans.” Alter Eco’s sustainable labor standards go much further than avoiding cacao originating from questionable sources with risk of child labor involvement. The company aims to rectify the issue of unsustainable labor practices through fair trade relationships, development programs, and women empowerment programs. Fair trade relationships are at the forefront of the sustainable labor practices push forth by the company’s values. Professor Martin from Harvard University writes: “Landlessness remains a serious problem among the descendants of enslaved people throughout the cocoa producing world today.” To further remedy these rampant issues, Alter Eco prides itself in sourcing all of its products from small-scale, farmer-owned cooperatives. Alter Eco is partners with the Institute of Marketecology (IMO), Fair Trade USA and the Fair Trade Labelling Organization (FTLO). This list of high-level certifications provides clients with the certainty that the labor practices for producers are socially acceptable and sustainable and that the values of the company for providing producers with good living and working conditions are followed.


Alter Eco’s efforts to offer a socially- and ethically-acceptable product do not stop at the location and origin of its labor force. The company put in place a variety of development programs in order to increase the likelihood of sustainability of its producers and workers. Its Fair Trade Premiums, which allocate money throughout the supply chain, have allowed Alter Eco’s sugar cooperative, Alter Trade, to build a training center for their employees in the Philippines, simultaneously serving as an assistance center for families to visit. Furthermore, in its full-circle attempt to provide all workers with social and economic support, Alter Eco addresses an underlying issue in today’s farming practices in its development of leadership and empowerment programs for women. Women within the farming industry are often viewed as second-class individuals due to the utterly and outrageously outdated assumption that they will not be as useful as men on the land. Alter Eco writes: “Gender equality is an important aspect of the Alter Eco business model, all the way down to the field.” Through such a stance, Alter Eco attempts to remedy the gender disparity and inequality within the farming industry through maintaining that “women will assert their due role and space in both the management of the homestead farming economy and in the governance of [the land]” (AlterEco.com).


The issue of unsustainable environmental practices within the chocolate industry is one Alter Eco addresses with strength. Indeed, as stated earlier, Alter Eco prides itself in adding the environment in its equation for sustainable production practices, which is something very few businesses work towards. Professor Martin from Harvard University, in her presentation entitled “Psychology, Terroir, and Taste,” states that Terroir and Harvesting practices can strongly affect, both positively and negatively, cacao quality and quantity. Furthermore, “the use of pesticides on the farms can lead to the destruction of part of the soil flora and fauna through both physical and chemical deterioration” (Ntiamoah, 2008). Alter Eco prides itself in assuring that all of its cooperative farms maintain their fields within American and European standards for organic certification. Such a certification makes sure the consumers are aware of what they are getting: a product “free of synthetic additives like pesticides, chemical fertilizers, and dyes, and [that] must not [have been] processed using industrial solvents, irradiation, or genetic engineering” (Henry, 2012). Such sustainable ecological and organic practices put forth Alter Eco’s values in promoting a product that is good for farmers, earth, and consumers. Alter Eco’s efforts in promoting sustainable environmental practices do not end at the farm or on the plantation. Although the company goes to great lengths to maintain its organic certification, it even goes steps further in pushing forward its values of sustainability. Through its commitment to becoming a carbon-negative business, Alter Eco has already received its Carbon-neutral certification, which confirms the company offsets the same amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) as it produces. “Alter Eco works closely with PUR Project and [its] farmers to plant trees for the amount of CO2 [produced]” (Alter Eco, 2017). Furthermore, in its efforts to become a carbon negative business, Alter Eco started its emission subdivision called PUR Project. “Contrary to offsetting, which consists in handling carbon compensation in other places by uncorrelated people and means, the insetting includes the handling of carbon compensation into the commercial dynamics of the company” (PUR Project, 2017). In other words, Alter Eco’s insetting efforts are rooted deeply in the idea that you must give back to the soil and air from which you took. In having an impact within its supply line, Alter Eco can assure that its efforts are not in vain, and that, although it plans to plant an additional 7,776 trees in 2017, the 28,639 trees (Alter Eco, 2017) already planted since 2008 are truly being put to good use to reinvigorate the soil from which so much is produced.

Alter Eco’s efforts to make their products more environmentally-friendly do not stop at their carbon-neutral status. They indeed go even further to make their products truly “full circle sustainable.” The packaging in which their chocolate and truffles are placed are fully compostable. Plastic and the conventional polyethylene packaging are quite detrimental to the environment due to the astronomical quantity of plastic sent to landfills or that finishes its life course in the oceans. The packaging developed by Alter Eco provides an eco-friendly alternative to the original plastic packaging found for most chocolate bars. This new packaging is made from compostable materials, GMO free, and without any toxic ink. Mathieu Senard adds: ““We believe the impact of our packaging is just as important as the product itself. How could we call ourselves a responsible, sustainable company when much of our packaging was going to landfills to live for hundreds of years?” (Alter Eco, 2015). This question raised by Senard is one answered by very few companies, which makes Alter Eco that much more efficient in its goal of changing the dynamics of chocolate production across the globe. To top off its environmental goals, Alter Eco has partnered with the 1% For the Planet Fund, which gives 1% of the company’s sales to a non-profit with environmental improvement goals.



Businessman David Ogilvy was once quoted for saying: “The more informative your advertising, the more persuasive it will be.” Advertisements and marketing are truly at the forefront of the chocolate industry’s sales. Whether it is for Valentine’s Day, Easter, Christmas, or Halloween, chocolate advertisements are all over television networks, the internet, and social media. Nonetheless, there are many problems and complaints associated with today’s chocolate industry and its marketing techniques. During her lecture at Harvard University about “Race, Ethnicity and Gender” in today’s chocolate industry, Professor Carla Martin elaborated on today’s chocolate marketing techniques and its associated prejudice, stereotypes, and discrimination. Most of this discrimination comes in the form of racism or sexism. Women are portrayed as irrational in the presence of chocolate while men are portrayed as sexualized bodies. Simultaneously, race is also being portrayed in stereotypical and offensive ways. Alter Eco attempts to go against all these rampant problems with marketing for chocolate. The company presents its potential buyers with an honest, informative advertising. Fagerhaug (Honest Marketing, 1997) writes: “The main point about honest marketing is to run the business in such a way that a customer at any time can feel the certainty any customer longs for; that he or she made the right choice.” When a customer purchases a product from Alter Eco, there is a directly associated certainty in the quality and honesty of the product received.


In conclusion, Alter Eco attempts to provide its clients around the world with a sustainable chocolate product that tackles most, if not all the problems associated with today’s chocolate market. Through its fair labor practices, honest ingredients, conscientious production techniques and reliable advertisements, Alter Eco gives its customers exactly what they can expect. If more companies put as much care and attention in their products as Alter Eco does, the world would be a much better place. Alter Eco is undoubtedly part of the solution to the problems in the world’s chocolate and cacao industries.


Works Cited:

“Alter Eco – B Corporation”. B Corporation Website. Fair Trade & Organic Foods, 2017.

“Alter Eco Foods”. AlterEco.com, Web. Accessed 05.03.2017.

“Alter Eco 2015 Impact Report”. AlterEco.com. Pages 7/7. 2017.

Business Wire Magazine. Alter Eco Logo Image. Media Image (Jpeg). Web. 05.03.17. http://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20160419005633/en/Alter-Eco-Unveils-Annual-Full-Circle-Sustainability-Social

Chanthavong, Samlanchith. “Chocolate and Slavery: Child Labor in Cote D’Ivoire.” TED Case Studies. American University. Pages 17/17. 2017.

Fagerhaug & Andersen. “Honest Marketing: A Coherent Approach to Conscientious Business Operation.” Norwegian University of Science and Technology. 2017.

Henry, Alan. “What Does Organic Really Mean, And Is It Worth my Money?” Lifehacker.com. 2012.

Laye, Keon. “Alter Eco Wants to Make Chocolate a Regenerative, not Extractive, Industry.” Triple Pundit Online Publishing, 2017.

Lovely Package. Alter Eco Packaging Image. Media Image (Jpeg). Web. 05.03.17. http://lovelypackage.com/alter-eco/

Martin, Carla D.“Race, ethnicity, gender, and class in chocolate advertisements”, Harvard University, CGIS, AAAS 119x, 2017.

Martin, Carla D. “Slavery, abolition, and forced labor”, Harvard University, CGIS, AAAS 119x, 2017.

Martin, Carla D. “Psychology, Terroir, and Taste”, Harvard University, CGIS, AAAS 119x, 2017.

“Mission/Values.” Fair Trade USA. Fair Trade USA, 2016.

Ntiamoah, Augustine. “Environmental impacts of cocoa production and processing in Ghana: life cycle assessment approach.” Journal of Cleaner Production, Print. 2008.

Plan Vivo. Pur Project Logo image. Media Image (Jpeg). Web. 05.03.17. http://www.planvivo.org/

Smedley, Tim. “Forget About Offsetting, Insetting is the Future.” The Guardian. Web, 2015.

Squicciarini & Swinnen. “The Economics of Chocolate”, Oxford Scholarship Online, 2016.

Slave Free Chocolate. Chocolate’s Slave Trade Image. Media Image (Jpeg). Web. 05.03.17. http://www.slavefreechocolate.org/

The Problem of Child Labor in the Cocoa Plantations. Africa News Service, Feb 2, 2012

WordPress.Willandmegan. Alter Eco Chocolate Bar Image. Media Image (Jpeg). Web. 05.03.17. https://willandmegan.wordpress.com/tag/alter-eco/

Money can grow on trees: the valuation of and payment for ecosystem services in the chocolate industry

As issues like food justice and consumer activism are popularized around certain products, there is an increased demand that food is good concerning not only taste but ethicality as well. When exploring what was being done to make chocolate more ethical and sustainable, I became interested in exploring how chocolate companies were taking action to make their products more “good” for people, the planet, and the sustainability of the industry.

A multi-billion dollar industry with nearly 50 million people along its global value chain, the chocolate industry, is undergoing many challenges which center around its sustainable procurement of cocoa. This is the case not only with respect to rising demands due to the expansion of new middle-class markets in Africa and Asia but is particularly relevant to concerns about the sustainability of its labour force, especially with regard to cocoa farmers and growers, and the environment, specifically with respect to the resilience of the crops affected  by climate change impacts; issues like these have affected an increasing global demand for chocolate. In fact, it is projected that by 2020, the global cocoa demand will exceed the supply by almost 1 million metric tons with industry forecasts of a 30% growth in demand amounting to 4.5 million tons by 2020. [1]

Alongside an increasing demand for chocolate, there has been a rising demand amongst consumers for greater transparency, traceability, and accountability throughout the chocolate value chain particularly at relates to social factors. [2] For example, chocolate companies are being scrutinized on the production end of its supply chain on issues like generational poverty faced by cocoa farmers, low productivity due to agricultural practices, and increasing the prevalence of many cocoa farmers and growers choosing to walk away from the industry entirely. For instance, according to CNN’s “Cocoa-nomics” series, revealed that compared to 16% received by cocoa farmers for every chocolate bar sold in the late 1980’s, today farmers receive only 3%. [3]

Figure 1. Infographic outlining the pricing of chocolate bar and how it relates to actors all along the value chain.


Also, as the negative impacts of climate change -including increasingly unpredictable differentiation between wet and dry season, intense rains and flooding, longer and prolonged dry periods, as well as subsequent changes in the local ecosystem – continues to grow, many consumers have increased concern about the environmental impact of food production. Together, these focus areas have come to form a basis for the concern about the sustainability of the overall chocolate industry with attention increasingly directed at the both the beginning (farmers and growers) and end (consumers) of the chocolate product supply chains. Through emergence and development sustainability mechanisms like third-party audits, chain-of-custody schemes, direct trade (bean-to-bar chocolate producers), and single-source supply chains, chocolate companies have begun to adopt new and innovative models for sustainable sourcing of cocoa.

Concerning consumers, chocolate companies have increased their marketing efforts at increasing customers’ assurance of their sustainable practices. In particularly, some chocolate producers have implemented market-driven approaches through the use of consumer-facing tools like certification labeling and standards. [4] However, even with such certifications, there have been some useful questions raised about the effectiveness of certifications at positively impacting the lives of actors at the beginning of the supply chain, particularly for farmers and growers. For example, the Fair Trade certification offers a price premium price for the production of crops grown at higher social and environmental standards; however, questions have been raised around how much of the intended benefit of the certification reaches the poorest farmers and growers. [5] (Sylla, 2014, p. 208).

