To test chocolate preferences, I conducted an experiment on my friends by having them taste a wide variety of chocolates. They didn’t know that they were part of an experiment. They were only told that I was holding a chocolate tasting as part of a course I was taking and I wanted them to rank their preference of each of 7 chocolates, or cacao nibs, from 1 to 7 (1 being the best). Three of my friends were not raised in America which provided some interesting information on the differences in chocolate preference between Americans and people from other parts of the world. Through my experiment I discovered how texture, Fair Trade or organic labels, gourmet or artisan labels, and the distinct taste of Hershey’s chocolate affected preferences.
In an attempt to set up a controlled experience with as little changing variables as possible, I decided to make all the samples I gave my friends look exactly the same. I melted down the 6 types of chocolate bars I bought and molded them using the brown mold pictured below. I did not want my friend’s preferences to be affected by product names or the shape/appearance of the chocolate.
I presented the chocolates in the same way to everyone, as pictured below. The only noticeable difference between the chocolates was that the chocolate on the left side of the plate was obviously milk chocolate. I kept my samples in plastic bags with the original packaging, as seen in the picture, to ensure that I did not mix up the samples that now looked exactly the same. My friends did not see me set up the plates so they had no way of knowing if I was telling the truth about the chocolates they were eating during the tasting.
I randomly assigned my 8 friends to two separate groups, Group A and Group B. Sometimes I switched two chocolates on the tasting plate for a particular group. This meant that as I was leading the tasting, I was telling one group that they were eating one type of chocolate when they were really eating another. I did this so I could see if what I said to them about the chocolates had any affect on how much they liked them. I gave each friend a tasting form and a tastes “cheat sheet,” pictured below.
My cheat sheet was inspired by chocolate tastings done in class and Stuckey’s explanation of the five tastes: “… the only five tastes we Homo sapiens can detect using our tongue alone [are] sweet, sour, bitter, salt, and umami… These tongue sensations are known as the five Basic Tastes” (5). I gave my friends minimal information about the chocolate on the tasting sheets. I left a spot for them to rank the chocolates and another spot for them to write their general thoughts on the chocolate’s taste. As I led the tasting, I explained what any possibly unfamiliar words meant, like Fair Trade, organic, non-GMO, single origin, gourmet. Per recommendations from class, I had my friends taste things in order of highest cacao content to lowest. I decided to include cacao nibs in my tasting as an interesting difference from all the chocolate. I figured that most of my friends had never had cacao nibs so I was eager to see their reactions. The Cacao nibs are pictured below.
From my friends’ reactions during the debriefing at the end of the experiment, they had no idea that I had lied about which chocolates I gave them. This leads me to believe that my data should be significant. Before I present my data, I will discuss each of the chocolates I used in my tasting, excluding the cacao nibs which I have already mentioned. I used two 80% chocolates which I switched for the groups. One of the chocolates was Taza’s 80% cacao and the other was Equal Exchange’s single origin chocolate from Panama with 80% cacao. The second line on my chocolate tasting sheet describes Equal Exchange’s chocolate while the third line describes Taza’s. I did not switch the fourth chocolate on my tasting sheet for the groups. This chocolate was Equal Exchange’s single origin chocolate from Peru with 71% cacao. Next I had Valrhona’s gourmet, single origin chocolate from Madagascar with 64% cacao (line 5) and Hershey’s dark chocolate (line 6). From my research, Hershey’s dark chocolate has approximately the same cacao percentage as the Valrhona chocolate I chose. Lastly, I gave the groups different milk chocolates with approximately the same percentage cacao. One group received Hershey’s milk chocolate while the other received a milk chocolate meant for chocolate fountains (pictured in the first image). Below are the rankings that my friends gave to each of these chocolates.
Cacao nibs: [2, 3, 4, 4, 5, 5, 6, 7]
Taza: [1, 2, 5, 6, 7, 7, 7, 7]
Equal Exchange 80%: [1, 1, 2, 3, 4, 4, 4, 6]
Equal Exchange 71%: [2, 2, 2, 3, 3, 3, 4, 4]
Hershey’s Dark: [1, 1, 1, 1, 3, 5, 5, 6]
Valrhona: [1, 2, 2, 3, 3, 5, 5, 6]
Hershey’s milk: [6, 6, 6, 7]
Milk fountain chocolate: [2, 4, 5, 7]
From my data, the fair trade, organic and single origin labels did not seem to have any significant impact on chocolate preference. There were varying preferences for the four chocolates that had these labels (Taza, Equal Exchange, and Valrhona). This is interesting given what I read about “Perceptions of the Fairtrade label”: “thanks in part to the numerous sensitisation campaigns, the Fairtrade label has become increasingly well known. Likewise, the purchase of FT products continues to grow at enviable rates… 50 per cent of people are familiar with the Fairtrade label. Beyond this, various opinion polls also showed that consumers are increasingly aware of the potential consequences of their consumption rates” (Sylla, “The marketing success of FT: some figures). Sylla suggests that increased education about Fair Trade has caused an “enviable” increase in the sale of fair trade products. One can deduce that an increased sale means an increased preference. The ranging ratings of my friends for Fair Trade chocolates (Equal Exchange and Taza), suggest that there is not really a correlation between a chocolate having a Fair Trade label and a higher preference for that chocolate.
Another interesting result in my data was the general feelings about Taza chocolate. Taza chocolate is different from most chocolate because it is stone ground, with the end result of a higher particle size in the chocolate. Part of the reason that chocolate became more popular was the introduction of machines that could grind chocolate into smaller particles, which might explain why my friends did not generally like it. Only 2 of my 8 friends liked Taza, while 4 out of my 8 friends liked it the least of all the samples (including the cacao nibs). There was actually more general dislike for Taza chocolate than the “bitter” cacao nibs. 7 out of my 8 friends described it as “grainy,” “gritty,” or “powdery.” In my mind, these are not positive adjectives for chocolate. I believe it is safe to say that people tend not to like higher particle size chocolates.
One fascinating result from my experiment was the reactions to Hershey’s chocolate. D’Antonia describes how Hershey’s chocolate differs from other chocolates and played a large role in shaping the chocolate preferences of Americans: “Hershey’s milk chocolate… carries a single, faintly sour note. This slight difference is caused by the fermentation of milk fat, an unexpected side effect… Anyone who knew Swiss milk chocolate… may have found Hershey’s candy unpleasant… Hershey’s milk chocolate… would also come to define the taste of chocolate for Americans” (108). The most striking result from my experiment was that 4 out of the 5 Americans chose Hershey’s dark chocolate as their favorite chocolate from the samples. This makes sense given what D’Antonio says, but it is particularly interesting given that milk is an ingredient in Hershey’s dark chocolate, unlike the other dark chocolate samples I tested. The non-Americans gave Hershey’s dark a lower rating (3, 5, and 5).
I included one expensive, gourmet chocolate in my tasting to see if there would be a general preference towards the chocolate. Williams and Beer explain that many consumers cannot recognize the improvements with gourmet or artisan chocolate, asking the question: “So, can consumers learn to slow down, taste, explore, and value the costly complexity of fine flavor?” (146). From my experiment, the answer to this question appears to be no. The very varied rankings of the gourmet chocolate indicate that my friends did not have any particular preference toward it.
Through my experiment I discovered that Americans and non-Americans definitely have different preferences for chocolate. Americans tend to prefer Hershey’s chocolate over other chocolates. Labels like Fair Trade and organic do not seem to have a significant impact on preferences but this might be due to lack of education. The particle size of chocolate also appears to play a big role in preference. Lastly, it is safe to say that people have not yet learned to appreciate the taste of more expensive artisan and gourmet chocolates.
D’Antonio, Michael D. 2006. Hershey: Milton S. Hershey’s Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams. pp. 106-126.
Stuckey, Barb. 2012. Taste: What You’re Missing. pp. 1-30, 132-156.
Sylla, Ndongo. 2014. The Fair Trade Scandal.
Williams, Pam and Jim Beer. 2012. Raising the Bar: The Future of Fine Chocolate. pp. 141-209.
A Bean-to-Bar Review of the Taza Chocolate Initiative and Alternatives
The first portion of this essay is modeled after the classic 1958 Leonard E. Read economic treatise, I, Pencil, as applied to the modern production chain of the Taza Chocolate Company. Following this ascription, the analysis moves on to compare the Taza model to that of Dandelion in San Francisco and the Hershey Company, citing major differences.
In his essay, Read details a global trade system from the point of view of a playfully personified pencil, describing the millions of hands that contributed to its “edification” and espousing the miraculous virtue of the modern capitalist supply chain (Read). While Taza Chocolate reflects several elements of the pencil manufacturing process described in the Read essay, Taza has developed its own processes within the broader capitalist system, at times contradicting those ascribed by Read, forging its own unique logistics chain with a refreshingly human element ripe for imitation.
I, Taza Chocolate
I am a piece of Taza chocolate – the stone-ground delicious triangle familiar to a sliver of boys, girls, and adults across New England.
You may wonder why I should write a genealogy. Well, to begin with, my story is interesting. And, next, I am a mystery – more so than the Snickers or the Hershey bars beside me. But sadly, I am sometimes taken for granted by those who enjoy me, as if I were a mere incident and without background. This supercilious attitude unfairly relegates me to the level of commonplace.
I, Taza Chocolate, simple though I appear, merit your wonder and awe, a claim I shall attempt to prove. In fact, if you can understand me, become aware of the miraculousness which I symbolize, you can help save the freedom mankind is so unhappily losing. I have a profound lesson to teach, and I can teach this lesson better than can an iPhone or an airplane, precisely because I am seemingly so “simple.”
Simple? Yes, because a single person on the face of this earth can make me. This sounds fantastic, doesn’t it? Especially when you take into account that three billion pounds of chocolate are consumed in the U.S.A. each year (Martin).
Pick me up and give me a sniff. What do you see? Not much meets the eye – there’s a wrapper citing some foreign land and various certifications, some grainy brown substance. But give me a taste and I’ll explain.
Unlike you who cannot trace your family tree back very far, it is quite possible for me to name and explain all my antecedents. I would like to suggest enough of them to impress upon you the richness and simplicity of my background.
My family tree begins with what in fact is a tree, a Theobroma cacao tree that grows in Bolivia. There, deep in the woods of this Central American nation, the tree of my primary ingredient and member of the Sterculiaceae family, takes root. A fickle specimen, my cacao tree requires meticulous care, attention, and skill to bear her fruit (Coe and Coe 19). She requires special growing conditions including partial ground cover, partial shade, and even special pollinating insects called midges to bloom. Once tended to correctly, the cacao tree flowers directly from the trunk (exhibiting the rare reproduction method known as cauliflory) and I am born of her warty-edged pod.
After a few weeks of ripening, I am plucked from her branches, my beans separated from each other to expose a whitish, sour pulp. I am left in the sun to ferment, heating up to nearly 120 degrees Fahrenheit as bacteria attack this pulp. During this time, the flavor within my beans transforms and develops the delicious melody of tastes that make me so delectable (Coe and Coe 17-30). Please note that throughout the process so far, only one or two people have contributed to my production.
Now contemplate the tools used by one of those people, in particular, Jorge, a laborer with the Alto Beni Cacao Company. To remove me from my branch to begin my trip north requires only two tools: a pruner and bucket. With these humble beginnings, I am transported back to the main building at Palos Blancos to join other freshly-harvested pods (Taza 10). At this facility, I am fermented, dried and prepared for the next step of my journey.
The next part of my journey is the least uniform, strictest, and most subject to market forces: transportation from Belize to America. Typically, I am packaged in jute or sisal bags of up to 100 kg (TIS). The owners at Taza have implemented a fair trade program where my farmers are paid at least $500 per metric ton over the daily market value, a measure they feel ensures quality (Ailworth). Once sold, a truck takes me to a coastal port where I am loaded to a ventilated container which must have a clean and dry wooden flooring. Very specific moisture concentration must be adhered to, and it’s even recommended to use a two-layer anti-condensation film to provide protection against dripping sweat (TIS). Cool, dry, good ventilation are key throughout this moderate temperature yet exciting trip, or else I might spoil or lose my valuable flavor! Finally, I am unloaded at a port on the east coast of the United States and travel the continent by railroad or truck to my next home: scenic Somerville, Massachusetts.
In a 17000-sqaure-foot factory at 561 Windsor Street, I meet a few of Taza’s specialized workers including Kathleen, Stephanie, Jesse and Alex. They ensure that I am properly roasted, winnowed, ground, mixed, rolled, tanked, tempered, molded, and cooled (Taza). As lifetime adherents to minimal processing in line with the organic mission, these steps leverage only 10 separate machines, parts of which are even made and maintained by hand in the factory.
Arguably, the most striking trait of mine is my “grit.” I get this from the old-fashioned processes employed at the Taza factory, where workers shape the stones used to grind me by hand (sometimes with less than stellar results). In fact, the owner still carves the millstones by hand, using a “chisel and hand-held grinder to etch each one” (Ailworth). From the stone mills, or “molinos”, I retain my “bright, fruity” flavors which most processing methods tend to mask or remove (Taza). And all together, this yields a bold, rustic and satisfyingly gritty palate pleaser.
A final stop along my journey might include the addition of added flavorings. Such unusual flourishes include raspberry, vanilla, chili peppers, guajillo peppers, red peppers, cinnamon, coffee, salted almond, cracked pepper, chipotle, toffee, hazelnut, figs and even chai tea (Taza). A quick trip down the recently installed automatic wrapper, and finally, I emerge the brown, gritty disk of bittersweet joy in your hand (Ailworth).
No Master Mind
There is a fact still more astounding within my genesis: the presence of a mastermind, of someone orchestrating and collaborating these countless actions which bring me into being. He can be found at our headquarters: Alex Whitmore.
Whitmore, 37 years old, is a life-long Bostonian, having been born in the city and even living on the Harbor for a number of years (Luna). An alum of the successful car-sharing business Zipcar, Whitmore was no stranger to the startup environment when he founded Taza Chocolate in 2005. Finding inspiration during a trip to Oaxaca, Mexico, he has grown Taza to its current 58-employee team in just over a decade. His little enterprise now hawks 40 products at over 2800 retail locations throughout New England and North America (Ailworth).
