The purpose of my chocolate tasting was to see whether the attendees could discern between the four various categories for the sourcing and materialization of chocolate as discussed in class and the readings: (1) Direct Trade, (2) Fair Trade, (3) Organic, and (4) Industrialized. Because much of Chocolate class was about the social, anthropological, and economic impacts of and differences between each of these chocolate types, I thought this would be an excellent theme to my tasting that brings historical, socioeconomic, and taste-related views.
Figure 1. The fancy invitations I used to invite 7 participants to my tasting.
Figure 2. The participants of my chocolate tasting.
Types of Chocolate in the Tasting
(1) Direct Trade There are four general types of chocolate (based on its production processes) that we have learned in Chocolate class. The first is Direct Trade, also known as bean-to-bar chocolate, as these companies have control of its manufacturing process from growing and harvesting of the cacao bean all the way to its packaging and selling into a bar. Direct Trade chocolate is usually a chocolate company that directly deals with farmers. There’s a bit of variation in its manufacturing processes, but this leaves more room for negotiation from the different chocolate companies. Direct Trade companies may place environmental and labor factors into consideration, but not to as far of an extent as other chocolate types such as Fair Trade. In Direct Trade, there is less regulation because it is assumed that there is maximum control between the cacao harvesters, manufacturers, and packagers of the chocolate product. However, the very direct control of these Direct Trade chocolate companies costs a high premium, making their products quite expensive. Because of the rarity of a chocolate company having complete control of an entire chocolate farm, which is usually located outside of the U.S., solely for their company, the quantity of Direct Trade producers which exists is very low.
(2) Fair Trade The second category of chocolates presented was the Fair Trade chocolate type. These mass-produced confections are intended to guarantee a consistent smell and taste, achieved through rigorous oversight and a careful blending of cacao. According to Michael D’Antonio of Hershey: Milton S. Hershey’s Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams, using liquid condensed milk instead of the powdered milk that the Swiss favored, Schmalbach’s mixture was easier to move through various processes: “…it could be pumped, channeled, and poured — and it required less time for smoothing and grinding. Hershey would be able to make milk chocolate faster, and therefore cheaper, than the Europeans” (D’Antonio 2006: 108). With techniques like these that were melded again and again by Hershey a century ago, efficiency of methods for the mass-production and -distribution of chocolate was possible. However, these efficient industrialized methods definitely compromise the ethics of labor, environmentalism, and health-focuses of these chocolates.
(3) Organic The third type of chocolate that is explored in this tasting is Organic chocolate. Organic chocolates place an emphasis on health and the environment. They do not use pesticides, and because it places such a large, conscious emphasis on these issues, there is a loss of yield that occurs in terms of its production and consumption. These chocolate products also tend to be extremely expensive, for there is usually a rearrangement premium placed on their price tag. Additionally, although organic chocolate products focus on health-related and environmental issues, there is no standard for the laborers of its production. Organic chocolate products must also all undergo certification, and usually the bars themselves are sold in small proportions.
(4) Industrialized The final category of chocolates which were presented during the tasting was Industrialized chocolate. Fair Trade chocolates emphasize the moral ethics of the chocolate production. They prioritize producing ethical, labor-regulated goods, and for this reason they also weigh between ingredient and product. These products also require a certification by one or more of the various Fair Trade certification companies. These groups usually require a type of price threshold, which makes this type of chocolate a little bit more expensive. Fair Trade chocolates also take the environment into account, although oftentimes not as much as Organic chocolates do. Fair Trade chocolates also focus on community development.
Figure 3. The advertising and packaging used for each of the four chocolates used in my tasting.
(1) Direct Trade:
Taza Chocolate, Seriously Dark, 87% Cacao, Organic Dark Chocolate
Observations of Packaging:
Easy-to-read font that pops out
(2) Fair Trade:
Seattle Chocolate, Pike Place Espresso, Dark Chocolate Truffle Bar with Decaf Espresso
Observations of Packaging:
“Rainy coffeehouse hipster”
Cloudy color scheme (not as bright)
Lake Champlain Chocolates, Cacao Nibs & Dark Chocolate, 80% Cocoa
Observations of Packaging:
“Typical coffee colors”
Compromise between adult- and kid-themed packaging (could theoretically work for either audience)
Cadbury, Royal Dark, Dark Chocolate
Observations of Packaging:
“Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”
“Here There Will Be No Unhappiness.” Hershey Milton S. Hershey’s Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams, by Michael D D’Antonio, Simon & Schuster, 2006, pp. 106–126.
26 minutes walk from Harvard’s Emerson Hall lies a seemingly nondescript 5-story red brick building. This is Taza Chocolate, a chocolate manufacturer founded in 2005 that now reaches 2800 retail stores across the United States (Taryn et al.) and 10 countries across the globe (Taza Tour Guide). Taza prides itself on its “minimally processed” bean-to-bar stoneground dark chocolate, but even more so, it prides itself on challenging the issues which plague the chocolate industry today, from ethical sourcing and recognition of local culture to appropriate advertising (“Taza Direct Trade”). Throughout this multimedia essay, we will trace cacao from the bean picked in the cocoa belt to the finished product as it enters consumers’ mouths; in doing so, I hope to examine Taza as an alternative to the historically problematic practices continued by modern chocolate industry.
The problematic origins of cacao production trace back to the earliest commercial farms, where the Spanish crown’s Encomienda system enabled colonists to abuse local populations as a “labor supply, while avoiding the penalties of slaving” under the guise of Christianization and protection (Simpson). Five centuries later, the worst of cacao production still remains in the form of child trafficking and slavery: “If you work slow or refuse to work, they will beat you,” reports a former child slave in a Cote D’Ivoire plantation (The Dark Side of Chocolate (2010). In an interview with Carol Off, Malian civil servant Abdoulaye Macko recalls some of the horrific conditions on West African cacao farms: “The farmers, or their supervisors, were working the young people almost to death,” continuously perpetuated by “organized groups of smugglers [who] deliver children to their cocoa groves… Cote d’Ivoire police were being bribed to look the other way.” (Off) Macko’s reports reveal the pervasive nature of child slavery in Africa—as we will see, not only is it difficult to uproot due to political corruption but also because of cacao farmers’ dependence on it given financial burdens.
While child slavery may be unethical, for many farmers, it
is the best option given the widespread poverty faced by cocoa farmers. Cacao’s
price, for example, fluctuated by almost 20% between February and May of 2019
on the British market (GmbH).
This is further exacerbated by the skewed distribution of the profits from
chocolate: while retailers and supermarkets receive almost 50% of the profits,
farmers receive the smallest share, a meager 3%, in part because local cocoa
buyers serve as middlemen and can keep local prices low. Thus, for both farm
laborers and farm owners, income is “neither guaranteed nor generally
especially since the majority of income from cacao primarily comes from the
six-month growing season. This especially poses a burden for farm owners, who
must budget their earning stringently as well as fund the upcoming harvest—as a
result, farmers have often fallen into high-interest debts, akin to debt
bondage faced by farmers in the 19th century (Coe and Coe). While an end must come to child labor and other
unethical business practices, we must also bear in mind the repercussions and
economic burdens faced by farmers.
How does Taza combat
“We are chocolate pioneers,” Taza proudly declares, on its “Direct Trade” webpage (“Taza Direct Trade”). And as bold as this claim may be, it does have merit: Taza has developed the “chocolate industry’s first third-party certified Direct Trade cacao sourcing program, to ensure quality and transparency for all,” modeled after the Counterculture direct trade program for coffee (Leissle) (Taza Tour Guide). For Taza, this sourcing program consists of five commitments, meant to ensure high quality cacao while ensuring fair compensation for farmers and fair practices, regulated and verified by Quality Certification Services, a Florida-based USDA-accredited certifier (“Taza Direct Trade”):
Commitment 1: Develop Direct Relationships with Cacao Farmers
In its 2017 Partner Report and 2018 Transparency Report, Taza documents its “face-to-face relationships” (“2018 Transparency Report”) and transactions with its partners in Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and Ghana, circumventing predatory middlemen and abusive labor practices. Furthermore, Taza provides profiles on these farmers, whether a family group in the Dominican Republic (“Partner Profile”) or a female-led network of organic-certified farmers in Bolivia (“Partner Profile”). As a result, Taza enables transparency by ensuring “no step of the trade exchange, from farm to factory, [is] unknown or untraceable” (Leissle); this enables Taza to guarantee fair labor and accountability that larger companies and certifications cannot (The Dark Side of Chocolate (2010)).
Commitment 2: Pay a Price Premium to Cacao Producers
Taza pays 300$ per metric ton more than the Fair Trade Premium, which is itself already 200$ per metric ton over the NYICE market price (Taza Tour Guide) and sets a price floor of 2800$. Because of Taza’s Direct Trade relationship with farmer groups, Taza ensures this money reaches individual farmers and farming groups rather than middlemen or other intermediaries. This fairer and more predictable pricing alleviates financial burdens on farmers and improves standard of living.
Commitment 3: Source the Highest Quality Cacao Beans
addition to annual visits with partners who meet Taza’s standards of 75%
fermentation rate or more and dried to 7% moisture or less, Taza employees
ensure high quality cacao beansthrough regularly recorded results of Taza Chocolate
Cocoa Bean Quality Evaluation.
Taza’s Director of Cocoa Sourcing, Jesse Last, documents his searches and identification of organically certified farms throughout the Americas, Africa, and Asia. Taza also provides USDA Organic certification documentation from participating farmers. While these certifications do not guarantee absolute quality or abstinence from synthetic pesticide and hormone usage, they go a long way to ensuring quality and worker safety, especially from many of the harmful chemicals used in other farms (Taza Tour Guide).
Commitment 5: Publish an Annual Transparency Report
Taza publishes an annual cacao sourcing transparency report detailing relationship with partners. This not only empowers consumers by providing them with information and awareness about chocolate sourcing but also allows for fair, sustainable sourcing to be adapted by other chocolate makers; indeed, Taza’s model of transparency and standard operating procedures have developed by or shared with other chocolate makers including Dandelion Chocolate, Askinosie Chocolate, and Madécasse Chocolate (“Taza Direct Trade”).
Furthermore, Taza’s Direct Trade Program enables the exchange of farming techniques and sales tactics to empower farmers. Taza has also supported farmer education in recent pairing with the ABOCFA, a Ghanan farmer association and cacao supplier that aims to support both farmer financial literacy and as well as children’s education by combatting child labor and promoting child well-being in cocoa growing communities (“Sourcing Season”). Locally, Taza also partners with local organizations, such as the The Possible Project, a Cambridge-based youth entrepreneurship program designed to train and provide opportunities for high school students seeking to become entrepreneurs (“Taza Partners With The Possible Project”).
Advertising and Culture
Advertising throughout the history of chocolate production has often been highly racialized or gendered. For example, the Rowntree advertisement above is highly problematic; its portrayal of the black “mammy” caricature and usage of African vernacular English disregard the cruel conditions Africans face in producing cacao and instead present them as simple, genial house-warming figures—this latter portrayal also recalls the dynamic of females as domesticated and sweet housewives. Other companies, meanwhile, have turned to chocolate’s origins to sell their products. The Glee Gum Organic DIY Chocolate Kit, below, chooses to focus on the origins of cacao as an advertising tactic. Even as this product offers to educate its consumers on chocolate production (it includes sample cacao beans, contains a pamphlet on the “story of chocolate,” and offers to educate users on the tempering process), Glee Gum’s usage of stereotypical Mesoamerican dress, monuments, and food exploit and oversimplify chocolate’s origins.
In contrast, Taza focuses on spreading the information of chocolate origins and productions, rather than capitalizing on and exploiting them. In conjunction with its transparency report, Taza also focuses on sharing its information, through its website, public tours, and direct advertising of grinding techniques and cacao sources. Taza’s public tours detail the chocolate making process as well as practices and sourcing unique to Taza. And even Taza’s products prove informative to their consumers: Taza Single Origin Bars promote awareness about the country of origin for cacao, while other Taza products advertise that granite millstone grinding and the Oaxacan origins of stone ground chocolate. In this way, Taza’s chocolates promote consumer awareness of sourcing and production methods—in doing so, Taza empowers consumers to consider the origins of the cacao in the chocolate they consume and to be cognizant of those who rely on cacao production for a living, starting at the very beginning of the chain with day laborers in the Dominican Republic or Ghana. As we begin to unveil the unethical practices behind our everyday goods, such as our food, becoming informed enables us to support and promote sustainable and ethical products worldwide.
But what do consumers think?
