Tag Archives: theo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Alter Eco 2.8 ounce chocolate bar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

**All images were taken by the author

 

Works Cited

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Theo Chocolate, Inc.: Working to Make the Chocolate Industry a Better Place

Introduction

Over the past several decades, chocolate has become a part of daily life for most consumers in the United States. Once a beverage reserved for consumption by the elite classes in Mesoamerica, chocolate is now a popular commodity among most social classes in our society. Manufacturers combine cocoa beans grown in the equatorial parts of the world – primarily countries in central Africa and South America – with sugar and other ingredients to craft these delectable treats. When choosing which confections to purchase, consumers base their decision on several factors, including price, brand loyalty, and availability. One factor casual consumers often neglect when making their choice is where the cocoa used to craft the chocolate originated. With many cocoa growing regions plagued by questionable ethical or moral practices, should this not be the most important factor in chocolate purchasing? Many smaller chocolate companies believe that it should, and craft their confections using carefully sourced cocoa that meets several standards to help combat these practices. One such company working to eliminate these questionable practices is Theo Chocolate, Inc. of Seattle, Washington.  A close examination of the company’s history, certifications, and sourcing and partnerships, reveals the progress Theo is making to promote an ethical chocolate industry that does not need to rely on forced or underpaid labor to maintain its profitability.

History

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Theo Chocolate, Inc. Logo.

As “the first organic, fair trade certified chocolate maker in North America” (“Mission”) Theo has been making great strides in the industry over the past two decades. Founder Joe Whinney began his work in chocolate in 1994 by directing organic cocoa beans from Central America to a host of American customers (“Mission”; Allison). For Whinney, the following decade was a time of learning and discovery. He spent much of the time losing money due to the great cost of each step in his supply chain and the desire to pay the cocoa farmers a fair value for their crops (Allison). After realizing that his current situation was unsustainable, Whinney decided that to maintain his work in the organic cocoa business, he would need to open his own factory for production and cut out several of the later steps in his chain (Allison). Thus, in 2004, Theo Chocolate, Inc. was born.

To create the company that would sustain his passion and allow him to promote his work, Whinney relocated with Debra Music, the company’s Chief Marketing Officer, to Seattle (“Mission”). While Music worked to market and brand the upcoming products, the company’s factory and team of workers was assembled, and, in March 2006, Theo’s first line of chocolate was produced (“Mission”). Throughout the entire process Whinney strove to maintain his standards, and the company remains devoted to these ideals today.

Certifications

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The seal used to denote Organic certification.

Perhaps the most prominent outward reflection of the values that the company espouses comes in the form of their product certifications. Theo holds four such certifications: Organic, Fair Trade, Non-GMO, and Demeter (“Our Certifications”). The company must meet several criteria to qualify for each of these certifications as explained below.

Organic

In order to become certified as an organic producer through Quality Assurance International (QAI), the company who certifies Theo’s products, a company must complete a five step process (“Steps”). First, the company must apply for certification and provide QAI with details about their operations and processes (“Steps”). Second, the company undergoes a thorough inspection similar to the one they will undergo annually if they are provided with the certification (“Steps”). Third, the company experiences a technical review to ensure their operation “complies with all necessary organic regulations” (“Steps”). Fourth, the company receives notification from QAI about the status of their request and the areas of deficiency that need to be remedied to proceed with the certification process (“Steps”). Fifth, the company becomes compliant and deemed certified by QAI (“Steps”). To maintain its certification, and its standards of production, Theo subscribes “to the most stringent definition of organic” (“Our Certifications”). Wherever possible, Theo uses organic ingredients that have been grown using sustainable practices (“Our Certifications”). This commitment to quality exemplifies Theo’s desire to benefit the world as a whole, rather than just their bottom line.

Fair Trade

In addition to being Organic certified through QAI, Theo maintains a Fair for Life Fair Trade certification through the Institute for Marketecology (IMO) (“Our Certifications”). The Fair for Life certification requires companies to adhere to a set of social responsibility standards and to provide support through fair trade relationships with their suppliers (“Your options”). “Fair for Life Fair Trade means long-term and trusting cooperation between partners, transparent price setting negotiations and prices,” all ideals that Theo strives to uphold through their sourcing partnerships (“Your options”). This makes this certification perhaps the most valuable for the company from a farmer outreach perspective. Through their work as a fair trade company, Theo is able to provide the farmers from which they source their cacao with wide-reaching benefits, including healthcare and education (“Our Certifications”).  Theo’s commitment to aiding the often impoverished cacao farmers of the world is truly an admirable trait for a company in the chocolate industry.

Non-GMO & Demeter

As part of their promise to use organic ingredients, Theo avoids the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) (“Our Certifications”). While the labeling of GMOs is not legally required in the U.S. and Canada, Theo feels that “consumers have the right to know what is in their food and have made a commitment to non-GMO certification of [their] products” (“Our Certifications”). There is much ongoing debate about the safety of GMO ingredients. Many companies, including Theo Chocolate, Inc., feel that until these ingredients are deemed safe for consumers, it is not worth the risk to include them in their products.