It has been said that “only God can make a tree.” And, with a little help from my friends at Taza, I transform from that tree to a delicious treat in your hand. I, Taza Chocolate, am a complex combination of miracles, an embodiment of the dozens of tiny know-hows conspiring together under Alex Whitmore’s vision and direction. While only God can make a tree, it only takes a few men to fully make me.
If I, Taza Chocolate, were the only item that could offer testimony on what men and women can accomplish when free to try, then those with little faith would have a fair case. However, there is testimony galore: 300,000 pounds of me per year, to be precise (Ailworth). The lesson I teach is this: leave all creative energies uninhibited, but pay a fair price to all. While free market capitalism typically decries any notion of command economies and the inefficiencies they typically create, the free market system is in fact made up of miniature command economies. We call them firms. General Electric, Microsoft, Bank of America, and even your favorite food truck are small-scale command economies, just like Taza, who decide where to allocate resources and what prices to pay for inputs. Taza has simply bent those rules a little bit, paying more to and developing relations with its suppliers.
As you can see, dozens of hands fastidiously participate in my great journey across the globe, forging me into the delicious product I am today. But my story is not one of purely profit-motivated free market triumph. Instead, it is a tale of cooperation and collective good. The people I meet along the way are treated fairly, compensated for their contributions, and genuinely happy with the results. As Mintz argues, “a human being is not an object, even when treated as one.” We should, therefore, return to that “absolutely essential ingredient for freedom: a faith in free people” (Read). I, Taza Chocolate, have embarked on this mission.
I, Taza Chocolate, am a complex combination of miracles.
While the preceding essay adaptation provided a detailed look at the intricate chocolate-making process and Taza Chocolate’s refusal to adhere to more traditional market behavior and production processes, it leaves a number of questions ripe for exploration. As Kristy Leissle argues that the place of manufacture of chocolate has become “more important to appreciating chocolate than the place of origin of the beans,” has Taza missed out on additional opportunities to provide a quality product? To that end, how does the Taza process compare to that of a more mass produced product, such as the Hershey or Snickers bars it derides as commonplace? Next, how does it compare to other small-scale chocolatiers’ processes? And are there other sources from which Taza could draw that are currently overlooked?
Founded in 1894 by Milton S. Hershey, the Hershey Company of Hershey, Pennsylvania is a $7.4 billion agglomeration of factories, theme parks, retail stores and, of course, candy. Known for its syrups, chocolate bars, Reese’s cups and, most importantly, Kisses, Hershey has grown to one of the most recognizable brands in America. So, how does one make a Kiss?
The Hershey Company’s production process has many of the same elements as the Taza Chocolate process but on a much larger, arguably more impersonal scale. The cacao beans, from any of hundreds of farms across West Africa, are unceremoniously purchased at exact market rates (the Big Five chocolate companies make the rates), boarded on large cargo vessels, and arrive in North America for transport to the Hershey plant in Pennsylvania. From there, they are processed similarly to the cacao beans from South America, but on a much larger scale.
However, it is interesting to note that on the Hershey website in the food philosophy section, Hershey espouses that they are “committed to making our products using simple ingredients… you might find in your kitchen” (Hershey). The simple chart below illustrates these simple ingredients. Clearly, the ingredients listed are simple, and what a consumer should expect in her chocolate: cocoa, nuts, milk and sugar. But, if these components make up 80% of the product, what is the remaining 20%?
The processing and additives Hershey includes at this point are what truly make the difference between it and Taza or Dandelion Chocolate. Ingredients to improve “flavors, aromas, textures and appearance” and decrease cost, are included at this point, leading to the ascription of “ultra-processed” (Hershey). This term, defined by Samira Kawash as “foods processed so far beyond their original form as to be better described as fabricated rather than grown” is a fair description for the Hershey’s product, which is then distributed throughout the world (Kawash 26).
To provide an idea of the scale of the Hershey production line, the shipping center, in particular, makes for an interesting case study. In a behemoth warehouse in Lebanon, PA, the sales fulfillment distribution center (DC), supplies 1400 sales representatives with the product throughout the country (Partridge). This team, in its industrialized “continual quest for process improvement,” measures its productivity in defects per million opportunities (only 3.4), lines shipped per hour, and orders picked per worker. The dehumanization of this process stands in strict apposition to that of Taza Chocolate, as workers at Hershey are treated as interchangeable pieces, floor managers as faceless overseers. If these employees fail to reach their DPMO target number, contingency plans focused on, mobile “robotic drive units with a software system that outputs control instructions” can be leveraged. These machines would ramp up to replace warehouse staff by 25 percent, or 1.5 full-time employees (Partridge). All this analysis and dehumanization yield the Lebanon warehouse an average savings of $45,000 per year in labor costs. At the risk of understatement, this behavior is vastly different from that seen in the Taza Chocolate process. But how does their process relate to a more direct competitor, such as Dandelion Chocolate?
Located across the country from Somerville in a similarly startup-saturated city, Dandelion Chocolate calls San Francisco’s Mission District home. Founded by Todd Masonis and Cameron Ring in 2010, Dandelion’s process follows a similar path to fruition. Once imported, their beans are roasted, cracked, sorted, winnowed, ground, conched and tempered in small batches, before being molded and packaged by hand (Dandelion). While a source report akin to that provided by Taza is unavailable, Dandelion appears to follow a process akin to that of Taza, traveling to meet its suppliers as frequently as possible to “build strong relationships with partners” (Dandelion). These strong relationships form the basis for the Dandelion business model, as the management team takes great pride in their sources.
Further research into the business fundamentals of the smaller companies which might be included in a publicly traded forum or within an annual or quarterly prospectus detailing revenue, debt, acquisitions, overhead, and additional standard accounting practices might yield a clearer picture into the affordability of the smaller companies’ viability of their models. Because the Hershey Company is publicly traded on the New York Stock Exchange (HSY), and valued at $22.24 billion as of May 2016, we can see that its model is successful by capitalist measurements: a profit margin of nearly 7% on $7.4 billion of revenue leads to a healthy company. However, in keeping with the chocolate industry’s tradition of secrecy, neither of the smaller firms produces such a report, and therefore leaves the public guessing as to the business’s robustness and viability.
Finally, analyzing the Taza Chocolate production method itself, the company has chosen to limit its sourcing scope to South and Middle America. A reasonable business decision considering geographic realities, Taza has chosen to limit its logistics chain to operations between Somerville and the Dominican Republic, Bolivia, Belize and Guatemala (Taza). However, quality cacao exists beyond the Western Hemisphere.
As exhibited in the Hershey Company’s supply chain, West Africa is the preeminent sourcing destination for raw cacao, supplying over 70% of global output (Leissle 22). While Big Five chocolate makers managed to dissociate chocolate from cacao for most American consumers, single origin producers such as Taza have grown in popularity over the past few years in direct contrast to this fabricated ignorance (Leissle 23). West African suppliers have been left out of this boom for small-scale chocolate makers, mostly, Leissle argues, for political reasons or to assuage the large-scale producers’ concerns. By overlooking West Africa, the artisan manufacturers in North America are more than simply missing the opportunity to expand their flavor offerings: they are perpetuating the idea of inferiority of the West African product. If American chocolate makers opened supply lines featuring beans from Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria and Cameroon, for example, this perception might change. While certain small areas of Africa such as Madagascar have broken into the single source market, much of the continent’s potential remains untapped. The positive results of single source work in South America might be emulated in Africa, whose poverty, public health and social structure are, at best, on par with those of South and Central America.
Surprisingly, in advance of the smaller chocolate makers, the Hershey Company has launched a campaign to adjust its West African supply chain. In an effort to purchase more sustainable cacao, Hershey has launched an initiative to buy solely UTZ, Fairtrade USA or Rainforest Alliance certified cacao by the year 2020. This is an outstanding, if a small step, as Hershey uses some of its $1.2 billion free cash to invest in the livelihood and sustainability of its farmers in West Africa (Yahoo).
The world of chocolate manufacturing, both large and small, is evolving to place more emphasis on its raw ingredients. As both Taza and Dandelion base their businesses on their intimate cacao sourcing, the larger firms to include Hershey’s are slowly adapting as well. Within the larger capitalist model, Taza Chocolate has created a niche to exploit, focusing on the human element of its supply chain as opposed to the purely profit motivated system hailed by Read’s original essay.
With a 4000-year history, beginning in Central America with the Mesoamericans, the tradition of drinking chocolate has evolved immensely over the years. Chocolate was mainly enjoyed as a drink for almost nine-tenths of its history, but today we mostly think of chocolate in its solid form. It’s transformation has taken place from a luxury, within the reach of only royalty and wealthy elites, to being mass-produced, sugary, sweet, containing little to no cacao at all. The spicy, bitter, foamy xocolatl once associated only with decadence and luxury has now been relegated to a sweetened, inferior product by the industry, severely diminishing its place in society.
From as early as 1000 BCE, chocolate was a sacred, invaluable, refreshing, exotic and even a magical beverage. For the Mesoamericans, the drink went far beyond the health benefits and the aphrodisiac qualities that many of us have come to associate with chocolate. The ceremonial, pleasurable, elite drink was used to show high hospitality; served only to lords, the wealthy and the revered merchants and considered to be “an ambrosia from the rich and exotic lands of Anahuac, not something to wash down one’s food [with]”(Coe & Coe, 95). This drink was a powerful elixir with its exotic flavorings and prized foam, famous amongst the rulers, warriors and explorers alike. It was considered sacred during marriages, nourishing for militaries, sacrificial in religious ceremonies and an after-dinner drink that was enjoyed with smoking tubes of tobacco (Coe & Coe, 95). Such high status and social stratum, evident throughout the history of the Olmecs, Mayans and Aztecs, earned the chocolate drink a special prestige in society and its ultimate spread into Europe. Curious and eager to adopt, the Spaniards carried the tradition of drinking chocolate into the Iberian Peninsula.
Assimilating to the New World culture and slowly developing a taste for the bitter chocolate drink, the Spaniards maintained the elevated status associated with the drink. Mesmerized by an elaborate process of fermenting, roasting, winnowing and finally crushing the cacao nibs to form chocolate liquor, the Spaniards adopted the entire routine to preserve the originality and prestige of the drink. The delicate preparation of the final beverage, which was dissolved in water, mixed with varieties of spices, and poured from one container to another to achieve highly prized foam made the drink suitable only for the Spanish elites. Marcy Norton clearly establishes the illustriousness and admiration for the drink:
“Drinking chocolate was a complex somatic experience for pre- Columbian and colonial Indians. The emphasis put on flower spices, the frothy foam, the special drinking vessels, and the requisite reddish hue shows that chocolate was valued not only for its effects on the taste buds, but also for the stimulation of the olfactory, tactile, visual, and affective senses. “ (Norton, 675)
The elaboration and meticulousness associated with the preparation of the drink allowed the Spaniards, among other factors, to overcome their revulsion for the bitter drink. The addition of spices and exotic flavorings further added to the appeal of drinking chocolate and encouraged the Spaniards to assimilate the drink into their culture.
Knowing no other way, the Spaniards adopted the entire paraphernalia associated with the Mesoamerican way of preparing and consuming the stimulant chocolate beverage. The use of achiote for sensory pleasures, j ́ıcara for sipping the chocolate and molinillo for frothing it, all came to be accepted and prized by the Spaniards as a way to enjoy drinking chocolate (Norton, 683). The Spaniards maintained the entire sensory experiences and embraced the various spices ranging from Tlixochitl, mecaxo ́chitl, achiote, chili peppers, and Xochinacaztli (Norton, 672). Each version of the drink prepared with these various spices elevated the complexity and prestige of the final drink. However, over the course of time, the New World spices were increasingly replaced by Old World and Oriental spices like cinnamon, black pepper, anise, rose and sesame (Norton, 684). The replacements of the New World spices and flavorings, to stimulate the European taste, took away what was essentially centuries old ways of consuming and enjoying chocolate. The new wave of seasonings and later, the replacement of honey with large amounts of sugar further deviated the drink from its sacred, exotic image to an inferior, affordable and heavily sugared beverage.
The desire to sweeten chocolate in many ways led to the massive imports of tropical commodities like sugar. Much like cacao, initially revered as a spice afforded only by the rich, sugar was a prized tropical commodity for several centuries. It wasn’t until the 19th century when the free trade movement led to a sharp decline in sugar prices leading to mass affordability. The English welcomed the sweetening of “coffee, chocolate, and tea [which] became customary […] because they were bitter as well as unfamiliar” (Mintz, 137). The Spaniards, similar to the English, began increasingly sweetening their beverages to suit their taste buds. This explosive consumption of sugar took hold among all sectors of the society and the chocolate drink slowly began its decline to eventually being reduced only to a heap of sugar.
Fueled by colonialism, this heavy intake of sugar in stimulant drinks changed the entire landscape for tropical commodities and paved the way to industrialization. As Sidney Mintz argues that tea, coffee, and chocolate beverages, along with sugar, helped to fuel industrialization (Mintz, 186) and as Norton says, “Atlantic commerce directly fueled the peculiar European dynamism that culminated in the Industrial Revolution” (Norton, 665). Out of this revolution, various machines and processes were invented that changed forever the way chocolate was consumed. Creations like the Melangur and Van Houten’s “Dutching” process gave rise to a new era of chocolate making. The 1828 invention essentially defatted the chocolate liquor to a point where the resulting product contained only 28 percent cacao (Coe, 234) and left behind a “mass or a cake that could easily dissolve in water to make a chocolate drink ” (“Cocoa Dolce”). This alkalized Dutch treatment of the cacao nibs although improved the chocolate powder’s miscibility in water, it took away the complex aromatic flavors associated with the cacao beans that produce good quality drinking chocolate. The era of industrialization ushered the invention of the easily prepared and digestible drink, which gradually dethroned the once revered thick, foamy, exotic beverage.