“I feel like chocolate coats your mouth… but this is a more refreshing burst of flavor,” one tourgoer responded after tasting a sample of Taza’s 50% cinnamon chocolate. Most others in the small tour group I accompanied agreed, commenting on the bold flavors of cinnamon, cacao, and sugar, as well as the sensual aspect of the tasting. Yet Taza is not for everyone: “It’s bitter and gritty,” reported a younger tourgoer, upon tasting a 85% dark sample. Indeed, Taza’s target audience is not the same as is for more commercialized chocolates. Surprisingly, Taza’s best seller tends to be its Wicked Dark Brand—buyers seeking the health benefits of cacao aim for as dark of a chocolate as possible, and while larger chocolate producers produce dark chocolate bars, legally, a “dark” chocolate bar may contain as little as 35% cacao, compared to the 95% Taza puts in some of its most intense bars (Taza Tour Guide; Coe and Coe). This would suggest then that Taza’s target audience tends to consist of more informed consumers-those who are aware of the unethical sourcing of cheaper chocolates or those aware of the benefits of dark chocolate. However, Taza does also target a broader audience-the company website offers story time and scout bingo for children, and products are marketed widely enough (including a new Taza chocolate bark to be released in Costco) to reach out to less informed consumers (“2018 Transparency Report”).
However, one main barrier is pricing: Taza’s circular disks, which contain 77g of chocolate, cost upwards of $5 USD. Two Hershey’s Bars weigh almost 90g and cost 60% less. “Cacao is pricey,” the tour guide explains, and indeed, Taza does include a lot of cacao in their chocolate. But direct trade pricing also isn’t cheap, and Taza counts on its consumers willingness to compromise price for ethical sourcing. Another potential point of contention lies in the packaging: Taza’s disks are marketed as “Chocolate Mexicano,” but neither the ingredients nor the Taza owners are Mexican. “It borders on cultural appropriation,” the tour guide concedes, but the tour guide also points to the fact that founder Alex Whitmore apprenticed under an Oaxacan molinero to learn both to hand-carve granite mill stones and to grind and produce chocolate. Furthermore, Taza will eventually replace packaging to market Taza as “Mexican-style” chocolate, recognizing that its grinding techniques, but not its ingredients or founders, come from Oaxaca (Taza Tour Guide).
Finally, although Taza has set a new standard through its transparency reports, more investigative consumers might find themselves disappointed. While Taza prides itself on its Direct Trade Program, it does not report how much its individual farmers profit from Direct Trade, especially given the higher costs associated with organically-certified and ethically sourced cacao. Furthermore, while Taza supports its own farmers through Direct Trade premiums, it has the potential to take up a more active role in empowering these farmers, whether through a formal educational program or by uplifting women in the community (“2018 Transparency Report”; “Taza Direct Trade”). On the grand scale, Taza only represents one small producer in a multi-billion dollar industry that is built upon exploited labor and unethical business practices; while calling for Taza to put an end to these issues is completely unfeasible, using their platform to raise awareness could both promote ethically-sourced artisan chocolates while also supporting the call against the unethical business practices of larger chocolate manufacturers.
Ultimately, Taza represents a step in the right direction as it challenges historically problematic issues of cacao sourcing and advertisement with its innovative Direct Trade model. Taza both better provides for its producers while informing its consumers, all the meanwhile maintaining a transparent model that consumers and fellow chocolate makers alike can learn from. While Taza does have room to grow, both as an organization and in its mission as a “chocolate pioneer” for sustainable and fair chocolate, its current model is a call to action for other chocolate producers, large and small, to begin moving towards a fairer, more ethical chocolate industry.
Chocolate as a consumable commodity dates back all the way to 1500 B.C. when the Olmec civilization discovered the beans that would go on to become one of the most sought-after foods in the world. The history of the cacao industry is as rich as its products taste. However, it also possesses a dark past ― one that is rooted in grave issues, such as child labor, unfair trade, and extremely harmful side effects. As chocolate’s popularity has continued to grow in the 21st century, assisted by commercial advertisements and more widespread manufacturing, new companies are entering the market and attempting to combat the industry’s problems. While these companies tend to be smaller and produce more expensive chocolate, they provide hope for the future of the chocolate industry.
The Unsettling History of the Cacao Industry
Slavery is a historical scourge that has unfortunately played a significant role in the chocolate industry. Institutionalized slavery was widespread all throughout the global continents, from the Spanish encomienda system, where conquerors demanded tribute and forced labor from the indigenous inhabitants, to the system of chattel slavery, in which people were treated as the personal property of an owner and were bought and sold as commodities during the transatlantic slave trade (Martin, 2019). The slaves were forced to work under intense heat, sometimes for 18 hours a day, in conditions that were so extreme that the life expectancy for slaves brought to the Caribbean and Brazil was only seven to eight years upon arrival. A key example of post-abolition slave labor occurred in West Africa in São Tomé and Príncipe, a Portuguese colony that produces chocolate for the Cadbury Chocolate company. In 1905, Reporter Henry Nevinson uncovered and publicly exposed the exploitation of slaves, however, it wasn’t until a decade later that major British companies formally boycotted the cocoa (Martin, 2019). Slavery in West Africa was utterly inhumane ― people were being traded for guns and other commodities and many died on the ships before making it to their future destination (Satre, 2005)
Child labor has also been at the forefront of the immoral issues that plague the chocolate industry. Currently, 2.3 million children are working in the cocoa fields of Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire (“Slave Free Chocolate,” n.d.). Although the majority of these children are working for their family plantations, they are doing so without much choice and many without receiving an education ― in both Ghana and the Ivory Coast, 40 percent of children aged 5 to 17 cannot read or write a single sentence (Ryan, 2011). A 2007 report revealed that 15,000 children worked in conditions of forced labor picking beans in Ghana and the Ivory Coast. These individuals were trafficked from extremely poor countries, including Mali and Burkina Faso, and worked on some of the 1.5 million small cocoa farms in West Africa (Aaronson, 2007). In one case study, Carol Off calls attention to the trafficking that occurs from Mali to the Ivory Coast. These children are living in brutal, harsh conditions ― working countless hours in extremely humid heat, toiling on the farms with not even the slightest understanding of the concept of chocolate (Off, 2008). As Off notes, “Everyone looks tired and hungry” because these children are underfed and overworked (Off, 2008). She writes that, “The farmers, or their supervisors, were working the youngest people almost to death. The boys had little to eat, slept in bunkhouses that were locked during the night, and were frequently beaten. They had horrible sores on their backs and shoulders, some as a result of carrying the heavy bags of cocoa, but some likely effects of physical abuse” (Off, 2008). Despite the tireless efforts of advocates like Diplomat Abdoulaye Macko, who works against the government to try to bring hundreds of children in the Ivory Coast to safety (Off, 2008), child labor is still common worldwide and must be eliminated.
The United States has attempted to address this issue by enacting legislation that would reduce the occurrence of child labor. Under the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act of 1930, the U.S. Customs Service is supposed to refuse entry to any goods manufactured using forced labor (Aaronson, 2007). However, this government agency very rarely investigates or interdicts such products (Aaronson, 2007). While this legislative act may appear to be beneficial on paper, if it is not enforced, then it might as well not exist.
In 2001, cocoa producers, traders, suppliers, governments, unions, and civil-society groups agreed to a solution spearheaded by Congressmen Eliot Engel, who introduced a legislative amendment to fund the development of a “No child slavery” label for chocolate products sold in the United States. Tom Harkin, a Senator from Iowa, later signed on to support the amendment (Harkin Engel Protocol, n.d.). The Harkin-Engel Protocol was created to ensure that the growing and processing of cocoa beans was done in a manner that complies with the Convention concerning the Prohibition and Immediate Action for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour, which pledges to abolish child labor and adult forced labor on cocoa farms in West Africa (Harkin Engel Protocol, n.d.). The protocol was signed by the eight largest chocolate companies, two U.S. Senators, one U.S. congressman, the Ambassador to the Ivory Coast, and a few NGO and industry alliance representatives (Harkin Engel Protocol, n.d.).
Yet, five years after the protocol was passed, children were still picking cacao in unsafe and unjust conditions. In 2006, BBC reporter Humphrey Hawksley conducted an in-depth investigation of the conditions of cacao plantations in the Ivory Coast and found little evidence that industry efforts were changing longstanding farm conditions (Aaronson, 2007). He concluded, “No one is in charge of the efforts put in place under the Cocoa Protocol. There’s no place the buck stops. In the cocoa belt, it’s only a short drive to find children working with machetes amid some of the worst poverty anywhere in the world” (Aaronson, 2007). This demonstrates the ineffective nature of a sector-specific strategy in addressing the broader cultural, social, and economic factors in West Africa that are responsible for child labor.
The industry’s promise to reduce child labor in the Ivory Coast and Ghana by 70%, in response to the 2001 protocol, had not been met by the 2015 target date, so the deadline was simply extended to 2020 (“Behind a bittersweet industry,” 2016). Continuously pushing back the deadline to experience a feeling of accomplishment when met is not a viable solution when millions of West African children are still doing the dangerous and physically taxing work of harvesting cocoa. The solution lies in acting now.
Slavery and child labor are not the only issues that haunt the chocolate industry. Fair trade is a labeling initiative aimed at improving the lives of the poor in developing countries by offering better terms to producers and helping them to organize (Dragusanu, Giovannucci, & Nunn, 2014). This movement creates price levels that provide a livable wage for producers that and establishes a price floor which ensures a minimum price for which a Fair Trade-certified product can be sold to a Fair Trade buyer (Dragusanu, Giovannucci, & Nunn, 2014). With Fair Trade regulations, certain harmful chemicals are prohibited for Fair Trade production, helping to eliminate the use of less-desirable agrochemicals and replacing them with natural biological methods (Dragusanu, Giovannucci, & Nunn, 2014). This approach creates greater economic stability, as illustrated through a sample of 228 coffee farmers from Nicaragua. Researcher Christopher Bacon examined this population and found that the Fair Trade farmers report being less concerned about losing their farms in the coming year than conventional farmers (Bacon, 2005).
It is evident that implementing Fair Trade will work towards rebuilding the chocolate industry’s ethical foundation, however this method has not been widely integrated into societies where chocolate is grown, leaving many farmers with barely enough money to get by and leaving the environment in ruins. As of 2010, there were 62 cocoa-growing cooperatives in the U.S. Fair Trade system. That year, the number of Fair Trade- certified cocoa products in the U.S. increased by 67 percent from 2009 (De Neve, Peter, Pratt, & Wood, 2008). However, this is still a very small percentage of the total market for cocoa product, meaning that the vast majority of companies are still not employing fair trade practices. A similar trend is evident in the coffee industry ― Fair Trade-certified coffee exports were only 1.8 percent of global exports in 2009 (Dragusanu, Giovannucci, & Nunn, 2014). In order to improve these sales, it is essential that companies not only enact change, but that the general population be educated on what Fair Trade policies entail so that they can be conscious of buying these products in stores. Only 34% of Americans even understand what the concept of Fair Trade requires (De Neve, Peter, Pratt, & Wood, 2008). Without a greater public awareness, Fair Trade policies will not be adopted by corporate chocolate companies that care more about their profits than the ethics of their product production. A global movement advocating for the payment of higher prices to exporters and improved social and environmental standards, cannot succeed if people are completely unaware of this initiative.
While the primary problem of Fair Trade is that it is not practiced widely enough, there are issues with the concept of Fair Trade itself. U.S. products which have as little as 11 percent of Fair Trade-produced chocolate can be labeled as Fair Trade chocolate (Brown, 2013). This allows larger companies that meet the minimum requirement to receive the Fair Trade label with a limited investment and without necessarily supporting the moral objectives associated with producing chocolate in this manner. Maintaining such a low minimum requirement shifts the focus towards branding and detracts from the value that comes with raising salaries for farmers and establishing more beneficial environmental regulations. One of the major upsides to the chocolate industry is that this highly-sought-after commodity is affordable to all. However, Fair Trade chocolate is more expensive to sell, thus creating a higher financial decision for consumers. Although Fair Trade does not solve all of the problems within the chocolate industry, it is a step in the right direction.
The Solution: Taza Chocolate
Taza Chocolate was founded by Alex Whitmore after he took his first bite of stone ground chocolate while traveling in Oaxaca, Mexico (“About Taza,” n.d.). Whitmore was so inspired by the rustic intensity of the flavor that he decided to create a chocolate factory in his hometown of Somerville, Massachusetts (“About Taza,” n.d.). In 2005, he officially launched the Taza Chocolate company with his wife, Kathleen Fulton. The two were the first chocolate makers to establish a third-party certified Direct Trade Cacao Certification Program (“About Taza,” n.d.), meaning that the company maintains direct relationships with their cacao farmers and pays a premium above the Fair Trade price, ensuring that these workers are treated with the utmost respect, thanked for their efforts, and receive a living wage. Through the direct trade approach, Taza Chocolate is committed to establishing real, face-to-face relationships with growers who respect the environment and fair labor practices (“Taza Direct Trade,” n.d.). They pledge to visit their partners in Pisa, Haiti; Oko Caribe, Dominican Republic; Finca Elvesia, Dominican Republic; Alto Beni Cacao Co., Bolivia every year (verified through E-tickets), pay a price premium of at least 500 USD per metric ton above the market price for their partners’ cacao beans, source the highest quality beans (defined by having at least a 75 percent fermentation rate and dried to 7 percent moisture or less), and work exclusively with USDA Certified Organic cacao farms (“Taza Direct Trade,” n.d.).