And so chocolate producers have begun exploring other market-driven approaches to increasing the sustainability of its industry. Most recently, in November of 2015, many leaders came together for the COP 21, the annual United Nations Climate Change Conference, where the Paris Agreement was adopted which governs the climate change related measures calling for the reduction of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. While the  Paris agreement does not  go so far as to establish what agriculture’s role in  reducing global emissions should be, it does outline that the international community “must address climate change’s effects on agriculture to build resilience and enhance food security globally.”[6]The chocolate industry has been sensitive to the devastating effect climate change could have on its industry. In Yasin’s 2014 Salon article titled “Why climate change could mean the end of chocolate”, she points out that that in West Africa, particularly Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana where nearly 70 percent of the world’s cocoa is produced, temperatures are expected to rise by a 2-degree Celsius (36.5 F) by 2050.  Many worry that this increase in temperature could affect a greater amount of water being lost by cocoa trees to evapotranspiration making them too dry. [7] 

Overall, the COP 21’s call-to-action instilled a renewed interest in exploring how the expansion of ecosystem services markets could help industries become more sustainable, including the chocolate industry. Actors from the chocolate industry showed up to the convening to make leaders aware of the world’s first carbon-neutral chocolate company, The Change Chocolate, and distributed their chocolate to remind them of how crucial the outcomes of the talks were to the sustainability of the chocolate industry.

Figure 2. The Change Chocolate, a carbon-neutral chocolate bar making an appearance of the COP21 with words to leaders.

While much attention has been drawn to chocolate industry’s efforts to increase crop productivity, which could include things like monocropping,  as a vehicle for farmers to get liveable incomes thus sustaining the cocoa supply chain’s labor force, some have argued that this strategy alone fails to account for the environmental externalities associated with that increased production and adverse impacts like for example the loss of biodiversity. [8] [9] (Healy, 2001, p. 151). For instance, in the case of no-shade cocoa versus shady cocoa, scholars have found that a trade-off emerges between growing no-shade cocoa that has higher yields, meaning more economic return, but is more environmentally destructive, and shady cocoa which has lower yields but is more sustainable, meaning increased biodiversity, permaculture, and carbon sequestration. [10] When the only thing valued is the consumption of resources, it can leave many developing nations having to choose between exploiting those resources and their economic development.

To bring balance to key decision-points, people have increasingly looked at valuing the ecological services provided to evaluate in a cost-to-benefit analysis against the exploitation of the said resource. Such valuation looks towards the value of not only what is provided but what may be avoided or lost as well to become the basis of an emerging environmental marketplace. Features of such markets could include tools like payment for ecosystem services (PES). [11] One of the most readily recognizable examples of PES are carbon credits.

The chocolate industry has begun to explore how to engage in carbon markets both at the beginning and end of the product supply chain. Actors in the chocolate industry are exploring how the economic valuation of environmental services provided by eco-friendly farming practices can work for payment for ecosystem services (PES) program. Such a system would be formed to create new value-streams for its cocoa producers so as to incentivize sustainable agroforestry practices monetarily. Also, as consumers become increasingly concerned with understanding how their consumption and purchasing decision impacts their overall carbon footprint, companies are marketing chocolate products that feature carbon emissions labeling.

Concerning farmers and growers and their communities,  more food companies have looked towards working with farmers and growers to introduce more ecological farming practices to curtail environmental degradation and increase the crop’s resilience. [12] An inspiring example of small-scale farmers benefiting from a PES program focused on the sequestration of carbon in the soil is the Kenya Agricultural Carbon Project (KACP). The KACP was the first organization in the world to earn verified carbon credits under the verified carbon standard (VCS) through its use of the sustainable agricultural land management (SALM) methodology for carbon sequestered in soil. [13] Later, the research on the efficacy of KALP adoption of the SALM methodology in the context of the KACP program not only provided benefits to the environment but led to increased agricultural productivity as well.

(lo-res) New manuals will help farmers in Kenya and Uganda earn carbon credits (1)
Figure 3. An agroforestry project training for farmers on how to sequester carbon and earn money.

The SALM methodology is empowering to farmers and growers because of how it engages them in measuring the impact of their eco-friendly farming practices on crop yields and the amount of carbon sequestered in the soil and makes them the PES beneficiaries for their performance of the improved farming methods.

According to Diarietou Gaye, World Bank Country Director for Kenya, “carbon credits are creating a revenue stream that enhances the extension services provided to farmers, which are critical to the adoption of these practices and also adds to farmers’ income beyond their increased crop yields.” [14] Moreover, methodologies like SALM have found their way into the chocolate world as well on both the large and small scale. For example, German-based ForestFinest Consulting, a well-renowned sustainable land-use expert, works with cocoa farming communities in Panama on a  carbon-certified climate-protection project and in turn worked with a small-scale chocolate manufacturer trying to achieve a climate-positive product. On the other end, Mondelēz International, one of the world’s largest manufacturers, promised $400 million USD  to support the production of sustainable cocoa with zero net deforestation in Africa. [16] All in all, this points to how PES is used at the beginning of the chocolate product supply chain by a variety of chocolate industry actors.

Chocolate is a product that has a relatively high carbon footprint associated with it, attributed mostly to its production, and chocolate producers have already started marketing and selling their carbon-neutral or reduced carbon impact chocolate products as a potential buying point for some consumers and in preparation for anticipated legislation requiring such labeling. [17]

Figure 4.  An infographic featuring the carbon footprint associated with different types of chocolate.

While some chocolate companies have chosen to focus its carbon neutrality or reduction effort on the production side of the chocolate product supply chain, others have decided to steer that focus in other areas. For example, Gru Rococo, a British chocolate company transported its chocolate bars via sail and solar powered ships and then sold famously sold its 3.5 ounces bars for around $21 USD each. [18] The company’s spokeswoman explained that the price was meant to shock consumers to help them realize that “people are not paying anywhere near the real environmental price for chocolate when they buy an ordinary bar. This is chocolate without an impact.” [19] While this company is making significant steps in reducing the carbon impact through its use of environmentally-friendly transportation, researchers have agreed that the majority of carbon reduction in the chocolate industry likely has more to do with how the crop is produced. [20]

Finally, food is about more than just taste, it’s political. With regard to food (and politics for that matter), it’s our responsibility to learn more and do more with that knowledge to increase the wellbeing of ourselves, families, community, and world. Rather than marginalizing certain cocoa growing regions from prime chocolate production markets due its reputation,  examining what steps are being taken to create ethical supply chains and better livelihoods for farmers is critical. For instance, while artisan producers may:

“purchase costly flavor beans and can thus improve the livelihoods of poor farmers, they are also unlikely to buy from a place with a negative image—such as West Africa. Colin Gasko, who has not sourced from West Africa, although he is considering it, remarked: ‘How do you buy cacao from West Africa in a way that is socially responsible, given its reputation and political climate?'”[21] (Leissle, 2013, p. 30).

Promoting the work being done to engage farmers in PES programs, brings into focus examples of cocoa cultivation working in ways that are not exploitative to workers through community-level engagement and then markets that as a selling point for buying chocolate from that community. It helps to draw consumers to become aware of the communities it purchases from and imagine their decision to purchase as being supportive of its wellbeing rather than contributing to its exploitation. By focusing on the community-level, it helps to disrupt the biases blanketed over the entire region and helps producers from those regions that are growing cocoa ethically to have access to the lucrative artisan and fine chocolate markets. An excellent example of this approach being used is in the case of Divine Chocolates.[22] (Ibid., p. 27). Essentially, it helps to counter the “dislocation of production and consumption in commodity markets”[23](Martin & Sampeck, 2015, p. 48) and achieve “the transformation of the relationship between producers and consumers.”[24] (Ibid.)

Food and climate change activism has re-shaped ideas, policies and industries and has led to positive transformations in key agricultural industries, like coffee for example. This was accomplished through the work of multiple stakeholders with communities rather than excluding those communities that needed to improve to lucrative areas of the market. When looking to recent examples of  how the chocolate industry is beginning to engage in environmental markets to make itself more sustainable, such programs have the ability to shine a spotlight on ethical and sustainable actors in the industry. Overall,  it is exciting to see how the incentives of the industry, farmers and consumers can come together to make the future of chocolate seem a little sweeter while bringing into focus the communities themselves.


[1] Goodyear, D. (n.d.). The Future of Chocolate: Why Cocoa Production is at Risk. The Guardian. Retrieved May 1, 2016, from http://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/fairtrade-partner-zone/chocolate-cocoa-production-risk

[2] Mccabe, M. (2015). Fine Chocolate, Resistance, and Political Morality.Journal of Business Anthropology, 4(1), 54-81. Retrieved May 1, 2016.

[3] Torre, I. (2014, February 27). Cocoa-nomics explained: Unwrapping the chocolate industry. Retrieved May 1, 2016, from http://www.cnn.com/2014/02/13/world/africa/cocoa-nomics-explained-infographic/index.html

[4] Sylla, N. S. (2014). The Fair Trade Scandal: Marketing poverty to benefit the rich (1st ed.) (D. C. Leye, Trans.). Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Center for American Progress Energy and Environment Team. (2016, May 12). Agriculture and the Paris Agreement. Retrieved May 12, 2016, from https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/green/report/2016/05/12/137310/agriculture-and-the-paris-agreement/

[7] Scott, M. (2016, February 10). Climate & Chocolate. Climate Watch Magazine. Retrieved May 01, 2016, from https://www.climate.gov/news-features/climate-and/climate-chocolate

[8] Harris, N., Payne, O., & Mann, S. (2015, August 6). Tech tells you how much rainforest is in that chocolate bar. Retrieved May 1, 2016, from http://www.greenbiz.com/article/tech-tell-you-how-much-rainforest-chocolate-bar

[9] Healy, K. “Cacao Bean Farmers Make a Chocolate-Covered Development Climb.” In Llamas, Weavings, and Organic Chocolate: Multicultural Grassroots Development in the Andes and Amazon of Bolivia. Notre Dame, Indiana: the University of Notre Dame Press, 2001.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Attunes, P. (2013, May). Ecosystem Services. Retrieved May 1, 2016, from http://www.ejolt.org/2013/05/ecosystem-services/

[12] Ibid.

[13] Muriuki, T. (2014, January 21). Kenyans Earn First Ever Carbon Credits From Sustainable Farming. Retrieved May 1, 2016, from http://www.ecosystemmarketplace.com/articles/kenyans-earn-first-ever-carbon-credits-from-sustainable-farming/

[14] Ibid.

[15]  Fortyr, P. (2015, November 05). Sweet: Chocolate goes climate-positive with carbon insetting. Retrieved May 1, 2016, from http://www.landscapes.org/insetting-turning-things-sweet-with-climate-positive-chocolate/

[16] Taylor, L. (2015, December 12). Paris climate deal might just be enough to start turning the tide on global warming. The Guardian. Retrieved May 1, 2016, from http://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2015/dec/13/paris-climate-deal-gives-even-a-cynic-grounds-for-optimism

[17] Inderscience Publishers. (2016, February 26). Consumers care about carbon footprint: Do consumers care about carbon emitted during the lifecycle of consumer goods?. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 1, 2016, from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/02/160226133615.htm

[18] Ibid.

[19] Vidal, J. (2011, May 11). UK’s Only Carbon-neutral Chocolate Arrives by Sailing Ship [blog post]. Retrieved May 1, 2016, from http://www.theguardian.com/environment/blog/2012/may/11/carbon-neutral-chocolate

[20] Ibid.

[21] Leissle, K. (2013). Invisible West Africa: The Politics of Single Origin Chocolate. Gastronomica, 13(3), 22-31. Retrieved May 1, 2016, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/gfc.2013.13.3.22?ref=search-gateway:521ecce351ea0879eb5addd32e7fa493

[22] Ibid.

[23] Martin, C. D., & Sampeck, K. E. (2015). The bitter and sweet of chocolate in Europe. Socio.hu, (Special issue 3), 37-60. doi:10.18030/socio.hu.2015en.37

[24] Ibid.