The massive advances in technology, industrialization and cacao farming led to a dramatic fall in price of cocoa and cocoa powder. Giant industries like Fry’s, Cadbury and Rowntree “made possible the large-scale manufacture of cheap chocolate for the masses” (Coe, 235). Industrialization and the availability of cheap, bulk cacao made chocolate affordable and popular; however the chocolate produced this way lacked complexity and depth of flavor. And so, it was made palatable only with the addition of “sugar and other spices like cinnamon and perfumes” (Sciscenti). As sugar started flooding the European market “more sugar was added and the spices were stripped away until it arrived at its classic American incarnation: sugary sweet, thin and without much actual cocoa” (Sciscenti). As a result, the chocolate drink, saturated with sugar and removed of all exotic New World spices, was now a far-fetched cry from the original drink of the Mesoamericans or even the Spaniards adaptation.
Recent years have seen an even greater increase in sugar consumption. Statistics show that “200 years ago, the average American ate only 2 pounds of sugar a year. In 1970, Americans ate 123 pounds of sugar per year. Today, the average American consumes almost 152 pounds of sugar in one year” (Martin). Mass affordability of sugar has exasperated the problem. Labels on nearly every food item show sugar as a main ingredient and chocolate drinks have not escaped this trend. In fact, the tremendous amount of sugar added helps the manufactures mask the flavor off-notes of poor quality cacao. In comparison, as cacao is naturally bitter and acidic, the typical sugar content in a chocolate bar can range from 0-40%. While this is normal to please our palates, an unwholesome amount of sugar with little to no cocoa content in chocolate drinks has become the norm. For example, Nestlé’s Nesquik chocolate powder contains 78.5% or 11g of sugar per serving with only 2% of cacao processed with alkali (“Nesquik Powder Chocolate 9.3 Oz”). Nestle is a global brand leader in chocolate drinks and its popularity only demonstrates a trend towards lowering the chocolate drink to a heap of sugar. The sugar combined with the alkali process further demotes the product by severely mellowing the chocolate taste. The alkali process saps the flavonoids off of the chocolate drink, forcing the manufacturers to enhance the taste by introducing more sugar. This vicious cycle has not only offered a substandard taste to the drink but has also become the culprit to various health problems.
In recent years, despite heavy criticism, Nesquik and its competitors have only seen a boost in their sales and will continue to see so. According to the Euromonitor’s International data, Nestlé alone is “predicted to generate around US$340 million sales in 2015-2019” (Lee, 2015). While many reasons provide explanation for this trend, the most frequently used is the addition of sugar helps children drink more milk and “build strong bones, one glass at a time” (Hein). Although the added sugar in Nesquik chocolate milk drink inches towards the daily recommendation by the WHO, a few organizations have said flavored milk increases milk consumption in children (Hein). However, this is not a solution to encourage milk consumption; instead it is an exploitation of children’s natural affinities to sugar, whose increased consumption has only led to a widespread obesity endemic and early onset of diabetes. Nestlé and other companies have hence played a huge role in degrading the chocolate drink by promoting it as a healthy milk product and as a result have encouraged consumption of excess sugar, unhealthy eating habits, and poor nutrition.
To further understand this trend, we must look towards the role of advertising in reducing the chocolate drink to what it has become. In the 1930s and 40s, children featured prominently in ads “all growing stronger through drinking cocoa” (Robertson, 39). Characters like Honeybunch and Coco, although representing a wider context of racial discrimination, were invented to greatly influence children and heed upon the philosophies of cradle to grave loyalty. In Rowntree cocoa’s case, such ads, campaigns and invention of lovable characters were used to “add a psychological value inseparable from Rowntree’s brand of cocoa, to an extent that they will exert pressure on the mother [to buy the product]” (Robertson, 41). These ‘special mascots’ in advertisements create brand loyalty amongst children and places an immense pressure over parents to buy these drinks under the pretense of boosting milk consumption.
Rowntree’s cocoa ad with Honeybunch
Nesquik’s popularity is largely in part to the ‘Quicky’ bunny character that has enchanted so many young children and has helped Nestle build a brand loyalty. Similar to Rowntree’s Honeybunch and Coco, Quicky personifies the Nestle brand and helps in portraying the product as nutritious and healthy. The “physically active [and] energetic” (Daneshkhu) Quicky has been able to capture children’s imaginations as an animated character promoting health benefits and good nutritional habits. However, despite Quicky’s endorsements, chocolate remains a drink laden with sugar, and only a few traces of cocoa. It promotes no nutritional value, offers dull taste and flavor and is a far cry from what once used to be a healthy, wholesome nutritious drink of the Mesoamerican elites.
To promote the “healthy” cocoa drink and to increase profits, chocolate manufacturers, in the mid to late twentieth century decided to cover a broader range of the population and extend the advertisements to target women. Companies like Rowntree and Cadbury used advertisements to help women express cultural identity and gain social meaning (Robertson, 19). A woman was considered savvy, thoughtful, caring and clever if she unfailingly fed her family cocoa, thereby fulfilling her social role in the society. In fact, the big chocolate manufacturers successfully used cocoa to portray women as “both the devoted mother (a demonstration of maternal love), and the savvy housewife (economical, efficient, nutritious)” (Robertson, 21). The focus around efficiency grew and chocolate soon became an instant hot cocoa mix, which a mother can easily prepare for her child without supposedly losing its nutritional value. The specific targeting of the cocoa drink to women thus allowed companies to falsely advertise a much inferior ‘fast food’ chocolate as a wholesome invention.
The cocoa manufacturers continued to capitalize on the ever-changing conditions of the twentieth century and altered strategies in order to appeal to a higher social class of consumers. They revived the luxury associated with chocolate by advertising in social magazines and newspapers, which were read presumably by socially aspiring classes. Robertson clearly highlights this:
To lend even greater sophistication to the product, the advertising copy then emphasized that [the] cocoa was on a par with that tasted on the Continent: ‘Once it was a fixed belief that to drink chocolate at its best you had to drink it in Paris. Now…you can make at home a pot of chocolate worthy of a cordon bleu.’ (Robertson, 26).
This luxury appeal and ‘aspirational’ consumption of a pleasurable commodity, over time, came to be associated more with chocolate assortments in various different connotations. Despite the advertising efforts of promoting a domesticated, wholesome, nutritious, healthy product, the chocolate drink, in reality, underwent no such transformation and instead continued to be targeted to kids and be cheaply manufactured.
To understand the sugar epidemic in chocolate drinks, it is important to look at the sourcing practices. From the beginnings in São Tomé and Príncipe, big chocolate companies have had questionable cacao sourcing practices. They have ignored the problem of child slavery and exploitation of farmers for many decades and still continue to do so. A recent lawsuit against the big chocolate companies revealed how the practice of sourcing cacao from West Africa still uses child slave labor. Despite the establishment of the Harkin-Engel protocol, the big chocolate companies have shown little to no improvement in their practices. Nestle for its part, founded the Nestlé’s Cocoa Plan in 2013 which is now the primary source for its products and chocolate drinks but it falls short in “involving the communities affected, supporting women and children by paying living wages, and helping consumers to clearly understand the food supply chain” (Hoffman). Millions of farmers and laborers who are providing us with a precious raw commodity are still living in poverty and the lack of capital has not only led to poor standards of living but also stagnant farming practices. With no invention, technology, education of sustainable farming or familiarization with the taste of the cacao produced, the chocolate used in these chocolate drinks will continue to be of low quality.
However, there is hope for the revered drink to make a comeback. In the past decade or so, a few artisanal bean-to-bar chocolate makers are changing the tide in favor of ethically sourced, good quality beans to make superior cocoa for drinking chocolate. One of those companies leading the trend is Escazu. Their micro batch bars made entirely on a small scale with ancient equipment provides a strong contrast to the richer, sweeter American-style cocoa produced on an industrial scale by the big chocolate companies. Escazu has even gone as far as reinventing a recipe from 1631, which they believe to be one of the first chocolate drinking recipes to be published. They have modernized this drink by using “whole spices to steep the drinking chocolates, which are made with hot water, like a strong tea, as opposed to milk-based American cocoas. The beverages are strained and frothed with the steam spigot of an espresso machine just before serving” (Lucas). Escazu is demonstrating to consumers and its peers that chocolate drinks can be complex and innovative. For such small companies, this is a very expensive endeavor and to take drinking chocolate to this level shows the commitment and dedication to revive the chocolate drinking culture.
Another artisanal chocolate maker at the forefront of drinking chocolates is Taza. Far from the imagery of Oompa-Loompa’s and chocolate rivers, this 100 percent bean-to-bar company has aimed for a more grown up image and taste (Thornell). It achieves this by adding low amounts of sugar, and by grinding “its cacao beans in traditional Mexican molinos, hand-carved stone mills”(Thornell). This anciently adapted process makes Taza different. The distinct gritty mouth feel of the chocolate requires a more mature palate and an acquired taste. Much like Escazu, due to their better sourcing and innovative use of ancient techniques, they are able to keep the sugar content low, raise the complexity of flavors and therefore elevate this drink. This experience encourages consumers to familiarize and immerse themselves in a new chocolate world.
These companies show that there can be a bright future for the art of crafting drinking chocolate. The industry can evolve to bring back flavor and respect that chocolate, as a drink deserves. It is not necessary to be forced onto the technologies of the industrialization era but instead tools should be developed on bringing flavor, complexity and richness to the masses. Sugar is a great ingredient that is still needed but the industry must realize the impact of sugar on our society. Innovative solutions to reduce sugar consumptions while providing a great product must be thought of collectively. The effort the industry needs to make must involve out of the box solutions that address taste, affordability and sustainability.
Taza is a bean-to-bar chocolate company based in Somerville, MA, that addresses contemporary issues in the cacao-chocolate supply chain in unique ways. Founded in 2005 as a small, local company, operating on one rented floor of a warehouse in Somerville, the company focused on ethical trade and organic production, in addition to traditional production methods, from its inception. It has now expanded to a nationally sold company with enough capital to more effectively influence the cacao supply chain. By investing and interacting directly with organic cacao farms in South America and the Caribbean, the company is able to ensure that more money is going directly to the farmers and that ethical farming practices are being rewarded. They call this practice “direct trade,” and developed it as an alternative to Fair Trade, which has become controversial in recent years due to questions over its actual impact on small farmers and the cost and difficulty of obtaining such a certification. Further, in order to ensure their own adherence to this direct trade model, as well as to open the possibility of other companies aligning with this model, they have hired a third-party company to verify their sourcing program every year according to the policies they laid out. In addition to their Direct Trade program, Taza also maintains a high ethical standard in other company practices. In reviewing their materials, one finds that they do not rely on exploitation of the image of the cacao farmer as a victim, but instead use images and language that portray them as strong, independent individuals, with pride in their work. They do not rely on exploitative sexual or racial images in their advertising, as too many contemporary chocolate companies do, but instead rely on the unique quality of their product. In these ways, Taza is one of the most ethical chocolate companies currently in operation, and should be used as a model for other companies.
Current issues in the cacao trade
Cacao is an export of developing countries in tropical regions, and as such, is faced with the economic and agricultural issues associated with developing countries. Cacao is often purchased by middlemen in the country or region in which it is produced, who then export the product to chocolate producers abroad, mostly in the U.S. and Europe. These middlemen purchase cacao from farmers at much lower prices than the global value of cacao, thus earning most of the export’s value for themselves, and returning little to the farmers. This system can sometimes be simply be a result of exploitative middlemen, yet may also be more complicated; often, a combination of local and national laws and regulations, social or societal norms and expectations, and access to global markets, plays a role in this low monetary return to the cacao farmers (Martin, Lecture 8). Whatever the case, the low wages paid to individual cacao farmers has a negative effect on the industry in a variety of ways: forced or coerced labor can result if farmers are under pressure to produce products at such a low cost, unsustainable practices are used, and there is little incentive to improve the quality of the product (Sylla, 26-40; Off, 100-140; Berlan, 2013).
These issues are not new to the cacao industry. Following the abolition of slavery, slave labor or ‘unfree’ labor practices continued on cacao plantations in parts of Africa (Higgs, 133-150), and have continued to this day. Presently, one of the largest, and most publicized, labor issues in cacao production is the use of child labor. The causes of this coerced labor are often very complex and difficult to address, and can range from direct child trafficking in clearly forced labor situations, to micro-pressures such as fear of family breakdown or socio-cultural tradition (Berlan, 2013). Further, the growing popularity and commercialization of chocolate in the U.S. and Europe throughout the 20th century caused a push for larger quantities of cheaper cacao beans, and local and international responses to agricultural and economic events throughout this time period has further complicated production and exportation (Martin, Lecture 8).
Attempts at repairing the cacao trade
Because these issues in the cacao industry are difficult to understand and cannot be easily generalized, the responsibility falls on chocolate companies to ensure that the beans they purchase are ethically produced. As local governments and international organizations are often unable to adequately enforce fair labor practices broadly, responses to such issues have mostly taken the form of using the free market to incentivize adherence to a set of principles in cacao and other agricultural practices.
3.1. Fair Trade’s impact and controversies
One of the most well known of such incentivizing organizations is Fair Trade USA, which promises fair wages to workers, no use of forced, child, or exploited labor, safe working conditions and reasonable hours, and environmental sustainability, among others (Martin, Lecture 10; Fair Trade USA, Mission/Values). Whether Fair Trade USA succeeds in these goals is unclear, yet the company certainly has at the very least raised consumer awareness about the issues facing the farmers that produce much of the world’s chocolate, coffee, sugar, and even produce. However, critics of Fair Trade USA believe that the organization fails in the following ways: fails to deliver the promised higher wages to the individual farmer and to developing countries in general; makes it too hard and expensive to obtain certification, so that only large, wealthy farms are able to obtain it; it actually harms small farms that do not have certification; they do not incentivize quality; and it fails to adequately monitor standards; and the farmers do not have enough of a say in the production of their product, among others (Martin, 10; Dickinson; The Fair Trade Shell Game).