Taza not only pledges to carry out these actions, but it also publishes an annual transparency report to provide proof. This pioneering company works to address all of the unethical issues plaguing the chocolate industry ― there is no child labor, the process of harvesting chocolate does not harm the environment, farmers are guaranteed livable salaries, and growing partners are visited at least once a year to establish a strong relationship. As a result of publishing the first transparency report back in 2012, other companies, such as Dandelion Chocolate and Askinosie chocolate, decided to follow suit and implemented this same production method. Madecasse Chocolate decided to take it a step further and adopted a direct trade program in 2016 in addition to publishing annual transparency reports (“Taza Direct Trade,” n.d.). Hopefully, in the years to come, more companies will feel pressured to release these reports and guarantee that they are using exclusively ethical practices throughout the entire chocolate manufacturing chain. Taza’s most recent report from 2018 can be found here. The company also released a visual summary of the current year’s progress, so visitors to their website can immediately begin to understand how Taza is transforming the chocolate industry. This chart is last year’s summary:
As the report indicates, Taza Chocolate makes a tremendous effort to guarantee a strong relationship with their growing partners. This company works to connect all aspects of the supply chain and eliminates all disconnect between producers and manufacturers. Gilbert Gonzales, who visited the farm in Pisa, expresses that “Our objective in getting the cocoa is to create a different dynamic in the chain. The relationship with the farmers is a direct one. We go to the farmers, we talk to them.” Taza released a video of their sourcing in Haiti in which the employees are seen spending significant time with their growing partners and allowing them to try the finished product. The Taza visitors will spend 15 hours a day in the field meeting with their partners in an attempt to make “the northern part of Haiti smile more by seeing their success and being able to send their children to school.”
Taza Chocolate strives to ensure that the company never partakes in slavery or child labor and maintain its core value of developing a strong relationship with its farmers and operating on the most ethical grounds.
Big 5 Who? Taza Reigns Victorious
If someone were asked to name a chocolate brand, they would probably only be able to recall those that control the majority of the industry’s revenues ― Mars, Nestlé, Hersheys, Mondelez, or Ferrero. Although these companies might be successful with their marketing and financial strategies, they lack high ethical standards. Companies, including Nestlé, Hershey, Cargill, ADM, and Barry Callebout, have admitted to buying cacao beans from fields that utilize child labor, and they vowed to remedy the solution. Unfortunately, very little has changed in the 14 years since these companies agreed to no longer exploit children for their labor (“Slave Free Chocolate,” n.d.).
Some of the Big 5 chocolate companies have done research to determine if their products are ethically sourced and produced. Nestlé found that more than 3,000 children are working on the cocoa farms that produce its chocolate (Wilk, 2018). Mars has also acknowledged the practice of child labor in the harvesting of its chocolate and stated that by 2020, none of its chocolate will be produced using child labor (Wilk, 2018). This claim feels like an empty promise and, given the history of these companies extending deadlines because they couldn’t be met, I would not be surprised if Mars pushes back the deadline to a later year. However, one redeeming quality of this company is its effort to implement Fair Trade practices. In January of 2010, Kit Kat converted its bar to use Fair-Trade certified cocoa (Pride, 2012). Hopefully, Mars can begin to replicate this practice across its product lines and work towards earning all of its offerings the Fair Trade label.
The Hershey Chocolate Company is the leading chocolate manufacturer in North America, controlling 42 percent of the U.S. chocolate market and generating more than $6 billion in revenues. Despite the undeniable success of this company, Hershey’s falls into the trap of needlessly exploiting children for its benefits. In 2011, nearly two million children, including an estimated 819,921 in the Ivory Coast and 997,357 in Ghana, worked illegally on cocoa farms (Manza, 2014). Only five to ten percent of these children actually worked for any pay and the rest were forced to assist with their families’ farms (Manza, 2014). Similar to Mars, Hershey’s pledged in 2012 to use only 100 percent Fair Trade-certified cocoa by 2020 (Nieburg, 2012), but its current and previous practices provide little indication that this will transform into a reality. Hershey’s was one of the companies that refused to participate in the São Tomé and Príncipe boycott and continues to take advantage of child labor. However, reducing child labor and implementing serious reforms in West Africa is more complicated than it appears on the surface. Farmers describe the efforts of these larger companies to improve the ethics of the chocolate industry as more akin to intimidation than to education. The farmers don’t understand that the exploitation of their labor is wrong and “People are worried that America will not buy our cocoa anymore,” says Julien Kra Yau, the director of a farmers’ cooperative in Thoui (Parenti, 2008). Getting the larger companies on board and enabling them to turn to smaller companies, such as Taza Chocolate, for guidance is crucial in bringing about a full reformation of the chocolate industry within the next few decades.
Getting up Close and Personal with Taza:
While researching the strengths of Taza in contrast to the flaws of the chocolate industry as a whole is effective in formulating a complete ethnographic analysis of this company, I decided to take it a step further and experience Taza first hand. My roommate’s parents had shipped a selection of Taza chocolate as a consolation for not being able to fit this class into her schedule, and I tried it myself. As someone who typically prefers milk chocolate that is high in sugar, I actually enjoyed the richness of the Mexican dark chocolate. Its smooth texture enhanced my experience and the chocolate left a pleasant aftertaste in my mouth. After spotting Taza Chocolate at a bagel shop in Ithaca a few weeks ago, I also started to recognize that Taza Chocolate is extremely accessible and gathered a brief collection of photos of Taza in various locations.
I reached out to the company via email and had a brief exchange with Jesse Last, the Director of Cacao Sourcing & Strategic Initiatives for the company. I initially asked him what he thought were the biggest problems in the cocoa industry, and how Taza works to address them. This was his response:
“The cocoa industry is notoriously opaque, and this lack of transparency translates into a lack of accountability on issues ranging from deforestation to child labor to poverty. Rather than ignore these issues or hide behind a certification that may or may not make a difference, Taza welcomes transparency and shares our Direct Trade approach to sourcing cacao in a way that’s seriously good and fair for all. Some of our specific sourcing strategies include paying higher prices for higher quality cacao beans, building honest and open relationships by visiting our Direct Trade partners and having them visit us, and agreeing on clear environmental and social standards for growing and trading cacao beans. It’s not that at Taza we have all the answers, but we have an outsized impact because we openly share our questions and our learnings with the rest of the industry.”
I also wanted to know more about how Taza can work to inspire other companies, such as the Big 5, to follow suit in being more transparent and utilizing direct trade practices. This is what Mr. Last had to say:
“High level though, we work to inspire others by publishing our Annual Transparency Report, sharing our Direct Trade Standard Operating Procedure (basically, our sourcing playbook) with other companies including chocolate makers that wish to become Direct Trade certified, and collaborating with other chocolate companies that share our values and vision for a more sustainable cacao industry.”
And finally, I was interested to know what his experience was like visiting the growing partners, to which Jesse Last responded:
“I have been, and the experiences were different from one another in many ways but similarly important to building a personal relationship with the farmers and the cacao processors with whom we partner. Here are a few blog posts that give an idea: Haiti, Bolivia, DR, and Ghana.”
Combining extensive research and personal insights provides a complete analysis of how Taza Chocolate succeeds as a leading force in working towards remedying the issues troubling the chocolate industry. Although these issues are extremely complicated and will not be resolved overnight, Taza provides hope that future companies will adopt its practices and help create a fair, ethical, and affordable chocolate industry.
Aaronson, S. A. (2007). Globalization and child labor: the cause can also be a cure. YaleGlobal Online, Yale Centre for the Study of Globalization, available at: http://yaleglobal.yale. edu/display.
Bacon, Christopher. 2005. “Confronting the Coffee Crisis: Can Fair Trade, Organic, and Specialty Coffee Reduce Small-Scale Farmer Vulnerability in Northern Nicaragua?” World Development 33(3): 497–511
Behind a bittersweet industry. Fortune. 1 March 2016. Retrieved 7 January 2018.
Brown, K. R. (2013). Buying into fair trade: Culture, morality, and consumption. NYU Press.
De Neve, G., Peter, L., Pratt, J., & Wood, D. C. (Eds.). (2008). Hidden hands in the market: Ethnographies of fair trade, ethical consumption, and corporate social responsibility. Emerald Group Publishing Limited.
Dragusanu, R., Giovannucci, D., & Nunn, N. (2014). The economics of fair trade. Journal of economic perspectives, 28(3), 217-36.
As you have probably discovered when looking through the chocolate display in various retail and grocery stores, five large players dominate the global chocolate market. Their prevalence allows them to dictate the rhetoric and information synthesized by chocolate consumers on a daily basis. However, the industry is fraught with serious issues that these companies are not taking drastic enough steps to solve. Instead, we must look to other companies, although less well known and smaller-scale, that are forging innovative paths to solve these very real problems, in order to learn from them but also recognize where there is room for improvement. One such company is Taza Chocolate.
Taza Chocolate is a bean to bar chocolate company based in Somerville, Massachusetts. It was founded in 2005 by CEO Alex Whitmore, who was inspired by the stone ground chocolate he had tasted on a trip to Oaxaca, Mexico. He apprenticed under a molinero in Oaxaca in order to learn how to make and work with traditional Mexican stone mills. The result of these unique mills and minimal processing is chocolate with bolder flavors and a grittier consistency than the smoothness that is usually expected from more mainstream companies.
Taza chocolate can be bought online through its website or at Amazon and can be found at retailers such as Whole Foods. According to the Taza Website, “We do things differently. We do things better. We are chocolate pioneers” (Taza Website: Direct Trade). They are pioneers not just because of their unique production process and flavor, but also because of their commitment to addressing the problems that plague the industry today through supply-chain transparency.
Problems: Slavery, Economics and Gender Inequality
In order to critically analyze Taza’s attempted solutions, it is important to first understand the problems, which unfortunately are not new but rather have plagued the industry for centuries. Slavery was an integral part of chocolate’s history, and can be traced back to the 1500’s when the Spanish Encomienda system forced natives in Mesoamerica to grow cocoa and perform labor without pay. The terrible working conditions and disease spread by the Spaniards ravished the native population, and Africans were brought in to replace them. From 1500-1900, between 10 and 15 million enslaved Africans were transported to the Americas and the Caribbean to grow cocoa and other commodity crops. However, even after slavery was abolished, it continued and continues to plague the industry today, mostly in the form of child labor. The International Labour Organization defines child labor as, “all forms of slavery or practices similar to slavery… work which, by its nature or the circumstances in which it is carried out, is likely to harm the health, safety or morals of children” (ILO). Carol Off found evidence of such child labor in Cote D’Ivoire, with some farmers or their supervisors “working… young people almost to death. The boys had little to eat, slept in bunkhouses that were locked during the night, and were frequently beaten” (Off, 121). A 2009 study by Tulane corroborated Off’s discoveries when it found that more than half a million children in Ghana and Cote D’Ivoire were working in conditions that violated ILO guidelines as well as national laws on minimum wage and minimum hours (Berlan).
Another prevalent problem is the poverty that many cocoa farmers face, particularly in Ghana and Cote D’Ivoire, due to the economics of cocoa farming. Unlike many northern countries where jobs are salaried, wages for day laborers on farms are “neither guaranteed nor generally regulated” (Leissle, 106). Farm owners only receive cash when they sell their crop; thus, they earn 80% of their annual income in the six months of the main growing season, making budgeting for the rest of the year extremely difficult, especially because many inputs are needed at the start of the growing season when farmers are the lowest on cash. This can result in farmers having to take loans or credit, which often have incredibly high interest rates and can be impossible to pay back. The price fluctuations of chocolate also make it difficult to budget, as anything from bad weather to political turmoil can drastically affect chocolate’s price. Lastly, the prices farmers receive are often too low to support their costs. Farmers rarely sell their product directly to the big chocolate companies, instead selling to middlemen who have more negotiating power and can mislead them. Therefore, even if the price paid for chocolate goes up, there is no guarantee that the farmers actually receive this increase. As a result of all of these factors, many farmers struggle to make a living.
Finally, gender inequality is an important problem that is often disregarded, in part because literature has minimized the role of women in chocolate production. Women are thought of as having only light and non-essential tasks, when in reality “female labor play[s] a central role in almost every aspect of cocoa production and sale… statistics undoubtedly underestimate the role of women” (Robertson, 100/104). But the industry is male-dominant, which has negative effects on women. For example, social norms dictate that even if women grow the cocoa, men are the ones that actually sell the crop and receive the cash (Leissle, 122). This means not only that women have no proof they are getting the right amount of money, but also that men of the household have control of the cash, which they often use to pay for needs they find most important before distributing the rest, if any, to women and children. Consequently, even though women contribute greatly to chocolate production, they have very little power.