Multimedia  – Figures

  1. Torre, I., & Jones, B. (2014, February 27). The real cost of a chocolate bar [Digital image]. Retrieved May 1, 2016, from http://edition.cnn.com/2014/02/13/world/africa/cocoa-nomics-explained-infographic/index.html
  2. [The Change Chocolate supports an afforestation project.]. (2015, December 09). Retrieved May 1, 2016, from http://i1.wp.com/www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/chocolate-e1449053074396.jpg?w=669
  3. Meadu, V. (2015, July 7). New manuals will help farmers in Kenya and Uganda earn carbon credits [Innovative training projects help farmers to sequester carbon and earn cash from carbon.]. Retrieved May 1, 2016, from https://ccafs.cgiar.org/research/annual-report/2014/new-manuals-will-help-farmers-in-kenya-and-uganda-earn-carbon-credits
  4. Harris, N., Payne, O., & Mann, S. (2015, August 6). Distribution of land-use change impacts across United Cacao’s production cycle [Digital image]. Retrieved May 1, 2016, from http://www.wri.org/sites/default/files/uploads/chocolate_graphic_v3_english.png

Multimedia  – Videos

  1. Carbon Control. (2012, March 10). How does the emission trading scheme work? [Video blog post]. Retrieved May 1, 2016, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ReOj12UAus4
  2. Fair Trade Eastern Africa. (2015, December 15). Fairtrade Carbon Credits Animation [Video blog post]. Retrieved May 1, 2016, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C49FY3OKEhk


Attunes, P. (2013, May). Ecosystem Services. Retrieved May 1, 2016, from http://www.ejolt.org/2013/05/ecosystem-services/

Center for American Progress Energy and Environment Team. (2016, May 12). Agriculture and the Paris Agreement. Retrieved May 12, 2016, from https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/green/report/2016/05/12/137310/agriculture-and-the-paris-agreement/

Fortyr, P. (2015, November 05). Sweet: Chocolate goes climate-positive with carbon insetting. Retrieved May 1, 2016, from http://www.landscapes.org/insetting-turning-things-sweet-with-climate-positive-chocolate/

Goodyear, D. (n.d.). The Future of Chocolate: Why Cocoa Production is at Risk. The Guardian. Retrieved May 1, 2016, from http://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/fairtrade-partner-zone/chocolate-cocoa-production-risk

Harris, N., Payne, O., & Mann, S. (2015, August 6). Tech tells you how much rainforest is in that chocolate bar. Retrieved May 1, 2016, from http://www.greenbiz.com/article/tech-tell-you-how-much-rainforest-chocolate-bar

Healy, K. “Cacao Bean Farmers Make a Chocolate-Covered Development Climb.” In Llamas, Weavings, and Organic Chocolate: Multicultural Grassroots Development in the Andes and Amazon of Bolivia. Notre Dame, Indiana: the University of Notre Dame Press, 2001.

Inderscience Publishers. (2016, February 26). Consumers care about carbon footprint: Do consumers care about carbon emitted during the lifecycle of consumer goods?. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 1, 2016, from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/02/160226133615.htm

Leissle, K. (2013). Invisible West Africa: The Politics of Single Origin Chocolate. Gastronomica, 13(3), 22-31. Retrieved May 1, 2016, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/gfc.2013.13.3.22?ref=search-gateway:521ecce351ea0879eb5addd32e7fa493

Martin, C. D., & Sampeck, K. E. (2015). The bitter and sweet of chocolate in Europe. Socio.hu, (Special issue 3), 37-60. doi:10.18030/socio.hu.2015en.37

Mccabe, M. (2015). Fine Chocolate, Resistance, and Political Morality. Journal of Business Anthropology, 4(1), 54-81. Retrieved May 1, 2016.

Muriuki, T. (2014, January 21). Kenyans Earn First Ever Carbon Credits From Sustainable Farming. Retrieved May 1, 2016, from http://www.ecosystemmarketplace.com/articles/kenyans-earn-first-ever-carbon-credits-from-sustainable-farming/

Scott, M. (2016, February 10). Climate & Chocolate. Climate Watch Magazine. Retrieved May 01, 2016, from https://www.climate.gov/news-features/climate-and/climate-chocolate

Sylla, N. S. (2014). The Fair Trade Scandal: Marketing poverty to benefit the rich (1st ed.) (D. C. Leye, Trans.). Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press.

Taylor, L. (2015, December 12). Paris climate deal might just be enough to start turning the tide on global warming. The Guardian. Retrieved May 1, 2016, from http://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2015/dec/13/paris-climate-deal-gives-even-a-cynic-grounds-for-optimism

Torre, I. (2014, February 27). Cocoa-nomics explained: Unwrapping the chocolate industry. Retrieved May 1, 2016, from http://www.cnn.com/2014/02/13/world/africa/cocoa-nomics-explained-infographic/index.html

Vidal, J. (2011, May 11). UK’s Only Carbon-neutral Chocolate Arrives by Sailing Ship [blog post]. Retrieved May 1, 2016, from http://www.theguardian.com/environment/blog/2012/may/11/carbon-neutral-chocolate

Bean-to-bar: Blue Bandana Chocolates

Screen Shot 2016-05-09 at 10.31.09 PM.png

Figure 1. Blue Bandana Chocolate Maker part of Lake Champlain Chocolates. (2014). Little Brown. Image available from https://vimeo.com/85700650

The company that I chose to learn more about for our final multimedia presentation is Lake Champlain Chocolates (LCC). It is in my home state of Vermont, at the far extreme end of the state from where I live. Though the company has been in operation since 1983, my personal reference is family friends who proudly lived near the company, would purchase gorgeous LCC gourmet signature truffles, onsite, and present them to my chocolate loving grandmother as a very special gift. While I see the company’s label on an expanded product line and in many stores now, only after this bit of research did I realize that Lake Champlain Chocolates had expanded so much—as their website states, they have180 employees and their chocolate products can be purchased in some 2,000 stores– I was also thrilled that an LCC representative agreed to make an appointment with me to answer questions regarding where and how they source their cacao, and the company’s certifications, specifically Fair Trade and Fair for Life: third-party certification for social accountability and fair trade (Figure 2).

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Figure 2. What Fair Trade Means. “In March 2013, our chocolate company earned Fair for Life–Social & Fair TradeCertification. Fair for Life is a rigorous third-party certification for social accountability and fair trade. Above and beyond Fair Trade certification, it looks at a company’s practices as a whole, including the ingredients used in its products.” Retrieved from http://www.lakechamplainchocolates.com/about-us/fair-trade-chocolate

Between my phone interview and the company’s online presence, I learned a great deal including that in 2012, they began creating bean-to-bar in their new Blue Bandana Chocolate division http://www.lakechamplainchocolates.com/about-us/bean-to-bar-chocolate/  that won them a national Good Food award in 2014 (Figure 3).

Screen Shot 2016-05-11 at 7.50.10 PM.png

Figure 3. Blue Bandana Chocolate is Lake Champlain Chocolates’ bean-to-bar division started in 2012 and winner of the Good Food award in 2014. Cacao nibs shown here being poured into grinder in preparation for making cocoa liquor. Retrieved from http://www.lakechamplainchocolates.com/about-us/bean-to-bar-chocolate/

So, this was a great opportunity to get to better understand a company within my own state, hear first hand some of what this most recent bean-to–bar division is all about and within the ethnographic context covered in class and course readings. As Blue Bandana Chocolate builds off of the success of their highly regarded parent company LCC, they strive for transparency in the supply chain, create direct relationships with their sources, and support sustainable practices while supporting local communities.

Their product descriptions are as mouthwatering as they are educational: location/sourcing and sustainable ventures are a significant part of this story.

Screen Shot 2016-05-11 at 8.01.56 PM.png

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Attention to quality that impacts flavor is referenced throughout, including terroir, a link in the quality chain that can be loosely translated as a “sense of place” but that include characteristics and qualities whose sum effects influence the product, such as the geography and climate of an area and the plant’s genetics. Their advertisements state that,

“Blue Bandana Chocolate Maker is a micro-batch branded product line of Lake

Champlain Chocolates (LCC) founded on the principles of quality, transparency,

taste of place, and the craft of making chocolate. Inspired by his first trip to a cocoa

farm in 2009, founder Eric Lampman delved into the chocolate process and began

experimenting with test batches to perfect the basics. After experimenting with

cocoa beans from six different countries, Lampman settled on three exceptional

chocolates: Madagascar 70%, Guatemala 70% and Madagascar Wild Pepper. They

are made from scratch using only cocoa beans, organic cocoa butter and organic

cane sugar. Each 2.3oz bar is a representation of Lampman’s personal mission to

craft the finest chocolates while celebrating the unique taste of the earth native to

each cacao’s landscape” (Blue Bandana Chocolate Maker, 2016).

Sense of place as discussed in class and course readings (Martin, April 20, 2016) are well represented here, and it was enjoyable to get a deeper sense of this company’s values and commitments.

Some of what comes through quite clearly in Blue Bandana Chocolate’s mission is the desire to learn and innovate, the inspiration from the regions where their cacao is grown, the appreciation for not only the craft of making a quality product, but also to do so within the context of community, both at home in Northern Vermont and in the farming communities where their cacao is sourced. These motivating forces are evident in their product development and certifications; it was clear in my interview with the company representative, and illustrated nicely on the company website, onsite videos and other online interviews. Eric captures so much about the world of chocolate, in his quote,

“American chocolate has for years been presented as consistent and predictable. As a

new craft chocolate maker, we see the beauty in the process of displaying unique

characteristics. We are part of a renaissance of bean-to-bar chocolate makers that are

taking new approaches to things like process, scale, flavor, relationships, and

transparency” (Meet Blue Bandana Chocolate Maker, 2015).

This historical context, and the founder’s perspective on their company is encouraging and expands upon their marketer’s [beautiful] alluring depictions of bird sanctuaries. As a member of the bean-to-bar movement, Blue Bandana Chocolate can be considered to be part of the solution to problems that we have studied in the cacao-chocolate supply chain in our course (Off, 2006; Ryan, 2011; Sylla, 2014; Martin, March 8, 2016; Martin, March 30, 2016; Martin, April 6, 2016). The following expert from the LCC website explains, for instance, their involvement in improving lives within the cacao communities in Cote d’Ivoire through The Family Support Scholarship Program, detailed below, but that includes addressing issues like expanding business opportunities for women, increasing education and school retention rates, reducing the amount of child labor, and impacting longer term benefits/opportunities, directly and indirectly, in these cacao communities.

Screen Shot 2016-05-11 at 8.05.47 PM.png

As the LCC representative explained to me on the phone, bean-to-bar was a very natural progression for the three decades old company. Their product line expanded to include organic cocoa and Kosher chocolate products which were wildly popular. Locally, LCC and Blue Bandana have a strong community connection as Figure 7 indicates. This includes many affiliations within the state including membership within the Vermont Business for Social Responsibility.

Screen Shot 2016-05-11 at 8.08.07 PM.png

In addition, however, it has a broader connection and base of support with the locavore movement across the nation, innovation in creating quality craft products, The following video, filmed onsite at the Burlington, Vermont food festival helps illustrate. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a0n9n7HQ3_A

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This innovation might not succeed without a groundswell of support by customers, and a customer base that is desirous of responsibly sourced products not just in Vermont but across the country. In the following quote, the founder explains the company’s goals and the alignment of all these that lead to the innovation of Blue Bandana chocolate:

“As a family-owned company, we decided that we wanted to directly support a cacao

growing community – whether or not we purchased cacao from them. The chance to

engage with passionate cacao farmers searching for new market opportunities and

farming methods fell right into place with our own goals. We were hoping to build

new relationships that both educated us on post-harvest practices and enabled a win-

win partnership for future growth focused on quality. Today, we continue to use our

interactions with the farmers to educate visitors at our factory about cacao farming

and the full process of making chocolate” (Meet Blue Bandana Chocolate Maker,


In addition to community affiliations identified above, Figure 9 offers a snapshot of what LCC means by “Local to Global” in their chocolate company. For instance, developing their own source of honey from their own beekeeping near their business in Northern Vermont, to purchasing third party certified Fair Trade chocolate that has resulted in Fair for Life-Social and Fair Trade Certifications. Furthermore, LLC continues to develop direct partnerships with cacao growers and supports a fund, previously mentioned, in Cote d’Ivoire to educate youth and empower women with a World Cocoa Foundation scholarship.