3.2. Taza’s solution: Direct Trade
Taza decided to pursue a different approach to ethical sourcing of cacao beans for their chocolate. Rather than relying on an organization like Fair Trade USA to certify cacao farms with its standards of ethical trade and not necessarily effective practices, Taza began engaging with cacao farms directly, investing in farms that would agree to meet their standards of ethical production. This approach is called ‘Direct’ trade, and involves direct engagement of the chocolate company with their bean producers. This means the company must send a representative to each cacao farm they buy beans from at least once a year to check in and ensure their standards are still being upheld, and while it requires more effort on the part of the chocolate company, it seems to have a clearer positive impact on the farmers and their communities than Fair Trade does.
The clearest way in which Direct Trade is a better alternative to Fair Trade for achieving the same goals is its placement of financial responsibility with the cacao buyer, as opposed to the cacao producer. The cacao farms involved in direct trade with Taza, as opposed to those that go through the Fair Trade certification process, do not have to pay to have their farms certified in order to receive the higher premiums. Rather, Taza takes the responsibility of visiting farms and cooperatives, investing in, and paying higher premiums to ones that agree to meet their direct trade program commitments. Additionally, in 2011 Taza took the step of hiring a third party to certify their adherence to this program, to ensure that they do not deviate from the values themselves, thus taking further responsibility in ensuring their beans are ethically produced (Taza, Taza Direct Trade). Having the financial responsibility fall on the chocolate companies that buy the cacao beans ensures that more money is making it back to the farmers, and allows for smaller farms with less capital to participate in the program.
The Taza Direct Trade Program is verified by the third party company Quality Certification Services, and consists of five ‘commitments,’ or rules to which Taza must adhere. The first two of these commitments have already been mentioned, and are 1) the development of direct relationships with the farmers from which they purchase their beans, and 2) the payment of a premium to their cacao producers, specifically a premium of at least 500 US dollars per metric ton. The program then also has a quality standard based on fermentation rate and moisture of the beans, requires USDA organic certification from their suppliers, and requires Taza to produce an annual transparency report that details their cacao bean purchases and interactions with the farmers over the prior year (Taza, Direct Trade Program Commitments). One can see the way in which these rules interact to ensure more benefits for the farmers, as well as incentivize increased quality of the cacao beans: their paying of high premiums, along with quality standards and farm visits, rewards farmers for production of better beans; their commitment to produce an annual transparency report that is verified by a third party ensures that they continue to treat their producers ethically as outlined in their first two commitments.
There is one imperfection with the Taza Direct Trade Program that stands out: their requirement of USDA organic certification, a certification for which the farmers need to pay and which cannot be reimbursed by the USDA in any of the countries in which Taza has cacao suppliers (USDA, Organic Cost Share Programs). This requirement is reminiscent of Fair Trade USA, despite Taza’s desire differentiate itself from Fair Trade USA and to reduce the burden it places on the cacao producers. However, the USDA certification is often less expensive than Fair Trade certification, and many companies that purchase Fair Trade agricultural products would also require USDA organic certification, making the Taza Direct Trade Program still substantially less expensive for farmers than Fair Trade, and Taza investment in new cacao farms alleviates such costs (USDA, Organic Certification and Accreditation; Taza, Annual Transparency Reports 2011-2015).
Taza’s other positive influences
In addition to Taza’s Direct Trade Program, the company also maintains high ethical standards in their advertising and their portrayal of cacao farmers. They do not rely on the sexualization of women to sell their chocolate, as many companies do, but instead use their ethical sourcing practices and the uniqueness of their product to sell their chocolate bars. Further, they do not exploit the image of cacao farmers as victims when portraying their ethical sourcing, but instead use images of the farmers proudly displaying their work, and write about the farmers’ lives, interests, struggles, and successes, in a very human and relatable way in their transparency reports (Taza, Transparency Reports 2011-2015). For these reasons in addition to their excellent direct trade program, Taza should be used as a model for other chocolate companies in combating the ethical problems in the cacao-chocolate industry.
Berlan, Amanda. “Social sustainability in agriculture: An anthropological perspective on child labour in cocoa production in Ghana.” The Journal of Development Studies 49.8 (2013): 1088-1100.
Dickinson, Rink. “An Analysis of Fair Trade: Reflections from a Co-founder.” InterReligious Task Force on Central America. Cleveland, Ohio. 02 May 2016. Speech.
First Taste of Chocolate in Ivory Coast. Metropolis. VPRO Metropolis, 21 Feb. 2014. Web. 30 Apr. 2016.
Higgs, Catherine. Chocolate Islands: Cocoa, Slavery, and Colonial Africa. Ohio University Press, 2012.
Kierz, Shane. Front Cover, Taza Annual Transparency Report 2014. Digital image. Taza Chocolate Company. Taza Chocolate Company, Sept. 2014. Web. 3 May 2016.
Whitmore, Alex. Gabriel Pop, General Manager at Maya Mountain Cacao, proudly stands in their new drying house. Digital image. Taza Chocolate Company. Taza Chocolate Company, Sept. 2012. Web. 3 May 2016.
Cardullo’s Gourmet Shoppe of Harvard Square has sold quality foodstuffs since 1950, offering both local and imported niche food items. Along with many other dessert foods, Cardullo’s has a significant chocolate inventory. Their chocolate bars range from ultra local Taza and Somerville chocolate, to imported European brands like Neuhaus and Milkboy. According to the owner, the chocolates are organized by brand location—America or Europe—and then largely by type of chocolate and cacao percentage, along with the organics being clustered together. Although the spread does not emphasize any particular brand, or contain much information about the bars other than what is on the wrappers, the owner stated that her customers generally know what they are looking for. As Cardullo’s has a boutique selection, this makes sense. Finally, when questioned on popularity of various brands, the owner concluded that the best sellers were Neuhaus, Godiva, and Taza. The chocolate selection at Cardullo’s captures a dichotomy in the consumption of chocolates—at a given price level, consumers seem to have to choose between haute patisserie and equitably sourced chocolate. In examining the differences between these chocolates, the factors underlying their price emerge from the mission of the brand and the intended audience.
I will spend the discussion on the most expensive chocolate brands, as this is where the most distinct differences between brands reveal themselves. At one of the highest price points of fifteen to twenty dollars, three choice categories emerge, providing a slight wrinkle on the dichotomy previously suggested but not invalidating it. First, there is the option of a small Taza chocolate assortment; second, a bar of Chocolate Bonnat; and third, a box of Godiva assorted chocolates. The Taza chocolate is visibly advertised as “Made in Massachusetts,” organic, and practicing direct trade. The Bonnat chocolate bars are more minimalist—their brand name occupies most of the bar’s cover, along with the silhouette of a cathedral in the background and the origin of the chocolate in smaller letters. The Godiva stands out gold and shimmery, with an oversized ribbon draped across. Thus, at this price point I would distinguish Taza as occupying the role of equitably sourced chocolate whereas Bonnat and Godiva share the spot of haute patisserie. What separates them, however, proves largely to be volume of product, but underlying that—and not immediately visible to the consumer—lies the truth that Chocolate Bonnat truly embodies the role of haute patisserie whereas Godiva does so mainly in appearance.
Taza chocolate commands a high price point because of the extreme care it takes in crafting its product with ethical concerns in mind, paired with a consumer base willing to pay a premium to support fair relationships with farmers and suppliers and to support organic agriculture.
Taza’s flagship program is the Direct Trade Certification. Taza Direct Trade, as outlined in the first page of the above Transparency Report, eliminates middlemen that would even be found in supposedly equitable programs such as Fair Trade. Taza directly purchases from select Certified USDA Organic and non-GMO cacao farmers, who “ensure fair and humane work practices.” Additionally, Taza pays at least $500 above market price for cacao, which equates to a 15-20% premium—much higher than the around 4% premiums given to Fair Trade farmers (Sylla, 2014). It is for this reason, along with Taza’s traditional methods of chocolate production at their Somerville factory, that Taza chocolate bars sell at a high price point. On the other side, however, are the consumers willing to pay for an equitable product. Some argue that companies touting fair trade are benefitting from consumers’ desire to feel good about themselves, and that, as Professor Martin notes, feel that “food as material culture can be consumed as a way to reflect one’s knowledge, worldliness and morality” (Sampeck & Martin, 2015, p.55). This can be problematic: for example, researcher Ndongo Sylla has stated, “Fair Trade is but the most recent example of another sophisticated ‘scam’ by the ‘invisible hand’ of the free market” (Sylla, 2014, p. 18). What Sylla argues is that the ‘invisible hand’ of the market indicated to suppliers that demand for equitably sourced product existed. So, certifications such as Fair Trade cropped up and companies changed their marketing strategies. But, Sylla thinks, these certifications and companies have not actually made a tangible change in shifting profit to farmers or bettering the living situations of impoverished suppliers; rather, they simply increase profit to companies. Taza’s Transparency Report proves an exception to this claim.
Although Taza chocolate is undoubtedly high quality, it does not (yet) occupy a niche filled primarily by European chocolatiers, confectioners, and chocolate makers. Though the word “haute patisserie” generally translates to a bakery that sells fancy products, when applied to chocolate, it refers to a product crafted with perfectionist attention to detail, extremely controlled ingredients and process, generally small batches, and a well defined desired effect, such as the notes of taste and smell and visual appeal (Eber & Williams, 2012). One could also instead use the more general designation, “haute cuisine.” Chocolate Bonnat epitomizes these qualities, with a price per bar to reflect it (Sampeck & Martin, 2015).
In fact, Bonnat has been at the forefront of a movement towards high quality, artisanal chocolates—in 1983, Bonnat pioneered the single-origin bar, with bars made from beans from one location only–see above multimedia link. Bonnat’s emphasis on taste provides results: for the past three years, Bonnat has won upwards of 5 gold and silver medals at the International Chocolate Awards (see below multimedia link for specific categories).
What jumps out in comparison between the Bonnat and Taza bars themselves, however, is that Bonnat displays no information about the nature of its cacao sourcing, other than the location. One might find it surprising not to see “USDA Certified Organic” or “Fair Trade Certified” emblazoned upon such an expensive product. This, however, emphasizes the difference between haute patisserie product and an equitably sourced one: Bonnat seeks to sell to a consumer focused on the prime gustatory experience, whereas Taza markets to a consumer who values supporting equitable trade. In investigating Bonnat’s sourcing practices, it appears that they practice some sort of direct trade, sourcing cacao beans from meticulously researched farming outfits. This makes sense, because Bonnat looks expressly for the highest quality product and for specific varieties of cacao bean, and as such is intimately involved in the purchase of their cacao. As Professor Martin notes in a paper on chocolate in Europe, actions of “haute cuisine” artisans “reflected a return to interest in terroir, or the sense of a place, in chocolate” (Sampeck & Martin, 2015, p.53). According to Bonnat’s mission statements in the above multimedia link, Bonnat spends five months a year exploring the world for just the right beans, and seeing as they move their sourcing frequently, perhaps a Fair Trade or Organic certification would not be the right fit. As such, Bonnat avoids to a degree the fetishization of fairly sourced goods talked about in the Taza case, where consumers want to make a statement about their own morality instead of actively caring about societal problems (Sampeck & Martin, 2015). Even though the cacao beans that Bonnat selects are probably farmed with organic techniques, it is important to note that Bonnat does not advertise as such, rather placing their strategy in the consumer’s desire for an intricate and curated product. Such demand has not existed long, however: anthropologist Susan Terrio writes, “In 1988 it would have been difficult to predict that French chocolatiers and their products would become, in the words of one well-informed Parisian observer, ‘un phenomene de societe,’ a societal phenomenon” (Terrio, 2000, p. 3). Since then, chocolate has become one of the high staples of gastronomic art and artisanal exposition, and Bonnat remains one of the paragons of this trend.
Though the artisanal chocolate wave began more recently, Europe—especially Belgium and Switzerland—have long been associated with the best chocolate and confectionary production (Terrio, 2000). As such, older and larger European chocolate companies have benefited from the elevation of chocolate in the international gastronomic stage, even if they do not practice the same meticulous craft as smaller producers. An example of such a company carried by Cardullo’s is Godiva Chocolatier, a Belgian company that has been operating since 1926 that makes both chocolate and confections. Godiva dwarfs both Taza and Bonnat in size, and its revenue numbers in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
At Cardullo’s one can by a box of eight Godiva chocolates for the equivalent of one bar of Chocolate Bonnat or a grouping of Taza disks. Whereas with Taza and Bonnat one can see the reasons underlying high prices—equitable sourcing and artisanal product, respectively, along with the use of fine grade chocolate—determining the pricing for Godiva presents a few more intricacies. As a large company, Godiva likely uses bulk grade chocolate, and while in the above multimedia link the company makes allusion to direct trade practices, without any certifications such claims do not mean much. Most of Godiva’s cost probably comes from the perceived notion of Belgian chocolate as superior and chique, even though its high-volume product does not reflect the values of “haute cuisine” products like Chocolate Bonnat. Godiva does not have any organic or fair trade certifications, which tend to contribute to a higher cost product. Rather, much of Godiva’s product is in the delivery and visuals: the fancy boxes and presentation make Godiva chocolate a good gift. While one cannot be sure as to how Godiva’s actions support unfair labor in cacao producing countries without some sort of transparency report like Taza provides, Godiva does claim to donate money to certain charities. In this way, Godiva indirectly supports sustainable practices, though the extent to which they donate is not shown.
The charities of note in the above multimedia link are the World Cocoa Foundation and the Cocoa Horizons Foundation. Though neither are certifying organizations, they appear to donate towards more sustainable cocoa growing practices and the building of infrastructure in impoverished agricultural areas. What worries me, however, is the fact that the World Cocoa Foundation claims to represent over 80% of cocoa production—as discussed in class, such large organizations are problematic for several reasons (see below link for WCF facts).
First of all, they promote inefficiency in being so large, and siphon significant proportions of the money meant towards charity as middle men operating costs. Second, such large organizations promote unionized or centrally organized farming operations, which hurt single growers. Third, in representing such a significant proportion of the industry, the WCF may end up catering to the wills of its donors, and end up helping large chocolate companies more than the farmers it is intended to aid. Finally, such a broadly defined charity may have trouble targeting the very individual problems affecting cocoa production, namely forced labor in smaller outfits, which a more direct company-producer relationship like Taza has would do more to prevent (Leissle, 2013).
