HOW A SMALL COMPANY
IS MAKING A BIG DIFFERENCE
In its origins, cacao relied heavily on the slave trade to fuel its ever-increasing demand (Martin, 2018). Despite the abolition of slavery in the mid 19th century, the modern day chocolate industry is still riddled with inherent ethical issues. In response to the persistent pervasiveness of injustices within the industry’s process, bean-to-bar brands have proliferated as a potential solution with a commitment to both the ethicality and culinary aspects of chocolate production; Taza Chocolate in Somerville, Massachusetts typifies one of these companies striving to produce delicious chocolate through ethical practices and a high degree of production transparency. Founded in 2005 by Alex Whitmore and Kathleen Fulton, Taza Chocolate produces “stone ground chocolate that is seriously good and fair for all” (Taza, 2017). Taza acts as an all-around ethical, socially-conscious and purpose-driven business.
Taza’s company culture is driven by its founder, who prior to opening his own company “apprenticed with Mexican molineros, learning their ancient chocolate-making secrets” (Taza, 2017). Taza offers an easy application process opening up more opportunities in making an effort to get natives from the countries that it sources its cacao from involved in its business processes.
Taza, meaning “cup” in Spanish, is reminiscent of the way Aztecs ritualistically consumed chocolate in liquid form using specially designed cups or vessels for this purpose (Coe, 1996). A nod to its rich history is also found in its design and packaging displaying a cacao pod and its signature mold in the form of the Mexican millstone, a stone that is traditionally used to grind chocolate.
“Taza founder Alex Whitmore took his first bite of stone ground chocolate while traveling in Oaxaca, Mexico. He was so inspired by the rustic intensity that he decided to create a chocolate factory back home in Somerville, MA. Alex apprenticed under a molinero in Oaxaca to learn how to hand-carve granite mill stones to make a new kind of American chocolate that is simply crafted, but seriously good. In 2005, he officially launched Taza with his wife, Kathleen Fulton, who is the Taza Brand Manager and designed all of the packaging.
Taza is a pioneer in ethical cacao sourcing. We were the first U.S. chocolate maker to establish a third-party certified Direct Trade Cacao Certification program. We maintain direct relationships with our cacao farmers and pay a premium above the Fair Trade price for their cacao. We partner only with cacao producers who respect the rights of workers and the environment.” (Taza, 2017)
THE CHOCOLATE SUPPLY CHAIN
BUYING AND SELLING CACAO
Millions of hands spanning multiple continents are responsible for the production of the key ingredient in this beloved treat, but most consumers don’t have a sense of the complex intricacies of the supply chains involved in chocolate and the economic realities of the farmers who grow the crop.
The chocolate supply chain begins with the cultivation of cacao pods. After cacao cultivation, the pods are harvested and the seeds and pulp are separated from the pod. The cacao seeds are fermented and dried before being sorted, bagged, and transported to chocolate manufacturers. The cacao beans undergo roasting, husking, grinding, and pressing before the product undergoes a process called “conching,” in which the final flavors develop (Martin, 2018). Differences in the execution of each step influence the ultimate taste and consistency of the chocolate product.
Today, approximately two million independent family farms in West Africa produce the vast majority of cacao. Each farm, between five to ten acres in size, collectively produce more than three million metric tons of cacao per year (Martin, 2018). While some of the farms grow crops like oil palm, maize, and plantains, to supplement their income, the average daily income of a typical Ghanaian cacao farmers is well under $2 per day.
The commercial process of purchasing cacao usually involves the farmers selling to intermediaries, who subsequently sell to exporters or additional intermediaries. With each middle-man adding their own profit layers, the supply chain lengthens as well the opportunity for the corruption and exploitation of the growers and farmers.
In response to the social and economic injustices associated with the cacao supply chain, various organizations have been established with the common mission of improving ethical and corporate responsibility of global cacao practices. Many of these organizations have established criteria for certifications with the goal of enticing companies to comply with specified ethical requirements in exchange for public acknowledgement for doing so.
“Fair Trade,” a designation granted by the nonprofit of the same name, stands out as a recognizable stamp on many shelf-brands. Self-defined as an organization which “enables sustainable development and community empowerment by cultivating a more equitable global trade model that benefits farmers, workers, consumers, industry and the earth,” Fair Trade certifies transactions between U.S. companies and their international suppliers to guarantee farmers making Fair Trade certified goods receive fair wages, work in safe environments, and receive benefits to support their communities (“Fair Trade USA,” 2017).
Yet, while in theory Fair Trade seems to address many issues the cacao farmers face, critics of the certification point out there exists a lack of evidence of significant impact, a failure to monitor Fair Trade standards, and an increased allowance of non-Trade ingredients in Fair Trade products (Nolan, Sekulovic, & Rao 2014). So, while in theory certifications like Fair Trade offer the potential to improve the cacao-supply chain by ensuring those companies who subscribe to the certification meet certain criteria, the rigor and regulation of the criteria remains heavily debated.
FAIRER THAN FAIR-TRADE
BEAN-TO-BAR AND DIRECT TRADE
In contrast to Fair Trade, an alternative type of product sourcing that is growing in popularity and reputation is that of Direct Trade. Different from the traditional supply chain process, ‘bean-to-bar’ companies offer this as a potential solution for the injustices in the cacao industry. By cutting out the middle-men and working directly with cacao farmers, these small chocolate companies commit themselves to the highest ethical standards and quality (Shute 2013). The goal is that this bean-to-bar “pipeline will make for more ethical, sustainable production in an industry with a long history of exploitation” (Shute, 2013).