As a Demeter certified company, Theo has committed to maintaining high standards of sustainable farming that will benefit the planet (“Our Certifications”). To achieve this certification, the farms Theo sources from must meet the Demeter Biodynamic® Farm Standard, and Theo must meet the Demeter Biodynamic® Processing Standard (“Demeter”). For more information on these standards, please visit the Demeter USA website here.

Sourcing & Partnerships

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One of the two varieties of Theo chocolate crafted using Congolese cacao.

As yet another effort to maintain their commitment to high quality, ethical chocolate production, Theo is focused on selecting the best cacao beans it can find. Currently, Theo’s cacao beans are sourced from Peruvian farmer cooperative Norandino and Congolese company Esco Kivu (“Sourcing”). Theo concentrates its efforts in cacao sourcing on providing fair prices to their partners to promote an emphasis on quality propagation year after year (“Sourcing”). Instead of paying the commodity price for cacao beans, Theo has built a structured pricing model that provides a greater price for higher quality cacao to provide incentives to their farmer cooperatives (“Sourcing”). This method benefits both the farmers and the company . By providing an increased price for cacao that goes above and beyond the current commodity market rate, farmers are able to enjoy a greater profit and are better able to provide for themselves and their families. By ensuring that their farmers are well taken care of, Theo is able to maintain a positive relationship with these farmers and can encourage the farmers to make a strong commitment to quality production. As committed Fair Trade producers who provide quality price premiums, full transparency in their supply chain, and third party verification of their cacao purchases, Theo is able “to actively raise the bar for [the] entire industry” (“Sourcing”).

In addition to their commitment to fair trade sourcing, Theo has partnered with the Eastern Congo Initiative (ECI) to benefit the cacao farmers of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) (“Our Partners”). Through this partnership, Theo has the “potential to positively impact more than 20,000 people living in Eastern Congo” (“Our Partners”). The cacao sourced through this partnership is used to craft two chocolate bars, each with its own unique flavor: Vanilla Nib and Coffee & Cream (“Our Partners”). Since their involvement with ECI farmers began, Theo has sourced over 1,600 tons of cocoa from the DRC (“Our Partners”). While aiding farmers in the DRC has brought increased prosperity to the area, it has not been without difficulties. The following interview of Joe Whinney by Stan Emert of Rainmakers TV, details some of the issues caused by the current governmental structure of the DRC along with the efforts being made by Theo in the country.

Conclusion

With many cacao producing nations resorting to forced labor and some of the worst forms of child labor to maintain their prosperity, along with diminished payouts for cacao farmers, it is easy to see that the current state of affairs in cacao production is appalling. In recent years, companies have begun to attempt to source their cacao from ethically run farms, but the response from the industry has left much to be desired. While many larger chocolate producers put their own profits above those of their cacao farming counterparts, many smaller producers are making a commitment to providing consumers with ethically sourced, fair trade chocolate. One such company who is devoted to making strides in the right direction is Theo Chocolate, Inc. of Seattle, Washington. Since its founding in 2004, Theo has endeavored to make an impact on the industry and draw to light the issues that many producers prefer to hide from consumers. An examination of Theo’s history, its certifications, and its sourcing and partnerships, allow us to see just how far the company is willing to go to further its ideals. The next time you are shopping for chocolate, be a conscientious consumer and remember to consider the ethical nature of the chocolate’s source.


Works Cited

Allison, Melissa. “Fair-trade Theo Chocolate fairly booming.” Seattle Times, 04 April 2013. Web. 08 May 2016.

“Demeter Biodynamic and Processing Standards.” Demeter USA. Demeter Association, Inc. Web. 08 May 2016.

“Mission.” Theo. Theo Chocolate, Inc. Web. 08 May 2016.

“Our Certifications.” Theo. Theo Chocolate, Inc. Web. 08 May 2016.

“Our Partners.” Theo. Theo Chocolate, Inc. Web. 08 May 2016.

“Sourcing.” Theo. Theo Chocolate, Inc. Web. 08 May 2016.

“Steps to Organic Certification Process.” QAI : Client Resources : Prospective : Steps to Organic Certification Process. Quality Assurance International. Web. 08 May 2016.

“Your options for certification and verification.” Fair for Life. IMOgroup AG. Web. 08 May 2016.


Multimedia Sources

Theo Chocolate. Digital Image. Wikimedia Commons, 2014. Web. 08 May 2016.

Theo’s Chocolate Logo. Digital image. Wikimedia Commons, 2015. Web. 08 May 2016.

USDA organic seal. Digital image. Wikimedia Commons, 2015. Web. 08 May 2016.

Whinney, Joe. Interview by Stan Emert. Chocolate from Difficult Places. YouTube, 29 December 2014. Web. 08 May 2016.