Although price is often thought of an indicator of quality, in the search for the perfect chocolate product at Cardullo’s we see that price reflects a compilation of unique and diverse factors. These factors, in delving deeper into the companies represented, seem to sift out into two categories. In one category, high price results from a product that is equitably sourced, certified organic, supports locals, and is generally socially conscious, like Taza. In the other category, high price results from a status of haute cuisine, either real or implied. In the case of Bonnat, the haute cuisine designation results from an artisanal and small batch product with high production costs and time, verified by awards and pedigree. In the case of Godiva, the haute cuisine designation comes from reputation and mental image of Belgian chocolate being high quality, along with physical presentation of the product.
In exploring the price distinctions further, one could surmise that an element of social conscience is present in both cases. In the first, by purchasing Taza, one is socially conscious regarding the company and producers. In the second, by purchasing Bonnat or Godiva, one is more socially conscious regarding oneself—i.e. desiring the best tasting product or a product that designates oneself as conscious of haute cuisine. Thus, the simple proposition of purchasing a bar of chocolate at Cardullo’s metamorphoses into an introspection on the underlying motive for ones purchase, both individual and social.
Healy, K. (2001). Llamas, weavings, and organic chocolate: Multicultural grassroots development in the Andes and Amazon of Bolivia. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press.
Leissle, K. (2013). Invisible West Africa. Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture,13(3), 22-31.
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
Sylla, N. S., & Leye, D. C. (2014). The fair trade scandal: Marketing poverty to benefit the rich. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press.
Terrio, S. J. (2000). Crafting the culture and history of French chocolate. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Whitmore, Alex, et al. (2015). “Taza Transparency Report.”
Williams, P., & Eber, J. (2012). Raising the bar: The future of fine chocolate. Vancouver: Wilmor Pub.
Fair trade is a system in which companies pay fair prices to producers in developing countries. As the nonprofit organization Fair Trade USA explains: “Fair Trade goods are just that. Fair. From far-away farms to your shopping cart, products that bear our logo come from farmers and workers who are justly compensated. We help farmers in developing countries build sustainable businesses that positively influence their communities. We’re a nonprofit, but we don’t do charity. Instead, we teach disadvantaged communities how to use the free market to their advantage. With Fair Trade USA, the money you spend on day-to-day goods can improve an entire community’s day-to-day lives.”[i] Fair Trade USA makes some huge promises. First, the organization claims to deliver fair prices and wages, to value long-term direct trading relationships with farmers, and to help farmers build sustainable businesses. It promises to help create a workplace free from child exploitation and gender discrimination. In addition to traceable and transparent financial transactions farmers should receive higher premiums on their products. Overall, Fair Trade USA claims to teach farmers how to operate more efficiently within the supply chain. They also believe community development projects and environmental sustainability are worth an investment. The hope is that consumers will feel magnanimous by purchasing fair trade products. Unfortunately, despite magnanimous intentions, fair trade does not fulfill all of these promises.[ii]
Often fair trade makes promises that it cannot fulfill. First, little money from fair trade actually reaches the developing world.[iii] Farmers are required to shoulder the high recurring cost of certification. As a result, the system benefits independently wealthy farmers and harms non-certified farmers, who are often poor. Second, quality is a concern since there are no incentives to produce high quality beans. A fair trade certified cooperative may produce poor quality cacao and still be paid similarly to high quality certified cocoa. In addition, standards may go unmonitored. Third, marketing may be inefficient or unethical. For example, a company that is not Fair Trade USA certified could print, “This is a fairly traded product” to appeal to consumer interest. Such inaccurate techniques may mislead consumers who often cannot tell the difference between legitimate and dishonest certification. Fair trade intentions are positive, yet the chocolate industry needs more compelling and practical alternatives to fair trade.
Direct Trade is seen as an alternative to some of the fair trade certification problems that exist. Whereas Fair Trade is typified by farmer cooperatives, complicated and expensive certification, and a minor $200 premium per ton of cacao over commodity bulk price, direct trade is an alternative that removes the middleman, reduces certification bureaucracy, and pays a higher premium over commodity bulk price.[iv] Unlike fair trade, individual farms are not required to be part of a cooperative to gain certification; direct trade allows manufacturers to work directly with farmers without excess fees, dues, and surcharges. For example, Taza Chocolate, which is seen as a pioneer of direct trade, produces an annual cacao sourcing transparency report that details its values and practices. For example, Taza builds long-term sustainable relationships by physically visiting each cacao farmer at least once a year; this circumvents any middlemen. Second, Taza pays a premium of at least 500 US dollars per metric ton above the New York International Commodities Exchange price directly to farmers.[v] This is more than double the typical fair trade premium of 200 USD. Lastly, Taza only buys cacao from farmers that ensure fair and humane work practices and never engage in child or slave labor. In general, direct trade is a valuable alternative because it promotes price negotiation, incentivizes quality, and encourages direct communication between buyer and farmer.[vi]
Askinosie is a small batch bean-to-bar chocolate factory located in Springfield, Missouri that focuses on direct trade and community development. The company’s founder Shawn Askinosie sources their cocoa beans directly from farmers around the world, has them shipped to the United States, and then makes and sells that chocolate around the world.[vii] Beans are central to the product, so “dealing directly with these farmers, and paying them directly, and having some influence how they harvest the beans is very important to our process and to our mission.”[viii] As Askinosie explains in the company mission statement, “We at Askinosie Chocolate exist to craft exceptional chocolate while serving our farmers, our customers, our neighborhood, and one another, striving in all we do to leave whatever part of the world we touch better for the encounter.”[ix] As a former criminal defense attorney, Shawn says that he finds directly trading and importing beans and sharing profits with farmers to be his biggest yet most rewarding challenge yet.[x] Overall, a commitment to community lies at the heart of Askinosie’s mission statement.
Direct trade practices can eliminate the complicated and costly elements of fair trade certification. Fair trade requires farmers to organize themselves into a cooperative, to pay a fee to the fair trade certifying body to conduct a survey, and to complete paperwork and pay a large fee to become fair trade certified. Farmer cooperatives shoulder the cost of certification, which often costs from $30,000 to $50,000.[xi] In the end, what fair trade delivers to a farmer cooperative is only a $200 premium above the typical $3,000 for a commodity ton of cacao.[xii] When farmers only receive $200 more per ton the cost of getting certified quickly eats into the profits brought by Fair Trade certification.[xiii] Since cooperatives often negotiate certification, which is a recurring cost, the incomes of individual farm workers rarely increase as a result of fair trade certification. Sometimes money flows back into education or medical facilities but rarely do individual farmers’ incomes increase. Thus, there is a gap between the promises made and the promises kept by fair trade. Askinosie hopes to close this gap. As the “Direct Trade” section of their website explains, Askinosie pays cocoa farmers significantly above the per-ton Fair Trade market price for their cocoa beans and also profit shares with farmers.[xiv] “On top of that, we also profit share with these farmers. At the end of the selling cycle, which also happens to be the time to inspect the new crop, we visit the farmers and pay them directly. Because we also do not use a broker, this is just another example of removing layers of middlemen. With our model, it’s just us and the farmers. This way, we both have more control and the farmers make more money.”[xv] Shawn personally interacts with suppliers like an Uwate cocoa farmers group in Tenende, Tanzania.[xvi] For Askinosie farmers are an essential “piece of the puzzle” that should be honored as “experts and craftsmen” and partners in their business.[xvii]
Askinosie focuses on high quality beans in order to produce award-winning chocolate that people love and recognize as a superior product. “Cocoa bean quality must be perfect and meet our standards for sourcing. The farmers adhere to our very detailed specifications, not those of a broker.”[xviii] Since only two ingredients go into their chocolate—organic cocoa beans and organic sugar—high quality beans are paramount. Askinosie is selective and takes the opportunity to reject defective beans at the farm. Conscious cultivation is also important, since their farmers sign a contract that asserts they are committed to “healthful and responsible cultivation method.”[xix] Their chocolate is 100% traceable, which means the company knows the name of every farmer they work with and can trace beans directly back to those suppliers.[xx] They are a helpful, hands-on company that endeavors to help identify and solve problems before they become unmanageable. Askinosie controls the actual importation of their beans, which is almost unheard of in the chocolate world.[xxi] By sharing a percentage of their profits based on the sales of products made with beans from a specific selling cycle, farmers are incentivized to produce the highest quality cocoa beans.[xxii] In short, higher quality beans leads to more sales, which leads to a higher profit share.
As an adherent of Direct Trade, Shawn not only knows the regions from which its beans come but, more significantly, he builds “long-term and mutually supportive relationships with the farmers.”[xxiii] In his “Cocoa Origin Travelogue” Shawn Askinosie records his travels to farmer sites and comments on poverty, local community council meetings, and company projects. In Davao, Philippines he visited the Malagos Elementary School where his company initiated the Sustainable Lunch Program. In his post on San Jose Del Tambo, Ecuador, Shawn wrote that Direct Trade gave him “a perspective that buying beans from brokers would not allow.”[xxiv] Many companies market single origin chocolate, but Shawn takes the single origin concept a step further and creates bars sourced from individual farms. Askinosie chocolate bar wrappers feature the faces of individual farmers so customers realize Peter from Davao or Vitaliano from San Jose Del Tambo farmed the beans.[xxv] Fostering such close connections between grower, manufacturer, and consumer is something not all companies are willing or able to do—Askinosie is truly a direct trade innovator.
Askinosie wants their farmer partners’ communities to thrive and they aim to do this by profit sharing as well as by asking what communities need and working with them to fulfill those needs. Shawn tries to solve problems through fully sustainable community development programs in his own neighborhood in Springfield, Missouri and in impoverished communities where he buys cocoa beans. For example, in Davao, Philippines, and Kyela, Tanzania, Askinosie’s desire for community development led them to collaborate with school administrations to develop a Sustainable Lunch Program for the students, many of whom suffer from malnutrition. And the results are substantial; Askinosie has provided more than 315,000 meals sustainably since 2011.[xxvi] Shawn also personally participated in building wells to bring a village clean water.[xxvii] Clearly Askinosie is a trailblazer in direct trade and community development because, as Shawn explains, “My business is not just about making chocolate. The ‘why’ of why we’re in business is because of our participation in the neighborhood. And our chance to impact the lives of people 10,000 miles away and 100 yards away.”[xxviii] Shawn pours his heart and soul into his business. As he explains, “I don’t know what would fit so perfectly, make people happy, and would also engage young people and engage communities.”[xxix] Askinosie goes above and beyond business connections to foster personal ties with farming communities.
Askinosie connects communities through their hands-on learning program Chocolate University, which allows American students to connect with children in cocoa farming communities to experience firsthand Askinosie’s promise to Direct Trade and to community service. Shawn engages high school students from Springfield, Missouri in the Direct Trade process by offering active exercises in entrepreneurship. Students travel with Askinosie employees to meet cocoa producers and to directly participate in community projects. The American kids involved in Chocolate University are not tourists they are workers; they work to power classroom laptops, to bag rice, to form relationships with local students. Participants provided younger students in a farming community with a library filled with math, science, and English books.[xxx] Askinosie also focuses on children’s education at home; the company built a study room for homeless children at the local Hotel Missouri shelter in Springfield. These projects prove Askinosie is able to identify and fulfill community needs at home and abroad. As Martha Scott Burton, a Chocolate University Student explained, “Chocolate University has refined my perception of a truly global community.”[xxxi] Shawn agrees that the Chocolate University trip transforms, impacts, and “helps” American and African students alike.[xxxii] Through his company Shawn is able to identify and fulfill community needs both at home and abroad and to educate the next generation about direct trade practices.
Askinosie markets its product, values, and projects to consumers in a straightforward, detailed, and transparent manner. The majority of Askinosie chocolate bars go beyond sourcing from one country or region. Bars are comprised of beans sourced from one specific town and packaging often features an individual farmer. For example, the single origin 62% dark milk chocolate bar made of beans sourced directly from farmers in Davao, Philippines features Peter the farmer on its packaging. In a blog post on his Cocoa Origin Travelogue, Shawn wrote he is “honored to call Peter our farmer partner” after working together for eight years.[xxxiii] The 77% Davao Philippines bar also assures consumers that the bar is Certified Kosher product with single origin beans that eliminates the middleman and profit shares with farmers.[xxxiv] In September 2014 Shawn also discussed a profit share meeting with Vitaliano, a farmer featured on the 70% San Jose Del Tambo, Ecuador bar; they have worked together for eight years as well. The main video featured on Askinosie’s website titled “Ozark Mountain Chocolate Makers” shows close-up images of machinery, employees, and chocolate in a way that presents their process and product as meticulous, thoughtful, and excellent.[xxxv] Individual employees finish chocolate bars by hand in one facility is Springfield, Missouri. The video’s message is that the company is homegrown, unique, and luxurious yet unpretentious. Like Askinosie, Chocolatiers George Soriano and Julio Fernandez of Sibú Chocolates in Costa Rica know the story of a product is important. As George says, “We found we could really engage people by telling them we harvested and made the final product and bonbons here… You give them that and have them taste it, and then tell the story that’s attached to it—the story that’s wrapped up in that piece of chocolate.”[xxxvi] By printing the farmer’s portrait on packaging Askinosie puts the farmer’s story, town, and product front and center and offers consumers the epitome of specific, transparent marketing.
Like Askinosie, many small American manufacturers are opening their doors to packed tours of people excited to learn about where chocolate comes from, how it is made, and how to taste it. While many small manufacturers in the United States rely on gourmet shops to promote their chocolate, some are also building their success by appealing to local communities at farmers’ markets, public events, and their own stores, as well as providing factory tours.[xxxvii] Askinosie promises their tour provides a “concise education on how we make our bean-to-bar chocolate, including our ingredients and the type of equipment utilized” as well as background information concerning their Direct Trade practices, community involvement, and bean origins.[xxxviii] Theo Chocolate performs a similar factory tour in which they “entertain you with the story of cocoa” and “touch on the social and environmental issues related to cocoa and cocoa farmers.”[xxxix] Each guest leaves with a specially wrapped Theo chocolate bar as a memento, which encourages visitors to discuss the tour experience long after they leave the factory. Of course, tastings, tours, and other events are limited in how many people they reach and how much they communicate.