While providing some oversight on ethical practices, Fair Trade’s supervisory capacity does little to create a relationship between the farmers and the ultimate producers or to eliminate extraneous intermediaries diluting profit from both parties. Additionally, achieving a Fair Trade certification costs between $8,000 and $10,000, whereas Direct Trade costs the chocolate bar producer nothing.
This direct connection, allows the buyer and farmer to communicate fair prices, ensuring that the cacao farmers receive fair wages, working conditions, and support (Zusman, 2016). Furthermore, the transparency associated with the bean-to-bar process motivates the companies to keep up to date on ethical practices, and encourages the cacao farmers to take extra care the cultivation of their beans.
Taza sources its cacao from its “Grower Partners” in the Dominican Republic, Bolivia, and Haiti. Taza provides a detailed profile for each of its cacao producers which features information including the country region, number of farmers, duration of partnership, tasting notes which contribute to the terroir of their chocolate, history of the region, and pictures of the farmers with Taza employees. The thorough information Taza provides truly puts faces to the names of the farmers and displays Taza’s direct and personal engagement with their cacao producers.
THE TAZA DIFFERENCE
TRANSPARENCY AND DIRECT-TRADE SOURCING
Alex Whitmore, an innovator of the bean-to-bar movement founded Taza with a commitment to “simply crafted, but seriously good chocolate,” and as “a pioneer in ethical cacao sourcing” (Organic Stone Ground Chocolate for Bold Flavor, 2017).
The mission of Taza Chocolate is “To make and share stone ground chocolate that is seriously good and fair for all” (Taza, 2017). In the dual parts of their mission: “seriously good” and “fair for all”, Taza has become a leader in using the quality and ethicality of their products to empower and respect those often overlooked workers at the very front of the supply chain. Looking first at quality, Taza has seen success as a maker of “seriously good” chocolate (Taza, 2017). Their products are now available all over the country and internationally, in specialty, natural and gift stores. Fine restaurants have used Taza Chocolate in their kitchens and numerous major food publications have featured the company. But these are just outward indicators of what goes on behind the scenes. For one thing, their “seriously good” chocolate seeks to remain true to its cacao origins and acknowledge where it comes from through proper and authentic taste. While other chocolate makers may do as they please to conform to the tastes of the consumer masses, Taza Chocolate caters to the genuine recipes and processes of the geography and culture within which it was conceived.
In addition to publishing their Direct Trade Program Commitments, Taza provides access to their transparency report, cacao sourcing videos, and their sustainable organic sugar. Seemingly, Taza exemplifies the archetype bean-to-bar company.
Taza chocolate products carry five certifications to ensure safe labor practices as well as organic ingredients, whose integrity is guaranteed by having their “five Direct Trade claims independently verified each year by Quality Certification Services, a USDA-accredited organic certifier based in Gainesville, Florida” (Taza, 2017).
“Taza is big on ethical cacao sourcing, and is the first U.S. chocolate maker to establish a third-party certified Direct Trade Cacao Certification program, meaning, you maintain direct relationships with your cacao farmers and pay a premium above the Fair Trade price for their cacao.” (Taza, 2017)
In its Transparency Report displayed below, Taza even discloses what it pays for its cacao beans.
Bean-to-bar chocolate companies appear to be a viable potential solution, albeit slow and on a more micro level, to addressing the issues in the cacao-chocolate supply. Because currently the consumer base does not seem to possess a critical awareness of different certifications, the bean-to-bar companies must continue to pioneer more moral standards until enough customers catch up and until demand forces the bigger chocolate vendors to take a similar approach. Until then, tackling the exploitation embedded in the cacao-supply chain falls exclusively on the shoulders of the chocolatiers equally loyal to both chocolate and social responsibility.
Taza Chocolate is undoubtedly making large efforts to be a part of the solution rather than a part of the problem. Rather than allowing consumers to blindly focus on the end product of the chocolate itself, Taza encourages consumers to acknowledge the environment and culture from which the chocolate originates. Often forgotten farmers and food artisans are brought to the forefront instead of being relegated to the archives of unseen histories. Indeed, Taza gives growers “an alternative to producing low quality cacao for unsustainable wages” (Taza, 2017). Taza’s operations may still be in its nascent stages, but it is exciting to see even a small company lead the entire chocolate industry towards a more ethical and sustainable future.
Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1996. Print.
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Martin, Carla. “Modern Day Slavery.” Lecture, Chocolate Lecture, Cambridge, March 22, 2017.
Martin, Carla. “Alternative Trade and Virtuous Localization/Globalization.” Lecture, Chocolate Lecture, Cambridge, April 04, 2017.
Martin, Carla. “Slavery, Abolition, and Forced Labor.” Lecture, Chocolate Lecture, Cambridge, March 01, 2017.
Nolan, Markham, Dusan Sekulovic, and Sara Rao. “The Fair Trade Shell Game.” Vocativ. Vocativ, 16 Apr. 2014. Web. 03 May 2017.
“Organic Stone Ground Chocolate for Bold Flavor.” Taza Chocolate. N.p., 2015. Web. 08 May. 2018. <https://www.tazachocolate.com/>.
Shute, Nancy. “Bean-To-Bar Chocolate Makers Dare To Bare How It’s Done.” NPR. NPR, 14 Feb. 2013. Web. 03 May 2017.
Taza Chocolate. “Sourcing for Impact in Haiti.” Vimeo. Taza Chocolate, 03 May 2017. Web. 03 May 2017. Video
Zusman, Michael C. “What It Really Takes to Make Artisan Chocolate.” Eater. N.p., 11 Feb. 2016. Web. 03 May 2017.
Taza Chocolate. (2018) Header Image
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Chocolatenoise.com (2018). “Whitmore with farmers”
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Chocolatenoise.com (2018). “Rotary stone”
Taza, Chocolate. (2018). “Direct trade”
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