Screen Shot 2016-05-11 at 8.11.11 PM.png

This is a compelling image and message that LLC is promoting. Through coursework, we have been encouraged to look deeper and not just get carried away by a company’s projected image and storyline or even blithely accept the certifications they may have achieved to assuage our consumer guilt; this course has encouraged/demanded that we be more aware and accountable consumers. So, while issues within the cacao supply chain are complex, I appreciate all the concrete examples LCC provides to show what/how this company is living up to its ideals.

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The telephone interview offered details that both helped explain LLC sourcing as well as illuminate the many complexities of growing and sourcing cacao. When I asked the representative where Lake Champlain Chocolates sources their cacao, he replied that that was a big question; he followed up by saying that they source from many places and offered specifics including from his first hand experience and having just returned from the Dominican Republic. He said that they basically have three different supply chains. They source cacao beans directly from an estate in Madagascar, an estate in the Dominican Republic, a social enterprise group in Guatemala and from a similar type group in Tanzania and then make bean-to-bar back home in Burlington, Vermont. He said that LCC also sources from large multinationals that does a match balance Fair Trade sourced from West Africa. He stated that they also source a Fair Trade organic fully traceable from cooperative in the Dominican Republic, as well as two cooperatives in Peru; these three co-ops all supply organic chocolates.

I asked him to tell me more about the cooperatives and the farms. He offered examples, including from his most recent trip to the Dominican Republic; this cooperative was organized with its own farmer union essentially, their own farmer fund, where the Fair Trade premium goes. They are then able to have elected officials vote on how to utilize Fair Trade premiums. He explained that they are also made up of an agro industrial arm, basically their sales arm internationally, and a tech arm too, working on many aspects like field assistance, agronomics, composting, rehabilitation of farms, helping with fermentation and drying of cacao beans, etc. His interest in these diverse geographic areas shown through as did his direct trade experience. He stated that in the Dominican Republic, Belize, Haiti, Guatemala, nearly all of those are mainly cacao but then inter-planted with anything from bananas, plantains, avocados, to other hardwoods such as mahogany, high shade structures/long term hardwoods, and short term cash crops planted among cacao to help for instance with local cash that can be obtained throughout the year, and/or even just for their own more immediate consumption. He said that he hadn’t seen any mono crops and didn’t think that LCC sourced from any.

I asked generally, how fair labor practices are generally created and insured? He replied that it is done at the farm level; operations of cooperatives are such that they pool people together, e.g. people helping one another throughout the harvest, sharing resources, and/or through advisement of each others farms, supporting a lifestyle…He added that the cooperative model is such that there’s social community support and that obviously the farmer union is a testament to that, where elected officials are help make decisions with and for the people that they live amongst. He added that some other organization may be less cooperative, more like a local farmers’ association, working with neighbors, something they have to do almost out of necessity related to economy of scale to improve the size and scale of the harvest to work with potential buyers. For instance, depending on the size of the harvest, a farmer may not be able to dry in a quality manner, or may not have economy of scale, and/or if they are looking to sell on the specialty market, may not even have the logistics to get product out. So these farmers’ groups might help with economy of scale which can also build recognition, e.g. to say, ‘hey, we’ve got a quantity, amount worth selling,’ instead of relying on a coyote who comes through offering a low price at an opportune time for themselves to buy, sell or trade off. His answers revealed the preference for local organized control, not “top down,” not one-size-fits-all, and sensitive to distinctions that a broad national approach might miss regarding how cacao is produced and sold (Martin, April 6, 2016).

Furthermore, I appreciated his reflecting upon what Fair Trade and Fair for Life meant for his company allowing them to obtain certified raw materials like sugar and where Fair Trade certifications don’t always have the traceabilty, Fair for Life offers a nice balance, and more traceability within the supply chain such as interactions with premiums. As discussed in class, Fair trade has great aspects, has made positive gains, was never meant to address/solve all supply chain problems, though promises a lot and can’t always deliver on those promises (Martin, April 6, 2016; Sylla, 2014; Ten principles of Fair Trade, 2012). I so appreciated the opportunity to learn more from the company in this way. It was encouraging to hear about the company’s culturally sensitive engagement within diverse communities where they source cacao, and their commitment to continue to work toward transparency in the cacao supply chain while supporting cacao communities. Blue Bandana can be considered to be part of the solution to problems that we have studied in the cacao-chocolate supply chain.

Issues of social justice and sustainability are complex, more research is needed, and solutions will vary according to countries and communities, as LCC seems aware of. However, what really resonated this semester is that places that have been identified as having problems may also be where real solutions can occur. As pointed out in lecture, I believe that we need to advocate for a holistic approach to solving these complex problems, recognizing that we are all implicated, simple solutions like increasing commodity pricing or certifications do not always deliver in the way that we assume and are not adequate unto themselves. Nevertheless, as consumers we do need to interrogate what is behind these solutions and consider them in context. Additionally, we need to avoid a binary perspective and recognize the complexities, doing what LCC is advocating–not rely in top down approach to solving problems while routing out prejudices and culturally inappropriate/nonwestern ideals (Martin, 2016).


Blue Bandana Chocolate Maker. (2012). Video available from


Blue Bandana Chocolate Maker. Image (barn) (2014). Little Brown. Image available from


Blue Bandana Chocolate Maker in Guatemala. (2015). Available from


Blue Bandana teaches the taste of chocolate. (2012). Retrieved from



Lake Champlain Chocolate Introduces New Approach to Making Chocolate. (2013).

Retrieved from



Lake Champlain Launches new Chocolate. (October 20, 2012). Retrieved from

http://www.wptz.com/news/vermont-new-york/burlington/Lake-Champlain-           Chocolates-launches-Blue-Bandana/17070252

Lake Champlain’s New Blue Bandana Chocolate Bars. Retrieved from

http://www.wildrosemarketing.com/whats-new/lake-champlains-new-blue-      bandana-chocolate-bars/

Martin, C. (March 8, 2016). Lecture 8: Modern day slavery. AAAS E-119. Chocolate,

Culture, and the Politics of Food. Retrieved from Harvard University Extension

School Canvas site.

Martin, C. (March 30, 2016). Lecture 9: Race, ethnicity, gender, and class in chocolate

advertisements. AAAS E-119. Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food.

Retrieved from Harvard University Extension School Canvas site.

Martin, C. (April 6, 2016). Lecture 10: Alternative trade and virtuous

localization/globalization. AAAS E-119. Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of

Food. Retrieved from Harvard University Extension School Canvas site.

Martin, C. (April 20, 2016). Lecture 12: Psychology, Terroir, and Taste. AAAS E-119.

Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Retrieved from Harvard University

Extension School Canvas site.

Martin, C. (April 27, 2016). Lecture 13: Haut patisserie, artisan chocolate, and food

justice: the future? AAAS E-119. Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food.

Retrieved from Harvard University Extension School Canvas site.

Meet Blue Bandana Chocolate Maker. (2015). Mood of Living. Retrieved from


Off, C. (2006). Bitter Chocolate: the dark side of the world’s most seductive sweet.

Retrieved from AAAS E-119. Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food.

Retrieved from Harvard University Extension School Canvas site. PDF.

Ryan, O. (2011). Chocolate Nations. Living and dying for cocoa in West Africa.

Retrieved from AAAS E-119. Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food.

Retrieved from Harvard University Extension School Canvas site. PDF.

Sylla, N. (2014). The Fair Trade Scandal: marketing poverty to benefit the rich.

Retrieved from AAAS E-119. Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food.

Retrieved from Harvard University Extension School Canvas site. PDF.

Ten principles of Fair Trade. (2012). Retrieved from http://wfto.com/fair-trade/10-principles-fair-trade

Zwirn, L. (December 2014). New England Chocolatiers set the bar high. Boston Globe.

Retrieved from https://www.bostonglobe.com/lifestyle/fooddining/2014/12/02/choc-                   and-awe/8hCzJTclu66ziBA2D1VBnJ/story.html



Table 1.

Ten Principles of Fair Trade

Principle One: Creating Opportunities for Economically Disadvantaged Producers
Principle Two: Transparency and Accountability

Principle Three: Fair Trading Practices

Principle Four:  Payment of a Fair Price

Principle Five:  Ensuring no Child Labour and Forced Labour
Principle Six:  Commitment to Non Discrimination, Gender Equity and Women’s Economic Empowerment, and Freedom of Association

Principle Seven:  Ensuring Good Working Conditions

Principle Eight:  Providing Capacity Building

Principle Nine:  Promoting Fair Trade

Principle Ten: Respect for the Environment

Ten principles of Fair Trade. (2012). Retrieved from http://wfto.com/fair-trade/10-principles-fair-trade

Table 2. 

“Jim Lampman declared he would create upscale American chocolates that would “rival the Belgians.”  His son has kept the goals high: “Blue Bandana Chocolate Maker is a new dimension for Lake Champlain Chocolates,” says founder and President Jim Lampman. “It’s a priority for my children, Eric and Ellen, to have greater transparency in our supply chain.  And to be directly invested in an origin community is a testament to their commitment to having an impact on the global community.  Blue Bandana Chocolate Maker has the advantage of the history and support of the Lake Champlain Chocolates’ brand, with the fresh perspective, energy and innovation that comes with the younger generation.

Historically LCC has always focused on local — using Vermont ingredients, supporting our local communities.  And we still do,” says Eric Lampman, Director of Innovation and Quality at LCC and creator of Blue Bandana Chocolate Maker. “But now, after thirty-one successful years of being in business, we have the tools and resources to engage with our global supply network in a more substantial way that allows us to have an impact on our supply chain.”

“LCC introduces new approach to making chocolate” Retrievcd from https://www.specialtyfood.com/news/article/lake-champlain-chocolates-introduces-new-approach-to-making-chocolate-122571/

Table 3.

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When I called the company to inquire if they had organic cacao nibs for sale, they informed me that LCC does have nibs, that they are not certified organic, that they do not believe that chemicals are used in growing cacao but without the certification couldn’t guarantee that. I appreciated that they went on to explain that certifications can be expensive for farmers and that LCC has committed to helping their farmers become certified within the next couple of years. I think that LCC and Blue Bandana Chocolate are doing a marvelous job of educating consumers, being a responsible partner in the farming community to make sure that a quality cacao can achieve recognition and an appropriate market.


As Eric explained in an interview, “…our goal is to visit the farms we buy from and to have direct communications with each farmer or producer group with which we work….we strive to develop long-term partnerships with producers that grow premium cacao around the world. Our partnership with indigenous Maya producer groups in the eco-region surrounding Laguna Lachua National Park in Alta Verapaz, Guatemala, began in 2012 as a way to work collaboratively at developing new opportunities for both producers and chocolate makers. Small capacity building investments have been made each year to support the planting and post-harvest production of cacao in the region…

       “With each visit to Guatemala, new ideas for incorporating aspects of the Maya

culture return with us. One project we are hoping to develop is up-cycling burlap

sacks into fashionable bags with leather strapping…. Proceeds from the bag sales go

to Food4Farmers, an organization that promotes diversified livelihoods with coffee

farmers – a program we want to connect to the cacao producers in Alta Verapaz”

(Meet Blue Bandana Chocolate Maker, 2015).

How to Move Towards a Sustainable Cocoa Market

Sustainability within the cocoa industry has become an increasingly common buzz word, but it is a term more often than not kept vague and unqualified in order to obfuscate the amount of progress that the industry has made in regards to sustainability in regards to issues that stretch from agricultural methods to fair labor practices. While initiatives, public statements, and advertisements released by cocoa corporations of all sizes often address issues of sustainability, it is often a marketing ploy to engage with socially conscious consumers as opposed to a goal to actually improve flaws in the cocoa supply chain. How many schools have chocolate companies claimed to have built in places like West Africa, and how does that exactly improve the lives of underpaid farmers? The following video, produced by Fair Trade America introduces the range of initiatives the company claims through the filming of seemingly daily life at a cacao cooperative in West Africa.

A plethora of Fair Trade initiated programs market themselves in manner to emphasize that they have increased the well being of local farmers and their families, is not made clear how financially and programmatically they have been achieved. It is important as consumers who are subject to the marketing campaigns that make companies appear more socially and economically responsible to be able to weed out superficial attempts at sustainability from those that may make a difference, for better or for worse, in order to better make informed decisions. This paper aims to demystify the definition of sustainability within the cocoa supply chain- sustainability from the perspective of farmers, specifically, and outline methods through which such sustainability can be achieved.