To complement factory tours and tastings, manufacturers of bean to bar products offer a great deal of information to consumers about their chocolate; the company website is often a valuable forum for consumer education. Manufacturers like Chocolates El Rey in Venezuela provide details on the flavor components and potential uses of their chocolates.[xl] John Kehoe of TCHO created a Flavor Wheel featuring tastes such as nutty, earthy, and floral to “help consumers understand” chocolate.[xli] Askinosie lists various recipes so consumers can learn and appreciate chocolate beyond its bar form.[xlii] As Richard Callebaut of the Swiss company Barry Callebaut said, “We put a premium on the importance of education so consumers can make the best decisions.”[xliii] In order to make thoughtful purchases, consumers should be able to understand not only a bean-to-bar company’s social responsibility efforts, but also to appreciate its superior product.
Marketing is driving many of the decisions consumers make, so “the importance of truth in marketing is paramount,” as Art Pollard of Amano Chocolate asserts.[xliv] Unfortunately, some marketing is inaccurate or misleading. As Christian Aschwanden, CEO of Felchlin says, “Marketing is sometimes more important than the flavor and quality of a product because the consumer is not in a position or doesn’t take the time to distinguish quality chocolate.”[xlv] As Steve De Vries explains, “The explosion of small manufacturers means a dizzying array” of options.[xlvi] The large selection is made more confusing because manufacturers offer a vast amount of information concerning the bean origins and their chocolate for both marketing and education purposes. This overflow of information makes it more difficult for consumers to select and differentiate between brands.[xlvii] As Joe Whinney of Theo Chocolate explains, “I can’t really think of one major brand that hasn’t made some sort of enhanced claim. So that’s also why I think transparency is important. Products have to be three-dimensional in terms of the product quality, its price, and value proposition, and the impact that it is having on the community and the rest of the world. That’s where the future is.”[xlviii] Transparency is important because companies have a responsibility to educate their consumer, who relies on company marketing to inform purchasing decisions. Although Askinosie does not publish a detailed transparency report like Taza, Askinosie fulfills its responsibility to consumers by providing other marketing information in their online shop such as tasting notes, awards and accolades, and product certification. Although companies are responsible for providing correct information, it is ultimately up to the consumer to educate himself to accurately interpret product labels.
I argue that chocolate is a product consumers should actively—not passively—consume. Postconsumers.com, a “national brand without profit” that endeavors to help society move beyond addictive consumerism, claims to “advocate mindful consumption based on each person’s core values, rather than an endless quest for stuff.”[xlix] In a detailed 2015 post that explained Fair Trade Chocolate Postconsumers.com educated readers on how to recognize Fair Trade chocolate.[l] Although one may rely on a for-profit labeling and certification process like FLO-CERT (the certification and labeling division of Fair Trade International) to promise socially and environmentally sustainable practices, Postconsumers.com urges consumers to assertively go beyond certifications and conduct “a little extra research on your part.”[li] They recommend consumers scan products with the Buycott smartphone app to see the social and environmental rankings of a manufacturer and to get suggestions for alternatives.[lii] Since Direct Trade is a hugely varied system upheld by individual companies and not regulated by an overarching organization like Fair Trade International, it is especially important that consumers take time to research a company’s history and current practices. Ultimately it is the consumers’ responsibility to research a chocolate manufacturer to truly understand the manufacturer’s farming, harvesting, purchasing and manufacturing processes.
Direct trade is a positive arrangement for both manufacturer and farmer, yet direct trade is not particularly scalable. For example, Taza manages a small number of direct trade relationships but they are a small company so they cannot handle that many more. If Taza were to go out of business the farmers with whom they are trading would be left suspended and unsupported. Although the farmers could find another company there is still a lot of risk built into that relationship. Direct trade hasn’t received an overall standardization yet, which means it is practiced irregularly and it can be potentially corrupt. Askinosie appears to fulfill all of its promises regarding fair trade; the company pays above market prices for beans and supports its farming communities in new, creative ways. Still, it would be positive for Shawn Askinosie to produce a detailed Transparency Report similar to the document Taza publishes annually. Although Shawn’s blog is a user-friendly forum, an official document would be an appropriate vehicle in which to list how many tons Askinosie purchased from a farmer cooperative, how much they paid, and how farmers feel about the transaction. Despite varying standards between producers, direct trade practices promote direct communication, encourage price negotiation, and encourage and incentivize quality. Although direct trade is not particularly scalable it allows Askinosie to fulfill many of its promises to improve the financial and social development of communities.
Askinosie has served as a leader of direct and transparent trade in the chocolate industry by paying top dollar for the best beans, investing in education, spearheading community development projects, fostering personal relationships with farmers, and making high quality chocolate. Direct trade is not a cheaper, easier, or simpler way to conduct business and it carries financial risk. Askinosie looks beyond the chocolate when very few chocolate makers do and when few make an effort to be involved every step of the way. Shawn Askinosie personally opts to practice direct trade because he feels it is a moral way to conduct his business. Dealing direct “impacts the flavor of chocolate, and it brings the consumers closer to the producers,” Askinosie says.[liii] At the end of the day, Askinosie recognizes what chocolate is all about: connection. A commitment to community is at the heart of all Askinosie transactions whether financial or social. Perhaps most admirable is how Shawn uses his company to educate communities both at home and abroad. I believe consumer education is key to a thriving bean to bar chocolate trade. The conscientious consumer should be aware of all aspects of a product including the production process, the bean origin story, and flavor notes.
Albritton, Robert. “Between Obesity and Hunger: The Capitalist Food Industry.” In Food and Culture: A Reader, edited by Carole Counihan and Penny van Esterik. New York and London: Routledge, 2013.
Healy, Kevin. “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: University of Notre Dame Press, 2001.
Williams, Pam, and Jim Eber. “To Market, To Market: Craftsmanship, Customer Education, and Flavor.” In Raising the Bar: The Future of Fine Chocolate. Vancouver, BC: Wilmor Publishing Corporation, 2012.
[vi] Carla D. Martin, “Alternative Trade and Virtuous Localization/Globalization,” Class lecture, Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food from Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, 8 April 2015, PowerPoint slide 15.
[xxxv] “Ozark Mountain Chocolate Makers,” YouTube video, 1:21, posted by Askinosie Chocolate, June 30, 2014.
[xxxvi] Pam Williams and Jim Eber, “To Market, To Market: Craftsmanship, Customer Education, and Flavor,” In Raising the Bar: The Future of Fine Chocolate (Vancouver, BC: Wilmor Publishing Corporation, 2012), 155.
Over the course of the semester, I’ve found myself chiefly concerned with the appropriation of Indigenous cultures within the production of goods for non-Indigenous consumption. To be clear, my concern is not with the sharing of culture, taste, and economies of people across land and oceans. Rather, the dilemma with chocolate exists in the historical institution of slavery and continued poor labor conditions ingrained in its industry, as well as the present appropriation of culture evident specifically in craft or artisanal chocolate and its advertisements. In order to observe how this subtle, and sometimes not-so-subtle, appropriation of culture interacts with the modern day consumer, I decided to host a chocolate tasting party and record the social and individual responses. I found that, regardless of the individual’s personal connection, chocolate served to highlight the importance of food both as culture and as shared community in their connection to sense memory; additionally, the chocolate tasting also revealed how food reflects the transformation of culture in displaced communities that have experienced forced assimilation and adaptation.
As this class knows by now, the theobromine cacao tree originates from the equatorial region, primarily within 20 degrees north and south of the equator (Presilla 8), that encapsulates modern-day Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America. From this magnificent tree, the Indigenous peoples from the region were able to use cacao from the pods that grew on the theobromine’s trunk to produce chocolate. You might be thinking, “So what? Some Indians figured out how to make chocolate products.” We’re not talking about a discovery of plant use and food product within the last hundred years; we’re talking about the use of a plant to make chocolate products by, at least, 300 B.C., which dates chocolate production and consumption by more than 2,500 years. Anthropologists and researchers have found that the Olmec civilization (1200 B.C. to 300 B.C.), from the southeast coastal area of what is now Mexico, were most likely the first peoples to regularly use cacao for commerce, food, and religion. (Coe and Coe, Fash, Presilla). The Maya, who wielded great influence throughout the region from about 250 A.D. to 900 A.D., learned much about cacao from the Olmecs and continued to rely on it for their commerce, short and long distance trade, ceremony, and food. Their connection to cacao and chocolate is well-documented via burial chambers, pottery (including pottery from Chaco Canyon in the southwest U.S.), glyphs, and stories that survived European invasion and colonialism. (Presilla, Fash)
The Aztecs (more accurately known as the Triple Alliance) who politically and militarily dominated much of present-day Mexico at the time of Spanish arrival, intensified the reliance on cacao as an economy, using it for actual currency and building a highly stratified system wealth around cacao. The evidence is clear: cacao and chocolate predates European contact with the America, and was deeply embedded in the lives of Indigenous peoples throughout the Americas for their consumption, economies, and ceremonies.
When the Spanish arrived, they quickly gleaned that cacao was highly valued within Indigenous society. Ever interested in political, religious, and economic dominance, Europeans quickly organized to control over the region and, in particular, cacao. In Bernardino de Sahagun’s “Historia general de las cosas de nueva España,” chocolate was observed to be grown at a large scale, used as money, and, under Aztec leadership, was limited for consumption by only nobility and those who were granted permission. (Presilla)
More accounts would be written and documented: the 1544 presentation of chocolate to Prince Phillip by a delegation of Kekchi Maya nobles; the first large shipment of cacao from Veracruz to Seville in 1585; an English traveler, E. Veryard, and his account of the production of chocolate; and the general, widespread European fascination and inclusion of chocolate across its courts, medicine, art, and social settings. (Coe and Coe) Europeans encountered chocolate in a big way; they fell hard for chocolate and “sought to re-create the Indigenous chocolate experience.” (Norton 1) In fact, Presilla writes that “within fifty or sixty years, the [habit of drinking chocolate] had spread to France, Italy, England, and most parts of Europe.” (24) Of course, this intense spread of chocolate was powered by the trading and brutalization of Indigenous and African peoples in the transatlantic slave trade. (Mintz) Although the chapter on slavery and colonization in chocolate’s history is critical, I have previously written on it and will continue to focus this paper on the exploration of appropriation.
Chocolate, like any other food, is an edible heritage, a tangible thing that we can savor, smell, bond over, learn from, and have deep feelings about. (Mintz) It is a vehicle through which we can remember the past and create a future. People all over the world have tied their well-being, income, and sense of community to it. Today, the craft chocolate industry has seemingly awakened from a long history of unethical practices, and is creating space within the industry to produce goods in a sustainable way and to employ fair labor practices. While this is a welcome shift in paradigm, this ethical or fair trade and organic chocolate movement has brought with it an inclination toward “Aztec” or “Mayan” chocolate making. At best, chocolate makers are paying homage to Indigenous traditions, and, at worst, they are appropriating Indigenous culture for capital, as has been common practice since Europe encountered the Americas. To explore this problem of appropriation, I conducted a chocolate tasting with some friends. The following chocolates were sampled:
Cadbury’s Royal Dark;
Nirvana’s Aztec Chocolate;
Hershey’s Milk Chocolate;
Ritter Sport Milk Chocolate with Hazelnuts;
Chuao’s Spicy Mayan Chocolate;
Three Taza Chocolates from their Chocolate Mexicano sampler pack (specifically, Pura Cacao, Cinnamon, and Guajillo Chili).
The four people surveyed covered a range of tastes and habits around the consumption of chocolate:
Person 1 stated that they did not care for chocolate;
Person 2 said they prefer 80% dark and fair trade chocolates;
Person 3 said they love chocolate and crave it often;
Person 4 consumes chocolate a few times a week, mostly as the sweetener to their coffee.
Each person saw the chocolate and the packaging before sampling. As they ate, I asked them to be cognizant of the feel or snap of the chocolate, the smell, the texture, the taste, and after taste of the chocolates.
Though they had clear instructions to analyze the flavors, textures, and smells they experienced, my tasters were more eager to talk about how the chocolate made them feel. Amidst all of the mmm’s and ew’s, one of the more interesting responses was from a Native American female from White Earth, Minnesota, whose favorite chocolates were the Ritter Sport and the Nirvana. Here is her response:
“[The Ritter Sport] reminds me of home, and growing up on my father’s reservation, harvesting hazelnuts. I didn’t realize how expensive they were until I arrived here [Cambridge] and had to buy them for the first time. They grow naturally in White Earth, and in where I went to high school on the Lac du Flambeau reservation. Every August, usually in the second week, the hazelnut trees (which look more like overgrown bushes) start getting ready to drop the clusters. That’s when you want to grab them, when the leaves covering them have turned from green to brown, but before they drop to the ground. My father and I would take these giant burlap sacs and go and fill them up; my favorite spot by the refuge has almost an entire acre of them. It’s a hassle to harvest them, and most of the time we leave them raw in their shells in order to savor them until next year’s harvest.
I also liked the Mayan chocolate for much the same reason–I grew up with the flavors. My mom is a spice nut, so if something isn’t spicy it’s not in our house. She says it’s from going to boarding school in New Mexico and having to learn how to cook with what you’re given out there. We still have relatives who live in the Southwest and ship us ingredients on the regular.”
When prompted to comment on the fact that the spicy Mayan chocolates were not, in fact, made by Mayans, a chorus of “UGH” ensued. One Native American male commented that hearing that didn’t surprise him and that the clothing industry appropriates Native American culture often. Another taster, a Mexican-Native American female said, “I love the flavor of this chocolate, and that I can go buy this whenever I’m in the mood for spicy chocolate, but I do wish that it was actually Mayan chocolate.” I mentioned that Taza chocolates are also not Mexican made and that the factory is right down the street. The fourth taster responded, “It doesn’t bother me that they are White-owned, but I do wish they gave back to community that they got this product, or method of chocolate making, from. Like, don’t appropriate, please. Native people are still around.”