Taza’s Solution: Direct Trade Model
In order to combat some of these issues, according to Taza it developed, “The first third-party certified direct trade cacao sourcing program, to ensure quality and transparency for all.” (Taza Website: Direct Trade). Because it is the first of its kind, Taza published five guidelines and commitments for its direct trade system that it holds itself accountable to.
Develop direct relationships with cacao farmers: Taza began by purchasing cocoa from La Red Guaconejo cooperative in the Dominican Republic and shipping it directly to Boston so that there were no middlemen involved. This direct method shrinks, “a commodity chain that is often far-flung, [so that] no step of the trade exchange, from farm to factory, was unknown or untraceable to Taza’s founders” (Leissle, 154). They later expanded their sources to include other producers in the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Ghana, all of which they have personal relationships with. Their single origin bars reflect and appreciate the uniqueness of each location.
Pay a price premium to cacao producers: Taza commits to paying at least $500 per MT above market price for its beans
Source the highest quality cacao beans: Taza emphasizes fine flavor beans rather than bulk beans, and directs resources over the long term to assist producers in maintaining high quality output
Require USDA certified organic cacao: As part of its commitment to source only the best cocoa, Taza requires its producers to be organic certified.
Publish an annual transparency report: Taza was the first chocolate company ever to publish such a report. It includes the quantity of beans bought from each individual producer, the price Taza pays for these beans, and an intimate look at the individual producers they partner with.
Pros of Taza’s Direct Trade Model
Taza’s direct trade model has improved the economics of farmers while simultaneously promoting transparency in the industry. In paying a large premium (15-20%), Taza ensures that the farmers do not have to worry about not being able to earn enough to survive fluctuations in cocoa price that are entirely outside of their control. This gives farmers much-needed predictability and visibility into future income and improves their standard of living. Furthermore, by publishing the exact prices they buy the seeds at and having all of their numbers and reports independently verified each year by the Quality Certification Services, Taza guarantees integrity and transparency. This is a stark contrast to the rest of the industry; many companies in recent years have introduced “even more ambiguity into the landscapes of its practice” by relying on internal certification and accountability schemes (Leissle, 147). For example, Cadbury recently stopped fair trade certification and instead initiated an in-house sustainability guarantee, which has decreased transparency because, “when a certification scheme is internal to a company, it is more difficult to assess whether they are rigorous and consistently applied. The only option is to take the company’s words that they are” (Leissle, 147-148). The same can be said for craft chocolate companies, who claim to pay several times the world market price for cocoa, yet there is no way for the consumer to verify. In publishing its prices, Taza has set a new standard for the industry, and others, such as Dandelion Chocolate, are following suit.
Taza’s production process also allows for stronger relationships with producers and greater visibility into the company’s supply chain, ensuring no child labor is used to produce its products. In interacting directly with each of their producers, and visiting at least once a year, Taza can guarantee the use of fair labor. Furthermore, in Ghana, where, as discussed earlier, child labor is especially prevalent, Taza has invested in education programs for children and their family. For example, the local producers Taza partners with coordinate workshops in local schools for students and parents to “educate around age-appropriate farm activities… versus dangerous ones” (2018 transparency report). Additionally, Taza has patterned with the non-profit International Cocoa Initiative and its buyer Tony’s Chocolonely, to “proactively address any instances of unsafe work through a combination of family resources and training that rewards transparency and addresses core issues of poverty and lack of education” (2018 transparency report).
Finally, Taza’s single origin bars promote consumer awareness about the countries where it sources its chocolate. Each bar, according to the website, “is minimally processed to let the bold flavors and unique terroir of our Direct Trade Certified beans shout loud and proud” (Taza website: Origin Bars).
By indicating where the chocolate is grown, these single origin bars can help consumers learn that the taste of chocolate differs from place to place, and “invite shoppers to consider the politics and economics of exporting cocoa… By offering a range of chocolate experiences that can change even day by day, single origin chocolate reminds us that there are real people, institutions, and power structures behind every bar” (Leissle, 170). A more informed consumer is likely to make more informed decisions in the future, which can help promote sustainable, ethical chocolate production by creating demand for such products.
How Taza can Improve
Although the Taza model has many strengths, there are areas where it is still lacking. For example, the prices listed in the transparency reports indicate the amount paid per metric ton to producer organizations, but they do not indicate the farm gate price, or how much the individual farmer receives. The farm gate price is distinctive from the price paid to the producers, but by not including both, the reports can mislead the consumer into thinking the listed price is entirely received by the farmers. In only one year, 2016, Taza reported the price that was actually received by farmers, which ranged from 51-76% of the price that was received by producer organizations (2016 transparency report). However, no other transparency report published these numbers, and this percentage could have changed substantially in the years since, especially because a few of the producer organizations they work with have changed. While Taza is exemplary in its transparency, there is room to be even more transparent by consistently publishing the farm gate price in its reports.
Additionally, even though gender inequality is an important problem in cocoa production, Taza does not explicitly address it in its transparency reports. Photos of women farmers have been featured in some of the past reports, and the number of women farmers is included in each report (ranging from 15% to 45% of each producer organization). These inclusions are important in disproving the misconception that women are not involved in cocoa production. However, there is no reference to the struggles women face due to the power dynamics of the industry. Taza had the opportunity to do so in its 2018 report, when it mentions that its partner in El Majagual, Dominican Republic donated his chocolate factory to an association of local women. However, they do not even name the women’s association or delve into what it does, and it seems as though the sale was a decision made independently by the producer with no help or influence from Taza. This is an area where Taza can really improve and learn from organizations such as Kuapa Kokoo, a Ghana based company that sets gender quotas for elected representation at the community and district levels of governance and organizes conscious-raising women’s groups and women’s literacy programs (Leissle, 149). An essential next step for Taza is to acknowledge the unequal distribution of power and wealth due to gender, because according to field work and research by Kristy Leissle and Stephanie Barrientos , “Apart from explicit, well-directed efforts to empower women, most assistance…[goes] directly or indirectly to men” (Leissle, 173).
In summary, Taza Chocolate is changing the way chocolate is sourced, produced and consumed. In addressing the economic problems farmers face, ensuring its producers do not use forced labor, and investing in programs that combat child labor, Taza is making a positive impact on cocoa production. However, there are many areas where Taza can still learn and grow— the transparency reports would be greatly improved if they included farm gate prices, and just as the company has invested in programs to fight against child labor, it should invest in programs that are actively looking to support women. That being said, Taza’s direct trade program is truly innovative, and its transparency reports are challenging other companies to improve their own practices. Although the direct trade model is not feasible for the larger scale companies that dominate the industry, consumers must demand the same level of commitment to ethical production that Taza demonstrates.
Berlan, Amanda. “Social Sustainability in Agriculture: An Anthropological Perspective on Child Labour in Cocoa Production in Ghana.” Journal of Development Studies, vol. 49, no. 8, 2013, pp. 1088–1100.
Leissle, Kristy. Cocoa. Polity Press, 2018.
Off, Carol. Bitter Chocolate: The Dark Side of The World’s Most Seductive Sweet. The New Press, 2006.
Robertson, Emma. Chocolate, Women and Empire: a Social and Cultural History. Manchester University Press, 2013.
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.
Fair Trade USA. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 May 2017.
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.
Taza Chocolate is a bean-to-bar chocolate company that launched in Somerville, Massachusetts in 2005. Priding themselves on their unique stone-ground processing technique, which grinds organic cacao beans into “perfectly unrefined, minimally processed chocolate,” (Taza Website) Taza strives to provide a special blend of bold flavor and texture through their chocolate products. However, perhaps their most noteworthy trademark as a chocolate company is their commitment to ethical cacao sourcing that features the relationships with the farmers from whom they obtain their cacao beans. Specifically, Taza has formed Direct Trade relationships with five cacao producers around South America and the Caribbean. As documented through their groundbreaking annual cacao sourcing transparency reports, Taza contributes to the global problems facing the cacao-chocolate supply chain by keying in on each level within their supply chain- both the farmers who cultivate the product and the partners who source the cacao. Through their unique methodology and commitment, Taza achieves paying premium prices that reach their partners and promoting fair labor practices.
For chocolate companies, forming strong, healthy relationships with both the farmers and companies from which they source their cacao seems like an obvious solution to the problematic cacao-producing industry, but it is more difficult and less observed in practice. While conventional practice for firms to promote fair labor practices features obtaining a Fair Trade certification, Taza has done an effective job of this using the alternative Direct Trade model. While Fair Trade aims to more justly compensate marginalized producers, it creates unintended consequences. For example, little of the extra money produced by a Fair Trade agreement reaches the developing countries, and of that, less reaches the farmers (Sylla, 2014). One reason for this is the cost to obtain a Fair Trade certification, shouldered by the producers, is the same everywhere, meaning that the poorest countries have the most difficulty obtaining the certification (Sylla, 2014; Martin, 2018, Lecture 9). Conversely, Direct Trade circumvents any fees required for certification and privatizes the contractual relationship so that the producers do not bear unnecessary costs. Taza was the first chocolate maker in the United States to establish a third-party certified Direct Trade Cacao sourcing program (Taza Website). Direct trade is “a form of sourcing practiced by some coffee roasters and chocolate companies with standards varying between produces” (Martin, 2018, Lecture 5). While relationships are often fragile and temporary between chocolate companies and cacao farmers that participate in Direct Trade (Martin, 2018, Lecture 9), Taza has taken notable steps to ensure a healthy relationship that truly benefits everyone, from the cacao farmer to the consumer.
Specifically, as one part of their relationships with their partners through the Direct Trade model, Taza physically visits each partner at least once per year to build trust and compassion. As seen on Taza’s Facebook page through founder Alex Whitmore’s trip to partner PISA in Haiti, Taza places an emphasis on connecting with both their partners and the farmers from whom their partners receive cacao to create a truly interconnected supply chain. Whitmore and company are seen sharing their Taza product with Haitian farmers, a gesture that is representative of their close relationship. By connecting with PISA, Taza, as Whitmore describes, has highlighted the strengths of two entities and brought them together to make something great. While Haiti’s cacao beans are comparable to those found in the Dominican Republic, failure to properly dry and ferment these beans left their exquisite taste to go unrecognized and their cacao to be sold at a heavily discounted price. PISA specializes in these processes (Leissle, 2013). This relationship has led to Taza sourcing the first ever Certified USDA Organic Cacao from Haiti and PISA and the farmers being paid a premium price for the cacao that they have been able to provide (Taza Website).
Taza’s 2016 Transparency Report features their combating another major influential factor facing the global cacao-chocolate supply chain: the price of cacao. Daunted by unstable cacao market prices, government control of purchasing and distributing, and supply chain intermediaries squeezing profits, cacao farmers fall victim to extremely low incomes. (Sylla, 2014). In the agricultural crisis in the 1970’s, West African governments used marketing boards and caisse systems to force cacao farmers to sell at prices below the world price and use the proceeds towards industrialization (Martin, 2018, Lecture 7). Today, intermediaries have inserted themselves in the supply chain of these cacao-dependent communities, squeezing profits throughout the supply chain and leaving cacao farmers with the bare minimum. Specifically, they have garnered strong market power through horizontal and vertical integration. At each level of the supply chain, competition has driven many players out, allowing these intermediaries to accomplish horizontal integration. By broadening their responsibilities within the supply chain, they have also achieved vertical integration (Sylla, 2014).
By ensuring a share of the premium prices they pay their sourcing partners reaches the farmers themselves, Taza plays their part in combatting the global lack of cacao farmer compensation. Taza’s Direct Trade relationship with their partners contributes to their communities through paying premium prices for the cacao to the processors and ensuring that the said premium reaches the farmers themselves. Analyzed in their 2016 Transparency Report here, Taza pays their partners at least $500 above the market price- a 15-20% premium, and never less than $2,800 per metric ton for cacao, protecting their partners against extremely low world market prices. For Jesse Last, Taza’s Chocolate Cocoa Sourcing Manager, knowing what they pay their cacao sourcing partners wasn’t enough. In 2016, Last took steps to ensure that cacao farmers were getting a slice of the cake too. Specifically, he updated Taza’s Direct Trade agreement to include a commitment by their partners to “provide documentation demonstrating the compensation paid to farmers and/or employees, as well as facilitate conversation between farmers and Taza” (Taza Website).
When Last visited these farms ensure their shares were received, he found no discrepancies between their reports and the payments documented by their own partners. Furthermore, Last provided an in-depth analysis (5 Steps Towards Understanding Price) within the transparency report that contextualizes farmer compensations received from their origin partners, and found that all but one of their partners is paying above the world market average per metric ton of cacao and “some” by almost twice as much (Taza Website). The extensive effort displayed by Jesse Last and Taza sets the standard that not just bean-to-bar, but all chocolate companies around the world should strive to meet in regard to paying the cacao farmers a reasonable salary. While obstacles, like those previously mentioned, often intervene with guaranteed fair wages for farmers, Taza has taken a uniquely ethical path not only to ensure this but also to strengthen the relationship between their partners and the farmers and to spread this methodology through the transparency report for the world to see. Their effort to affect others in an ethical fashion does not end with their suppliers- it extends all the way to their consumers.