Unsustainable practices can be found in many aspects of cocoa production. In terms of horticultural and agricultural processes, very little is known about the cacao plant. It is a manually intensive plant to harvest, and in recent years it has become more and more fragile and susceptible to disease. This decrease in productivity due to the plant’s genetics, age, and horticultural practices have not only negatively impacted supply for large companies, but the lack of income has contributed to many sociocultural issues surrounding farmers in affected regions. The lack of agricultural sustainability, while not the only influential factor, has a direct relationship to the lack of financial sustainability of cacao farmers which ultimately leads to socially and culturally unsustainable practices like child labor. To better put this one plant into perspective, around 50 million lives depend on Theobroma cacao, and in the Ivory Coast alone, 15% of the country’s GDP is dependent on the raw good which translates to about 5% of the country’s households [1]. To these farmers, according to Peter Laderach of the International Center for Tropical Agriculture who studies the effects of climate change in cacao farming region, the cacao trees are “’like ATM machines. They pick some pods and sell them quickly to raise cash for school fees or medical expenses. The trees play an absolutely critical role in rural life [2].’” A rift in the supply of cacao beans for these farmers could be catastrophic to their wellbeing.

The challenges that farmers face in reaching sustainable harvesting regimes range from poor knowledge of best farming practices, older plants with diminishing yields, increases in pest and disease, and the looming threat of climate change; oftentimes farmers face the entire range of issues. In Brazil, for example, disease like Witches Broom reduced production by 80% in the late 80s. Now, another disease, Frosty Pod Rot, has been spreading through Latin America while cocoa swollen shoot virus, the cocoa pod borer, black pod rot, and water mold affect plants in Africa [3]. If Witches Broom and Frosty Pod Rot were to reach West African growing regions, from Latin America, where the majority of the crop is grown, the affects to cacao production would be devastating [4]. Other factors negatively impacting crop yields include a very narrow band of growing compatible growing region along the equator and a diminishing gene pool due to a history of inbreeding. This lack of genetic diversity has exacerbated the species’ ability to combat disease and other hardships.

In light of these issues, many efforts have been taken, especially by large chocolate production companies, in order to produce more resilient plant specimens that will produce more pods and are more resistant to disease and pests. Many, like Nestle, Mars, and Hershey’s, have taken a scientific approach to studying the genetics of the cacao tree in order to increase yield. The video linked here quickly describes the race between teams of scientists at both Mars and Hershey’s to map the genome of the Theobroma cacao plant in order to find answers to disease and pest resistance. Nestle has also placed many resources and efforts into research and development of “super saplings” that will be able to increase yield. Nestle plans on giving away 12 million of these saplings to farmer in 2022.

Both the genetic sequence and selective breeding of cacao plants are crucial in identifying the ideal specimen. Tests done on naturally resistant plants and their offspring are helpful but slow, and the process is greatly sped up with the help of a mapped genome that better identifies where disease and pest resistance genes are located [5].

In all cocoa growing regions, 30-40% of crops are lost to disease and pests [6], and while the efforts to genetically modify the perfect cacao plant are helpful, there are a myriad of other factors that stand to undermine this single faceted approach. Soil fertility, for example, has decreased in many of the growing regions. In fact, oftentimes in abandoned coffee plantations that have moved for higher elevations in order to reduce instances of pest and disease, cacao would take its place as it is less fragile than coffee plants. Additionally, the lack of socio-political infrastructure in many cacao growing regions, for example, coupled with the fact that the cacao farming community is made up of tiny scaled operations in large numbers, makes it incredibly difficult to disseminate change across an entire region and making progress a slow endeavor. Overall, a lack of access to education affects all aspects of a farmer’s financial and social well being. From access to latest technologies to professional literacy, farmers are at a huge disadvantage in terms of setting themselves up for long term economic sustainability. The looming threat of climate change also further exacerbates all of the aforementioned issues.

Given the complexity of issues that stand in the way of sustainability for farmers, the focus of companies like Nestle, Mars, and Hershey’s in finding the ideal cacao plant to increase productivity and therefore profit margins for farmers and ultimately themselves is insufficient in the holistic improvement of the livelihoods of cacao farmers. Take the introduction of cacao to Vietnam as a case study; cacao plants and knowledge of how to plant and harvest them were well distributed to farmers in the 1980s, but after demand for cocoa disappeared after the fall of the Berlin Wall, farmers slashed their crops out of frustration [7]. This demonstrates that access to plants and planting knowledge is merely one facet of many in building a more resilient livelihood out of cacao farming. The lack of control or input and general knowledge regarding the global market of cocoa production and consumption puts farmers at a huge disadvantage and at the mercy of chocolate makers.

In that respect, the work of smaller, niche chocolatiers like Taza and Equal Exchange are a great complement to the top down scientific research of larger corporations. Due to the scale of their operations, smaller chocolatiers are able to form closer relationships with their cacao producers and create a more mutually beneficial relationship that may raise prices for consumers, better reflects the price point of a sustainable supply chain. Shared knowledge about how cocoa should be grown and how cocoa products should be evaluated is still burgeoning, but one effort that Equal Exchange has been pushing is the development of testing and tasting labs within the region of cultivation to better bridge the knowledge gap between farmers and those buying their goods. How can farmers be expected to produce better quality cacao beans for a higher price if what they are producing is a very foreign product or is too valuable as an export to be consumed? The following video, while is a dramatization of reality, begins to hint at the disparity between those who cultivate and those who consume.

The point to take home isn’t that farmers are unable to enjoy the fruits of their labor, but rather the roadblocks that stop farmers from understanding what happens to their goods after they leave their farms. It is beneficial for all when farmers are as fully aware of the chocolate making process so that they may be able to make decisions about how to plant and harvest for a better product as opposed to constantly relying on manuals and instructions from outside organizations and companies who do not always have the best interests of the farmers as a main priority. Sustainability for a farmer includes the ability to affect the economics of cocoa as opposed to perpetually being victim to the rising and falling prices of cocoa. Overall knowledge and more involvement are key factors in closing this gap.

While much of the focus in on farmers themselves in creating a more sustainable livelihood, there is much that can be done from the perspective of the consumer as well. Awareness and education about chocolate should not be limited to the various producers along the supply chain. A broader, collective conscious effort to understand how the cocoa products come to be lead to more informed consumers that apply pressure to the overall industry to be more sustainable and resilient. While seemingly altruistic, this approach is quite practical as well. The end goal is not for a consumer to feel good about being charitable and righteous, but rather the goal should be about creating a more economically, ecologically, and socio-politically chain where the weakest links at this point are disenfranchised farmers and disconnected consumers. Corporations and organizations in between have various approaches at closing the gap for a variety of reasons, but working towards a complex solution from both ends of the supply chain will be critical to the success of a more sustainable market.

1. Schmitz, Harold, and Howard-Yana Shapiro. “The Race to Save Chocolate.” Scientific American. Accessed May 03, 2016. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-race-to-save-chocolate/.

2. ibid.

3. ibid.

4. Moyer, Michael. “Death and Chocolate: Disease Threatens to Devastate Global Cocoa Supply.” Scientific American. Accessed May 03, 2016. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/death-and-chocolate/.

5. ibid.

6. “Challenges.” World Cocoa Foundation. Accessed May 04, 2016. http://www.worldcocoafoundation.org/about-cocoa/challenges/.

7. “Cacao and Chocolate in Vietnam, a Brief History.” Marou, Faiseurs de Chocolat. Accessed May 03, 2016. http://marouchocolate.com/post/55951688118/history.

A Brief Review Of A Bean-To-Bar Company:


 The Case Of Xocolatl Mexica

When one first accesses Xocolatl Mexica’s website, it is possible to read “Since 1989 we fabricate pure Xocolatl made with 100% organic Mexican cacao and ancestral natural flavours.” The small Mexican chocolatier was founded about 30 years ago by local entrepreneurs trained in the ancestral art of Xocolatl making and consumption, and since then, they have made it their mission to modify the way in which Mexican societies think about chocolate. By going back to the roots of the tradition, the small company aims to restore indigenous handling of the basic ingredients with which Xocolatl and chocolate were prepared in the past in order to reincorporate them to mainstream society. In this essay I will evaluate the processes that take place in and through this bean-to-bar chocolate company in order to offer quality products, this with the objective of corroborating the affirmation that Xocolatl Mexica is a sustainable, fair company that is helping solve some problems in the cacao-chocolate supply chain.

History of the Company

Xocolatl Mexica is a small family-owned company that was founded in Aguascalientes, Mexico in 1989. Their name comes from the Mayan word ‘Xocolatl’ which translates to ‘bitter water,’ and ‘Mexica,’ which references the homonymous indigenous civilization. According to the company itself, they started experimenting with a few kilograms of cacao in a household setting, trying original indigenous recipes and disregarding the practices of larger chocolatiers and other companies in order to create an authentic Xocolatl essence that stemmed from original local techniques. In their own words, it was “thanks to a trial and error process that [they] learned that cacao must be worked and that every stage of the preparation requires specific knowledge and dedication to ensure that its texture and aroma can be brought to their best.”

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Logo of the company depicting their name and a historically accurate representation of Xocolatl consumption by indigenous people.

The company aims to bring back the traditional preparation method of the Xocolatl, which was a beverage created by the Olmeca people during the Prehispanic era of Mesoamerica that involved the use of cacao beans and water and was sometimes utilized in rituals. It was known as the beverage of the gods and the Maya and Aztec people also used it for years. Xocolatl has had about 4000 years of history, and chocolate as we known it today has only been around for a couple centuries. By going back to the basics of cacao consumption, Xocolatl Mexica aims to restore the conception that the people of Mesoamerica—nowadays partially Mexico—have of cacao, chocolate, and their relevance in social and folkloric practices (Godiva Chocolate, Inc.).

Xocolatl as a beverage was taken to Europe where it was modified, still in liquid form until 1828 when Van Houten invented the hydraulic press that allowed for a solid version to be created. Even though this allowed for ease of spread of chocolate to the masses, Xocolatl Mexica views this transition from liquid to solid consumption of cacao as a sacrilegious happening that corrupted the “beverage of the gods” by adding fats, lower quality cacao, and other impure ingredients that detracted from the natural scents of cacao and other natural Mesoamerican additives. It is because of this transformation that the company wants to return to organic processes.

Cacao Sourcing

The cacao used by Xocolatl Mexica ranges from the coasts of Chiapas, where the plant grew naturally since ancient times. It is Cacao Criollo and is grown organically by local Chiapaneco producers who are also fairly remunerated. Furthermore, the supply chain is reduced by the direct purchase from cacao plantations without any intermediate steps, which in turn accounts for a higher return to the producers themselves.

In this map, it is possible to see the Mexican state of Chiapas, where the cacao used by Xocolatl Mexica comes form.

Xocolatl Mexica works with Cacao México, an initiative similar to the Mexico Cocoa Project that the Hershey Company and Mars have in Mexico with the same nonprofit organization, but that unlike the further, is completely independent from the chocolatier, which means that information about progress cannot be tainted by a conflict of interests or economic impediments. The Cocoa Project is a subsection of Cacao México that focuses on the practices of Hershey and Mars and has as a goal the improvement of their production systems in particular (Cacao México).

Cacao México aims to promote an increase in high quality cacao production in Mexico (as of now, Mexico is not even close to West Africa even though cacao is native to Mesoamerica) by fomenting sustainable farming practices and supporting the improvement of the life conditions of agriculture workers and their families (Triple Pundit).

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Image of the cacao used by Xocolatl Mexica for the fabrication of their products. 

This all is really important because it not only means that Xocolatl Mexica sources their cacao from sustainable producers that do not negatively impact the environment, but furthermore, the company works with partners that endeavour to ensure that the producers of the crop are actually benefitted and justly remunerated by their labour. The current international climate around the production of cacao and the lack of fair-trade systems in many countries around the world calls for responsible consumers that engage in efforts that strive for equality amid those involved in the chain from bean to bar, which is why companies that make this an integral part of their work are crucial for societal understanding of the magnitude of the issue and the solutions that can be taken to fix it.


The products sold by Xocolatl Mexica go through most of the same processes that other cacao-based products do, with the only exception that no hydraulic presses are utilized by the company due to their philosophy of no separation of components. As it was mentioned before in this paper, the company as a whole believes that separating different parts of cacao is a transgression of the organic qualities that the plant possesses and those that it can provide as an ingredient, which is why they do not use presses in their preparation processes.