While I didn’t observe the overwhelming negative reactions to instances of appropriation as I expected, I did observe how ingrained issues of identity are in our every lives. They may not be explicit in their connection, from a broader perspective, but these instances reveal some of the long-standing effects of interactions between communities and their cultures. For instance, the woman from White Earth preferred, over all others, the chocolate with hazelnuts, as it took her home, in her mind, to a place that is deeply involved with long-standing traditions around harvesting nuts. Maybe my findings point more to issues of being directly involved with one’s culture versus being a product of a multicultural environment. Or perhaps at this day and age, we’ve become so comfortable with cross-cultural exchange that we are not always mindful of which products are Indigenous modeled instead of Indigenous made. We might also be so inundated with examples of cultural appropriation, that having to identify whether or not our foods are examples of appropriation would make it impossible to feel comfortable or at ease in our own neighborhoods. Either way, in my ideal world, the craft chocolate or bean-to-bar companies would do more to serve the Indigenous communities that remain connected to this delectable food and culture that we seem to love.
Author’s note: If I were to do this again, I would want to shift perspective and explore the preconceptions and misconceptions of chocolate in connection to Indigenous roots and Latin-American usage. I would also use more than just chocolate bars, and incorporate foods like traditionally made mole and pozol!
Fash, William. Entry on the Maya. Moctezuma’s Mexico: Then and Now Course Reader.
Mintz, Sidney Wilfred. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York: Penguin Books, 1986. Kindle Version
Norton, Marcy. “Tasting Empire: Chocolate and the European Internalization of Mesoamerican Aesthetics” American Historical Review: The Oxford Journal, 2006. Online. Accessed March 17, 2014
Presilla, Maricel E. The New Taste of Chocolate Revised: A cultural and Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. New York: Ten Speed Press, 2009. Print
TAZA, with emphasis on the TAZA, is a one of a kind bean to bar chocolate company that offers stone ground chocolate. Taza is utterly different from chocolate such as Hershey or Cadbury because of the texture, which is quite grainy. The unique texture is not for everyone and takes some getting used to. Alex Whitmore, the founder of Taza chocolate discovered the stone ground chocolate while traveling in Oaxaca, Mexico and loved it so much that he wanted the taste to exist back home in the Boston area. He started a factory in Somerville, Massachusetts that is now a thriving company selling an assortment of Taza chocolate flavors and sizes and providing bean to bar process group tours. According to the Taza website, Taza has six core values that coincide with their mission: 1. Keep The Bean In The Bar; 2. Innovate And Be Adventurous; 3. Trust In Teamwork; 4. Act With Respect; 5. Be Excellent And Never Stop Improving; 6. Waste Not. (Taza web) As a blog poster that has been on the tour at Taza, I can attest that the company believes it is critical to keep their chocolate organic, their production clean and simple, and their waste not wasted. A successful bean to bar company succeeds by not only creatively and consistently producing a great product, but by also keeping their employees well informed and happy, and ensuring their consumers know exactly what is in their products.
There are three main components I will focus on in regards to how Taza’s principles and choices have impacted and advanced the cacao to chocolate making process. The first is direct trade, the second is ensuring no involvement with enslavement, and the third is the desire to keep their two main ingredients simple and pure.
Direct trade is very much like it sounds, a direct trade between the company interested in purchasing the product and the farmer making the product. Direct trade is a tremendous way to achieve company growth as you’re proving to your customers that you care about the treatment and lives of the farmers. The farmers are an essential part of the development between bean to bar and many huge organizations such as Hershey, Cadbury and Nestle are not direct trade as they do not find this value a priority. Taza chocolate is proud to be a direct trade establishment with a list of five direct trade principles on their website, and while explaining how Taza would not make chocolate without farmers, they include this statement: “That is why we are committed to maintaining direct relationships with our cacao farmers and compensating them fairly for the high quality cacao they produce. We’re also committed to partnering only with cacao farmers who respect the rights of workers and the environment.” (Taza web) Direct trade products are often more expensive but many feel satisfied buying direct trade as a portion of the money spent on the product ensures that the direct trade agreement says in tact for the farmer and company. The latter part of the statement above is a nice way to move to the next component, this bean to bar company is against any form of enslavement and wants their farmers to be comfortable with their environment.
Anyone reading this blog is likely already aware that child and adult enslavement is widely apparent in West Africa and a huge problem with the production of chocolate. Slavery on cacao plantations is commonly occurring inside the production of bigger chocolate companies, not the bean to bar companies more concerned with direct and fair trade. The Food Revolution Network confirms that Taza chocolate is a company that only uses cacao that has definitely not been produced with child labor. (FRN web) West Africa takes up the majority of where cacao comes from, nearly 70%. Though it is still a significant problem in the cacao to chocolate supply chain, many companies do not allow enslavement in their production and make efforts to travel to locations where their cacao comes from to ensure the lack of enslavement. Although some companies care about this value, there are many that do not and there are even organizations within West Africa determined to expose the people interested in putting a stop to enslavement on cacao plantations. According to the Food Empowerment Project, “In recent years, a handful of organizations and journalists have exposed the widespread use of child labor, and in some cases slavery, on cocoa farms in Western Africa. Since then, the industry has become increasingly secretive, making it difficult for reporters to not only access farms where human rights violations still occur, but to then disseminate this information to the public.” (FEP web) The point that it has become increasingly hard for cases of slavery to be exposed is frightening but true. There are often not enough company resources for research, time, and investigation. With direct trade and the lack of enslavement as viable reasons why Taza’s business practices are helping with positive growth and advancement, there is another component that is critical in the cacao to chocolate supply chain and that is the importance of using two simple and pure ingredients.
Simple Ingredients: Single Origin Cacao and Raw Cane Sugar
Taza chocolate is made primarily with two simple and smart ingredients: single origin cacao and raw cane sugar. Single origin cacao is essentially just as it sounds; the cacao is from a single origin location. Raw cane sugar is defined as the sucrose obtained from the sugar cane and it is often perceived as being more healthy than the regular white sugar we all know so well. In fact, according to an article on Mother Jones, raw sugar is no better for you than refined sugar,”White sugar is obtained by refining the sugarcane crystals to remove the molasses (and with that, trace nutrients), some nutritionists believe that the small amount of micro-nutrients retained in Sugar In The Raw® provides advantages over refined white sugar”. There is in fact no proof that raw cane sugar is more healthy than regular refined sugar. Taza loyally uses these two ingredients for several reasons: to improve and sustain the quality of the chocolate, to continue making a product without additives that is gluten and dairy free, and to ensure their chocolate is efficiently made and cost effective.
I knew I wanted to write about Taza as I was impressed with how knowledgeable the staff was of the products and the chocolate making process from bean to bar. It takes strong leadership to ensure that employees are not only well informed of the products and mission of the company, but that they are happy and feel that they are contributors to the growth and advancement of the company. What you immediately feel at Taza is this sense of care and value to produce something that matters. It’s apparent that bean to bar chocolate companies struggle to stay afloat as they are smaller than companies like Hershey or Nestle, and they require more time and energy from an often small and over-worked staff. Bean to bar companies are often built on important factors and values such as being direct trade, organic, dairy free and/or gluten free, no GMO, using only single origin cacao, and more. With these values comes cost and patience, therefor these companies are often paying a lot more to ensure their chocolate is a product they are proud of. I have learned throughout this semester that it’s imperative to buy chocolate that is prepared as naturally as possible and from companies that care about the outcome of the product and all that goes into the product such as the farmers health and happiness, the origins where the cacao comes from, and the importance of remaining true to core principles and the company mission. A company that cares to ensure direct trade products, rejects all forms of enslavement and makes efforts against child and adult slavery on cacao plantations, and sticks with solid and simple ingredients like single origin cacao and raw cane sugar, is a company I want to support. Yes, the bean to bar chocolate bars often cost more than a Hershey’s chocolate bar, but the difference between buying Hershey’s vs. Taza, the customer buying Taza should feel good about their money going to the greater good of chocolate making production. I choose to support companies like Taza and I think you should too.
In a world of increasingly globalized supply chains, considering the origins of the products that we use every day can be a daunting task. Economist Pietra Rivoli’s renowned book The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy follows the production processes for different components of a standard t-shirt across the nations in which they are produced, discussing the labor conditions, history, and current economic situation in each locale. Rivoli recounts efforts by manufacturers to cut production costs along every step, from harvesting materials to manufacture and even resale. Yet, she arrives at a somewhat surprising conclusion – despite the relatively dismal conditions under which some workers labor, “she asserts that their jobs were a little better than other available options (usually farm work) and, what’s more, that textile factories led to advances in industrialization and, just as dependably, in living standards” (Lowenstein, 2005). This leads to a somewhat befuddling moral quandary – should we be willing to accept global jobs that provide significant relative benefit to the employees, even if the working conditions are poor on an absolute scale?
Unfortunately, Rivoli’s findings are by no means limited to the textile industry. Globally, the cacao industry employs millions of farmers in impoverished areas that are less-than-satisfied with their line of work, even if it’s necessary for their subsistence; as noted in class, “less than one-quarter of cocoa farmers would recommend that their children go into farming” (see Lecture 15, slide 9). However, despite the wishes of their parents, many children do not have a choice – the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) reported from a study began in 2001 that more than one million West African children work on family cacao farms (and thousands more children working on farms without family ties), with “most children [stating] that they came to work because factors out of their control – such as family poverty” (Toler et al. 1).
Of course, numerous solutions have been devised to mitigate this problem. Perhaps the most notable program that works to improve labor conditions on farms is Fair Trade, “a global trade model and certification [that] allows shoppers to quickly identify products that were produced in an ethical manner” (see “What is Fair Trade?”). Toler et al. describe Fair Trade as “a proven solution to the child labor crisis because it guarantees farmers a stable living wage, prohibits abusive child labor and forced labor, and requires independent monitoring of farms each year” in addition to ensuring environmentally responsible practices are enacted (Toler et al. 4). Fair Trade manifests its benefits for both producers and consumers: the farmers and their families see quality of life improvements from receiving higher wages, while chocolate consumers enjoy a higher quality product that comes with the moral satisfaction of having helped afford a better life for farmers that are less well-off. The appeals of the program have certainly gained traction in recent years; as seen below, Fair Trade certified product sales have risen tremendously from 1998-2011, increasing from just a few millions of pounds cumulatively to 250 million pounds annually.
As with any proposed solution to an ethical problem, there are numerous criticisms of Fair Trade. Some argue that Fair Trade neglects the poorest growers, or that it attracts lower quality product since prices can be made artificially high; another argument holds that the prohibitive costs of certification prevent some from participating and heavily reduce profit margins for some participants (Wydick, “10 Reasons Fair-Trade Coffee Doesn’t Work”). On the consumer side, a popular criticism is that the moral satisfaction consumers may gain from buying Fair Trade products affords a false sense of having “done good,” while failing to tackle or even appreciate the actual problem of widespread poverty that remains prevalent. Fair Trade is in vogue, and is on the rise – but is it effective? Perhaps just as importantly, are people aware of it and what it means for producers?
One of the themes of the course by which I was most engaged this semester was that of food as an inherently social object, the need for and consumption of which necessarily affects our social lives (see: Objectives 4 and 7, Lecture 5). The notion of food as a social bonding tool is by no means new; William Robertson Smith wrote in his 1889 foundational anthropological work The Religion of the Semites that “the very act of eating and drinking with a man was a symbol and a confirmation of fellowship and mutual social obligations” (Robertson 269). Sidney Mintz acknowledges this viewpoint in Sweetness and Power, expressing his belief that “the connections between food and kinship, or food and social groups, take radically different forms in modern life. Yet surely food and eating have not lost their affective significance” (Mintz 5). In keeping with this concept, I wanted to use this ethnographic project as an opportunity to bring people together over eating food and a shared interest in exploring and discussing chocolate while still diving into the complex ethical issues we tackled in the second half of the course. Accordingly, I asked several friends and roommates of various backgrounds to join me in consuming chocolate bars from different origins and talking about the differing conditions that may have factored into their production.
Logistically, I and five friends spent an hour on Friday, 5/1 trying three different chocolate bars and conversing about the practices behind the chocolate’s production and how that relates to the global cacao industry today. To contextualize the findings from our discussion, I will first briefly provide details on each chocolate bar and the values and practices of the company behind it.
The flagship company for ethical business practices discussed in this class has been Taza Chocolate, a chocolate manufacturer based locally in Somerville, MA. Taza prides themselves on making “stone ground, organic chocolate” that features the cacao as the centerpiece of the experience rather than the sugary sweetness of most modern chocolate. Notably, Taza sources Direct Trade Certified cacao, which is often thought of as going a step beyond Fair Trade in terms of ethics – it strives to build lasting relationships with organic cacao farms and farmers, paying premium prices over the accepted price for high-quality organic beans and ensuring fair labor practices (see “Taza Chocolate Direct Trade Certified Cacao”). In this sense, Taza is likely to be perceived as the “most ethical” of the three companies. The bar used for this tasting was a “Cacao Nib Crunch” bar with 80% dark stone ground chocolate, pictured below, purchased for $6.99.
The second bar came from Equal Exchange, a food producer and seller that deals exclusively in fairly traded products. They define their mission as being “to build long-term trade partnerships that are economically just and environmentally sound, to foster mutually beneficial relationships between farmers and consumers and to demonstrate, through our success, the contribution of worker cooperatives and Fair Trade to a more equitable, democratic and sustainable world” (see “Equal Exchange – About).
The company’s website also lists a variety of their farmer partners for sourcing cacao, providing detailed information about each cooperative, their relationship with Equal Exchange, and how cooperative farming and Fair Trade relationships have tangibly benefited the worker (see “Equal Exchange – Chocolate and Cocoa”). They adhere very strictly to the notion of Fair Trade, hoping to serve as a representative success story that could inspire others to participate. Given this, Equal Exchange is the “second most ethical” of the three companies used in this tasting. The below-pictured $5.99 Organic Very Dark Chocolate with 71% cacao content sourced from cooperatives in the Dominican Republic and Peru was selected for this study to keep with the dark chocolate theme of the Taza bar.