As further part of their Direct trade Commitment, Taza requires all their cacao be USDA Certified Organic and Non-GMO Project Verified, as can be seen on one of their chocolate bars below, providing a healthy blend of ingredients in their chocolate for their consumers. While every Taza chocolate product contains the seal of Certified USDA Organic and Non-GMO Project Verified, they are also Kosher, soy-free, dairy-free, and vegan. Taza’s effort to source organic sugar is especially noteworthy. They have partnered with The Native Green Cane Project, recognized by The World Economic Forum, the Boston Consulting Group, the Union for Ethical BioTrade, and other organizations “as one of the world’s leading examples of innovative agriculture and sustainability’ (Taza Website). The traditional cultivation method of burning sugar cane unavoidably releases toxic gases and substantially contributes to biodiversity loss. The Native Green Cane Project has made a positive environmental impact by designing a mechanical harvester that eliminates toxic gas emissions and saves water that would otherwise be used to clean burnt cane. Furthermore, this practice eliminates the use of synthetic fertilizers, genetically modified organisms, and pesticides, making for a safer labor environment. Through these organic methodologies, Taza not only provides healthier products for their consumers but also contributes to a cleaner environment while promoting safer working conditions.
To guarantee the integrity of their Direct Trade program, Taza has had Quality Certification Services, a USDA-accredited organic certifier out of Gainesville, Florida independently verify the upholding of five Direct Trade claims, outlined on their website. To verify annual visits to their partners, Taza provides flight receipts or e-tickets. To verify paying their cacao producers a premium rate, they provide annual invoices completed by their Sourcing Manager and the cacao-producing partner. To ensure the exclusive usage of USDA certified cacao, they provide proper certification documentation from their partners and farmers. Taza’s commitment to diminish the problems that have plagued much of the cacao industry for centuries, specifically its producers, can be seen by their initiative to hold themselves accountable in the continuation of these practices that benefit the producers, consumers, and everyone in between.
While Taza has contributed immensely by enhancing their relationships with their origin partners, one way they could improve their outreach is by expanding to West Africa. West Africa produces 75 percent of the world’s cacao, but they have an extensive and continued history of child labor exploitation. Evidence of child slavery in Cote d’Ivore has been recorded as recently as the early 2000’s (Off, 2008). In other countries such as Ghana, children have limited freedom to choose to go into labor (Berlan, 2013). This undeniable evidence highlights deep internal roots that drive these continued unethical labor practices and the need for intervention from outside parties- specifically from local government, international entities, and corporations. However, these entities have had limited effect on changing the scope of West African cacao production over the years. U.S. Representative Eliot Engel drafted a bill proposing the implementation a detailing a labeling system, classifying goods as “slave free” if it could be proved that slavery was not used in their production. However, significant pushback from industry giants like Hershey’s and Mars gave themselves more time to investigate and improve the labor practices behind the production of their chocolate (Off, 208). The Harkin-Engel protocol was then passed in 2001 to eliminate the worst forms of child labor in Cote d’Ivore and Ghana, but the extent of its impact remains in question today (Ryan, 2011).
Taza could potentially break the stigma that West Africa is a poor investment for these artisan chocolate makers. However, considering the obstacles in play, Taza would need to stumble upon a perfect situation- one that might not exist now. Ghana’s Cocoa Board controls exports, limiting the ability of artisan chocolate makers to source cacao from farmers. Taza would likely need to look to other countries, such as the Ivory Coast. The Ivory Coast completely deregulated its market, meaning Taza could directly contact farmers and cooperatives as they do with their five current partners. The problem then would be the quality of cacao. Cacao beans emit varying flavors and textures depending on strain and terroir, and Taza, like most bean-to-bar companies, prides itself on the unique tastes produced by the terroir of the regions from which they source their cacao. Despite being the biggest producer in the world, West Africa is known for producing very few single origin bars. In Christian’s Chocolate Census, the most comprehensive online database for chocolate, 3.8% of 1500 chocolate products contain beans exclusively from West Africa. U.S. chocolate artisan companies like Taza cite bean strain and scale of production for their avoiding West African cacao to source single origin chocolates. Farmers in West Africa predominantly grow direct-sun-tolerant, pest- and disease-resistant hybrid cacao beans, which are usually weak in flavor or bitter (Leissle, 2013). Furthermore, these regions operate on a large scale, making it difficult for small artisan companies to buy beans in smaller quantities. These regions typically will not sell in small quantities even if Taza offered a high premium for their beans. If Taza could somehow find a way into the small community of the Ivory Coast with quality cacao, they could impact that community through their commitment to relationships and premium prices. More importantly, they might open the door for other artisan – specifically bean-to-bar- chocolate companies By showing that it is possible to ethically source quality cacao from West Africa.
Overall, Taza sets a notable example for the chocolate industry by doing their part to combat the global problems facing cacao producers. Specifically, the Direct Trade method of sourcing cacao that Taza has adopted has allowed them to form strong relationships with their partners by connecting face-to-face at least once per year. By circumventing profit-squeezing middlemen present in the more widely practice Fair Trade method, Taza ensures that both their cacao-sourcing partners and the farmers get a fair share of the profits that their cacao generates. Furthermore, their awareness and commitment to uphold these practices is obvious as displayed through their unique transparency reports and third-party certifier. While Taza could up the ante by seeking to take on the most corrupt cacao-producing region in the world, West Africa, they would face many challenges- namely finding a Direct Trade partner and flavorful cacao-beans- that would danger upholding their current model of ethical sourcing. Taza, while only a small bean-to-bar chocolate company, must continue their commitment to ethical partnerships with cacao-producers and to transparency of these partnerships. They set the bar high (100% cacao…just kidding) for other bean-to-bar companies and show bigger conglomerates the potential to contribute to cacao producers around the world.
Berlan, A. (2013). Social Sustainability in Agriculture: An Anthropological Perspective on Child Labour in Cocoa Production in Ghana. The Journal of Development Studies,49(8), 1088-1100.
Leissle, K. (2013). Invisible West Africa. The Politics of Single Origin Chocolate. Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture,13(3), 22-31.
Martin, C. (2018). (Lectures 5, 8, 9).
Off, C. (2008). Bitter chocolate : The dark side of the world’s most seductive sweet. New York: New Press.
Ryan, Órla, International African Institute, Royal African Society, & Social Science Research Council. (2011). Chocolate Nations (African arguments.). Zed Books.
Sylla, N., & Leye, David Clément. (2014). The fair trade scandal: Marketing poverty to benefit the rich. Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press.
Quality of life and ethical life choices are important factors in everything we do. Chocolate is a frequent part of our lives as well, for some, a daily part. Chocolate is a multi-billion dollar industry. When consumers spend money in a business that supports ethical business practices, it can make a difference in lives around the world. Taza Chocolate is one such business.
Taza Chocolate makes stone ground chocolate from organic cacao in Somerville, Massachusetts. Taza has been in business since 2005, and is an example of an ethical and forward-thinking chocolate business (Taza, 2017). Taza devotes much of their time and business planning to ensure their business practices and those of their suppliers, who they refer to as partners, improves the lives of farmers, while reforming the chocolate industry from the ground up. Taza has a wide selection of chocolate, including chocolate bars, gift sets, and even bulk chocolate so people can bake or cook with stone ground, organic, Direct Trade chocolate.
The process of purchasing cacao beans.
Obtaining cacao beans direct from growers is an important part of fair labor practices. Historically, the cacao industry has taken advantage of its workers, ignoring abuse and slavery to achieve a greater profit. An example of this can be seen in São Tomé and Príncipe in the 1900s. Slavery had been officially abolished in 1870, and the cacao industry needed workers, so they began using the system of contract labor, where workers would agree to work a set number of years for a set wage (Satre, 2006, Location 1603). Workers traveling to provide contract labor were “coerced, repatriation was all but impossible, and the death rate was as high as twelve percent” (Satre, 2006, Location 1603). In 1907, long after these abusive practices became public knowledge, “Cadbury still imported 7.4 million pounds of cacao beans from São Tomé, about thirteen percent of the island’s total exports” (Satre, 2006, Location 1603). Today, the chocolate industry is attempting to improve working conditions and payment for cacao farmers through fair trade initiatives. There are several certifications that ensure fair labor practices in the cacao industry, but Taza’s Direct Trade is the first cacao sourcing program that is third-party certified (Taza, 2017). Taza purchases their beans directly from growers with no “predatory middlemen and abusive labor practices,” so that farmers and their families receive more money for the cacao they grow and harvest (Taza, 2017). Every year all five of Taza’s Direct Trade claims are certified by “a USDA-accredited organic certifier” (Taza, 2017).
Direct Trade certified claims by Taza.
The five Direct Trade certified claims Taza makes improve quality of life for cacao farmers and their families while improving the quality of cacao beans used in Taza chocolate. The first claim is that Taza develops “direct relationships with cacao farmers” (Taza, 2017). By visiting Taza’s partners every year and reviewing how much of the money paid for cacao beans reaches the farmers directly, other benefits farmers receive besides monetary payments, and actually meeting and speaking to farmers, Taza develops direct relationships with farmers. The second Direct Trade certified claim is that Taza pays “a price premium to cacao farmers” (Taza, 2017). Invoices are reviewed to verify that Taza has met this claim by comparing the price paid for cacao to the NYICE price for cacao on the same date as the invoice (Taza, 2017). Another important Direct Trade claim is that Taza sources “the highest quality cacao beans” (Taza, 2017). Taza staff perform a quality assessment of every container of cacao beans purchased, and complete an evaluation form indicating the results of each assessment (Taza, 2017). A further Direct Trade claim is that Taza requires “USDA certified organic cacao” (Taza, 2017). This is important to ensure the quality of the cacao used, and Taza provides documentation to support USDA organic certification to the independent certifier (Taza, 2017). The fifth certified claim is a self-imposed action on the part of Taza. It includes publishing a yearly Transparency Report. Taza publishes every year a Direct Trade Transparency Report, so that consumers or anyone else who wants to verify their claims, has all the information to do so (Taza, 2017). Currently, there are links to the report for the past six years available on Taza’s website. This level of transparency in the bean to bar operation is unique in the chocolate industry.
To maintain an ethical and healthy cacao industry, growers need to receive fair compensation. Although slavery has been abolished, cacao farmers in many areas do not make a livable wage. As recently as 2008, in a Côte d’Ivoire cacao village, people “lacked clean water, health care, and decent schools” (Orla, 2011, Location 793). The issue of child labor was brought to public attention in 2000, when it came forward that children were being enticed by traffickers with promises of riches, and brought to cacao farms in Côte d’Ivoire, where they “survived on little food, little or no pay, and endured regular beatings” (Orla, 2011, Location 807). In fact, some officials were even “convinced that the farmers were paying organized groups of smugglers to deliver the children to their cocoa groves…and police were being bribed to look the other way” (Off, 2006, Location 1893). In 2001, the Harkin-Engle protocol was signed to help address the problem of child labor (Orla, 2011, Location 807). In 2015, cacao farmers in Ghana earned “as little as 84 cents a day, and Ivorian farmers, 50 cents” (Soley, 2015). Taza visits farmers that they buy cacao from every year, and “only buy cacao from growers who ensure fair and humane work practices” (Taza, 2017). Additionally, Taza pays “at least $500 above the market price…and never less than $2,800 per metric ton” for their cacao (Taza, 2017). In 2016, Taza purchased 233 metric tons of cacao beans, equating to at least $116,000 dollars more in the pockets of growers and farmers in developing countries due to Taza’s forward-thinking labor practices (Taza, 2017). In 2016, Taza paid its Bolivia partner a fixed price of $5,300 per metric ton, and the partner paid 76.4% of this amount to the farmers (Taza, 2017). This set price is paid by Taza even though the price of cacao on the world market may be much lower. As an example, the International Cacao Organization lists the average daily price of a metric ton of cacao in December 2016 at $2,287.80 (ICCO, 2017). Despite this price, Taza would pay its Bolivian partner $5,300 per metric ton for any cacao purchased in December, protecting farmers from the price fluctuations throughout the market. This process ensures higher income for growers and farmers, cutting out the middleman, so they may better support their families. With “most of the world’s cacao farmers living at or below the poverty line of $2 per day” (Taza, 2017), the chocolate industry needs to follow Taza’s actions, and customers need to spend their money with companies that are encouraging humane labor practices.
Monetary compensation is supplemented by other benefits to farmers. Taza’s partners, in addition to paying their farmers more, also provide other benefits that cut costs for farmers and increase profits. For example, all of Taza’s partners “drive to producers’ farms to pick up the cacao in its unfermented form” (Taza, 2017). This saves farmers money on delivery, fermenting, and drying costs, so their profit is greater. Taza’s partners may provide high-quality cacao seedlings, loans to buy farms, food, housing, and many other types of assistance that are meant to help farmers become more successful and live better lives (Taza, 2017).