However, the rest of the machinery normally used is still employed by Xocolatl Mexica, albeit specifically crafted to fit their company goals. “Every machine has been carefully crafted, following [the company’s] necessities, which means that the machines have adapted to the Xocolatl and not the other way around,” ensuring that their main objective of going back to the roots of cacao consumption is still met. In addition to that, many of the methods of modification for cacao seeds that the company makes use of liken those that ancient civilizations used too, utilizing metates and molcajetes to achieve a more rustic grinding that preserves more aromas and textures characteristic of cacao.

Ancestral preparations of Xocolatl oft included flowers or spices native to Mexico, which in addition to smells and tastes, gave medicinal properties that added to those of cacao. Xocolatl Mexica produces several products that include ingredients such as organic vanilla bean, chili peppers, magnolia flowers, and honey. They also mention how some components of ancient Xocolatl were produced by using plants that have gone extinct and thus are no longer available for consumption, which is important when raising awareness about the potential ecological future of different vegetal ingredients that are consumed by the general population and have a cultural impact, creating an example of virtuous consumership. By presenting the case of these ingredients in particular, the company ensures that whoever consumes their products has some sort of historical context, is able to appreciate whatever ingredients go into current products, and understands why preservation efforts are crucial not only for biological wellbeing, but also for cultural continuation.

Culture of Consumption

A very important component of Xocolatl Mexica’s cultural restoration efforts is the fact that they have established a Chocolatería that people can come to in order to consume their products. This locale is different from a store because the way in which it was designed embodies everything that the company has set as their mission. Their different products are offered there, served in clay xicalli and accompanied by wooden molinillos that can be used to froth the beverages. Both the xicalli and the molinillos have existed in Mexico for over 2000 years, and the ones used in the Chocolatería have been designed in cooperation with local artisans in order to be historically accurate and reflect indigenous traditions of cacao consumption (Bowman).

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Picture depicting a xicalli and a molinillo next to a clay jar possibly containing Xocolatl.

The accompaniments offered by this place include tamalli, crêpes, confitures, and cacao fondue, which also speaks to the goal of situating cacao and its products as edibles that can constitute something other than a dessert. In mainstream culture, cacao and its derivatives are often only seen as desserts or side dishes, whereas in ancient times, Xocolatl and other preparations were considered dishes in an of themselves, so prestigious even that they were offered to deities worshiped by the indigenous peoples of Mesoamerica. The fact that Xocolatl Mexica pushes for a reconsideration of the place of cacao in the normative diet brings back traditions dating from years gone by that were representative of the culture of prehispanic populations.

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Snap of the Chocolatería where Xocolatl Mexica sells their products.


Xocolatl Mexica asks the common person to reconsider what their thoughts on cacao-based products are, and to think beyond mainstream chocolate. Their efforts to restore indigenous practices by incorporating instruments such as molinillos and xicalli, as well as the creation of a space destined specifically for the consumption of their products speaks of their commitment to their cause as an immersive experience rather than a commercial transaction (Puratos). Furthermore, their sourcing and processing of cacao are sustainable, fair, and true to their mission; by only accepting the parts of the process that they believe do not detract from the essence of the Xocolatl, they preserve the inherent aromas, textures, and flavours of cacao, which in turn results in a more authentic tasting experience.

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The Obsidiana chocolate bars are some of the most popular products sold by Xocolatl Mexica.

In the words of their mission:

“El objetivo que tenemos con la chocolatería es difundir la cultura del cacao y del chocolate puro. Por eso, con mucho gusto estamos dispuestos a dar explicaciones sobre el cultivo del cacao y de la fabricación del chocolate. Desgraciadamente, esta cultura milenaria se ha perdido con los años en México, pero queremos que el patrimonio Mexica y Maya siga vivo para que cada uno de los mexicanos y los extranjeros valoren la cultura mexicana y la calidad de sus productos.”

“The objective that we have with chocolate-manufacturing is the diffusion of the culture of cacao and pure chocolate. It is because of that that we are more than happy to provide explanations about the cultivation of cacao and the fabrication of chocolate. Sadly, this millennial culture has been lost in Mexico with the passing of years, but we want that the Mexica and Mayan heritage remains alive so that each Mexican and each foreigner is able to value Mexican culture and the quality of its products.”

By staying true to their roots and revitalizing local traditions while supporting the economic growth of the region, and by overseeing and caring for every step in their manufacturing process  from the production of their ingredients to the containers in which they serve their beverages, Xocolatl Mexica can justly be said to be a sustainable, fair company that is helping solve problems in the cacao-chocolate supply chain.

Works Cited:

Pictures taken from Xocolatl Mexica’s website, and from Wikimedia Commons.

Bowman, Barbara. “Molinillo – Mexican Chocolate Whisk (Stirrer).” Gourmet Sleuth. GourmetSleuth, Inc, n.d. Web. 04 May 2016. Retrieved from: http://www.gourmetsleuth.com/articles/detail/molinillo

“Cacao México.” Cacao México. Telaio, n.d. Web. 04 May 2016. Retrieved from: http://www.cacaomexico.org/?page_id=1402

“Hershey Goes to Mexico: The Mexico Cocoa Project.” Triple Pundit People Planet Profit. Triple Pundit, 22 June 2012. Web. 04 May 2016. Retrieved from: http://www.triplepundit.com/2012/06/hershey-pledges-improve-cocoa-farming-conditions-mexico/

Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York, NY: Viking, 1985. Print.

“Sustainable Cocoa Production and Livelihood Improvement in Mexico.” Puratos: Reliable Partners in Innovation. Puratos Group, 2016. Web. 4 May 2016. Retrieved from: http://www.puratos.com/en/our-group/sustainability/CSR-programs/tikul.jsp

“The History of Chocolate: The Mayans and Aztecs.” The History of Chocolate: The Mayans and Aztecs. Godiva Chocolate, Inc., n.d. Web. 04 May 2016. Retrieved from: http://www.godivachocolates.co.uk/the-history-of-chocolate-mayans-aztecs.html

“Xocolatl Mexica | Fábrica De Chocolate.” http://www.xocolatlmexica.com. Xocolatl Mexica, 2007. Web. 04 May 2016.

Exploring the Chocolate Selection in the Square

You can learn a lot from the chocolate selection at a retail shop.

Cardullo’s is a speciality gourmet shop and delicatessen in Harvard Square. A staple of the Square since 1950 Cardullo’s is home to the area’s food-lovers. Along with providing freshly prepared foods and sandwiches Cardullo’s offers a wide selection of chocolates, teas, wines, liquors, and hard to find specialty food items from around the world.

Just across the street from Cardullo’s is CVS, one of the nation’s largest pharmacy and convenience retailer chains. Along with pharmaceutical and household items, CVS carries an extensive array of products to meet consumers every need.

Cardullo’s is the place I go to when I’m looking to make a splurge on quality food items — chocolate in particular. I trust the selection at Cardullo’s and know that even though it will be a splurge, the quality and superior taste of the chocolate merits the few extra dollars.  

CVS on the other hand is my go-to shop for all my basic needs. I visit CVS whenever I need to purchase anything really whether it be sun block, snacks, notebooks, cosmetics, medicines or household items due to its central location, affordable prices, and broad range of products. While I don’t usually head to CVS to satisfy a chocolate craving (Cardullo’s is my usual stop), I normally end up with some sort of chocolate sweet in my basket when I’m checking out.


The chocolate bar selection at Cardullo’s is hard to match. When I visited Cardullo’s the other day I counted at least 30 different brands of chocolate bars that were out on display! And this is just chocolate bars – this number does not include the various other chocolate products such as truffles, cocoa powder, and chocolate covered goods such as dried fruit or nuts. Pictured above is part of the chocolate bar selection at Cardullo’s. As you can see from the pictures above, a large portion of the chocolate at Cardullo’s are imported from various countries. Although the original packaging might be in French, German, or another language, most of these bars have a sticker with the text translated to English. Cardullo’s prides itself of being a gourmet shop and it’s chocolate selection proves their high standard of gourmet goods. The selection of chocolate bars also show that Cardullo’s considers chocolate more than just another commodity by providing craft chocolates to consumers (Martin, lecture 13). 

The flavors of chocolate bars Cardullo’s offers are very interesting — there are many different flavors to choose from. Along with the normal milk and dark chocolate offerings that one would expect, Cardullo’s has chocolate bars filled with unexpected add-ons such as bacon, “coconut ash,” bananas, chipotle, bread crumbs, toffee, honey, mint, ginger, various nuts, berries, and spices. Most of these bars are imported. I found bars made in Belgium, France, the Netherlands, and Switzerland. Along with clearly stating what country the bar was made in, the chocolate bars in Cardullo’s clearly state where the cacao beans were sourced from.

The single origin chocolate bars have the region where the cacao is taken from clearly displayed on the front label. You can see this in the photos above of the Taza and Valrhona single-origin bars.

I really appreciated the label of the Nirvana chocolate bar pictured above. Not only does it give me information on where the bar was made (Belgium) but also it tells me where the cacao was sourced from (Dominican Republic) and that it comes from Trinitario beans that were ethically sourced! This was the only bar that I could find that specified the type of cacao bean used. You can also clearly see the fair trade and USDA organic certification on the packaging.

Most of the chocolate bars in Cardullo’s had certifications denoting that the chocolate was farmed in a socially responsible and ethical manner such as Fairtrade, UTZ, USDA Organic, TAZA Direct Trade, Non-GMO Verification, IMO For Life, and Rainforest Alliance among others. Engagement with the fair trade movement  has been a successful strategy to change consumer attitudes and reward them for caring about socially and environmentally sound practices (Davies, Ryals 319). 

The packaging of the chocolate bars in Cardullo’s also served the purpose of conveying the company’s story, mission, and core beliefs to the consumer. This gives the consumer the opportunity to learn more about their product, hopefully forming a connection with the consumer to win over their loyalty (Martin, lecture 10). Pictured below are examples of messages found on the back of the chocolate bar packaging. I appreciated reading the stories on the back of the packaging because it helped justify the chocolate bars higher prices. The story on the back of the Divine chocolate bar highlights their unique selling point that Divine is owned by the farmers that grow the cocoa – members of The Kuapa Kokoo cooperative” (Leissle 123).

The chocolate bars in Cardullo’s ranged from $5-$17 dollars with a median price of $10. While I was shocked to find a $17 dollar chocolate bar, pictured below, from class this semester I have learned the justifications behind the higher prices such as sustainable certifications and higher quality of the cacao and production of the bar. The price point of the chocolate bars at Cardullo’s signifies that the shop is catering to a sophisticated consumer who might appreciate the craft of chocolate making or just a higher quality chocolate. 


$17 chocolate bar!


My experience visiting CVS’ chocolate section was vastly different from my experience at Cardullo’s. Although there was a large quantitiy of chocolate bars in CVS, there were far fewer brands for sale. CVS sells the usual suspects: Hershey’s, Dove (a Mars product), Nestle, Cadbury, Ferrero, the “big 5”, along with more premier brands such as Lindt, Ghiradelli (operated by Lindt) and Ritter Sport. Pictured below is the chocolate bar asile in CVS along with its “premium chocolate” selection.


While browsing the shelves, however, I did find a brand of chocolate bar that I was surprised to see: Endangered Species Chocolates (pictured below).


As a CVS shopper who frequents the chocolate aisle I was surprised to find this bar hidden on the edge of their display shelf. I was surprised because I am used to CVS carrying bars solely from the big 5 chocolate companies and it was pleasantly surprising to see an ethically sourced chocolate bar represented on their shelf! In fact, I found only two chocolate bars at CVS with sustainability certifications. The Endangered Species Chocolate bar boasts Fairtrade certification on its cover and the Dove chocolate bars, a product from Mars, had Rainforest Alliance certifications on their covers. These two types of bars were placed next to each other on display. Unfortunately neither of these brands were highlighted in CVS’ “Premium Chocolate” selection. This was unfortunate because CVS should use their national presence to promote sustainability and ethically sourced chocolate.

When I inspected the “premium” chocolate bars– the Lindt and Ghiradelli bars– I was surprised that neither of these bars had sustainability or ethical certifications. Although the Ghiradelli bars said that only “the highest quality cocoa beans” were selected for thier product, there were no certifications to back up this claim, as shown below.