The final bar requires less explanation, and will be more familiar to most consumers – a standard Hershey’s milk chocolate bar, one of the most iconic bars around the world. Unfortunately, the source of the cacao used in the production of this chocolate bar is less transparent than the other countries, so the exact labor practices are less well-known; however, Hershey’s has received criticism in the past for permitting poor labor practices and conditions on West African farms from which they source cocoa (Baird et al. 1). As such, it was considered the “least ethical” of the bars and companies.
Having laid out the bars used, I will list a few of the questions used to motivate discussion. Although I did not restrict the discussion to a more linear format, the conversation flowed nicely and moved around topically without much difficulty.
How much do you know about labor practices in the cacao industry?
Have you heard of Fair Trade? If so, what are its implications, and do you think it’s a good program? How about Direct Trade?
Which of the chocolate bars do you most prefer and why?
What would you expect each bar to cost?
Do you consider ethics when purchasing products in general? What about chocolate specifically?
The discussion was extremely productive, with everyone participating substantially and me serving as a moderator without trying to guide their opinions or experience. The favorite chocolate bar of the five participants was the standard Hershey bar, closely followed by the Equal Exchange bar. The Taza bar was too “gritty” and unrefined feeling for most of the participants, who also found it to be extremely bitter compared to the taste they were used to and did not enjoy the taste of the cacao nibs. The Equal Exchange bar was also found to be bitter, but not relative to the Taza bar, and it had a smoother texture. The Hershey bar was described almost unanimously as “familiar” and “what I’m used to” by the tasters, which gave it the edge over the craft bars. The average predicted price for the Hershey bar was understandably accurate, but the participants expected the Equal Exchange bar to cost $8.00 on average rather than the $5.99 that it cost; similarly, the predicted average price for the Taza bar was $8.60, whereas it only cost $6.99 in reality. The differential between actual and expected prices reveals that the participants held some incorrect conceptions about the price of “craft” or luxury chocolates. This has interesting societal implications in that it suggests the average consumer may associate “unique” or nonstandard chocolates with an even higher price point than they achieve in reality, which may distance more cost-conscious buyers.
However, the interesting results of the discussion extend far beyond those inferred from price differentials. Much of the talk centered on ethical cocoa production and the responsibility of consumers and sellers in this process. After some discussion, the participants agreed that relatively well-off Western consumers have some moral responsibility to purchase ethically-produced chocolate (assuming they have the means to do so), but identified two key problems. First, one participant noted that he and one other participant were not especially aware of Fair Trade practices before the discussion, and suggested that education of consumers about alternatives may be one logistic barrier to popularizing ethically-produced products that exists right now. Additionally, another person pointed out that sourcing and scaling up Fair Trade products takes time, and that supply has to rise before demand in order for the products to remain affordable and attractive. I found these to be reasonable concerns, but shared the consensus opinion that Fair Trade was overall a step in the right direction – even if it does not go as far as Direct Trade certification, it is better than sourcing and consuming uncertified cacao.
A fascinating discussion on how global expectations of chocolate have changed ensued when trying to assess why the Hershey bar was most favored. One theory is that because it was perceived as more familiar, it matched their expectations about how chocolate should taste sweet and feel smooth. As Mintz discusses, the constant and steady addition of more sugar to the diet of the modern consumer has colored expectations for the taste of different foods. The role of marketing in establishing expectations of sweetness for customers was also briefly discussed, which included mention of the sugar industry’s bankrolling of studies in the late 20th century as we learned in class.
One potential bias in the conversation’s demographic was that not many of the participants regularly consume chocolate that they have purchased for their own personal enjoyment due at least in part to being on fairly restrictive college budgets. Anecdotally, all five other people agreed that they ate free chocolate treats at events or on special occasions more frequently than they purchased them for themselves. As such, the views of the participants may not be reflective of those of the average chocolate consumer in the U.S.
Overall, it proved to be an incredibly informative discussion with important conclusions. Despite the general consensus that relatively well-off Western consumers have some ethical obligation to purchase Fair Trade chocolate when possible, most consumers do not seem to do so as a result of cultural conceptions of chocolate as sweet as well as somewhat-misguided affordability concerns due to the association between “different” chocolate and expensive chocolate. This demonstrates that we must work as a society to break cultural conceptions of chocolate as necessarily being sweet before organic and Fair Trade production practices become favored. While this is a broad goal, the steps of tackling consumer education and establishing more Fair Trade and Direct Trade farms are meaningful first efforts.
Baird, Harper, Nicole Guevara, Aleksander Karpechenko, O. C. Ferrell, and Linda Ferrell. “The Hershey Company and West African Cocoa Communities.” The Hershey Company and West African Cocoa Communities (2012): 1-10. Web. 6 May 2015. <http://danielsethics.mgt.unm.edu/pdf/Hershey%20Case.pdf>.
It is interesting, and often undervalued, what factors go into the decision-making process when consumers buy chocolate. Although it is often a subconscious process, a typical chocolate consumer unknowingly takes many elements into account before purchasing a chocolate bar. Undoubtedly, factors such as price comparisons, taste and ingredients, consumer preferences, and reputation of chocolate companies play a dominant role in these decisions. This partially explains how companies like the Big 5 have been so successful in integrating their products into many populations. These companies pride themselves in creating brand loyalty, or a “cradle to grave” attitude among consumers (Martin, Lecture 12). This was evident in Hershey’s attempt to become the iconic American chocolate by aligning their advertisements with American values (Martin, Lecture 12). Furthermore, they have been able to maximize profits by diminishing production costs, allowing them to sell their products at a lower price. As a result, these companies and their products have become globalized and they are all known to have a reputation of producing easily accessible, affordable chocolate.
However, a growing concern in the chocolate industry surrounds the cacao-chocolate supply chain and emphasizing the necessity for ‘ethically based cacao’ (Barrientos, 2006). This term applies to a broad range of topics including environment sustainability, fair treatment of cacao farmers, and direct contact with workers (Barrientos, 2006). These concerns arose mainly from speculations of unfair treatment of workers and exploitation of children in West African cacao regions, such as Ghana and Cote D’Ivoire (Martin, Lecture 15). In response, various certifications have arisen that attempt to motivate chocolate companies to engage in these efforts. The three main ones are organic, fair trade, and direct trade certifications. Fair trade and direct trade certifications are similar in that they both address fair treatment and pay of farmers (Barrientos, 2006). However, some argue that direct trade is a better alternative to fair trade as it addresses many of the critiques associated with fair trade. Organic certification, on the other hand, stipulates that produce has to have been grown without the use of pesticides or other fertilizers (Martin, Lecture 18).
There are now multiple chocolate companies that make a conscious effort to obtain these certifications. They identify themselves as ‘ethically sourced’ and attempt to target consumers who wish to purchase chocolate that not only tastes good, but also is ethically produced (Barrientos, 2006). However, one of the main problems with these companies is that their products are often more expensive since their production costs are higher and they are paying a premium to farmers (Martin, Lecture 18). Furthermore, there has been some controversy over the certifications themselves and whether there is accountability in some of their promises (Martin, Lecture 18). This raises some interesting questions: are consumers thinking about these issues when they make purchasing decisions? What are the tradeoffs between cost and ethics? And most importantly, what influences consumers to choose ethically sourced chocolate bars over other chocolate bars?
The challenges associated with motivating consumers to buy ethically sourced chocolate is a major barrier that companies face when producing certified chocolate bars. In order to make an impact in relation to the cacao-chocolate supply chain, the consumer has to be willing to purchase the products. The efforts of fair and direct trade chocolate companies don’t summate to anything if no one is purchasing their products. If one were to turn to the success of the Big 5 chocolate companies, they have attracted consumers primarily through advertising and marketing strategies. Since direct trade chocolate companies have additional barriers, such as inflated costs, marketing their products is even more critical to their success. As such, I would argue that the sole placement of the term ‘ethically sourced’ on a chocolate bar is not sufficient to sway the typical chocolate consumer to buy their products over a ‘more affordable’ option. Instead, these companies need to both focus on ethically based initiatives and also enable a way to connect with consumers to establish the same brand loyalty that is seen among the Big 5 chocolate companies. Thus, when it comes to influencing consumer decisions, the most impactful companies will be able to both prioritize direct trade relationships over profits as well as find an effective way to advertise their brand to appeal to the general consumer.
The importance of advertising can be assessed by closely examining a direct trade chocolate company, and gauging its overall impact on both the main issues of fair trade and of gaining consumer interest. If these two components are addressed, direct trade chocolate companies will be more successful and influential overall.
Taza Chocolate Factory is situated in Somerville, MA and was founded in 2005 by Alex Whitmore (“TAZA chocolate”, 2012). Taza chocolate-makers pride themselves in producing “stone ground, organic chocolate” (“TAZA chocolate”, 2012). From the beginning, Taza’s mission was “to make and share stone ground chocolate that is seriously good and fair for all” (“TAZA chocolate”, 2012).
The process of making Taza chocolate is relatively unique compared to other US companies. First, they use solely organic products and aim to include as few ingredients as possible. This is meant to enhance the flavors of cacao as well as promote environment sustainability (“TAZA chocolate”, 2012). Their chocolate is also unconched, giving it a grainy/course texture. This is interesting as most chocolate these days undergoes a conching process, so this aspect creates a distinctive tasting experience for consumers.
Taza chocolate was the first in the USA to establish direct trade certification. They have partnered with La Red Guaconejo, a cooperative of cacao farmers that is based in the Dominican Republic (“TAZA chocolate”, 2012). They pay a premium to these farmers upon the sale of cacao beans and make an effort to visit these cacao farms at least once per year. In order to ensure accountability, Taza chocolate produces a transparency report once a year that provides a detailed account of their impact on the cacao industry (“TAZA chocolate”, 2012). This report is highly visual and makes it easy for consumers to understand.
Some of the more valuable components of these reports are the pictures of Taza workers with the cacao farmers. These pictures really emphasize Taza’s direct relationship with cacao farmers and presents the farmers as valuable members of their business. Since the challenges associated with cacao farming are often ignored or not revealed to consumers, these pictures provide meaningful insight to a crucial element of the chocolate-making process.
As indicated, Taza chocolate claims to be ethically sourced in two respects. First, they claim to only use organic ingredients in their recipes and second, they are direct trade certified. What makes Taza chocolate stand out, however, is their high accountability and transparency to consumers, which builds a reputation in the product. While Taza’s efforts address some of the cacao-supply chain issues, the problem of attaining consumer interest still remains.
There has certainly been more interest in buying ethically sourced products. As Low and colleagues (2005) state, fair trade sales are continually growing and it is evolving to become more mainstream. They describe this shift as an ethical consumer movement, where the consumer has the ability to create positive change by choosing one good over another (Low & Davenport, 2005). Given this rise in popularity, they emphasize the importance of building fair trade brands and marketing their products to consumers (Low & Davenport, 2005). On average, a typical consumer spends about 4 seconds examining a shelf before making a purchasing decision (Low & Davenport, 2005). In this time, they are likely not considering the details of each company, but rather choosing products based on the labels and taste preferences.
While people enjoy the idea of being an ethical consumer, they are not always willing to incur the additional costs associated with it. An average Taza chocolate bar sells for about $7.50, whereas a regular-sized Hershey’s bar sells for about $1.00 (“TAZA Chocolate”, 2012; “The Hershey’s Company”, n.d.). This is a significant gap between prices. This means that there has to be additional incentives to purchase fair trade chocolate. As such, in order to compete with the sales of the Big 5 companies, fair trade companies like Taza need to be able to effectively advertise their products to the public.
If we look to the success of companies like Hershey’s, it has become such an iconic brand in the USA because they are able to align themselves with mainstream values. This is commonly displayed in their advertisements as they integrate elements of taste and pleasure to create a sense of desire among consumers. That way, consumers are primed to crave Hershey’s chocolate before they even step into the store.
For example, in their S’mores Around The Campfire commercial, it takes a popular social gathering and makes it seem more appealing with the addition of a Hershey’s chocolate bar.
The ad features adults and children, all smiling, and sitting around a campfire enjoying a s’more that is made complete with a Hershey bar. It plays on elements of taste by capturing people biting into the s’more as well as showing close up shots of the construction of the s’more. Even though it’s only a 15 second clip, it builds an association with a pleasurable event that consumers can draw on when making purchasing decisions.
If fair trade chocolate companies could integrate similar marketing strategies, consumers could build positive associations with the product, which would ultimately increase the likelihood of buying their products. As of now, Taza chocolate company does market their brand in some respects. They have online videos that are meant to increase brand awareness and make consumers aware of their story.
These videos are targeted toward the ethical consumer and are meant primarily to be educational. In the first video, the viewer is taken through a brief story of the creation of Taza chocolate. This video is interesting as there is no script, just festive music playing in the background.
The second video, on the other hand, focuses on children and educates them on the processes that go into making the chocolate. Both these videos were likely created with the intention of raising awareness and maintaining their image of transparency.
However, both these videos lack the psychological elements that implicitly draw consumers to chocolate. David Benton (2004) states that the consumption and craving for chocolate is highly psychological. Eating chocolate is a very emotional process and is often craved due to its association with mood elevation (Benton, 2004). Given this knowledge, it seems as though the implementation of psychological elements in advertising is necessary to attract a wide consumer-base.
In sum, the increase in direct trade initiatives is positively impacting the cacao-supply chain in numerous ways. Companies, such as Taza Chocolate, have been able to generate more interest in ethically sourced cacao and sustain relationships with their cacao-supplying nations. However, while fair trade companies excel at portraying these efforts to consumers, they lack in their ability to directly relate and incentivize their brands over others. Since marketing and advertising has a tremendous effect on consumer purchasing decisions, improving in this area would likely lessen the discrepancy in profits between the Big 5 chocolate companies and fair trade companies. Thus, the ability to influence consumer decisions plays a big role in the success of chocolate companies, and is an area that is lacking in the fair trade industry.
Barrientos, S. (2006). Transformation of Global Food: Opportunities and Challenges for Fair and Ethical Trade. In Ethical sourcing in the global food system. Sterling, VA: Earthscan.
Benton, D. (2004). The Biology and Psychology of Chocolate Craving. Nutrition, Brain and Behavior, 205-218.