Chocolate ingredients other than cacao.
The other ingredients used in chocolate production need the same devotion to fair labor standards and wages as cacao. Historically, some chocolate merchants added dangerous ingredients to chocolate, such as “brick dust, chalk, clay, dirt, paraffin, talc, and other items” (Grivetti, 2009, Location 10908). Using organic ingredients that are held to higher ethical standards is important. The sugar industry is tied to the chocolate industry in many ways, and has a similar history as cacao in terms of the treatment of slaves. As of 2013, the Department of Labor cited problems with child labor in the sugar industry in the Dominican Republic (U.S. Department of Labor, 2013). The submission found violations of labor law concerning wages, hours of work, occupational safety and health, child labor, and forced or compulsory labor (U.S. Department of Labor, 2013). It is important for customers and corporations alike to work for better conditions and wages for all workers.
Taza purchases certified USDA organic cacao and sugar from farmers “who respect the environment and fair labor practices” (Taza, 2017). The country of origin of the cacao beans is listed on many of Taza’s products, and the partners are specifically listed in the Transparency Report, so individuals can research and verify fair labor practices. Customers can buy a product with ingredients from a specific country, and support the practices of that supplier by choosing to do business with them. The sugar that Taza purchases for their chocolate is organic, non-GMO, and the supplier is committed to sustainability and fair labor practices (Taza, 2017). Not only are the mills that produce the sugar energy self-sufficient, the “organic farming system has resulted in 20% higher productivity than conventional sugar cane production while reducing Native’s carbon footprint and saving water, soil, energy, and promoting human welfare” (Taza, 2017). Although Native Sugar uses a mechanical harvester, it has retrained its workers for “other positions within the organization” adhering to the commitment to fair labor and making workers lives better (Taza, 2017). Business practices that promote environmental sustainability are important in today’s world. Not only is this good for future generations, it is also benefiting the company economically.
Labor in the production process.
The production process has become highly mechanized for many chocolate companies. Historically, laborers produced chocolate using basic tools. Some cacao farms, like Hacienda Buena Vista in Puerto Rico, began using hydropower to increase production and change the roles of workers. It is impressive to see, with one pull of a lever, water rushing down and causing large equipment to start processing cacao, or coffee, or corn. The process of making stone ground chocolate keeps the historic element alive, while mechanizing chocolate production. Taza uses “traditional Mexican stone mills, called molinos, with hand-carved stones that turn inside” the mills (Taza, 2017). Workers pay close attention during the process to ensure quality that cannot be achieved through high production automation.
Recipes for chocolate are an important component of a chocolate company. Many of today’s chocolate recipes contain ingredients traditionally used in different cultures. Cinnamon has been used traditionally in cacao recipes, and Taza uses it in some of its chocolate recipes (Taza, 2017). Chili is also an ingredient to some of Taza’s products, similar to the “ancient Mesoamerican tradition of adding chili to chocolate” (Coe and Coe, 2013, Location 3828). Additionally, vanilla, various nuts, sea salt, coconut, coffee and other ingredients are used today to make a chocolate bar that is both traditional and current.
Value of the product.
For consumers in developed countries today, and some developing countries, chocolate is an affordable luxury. Taza’s chocolate is reasonably priced given the quality and commitment to the cacao community of growers that encompasses its business model. A Taza chocolate bar or disc are for the most part between $5.00 and $7.50 (Taza, 2017). That is a reasonable price for organic chocolate, at least given prices for organic chocolate in the Caribbean. An artisan chocolate bar made here in Puerto Rico is approximately $10.00, and they are small bars. Organic chocolate is a relatively affordable luxury that enriches our lives.
The chocolate industry as a whole is making strides towards incorporating more humane practices into its business model. However, large companies are slow to change. Small, independent chocolate businesses have the ability now to make positive changes in the lives of farmers and their families, showing larger businesses a better way to operate and improving the lives of those they do business with. Taza Chocolate is one such company who appears to look at every aspect of their business in trying to improve the lives of others while growing a successful chocolate company and delivering a high-quality products.
Coe, Michael D., and Coe, Sophie D. The True History of Chocolate. Kindle ed., Thames & Hudson, 2013.
Grivetti, Louis E. “Dark Chocolate: Chocolate and Crime in North America and Elsewhere.” Chocolate: History, Culture, and Heritage, edited by Louis Evan Grivetti and Howard-Yana Shapiro. Kindle ed., John Wiley and Sons, Inc., 2009.
International Cocoa Organization website. Retrieved from: https://www.icco.org/statistics/cocoa-prices/monthly-averages.html?currency=usd&startmonth=12&startyear=2016&endmonth=12&endyear=2016&show=table&option=com_statistics&view=statistics&Itemid=114&mode=custom&type=1
Off, Carol. Bitter Chocolate: Anatomy of an Industry. Kindle ed., The New Press, 2006.
Orla, Ryan. Chocolate Nations: Living and Dying for Cocoa in West Africa. Kindle ed., Zed Books, 2011.
I held a chocolate tasting with 8 of my friends, and my goal of this chocolate tasting was to assess my friends’ preferences regarding cacao and sugar content. I selected 6 varieties of chocolate containing cacao percentages ranging from 11% to 95%. My theory was that people would prefer chocolate that contains more sugar per serving and less cacao. I believed this to be true because of the way modern Western society thinks about sugar. The results highlighted Western society’s taste for sugar, but they also illustrated other ideas related to what we have been studying.
I tried to create a controlled experiment by removing wrappers and breaking each bar into similar sized pieces. I put the chocolate samples into bowls and had my friends begin with Sample 6, the darkest sample, because of what Professor Martin mentioned in class.
Like the process Barb Stuckey writes about when tasting food, I wanted the subjects to taste the food from “two different perspectives.” First, to “think critically about what [they] taste” and second “to consider whether [they] like it or not” (Stuckey, 134). Following this guideline, I had comment cards for each sample where my friends would write about what they tasted and on the back rank how much they liked the sample from a scale of 1 to 5.
After the test was finished, I averaged the rankings into a decimal value. I first will present the results of the experiment, and then I will analyze the results. In lieu of including every comment, I will list any words that appeared more than once, or any descriptors that stand out in the context of what we have been learning in class. Many of the comments touch upon social and historical issues regarding the history of chocolate in America and the world.
My original theory was not exactly correct – people did not like the Hershey’s chocolate the most. However, my hypothesis that milk chocolate was favored over dark chocolate remains true. The two darkest varieties of chocolate were ranked last, and the highest ranked chocolate was milk chocolate.
First and foremost, I would like to analyze the involvement of sugar and how that relates to chocolate as well as the distinguishable taste of Hershey’s chocolate.
HERSHEY’S IS DISTINCTIVE:
Hershey’s chocolate (Sample 1) was the most polarizing, with a scale from 0.5 (Although the scale started at 1, I included this piece of data anyway) to a 5. No other sample had both the lowest and highest ranking. I believe that the polarizing nature of Hershey’s comes from both the high sugar content and the unique ingredients.
In his book Hershey, Michael D’Antonio writes that “Hershey’s milk chocolate has had a distinct flavor. It is sweet… but it also carries a single, faintly sour note. This slight difference is caused by the fermentation of milk fat, an unexpected side effect of Schmalbach’s process.” (D’Antonio, 108) The comment “sour milk” reflects that flavor. Hershey’s is certainly distinctive. I want to address the two notable comments, “God, heaven, promised land” and “tastes the most like chocolate.” D’Antonio writes that Hershey’s “define[s] the taste of chocolate for Americans” (D’Antonio, 108). My tasting proved that for at least two of my friends, this idea is true.
SUGAR AND CHOCOLATE:
Robert Albritton, in “Between Obesity and Hunger: The Capitalist Food Industry” writes that “Sweetness is the most desired taste to the point that many if not most people can easily be caught up in an ‘excessive appetite for it.’” Americans consume about 31 teaspoons of added sugars every day, he writes (Albritton, 343). According to Albritton, “the addictive quality of sugar can be compared to that of cigarettes.” (Albritton, 343).
My mother finds sugar incredibly addictive. She has combated sugar’s negative health effects by avoiding all added sugar all year except for her birthday. I asked her to tell me about her experience with sugar…
“In college, after a night out, we decided to get a midnight snack. For me it ended up being an entire ice cream pie. Even though I felt sick about a third of the way through, I couldn’t stop eating it until there was none left. I decided that night that I would never eat sweets again—or anything with processed sugar if I could avoid it. Then I decided I could have sugar once a year-on my birthday. To me, the idea of eating a few M&M’s and then stopping is impossible. It is FAR easier to eat no sweets, rather than sweets in moderation. The hardest day of the year to continue this is the day after my birthday. I wake up wanting M&M’s. The rest of the year it’s easy. I don’t crave sweets or feel I’m missing out. Zero is easier then some.”
For most people, cutting out sugar completely is not the answer because it is very hard to do. Added sugar is in everything. But the facts are there—Americans eat too much sugar, and diabetes and obesity are on the rise. What is one to do?
From scientific and anecdotal evidence, it is clear that sugar is addictive and unhealthy in excess. So why isn’t the government doing anything about it? This question leads us to examine the role of government as a whole. In fact, according to Albritton, the sugar industry has an enormous impact on legislation passed by congress. He mentions the 2003 instance where the World Health Organization (WHO) and Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) proposed that “added sugars should not exceed 10 percent of daily calorie intake.” However, “this was too much for the US sugar industry to swallow, and they threatened to lobby congress to cut off its $400,000 annual funding of the WHO and FAO if they did not remove the offending norm from their report” (Albritton, 345). And in fact, the UN did remove the guideline. This one example highlights a larger problem – the sugar industry is massive and can control parts of the government. Since the government currently is unable to provide solutions to the “obesity pandemic,” I believe that the next best thing is to educate children about what they are eating and try and provide affordable healthy options. This idea is obviously a much more complex problem, and requires much more thought and analysis than this one blog post. However, one potential solution for excessive sugar intake is sugar substitutes.
STEVIA AS A REPLACEMENT:
As a sort of experiment within my tasting, I included a sample that was sweetened with Stevia rather than sugar. Stevia is a plant-based zero-calorie sweetener. Stevia, like other
artificial sweeteners, is between 100 and 300 times sweeter than sugar (Stevia, 2017). Sample 3, containing 55% Cacao and no sugar was ranked 3rd overall in the results. Many of the comments about Sample 3 included some variation of “simple.” After trying it myself, I must agree that the flavor is not very nuanced – once on your tongue there is no evolution. However, not one person questioned the contents of this bar or noted that it tasted fake, a common criticism of artificial sweeteners. According to the testers, this chocolate fit in with the others, and during the taste test, none of them knew it was sweetened with Stevia. While scientists and nutritionists debate the merits and side effects of artificial sweeteners, this Stevia sweetened chocolate bar appears to be an alternative for a person trying to limit sugar intake. Artificial sweeteners do not address the larger problems with the sugar industry. However, this experiment has shown that there are other options for those trying to eat less “real” sugar, and they taste pretty good too! One other caveat is the price point of this chocolate bar—At Whole Foods it cost $4.89, compared to a Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bar that costs $0.98 at Walmart, so these alternatives are not accessible to everyone.
WHY ELSE CHOCOLOVE WON?
After analyzing the comments, I believe that sugar and sweetness was not the only reason Chocolove was ranked the highest.
David Benton in The Biology and Psychology of Chocolate Craving posits that chocolate cravings come from the “sensory experience associated with eating chocolate, rather than pharmacological constituents” (Benton, 214).
According to Benton, the optimal combination of sugar and fat for palatability “was found to be 7.6% sugar with cream containing 24.7% fat” (Benton, 214). Chocolate contains way more than the “optimal” amount of sugar for taste, however, more sugar is needed “to counteract the bitterness of chocolate.”
Therefore, milk chocolate has “the optimal combination of sweetness and fat.”
Benton also refers to “the melting of chocolate just below body temperature with the resulting mouth-feel,” which adds to the “hedonic experience” and thus the pleasure of eating chocolate. The comments about Sample 2, the Chocolove bar are consistent with this data—this winning chocolate was mostly referenced as creamy, with a note about “melts in mouth.” In direct opposition with those comments, the highest cacao content bar (Sample 6) had notes about its texture too. Many listed it is “chalky.” To me, it is grainy. Chalky and grainy are the opposite of smooth and melty, so perhaps this texture contributed to people’s not liking it.
Overall, this tasting resulted in new ideas and affirmed old ones.
Some other details of this not-so-scientific study may be important to note. My taste testers were all in between the ages of 18 and 20 and all grew up consuming American chocolate. I expect the results might have changed with people from other countries.