The packaging of the chocolate bars at CVS were not similar to the bars at Cardullo’s. Although the front of the packaging may look similar, when I flipped the bars over I did not find the same sort of message and story that I found on the back of the bars in Cardullo’s.

Instead of the story of the company and the company’s goals,  I found a list of ingredients and maybe a line or two about the brand.


The lack of certifications and brand “stories” helped justify the lower price point I saw at CVS. The chocolate bars at CVS were much larger than the bars at Cardullo’s and  in the $2-$4 range. The lower prices of the chocolate bars at CVS could be more desirable for consumers who are looking to save money and might be more frugal than the average Gourmet Shop consumer.



From the selection at Cardullo’s you can tell that they are marketing their items towards a consumer who is conscious of ethical concerns and willing to pay more for ethical reasons. Cardullo’s attracts an adventurous eater who has the budget for a higher priced specialty  food items. Although their consumer base is much smaller than CVS’ you can tell from the selection of chocolate bars at Cardullo’s that sustainability and ethics is at the top of their concerns regarding products they choose to sell. On the other hand, CVS’ target audience consists of people willing to get the biggest bang for their buck and CVS capitalizes on that sentiment by offering cheap products while sacrificing the importance of sustainability and ethicality that is apparent at Cardullo’s. Since CVS operates on a national level based on everything that I have learned in this class this semester I would hope that they (CVS) did more to promote ethical practices and sustainability through the products they sell. CVS has the opportunity to make a difference on the national level, whereas small gourmet shops such as Cardullo’s do not. What I learned from this class and the selection of chocolate at CVS is that CVS has the opportunity to create a conversation regarding ethically traded goods and by failing to promote these kinds of products CVS is not doing their part to help change consumer behavior. Browsing the selection of chocolate bars at Cardullo’s after taking this course made me appreciate how they are doing their part to educate consumers. Not many people in America have the opportunity to take a class on the politics of chocolate and understand the social and ethical concerns regarding chocolate. CVS and similar nation-scaled companies should recognize that the average consumer is unaware of the unethical practices behind chocolate and they should do their part to help educate them by promoting ethically sourced chocolate bars.


Works Cited

Davies, Iain A., and Lynette J. Ryals. “The Role of Social Capital in the Success of Fair Trade”. Journal of Business Ethics 96.2 (2010): 317–338. Web.
Leissle, Kristy. 2012. “Cosmopolitan cocoa farmers: refashioning Africa in Divine Chocolate advertisements.” Journal of African Cultural Studies 24 (2): 121-139. Class Reading.

Martin, Carla D. 2016. Lecture 10: Alternative trade and virtuous localization/globalization.


Martin, Carla D. 2016. Lecture 13: Haute patisserie, artisan chocolate, and food justice.


Media Sources

All photography taken by the author of this post


The Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food course ended with a very interesting question: What is the future of chocolate? We would like to think that chocolate has a future, especially in the it-should-always-be-available-for-my-consumption sense, but if you have ever really wondered about the future of chocolate, this report might shed some light on the long-term sustainability of cacao and the livelihood of farmers who do their best to meet the growing demand in the age of global warming and projected climate change.

Note: Cacao and cocoa will be used interchangeably for the purposes of this report.


It is probably the most uncontested fact about cacao: Africa is its major supplier. Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana alone produce over 50% of the world’s cacao. When the nations of Nigeria and Cameroon are included in this unbalanced equation, the total contribution to cacao production stands at 70% (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC); Schmitz & Shapiro, 2012; Barometer Consortium; Laderach, Martinez-Valle, Schroth, & Castro, 2013). In other words, there is a lot of chocolate at stake in Africa! And yet, the “entire African continent is the least studied region in terms of ecosystem dynamics and climate variability” (Anyah & Qiu, 2012, p.347). This is even after projections and the Global Climate Model (GCM) predict Africa to be in a very precarious position following extreme weather patterns, including long-term droughts (IPCC). This is especially troubling considering that the majority of Africa’s crops are rain-fed (Anyah et al., 2012). Connolly, Boutin, and Smit (2015) describe a 20-50% drop in cacao yield by 2050. While we cannot control the weather or be certain about cacao yield predictions, researchers have offered various solutions to buffer some of the impacts from climate change and global warming. This report will present some of these solutions and highlight a case study in Bahia, Brazil, where a resurgence in cacao production is occurring-this, after having experienced a crippling blow. The spotlight needs to be on Africa, especially its biggest cacao-producing countries and states, to ensure the future of cacao, its farmers, and ultimately chocolate.

Western Africa: An agriculture-based economy

According to Hamzat, Olaiya, Sanusi, & Adedeji (2006), the survival of cacao in West Africa up till now is entirely due to the Forastero Amazon strain introduced by Posnette (a plant pathologist credited with saving the West African cocoa industry)* and the West African Cocoa Research Institute (WASRI) in the mid-20th century (p.18). One of the major issues that arise from an agriculture-based economy are pests and diseases which can devastate crops. Black Pod Disease and Cocoa Swollen Shoot Disease (CSSV) are the two prominent diseases affecting the cacao crop in western Africa (Hamzat et al., 2006). Farm-maintenance management practices have also been known to inadvertently attract pests (i.e. brown and black cocoa mirids). It might seem like a terrible paradox, but food scarcity is also a major problem in an agriculture-based economy like western Africa’s, considering that “cocoa occupies 2.4 million hectares in Cote d’Ivoire and 1.5 million in Ghana, more than in any other country in the world” (Laderach et al., 2013, p.842). Farmers in this region usually do not combine and/or rotate crops and are left without food supply, detrimentally affecting their nutritional intake (Schmitz et al., 2012). The fact that most cacao farmers are producing on a small-scale also comes into play: in Nigeria, small holdings of farmers account for 60% of Nigeria’s total (cacao) output. Most of these farmers are in remote, rural areas and do not have access to the best seedlings or the equipment/infrastructure needed to produce higher, better quality yield (Hamzat et al., 2006). According to Hamzat et al. (2006), these farmers have a difficult time obtaining credit to make the necessary improvements. This might not appear to be a deal breaker considering that most small cacao farmers have been in business for years without high-tech machinery assisting them, but Schmitz & Shapiro (2012) state that modern farming techniques can make a drastic difference; at least 1,000 kilograms per hectare or more. At the same time, the next generation of would-be (cacao) farmers are leaving the rural areas en masse (Hamzat et al., 2006). The rural-to-urban migration is largely influenced by the fluctuating price of cocoa and the fact that cocoa is very labor intensive and the crop itself is fickle and susceptible to disease (Hamzat et al., 2006). This situation results in an aging farmer population who are less willing to adapt their farming techniques to produce more cacao and are looking to leaving the cacao industry altogether. West Africa’s history with cacao is not particularly rosy either- the use of child slave labor uncovered as late as 2000’s, has blacklisted the region.

Black Pod Disease.jpg Black Pod Disease

Photo Credit: Schmitz, H. & Shapiro, H.Y. (2012). 

Africa will also have to contend with a projected population boom (Miller, Waha, Bondeau, Heinke (2014). This may interrupt the cacao industry in that farmers will be forced to grow food, rather than their cash crop. The surge in population might also alter farming completely in that water will become an even more precious resource not to be wasted on cacao farms. Together, these social, economic, and technical issues will be exacerbated with the addition of above-average climate change for the region in the 21st century.

*To read more about Dr. A.F. Posnette, visit http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/1467914/Peter-Posnette.html

Rising demand and the major chocolate actors in West African

The sustainability of cacao is a topic at the forefront of Big Chocolate, namely Mars and Hershey. Schmitz & Shapiro (2012), scientists working on behalf of Mars, quantify the expected increase in world-wide chocolate demand: “currently, farmers produce approximately 3.7 million metric tons of cocoa, where expected demand is said to reach over 4 million metric tons of cocoa by 2020 (p.62-63). Due in part to this pressing timeline, Mars has connected with scientists, universities, the World Cocoa Foundation (WCF) and even the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to essentially “save” chocolate. Mars and Hershey have both committed to buying 100% of their cacao supply from farms using sustainable practices by 2020. To qualify “sustainable,” Mars and Hershey have partnered with The Fair Trade Foundation. Of course, there are many equity (and other) issues surrounding Fair Trade (see Prof. Martin’s April 6, 2016 lecture). For the past 50 years, Hershey has bought the bulk of their cacao from Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire (Hershey Cocoa Sustainability Strategy). These big chocolate corporations have provided funding to organizations like Fair Trade to “help cocoa farmers improve their processes, yield, and profits” (DesMarais, 2014). While cocoa farmers in Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire are benefitting from the help extended to them by Big Chocolate, Hershey and Mars have plenty to lose if the cocoa crop is neglected in this region, specifically in terms of supply. Mars and Hershey (among other Big Five chocolate actors) have been vying the Chinese market for the last few years (Allen, 2009), and now, the demand from these new markets has presented more urgency regarding the sustainability of cacao in western Africa.


Credit: Cocoa Barometer 2015

Is cacao’s future in the hands of science?

The World Cocoa Foundation estimates that 30-40% of the cacao crop is lost to pests and disease. With a race against time, scientists and researchers have been engineering a new super breed of cacao. With a projected rise in temperature by 2’C (or approximately 35’F) in western Africa, scientists are in search of a drought-tolerant, disease-immune cacao strain. So far, Mars and the USDA have sequenced the cacao genome in an attempt to breed hardier trees (Schmitz & Shapiro, 2012, p. 63). Critics of this super breed are worried about the flavor; CCN51, is said to be resistant to witches’ broom, but according to certain palettes (i.e. The C-spot), this breed is described as “weak basal cocoa with thin fruit overlay; lead and wood shavings; astringent and acidic pulp; quite bitter” (Schatzker, 2014). If we can appreciate anything about chocolate, it is its flavor profile and depth, making the problem of taste all the more relevant. Schatzker (2014) suggests that Big Chocolate might not be so concerned with flavor given that they can use fillers to fortify their chocolate (e.g. vegetable fat, milk, vanilla, flavor chemicals). So, to answer the question if cacao’s future is in the hands of science-certainly Big Chocolate seems to think so.

Global Efforts to boost cacao crops_scientific american

Credit: Schmitz, H. & Shapiro, H.Y. (2012). 

If the history of the coffee crop can teach us anything, however, it is that science does not always offer the best alternative. Arabica coffee, like the cacao tree, grows best under shade (they are understory trees), but when a hybrid (that could tolerate the sun) was introduced to boost the coffee bean yield, many environmental issues arose, among these: The use of herbicides and fertilizer (which led to contamination of groundwater), deforestation, and the trees having to be replaced more often (Craves, 2006).

To summarize what climate experts predict will happen by mid-century (Miller et al., 2014, p.2507):

Freshwater availability will decrease.

Flooding probability will increase.

Dry periods will increase.

Irrigation water required will increase.

Crop yield will decrease.

Scientists, at times working for Big Chocolate, hope to address these climate issues by breeding superior genotypes of Theobroma cacao. It is in the interest of the Big Five to keep up research efforts in western Africa as most of their cacao comes from this region. Again, for the past fifty years or so, Hershey and Mars have benefitted from the region, amassing fortunes; it is time they give back to the land and people that have given up so much. But keeping pace with increased demand in chocolate is not just their problem. Indeed, there are others working on behalf of chocolate. The International Group for the Genetic Improvement of Cocoa (INGENIC) has sprouted out of concern for the future of cacao and were established to collaborate and coordinate on cocoa breeding and management of germplasm resources (INGENIC). Still others, like members of the Cocoa Barometer Organization, are turning to raising awareness and education to reach consumers and farmers alike. Small-scale farmers in western Africa, already experiencing the impacts of climate change, seek some certainty for their very uncertain future, whether in the form of science or other.