If I were just focusing on cacao content, it would have been more effective to use different bars from the same brand. However, I wanted to look at other aspects of chocolate, like stevia as a sweetener and texture, which was why I used a variety of brands. In fact, subjects commented on the terroir of the chocolate without even realizing. Sample 3 and Sample 5 both had comments about flavors that were not listed in the ingredients, illustrated how flavor can be affected by many different things. In Sample 3, three people noted a “coconut” flavor that does not appear in the ingredients. For Sample 5, four people tasted fruity or citrusy notes Even those untrained in chocolate could pick up different notes in different bars of chocolates.
Finally, although some comments mentioned aftertaste, I did not instruct the testers to think about it or aroma. I should have, as they contribute to the overall experience of chocolate.
The testing and subsequent conversations with friends revealed the way chocolate and sugar fit into our lives. In today’s society, we crave sugar, and this study showed that chocolates containing more sugar were perceived as “better” than those containing very little.
The leftovers from the tasting further illustrate the preference for milk chocolate. In the tasting, most people did not finish the full piece of Sample 5 or 6. After the tasting was finished, I offered the leftover samples to everyone, and Samples 1, 2 and 3 were gone almost immediately. Even though Hershey’s chocolate ranked lower on the scale, people ate more of it. Based off of this tasting and conversations with friends and family, Chocolate is hard to resist and even harder to stop eating once we start. The results reflect America’s obsession with sugar by the less distinctive higher fat/sugar chocolate being ranked higher.
Benton argues that addiction may not be the correct word in the context of chocolate “Most people eat chocolate on a regular basis without any signs of its getting out of control, without signs of tolerance or dependence” (Benton, 215). Yet, from my personal experience and that of my friends, many of us do have a problem with chocolate eating getting out of control. I asked my sister what happens when she eats chocolate.
“If it’s in front of me, especially when I have no energy to control myself, I just eat it all. I can’t eat just some,” she said. My twin brother said the same: “For me, sugar is addictive in the very short term; once I start eating I can’t stop.”
A friend from the tasting talked about the same thing. “Usually I eat more than I planned to,” my friend Simone said. For some, dark chocolate can circumvent this overeating issue. My friend Rachel said about chocolate: “I love chocolate. But if it’s super rich. I love it for a bit and then I’m done.”
Overall, the testing showed that most people prefer milk chocolate and chocolate containing more sugar over very dark chocolate, highlighting issues with the sugar industry.
Albritton, Robert. “Between Obesity and Hunger: The Capitalist Food Industry.” Food and Culture. 3rd ed. New York: Routledge, 2013. 342-51. Print.
Benton, David. “The Biology and Psychology of Chocolate Craving.” Coffee, Tea, Chocolate, and the Brain. Boca Raton: CRC Press, 2004. 205-19. Print.
“Comprehensive Online Resource for Articles, Recipes & News.” Stevia.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 May 2017.
D’Antonio, Michael. Hershey: Milton S. Hershey’s Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2006. Print.
Stuckey, Bark. Taste What You’re Missing: the Passionate Eater’s Guide to Why Food Tastes Good. New York: Free Press, 2012. Print.
Image 1: My photography
Image 2: Wikipedia. Hershey bar wrapper image. Media Image (Jpeg). Web. 05.03.17. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hershey_bar.
Image 3: Jet.Chocolove XOXOX Milk bar. Media Image (Jpeg). Web. 05.03.17. jet.com/product/Chocolove-XOXO-Milk-Chocolate-Bar-32-oz/dfd113b9fd134cca9e6a2c1c4d7f187f.
Image 4: Lily’s Sweets. Lily’s Dark Chocolate Bar Wrapper. Media Image (Jpeg). Web. 05.03.17. http://lilyssweets.com/dark-chocolate-bars/
The chocolate industry today is dominated by several large conglomerates like Mars, Hershey’s, Nestle that make up a large portion of the market in North America. To put it in perspective, nearly 99.4% of snack sized chocolates are produced by the aforementioned companies! A more recent-growing subdivision of the industry consists of craft chocolate makers. Many young consumers can’t seem to get enough of it due to its old-fashioned style. In her article in the Wall Street Journal, Alina Dizik describes it as “earthier, spicier and generally made with less sugar than sweet, creamy, European-style chocolate.” In the article, Dr. Carla Martin of Harvard and Dr. Bletter, co-founder of Madre Chocolate, both are quoted in saying that the appeal to this type of chocolate is due largely to its adherence to chocolate’s original roots in ancient civilizations (Dizik). Typically, Craft chocolate makers have company missions that attempt to eradicate some of the issues that exist within the broader chocolate industry. Many issues regarding economic sustainability and exploitative labor are ubiquitous throughout the industry. For example, Endangered Species chocolate helps to encourage funding for the animals who serve as their namesake. A particularly interesting and pioneering bean-to-bar craft chocolate maker is Taza of Somerville, Massachusetts. Taza chocolate attempts to encourage economic and social growth and sustainability in underprivileged areas. Through the creation of the Direct Trade Certification program, Taza has laid a framework to help eradicate significant cacao-industry issues like under-compensation, lack of quality incentives, and exploitative labor practices.
Prior to understanding the ways in which Taza Chocolate has had a positive influence on the chocolate industry, it is useful to understand when and how this trailblazing company came to fruition. According to Taza Chocolate’s company website, When Alex Whitmore traversed Central and South America he garnered a growing appreciation for both the work of cacao farmers and the incredible products that work could produce – mainly stone ground chocolate. In Oaxaca, Mexico, Whitmore tasted his first piece of this unique chocolate and it had a tremendous impact on him. He decided to apprentice at an Oaxaca chocolate factory and learn the ins-and-outs of the business, as he had plans to bring this industry back home to the Northeast. Just a year later in 2006, Whitmore owned factory space in Somerville, Massachusetts along with a combination of both innovative and old-fashioned style machinery. As his dream of starting a stone ground chocolate company from the ground up has finally begun to materialize, its success faltered due to a lack of quality ingredients. While in Mexico, Whitmore tasted some of the most delectable chocolate he’s ever had, but it was difficult to purchase anything of even remotely the same quality on the open market back at home. Not only were the initial beans not of great quality, most of the money Whitmore paid would end up in the hands of the middleman and not end up with the farmers who worked to create them. Upon this discovery, Whitmore again made his way south to traverse the land in search of quality beans that would help to better create his product. Whitmore established and maintained relationships with several cacao cooperatives and paid them a premium above market price for the cacao beans – the beginning of his Direct Trade Certification Program. With this direct link to his cacao producers, the company of Taza Chocolate bore a mission to “make and share stone ground chocolate that is seriously good and fair forever” (Taza). Below is a video that help’s to portray Taza’s story:
These values are in accordance with Taza Chocolate and their marketing strategy helps to pass that message along. As you can see, values aside from profit maximization shine through this promotional video. It seems as if the company is involved in the chocolate industry simply for the love of the industry. Taza chocolate is a family business with intentions on creating a quality product that is fair and helpful to everyone. As aforementioned, some of the major issues that Taza attacks include the unjust compensation for farmers, the presence of exploitative labor practices, and a lack of quality incentives for cacao farmers.
A 2011 study indicated that the average income per capita for a Ghanaian cocoa family household is below $0.30 a day – this is equivalent to just over $120 per year! Chocolate is a $100 billion annual industry, but consistent cocoa farmer poverty exists in many of the production regions nonetheless. Below is a map that details data on poverty worldwide.
It is interesting to look at many of the cacao growing regions like the Ivory Coast, Western Africa, Central America and the northern part of South America. In Africa, Cacao growing regions experience anywhere from 30 to even greater than 60% of the population living below the poverty line. Similarly staggering are the numbers in Central and Southern America, where many of the Cacao producing regions have 40% of the population living below the poverty line.
Taza Chocolate’s efforts in fighting for farmer compensation through their direct trade system is certainly encouraging, but it isn’t an entirely new idea. It came in response to the shortcomings of a more ubiquitous and well-known movement known as Fair-Trade certification. Fair Trade, operating under the slogan “Quality Products. Improving Lives. Protecting the Planet.” seeks to help farmers in underprivileged areas build sustainable businesses while fighting for fair prices and wages, a direct trade system, and protection against exploitative labor practices. Below is an infographic that depicts the results of their efforts in the cacao industry.
While declaring several of the principles I’ve already mentioned, the infographic above also depicts some numeric evidence as to the Fair Trade system’s movement. While increasing the price to the consumer by just 2%, Fair Trade allows for a 20% producer compensation increase. Fair trade USA, according to their mission, seeks to foster worldwide change by using “a market-based approach that empowers farmers to get a fair price for their harvest, helps workers create safe working conditions, provides a decent living wage and guarantees the right to organize” (FairTrade).
Despite their company mission and the change they seek, many critics argue that Fair Trade USA has issues that prevents it from realizing its potential as a truly groundbreaking, life-improving operation. Fair Trade retail sales amount to nearly $3 billion worldwide annually. Critics say that much of these earnings do not actually reach the developing world, and even less reaches the farmers themselves (Martin). In addition to this, there is a heavy cost shouldered by the farmers in order to become a certified farm or cooperative that can trade within the Fair Trade market. Farmers are required to pay hefty certification fees and also pay surcharges for additional profits generated. Moreover, despite an institutional value of fairness – “We work to create opportunities and extend the benefits of globalization to all people, everywhere.” (fairtradeUSA) -.Fair Trade is exclusionary as individual farmers that cannot afford the certification fees and surcharges are unable to become actors in the market, regardless of the quality of their cocoa bean. Enter Alex Whitmore and his idea for Direct Trade. Below is a video in which Mr. Whitmore discusses his journey in establishing Taza as a Direct Trade Craft Chocolate Maker.
In many ways, Taza’s Direct Trade Certification program attempts to build upon some of the shortcomings of Fair Trade. Essentially, Whitmore explains that the Fair Trade model didn’t make much sense to Taza, especially if trying to adhere to the mission that it markets. First and foremost, direct trade pays a premium far and above the price in the market from fair trade products. In addition to this, the limits on participation are significantly mitigated. Independent farmers are allowed to participate, it is not necessary to be a part of a cooperative. Additionally, there are smaller fees and surcharges to become part of the Direct Trade Certification program. There are several reasons for these differences that Whitmore explains. Often times, due to the lack of capital and profit that actually reaches these farmers, quality of the cocoa produced suffers in an effort to maximize production at a low cost. However, if more of the returns are actually claimed by the farmer or cooperative, and they do not have to pay significant involvement and certification fees, then ideally funds can be reallocated to preserving and producing high quality cacao. In addition to improving these quality incentives, paying a larger premium and requiring a lesser fee for participation aids development and poverty in these underprivileged areas. By encouraging economic growth and fostering sustainability, Taza’s direct Trade Program is helping to eradicate some of the economic issues that exist within the chocolate industry.
In addition to their economic efforts, Taza also prides themselves on being a socially responsible enterprise. Although striving for economic sustainability is admirable, it ultimately doesn’t solve any of the major social issues that exist within the chocolate industry. That said, there are two main facets to Taza’s social responsibility – creating and maintaining direct relationships and having a tough stance against exploitative labor. The Direct Trade Certification program encourages direct communication between buyer and farmer through price negotiation. They are committed to maintaining these direct relationships – they annually visit each of the cooperatives and farms with which they trade. Although this is effective, no better evidence of Taza’s social efforts exists than their stance on exploitative labor. According to research conducted by David McKenzie and Brent Swails at CNN, “child labor, trafficking and slavery are rife in an industry that produces some of the world’s best-known brands.” The researchers go on to explain that “UNICEF estimates that nearly a half-million children work on farms across Ivory Coast, which produces nearly 40% of the world’s supply of cocoa. The agency says hundreds of thousands of children, many of them trafficked across borders, are engaged in the worst forms of child labor” (McKenzie). As staggering as these figures may seem, it still hasn’t been enough to pass legislation to help prevent this exploitation. As a socially responsible enterprise, Taza only buys cacao from farmers and cooperatives that ensure fair and humane labor practices and working conditions.
Currently, Taza chocolate maintains relationships with farms and cooperatives in the Dominican Republic, Bolivia, and Belize. They are working to help institute quality controls and economic and agricultural sustainability. Through Taza’s vast effort to maintain direct relationships, provide more just compensation, and eradicate exploitative labor practices in these underprivileged areas, they have found a way to efficiently improve the system started by Fair Trade and ensure economic growth and sustainability while simultaneously encouraging a socially acceptable manner of production. While, Taza’s pioneering efforts in the economic and social spheres of the chocolate industry are certainly impressive, there are certainly limitations as to how much positive impact they can have. Many of today’s companies, especially those that fiercely dominate the chocolate industry are either involved in Fair Trade, implementing their own different strategy, or don’t participate in any controlled system whatsoever. Until most of the industry actors are on the same page and are working together to make major social and economic changes, many of the aforementioned issues will persist. Regardless, Taza is doing what they can to start the process, and it’s pretty impressive.