Case Study: Bahia, Brazil and traditional farming

Brazilian cacao farmers call it “cabruca.” It is their traditional method of farming cacao-using the shade of other food crop and timber trees, they have maximized the use of the land. Another name for this form of farming is known as mixed agroforestry systems. This method of farming is known to improve the water-holding capacity of the trees (Schmitz & Shapiro, 2012). It is sustainable and environmentally-friendly because 1. It provides corridors for wildlife increasing biodiversity; 2. The trees and surrounding plants capture more carbon; 3. It generally requires less water; and 4. More of the (dwindling) forest is preserved (Sambuichi, Vidal, Piasentin, Jardim, Viana, Menezes, Mello, Ahnert & Baligar, 2012; Schroth, Faria, Araujo, Bede, Van Bael, Cassano, Oliveira, & Delabie, 2011). Bahia is also currently experimenting with a second method: planting cacao trees at higher altitudes, out of pests’ normal range (Schmitz & Shapiro, 2012). In the 1980’s, this region of Brazil experienced a devastating blow to their prized cacao crop-a reduction of 80% in cacao yield-collapsing the cacao economy (Schmitz & Shapiro, 2012). Limited genetic variation led to a near wipeout of cacao trees in the area (most succumbed to witches’ broom). Today, Bahia, has reemerged as a contender in the cacao industry and is recognized for its flavorful cacao beans. In light of global warming, researchers have begun to explore the potential “lessons-learned” from Bahia that could be applied to western Africa; however, most agree that site-specific strategies are needed.


Cabruca Farming

Photo Credit: eCacaos


Although this blog attempted to touch on the current situation regarding cacao in West Africa and cover a wide range of potential climate change scenarios projected for this region, there are probably more questions than answers. In obtaining feedback for this paper, there was a comment about global warming and climate change involving a lot of speculation. And in truth, no one can really know the impacts climate change will bring. What we can stand firm on is the fact that climate change will happen. In other words, it is not a question of if, but when. West Africa has become a living lab of sorts, but a question one might have about cacao coming from this specific region may involve the major chocolate buyers. Should we care about Big Chocolate like Hershey and Mars running out of supply? The simple answer is yes. The livelihoods of so many farmers depend on corporations like Mars to buy their product, and if organizations like Fair Trade can lead the sustainability efforts, farmers will benefit. The places cacao is sourced from may change-according to NOAA cacao can only grow within 20’ north and south of the equator today, but in the future, higher altitudes may be called for-but terroir and consistent quality cacao will always be a good selling point. It is in everyone’s best interested to be invested in the future of chocolate, cacao farmers, and the West African region in particular. Finally, it was important to introduce the Bahia case study to demonstrate how one region, in the midst of global warming projections and a near wipeout under the belts, are still finding ways to minimize their ecological footprint. We do not have to wait for 2020 or 2050 to arrive, the future of chocolate is now.

Works Cited

A.F. “Peter” Posnette. Telegraph online. Accessed from: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/1467914/Peter-Posnette.html

Allen, L.L. (2009). Chocolate fortunes: The battle for the hearts, minds, and wallets of China’s consumers. New York: AMACOM.

Anti-Slavery International (2004). The Cocoa Industry in West Africa: A history of exploitation.

Anyah, R.O. & Qiu, W. (2012). Characteristic 20th and 21st century precipitation and temperature patterns and changes over the Greater Horn of Africa. International Journal of Climatology, 32.

Cocoa Barometer 2015. Accessed from: http://www.cocoabarometer.org/Home.html

Connolly-Boutin, L., & Smit, B. (2016). Climate change, food security, and livelihoods in sub-Saharan Africa. Regional Environmental Change, 16.

Craves, J. (2006, February 5). The problems with sun coffee. Accessed from: http://www.coffeehabitat.com/2006/02/the_problems_wi/

DesMarais,C. (2014, March 20). Hershey’s and Mars sweeten market for West African cocoa farmers. Greenbiz online. Accessed from: https://www.greenbiz.com/blog/2014/03/20/hersheys-mars-sweeten-market-cocoa-farmers

Hamzat, R.A., Olaiya, A.O., Sanusi, R.A., & Adedeji, A.R. (2006). State of cocoa growing, quality and research in Nigeria: Need for intervention. Presented at The Biannual Partnership Programme of the World Cocoa Foundation.

Hershey’s Cocoa Sustainability Strategy. Accessed from: https://www.thehersheycompany.com/en_us/responsibility/good-business/creating-goodness/cocoa-sustainability.html

INGENIC. Accessed from: http://www.incocoa.org/ingenic/

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Climate Change 2013, Chapter 14. Accessed from: http://www.cocoabarometer.org/Home.html

Laderach, P., Martinez-Valle, A., Schroth, G., & Castro, N. (2012). Predicting the future climatic suitability for cocoa farming of the world’s leading producer countries, Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire. Climatic Change, 119.

Mars Sustainability Strategy. Accessed from: http://cocoasustainability.com/2015/02/mars-and-fairtrade-extend-partnership-to-certify-cocoa-for-mars-bars/

Muller, C., Waha, K. Bondeau, A. & Heinke, J. (2014). Hotspots of climate change impacts in sub-Saharan Africa and implications for adaptation and development. Global Change Biology, 20.

NOAA. Climate and chocolate. Accessed from: https://www.climate.gov/news-features/climate-and/climate-chocolate

Sambuichi, R. H. R., Vidal, D.B., Piasentin, F.B., Jardim, J.G., Viana, T.G., Menezes, A.A., Mello, D.L.N., Ahnert, D. & Baligar, V.C. (2012). Cabruca agroforests in southern Bahia, Brazil: Tree component, management practices and tree species conservation. Biodiversity Conservation, 21.

Schatzer, M. (2014, November 14). To save chocolate, scientists develop new breeds of cacao. Bloomberg Markets online. Accessed from: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2014-11-14/to-save-chocolate-scientists-develop-new-breeds-of-cacao

Schmitz, H. & Shapiro, H.Y. (2012). The future of chocolate. Scientific American.

Schroth, G., Faria, D., Araujo, M., Bede, L., Van Bael, S. A., Cassano, C.R., Oliveira, L.C., & Delabie, J.H.C. (2010). Conservation in tropical landscape mosaics: The case of the cacao landscape of southern Bahia, Brazil. Biodiversity Conservation, 20.

Silberner, J. (2007, November 19). How chocolate can save the planet. NPR online. Accessed from: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=16354380

World Cocoa Foundation (WCF). Accessed from: http://www.worldcocoafoundation.org/category/knowledge-center/manuals/



Engineering Sustainable Pleasures: Cacao, Environmentalism, and Toblerone

“[Sustainability:] It’s the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do, it’s the profitable thing to do.”

— L. Hunter Lovins, founder of Natural Capitalism Solutions

The world of cacao production is no stranger to the trials and tribulations of sustainable yet profitable agricultural practices. Known as a particularly finicky species, cultivators of the Theobroma cacao have not only had to get creative in their farming practices in order to produce a sustainable and profitable yield of crops under less-than-ideal growing conditions, but are now feeling the brunt of climate change effects. With the list of ‘double-edged’ compensating agricultural controls (such as plantation-style (or bulk growing) farming, broad-spectrum pesticides, fertilizers, and deforestation techniques) used to equalize the rapidly changing environmental conditions continuing to grow (Martin, 2016), environmental best practices are anything but widespread in cacao producing regions. Recognizing the inseparability of sustainable agricultural and environmental practices and the financial security of cacao farmers, international chocolate companies are beginning to step-up to the social responsibility plate and take action to ensure the long-term success of the cacao supply chain in the global marketplace. Partnering with the Ivorian government’s Conseil du Café Cacao (CCC) and  non-governmental organizations such as CARE International and Cocoa Life in 2013, Mondelēz International, Inc. – home of multi-billion dollar chocolate brands such as Toblerone and Cadbury – launched a virtuous consumership initiative to “help farmers increase sustainable cocoa production and create thriving communities in Côte d’Ivoire” (Mondelēz International, 2013, para. 1).

What’s come to be known as “the world’s most successful triangle” (Meyer, 2015), Jean Tobler’s iconic, pyramid-shaped chocolate bar debuted in 1899, Switzerland, to instant consumer success, and has continued to be on the forefront of cutting-edge product marketing and consumer trends:

Toblerone has always been a unique product in terms of its shape and history. However, you can only be successful in the long term if you nurture brand values…anticipate trends…invest in the brand and understand that sustainability is a part of the brand. We also have to prove this year for year with Toblerone. And in the end this is the basis for our success. (Meyer, 2015, para. 5)

Despite the fact that even today, every single Toblerone bar exported throughout the world is still manufactured from the company’s single chocolate factory in Bern-Brünnen, Switzerland, the company’s virtuous consumership marketing strategy for increased environmental sustainability has had global reach with consumers looking to reduce their ecological footprint. In a 2008 advertisement released by Toblerone, the company’s marketing team rather ingeniously employed the bar’s legendary triangular packaging and similarly unique notched chocolate contents to seamlessly integrate with a classically engineered concrete bike rack.

(Toblerone Bike Rack, 2008)

Stationed in front of a bright green grassy plot outside a somewhat nondescript yet modern building of complementary identity/branding colors, the Toblerone bike rack  visually pops in the advertisement’s foreground, but fits comfortably and warmly within its setting. With its close framing, it’s difficult to get a true sense for the exact geographical location of the scene, but one could surmise it plays to a relatively affluent, modern and present-day, progressive and caucasian audience in Europe or North America, with the very presence of the bike rack playing to a consumer with a social conscience around sustainable transportation. The seamless incorporation of the Toblerone design to horizontally bleed into the bike rack’s actual functional design seems to directly lobby for the consumer to ‘support a company that supports sustainable environmental practices.’ With the bike slots both harnessing the likeness of the chocolate bar itself and bursting out directly from the chocolate packaging, Toblerone appears to be literally grafting its brand values via its branding to the larger conversation around climate change and aligning itself with the growing trend of sustainability (Martin, 2016) in cacao production.

It was with and in the same spirit of Toblerone’s 2008 environmentalist bike rack advertisement that the below chocolate advertisement was created.


In looking to harness the same visual, stylistic, and marketing aims of Toblerone’s bike rack advert, the above scene depicts a farm utilizing solar panels, closely integrating and grafting the company’s packaging design into the functional element of the solar panels. Playing again on complementary branding colors of the red barn and lush green grass, the Toblerone tube visually pops in the advertisement’s layout, but fits comfortably and warmly within its setting. Also targeted toward a present-day, progressive audience, this ad sets itself more rurally, directly addressing both a farming/agricultural constituency, as well as the socially conscious consumer aiming to reduce their environmental footprint. Horizontally integrating the design of the product into the design of the solar panel also directly correlates Toblerone brand values via its branding to the larger conversation around climate change; the narrative urging the consumer to directly ‘invest in a company that invests in the planet.’

Never a stranger to thinking and thriving ‘outside the box’ since 1899, Toblerone and its parent company appear to be getting-in on the ground floor of the growing environmental sustainability and virtuous consumership trends in cacao, and their message is not only landing with the consumer, but having a widespread impact on the communities it was intended to aid: Mondelēz International’s February 2016 report on its Cocoa Life sustainability program shows a reach across “six cocoa-growing origins…Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire, Indonesia, Dominican Republic, India and Brazil…[totaling] 76,700 farmers in over 795 communities…[with] farmers’ incomes tripl[ing] since 2009…[and] cocoa yield[s] increased [by] 37 percent” (Mondelēz International, 2016, para. 1-2).


Martin, C. D. (2016, February). Lecture 4: Sugar and cacao. E-119: Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Lecture conducted from Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.

Meyer, D. (2015, February 26). The world’s most successful triangle. Retrieved from http://www.procarton.com/worlds-successful-triangle/

Mondelēz International. (2013). Mondelēz international launches cocoa life sustainability program in côte d’ivoire [Press release]. Retrieved from http://www.mondelezinternational.com/Newsroom/Multimedia-Releases/Mondelez-International-Launches-Cocoa-Life-Sustainability-Program-in-Cote-dIvoire

Mondelēz International. (2016). Mondelēz international reports strong progress in cocoa life sustainability program [Press release]. Retrieved from http://www.mynewsdesk.com/dk/mondelez-danmark/pressreleases/mondelez-international-reports-strong-progress-in-cocoa-life-sustainability-program-1324940

Toblerone. (2008). Toblerone Bike Rack [Online image]. Retrieved from http://ffffound.com/image/b74bb4a5230276175e6c54c83e9e0d4c25b9f722

Toblerone [Toblerone]. (2016, February 26). ‘Break the boundaries of your world’ #Allegiant [Tweet]. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/Toblerone/status/703157570014294016/photo/1

WestportWiki. (2013). Toblerone bars [Online image]. Retrieved from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Toblerone_Bars.jpg