“Indulge,” urges the inside of my Dove chocolate wrapper, assuring me that I did the right thing, eating that chocolate. The idea of “indulgence” is key for how our American culture thinks about food, especially dessert, and it works on levels beyond the bag of dark chocolates I picked up at CVS. Dessert is an excess, by nature a luxury. So I thought, why not go for the best, why not go for real “indulgence”? What’s the fanciest dessert, the most chocolate pleasure that money can buy (on a student budget)? I decided to analyze some of the most “indulgent” desserts that I could find within walking distance of my dorm in Cambridge, MA: vs When I signed the bill at the end of these meals, what did I pay for? I paid for the experience, not just the food. Yes, a crucial part of the entire experience was consuming a delicious dessert, but I also paid for the service, the comfy chair, the music, the low lighting and the conversation floating around me from the other tables. Chocolate and other dessert foods hold a precarious position between sustenance and luxury. Chocolate is more universal, more sustaining and more widely available than real luxury consumables like wine and even coffee, and it does not share their psychological effects, despite common misconception (Benton, 213- 214). However, chocolate is more luxurious and extravagant than staple products like bread, meat, or rice. Chocolate tends to be sold as either luxury or staple, when in fact it occupies a space between the two that does not fit well in capitalist consumption practices. This essay will focus on chocolate dessert as a luxury by looking at the American fine dining experience, in order to show that the most elite consumers experience chocolate differently than the rest of society, because of how the experience becomes a commodity.
My first trip took me to Finale, a specialty dessert shop with three Boston locations. Finale strives to separate itself from mass produced chocolate and give the fine dining experience at a lower cost. Their sit-down restaurant features red table clothes, a prominent wine list, low lighting and soft jazz music. When I went in late on a Monday night, the restaurant housed me and three young couples that appeared to be on dates. The waiter couldn’t tell me the source of the chocolate in the “molten cake,” but he did tell me that in his three days working at Finale, he had learned that there were more different kinds of pastries than he had previously imagined.
“Just look how much of our menu is dessert!” he told me. Finale capitalizes on the desire to indulge in dessert. By offering a wide array, it allows consumers the luxury of choice, and while someone of middle-class means might not want to buy a fancy dinner, they might be persuaded to splurge on an indulgent dessert. Scholar Marcy Norton describes the “cultural-functionalist” model, proposed by historians such as Mintz and Bourdieu, as one theory for the popularity of chocolate in Western society. The theory states that those in power influence aesthetic and subjective decisions, or choices of taste. Under this theory, the upper classes are the tastemakers, and other consumers follow their lead. Norton does not believe that the theory is enough to explain the dessert’s popularity, but it does explain restaurants such as Finale, which sell the upper class experience at a lower price (Norton, 633). Finale’s menu describes the cake I ordered as “Our famous baked to order molten filled with a salted honey caramel sauce. Served with chocolate covered almonds and dulce de leche gelato,” and then lists a suggested wine pairing (Finale, Restaurant Menu). By pairing each dessert on the menu with wine, the restaurant again ties its products to other luxury goods, and sells a greater experience: not just the dessert, but the wine and cake together. I ordered (just the cake) and was quickly rewarded with the elegant presentation in the picture above. Typically, I would wolf down a dessert like this, loving the sweetness without focusing on the flavor, but for the first time in my dessert-eating career, I sat down to really evaluate the flavors and sensations of eating.
“Tasting,” in an evaluative way requires time, money, and knowledge. One must be taught to discern flavors and focus on all the senses while eating. Barbara Stuckey, a food tasting professional, published “Taste What You’re Missing,” a guide to tasting and understanding food like the experts. To those people with fewer taste buds who are less able to discern different flavors, she adds, “You can’t change the anatomy of your tongue, just as you can’t change your genetic makeup or height. But a height limitation doesn’t mean that you can’t teach yourself to be an excellent basketball player. And everyone-including you-can teach himself to be an excellent taster” (Stuckey, 27). Stuckey seems to say that anyone can learn to taste the way that she can, regardless of biological limits, but she doesn’t mention other limits, like time, energy, or lack of resources. Her book describes eating at some of the fanciest restaurants in the US, appreciating food like salmon, steak, and “soft, cherry-chocolate red zinfandel” (Stuckey, 15). Clearly, Stuckey has the resources to get the best food to taste recreationally, and also as a professional taster has spent years being paid to hone her tasting skills. Her book targets those given choices of what kind of food they eat, rather than needing to get the most sustenance per dollar.
This “tasting wheel” for chocolate describes the flavors that a trained, discerning taster might be able to pick up in a bar of the stuff. These are the elements of a luxury chocolate bar, not mass produced chocolate from big companies like Hershey’s or Nestle. Mass produced chocolate is sold to everyone, and there’s much less focus on flavor profiling or ingredients beyond “tastes good.”
The cake I tasted at finale seems to fall somewhere in the middle of the taste- satiation spectrum. Based on its presentation and the restaurant’s atmosphere, Finale seems to focus on the upper class experience of eating. I did find out online that the chocolate they use in the cake is from Valrhona, a French luxury chocolate maker. You can see from Valrhona’s website that the company focuses on many of the elements of luxury dining that Stuckey emphasizes. The company even includes a “how to taste” section, focusing on incorporating all of one’s senses into the “art of tasting”. “Chocolate is enjoyed.” Reads the page, “Grand Chocolat is experienced” (“Experience Our Expertise”). However, the dishes at Finale were engineered for an audience where fancy desserts are the exception, not the norm. While the cake I ate was sweet and delicious, the textures were somewhat muddy and indiscernible, and the flavors advertised, chocolate, sea salt, and caramel, were not very strong or balanced. The main tastes of the dish were sugar and fat, and the wafer on top was burnt. Perhaps my favorite part of the cake was the slice of pure Valrhona dark chocolate sticking out on top. The focus of this dessert on quantity of sweetness over quality of flavor, on filling the stomach over exciting the palate, seems to suggest catering towards mass marketed tastes.
My second dessert experience, however, was true fine dining. Harvest restaurant is staffed by award-winning chefs (including their pastry chef, Brian Mercury). Its price range is much higher than Finale. Compare $15.99 Short Ribs, the most expensive thing on the Finale Menu, with $40 Painted Hills Farm New York Striploin au Poivre at Harvest. The restaurant is tucked away behind other clothing stores, and despite sitting less than five minutes from my dorm, I never saw it until I went looking for it. Unlike Finale, the feel of Harvest is much more elite, and this is also reflected in the clientele. When I was there, the patrons were all much older than those at Finale, and seemed to be engaged in business meetings. Part of the experience of fine dining is the feeling of exclusivity, the experience of sharing space with those also in this elite group. Notably, the dessert that I ordered at Harvest, which was comparable in size and ingredients, actually cost me a dollar less than the cake at Finale. The price difference here shows that Harvest focuses more on dinner than dessert. That does not mean that the focus on sustenance at Harvest, and luxury at Finale. In fact, both restaurants sell luxury and indulgence, but Finale does so through luxury products and a luxurious atmosphere, while Harvest uses the principles of flavor and taste to turn any food into an extravagance. For example, at Finale, all the dishes are named in English, directed to a larger American public, instead of the complicated French terms that Harvest assumes its exclusive customers can understand.
Furthermore, the taste of chocolate, caramel and salt in the Crèmeux were very different than in the molten cake. Their online menu describes the dish as “house made sea salt, salted caramel brown sugar granola, milk chocolate malt sauce, vanilla mascarpone” (Harvest, Dessert Menu). The flavors in Harvest’s Crèmeux were much more intense, especially the bite of the salt, which balanced out the sweetness of the chocolaty mousse. The textures in the Harvest dessert were also more complex and provided a contrast to each other: the crunch of the granola, the almost fudgy Crèmeux, and the chewy caramel. The textural changes helped draw my attention again to the flavors, to really savor and think about what I was eating. I think it took me longer to eat that Crèmeux than any dessert I’ve had before. Intense flavors are often a sign of fancier or upper class food options, instead of the more “bland” food of the masses. Stuckey makes fun of her partner for his limited palate and preference for mild flavors. “How can you call yourself a foodie” she asks, “when all you eat is meat and potatoes?” (16). Although she learns to appreciate the subtlties of his palate, it remains a common conception that someone more sophisticated, elite or worldly would prefer bold flavors to analyze.
The Harvest Crèmeux follows the “local food” trend prevalent in high-class establishments. Local food and fair trade are relatively recent developments in the food world that highlight and attempt to close the gap between producers and consumers. Brian Mercury locally sources his on ingredients, even takes trips out to the seashore to collect his own salt, effectively controlling every step in the production of the food (Gelsomin).
The chocolate in the Crèmeux comes from Taza chocolate, a company that produces stone ground chocolate from direct trade beans in South America. Just as much of a luxury as Valrhona, Taza produces chocolate on a smaller scale with even more attention given to the experience of consuming the chocolate both in terms of taste (the texture of stone ground chocolate is very distinctive) and ethical purchasing (local and direct trade options make consumers feel better about their purchase). However, this means that it’s difficult to get large amounts of these ingredients, further contributing to the exclusive nature of Harvest and its food.
These movements grow out of the history of the commodities that make up the distinct flavors in the desserts: chocolate, sugar, and salt. Historians Sophie and Michael Coe wrote The True History of Chocolate, describing how it served as a luxury, sustenance, or medicine throughout the Americas and Europe. Anthropologist Sidney Mintz analyzes the history of sugar as a commodity in Sweetness and Power, and the crop’s ties to forced labor and colonialism. A group of Italian scientists wrote a “History of Salt” that ties the spice’s medical properties to its long history through cultures and conflicts. Each ingredient provides its own enticing properties as a food historically consumed in great amounts, for reasons as diverse as biology or cultural-functionalism. Food can never be a simple commodity because of its essential nature; we all need sustenance through food. These three ingredients have long, elaborate but mostly unknown histories that shape how Americans today view them as commodities.
All of this leaves us with food as a divisor in society, even though it is one thing that all people have in common. Food scholar Charles Z. Levkoe discusses the “commodification of human relationships” in regards to selling food, explaining how all people can be reduced to consumers under capitalism (Levkoe, 587). His ideas relate to the commodification of the chocolate experience: everything can be sold, not just objects. Economist Robert Albritton goes further and describes the history of food entwined with the history of capitalism, which today “promotes both hunger and obesity while at the same time undermining the earth’s capacity to support us,” (Albritton 350). When one tastes food, they are experiencing it in a fundamentally different way than someone who simply eats food. Additionally, food as commodity to be tasted, experienced, enjoyed, is a primarily reserved for the upper class.
Consumers are sold the act of indulging in these chocolate and fancy desserts. Americans are trained by advertising and by other members in society to want these experiences. If you’re mouth isn’t watering at the end of this essay, then I haven’t done a good enough job with either pictures or description of how delicious those desserts were. It’s because of the social and mental experience of eating it, not inherent properties of the food itself, that chocolate is associated with craving, guilt, and other psychological effects (Benton, 213-214). Due to its long history as an elite product, chocolate is a food on the edge, with some inherently luxurious properties. Because of this, it can be an “indulgence” even as a mass-produced product. However, the luxury of taste, the full sensual experience of fine dining is reserved for the upper class, and this extends to chocolate as well. Capitalism creates divides in society even in regards to food, and chocolate, which seem to be boundary crossers, by commodifying the seemingly intangible. When we walk into a restaurant, we’re sold more than just a dessert.
Albritton, Robert. “Between Obesity and Hunger.” Food and Culture: A Reader. Ed. Carole Counihan and Penny Van Esterik. New York: Routledge, 1997. 342-52. Pdf.
Benton, David. “The Biology and Psychology of Chocolate Craving.”Coffee, Tea, Chocolate, and the Brain. By Astrid Nehlig. Boca Raton, FL: CRC, 2004. 205-18. Pdf. Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1996. Print.
Círillo, M., G. Capasso, V.A.D. Leo, and N.G.D. Santo. “A History of Salt.” American Journal of Nephrology 14 (1994): 426-31. Google Scholar. Web. 7 May 2014.
Guthman, Julie. “Fast Food/Organic Food: Reflexive Tastes and the Making of ‘Yuppie Chow’” Food and Culture: A Reader. Ed. Carole Counihan and Penny Van Esterik. New York: Routledge, 1997. 342-52. Pdf.
Charles Z. “Learning Democracy Through Food Justice Movements.” Food and Culture: A Reader. Ed. Carole Counihan and Penny Van Esterik. New York: Routledge, 1997. 342-52. Pdf. Mintz, Sidney Wilfred. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York, NY: Viking, 1985. Print.
Norton, Marcy. “Tasting Empire: Chocolate and the European Internalization of Mesoamerican Aesthetics.” The American Historical Review 111.3 (2006): 660-91. Pdf. Stuckey, Barb. Taste What You’re Missing: The Passionate Eater’s Guide to Why Good Food Tastes Good. New York: Free, 2012. Pdf.
Stuckey, Barb. Taste What You’re Missing: The Passionate Eater’s Guide to Why Good Food Tastes Good. New York: Free, 2012. Pdf.